Part 1 out of 5
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks at the end of this file
for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making
an entire meal of them. D.W.]
By William Dean Howells
The Kentons were not rich, but they were certainly richer than the
average in the pleasant county town of the Middle West, where they had
spent nearly their whole married life. As their circumstances had grown
easier, they had mellowed more and more in the keeping of their
comfortable home, until they hated to leave it even for the short
outings, which their children made them take, to Niagara or the Upper
Lakes in the hot weather. They believed that they could not be so well
anywhere as in the great square brick house which still kept its four
acres about it, in the heart of the growing town, where the trees they
had planted with their own hands topped it on three aides, and a spacious
garden opened southward behind it to the summer wind. Kenton had his
library, where he transacted by day such law business as he had retained
in his own hands; but at night he liked to go to his wife's room and sit
with her there. They left the parlors and piazzas to their girls, where
they could hear them laughing with the young fellows who came to make the
morning calls, long since disused in the centres of fashion, or the
evening calls, scarcely more authorized by the great world. She sewed,
and he read his paper in her satisfactory silence, or they played
checkers together. She did not like him to win, and when she found
herself unable to bear the prospect of defeat, she refused to let him
make the move that threatened the safety of her men. Sometimes he
laughed at her, and sometimes he scolded, but they were very good
comrades, as elderly married people are apt to be. They had long ago
quarrelled out their serious differences, which mostly arose from such
differences of temperament as had first drawn them together; they
criticised each other to their children from time to time, but they
atoned for this defection by complaining of the children to each other,
and they united in giving way to them on all points concerning their
happiness, not to say their pleasure.
They had both been teachers in their youth before he went into the war,
and they had not married until he had settled himself in the practice of
the law after he left the army. He was then a man of thirty, and five
years older than she; five children were born to them, but the second son
died when he was yet a babe in his mother's arms, and there was an
interval of six years between the first boy and the first girl. Their
eldest son was already married, and settled next them in a house which
was brick, like their own, but not square, and had grounds so much less
ample that he got most of his vegetables from their garden. He had grown
naturally into a share of his father's law practice, and he had taken it
all over when Renton was elected to the bench. He made a show of giving
it back after the judge retired, but by that time Kenton was well on in
the fifties. The practice itself had changed, and had become mainly the
legal business of a large corporation. In this form it was distasteful
to him; he kept the affairs of some of his old clients in his hands, but
he gave much of his time, which he saved his self-respect by calling his
leisure, to a history of his regiment in-the war.
In his later life he had reverted to many of the preoccupations of his
youth, and he believed that Tuskingum enjoyed the best climate, on the
whole, in the union; that its people of mingled Virginian, Pennsylvanian,
and Connecticut origin, with little recent admixture of foreign strains,
were of the purest American stock, and spoke the best English in the
world; they enjoyed obviously the greatest sum of happiness, and had
incontestibly the lowest death rate and divorce rate in the State. The
growth of the place was normal and healthy; it had increased only to five
thousand during the time he had known it, which was almost an ideal
figure for a county-town. There was a higher average of intelligence
than in any other place of its size, and a wider and evener diffusion of
prosperity. Its record in the civil war was less brilliant, perhaps,
than that of some other localities, but it was fully up to the general
Ohio level, which was the high-water mark of the national achievement in
the greatest war of the greatest people under the sun. It, was Kenton's
pride and glory that he had been a part of the finest army known in
history. He believed that the men who made history ought to write it,
and in his first Commemoration-Day oration he urged his companions in
arms to set down everything they could remember of their soldiering, and
to save the letters they had written home, so that they might each
contribute to a collective autobiography of the regiment. It was only in
this way, he held, that the intensely personal character of the struggle
could be recorded. He had felt his way to the fact that every battle is
essentially episodical, very campaign a sum of fortuities; and it was not
strange that he should suppose, with his want of perspective, that this
universal fact was purely national and American. His zeal made him the
repository of a vast mass of material which he could not have refused to
keep for the soldiers who brought it to him, more or less in a humorous
indulgence of his whim. But he even offered to receive it, and in a
community where everything took the complexion of a joke, he came to be
affectionately regarded as a crank on that point; the shabbily aging
veterans, whom he pursued to their workbenches and cornfields, for, the
documents of the regimental history, liked to ask the colonel if he had
brought his gun. They, always give him the title with which he had been
breveted at the close of the war; but he was known to the, younger,
generation of his fellow-citizens as the judge. His wife called him Mr.
