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The Choir Invisible by James Lane Allen

Part 4 out of 4

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had been tied across it, and this barrier had to cut through. Then on they
came again: At the head of procession, astride an old horse that in his
better days had belonged to a mounted rifleman, rode the parson. He was
several yards ahead of the others and quite forgetful of them. The end of
his flute stuck neglectedly out of his waistcoat pocket; his bridle reins
lay slack on the neck of the drowsy beast; his hands were piled on the
pommel of the saddle as over his familiar pulpit; his dreamy moss-agate eyes
were on the tree-tops far ahead. In truth he was preparing a sermon on the
affection of one man for another and ransacking Scripture for illustrations;
and he meant to preach this the following Sunday when there would be some
one sadly missed among his hearers. Nevertheless he enjoyed great peace of
spirit this day: it was not John who rode behind him as the bridegroom:
otherwise he would as soon have returned to the town at the head of the
forces of Armageddon.

Behind the parson came William Penn in the glory of a new bridle and saddle
and a blanket of crimson cloth; his coat smooth as satin, his mane a
tumbling cataract of white silk; bunches of wild roses at his ears; his
blue-black eyes never so soft, and seeming to lift his feet cautiously like
an elephant bearing an Indian princess.

They were riding side by side, the young husband and wife. He keeping one
hand on the pommel of her saddle, thus holding them together; while with the
other he used his hat to fan his face, now hers, though his was the one that
needed it, she being cool and quietly radiant with the thoughts of her
triumph that day--the triumph of her wedding, of her own beauty. Furthermore
show was looking ahead to the house-warming that night when she would be
able to triumph again and also count her presents.

Then came Major and Mrs. Falconer. Her face was hidden by a veil and as they
passed, it was held turned toward him: he was talking, uninterrupted.

Then followed Horatio Turpin and Kitty Poythress; and then Erskine and his
betrothed, he with fresh feathers of the hawk and the scarlet tanager
gleaming in his cap above his swart, stern aquiline face. Then Peter, beside
the widow Babcock; he openly aflame and solicitous; she coy and discreetly
inviting, as is the wisdom of some. Then others and others and others--a
long gay pageant, filling the woods with merry voices and laughter.

They passed and the sounds died away--passed on to the town awaiting the, to
the house-warming, and please God, to long life and some real affection and

Once he had expected to ride beside her at the head of this procession.
There had gone by him the vision of his own life as it was to have been.

Long after the last sound had ceased in the distance he was sitting at the
root of the red oak. The sun set, the moon rose, he was there still. A loud,
impatient neigh from his horse aroused him. He sprang lightly up, meaning to
ride all night and not to draw rein until he had crossed the Kentucky River
and reached Traveller's Rest, the home of Governor Shelby, where he had been
invited to break his travel.

All that nigh he rode and at sunrise was far away. Pausing on a height and
turning his horse's head, he sat a long time motion-less as a statue. Then
he struck his feet into its flank and all that day rode back again.

The sun was striking the tree-tops as he neared the clearing. He could see
her across the garden. She sat quite still, her face turned toward the
horizon. Against her breast, opened but forgotten, lay a book. He could
recognize it. By that story she had judged him and wished to guide him. The
smile smote his eyes like the hilt of a knight's sword used as a Cross to
drive away the Evil One. For he knew the evil purpose with which he had

And so he sat watching her until she rose and walked slowly to the house.


IT was early autumn when the first letters from him were received over the
mountains. All these had relation to Mount Vernon and his business there.

To the Transylvania Library Committee he wrote that the President had mad a
liberal subscription for the buying of books and that the Vice-President and
other public men would be likely to contribute.

His sonorous, pompous letter to a member of the Democratic Society was much
longer and in part as follows:

"When I made know to the President who I was and where I came from, he
regarded me with a look at once so stern and so benign, that I felt like one
of my school-boys overtaken in some small rascality and was almost of a mind
to march straight to a corner of the room and stand with my face to the
wall. If he had seized me by the coat collar and trounced me well, I should
somehow have felt that he had the right. From the conversations that
followed I am led to believe that he knows the name of every prominent
member of the Democratic Society of Lexington, and that he understands
Kentucky affairs with regard to national and international complications as
no other living man. While questioning me on the subject, he had the manner
of one who, from conscientiousness, would further verify facts which he had
already tested. But what impressed me even more than his knowledge was his
justice; in illustration of which I shall never forget his saying, that the
part which Kentucky had taken, or had wished to take, in the Spanish and
French conspiracies had caused him greater solicitude than any other single
event since the foundation of the National Government; but that nowhere else
in America had the struggle for immediate self-government been so necessary
and so difficult, and that nowhere else were the mistakes of patriotic and
able men more natural or more to be judged with mildness.

