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A Spinner in the Sun by Myrtle Reed

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as though to see her face behind her veil.

"Spinner in the Shadow," he said, with infinite tenderness, "I'm
thinking 't was he who hurt you, too!"

Evelina's head drooped, she swayed, and would have fallen, had he not
put his arm around her. She sat down on the step again, and hid her
veiled face in her hands.

"'T was that, I'm thinking, that brought me to you," he went on. "I
knew you did not care much for the little lad--he was naught to any one
but me. 'T is this that binds us together--you and I."

The moon climbed higher into the heavens and the clouds were blown
away. The shadow of the cypress was thrown toward them, and the dense
night of it concealed the half-open door.

"See," breathed Evelina, "the shadow of the cypress is long."

"Aye," answered Piper Tom, "the shadow of the cypress is long and the
rose blooms but once a year. 'T is the way of the world."

He loosened his flute from the cord by which it was slung over his
shoulder. "I was going to the woods," he said, "but at the last, I
could not, for the little lad always fared with me when I went out to
play. He would sit quite still when I made the music, so still that he
never frightened even the birds. The birds came, too.

"'T is a way I've had for long," he continued. "I never could be
learning the printed music, so I made music of my own. So many laughed
at it, not hearing any tune, that I've always played by myself. 'T was
my own soul breathing into it--perhaps I'm not to blame that it never
made a tune.

"Sometimes I'm thinking that there may be tunes and tunes. I was once
in a place where there were many instruments, all playing at once, and
there was nothing came from it that one could call a tune. But 't was
great and beautiful beyond any words of mine to tell you, and the
master of them all, standing up in front, knew just when each must play.

"Most, of course, I watched the one who played the flute and listened
to the voice of it. 'T is strange how, if you listen, you can pick out
one instrument from all the rest. I saw that sometimes he did not play
at all, and yet the music went on. Sometimes, again, he was privileged
to play just a note or two--not at all like a tune.

"'T was just his part, and, by itself, it would have sounded queer. I
might have laughed at it myself if I did not know, and was listening
for a tune. But the master of them all was pleased, because the man
with the flute made his few notes to sing rightly when they should sing
and because he kept still when there was no need of his instrument.

"So I'm thinking," concluded the Piper, humbly, "that these few notes
of mine may belong to something I cannot hear, and that the Master
himself leads me, when 't is time to play."

He put the instrument to his lips and began to play softly. The low,
sweet notes were, as he said, no evident part of a tune, yet they were
not without a deep and tender appeal.

Evelina listened, her head still bowed. It did not sound like the
pipes o' Pan, but rather like some fragment of a mysterious,
heart-breaking melody. Faint, far echoes rang back from the
surrounding hills, as though in a distant forest cathedral another
Piper sat enthroned.

The sound of singing waters murmured through the night as the Piper's
flute breathed of stream and sea. There was the rush of a Summer wind
through swaying branches, the tinkle of raindrops, the deep notes of
rising storm. Moonlight shimmered through it, birds sang in green
silences, and there was scent of birch and pine.

Then swiftly the music changed. Through the utter sadness of it came
also a hint of peace, as though one had planted a garden of roses and
instead there had come up herbs and balm. In the passionate pain,
there was also uplifting--a flight on broken wings. Above and beyond
all there was a haunting question, to which the answer seemed lost.

At length the Piper laid down his flute. "You do not laugh," he said,
"and yet I'm thinking you may not care for music that has no tune."

"I do care," returned Evelina.

"I remember," he answered, slowly. "It was the day in the woods, when
I called you and you came."

"I was hurt," she said. "I had been terribly hurt, only that morning,"

"Yes, many have come to me so. Often when I have played in the woods
the music that has no tune, some one who was very sad has come to me.
I saw you that day from far and I felt you were sad, so I called you.
I called you," he repeated, lingering on the words, "and you came."

"I do not so much care for the printed music," he went on, after an
interval, "unless it might be the great, beautiful music which takes so
many to play. I have often thought of it and wondered what might
happen if the players were not willing to follow the master--if one
should play a tune where no tune was written, and he who has the violin
should insist on playing the flute.

"I would not want the violin, for I think the flute is best of all. It
is made from the trees on the mountains and the silver hidden within,
and so is best fitted for the message of the mountains--the great, high
music.

"I'm thinking that the life we live is not unlike the players. We have
each our own instrument, but we are not content to follow as the Master
leads. We do not like the low, long notes that mean sadness; we will
not take what is meant for us, but insist on the dancing tunes and the
light music of pleasure. It is this that makes the discord and all the
confusion. The Master knows his meaning and could we each play our
part well, at the right time, there would be nothing wrong in all the
world."

Miss Evelina sighed, deeply, and the Piper put his hand on hers.

"I'm not meaning to reproach you," he said, kindly, "though, truly, I
do think you have played wrong. In any music I have heard, there has
never been any one instrument that has played all the time and sadly.
When there is sadness, there is always rest, and you have had no rest."

"No," said Evelina, her voice breaking, "I have had no rest--God knows
that!"

"Then do you not see," asked the Piper very gently, "that you cannot
help but make the music wrong? The Master gives you one deep note to
play, and you hold it, always the same note, till the music is at an
end.

"'T is something wrong, I'm thinking, that has made you hold it so.
I'm not asking you to tell me, but I think that one day I shall see.
Together we shall find what makes the music wrong, and together we
shall make it right again."

"Together," repeated Evelina, unconsciously. Once the word had been
sweet to her, but now it brought only bitterness.

"Aye, together. 'T is for that I stayed. Laddie and I were going on,
that very day we saw you in the wood--the day I called you, and you
came. I shall see, some day, what has made it wrong--yes. Spinner in
the Shadow, I shall see. I'm grieving now for Laddie and my heart is
sore, but when I have forgiven him, I shall be at rest."

"Forgiven who?" queried Evelina.

"Why, the man who hurt Laddie--the same, I'm thinking, who hurt you.
But your hurt was worse than Laddie's, I take it, and so 't is harder
to forgive."

Evelina's heart beat hard. Never before had she thought of forgiving
Anthony Dexter. She put it aside quickly as altogether impossible.
Moreover, he had not asked.

"What is it to forgive?" she questioned, curiously.

"The word is not made right," answered the Piper, "I'm thinking 't is
wrong end to, as many things in this world are until we move and look
at them from another way. It's giving for, that's all. When you have
put self so wholly aside that you can be sorry for him because he has
wronged you, why, then, you have forgiven."

"I shall never be able to do that," she returned. "Why, I should not
even try."

"Ah," cried the Piper, "I knew that some day I should find what was
wrong, but I did not think it would be now. 'T is because you have not
forgiven that you have been sad for so long. When you have forgiven,
you will be free."

"He never asked," muttered Evelina.

"No; 't is very strange, I'm thinking, but those who most need to be
forgiven are those who never ask. 'T is hard, I know, for I cannot yet
be sorry for him because he hurt Laddie--I can only be sorry for
Laddie, who was hurt. But the great truth is there. When I have grown
to where I can be sorry for him as well as for Laddie, why, my grieving
will be done.

"The little chap," mused the Piper, fondly, "he was a faithful comrade.
'T was a true heart that the brute--ah, what am I saying! I'll not be
forgetting how he fared with me in sun and storm, sharing a crust with
me, often, as man to man, and not complaining, because we were
together. A woman never loved me but a dog has, and I'm thinking that
some day I may have the greater love because I've been worthy of the
less.

"My mother died when I was born and, because of that, I've tried to
make the world easier for all women. I'm not thinking I have wholly
failed, yet the great love has not come. I've often thought," went on
Piper Tom, simply, "that if a woman waited for me at night when I went
home, with love on her face, and if a woman's hand might be in mine
when the Master tells me that I am no longer needed for the music, 't
would make the leaving very easy, and I should not ask for Heaven.

"I've seen, so often, the precious jewel of a woman's love cast aside
by a man who did not know what he had, having blinded himself with
tinsel until his true knowledge was lost. You'll forgive me for my
rambling talk, I'm thinking, for I'm still grieving for the little
chap, and I cannot say yet that I have forgiven."

He rose, slung his flute over his shoulder again, and went slowly
toward the gate. Evelina followed him, to the cypress tree.

"See," he said, turning, "the shadow of the cypress is long. 'T is
because you have not forgiven. I'm thinking it may be easier for us to
forgive together, since it is the same man."

"Yes," returned Evelina, steadily, "the shadow of the cypress is long,
and I never shall forgive."

"Aye," said the Piper, "we'll forgive him together--you and I. I'll
help you, since your hurt is greater than mine. You have veiled your
soul as you have veiled your face, but, through forgiveness, the beauty
of the one will shine out again, and, I'm thinking, through love, the
other may shine out, too. You have hidden your face because you are so
beautiful; you have hidden your soul because you are so sad. I called
you in the woods, and I call you now. I shall never cease calling,
until you come."

He went out of the gate, and did not answer her faint "good-night."
Was it true, as he said, that he should never cease calling her?
Something in her spirit stirred strangely at his appeal, as a far,
celestial trumpet blown from on high might summon the valiant soul of a
warrior who had died in the charge.

XX

The Secret of the Veil

"Father," said Ralph, pacing back and forth, as was his habit, "I have
wanted for some time to ask you about Miss Evelina--the woman, you
know, in the little house on the hill. She always wears a veil and
there can be no reason for it except some terrible disfigurement. Has
she never consulted you?"

"Never," answered Anthony Dexter, with dry lips.

"I remember, you told me, but it seems strange. I spoke to her about
it the other day. I told her I was sure that something could be done.
I offered to find the best available specialist for her, go with her,
and stand by her until it was over."

Anthony Dexter laughed--a harsh, unnatural laugh that jarred upon his
son.

"I fail to see anything particularly funny about it," remarked Ralph,
coldly.

"What did she say?" asked his father, not daring to meet Ralph's eyes.

"She thanked me, and said nothing could be done."

"She didn't show you her face, I take it."

"No."

"I should have thought she would, under the circumstances--under all
the circumstances."

"Have you seen her face?" asked Ralph, quickly, "by chance, or in any
other way?"

