Part 8 out of 9
her at which he hinted, except as she expressly conferred it from time to
time. "I shall be only too glad--"
"And I will have a statement of your affairs drawn up to-morrow, and sent
to you." Her heart sank; she ceased to move the fan which she had been
slowly waving back and forth before her face. "I was going to set about it
this morning, but Mrs. Hubbard's visit--"
"Mrs. Hubbard!" cried Clara, and a little air of pique qualified her
"Yes; she is in trouble,--the greatest: her husband has deserted her."
"_Oh_, Mr. Atherton!" Clara's mind was now far away from any concern for
herself. The woman whose husband has deserted her supremely appeals to all
other women. "I can't believe it! What makes you think so?"
"What she concealed, rather than what she told me, I believe," answered
Atherton. He ran over the main points of their interview, and summed up his
own conjectures. "I know from things Halleck has let drop that they haven't
always lived happily together; Hubbard has been speculating with borrowed
money, and he's in debt to everybody. She's been alone in her house for a
fortnight, and she only came to me because people had begun to press her
for money. She's been pretending to the Hallecks that she hears from her
husband, and knows where he is."
"Oh, poor, poor thing!" said Clara, too shocked to say more. "Then they
"No one knows but ourselves. She came to me because I was a comparative
stranger, and it would cost her less to confess her trouble to me than to
them, and she allowed me to speak to you for very much the same reason."
"But I know she dislikes me!"
"So much the better! She can't doubt your goodness--"
"And if she dislikes you, she can keep her pride better with you."
Clara let her eyes fall, and fingered the edges of her fan. There was
reason in this, and she did not care that the opportunity of usefulness was
personally unflattering, since he thought her capable of rising above the
fact. "What do you want me to do?" she asked, lifting her eyes docilely to
"You must find some one to stay with her, in her house, till she can be
persuaded to leave it, and you must lend her some money till her father can
come to her or write to her. I've just written to him, and I've told her to
send all her bills to me; but I'm afraid she may be in immediate need."
"Terrible!" sighed Clara to whom the destitution of an acquaintance was
appalling after all her charitable knowledge of want and suffering. "Of
course, we mustn't lose a moment," she added; but she lingered in her
corner of the sofa to discuss ways and means with him, and to fathom that
sad enjoyment which comfortable people find in the contemplation of alien
sorrows. It was not her fault if she felt too kindly toward the disaster
that had brought Atherton back to her on the old terms; or if she arranged
her plans for befriending Marcia in her desolation with too buoyant a
cheerfulness. But she took herself to task for the radiant smile she found
on her face, when she ran up stairs and looked into her glass to see how
she looked in parting with Atherton: she said to herself that he would
think her perfectly heartless.
She decided that it would be indecent to drive to Marcia's under the
circumstances, and she walked; though with all the time this gave her for
reflection she had not wholly banished this smile when she looked
into Marcia's woe-begone eyes. But she found herself incapable of
the awkwardnesses she had deliberated, and fell back upon the native
motherliness of her heart, into which she took Marcia with sympathy that
ignored everything but her need of help and pity. Marcia's bruised pride
was broken before the goodness of the girl she had hated, and she
performed her sacrifice to Bartley's injured memory, not with the haughty
self-devotion which she intended should humiliate Miss Kingsbury, but with
the prostration of a woman spent with watching and fasting and despair. She
held Clara away for a moment of scrutiny, and then submitted to the embrace
in which they recognized and confessed all.
It was scarcely necessary for Clara to say that Mr. Atherton had told her;
Marcia already knew that; and Clara became a partisan of her theory of
Bartley's absence almost without an effort, in spite of the facts that
Atherton had suggested to the contrary. "Of _course_! He has wandered off
somewhere, and at soon as he comes to his senses he will hurry home. Why I
was reading of such a case only the other day,--the case of a minister who
wandered off in just the same way, and found himself out in Western New
York somewhere, after he had been gone three mouths."
"Bartley won't be gone three months," protested Marcia.
"Certainly not!" cried Clara, in severe self-rebuke. Then she talked of
his return for a while as if it might be expected any moment. "In the mean
time," she added, "you must stay here; you're quite right about that, too,
but you mustn't stay here alone: he'd be quite as much shocked at that as
if he found you gone when he came back. I'm going to ask you to let my
friend Miss Strong stay with you; and she must pay her board; and you must
let me lend you all the money you need. And, dear,"--Clara dropped her
voice to a lower and gentler note,--"you mustn't try to keep this from your
friends. You must let Mr. Atherton write to your father; you must let me
tell the Hallecks: they'll be hurt if you don't. You needn't be troubled;
of _course_ he wandered off in a temporary hallucination, and nobody will
She adopted the fiction of Bartley's aberration with so much fervor that
she even silenced Atherton's injurious theories with it when he came in the
evening to learn the result of her intervention. She had forgotten, or
she ignored, the facts as he had stated them in the morning; she was now
Bartley's valiant champion, as well as the tender protector of Marcia: she
was the equal friend of the whole exemplary Hubbard family.
Atherton laughed, and she asked what he was laughing at.
"Oh," he answered, "at something Ben Halleck once said: a real woman can
make righteousness delicious and virtue piquant."
Clara reflected. "I don't know whether I like that," she said finally.
"No?" said Atherton. "Why not?"
She was serving him with an after-dinner cup of tea, which she had brought
into the drawing-room, and in putting the second lump of sugar into his
saucer she paused again, thoughtfully, holding the little cube in the
tongs. She was rather elaborately dressed for so simple an occasion, and
her silken train coiled itself far out over the mossy depth of the moquette
carpet; the pale blue satin of the furniture, and the delicate white and
gold of the decorations, became her wonderfully.
"I can't say, exactly. It seems depreciatory, somehow, as a generalization.
But a man might say it of the woman he was in love with," she concluded.
"And you wouldn't approve of a man's saying it of the woman his friend was
in love with?" pursued Atherton, taking his cup from her.
"If they were very close friends." She did not know why, but she blushed,
and then grew a little pale.
"I understand what you mean," he said, "and I shouldn't have liked the
speech from another kind of man. But Halleck's innocence characterized it."
He stirred his tea, and then let it stand untasted in his abstraction.
"Yes, he is good," sighed Clara. "If he were not so good, it would be hard
to forgive him for disappointing all their hopes in the way he's done."
"It's the best thing he could have done," said Atherton gravely, even
"I know you advised it," asserted Clara. "But it's a great blow to them.
How strange that Mr. Hubbard should have disappeared the last night Ben was
at home! I'm glad that he got away without knowing anything about it."
Atherton drank off his tea, and refused a second cup with a gesture of his
hand. "Yes, so am I," he said. "I'm glad of every league of sea he puts
behind him." He rose, as if eager to leave the subject.
Clara rose too, with the patient acquiescence of a woman, and took his hand
proffered in parting. They had certainly talked out, but there seemed no
reason why he should go. He held her hand, while he asked, "How shall I
make my peace with you?"
"My peace? What for?" She flushed joyfully. "I was the one in fault."
He looked at her mystified. "Why, surely, _you_ didn't repeat Halleck's
"Oh!" she cried indignantly, withdrawing her hand. "I meant _this morning_.
It doesn't matter," she added. "If you still wish to resign the charge of
my affairs, of course I must submit. But I thought--I thought--" She did
not go on, she was too deeply hurt. Up to this moment she had imagined that
she had befriended Marcia, and taken all that trouble upon herself for
goodness' sake; but now she was ready to upbraid him for ingratitude in not
seeing that she had done it for his sake. "You can send me the statement,
and then--and then--I don't know what I _shall_ do! _Why_ do you mind what
I said? I've often said quite as much before, and you know that I didn't
mean it. I want you to take my property back again, and never to mind
anything I say: I'm not worth minding." Her intended upbraiding had come
to this pitiful effect of self-contempt, and her hand somehow was in his
again. "Do take it back!"
"If I do that," said Atherton, gravely, "I must make my conditions," and
now they sat down together on the sofa from which he had risen. "I can't be
subjected again to your--disappointments,"--he arrested with a motion of
his hand the profuse expression of her penitence and good intentions,--"and
I've felt for a long time that this was no attitude for your attorney. You
ought to have the right to question and censure; but I confess I can't
grant you this. I've allowed myself to make your interests too much my own
in everything to be able to bear it. I've thought several times that I
ought to give up the trust; but it seemed like giving up so much more, that
I never had the courage to do it in cold blood. This morning you gave me my
chance to do it in hot blood, and if I resume it, I must make my terms."
It seemed a long speech to Clara, who sometimes thought she knew whither it
tended, and sometimes not. She said in a low voice, "Yes."
"I must be relieved," continued Atherton, "of the sense I've had that
it was indelicate in me to keep it, while I felt as I've grown to
feel--towards you." He stopped: "If I take it back, you must come with it!"
he suddenly concluded.
The inconsistency of accepting these conditions ought to have struck a
woman who had so long imagined herself the chase of fortune-hunters. But
Clara apparently found nothing alarming in the demand of a man who openly
acted upon his knowledge of what could only have been matter of conjecture
to many suitors she had snubbed. She found nothing incongruous in the
transaction, and she said, with as tremulous breath and as swift a pulse as
if the question had been solely of herself, "I accept--the conditions."
In the long, happy talk that lasted till midnight, they did not fail to
recognize that, but for their common pity of Marcia, they might have
remained estranged, and they were decently ashamed of their bliss when they
thought of misery like hers. When Atherton rose to bid Clara good night,
Marcia was still watching for Bartley, indulging for the last time the
folly of waiting for him as if she definitely expected him that night.
Every night since he disappeared, she had kept the lights burning in the
parlor and hall, and drowsed before the fire till the dawn drove her to a
few hours of sleep in bed. But with the coming of the stranger who was to
be her companion, she must deny herself even this consolation, and openly
accept the fact that she no longer expected Bartley at any given time.
She bitterly rebelled at the loss of her solitude, in which she could be
miserable in whatever way her sorrow prompted, and the pangs with which she
had submitted to Miss Kingsbury's kindness grew sharper hour by hour
till she maddened in a frenzy of resentment against the cruelty of her
expiation. She longed for the day to come that she might go to her,
and take back her promises and her submission, and fling her insulting
good-will in her face. She said to herself that no one should enter her
door again till Bartley opened it; she would die there in the house, she
and her baby, and as she stood wringing her hands and moaning over the
sleeping little one, a hideous impulse made her brain reel; she wished to
look if Bartley had left his pistol in its place; a cry for help against
herself broke from her; she dropped upon her knees.
The day came, and the hope and strength which the mere light so strangely
brings to the sick in spirit as well as the sick in body visited Marcia.