Kenton in the presence of strangers, and sometimes to himself, but to his
children she called him Poppa, as they did.
The steady-going eldest son, who had succeeded to his father's affairs
without giving him the sense of dispossession, loyally accepted the
popular belief that he would never be the man his father was. He joined
with his mother in a respect for Kenton's theory of the regimental
history which was none the less sincere because it was unconsciously a
little sceptical of the outcome; and the eldest daughter was of their
party. The youngest said frankly that she had no use for any history,
but she said the same of nearly everything which had not directly or
indirectly to do with dancing. In this regulation she had use for
parties and picnics, for buggy-rides and sleigh-rides, for calls from
young men and visits to and from other girls, for concerts, for plays,
for circuses and church sociables, for everything but lectures; and she
devoted herself to her pleasures without the shadow of chaperonage, which
was, indeed, a thing still unheard of in Tuskingum.
In the expansion which no one else ventured, or, perhaps, wished to set
bounds to, she came under the criticism of her younger brother, who, upon
the rare occasions when he deigned to mingle in the family affairs, drew
their mother's notice to his sister's excesses in carrying-on, and
required some action that should keep her from bringing the name, of
Kenton to disgrace. From being himself a boy of very slovenly and
lawless life he had suddenly, at the age of fourteen, caught himself up
from the street, reformed his dress and conduct, and confined himself in
his large room at the top of the house, where, on the pursuits to which
he gave his spare time, the friends who frequented his society, and the
literature which nourished his darkling spirit, might fitly have been
written Mystery. The sister whom he reprobated was only two years his
elder, but since that difference in a girl accounts for a great deal, it
apparently authorized her to take him more lightly than he was able to
take himself. She said that he was in love, and she achieved an
importance with him through his speechless rage and scorn which none of
the rest of his family enjoyed. With his father and mother he had a
bearing of repressed superiority which a strenuous conscience kept from
unmasking itself in open contempt when they failed to make his sister
promise to behave herself. Sometimes he had lapses from his dignified
gloom with his mother, when, for no reason that could be given, he fell
from his habitual majesty to the tender dependence of a little boy, just
as his voice broke from its nascent base to its earlier treble at moments
when he least expected or wished such a thing to happen. His stately but
vague ideal of himself was supported by a stature beyond his years, but
this rendered it the more difficult for him to bear the humiliation of
his sudden collapses, and made him at other times the easier prey of
Lottie's ridicule. He got on best, or at least most evenly, with his
eldest sister. She took him seriously, perhaps because she took all life
so; and she was able to interpret him to his father when his intolerable
dignity forbade a common understanding between them. When he got so far
beyond his depth that he did not know what he meant himself, as sometimes
happened, she gently found him a safe footing nearer shore.
Kenton's theory was that he did not distinguish among his children.
He said that he did not suppose they were the best children in the world,
but they suited him; and he would not have known how to change them for
the better. He saw no harm in the behavior of Lottie when it most
shocked her brother; he liked her to have a good time; but it flattered
his nerves to have Ellen about him. Lottie was a great deal more
accomplished, he allowed that; she could play and sing, and she had
social gifts far beyond her sister; but he easily proved to his wife that
Nelly knew ten times as much.
Nelly read a great deal; she kept up with all the magazines, and knew all
the books in his library. He believed that she was a fine German
scholar, and in fact she had taken up that language after leaving school,
when, if she had been better advised than she could have been in
Tuskingum, she would have kept on with her French. She started the first
book club in the place; and she helped her father do the intellectual
honors of the house to the Eastern lecturers, who always stayed with the
judge when they came to Tuskingum. She was faithfully present at the
moments, which her sister shunned in derision, when her father explained
to them respectively his theory of regimental history, and would just,
as he said, show them a few of the documents he had collected. He made
Ellen show them; she knew where to put her hand on the most
characteristic and illustrative; and Lottie offered to bet what one dared
that Ellen would marry some of those lecturers yet; she was literary
She boasted that she was not literary herself, and had no use for any one
who was; and it could not have been her culture that drew the most
cultivated young man in Tuskingum to her. Ellen was really more
beautiful; Lottie was merely very pretty; but she had charm for them, and
Ellen, who had their honor and friendship, had no charm for them. No one
seemed drawn to her as they were drawn to her sister till a man came who
was not one of the most cultivated in Tuskingum; and then it was doubtful
whether she was not first drawn to him. She was too transparent to hide
her feeling from her father and mother, who saw with even more grief than
shame that she could not hide it from the man himself, whom they thought
so unworthy of it.