"Yes."

"How is it? Is it so bad that nothing can be done?"

"She was perfectly right," returned Anthony Dexter, slowly. "There is
nothing to be done."

At the moment, the phantom Evelina was pacing back and forth between
the man and his son. Her veiled face was proudly turned away. "I
wonder," thought Anthony Dexter, curiously, "if she hears. If she did,
though, she'd speak, or throw back her veil, so she doesn't hear."

"I may be wrong," sighed Ralph, "but I've always believed that nothing
is so bad it can't be made better."

"The unfailing ear-mark of Youth, my son," returned Anthony Dexter,
patronisingly. "You'll get over that."

He laughed again, gratingly, and went out, followed by his persistent
apparition. "We'll go out for a walk, Evelina," he muttered, when he
was half-way to the gate. "We'll see how far you can go without
getting tired." The fantastic notion of wearying his veiled pursuer
appealed to him strongly.

Ralph watched his father uneasily. Even though he had been relieved of
the greater part of his work, Anthony Dexter did not seem to be
improving. He was morose, unreasonable, and given to staring vacantly
into space for hours at a time. Ralph often spoke to him when he did
not hear at all, and at times he turned his head from left to right and
back again, slowly, but with the maddening regularity of clock-work.
He ate little, but claimed to sleep well.

Whatever it was seemed to be of the mind rather than the body, and
Ralph could find nothing in his father's circumstances calculated to
worry any one in the slightest degree. He planned, vaguely, to invite
a friend who was skilled in the diagnosis of obscure mental disorders
to spend a week-end with him, a little later on, and to ask him to
observe his father closely. He did not doubt but that Anthony Dexter
would see quickly through so flimsy a pretence, but, unless he
improved, something of the kind would have to be done soon.

Meanwhile, his heart yearned strangely toward Miss Evelina. It was
altogether possible that something, might be done. Ralph was modest,
but new discoveries were constantly being made, and he knew that his
own knowledge was more abreast of the times than his father's could be.
At any rate, he was not so easily satisfied.

He was trying faithfully to forget Araminta, but was not succeeding.
The sweet, childish face haunted him as constantly as the veiled
phantom haunted his father, but in a different way. Through his own
unhappiness, he came into kinship with all the misery of the world. He
longed to uplift, to help, to heal.

He decided to try once more to talk with Miss Evelina, to ask her,
point blank, if need be, to let him see her face. He knew that his
father lacked sympathy, and he was sure that when Miss Evelina once
thoroughly understood him, she would be willing to let him help her.

On the way uphill, he considered how he should approach the subject.
He had already planned to make an ostensible errand of the book he had
loaned Araminta. Perhaps Miss Evelina had read it, or would like to,
and he could begin, in that way, to talk to her.

When he reached the gate, the house seemed deserted, though the front
door was ajar. It was a warm, sweet afternoon in early Summer, and the
world was very still, except for the winged folk of wood and field.

He tapped gently at the door, but there was no answer. He went around
to the back door, but it was closed, and there was no sign that the
place was occupied, except quantities of white chiffon hung upon the
line. Being a man, Ralph did not perceive that Miss Evelina had washed
every veil she possessed.

He went back to the front of the house again and found that the door
was still ajar. She might have gone away, though it seemed unlikely,
or it was not impossible that she might have been taken suddenly ill
and was unable to come to the door.

Ralph went in, softly, as he had often done before. Miss Evelina had
frequently left the door open for him at the hour he was expected to
visit his patient.

He paused a moment in the hall, but heard no sound save slow, deep
breathing. He turned into the parlour, but stopped on the threshold as
if he had been suddenly changed to stone.

Upon the couch lay Miss Evelina, asleep, and unveiled. Her face was
turned toward him--a face of such surpassing beauty that he gasped in
astonishment. He had never seen such wondrous perfection of line and
feature, nor such a crown of splendour as her lustreless white hair,
falling loosely about her shoulders. Her face was as pure and as cold
as marble, flawless, and singularly transparent. Her lips were deep
scarlet and perfectly shaped; the white slender column of her throat
held her head proudly. Long, dark lashes swept her cheek, and the
years had left no lines. Feeling the intense scrutiny, Miss Evelina
opened her eyes, slowly, like one still half asleep.

Her eyes were violet, so deep in colour as to seem almost black. She
stared at Ralph, unseeing, then the light of recognition flashed over
her face and she sat up, reaching back quickly for her missing veil.

"Miss Evelina!" cried Ralph. "Why, oh why!"

"Why did you come in?" she demanded, resentfully. "You had no right!"

"Forgive me," he pleaded, coming to her. "I've often come in when the
door was open. Why, you've left it open for me yourself, don't you
know you have?"

"Perhaps," she answered, a faint colour coming into her cheek. "I had
no idea of going to sleep. I am sorry."

"I thought you might be ill," said Ralph. excusing himself further.
"Believe me, Miss Evelina, I had no thought of intruding. I only came
to help you."

He stood before her, still staring, and her eyes met his clearly in
return. In the violet depths was a world of knowledge and pain
Suffering had transfigured her face into a noble beauty for which there
were no words. Such a face might be the dream of a sculptor, the
despair of a painter, and the ecstasy of a lover.

"Why?", cried Ralph, again.

"Because," she answered, simply, "my beauty was my curse."

Ralph did not see that the words were melodramatic; he only sat down,
weakly, in a chair opposite her. He never once took his eyes away from
her, but stared at her helplessly, like a man in a dream.

"Why?" he questioned, again. "Tell me why!"

"It was in a laboratory," explained Miss Evelina. "I was there with
the man I loved and to whom I was to be married the next day. No one
knew of our engagement, for, in a small town, you know, people will
talk, and we both felt that it was too sacred to be spoken of lightly.

"He was trying an experiment, and I was watching. He came to the
retort to put in another chemical, and leaned over it. I heard the
mass seething and pushed him away with all my strength. Instantly,
there was a terrible explosion. When I came to my senses again, I was
in the hospital, wrapped in bandages. I had been terribly burned--see?"

She loosened her black gown at the throat and pushed it down over her
right shoulder. Ralph shuddered at the deep, flaming scars.

"My arm is worse," she said, quickly covering her shoulder again. "I
need not show you that. My face was burned, too, but scarcely at all.
To this day, I do not know how I escaped. I must have thrown up my arm
instinctively to shield my face. See, there are no scars."

"I see," murmured Ralph; "and what of him?"

The dark eyes gleamed indescribably. "What of him?" she asked, with
assumed lightness. "Why, he was not hurt at all. I saved him from
disfigurement, if not from death. I bear the scars; he goes free."

"I know," said Ralph, "but why were you not married? All his life and
love would be little enough to give in return for that."

Miss Evelina fixed her deep eyes upon Anthony Dexter's son. In her
voice there was no hint of faltering.

"I never saw him again," she said, "until twenty-five years afterward,
and then I was veiled. He went away."

"Went away!" repeated Ralph, incredulously. "Miss Evelina, what do you
mean?"

"What I said," she replied. "He went away. He came once to the
hospital. As it happened, there was another girl there, named Evelyn
Grey, burned by acid, and infinitely worse than I. The two names
became confused. He was told that I would be disfigured for life--that
every feature was destroyed except my sight. That was enough for him.
He asked no more questions, but simply went away."

"Coward!" cried Ralph, his face white. "Cur!"

Miss Evelina's eyes gleamed with subtle triumph. "What would you?" she
asked unemotionally. "He told me that day of the accident that it was
my soul he loved, and not my body, but at the test, he failed. Men
usually fail women, do they not, in anything that puts their love to
the test? He went away. In a year, he was married, and he has a son."

"A son!" repeated Ralph. "What a heritage of disgrace for a son! Does
the boy know?"

There was a significant silence. "I do not think his father has told
him," said Evelina, with forced calmness.

"If he had," muttered Ralph, his hands clenched and his teeth set, "his
son must have struck him dead where he stood. To accept that from a
woman, and then to go away!"

"What would you?" asked Evelina again. A curious, tigerish impulse was
taking definite shape in her. "Would you have him marry her?"

"Marry her? A thousand times, yes, if she would stoop so low! What
man is worthy of a woman who saves his life at the risk of her own?"

"Disfigured? asked Evelina, in an odd voice.

"Yes," cried Ralph, "with the scars she bore for him!"

There was a tense, painful interval. Miss Evelina was grappling with a
hideous temptation. One word from her, and she was revenged upon
Anthony Dexter for all the years of suffering. One word from her, and
sure payment would be made in the most subtle, terrible way. She
guessed that he could not bear the condemnation of this idolised son.

The old pain gnawed at her heart. Anthony Dexter had come back, she
had had her little hour of triumph, and still she had not been freed.
The Piper had told her that only forgiveness could loosen her chains.
And how could Anthony Dexter be forgiven, when even his son said that
he was a coward and a cur?

"I--" Miss Evelina's lips moved, then became still.

"And so," said Ralph, "you have gone veiled ever since, for the sake of
that beast?"

"No, it was for my own sake. Do you wonder that I have done it? When
I first realised what had happened, in an awful night that turned my
brown hair white, I knew that Love and I were strangers forevermore.

"When I left the hospital, I was obliged, for a time, to wear it. The
new skin was tender and bright red; it broke very easily."

"I know," nodded Ralph.

"There were oils to be kept upon it, too, and so I wore the veil. I
became accustomed to the shelter of it. I could walk the streets and
see, dimly, without being seen. In those days, I thought that,
perhaps, I might meet--him."

"I don't wonder you shrank from it," returned Ralph. His voice was
almost inaudible.

"It became harder still to put it by. My heart was broken, and it
shielded me as a long, black veil shields a widow. It protected me
from curious questions. Never but once or twice in all the twenty-five
years have I been asked about it, and then, I simply did not answer.
People, after all, are very kind."

"Were you never ill?"

"Never, though every night of my life I have prayed for death. At
first, I clung to it without reason, except what I have told you, then,
later on, I began to see a further protection. Veiled as I was, no man
would ever love me again. I should never be tempted to trust, only to
be betrayed. Not that I ever could trust, you understand, but still,
sometimes," concluded Miss Evelina, piteously, "I think the heart of a
woman is strangely hungry for love."

