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A Modern Instance by William Dean Howells

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The Presidential canvas of the summer--which, followed upon these events in
Bartley's career was not very active. Sometimes, in fact, it languished so
much that people almost forgot it, and a good field was afforded the Events
for the practice of independent journalism. To hold a course of strict
impartiality, and yet come out on the winning side was a theory of
independent journalism which Bartley illustrated with cynical enjoyment. He
developed into something rather artistic the gift which he had always shown
in his newspaper work for ironical persiflage. Witherby was not a man to
feel this burlesque himself; but when it was pointed out to him by others,
he came to Bartley in some alarm from its effect upon the fortunes of the
paper. "We can't afford, Mr. Hubbard," he said, with virtuous trepidation,
"we can't _afford_ to make fun of our friends!"

Bartley laughed at Witherby's anxiety. "They're no more our friends than
the other fellows are. We are independent journalists; and this way of
treating the thing leaves us perfectly free hereafter to claim, just as we
choose, that we were in fun or in earnest on any particular question if
we're ever attacked. See?"

"I see," said Witherby, with not wholly subdued misgiving. But after due
time for conviction no man enjoyed Bartley's irony more than Witherby when
once he had mastered an instance of it. Sometimes it happened that Bartley
found him chuckling over a perfectly serious paragraph, but he did not mind
that; he enjoyed Witherby's mistake even more than his appreciation.

In these days Bartley was in almost uninterrupted good humor, as he had
always expected to be when he became fairly prosperous. He was at no time
an unamiable fellow, as he saw it; he had his sulks, he had his moments of
anger; but generally he felt good, and he had always believed, and he had
promised Marcia, that when he got squarely on his legs he should feel good
perpetually. This sensation he now agreeably realized; and he was also now
in that position in which he had proposed to himself some little moral
reforms. He was not much in the habit of taking stock; but no man wholly
escapes the contingencies in which he is confronted with himself, and sees
certain habits, traits, tendencies, which he would like to change for the
sake of his peace of mind hereafter. To some souls these contingencies are
full of anguish, of remorse for the past, of despair; but Bartley had never
yet seen the time when he did not feel himself perfectly able to turn over
a new leaf and blot the old one. There were not many things in his life
which he really cared to have very different; but there were two or three
shady little corners which he always intended to clean up. He had meant
some time or other to have a religious belief of some sort, he did not much
care what; since Marcia had taken to the Hallecks' church, he did not see
why he should not go with her, though he had never yet done so. He was not
quite sure whether he was always as candid with her as he might be, or as
kind; though he maintained against this question that in all their quarrels
it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. He had never been tipsy
but once in his life, and he considered that he had repented and atoned for
that enough, especially as nothing had ever come of it; but sometimes he
thought he might be over-doing the beer; yes, he thought he must cut down
on the tivoli; he was getting ridiculously fat. If ever he met Kinney again
he should tell him that it was he and not Ricker who had appropriated his
facts and he intended to make it up with Ricker somehow.

He had not found just the opportunity yet; but in the mean time he did not
mind telling the real cause of their alienation to good fellows who
could enjoy a joke. He had his following, though so many of his brother
journalists had cooled toward him, and those of his following considered
him as smart as chain-lightning and bound to rise. These young men and not
very wise elders roared over Bartley's frank declaration of the situation
Between himself and Ricker, and they contended that, if Ricker had taken
the article for the Chronicle-Abstract, he ought to take the consequences.
Bartley told them that, of course, he should explain the facts to Kinney;
but that he meant to let Ricker enjoy his virtuous indignation awhile.
Once, after a confidence of this kind at the club, where Ricker had refused
to speak to him, he came away with a curious sense of moral decay. It did
not pain him a great deal, but it certainly surprised him that now, with
all these prosperous conditions, so favorable for cleaning up, he had so
little disposition to clean up. He found himself quite willing to let
the affair with Ricker go, and he suspected that he had been needlessly
virtuous in his intentions concerning church-going and beer. As to Marcia,
it appeared to him that he could not treat a woman of her disposition
otherwise than as he did. At any rate, if he had not done everything he
could to make her happy, she seemed to be getting along well enough, and
was probably quite as happy as she deserved to be. They were getting on
very quietly now; there had been no violent outbreak between them since the
trouble about Kinney, and then she had practically confessed herself in
the wrong, as Bartley looked at it. She had appeared contented with his
explanation; there was what might be called a perfect business amity
between them. If her life with him was no longer an expression of that
intense devotion which she used to show him, it was more like what married
life generally comes to, and he accepted her tractability and what seemed
her common-sense view of their relations as greatly preferable. With his
growth in flesh, Bartley liked peace more and more.

Marcia had consented to go down to Equity alone, that summer, for he had
convinced her that during a heated political contest it would not do for
him to be away from the paper. He promised to go down for her when she
wished to come home; and it was easily arranged for her to travel as far as
the Junction under Halleck's escort, when he went to join his sisters in
the White Mountains. Bartley missed her and the baby at first. But he
soon began to adjust himself with resignation to his solitude. They had
determined to keep their maid over this summer, for they had so much
trouble in replacing her the last time after their return; and Bartley said
he should live very economically. It was quiet, and the woman kept the
house cool and clean; she was a good cook, and when Bartley brought a man
home to dinner she took an interest in serving it well. Bartley let her
order the things from the grocer and butcher, for she knew what they were
used to getting, and he had heard so much talk from Marcia about bills
since he bought that Events stock that he was sick of the prices of things.
There was no extravagance, and vet he seemed to live very much better after
Marcia went. There is no doubt but he lived very much more at his ease. One
little restriction after another fell away from him; he went and came with
absolute freedom, not only without having to account for his movements, but
without having a pang for not doing so. He had the sensation of stretching
himself after a cramping posture; and he wrote Marcia the cheerfulest
letters, charging her not to cut short her visit from anxiety on his
account. He said that he was working hard, but hard work evidently agreed
with him, for he was never better in his life. In this high content he
maintained a feeling of loyalty by going to the Hallecks, where Mrs.
Halleck often had him to tea in pity of his loneliness. They were dull
company, certainly; but Marcia liked them, and the cooking was always good.
Other evenings he went to the theatres, where there were amusing variety
bills; and sometimes he passed the night at Nantasket, or took a run for
a day to Newport; he always reported these excursions to Marcia, with
expressions of regret that Equity was too far away to run down to for a
day.

Marcia's letters were longer and more regular than his; but he could have
forgiven some want of constancy for the sake of a less searching anxiety on
her part. She was anxious not only for his welfare, which was natural and
proper, but she was anxious about the housekeeping and the expenses, things
Bartley could not afford to let trouble him, though he did what he could in
a general way to quiet her mind. She wrote fully of the visit which Olive
Halleck had paid her, but said that they had not gone about much, for Ben
Halleck had only been able to come for a day. She was very well, and so was
Flavia.

Bartley realized Flavia's existence with an effort, and for the rest this
letter bored him. What could he care about Olive Halleck's coming, or Ben
Halleck's staying away? All that he asked of Ben Halleck was a little
extension of time when his interest fell due. The whole thing was
disagreeable; and he resented what he considered Marcia's endeavor to clap
the domestic harness on him again. His thoughts wandered to conditions, to
contingencies, of which a man does not permit himself even to think without
a degree of moral disintegration. In these ill-advised reveries he mused
upon his life as it might have been if he had never met her, or if they had
never met after her dismissal of him. As he recalled the facts, he was at
that time in an angry and embittered mood, but he was in a mood of entire
acquiescence; and the reconciliation had been of her own seeking. He could
not blame her for it; she was very much in love with him, and he had been
fond of her. In fact, he was still very fond of her; when he thought of
little ways of hers, it filled him with tenderness. He did justice to her
fine qualities, too: her generosity, her truthfulness, her entire loyalty
to his best interests; he smiled to realize that he himself preferred his
second-best interests, and in her absence he remembered that her virtues
were tedious, and even painful at times. He had his doubts whether there
was sufficient compensation in them. He sometimes questioned whether he
had not made a great mistake to get married; he expected now to stick it
through; but this doubt occurred to him. A moment came in which he asked
himself, What if he had never come back to Marcia that night when she
locked him out of her room? Might it not have been better for both of them?
She would soon have reconciled herself to the irreparable; he even thought
of her happy in a second marriage; and the thought did not enrage him; he
generously wished Marcia well. He wished--he hardly knew what he wished. He
wished nothing at all but to have his wife and child back again as soon as
possible; and he put aside with a laugh the fancies which really found
no such distinct formulation as I have given them; which were mere vague
impulses, arrested mental tendencies, scraps of undirected revery. Their
recurrence had nothing to do with what he felt to be his sane and waking
state. But they recurred, and he even amused himself in turning them over.

XXXI.

One morning in September, not long before Marcia returned, Bartley found
Witherby at the office waiting for him. Witherby wore a pensive face, which
had the effect of being studied. "Good morning, Mr. Hubbard," he said, and
when Bartley answered, "Good morning," cheerfully ignoring his mood, he
added, "What is this I hear, Mr. Hubbard, about a personal misunderstanding
between you and Mr. Ricker?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Bartley; "but I suppose that if you have
heard anything _you_ know."

"I have heard," proceeded Witherby, a little dashed by Bartley's coolness,
"that Mr. Ricker accuses you of having used material in that article you
sold him which had been intrusted to you under the seal of confidence, and
that you had left it to be inferred by the party concerned--that Mr. Ricker
had written the article himself."

"All right," said Bartley.

"But, Mr. Hubbard," said Witherby, struggling to rise into virtuous
supremacy, "what am I to think of such a report?"

"I can't say; unless you should think that it wasn't your affair. That
would be the easiest thing."

"But I _can't_ think that, Mr. Hubbard! Such a report reflects through you
upon the Events; it reflects upon _me_!" Bartley laughed. "I can't approve
of such a thing. If you admit the report, it appears to me that you
have--a--done a--a--wrong action, Mr. Hubbard."

Bartley turned upon him with a curious look; at the same time he felt a
pang, and there was a touch of real anguish in the sarcasm of his demand,
"Have I fallen so low as to be rebuked by _you_?"

"I--I don't know what you mean by such an expression as that, Mr. Hubbard,"
said Witherby. "I don't know what I've done to forfeit your esteem,--to
justify you in using such language to me."

"I don't suppose you really do," said Bartley. "Go on."

"I have nothing more to say, Mr. Hubbard, except--except to add that this
has given me a great blow,--a _great_ blow. I had begun to have my doubts
before as to whether we were quite adapted to each other, and this
has--increased them. I pass no judgment upon what you have done, but I
will say that it has made me anxious and--a--unrestful. It has made me ask
myself whether upon the whole we should not be happier apart. I don't say
that we should; but I only feel that nine out of ten business men would
consider you, in the position you occupy on the Events,--a--a--dangerous
person."

