Part 1 out of 5
This etext was produced by David Widger
A LITTLE JOURNEY IN THE WORLD
By Charles Dudley Warner
The title naturally suggested for this story was "A Dead Soul," but it
was discarded because of the similarity to that of the famous novel by
Nikolai Gogol--"Dead Souls"--though the motive has nothing in common with
that used by the Russian novelist. Gogol exposed an extensive fraud
practiced by the sale, in connection with lands, of the names of "serfs"
(called souls) not living, or "dead souls."
This story is an attempt to trace the demoralization in a woman's soul of
certain well-known influences in our existing social life. In no other
way could certain phases of our society be made to appear so distinctly
as when reflected in the once pure mirror of a woman's soul.
The character of Margaret is the portrait of no one woman. But it was
suggested by the career of two women (among others less marked) who had
begun life with the highest ideals, which had been gradually eaten away
and destroyed by "prosperous" marriages and association with unscrupulous
methods of acquiring money.
The deterioration was gradual. The women were in all outward conduct
unchanged, the conventionalities of life were maintained, the graces were
not lost, the observances of the duties of charities and of religion were
even emphasized, but worldliness had eaten the heart out of them, and
they were "dead souls." The tragedy of the withered life was a
thousand-fold enhanced by the external show of prosperous respectability.
The story was first published (in 1888) in Harper's Monthly. During its
progress--and it was printed as soon as each installment was ready (a
very poor plan)--I was in receipt of the usual letters of sympathy, or
protest, and advice. One sympathetic missive urged the removal of
Margaret to a neighboring city, where she could be saved by being brought
under special Christian influences. The transfer, even in a serial, was
impossible, and she by her own choice lived the life she had entered
And yet, if the reader will pardon the confidence, pity intervened to
shorten it. I do not know how it is with other writers, but the persons
that come about me in a little drama are as real as those I meet in
every-day life, and in this case I found it utterly impossible to go on
to what might have been the bitter, logical development of Margaret's
career. Perhaps it was as well. Perhaps the writer should have no
despotic power over his creations, however slight they are. He may
profitably recall the dictum of a recent essayist that "there is no limit
to the mercy of God."
CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER.
Hartford, August 11, 1899.
A LITTLE JOURNEY IN THE WORLD
We were talking about the want of diversity in American life, the lack of
salient characters. It was not at a club. It was a spontaneous talk of
people who happened to be together, and who had fallen into an
uncompelled habit of happening to be together. There might have been a
club for the study of the Want of Diversity in American Life. The
members would have been obliged to set apart a stated time for it, to
attend as a duty, and to be in a mood to discuss this topic at a set hour
in the future. They would have mortgaged another precious portion of the
little time left us for individual life. It is a suggestive thought that
at a given hour all over the United States innumerable clubs might be
considering the Want of Diversity in American Life. Only in this way,
according to our present methods, could one expect to accomplish anything
in regard to this foreign-felt want. It seems illogical that we could
produce diversity by all doing the same thing at the same time, but we
know the value of congregate effort. It seems to superficial observers
that all Americans are born busy. It is not so. They are born with a
fear of not being busy; and if they are intelligent and in circumstances
of leisure, they have such a sense of their responsibility that they
hasten to allot all their time into portions, and leave no hour
unprovided for. This is conscientiousness in women, and not
restlessness. There is a day for music, a day for painting, a day for
the display of tea-gowns, a day for Dante, a day for the Greek drama,
a day for the Dumb Animals' Aid Society, a day for the Society for the
Propagation of Indians, and so on. When the year is over, the amount
that has been accomplished by this incessant activity can hardly be
estimated. Individually it may not be much. But consider where Chaucer
would be but for the work of the Chaucer clubs, and what an effect upon
the universal progress of things is produced by the associate
concentration upon the poet of so many minds.
A cynic says that clubs and circles are for the accumulation of
superficial information and unloading it on others, without much
individual absorption in anybody. This, like all cynicism, contains only
a half-truth, and simply means that the general diffusion of half-
digested information does not raise the general level of intelligence,
which can only be raised to any purpose by thorough self-culture, by
assimilation, digestion, meditation. The busy bee is a favorite simile
with us, and we are apt to overlook the fact that the least important
part of his example is buzzing around. If the hive simply got together
and buzzed, or even brought unrefined treacle from some cyclopaedia, let
us say, of treacle, there would be no honey added to the general store.
It occurred to some one in this talk at last to deny that there was this
tiresome monotony in American life. And this put a new face on the
discussion. Why should there be, with every race under the heavens
represented here, and each one struggling to assert itself, and no
homogeneity as yet established even between the people of the oldest
States? The theory is that democracy levels, and that the anxious
pursuit of a common object, money, tends to uniformity, and that facility
of communication spreads all over the land the same fashion in dress; and
repeats everywhere the same style of house, and that the public schools
give all the children in the United States the same superficial
smartness. And there is a more serious notion, that in a society without
classes there is a sort of tyranny of public opinion which crushes out
the play of individual peculiarities, without which human intercourse is
uninteresting. It is true that a democracy is intolerant of variations
from the general level, and that a new society allows less latitude in
eccentricities to its members than an old society.
But with all these allowances, it is also admitted that the difficulty
the American novelist has is in hitting upon what is universally accepted
as characteristic of American life, so various are the types in regions
widely separated from each other, such different points of view are had
even in conventionalities, and conscience operates so variously on moral
problems in one community and another. It is as impossible for one
section to impose upon another its rules of taste and propriety in
conduct--and taste is often as strong to determine conduct as principle--
as it is to make its literature acceptable to the other. If in the land
of the sun and the jasmine and the alligator and the fig, the literature
of New England seems passionless and timid in face of the ruling emotions
of life, ought we not to thank Heaven for the diversity of temperament as
well as of climate which will in the long-run save us from that sameness
into which we are supposed to be drifting?
When I think of this vast country with any attention to local
developments I am more impressed with the unlikenesses than with the
resemblances. And besides this, if one had the ability to draw to the
life a single individual in the most homogeneous community, the product
would be sufficiently startling. We cannot flatter ourselves, therefore,
that under equal laws and opportunities we have rubbed out the saliencies
of human nature. At a distance the mass of the Russian people seem as
monotonous as their steppes and their commune villages, but the Russian
novelists find characters in this mass perfectly individualized, and,
indeed, give us the impression that all Russians are irregular polygons.
Perhaps if our novelists looked at individuals as intently, they might
give the world the impression that social life here is as unpleasant as
it appears in the novels to be in Russia.
This is partly the substance of what was said one winter evening. before
the wood fire in the library of a house in Brandon, one of the lesser New
England cities. Like hundreds of residences of its kind, it stood in the
suburbs, amid forest-trees, commanding a view of city spires and towers
on the one hand, and on the other of a broken country of clustering trees
and cottages, rising towards a range of hills which showed purple and
warm against the pale straw-color of the winter sunsets. The charm of
the situation was that the house was one of many comfortable dwellings,
each isolated, and yet near enough together to form a neighborhood; that
is to say, a body of neighbors who respected each other's privacy, and
yet flowed together, on occasion, without the least conventionality. And
a real neighborhood, as our modern life is arranged, is becoming more and
I am not sure that the talkers in this conversation expressed their real,
final sentiments, or that they should be held accountable for what they
said. Nothing so surely kills the freedom of talk as to have some
matter-of-fact person instantly bring you to book for some impulsive
remark flashed out on the instant, instead of playing with it and tossing
it about in a way that shall expose its absurdity or show its value.
Freedom is lost with too much responsibility and seriousness, and the
truth is more likely to be struck out in a lively play of assertion and
retort than when all the words and sentiments are weighed. A person very
likely cannot tell what he does think till his thoughts are exposed to
the air, and it is the bright fallacies and impulsive, rash ventures in
conversation that are often most fruitful to talker and listeners. The
talk is always tame if no one dares anything. I have seen the most
promising paradox come to grief by a simple "Do you think so?" Nobody, I
sometimes think, should be held accountable for anything said in private
conversation, the vivacity of which is in a tentative play about the
subject. And this is a sufficient reason why one should repudiate any
private conversation reported in the newspapers. It is bad enough to be
held fast forever to what one writes and prints, but to shackle a man
with all his flashing utterances, which may be put into his mouth by some
imp in the air, is intolerable slavery. A man had better be silent if he
can only say today what he will stand by tomorrow, or if he may not
launch into the general talk the whim and fancy of the moment. Racy,
entertaining talk is only exposed thought, and no one would hold a man
responsible for the thronging thoughts that contradict and displace each
other in his mind. Probably no one ever actually makes up his mind until
he either acts or puts out his conclusion beyond his recall. Why should
one be debarred the privilege of pitching his crude ideas into a
conversation where they may have a chance of being precipitated?
I remember that Morgan said in this talk that there was too much
diversity. "Almost every church has trouble with it--the different
An Englishman who was present pricked-up his ears at this, as if he
expected to obtain a note on the character of Dissenters. "I thought all
the churches here were organized on social affinities?" he inquired.
"Oh, no; it is a good deal a matter of vicinage. When there is a real-
estate extension, a necessary part of the plan is to build a church in
the centre of it, in order to--"
"I declare, Page," said Mrs. Morgan, "you'll give Mr. Lyon a totally
erroneous notion. Of course there must be a church convenient to the
worshipers in every district."
"That is just what I was saying, my dear: As the settlement is not drawn
together on religious grounds, but perhaps by purely worldly motives, the
elements that meet in the church are apt to be socially incongruous, such
as cannot always be fused even by a church-kitchen and a church-parlor."
"Then it isn't the peculiarity of the church that has attracted to it
worshipers who would naturally come together, but the church is a
neighborhood necessity?" still further inquired Mr. Lyon.
"All is," I ventured to put in, "that churches grow up like schoolhouses,
where they are wanted."
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Morgan; "I'm talking about the kind of
want that creates them. If it's the same that builds a music hall, or a
gymnasium, or a railway waiting-room, I've nothing more to say."
"Is it your American idea, then, that a church ought to be formed only of
people socially agreeable together?" asked the Englishman.
"I have no American idea. I am only commenting on facts; but one of them
is that it is the most difficult thing in the world to reconcile
religious association with the real or artificial claims of social life."