"I understand," said Ralph, "and, believe me, I do not blame you.
Perhaps it was the best thing you could do. Let me ask you of the man.
You said, I think, that he still lives?"

"Yes." Miss Evelina's voice was very low.

"He is well and happy--prosperous?"

"Yes."

"Do you know where he lives?"

"Yes."

"Has he ever suffered at all from his cowardice, his shirking?"

"How should I know?"

"Then, Miss Evelina," said Ralph, his voice thick with passion and his
hands tightly clenched, "will you let me go to him? For the honour of
men, I should like to punish this one brute. I think I could present
an argument that even he might understand!"

The temptation became insistent. The sheathed dagger was in Evelina's
hands; she had only to draw forth the glittering steel. A vengeance
more subtle than she had ever dared to dream of was hers to command.

"Tell me his name," breathed Ralph. "Only tell me his name!"

Miss Evelina threw back her beautiful head proudly. "No," she said,
firmly, "I will not. Go," she cried, pointing uncertainly to the door.
"For the love of God, go!"

XXI

The Poppies Claim Their Own

It was dusk, and Anthony Dexter sat in the library. Through the day,
he had wearied himself to the point of exhaustion, but his phantom
pursuer had not tired. The veiled figure of Evelina had kept pace
easily with his quick, nervous stride. At the point on the river
road, where he had met her for the first time, she had, indeed,
seemed to go ahead of him and wait for him there.

Night brought no relief. By a singular fatality, he could see her in
darkness as plainly as in sunshine, and even when his eyes were
closed, she hovered persistently before him. Throughout his drugged
sleep she moved continuously; he never dreamed save of her.

In days gone by, he had been certain that he was the victim of an
hallucination, but now, he was not so sure. He would not have sworn
that the living Evelina was not eternally in his sight. Time and
time again he had darted forward quickly to catch her, but she
swiftly eluded him. "If," he thought, gritting his teeth, "I could
once get my hands upon her----"

His fists dosed tightly, then, by a supreme effort of will, he put
the maddening thought away. "I will not add murder to my sins," he
muttered; "no, by Heaven, I will not!"

By a whimsical change of his thought, he conceived himself dead and
in his coffin. Would Evelina pace ceaselessly before him then? When
he was in his grave, would she wait eternally at the foot of it, and
would those burning eyes pierce the shielding sod that parted them?
Life had not served to separate them--could he hope that Death would
prove potent where Life had failed?

Ralph came in, tired, having done his father's work for the day. The
room was wholly dark, but he paused upon the threshold, conscious
that some one was there.

"Alone, father?" he called, cheerily.

"No," returned Anthony Dexter, grimly.

"Who's here?" asked Ralph, stumbling into the room. "It's so dark, I
can't see."

Fumbling for a match, he lighted a wax candle which stood in an
antique candlestick on the library table. The face of his father
materialised suddenly out of the darkness, wearing an expression
which made Ralph uneasy.

"I thought," he said, troubled, "that some one was with you."

"Aren't you here?" asked Anthony Dexter, trying to make his voice
even.

"Oh," returned Ralph. "I see."

With the candle flickering uncertainly between them, the two men
faced each other. Sharp shadows lay on the floor and Anthony
Dexter's profile was silhouetted upon the opposite wall. He noted
that the figure of Evelina, pacing to and fro, cast no shadow. It
seemed strange.

In the endeavour to find some interesting subject upon which to talk,
Ralph chanced upon the fatal one. "Father," he began, "you know that
this morning we were speaking of Miss Evelina?"

The tone was inquiring, but there was no audible answer.

"Well," continued Ralph, "I saw her again to-day. And I saw her
face." He had forgotten that his father had seen it, also, and had
told him only yesterday.

Anthony Dexter almost leaped from his chair--toward the veiled figure
now approaching him. "Did--did she show you her face?" he asked with
difficulty.

"No. It was an accident. She often left the front door open for me
when I was attending--Araminta--and so, to-day, when I found it open,
I went in. She was asleep, on the couch in the parlour, and she wore
no veil."

At once, the phantom Evelina changed her tactics. Hitherto, she had
walked back and forth from side to side of his vision. Now she
advanced slowly toward him and as slowly retreated. Her face was no
longer averted; she walked backward cautiously, then advanced. From
behind her veil, he could feel her burning, accusing eyes.

"Father," said Ralph, "she is beautiful. She is the most beautiful
woman I have ever seen in all my life. Her face is as exquisite as
if chiselled in marble, and you never saw such eyes. And she wears
that veil all the time."

Anthony Dexter's cold fingers were forced to drum on the table with
apparent carelessness. Yes, he knew she was beautiful. He had not
forgotten it for an instant since she had thrown back her veil and
faced him. "Did--did she tell you why?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Ralph. "She told me why."

A sword, suspended by a single hair, seemed swaying uncertainly over
Anthony Dexter's head--a two-edged sword, sure to strike mercilessly
if it fell. Ralph's eyes were upon him, but not in contempt. God,
in His infinite pity, had made them kind.

"Father," said Ralph, again, "she would not tell the name of the man,
though I begged her to." Anthony Dexter's heart began to beat again,
slowly at first, then with a sudden and unbearable swiftness. The
blood thundered in his ears like the roar of a cataract. He could
hardly hear what Ralph was saying.

"It was in a laboratory," the boy continued, though the words were
almost lost. "She was there with the man she loved and whom she was
pledged to marry. He was trying a new experiment, and she was
watching. While he was leaning over the retort to put in another
chemical, she heard the mass seethe, and pushed him away, just in
time to save him.

"There was an explosion, and she was terribly burned. He was not
touched, mind you--she had saved him. They took her to the hospital,
and wrapped her in bandages. He went there only once. There was
another girl there, named Evelyn Grey, who was so badly burned that
every feature was destroyed. The two names became confused, and a
mistake was made. They told him she would be disfigured for life,
and so he went away."

The walls of the room swayed as though they were of fabric. The
floor undulated; his chair rocked dizzily. Out of the accusing
silence, Thorpe's words leaped to mock him:

_The honour of the spoken word still holds him. He asked her to
marry him and she consented . . . he was never released from his
promise . . . did not even ask for it. He slunk away like a
cur . . . sometimes I think there is no sin but shirking. . . I can
excuse a liar . . . I can pardon a thief . . . I can pity a
murderer . . . but a shirk, no_.

"Father," Ralph was saying, "you do not seem to understand. I
suppose it is difficult for you to comprehend such cowardice--you
have always done the square thing." The man winced, but the boy did
not see it.

"Try to think of a brute like that, Father, and be glad that our name
means 'right.' She saved him from terrible disfigurement if not from
death. Having instinctively thrown up her right arm, she got the
worst of it there, and on her shoulder. Her face was badly burned,
but not so deeply as to be scarred. She showed me her shoulder--it
is awful. I never had seen anything like it. She said her arm was
worse, but she did not show me that."

"He never knew?" asked Anthony Dexter, huskily. Ralph seemed to be
demanding something of him, and the veiled figure, steadily advancing
and retreating, demanded more still.

"No," answered Ralph, "he never knew. He went to the hospital only
once. He had told her that very day that he loved her for the
beautiful soul she had, and at the test, his love failed. He never
saw her again. He went away, and married, and he has a son. Think
of the son, Father, only think of the son! Suppose he knew it! How
could he ever bear a disgrace like that!"

"I do not know," muttered Anthony Dexter. His lips were cold and
stiff and he did not recognise his own voice.

"When she understood what had happened," Ralph continued, "and how he
had deserted her for ever, after taking his cowardly life from her as
a gift, her hair turned white. She has wonderful hair. Father--it's
heavy and white and dull--it does not shine. She wore the veil at
first because she had to, because her face was healing, and before it
had wholly healed she had become accustomed to the shelter of it.
Then, too, as she said, it kept people away from her--she could not
be tempted to love or trust again."

There was an interval of silence, though the very walls seemed to be
crying out: "Tell him! Tell him! Confess, and purge your guilty
soul!" The clock ticked loudly, the blood roared in his ears. His
hands were cold and almost lifeless; his body seemed paralysed, but
he heard, so acutely that it was agony.

"Miss Evelina said," resumed Ralph, "that she did not think he had
told his son. Do you know what I was thinking, Father, while she was
talking? I was thinking of you, and how you had always done the
square thing."

It seemed to Anthony Dexter that all the tortures of his laboratory
had been chemically concentrated and were being poured out upon his
head. "Our name means 'right,'" said the boy, proudly, and the man
writhed in his chair.

For a moment, the ghostly Evelina went to Ralph, her hands
outstretched in disapproval. Immediately she returned to her former
position, advancing, retreating, advancing, retreating, with the
regularity of the tide.

"I begged her," continued Ralph, "to tell me the man's name, but she
would not. He still lives, she said, he is happy and prosperous and
he has not suffered at all. For the honour of men, I want to punish
that brute. Father, do you know that when I think of a cur like
that, I believe I could rend him with my own hands?"

Anthony Dexter got to his feet unsteadily. The mists about him
cleared and the veiled figure whisked suddenly out of his sight. He
went up to Ralph as he might walk to the scaffold, but his head was
held high. All the anguish of his soul crystallised itself into one
passionate word:

"Strike!"

For an instant the boy faced him, unbelieving. Then he remembered
that his father had seen Miss Evelina's face, that he must have known
she was beautiful--and why she wore the veil. "Father!" he cried,
shrilly. "Oh, never you!"

Anthony Dexter looked into the eyes of his son until he could bear to
look no more. The veiled figure no longer stood between them, but
something else was there, infinitely more terrible. As he had
watched the beating of the dog's bared heart, the man watched the
boy's face. Incredulity, amazement, wonder, and fear resolved
themselves gradually into conviction. Then came contempt, so deep
and profound and permanent that from it there could never be appeal.
With all the strength of his young and knightly soul, Ralph despised
his father--and Anthony Dexter knew it.

