Part 6 out of 8
whip-handle to the clear horizon. "I want the excitement that
makes one's blood run like wine."
"Battle, murder, and all that, I suppose?" she said, smiling.
"War, and fame, and love," he corrected.
Her face had grown grave, and in the thoughtful look she turned
upon him it seemed to him that he saw a purpose slowly take form.
So earnest was her gaze that at last his own fell before it, at
which she murmured a confused apology, like one forcibly awakened
from a dream.
"I was wondering what that other life would have made of you,"
she said; "the life that I have known and wearied of--a life of
petty shams, of sham love, of sham hate, of sham religion. It is
all little, you know, and it takes a little soul to keep alive in
it. I craved it once myself, and it took six years of artifice to
teach me that I loved a plain truth better than a pretty lie."
He had been looking at the strong white hand lying in her lap,
and now, with a laugh, he held out his own bronzed and roughened
"There is the difference," he said; "do you see it?"
A wave of sympathy swept over her expressive face, and with one
of her impulsive gestures, which seemed always to convey some
spiritual significance, she touched his outstretched palm with
her fingers. "How full of meaning it is," she replied, "for it
tells of quiet days in the fields, and of a courage that has not
faltered before the thing it hates. When I look at it it makes me
feel very humble--and yet very proud, too, that some day I may be
He shook his head, with his eyes on the sun, which was slowly
"That is out of the question," he answered. "You cannot be my
friend except for this single day. If I meet you to-morrow I
shall not know you."
"Because I am a Fletcher?" she asked, wondering.
"Because you are a Fletcher, and because you would find me worse
than a Fletcher."
"Riddles, riddles," she protested, laughing; "and I was always
dull at guessing--but I may as well warn you now that I have come
home determined to make a friend of every mortal in the county,
man and beast."
"You'll do it," he answered seriously. "I'm the only thing about
here that will resist you. You'll be everybody's friend but
She caught and held his gaze. "Let us see," she responded
For a time they were silent, and spreading out her skirt, she
made a place for the dog upon it. The noise of the heavy wheels
on the rocky bed of the road grew suddenly louder in his ears,
and he realised with a pang that every jolt of the cart carried
him nearer the end. With the thought there came to him a wish
that life might pause at the instant--that the earth might be
arrested in its passage and leave him forever aware of the warm
contact that thrilled through him. They had already passed
Weatherby's lane, and presently the chimneys of Blake Hall
appeared above the distant trees. When they reached the abandoned
ice-pond Christopher spoke with an attempted carelessness.
"It would perhaps be better for you to walk the rest of the way,"
he said. "Trouble might be made in the beginning if your
grandfather were to know that I brought you over."
"You're right, I think," she said, and rising as the cart
stopped, she followed him down into the road. Then with a word or
two of thanks, she smiled brightly, and, calling the dog, passed
rapidly into the twilight which stretched between him and a
single shining window that was visible in the Hall.
After she had quite disappeared he still stood motionless by the
ice-pond, staring into the dusk that had swallowed her up from
his gaze. So long did he remain there that at last the oxen tired
of waiting and began to move slowly on along the sunken road.
Then starting abruptly from his meditation, he picked up the
ropes that trailed before him on the ground and fell into his
accustomed walk beside the cart. At the moment it seemed to him
that his whole life was shattered into pieces by the event of a
single instant. Something stronger than himself had shaken the
foundations of his nature, and he was not the man that he had
been before. He was like one born blind, who, when his eyes are
opened, is ignorant that the light which dazzles him is merely
the shining of the sun.
When he came into the house, after putting up the oxen, Cynthia
commented upon the dazed look that he wore.
"You must have fallen asleep on the way home," she remarked.
"It is the glare of the lamp," he answered. "I have just come out
of the darkness," and before sitting down to his supper, he
opened the door and listened for the sound of his mother's voice.
"She is asleep, then?" he said, coming back again. "Has she
recognised either of you to-day?"
"No; she wanders again. The present is nothing to her any
longer--it is all blotted out with everything that Fletcher told
her. She asks for father constantly, and the only thing that
interested her was when Jim went in and talked to her about
farming. She is quite rational except that she has entirely
forgotten the last twenty years, and just before falling asleep
she laughed heartily over some old stories of Grandpa Bolivar's."
"Then I may see her for a minute?"
"If you wish it--yes."
Passing along the hall, he entered the little chamber where the
old lady lay asleep in her tester bed. Her fine white hair was
brushed over the pillow, and her drawn and yellowed face wore a
placid and childlike look. As he paused beside her a faint smile
flickered about her mouth and her delicate hand trembled slightly
upon the counterpane. Her dreams had evidently brought her
happiness, and as he stood looking down upon her the wish entered
his heart that he might change his young life for her old one--
that he might become, in her place, half dead, and done with all
that the future could bring of either joy or grief.
CHAPTER II. Maria Returns to the Hall
Through the grove of oaks a single lighted window glimmered now
red, now yellow, as lamplight struggled with firelight inside,
and Maria, walking rapidly through the dark, felt that the
comfortable warmth shining on the panes was her first welcome
home. The night had grown chilly, and she gathered her wraps
closely together as she hastened along the gravelled drive and
ran up the broad stone steps to the closed door. There was no
answer to her knock, and, finding that the big silver handle of
the door turned easily, she entered the hall and passed
cautiously through the dusk that enveloped the great staircase.
Her foot was on the first step, when a stream of light issued
suddenly from the dining-room, and, turning, she stood for an
instant hesitating upon the threshold. A lamp burned dimly in the
center of the old mahogany table, where a scant supper for two
had been hastily laid. In the fireplace a single hickory log sent
out a shower of fine sparks, which hovered a moment in the air
before they were sucked up by the big stone chimney. The room was
just as Maria had left it six years before, and yet in some
unaccountable fashion it seemed to have lost the dignity which
she remembered as its one redeeming feature. Nothing was changed
that she could see--the furniture stood in the same places, the
same hard engravings hung on the discoloured walls--but as she
glanced wonderingly about her she was aware of a shock greater
than the one she had nerved herself to withstand. It was, after
all, the atmosphere that depressed her, she concluded with her
next thought--the general air of slovenly unrefinement revealed
in the details of the room and of the carelessly laid table.
While she still hesitated uncertainly on the threshold, the
pantry door opened noiselessly and Miss Saidie appeared, carrying
a glass dish filled with preserved watermelon rind. At sight of
Maria she gave a start and a little scream, and the dish fell
from her hands and crashed upon the floor.
"Sakes alive! Is that you, Maria?"
Hastily crossing the room, Maria caught the little woman in her
arms and kissed her twice.
"Why, you poor thing! I've frightened you to death," she said,
with a laugh.
"You did give me a turn; that's so," replied Miss Saidie, as she
wiped the moisture from her crimson face. "It's been so long
since anybody's come here that Malindy--she's the only servant
we've got now--was actually afraid to answer your knock. Then
when I came in and saw you standing by the door, I declare it
almost took my breath clean away. I thought for a moment you were
a ghost, you looked so dead white in that long, black dress."
"Oh, I'm flesh and blood, never fear," Maria assured her. "Much
more flesh and blood, too, than I was when I went away--but I've
made you spill all your preserves. What a shame!"
Miss Saidie glanced down a little nervously. "I must wipe it up
before Brother Bill comes in," she said; "it frets him so to see
Picking up a dust-cloth she had left on a chair, she got down on
her knees and began mopping up the sticky syrup which trickled
along the floor. "He hates so to throw away anything," she
pursued, panting softly from her exertions, "that if he were to
see this I believe it would upset him for a week. Oh, he didn't
use to be like that, I know," she added, meeting Maria's amazed
look; "and it does seem strange, for I'm sure he gets richer and
richer every day--but it's the gospel truth that every cent he
makes he hugs closer than he did the last. I declare, I've seen
him haggle for an hour over the price of salt, and it turns him
positively sick to see anything but specked potatoes on the
table. He kinder thinks his money is all he's got, I reckon, so
he holds on to it like grim death."
"But it isn't all he has. Where's Will?"
Miss Saidie shook her head, with a glance in the direction of the
"Don't mention him if you want any peace," she said, rising with
difficulty to her feet. "Your grandpa has never so much as laid
eyes on him sence he gave him that little worn-out place side by
side with Sol Peterkin--and told him he'd shoot him if he ever
caught sight of him at the Hall. You've come home to awful worry,
thar's no doubt of it, Maria."
"Oh, oh, oh," sighed Maria, and, tossing her hat upon the sofa,
pressed her fingers on her temples. With the firelight thrown
full on the ivory pallor of her face, the effect she produced was
almost unreal in its intensity of black and white--an absence of
colour which had in it all the warmth and the animation we are
used to associate with brilliant hues. A peculiar mellowness of
temperament, the expression of a passionate nature confirmed in
sympathy, shone in the softened fervour of her look as she bent
her eyes thoughtfully upon the flames.
"Something must be done for Will," she said, turning presently.
"This can't go on another day."
Miss Saidie caught her breath sharply, and hastened to the head
of the table, as Fletcher's heavy footsteps crossed the hall.
"For heaven's sake, be careful," she whispered warningly, jerking
her head nervously from side to side.
Fletcher entered with a black look, slamming the door heavily
behind him, then, suddenly catching sight of Maria, he stopped
short on the threshold and stared at her with hanging jaws.
"I'll be blessed if it ain't Maria!" he broke out at last.