"I don't think you try much," said Mrs. Morgan, who carried along her
traditional religious observance with grateful admiration of her husband.
Mr. Page Morgan had inherited money, and a certain advantageous position
for observing life and criticising it, humorously sometimes, and without
any serious intention of disturbing it. He had added to his fair fortune
by marrying the daintily reared daughter of a cotton-spinner, and he had
enough to do in attending meetings of directors and looking out for his
investments to keep him from the operation of the State law regarding
vagrants, and give greater social weight to his opinions than if he had
been compelled to work for his maintenance. The Page Morgans had been a
good deal abroad, and were none the worse Americans for having come in
contact with the knowledge that there are other peoples who are
reasonably prosperous and happy without any of our advantages.
"It seems to me," said Mr. Lyon, who was always in the conversational
attitude of wanting to know, "that you Americans are disturbed by the
notion that religion ought to produce social equality."
Mr. Lyon had the air of conveying the impression that this question was
settled in England, and that America was interesting on account of
numerous experiments of this sort. This state of mind was not offensive
to his interlocutors, because they were accustomed to it in transatlantic
visitors. Indeed, there was nothing whatever offensive, and little
defensive, in Mr. John Lyon. What we liked in him, I think, was his
simple acceptance of a position that required neither explanation nor
apology--a social condition that banished a sense of his own personality,
and left him perfectly free to be absolutely truthful. Though an eldest
son and next in succession to an earldom, he was still young. Fresh from
Oxford and South Africa and Australia and British Columbia he had come to
study the States with a view of perfecting himself for his duties as a
legislator for the world when he should be called to the House of Peers.
He did not treat himself like an earl, whatever consciousness he may have
had that his prospective rank made it safe for him to flirt with the
various forms of equality abroad in this generation.
"I don't know what Christianity is expected to produce," Mr. Morgan
replied, in a meditative way; "but I have an idea that the early
Christians in their assemblies all knew each other, having met elsewhere
in social intercourse, or, if they were not acquainted, they lost sight
of distinctions in one paramount interest. But then I don't suppose they
were exactly civilized."
"Were the Pilgrims and the Puritans?" asked Mrs. Fletcher, who now joined
the talk, in which she had been a most animated and stimulating listener,
her deep gray eyes dancing with intellectual pleasure.
"I should not like to answer 'no' to a descendant of the Mayflower. Yes,
they were highly civilized. And if we had adhered to their methods, we
should have avoided a good deal of confusion. The meeting-house, you
remember, had a committee for seating people according to their quality.
They were very shrewd, but it had not occurred to them to give the best
pews to the sitters able to pay the most money for them. They escaped
the perplexity of reconciling the mercantile and the religious ideas."
"At any rate," said Mrs. Fletcher, "they got all sorts of people inside
the same meeting-house."
"Yes, and made them feel they were all sorts; but in those, days they
were not much disturbed by that feeling."
"Do you mean to say," asked Mr. Lyon, "that in this country you have
churches for the rich and other churches for the poor?"
"Not at all. We have in the cities rich churches and poor churches, with
prices of pews according to the means of each sort, and the rich are
always glad to have the poor come, and if they do not give them the best
seats, they equalize it by taking up a collection for them."
"Mr. Lyon," Mrs. Morgan interrupted, "you are getting a travesty of the
whole thing. I don't believe there is elsewhere in the world such a
spirit of Christian charity as in our churches of all sects."
"There is no doubt about the charity; but that doesn't seem to make the
social machine run any more smoothly in the church associations. I'm not
sure but we shall have to go back to the old idea of considering the
churches places of worship, and not opportunities for sewing-societies,
and the cultivation of social equality."
"I found the idea in Rome," said Mr. Lyon, "that the United States is now
the most promising field for the spread and permanence of the Roman
"How is that?" Mr. Fletcher asked, with a smile of Puritan incredulity.
"A high functionary at the Propaganda gave as a reason that the United
States is the most democratic country and the Roman Catholic is the most
democratic religion, having this one notion that all men, high or low,
are equally sinners and equally in need of one thing only. And I must
say that in this country I don't find the question of social equality
interfering much with the work in their churches."
"That is because they are not trying to make this world any better, but
only to prepare for another," said Mrs. Fletcher.
"Now, we think that the nearer we approach the kingdom-of-heaven idea on
earth, the better off we shall be hereafter. Is that a modern idea?"
"It is an idea that is giving us a great deal of trouble. We've got into
such a sophisticated state that it seems easier to take care of the
future than of the present."
"And it isn't a very bad doctrine that if you take care of the present,
the future will take care of itself," rejoined Mrs. Fletcher.
"Yes, I know," insisted Mr. Morgan; "it's the modern notion of
accumulation and compensation--take care of the pennies and the pounds
will take care of themselves--the gospel of Benjamin Franklin."
"Ah," I said, looking up at the entrance of a newcomer, "you are just in
time, Margaret, to give the coup de grace, for it is evident by Mr.
Morgan's reference, in his Bunker Hill position, to Franklin, that he is
getting out of powder."
The girl stood a moment, her slight figure framed in the doorway, while
the company rose to greet her, with a half-hesitating, half-inquiring
look in her bright face which I had seen in it a thousand times.
I remember that it came upon me with a sort of surprise at the moment
that we had never thought or spoken much of Margaret Debree as beautiful.
We were so accustomed to her; we had known her so long, we had known her
always. We had never analyzed our admiration of her. She had so many
qualities that are better than beauty that we had not credited her with
the more obvious attraction. And perhaps she had just become visibly
beautiful. It may be that there is an instant in a girl's life
corresponding to what the Puritans called conversion in the soul, when
the physical qualities, long maturing, suddenly glow in an effect which
we call beauty. It cannot be that women do not have a consciousness of
it, perhaps of the instant of its advent. I remember when I was a child
that I used to think that a stick of peppermint candy must burn with a
consciousness of its own deliciousness.
Margaret was just turned twenty. As she paused there in the doorway her
physical perfection flashed upon me for the first time. Of course I do
not mean perfection, for perfection has no promise in it, rather the sad
note of limit, and presently recession. In the rounded, exquisite lines
of her figure there was the promise of that ineffable fullness and
delicacy of womanhood which all the world raves about and destroys and
mourns. It is not fulfilled always in the most beautiful, and perhaps
never except to the woman who loves passionately, and believes she is
loved with a devotion that exalts her body and soul above every other
It is certain that Margaret's beauty was not classic. Her features were
irregular even to piquancy. The chin had strength; the mouth was
sensitive and not too small; the shapely nose with thin nostrils had an
assertive quality that contradicted the impression of humility in the
eyes when downcast; the large gray eyes were uncommonly soft and clear,
an appearance of alternate tenderness and brilliancy as they were veiled
or uncovered by the long lashes. They were gently commanding eyes, and
no doubt her most effective point. Her abundant hair, brown with a touch
of red in it in some lights, fell over her broad forehead in the fashion
of the time. She had a way of carrying her head, of throwing it back at
times, that was not exactly imperious, and conveyed the impression of
spirit rather than of mere vivacity. These details seem to me all
inadequate and misleading, for the attraction of the face that made it
interesting is still undefined. I hesitate to say that there was a
dimple near the corner of her mouth that revealed itself when she smiled
lest this shall seem mere prettiness, but it may have been the keynote of
her face. I only knew there was something about it that won the heart,
as a too conscious or assertive beauty never does. She may have been
plain, and I may have seen the loveliness of her nature, which I knew
well, in features that gave less sign of it to strangers. Yet I noticed
that Mr. Lyon gave her a quick second glance, and his manner was
instantly that of deference, or at least attention, which he had shown to
no other lady in the room. And the whimsical idea came into my mind--we
are all so warped by international possibilities--to observe whether she
did not walk like a countess (that is, as a countess ought to walk) as
she advanced to shake hands with my wife. It is so easy to turn life
into a comedy!
Margaret's great-grandmother--no, it was her great-great-grandmother,
but we have kept the Revolutionary period so warm lately that it seems
near--was a Newport belle, who married an officer in the suite of
Rochambeau what time the French defenders of liberty conquered the women
of Rhode Island. After the war was over, our officer resigned his love
of glory for the heart of one of the loveliest women and the care of the
best plantation on the Island. I have seen a miniature of her, which her
lover wore at Yorktown, and which he always swore that Washington
coveted--a miniature painted by a wandering artist of the day, which
entirely justifies the French officer in his abandonment of the trade of
a soldier. Such is man in his best estate. A charming face can make him
campaign and fight and slay like a demon, can make a coward of him,
can fill him with ambition to win the world, and can tame him into the
domesticity of a drawing-room cat. There is this noble capacity in man
to respond to the divinest thing visible to him in this world. Etienne
Debree became, I believe, a very good citizen of the republic, and in '93
used occasionally to shake his head with satisfaction to find that it was
still on his shoulders. I am not sure that he ever visited Mount Vernon,
but after Washington's death Debree's intimacy with our first President
became a more and more important part of his life and conversation.
There is a pleasant tradition that Lafayette, when he was here in 1784,
embraced the young bride in the French manner, and that this salute was
valued as a sort of heirloom in the family.
I always thought that Margaret inherited her New England conscience from
her great-great-grandmother, and a certain esprit or gayety--that is,
a sub-gayety which was never frivolity--from her French ancestor. Her
father and mother had died when she was ten years old, and she had been
reared by a maiden aunt, with whom she still lived. The combined
fortunes of both required economy, and after Margaret had passed her
school course she added to their resources by teaching in a public
school. I remember that she taught history, following, I suppose, the
American notion that any one can teach history who has a text-book, just
as he or she can teach literature with the same help. But it happened
that Margaret was a better teacher than many, because she had not learned
history in school, but in her father's well-selected library.
There was a little stir at Margaret's entrance; Mr. Lyon was introduced
to her, and my wife, with that subtle feeling for effect which women
have, slightly changed the lights. Perhaps Margaret's complexion or her
black dress made this readjustment necessary to the harmony of the room.