Bartley got up from his desk, and walked toward Witherby, with his hands in
his pockets; he halted a few paces from him, and looked down on him with a
sinister smile. "I don't think they'd consider you a dangerous person in
any position."

"May be not, may be not," said Witherby, striving to be easy and dignified.
In the effort he took up an open paper from the desk before him, and,
lifting it between Bartley and himself, feigned to be reading it.

Bartley struck it out of his trembling hands. "You impudent old scoundrel!
Do you pretend to be reading when I speak to you? For half a cent--"

Witherby, slipping and sliding in his swivel chair, contrived to get to his
feet "No violence, Mr. Hubbard, no violence _here_!"

"Violence!" laughed Bartley. "I should have to _touch_ you! Come! Don't be
afraid! But don't you put on airs of any sort! I understand your game.
You want, for some reason, to get rid of me, and you have seized the
opportunity with a sharpness that does credit to your cunning. I don't
condescend to deny this report,"--speaking in this lofty strain, Bartley
had a momentary sensation of its being a despicable slander,--"but I see
that as far as you are concerned it answers all the purposes of truth. You
think that with the chance of having this thing exploited against me I
won't expose your nefarious practices, and you can get rid of me more
safely now than ever you could again. Well, you're right. I dare say you
heard of this report a good while ago, and you've waited till you could
fill my place without inconvenience to yourself. So I can go at once. Draw
your check for all you owe me, and pay me back the money I put into your
stock, and I'll clear out at once." He went about putting together a few
personal effects on his desk.

"I must protest against any allusion to nefarious practices, Mr. Hubbard,"
said Witherby, "and I wish you to understand that I part from you without
the slightest ill-feeling. I shall always have a high regard for your
ability, and--and--your social qualities." While he made these expressions
he hastened to write two checks.

Bartley, who had paid no attention to what Witherby was saying, came up and
took the checks. "This is all right," he said of one. But looking at the
other, he added, "Fifteen hundred dollars? Where is the dividend?"

"That is not due till the end of the month," said Witherby. "If you
withdraw your money now, you lose it."

Bartley looked at the face to which Witherby did his best to give a high
judicial expression. "You old thief!" he said good-humoredly, almost
affectionately. "I _have_ a mind to tweak your nose!" But he went out of
the room without saying or doing anything more. He wondered a little at his
own amiability; but with the decay of whatever was right-principled in him,
he was aware of growing more and more incapable of indignation. Now, his
flash of rage over, he was not at all discontented. With these checks in
his pocket, with his youth, his health, and his practised hand, he could
have faced the world, with a light heart, if he had not also had to face
his wife. But when he thought of the inconvenience of explaining to her, of
pacifying her anxiety, of clearing up her doubts on a thousand points, and
of getting her simply to eat or sleep till he found something else to do,
it dismayed him. "Good Lord!" he said to himself, "I wish I was dead--or
some one." That conclusion made him smile again.

He decided not to write to Marcia of the change in his affairs, but to take
the chance of finding something better before she returned. There was very
little time for him to turn round, and he was still without a place or any
prospect when she came home. It had sufficed with his acquaintance when he
said that he had left the Events because he could not get on with Witherby;
but he was very much astonished when it seemed to suffice with her.

"Oh, well," she said, "I am glad of it. You will do better by yourself; and
I know you can earn just as much by writing on the different papers."

Bartley knew better than this, but he said, "Yes, I shall not be in a hurry
to take another engagement just yet. But, Marsh," he added, "I was afraid
you would blame me,--think I had been reckless, or at fault--"

"No," she answered after a little pause, "I shall not do that any more. I
have been thinking all these things over, while I was away from you, and
I'm going to do differently, after this. I shall believe that you've acted
for the best,--that you've not meant to do wrong in anything,--and I shall
never question you or doubt you any more."

"Isn't that giving me rather too _much_ rope?" asked Bartley, with
lightness that masked a vague alarm lest the old times of exaction should
be coming back with the old times of devotion.

"No; I see where my mistake has always been. I've always asked too much,
and expected too much, even when I didn't ask it. Now, I shall be satisfied
with what you don't do, as well as what you do."

"I shall try to live up to my privileges," said Bartley, with a sigh of
relief. He gave her a kiss, and then he unclasped Kinney's nugget from his
watch-chain, and fastened it on the baby's necklace, which lay in a box
Marcia had just taken from her trunk. She did not speak; but Bartley felt
better to have the thing off him; Marcia's gentleness, the tinge of sadness
in her tone, made him long to confess himself wrong in the whole matter,
and justly punished by Ricker's contempt and Witherby's dismissal. But he
did not believe that he could trust her to forgive him, and he felt himself
unable to go through all that without the certainty of her forgiveness.

As she took the things out of her trunk, and laid them away in this drawer
and that, she spoke of events in the village, and told who was dead, who
was married, and who had gone away. "I stayed longer than I expected, a
little, because father seemed to want me to. I don't think mother's so well
as she used to be, I--I'm afraid she seems to be failing, somehow."

Her voice dropped to a lower key, and Bartley said, "I'm sorry to hear
that. I guess she isn't failing. But of course she's getting on, and every
year makes a difference."

"Yes, that must be it," she answered, looking at a bundle of collars she
had in her hand, as if absorbed in the question as to where she should put
them.

Before they slept that night she asked, "Bartley, did you hear about Hannah
Morrison?"

"No. What about her?"

"She's gone--gone away. The last time she was seen was in Portland.
They don't know what's become of her. They say that Henry Bird is about
heart-broken; but everybody knows she never cared for him. I hated to write
to you about it."

Bartley experienced so disagreeable a sensation that he was silent for a
time. Then he gave a short, bitter laugh. "Well, that's what it was bound
to come to, sooner or later, I suppose. It's a piece of good luck for
Bird."

Bartley went about picking up work from one paper and another, but not
securing a basis on any. In that curious and unwholesome leniency which
corrupt natures manifest, he and Witherby met at their next encounter on
quite amicable terms. Bartley reported some meetings for the Events, and
experienced no resentment when Witherby at the office introduced him to the
gentleman with whom he had replaced him. Of course Bartley expected that
Witherby would insinuate things to his disadvantage, but he did not mind
that. He heard of something of the sort being done in Ricker's presence,
and of Ricker's saying that in any question of honor and veracity between
Witherby and Hubbard he should decide for Hubbard. Bartley was not very
grateful for this generous defence; he thought that if Ricker had not been
such an ass in the first place there would have been no trouble between
them, and Witherby would not have had that handle against him.

He was enjoying himself very well, and he felt entitled to the comparative
rest which had not been of his seeking. He wished that Halleck would come
back, for he would like to ask his leave to put that money into some other
enterprise. His credit was good, and he had not touched the money to pay
any of his accumulated bills; he would have considered it dishonorable to
do so. But it annoyed him to have the money lying idle. In his leisure he
studied the stock market, and he believed that he had several points which
were infallible. He put a few hundreds--two or three--of Halleck's money
into a mining stock which was so low that it _must_ rise. In the mean time
he tried a new kind of beer,--Norwegian beer, which he found a little
lighter even than tivoli. It was more expensive, but it was _very_ light,
and it was essential to Bartley to drink the lightest beer he could find.

He stayed a good deal at home, now, for he had leisure, and it was a much
more comfortable place since Marcia had ceased to question or reproach
him. She did not interfere with some bachelor habits he had formed, in
her absence, of sleeping far into the forenoon; he now occasionally did
night-work on some of the morning papers, and the rest was necessary; he
had his breakfast whenever he got up, as if he had been at a hotel. He
wondered upon what new theory she was really treating him; but he had
always been apt to accept what was comfortable in life without much
question, and he did not wonder long. He was immensely good-natured now.
In his frequent leisure he went out to walk with Marcia and Flavia, and
sometimes he took the little girl alone. He even went to church with them
one Sunday, and called at the Hallecks as often as Marcia liked. The young
ladies had returned, but Ben Halleck was still away. It made Bartley smile
to hear his wife talking of Halleck with his mother and sisters, and
falling quite into the family way of regarding him as if he were somehow a
saint and martyr.

Bartley was still dabbling in stocks with Halleck's money; some of it had
lately gone to pay an assessment which had unexpectedly occurred in place
of a dividend. He told Marcia that he was holding the money ready to return
to Halleck when he came back, or to put it into some other enterprise where
it would help to secure Bartley a new basis. They were now together more
than they had been since the first days of their married life in Boston;
but the perfect intimacy of those days was gone; he had his reserves, and
she her preoccupations,--with the house, with the little girl, with her
anxiety about her mother. Sometimes they sat a whole evening together, with
almost nothing to say to each other, he reading and she sewing. After an
evening of this sort, Bartley felt himself worse bored than if Marcia had
spent it in taking him to task as she used to do. Once he looked at her
over the top of his paper, and distinctly experienced that he was tired of
the whole thing.

But the political canvass was growing more interesting now. It was almost
the end of October, and the speech-making had become very lively. The
Democrats were hopeful and the Republicans resolute, and both parties were
active in getting out their whole strength, as the saying is, at such
times. This was done not only by speech-making, but by long nocturnal
processions of torch-lights; by day, as well as by night, drums throbbed
and horns brayed, and the feverish excitement spread its contagion through
the whole population. But it did not affect Bartley. He had cared nothing
about the canvass from the beginning, having an equal contempt for
the bloody shirt of the Republicans and the reform pretensions of the
Democrats. The only thing that he took an interest in was the betting; he
laid his wagers with so much apparent science and sagacity that he had
a certain following of young men who bet as Hubbard did. Hubbard, they
believed, had a long head; he disdained bets of hats, and of barrels of
apples, and ordeals by wheelbarrow; he would bet only with people who could
put up their money, and his followers honored him for it; when asked where
he got his money, being out of place, and no longer instant to do work that
fell in his way, they answered from a ready faith that he had made a good
thing in mining stocks.

In her heart, Marcia probably did not share this faith. But she faithfully
forbore to harass Bartley with her doubts, and on those evenings when he
found her such dull company she was silent because if she spoke she must
express the trouble in her mind. Women are more apt to theorize their
husbands than men in their stupid self-absorption ever realize. When a man
is married, his wife almost ceases to be exterior to his consciousness; she
afflicts or consoles him like a condition of health or sickness; she
is literally part of him in a spiritual sense, even when he is rather
indifferent to her; but the most devoted wife has always a corner of
her soul in which she thinks of her husband as _him_; in which she
philosophizes him wholly aloof from herself. In such an obscure fastness
of her being, Marcia had meditated a great deal upon Bartley during her
absence at Equity,--meditated painfully, and in her sort prayerfully, upon
him. She perceived that he was not her young dream of him; and since it
appeared to her that she could not forego that dream and live, she could
but accuse herself of having somehow had a perverse influence upon him. She
knew that she had never reproached him except for his good, but she saw too
that she had always made him worse, and not better. She recurred to what he
said the first night they arrived in Boston: "I believe that, if you have
faith in me, I shall get along; and when you don't, I shall go to the bad."
She could reason to no other effect, than that hereafter, no matter what
happened, she must show perfect faith in him by perfect patience. It was
hard, far harder than she had thought. But she did forbear; she did use
patience.