She abhorred the temptation of the night like the remembrance of a wicked
dream, and she went about with a humble and grateful prayer--to something,
to some one--in her heart. Her housewifely pride stirred again: that girl
should not think she was a slattern; and Miss Strong, when she preceded
her small trunk in the course of the forenoon, found the parlor and the
guest-chamber, which she was to have, swept, and dusted, and set in perfect
order by Marcia's hands. She had worked with fury, and kept her heart-ache
still, but it began again at sight of the girl. Fortunately, the
conservatory pupil had embraced with even more than Miss Kingsbury's ardor
the theory of Bartley's aberration, and she met Marcia with a sympathy in
her voice and eyes that could only have come from sincere conviction. She
was a simple country thing, who would never be a prima donna; but the
overflowing sentimentality which enabled her to accept herself at the
estimate of her enthusiastic fellow-villagers made her of far greater
comfort to Marcia than the sublimest musical genius would have done. She
worshipped the heroine of so tragic a fact, and her heart began to go out
to her in honest helpfulness from the first. She broke in upon the monotony
of Marcia's days with the offices and interests of wholesome commonplace,
and exorcised the ghostly silence with her first stroke on the
piano,--which Bartley had bought on the instalment plan and had not yet
In fine, life adjusted itself with Marcia to the new conditions, as it does
with women less wofully widowed by death, who promise themselves reunion
with their lost in another world, and suffer through the first weeks and
days in the hope that their parting will be for but days or weeks, and then
gradually submit to indefinite delay. She prophesied Bartley's return, and
fixed it in her own mind for this hour and that. "Now, in the morning, I
shall wake and find him standing by the bed. No, at night he will come in
and surprise us at dinner." She cheated herself with increasing faith at
each renewal of her hopes. When she ceased to formulate them at last, it
was because they had served their end, and left her established, if not
comforted, in the superstition by which she lived. His return at any
hour or any moment was the fetish which she let no misgiving blaspheme;
everything in her of woman and of wife consecrated it. She kept the child
in continual remembrance of him by talking of him, and by making her
recognize the photographs in which Bartley had abundantly perpetuated
himself; at night, when she folded the little one's hands for prayer, she
made her pray God to take care of poor papa and send him home soon to
mamma. She was beginning to canonize him.
Her father came to see her as soon as he thought it best after Atherton's
letter; and the old man had to endure talk of Bartley to which all her
former praises were as refreshing shadows of defamation. She required him
to agree with everything she said, and he could not refuse; she reproached
him for being with herself the cause of all Bartley's errors, and he had to
bear it without protest. At the end he could say nothing but "Better come
home with me, Marcia," and he suffered in meekness the indignation with
which she rebuked him: "I will stay in Bartley's house till he comes back
to me. If he is dead, I will die here."
The old man had satisfied himself that Bartley had absconded in his own
rascally right mind, and he accepted with tacit grimness the theory of the
detectives that he had not gone to Europe alone. He paid back the money
which Bartley had borrowed from Halleck, and he set himself as patiently
as he could to bear with Marcia's obstinacy. It was a mania which must be
indulged for the time, and he could only trust to Atherton to keep
him advised concerning her. When he offered her money at parting, she
hesitated. But she finally took it, saying, "Bartley will pay it back,
every cent, as soon as he gets home. And if," she added, "he doesn't get
back soon, I will take some other boarders and pay it myself."
He could see that she was offended with him for asking her to go home. But
she was his girl; he only pitied her. He shook hands with her as usual, and
kissed her with the old stoicism; but his lips, set to fierceness by the
life-long habit of sarcasm, trembled as he turned away. She was eager to
have him go; for she had given him Miss Strong's room, and had taken the
girl into her own, and Bartley would not like it if he came back and found
Bartley's disappearance was scarcely a day's wonder with people outside
his own circle in that time of anxiety for a fair count in Louisiana and
Florida, and long before the Returning Boards had partially relieved the
tension of the public mind by their decision he had quite dropped out of
it. The reporters who called at his house to get the bottom facts in the
case, adopted Marcia's theory, given them by Miss Strong, and whatever were
their own suspicions or convictions, paragraphed him with merciful brevity
as having probably wandered away during a temporary hallucination. They
spoke of the depression of spirits which many of his friends had observed
in him, and of pecuniary losses, as the cause. They mentioned his possible
suicide only to give the report the authoritative denial of his family; and
they added, that the case was in the hands of the detectives, who believed
themselves in possession of important clews. The detectives in fact
remained constant to their original theory, that Bartley had gone to
Europe, and they were able to name with reasonable confidence the person
with whom he had eloped. But these were matters hushed up among the force
and the press. In the mean time, Bartley had been simultaneously seen at
Montreal and Cincinnati, at about the same time that an old friend had
caught a glimpse of him on a train bound westward from Chicago.
So far as the world was concerned, the surmise with which Marcia saved
herself from final despair was the only impression that even vaguely
remained of the affair. Her friends, who had compassionately acquiesced in
it at first, waited for the moment when they could urge her to relinquish
it and go home to her father; but while they waited, she gathered strength
to establish herself immovably in it, and to shape her life more and more
closely about it. She had no idea, no instinct, but to stay where he had
left her till he came back. She opposed this singly and solely against
all remonstrance, and treated every suggestion to the contrary as an
instigation to crime. Her father came from time to time during the winter
to see her, but she would never go home with him even for a day. She put
her plan in force; she took other boarders: other girl students like Miss
Strong, whom her friends brought her when they found that it was useless
to oppose her and so began to abet her; she worked hard, and she actually
supported herself at last in a frugal independence. Her father consulted
with Atherton and the Hallecks; he saw that she was with good and faithful
friends, and he submitted to what he could not help. When the summer came,
he made a last attempt to induce her to go home with him. He told her that
her mother wished to see her. She would not understand. "I'll come," she
said, "if mother gets seriously sick. But I can't go home for the summer.
If I hadn't been at home last summer, _he_ would never have got into that
way, and _it_ would never have happened."
She went home at last, in obedience to a peremptory summons; but her mother
was too far gone to know her when she came. Her quiet, narrow life had
grown colder and more inward to the end, and it passed without any apparent
revival of tenderness for those once dear to her; the funeral publicity
that followed seemed a final touch of the fate by which all her preferences
had been thwarted in the world.
Marcia stayed only till she could put the house in order after they had
laid her mother to rest among the early reddening sumacs under the hot
glare of the August sun; and when she came away, she brought her father
with her to Boston, where he spent his days as he might, taking long and
aimless walks, devouring heaps of newspapers, rusting in idleness, and
aging fast, as men do in the irksomeness of disuse.
Halleck's father was beginning to show his age, too; and Halleck's mother
lived only in her thoughts of him, and her hopes of his return; but he
did not even speak of this in his letters to them. He said very little of
himself, and they could merely infer that the experiment to which he had
devoted himself was becoming less and less satisfactory. Their sense of
this added its pang to their unhappiness in his absence.
One day Marcia said to Olive Halleck, "Has any one noticed that you are
beginning to look like your sisters?"
"_I've_ noticed it," answered the girl. "I always _was_ an old maid, and
now I'm beginning to show it."
Marcia wondered if she had not hurt Olive's feelings; but she would never
have known how to excuse herself; and latterly she had been growing more
and more like her father in certain traits. Perhaps her passion for Bartley
had been the one spring of tenderness in her nature, and, if ever it were
spent, she would stiffen into the old man's stern aridity.
It was nearly two years after Atherton's marriage that Halleck one day
opened the door of the lawyer's private office, and, turning the key in the
lock, limped forward to where the latter was sitting at his desk. Halleck
was greatly changed: the full beard that he had grown scarcely hid the
savage gauntness of his face; but the change was not so much in lines and
contours as in that expression of qualities which we call looks.
The friends looked at each other; and Atherton finally broke from his amaze
and offered his hand, with an effect, even then, of making conditions. But
it was Halleck who was the first to speak again.
"How _is_ she? Is she well? Is she still here? Have they heard anything
from him yet?"
"No," said Atherton, answering the last question with the same provisional
effect as before.
"Then he is _dead_. That's what I knew; that's what I _said_! And here I
am. The fight is over, and that's the end of it. I'm beaten."
"You look it," said Atherton, sadly.
"Oh, yes; I look it. That's the reason I can afford to be frank, in coming
back to my friends. I knew that with this look in my face I should make my
own welcome; and it's cordial even beyond my expectations."
"I'm not glad to see you, Halleck," said Atherton. "For your own sake I
wish you were at the other end of the world."
"Oh, I know that. How are my people? Have you seen my father lately? Or my
mother? Or--Olive?" A pathetic tremor shook his voice.
"Why, haven't _you_ seen them yet?" demanded Atherton.
Halleck laughed cynically. "My dear friend, my steamer arrived this
morning, and I'm just off the New York train. I've hurried to your office
in all the impatience of friendship. I'm very lucky to find you here so
late in the day! You can take me home to dinner, and let your domestic
happiness preach to me. Come, I rather like the notion of that!"
"Halleck," said Atherton, without heeding his banter, "I wish you would go
away again! No one knows you are here, you say, and no one need ever know
Halleck set his lips and shook his head, with a mocking smile. "I'm
surprised at you, Atherton, with your knowledge of human nature. I've
come to stay; you must know that. You must know that I had gone through
everything before I gave up, and that I haven't the strength to begin the
struggle over again. I tell you I'm beaten, and I'm glad of it; for there
is rest in it. You would waste your breath, if you talked to me in the old
way; there's nothing in me to appeal to, any more. If I was wrong--But I
don't admit, any more, that I was wrong: by heaven, I was _right_!"
"You _are_ beaten, Halleck," said Atherton sorrowfully. He pushed himself
back in his chair, and clasped his hands together behind his head, as his
habit was in reasoning with obstinate clients. "What do you propose to do?"
"I propose to stay."
"What for? Till I can prove that he is dead."
"Then I shall be free to ask her." He added angrily, "You know what I've
come back for: why do you torment me with these questions? I did what I
could; I ran away. And the last night I saw her, I thrust her back into
that hell she called her home, and I told her that no man could be her
refuge from that devil, her husband,--when she had begged me in her
mortal terror to go in with her, and save her from him. _That_ was the
recollection I had to comfort me when I tried to put her out of my
mind,--out of my soul! When I heard that he was gone, I respected her days
of mourning. God knows how I endured it, now it's over; but I did endure
it. I waited, and here I am. And you ask me to go away again! Ah!" He
fetched his breath through his set teeth, and struck his fist on his knee.
"He is _dead_! And now, if she will, she can marry me. Don't look at me as
if I had killed him! There hasn't been a time in these two infernal years
when I wouldn't have given my life to save his--for _her_ sake. I know
that, and that gives me courage, it gives me hope."
"But if he isn't dead?"
"Then he has abandoned her, and she has the right to be free: she can get a
"Oh," said Atherton, compassionately, "has that poison got into you,
Halleck? You might ask her, if she were a widow, to marry you; but how will
you ask her, if she's still a wife, to get a divorce and then marry you?
How will you suggest that to a woman whose constancy to her mistake has
made her sacred to you?" Halleck seemed about to answer; but he only
panted, dry-lipped and open-mouthed, and Atherton continued: "You would
have to corrupt her soul first. I don't know what change you've made in
yourself during these two years; you look like a desperate and defeated
man, but you don't look like _that_. You don't _look_ like one of those
scoundrels who lure women from their duty, ruin homes, and destroy society,
not in the old libertine fashion in which the seducer had at least the
grace to risk his life, but safely, smoothly, under the shelter of our
infamous laws. Have you really come back here to give your father's honest
name, and the example of a man of your own blameless life, in support of
conditions that tempt people to marry with a mental reservation, and that
weaken every marriage bond with the guilty hope of escape whenever a fickle
mind, or secret lust, or wicked will may dictate? Have you come to join
yourself to those miserable spectres who go shrinking through the world,
afraid of their own past, and anxious to hide it from those they hold dear;
or do you propose to defy the world, to help form within it the community
of outcasts with whom shame is not shame, nor dishonor, dishonor? How will
you like the society of those uncertain men, those certain women?"