Perhaps she felt the presence of a different temperament in the little
I never can tell exactly what it is that guides her in regard to the
influence of light and color upon the intercourse of people, upon their
conversation, making it take one cast or another. Men are susceptible to
these influences, but it is women alone who understand how to produce
them. And a woman who has not this subtle feeling always lacks charm,
however intellectual she may be; I always think of her as sitting in the
glare of disenchanting sunlight as indifferent to the exposure as a man
would be. I know in a general way that a sunset light induces one kind
of talk and noonday light another, and I have learned that talk always
brightens up with the addition of a fresh crackling stick to the fire.
I shouldn't have known how to change the lights for Margaret, although I
think I had as distinct an impression of her personality as had my wife.
There was nothing disturbing in it; indeed, I never saw her otherwise
than serene, even when her voice betrayed strong emotion. The quality
that impressed me most, however, was her sincerity, coupled with
intellectual courage and clearness that had almost the effect of
brilliancy, though I never thought of her as a brilliant woman.
"What mischief have you been attempting, Mr. Morgan?" asked Margaret, as
she took a chair near him. "Were you trying to make Mr. Lyon comfortable
by dragging in Bunker Hill?"
"No; that was Mr. Fairchild, in his capacity as host."
"Oh, I'm sure you needn't mind me," said Mr. Lyon, good-humoredly.
"I landed in Boston, and the first thing I went to see was the Monument.
It struck me as so odd, you know, that the Americans should begin life by
celebrating their first defeat."
"That is our way," replied Margaret, quickly. "We have started on a new
basis over here; we win by losing. He who loses his life shall find it.
If the red slayer thinks he slays he is mistaken. You know the
Southerners say that they surrendered at last simply because they got
tired of beating the North."
"Miss Debree simply means," I exclaimed, "that we have inherited from the
English an inability to know when we are whipped."
"But we were not fighting the battle of Bunker Hill, or fighting about
it, which is more serious, Miss Debree. What I wanted to ask you was
whether you think the domestication of religion will affect its power in
the regulation of conduct."
"Domestication? You are too deep for me, Mr. Morgan. I don't any more
understand you than I comprehend the writers who write about the
feminization of literature."
"Well, taking the mystery out of it, the predominant element of worship,
making the churches sort of good-will charitable associations for the
spread of sociability and good-feeling."
"You mean making Christianity practical?"
"Partially that. It is a part of the general problem of what women are
going to make of the world, now they have got hold of it, or are getting
hold of it, and are discontented with being women, or with being treated
as women, and are bringing their emotions into all the avocations of
"They cannot make it any worse than it has been."
"I'm not sure of that. Robustness is needed in churches as much as in
government. I don't know how much the cause of religion is advanced by
these church clubs of Christian Endeavor if that is the name,
associations of young boys and girls who go about visiting other like
clubs in a sufficiently hilarious manner. I suppose it's the spirit of
the age. I'm just wondering whether the world is getting to think more
of having a good time than it is of salvation."
"And you think woman's influence--for you cannot mean anything else--is
somehow taking the vigor out of affairs, making even the church a soft,
purring affair, reducing us all to what I suppose you would call a mush
"Well, the world has been brutal enough; it had better try a little
"I hope it will not be more cruel to women."
"That is not an argument; that is a stab. I fancy you are altogether
skeptical about woman. Do you believe in her education?"
"Up to a certain point, or rather, I should say, after a certain point."
"That's it," spoke up my wife, shading her eyes from the fire with a fan.
"I begin to have my doubts about education as a panacea. I've noticed
that girls with only a smattering--and most of them in the nature of
things can go, no further--are more liable to temptations."
"That is because 'education' is mistaken for the giving of information
without training, as we are finding out in England," said Mr. Lyon.
"Or that it is dangerous to awaken the imagination without a heavy
ballast of principle," said Mr. Morgan.
"That is a beautiful sentiment," Margaret exclaimed, throwing back her
head, with a flash from her eyes. "That ought to shut out women
entirely. Only I cannot see how teaching women what men know is going to
give them any less principle than men have. It has seemed to me a long
while that the time has come for treating women like human beings, and
giving them the responsibility of their position."
"And what do you want, Margaret?" I asked.
"I don't know exactly what I do want," she answered, sinking back in her
chair, sincerity coming to modify her enthusiasm. "I don't want to go to
Congress, or be a sheriff, or a lawyer, or a locomotive engineer. I want
the freedom of my own being, to be interested in everything in the world,
to feel its life as men do. You don't know what it is to have an
inferior person condescend to you simply because he is a man."
"Yet you wish to be treated as a woman?" queried Mr. Morgan.
"Of course. Do you think I want to banish romance out of the world?"
"You are right, my dear," said my wife. "The only thing that makes
society any better than an industrial ant-hill is the love between women
and men, blind and destructive as it often is."
"Well," said Mrs. Morgan, rising to go, "having got back to first
"You think it is best to take your husband home before he denies even
them," Mr. Morgan added.
When the others had gone, Margaret sat by the fire, musing, as if no one
else were in the room. The Englishman, still alert and eager for
information, regarded her with growing interest. It came into my mind as
odd that, being such an uninteresting people as we are, the English
should be so curious about us. After an interval, Mr. Lyon said:
"I beg your pardon, Miss Debree, but would you mind telling me whether
the movement of Women's Rights is gaining in America?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Mr. Lyon," Margaret replied, after a pause, with
a look of weariness. "I'm tired of all the talk about it. I wish men
and women, every soul of them, would try to make the most of themselves,
and see what would come of that."
"But in some places they vote about schools, and you have conventions--"
"Did you ever attend any kind of convention yourself, Mr. Lyon?"
"I? No. Why?"
"Oh, nothing. Neither did I. But you have a right to, you know.
I should like to ask you one question, Mr. Lyon," the girl, continued,
"Should be most obliged."
"Why is it that so few English women marry Americans?"
"I--I never thought of that," he stammered, reddening. "Perhaps--perhaps
it's because of American women."
"Thank you," said Margaret, with a little courtesy. "It's very nice of
you to say that. I can begin to see now why so many American women marry
The Englishman blushed still more, and Margaret said good-night.
It was quite evident the next day that Margaret had made an impression on
our visitor, and that he was struggling with some new idea.
"Did you say, Mrs. Fairchild," he asked my wife, "that Miss Debree is a
teacher? It seems very odd."
"No; I said she taught in one of our schools. I don't think she is
exactly a teacher."
"Not intending always to teach?"
"I don't suppose she has any definite intentions, but I never think of
her as a teacher."
"She's so bright, and--and interesting, don't you think? So American?"
"Yes; Miss Debree is one of the exceptions."
"Oh, I didn't mean that all American women were as clever as Miss
"Thank you," said my wife. And Mr. Lyon looked as if he couldn't see why
she should thank him.
The cottage in which Margaret lived with her aunt, Miss Forsythe, was not
far from our house. In summer it was very pretty, with its vine-shaded
veranda across the front; and even in winter, with the inevitable
raggedness of deciduous vines, it had an air of refinement, a promise
which the cheerful interior more than fulfilled. Margaret's parting word
to my wife the night before had been that she thought her aunt would like
to see the "chrysalis earl," and as Mr. Lyon had expressed a desire to
see something more of what he called the "gentry" of New England, my wife
ended their afternoon walk at Miss Forsythe's.
It was one of the winter days which are rare in New England, but of which
there had been a succession all through the Christmas holidays. Snow had
not yet come, all the earth was brown and frozen, whichever way you
looked the interlacing branches and twigs of the trees made a delicate
lace-work, the sky was gray-blue, and the low-sailing sun had just enough
heat to evoke moisture from the frosty ground and suffuse the atmosphere
into softness, in which all the landscape became poetic. The phenomenon
known as "red sunsets" was faintly repeated in the greenish crimson glow
along the violet hills, in which Venus burned like a jewel.
There was a fire smoldering on the hearth in the room they entered, which
seemed to be sitting-room, library, parlor, all in one; the old table of
oak, too substantial for ornament, was strewn with late periodicals and
pamphlets--English, American, and French--and with books which lay
unarranged as they were thrown down from recent reading. In the centre
was a bunch of red roses in a pale-blue Granada jug. Miss Forsythe rose
from a seat in the western window, with a book in her hand, to greet her
callers. She was slender, like Margaret, but taller, with soft brown
eyes and hair streaked with gray, which, sweeping plainly aside from her
forehead in a fashion then antiquated, contrasted finely with the flush
of pink in her cheeks. This flush did not suggest youth, but rather
ripeness, the tone that comes with the lines made in the face by gentle
acceptance of the inevitable in life. In her quiet and self-possessed
manner there was a little note of graceful timidity, not perhaps
noticeable in itself, but in contrast with that unmistakable air of
confidence which a woman married always has, and which in the unrefined
becomes assertive, an exaggerated notion of her importance, of the value
added to her opinions by the act of marriage. You can see it in her air
the moment she walks away from the altar, keeping step to Mendelssohn's
tune. Jack Sharpley says that she always seems to be saying, "Well, I've
done it once for all." This assumption of the married must be one of the
hardest things for single women to bear in their self-congratulating
I have no doubt that Georgiana Forsythe was a charming girl, spirited and
handsome; for the beauty of her years, almost pathetic in its dignity and
self-renunciation, could not have followed mere prettiness or a
commonplace experience. What that had been I never inquired, but it had
not soured her. She was not communicative nor confidential, I fancy,
with any one, but she was always friendly and sympathetic to the trouble
of others, and helpful in an undemonstrative way. If she herself had a
secret feeling that her life was a failure, it never impressed her
friends so, it was so even, and full of good offices and quiet enjoyment.
Heaven only knows, however, the pathos of this apparently undisturbed
life. For did a woman ever live who would not give all the years of
tasteless serenity, for one year, for one month, for one hour, of the
uncalculating delirium of love poured out upon a man who returned it?
It may be better for the world that there are these women to whom life
has still some mysteries, who are capable of illusions and the sweet
sentimentality that grows out of a romance unrealized.
Although the recent books were on Miss Forsythe's table, her tastes and
culture were of the past age. She admired Emerson and Tennyson. One may
keep current with the news of the world without changing his principles.
I imagine that Miss Forsythe read without injury to herself the
passionate and the pantheistic novels of the young women who have come
forward in these days of emancipation to teach their grandmothers a new
basis of morality, and to render meaningless all the consoling epitaphs
on the mossy New England gravestones. She read Emerson for his sweet
spirit, for his belief in love and friendship, her simple
Congregationalist faith remaining undisturbed by his philosophy, from
which she took only a habit of toleration.