Maria went toward him and held out her cheek for his kiss.
"I've surprised you almost as much as I did Aunt Saidie," she
said, with her cheerful laugh, which floated a little strangely
on the sullen atmosphere.
Catching her by the shoulder, Fletcher drew her into the circle
of the lamplight, where he stood regarding her in gloomy silence.
"You've filled out considerable," he remarked, as he released her
at the end of his long scrutiny. "But thar was room for it,
heaven knows. You'll never be the sort that a man smacks his lips
over, I reckon, but you're a plum sight better looking than you
were when you went away."
Maria winced quickly as if he had struck her; then, regaining her
composure almost instantly, she drew back her chair with a casual
"But I didn't come home to set the county afire," she said. "Why,
Aunt Saidie, what queer, coarse china! What's become of the
white-and-gold set I used to like?"
A purple flush mounted, slowly to Miss Saidie's forehead.
"I was afraid it would chip, so I packed it away," she explained.
"Me and Brother Bill ain't used to any better than this, so we
don't notice. Things will have to be mighty fine now, I reckon,
since you've got back. You were always particular about looks, I
"Was I?" asked Maria curiously, glancing down into the plate
before her. For the last few years she had schooled herself to
despise what she called the "silly luxuries of living," and yet
the heavy white cup which Miss Saidie handed her, and the sound
of Fletcher drinking his coffee, aroused in her the old poignant
"I don't think I'm over particular now," she added pleasantly,
"but we may as well get out the other china tomorrow, I think."
"You won't find many fancy ways here--eh, Saidie?" inquired
Fletcher, with a chuckle. "Thar's been a precious waste of
victuals on this place, but it's got to stop. I ain't so sure you
did a wise thing in coming back," he finished abruptly, turning
his bloodshot eyes on his granddaughter.
"You aren't? Well, I am," laughed Maria; "and I promise you that
you shan't find me troublesome except in the matter of china."
"Then you must have changed your skin, I reckon."
"Changed? Why, I have, of course. Six years isn't a day, you
know, and I've been in many places." Then, as a hint of interest
awoke in his eyes, she talked on rapidly, describing her years
abroad and the strange cities in which she had lived. Before she
had finished, Fletcher had pushed his plate away and sat
listening with the ghost of a smile upon his face.
"Well, you'll do, I reckon," he said at the end, and, pushing
back his chair, he rose from his place and stamped out into the
When he had gone into his sitting-room and closed the door behind
him, Miss Saidie nodded smilingly, as she measured out the
servant's sugar in a cracked saucer. "He's brighter than I've
seen him for days," she said; "and now, if you want to go
upstairs, Malindy has jest lighted your fire. She had to carry
the wood up while we were at supper, so Brother Bill wouldn't see
it. He hates even to burn a log, though they are strewn round
loose all over the place."
Maria, was feeding Agag on the hearth, and she waited until he
had finished before she took up her hat and wraps and went toward
the door. "Oh, you needn't bother to light me," she said, waving
Miss Saidie back when she would have followed. "Why, I could find
my way over this house at midnight without a candle." Then, with
a cheerful "Goodnight," she called Agag and went up the dusky
A wood fire was burning in her room, and she stood for a moment
looking pensively into the flames, a faint smile sketched about
her mouth. Then throwing off her black dress in the desire for
freedom, she clasped her hands above her head and paced slowly up
and down the shadowy length of the room. In the flowing measure
of her walk; in the free, almost defiant, movement of her
upraised arms; and in the ample lines of her throat and bosom,
which melted gradually into the low curves of her hips, she might
have stood for an incarnation of vital force. One felt
instinctively that her personality would be active rather than
passive--that the events which she attracted to herself would be
profoundly emotional in their fulfilment.
Notwithstanding the depressing hour she had just passed, and the
old vulgarity which had shocked her with a new violence, she was
conscious, moving to and fro in the shadows, of a strange
happiness--of a warmth of feeling which pervaded her from head to
foot, which fluttered in her temples and burned like firelight in
her open palms. The place was home to her, she realised at last,
and the surroundings of her married life--the foreign towns and
the enchanting Italian scenery--showed in her memory with a
distant and alien beauty. Here was what she loved, for here was
her right, her heritage--the desolate red roads, the luxuriant
tobacco fields, the primitive and ignorant people. In her heart
there was no regret for any past that she had known, for over the
wild country stretching about her now there hung a romantic and
A little later she was aroused from her reverie by Miss Saidie,
who came in with a lighted lamp in her hand.
"Don't you need a light, Maria? I never could abide to sit in the
"Oh, yes; bring it in. There, put it on the bureau and sit down
by the fire, for I want to talk to you. No, I'm not a bit tired;
I am only trying to fit myself again in this room. Why, I don't
believe you've changed a pin in the pincushion since I went
Miss Saidie dusted the top of the bureau with her apron before
she placed the tall glass lamp upon it.
"Thar warn't anybody to stay in it," she answered, as she sat
down in a deep, cretonne-covered chair and pushed back the
hickory log with her foot. "I declare, Maria, I don't see what
you want to traipse around with that little poor-folksy yaller
dog for. He puts me in mind of the one that old blind nigger up
the road used to have."
"Does he?" asked Maria absently, in the voice of one whose
thoughts are hopelessly astray.
She was standing by the window, holding aside the curtain of
flowered chintz, and after a moment she added curiously: "There's
a light in the fields, Aunt Saidie. What does it mean?"
Crossing the room, Miss Saidie followed the gesture with which
Maria pointed into the night.
"That's on the Blake place," she said; "it must be Mr.
Christopher moving about with his lantern."
"You call him Mr. Christopher?"
"Oh, it slipped out. His father's name was Christopher before
him, and I used to open the gate for him when I was a child. Many
and many a time the old gentleman's given me candy out of his
pocket, or a quarter to buy a present, and one Christmas he
brought me a real wax doll from the city. He wasn't old then, I
can tell you, and he was as handsome as if he had stepped out of
a fashion plate. Why, young Mr. Christopher can't hold a candle
to him for looks."
"He was a gentleman, then? I mean the old man."
"Who? Mr. Christopher's father? I don't reckon thar was a freer
or a finer between here and London."
Maria's gaze was still on the point of light which twinkled
faintly here and there in the distant field.
"Then how, in heaven's name, did he come to this?" she asked, in
a voice that was hardly louder than a whisper.
"I never knew; I never knew," protested Miss Saidie, going back
to her chair beside the hearth. "Brother Bill and he hate each
other worse than death, and it was Will's fancy for Mr.
Christopher that brought on this awful trouble. For a time, I
declare it looked as if the boy was really bewitched, and they
were together morning, noon, and night. Your grandpa never got
over it, and I believe he blames Mr. Christopher for every last
thing that's happened--Molly Peterkin and all."
"Molly Peterkin?" repeated Maria inquiringly. "Why, how absurd!
And, after all, what is the matter with the girl?" Dropping the
curtain, she came over to the fire, and sat listening attentively
while Miss Saidie told, in spasmodic jerks and pauses, the
foolish story of Will's marriage.
"Your grandpa will never forgive him--never, never. He has turned
him out for good and all, and he talks now of leaving every cent
of his money to foreign missions."
"Well, we'll see," said Maria soothingly. "I'll go over there to-
morrow and talk with Will, and then I'll try to bring grandfather
to some kind of reason. He can't let them starve, rich as he is,
there's no sense in that--and if the worst comes, I can at least
share the little I have with them. It may supply them with bread,
if Molly will undertake to churn her own butter."
"Then your money went, too?"
"The greater part of it. Jack was fond of wild schemes, you know.
I left it in his hands." She had pronounced the dead man's name
so composedly that Miss Saidie, after an instant's hesitation,
brought herself to an allusion to the girl's loss.
"How you must miss him, dear," she ventured timidly; "even if he
wasn't everything he should have been to you, he was still your
"Yes, he was my husband," assented Maria quietly.
"You were so brave and so patient, and you stuck by him to the
last, as a wife ought to do. Then thar's not even a child left to
Maria turned slowly toward her and then looked away again into
the fire. The charred end of a lightwood knot had fallen on the
stones, and, picking it up, she threw it back into the flames.
"For a year before his death his mind was quite gone," she said
in a voice that quivered slightly; "he had to be taken to an
asylum, but I went with him and nursed him till he died. There
were times when he would allow no one else to enter his room or
even bring him his meals. I have sat by him for two days and
nights without sleeping, and though he did not recognise me, he
would not let me stir from my place."
"And yet he treated you very badly--even his family said so."
"That is all over now, and we were both to blame. I owed him
reparation, and I made it, thank God, at the last."
As she raised her bare arms to the cushioned back of her chair
Miss Saidie caught a glimpse of a deep white scar which ran in a
jagged line above her elbow.
"Oh, it is nothing, nothing," said Maria hastily, clasping her
hands again upon her knees. "That part of my life is over and
done with and may rest in peace. I forgave him then, and he
forgives me now. One always forgives when one understands, you
know, and we both understand to-day--he no less than I. The chief
thing was that we made a huge, irretrievable mistake--the mistake
that two people make when they think that love can be coddled and
nursed like a domestic pet--when they forget that it goes wild
and free and comes at no man's call. Folly like that is its own
punishment, I suppose."
"My dear, my dear," gasped Miss Saidie, in awe-stricken sympathy
before the wild remorse in Maria's voice.
"I did my duty, as you call it; I even clung to it desperately,
and, much as I hated it, I never rebelled for a single instant.