"You are very eloquent," said Halleck, "but I ask you to observe that these
little abstractions don't interest me. I've a concrete purpose, and I
can't contemplate the effect of other people's actions upon American
civilization. When you ask me to believe that I oughtn't to try to rescue a
woman from the misery to which a villain has left her, simply because some
justice of the peace consecrated his power over her, I decline to be such a
fool. I use my reason, and I see who it was that defiled and destroyed that
marriage, and I know that she is as free in the sight of God as if he had
never lived. If the world doesn't like my open shame, let it look to its
own secret shame,--the marriages made and maintained from interest, and
ambition, and vanity, and folly. I will take my chance with the men and
women who have been honest enough to own their mistake, and to try to
repair it, and I will preach by my life that marriage has no sanctity but
what love gives it, and that when love ceases marriage ceases, before
heaven. If the laws have come to recognize that, by whatever fiction, so
much the better for the laws!" Halleck rose.
"Well, then," cried Atherton, rising, too, "you shall meet me on your own
ground! This poor creature is constant in every breath she draws to the
ruffian who has abandoned her. I must believe, since you say it, that you
are ready to abet her in getting a divorce, even one of those divorces
that are 'obtained without publicity, and for any cause,'"--Halleck
winced,--"that you are willing to put your sisters to shame before the
world, to break your mother's heart, and your father's pride,--to insult
the ideal of goodness that she herself has formed of you; but how will you
begin? The love on her part, at least, hasn't ceased: has the marriage?"
"She shall tell me," answered Halleck. He left Atherton without another
word, and in resentment that effaced all friendship between them, though
after this parting they still kept up its outward forms, and the Athertons
took part in the rejoicings with which the Hallecks celebrated Ben's
return. His meeting with the lawyer was the renewal of the old conflict on
terms of novel and hopeless degradation. He had mistaken for peace that
exhaustion of spirit which comes to a man in battling with his conscience;
he had fancied his struggle over, and he was to learn now that its anguish
had just begun. In that delusion his love was to have been a law to itself,
able to loose and to bind, and potent to beat down all regrets, all doubts,
all fears, that questioned it; but the words with which Marcia met him
struck his passion dumb.
"Oh, I am so glad you have come lack!" she said. "Now I know that we can
find him. You were such friends with him, and you understood him so well,
that you will know just what to do. Yes, we shall find him now, and we
should have found him long ago if you had been here. Oh, if you had never
gone away! But I can never be grateful enough for what you said to me that
night when you would not come in with me. The words have rung in my ears
ever since; they showed that you had faith in him, more faith than I had,
and I've made them my rule and my guide. No one has been my refuge from
him, and no one ever shall be. And I thank you--yes, I thank you on my
bended knees--for making me go into the house alone; it's my one comfort
that I had the strength to come back to him, and let him do anything he
would to me, after I had treated him so; but I've never pretended it was
my own strength. I have always told everybody that the strength came from
Halleck had brought Olive with him; she and Marcia's father listened to
these words with the patience of people who had heard them many times
before; but at the end Olive glanced at Halleck's downcast face with fond
pride in the satisfaction she imagined they must give him. The old man
ruminated upon a bit of broom straw, and absently let the little girl catch
by his hands, as she ran to and fro between him and her mother while her
mother talked. Halleck made a formless sound in his throat, for answer, and
Marcia went on.
"I've got a new plan now, but it seems as if father took a pleasure in
discouraging _all_ my plans. I _know_ that Bartley's shut up, somewhere, in
some asylum, and I want them to send detectives to all the asylums in the
United States and in Canada,--you can't tell how far off he would wander
in that state,--and inquire if any stray insane person has been brought to
them. Doesn't it seem to you as if that would be the right way to find him?
I want to talk it all over with you, Mr. Halleck, for I know _you_ can
sympathize with me; and if need be I will go to the asylums myself; I will
walk to them, I will crawl to them on my knees! When I think of him shut up
there among those raving maniacs, and used as they use people in some of
the asylums--Oh, oh, oh, oh!"
She broke out into sobs, and caught her little girl to her breast. The
child must have been accustomed to her mother's tears; she twisted her head
round, and looked at Halleck with a laughing face.
Marcia dried her eyes, and asked, with quivering lips, "Isn't she like
"Yes," replied Halleck huskily.
"She has his long eyelashes exactly, and his hair and complexion, hasn't
The old man sat chewing his broom straw in silence; but when Marcia left
the room to get Bartley's photograph, so that Halleck might see the child's
resemblance to him, her father looked at Halleck from under his beetling
brows: "I don't think we need trouble the _asylums_ much for Bartley
Hubbard. But if it was to search the States prisons and the jails, the
rum-holes and the gambling-hells, or if it was to dig up the scoundrels who
have been hung under assumed names during the last two years, I should have
some hopes of identifying him."
Marcia came back, and the old man sat in cast-iron quiet, as if he had
never spoken; it was clear that whatever hate he felt for Bartley he spared
her; and that if he discouraged her plans, as she said, it was because they
were infected by the craze in which she canonized Bartley.
"You see how she is," said Olive, when they came away.
"Yes, yes, yes," Halleck desolately assented.
"Sometimes she seems to me just like a querulous, vulgar, middle-aged woman
in her talk; she repeats herself in the same scolding sort of way; and
she's so eager to blame somebody besides Bartley for Bartley's wickedness
that, when she can't punish herself, she punishes her father. She's
merciless to that wretched old man, and he's wearing his homesick life
out here in the city for her sake. You heard her just now, about his
discouraging her plans?"
"Yes," said Halleck, as before.
"She's grown commoner and narrower, but it's hardly her fault, poor thing,
and it seems terribly unjust that she should be made so by what she has
suffered. But that's just the way it has happened. She's so undisciplined,
that she couldn't get any good out of her misfortunes; she's only got harm:
they've made her selfish, and there seems to be nothing left of what she
was two years ago but her devotion to that miserable wretch. You mustn't
let it turn you against her, Ben; you mustn't forget what she might have
been. She had a rich nature; but how it's been wasted, and turned back upon
itself! Poor, untrained, impulsive, innocent creature,--my heart aches for
her! It's been hard to bear with her at times, terribly hard, and you'll
find it so, Ben. But you _must_ bear with her. The awfulest thing about
people in trouble is that they are such _bores_; they tire you to death.
But you'll only have to stand her praises of what Bartley was, and we had
to stand them, and her hopes of what you would be if you were only at home,
besides. I don't know what all she expects of you; but you must try not to
disappoint her; she worships the ground you tread on, and I really think
she believes you can do anything you will, just because you're good."
Halleck listened in silence. He was indeed helpless to be otherwise than
constant. With shame and grief in his heart, he could only vow her there
the greater fealty because of the change he found in her.
He was doomed at every meeting to hear her glorify a man whom he believed a
heartless traitor, to plot with her for the rescue from imaginary captivity
of the wretch who had cruelly forsaken her. He actually took some of the
steps she urged; he addressed inquiries to the insane asylums, far and
near; and in these futile endeavors, made only with the desire of failure,
his own reason seemed sometimes to waver. She insisted that Atherton should
know all the steps they were taking; and his sense of his old friend's
exact and perfect knowledge of his motives was a keener torture than even
her father's silent scorn of his efforts, or the worship in which his own
family held him for them.
Halleck had come home in broken health, and had promised his family, with
the self-contempt that depraves, not to go away again, since the change had
done him no good. There was no talk for the present of his trying to do
anything but to get well; and for a while, under the strong excitement, he
seemed to be better. But suddenly he failed; he kept his room, and then he
kept his bed; and the weeks stretched into months before he left it.
When the spring weather came, he was able to go out again, and he spent
most of his time in the open air, feeling every day a fresh accession of
strength. At the end of one long April afternoon, he walked home with
a light heart, whose right to rejoice he would not let his conscience
question. He had met Marcia in the Public Garden, where they sat down on a
bench and talked, while her father and the little girl wandered away in the
restlessness of age and the restlessness of childhood.
"We are going home to Equity this summer," she said, "and perhaps we shall
not come back. No, we shall not come back. _I have given up_. I have
waited, hoping--hoping. But now I know that it is no use waiting any
longer: _he is dead_." She spoke in tearless resignation, and the peace of
accepted widowhood seemed to diffuse itself around her.
Her words repeated themselves to Halleck, as he walked homeward. He found
the postman at the door with a newspaper, which he took from him with a
smile at its veteran appearance, and its probable adventures in reaching
him. The wrapper seemed to have been several times slipped off, and then
slit up; it was tied with a string, now, and was scribbled with rejections
in the hands of various Hallocks and Halletts, one of whom had finally
indorsed upon it, "Try 97 Rumford Street." It was originally addressed, as
he made out, to "Mr. B. Halleck, Boston, Mass.," and he carried it to his
room before he opened it, with a careless surmise as to its interest for
him. It proved to be a flimsy, shabbily printed country newspaper, with an
advertisement marked in one corner.
State of Indiana, Tecumseh County
In Tecumseh Circuit Court, April Term, 1879.
BARTLEY J. HUBBARD
MARCIA G. HUBBARD.
Divorce. No. 5793.
It appearing by affidavit this day filed in the office of the Clerk of
the Tecumseh Circuit Court, that Marcia G. Hubbard, defendant in the
above entitled action for divorce on account of abandonment and gross
neglect of duty, is a non-resident of the State of Indiana, notice of
the pendency of such action is therefore hereby given said defendant
above named, and that the same will be called for answer on the 11th
day of April, 1879, the same being the 3d judicial day of the April
term of said court, for said year, which said term of said court will
begin on the first Monday in April, 1879, and will be held at the Court
House, in the town of Tecumseh, in said County and State, said 11th day
of April, 1879, being the time fixed by said plaintiff by indorsement
on his complaint, at which said time said defendant is required to
Witness my hand and the seal of the said Court, this 4th day of March,
AUGUSTUS H. HAWKINS,
Milikin & Ayres, Att'ys for Plff.
Halleck read this advertisement again and again, with a dull, mechanical
action of the brain. He saw the familiar names, but they were hopelessly
estranged by their present relation to each other; the legal jargon reached
no intelligence in him that could grasp its purport.
When his daze began to yield, he took evidence of his own reality by some
such tests as one might in waking from a long faint. He looked at his
hands, his feet; he rose and looked at his face in the glass. Turning
about, he saw the paper where he had left it on the table; it was no
illusion. He picked up the cover from the floor, and scanned it anew,
trying to remember the handwriting on it, to make out who had sent this
paper to him, and why. Then the address seemed to grow into something
different under his eye: it ceased to be his name; he saw now that the
paper was directed to Mrs. B. Hubbard, and that by a series of accidents
and errors it had failed to reach her in its wanderings, and by a final
blunder had fallen into his hands.
Once solved, it was a very simple affair, and he had now but to carry it to
her; that was very simple, too. Or he might destroy it; this was equally
simple. Her words repeated themselves once more: "I have given up. He is
dead." Why should he break the peace she had found, and destroy her last
sad illusion? Why should he not spare her the knowledge of this final
wrong, and let the merciful injustice accomplish itself? The questions
seemed scarcely to have any personal concern for Halleck; his temptation
wore a heavenly aspect. It softly pleaded with him to forbear, like
something outside of himself. It was when he began to resist it that he
found it the breath in his nostrils, the blood in his veins. Then the mask
dropped, and the enemy of souls put forth his power against this weak
spirit, enfeebled by long strife and defeat already acknowledged.