"Miss Debree has gone to church," she said, in answer to Mr. Lyon's
glance around the room.
"I believe they call it that. Our evening meetings, you know, only begin
at early candlelight."
"And you do not belong to the Church?"
"Oh, yes, to the ancient aristocratic church of colonial times," she
replied, with a little smile of amusement. "My niece has stepped off
"And was your religion founded on Plymouth Rock?"
"My niece says so when I rally her deserting the faith of her fathers,"
replied Miss Forsythe, laughing at the working of the Episcopalian mind.
"I should like to understand about that; I mean about the position of
Dissenters in America."
"I'm afraid I could not help you, Mr. Lyon. I fancy an Englishman would
have to be born again, as the phrase used to be, to comprehend that."
While Mr. Lyon was still unsatisfied on this point, he found the
conversation shifted to the other side. Perhaps it was a new experience
to him that women should lead and not follow in conversation. At any
rate, it was an experience that put him at his ease. Miss Forsythe was a
great admirer of Gladstone and of General Gordon, and she expressed her
admiration with a knowledge that showed she had read the English
"Yet I confess I don't comprehend Gladstone's conduct with regard to
Egypt and Gordon's relief," she said.
"Perhaps," interposed my wife, "it would have been better for Gordon if
he had trusted Providence more and Gladstone less."
"I suppose it was Gladstone's humanity that made him hesitate."
"To bombard Alexandria?" asked Mr. Lyon, with a look of asperity.
"That was a mistake to be expected of a Tory, but not of Mr. Gladstone,
who seems always seeking the broadest principles of justice in his
"Yes, we regard Mr. Gladstone as a very great man, Miss Forsythe. He is
broad enough. You know we consider him a rhetorical phenomenon.
Unfortunately he always 'muffs' anything he touches."
"I suspected," Miss Forsythe replied, after a moment, "that party spirit
ran as high in England as it does with us, and is as personal."
Mr. Lyon disclaimed any personal feeling, and the talk drifted into a
comparison of English and American politics, mainly with reference to the
social factor in English politics, which is so little an element here.
In the midst of the talk Margaret came in. The brisk walk in the rosy
twilight had heightened her color, and given her a glowing expression
which her face had not the night before, and a tenderness and softness,
an unworldliness, brought from the quiet hour in the church.
"My lady comes at last,
Timid and stepping fast,
And hastening hither,
Her modest eyes downcast."
She greeted the stranger with a Puritan undemonstrativeness, and as if
not exactly aware of his presence.
"I should like to have gone to vespers if I had known," said Mr. Lyon,
after an embarrassing pause.
"Yes?" asked the girl, still abstractedly. "The world seems in a vesper
mood," she added, looking out the west windows at the red sky and the
In truth Nature herself at the moment suggested that talk was an
impertinence. The callers rose to go, with an exchange of neighborhood
friendliness and invitations.
"I had no idea," said Mr. Lyon, as they walked homeward, "what the New
World was like."
Mr. Lyon's invitation was for a week. Before the end of the week I was
called to New York to consult Mr. Henderson in regard to a railway
investment in the West, which was turning out more permanent than
profitable. Rodney Henderson--the name later became very familiar to the
public in connection with a certain Congressional investigation--was a
graduate of my own college, a New Hampshire boy, a lawyer by profession,
who practiced, as so many American lawyers do, in Wall Street, in
political combinations, in Washington, in railways. He was already known
as a rising man.
When I returned Mr. Lyon was still at our house. I understood that my
wife had persuaded him to extend his visit--a proposal he was little
reluctant to fall in with, so interested had he become in studying social
life in America. I could well comprehend this, for we are all making a
"study" of something in this age, simple enjoyment being considered an
unworthy motive. I was glad to see that the young Englishman was
improving himself, broadening his knowledge of life, and not wasting the
golden hours of youth. Experience is what we all need, and though love
or love-making cannot be called a novelty, there is something quite fresh
about the study of it in the modern spirit.
Mr. Lyon had made himself very agreeable to the little circle, not less
by his inquiring spirit than by his unaffected manners, by a kind of
simplicity which women recognize as unconscious, the result of an
inherited habit of not thinking about one's position. In excess it may
be very disagreeable, but when it is combined with genuine good-nature
and no self-assertion, it is attractive. And although American women
like a man who is aggressive towards the world and combative, there is
the delight of novelty in one who has leisure to be agreeable, leisure
for them, and who seems to their imagination to have a larger range in
life than those who are driven by business--one able to offer the peace
and security of something attained.
There had been several little neighborhood entertainments, dinners at the
Morgans' and at Mrs. Fletcher's, and an evening cup of tea at Miss
Forsythe's. In fact Margaret and Mr. Lyon had been thrown much together.
He had accompanied her to vespers, and they had taken a wintry walk or
two together before the snow came. My wife had not managed it--she
assured me of that; but she had not felt authorized to interfere; and she
had visited the public library and looked into the British Peerage.
Men were so suspicious. Margaret was quite able to take care of herself.
I admitted that, but I suggested that the Englishman was a stranger in a
strange land, that he was far from home, and had perhaps a weakened sense
of those powerful social influences which must, after all, control him in
the end. The only response to this was, "I think, dear, you'd better
wrap him up in cotton and send him back to his family."
Among her other activities Margaret was interested in a mission school in
the city, to which she devoted an occasional evening and Sunday
afternoons. This was a new surprise for Mr. Lyon. Was this also a part
of the restlessness of American life? At Mrs. Howe's german the other
evening the girl had seemed wholly absorbed in dress, and the gayety of
the serious formality of the occasion, feeling the responsibility of it
scarcely less than the "leader." Yet her mind was evidently much
occupied with the "condition of women," and she taught in a public
school. He could not at all make it out. Was she any more serious about
the german than about the mission school? It seemed odd at her age to
take life so seriously. And was she serious in all her various
occupations, or only experimenting? There was a certain mocking humor in
the girl that puzzled the Englishman still more.
"I have not seen much of your life," he said one night to Mr. Morgan;
"but aren't most American women a little restless, seeking an
"Perhaps they have that appearance; but about the same number find it, as
formerly, in marriage."
"But I mean, you know, do they look to marriage as an end so much?"
"I don't know that they ever did look to marriage as anything but a
"I can tell you, Mr. Lyon," my wife interrupted, "you will get no
information out of Mr. Morgan; he is a scoffer."
"Not at all, I do assure you," Morgan replied. "I am just a humble
observer. I see that there is a change going on, but I cannot comprehend
it. When I was young, girls used to go in for society; they danced their
feet off from seventeen to twenty-one. I never heard anything about any
occupation; they had their swing and their fling, and their flirtations;
they appeared to be skimming off of those impressionable, joyous years
the cream of life."
"And you think that fitted them for the seriousness of life?" asked his
"Well, I am under the impression that very good women came out of that
society. I got one out of that dancing crowd who has been serious enough
"And little enough you have profited by it," said Mrs. Morgan.
"I'm content. But probably I'm old-fashioned. There is quite another
spirit now. Girls out of pinafores must begin seriously to consider some
calling. All their flirtation from seventeen to twenty-one is with some
occupation. All their dancing days they must go to college, or in some
way lay the foundation for a useful life. I suppose it's all right.
No doubt we shall have a much higher style of women in the future than we
ever had in the past."
"You allow nothing," said Mrs. Fletcher, "for the necessity of earning a
living in these days of competition. Women never will come to their
proper position in the world, even as companions of men, which you regard
as their highest office, until they have the ability to be self-
"Oh, I admitted the fact of the independence of women a long time ago.
Every one does that before he comes to middle life. About the shifting
all round of this burden of earning a living, I am not so sure. It does
not appear yet to make competition any less; perhaps competition would
disappear if everybody did earn his own living and no more. I wonder,
by-the-way, if the girls, the young women, of the class we seem to be
discussing ever do earn as much as would pay the wages of the servants
who are hired to do the housework in their places?"
"That is a most ignoble suggestion," I could not help saying, "when you
know that the object in modern life is the cultivation of the mind, the
elevation of women, and men also, in intellectual life."
"I suppose so. I should like to have asked Abigail Adams's opinion on
the way to do it."
"One would think," I said, "that you didn't know that the spinning-jenny
and the stocking-knitter had been invented. Given these, the women's
college was a matter of course."
"Oh, I'm a believer in all kinds of machinery anything to save labor.
Only, I have faith that neither the jenny nor the college will change
human nature, nor take the romance out of life."
"So have I," said my wife. "I've heard two things affirmed: that women
who receive a scientific or professional education lose their faith,
become usually agnostics, having lost sensitiveness to the mysteries of
"And you think, therefore, that they should not have a scientific
"No, unless all scientific prying into things is a mistake. Women may be
more likely at first to be upset than men, but they will recover their
balance when the novelty is worn off. No amount of science will entirely
change their emotional nature; and besides, with all our science, I don't
see that the supernatural has any less hold on this generation than on
"Yes, and you might say the world was never before so credulous as it is
now. But what was the other thing?"
"Why, that co-education is likely to diminish marriages among the co-
educated. Daily familiarity in the classroom at the most impressionable
age, revelation of all the intellectual weaknesses and petulances,
absorption of mental routine on an equality, tend to destroy the sense of
romance and mystery that are the most powerful attractions between the
sexes. It is a sort of disenchanting familiarity that rubs off the
"Have you any statistics on the subject?"
"No. I fancy it is only a notion of some old fogy who thinks education
in any form is dangerous for women."
"Yes, and I fancy that co-education will have about as much effect on
life generally as that solemn meeting of a society of intelligent and
fashionable women recently in one of our great cities, who met to discuss
the advisability of limiting population."
"Great Scott!" I exclaimed, "this is an interesting age."
I was less anxious about the vagaries of it when I saw the very old-
fashioned way in which the international drama was going on in our
neighborhood. Mr. Lyon was increasingly interested in Margaret's mission
work. Nor was there much affectation in this. Philanthropy, anxiety
about the working-classes, is nowhere more serious or in the fashion than
it is in London. Mr. Lyon, wherever he had been, had made a special
study of the various aid and relief societies, especially of the work for
young waifs and strays.