The nearest I came to loving him, I think, was when, after our
terrible life together, he lay helpless for a year and I was with
him day and night. If I could have given him my strength then,
brain and body, I would have done it gladly, and that agonised
compassion was the strongest feeling I ever had for him." She
broke off for a long breath, and sat looking earnestly at the
amazed little woman across from her. "You could never
understand!" she exclaimed impetuously, "but I must tell you--I
must tell you because I can't live with you day after day and
know that there is an old dead lie between us. I hate lies, I
have had so many of them, and I shall speak the truth hereafter,
no matter what comes of it. Anything is better than a long,
wearing falsehood, or than those hideous little shams that we
were always afraid to touch for fear they would melt and show us
our own nakedness. That is what I loathe about my life, and that
is what I've done with now forever. I am myself now for the first
time since I was born, and at last I shall let my own nature
teach me how to live."
Her intense pallor was illumined suddenly by a white flame,
whether from the leaping of some inner emotion or from the
sinking firelight which blazed up fitfully Miss Saidie could not
tell. As she turned her head with an impatient movement her black
hair slipped its heavy coil and spread in a shadowy mass upon her
"I'm sure I don't know how it is," said Miss Saidie, wiping her
eyes. "But I can't see that it makes any difference whether you
were what they call in love or not, so long as you were a good,
well-behaved wife. I don't think a man troubles himself much
about a woman's heart after he's put his wedding ring on her
finger; and though I know, of course, that thar's a lot of
nonsense spoken in courtship, it seems to me they mostly take it
out in talking. The wives that I've seen are generally as anxious
about thar setting hens as they are about thar husband's hearts,
and I reckon things are mighty near the same the world over."
Without noticing her, Maria went on feverishly, speaking so low
at times that the other almost lost the words.
"It is such a relief to let it all out," she said, with a long,
sighing breath, "and oh! if I had loved him it would have been so
different--so different. Then I might have saved him; for what
evil is strong enough to contend against a love which would have
borne all things, have covered all things?"
Rising from her chair, she walked rapidly up and down, and
pausing at last beside the window, lifted the curtain and looked
out into the night.
"I might have saved him; I know it now," she repeated slowly: "or
had it been otherwise, even in madness I would not have loosened
my arms, and my service would have been the one passionate
delight left in my life. They could never have torn him from my
bosom then, and yet as it was--as it was--" She turned quickly,
and, coming back, laid her hand on Miss Saidie's arm. "It is such
a comfort to talk, dear Aunt Saidie," she added, "even though you
don't understand half that I say. But you are good--so good; and
now if you'll lend me a nightgown I'll go to bed and sleep until
my trunks come in the morning." Her voice had regained its old
composure, and Miss Saidie, looking back as she went for the
gown, saw that she had begun quietly to braid her hair.
CHAPTER III. The Day Afterward
When Maria awoke, the sun was full in her eyes, and somewhere on
the lawn outside the first bluebird was whistling. With a start,
she sprang out of bed and dressed quickly by the wood fire which
Malindy had lighted. Then, before going downstairs, she raised
the window and leaned out into the freshness of the morning,
where a white mist glimmered in the hollows of the March
landscape. In the distance she saw the smoking chimneys of the
Blake cottage, very faint among the leafless trees, and nearer at
hand men were moving back and forth in her grandfather's fields.
Six years ago she would have found little beauty in so grave and
colourless a scene, but to-day as she looked upon it a peace such
as she had never known possessed her thoughts. The wisdom of
experience was hers now, and with it she had gained something of
the deeper insight into nature which comes to the soul that is
reconciled with the unknown laws which it obeys.
Going down a few moments later, she found that breakfast was
already over, and that Miss Saidie was washing the tea things at
the head of the bared table.
"Why, it seems but a moment since I fell asleep," said Maria, as
she drew back her chair. "How long has grandfather been up?"
"Since before daybreak. He is just starting to town, and he's in
a terrible temper because the last batch of butter ain't up to
the mark, he says. I'm sure I don't see why it ain't, for I
worked every pound of it with my own hands--but thar ain't no
rule for pleasing men, and never will be till God Almighty sets
the universe rolling upside down. That's the wagon you hear now.
Thank heaven, he won't be back till after dark."
With a gesture of relief Maria applied herself to the buttered
waffles before her, prepared evidently in her honour, and then
after a short silence, in which she appeared to weigh carefully
her unuttered words, she announced her intention of paying
immediately her visit to Will and Molly.
"Oh, you can't, you can't," groaned Miss Saidie, nervously
mopping out the inside of a cup. "For heaven's sake, don't raise
another cloud of dust jest as we're beginning to see clear
"Now don't tell me I can't when I must," responded Maria, pushing
away her plate and rising from the table; "there's no such word
as 'can't' when one has to, you know. I'll be back in two hours
at the most, and oh! with so much to tell you!"
After tying on her hat in the hall, she looked in again to
lighten Miss Saidie's foreboding by a tempting bait of news; but
when she had descended the steps and walked slowly along the
drive under the oaks, the assumed brightness of her look faded as
rapidly as the morning sunshine on the clay road before her. It
was almost with dismay that she found herself covering the ground
between the Hall and Will's home and saw the shaded lane
stretching to the little farm adjoining Sol Peterkin's.
As she passed the store, Mrs. Spade, who was selling white china
buttons to Eliza Field, leaned over the counter and stared in
amazement through the open window.
"Bless my soul an' body, if thar ain't old Fletcher's
granddaughter come back!" she exclaimed--"holdin' her head as
high as ever, jest as if her husband hadn't beat her black an'
blue. Well, well, times have slid down hill sence I was a gal,
an' the women of to-day ain't got the modesty they used to be
born with. Why, I remember the time when old Mrs. Beale in the
next county used to go to bed for shame, with a mustard plaster,
every time her husband took a drop too much, which he did every
blessed Saturday that he lived. It tided him over the Sabbath
mighty well, he used to say, for he never could abide the sermons
of Mr. Grant."
Eliza dropped the buttons she had picked up and turned, craning
her neck in the direction of Maria's vanishing figure.
"What on earth has she gone down Sol Peterkin's lane for?" she
"The Lord knows; if it's to visit her brother, I may say it's a
long ways mo'n I'd do."
"She was always a queer gal even befo' her marriage--so strange
an' far-away lookin' that I declar' it used to scare me half to
death to meet her all alone at dusk. I never could help feelin'
that she could bewitch a body, if she wanted to, with those
solemn black eyes."
"She ain't bewitched me," returned Mrs. Spade decisively "an'
what's mo', she's had too many misfortune come to her to make me
believe she ain't done somethin' to deserve 'em. Thar's mighty
few folks gets worse than they deserve in this world, an' when
you see a whole flock of troubles settle on a person's head you
may rest right sartain thar's a long score of misbehaviours up
agin 'em. Yes, ma'am; when I hear of a big misfortune happenin'
to anybody that I know, the first question that pops into my head
is: 'I wonder if they've broke the sixth this time or jest the
common seventh?' The best rule to follow, accordin' to my way of
thinkin', is to make up yo' mind right firm that no matter what
evil falls upon a person it ain't nearly so bad as the good Lord
ought to have made it."
"That's a real pious way of lookin' at things, I reckon," sighed
Eliza deferentially, as she fished five cents from the deep
pocket of her purple calico and slapped it down upon the counter;
"but we ain't all such good church-goers as you, the mo's the
"Oh, I'm moral, an' I make no secret of it, "replied Mrs. Spade.
"It's writ plain all over me, an' it has been ever sence the day
that I was born. 'That's as moral lookin' a baby as ever I saw,'
was what Doctor Pierson said to ma when I wan't mo'n two hours
old. It was so then, an' it's been so ever sence. 'Virtue may not
take the place of beaux,' my po' ma used to say, 'but it will
ease her along mighty well without 'em'--Yes, the buttons are
five cents. To be sure, I'll watch out and let you hear if she
comes this way again."
Maria, meanwhile, happily unconscious of the judgment of her
neighbours, walked thoughtfully along the lane until she came in
sight of the small tumbled-down cottage which had been Fletcher's
wedding gift to his grandson. A man in blue jean clothes was
ploughing the field on the left of the road, and it was only when
something vaguely familiar in his dejected attitude caused her to
turn for a second glance that she realised, with a pang, that he
At her startled cry he looked up from the horses he was driving,
and then, letting the ropes fall, came slowly toward her across
the faint purple furrows. All the boyish jauntiness she
remembered was gone from his appearance; his reversion to the
family type had been complete, and it came to her with a shock
that held her motionless that he stood to-day where her
grandfather had stood fifty years before.
"Will!" she gasped, with an impulsive, motherly movement of her
arms. Rejecting her caress with an impatient shrug, he stood
kicking nervously at a clod of earth, his eyes wavering in a
dispirited survey of her face.
"Well, it seems that we have both made a blamed mess of things,"
he said at last.
Maria shook her head, smiling hopefully. "Not too bad a mess to
straighten out, dear," she answered. "We must set to work at once
and begin to mend matters. Ah, if you had only written me how
"What was the use?" asked Will doggedly. "It was all grandpa--he
turned out the devil himself, and there was no putting up with
him. He'll live forever, too; that's the worst of it!"
"But you did anger him very much, Will--and you might so easily
have waited. Surely, you were both young enough."
"Oh, it wasn't all about Molly, you know, when it comes to that.