"Father," whispered the boy, hoarsely, "it was never you! Tell me it
isn't true! Just a word, and I'll believe you! For the sake of our
manhood, Father, tell me it isn't true!"

Anthony Dexter's head drooped, his eyes lowered before his son's.
The cold sweat dripped from his face; his hands groped pitifully,
like those of a blind man, feeling his way in a strange place.

His hands fumbled helplessly toward Ralph's and the boy shrank back
as though from the touch of a snake. With a deep-drawn breath of
agony, the man flung himself, unseeing, out of the room. Ralph
reeled like a drunken man against his chair. He sank into it
helplessly and his head fell forward on the table, his shoulders
shaking with that awful grief which knows no tears.

"Father!" he breathed. "Father! Father!"

Upstairs, Anthony Dexter walked through the hall, followed, or
occasionally preceded, by the ghostly figure of Evelina. Her veil
was thrown back now, and seemed a part of the mist which surrounded
her. Sometimes he had told a patient that there was never a point
beyond which human endurance could not be made to go. He knew now
that he had lied.

Ralph's unspoken condemnation had hurt him cruelly. He could have
borne words, he thought, better than that look on his son's face.
For the first time, he realised how much he had cared for Ralph; how
much--God help him!--he cared for him still.

Yet above it all, dominant, compelling, was man's supreme
passion--that for his mate. As Evelina moved before him in her
unveiled beauty, his hungry soul leaped to meet hers. Now,
strangely, he loved her as he had loved her in the long ago, yet with
an added grace. There was an element in his love that had never been
there before--the mysterious bond which welds more firmly into one,
two who have suffered together.

He hungered for Ralph--for the strong young arm thrown about his
shoulders in friendly fashion, for the eager, boyish laugh, the
hearty word. He hungered for Evelina, radiant with a beauty no woman
had ever worn before. Far past the promise of her girlhood, the
noble, transfigured face, with its glory of lustreless white hair,
set his pulses to throbbing wildly. And subtly, unconsciously, but
not the less surely, he hungered for death.

Anthony Dexter had cherished no sentiment about the end of life; to
him it had seemed much the same as the stopping of a clock, and of as
little moment. He had failed to see why such a fuss was made about
the inevitable, though he had at times been scientifically interested
in the hysterical effect he had produced in a household by announcing
that within an hour or so a particular human clock might be expected
to stop. It had never occurred to him, either, that a man had not a
well-defined right to stop the clock of his own being whenever it
seemed desirable or expedient.

Now he thought of death as the final, beautiful solution of all
mundane problems. If he were dead, Ralph could not look at him with
contempt; the veiled--or unveiled--Evelina could not haunt him as she
had, remorselessly, for months. Yes, death was beautiful, and he
well knew how to make it sure.

By an incredibly swift transition, his pain passed into an exquisite
pleasure. The woman he loved was walking in the hall before him; the
son he loved was downstairs. What man could have more?

"For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
The black minute's at end,
And the elements' rage, the fiend voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
Then a light, then thy breast--
Oh thou soul of my soul, I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!"

The wonderful words sang themselves over in his consciousness. He
smiled and the unveiled Evelina smiled back at him, with infinite
tenderness, infinite love. To-night he would sleep as he had not
slept before--in the sleep that knows no waking.

He had the tiny white tablets, plenty of them, but the fancy seized
him to taste this last bitterness to the full. He took a wine glass
from his chiffonier--those white, blunt fingers had never been more
steady than now. He lifted the vial on high and poured out the
laudanum, faltering no more than when he had guided the knife in an
operation that made him famous throughout the State.

"Evelina," he said, his voice curiously soft, "I pledge you now, in a
bond that cannot break!" Was it fancy, or did the violet eyes soften
with tears, even though the scarlet lips smiled?

He drank. The silken petals of the poppies, crushed into the peace
that passeth all understanding, began their gentle ministry. He
made his way to his bed, put out his candle, and lay down. The
Spirit of the Poppies stood before him--a woman with a face like
Evelina's, but her garments were scarlet, and Evelina always wore
black.

In the darkness, he could not distinguish clearly. "Evelina," he
called, aloud, "come! Come to me, and put your hand in mine!"

At once she seemed to answer him, wholly tender, wholly kind. Was he
dreaming, or did Evelina come and kneel beside him? He groped for
her hand, but it eluded him.

"Evelina," he said, again, "dear heart! Come! Forgive," he
breathed, drowsily. "Ah, only forgive!"

Then, as if by a miracle, her hand slipped into his and he felt his
head drawn tenderly to man's first and last resting place--a woman's
breast.

And so, after a little, Anthony Dexter slept. The Spirit of the
Poppies had claimed her own at last.

XXII

Forgiveness

Haggard and worn, after a sleepless night, Ralph went down-stairs.
Heavily upon his young shoulders, he bore the burden of his father's
disgrace. Through their kinship, the cowardice and the shirking became
a part of his heritage.

There was nothing to be done, for he could not raise his hand in anger
against his own father. They must continue to live together, and keep
an unbroken front to the world, even though the bond between them had
come to be the merest pretence. He despised his father, but no one
must ever know it--not even the father whom he despised. Ralph did not
guess that his father had read his face.

He saw, now, why Miss Evelina had refused to tell him the man's name,
and he honoured her for her reticence. He perceived, too, the hideous
temptation with which she was grappling when she begged him to leave
her. She had feared that she would tell him, and he must never let her
suspect that he knew.

The mighty, unseen forces that lie beneath our daily living were
surging through Ralph's troubled soul. Love, hatred, shame, remorse,
anger, despair--the words are but symbols of things that work
devastation within.

Behold a man, in all outward seeming a gentleman. Observe his
courtesy, refinement, and consideration, his perfect self-control.
Note his mastery of the lower nature, and see the mind in complete
triumph over the beast. Remark his education, the luxury of his
surroundings, and the fine quality of his thought. Wonder at the high
levels whereon his life is laid, and marvel at the perfect adjustment
between him and his circumstances. Subject this man to the onslaught
of some vast, cyclonic passion, and see the barriers crumble, then
fall. See all the artifice of civilisation swept away at one fell
stroke, and behold your gentleman, transformed in an instant into a
beast, with all a beast's primeval qualities.

Under stress like this Ralph was fighting to regain his self mastery.
He knew that he must force himself to sit opposite his father at the
table, and exchange the daily, commonplace talk. No one must ever
suspect that anything was amiss--it is this demand of Society which
keeps the structure in place and draws the line between civilisation
and barbarism. He knew that he never again could look his father
straight in the face, that he must always avoid his eyes. It would be
hard at first, but Ralph had never given up anything simply because it
was difficult.

It was a relief to find that he was downstairs first. Hearing his
father's step upon the stair, he thought, would enable him to steel
himself more surely to the inevitable meeting. After they had once
spoken together, it would be easier. At length they might even become
accustomed to the ghastly thing that lay between them and veil it, as
it were, with commonplaces.

Ralph took up the morning paper and pretended to read, though the words
danced all over the page. The old housekeeper brought in his
breakfast, and, likewise, he affected to eat. An hour went by, and
still the dreaded step did not sound upon the stair. At length the old
housekeeper said, with a certain timid deference:

"Your father's very late this morning, Doctor Ralph. He has never been
so late before."

"He'll be down, presently. He's probably overslept."

"It's not your father's way to oversleep. Hadn't you better go up and
see?"

Thus forced, Ralph went leisurely up-stairs, intending only to rap upon
the door, which was always closed. Perhaps, with the closed door
between them, the first speech might be easier.

He rapped once, with hesitation, then again, more definitely. There
was no answer. Wholly without suspicion, Ralph opened the door, and
went in.

Anthony Dexter lay upon his bed, fully dressed. On his face was a
smile of ineffable peace. Ralph went to him quickly, shook him, and
felt his pulse, but vainly. The heart of the man made no answer to the
questioning fingers of his son. The eyes were closed and, his hands
trembling now, Ralph forced them open. The contracted pupils gave him
all the information he needed. He found the wineglass, which still
smelled of laudanum. He washed it carefully, put it away, then went
down-stairs.

His first sensation was entirely relief. Anthony Dexter had chosen the
one sure way out. Ralph had a distinct sense of gratitude until he
remembered that death did not end disgrace. Never again need he look
in his father's eyes; there was no imperative demand that he should
conceal his contempt. With the hiding of Anthony Dexter's body beneath
the shriving sod, all would be over save memory. Could he put by this
memory as his father had his? Ralph did not know.

The sorrowful preliminaries were all over before Ralph's feeling was in
any way changed. Then the pity of it all overwhelmed him in a blinding
flood.

Searching for something or some one to lean upon, his thought turned to
Miss Evelina. Surely, now, he might go to her. If comfort was to be
had, of any sort, he could find it there. At any rate, they were
bound, much as his father had been bound to her before, by the logic of
events.

He went uphill, scarcely knowing how he made his way. Miss Evelina,
veiled, as usual, opened the door for him. Ralph stumbled across the
threshold, crying out:

"My father is dead! He died by his own hand!"

"Yes," returned Miss Evelina, quietly. "I have heard. I am
sorry--for you."

"You need not be," flashed Ralph, quickly. "It is for us, my father
and I, to be sorry for you--to make amends, if any amends can be made
by the living or the dead."

Miss Evelina started. He knew, then? And it had not been necessary
for her to draw out the sheathed dagger which only yesterday she had
held in her hand. The glittering vengeance had gone home, through no
direct agency of hers.

"Miss Evelina!" cried the boy. "I have come to ask you to forgive my
father!"

A silence fell between them, as cold and forbidding as Death itself.
After an interval which seemed an hour, Miss Evelina spoke.

"He never asked," she said. Her tone was icy, repellent.

"I know," answered Ralph, despairingly, "but I, his son, ask it.
Anthony Dexter's son asks you to forgive Anthony Dexter--not to let him
go to his grave unforgiven."

"He never asked," said Miss Evelina again, stubbornly.

"His need is all the greater for that," pleaded the boy, "and mine.
Have you thought of my need of it? My name meant 'right' until my
father changed its meaning. Don't you see that unless you forgive my
father, I can never hold up my head again?"