At the end Halleck opened his door, and called, "Olive, Olive!" in a voice
that thrilled the girl with strange alarm where she sat in her own room.
She came running, and found him clinging to his doorpost, pale and
tremulous. "I want you--want you to help me," he gasped. "I want to show
you something--Look here!"
He gave her the paper, which he had kept behind him, clutched fast in his
hand as if he feared it might somehow escape him at last, and staggered
away to a chair.
His sister read the notice. "Oh, Ben!" She dropped her hands with the paper
in them before her, a gesture of helpless horror and pity, and looked at
him. "Does _she_ know it? Has she seen it?"
"No one knows it but you and I. The paper was left here for me by mistake.
I opened it before I saw that it was addressed to her."
He panted forth these sentences in an exhaustion that would have terrified
her, if she had not been too full of indignant compassion for Marcia to
know anything else. She tried to speak.
"Don't you understand, Olive? This is the notice that the law requires she
shall have to come and defend her cause, and it has been sent by the clerk
of the court, there, to the address that villain must have given in the
knowledge that it could reach her only by one chance in ten thousand."
"And it has come to you! Oh, Ben! Who sent it to _you_?" The brother and
sister looked at each other, but neither spoke the awestricken thought that
was in both their hearts. "Ben," she cried in a solemn ecstasy of love and
pride, "I would rather be you this minute than any other man in the world!"
"Don't!" pleaded Halleck. His head dropped, and then he lifted it by a
sudden impulse. "Olive!"--But the impulse failed, and he only said, "I
want you to go to Atherton with me. We mustn't lose time. Have Cyrus get a
carriage. Go down and tell them we're going out. I'll be ready as soon as
But when she called to him from below that the carriage had come and she
was waiting, he would have refused to go with her if he durst. He no longer
wished to keep back the fact, but he felt an invalid's weariness of it, a
sick man's inadequacy to the farther demands it should make upon him. He
crept slowly down the stairs, keeping a tremulous hold upon the rail; and
he sank with a sigh against the carriage cushions, answering Olive's eager
questions and fervid comments with languid monosyllables.
They found the Athertons at coffee, and Clara would have them come to the
dining-room and join them. Halleck refused the coffee, and while Olive told
what had happened he looked listlessly about the room, aware of a perverse
sympathy with Bartley, from Bartley's point of view: Bartley might never
have gone wrong if he had had all that luxury; and why should he not have
had it, as well as Atherton? What right had the untempted prosperity of
such a man to judge the guilt of such men as himself and Bartley Hubbard?
Olive produced the newspaper from her lap, where she kept both hands upon
it, and opened it to the advertisement in dramatic corroboration of what
she had been telling Atherton. He read it and passed it to Clara.
"When did this come to you?"
Olive answered for him. "This evening,--just now. Didn't I say that?"
"No," said Atherton; and he added to Halleck, gently: "I beg your pardon.
Did you notice the dates?"
"Yes," answered Halleck, with cold refusal of Atherton's tone of
"The cause is set for hearing on the 11th," said Atherton. "This is the
8th. The time is very short."
"It's long enough," said Halleck, wearily.
"Oh, telegraph!" cried Clara. "Telegraph them instantly that she never
dreamt of leaving him! Abandonment! Oh, if they only knew how she had been
slaving her lingers off for the last two years to keep a home for him to
come back to, they'd give _her_ the divorce!"
Atherton smiled and turned to Halleck: "Do you know what their law is, now?
It was changed two years ago."
"Yes," said Halleck, replying to the question Atherton had asked and the
subtler question he had looked, "I have read up the whole subject since I
came home. The divorce is granted only upon proof, even when the defendant
fails to appear, and if this were to go against us,"--he instinctively
identified himself with Marcia's cause,--"we can have the default set
aside, and a new trial granted, for cause shown."
The women listened in awe of the legal phrases; but when Atherton rose, and
asked, "Is your carriage here?" his wife sprang to her feet.
"Why, where are you going?" she demanded, anxiously.
"Not to Indiana, immediately," answered her husband. "We're first going to
Clover Street, to see Squire Gaylord and Mrs. Hubbard. Better let me take
the paper, dear," he said, softly withdrawing it from her hands.
"Oh, it's a cruel, cruel law!" she moaned, deprived of this moral support.
"To suppose that such a notice as this is sufficient! Women couldn't have
made such a law."
"No, women only profit by such laws after they're made: they work both
ways. But it's not such a bad law, as divorce laws go. We do worse, now, in
some New England States."
They found the Squire alone in the parlor, and, with a few words of
explanation, Atherton put the paper in his hands, and he read the notice in
emotionless quiet. Then he took off his spectacles, and shut them in their
case, which he put back into his waistcoat pocket. "This is all right," he
said. He cleared his throat, and, lifting the fierce glimmer of his eyes to
Atherton's, he asked, drily, "What is the law, at present?"
Atherton briefly recapitulated the points as he had them from Halleck.
"That's good," said the old man. "We will fight this, gentlemen." He rose,
and from his gaunt height looked down on both of them, with his sinuous
lips set in a bitter smile. "Bartley must have been disappointed when he
found a divorce so hard to get in Indiana. He must have thought that the
old law was still in force there. He's not the fellow to swear to a lie if
he could help it; but I guess he expects to get this divorce by perjury."
Marcia was putting little Flavia to bed. She heard the talking below;
she thought she heard Bartley's name. She ran to the stairs, and came
hesitantly down, the old wild hope and wild terror fluttering her pulse and
taking her breath. At sight of the three men, apparently in council, she
crept toward them, holding out her hands before her like one groping his
way. "What--what is it?" She looked from Atherton's face to her father's;
the old man stopped, and tried to smile reassuringly; he tried to speak;
Atherton turned away.
It was Halleck who came forward, and took her wandering hands. He held them
quivering in his own, and said gravely and steadily, using her name for the
first time in the deep pity which cast out all fear and shame, "Marcia, we
have found your husband."
"Dead?" she made with her lips.
"He is alive," said Halleck. "There is something in this paper for you to
see,--something you _must_ see--"
"I can bear anything if he is not dead. Where--what is it? Show it to me--"
The paper shook in the hands which Halleck released; her eyes strayed
blindly over its columns; he had to put his finger on the place before she
could find it. Then her tremor ceased, and she seemed without breath or
pulse while she read it through. She fetched a long, deep sigh, and passed
her hand over her eyes, as if to clear them; staying herself unconsciously
against Halleck's breast, and laying her trembling arm along his arm till
her fingers knit themselves among his fingers, she read it a second time
and a third. Then she dropped the paper, and turned to look up at him.
"Why!" she cried, as if she had made it out at last, while an awful, joyful
light of hope flashed into her face. "_It is a mistake_! Don't you see? He
thinks that I never came back! He thinks that I meant to abandon him. That
I--that I--But you _know_ that I came back,--you came back _with_ me! Why,
I wasn't gone an hour,--a _half_-hour, hardly. Oh, Bartley, poor Bartley!
He thought I could leave him, and take his child from him; that I could
be so wicked, so heartless--Oh, no, no, no! Why, I only stayed away that
little time because I was _afraid_ to go back! Don't you remember how I
told you I was afraid, and wanted you to come in with me?" Her exaltation
broke in a laugh. "But we can explain it now, and it will be all right. He
will see--he will understand--I will tell him just how it was--Oh, Flavia,
Flavia, we've found papa, we've found papa! Quick!"
She whirled away toward the stairs, but her father caught her by the arm.
"Marcia!" he shouted, in his old raucous voice, "You've got to understand!
This"--he hesitated, as if running over all terms of opprobrium in his
mind, and he resumed as if he had found them each too feeble--"_Bartley_
hasn't acted under any mistake."
He set the facts before her with merciless clearness, and she listened with
an audible catching of the breath at times, while she softly smoothed her
forehead with her left hand. "I don't believe it," she said when he had
ended. "Write to him, tell him what I say, and you will see."
The old man uttered something between a groan and a curse. "Oh, you poor,
crazy child! Can nothing make you understand that Bartley wants to get rid
of you, and that he's just as ready for one lie as another? He thinks
he can make out a case of abandonment with the least trouble, and so he
accuses you of that, but he'd just as soon accuse you of anything else.
_Write_ to him? You've got to _go_ to him! You've got to go out there and
fight him in open court, with facts and witnesses. Do you suppose Bartley
Hubbard wants any explanation from you? Do you think he's been waiting
these two years to hear that you didn't really abandon him, but came back
to this house an hour after you left it, and that you've waited for him
here ever since? When he knows that, will he withdraw this suit of his and
come home? He'll want the proof, and the way to do is to go out there and
let him have it. If I had him on the stand for five minutes," said the
old man between his set teeth,--"_just five minutes_,--I'd undertake to
convince him from his own lips that he was wrong about you! But I am afraid
he wouldn't mind a letter! You think I say so because I hate him; and you
don't believe me. Well, ask either of these gentlemen here whether I'm
telling you the truth."
She did not speak, but, with a glance at their averted faces, she sank into
a chair, and passed one hand over the other, while she drew her breath in
long, shuddering respirations, and stared at the floor with knit brows and
starting eyes, like one stifling a deadly pang. She made several attempts
to speak before she could utter any sound; then she lifted her eyes to her
father's: "Let us--let us--go--home! Oh, let us go home! I will give
him up. I _had_ given him up already; I told you," she said, turning to
Halleck, and speaking in a slow, gentle tone, "only an hour ago, that he
was dead. And this--this that's happened, it makes no difference. Why did
you bring the paper to me when you knew that I thought he was dead?"
"God knows I wished to keep it from you."
"Well, no matter now. Let him go free if he wants to. I can't help it."
"You _can_ help it," interrupted her father. "You've got the facts on your
side, and you've got the witnesses!"
"Would you go out with me, and tell him that I never meant to leave him?"
she asked simply, turning to Halleck. "You--and Olive?"
"We would do anything for you, Marcia!"
She sat musing, and drawing her hands one over the other again, while her
quivering breath came and went on the silence. She let her hands fall
nervelessly on her lap. "I can't go; I'm too weak; I couldn't bear the
journey. No!" She shook her head. "I can't go!"
"Marcia," began her father, "it's your _duty_ to go!"
"Does it say in the law that I have to go, if I don't choose?" she asked of
"No, you certainly need not go, if you don't choose!"
"Then I will stay. Do you think it's my duty to go?" she asked, referring
her question first to Halleck and then to Atherton. She turned from the
silence by which they tried to leave her free. "I don't care for my duty,
any more. I don't want to keep him, if it's so that he--left me--and--and
meant it--and he doesn't--care for me any--more."
"Care for you? He never cared for you, Marcia! And you may be sure he
doesn't care for you now."
"Then let him go, and let us go home."
"Very well!" said the old man. "We will go home, then, and before the
week's out Bartley Hubbard will be a perjured bigamist."
"Bigamist?" Marcia leaped to her feet.
"Yes, bigamist! Don't you suppose he had his eye on some other woman out
there before he began this suit?"
The languor was gone from Marcia's limbs. As she confronted her father, the
wonderful likeness in the outline of their faces appeared. His was dark and
wrinkled with age, and hers was gray with the anger that drove the blood
back to her heart, but one impulse animated those fierce profiles, and
the hoarded hate in the old man's soul seemed to speak in Marcia's thick
whisper, "I will go."