The election day came and went. Bartley remained out till the news of
Tilden's success could no longer be doubted, and then came home jubilant.
Marcia seemed not to understand. "I didn't know you cared so much for
Tilden," she said, quietly. "Mr. Halleck is for Hayes; and Ben Halleck was
coming home to vote."

"That's all right: a vote in Massachusetts makes no difference. I'm for
Tilden, because I have the most money up on him. The success of that
noble old reformer is worth seven hundred dollars to me in bets." Bartley
laughed, rubbed her cheeks with his chilly hands, and went down into
the cellar for some beer. He could not have slept without that, in his
excitement; but he was out very early the next morning, and in the raw damp
of the rainy November day he received a more penetrating chill when he saw
the bulletins at the newspaper offices intimating that a fair count might
give the Republicans enough Southern States to elect Hayes. This appeared
to Bartley the most impudent piece of political effrontery in the whole
history of the country, and among those who went about denouncing
Republican chicanery at the Democratic club-rooms, no one took a loftier
tone of moral indignation than he. The thought that he might lose so much
of Halleck's money through the machinations of a parcel of carpet-bagging
tricksters filled him with a virtue at which he afterwards smiled when he
found that people were declaring their bets off. "I laid a wager on the
popular result, not on the decision of the Returning Boards," he said in
reclaiming his money from the referees. He had some difficulty in getting
it back, but he had got it when he walked homeward at night, after having
been out all day; and there now ensued in his soul a struggle as to what he
should do with this money. He had it all except the three hundred he had
ventured on the mining stock, which would eventually he worth everything he
had paid for it. After his frightful escape from losing half of it on
those bets, he had an intense longing to be rid of it, to give it back
to Halleck, who never would ask him for it, and then to go home and tell
Marcia everything, and throw himself on her mercy. Better poverty, better
disgrace before Halleck and her, better her condemnation, than this life
of temptation that he had been leading. He saw how hideous it was in the
retrospect, and he shuddered; his good instincts awoke, and put forth their
strength, such as it was; tears came into his eyes; he resolved to write to
Kinney and exonerate Ricker, he resolved humbly to beg Ricker's pardon. He
must leave Boston; but if Marcia would forgive him, he would go back with
her to Equity, and take up the study of the law in her father's office
again, and fulfil all her wishes. He would have a hard time to overcome the
old man's prejudices, but he deserved a hard time, and he knew he should
finally succeed. It would be bitter, returning to that stupid little town,
and he imagined the intrusive conjecture and sarcastic comment that would
attend his return; but he believed that he could live this down, and he
trusted himself to laugh it down. He already saw himself there, settled in
the Squire's office, reinstated in public opinion, a leading lawyer of the
place, with Congress open before him whenever he chose to turn his face
that way.

He had thought of going first to Halleck, and returning the money, but he
was willing to give himself the encouragement of Marcia's pleasure, of her
forgiveness and her praise in an affair that had its difficulties and
would require all his manfulness. The maid met him at the door with little
Flavia, and told him that Marcia had gone out to the Hallecks', but had
left word that she would soon return, and that then they would have supper
together. Her absence dashed his warm impulse, but he recovered himself,
and took the little one from the maid. He lighted the gas in the parlor,
and had a frolic with Flavia in kindling a fire in the grate, and making
the room bright and cheerful. He played with the child and made her laugh;
he already felt the pleasure of a good conscience, though with a faint
nether ache in his heart which was perhaps only his wish to have the
disagreeable preliminaries to his better life over as soon as possible. He
drew two easy-chairs up at opposite corners of the hearth, and sat down in
one, leaving the other for Marcia; he had Flavia standing on his knees, and
clinging fast to his fingers, laughing and crowing while he danced her up
and down, when he heard the front door open, and Marcia burst into the
room.

She ran to him and plucked the child from him, and then went back as far as
she could from him in the room, crying, "Give _me_ the child!" and facing
him with the look he knew. Her eyes were dilated, and her visage white with
the transport that had whirled her far beyond the reach of reason. The
frail structure of his good resolutions dropped to ruin at the sight, but
he mechanically rose and advanced upon her till she forbade him with a
muffled shriek of "Don't _touch_ me! So!" she went on, gasping and catching
her breath, "it was _you_! I might have known it! I might have guessed it
from the first! _You_! Was _that_ the reason why you didn't care to have me
hurry home this summer? Was that--was that--" She choked, and convulsively
pressed her face into the neck of the child, which began to cry.

Bartley closed the doors, and then, with his hands in his pockets,
confronted her with a smile of wicked coolness. "Will you be good enough to
tell me what you're talking about?"

"Do you pretend that you don't know? I met a woman at the bottom of the
street just now. Do you know who?"

"No; but it's very dramatic. Go on!"

"It was Hannah Morrison! She reeled against me; and when I--such a fool as
I was!--pitied her, because I was on my way home to you, and was thinking
about you and loving you, and was so happy in it, and asked her how she
came to that, she _struck_ me, and told me to--to--ask my--husband!"

The transport broke in tears; the denunciation had turned to entreaty in
everything but words; but Bartley had hardened his heart now past all
entreaty. The idiotic penitent that he had been a few moments ago, the
soft, well-meaning dolt, was so far from him now as to be scarce within the
reach of his contempt. He was going to have this thing over once for all;
he would have no mercy upon himself or upon her; the Devil was in him, and
uppermost in him, and the Devil is fierce and proud, and knows how to make
many base emotions feel like a just self-respect. "And did you believe a
woman like that?" he sneered.

"Do I believe a man like this?" she demanded, with a dying flash of her
fury. "You--you don't dare to deny it."

"Oh, no, I don't deny it. For one reason, it would be of no use. For all
practical purposes, I admit it. What then?"

"What then?" she asked, bewildered. "Bartley; You don't mean it!"

"Yes, I do. I mean it. I _don't_ deny it. What then? What are you going to
do about it?" She gazed at him in incredulous horror. "Come! I mean what I
say. What will you do?"

"Oh, merciful God! what shall I do?" she prayed aloud.

"That's just what I'm curious to know. When you leaped in here, just now,
you must have meant to do something, if I couldn't convince you that the
woman was lying. Well, you see that I don't try. I give you leave to
believe whatever she said. What then?"

"Bartley!" she besought him in her despair. "Do you drive me from you?"

"Oh, no, certainly not. That isn't my way. You have driven me from you, and
I might claim the right to retaliate, but I don't. I've no expectation that
you'll go away, and I want to see what else you'll do. You would have me,
before we were married; you were tolerably shameless in getting me; when
your jealous temper made you throw me away, you couldn't live till you got
me back again; you ran after me. Well, I suppose you've learnt wisdom,
now. At least you won't try _that_ game again. But what _will_ you do?" He
looked at her smiling, while he dealt her these stabs one by one.

She set down the child, and went out to the entry where its hat and cloak
hung. She had not taken off her own things, and now she began to put on the
little one's garments with shaking hands, kneeling before it. "I will never
live with you again, Bartley," she said.

"Very well. I doubt it, as far as you're concerned; but if you go away now,
you certainly _won't_ live with me again, for I shall not let you come
back. Understand that."

Each had most need of the other's mercy, but neither would have mercy.

"It isn't for what you won't deny. I don't believe that. It's for what
you've said now." She could not make the buttons and the button-holes of
the child's sack meet with her quivering fingers; he actually stooped down
and buttoned the little garment for her, as if they had been going to take
the child out for a walk between them. She caught it up in her arms, and,
sobbing "Good by, Bartley!" ran out of the room.

"Recollect that if you go, you don't come back," he said. The outer door
crashing to behind her was his answer.

He sat down to think, before the fire he had built for her. It was blazing
brightly now, and the whole room had a hideous cosiness. He could not
think, he must act. He went up to their room, where the gas was burning
low, as if she had lighted it and then frugally turned it down as her wont
was. He did not know what his purpose was, but it developed itself. He
began to pack his things in a travelling-bag which he took out of the
closet, and which he had bought for her when she set out for Equity in the
summer; it had the perfume of her dresses yet.

When this was finished, he went down stairs again and being now strangely
hungry he made a meal of such things as he found set out on the tea-table.
Then he went over the papers in his secretary; he burnt some of them, and
put others into his bag.

After all this was done he sat down by the fire again, and gave Marcia a
quarter of an hour longer in which to return. He did not know whether he
was afraid that she would or would not come. But when the time ended, he
took up his bag and went out of the house. It began to rain, and he went
back for an umbrella: he gave her that one chance more, and he ran up into
their room. But she had not come back. He went out again, and hurried away
through the rain to the Albany Depot, where he bought a ticket for Chicago.
There was as yet nothing definite in his purpose, beyond the fact that he
was to be rid of her: whether for a long or short time, or forever, he did
not yet know; whether he meant ever to communicate with her, or seek or
suffer a reconciliation, the locomotive that leaped westward into the dark
with him knew as well as he.

Yet all the mute, obscure forces of habit, which are doubtless the
strongest forces in human nature, were dragging him back to her. Because
their lives had been united so long, it seemed impossible to sever them,
though their union had been so full of misery and discord; the custom of
marriage was so subtile and so pervasive, that his heart demanded her
sympathy for what he was suffering in abandoning her. The solitude into
which he had plunged stretched before him so vast, so sterile and hopeless,
that he had not the courage to realize it; he insensibly began to give it
limits: he would return after so many months, weeks, days.

He passed twenty-four hours on the train, and left it at Cleveland for the
half-hour it stopped for supper. But he could not eat; he had to own to
himself that he was beaten, and that he must return, or throw himself into
the lake. He ran hastily to the baggage-car, and effected the removal of
his bag; then he went to the ticket-office, and waited at the end of a long
queue for his turn at the window. His turn came at last, and he confronted
the nervous and impatient ticket-agent, without speaking.

"Well, sir, what do you want?" demanded the agent. Then, with rising
temper, "What is it? Are you deaf? Are you dumb? You can't expect to stand
there all night!"

The policeman outside the rail laid his hand on Bartley's shoulder: "Move
on, my friend."

He obeyed, and reeled away in a fashion that confirmed the policeman's
suspicions. He searched his pockets again and again; but his porte-monnaie
was in none of them. It had been stolen, and Halleck's money with the rest.
Now he could not return; nothing remained for him but the ruin he had
chosen.

XXXII.