What the Piper had said to Evelina came back to her now, eloquent with
appeal;

_The word is not made right. I'm thinking 't is wrong end to, as many
things in this world are until we move and look at them from another
way. It's giving for, that's all. When you have put self so wholly
aside that you can he sorry for him because he has wronged you, why,
then you have forgiven_.

She moved about restlessly. It seemed to her that she could never be
sorry for Anthony Dexter because he had wronged her; that she could
never grow out of the hurt of her own wrong.

"Come with me," said Ralph, choking. "I know it's a hard thing I ask
of you. God knows I haven't forgiven him myself, but I know I've got
to, and you'll have to, too. Miss Evelina, you've got to forgive him,
or I never can bear my disgrace."

She let him lead her out of the house. On the long way to Anthony
Dexter's, no word passed between them. Only the sound of their
footfalls, and Ralph's long, choking breaths, half sobs, broke the
silence.

At the gate, the usual knot of curious people had gathered. They were
wondering, in undertones, how one so skilful as Doctor Dexter had
happened to take an overdose of laudanum, but they stood by,
respectfully, to make way for Ralph and the mysterious, veiled woman in
black. The audible whispers followed them up to the very door: "Who is
she? What had she to do with him?"

As yet, Anthony Dexter's body lay in his own room. Ralph led Miss
Evelina in, and closed the door. "Here he is," sobbed the boy. "He
has gone and left the shame for me. Forgive him, Miss Evelina! For
the love of God, forgive him!"

Evelina sighed. She was standing close to Anthony Dexter now without
fear. She had no wish to torture him, as she once had, with the sight
of her unveiled face. It was the man she had loved, now--the emotion
which had made him hideous to her was past and gone. To her, as to him
the night before, death seemed the solution of all problems, the
supreme answer to all perplexing questions.

Ralph crept out of the room and closed the door so softly that she did
not hear. She was alone, as every woman some day is; alone with her
dead.

She threw back her veil. The morning sun lay strong upon Anthony
Dexter's face, revealing every line. Death had been kind to him at
last, had closed the tortured eyes, blotted out the lines of cruelty
around his mouth, and changed the mask-like expression to a tender calm.

A hint of the old, loving smile was there; once again he was the man
she had loved, but the love itself had burned out of her heart long
ago. He was naught to her, nor she to him.

The door knob turned, and, quickly, she lowered her veil. Piper Tom
came in, with a soft, slow step. He did not seem to see Miss Evelina;
one would have said he did not know she was in the room. He went
straight to Anthony Dexter, and laid his warm hand upon the cold one.

"Man," he said, "I've come to say I forgive you for hurting Laddie.
I'm not thinking, now, that you would have done it if you had known.
I'm sorry for you because you could do it. I've forgiven you as I hope
God will forgive you for that and for everything else."

Then he turned to Evelina, and whispered, as though to keep the dead
from hearing: "'T was hard, but I've done it. 'T is easier, I'm
thinking, to forgive the dead than the living." He went out again, as
silently as he had come, and closed the door.

Was it, in truth, easier to forgive the dead? In her inmost soul,
Evelina knew that she could not have cherished lifelong resentment
against any other person in the world. To those we love most, we are
invariably most cruel, but she did not love him now. The man she had
loved was no more than a stranger--and from a stranger can come no
intentional wrong.

"O God," prayed Evelina, for the first time, "help me to forgive!"

She threw back her veil once more. They were face to face at last,
with only a prayer between. His mute helplessness pleaded with her and
Ralph's despairing cry rang in her ears. The estranging mists cleared,
and, in truth, she put self aside.

Intuitively, she saw how he had suffered since the night he came to her
to make it right, if he could. He must have suffered, unless he were
more than human. "Dear God," she prayed, again, "oh, help me forgive!"

All at once there was a change. The light seemed thrown into the
uttermost places of her darkened soul. She illumined, and a wave of
infinite pity swept her from head to foot. She leaned forward, her
hands seeking his, and upon Anthony Dexter's dead face there fell the
forgiving baptism of her tears.

In the hall, as she went out, she encountered Miss Mehitable. That
face, too, was changed. She had not come, as comes that ghoulish
procession of merest acquaintances, to gloat, living, over the helpless
dead.

At the sight of Evelina, she retreated. "I'll go back," murmured Miss
Mehitable, enigmatically. "You had the best right."

Evelina went down-stairs and home again, but Miss Mehitable did not
enter that silent room.

The third day came, and there was no resurrection. Since the miracle
of Easter, the world has waited its three days for the dead to rise
again. Ralph sat in the upper hall, just beyond the turn of the stair,
and beside him, unveiled, was Miss Evelina.

"It's you and I," he had pleaded, "don't you see that? Have you never
thought that you should have been my mother?"

From below, in Thorpe's deep voice, came the words of the burial
service: "I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth on me,
though he were dead, yet shall he live."

For a few moments, Thorpe spoke of death as the inevitable end of life,
and our ignorance of what lies beyond. He spoke of that mystic veil
which never parts save for a passage, and from behind which no word
ever comes. He said that life was a rainbow spanning brilliantly the
two silences, that man's ceasing was no more strange than his
beginning, and that the God who ordained the beginning had also
ordained the end. He said, too, that the love which gave life might
safely be trusted with that same life, at its mysterious conclusion.
At length, he struck the personal note.

"It is hard for me," Thorpe went on, "to perform this last service for
my friend. All of you are my friends, but the one who lies here was
especially dear. He was a man of few friendships, and I was privileged
to come close, to know him as he was.

"His life was clean, and upon his record there rests no shadow of
disgrace." At this Ralph, in the upper hall, buried his face in his
hands. Miss Evelina sat quietly, to all intents and purposes unmoved.

"He was a brave man," Thorpe was saying; "a valiant soldier on the
great battlefield of the world. He met his temptations face to face,
and conquered them. For him, there was no such thing as cowardice--he
never shirked. He met every responsibility like a man, and never
swerved aside. He took his share, and more, of the world's work, and
did it nobly, as a man should do.

"His brusque manner concealed a great heart. I fear that, at times,
some of you may have misunderstood him. There was no man in our
community more deeply and lovingly the friend of us all, and there is
no man among us more noble in thought and act than he.

"We who have known him cannot but be the better for the knowing. It
would be a beautiful world, indeed, if we were all as good as he. We
cannot fail to be inspired by his example. Through knowing him, each
of us is better fitted for life. We can conquer cowardice more easily,
meet our temptations more valiantly, and more surely keep from the sin
of shirking, because Anthony Dexter has lived.

"To me," said Thorpe, his voice breaking, "it is the greatest loss,
save one, that I have ever known. But it is only through our own
sorrow that we come to understand the sorrow of others, only through
our own weaknesses that we learn to pity the weakness of others, and
only through our own love and forgiveness that we can ever comprehend
the infinite love and forgiveness of God. If any of you have ever
thought he wronged you, in some small, insignificant way, I give you my
word that it was entirely unintentional, and I bespeak for him your
pardon.

"He goes to his grave to-day, to wait, in the great silence, for the
final solution of God's infinite mysteries, and, as you and I believe,
for God's sure reward. He goes with the love of us all, with the
forgiveness of us all, and with the hope of us all that when we come to
die, we may be as certain of Heaven as he."

Perceiving that his grief was overmastering him, Thorpe proceeded
quickly to the benediction. In the pause that followed, Ralph leaned
toward the woman who sat beside him.

"Have you," he breathed, "forgiven him--and me?"

Miss Evelina nodded, her beautiful eyes shining with tears.

"Mother!" said Ralph, thickly. Like a hurt child, he went to her, and
sobbed his heart out, in the shelter of her arms.

XXIII

Undine Finds Her Soul

The year was at its noon. Every rose-bush was glorious with bloom, and
even the old climbing rose which clung, in its decay, to Miss
Mehitable's porch railing had put forth a few fragrant blossoms.

Soon after Araminta had been carried back home, she discovered that she
had changed since she went away. Aunt Hitty no longer seemed
infallible. Indeed, Araminta had admitted to herself, though with the
pangs of a guilty conscience, that it was possible for Aunt Hitty to be
mistaken. It was probable that the entire knowledge of the world was
not concentrated in Aunt Hitty.

Outwardly, things went on as usual. Miss Mehitable issued orders to
Araminta as the commander in chief of an army issues instructions to
his subordinates, and Araminta obeyed as faithfully as before, yet with
a distinct difference. She did what she was told to do out of
gratitude for lifelong care, and not because she felt that she had to.

She went, frequently, to see Miss Evelina, having disposed of
objections by the evident fact that she could not neglect any one who
had been so kind to her as Miss Evelina had. Usually, however, the
faithful guardian went along, and the three sat in the garden, Evelina
with her frail hands listlessly folded, and the others stitching away
at the endless and monotonous patchwork.

Miss Mehitable had a secret fear that the bloom had been brushed from
her rose. Until the accident, Araminta had scarcely been out of her
sight since she brought her home, a toddling infant. Miss Mehitable's
mind had unerringly controlled two bodies until Araminta fell off the
ladder. Now, the other mind began to show distressing signs of
activity.

By dint of extra work, Araminta's eighth patchwork quilt was made for
quilting, and the Ladies' Aid Society was invited to Miss Mehitable's
for the usual Summer revelry of quilting and gossip. Miss Evelina was
invited, but refused to go.

After the festivity was over, Miss Mehitable made a fruitful excavation
into a huge chest in the attic, and emerged, flushed but happy, with
enough scraps for three quilts.

"This here next quilt, Minty," she said, with the air of one announcing
a pleasant surprise, "will be the Risin' Sun and Star pattern. It's
harder 'n the others, and that's why I've kep' it until now. You've
done all them other quilts real good," she added, grudgingly.

Araminta had her own surprise ready, but it was not of a pleasant
nature. "Thank you, Aunt Hitty," she replied, "but I'm not going to
make any more quilts, for a while, at any rate."

Miss Mehitable's lower jaw dropped in amazement. Never before had
Araminta failed to obey her suggestions. "Minty," she said, anxiously,
"don't you feel right? It was hot yesterday, and the excitement, and
all--I dunno but you may have had a stroke."