One Sunday afternoon they were returning from the Bloom Street Mission.
Snow covered the ground, the sky was leaden, and the air had a
penetrating chill in it far more disagreeable than extreme cold.
"We also," Mr. Lyon was saying, in continuation of a conversation, "are
making a great effort for the common people."
"But we haven't any common people here," replied Margaret, quickly.
"That bright boy you noticed in my class, who was a terror six months
ago, will no doubt be in the City Council in a few years, and likely
"Oh, I know your theory. It practically comes to the same thing,
whatever you call it. I couldn't see that the work in New York differed
much from that in London. We who have leisure ought to do something for
"I sometimes doubt if it is not all a mistake most of our charitable
work. The thing is to get people to do something for themselves."
"But you cannot do away with distinctions?"
"I suppose not, so long as so many people are born vicious, or
incompetent, or lazy. But, Mr. Lyon, how much good do you suppose
condescending charity does?" asked Margaret, firing up in a way the girl
had at times. "I mean the sort that makes the distinctions more evident.
The very fact that you have leisure to meddle in their affairs may be an
annoyance to the folks you try to help by the little palliatives of
charity. What effect upon a wretched city neighborhood do you suppose is
produced by the advent in it of a stylish carriage and a lady in silk,
or even the coming of a well-dressed, prosperous woman in a horse-car,
however gentle and unassuming she may be in this distribution of sympathy
and bounty? Isn't the feeling of inequality intensified? And the
degrading part of it may be that so many are willing to accept this sort
of bounty. And your men of leisure, your club men, sitting in the
windows and seeing the world go by as a spectacle-men who never did an
hour's necessary work in their lives--what effect do you suppose the
sight of them has upon men out of work, perhaps by their own fault, owing
to the same disposition to be idle that the men in the club windows
"And do you think it would be any better if all were poor alike?"
"I think it would be better if there were no idle people. I'm half
ashamed that I have leisure to go every time I go to that mission. And
I'm almost sorry, Mr. Lyon, that I took you there. The boys knew you
were English. One of them asked me if you were a 'lord' or a 'juke' or
something. I cannot tell how they will take it. They may resent the
spying into their world of an 'English juke,' and they may take it in the
light of a show."
Mr. Lyon laughed. And then, perhaps after a little reflection upon the
possibility that the nobility was becoming a show in this world, he said:
"I begin to think I'm very unfortunate, Miss Debree. You seem to remind
me that I am in a position in which I can do very little to help the
"Not at all. You can do very much."
"But how, when whatever I attempt is considered a condescension? What
can I do?"
"Pardon me," and Margaret turned her eyes frankly upon him. "You can be
a good earl when your time comes."
Their way lay through the little city park. It is a pretty place in
summer--a varied surface, well planted with forest and ornamental trees,
intersected by a winding stream. The little river was full now, and ice
had formed on it, with small openings here and there, where the dark
water, hurrying along as if in fear of arrest, had a more chilling aspect
than the icy cover. The ground was white with snow, and all the trees
were bare except for a few frozen oak-leaves here and there, which
shivered in the wind and somehow added to the desolation. Leaden clouds
covered the sky, and only in the west was there a gleam of the departing
Upon the elevated bank of the stream, opposite to the road by which they
approached, they saw a group of people--perhaps twenty-drawn closely
together, either in the sympathy of segregation from an unfeeling world,
or for protection from the keen wind. On the hither bank, and leaning on
the rails of the drive, had collected a motley crowd of spectators, men,
women, and boys, who exhibited some impatience and much curiosity,
decorous for the most part, but emphasized by occasional jocose remarks
in an undertone. A serious ceremony was evidently in progress. The
separate group had not a prosperous air. The women were thinly clad for
such a day. Conspicuous in the little assembly was a tall, elderly man
in a shabby long coat and a broad felt hat, from under which his white
hair fell upon his shoulders. He might be a prophet in Israel come out
to testify to an unbelieving world, and the little group around him,
shaken like reeds in the wind, had the appearance of martyrs to a cause.
The light of another world shone in their thin, patient faces. Come,
they seemed to say to the worldlings on the opposite bank--come and see
what happiness it is to serve the Lord. As they waited, a faint tune was
started, a quavering hymn, whose feeble notes the wind blew away of
first, but which grew stronger.
Before the first stanza was finished a carriage appeared in the rear of
the group. From it descended a middle-aged man and a stout woman, and
they together helped a young girl to alight. She was clad all in white.
For a moment her thin, delicate figure shrank from the cutting wind.
Timid, nervous, she glanced an instant at the crowd and the dark icy
stream; but it was only a protest of the poor body; the face had the
rapt, exultant look of joyous sacrifice.
The tall man advanced to meet her, and led her into the midst of the
For a few moments there was prayer, inaudible at a distance. Then the
tall man, taking the girl by the hand, advanced down the slope to the
stream. His hat was laid aside, his venerable locks streamed in the
breeze, his eyes were turned to heaven; the girl walked as in a vision,
without a tremor, her wide-opened eyes fixed upon invisible things.
As they moved on, the group behind set up a joyful hymn in a kind of
mournful chant, in which the tall man joined with a strident voice.
Fitfully the words came on the wind, in an almost heart-breaking wail:
"Beyond the smiling and the weeping I shall be soon;
Beyond the waking and the sleeping,
Beyond the sowing and the reaping, I shall be soon."
They were near the water now, and the tall man's voice sounded out loud
"Lord, tarry not, but come!"
They were entering the stream where there was an opening clear of ice;
the footing was not very secure, and the tall man ceased singing, but the
little band sang on:
"Beyond the blooming and the fading I shall be soon."
The girl grew paler and shuddered. The tall man sustained her with an
attitude of infinite sympathy, and seemed to speak words of
encouragement. They were in the mid-stream; the cold flood surged about
their waists. The group sang on:
"Beyond the shining and the shading,
Beyond the hoping and the dreading, I shall be soon."
The strong, tender arms of the tall man gently lowered the white form
under the cruel water; he staggered a moment in the swift stream,
recovered himself, raised her, white as death, and the voices of the
wailing tune came:
"Love, rest, and home
Sweet hope! Lord, tarry not, but come!"
And the tall man, as he struggled to the shore with his almost insensible
burden, could be heard above the other voices and the wind and the rush
of the waters:
"Lord, tarry not, but come!"
The girl was hurried into the carriage, and the group quickly dispersed.
"Well, I'll be--" The tender-hearted little wife of the rough man in the
crowd who began that sentence did not permit him to finish it. "That'll
be a case for a doctor right away," remarked a well-known practitioner
who had been looking on.
Margaret and Mr. Lyon walked home in silence. "I can't talk about it,"
she said. "It's such a pitiful world."
In the evening, at our house, Margaret described the scene in the park.
"It's dreadful," was the comment of Miss Forsythe. "The authorities
ought not to permit such a thing."
"It seemed to me as heroic as pitiful, aunt. I fear I should be
incapable of making such a testimony."
"But it was so unnecessary."
"How do we know what is necessary to any poor soul? What impressed me
most strongly was that there is in the world still this longing to suffer
physically and endure public scorn for a belief."
"It may have been a disappointment to the little band," said Mr. Morgan,
"that there was no demonstration from the spectators, that there was no
loud jeering, that no snowballs were thrown by the boys."
"They could hardly expect that," said I; "the world has become so
tolerant that it doesn't care."
"I rather think," Margaret replied, "that the spectators for a moment
came under the spell of the hour, and were awed by something supernatural
in the endurance of that frail girl."
"No doubt," said my wife, after a little pause. "I believe that there is
as much sense of mystery in the world as ever, and as much of what we
call faith, only it shows itself eccentrically. Breaking away from
traditions and not going to church have not destroyed the need in the
minds of the mass of people for something outside themselves."
"Did I tell you," interposed Morgan--"it is almost in the line of your
thought--of a girl I met the other day on the train? I happened to be
her seat-mate in the car-thin face, slight little figure--a commonplace
girl, whom I took at first to be not more than twenty, but from the lines
about her large eyes she was probably nearer forty. She had in her lap a
book, which she conned from time to time, and seemed to be committing
verses to memory as she looked out the window. At last I ventured to ask
what literature it was that interested her so much, when she turned and
frankly entered into conversation. It was a little Advent song-book.
She liked to read it on the train, and hum over the tunes. Yes, she was
a good deal on the cars; early every morning she rode thirty miles to her
work, and thirty miles back every evening. Her work was that of clerk
and copyist in a freight office, and she earned nine dollars a week, on
which she supported herself and her mother. It was hard work, but she
did not mind it much. Her mother was quite feeble. She was an
Adventist. 'And you?' I asked. 'Oh, yes; I am. I've been an Adventist
twenty years, and I've been perfectly happy ever since I joined--
perfectly,' she added, turning her plain face, now radiant, towards me.
'Are you one?' she asked, presently. 'Not an immediate Adventist,' I was
obliged to confess. 'I thought you might be, there are so many now, more
and more.' I learned that in our little city there were two Advent
societies; there had been a split on account of some difference in the
meaning of original sin. 'And you are not discouraged by the repeated
failure of the predictions of the end of the world?' I asked. 'No. Why
should we be? We don't fix any certain day now, but all the signs show
that it is very near. We are all free to think as we like. Most of our
members now think it will be next year.'--'I hope not!' I exclaimed.
'Why?' she asked, turning to me with a look of surprise. 'Are you
afraid?' I evaded by saying that I supposed the good had nothing to fear.
'Then you must be an Adventist, you have so much sympathy.'--'I shouldn't
like to have the world come to an end next year, because there are so
many interesting problems, and I want to see how they will be worked
out.'--'How can you want to put it off'--and there was for the first time
a little note of fanaticism in her voice--'when there is so much poverty
and hard work? It is such a hard world, and so much suffering and sin.
And it could all be ended in a moment. How can you want it to go on?'
The train approached the station, and she rose to say good-by. 'You will
see the truth some day,' she said, and went away as cheerful as if the
world was actually destroyed. She was the happiest woman I have seen in
a long time."
"Yes," I said, "it is an age of both faith and credulity."