"I think I can quote his very words when he spoke of the foolish jealousies
and heartburnings, due to misrepresentations, that have influenced Kentucky
against the East as a section and against the Government as favouring it:
'The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and
comfort; and what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of
necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own
production to the weight, influence, and future maritime strength of the
Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of
interest, as One Nation.'

"Memorable to me likewise was the language in which he proceeded to show
that this was true:

"'The inhabitants of our Western country have lately had a useful lesson on
this head. They have seen in the negotiations by the Executive, and in the
unanimous ratification by the Senate of the treaty with Spain, and in the
universal satisfaction of that event throughout the United States, a
decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a
policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to
their interests in regard to the Mississippi. . . . Will they not henceforth
be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from
their Brethren and connect them with Aliens?'

"I am frank to declare that, having enjoyed the high privilege of these
interviews with the President and been brought to judge rightly what through
ignorance I had judged amiss, I feel myself in honour bound to renounce my
past political convictions and to resign my membership in the Lexington
Democratic Society. Nor shall I join the Democratic Society of Philadelphia,
as had been my ardent purpose; and it will not be possible for me on
reaching that city to act as the emissary of the Kentucky Clubs. But I shall
lay before the Society the despatches of which I am the bearer. And will you
lay before yours the papers herewith enclosed, containing my formal
resignation with the grounds thereof carefully stated?"

To Mrs. Falconer he wrote bouyantly:

"I have crossed the Kentucky Alps, seen the American Caesar, carried away
some of his gold. I came, I saw, I overcame. How do you think I met the
President? I was riding toward Mount Vernon one quiet sunny afternoon and
unexpectedly came upon an old gentleman who was putting up some bars that
opened into a wheat-filed by the roadside. He had on long boots, corduroy
smalls, a speckled red jacket, blue coat with yellow buttons, and a
broad-brimmed hat. He held a hickory switch in his hand. An umbrella and a
long staff were attached to his saddle-bow. His limbs were so long, large,
and sinewy; his countenance so lofty, masculine, and contemplative; and
although he was of a presence so statue-like and venerable that my heart
with a great throb cried out, It is Washington!"

"My dear friend," he wrote at the close, "it is of no little worth to me
that I should have come to Mount Vernon at this turning-point of my life. I
find myself uplifted to a plane of thought and feeling higher than has ever
been trod by me. When I began to draw near this place, I seemed to be
mounting higher, like a man ascending a mountain; and ever since my arrival
there has been this same sense of rising into a still loftier atmosphere, of
surveying a vaster horizon, of beholding the juster relations of surrounding

"All this feeling has its origin in my contemplation of the character of the
President. You know that when a heavy sleet falls upon the Kentucky forest,
the great trees crack and split, or groan and stagger, with branches snapped
off or trailing. In adversity it is often so with men. But he is a vast
mountain-peak, always calm, always lofty, always resting upon a base that
nothing can shake; never higher, never lower, never changing; from every
quarter of the earth storms have rushed in and beaten upon him; but they
have passed; he is as he was. The heavens have emptied their sleets and
snows on his head,--these have made him look only purer, only the more

"From the spectacle of this great man thus bearing the great burdens of his
great life, a new standard of what is possible to human nature has been
raised within me. I have seen with my own eyes a man whom the adverse forces
of the world have not been able to wreck--a lover of perfection, who has so
wrought it out in his character that to know him is to be awed into
reverence of his virtues. I shall go away from him with nobler hopes of what
a man may do and be.

"It is to you soley that I owe the honour of having enjoyed the personal
consideration of the President. His reception of me had been in the highest
degree ceremonious and distant; but upon my mentioning the names of father
and brother, his manner grew warm: I had touched that trait of affectionate
faithfulness with which he has always held on to every tie of kin and
friendship. That your father should have fought against him and your brother
under him made no difference in his memory. He had many questions to ask
regarding you--your happiness, your family--to some of which I could return
the answers that gave him pleasure or left him thoughtful. Upon my setting
out from Mount Vernon, his last words made me the bearer of his message to
you, the child of an old comrade and the sister or a gallant young soldier."