Araminta smiled--a lovable, winning smile. "No, I haven't had any
'stroke,' but I've made all the quilts I'm going to until I get to be
an old woman, and have nothing else to do."

"What are you layin' out to do, Minty?" demanded Miss Mehitable.

"I'm going to be outdoors all I want to, and I'm going up to Miss
Evelina's and play with my kitten, and help you with the housework, or
do anything else you want me to do, but--no more quilts," concluded the
girl, firmly.

"Araminta Lee!" cried Miss Mehitable, speech having returned. "If I
ain't ashamed of you! Here's your poor old aunt that's worked her
fingers to the bone, slaving for you almost ever since the day you was
born, and payin' a doctor's outrageous bill of four dollars and a
half--or goin' to pay," she corrected, her conscience reproaching her,
"and you refusin' to mind!

"Haven't I took good care of you all these eighteen years? Haven't I
set up with you when you was sick and never let you out of my sight for
a minute, and taught you to be as good a housekeeper as any in Rushton,
and made you into a first-class seamstress, and educated you myself,
and looked after your religious training, and made your clothes? Ain't
I been father and mother and sister and brother and teacher and
grandparents all rolled into one? And now you're refusin' to make
quilts!"

Araminta's heart reproached her, but the blood of some fighting
ancestor was in her pulses now. "I know, Aunt Hitty," she said,
kindly, "you've done all that and more, and I'm not in the least
ungrateful, though you may think so. But I'm not going to make any
more quilts!"

"Araminta Lee," said Miss Mehitable, warningly, "look careful where
you're steppin'. Hell is yawning in front of you this very minute!"

Araminta smiled sweetly. Since the day the minister had gone to see
her, she had had no fear of hell. "I don't see it, Aunt Hitty," she
said, "but if everybody who hasn't pieced more than eight quilts by
hand is in there, it must be pretty crowded."

"Araminta Lee," cried Miss Mehitable, "you're your mother all over
again. She got just as high-steppin' as you before her downfall, and
see where she ended at. She was married," concluded the accuser,
scornfully, "yes, actually married!"

"Aunt Hitty," said Araminta, her sweet mouth quivering ever so little,
"your mother was married, too, wasn't she?" With this parting shaft,
the girl went out of the room, her head held high.

Miss Mehitable stared after her, uncomprehending. Slowly it dawned
upon her that some one had been telling tales and undoing her careful
work. "Minty! Minty!" she cried, "how can you talk to me so!"

But 'Minty' was outdoors and on her way to Miss Evelina's, bareheaded,
this being strictly forbidden, so she did not hear. She was hoping
against hope that some day, at Miss Evelina's, she might meet Doctor
Ralph again and tell him she was sorry she had broken his heart.

Since the day he went away from her, Araminta had not had even a
glimpse of him. She had gone to his father's funeral, as everyone else
in the village did, and had wondered that he was not in the front seat,
where, in her brief experience of funerals, mourners usually sat.

She admitted, to herself, that she had gone to the funeral solely for
the sake of seeing Doctor Ralph. Araminta was wholly destitute of
curiosity regarding the dead, and she had not joined the interested
procession which wound itself around Anthony Dexter's coffin before
passing out, regretfully, at the front door. Neither had Miss
Mehitable. At the time, Araminta had thought it strange, for at all
previous occasions of the kind, within her remembrance. Aunt Hitty had
been well up among the mourners and had usually gone around the casket
twice.

At Miss Evelina's, she knocked in vain. There was white chiffon upon
the line, but all the doors were locked. Doctor Ralph was not there,
either, and even the kitten was not in sight, so, regretfully, Araminta
went home again.

Throughout the day, Miss Mehitable did not speak to her erring niece,
but Araminta felt it to be a relief, rather than a punishment. In the
afternoon, the emancipated young woman put on her best gown--a white,
cross-barred muslin which she had made herself. It was not Sunday, and
Araminta was forbidden to wear the glorified raiment save on occasions
of high state.

She added further to her sins by picking a pink rose--Miss Mehitable
did not think flowers were made to pick--and fastening it coquettishly
in her brown hair. Moreover, Araminta had put her hair up loosely,
instead of in the neat, tight wad which Miss Mehitable had forced upon
her the day she donned long skirts. When Miss Mehitable beheld her
transformed charge she would have broken her vow of silence had not the
words mercifully failed. Aunt Hitty's vocabulary was limited, and she
had no language in which to express her full opinion of the wayward
one, so she assumed, instead, the pose of a suffering martyr.

The atmosphere at the table, during supper, was icy, even though it was
the middle of June. Thorpe noticed it and endeavoured to talk, but was
not successful. Miss Mehitable's few words, which were invariably
addressed to him, were so acrid in quality that they made him nervous.
The Reverend Austin Thorpe, innocent as he was of all intentional
wrong, was made to feel like a criminal haled to the bar of justice.

But Araminta glowed and dimpled and smiled. Her eyes danced with
mischief, and the colour came and went upon her velvety cheeks. She
took pains to ask Aunt Hitty for the salt or the bread, and kept up a
continuous flow of high-spirited talk. Had it not been for Araminta,
the situation would have become openly strained.

Afterward, she began to clear up the dishes as usual, but Miss
Mehitable pushed her out of the room with a violence indicative of
suppressed passion. So, humming a hymn at an irreverent tempo,
Araminta went out and sat down on the front porch, spreading down the
best rug in the house that she might not soil her gown. This, also,
was forbidden.

When the dishes were washed and put away, Miss Mehitable came out, clad
in her rustling black silk and her best bonnet. "Miss Lee," she said
very coldly, "I am going out."

"All right, Aunt Hitty" returned Araminta, cheerfully. "As it happens,
I'm not."

Miss Mehitable repressed an exclamation of horror. Seemingly, then, it
had occurred to Araminta to go out in the evening--alone!

Miss Mehitable's feet moved swiftly away from the house. She was going
to the residence of the oldest and most orthodox deacon in Thorpe's
church, to ask for guidance in dealing with her wayward charge, but
Araminta never dreamed of this.

Dusk came, the sweet, June dusk, starred with fireflies and clouded
with great white moths. The roses and mignonette and honeysuckle made
the air delicately fragrant. To the emancipated one, it was, indeed, a
beautiful world.

Austin Thorpe came out, having found his room unbearably close. As the
near-sighted sometimes do, he saw more clearly at twilight than at
other times.

"You here, child?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm here," replied Araminta, happily. "Sit down, won't you?"
Having taken the first step, she found the others comparatively easy,
and was rejoicing in her new freedom. She felt sure, too, that some
day she should see Doctor Ralph once more and all would be made right
between them.

The minister sat down gladly, his old heart yearning toward Araminta as
toward a loved and only child. "Where is your aunt?" he asked, timidly.

"Goodness knows," laughed Araminta, irreverently. "She's gone out, in
all her best clothes. She didn't say whether she was coming back or
not."

Thorpe was startled, for he had never heard speech like this from
Araminta. He knew her only as a docile, timid child. Now, she seemed
suddenly to have grown up.

For her part, Araminta remembered how the minister had once helped her
out of a difficulty, and taken away from her forever the terrible,
haunting fear of hell. Here was a dazzling opportunity to acquire new
knowledge.

"Mr. Thorpe," she demanded, eagerly, "what is it to be married?"

"To be married," repeated Austin Thorpe, dreamily, his eyes fixed upon
a firefly that flitted, star-tike, near the rose, "is, I think, the
nearest this world can come to Heaven."

"Oh!" cried Araminta, in astonishment. "What does it mean?"

"It means," answered Thorpe, softly, "that a man and a woman whom God
meant to be mated have found each other at last. It means there is
nothing in the world that you have to face alone, that all your joys
are doubled and all your sorrows shared. It means that there is no
depth into which you can go alone, that one other hand is always in
yours; trusting, clinging, tender, to help you bear whatever comes.

"It means that the infinite love has been given, in part, to you, for
daily strength and comfort. It is a balm for every wound, a spur for
every lagging, a sure dependence in every weakness, a belief in every
doubt. The perfect being is neither man nor woman, but a merging of
dual natures into a united whole. To be married gives a man a woman's
tenderness; a woman, a man's courage. The long years stretch before
them, and what lies beyond no one can say, but they face it, smiling
and serene, because they are together."

"My mother was married," said Araminta, softly. All at once, the stain
of disgrace was wiped out.

"Yes, dear child, and, I hope, to the man she loved, as I hope that
some day you will be married to the man who loves you."

Araminta's whole heart yearned toward Ralph--yearned unspeakably. In
something else, surely, Aunt Hitty was wrong.

"Araminta," said Thorpe, his voice shaking; "dear child, come here."

She followed him into the house. His trembling old hands lighted a
candle and she saw that his eyes were full of tears. From an inner
pocket, he drew out a small case, wrapped in many thicknesses of worn
paper. He unwound it reverently, his face alight with a look she had
never seen there before.

"See!" he said. He opened the ornate case and showed her an old
daguerreotype. A sweet, girlish face looked out at her, a woman with
trusting, loving eyes, a sweet mouth, and dark, softly parted hair.

"Oh," whispered Araminta. "Were you married--to her?"

"No," answered Thorpe, hoarsely, shutting the case with a snap and
beginning to wrap it again in the many folds of paper. "I was to have
been married to her." His voice lingered with inexpressible fondness
upon the words. "She died," he said, his lips quivering.

"Oh," cried the girl, "I'm sorry!" A sharp pang pierced her through
and through.

"Child," said Thorpe, his wrinkled hand closing on hers, "to those who
love, there is no such thing as Death. Do you think that just because
she is dead, I have ceased to care? Death has made her mine as Life
could never do. She walks beside me daily, as though we were hand in
hand. Her tenderness makes me tender, her courage gives me strength,
her great charity makes me kind. Her belief has made my own faith more
sure, her steadfastness keeps me from faltering, and her patience
enables me to wait until the end, when I go, into the Unknown, to meet
her. Child, I do not know if there be a Heaven, but if God gives me
her, and her love, as I knew it once, I shall not ask for more."