Long before I married he had made my life a burden to me. It all
began with his insane jealousy of Christopher Blake--"
"Of Christopher Blake?" repeated Maria, and fell a step away from
"Blake has been a deuced good friend to me," insisted Will;
"that's what the old man hates--what he's hated steadily all
along. The whole trouble started when I wouldn't choose my
friends to please him; and when at last I undertook to pick out
my own wife there was hell to pay."
Maria's gaze wandered inquiringly in the direction of the house,
which had a disordered and thriftless air.
"Is she here?" she asked, not without a slight nervousness in her
Will followed her glance, and, taking off his big straw hat,
pulled at the shoestring tied tightly around the crown.
"Not now; but you'll see her some day, when she's dressed up, and
I tell you she'll be worth your looking at. All she needs is a
little money to turn her into the most tearing beauty you ever
"And she's not at home?"
"Not now," he replied impatiently; "her mother has just come over
and taken her off. I say, Maria," he lowered his voice, and an
eager look came into his irresolute face, which already showed
the effects of heavy drinking, "this can't keep up, you know; it
really can't. We must have money, for there's a child coming in
"A child!" exclaimed Maria, startled. "Oh, Will! Will!" She
glanced round again at the barren landscape and the squalid
little house; "then something must be done at once--there's no
time to lose. I'll speak to grandfather about it this very
"At least, there's no harm in trying," said Will, catching
desperately at the suggestion. "Even if you don't make things
better, there's a kind of comfort in the thought that you can't
make them worse. We're at the bottom of the hill already. So, if
you don't pull us up, at least you won't push us any farther
"Oh, I'll pull you up, never fear; but you must give me time."
"Your own affairs are in rather a muddle I reckon, by now?"
"Hopeless, it seems; but I'll share with you the few hundreds I
still have. I brought this to-day, thinking you might be in
As she drew the little roll of bills from her pocket, Will
reached out eagerly, and, seizing it from her, counted it
greedily in her presence. "Well, you're a downright brick,
Maria," he remarked, as he thrust it hastily into his shirt.
Disappointment had chilled Maria's enthusiasm a little, but the
next instant she dismissed the feeling as ungenerous, and slipped
her hand affectionately through his arm as he walked back with
her into the road.
"I wish I could see Molly," she said again, her eyes on the
house, where she caught a glimpse of a bright head withdrawn from
one of the windows.
"She is over at her mother's, I told you," returned Will
irritably, and then, stooping to kiss her hurriedly, he added in
a persuasive voice: "Bring the old man to reason, Maria; it's
life or death, remember."
"I'll do my best, Will; I'll go on my knees to him to-night."
"Does he dislike you as much as ever?"
"No; he rather fancies me, I think. Last evening he grew almost
amiable, and this morning Aunt Saidie told me he left me a pound
of fresh butter from the market jar. If you only knew how fond
he's grown of his money you would realise what it means."
"Well, keep it up, for God's sake. Humour him for all he's worth.
Coddle and coax him into doing something for us, or dying and
leaving us his money."
Maria's face grew grave. "That's the serious part, Will; he talks
of leaving every penny he has to foreign missions."
"The devil!" cried Will furiously. "If he does, I hope he'll land
in hell. Don't let him, Maria. It all rests with you. Why, if he
did, you'd starve along with us, wouldn't you?"
"Oh, you needn't think of me--I could always teach, you know, and
a little money buys a great deal of happiness with me. I have
learned that great wealth is almost as much of an evil as great
"I'd take the risk of it, every time; and he is beastly rich,
isn't he, Maria?"
"One of the very richest men in the State, they told me at the
"Yet he has the insolence to cut me off without a dollar. Look at
this petered-out little farm he's given me. Why, it doesn't bring
in enough to feed a darkey!"
"We'll hope for better things, dear; but you must learn to be
patient--very patient. His anger has been smothered so long that
it has grown almost as settled as hate. Aunt Saidie doesn't dare
mention your name to him, and she tells me that if I so much as
speak of you he'll turn me out of doors."
"Then it's even worse than I thought."
"Perhaps. I can't say, for I haven't approached the subject even
remotely as yet. Keep your courage, however, and I promise you to
do my best."
She kissed him again, and then, turning her face homeward,
started at a rapid walk down the lane. The interview with Will
had disturbed her more than she liked to admit, and it was with a
positive throb of pain that she forced herself at last to compare
the boy of five years ago with the broken and dispirited man from
whom she had just parted. Was this tragedy the end of the young
ambition which Fletcher had nursed so fondly, this--a nervous,
overworked tobacco-grower, with bloodshot eyes, and features
already inflamed by reckless drinking? The tears sprang to her
lashes, and, throwing up her hands with a pathetic gesture of
protest, she hastened on homeward as if to escape the terror that
She had turned from the lane into the main road, and was just
approaching the great chestnuts which grew near the abandoned
ice-pond, when, looking up suddenly at the call of a bird above
her head, she saw Christopher Blake standing beside the rail
fence and watching her with a strong and steady gaze.
Involuntarily she slackened her pace and waited, smiling for him
to cross the fence; but, to her amazement, after an instant in
which his eyes held her as if rooted to the spot, he turned
hastily away and walked rapidly in the opposite direction. For a
breath she stood motionless, gazing blankly into space; then, as
she went on again, she knew that she carried with her not the
wonder at his sudden flight, but the clear memory of that one
moment's look into his eyes. A century of experience, with its
tears and its laughter, its joy and its anguish, its desire and
its fulfilment, seemed crowded into the single instant that held
her immovable in the road.
CHAPTER IV. The Meeting in the Night
When Christopher turned so abruptly from Maria's gaze he was
conscious only of a desperate impulse of flight. At the instant
his strength seemed to fail him utterly, and he realised that for
the first time in his life he feared to trust himself to face the
imminent moment. His one thought was to escape quickly from her
presence, and in the suddenness of his retreat he did not weigh
the possible effect upon her of his rudeness. A little later,
however, when he had put the field between him and her haunting
eyes, he found himself returning with remorse to his imaginings
of what her scattered impressions must have been.
Between regret and perplexity the day dragged through, and he met
his mother's exacting humours and Cynthia's wistful inquiries
with a curious detachment of mind. He had reached that middle
state of any powerful emotion when even the external objects
among which one moves seem affected by the inward struggle
between reason and desire--the field in which he worked, the
distant landscape, the familiar faces in the house, and those
frail, pathetic gestures of his mother's hands, all expressed in
outward forms something of the passion which he felt stirring in
his own breast. It was in his nature to dare risks blindly--to
hesitate at no experience offered him in his narrow life, and
there were moments during this long day when he found himself
questioning if one might not, after all, plunge headlong into the
As he rose from the supper table, where he had pushed his
untasted food impatiently away, he remembered that he had
promised in the morning to meet Will Fletcher at the store, and,
lighting his lantern, he started out to keep the appointment he
had almost forgotten. He found Will overflowing with his domestic
troubles, and it was after ten o'clock before they both came out
upon the road and turned into opposite ways at the beginning of
Sol Peterkin's lane.
"I'll help you with the ploughing, of course," Christopher said,
as they lingered together a moment before parting; "make your
mind quite easy about that. I'll be over at sunrise on Monday and
put in a whole day's job."
Then, as he fell back into his own road, he found something like
satisfaction in the prospect of driving Will Fletcher's plough.
The easy indifference with which he was accustomed to lend a hand
in a neighbour's difficulty had always marked his association
with the man whose ruin, he still assured himself, he had
It was a dark, moonless night, with only a faint, nebulous
whiteness where the clouded stars shone overhead. His lantern,
swinging lightly from his hand, cast a shining yellow circle on
the ground before him, and it was by this illumination that he
saw presently, as he neared the sunken road into which he was
about to turn, a portion of the shadow by the ice-pond detach
itself from the surrounding blackness and drift rapidly to meet
him. In his first start of surprise, he raised the lantern
quickly above his head and waited breathlessly while the
advancing shape assumed gradually a woman's form. The old ghost
stories of his childhood thronged confusedly into his brain, and
then, before the thrilling certainty of the figure before him, he
uttered a single joyous exclamation:
The light flashed full upon Maria's face, which gave back to him
a white and tired look. Her eyes were heavy, and there was a
strange solemnity about them--something that appealed vaguely to
his religious instinct.
"What in heaven's name has happened?" he asked, and his voice
escaped his control and trembled with emotion.
With a tired little laugh, she screened her eyes from the
"I had a talk with grandfather about Will," she answered, "and he
got so angry that he locked me out of doors. He had had a
worrying day in town, and I think he hardly knew what he was
doing--but he has put up the bars and turned out the lights, and
there's really no way of getting in."
He thought for a moment. "Will you go on to your brother's, or is
it too far?"
"At first I started there, but that must have been hours ago, and
it was so dark I got lost by the ice-pond. After all, it would
only make matters worse if I saw Will again; so the question is,
Where am I to sleep?"
"At Tom Spade's, then--or--" he hesitated an instant, "if you
care to come to us, my sister will gladly find room for you."
She shook her head. "No, no; you are very kind, but I can't do
that. It is best that I shouldn't leave the place, perhaps, and
when the servant comes over at sunrise I can slip up into my
room. If you'll lend me your lantern I'll make myself some kind
of a bed in the barn. Fortunately, grandfather forgot to lock the
"In the barn?" he echoed, surprised.