Beyond this there was nothing personal in his letter and nothing as to his

When she next heard, he was in Philadelphia, giving his attention to the
choosing and shipment of the books. One piece of news, imparted in perfect
calmness by him, occasioned her acute disappointment. His expectation of
coming into possession of some ten thousand dollars had not quite been
realized. An appeal had been taken and the case was yet pending. He was
pleased neither with the good faith nor with the good sense of the counsel
engaged; and he would remain on the spot himself during the trial. He added
that he was lodging with a pleasant family. Then followed the long winter
during which all communication between the frontier and the seaboard was
interrupted. When spring returned at last and the earliest travel was
resumed, other letters came, announcing that the case had gone against him,
and that he had nothing.

She sold at once all the new linen that had been woven, got together all the
money she otherwise could and despatched it with Major Falconer's consent,
begging him to make use of it for the sake of their friendship--not to be
foolish and proud: there were lawyers' fees it could help to pay, or other
plain practical needs it might cover. But when the post-rider returned, he
brought it all back with a letter of gratitude: only, he couldn't accept it.
And the messenger had been warned not to let it be known that he was in
prison for debt on account of these same suit expenses; for having from the
first formed a low opinion of his counsel's honour and ability and having
later expressed this opinion at the door of the court-room with a good deal
of fire and a good deal of contempt, and being furthermore unable and
unwilling to pay the exorbitant fee, he had been promptly clapped into jail
by the incensed attorney, as well for his poverty and for his temper and his

In jail he spent that spring and summer and autumn. Then an important turn
was given to his history. It seems that among the commissions with which he
was charged on leaving Lexington was one from Edward West, the watchmaker
and inventor, who some time before, and long before Fulton, had made trial
of steam navigation with a small boat on the Town Fork of the Elkhorn, and
who desired to have his invention brought before the American Philosophical
Society of Philadelphia. He had therefore placed a full description of his
steamboat in John's hands with the request that he would enforce this with
the testimony of an eye-witness as to its having moved through water. At
this time, through Franklin's influence, the Society was keenly interested
in the work of inventors, having received also some years previous from
Hyacinthe de Magellan two hundred guineas to be used for rewarding the
authors of improvements and discoveries. Accordingly it took up the subject
of West's invention but desired to hear more regarding the success of the
experiment; and so requested John to appear before it at one of its
meetings. But upon looking for this obscure John and finding him in jail,
the committee were under the necessity of appearing before him. Whereupon,
grown interested in him and made acquainted with the ground of his
unreasonable imprisonment, some of the members effected his release--by
recourse to the attorney with certain well-direct threats that he could
easily be put into jail for his own debts. Not only this; but soon
afterwards the young Westerner was taken into the law-office of one of these
gentlemen, binding himself for a term of years.

It was not until spring that he wrote he humorously of his days in jail; but
when it came to telling her of the other matter, the words refused to form
themselves before his will or his hand to shape them on the paper. He would
do this in the next letter, he said to himself mournfully.

But early that winter Major Falconer had died, and his next letter was but a
short hurried reply to one from her, bringing him this intelligence. And
before he wrote again, certain grave events had happened that led him still
further to defer acquainting her with his new situation, new duties, new

That same spring, then, during which he was entering upon his career in
Philadelphia, she too began really to live. And beginning to live, she began
to build--inwardly and outwardly; for what is all life but ceaseless inner
and outer building?

As the first act, she sold one of the major's military grants, reserving the
ample, noble, parklike one on which she had passed existence up to this; and
near the cabin she laid the foundations of her house. Not the great
ancestral manor-house on the James and yet a seaboard aristocratic Virginia
country-place: two story brick with two-story front veranda of Corinthian
columns; wide hall, wide stairway; oak wood interior, hand-carved, massive;
sliding doors between the large library and large dining-room; great
bedrooms, great fireplaces, great brass fenders and fire-dogs, brass locks
and keys: full of elegance, spaciousness, comfort, rest.

In every letter she sent him that spring and summer and early autumn, always
she had something to tell him about this house, about the room in it built
for him, about the negros she had bought, the land she was clearing, the
changes and improvements everywhere: as to many things she wanted his
advice. That year also she sent back to Virginia for flower-seed and shrub
and plants--the same old familiar ones that had grown on her father's lawn,
in the garden, about the walls, along the water--some of which had been
bought over from England: the flags, the lilies, honeysuckles, calacanthus,
snowdrops, roses--all of them. Speaking of this, she wrote him that of
course that most of these would have to be set out that autumn, and little
could be done for grounds till the following season; but the house!--it was
to be finished before winter set in. In the last of these letters, she ended
by saying: "I think I know now the very day you will be coming back. I can
hear your horse's feet rustling in the leaves of--I said--October; but I
will say November this time."