"And nothing marks it more," Morgan added, "than the popular expectation
among the scientific and the ignorant of something to come out of the
dimly understood relation of body and mind. It is like the expectation
of the possibilities of electricity."
"I was going on to say," I continued, "that wherever I walk in the city
of a Sunday afternoon, I am struck with the number of little meetings
going on, of the faithful and the unfaithful, Adventists, socialists,
spiritualists, culturists, Sons and Daughters of Edom; from all the open
windows of the tall buildings come notes of praying, of exhortation, the
melancholy wail of the inspiring Sankey tunes, total abstinence melodies,
over-the-river melodies, songs of entreaty, and songs of praise. There
is so much going on outside of the regular churches!"
"But the churches are well attended," suggested my wife.
"Yes, fairly, at least once a day, and if there is sensational preaching,
twice. But there is nothing that will so pack the biggest hall in the
city as the announcement of inspirational preaching by some young woman
who speaks at random on a text given her when she steps upon the
platform. There is something in her rhapsody, even when it is
incoherent, that appeals to a prevailing spirit."'
"How much of it is curiosity?" Morgan asked. "Isn't the hall just as
jammed when the clever attorney of Nothingism, Ham Saversoul, jokes about
the mysteries of this life and the next?"
"Very likely. People like the emotional and the amusing. All the same,
they are credulous, and entertain doubt and belief on the slightest
"Isn't it natural," spoke up Mr. Lyon, who had hitherto been silent,
"that you should drift into this condition without an established
"Perhaps it's natural," Morgan retorted, "that people dissatisfied with
an established religion should drift over here. Great Britain, you know,
is a famous recruiting-ground for our socialistic experiments."
"Ah, well," said my wife, "men will have something. If what is
established repels to the extent of getting itself disestablished, and
all churches should be broken up, society would somehow precipitate
itself again spiritually. I heard the other day that Boston, getting a
little weary of the Vedas, was beginning to take up the New Testament."
"Yes," said Morgan, "since Tolstoi mentioned it."
After a little the talk drifted into psychic research, and got lost in
stories of "appearances" and "long-distance" communications. It appeared
to me that intelligent people accepted this sort of story as true on
evidence on which they wouldn't risk five dollars if it were a question
of money. Even scientists swallow tales of prehistoric bones on
testimony they would reject if it involved the title to a piece of real
Mr. Lyon still lingered in the lap of a New England winter as if it had
been Capua. He was anxious to visit Washington and study the politics of
the country, and see the sort of society produced in the freedom of a
republic, where there was no court to give the tone and there were no
class lines to determine position. He was restless under this sense of
duty. The future legislator for the British Empire must understand the
Constitution of its great rival, and thus be able to appreciate the
social currents that have so much to do with political action.
In fact he had another reason for uneasiness. His mother had written
him, asking why he stayed so long in an unimportant city, he who had been
so active a traveler hitherto. Knowledge of the capitals was what he
needed. Agreeable people he could find at home, if his only object was
to pass the time. What could he reply? Could he say that he had become
very much interested in studying a schoolteacher--a very charming school-
teacher? He could see the vision raised in the minds of his mother and
of the earl and of his elder sister as they should read this precious
confession--a vision of a schoolma'am, of an American girl, and an
American girl without any money at that, moving in the little orbit of
Chisholm House. The thing was absurd. And yet why was it absurd? What
was English politics, what was Chisholm House, what was everybody in
England compared to this noble girl? Nay, what would the world be
without her? He grew hot in thinking of it, indignant at his relations
and the whole artificial framework of things.
The situation was almost humiliating. He began, to doubt the stability
of his own position. Hitherto he had met no obstacle: whatever he had
desired he had obtained. He was a sensible fellow, and knew the world
was not made for him; but it certainly had yielded to him in everything.
Why did he doubt now? That he did doubt showed him the intensity of his
interest in Margaret. For love is humble, and undervalues self in
contrast with that which it desires. At this touchstone rank, fortune,
all that go with them, seemed poor. What were all these to a woman's
soul? But there were women enough, women enough in England, women more
beautiful than Margaret, doubtless as amiable and intellectual. Yet now
there was for him only one woman in the world. And Margaret showed no
sign. Was he about to make a fool of himself? If she should reject him
he would seem a fool to himself. If she accepted him he would seem a
fool to the whole circle that made his world at home. The situation was
intolerable. He would end it by going.
But he did not go. If he went today he could not see her tomorrow. To a
lover anything can be borne if he knows that he shall see her tomorrow.
In short, he could not go so long as there was any doubt about her
disposition towards him.
And a man is still reduced to this in the latter part of the nineteenth
century, notwithstanding all our science, all our analysis of the
passion, all our wise jabber about the failure of marriage, all our
commonsense about the relation of the sexes. Love is still a personal
question, not to be reasoned about or in any way disposed of except in
the old way. Maidens dream about it; diplomats yield to it; stolid men
are upset by it; the aged become young, the young grave, under its
influence; the student loses his appetite--God bless him! I like to hear
the young fellows at the club rattle on bravely, indifferent to the whole
thing--skeptical, in fact, about it. And then to see them, one after
another, stricken down, and looking a little sheepish and not saying
much, and by-and-by radiant. You would think they owned the world.
Heaven, I think, shows us no finer sarcasm than one of these young
skeptics as a meek family man.
Margaret and Mr. Lyon were much together.
And their talk, as always happens when two persons find themselves much
together, became more and more personal. It is only in books that
dialogues are abstract and impersonal. The Englishman told her about his
family, about the set in which he moved--and he had the English frankness
in setting it out unreservedly--about the life he led at Oxford, about
his travels, and so on to what he meant to do in the world. Margaret in
return had little to tell, her own life had been so simple--not much
except the maidenly reserves, the discontents with herself, which
interested him more than anything else; and of the future she would not
speak at all. How can a woman, without being misunderstood? All this
talk had a certain danger in it, for sympathy is unavoidable between two
persons who look ever so little into each other's hearts and compare
tastes and desires.
"I cannot quite understand your social life over here," Mr. Lyon was
saying one day. "You seem to make distinctions, but I cannot see exactly
"Perhaps they make themselves. Your social orders seem able to resist
Darwin's theory, but in a republic natural selection has a better
"I was told by a Bohemian on the steamer coming over that money in
America takes the place of rank in England."
"That isn't quite true."
"And I was told in Boston by an acquaintance of very old family and
little fortune that 'blood' is considered here as much as anywhere."
"You see, Mr. Lyon, how difficult it is to get correct information about
us. I think we worship wealth a good deal, and we worship family a good
deal, but if any one presumes too much upon either, he is likely to come
to grief. I don't understand it very well myself."
"Then it is not money that determines social position in America?"
"Not altogether; but more now than formerly. I suppose the distinction
is this: family will take a person everywhere, money will take him almost
everywhere; but money is always at this disadvantage--it takes more and
more of it to gain position. And then you will find that it is a good
deal a matter of locality. For instance, in Virginia and Kentucky family
is still very powerful, stronger than any distinction in letters or
politics or success in business; and there is a certain diminishing
number of people in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, who cultivate a good
deal of exclusiveness on account of descent."
"But I am told that this sort of aristocracy is succumbing to the new
"Well, it is more and more difficult to maintain a position without
money. Mr. Morgan says that it is a disheartening thing to be an
aristocrat without luxury; he declares that he cannot tell whether the
Knickerbockers of New York or the plutocrats are more uneasy just now.
The one is hungry for social position, and is morose if he cannot buy it;
and when the other is seduced by luxury and yields, he finds that his
distinction is gone. For in his heart the newly rich only respects the
rich. A story went about of one of the Bonanza princes who had built his
palace in the city, and was sending out invitations to his first
entertainment. Somebody suggested doubts to him about the response.
'Oh,' he said, 'the beggars will be glad enough to come!' "I suppose,
Mr. Lyon," said Margaret, demurely, "that this sort of thing is unknown
"Oh, I couldn't say that money is not run after there to some extent."
"I saw a picture in Punch of an auction, intended as an awful satire on
American women. It struck me that it might have two interpretations."
"Yes, Punch is as friendly to America as it is to the English
"Well, I was only thinking that it is just an exchange of commodities.
People will always give what they have for what they want. The Western
man changes his pork in New York for pictures. I suppose that--what do
you call it?--the balance of trade is against us, and we have to send
over cash and beauty."
"I didn't know that Miss Debree was so much of a political economist."
"We got that out of books in school. Another thing we learned is that
England wants raw material; I thought I might as well say it, for it
wouldn't be polite for you."
"Oh, I'm capable of saying anything, if provoked. But we have got away
from the point. As far as I can see, all sorts of people intermarry, and
I don't see how you can discriminate socially--where the lines are."
Mr. Lyon saw the moment that he had made it that this was a suggestion
little likely to help him. And Margaret's reply showed that he had lost
"Oh, we do not try to discriminate--except as to foreigners. There is a
popular notion that Americans had better marry at home."
"Then the best way for a foreigner to break your exclusiveness is to be
naturalized." Mr. Lyon tried to adopt her tone, and added, "Would you
like to see me an American citizen?"
"I don't believe you could be, except for a little while; you are too
"But the two nations are practically the same; that is, individuals of
the nations are. Don't you think so?"
"Yes, if one of them gives up all the habits and prejudices of a lifetime
and of a whole social condition to the other."
"And which would have to yield?"
"Oh, the man, of course. It has always been so. My great-great-
grandfather was a Frenchman, but he became, I have always heard, the most
docile American republican."
"Do you think he would have been the one to give in if they had gone to
"Perhaps not. And then the marriage would have been unhappy. Did you
never take notice that a woman's happiness, and consequently the
happiness of marriage, depends upon a woman's having her own way in all
social matters? Before our war all the men who married down South took
the Southern view, and all the Southern women who married up North held
their own, and sensibly controlled the sympathies of their husbands."
"And how was it with the Northern women who married South, as you say?"
"Well, it must be confessed that a good many of them adapted themselves,
in appearance at least. Women can do that, and never let anyone see they
are not happy and not doing it from choice."