"Oh, I went there first, but after I lay down I suddenly
remembered the mice and got up and came away. I'm mortally afraid
of mice in the dark; but your lantern will keep them off, will it
She smiled at him from the shining circle which surrounded her
like a halo, and for a moment he forgot her words in the
wonderful sense of her nearness. Around them the night stretched
like a cloak, enclosing them in an emotional intimacy which had
all the warmth of a caress. As she leaned back against the body
of a tree, and he drew forward that he might hold the lantern
above her head, the situation was resolved, in spite of the
effort that he made, into the eternal problem of the man and the
woman. He was aware that his blood worked rapidly in his veins,
and as her glance reached upward from the light to meet his in
the shadow he realised with the swiftness of intuition that in
her also the appeal of the silence was faced with a struggle.
They would ignore it, he knew, and yet it shone in their eyes,
quivered in their voices, and trembled in their divided hands;
and to them both its presence was alive and evident in the space
between them. He saw her bosom rise and fall, her lips part
slightly, and a tremor disturb the high serenity of her
self-control, and there came to him the memory of their first
meeting at the cross-roads and of the mystery and the rapture of
his boyish love. He had found her then the lady of his dreams,
and now, after all the violence of his revolt against her, she
was still to him as he had first seen her--the woman whose soul
looked at him from her face.
For a breathless moment--for a single heart-beat--it seemed to
him that he had but to lean down and gather her eyes and lips and
hands to his embrace, to feel her awaken to life within his arms
and her warm blood leap up beneath his mouth. Then the madness
left him as suddenly as it had come, and she grew strangely
white, and distant, and almost unreal, in the spiritual beauty of
her look. He caught his breath sharply, and lowered his gaze to
the yellow circle that trembled on the ground.
"But you will be afraid even with the light," he said, in a voice
which had grown almost expressionless.
As if awaking suddenly from sleep, she passed her hand slowly
across her eyes.
"No, I shall not be afraid with the light," she answered, and
moved out into the road.
"Then let me hold it for you--the hill is very rocky."
She assented silently, and quickened her steps down the long
incline; then, as she stumbled in the darkness, he threw the
lantern over upon her side. "If you will lean on me I think I can
steady you," he suggested, waiting until she turned and laid her
hand upon his arm. "That's better now; go slowly and leave the
road to me. How in thunder did you come over it in the pitch
"I fell several times," she replied, with a little unsteady
laugh, "and my feet are oh! so hurt and bruised. Tomorrow I shall
go on crutches."
"A bad night's work, then."
"But not so bad as it might have been," she added cheerfully.
"You mean if I had not found you it would have been worse. Well,
I'm glad that much good has come out of it. I have spared you a
cold--so that goes down to my credit; otherwise--But what
difference does it make?" he finished impatiently. "We must have
met sooner or later even if I had run across the world instead of
merely across a tobacco field. After all, the world is no bigger
than a tobacco field, when it comes to destiny."
"To destiny?" she looked up, startled. "Then there are fatalists
even among tobacco-growers?"
He met her question with a laugh. "But I wasn't always a tobacco-
grower, and there were poets before Homer, who is about the only
one I've ever read. It's true I've tried to lose the little
education I ever had--that I've done my best to come down to the
level of my own cattle; but I'm not an ox, after all, except in
strength, and one has plenty of time to think when one works in
the field all day. Why, the fancies I've had would positively
turn your head."
"About life and death and the things one wants and can never get.
I dream dreams and plot unimaginable evil--"
"Not evil," she protested.
"Whole crops of it; and harvest them, too."
"For pure pleasure--for sheer beastly love of the devilment I
She shook her head, treating his words as a jest.
"There was never evil that held its head so high."
"That's pride, you know."
"Nor that wore so frank a face."
"And that's hypocrisy."
"Nor that dared to be so rude."
He caught up her laugh.
"You have me there, I grant you. What a brute I must have seemed
"You were certainly not a Chesterfield--nor a Bolivar Blake."
With a start he looked down upon her. "Then you, too, are aware
of the old chap?" he asked.
"Of Bolivar Blake--why, who isn't? I used to be taught one of his
maxims as a child--'If you can't tell a polite lie, don't tell
"Good manners, but rather bad morality, eh?" he inquired.
"Unfortunately, the two things seem to run together," she
replied; "which encourages me to hope that you will prove to be a
pattern of virtue."
"Don't hope too hard. I may merely have lost the one trait
without developing the other."
"At least, it does no harm to believe the best," she returned in
the same careless tone. Ahead of them, where the great oaks were
massed darkly against the sky, he saw the steep road splotched
into the surrounding blackness. Her soft breathing came to him
from the obscurity at his side, and he felt his arm burn beneath
the light pressure of her hand. For the first time in his lonely
and isolated life he knew the quickened emotion, the fulness of
experience, which came to him with the touch of the woman whom,
he still told himself, he could never love. Not to love her had
been so long for him a point of pride as well as of honour that
even while the wonderful glow pervaded his thoughts, while his
pulses drummed madly in his temples, he held himself doggedly to
the illusion that the appeal she made would vanish with the
morning. It was a delirium of the senses, he still reasoned, and
knew even as the lie was spoken that the charm which drew him to
her was, above all things, the spirit speaking through the flesh.
"I fear I have been a great bother to you," said Maria, after a
moment, "but you will probably solace yourself with the
reflection that destiny would have prepared an equal nuisance had
you gone along another road."
"Perhaps," he answered, smiling; "but philosophy sometimes fails
a body, doesn't it?"
"It may be. I knew a man once who said he leaned upon two
crutches, philosophy and religion. When one broke under him he
threw his whole weight on the other--and lo! that gave way."
"Then he went down, I suppose."
"I never heard the end--but if it wasn't quite so dark, you would
find me really covered with confusion. I have not only brought
you a good mile out of your road, but I am now prepared to rob
you of your light. Can you possibly find your way home in the
As she looked up, the lantern shone in his face, and she saw that
he wore a whimsical smile.
"I have been in the dark all my life," he answered, "until to-
"Until now--this very minute. For the first time for ten years I
begin to see my road at this instant--to see where I have been
walking all along."
"And where did it lead you?"
He laughed at the seriousness in her voice.
"Through a muck-heap--in the steps of my own cattle. I am sunk
over the neck in it already."
Her tone caught the lightness of his and carried it off with
"But there is a way out. Have you found it?"
"There is none. I've wallowed so long in the filth that it has
"Surely it will rub off," she said.
For a moment the lantern's flash rested upon his brow and eyes,
relieving them against the obscurity which still enveloped his
The high-bred lines of his profile stood out clear and fine as
those of an ivory carving, and their very beauty saddened the
look she turned upon him. Then the light fell suddenly lower and
revealed the coarsened jaw, with the almost insolent strength of
the closed lips. The whole effect was one of reckless power, and
she caught her breath with the thought that so compelling a force
might serve equally the agencies of good or evil.
They had reached the lawn, and as he responded to her hurried
gesture of silence they passed the house quickly and entered the
great open door of the barn. Here he hung the lantern from a
nail, and then, pulling down some straw from a pile in one
corner, arranged it into the rude likeness of a pallet.
"I don't think the mice will trouble you," he said at last, as he
turned to go, "but if they do--why, just call out and I'll come
"You won't go home, then?" she asked, amazed.
He nodded carelessly.
"Not till daybreak. Remember, if you feel frightened, that I'm
Then, before she could protest or detain him for an explanation,
he turned from her and went out into the darkness.
CHAPTER V. Maria Stands on Christopher's Ground
A broad yellow beam sliding under the door brought Maria into
sudden consciousness, and rising hastily from the straw, where
her figure had shaped an almost perfect outline, she crossed the
dusky floor smelling of trodden grain and went out into the early
sunshine, which slanted over the gray fields. A man trundling a
wheelbarrow from the market garden, and a milkmaid crossing the
lawn with a bucket of fresh milk, were the only moving figures in
the landscape, and after a single hurried glance about her she
followed the straight road to the house and entered the rear
door, which Malindy had unlocked.
Meeting Fletcher a little later at breakfast, she found, to her
surprise, that he accepted her presence without question and made
absolutely no allusion to the heated conversation of the evening
before. He looked sullen and dirty, as if he had slept all night
in his clothes, and he responded to Maria's few good-humoured
remarks with a single abrupt nod over his coffee-cup. As she
watched him a feeling of pity for his loneliness moved her heart,
and when he rose hastily at last and strode out into the hall she
followed him and spoke gently while he paused to take down his
hat from one of the old antlers near the door.
"If I could only be of some use to you, grandfather," she said;
"are you sure there is nothing I can do?"
With his hand still outstretched, he hesitated an instant and
stood looking down upon her, his heavy features wrinkling into a
"I've nothing against you as a woman," he responded, "but when
you set up and begin to charge like a judge, I'll be hanged if I
can stand you."
"Then I won't charge any more. I only want to help you and to do
what is best. If you would but let me make myself of some
He laughed not unkindly, and flecked with his stubby forefinger
at some crumbs which had lodged in the folds of his cravat.
"Then I reckon you'd better mix a batch of dough and feed the
turkeys," he replied, and touching her shoulder with his hat-
brim, he went hurriedly out of doors.