His replies were unsatisfying. There had been the short, hurried, earnest
letter, speaking of Major Falconer's death: that was all right. But since
then a vague blinding mist had seemed to lie between her eyes and every
page. Something was kept hidden--some new trouble. "I shall understand
everything when he comes!" she would say to herself each time. "I can wait."
Her buoyancy was irrepressible.

Late that autumn the house was finished--one of those early country-places
yet to be seen here and there on the landscape of Kentucky, marking the
building era of the aristocratic Virginians and renewing in the wilderness
the architecture of the James.

She had taken such delight in furnishing her room: in the great bedstead
with its mighty posts, its high tester, its dainty, hiding curtains; such
delight in choosing, in bleaching, in weaving the linen for it! And the
pillowcases--how expectant they were on the two pillows now set side by side
at the head of the bed, with the delicate embroidery in the centre of each!
At first she had thought of working her initials within an oval-shaped vine;
but one day, her needle suddenly arrested in the air, she had simply worked
a rose.

Late one afternoon, when the blue of Indian summer lay on the walls of the
forest like a still sweet veil, she came home from a walk in the woods. Her
feet had been rustling among the brown leaves and each time she had laughed.
At her round white throat she had pinned a scarlet leaf, from an old habit
of her girlhood. But was not Kentucky turning into Virginia? Was not
womanhood becoming girlhood again? She was still so young--only
thirty-eight. She had the right to be bringing in from the woods a bunch of
the purple violets of November.

She sat down in her shadowy room before the deep fireplace; where there was
such comfort now, such loneliness. In early years at such hours she had like
to play. She resolved to get her a spinet. Yes; and she would have
myrtle-berry candles instead of tallow, and a slender-legged mahogany table
beside which to read again in the Spectator and "Tom Jones." As nearly as
she could she would bring back everything that she had been used to in her
childhood--was not all life still before her? If he were coming, it must be
soon, and she would know what had been keeping him--what it was that had
happened. She had walked to meet him so many times already. And the
heartless little gusts of wind, starting up among the leaves in the woods,
how often they had fooled her ear and left her white and trembling!

The negro boy who had been sent to town on other business and to fetch the
mail, soon afterwards knocked and entered. There was a letter from him--a
short one and a paper. She read the letter and could not believe her own
eyes, could not believe her own mind. Then she opened the paper and read the
announcement of it printed there": he was married.

That night in her bedroom--with the great clock measuring out life in the
corner--the red logs turning slowly to ashes--the crickets under the bricks
of the hearth singing of summer gone--that night, sitting by the
candle-stand, where his letter lay opened, in a nightgown white as white
samite, she loosened the folds of her heavy lustrous hair--wave upon
wave--until the edges that rippled over her forehead rippled down over her
knees. With the loosening of her hair somehow had come the loosening of her
tears. And with the loosening of her tears came the loosening of her hold
upon what she, until this night, had never acknowledged to herself--her love
for him, the belief that he had loved her.

The next morning the parson, standing a white, cold shepherd before his
chilly wilderness flock, preached a sermon from the text: "I shall go softly
all my years." While the heads of the rest were bowed during the last
moments of prayer, she rose and slipped out.

"Yes," she said to herself, gathering her veil closely about her face as she
alighted at the door of her house and the withered leaves of November were
whirled fiercely about her feet, "I shall go softly all my years."


AFTER this the years were swept along. Fast came the changes in Kentucky.
The prophecy which John Gray had made to his school-children passed to its
realization and reality went far beyond it. In waves of migration, hundreds
upon hundreds of thousands of settlers of the Anglo-Saxon race hurried into
the wilderness and there jostled and shouldered each other in the race
passion of soil-owning and home-building; or always farther westward they
rushed, pushing the Indian back. Lexington became the chief manufacturing
town of the new civilization, thronged by merchants and fur-clad traders;
gathered into it were men and women making a society that would have been
brilliant in the capitals of the East; at its bar were heard illustrious
voices, the echoes of which are not yet dead, are past all dying; the genius
of young Jouett found for itself the secret of painting canvases so luminous
and true that never since in the history of the State have they been
equalled; the Transylvania University arose with lecturers famous enough to
be known in Europe: students of law and medicine travelled to it from all
parts of the land.