He had suddenly arrived in Tuskingum from one of the villages of the
county, where he had been teaching school, and had found something to do
as reporter on the Tuskingum 'Intelligencer', which he was instinctively
characterizing with the spirit of the new journalism, and was pushing as
hardily forward on the lines of personality as if he had dropped down to
it from the height of a New York or Chicago Sunday edition. The judge
said, with something less than his habitual honesty, that he did not mind
his being a reporter, but he minded his being light and shallow; he
minded his being flippant and mocking; he minded his bringing his
cigarettes and banjo into the house at his second visit. He did not mind
his push; the fellow had his way to make and he had to push; but he did
mind his being all push; and his having come out of the country with as
little simplicity as if he had passed his whole life in the city. He had
no modesty, and he had no reverence; he had no reverence for Ellen
herself, and the poor girl seemed to like him for that.
He was all the more offensive to the judge because he was himself to
blame for their acquaintance, which began when one day the fellow had
called after him in the street, and then followed down the shady sidewalk
beside him to his hour, wanting to know what this was he had heard about
his history, and pleading for more light upon his plan in it. At the
gate he made a flourish of opening and shutting it for the judge, and
walking up the path to his door he kept his hand on the judge's shoulder
most offensively; but in spite of this Kenton had the weakness to ask him
in, and to call Ellen to get him the most illustrative documents of the
The interview that resulted in the 'Intelligencer' was the least evil
that came of this error. Kenton was amazed, and then consoled, and then
afflicted that Ellen was not disgusted with it; and in his conferences
with his wife he fumed and fretted at his own culpable folly, and tried
to get back of the time he had committed it, in that illusion which
people have with trouble that it could somehow be got rid of if it could
fairly be got back of; till the time came when his wife could no longer
share his unrest in this futile endeavor.
She said, one night when they had talked late and long, "That can't be
helped now; and the question is what are we going to do to stop it."
The judge evaded the point in saying, "The devil of it is that all the
nice fellows are afraid of her; they respect her too much, and the very
thing which ought to disgust her with this chap is what gives him his
power over her. I don't know what we are going to do, but we must break
it off, somehow."
"We might take her with us somewhere," Mrs. Kenton suggested.
"Run away from the fellow? I think I see myself! No, we have got to
stay and face the thing right here. But I won't have him about the house
any more, understand that. He's not to be let in, and Ellen mustn't see
him; you tell her I said so. Or no! I will speak to her myself." His
wife said that he was welcome to do that; but he did not quite do it. He
certainly spoke to his daughter about her, lover, and he satisfied
himself that there was yet nothing explicit between them. But she was so
much less frank and open with him than she had always been before that he
was wounded as well as baffled by her reserve. He could not get her to
own that she really cared for the fellow; but man as he was, and old man
as he was, he could not help perceiving that she lived in a fond dream of
He went from her to her mother. "If he was only one-half the man she
thinks he is!"--he ended his report in a hopeless sigh.
"You want to give in to her!" his wife pitilessly interpreted. "Well,
perhaps that would be the best thing, after all."
"No, no, it wouldn't, Sarah; it would be the easiest for both of us, I
admit, but it would be the worst thing for her. We've got to let it run
along for a while yet. If we give him rope enough he may hang himself;
there's that chance. We can't go away, and we can't shut her up, and we
can't turn him out of the house. We must trust her to find him out for
"She'll never do that," said the mother. "Lottie says Ellen thinks he's
just perfect. He cheers her up, and takes her out of herself. We've
always acted with her as if we thought she was different from other
girls, and he behaves to her as if she was just like all of them, just as
silly, and just as weak, and it pleases her, and flatters her; she likes
"Oh, Lord!" groaned the father. "I suppose she does."