Halleck prolonged his summer vacation beyond the end of October. He had
been in town from time to time and then had set off again on some new
absence; he was so restless and so far from well during the last of these
flying visits, that the old people were glad when he wrote them that
he should stay as long as the fine weather continued. He spoke of an
interesting man whom he had met at the mountain resort where he was
staying; a Spanish-American, attached to one of the Legations at
Washington, who had a scheme for Americanizing popular education in his own
country. "He has made a regular set at me," Halleck wrote, "and if I had
not fooled away so much time already on law and on leather, I should like
to fool away a little more on such a cause as this." He did not mention the
matter again in his letters; but the first night after his return, when
they all sat together in the comfort of having him at home again, he asked
his father, "What should you think of my going to South America?"

The old man started up from the pleasant after-supper drowse into which he
was suffering himself to fall, content with Halleck's presence, and willing
to leave the talk to the women folk. "I don't know what you mean, Ben?"

"I suppose it's my having the matter so much in mind that makes me feel as
if we had talked it over. I mentioned it in one of my letters."

"Yes," returned his father; "but I presumed you were joking."

Halleck frowned impatiently; he would not meet the gaze of his mother and
sisters, but he addressed himself again to his father. "I don't know that I
was in earnest." His mother dropped her eyes to her mending, with a faint
sigh of relief. "But I can't say," he added, "that I was joking, exactly.
The man himself was very serious about it." He stopped, apparently to
govern an irritable impulse, and then he went on to set the project of his
Spanish-American acquaintance before them, explaining it in detail.

At the end, "That's good," said his father, "but why need _you_ have gone,
Ben?"

The question seemed to vex Halleck; he did not answer at once. His mother
could not bear to see him crossed, and she came to his help against herself
and his father, since it was only supposing the case. "I presume," she
said, "that we could have looked at it as a missionary work."

"It isn't a missionary work, mother," answered Halleck, severely, "in any
sense that you mean. I should go down there to teach, and I should be
paid for it. And I want to say at once that they have no yellow-fever nor
earthquakes, and that they have not had a revolution for six years. The
country's perfectly safe every way, and so wholesome that it will be a good
thing for me. But I shouldn't expect to convert anybody."

"Of course not, Ben," said his mother, soothingly.

"I hope you wouldn't object to it if it _were_ a missionary work," said one
of the elder sisters.

"No, Anna," returned Ben.

"I merely wanted to know," said Anna.

"Then I hope you're satisfied, Anna," Olive cut in. "Ben won't refuse to
convert the Uruguayans if they apply in a proper spirit."

"I think Anna had a right to ask," said Miss Louisa, the eldest.

"Oh, undoubtedly, Miss Halleck," said Olive. "I like to see Ben reproved
for misbehavior to his mother, myself."

Her father laughed at Olive's prompt defence. "Well, it's a cause that
we've all got to respect; but I don't see why _you_ should go, Ben, as I
said before. It would do very well for some young fellow who had no settled
prospects, but you've got your duties here. I presume you looked at it in
that light. As you said in your letter, you've fooled away so much time on
leather and law--"

"I shall never amount to anything in the law!" Ben broke out. His mother
looked at him in anxiety; his father kept a steady smile on his face; Olive
sat alert for any chance that offered to put down her elder sisters, who
drew in their breath, and grew silently a little primmer. "I'm not well--"

"Oh, I know you're not, dear," interrupted his mother, glad of another
chance to abet him.

"I'm not strong enough to go on with the line of work I've marked out, and
I feel that I'm throwing away the feeble powers I have."

His father answered with less surprise than Halleck had evidently expected,
for he had thrown out his words with a sort of defiance; probably the old
man had watched him closely enough to surmise that it might come to this
with him at last. At any rate, he was able to say, without seeming to
assent too readily, "Well, well, give up the law, then, and come back into
leather, as you call it. Or take up something else. We don't wish to make
anything a burden to you; but take up some useful work at home. There are
plenty of things to be done."

"Not for me," said Halleck, gloomily.

"Oh, yes, there are," said the old man.

"I see you are not willing to have me go," said Halleck, rising in
uncontrollable irritation. "But I wish you wouldn't all take this tone with
me!"

"We haven't taken any tone with you, Ben," said his mother, with pleading
tenderness.

"I think Anna has decidedly taken a tone," said Olive.

Anna did not retort, but "What tone?" demanded Louisa, in her behalf.

"Hush, children," said their mother.

"Well, well," suggested his father to Ben. "Think it over, think it over.
There's no hurry."

"I've thought it over; there _is_ hurry," retorted Halleck. "If I go, I
must go at once."

His mother arrested her thread, half drawn through the seam, letting her
hand drop, while she glanced at him.

"It isn't so much a question of your giving up the law, Ben, as of your
giving up your family and going so far away from us all," said his father.
"That's what I shouldn't like."

"I don't like that, either. But I can't help it." He added, "Of course,
mother, I shall not go without your full and free consent. You and father
must settle it between you." He fetched a quick, worried sigh as he put his
hand on the door.

"Ben isn't himself at all," said Mrs. Halleck, with tears in her eyes,
after he had left the room.

"No," said her husband. "He's restless. He'll get over this idea in a few
days." He urged this hope against his wife's despair, and argued himself
into low spirits.

"I don't believe but what it _would_ be the best thing for his health, may
be," said Mrs. Halleck, at the end.

"I've always had my doubts whether he would ever come to anything in the
law," said the father.

The elder sisters discussed Halleck's project apart between themselves, as
their wont was with any family interest, and they bent over a map of South
America, so as to hide what they were doing from their mother.

Olive had left the room by another door, and she intercepted Halleck before
he reached his own.

"What is the matter, Ben?" she whispered.

"Nothing," he answered, coldly. But he added, "Come in, Olive."

She followed him, and hovered near after he turned up the gas.

"I can't stand it here, I must go," he said, turning a dull, weary look
upon her.

"Who was at the Elm House that you knew this last time?" she asked,
quickly.

"Laura Dixmore isn't driving me away, if you mean that," replied Halleck.

"I _couldn't_ believe it was she! I should have despised you if it was. But
I shall hate her, whoever it was."

Halleck sat down before his table, and his sister sank upon the corner of a
chair near it, and looked wistfully at him. "I know there is some one!"

"If you think I've been fool enough to offer myself to any one, Olive,
you're very much mistaken."

"Oh, it needn't have come to that," said Olive, with indignant pity.

"My life's a failure here," cried Halleck, moving his head uneasily from
side to side. "I feel somehow as if I could go out there and pick up the
time I've lost. Great Heaven!" he cried, "if I were only running away from
some innocent young girl's rejection, what a happy man I should be!"

"It's some horrid married thing, then, that's been flirting with you!"

He gave a forlorn laugh. "I'd almost confess it to please you, Olive. But
I'd prefer to get out of the matter without lying, if I could. Why need you
suppose any reason but the sufficient one I've given?--Don't afflict me!
don't imagine things about me, don't make a mystery of me! I've been blunt
and awkward, and I've bungled the business with father and mother; but I
want to get away because I'm a miserable fraud here, and I think I might
rub on a good while there before I found myself out again."

"Ben," demanded Olive, regardless of his words, "what have you been doing?"

"The old story,--nothing."

"Is that true, Ben?"

"You used to be satisfied with asking once, Olive."

"You _haven't_ been so wicked, so careless, as to get some poor creature in
love with, you, and then want to run away from the misery you've made?"

"I suppose if I look it there's no use denying it," said Halleck, letting
his sad eyes meet hers, and smiling drearily. "You insist upon having a
lady in the case?"

"Yes. But I see you won't tell me anything; and I _won't_ afflict you. Only
I'm afraid it's just some silly thing, that you've got to brooding over,
and that you'll let drive you away."

"Well, you have the comfort of reflecting that I can't get away, whatever
the pressure is."

"You know better than that, Ben; and so do I. You know that, if you haven't
got father and mother's consent already, it's only because you haven't had
the heart to ask for it. As far as that's concerned, you're gone already.
But I hope you won't go without thinking it over, as father says,--and
talking it over. I hate to have you seem unsteady and fickle-minded, when
I know you're not; and I'm going to set myself against this project till
I know what's driving you from us,--or till I'm sure that it's something
worth while. You needn't expect that I shall help to make it easy for you;
I shall help to make it hard."

Her loving looks belied her threats; if the others could not resist Ben
when any sort of desire showed itself through his habitual listlessness,
how could she, who understood him best and sympathized with him most?
"There was something I was going to talk to you about, to-night, if you
hadn't scared us all with this ridiculous scheme, and ask you whether you
couldn't do something." She seemed to suggest the change of interest with
the hope of winning his thoughts away from the direction they had taken;
but he listened apathetically, and left her to go further or not as she
chose. "I think," she added abruptly, "that some trouble is hanging over
those wretched Hubbards."

"Some new one?" asked Halleck, with sad sarcasm, turning his eyes towards
her, as if with the resolution of facing her.

"You know he's left his place on that newspaper."

"Yes, I heard that when I was at home before."

"There are some very disagreeable stories about it. They say he was turned
away by Mr. Witherby for behaving badly,--for printing something he
oughtn't to have done."

"That was to have been expected," said Halleck.

"He hasn't found any other place, and Marcia says he gets very little work
to do. He must be running into debt, terribly. I feel very anxious about
them. I don't know what they're living on."

"Probably on some money I lent him," said Halleck, quietly. "I lent him
fifteen hundred in the spring. It ought to make him quite comfortable for
the present."

"Oh, Ben! Why did you lend him money? You might have known he wouldn't do
any good with it."

Halleck explained how and why the loan had been made, and added: "If he's
supporting his family with it, he's doing some good. I lent it to him for
her sake."

Halleck looked hardily into his sister's face, but he dropped his eyes
when she answered, simply: "Yes, of course. But I don't believe she knows
anything about it; and I'm glad of it: it would only add to her trouble.
She worships you, Ben!"

"Does she?"

"She seems to think you are perfect, and she never comes here but she asks
when you're to be home. I suppose she thinks you have a good influence on
that miserable husband of hers. He's going from bad to worse, I guess.
Father heard that he is betting on the election. That's what he's doing
with your money."

"It would be somebody else's money if it wasn't mine," said Halleck.
"Bartley Hubbard must live, and he must have the little excitements that
make life agreeable."

"Poor thing!" sighed Olive, "I don't know what she would do if she heard
that you were going away. To hear her talk, you would think she had been
counting the days and hours till you got back. It's ridiculous, the way she
goes on with mother; asking everything about you, as if she expected to
make Bartley Hubbard over again on your pattern. I should hate to have
anybody think me such a saint as she does you. But there isn't much danger,
thank goodness! I could laugh, sometimes, at the way she questions us all
about you, and is so delighted when she finds that you and that wretch have
anything in common. But it's all too miserably sad. She certainly _is_
the most single-hearted creature alive," continued Olive, reflectively.
"Sometimes she _scares_ me with her innocence. I don't believe that even
her jealousy ever suggested a wicked idea to her: she's furious because she
feels the injustice of giving so much more than he does. She hasn't really
a thought for anybody else: I do believe that if she were free to choose
from now till doomsday she would always choose Bartley Hubbard, bad as she
knows him to be. And if she were a widow, and anybody else proposed to her,
she would be utterly shocked and astonished."