The Athertons sat late over their breakfast in the luxurious dining-room
where the April sun came in at the windows overlooking the Back Bay, and
commanding at that stage of the tide a long stretch of shallow with a
flight of white gulls settled upon it.
They had let Clara's house on the hill, and she had bought another on the
new land; she insisted upon the change, not only because everybody was
leaving the hill, but also because, as she said, it would seem too much
like taking Mr. Atherton to board, if they went to housekeeping where she
had always lived; she wished to give him the effect before the world of
having brought her to a house of his own. She had even furnished it anew
for the most part, and had banished as far as possible the things that
reminded her of the time when she was not his wife. He humored her in this
fantastic self-indulgence, and philosophized her wish to give him the
appearance of having the money, as something orderly in its origin, and not
to be deprecated on other grounds, since probably it deceived nobody. They
lived a very tranquil life, and Clara had no grief of her own unless it was
that there seemed to be no great things she could do for him. One day when
she whimsically complained of this, he said: "I'm very glad of that. Let's
try to be equal to the little sacrifices we must make for each other;
they will be quite enough. Many a woman who would be ready to die for her
husband makes him wretched because she won't live for him. Don't despise
the day of small things."
"Yes, but when every day seems the day of small things!" she pouted.
"Every day _is_ the day of small things," said Atherton, "with people
who are happy. We're never so prosperous as when we can't remember what
happened last Monday."
"Oh, but I can't bear to be always living in the present."
"It's not so spacious, I know, as either the past or the future, but it's
all we have."
"There!" cried Clara. "That's _fatalism_! It's _worse_ than fatalism!"
"And is fatalism so very bad?" asked her husband.
"Well, it isn't necessarily a plurality of wives," returned Atherton, in
subtle anticipation of her next point. "And it's really only another name
for resignation, which is certainly a good thing."
"Resignation? Oh, I don't know about that!"
Atherton laughed, and put his arm round her waist: an argument that no
woman can answer in a man she loves; it seems to deprive her of her
reasoning faculties. In the atmosphere of affection which she breathed, she
sometimes feared that her mental powers were really weakening. As a girl
she had lived a life full of purposes, which, if somewhat vague, were
unquestionably large. She had then had great interests,--art, music,
literature,--the symphony concerts, Mr. Hunt's classes, the novels of
George Eliot, and Mr Fiske's lectures on the cosmic philosophy; and she had
always felt that they expanded and elevated existence. In her moments of
question as to the shape which her life had taken since, she tried to think
whether the happiness which seemed so little dependent on these things was
not beneath the demands of a spirit which was probably immortal and was
certainly cultivated. They all continued to be part of her life, but only
a very small part; and she would have liked to ask her husband whether his
influence upon her had been wholly beneficial. She was not sure that
it had; but neither was she sure that it had not. She had never fully
consented to the distinctness with which he classified all her emotions and
ideas as those of a woman: in her heart she doubted whether a great many of
them might not be those of a man, though she had never found any of them
exactly like his. She could not complain that he did not treat her as an
equal; he deferred to her, and depended upon her good sense to an extent
that sometimes alarmed her, for she secretly knew that she had a very large
streak of silliness in her nature. He seemed to tell her everything, and to
be greatly ruled by her advice, especially in matters of business; but she
could not help observing that he often kept matters involving certain moral
questions from her till the moment for deciding them was past. When she
accused him of this, he confessed that it was so; but defended himself
by saying that he was afraid her conscience might sway him against his
Clara now recurred to these words of his as she sat looking at him through
her tears across the breakfast table. "Was that the reason you never told
me about poor Ben before?"
"Yes, and I expect you to justify me. What good would it have done to tell
"I could have told you, at least, that, if Ben had any such feeling as
that, it wasn't _his_ fault altogether."
"But you wouldn't have believed that, Clara," said Atherton. "You know
that, whatever that poor creature's faults are, coquetry isn't one of
Clara only admitted the fact passively. "How did he excuse himself for
coming back?" she asked.
"He didn't excuse himself; he defied himself. We had a stormy talk, and he
ended by denying that he had any social duty in the matter."
"And I think he was quite right!" Clara flashed out. "It was his own
"He said he had a concrete purpose, and wouldn't listen to abstractions.
Yes, he talked like a woman. But you know he wasn't right, Clara, though
_you_ talk like a woman, too. There are a great many things that are not
wrong except as they wrong others. I've no doubt that, as compared with the
highest love her husband ever felt for her, Ben's passion was as light to
darkness. But if he could only hope for its return through the perversion
of her soul,--through teaching her to think of escape from her marriage by
a divorce,--then it was a crime against her and against society."
"Ben couldn't do such a thing!"
"No, he could only dream of doing it. When it came to the attempt,
everything that was good in him revolted against it and conspired to make
him help her in the efforts that would defeat his hopes if they succeeded.
It was a ghastly ordeal, but it was sublime; and when the climax
came,--that paper, which he had only to conceal for a few days or
weeks,--he was equal to the demand upon him. But suppose a man of his pure
training and traditions had yielded to temptation,--suppose he had so far
depraved himself that he could have set about persuading her that she owed
no allegiance to her husband, and might rightfully get a divorce and marry
him,--what a ruinous blow it would have been to all who knew of it! It
would have disheartened those who abhorred it, and encouraged those who
wanted to profit by such an example. It doesn't matter much, socially, what
undisciplined people like Bartley and Marcia Hubbard do; but if a man
like Ben Halleck goes astray, it's calamitous; it 'confounds the human
conscience,' as Victor Hugo says. All that careful nurture in the right
since he could speak, all that life-long decency of thought and act, that
noble ideal of unselfishness and responsibility to others, trampled under
foot and spit upon,--it's horrible!"
"Yes," answered Clara, deeply moved, even as a woman may be in a pretty
breakfast-room, "and such a good soul as Ben always was naturally. Will you
have some more tea?"
"Yes, I will take another cup. But as for natural goodness--"
"Wait! I will ring for some hot water."
When the maid had appeared, disappeared, reappeared, and finally vanished,
Atherton resumed. "The natural goodness doesn't count. The natural man is a
wild beast, and his natural goodness is the amiability of a beast basking
in the sun when his stomach is full. The Hubbards were full of natural
goodness, I dare say, when they didn't happen to cross each other's wishes.
No, it's the implanted goodness that saves,--the seed of righteousness
treasured from generation to generation, and carefully watched and tended
by disciplined fathers and mothers in the hearts where they have dropped
it. The flower of this implanted goodness is what we call civilization,
the condition of general uprightness that Halleck declared he owed no
allegiance to. But he was better than his word."
Atherton lifted, with his slim, delicate hand, the cup of translucent
china, and drained off the fragrant Souchong, sweetened, and tempered with
Jersey cream to perfection. Something in the sight went like a pang to his
wife's heart. "Ah!" she said, "it is easy enough for us to condemn. _We_
have everything we want!"
"I don't forget that, Clara," said Atherton, gravely. "Sometimes when
I think of it, I am ready to renounce all judgment of others. The
consciousness of our comfort, our luxury, almost paralyzes me at those
times, and I am ashamed and afraid even of our happiness."
"Yes, what right," pursued Clara, rebelliously, "have we to be happy and
united, and these wretched creatures so--"
"No right,--none in the world! But somehow the effects follow their causes.
In some sort they chose misery for themselves,--we make our own hell in
this life and the next,--or it was chosen for them by undisciplined wills
that they inherited. In the long run their fate must be a just one."
"Ah, but I have to look at things in the _short_ run, and I can't see any
justice in Marcia's husband using her so!" cried Clara. "Why shouldn't
you use me badly? I don't believe that any woman ever meant better by her
husband than she did."
"Oh, the meaning doesn't count! It's our deeds that judge us. He is a
thoroughly bad fellow, but you may be sure she has been to blame. Though I
don't blame the Hubbards, either of them, so much as I blame Halleck. He
not only had everything he wished, but the training to know what he ought
"I don't know about his having everything. I think Ben must have been
disappointed, some time," said Clara, evasively.
"Oh, that's nothing," replied Atherton, with the contented husband's
indifference to sentimental grievances.
Clara did not speak for some moments, and then she summed up a turmoil of
thoughts in a profound sigh. "Well, I don't like it! I thought it was bad
enough having a man, even on the outskirts of my acquaintance, abandon his
wife; but now Ben Halleck, who has been like a brother to me, to have him
mixed up in such an affair in the way he is, it's intolerable!"
"I agree with you," said Atherton, playing with his spoon. "You know how I
hate anything that sins against order, and this whole thing is disorderly.
It's intolerable, as you say. But we must bear our share of it. We're all
bound together. No one sins or suffers to himself in a civilized state,--or
religious state; it's the same thing. Every link in the chain feels the
effect of the violence, more or less intimately. We rise or fall together
in Christian society. It's strange that it should be so hard to realize
a thing that every experience of life teaches. We keep on thinking of
offences against the common good as if they were abstractions!"
"Well, _one_ thing," said Clara, "I shall always think unnecessarily
shocking and disgraceful about it. And that is Ben's going out with her on
this journey. I don't see how you could allow that, Eustace."
"Yes," said Atherton, after a thoughtful silence, "it _is_ shocking. The
only consolation is that it is _not_ unnecessarily shocking. I'm afraid
that it's necessarily so. When any disease of soul or body has gone
far enough, it makes its own conditions, and other things must adjust
themselves to it. Besides, no one knows the ugliness of the situation but
Halleck himself. I don't see how I could have interfered; and upon the
whole I don't know that I ought to have interfered, if I could. She would
be helpless without him; and he can get no harm from it. In fact, it's part
of his expiation, which must have begun as soon as he met her again after
he came home."
Clara was convinced, but not reconciled. She only said, "I don't like it."
Her husband did not reply; he continued musingly: "When the old man
made that final appeal to her jealousy,--all that there is really left,
probably, of her love for her husband,--and she responded with a face as
wicked as his, I couldn't help looking at Halleck--"
"Oh, poor Ben! _How_ did he take it? It must have scared, it must have
"That's what I had expected. But there was nothing in his face but pity. He
understood, and he pitied her. That was all."
Clara rose, and turned to the window, where she remained looking through
her tears at the gulls on the shallow. It seemed much more than twenty-four
hours since she had taken leave of Marcia and the rest at the station, and
saw them set out on their long journey with its uncertain and unimaginable
end. She had deeply sympathized with them all, but at the same time she
had felt very keenly the potential scandalousness of the situation; she
shuddered inwardly when she thought what if people knew; she had always
revolted from contact with such social facts as their errand involved. She
got Olive aside for a moment, and asked her, "Don't you _hate_ it, Olive?
Did you ever dream of being mixed up in such a thing? I should die,--simply
"I shall not think of dying, unless we fail," answered Olive. "And, as for
hating it, I haven't consulted my feelings a great deal; but I rather think
I like it."
"Like going out to be a witness in an Indiana divorce case!"
"I don't look at it in that way, Clara. It's a crusade to me; it's a holy
war; it's the cause of an innocent woman against a wicked oppression. I
know how _you_ would feel about it, Clara; but I never _was_ as respectable
as you are, and I'm quite satisfied to do what Ben, and father, and Mr.
Atherton approve. They think it's my duty, and I am glad to go, and to be
of all the use I can. But you shall have my heartfelt sympathy through all,
Clara, for your involuntary acquaintance with our proceedings."