When he had disappeared beyond the last clump of shrubbery
bordering the drive, she remembered the lantern she had left
hanging in the barn, and, going to look for it, carried it
upstairs to her room. In the afternoon, however, it occurred to
her that Christopher would probably need the light by evening,
and swinging the handle over her arm, she set out across the
newly ploughed fields toward the Blake cottage. The stubborn
rustic pride which would keep him from returning to the Hall
aroused in her a frank, almost tender amusement. She had long ago
wearied of the trivial worldliness of life; in the last few years
the shallowness of passion had seemed its crowning insult, and
over the absolute sincerity of her own nature the primal emotion
she had heard in Christopher's voice exerted a compelling charm.
The makeshift of a conventional marriage had failed her utterly;
her soul had rejected the woman's usual cheap compromise with
externals; and in her almost puritan scorn of the vanities by
which she was surrounded she had attained the moral elevation
which comes to those who live by an inner standard of purity
rather than by outward forms. In the largeness of her nature
there had been small room for regret or for wasted passion, and
until her meeting with Christopher on the day of her homecoming
he had existed in her imagination only as a bright and impossible
memory. Now, as she went rapidly forward along the little path
that edged the field, she found herself wondering if, after all,
she had worn unconsciously his ideal as an armour against the
petty temptations and the sudden melancholies of the last six
As she neared the fence that divided the two farms she saw him
walking slowly along a newly turned furrow, and when he looked up
she lifted the lantern and waved it in the air. Quickening his
steps, he swung himself over the rail fence with a single bound,
and came to where she stood amid a dried fringe of last summer's
"So you are none the worse for the night in the barn?" he asked
"Why, I dreamed the most beautiful dreams," she replied, "and I
had the most perfect sleep in the world."
"Then the mice kept away?"
"At least they didn't wake me."
"I stayed within call until sunrise," he said quietly. "You were
Her rare smile shone suddenly upon him, illumining the delicate
pallor of her face. "I knew that you were there," she answered.
For a moment he gazed steadily into her eyes, then with a
decisive movement he took the lantern from her hand and turned as
though about to go back to his work.
"It was very kind of you to bring this over," he said, pausing
beside the fence.
"Kind? Why, what did you expect? I knew it might hang there
forever, but you would not come for it."
"No, I should not have come for it," he replied, swinging the
lantern against the rails with such force that the glass
shattered and fell in pieces to the ground.
"Why, what a shame!" said Maria; "and it is all my fault."
A smile was on his face as he looked at her.
"You are right--it is all your fault," he repeated, while his
gaze dropped to the level of her lips and hung there for a
With an effort she broke the spell which had fallen over her,
and, turning from him, pointed to the old Blake graveyard on the
"Those black cedars have tempted me for days," she said. "Will
you tell me what dust they guard so faithfully?"
He followed her gesture with a frown.
"I will show you, if you like," he answered. "It is the only spot
on earth where I may offer you hospitality."
"Your people are buried there?"
"For two hundred years. Will you come?"
While she hesitated, he tossed the lantern over into his field
and came closer to her side. "Come," he repeated gently, and at
his voice a faint flush spread slowly from her throat to the
loosened hair upon her forehead. The steady glow gave her face a
light, a radiance, that he had never seen there until to-day.
"Yes, I will come if you wish it," she responded quietly.
Together they went slowly up the low, brown incline over the
clods of upturned earth. When they reached the bricked-up wall,
which had crumbled away in places, he climbed over into the bed
of periwinkle and then held out his hands to assist her in
descending. "Here, step into that hollow," he said, "and don't
jump till I tell you. Ah, that's it; now, I'm ready."
At his words, she made a sudden. spring forward, her dress caught
on the wall, and she slipped lightly into his outstretched arms.
For the half of a second he held her against his breast; then, as
she released herself, he drew back and lifted his eves to meet
the serene composure of her expression. He was conscious that his
own face flamed red hot, but to all outward seeming she had not
noticed the incident which had so moved him. The calm distinction
of her bearing struck him as forcibly as it had done at their
first meeting. "What a solemn place," she said, lowering her
voice as she looked about her.
For answer he drew aside the screening boughs of a cedar and
motioned to the discoloured marble slabs strewn thickly under the
"Here are my people," he returned gravely. "And here is my
Pausing, she glanced down on his father's grave, reading with
difficulty the inscription beneath the dry dust from the cedars.
"He lived to be very old," she said, after a moment.
"Seventy years. He lived exactly ten years too long."
"Those last ten years wrecked him. Had he died at sixty he would
have died happy."
He turned from her, throwing himself upon the carpet of
periwinkle, and coming to where he lay, she sat down on a granite
slab at his side.
"One must believe that there is a purpose in it," she responded,
raising a handful of fine dust and sifting it through her
fingers, "or one would go mad over the mystery of things."
"Well, I dare say the purpose was to make me a tobacco-grower,"
he replied grimly, "and if so, it has fulfilled itself in a
precious way. Why, there's never been a time since I was ten
years old when I wouldn't have changed places, and said 'thank
you,' too, with any one of those old fellows over there. They
were jolly chaps, I tell you, and led jolly lives. It used to be
said of them that they never won a penny nor missed a kiss."
"Nor learned a lesson, evidently. Well, may they rest in peace;
but I'm not sure that their wisdom would carry far. There are
better things than gaming and kissing, when all is said."
"Better things? Perhaps."
"Have you not found them?"
"Not yet; but then, I can't judge anything except tobacco, you
For a long pause she looked down into his upturned face.
"After all, it isn't the way we live nor the work we do that
matters," she said slowly, "but the ideal we put into it. Is
there any work too sordid, too prosaic, to yield a return of
"Do you think so?" he asked, and glanced down the hill to his
ploughshare lying in the ripped-up field. "But it is not beauty
that some of us want, you see--it's success, action, happiness,
call it what you will."
"Surely they are not the same. I have known many successful
people, and the only three perfectly happy ones I ever met were
what the world calls failures."
"Failures?" he echoed, and remembered Tucker.
Her face softened, and she looked beyond him to the blue sky,
shining through the interlacing branches of bared trees.
"Two were women," she pursued, clasping and unclasping the quiet
hands in her lap, "and one was a Catholic priest who had been
reared in a foundling asylum and educated by charity. When I knew
him he was on his way to a leper island in the South Seas, where
he would be buried alive for the remainder of his life. All he
had was an ideal, but it flooded his soul with light. Another was
a Russian Nihilist, a girl in years and yet an atheist and a
revolutionist in thought, and her unbelief was in its way as
beautiful as the religion of my priest. To return to Russia meant
death; she knew, and yet she went back, devoted and exalted, to
lay down her life for an illusion. So it seems, when one looks
about the world, that faith and doubt are dry and inanimate forms
until we pour forth our heart's blood, which vivifies them."
She fell silent, and he started and touched softly the hem of her
"And the other?" he asked.
"The other had a stranger and a longer story, but if you will
listen I'll tell it to you. She was an Italian, of a very old and
proud family, and as she possessed rare loveliness and charm, a
marriage was arranged for her with a wealthy nobleman, who had
fallen in love with her before she left her convent. She was a
rebellious soul, it seems, for the day before her wedding, just
after she had patiently tried on her veil and orange blossoms,
she slipped into the dress of her waiting-maid and ran off with a
music-teacher--a beggarly fanatic, they told me--a man of red
republican views, who put dangerous ideas into the heads of the
peasantry. From that moment, they said, her life was over; her
family shut their doors upon her, and she fell finally so low as
to be seen one evening singing in the public streets. Her story
touched me when I heard it: it seemed a pitiable thing that a
woman should be wrecked so hopelessly by a single moment of
mistaken courage; and after months of searching I at last found
the place she lived in, and went one May evening up the long
winding staircase to her apartment--two clean, plain rooms which
looked on a little balcony where there were pots of sweet basil
and many pigeons. At my knock the door opened, and I knew her at
once in the beautiful white face and hands of the woman who stood
a little back in the shadow. Her forty years had not coarsened
her as they do most Italian women, and her eyes still held the
unshaken confidence of extreme youth. Her husband was sleeping in
the next room, she said; he had but a few days more to live, and
he had been steadily dying for a year. Then, at my gesture of
sympathy, she shook her head and smiled.
"I have had twenty years," she said, "and I have been perfectly
happy. Think of that when so many women die without having even a
single day of life. Why, but for the one instant of courage that
saved me, I myself might have known the world only as a vegetable
knows the garden in which it fattens. My soul has lived, and
though I have been hungry and cold and poorly clad, I have never
sunk to the level of what they would have made me. He is a
dreamer," she finished gently, "and though his dreams were
nourished upon air, and never came true except in our thoughts,
still they have touched even the most common things with beauty."
While she talked, he awoke and called her, and we went in to see
him. He complained a little fretfully that his feet were cold,
and she knelt down and warmed them in the shawl upon her bosom.
The mark of death was on him, and I doubt if even in the fulness
of his strength he were worthy of the passion he inspired--but
that, after all, makes little difference. It was a great love,
which is the next best thing to a great faith."
As she ended, he raised his eyes slowly, catching the fervour of
"It was more than that--it was a great deliverance," he said.
Then, as she rose, he followed her from the graveyard, and they
descended the low brown hill together.
CHAPTER VI. The Growing Light
By the end of the week a long rain had set in, and while it
lasted Christopher took down the tobacco hanging in the roof of
the log barn and laid it in smooth piles, pressed down by boards
on the ground. The tobacco was still soft from the moist season
when Jim Weatherby, who had sold his earlier in the year, came
over to help pack the large casks for market, bringing at the
same time a piece of news concerning Bill Fletcher.
"It seems Will met the old man somewhere on the road and they
came to downright blows," he said. "Fletcher broke a hickory
stick over the boy's shoulders."