"Very likely," said Halleck, absently.

"I feel very unhappy about her," Olive resumed. I know that she's anxious
and troubled all the time. _Can't_ you do something, Ben? Have a talk
with that disgusting thing, and see if you can't put him straight again,
somehow?"

"No!" exclaimed Halleck, bursting violently from his abstraction. "I shall
have nothing to do with them! Let him go his own way and the sooner he goes
to the--I won't interfere,--I can't, I mustn't! I wonder at you, Olive!" He
pushed away from the table, and went limping about the room, searching here
and there for his hat and stick, which were on the desk where he had put
them, in plain view. As he laid hand on them at last, he met his sister's
astonished eyes. "If I interfered, I should not interfere because I cared
for _him_ at all!" he cried.

"Of course not," said Olive. "But I don't see anything to make you _wonder_
at me about that."

"It would be because I cared for her--"

"Certainly! You didn't suppose I expected you to interfere from any other
motive?"

He stood looking at her in stupefaction, with his hand on his hat and
stick, like a man who doubts whether he has heard aright. Presently a
shiver passed over him, another light came into his eyes, and he said
quietly, "I'm going out to see Atherton."

"To-night?" said his sister, accepting provisionally, as women do, the
apparent change of subject. "Don't go to-night, Ben! You're too tired."

"I'm not tired. I intended to see him to-night, at any rate. I want to talk
over this South American scheme with him." He put on his hat, and moved
quickly toward the door.

"Ask him about the Hubbards," said Olive. "Perhaps he can tell you
something."

"I don't want to know anything. I shall ask him nothing."

She slipped between him and the door. "Ben, you haven't heard anything
against poor Marcia, have you?"

"No!"

"You don't think she's to blame in any way for his going wrong, do you?

"How could I?"

"Then I don't understand why you won't do anything to help her."

He looked at her again, and opened his lips to speak once, but closed them
before he said, "I've got my own affairs to worry me. Isn't that reason
enough for not interfering in theirs?"

"Not for you, Ben."

"Then I don't choose to mix myself up in other people's misery. I don't
like it, as you once said."

"But you can't help it sometimes, as _you_ said."

"I can this time, Olive. Don't you see,--" he began.

"I see there's something you won't tell me. But I shall find it out." She
threatened him half playfully.

"I wish you could," he answered. "Then perhaps you'd let me know." She
opened the door for him now, and as he passed out he said gently, "I _am_
tired, but I sha'n't begin to rest till I have had this talk with Atherton.
I had better go."

"Yes," Olive assented, "you'd better." She added in banter, "You're
altogether too mysterious to be of much comfort at home."

The family heard him close the outside door behind him after Olive came
back to them, and she explained, "He's gone out to talk it over with Mr.
Atherton."

His father gave a laugh of relief. "Well, if he leaves it to Atherton, I
guess we needn't worry about it."

"The child isn't at all well," said his mother.

XXXIII.

Halleck met Atherton at the door of his room with his hat and coat on.
"Why, Halleck! I was just going to see if you had come home!"

"You needn't now," said Halleck, pushing by him into the room. "I want to
see you, Atherton, on business."

Atherton took off his hat, and closed the door with one hand, while he
slipped the other arm out of his overcoat sleeve. "Well, to tell the truth,
I was going to mingle a little business myself with the pleasure of seeing
you." He turned up the gas in his drop-light, and took the chair from which
he had looked across the table at Halleck, when they talked there before.
"It's the old subject," he said, with a sense of repetition in the
situation. "I learn from Witherby that Hubbard has taken that money of
yours out of the Events, and from what I hear elsewhere he is making ducks
and drakes of it on election bets. What shall you do about it?"

"Nothing," said Halleck.

"Oh! Very well," returned Atherton, with the effect of being a little
snubbed, but resolved to take his snub professionally. He broke out,
however, in friendly exasperation: "Why in the world did you lend the
fellow that money?"

Halleck lifted his brooding eyes, and fixed them half pleadingly, half
defiantly upon his friend's face. "I did it for his wife's sake."

"Yes, I know," returned Atherton. "I remember how you felt. I couldn't
share your feeling, but I respected it. However, I doubt if your loan was a
benefit to either of them. It probably tempted him to count upon money that
he hadn't earned, and that's always corrupting."

"Yes," Halleck replied. "But I can't say that, so far as he's concerned,
I'm very sorry. I don't suppose it would do her any good if I forced him to
disgorge any balance he may have left from his wagers?"

"No, hardly."

"Then I shall let him alone."

The subject was dismissed, and Atherton waited for Halleck to speak of
the business on which he had come. But Halleck only played with the paper
cutter which his left hand had found on the table near him, and, with his
chin sunk on his breast, seemed lost in an unhappy reverie.

"I hope you won't accuse yourself of doing him an injury," said Atherton,
at last, with a smile.

"Injury?" demanded Halleck, quickly. "What injury? How?"

"By lending him that money."

"Oh! I had forgotten that; I wasn't thinking of it," returned Halleck
impatiently. "I was thinking of something different. I'm aware of disliking
the man so much, that I should be willing to have greater harm than that
happen to him,--the greatest, for what I know. Though I don't know, after
all, that it would be harm. In another life, if there is one, he might
start in a new direction; but that isn't imaginable of him here; he can
only go from bad to worse; he can only make more and more sorrow and shame.
Why shouldn't one wish him dead, when his death could do nothing but good?"

"I suppose you don't expect me to answer such a question seriously."

"But suppose I did?"

"Then I should say that no man ever wished any such good as that, except
from the worst motive; and the less one has to do with such questions, even
as abstractions, the better."

"You're right," said Halleck. "But why do you call it an abstraction?"

"Because, in your case, nothing else is conceivable."

"I told you I was willing the worst should happen to him."

"And I didn't believe you."

Halleck lay back in his chair, and laughed wearily. "I wish I could
convince somebody of my wickedness. But it seems to be useless to try. I
say things that ought to raise the roof, both to you here and to Olive at
home, and you tell me you don't believe me, and she tells me that Mrs.
Hubbard thinks me a saint. I suppose now, that if I took you by the
button-hole and informed you confidentially that I had stopped long enough
at 129 Clover Street to put Bartley Hubbard quietly out of the way, you
wouldn't send for a policeman."

"I should send for a doctor," said Atherton.

"Such is the effect of character! And yet out of the fulness of the heart,
the mouth speaketh. Out of the heart proceed all those unpleasant things
enumerated in Scripture; but if you bottle them up there, and keep your
label fresh, it's all that's required of you, by your fellow-beings, at
least. What an amusing thing morality would be if it were not--otherwise.
Atherton, do you believe that such a man as Christ ever lived?"

"I know you do, Halleck," said Atherton.

"Well, that depends upon what you call _me_. It what I was--if my well
Sunday-schooled youth--is I, I do. But if I, poising dubiously on the
momentary present, between the past and future, am I, I'm afraid I don't.
And yet it seems to me that I have a fairish sort of faith. I know that, if
Christ never lived on earth, some One lived who imagined him, and that One
must have been a God. The historical fact oughtn't to matter. Christ being
imagined, can't you see what a comfort, what a rapture, it must have been
to all these poor souls to come into such a presence and be looked through
and through? The relief, the rest, the complete exposure of Judgment Day--"

"Every day is Judgment Day," said Atherton.

"Yes, I know your doctrine. But I mean the Last Day. We ought to have
something in anticipation of it, here, in our social system. Character is a
superstition, a wretched fetish. Once a year wouldn't be too often to seize
upon sinners whose blameless life has placed them above suspicion, and turn
them inside out before the community, so as to show people how the smoke
of the Pit had been quietly blackening their interior. That would destroy
character as a cult." He laughed again. "Well, this isn't business,--though
it isn't pleasure, either, exactly. What I came for was to ask you
something. I've finished at the Law School, and I'm just ready to begin
here in the office with you. Don't you think it would be a good time for
me to give up the law? Wait a moment!" he said, arresting in Atherton an
impulse to speak. "We will take the decent surprise, the friendly demur,
the conscientious scruple, for granted. Now, honestly, do you believe I've
got the making of a lawyer in me?"

"I don't think you're very well, Halleck," Atherton began.

"Ah, _you're_ a lawyer! You won't give me a direct answer!"

"I will if you wish," retorted Atherton.

"Well."

"Do you want to give it up?"

"Yes."

"Then do it. No man ever prospered in it yet who wanted to leave it. And
now, since it's come to this, I'll tell you what I really _have_ thought,
all along. I've thought that, if your heart was really set on the law, you
would overcome your natural disadvantages for it; but if the time ever came
when you were tired of it, your chance was lost: you never would make a
lawyer. The question is, whether that time has come."

"It has," said Halleck.

"Then stop, here and now. You've wasted two years' time, but you can't get
it back by throwing more after it. I shouldn't be your friend, I shouldn't
be an honest man, if I let you go on with me, after this. A bad lawyer is
such a very bad thing. This isn't altogether a surprise to me, but it will
be a blow to your father," he added, with a questioning look at Halleck,
after a moment.

"It might have been, if I hadn't taken the precaution to deaden the place
by a heavier blow first."

"Ah! you've spoken to him already?"

"Yes, I've had it out in a sneaking, hypothetical way. But I could see
that, so far as the law was concerned it was enough; it served. Not that
he's consented to the other thing; there's where I shall need your help,
Atherton. I'll tell you what my plan is." He stated it bluntly at first;
and then went over the ground and explained it fully, as he had done at
home. Atherton listened without permitting any sign of surprise to escape
him; but he listened with increasing gravity, as if he heard something not
expressed in Halleck's slow, somewhat nasal monotone, and at the end he
said, "I approve of any plan that will take you away for a while. Yes, I'll
speak to your father about it."

"If you think you need any conviction, I could use arguments to bring
it about in you," said Halleck, in recognition of his friend's ready
concurrence.

"No, I don't need any arguments to convince me, I believe," returned
Atherton.

"Then I wish you'd say something to bring me round! Unless argument is used
by somebody, the plan always produces a cold chill in me." Halleck smiled,
but Atherton kept a sober face. "I wish my Spanish American was here! What
makes you think it's a good plan? Why should I disappoint my father's hopes
again, and wring my mother's heart by proposing to leave them for any such
uncertain good as this scheme promises?" He still challenged his friend
with a jesting air, but a deeper and stronger feeling of some sort trembled
in his voice.