John Gray's school-children grew to be men and women. For the men there were
no longer battles to fight in Kentucky, but there were the wars of the
Nation; and far away on the widening boundaries of the Republic they
conquered or failed and fell; as volunteers with Perry in the victory on
Lake Erie; in the awful massacre at the River Raisin; under Harrison at the
Thames; in the mud and darkness of the Mississippi at New Orleans, repelling
Pakenham's charge with Wellington's veteran, victory-flushed campaigners.

The school-master's friend, the parson, he too had known his more peaceful
warfare, having married and become a manifold father. Of a truth it was
feared at one period that the parson was running altogether to prayers and
daughters. For it was remarked that with each birth, his petitions seemed
longer and his voice to rise from behind the chancel with a fresh wail as of
one who felt a growing grievance both against himself and the almighty.
Howbeit, innocently enough after the appearance of the fifth female infant,
one morning he preached the words: "No man knoweth what manner of creature
he is"; and was unaware that a sudden smile rippled over the faces of his
hearers. But it was not until later on when mother and six were packed into
one short pew at morning service, that they became known in a body as the
parson's Collect for all Sundays.

Sometimes the little ones were divided and part of them sat in another pew
where there was a single occupant--a woman--childless.

"Yes"," she had said, "I shall go softly all my years."

The plants she had brought that summer from Virginia had long since become
old bushes. The Virginia Creeper had climbed to the tops of the trees. The
garden, though in the same spot, was another place now, with vine-heavy
arbours and sodden walks running between borders of flowers and
vegetables--daffodils and thyme--in the quaint Virginia fashion. There was a
lawn covered as the ancestral one had been with the feathery grass of
England. There was a park where the deer remained at home in their

Crowning this landscape of comfort and good taste, stood the house. Often of
nights when its roof lay deep under snow and the eaves were bearded with
hoary icicles, there were candles twinkling at every window and the sounds
of music and dancing in the parlours. Once a year there was a great venison
supper in the dining-room, draped with holly and mistletoe. On Christmas eve
man a child's sock or stocking was hung--no one knew when or by whom--around
the shadowy chimney-seat of her room; and every Christmas morning the little
negros from the cabins knew to whom each of these belonged. In spring,
parties of young girls and youths came out from town for fishing parties and
picknicked in the lawn amid the dandelions and under the song of the
blackbird; during the summer, for days at a time, other gay company filled
the house; of autumns there were nutting parties in the russet woods. Other
guests also, not young, not gay. Aaron Burr was entertained there; there met
for counsel the foremost Western leaders in his magnificent conspiracy. More
than one great man of his day, middle-aged, unmarried, began his visits,
returned oftener for awhile--always alone--and one day drove away

Through seasons and changes she had gone softly: never retreating from life
but drawing about her as closely as she could its ties, its sympathies, it
duties: in all things a character of the finest equipois, the truest

But these are women of the world--some of us men may have discerned one of
them in the sweep of our experiences--to whom the joy and the sorrow come
alike with quietness. For them there is neither the cry of sudden delight
nor the cry of sudden anguish. Gazing deep into their eyes, we are reminded
of the light of dim churches; hearing their voices, we dream of some
minstrel whose murmurs reach us imperfectly through his fortress wall;
beholding the sweetness of their faces, we are touched as by the appeal of
the mute flowers; merely meeting them in the street, we recall the
long-vanished image of the Divine Goodess. They are the women who have
missed happiness and who know it, but having failed of affection, give
themselves to duty. And so life never rises high and close about them as
about one who stands waist-deep in a wheat-field, gathering at will either
its poppies or its sheaves; it flows forever away as from one who pauses
waist-deep in a stream and hearkens rather to the rush of all things toward
the eternal deeps. It was into the company of theses quieter pilgrims that
she had passed: she had missed happiness twice.

Her beauty had never failed. Nature had fought hard in her for all things;
and to the last youth of her womanhood it burned like an autumn rose which
some morning we may have found on the lawn under a dew that is turning to
ice. But when youth was gone, in the following years her face began to
reflect the freshness of Easter lilies. For prayer will in time make the
human countenance its own divinest alter; years upon years of true thoughts,
like ceaseless music shut up within, will vibrate along the nerves of
expression until the lines of the living instrument are drawn into
correspondence, and the harmony of visible form matches the unheard
harmonies of the mind. It was about this time also that there fell upon her
hair the earliest rays of the light which is the dawn of Eternal Morning.