"And don't you think American women adapt themselves happily to English
"Doubtless some; I doubt if many do; but women do not confess mistakes of
that kind. Woman's happiness depends so much upon the continuation of
the surroundings and sympathies in which she is bred. There are always
exceptions. Do you know, Mr. Lyon, it seems to me that some people do
not belong in the country where they were born. We have men who ought to
have been born in England, and who only find themselves really they go
there. There are who are ambitious, and court a career different from
any that a republic can give them. They are not satisfied here. Whether
they are happy there I do not know; so few trees, when at all grown, will
"Then you think international marriages are a mistake?"
"Oh, I don't theorize on subjects I am ignorant of."
"You give me very cold comfort."
"I didn't know," said Margaret, with a laugh that was too genuine to be
consoling, "that you were traveling for comfort; I thought it was for
"And I am getting a great deal," said Mr. Lyon, rather ruefully.
"I'm trying to find out where. I ought to have been born."
"I'm not sure," Margaret said, half seriously, "but you would have been a
very good American."
This was not much of an admission, after all, but it was the most that
Margaret had ever made, and Mr. Lyon tried to get some encouragement out
of it. But he felt, as any man would feel, that this beating about the
bush, this talk of nationality and all that, was nonsense; that if a
woman loved a man she wouldn't care where he was born; that all the world
would be as nothing to him; that all conditions and obstacles society and
family could raise would melt away in the glow of a real passion. And he
wondered for a moment if American girls were not "calculating"--a word to
which he had learned over here to attach a new and comical meaning.
The afternoon after this conversation Miss Forsythe was sitting reading
in her favorite window-seat when Mr. Lyon was announced. Margaret was at
her school. There was nothing un usual in this afternoon call; Mr.
Lyon's visits had become frequent and informal; but Miss Forsythe had a
nervous presentiment that something important was to happen, that showed
itself in her greeting, and which was perhaps caught from a certain new
diffidence in his manner.
Perhaps the maiden lady preserves more than any other this sensitiveness,
inborn in women, to the approach of the critical moment in the affairs of
the heart. The day may some time be past when she--is sensitive for
herself--philosophers say otherwise--but she is easily put in a flutter
by the affair of another. Perhaps this is because the negative (as we
say in these days) which takes impressions retains all its delicacy from
the fact that none of them have ever been developed, and perhaps it is a
wise provision of nature that age in a heart unsatisfied should awaken
lively apprehensive curiosity and sympathy about the manifestation of the
tender passion in others. It certainly is a note of the kindliness and
charity of the maiden mind that its sympathies are so apt to be most
strongly excited in the success of the wooer. This interest may be quite
separable from the common feminine desire to make a match whenever there
is the least chance of it. Miss Forsythe was not a match-maker, but
Margaret herself would not have been more embarrassed than she was at the
beginning of this interview.
When Mr. Lyon was seated she made the book she had in her hand the excuse
for beginning a talk about the confidence young novelists seem to have in
their ability to upset the Christian religion by a fictitious
representation of life, but her visitor was too preoccupied to join in
it. He rose and stood leaning his arm upon the mantel-piece, and looking
into the fire, and said, abruptly, at last:
"I called to see you, Miss Forsythe, to--to consult you about your
"About her career?" asked Miss Forsythe, with a nervous consciousness of
"Yes, about her career; that is, in a way," turning towards her with a
"You must have seen my interest in her. You must have known why I stayed
on and on. But it was, it is, all so uncertain. I wanted to ask your
permission to speak my mind to her."
"Are you quite sure you know your own mind?" asked Miss Forsythe,
"Sure--sure; I have never had the feeling for any other woman I have for
"Margaret is a noble girl; she is very independent," suggested Miss
Forsythe, still avoiding the point.
"I know. I don't ask you her feeling." Mr. Lyon was standing quietly
looking down into the coals. "She is the only woman in the world to me.
I love her. Are you against me?" he asked, suddenly looking up, with a
flush in his face.
"Oh, no! no!" exclaimed Miss Forsythe, with another access of timidity.
"I shouldn't take the responsibility of being against you, or--or
otherwise. It is very manly in you to come to me, and I am sure I--we
all wish nothing but your own happiness. And so far as I am concerned--"
"Then I have your permission?" he asked, eagerly.
"My permission, Mr. Lyon? why, it is so new to me, I scarcely realized
that I had any permission," she said, with a little attempt at
pleasantry. "But as her aunt--and guardian, as one may say--personally I
should have the greatest satisfaction to know that Margaret's destiny was
in the hands of one we all esteem and know as we do you."
"Thank you, thank you," said Mr. Lyon, coming forward and seizing her
"But you must let me say, let me suggest, that there are a great many
things to be thought of. There is such a difference in education, in all
the habits of your lives, in all your relations. Margaret would never be
happy in a position where less was accorded to her than she had all her
life. Nor would her pride let her take such a position."
"But as my wife--"
"Yes, I know that is sufficient in your mind. Have you consulted your
mother, Mr. Lyon?"
"And have you written to any one at home about my niece?"
"And does it seem a little difficult to do so?" This was a probe that
went even deeper than the questioner knew. Mr. Lyon hesitated, seeing
again as in a vision the astonishment of his family. He was conscious of
an attempt at self-deception when he replied:
"Not difficult, not at all difficult, but I thought I would wait till I
had something definite to say."
"Margaret is, of course, perfectly free to act for herself. She has a
very ardent nature, but at the same time a great deal of what we call
common sense. Though her heart might be very much engaged, she would
hesitate to put herself in any society which thought itself superior to
her. You see I speak with great frankness."
It was a new position for Mr. Lyon to find his prospective rank seemingly
an obstacle to anything he desired. For a moment the whimsicality of it
interrupted the current of his feeling. He thought of the probable
comments of the men of his London club upon the drift his conversation
was taking with a New England spinster about his fitness to marry a
school-teacher. With a smile that was summoned to hide his annoyance, he
said, "I don't see how I can defend myself, Miss Forsythe."
"Oh," she replied, with an answering smile that recognized his view of
the humor of the situation, "I was not thinking of you, Mr. Lyon, but of
the family and the society that my niece might enter, to which rank is of
the first importance."
"I am simply John Lyon, Miss Forsythe. I may never be anything else.
But if it were otherwise, I did not suppose that Americans objected to
It was an unfortunate speech, felt to be so the instant it was uttered.
Miss Forsythe's pride was touched, and the remark was not softened to her
by the, air of half banter with which the sentence concluded. She said,
with a little stillness and formality: "I fear, Mr. Lyon, that your
sarcasm is too well merited. But there are Americans who make a
distinction between rank and blood. Perhaps it is very undemocratic,
but there is nowhere else more pride of family, of honorable descent,
than here. We think very much of what we call good blood. And you will
pardon me for saying that we are accustomed to speak of some persons and
families abroad which have the highest rank as being thoroughly bad
blood. If I am not mistaken, you also recognize the historic fact of
ignoble blood in the owners of noble titles. I only mean, Mr. Lyon,"
she added, with a softening of manner, "that all Americans do not think
that rank covers a multitude of sins."
"Yes, I think I get your American point of view. But to return to
myself, if you will allow me; if I am so fortunate as to win Miss
Debree's love, I have no fear that she would not win the hearts of all
my family. Do you think that my--my prospective position would be an
objection to her?"
"Not your position, no; if her heart were engaged. But expatriation,
involving a surrender of all the habits and traditions and associations
of a lifetime and of one's kindred, is a serious affair. One would need
to be very much in love"--and Miss Forsythe blushed a little as she said
it--"to make such a surrender."
"I know. I am sure I love her too much to wish to bring any change in
her life that would ever cause her unhappiness."
"I am glad to feel sure of that."
"And so I have your permission?"
"Most sincerely," said Miss Forsythe, rising and giving him her hand.
"I could wish nothing better for Margaret than union with a man like you.
But whatever I wish, you two have your destiny in your own hands." Her
tone was wholly frank and cordial, but there was a wistful look in her
face, as of one who knew how roughly life handles all youthful
When John Lyon walked away from her door his feelings were very much
mixed. At one instant his pride rebelled against the attitude he had
just assumed. But this was only a flash, which he put away as unbecoming
a man towards a true woman. The next thought was one of unselfish
consideration for Margaret herself. He would not subject her to any
chance of social mortifications. He would wait. He would return home
and test his love by renewing his lifelong associations, and by the
reception his family would give to his proposal. And the next moment he
saw Margaret as she had become to him, as she must always be to him.
Should he risk the loss of her by timidity? What were all these paltry
considerations to his love?
Was there ever a young man who could see any reasons against the
possession of the woman he loved? Was there ever any love worth the name
that could be controlled by calculations of expediency? I have no doubt
that John Lyon went through the usual process which is called weighing a
thing in the mind. It is generally an amusing process, and it is
consoling to the conscience. The mind has little to do with it except to
furnish the platform on which the scales are set up. A humorist says
that he must have a great deal of mind, it takes him so long to make it
up. There is the same apparent deliberation where love is concerned.
Everything "contra" is carefully placed in one scale of the balance, and
it is always satisfactory and convincing to see how quickly it kicks the
beam when love is placed in the other scale. The lightest love in the
world, under a law as invariable as gravitation, is heavier than any
other known consideration. It is perhaps doing injustice to Mr. Lyon not
to dwell upon this struggle in his mind, and to say that in all honesty
he may not have known that the result of it was predetermined. But
interesting and commendable as are these processes of the mind, I confess
that I should have respected him less if the result had not been
predetermined. And this does not in any way take from him the merit of a
restless night and a tasteless breakfast.
Philosophizers on this topic say that a man ought always to be able to
tell by a woman's demeanor towards him whether she is favorably inclined,
and that he need run no risk. Little signs, the eyes alone, draw people
together, and make formal language superfluous. This theory is
abundantly sustained by examples, and we might rest on it if all women
knew their own minds, and if, on the other hand, they could always tell
whether a man was serious before he made a definite avowal. There is
another notion, fortunately not yet extinct, that the manliest thing a
man can do is to take his life in his hand, pay the woman he loves the
highest tribute in his power by offering her his heart and name, and
giving her the definite word that may be the touchstone to reveal to
herself her own feeling. In our conventional life women must move behind
a mask in a world of uncertainties. What wonder that many of them learn
in their defensive position to play a game, and sometimes experiment upon
the honest natures of their admirers! But even this does not absolve the
chivalrous man from the duty of frankness and explicitness. Life seems
ideal in that far country where the handsome youth stops his carriage at
the gate of the vineyard, and says to the laughing girl carrying a basket
of grapes on her head, "My pretty maid, will you marry me?" And the
pretty maid, dropping a courtesy, says, "Thank you, sir; I am already
bespoken," or "Thank you; I will consider of it when I know you better."