Atherton would not reply to his emotion; he answered, with obvious evasion:
"It's a good cause; in some sort--the best sort--it's a missionary work."

"That's what my mother said to me."

"And the change will be good for your health."

"That's what I said to my mother!"

Atherton remained silent, waiting apparently for Halleck to continue, or to
end the matter there, as he chose.

It was some moments before Halleck went on; "You would say, wouldn't you,
that my first duty was to my own undertakings, and to those who had a right
to expect their fulfilment from me? You would say that it was an enormity
to tear myself away from the affection that clings to me in that home of
mine, yonder, and that nothing but some supreme motive, could justify me?
And yet you pretend to be satisfied with the reasons I've given you. You're
not dealing honestly with me, Atherton!"

"No," said Atherton, keeping the same scrutiny of Halleck's face which he
had bent upon him throughout, but seeming now to hear his thoughts rather
than his words. "I knew that you would have some supreme motive; and if I
have pretended to approve your scheme on the reasons you have given me, I
haven't dealt honestly with you. But perhaps a little dishonesty is the
best thing under the circumstances. You haven't told me your real motive,
and I can't ask it"

"But you imagine it?"

"Yes."

"And what do you imagine? That I have been disappointed in love? That
I have been rejected? That the girl who had accepted me has broken her
engagement? Something of that sort?" demanded Halleck, scornfully.

Atherton did not answer.

"Oh, how far you are from the truth! How blest and proud and happy I should
be if it were the truth!" He looked into his friend's eyes, and added
bitterly: "You're not curious, Atherton; you don't ask me what my trouble
really is! Do you wish me to tell you what it is without asking?"

Atherton kept turning a pencil end for end between his fingers, while a
compassionate smile slightly curved his lips. "No," he said, finally, "I
think you had better not tell me your trouble. I can believe very well
without knowing it that it's serious--"

"Oh, tragic!" said Halleck, self-contemptuously.

"But I doubt if it would help you to tell it. I've too much respect for
your good sense to suppose that it's an unreality; and I suspect that
confession would only weaken you. If you told me, you would feel that you
had made me a partner in your responsibility, and you would be tempted to
leave the struggle to me. If you're battling with some temptation, some
self-betrayal, you must make the fight alone: you would only turn to an
ally to be flattered into disbelief of your danger or your culpability."

Halleck assented with a slight nod to each point that the lawyer made.
"You're right," he said, "but a man of your subtlety can't pretend that he
doesn't know what the trouble is in such a simple case as mine."

"I don't know anything certainly," returned Atherton, "and as far as I can
I refuse to imagine anything. If your trouble concerns some one besides
yourself,--and no great trouble can concern one man alone,--you've no right
to tell it."

"Another Daniel come to judgment!"

"You must trust to your principles, your self-respect, to keep you right--"

Halleck burst into a harsh laugh, and rose from his chair: "Ah, there you
abdicate the judicial function! Principles, self-respect! Against
_that_? Don't you suppose I was approached _through_ my principles and
self-respect? Why, the Devil always takes a man on the very highest plane.
He knows all about our principles and self-respect, and what they're made
of. How the noblest and purest attributes of our nature, with which we trap
each other so easily, must amuse him! Pity, rectitude, moral indignation, a
blameless life,--he knows that they're all instruments for him. No, sir! No
more principles and self-respect for me,--I've had enough of them; there's
nothing for me but to run, and that's what I'm going to do. But you're
quite right about the other thing, Atherton, and I give you a beggar's
thanks for telling me that my trouble isn't mine alone, and I've no right
to confide it to you. It is mine in the sense that no other soul is defiled
with the knowledge of it, and I'm glad you saved me from the ghastly
profanation, the sacrilege, of telling it. I was sneaking round for your
sympathy; I did want somehow to shift the responsibility on to you; to get
you--God help me!--to flatter me out of my wholesome fear and contempt of
myself. Well! That's past, now, and--Good night!" He abruptly turned away
from Atherton and swung himself on his cane toward the door.

Atherton took up his hat and coat. "I'll walk home with you," he said.

"All right," returned Halleck, listlessly.

"How soon shall you go?" asked the lawyer, when they were in the street.

"Oh, there's a ship sailing from New York next week," said Halleck, in the
same tone of weary indifference. "I shall go in that."

They talked desultorily of other things.

When they came to the foot of Clover Street, Halleck plucked his hand
out of Atherton's arm. "I'm going up through here!" he said, with sullen
obstinacy.

"Better not," returned his friend, quietly.

"Will it hurt her if I stop to look at the outside of the house where she
lives?"

"It will hurt you," said Atherton.

"I don't wish to spare myself!" retorted Halleck. He shook off the touch
that Atherton had laid upon his shoulder, and started up the hill; the
other overtook him, and, like a man who has attempted to rule a drunkard by
thwarting his freak, and then hopes to accomplish his end by humoring it,
he passed his arm through Halleck's again, and went with him. But when they
came to the house, Halleck did not stop; he did not even look at it; but
Atherton felt the deep shudder that passed through him.

In the week that followed, they met daily, and Halleck's broken pride no
longer stayed him from the shame of open self-pity and wavering purpose.
Atherton found it easier to persuade the clinging reluctance of the father
and mother, than to keep Halleck's resolution for him: Halleck could no
longer keep it for himself. "Not much like the behavior of people we read
of in similar circumstances," he said once. "_They_ never falter when they
see the path of duty: they push forward without looking to either hand; or
else," he added, with a hollow laugh at his own satire, "they turn their
backs on it,--like men! Well!"

He grew gaunt and visibly feeble. In this struggle the two men changed
places. The plan for Halleck's flight was no longer his own, but
Atherton's; and when he did not rebel against it, he only passively
acquiesced. The decent pretence of ignorance on Atherton's part necessarily
disappeared: in all but words the trouble stood openly confessed between
them, and it came to Atherton's saying, in one of Halleck's lapses of
purpose, from which it had required all the other's strength to lift him:
"Don't come to me any more, Halleck, with the hope that I shall somehow
justify your evil against your good. I pitied you at first; but I blame you
now."

"You're atrocious," said Halleck, with a puzzled, baffled look. "What do
you mean?"

"I mean that you secretly think you have somehow come by your evil
virtuously; and you want me to persuade you that it is different from
other evils of exactly the same kind,--that it is beautiful and sweet and
pitiable, and not ugly as hell and bitter as death, to be torn out of you
mercilessly and flung from you with abhorrence. Well, I tell you that you
are suffering guiltily, for no man suffers innocently from such a cause.
You must _go_, and you can't go too soon. Don't suppose that I find
anything noble in your position. I should do you a great wrong if I didn't
do all I could to help you realize that you're in disgrace, and that you're
only making a choice of shames in running away. Suppose the truth was
known,--suppose that those who hold you dear could be persuaded of
it,--could you hold up your head?"

"Do I hold up my head as it is?" asked Halleck. "Did you ever see a more
abject dog than I am at this moment? Your wounds are faithful, Atherton;
but perhaps you might have spared me this last stab. If you want to know,
I can assure you that I don't feel any melodramatic vainglory. I know that
I'm running away because I'm beaten, but no other man can know the battle
I've fought. Don't you suppose I know how hideous this thing is? No one
else can know it in all its ugliness!" He covered his face with his hands.
"You are right," he said, when he could find his voice. "I suffer guiltily.
I must have known it when I seemed to be suffering for pity's sake; I knew
it before, and when you said that love without marriage was a worse hell
than any marriage without love, you left me without refuge: I had been
trying not to face the truth, but I had to face it then. I came away in
hell, and I have lived in hell ever since. I had tried to think it was a
crazy fancy, and put it on my failing health; I used to make believe that
some morning I should wake and find the illusion gone. I abhorred it from
the beginning as I do now; it has been torment to me; and yet somewhere
in my lost soul--the blackest depth, I dare say!--this shame has been so
sweet,--it is so sweet,--the one sweetness of life--Ah!" He dashed the weak
tears from his eyes, and rose and buttoned his coat about him. "Well, I
shall go. And I hope I shall never come back. Though you needn't mention
this to my father as an argument for my going when you talk me over with
him," he added, with a glimmer of his wonted irony. He waited a moment, and
then turned upon his friend, in sad upbraiding: "When I came to you a year
and a half ago, after I had taken that ruffian home drunk to her--Why
didn't you warn me then, Atherton? Did you see any danger?"

Atherton hesitated: "I knew that, with your habit of suffering for other
people, it would make you miserable; but I couldn't have dreamed this would
come of it. But you've never been out of your own keeping for a moment. You
are responsible, and you are to blame if you are suffering now, and can
find no safety for yourself but in running away."

"That's true," said Halleck, very humbly, "and I won't trouble you any
more. I can't go on sinning against her belief in me here, and live. I
shall go on sinning against it there, as long as I live; but it seems to me
the harm will be a little less. Yes, I will go."

But the night before he went, he came to Atherton's lodging to tell him
that he should not go; Atherton was not at home, and Halleck was spared
this last dishonor. He returned to his father's house through the rain
that was beginning to fall lightly, and as he let himself in with his key
Olive's voice said, "It's Ben!" and at the same time she laid her hand upon
his arm with a nervous, warning clutch. "Hush! Come in here!" She drew him
from the dimly lighted hall into the little reception-room near the door.
The gas was burning brighter there, and in the light he saw Marcia white
and still, where she sat holding her baby in her arms. They exchanged no
greeting: it was apparent that her being there transcended all usage, and
that they need observe none.

"Ben will go home with you," said Olive, soothingly. "Is it raining?" she
asked, looking at her brother's coat. "I will get my water-proof."

She left them a moment. "I have been--been walking--walking about," Marcia
panted. "It has got so dark--I'm--afraid to go home. I hate to--take you
from them--the last--night."

Halleck answered nothing; he sat staring at her till Olive came back with
the water-proof and an umbrella. Then, while his sister was putting the
waterproof over Marcia's shoulders, he said, "Let me take the little one,"
and gathered it, with or without her consent, from her arms into his. The
baby was sleeping; it nestled warmly against him with a luxurious quiver
under the shawl that Olive threw round it. "You can carry the umbrella," he
said to Marcia.

They walked fast, when they got out into the rainy dark, and it was hard to
shelter Halleck as he limped rapidly on. Marcia ran forward once, to see
if her baby were safely kept from the wet, and found that Halleck had its
little face pressed close between his neck and cheek. "Don't be afraid," he
said. "I'm looking out for it."

His voice sounded broken and strange, and neither of them spoke again till
they came in sight of Marcia's door. Then she tried to stop him. She put
her hand on his shoulder. "Oh, I'm afraid--afraid to go in," she pleaded.

He halted, and they stood confronted in the light of a street lamp; her
face was twisted with weeping. "Why are you afraid?" he demanded, harshly.