"Olive! You _know_ that I'm proud of your courage and Ben's goodness, and
that I fully appreciate the sacrifice you're making. And I'm not ashamed
of your business: I think it's grand and sublime, and I would just as soon
scream it out at the top of my voice, right here in the Albany depot."
"Don't," said Olive. "It would frighten the child." She had Flavia by
the hand, and she made the little girl her special charge throughout the
journey. The old Squire seemed anxious to be alone, and he restlessly
escaped from Marcia's care. He sat all the first day apart, chewing upon
some fragment of wood that he had picked up, and now and then putting up
a lank hand to rasp his bristling jaw; glancing furtively at people who
passed him, and lapsing into his ruminant abstraction. He had been vexed
that they did not start the night before; and every halt the train made
visibly afflicted him. He would not leave his place to get anything to eat
when they stopped for refreshment, though he hungrily devoured the lunch
that Marcia brought into the car for him. At New York he was in a tumult of
fear lest they should lose the connecting train on the Pennsylvania Road;
and the sigh of relief with which he sank into his seat in the sleeping-car
expressed the suffering he had undergone. He said he was not tired, but he
went to bed early, as if to sleep away as much of the time as he could.
When Halleck came into their car, the next morning, he found Marcia and her
father sitting together, and looking out of the window at the wooded slopes
of the Alleghanies through which the train was running. The old man's
impatience had relaxed; he let Marcia lay her hand on his, and he answered
her with quiet submission, when she spoke now and then of the difference
between these valleys, where the wild rhododendrons were growing, and the
frozen hollows of the hills at home, which must be still choked with snow.
"But, oh! how much I would rather see them!" she said at last with a
"Well," he assented, "we can go right back--afterwards."
"Yes," she whispered.
"Well, sir, good morning," said the old man to Halleck, "we are getting
along, sir. At this rate, unless our calculations were mistaken, we shall
be there by midnight. We are on time, the porter tells me."
"Yes, we shall soon be at Pittsburg," said Halleck, and he looked at
Marcia, who turned away her face. She had not spoken of the object of the
journey to him since they had left Boston, and it had not been so nearly
touched by either of them before.
He could see that she recoiled from it, but the old man, once having
approached it, could not leave it. "If everything goes well, we shall have
our grip on that fellow's throat in less than forty-eight hours." He looked
down mechanically at his withered hands, lean and yellow like the talons of
a bird, and lifted his accipitral profile with a predatory alertness. "I
didn't sleep very well the last part of the night, but I thought it all
out. I sha'n't care whether I get there before or after judgment is
rendered; all I want is to get there before he has a chance to clear out.
I think I shall be able to convince Bartley Hubbard that there is a God
in Israel yet! Don't you be anxious, Marcia; I've got this thing at my
fingers' ends, as clear as a bell. I intend to give Bartley a little
Marcia kept her face averted, and Halleck relinquished his purpose of
sitting down with them, and went forward to the state-room that Marcia and
Olive had occupied with the little girl. He tapped on the door, and found
his sister dressed, but the child still asleep.
"What is the matter, Ben?" she asked. "You don't look well. You oughtn't to
have undertaken this journey."
"Oh, I'm all right. But I've been up a good while, with nothing to eat.
That old man is terrible. Olive!"
"Her father? Yes, he's a terrible old man!"
"It sickened me to hear him talk, just now,--throwing out his threats of
vengeance against Hubbard. It made me feel a sort of sympathy for that poor
dog. Do you suppose she has the same motive? I couldn't forgive her!" he
said, with a kind of passionate weakness. "I couldn't forgive myself!"
"We've got nothing to do with their motive, Ben. We are to be her witnesses
for justice against a wicked wrong. I don't believe in special providences,
of course; but it does seem as if we had been called to this work, as
mother would say. Your happening to go home with her, that night, and then
that paper happening to come to you,--doesn't it look like it?"
"It looks like it, yes."
"We couldn't have refused to come. That's what consoles me for being here
this minute. I put on a bold face with Clara Atherton, yesterday morning at
the depot; but I was in a cold chill, all the time. Our coming off, in this
way, on such an errand, is something so different from the rest of our
whole life! And I _do_ like quiet, and orderly ways, and all that we call
respectability! I've been thinking that the trial will be reported by some
such interviewing wretch as Bartley himself, and that we shall figure in
the newspapers. But I've concluded that we mustn't care. It's right, and we
must do it. I don't shut my eyes to the kind of people we're mixed up with.
I pity Marcia, and I love her--poor, helpless, unguided thing!--but that
old man _is_ terrible! He's as cruel as the grave where he thinks he's been
wronged, and crueller where he thinks _she's_ been wronged. You've forgiven
so much, Ben, that you can't understand a man who forgives nothing; but
_I_ can, for I'm a pretty good hater, myself. And Marcia's just like her
father, at times. I've seen her look at Clara Atherton as if she could kill
The little girl stirred in her berth, and then lifted herself on her hands,
and stared round at them through her tangled golden hair. "Is it morning,
yet?" she asked sleepily. "Is it to-morrow?"
"Yes; it's to-morrow, Flavia," said Olive. "Do you want to get up?"
"And is next day the day after to-morrow?"
"Then it's only one day till I shall see papa. That's what mamma said.
Where is mamma?" asked the child, rising to her knees, and sweeping back
her hair from her face with either hand.
"I will go and send her to you," said Halleck.
At Pittsburg the Squire was eager for his breakfast, and made amends for
his fast of the day before. He ate grossly of the heterogeneous abundance
of the railroad restaurant, and drank two cups of coffee that in his thin,
native air would have disordered his pulse for a week. But he resumed his
journey with a tranquil strength that seemed the physical expression of a
mind clear and content. He was willing and even anxious to tell Halleck
what his theories and plans were; but the young man shrank from knowing
them. He wished only to know whether Marcia were privy to them, and this,
too, he shrank from knowing.
They left Pittsburg under the dun pall of smoke that hangs perpetually over
the city, and ran out of a world where the earth seemed turned to slag and
cinders, and the coal grime blackened even the sheathing from which the
young leaves were unfolding their vivid green. Their train twisted along
the banks of the Ohio, and gave them now and then a reach of the stream,
forgetful of all the noisy traffic that once fretted its waters, and losing
itself in almost primitive wildness among its softly rounded hills. It is a
beautiful land, and it had, even to their loath eyes, a charm that touched
their hearts. They were on the borders of the illimitable West, whose lands
stretch like a sea beyond the hilly Ohio shore; but as yet this vastness,
which appalls and wearies all but the born Westerner, had not burst upon
them; they were still among heights and hollows, and in a milder and softer
"I have a strange feeling about this journey," said Marcia, turning from
the window at last, and facing Halleck on the opposite seat. "I want it to
be over, and yet I am glad of every little stop. I feel like some one that
has been called to a death-bed, and is hurrying on and holding back with
all her might, at the same time. I shall have no peace till I am there,
and then shall I have peace?" She fixed her eyes imploringly on his. "Say
something to me, if you can! What do you think?"
"Whether you will--succeed?" He was confounding what he knew of her
father's feeling with what he had feared of hers.
"Do you mean about the lawsuit? I don't care for that! Do you think he will
hate me when he sees me? Do you think he will believe me when I tell him
that I never meant to leave him, and that I'm sorry for what I did to drive
She seemed to expect him to answer, and he answered as well as he could:
"He ought to believe that,--yes, he must believe it."
"Then all the rest may go," she said. "I don't care who gains the case.
But if he shouldn't believe me,--if he should drive me away from him, as
I drove him from me--" She held her breath in the terror of such a
possibility, and an awe of her ignorance crept over Halleck. Apparently she
had not understood the step that Bartley had taken, except as a stage in
their quarrel from which they could both retreat, if they would, as easily
as from any other dispute; she had not realized it as a final, an almost
irrevocable act on his part, which could only be met by reprisal on hers.
All those points of law which had been so sharply enforced upon her must
have fallen blunted from her longing to be at one with him; she had,
perhaps, not imagined her defence in open court, except as a sort of public
But at another time she recurred to her wrongs in all the bitterness of her
father's vindictive purpose. A young couple entered the car at one of the
country stations, and the bride made haste to take off her white bonnet,
and lay her cheek on her husband's shoulder, while he passed his arm round
her silken waist, and drew her close to him on the seat, in the loving
rapture which is no wise inconvenienced by publicity on our railroad
trains. Indeed, after the first general recognition of their condition, no
one noticed them except Marcia, who seemed fascinated by the spectacle of
their unsophisticated happiness; it must have recalled the blissful abandon
of her own wedding journey to her. "Oh, poor fool!" she said to Olive. "Let
her wait, and it will not be long before she will know that she had better
lean on the empty air than on him. Some day, he will let her fall to the
ground, and when she gathers herself up all bruised and bleeding--But he
hasn't got the all-believing simpleton to deal with that he used to have;
and he shall pay me back for all--drop by drop, and ache for ache!"
She was in that strange mental condition into which women fall who brood
long upon opposing purposes and desires. She wished to be reconciled, and
she wished to be revenged, and she recurred to either wish for the time as
vehemently as if the other did not exist. She took Flavia on her knee, and
began to prattle to her of seeing papa to-morrow, and presently she turned
to Olive, and said: "I know he will find us both a great deal changed.
Flavia looks so much older,--and so do I. But I shall soon show him that I
can look young again. I presume he's changed too."
Marcia held the little girl up at the window. They had now left the river
hills and the rolling country beyond, and had entered the great plain which
stretches from the Ohio to the Mississippi; and mile by mile, as they ran
southward and westward, the spring unfolded in the mellow air under the
dull, warm sun. The willows were in perfect leaf, and wore their delicate
green like veils caught upon their boughs; the may-apples had already
pitched their tents in the woods, beginning to thicken and darken with the
young foliage of the oaks and hickories; suddenly, as the train dashed
from a stretch of forest, the peach orchards flushed pink beside the brick
farmsteads. The child gave a cry of delight, and pointed; and her mother
seemed to forget all that had gone before, and abandoned herself to
Flavia's joy in the blossoms, as if there were no trouble for her in the
Halleck rose and went into the other car; he felt giddy, as if her
fluctuations of mood and motive had somehow turned his own brain. He did
not come back till the train stopped at Columbus for dinner. The old Squire
showed the same appetite as at breakfast: he had the effect of falling upon
his food like a bird of prey; and as soon as the meal was despatched he
went back to his seat in the car, where he lapsed into his former silence
and immobility, his lank jaws working with fresh activity upon the wooden
toothpick he had brought away from the table. While they waited for a train
from the north which was to connect with theirs, Halleck walked up and down
the vast, noisy station with Olive and Marcia, and humored the little girl
in her explorations of the place. She made friends with a red-bird that
sang in its cage in the dining-hall, and with an old woman, yellow, and
wrinkled, and sunken-eyed, sitting on a bundle tied up in a quilt beside
the door, and smoking her clay pipe, as placidly as if on her own cabin
threshold. "'Pears like you ain't much afeard of strangers, honey," said
the old woman, taking her pipe out of her mouth, to fill it. "Where do you
live at when you're home?"
"Boston," said the child, promptly. "Where do _you_ live?"
"I _used_ to live in Old Virginny. But my son, he's takin' me out to
Illinoy, now. He's settled out there." She treated the child with the
serious equality which simple old people use with children; and spat neatly
aside in resuming her pipe. "Which o' them ladies yender is your maw,
The old woman nodded.