She had never ceased to watch his career as part of her very life. Time was
powerless to remove him farther from her than destiny had removed him long
before: it was always yesterday; the whole past with him seemed caught upon
the clearest mirror just at her back. Once or twice a year she received a
letter, books, papers, something; she had been kept informed of the birth of
his children. From other sources--his letters to the parson, traders between
Philadelphia and the West--she knew other things: he had risen in the world,
was a judge, often leading counsel in great cases, was almost a great man.
She planted her pride, her gratitude, her happiness, on this new soil: they
were the few seed that a woman in the final years will sow in a window-box
and cover the window-pane and watch and water and wake and think of in the
night--she who was used once to range the fields.

But never from the first to last had she received a letter from him that was
transparent; the mystery stayed unlifted; she had to accept the constancy of
his friendship without its confidence. Question or chiding of course there
never was from her; inborn refinement alone would have kept her from
curiosity or prying; but she could not put away the conviction that the
concealment which he steadily adhered to was either delicately connected
with his marriage or registered but too plainly some downward change in
himself. Which was it, or was it both? Had he too missed happiness? Missed
it as she had--by a union with a perfectly commonplace, plodding,
unimaginative, unsympathetic, unrefined nature? And was it a mercy to be
able to remember him, not to know him?

These thoughts filled her so often, so often! For into the busiest life--the
life that toils to shut out thought--the inevitable leisure will come; and
with the leisure will return the dreaded emptiness, the loneliness, the
never stifled need of sympathy, affection, companionship--for that world of
two outside of which every other human being is a stranger. And it was he
who entered into all these hours of hers as by a right that she had neither
the heart nor the strength to question.

For behind everything else there was one thing more--deeper than anything
else, dearer, more sacred; the feeling she would never surrender that for a
while at least he had cared more for her than he had ever realized.

One mild afternoon of autumn she was walking with quiet dignity around her
garden. She had just come from town where she had given to Jouett the last
sitting of her portrait, and she was richly dressed in the satin gown and
cap of lace which those who see the picture nowadays will remember. The
finishing of it had saddened her a little; she meant to leave it to him; and
she wondered whether, when he looked into the eyes of this portrait, he
would at last understand": she had tried to tell him the truth; it was the
truth that Jouett painted.

Thus she was thinking of the past as usual; and once she paused in the very
spot where one sweet afternoon of May long ago he had leaned over the fence,
holding in his hand his big black had decorated with a Jacobin cockade, and
had asked her consent to marry Amy. Was not yonder the very maple, in the
shade of which he and she sat some weeks later while she had talked with him
about the ideals of life? She laughed, but she touched her handkerchief to
her eyes as she turned to pass on. Then she stopped abruptly.

Coming down the garden walk toward her with a light rapid step, his head in
the air, a smile on his fresh noble face, an earnest look in his gray eyes,
was a tall young fellow of some eighteen years. A few feet off he lifted his
hat with a free, gallant air, uncovering a head of dark-red hair, closely

"I beg your pardon, madam," he said, in a voice that fell on her ears like
music long remembered. "Is this Mrs. Falconer?"

"Yes," she replied, beginning to tremble, "I am Mrs. Falconer."

"Then I should like to introduce myself to you, dearest madam. I am John
Gray, the son of your old friend, and my father sends me to you to stay with
you if you will let me. And he desires me to deliver this letter."

"John Gray!" she cried, running forward and searching his face. "You John
Gray! You! Take off your hat!" For a moment she looked at his forehead and
his hair; her eyes became blinded with tears. She threw her arms around his
neck with a sob and covered his face with kisses.

"Madam," said the young fellow, stooping to pick up his hat, and laughing
outright at his own blushes and confusion, "I don't wonder that my father
thinks so much of you!"

"I never did that to your father!" she retorted. Beneath the wrinkled ivory
of her skin a tinge of faintest pink appeared and disappeared.