Christopher carefully sorted a pile of plants, and then,
selecting the finest six leaves, wrapped them together by means
of a smaller one which he twisted tightly about the stems.
"Ah, is that so?" he returned, with a troubled look.
"It's a pretty kettle of fish, sure enough," pursued Jim. "Of
course, Will has made a fool of himself, and gone to the dogs and
all that, but I must say it does seem a shame, when you think
that old Fletcher can't take his money with him to the next
world. As for pure stinginess, I don't believe he'd find his
match if he scoured the country. Why, they say his granddaughter
barely gets enough to eat. Look here! What are you putting in
that bad leaf for. It's worm-eaten all over."
"So it is," admitted Christopher, examining it with a laugh. "My
eyesight must be failing me. But what good under heaven does his
money do Fletcher, after all?"
"Oh, he's saving it up to leave to foreign missions, Tom Spade
says. Mr. Carraway is coming down next week to draw up a new
"And his grandchildren come in for nothing?"
"It looks that way--but you can't see through Bill Fletcher, so
nobody knows. The funny part is that he has taken rather a liking
to Mrs. Wyndham, I hear, and she has even persuaded him to raise
the wages of his hands. It's a pity she can't patch up a peace
with Will--the quarrel seems to distress her very much."
"You have seen her, then?"
"Yesterday, for a minute. She stopped me near the store and asked
for news of Will. There was nothing I could tell her except that
they dragged along somehow with Sol Peterkin's help. That's a
fine woman, Fletcher or no Fletcher."
"Well, she can't help that--it's merely a question of name.
There's Cynthia calling us to dinner. We'll have to fill the
hogsheads later on."
But when the meal was over and he was returning to his work,
Cynthia followed him with a message from his mother.
"She has asked for you all the morning, Christopher; there's
something on her mind, though she seems quite herself and in a
very lively humour. It is impossible to get her away from the
subject of marriage--she harps on it continually."
He had turned to enter the house at her first words, but now his
face clouded, and he hung back before the door.
"Do you think I'd better go in?" he asked, hesitating.
"There's no getting out of it without making her feel neglected,
and perhaps your visit may divert her thoughts. I'm sure I don't
see what she has left to say on the subject."
"All right, I'll go," he said cheerfully; "but for heaven's sake,
help me drum up some fresh topics."
Mrs. Blake was sitting up in bed, sipping a glass of port wine,
and at Christopher's step she turned her groping gaze helplessly
in his direction.
"What a heavy tramp you have, my son; you must be almost as large
as your father."
Crossing the room as lightly as his rude boots permitted,
Christopher stooped to kiss the cheek she held toward him. The
old lady had wasted gradually to the shadow of herself, and the
firelight from the hearth shone through the unearthly pallor of
her face and hands. Her beautiful white hair was still arranged,
over a high cushion, in an elaborate fashion, and her gown of
fine embroidered linen was pinned together with a delicate cameo
"I have been talking very seriously to Lila," she began at once,
as he sat down by the bedside. "My age is great, you know, and it
is hardly probable that the good Lord will see fit to leave me
much longer to enjoy the pleasures of this world. Now, what
troubles me more than all else is that I am to die feeling that
the family will pass utterly away. Is it possible that both Lila
and yourself persist in your absurd and selfish determination to
"Oh, mother! mother!" groaned Lila from the fireplace.
"You needn't interrupt me, Lila; you know quite well that a
family is looked at askance when all of its members remain
single. Surely one old maid--and I am quite reconciled to poor
Cynthia's spinsterhood--is enough to leaven things, as your
father used to say--"
Her memory slipped from her for a moment; she caught at it
painfully, and a peevish expression crossed her face.
"What was I saying, Lila? I grow so forgetful."
"About father, dear."
"No, no; I remember now--it was about your marrying. Well, well,
as I said before, I fear your attitude is the result of some
sentimental fancies you have found in books. My child, there was
never a book yet that held a sensible view of love, and I hope
you will pay no attention to what they say. As for waiting until
you can't live without a man before you marry him--tut-tut! the
only necessary question is to ascertain if you can possibly live
with him. There is a great deal of sentiment talked in life, my
dear, and very little lived--and my experience of the world has
shown me that one man is likely to make quite as good a husband
as another--provided he remains a gentleman and you don't expect
him to become a saint. I've had a long marriage, my children, and
a happy one. Your father fell in love with me at his first
glance, and he did not hate me at his last, though the period
covered an association of thirty years. We were an ideal couple,
all things considered, and he was a very devoted husband; but to
this day I have not ceased to be thankful that he was never
placed in the position where he had to choose between me and his
dinner. Honestly, I may as well confess among us three, it makes
me nervous when I think of the result of such a pass."
"Oh, mother," protested Lila reproachfully; "if I listened to you
I should never want to marry any man."
"I'm sure I don't see why, my dear. I have always urged it as a
duty, not advised it as a pleasure. As far as that goes, I hold
to this day the highest opinion of matrimony and of men, though I
admit, when I consider the attention they require, I sometimes
feel that women might select a better object. When the last word
is said, a man is not half so satisfactory a domestic pet as a
cat, and far less neat in his habits. Your poor father would
throw his cigar ashes on the floor to the day of his death, and I
could never persuade him to use an ash-tray, though I gave him
one regularly every Christmas that he lived. Do you smoke cigars,
Christopher? I detect a strong odour of tobacco about you, and I
hope you haven't let Tucker persuade you into using anything so
vulgar as a pipe. The worst effect of a war, I am inclined to
believe, is the excuse it offers every man who fought in it to
fall into bad habits."
"Oh, it's Uncle Tucker's pipe you smell," replied Christopher,
with a laugh, as he rose from his chair. "I detest the stuff and
"I suppose I ought to be thankful for it," said Mrs. Blake,
detaining him by a gesture, "but I can't help recalling a speech
of Micajah Blair's, who said that a woman who didn't flirt and a
man who didn't smoke were unsexed creatures. It is a commendable
eccentricity, I suppose, but an eccentricity, good or bad, is
equally to be deplored. Your grandfather always said that the man
who was better than his neighbours was quite as unfortunate as
the man who was worse. Who knows but that your dislike of tobacco
and your aversion to marriage may result from the same peculiar
quirk in your brain?"
"Well, it's there and I can't alter it, even to please you,
mother," declared Christopher from the door. "I've set my face
square against them both, and there it stands."
He went out laughing, and Mrs. Blake resigned herself with a sigh
to her old port.
The rain fell heavily, whipping up foaming puddles in the muddy
road and beating down the old rosebushes in the yard.
As Christopher paused for a moment in the doorway before going to
the barn he drew with delight the taste of the dampness into his
mouth and the odour of the moist earth into his nostrils. The
world had taken on a new and appealing beauty, and yet the
colourless landscape was touched with a sadness which he had
never seen in external things until to-day.
His ears were now opened suddenly, his eyes unbandaged, and he
heard the rhythmical fall of the rain and saw the charm of the
brown fields with a vividness that he had never found in his
enjoyment of a summer's day. Human life also moved him to
responsive sympathy, and he felt a great aching tenderness for
his blind mother and for his sisters, with their narrowed and
empty lives. His own share in the world, he realised, was but
that of a small, insignificant failure; he had been crushed down
like a weed in his tobacco field, and for a new springing-up he
found neither place nor purpose. The facts of his own life were
not altered by so much as a shadow, yet on the outside life that
was not his own he beheld a wonderful illumination.
His powerful figure filled the doorway, and Cynthia, coming up
behind him, raised herself on tiptoe to touch his bared head.
"Your hair is quite wet, Christopher; be sure to put on your hat
and fasten the oilcloth over your shoulders when you go back to
the barn. You are so reckless that you make me uneasy. Why, the
rain has soaked entirely through your shirt."
"Oh, I'm a pine knot; you needn't worry."
She sighed impatiently and went back to the kitchen, while his
gaze travelled slowly along the wet gray road to the abandoned
ice-pond, and he thought of his meeting with Maria in the
darkness and of the light of the lantern shining on her face. He
remembered her white hands against her black dress, her fervent
eyes under the grave pallor of her brow, her passionate, kind
voice, and her mouth with the faint smile which seemed never to
fade utterly away. Love, which is revealed usually as a pleasant
disturbing sentiment resulting from the ordinary purposes of
life, had come to him in the form of a great regenerating force,
destroying but that it might rebuild anew.
CHAPTER VII. In Which Carraway Speaks the Truth to Maria
During the first week in April Carraway appeared at the Hall in
answer to an urgent request from Fletcher that he should, without
delay, put the new will into proper form.
On the morning after his arrival, Carraway had a long
conversation with the old man in his sitting-room, and when it
was over he came out with an anxious frown upon his brow and went
upstairs to the library which Maria had fitted up in the spare
room next her chamber. It was the pleasantest spot in the house,
he had concluded last evening, and the impression returned to him
as he entered now and saw the light from the wood fire falling on
the shining floor, which reflected the stately old furniture, and
the cushions, and the window curtains of faded green. Books were
everywhere, and he noticed at once that they were not the kind
read by the women whom he knew--big leather volumes on
philosophy, yellow-covered French novels, and curled edges of
what he took to be the classic poets. It was almost with relief
that he noticed a dainty feminine touch here and there--a work-
bag of flowered silk upon the sofa, a bowl of crocuses among the
papers on the old mahogany desk, and clinging to each bit of
well-worn drapery in the room a faint and delicate fragrance.