Unable to say more, for the tears, Thorpe stumbled out of the room.
Araminta's own eyes were wet and her heart was strangely tender to all
the world. Miss Evelina, the kitten, Mr. Thorpe, Doctor Ralph--even
Aunt Hitty--were all included in a wave of unspeakable tenderness.

Never stopping to question, Araminta sped out of the house, her feet
following where her heart led. Past the crossroads, to the right, down
into the village, across the tracks, then sharply to the left, up to
Doctor Dexter's, where, only a few weeks before, she had gone in the
hope of seeing Doctor Ralph, Araminta ran like some young Atalanta,
across whose path no golden apples were thrown.

The door was open, and she rushed in, unthinking, turning by instinct
into the library, where Ralph sat alone, leaning his head upon his hand.

"Doctor Ralph!" she cried, "I've come!"

He looked up, then started forward. One look into her glorified face
told him all that he needed to know. "Undine," he said, huskily, "have
you found your soul?"

"I don't know what I've found," sobbed Araminta, from the shelter of
his arms, "but I've come, to stay with you always, if you'll let me!"

"If I'll let you," murmured Ralph, kissing away her happy tears. "You
little saint, it's what I want as I want nothing else in the world."

"I know what it is to be married," said Araminta, after a little, her
grave, sweet eyes on his. "I asked Mr. Thorpe to-night and he told me.
It's to be always with the one you love, and never to mind what anybody
else says or does. It's to help each other bear everything and be
twice as happy because you're together. It means that somebody will
always help you when things go wrong, and there'll always be something
you can lean on. You'll never be afraid of anything, because you're
together. My mother was married, your mother was married, and I've
found out that Aunt Hitty's mother was married, too.

"And Mr. Thorpe--he would have been married, but she died. He told me
and he showed me her picture, and he says that it doesn't make any
difference to be dead, when you love anybody, and that Heaven, for him,
will be where she waits for him and puts her hand in his again. He was
crying, and so was I, but it's because he has her and I have you!"

"Sweetheart! Darling!" cried Ralph, crushing her into his close
embrace. "It's God Himself who brought you to me now!"

"No," returned Araminta, missing the point, "I came all by myself. And
I ran all the way. Nobody brought me. But I've come, for always, and
I'll never leave you again. I'm sorry I broke your heart!"

"You've made it well again," he said, fondly, "and so we'll be
married--you and I."

"Yes," repeated Araminta, her beautiful face alight with love, "we'll
be married, you and I!"

"Sweet," he said, "do you think I deserve so much?"

"Being married is giving everything," she explained, "but I haven't
anything at all. Only eight quilts and me! Do you care for quilts?"

"Quilts be everlastingly condemned. I'm going to tell Aunt Hitty."

"No," said Araminta, "I'm going to tell her my own self, so now! And
I'll tell her to-morrow!"

It was after ten when Ralph took Araminta home. From the parlour
window Miss Mehitable was watching anxiously. She had divested herself
of the rustling black silk and was safely screened by the shutters.
She had been at home an hour or more, and though she had received
plenty of good advice, of a stern nature, from her orthodox counsellor,
her mind was far from at rest. Having conjured up all sorts of dire
happenings, she was relieved when she heard voices outside.

Miss Mehitable peered out eagerly from behind the shutters. Up the
road came Araminta--may the saints preserve us!--with a man! Miss
Mehitable quickly placed him as that blackmailing play-doctor who now
should never have his four dollars and a half unless he collected it by
law. Only in the last ditch would she surrender.

They were talking and laughing, and Ralph's black-coated arm was around
Araminta's white-robed waist. They came slowly to the gate, where they
stopped. Araminta laid her head confidingly upon Ralph's shoulder and
he held her tightly in his arms, kissing her repeatedly, as Miss
Mehitable guessed, though she could not see very well.

At last they parted and Araminta ran lightly into the house, saying, in
a low, tender voice: "To-morrow, dear, to-morrow!"

She went up-stairs, singing. Even then Miss Mehitable observed that it
was not a hymn, but some light and ungodly tune she had picked up,
Heaven knew where!

She went to her room, still humming, and presently her light was out,
but her guardian angel was too stiff with horror to move.

"O Lord," prayed Araminta, as she sank to sleep, "keep me from the
contamination of--not being married to him, for Thy sake, Amen."

XXIV

Telling Aunt Hitty

Araminta woke with the birds. As yet, it was dark, but from afar came
the cheery voice of a robin, piping gaily of coming dawn. When the
first ray of light crept into her room, and every bird for miles around
was swelling his tiny throat in song, it seemed to her that, until now,
she had never truly lived.

The bird that rocked on the maple branch, outside her window, carolling
with all his might, was no more free than she. Love had rolled away
the stone Aunt Hitty had set before the door of Araminta's heart, and
the imprisoned thing was trying its wings, as joyously as the birds
themselves.

Every sense was exquisitely alive and thrilling. Had she been older
and known more of the world, Love would not have come to her so, but
rather with a great peace, an unending trust. But having waked as
surely as the sleeping princess in the tower, she knew the uttermost
ecstasy of it--heard the sound of singing trumpets and saw the white
light.

Her fear of Aunt Hitty had died, mysteriously and suddenly. She
appreciated now, as never before, all that had been done for her. She
saw, too, that many things had been done that were better left undone,
but in her happy heart was no condemnation for anybody or anything.

Araminta dressed leisurely. Usually, she hurried into her clothes and
ran down-stairs to help Aunt Hitty, who was always ready for the day's
work before anybody else was awake but this morning she took her time.

She loved the coolness of the water on her face, she loved her white
plump arms, her softly rounded throat, the velvety roses that blossomed
on her cheeks, and the wavy brown masses of her hair, touched by the
sun into tints of copper and gold. For the first time in all her life,
Araminta realised that she was beautiful. She did not know that Love
brings beauty with it, nor that the light in her eyes, like a new star,
had not risen until last night.

She was seriously tempted to slide down the banister--this also having
been interdicted since her earliest remembrance--but, being a grown
woman, now, she compromised with herself by taking two stairs at a time
in a light, skipping, perilous movement that landed her, safe but
breathless, in the lower hall.

In the kitchen, wearing an aspect distinctly funereal, was Miss
Mehitable. Her brisk, active manner was gone and she moved slowly.
She did not once look up as Araminta came in.

"Good-morning, Aunt Hitty!" cried the girl, pirouetting around the bare
floor. "Isn't this the beautifullest morning that ever was, and aren't
you glad you're alive?"

"No," returned Miss Mehitable, acidly; "I am not."

"Aren't you?" asked Araminta, casually, too happy to be deeply
concerned about anybody else; "why, what's wrong?"

"I should think, Araminta Lee, that you 'd be the last one on earth to
ask what's wrong!" The flood gates were open now. "Wasn't it only
yesterday that you broke away from all restraint and refused to make
any more quilts? Didn't you put on your best dress in the afternoon
when 't want Sunday and I hadn't told you that you could? Didn't you
pick a rose and stick it into your hair, and have I ever allowed you to
pick a flower on the place, to say nothing of doing anything so foolish
as to put it in your hair? Flowers and hair don't go together."

"There's hair in the parlour," objected Araminta, frivolously, "made up
into a wreath of flowers, so I thought as long as you had them made out
of dead people's hair, I'd put some roses in mine, now, while I'm
alive."

Miss Mehitable compressed her lips sternly and went on.

"Didn't you take a rug out of the parlour last night and spread it on
the porch, and have I ever had rugs outdoor except when they was being
beat? And didn't you sit down on the front porch, where I've never
allowed you to sit, it not being modest for a young female to sit
outside of her house?"

"Yes," admitted Araminta, cheerfully, "I did all those things, and I
put my hair up loosely instead of tightly, as you've always taught me.
You forgot that."

"No, I didn't," denied Miss Mehitable, vigorously; "I was coming to
that. Didn't you go up to Miss Evelina's without asking me if you
could, and didn't you go bareheaded, as I've never allowed you to do?"

"Yes," laughed Araminta, "I did."

"After I went away," pursued Miss Mehitable, swiftly approaching her
climax, "didn't you go up to Doctor Dexter's like a shameless hussy?"

"If it makes a shameless hussy of me to go to Doctor Dexter's, that's
what I am."

"You went there to see Doctor Ralph Dexter, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did," sang Araminta, "and oh, Aunt Hitty, he was there! He was
there!"

"Ain't I told you," demanded Miss Mehitable, "how one woman went up
there when she had no business to go and got burnt so awful that she
has to wear a veil all the rest of her life?"

"Yes, you told me, Aunt Hitty, but, you see, I didn't get burned."

"Araminta Lee, you're going right straight to hell, just as fast as you
can get there. Perdition is yawning at your feet. Didn't that
blackmailing play-doctor come home with you?"

"Ralph," Said Araminta--and the way she spoke his name made it a
caress--"Ralph came home with me."

"I saw you comin' home," continued Miss Mehitable, with her sharp eyes
keenly fixed upon the culprit. "I saw his arm around your waist and
you leanin' your head on his shoulder."

"Yes," laughed Araminta, "I haven't forgotten. I can feel his arms
around me now."

"And at the gate--you needn't deny it, for I saw it all--he KISSED you!"

"That's right, Aunt Hitty. At his house, he kissed me, too, lots and
lots of times. And," she added, her eyes meeting her accuser's
clearly, "I kissed him."

"How do you suppose I feel to see such goin's on, after all I've done
for you?"

"You needn't have looked, Aunty, if you didn't like to see it."

"Do you know where I went when I went out? I went up to Deacon
Robinson's to lay your case before him." Miss Mehitable paused, for
the worthy deacon was the fearsome spectre of young sinners.

Araminta executed an intricate dance step of her own devising, but did
not seem interested in the advice he had given.

"He told me," went on Miss Mehitable, in the manner of a judge
pronouncing sentence upon a criminal, "that at any cost I must trample
down this godless uprising, and assert my rightful authority. 'Honour
thy father and thy mother,' the Bible says, and I'm your father and
mother, rolled into one. He said that if I couldn't make you listen in
any other way, it would be right and proper for me to shut you up in
your room and keep you on bread and water until you came to your
senses."