Half and hour later she was sitting at a western window. Young John Gray had
gone to the library to write to his father and mother, announcing his
arrival; and in her lap lay his father's letter which with tremulous fingers
she was now wiping her spectacles to read. In all these years she had never
allowed herself to think of her John Gray as having grown older; she saw him
still young, as when he used to lean over the garden fence. But now the
presence of this son had the effect of suddenly pushing the father far on
into life; and her heart ached with this first realization that he too must
have passed the climbing-point and have set his feet on the shaded downward
slope that leads to the quiet valley.

His letter began lightly:

"I send John to you with the wish that you will be to the son the same
inspiring soul you once were to the father. You will find him headstrong and
with great notions of what he is to be in the world. But he is warm-hearted
and clean-hearted. Let him do for you the things I used to do; let him hold
the yarn on his arms for you to wind off, and read to you your favourite
novels; he is a good reader for a young fellow. And will you get out your
spinning-wheel some night when the logs are in roaring in the fireplace and
let him hear its music? Will you some time with your hands make him a
johnny-cake on a new ash shingle? I want him to know a woman who can do all
things and still be a great lady. And lay upon him all the burdens that in
any way you can, so that he shall not think too much of what he may some day
do in life, but, of what he is actually doing. We get great reports of the
Transylvania University, of the bar of Lexington, of the civilization that I
foresaw would spring up in Kentucky; and I send John to you with the wish
that he hear lectures and afterward go into the office of some one whom I
shall name, and finally marry and settle there for life. You recall this as
the wish of my own; through John shall be done what I could not do. You see
how stubborn I am! I have given him the names of my school-children. He is
to find out those of them who still live there, and to tell me of those who
have passed away or been scattered.

"I do not know; but if at the end of life I should be left alone here,
perhaps I shall make my way back to Kentucky to John, as the old tree falls
beside the young one."

>From this point the tone of the letter changed.

"And now I am going to open to you what no other eye has ever seen, must
ever see--one page in the book of my life."

When she reached these words with a contraction of the heart and a loud
throbbing of the pulses in her ears, she got up and locked the letter in her
bureau. Then, commanding herself, she went to the dining-room, and with her
own hands prepared the supper table; got our her finest linen, glass,
silver; had the sconces lighted, extra candelabra brought in; gave orders
for especial dishes to be cooked; and when everything was served, seated her
guest at the foot of the table and let him preside as though it were his old
rightful place. Ah, how like his father he was! Several times when the
father's name was mentioned, he quite choked up with tears.

At an early hour he sought rest from the fatigue of travel. She was left
alone. The house was quiet. She summoned the negro girl who slept on the
floor in her room and who was always with her of evenings:

"You can go to the cabin till bedtime. And when you come in, don't make any
noise. And don't speak to me. I shall be asleep."

Then seating herself beside the little candle stand which mercifully for her
had had shed its light on so many books in the great lonely bedchamber, she
re-read those last words:

"And now I am going to open to you what no other eye has ever seen, must
ever see--one page in the book of my life:

"Can you remember the summer I left Kentucky? On reaching Philadelphia I
called on a certain family consisting, as I afterwards ascertained, of
father, mother, and daughter; and being in search of lodgings, I was asked
to become a member of their household. This offer was embraced the more
eagerly because I was sick for a home that summer and in need of some kind
soul to lean on in my weakness. I had indeed been led for these reasons to
seek their acquaintance--the father and mother having known my own parents
even before I met them. You will thus understand how natural a haven with my
loneliness and amid such memories this house became to me, and upon what
grounds I stood in my association with its members from the beginning.

"When the lawsuit went against me and I was wrongfully thrown into jail for
debt, their faithful interest only deepened. Very poor themselves, they
would yet have make any sacrifice in my behalf. During the months of my
imprisonment they were often with me, bringing every comfort and brightening
the dulness of many an hour.

"Upon my release I returned gladly to their joyous household, welcomed I
could not say with what joyous affection. Soon afterwards I found a position
in the office of a law firm and got my start in life.

"And now I cross the path of some things that cannot be written. But you who
know what my life and character had been will nobly understand: remember
your last words to me.

"One day I offered my hand to the daughter. I told her the whole truth: that
there was some one else--not free; that no one could take the place of this
other was filling at the moment, and would always fill. Nevertheless, if she
would accept me on these conditions, everything that it was in my power to
promise she could have.

"She said that in time she would win the rest.

"A few weeks later that letter came from you, bringing the intelligence that
changed everything. (Do you remember my reply? I seem only this moment to
have dropped the pen.) As soon as I could control myself, I told her that
now you were free, that it was but justice and kindness alike to her and to
me that I should give here the chance to reconsider the engagement. A week
passed, I went again. I warned her how different the situation had become. I
could promise less than before--I could not say how little. A month later I
went again.