"We had a quarrel, and I--I ran away--I said that I would never come back.
I left him--"

"You must go back to him," said Halleck. "He's your husband!" He pushed on
again, saying over and over, as if the words were some spell in which he
found safety, "You must go back, you must go back, you must go back!"

He dragged her with him now, for she hung helpless on his arm, which she
had seized, and moaned to herself. At the threshold, "I can't go in!" she
broke out. "I'm afraid to go in! What will he say? What will he do? Oh,
come in with me! You are good,--and then I shall not be afraid!"

"You must go in alone! No man can be your refuge from your husband! Here!"
He released himself, and, kissing the warm little face of the sleeping
child, he pressed it into her arms. His fingers touched hers under the
shawl; he tore his hand away with a shiver.

She stood a moment looking at the closed door; then she flung it open, and,
pausing as if to gather her strength, vanished into the brightness within.

He turned, and ran crookedly down the street, wavering from side to side in
his lameness, and flinging up his arms to save himself from falling as he
ran, with a gesture that was like a wild and hopeless appeal.

XXXIV.

Marcia pushed into the room where she had left Bartley. She had no escape
from her fate; she must meet it, whatever it was. The room was empty,
and she began doggedly to search the house for him, up stairs and down,
carrying the child with her. She would not have been afraid now to call
him; but she had no voice, and she could not ask the servant anything when
she looked into the kitchen. She saw the traces of the meal he had made in
the dining-room, and when she went a second time to their chamber to lay
the little girl down in her crib, she saw the drawers pulled open, and the
things as he had tossed them about in packing his bag. She looked at the
clock on the mantel--an extravagance of Bartley's, for which she had
scolded him--and it was only half past eight; she had thought it must be
midnight.

She sat all night in a chair beside the bed; in the morning she drowsed and
dreamed that she was weeping on Bartley's shoulder, and he was joking her
and trying to comfort her, as he used to do when they were first married;
but it was the little girl, sitting up in her crib, and crying loudly for
her breakfast. She put on the child a pretty frock that Bartley liked, and
when she had dressed her own tumbled hair she went down stairs, feigning to
herself that they should find him in the parlor. The servant was setting
the table for breakfast, and the little one ran forward: "Baby's chair;
mamma's chair; papa's chair!"

"Yes," answered Marcia, so that the servant might hear too. "Papa will soon
be home."

She persuaded herself that he had gone as before for the night, and in this
pretence she talked with the child at the table, and she put aside some of
the breakfast to be kept warm for Bartley. "I don't know just when he may
be in," she explained to the girl. The utterance of her pretence that she
expected him encouraged her, and she went about her work almost cheerfully.

At dinner she said, "Mr. Hubbard must have been called away, somewhere.
We must get his dinner for him when he comes: the things dry up so in the
oven."

She put Flavia to bed early, and then trimmed the fire, and made the parlor
cosey against Bartley's coming. She did not blame him for staying away the
night before; it was a just punishment for her wickedness, and she should
tell him so, and tell him that she knew he never was to blame for anything
about Hannah Morrison. She enacted over and over in her mind the scene of
their reconciliation. In every step on the pavement he approached the door;
at last all the steps died away, and the second night passed.

Her head was light, and her brain confused with loss of sleep. When the
child called her from above, and woke her out of her morning drowse, she
went to the kitchen and begged the servant to give the little one its
breakfast, saying that she was sick and wanted nothing herself. She did not
say anything about Bartley's breakfast, and she would not think anything;
the girl took the child into the kitchen with her, and kept it there all
day.

Olive Halleck came during the forenoon, and Marcia told her that Bartley
had been unexpectedly called away. "To New York," she added, without
knowing why.

"Ben sailed from there to-day," said Olive sadly.

"Yes," assented Marcia.

"We want you to come and take tea with us this evening," Olive began.

"Oh, I can't," Marcia broke in. "I mustn't be away when Bartley gets back."
The thought was something definite in the sea of uncertainty on which she
was cast away; she never afterwards lost her hold of it; she confirmed
herself in it by other inventions; she pretended that he had told her where
he was going, and then that he had written to her. She almost believed
these childish fictions as she uttered them. At the same time, in all her
longing for his return, she had a sickening fear that when he came back he
would keep his parting threat and drive her away: she did not know how he
could do it, but this was what she feared.

She seldom left the house, which at first she kept neat and pretty, and
then let fall into slatternly neglect. She ceased to care for her dress or
the child's; the time came when it seemed as if she could scarcely move in
the mystery that beset her life, and she yielded to a deadly lethargy which
paralyzed all her faculties but the instinct of concealment.

She repelled the kindly approaches of the Hallecks, sometimes sending word
to the door when they came, that she was sick and could not see them;
or when she saw any of them, repeating those hopeless lies concerning
Bartley's whereabouts, and her expectations of his return.

For the time she was safe against all kindly misgivings; but there were
some of Bartley's creditors who grew impatient of his long absence, and
refused to be satisfied with her fables. She had a few dollars left from
some money that her father had given her at home, and she paid these all
out upon the demand of the first-comer. Afterwards, as other bills were
pressed, she could only answer with incoherent promises and evasions that
scarcely served for the moment. The pursuit of these people dismayed her.
It was nothing that certain of them refused further credit; she would have
known, both for herself and her child, how to go hungry and cold; but there
was one of them who threatened her with the law if she did not pay. She did
not know what he could do; she had read somewhere that people who did not
pay their debts were imprisoned, and if that disgrace were all she would
not care. But if the law were enforced against her, the truth would come
out; she would be put to shame before the world as a deserted wife; and
this when Bartley had _not_ deserted her. The pride that had bidden her
heart break in secret rather than suffer this shame even before itself, was
baffled: her one blind device had been concealment, and this poor refuge
was possible no longer. If all were not to know, some one must know.

The law with which she had been threatened might be instant in its
operation; she could not tell. Her mind wavered from fear to fear. Even
while the man stood before her, she perceived the necessity that was upon
her, and when he left her she would not allow herself a moment's delay.

She reached the Events building, in which Mr. Atherton had his office, just
as a lady drove away in her coupe. It was Miss Kingsbury, who made a point
of transacting all business matters with her lawyer at his office, and of
keeping her social relations with him entirely distinct, as she fancied,
by this means. She was only partially successful, but at least she never
talked business with him at her house, and doubtless she would not have
talked anything else with him at his office, but for that increasing
dependence upon him in everything which she certainly would not have
permitted herself if she had realized it. As it was, she had now come to
him in a state of nervous exaltation, which was not business-like. She had
been greatly shocked by Ben Halleck's sudden freak; she had sympathized
with his family till she herself felt the need of some sort of condolence,
and she had promised herself this consolation from Atherton's habitual
serenity. She did not know what to do when he received her with what she
considered an impatient manner, and did not seem at all glad to see
her. There was no reason why he should be glad to see a lady calling on
business, and no doubt he often found her troublesome, but he had never
shown it before. She felt like crying at first; then she passed through an
epoch of resentment, and then through a period of compassion for him. She
ended by telling him with dignified severity that she wanted some money:
they usually made some jokes about her destitution when she came upon that
errand. He looked surprised and vexed, and "I have spent what you gave me
last month," she explained.

"Then you wish to anticipate the interest on your bonds?"

"Certainly not," said Clara, rather sharply. "I wish to have the interest
up to the present time."

"But I told you," said Atherton, and he could not, in spite of himself,
help treating her somewhat as a child, "I told you then that I was paying
you the interest up to the first of November. There is none due now. Didn't
you understand that?"

"No, I didn't understand," answered Clara. She allowed herself to add,
"It is very strange!" Atherton struggled with his irritation, and made no
reply. "I can't be left without money," she continued. "What am I to do
without it?" she demanded with an air of unanswerable argument. "Why, I
_must_ have it!"

"I felt that I ought to understand you fully," said Atherton, with cold
politeness. "It's only necessary to know what sum you require."

Clara flung up her veil and confronted him with an excited face. "Mr.
Atherton, I don't wish a _loan_; I can't _permit_ it; and you know that my
principles are entirely against anticipating interest."

Atherton, from stooping over his table, pencil in hand, leaned back in his
chair, and looked at her with a smile that provoked her: "Then may I ask
what you wish me to do?"

"No! I can't instruct you. My affairs are in your hands. But I must
_say_--" She bit her lip, however, and did not say it. On the contrary she
asked, rather feebly, "Is there nothing due on anything?"

"I went over it with you, last month," said Atherton patiently, "and
explained all the investments. I could sell some stocks, but this election
trouble has disordered everything, and I should have to sell at a heavy
loss. There are your mortgages, and there are your bonds. You can have any
amount of money you want, but you will have to borrow it."

"And that you know I won't do. There should always be a sum of money in the
bank," said Clara decidedly.

"I do my very best to keep a sum there, knowing your theory; but your
practice is against me. You draw too many checks," said Atherton, laughing.

"Very well!" cried the lady, pulling down her veil. "Then I'm to have
nothing?"

"You won't allow yourself to have anything," Atherton began. But she
interrupted him haughtily.

"It is certainly very odd that my affairs should be in such a state that I
can't have all the money of my own that I want, whenever I want it."

Atherton's thin face paled a little more than usual. "I shall be glad to
resign the charge of your affair Miss Kingsbury."

"And I shall accept your resignation," cried Clara, magnificently,
"whenever you offer it." She swept out of the office, and descended to her
coupe like an incensed goddess. She drew the curtains and began to cry.
At her door, she bade the servant deny her to everybody, and went to
bed, where she was visited a little later by Olive Halleck, whom no ban
excluded. Clara lavishly confessed her sin and sorrow. "Why, I _went_
there, more than half, to sympathize with him about Ben; I don't need
any money, just yet; and the first thing I knew, I was accusing him of
neglecting my interests, and I don't know what all! Of course he had to say
he wouldn't have anything more to do with them, and I should have despised
him if he hadn't. And now I don't care what becomes of the property: it's
never been anything but misery to me ever since I had it, and I always knew
it would get me into trouble sooner or later." She whirled her face over
into her pillow, and sobbed, "But I _didn't_ suppose it would ever make me
insult and outrage the best friend I ever had,--and the truest man,--and
the noblest gentleman! Oh, _what_ will he think of me?"

Olive remained sadly quiet, as if but superficially interested in these
transports, and Clara lifted her face again to say in her handkerchief,
"It's a shame, Olive, to burden you with all this at a time when you've
care enough of your own."

"Oh, I'm rather glad of somebody else's care; it helps to take my mind
off," said Olive.

"Then what would you do?" asked Clara, tempted by the apparent sympathy
with her in the effect of her naughtiness.

"You might make a party for him, Clara," suggested Olive, with lack-lustre
irony.