Not for a moment, I suppose, is a woman ever ignorant of a man's
admiration of her, however uncertain she may be of his intentions, and it
was with an unusual flutter of the heart that Margaret received Mr. Lyon
that afternoon. If she had doubts, they were dissipated by a certain
constraint in his manner, and the importance he seemed to be attaching to
his departure, and she was warned to go within her defenses. Even the
most complaisant women like at least the appearance of a siege.
"I'm off tomorrow," he said, "for Washington. You know you recommended
it as necessary to my American education."
"Yes. We send Representatives and strangers there to be educated. I
have never been there myself."
"And do you not wish to go?"
"Very much. All Americans want to go to Washington. It is the great
social opportunity; everybody there is in society. You will be able to
see there, Mr. Lyon, how a republican democracy manages social life.
"Do you mean to say there are no distinctions?"
"Oh, no; there are plenty of official distinctions, and a code that is
very curious and complicated, I believe. But still society is open."
"It must be--pardon me--a good deal like a mob."
"Well, our mobs of that sort are said to be very well behaved.
Mr. Morgan says that Washington is the only capital in the world where
the principle of natural selection applies to society; that it is there
shown for the first time that society is able to take care of itself in
the free play of democratic opportunities."
"It must be very interesting to see that."
"I hope you will find it so. The resident diplomats, I have heard, say
that they find society there more agreeable than at any other capital--at
least those who have the qualities to make themselves agreeable
independent of their rank."
"Is there nothing like a court? I cannot see who sets the mode."
"Officially there may be something like a court, but it can be only
temporary, for the personnel of it is dissolved every four years.
And society, always forming and reforming, as the voters of the republic
dictate, is almost independent of the Government, and has nothing of the
social caste of Berlin or London."
"You make quite an ideal picture."
"Oh, I dare say it is not at all ideal; only it is rather fluid, and
interesting, to see how society, without caste and subject to such
constant change, can still be what is called 'society.' And I am told
that while it is all open in a certain way, it nevertheless selects
itself into agreeable groups, much as society does elsewhere. Yes, you
ought to see what a democracy can do in this way."
"But I am told that money makes your aristocracy here."
"Very likely rich people think they are an aristocracy. You see,
Mr. Lyon, I don't know much about the great world. Mrs. Fletcher, whose
late husband was once a Representative in Washington, says that life is
not nearly so simple there as it used to be, and that rich men in the
Government, vying with rich men who have built fine houses and who live
there permanently without any Government position, have introduced an
element of expense and display that interferes very much with the natural
selection of which Mr. Morgan speaks. But you will see. We are all
right sorry to have you leave us," Margaret added, turning towards him
with frank, unclouded eyes.
"It is very good in you to say so. I have spent here the most delightful
days of my life."
"Oh, that is charming flattery. You will make us all very conceited."
"Don't mock me, Miss Debree. I hoped I had awakened something more
valuable to me than conceit," Lyon said, with a smile.
"You have, I assure you: gratitude. You have opened quite another world
to us. Reading about foreign life does not give one at all the same
impression of it that seeing one who is a part of it does."
"And don't you want to see that life for yourself? I hope some time--"
"Of course," Margaret said, interrupting; "all Americans expect to go to
Europe. I have a friend who says she should be mortified if she reached
heaven and there had to confess that she never had seen Europe. It is
one of the things that is expected of a person. Though you know now that
the embarrassing question that everybody has to answer is, 'Have you been
to Alaska?' Have you been to Alaska, Mr. Lyon?"
This icy suggestion seemed very inopportune to Lyon. He rose and walked
a step or two, and stood by the fire facing her. He confessed, looking
down, that he had not been in Alaska, and he had no desire to go there.
"In fact, Miss Debree," he said, with effort at speaking lightly,
"I fear I am not in a geographical mood today. I came to say good-by,
"Shall I call my aunt?" said Margaret, rising also.
" No, I beg; I had something to say that concerns us; that is, that
concerns myself. I couldn't go away without knowing from you--that is,
without telling you--"
The color rose in Margaret's cheek, and she made a movement of
embarrassment, and said, with haste: "Some other time; I beg you will not
say--I trust that I have done nothing that--"
"Nothing, nothing," he went on quickly; "nothing except to be yourself;
to be the one woman"--he would not heed her hand raised in a gesture of
protest; he stood nearer her now, his face flushed and his eyes eager
with determination--"the one woman I care for. Margaret, Miss Debree, I
Her hand that rested on the table trembled, and the hot blood rushed to
her face, flooding her in an agony of shame, pleasure, embarrassment, and
anger that her face should contradict the want of tenderness in her eyes.
In an instant self-possession came back to her mind, but not strength to
her body, and she sank into the chair, and looking up, with only pity in
her eyes, said, "I am sorry."
Lyon stopped; his heart seemed to stand still; the blood left his face;
for an instant the sunshine left the world. It was a terrible blow, the
worst a man can receive--a bludgeon on the head is nothing to it. He
half turned, he looked again for an instant at the form that was more to
him than all the world besides, unable to face the dreadful loss, and
recovering speech, falteringly said, "Is that all?"
"That is all, Mr. Lyon," Margaret answered, not looking up, and in a
voice that was perfectly steady.
He turned to go mechanically, and passed to the door in a sort of daze,
forgetful of all conventionality; but habit is strong, and he turned
almost immediately back from the passage. Margaret was still sitting,
with no recognition of his departure.
"I beg you will make my excuses, and say good-by to Miss Forsythe. I had
mentioned it to her. I thought perhaps she had told you, perhaps--I
should like to know if it is anything about difference in--in
nationality, about family, or--"
"No, no," said Margaret; "this could never be anything but a personal
question with me. I--"
"But you said, 'some other time:' Might I ever expect--"
"No, no; there is no other time; do not go on. It can only be painful."
And then, with a forced cheerfulness: "You will no doubt thank me some
day. Your life must be so different from mine. And you must not doubt
my esteem, my appreciation," (her sense of justice forced this from her),
"my good wishes. Good-by." She gave him her hand. He held it for a
second, and then was gone.
She heard his footstep, rapid and receding. So he had really gone! She
was not sorry--no. If she could have loved him! She sank back in her
No, she could not love him. The man to command her heart must be of
another type. But the greatest experience in a woman's life had come to
her here, just now, in this commonplace room. A man had said he loved
her. A thousand times as a girl she had dreamed of that, hardly
confessing it to herself, and thought of such a scene, and feared it.
And a man had said that he loved her. Her eyes grew tenderer and her
face burned at the thought. Was it with pleasure? Yes, and with womanly
pain. What an awful thing it was! Why couldn't he have seen? A man had
said he loved her. Perhaps it was not in her to love any one. Perhaps
she should live on and on like her aunt Forsythe. Well, it was over; and
Margaret roused herself as her aunt entered the room.
"Has Mr. Lyon been here?"
"Yes; he has just gone. He was so sorry not to see you and say good-by.
He left ever so many messages for you."
"And" (Margaret was moving as if to go) "did he say nothing--nothing to
"Oh yes, he said a great deal," answered this accomplished hypocrite,
looking frankly in her aunt's eyes. "He said how delightful his visit
had been, and how sorry he was to go."
"And nothing else, Margaret?"
"Oh yes; he said he was going to Washington." And the girl was gone from
Margaret hastened to her chamber. Was the air oppressive? She opened
the window and sat down by it. A soft south wind was blowing, eating
away the remaining patches of snow; the sky was full of fleecy clouds.
Where do these days come from in January? Why should nature be in a
melting mood? Margaret instinctively would have preferred a wild storm,
violence, anything but this elemental languor. Her emotion was
incredible to herself.
It was only an incident. It had all happened in a moment, and it was
over. But it was the first of the kind in a woman's life. The
thrilling, mysterious word had been dropped into a woman's heart.
Hereafter she would be changed. She never again would be as she was
before. Would her heart be hardened or softened by the experience?
She did not love him; that was clear. She had done right; that was
clear. But he had said he loved her. Unwittingly she was following him
in her thought. She had rejected plain John Lyon, amiable, intelligent,
unselfish, kindly, deferential. She had rejected also the Earl of
Chisholm, a conspicuous position, an honorable family, luxury, a great
opportunity in life. It came to the girl in a flash. She moved
nervously in her chair. She put down the thought as unworthy of her.
But she had entertained it for a moment. In that second, ambition had
entered the girl's soul. She had a glimpse of her own nature that seemed
new to her. Was this, then, the meaning of her restlessness, of her
charitable activities, of her unconfessed dreams of some career?
Ambition had entered her soul in a definite form. She expelled it.
It would come again in some form or other. She was indignant at herself
as she thought of it. How odd it was! Her privacy had been invaded.
The even tenor of her life had been broken. Henceforth would she be less
or more sensitive to the suggestion of love, to the allurements of
ambition? Margaret tried, in accordance with her nature, to be sincere
After all, what nonsense it was! Nothing really had happened. A stranger
of a few weeks before had declared himself. She did not love him; he was
no more to her than any other man. It was a common occurrence. Her
judgment accorded with her feeling in what she had done. How was she to
know that she had made a mistake, if mistake it was? How was she to know
that this hour was a crisis in her life? Surely the little tumult would
pass; surely the little whisper of worldliness could not disturb her
ideals. But all the power of exclusion in her mind could not exclude the
returning thought of what might have been if she had loved him. Alas!
in that moment was born in her heart something that would make the idea
of love less simple than it had been in her mind. She was heart-free,
but her nature was too deep not to be profoundly affected by this
Looking back upon this afternoon in the light of after-years, she
probably could not feel--no one could say--that she had done wrong.
How was she to tell? Why is it that to do the right thing is often to
make the mistake of a life? Nothing could have been nobler than for
Margaret indignantly to put aside a temptation that her heart told her
was unworthy. And yet if she had yielded to it?