Flavia ran away and laid her hand on Marcia's dress, and then ran back to
the old woman.
"That your paw, with her?" Flavia looked blank, and the old woman
interpreted, "Your father."
"No! We're going out to see papa,--out West. We're going to see him
to-morrow, and then he's coming back with us. My grandpa is in that car."
The old woman now laid her folded arms on her knees, and smoked
obliviously. The little girl lingered a moment, and then ran off laughing
to her mother, and pulled her skirt. "Wasn't it funny, mamma? She thought
Mr. Halleck was my papa!" She hung forward by the hold she had taken, as
children do, and tilted her head back to look into her mother's face. "What
_is_ Mr. Halleck, mamma?"
"What is he?" The group halted involuntarily.
"Yes, what is he? Is he my uncle, or my cousin, or what? Is _he_ going
out to see papa, too? What is _he_ going for? Oh, look, look!" The child
plucked away her hand, and ran off to join the circle of idle men and
half-grown boys who were forming about two shining negroes with banjos.
The negroes flung their hands upon the strings with an ecstatic joy in the
music, and lifted their black voices in a wild plantation strain. The child
began to leap and dance, and her mother ran after her.
"Naughty little girl!" she cried. "Come into the car with me, this minute."
Halleck did not see Marcia again till the train had run far out of the
city, and was again sweeping through the thick woods, and flashing out upon
the levels of the fields where the farmers were riding their sulky-plows
up and down the long furrows in the pleasant afternoon sun. There was
something in this transformation of man's old-time laborious dependence
into a lordly domination over the earth which strikes the westward
journeyer as finally expressive of human destiny in the whole mighty
region, and which penetrated even to Halleck's sore and jaded thoughts.
A different type of men began to show itself in the car, as the Western
people gradually took the places of his fellow-travellers from the East.
The men were often slovenly and sometimes uncouth in their dress; but they
made themselves at home in the exaggerated splendor and opulence of the
car, as if born to the best in every way; their faces suggested the
security of people who trusted the future from the past, and had no fears
of the life that had always used them well; they had not that eager and
intense look which the Eastern faces wore; there was energy enough and to
spare in them, but it was not an anxious energy. The sharp accent of the
seaboard yielded to the rounded, soft, and slurring tones, and the prompt
address was replaced by a careless and confident neighborliness of manner.
Flavia fretted at her return to captivity in the car, and demanded to be
released with a teasing persistence from which nothing she was shown out of
the window could divert her. A large man leaned forward at last from a seat
near by, and held out an orange. "Come here to me, little Trouble," he
said; and Flavia made an eager start toward this unlooked-for friend.
Marcia wished to check her; but Halleck pleaded to have her go. "It will be
a relief to you," he said.
"Well, let her go," Marcia consented. "But she was no trouble, and she is
no relief." She sat looking dully at the little girl after the Westerner
had gathered her up into his lap. "Should I have liked to tell her," she
said, as if thinking aloud, "how we were really going to meet her father,
and that you were coming with me to be my witness against him in a
court,--to put him down and disgrace him,--to fight him, as father says?"
"You mustn't think of it in that way," said Halleck, gently, but, as he
felt, feebly and inadequately.
"Oh, I shall not think of it in that way long," she answered. "My head is
in a whirl, and I can't hold what we're doing before my mind in any one
shape for a minute at a time. I don't know what will become of me,--I don't
know what will become of me!"
But in another breath she rose from this desolation, and was talking with
impersonal cheerfulness of the sights that the car-window showed. As long
as the light held, they passed through the same opulent and monotonous
landscape; through little towns full of signs of material prosperity,
and then farms, and farms again; the brick houses set in the midst of
evergreens, and compassed by vast acreages of corn land, where herds of
black pigs wandered, and the farmers were riding their ploughs, or heaping
into vast windrows for burning the winter-worn stalks of the last year's
crop. Where they came to a stream the landscape was roughened into low
hills, from which it sank again luxuriously to a plain. If there was any
difference between Ohio and Indiana, it was that in Indiana the spring
night, whose breath softly buffeted their cheeks through the open window,
had gathered over those eternal cornfields, where the long crooked
windrows, burning on either hand, seemed a trail of fiery serpents writhing
away from the train as it roared and clamored over the track.
They were to leave their car at Indianapolis, and take another road which
would bring them to Tecumseh by daylight the next morning. Olive went away
with the little girl, and put her to bed on the sofa in their state-room,
and Marcia suffered them to go alone; it was only by fits that she had
cared for the child, or even noticed it. "Now tell me again," she said to
Halleck, "why we are going."
"Surely you know."
"Yes, yes, I know; but I can't think,--I don't seem to remember. Didn't I
give it up once? Didn't I say that I would rather go home, and let Bartley
get the divorce, if he wanted?"
"Yes, you said that, Marcia."
"I used to make him very unhappy; I was very strict with him, when I knew
he couldn't bear any kind of strictness. And he was always so patient with
me; though he never really cared for me. Oh, yes, I knew that from the
first! He used to try; but he must have been glad to get away. Poor
Bartley! It was cruel, cruel, to put that in about my abandoning him when
he knew I would come back; but perhaps the lawyers told him he must; he had
to put in something! Why shouldn't I let him go? Father said he only wanted
to get rid of me, so that he could marry some one else--Yes, yes; it was
that that made me start! Father knew it would! Oh," she grieved, with a
wild self-pity that tore Halleck's heart, "he knew it would!" She fell
wearily back against the seat, and did not speak for some minutes. Then she
said, in a slow, broken utterance: "But now I don't seem to mind even that,
any more. Why shouldn't he marry some one else that he really likes, if he
doesn't care for me?"
Halleck laughed in bitterness of soul as his thought recurred to Atherton's
reasons. "Because," he said, "you have a _public_ duty in the matter.
You must keep him bound to you, for fear some other woman, whose husband
doesn't care for her, should let _him_ go, too, and society be broken up,
and civilization destroyed. In a matter like this, which seems to concern
yourself alone, you are only to regard others."
His reckless irony did not reach her through her manifold sorrow. "Well,"
she said, simply, "it must be that. But, oh! how can I bear it! how can I
The time passed; Olive did not return for an hour; then she merely said
that the little girl had just fallen asleep, and that she should go back
and lie down with her; that she was sleepy too.
Marcia did not answer, but Halleck said he would call her in good time
before they reached Indianapolis.
The porter made up the berths of such as were going through to St. Louis,
and Marcia was left sitting alone with Halleck. "I will go and get your
father to come here," he said.
"I don't want him to come! I want to talk to you--to say something--What
was it? I can't think!" She stopped, like one trying to recover a faded
thought; he waited, but she did not speak again. She had laid a nervous
clutch upon his arm, to detain him from going for her father, and she
kept her hand there mechanically; but after a while he felt it relax; she
drooped against him, and fell away into a sleep in which she started now
and then like a frightened child. He could not release himself without
waking her; but it did not matter; her sorrow had unsexed her; only the
tenderness of his love for this hapless soul remained in his heart, which
ached and evermore heavily sank within him.
He woke her at last when he must go to tell Olive that they were running
into Indianapolis. Marcia struggled to her feet: "Oh, oh! Are we there? Are
"We are at Indianapolis," said Halleck.
"I thought it was Tecumseh!" She shuddered. "We can go back; oh, yes, we
can still go back!"
They alighted from the train in the chilly midnight air, and found their
way through the crowd to the eating-room of the station. The little girl
cried with broken sleep and the strangeness, and Olive tried to quiet her.
Marcia clung to Halleck's arm, and shivered convulsively. Squire Gaylord
stalked beside them with a demoniac vigor. "A few more hours, a few more
hours, sir!" he said. He made a hearty supper, while the rest scalded their
mouths with hot tea, which they forced with loathing to their lips.
Some women who were washing the floor of the ladies' waiting-room told them
they must go into the men's room, and wait there for their train, which was
due at one o'clock. They obeyed, and found the room full of emigrants, and
the air thick with their tobacco smoke. There was no choice; Olive went in
first and took the child on her lap, where it straightway fell asleep;
the Squire found a seat beside them, and sat erect, looking round on the
emigrants with the air of being amused at their outlandish speech, into
which they burst clamorously from their silence at intervals. Marcia
stopped Halleck at the threshold. "Stay out here with me," she whispered.
"I want to tell you something," she added, as he turned mechanically and
walked away with her up the vast lamp-shot darkness of the depot. "_I am
not going on_! I am going back. We will take the train that goes to the
East; father will never know till it is too late. We needn't speak to him
Halleck set himself against this delirious folly: he consented to her
return; she could do what she would; but he would not consent to cheat
her father. "We must go and tell him," he said, for all answer to all her
entreaties. He dragged her back to the waiting-room; but at the door she
started at the figure of a man who was bending over a group of emigrant
children asleep in the nearest corner,--poor, uncouth, stubbed little
creatures, in old-mannish clothes, looking like children roughly blocked
out of wood, and stiffly stretched on the floor, or resting woodenly
against their mother.
"There!" said the man, pressing a mug of coffee on the woman. "You drink
that! It'll do you good,--every drop of it! I've seen the time," he said,
turning round with the mug, when she had drained it, in his hand, and
addressing Marcia and Halleck as the most accessible portion of the
English-speaking public, "when I used to be down on coffee; I thought it
was bad for the nerves; but I tell you, when you're travelling it's a
brain-food, if ever there was a brain--" He dropped the mug, and stumbled
back into the heap of sleeping children, fixing a ghastly stare on Marcia.
She ran toward him. "Mr. Kinney!"
"No, you don't!--no, you don't!"
"Why, don't you know me? Mrs. Hubbard?"
"He--he--told me you--was dead!" roared Kinney.
"He told you I was dead?"
"More'n a year ago! The last time I seen him! Before I went out to
"He told you I was dead," repeated Marcia huskily. "He must have wished
it!" she whispered. "Oh, mercy, mercy, mercy!" She stopped, and then she
broke into a wild laugh: "Well, you see he was wrong. I'm on my way to him
now to show him that I'm alive!"
Halleck woke at daybreak from the drowse into which he had fallen. The
train was creeping slowly over the track, feeling its way, and he heard
fragments of talk among the passengers about a broken rail that the
conductor had been warned of. He turned to ask some question, when the pull
of rising speed came from the locomotive, and at the same moment the car
stopped with a jolting pitch. It settled upon the track again; but the two
cars in front were overturned, and the passengers were still climbing
from their windows, when Halleck got his bewildered party to the ground.
Children were crying, and a woman was led by with her face cut and bleeding
from the broken glass; but it was reported that no one else was hurt,
and the trainmen gave their helplessness to the inspection of the rotten
cross-tie that had caused the accident. One of the passengers kicked the
decayed wood with his boot. "Well," he said, "I always like a little
accident like this, early; it makes us safe the rest of the day." The
sentiment apparently commended itself to popular acceptance; Halleck
went forward with part of the crowd to see what was the matter with the
locomotive: it had kept the track, but seemed to be injured somehow;
the engineer was working at it, hammer in hand; he exchanged some dry
pleasantries with a passenger who asked him if there was any chance of
hiring a real fast ox-team in that neighborhood, in case a man was in a
hurry to get on to Tecumseh.