Clara gave way to a loud burst of grief. "Oh, Olive Halleck! I didn't
suppose you could be so cruel!"

Olive rose impatiently. "Then write to him, or go to him and tell him that
you're ashamed of yourself, and ask him to take your property back again."

"Never!" cried Clara, who had listened with fascination. "What would he
think of me?"

"Why need you care? It's purely a matter of business!"

"Yes."

"And you needn't mind what he thinks."

"Of course," admitted Clara, thoughtfully.

"He will naturally despise you," added Olive, "but I suppose he does that,
now."

Clara gave her friend as piercing a glance as her soft blue eyes could
emit, and, detecting no sign of jesting in Olive's sober face, she answered
haughtily, "I don't see what right Mr. Atherton has to despise me!"

"Oh, no! He must admire a girl who has behaved to him as you've done."

Clara's hauteur collapsed, and she began to truckle to Olive. "If he were
_merely_ a business man, I shouldn't mind it; but knowing him socially, as
I do, and as a--friend, and--an acquaintance, that way, I don't see how I
can do it."

"I wonder you didn't think of that before you accused him of fraud and
peculation, and all those things."

"I _didn't_ accuse him of fraud and peculation!" cried Clara, indignantly.

"You said you didn't know what all you'd called him," said Olive, with her
hand on the door.

Clara followed her down stairs. "Well, I shall never do it in the world,"
she said, with reviving hope in her voice.

"Oh, I don't expect you to go to him this morning," said Olive dryly. "That
would be a little _too_ barefaced."

Her friend kissed, her. "Olive Halleck, you're the strangest girl that ever
was. I do believe you'd joke at the point of death! But I'm _so_ glad you
have been perfectly frank with me, and of course it's worth worlds to know
that you think I've behaved horridly, and ought to make _some_ reparation."

"I'm glad you value my opinion, Clara. And if you come to me for frankness,
you can always have all you want; it's a drug in the market with me." She
meagrely returned Clara's embrace, and left her in a reverie of tactless
scheming for the restoration of peace with Mr. Atherton.

Marcia came in upon the lawyer before he had thought, after parting with
Miss Kingsbury, to tell the clerk in the outer office to deny him; but she
was too full of her own trouble to see the reluctance which it tasked all
his strength to quell, and she sank into the nearest chair unbidden. At
sight of her, Atherton became the prey of one of those fantastic repulsions
in which men visit upon women the blame of others' thoughts about them: he
censured her for Halleck's wrong; but in another instant he recognized
his cruelty, and atoned by relenting a little in his intolerance of her
presence. She sat gazing at him with a face of blank misery, to which he
could not refuse the charity of a prompting question: "Is there something I
can do for you, Mrs. Hubbard?"

"Oh, I don't know,--I don't know!" She had a folded paper in her hands,
which lay helpless in her lap. After a moment she resumed, in a hoarse, low
voice: "They have all begun to come for their money, and this one--this one
says he will have the law of me--I don't know what he means--if I don't pay
him."

Marcia could not know how hard Atherton found it to govern the professional
suspicion which sprung up at the question of money. But he overruled his
suspicion by an effort that was another relief to the struggle in which he
was wrenching his mind from Miss Kingsbury's outrageous behavior. "What
have you got there?" he asked gravely, and not unkindly, and being used to
prompt the reluctance of lady clients, he put out his hand for the paper
she held. It was the bill of the threatening creditor, for indefinitely
repeated dozens of tivoli beer.

"Why do they come to _you_ with this?"

"Mr. Hubbard is away."

"Oh, yes. I heard. When do you expect him home?"

"I don't know."

"Where is he?"

She looked at him piteously without speaking.

Atherton stepped to his door, and gave the order forgotten before. Then
he closed the door, and came back to Marcia. "Don't you know where your
husband is, Mrs. Hubbard?"

"Oh, he will come back! He _couldn't_ leave me! He's dead,--I know he's
dead; but he will come back! He only went away for the night, and something
must have happened to him."

The whole tragedy of her life for the past fortnight was expressed in these
wild and inconsistent words; she had not been able to reason beyond the
pathetic absurdities which they involved; they had the effect of assertions
confirmed in the belief by incessant repetition, and doubtless she had
said them to herself a thousand times. Atherton read in them, not only the
confession of her despair, but a prayer for mercy, which it would have
been inhuman to deny, and for the present he left her to such refuge from
herself as she had found in them. He said, quietly, "You had better give me
that paper, Mrs. Hubbard," and took the bill from her. "If the others come
with their accounts again, you must send them to me. When did you say Mr.
Hubbard left home?"

"The night after the election," said Marcia.

"And he didn't say how long he should be gone?" pursued the lawyer, in the
feint that she had known he was going.

"No," she answered.

"He took some things with him?"

"Yes."

"Perhaps you could judge how long he meant to be absent from the
preparation he made?"

"I've never looked to see. I couldn't!"

Atherton changed the line of his inquiry. "Does any one else know of this?"

"No," said Marcia, quickly, "I told Mrs. Halleck and all of them that
he was in New York, and I said that I had heard from him. I came to you
because you were a lawyer, and you would not tell what I told you."

"Yes," said Atherton.

"I want it kept a secret. Oh, do you think he's dead?" she implored.

"No," returned Atherton, gravely, "I don't think he's dead."

"Sometimes it seems to me I could bear it better if I knew he was dead. If
he isn't dead, he's out of his mind! He's out of his mind, don't you think,
and he's wandered off somewhere?"

She besought him so pitifully to agree with her, bending forward and trying
to read the thoughts in his face, that he could not help saying, "Perhaps."

A gush of grateful tears blinded her, but she choked down her sobs.

"I said things to him that night that were enough to drive him crazy. I was
always the one in fault, but he was always the one to make up first, and he
never would have gone away from me if he had known what he was doing! But
he will come back, I know he will," she said, rising. "And oh, you won't
say anything to anybody, will you? And he'll get back before they find out.
I will send those men to you, and Bartley will see about it as soon as he
comes home--"

"Don't go, Mrs. Hubbard," said the lawyer. "I want to speak with you
a little longer." She dropped again in her chair, and looked at him
inquiringly. "Have you written to your father about this?"

"Oh, no," she answered quickly, with an effect of shrinking back into
herself.

"I think you had better do so. You can't tell when your husband will
return, and you can't go on in this way."

"I will never tell _father_," she replied, closing her lips inexorably.

The lawyer forbore to penetrate the family trouble he divined. "Are you all
alone in the house?" he asked.

"The girl is there. And the baby."

"That won't do, Mrs. Hubbard," said Atherton, with a compassionate shake of
the head. "You can't go on living there alone."

"Oh, yes, I can. I'm not afraid to be alone," she returned with the air of
having thought of this.

"But he may be absent some time yet," urged the lawyer; "he may be absent
indefinitely. You must go home to your father and wait for him there."

"I can't do that. He must find me here when he comes," she answered firmly.

"But how will you stay?" pleaded Atherton; he had to deal with an
unreasonable creature who could not be driven, and he must plead. "You have
no money, and how can you live?"

"Oh," replied Marcia, with the air of having thought of this too, "I will
take boarders."

Atherton smiled at the hopeless practicality, and shook his head; but he
did not oppose her directly. "Mrs. Hubbard," he said earnestly, "you have
done well in coming to me, but let me convince you that this is a matter
which can't be kept. It must be known. Before you can begin to help
yourself, you must let others help you. Either you must go home to your
father and let your husband find you there--"

"He must find me here, in our own house."

"Then you must tell your friends here that you don't know where he is, nor
when he will return, and let them advise together as to what can be done.
You must tell the Hallecks--"

"I will _never_ tell them!" cried Marcia. "Let me go! I can starve there
and freeze, and if he finds me dead in the house, none of them shall have
the right to blame him,--to say that he left me,--that he deserted his
little child! Oh! oh! oh! oh! What shall I do?"

The hapless creature shook with the thick-coming sobs that overpowered her
now, and Atherton refrained once more. She did not seem ashamed before
him of the sorrows which he felt it a sacrilege to know, and in a blind
instinctive way he perceived that in proportion as he was a stranger it was
possible for her to bear her disgrace in his presence. He spoke at last
from the hint he found in this fact: "Will you let me mention the matter to
Miss Kingsbury?"

She looked at him with sad intensity in the eyes, as if trying to fathom
any nether thought that he might have. It must have seemed to her at first
that he was mocking her, but his words brought her the only relief from her
self-upbraiding she had known. To suffer kindness from Miss Kingsbury would
be in some sort an atonement to Bartley for the wrong her jealousy had done
him; it would be self-sacrifice for his sake; it would be expiation. "Yes,
tell her," she answered with a promptness whose obscure motive was not
illumined by the flash of passionate pride with which she added, "I shall
not care for _her_."

She rose again, and Atherton did not detain her; but when she had left him
he lost no time in writing to her father the facts of the case as her visit
had revealed them. He spoke of her reluctance to have her situation known
to her family, but assured the Squire that he need have no anxiety about
her for the present. He promised to keep him fully informed in regard to
her, and to telegraph the first news of Mr. Hubbard. He left the Squire to
form his own conjectures, and to take whatever action he thought best. For
his own part, he had no question that Hubbard had abandoned his wife, and
had stolen Halleck's money; and the detectives to whom he went were clear
that it was a case of European travel.

XXXV.

Atherton went from the detectives to Miss Kingsbury, and boldly resisted
the interdict at her door, sending up his name with the message that he
wished to see her immediately on business. She kept him waiting while she
made a frightened toilet, and leaving the letter to him which she had
begun half finished on her desk, she came down to meet him in a flutter of
despondent conjecture. He took her mechanically yielded hand, and seated
himself on the sofa beside her. "I sent word that I had come on business,"
he said, "but it is no affair of yours,"--she hardly knew whether to feel
relieved or disappointed,--"except as you make all unhappy people's affairs
your own."

"Oh!" she murmured in meek protest, and at the same time she remotely
wondered if these affairs were his.

"I came to you for help," he began again, and again she interrupted him in
deprecation.

"You are very good, after--after--what I--what happened,--I'm sure." She
put up her fan to her lips, and turned her head a little aside. "Of course
I shall be glad to help you in anything, Mr. Atherton; you know I always
am."

"Yes, and that gave me courage to come to you, even after the way in which
we parted this morning. I knew you would not misunderstand me"--

"No," said Clara softly, doing her best to understand him.

"Or think me wanting in delicacy--"

"Oh, no, no!"

"If I believed that we need not have any embarrassment in meeting in behalf
of the poor creature who came to see me just after you left me. The fact
is," he went on, "I felt a little freer to promise your interest since I
had no longer any business relation to you, and could rely on your kindness
like--like--any other."

"Yes," assented Clara, faintly; and she forbore to point out to him, as she
might fitly have done, that he had never had the right to advise or direct

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