Maria was lying drowsily in a low chair before the fire, and as
he entered she looked up with a smile and motioned to a
comfortable seat across the hearth. A book was on her knees, but
she had not been reading, for her fingers were playing carelessly
with the uncut leaves. Against her soft black dress the whiteness
of her face and hands showed almost too intense a contrast, and
yet there was no hint of fragility in her appearance. From head
to foot she was abounding with energy, throbbing with life, and
though Carraway would still, perhaps, have hesitated to call her
beautiful, his eyes dwelt with pleasure on the noble lines of her
relaxed figure. Better than beauty, he admitted the moment
afterward, was the charm that shone for him in her wonderfully
expressive face--a face over which the experiences of many lives
seemed to ripple faintly in what was hardly more than the shadow
of a smile. She had loved and suffered, he thought, with his gaze
upon her, and from both love and suffering she had gained that
fulness of nature which is the greatest good that either has to
"So it is serious," she said anxiously, as he sat down.
"I fear so--at least, where your brother is concerned. I can't
say just what the terms of the will are, of course, but he made
no secret at breakfast of his determination to leave half of his
property--which the result of recent investments has made very
large--to the cause of foreign missions."
"Yes, he has told me about it."
"Then there's nothing more to be said, unless you can persuade
him for your brother's sake to destroy the will when his anger
has blown over. I used every argument I could think of, but he
simply wouldn't listen to me--swept my advice aside as if it was
so much wasted breath--"
He paused as Maria bent her ear attentively.
"He is coming upstairs now!" she exclaimed, amazed.
There was a heavy tread on the staircase, and a little later
Fletcher came in and turned to close the door carefully behind
him. He had recovered for a moment his air of bluff good-humour,
and his face crinkled into a ruddy smile.
"So you're hatching schemes between you, I reckon," he observed,
and, crossing to the hearth, pushed back a log with the toe of
his heavy boot.
"It looks that way, certainly," replied Carraway, with his
pleasant laugh. "But I must confess that I was doing nothing more
interesting than admiring Mrs. Wyndham's taste in books."
Fletcher glanced round indifferently.
"Well, I haven't any secrets," he pursued, still under the
pressure of the thought which had urged him upstairs, "and as far
as that goes, I can tear up that piece of paper and have it done
with any day I please."
"So I had the honour to advise," remarked Carraway.
"That's neither here nor thar, I reckon--it's made now, and so
it's likely to stand until I die, though I don't doubt you'll
twist and split it then as much as you can. However, I reckon the
foreign missions will look arter the part that goes to them, and
if Maria's got the sense I credit her with she'll look arter
"After mine?" exclaimed Maria, lifting her head to return his
gaze. "Why, I thought you gave me my share when I married."
"So I did--so I did, and you let it slip like water through your
fingers; but you've grown up, I reckon, sence you were such a
fool as to have your head turned by Wyndham, and if you don't
hold on to this tighter than you did to the last you deserve to
lose it, that's all. You're a good woman--I ain't lived a month
in the house with you and not found that out--but if you hadn't
had something more than goodness inside your head you wouldn't
have got so much as a cent out of me again. Saidie's a good woman
and a blamed fool, too, but you're different; you've got a
backbone in your body, and I'll be hanged if that ain't why I'm
leaving the Hall to you."
"The Hall?" echoed Maria, rising impulsively from her chair and
facing him upon the hearthrug.
"The Hall and Saidie and the whole lot," returned Fletcher,
chuckling, "and I may as well tell you now, that, for all your
spendthrift notions about wages, you're the only woman I ever saw
who was fit to own a foot of land. But I like the quiet way you
manage things, somehow, and, bless my soul, if you were a man I'd
leave you the whole business and let the missions hang."
"There's time yet," observed Carraway beneath his breath.
"No, no; it's settled now," returned Fletcher, "and she'll have
more than she can handle as it is. Most likely she'll marry
again, being a woman, and a man will be master here, arter all.
If you do," he added, turning angrily upon his granddaughter,
"for heaven's sakes, don't let it be another precious scamp like
With a shiver Maria caught her breath and bent toward him with an
appealing gesture of her arms.
"But you must not do it, grandfather; it isn't right. The place
was never meant to belong to me."
"Well, it belongs to me, I reckon, and confound your silly
puritanical fancies, I'll leave it where I please," retorted
Fletcher, and strode from the room.
Throwing herself back into her chair, Maria lay for a time
looking thoughtfully at the hickory log, which crumbled and threw
out a shower of red sparks. Her face was grave, but there was no
hint of indecision upon it, and it struck Carraway very forcibly
at the instant that she knew her own mind quite clearly and
distinctly upon this as upon most other matters.
"It may surprise you," she said presently, speaking with sudden
passion, "but by right the Hall ought not to be mine, and I do
not want it. I have never loved it because it has never for a
moment seemed home to me, and our people have always appeared
strangers upon the land. How we came here I do not know, but it
has not suited us, and we have only disfigured a beauty into
which we did not fit. Its very age is a reproach to us, for it
shows off our newness--our lack of any past that we may call our
own. Will might feel himself master here, but I cannot."
Carraway took off his glasses and rubbed patiently at the ridge
they had drawn across his nose.
"And yet, why not?" he asked. "The place has been in your
grandfather's possession now for more than twenty years."
"For more than twenty years," repeated Maria scornfully, "and
before that the Blakes lived here--how long?"
He met her question squarely. "For more than two hundred."
Without shifting her steady gaze which she turned upon his face,
she leaned forward, clasping her hands loosely upon the knees.
"There are things that I want to know, Mr. Carraway," she said,
"many things, and I believe that you can tell me. Most of all, I
want to know why we ever came to Blake Hall? Why the Blakes ever
left it? And, above all, why they have hated us so heartily and
She paused and sat motionless, while she hung with suspended
breath upon his reply.
For a moment the lawyer hesitated, nervously twirling his glasses
between his thumb and forefinger; then he slowly shook his head
and looked from her to the fire.
"Twenty years are not as a day, despite your scorn, my dear young
lady, and many facts become overlaid with fiction in a shorter
"But you know something--and you believe still more."
"God forbid that I should convert you to any belief of mine."
She put out a protesting hand, her eyes still gravely insistent.
"Tell me all--I demand it. It is my right; you must see that."
"A right to demolish sand houses--to scatter old dust."
"A right to hear the truth. Surely you will not withhold it from
"I don't know the truth, so I can't enlighten you. I know only
the stories of both sides, and they resemble each other merely in
that they both center about the same point of interest."
"Then you will tell them to me--you must," she said earnestly.
"Tell me first, word for word, all that the Blakes believe of
With a laugh, he put on his glasses that he might bring her
troubled face the more clearly before him.
"A high spirit of impartiality, I admit," he observed.
"That I should want to hear the other side?"
"That, being a woman, you should take for granted the existence
of the other side."
She shook her head impatiently. "You can't evade me by airing
camphor-scented views of my sex," she returned. "What I wish to
know--and I still stick to my point, you see--is the very thing
you are so carefully holding back."
"I am holding back nothing, on my honour," he assured her. "If
you want the impression which still exists in the county--only an
impression--I must make plain to you at the start (for the events
happened when the State was in the throes of reconstruction, when
each man was busy rebuilding his own fortunes, and when tragedies
occurred without notice and were hushed up without remark)--if
you want merely an impression, I repeat, then you may have it, my
dear lady, straight from the shoulder."
"Well?" her voice rose inquiringly, for he had paused.
"There is really nothing definite known of the affair," he
resumed after a moment, "even the papers which would have thrown
light into the darkness were destroyed--burned, it is said, in an
old office which the Federal soldiers fired. It is all mystery--
grim mystery and surmise; and when there is no chance of either
proving or disproving a case I dare say one man's word answers
quite as well as another's. At all events, we have your
grandfather's testimony as chief actor and eye-witness against
the inherited convictions of our somewhat Homeric young
neighbour. For eighteen years before the war Mr. Fletcher was
sole agent--a queer selection, certainly--for old Mr. Blake, who
was known to have grown very careless in the confidence he
placed. When the crash came, about three years after the war, the
old gentleman's mind was much enfeebled, and it was generally
rumoured that his children were kept in ignorance that the place
was passing from them until it was auctioned off over their heads
and Mr. Fletcher became the purchaser. How this was, of course, I
do not pretend to say, but when the Hall finally went for the
absurd sum of seven thousand dollars life was at best a hard
struggle in the State, and I imagine there was less surprise at
the sacrifice of the place than at the fact that your grandfather
should have been able to put down the ready money. The making of
a fortune is always, I suppose, more inexplicable than the losing
of one. The Blakes had always been accounted people of great
wealth and wastefulness, but within five years from the close of
the war they had sunk to the position in which you find them now
--a change, I dare say, from which it is natural much lingering
bitterness should result. The old man died almost penniless, and
his children were left to struggle on from day to day as best
they could. It is a sad tale, and I do not wonder that it moves
you," he finished slowly, and looked down to wipe his glasses.
"And grandfather?" asked the girl quietly. Her gaze had not
wavered from his face, but her eyes shone luminous through the
tears which filled them.
"He became rich as suddenly as the Blakes became poor. Where his
money came from no one asked, and no one cared except the Blakes,
who were helpless. They made some small attempts at law suits, I
believe, but Christopher was only a child then, and there was
nobody with the spirit to push the case. Then money was needed,
and they were quite impoverished."