"Ah, well--that is all!

"The summer after my marriage I travelled to Virginia regarding a landsuit.
One day I rode far out of my course into the path of the country where you
lived. I remained some days strolling over the silent woods and fields,
noting the bushes on the lawn, such as you had carried over into Kentucky,
hunting out the quiet nooks where you were used to read in your girlhood.
Those long, sweet, sacred summer days alone with you there before you were
married! O Jessica! Jessica! Jessica! Jessica! And to this day the sight of
peach blossoms in the spring--the rustle of autumn leaves under my feet! Can
you recall the lines of Malory? 'Men and women could love together seven
years, and then was love truth and faithfulness.' How many more than seven
have I loved you!--you who never gave me anything but friendship, but who
would in time, I hope, have given me everything if I had come back. Ah, I
did come back! Many a time even now as soon as I have hurried through the
joyous gateways of sleep, I come back over the mountains to you as naturally
as though there had been no years to separate and to age. Let me tell you
all this! My very life would be incomplete without it! I owed something to
you long before I owed anything to another: a duty can never set aside a
duty. And as to what I have owed you since, it becomes more and more the
noblest earthly that I shall ever leave unpaid. I did not know you perfectly
when we parted: I was too young, too ignorant of the world, too ignorant of
many women. A man must have touched their coarseness in order to appreciate
their refinement; have been wounded by untruthfulness to understand their
delicate honour; he must have been driven to turn his eyes mercifully away
from their stain before he can ever look with all the reverence and
gratitude of his heart and soul upon their brows of chastity.

"But of my life otherwise. I take it fir granted that you would know where I
stand, what I have become, whether I have kept faith with the ideals of my

"I have succeeded, perhaps reached now what men call the highest point of
their worldly prosperity, made good my resolve that no human power should
defeat me. All that Macbeth had not I have: a quiet throne of my own,
children, wife, troops of friends, duties, honours, ease. There have been
times when with natural misgiving lest I had wandered too far these many
summers on a sea of glory, I have prepared for myself the lament of Wolsey
on his fall: yet ill fortune had not overwhelmed me or mine.

"All this prosperity, as the mere fruit of my toil, has been less easy than
for many. I may not boast the Apostle that I have fought a good fight, but I
can say that I fought a hard one. The fight will always be hard for any man
who undertakes to conquer life with the few simple weapons I have used and
who will accept victory only upon such terms as I have demanded. For be my
success small or great, it has been won without inner compromise or other
form of self-abasement. No man can look me in the eyes and say I ever
wronged him for my own profit; none may charge that I have smiled on him in
order to use him, or call him my friend that I might make him do for me the
work of a servant.

"Do not imagine I fail to realize that I have added my full share to the
general evil of the world: in part unconsciously, in part against my
conscious will. It is the knowledge of this influence of imperfection
forever flowing from myself to all others that has taught me charity with
all the wrongs that flow from others toward me. As I have clung to myself
despite the evil, so I have clung to the world despite all the evil that is
in the world. To lose faith in men, not humanity; to see justice go down and
not believe in the triumph of injustice; for every wrong that you weakly
deal another or another deals you to love more and more the fairness and
beauty of what is right; and so to turn with ever-increasing love from the
imperfection that is in us all to the Perfection that is above us all--the
perfection that is God: this is one of the ideals of actual duty that you
once said were to be as candles in my hand. Many a time this candle has gone
out; but as quickly as I could snatch any torch--with your sacred name on my
lips--it has been relighted.

"My candles are all beginning to burn low now. For as we advance far on into
life, one by one our duties end, one by one the lights go out. Not much
ahead of me now must lurk the great mortal changes, coming always nearer,
always faster. As they approach, I look less to my candles, more toward my
candles, more toward my lighthouses--those distant unfailing beacons that
cast their rays over the stormy sea of this life from the calm ocean of the
Infinate. I know this: that if I should live to be an old man, my duties
ended and my candles gone, it is these that will shine in upon me in that
vacant darkness. And I have this belief: that if we did but recognize them
aright, these ideals at the close of life would become one with the ideals
of youth. We lost them as we left mortal youth behind; we regain them as we
enter upon youth immortal.

"If I have kept unbroken faith with any of mine, thank you. And thank God!"

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