Araminta giggled. "I wouldn't be there long," she said. "How funny it
would be for Ralph to come with a ladder and take me out!"

"Araminta Lee, what do you mean?"

"Why," explained the girl, "we're going to be married--Ralph and I."

A nihilist bomb thrown into the immaculate kitchen could not have
surprised Miss Mehitable more. She had no idea that it had gone so
far. "Married!" she gasped. "You!"

"Not just me alone, Aunty, but Ralph and I. There has to be two, and
I'm of age, so I can if I want to." This last heresy had been learned
from Ralph, only the night before.

"Married!" gasped Miss Mehitable, again.

"Yes," returned Araminta, firmly, "married. My mother was married, and
Ralph's mother was married, and your mother was married. Everybody's
mother is married, and Mr. Thorpe says it's the nearest there is to
Heaven. He was going to be married himself, but she died.

"Dear Aunt Hitty," cooed Araminta, with winning sweetness, "don't look
so frightened. It's nothing dreadful, it's only natural and right, and
I'm the happiest girl the sun shines on to-day. Don't be selfish,
Aunty--you've had me all my life, and it's his turn now. I'll come to
see you every day and you can come and see me. Kiss me, and tell me
you're glad I'm going to be married!"

At this juncture, Thorpe entered the kitchen, not aware that he was
upon forbidden ground. Attracted by the sound of voices, he had come
in, just in time to hear Araminta's last words.

"Dear child!" he said, his fine old face illumined. "And so you're
going to be married to the man you love! I'm so glad! God bless you!"
He stooped, and kissed Araminta gently upon the forehead.

Having thus seen, as it were, the sanction of the Church placed upon
Araminta's startling announcement, Miss Mehitable could say no more.
During breakfast she did not speak at all, even to Thorpe. Araminta
chattered gleefully of everything under the blue heaven, and even the
minister noted the liquid melody of her voice.

Afterward, she went out, as naturally as a flower turns toward the sun.
It was a part of the magic beauty of the world that she should meet
Ralph, just outside the gate, with a face as radiant as her own.

"I was coming," he said, after the first rapture had somewhat subsided,
"to tell Aunt Hitty."

"I told her," returned the girl, proudly, "all by my own self!"

"You don't mean it! What did she say?"

"She said everything. She told me hell was yawning at my feet, but I'm
sure it's Heaven. She said that she was my father and mother rolled
into one, and I was obliged to remind her that I was of age. You
thought of that," she said, admiringly. "I didn't even know that I'd
ever get old enough not to mind anybody but myself--or you."

"You won't have to 'mind' me," laughed Ralph. "I'll give you a long
rope."

"What would I do with a rope?" queried Araminta, seriously.

"You funny, funny girl! Didn't you ever see a cow staked out in a
pasture?"

"Yes. Am I a cow?"

"For the purposes of illustration, yes, and Aunt Hitty represents the
stake. For eighteen or nineteen years, your rope has been so short
that you could hardly move at all. Now things are changed, and I
represent the stake. You've got the longest rope, now, that was ever
made in one piece. See?"

"I'll come back," answered Araminta, seriously. "I don't think I need
any rope at all."

"No, dear, I know that. I was only joking. You poor child, you've
lived so long with that old dragon that you scarcely recognise a joke
when you see one. A sense of humour, Araminta, is a saving grace for
anybody. Next to Love, it's the finest gift of the gods."

"Have I got it?"

"I guess so. I think it's asleep, but we'll wake it up. Look here,
dear--see what I brought you."

From his pocket, Ralph took a small purple velvet case, lined with
white satin. Within was a ring, set with a diamond, small in
circumference, but deep, and of unusual brilliancy. By a singular
coincidence, it fitted Araminta's third finger exactly.

"Oh-h!" she cried, her cheeks glowing. "For me?"

"Yes, for you--till I get you another one. This was my mother's ring,
sweetheart. I found it among my father's things. Will you wear it,
for her sake and for mine?"

"I'll wear it always," answered Araminta, her great grey eyes on his,
"and I don't want any other ring. Why, if it hadn't been for her, I
never could have had you."

Ralph took her into his arms. His heart was filled with that supreme
love which has no need of words.

Meanwhile Miss Mehitable was having her bad quarter of an hour.
Man-like, Thorpe had taken himself away from a spot where he felt there
was about to be a display of emotion. She was in the house alone, and
the acute stillness of it seemed an accurate foreshadowing of the
future.

Miss Mehitable was not among those rare souls who are seldom lonely.
Her nature demanded continuous conversation, the subject alone being
unimportant. Every thought that came into her mind was destined for a
normal outlet in speech. She had no mental reservoir.

Araminta was going away--to be married. In spite of her trouble, Miss
Mehitable noted the taint of heredity. "It's in her blood," she
murmured, "and maybe Minty ain't so much to blame."

In this crisis, however, Miss Mehitable had the valiant support of her
conscience. She had never allowed the child to play with boys--in
fact, she had not had any playmates at all. As soon as Araminta was
old enough to understand, she was taught that boys and men--indeed all
human things that wore trousers, long or short--were rank poison, and
were to be steadfastly avoided if a woman desired peace of mind. Miss
Mehitable frequently said that she had everything a husband could have
given her except a lot of trouble.

Daily, almost hourly, the wisdom of single blessedness had been
impressed upon Araminta. Miss Mehitable neglected no illustration
calculated to bring the lesson home. She had even taught her that her
own mother was an outcast and had brought disgrace upon her family by
marrying; she had held aloft her maiden standard and literally
compelled Araminta to enlist.

Now, all her work had gone for naught. Nature had triumphantly
reasserted itself, and Araminta had fallen in love. The years
stretched before Miss Mehitable in a vast and gloomy vista illumined by
no light. No soft step upon the stair, no sunny face at her table, no
sweet, girlish laugh, no long companionable afternoons with patchwork,
while she talked and Araminta listened. At the thought, her stern
mouth quivered, ever so slightly, and, all at once, she found the
relief of tears.

An hour or so afterward, she went up to the attic, walking with a
stealthy, cat-like tread, though there was no one in the house to hear.
In a corner, far back under the eaves, three trunks were piled, one on
top of the other. Miss Hitty lifted off the two top trunks without
apparent effort, for her arms were strong, and drew the lowest one out
into the path of sunlight that lay upon the floor, maple branches
swaying across it in silhouette.

In another corner of the attic, up among the rafters, was a box
apparently filled with old newspapers. Miss Hitty reached down among
the newspapers with accustomed fingers and drew out a crumpled wad,
tightly wedged into one corner of the box.

She listened carefully at the door, but there was no step in the house.
She was absolutely alone. None the less, she bolted the door of the
attic before she picked the crumpled paper apart, and took out the key
of the trunk.

The old lock opened readily, and from the trunk came the musty odour of
long-dead lavender and rosemary, lemon verbena and rose geranium. On
top was Barbara Lee's wedding gown. Miss Hitty always handled it with
reverence not unmixed with awe, never having had a wedding gown herself.

Underneath were the baby clothes which the girl-wife had begun to make
when she first knew of her child's coming. The cloth was none too fine
and the little garments were awkwardly cut and badly sewn, but every
stitch had been guided by a great love.

Araminta's first shoes were there, too--soft, formless things of
discoloured white kid. Folded in a yellowed paper was a tiny, golden
curl, snipped secretly, and marked on the outside: "Minty's hair."
Farther down in the trunk were the few relics of Miss Mehitable's
far-away girlhood.

A dog-eared primer, a string of bright buttons, a broken slate, a
ragged, disreputable doll, and a few blown birds' eggs carefully packed
away in a small box of cotton--these were her treasures. There was an
old autograph album with a gay blue cover which the years in the trunk
had not served to fade. Far down in the trunk was a package which Miss
Mehitable took out reverently. It was large and flat and tied with
heavy string in hard knots. She untied the knots patiently--her mother
had taught her never to cut a string.

Underneath was more paper, and more string. It took her half an hour
to bring to light the inmost contents of the package, bound in layer
after layer of fine muslin, but not tied. She unrolled the yellowed
cloth carefully, for it was very frail. At last she took out a
photograph--Anthony Dexter at three-and-twenty--and gazed at it long.

On one page of her autograph album was written an old rhyme. The ink
had faded so that it was scarcely legible, but Miss Hitty knew it by
heart:

"'If you love me as I love you
No knife can cut our love in two.'
Your sincere friend,
ANTHONY DEXTER."

Like a tiny sprig of lavender taken from a bush which has never
bloomed, this bit of romance lay far back in the secret places of her
life. She had a knot of blue ribbon which Anthony Dexter had once
given her, a lead pencil which he had gallantly sharpened, and which
she had never used.

Her life had been barren--Miss Mehitable knew that, and in her hours of
self-analysis, admitted it. She would gladly have taken Evelina's full
measure of suffering in exchange for one tithe of Araminta's joy.
After Anthony Dexter had turned from her to Evelina, Miss Mehitable had
openly scorned him. She had spent the rest of her life, since, in
showing him and the rest that men were nothing to her and that he was
least of all.

She had hovered near his patients simply for the sake of seeing
him--she did not care for them at all. She sat in the front window
that she might see him drive by, and counted that day lost which
brought her no sight of him. This was her one tenderness, her one
vulnerable point.

The afternoon shadows grew long and the maple branches ceased to sway.
Outside a bird crooned a lullaby to his nesting mate. An oriole
perched on the topmost twig of an evergreen in a corner of the yard,
and opened his golden throat in a rapture of song.

Love was abroad in the world that day. Bees hummed it, birds sang it,
roses breathed it. The black and gold messengers of the fields bore
velvety pollen from flower to flower, moving lazily on shimmering,
gossamer wings. A meadow-lark rose from a distant clover field,
dropping exquisite, silvery notes as he flew. The scent of green
fields and honeysuckles came in at the open window, mingled
inextricably with the croon of the bees, but Miss Mehitable knew only

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