They were in the midst of a level prairie that stretched all round to the
horizon, where it was broken by patches of timber; the rising sun slanted
across the green expanse, and turned its distance to gold; the grass at
their feet was full of wild-flowers, upon which Flavia flung herself as
soon as they got out of the car. By the time Halleck returned to them,
she was running with cries of joy and wonder toward a windmill that rose
beautiful above the roofs of a group of commonplace houses, at a little
distance from the track; it stirred its mighty vans in the thin, sweet
inland breeze, and took the sun gayly on the light gallery that encircled
A vision of Belgian plains swept before Halleck's eyes. "There ought to be
storks on its roof," he said, absently.
"How strange that it should be here, away out in the West!" said Olive.
"If it were less strange than we are, here, I couldn't stand it," he
A brakeman came up with a flag in his hand, and nodded toward Flavia.
"She's on the right track for breakfast," he said. "There's an old Dutchman
at that mill, and his wife knows how to make coffee like a fellow's mother.
You'll have plenty of time. This train has come here to _stay_--till
somebody can walk back five miles and telegraph for help."
"How far are we from Tecumseh?" asked Halleck.
"Fifty miles," the brakeman called back over his shoulder.
"Don't you worry any, Marcia," said her father, moving off in pursuit of
Flavia. "This accident makes it all right for us, if we don't get there for
Marcia answered nothing. Halleck began to talk to her of that Belgian
landscape in which he had first seen a windmill, and he laughed at the
blank unintelligence with which she received his reminiscences of travel.
For the moment, the torturing stress was lifted from his soul; he wished
that the breakfast in the miller's house might never come to an end; he
explored the mill with Flavia; he bantered the Squire on his saturnine
preference for steam power in the milling business; he made the others
share his mood; he pushed far from him the series of tragic or squalid
facts which had continually brought the end to him in reveries in which
he found himself holding his breath, as if he might hold it till the end
But this respite could not last. A puff of white steam showed on the
horizon, and after an interval the sound of the locomotive whistle reached
them, as it came backing down a train of empty cars towards them. They were
quickly on their journey again, and a scanty hour before noon they arrived
The pretty town, which in prospect had worn to Olive Halleck's imagination
the blended hideousness of Sodom and Gomorrah, was certainly very much
more like a New England village in fact. After the brick farmsteads and
coal-smoked towns of Central Ohio, its wooden houses, set back from the
street with an ample depth of door-yard, were appealingly familiar, and
she exchanged some homesick whispers with Marcia about them, as they drove
along under the full-leaved maples which shadowed the way. The grass was
denser and darker than in New England, and, pretty as the town was, it wore
a more careless and unscrupulous air than the true New England village; the
South had touched it, and here and there it showed a wavering line of fence
and a faltering conscientiousness in its paint. Presently all aspects of
village quiet and seclusion ceased, and a section of conventional American
city, with flab-roofed brick blocks, showy hotel, stores, paved street, and
stone sidewalks expressed the readiness of Tecumseh to fulfil the destiny
of every Western town, and become a metropolis at a day's notice, if need
be. The second-hand omnibus, which reflected the actuality of Tecumseh,
set them down at the broad steps of the court-house, fronting on an avenue
which for a city street was not very crowded or busy. Such passers as there
were had leisure and inclination, as they loitered by, to turn and stare
at the strangers; and the voice of the sheriff, as he called from an upper
window of the court-house the names of absentee litigants or witnesses
required to come into court, easily made itself heard above all the other
It seemed to Halleck as if the sheriff were calling them; he lifted his
head and looked at Olive, but she would not meet his eye; she led by the
hand the little girl, who kept asking, "Is this the house where papa
lives?" with the merciless iteration of a child. Halleck dragged lamely
after the Squire, who had mounted the steps with unnatural vigor; he
promptly found his way to the clerk's office, where he examined the docket,
and then returned to his party triumphant. "We are in time," he said, and
he led them on up into the court-room.
A few spectators, scattered about on the rows of benching, turned to look
at them as they walked up the aisle, where the cocoa matting, soaked
and dried, and soaked again, with perpetual libations of tobacco-juice,
mercifully silenced their footsteps; most of the faces turned upon them
showed a slow and thoughtful movement of the jaws, and, as they were
dropped or averted, a general discharge of tobacco-juice seemed to express
the general adoption of the new-comers, whoever they were, as a necessary
element of the scene, which it was useless to oppose, and about which it
was idle to speculate. Before the Squire had found his party seats on one
of the benches next the bar, the spectators had again given their languid
attention to the administration of justice, which is everywhere informal
with us, and is only a little more informal in the West than in the East.
An effect of serene disoccupation pervaded the place, such as comes at the
termination of an interesting affair; and no one seemed to care for what
the clerk was reading aloud in a set, mechanical tone. The judge was busy
with his docket; the lawyers, at their several little tables within the
bar, lounged in their chairs, or stalked about laughing and whispering
to each other; the prosecuting attorney leaned upon the shoulder of a
jolly-looking man, who lifted his face to joke up at him, as he tilted his
chair back; a very stout, youngish person, who sat next him, kept his face
dropped while the clerk proceeded:--
"And now, on motion of plaintiff, it is ordered by the Court that said
defendant be now here three times called, which is done in open court,
and she comes not; but wholly makes default herein. And this cause is now
submitted to the Court for trial, and the Court having heard the evidence,
and being fully advised, find for the plaintiff,--that the allegations
of his complaint are true, and that he is entitled to a divorce. It is
therefore considered by the Court, that said plaintiff be and he is hereby
divorced, and the bonds of matrimony heretofore existing between said
parties are dissolved and held for naught."
As the clerk closed the large volume before him, the jolly lawyer, as if
the record had been read at his request, nodded to the Court, and said,
"The record of the decree seems correct, your honor." He leaned forward,
and struck the fat man's expanse of back with the flat of his hand.
"Congratulate you, my dear boy!" he said in a stage whisper that was heard
through the room. "Many happy returns of the day!"
A laugh went round, and the judge said severely, "Mr. Sheriff, see that
order is kept in the courtroom."
The fat man rose to shake hands with another friend, and at the same moment
Squire Gaylord stretched himself to his full height before stooping over
to touch the shoulder of one of the lawyers within the bar, and his eyes
encountered those of Bartley Hubbard in mutual recognition.
It was not the fat on Bartley's ribs only that had increased: his broad
cheeks stood out and hung down with it, and his chin descended by the three
successive steps to his breast. His complexion was of a tender pink, on
which his blonde moustache showed white; it almost vanished in the tallowy
pallor to which the pink turned as he saw his father-in-law, and then the
whole group which the intervening spectators had hitherto hidden from him.
He dropped back into his chair, and intimated to his lawyer, with a wave of
his hand and a twist of his head, that some hopeless turn in his fortunes
had taken place. That jolly soul turned to him for explanation, and at
the same time the lawyer whom Squire Gaylord had touched on the shoulder
responded to a few whispered words from him by beckoning to the prosecuting
attorney, who stepped briskly across to where they stood. A brief dumb-show
ensued, and the prosecutor ended by taking the Squire's hand, and inviting
him within the bar; the other attorney politely made room for him at his
table, and the prosecutor returned to his place near the jury-box, where he
remained standing for a moment.
"If it please the Court," he began, in a voice breaking heavily upon the
silence that had somehow fallen upon the whole room, "I wish to state that
the defendant in the case of Hubbard _vs_. Hubbard is now and here present,
having been prevented by an accident on the road between this place and
Indianapolis from arriving in time to make defence. She desires to move the
Court to set aside the default."
The prosecutor retired a few paces, and nodded triumphantly at Bartley's
lawyer, who could not wholly suppress his enjoyment of the joke, though it
told so heavily against him and his client. But he was instantly on his
feet with a technical objection.
The judge heard him through, and then opened his docket, at the case of
Hubbard vs. Hubbard. "What name shall I enter for the defence?" he inquired
Squire Gaylord turned with an old-fashioned state and deliberation which
had their effect, and cast a glance of professional satisfaction in the
situation at the attorneys and the spectators. "I ask to be allowed to
appear for the defence in this case, if the Court please. My friend, Mr.
Hathaway, will move my admission to this bar."
The attorney to whom the Squire had first introduced himself promptly
complied: "Your honor, I move the admission of Mr. F. J. Gaylord, of
Equity, Equity County, Maine, to practise at this bar."
The judge bowed to the Squire, and directed the clerk to administer the
usual oath. "I have entered your name for the defence, Mr. Gaylord. Do you
desire to make any motion in the case?" he pursued, the natural courtesy of
his manner further qualified by a feeling which something pathetic in the
old Squire's bearing inspired.
"Yes, your honor, I move to set aside the default, and I shall offer in
support of this motion my affidavit, setting forth the reasons for the
non-appearance of the defendant at the calling of the cause."
"Shall I note your motion as filed?" asked the Judge.
"Yes, your honor," replied the old man. He made a futile attempt to prepare
the paper; the pen flew out of his trembling hand. "_I_ can't write," he
said in despair that made other hands quick to aid him. A young lawyer at
the next desk rapidly drew up the paper, and the Squire duly offered it
to the clerk of the Court. The clerk stamped it with the file-mark of
the Court, and returned it to the Squire, who read aloud the motion and
affidavit, setting forth the facts of the defendant's failure to receive
the notice in time to prepare for her defence, and of the accident which
had contributed to delay her appearance, declaring that she had a just
defence to the plaintiff's bill, and asking to be heard upon the facts.
Bartley's attorney was prompt to interpose again. He protested that the
printed advertisement was sufficient notice to the defendant, whenever it
came to her knowledge, or even if it never came to her knowledge, and that
her plea of failure to receive it in time was not a competent excuse. This
might be alleged in any case, and any delay of travel might be brought
forward to account for non-appearance as plausibly as this trumped-up
accident in which nobody was hurt. He did his best, which was also his
worst, and the judge once more addressed the Squire, who stood waiting for
Bartley's counsel to close. "I was about to adjourn the Court," said the
judge, in that accent which is the gift of the South to some parts of the
West; it is curiously soft and gentle, and expressive, when the speaker
will, of a caressing deference. "But we have still some minutes before noon
in which we can hear you in support of your motion, if you are ready."
"I am m-ready, your honor!" The old man's nasals cut across the judge's
rounded tones, almost before they had ceased. His lips compressed
themselves to a waving line, and his high hawk-beak came down over them;
the fierce light burned in his cavernous eyes, and his grizzled hair
erected itself like a crest. He swayed slightly back and forth at the
table, behind which he stood, and paused as if waiting for his hate to
In this interval it struck several of the spectators, who had appreciative
friends outside, that it was a pity they should miss the coming music, and
they risked the loss of some strains themselves that they might step out
and inform these _dilettanti_. One of them was stopped by a man at the
door. "What's up, now?" The other impatiently explained; but the inquirer,
instead of hurrying in to enjoy the fun, turned quickly about, and ran down
the stairs. He crossed the street, and, by a system of alleys and byways,
modestly made his way to the outlying fields of Tecumseh, which he
traversed at heightened speed, plunging at last into the belt of timber
beyond. This excursion, which had so much the appearance of a chase, was
an exigency of the witness who had corroborated on oath the testimony of
Bartley in regard to his wife's desertion. Such an establishment of facts,
purely imaginary with the witness, was simple enough in the absence of
rebutting testimony; but confronted with this, it became another affair; it
had its embarrassments, its risks.
"M-ready," repeated Squire Gay lord, "m-ready with facts and _witnesses!"_
The word, in which he exulted till it rang and echoed through the room,