This was bad enough; it was a blow to his pride in Ellen; but there was
something that hurt him still worse. When the fellow had made sure of
her, he apparently felt himself so safe in her fondness that he did not
urge his suit with her. His content with her tacit acceptance gave the
bitterness of shame to the promise Kenton and his wife had made each
other never to cross any of their children in love. They were ready now
to keep that promise for Ellen, if he asked it of them, rather than
answer for her lifelong disappointment, if they denied him. But,
whatever he meant finally to do, he did not ask it; he used his footing
in their house chiefly as a basis for flirtations beyond it. He began to
share his devotions to Ellen with her girl friends, and not with her girl
friends alone. It did not come to scandal, but it certainly came to
gossip about him and a silly young wife; and Kenton heard of it with a
torment of doubt whether Ellen knew of it, and what she would do; he
would wait for her to do herself whatever was to be done. He was never
certain how much she had heard of the gossip when she came to her mother,
and said with the gentle eagerness she had, "Didn't poppa talk once of
going South this winter?"
"He talked of going to New York," the mother answered, with a throb of
"Well," the girl returned, patiently, and Mrs. Kenton read in her
passivity an eagerness to be gone from sorrow that she would not suffer
to be seen, and interpreted her to her father in such wise that he could
If such a thing could be mercifully ordered, the order of this event had
certainly been merciful; but it was a cruel wrench that tore Kenton from
the home where he had struck such deep root. When he actually came to
leave the place his going had a ghastly unreality, which was heightened
by his sense of the common reluctance. No one wanted to go, so far as he
could make out, not even Ellen herself, when he tried to make her say she
wished it. Lottie was in open revolt, and animated her young men to a
share in the insurrection. Her older brother was kindly and helpfully
acquiescent, but he was so far from advising the move that Kenton had
regularly to convince himself that Richard approved it, by making him say
that it was only for the winter and that it was the best way of helping
Ellen get rid of that fellow. All this did not enable Kenton to meet the
problems of his younger son, who required him to tell what he was to do
with his dog and his pigeons, and to declare at once how he was to
dispose of the cocoons he had amassed so as not to endanger the future of
the moths and butterflies involved in them. The boy was so fertile in
difficulties and so importunate for their solution, that he had to be
crushed into silence by his father, who ached in a helpless sympathy with
Kenton came heavily upon the courage of his wife, who was urging forward
their departure with so much energy that he obscurely accused her of
being the cause of it, and could only be convinced of her innocence when
she offered to give the whole thing up if he said so. When he would not
say so, she carried the affair through to the bitter end, and she did not
spare him some, pangs which she perhaps need not have shared with him.
But people are seldom man and wife for half their lives without wishing
to impart their sufferings as well as their pleasures to each other; and
Mrs. Kenton, if she was no worse, was no better than other wives in
pressing to her husband's lips the cup that was not altogether sweet to
her own. She went about the house the night before closing it, to see
that everything was in a state to be left, and then she came to Kenton in
his library, where he had been burning some papers and getting others
ready to give in charge to his son, and sat down by his cold hearth with
him, and wrung his soul with the tale of the last things she had been
doing. When she had made him bear it all, she began to turn the bright
side of the affair to him. She praised the sense and strength of Ellen,
in the course the girl had taken with herself, and asked him if he,
really thought they could have done less for her than they were doing.
She reminded him that they were not running away from the fellow, as she
had once thought they must, but Ellen was renouncing him, and putting him
out of her sight till she could put him out of her mind. She did not
pretend that the girl had done this yet; but it was everything that she
wished to do it, and saw that it was best. Then she kissed him on his
gray head, and left him alone to the first ecstasy of his homesickness.
It was better when they once got to New York, and were settled in an
apartment of an old-fashioned down-town hotel. They thought themselves
very cramped in it, and they were but little easier when they found that
the apartments over and under them were apparently thought spacious for
families of twice their numbers. It was the very quietest place in the
whole city, but Kenton was used to the stillness of Tuskingum, where,
since people no longer kept hens, the nights were stiller than in the
country itself; and for a week he slept badly. Otherwise, as soon as
they got used to living in six rooms instead of seventeen, they were
really very comfortable.
He could see that his wife was glad of the release from housekeeping, and
she was growing gayer and seemed to be growing younger in the inspiration
of the great, good-natured town. They had first come to New York on
their wedding journey, but since that visit she had always let him go
alone on his business errands to the East; these had grown less and less
frequent, and he had not seen New York for ten or twelve years. He could
have waited as much longer, but he liked her pleasure in the place, and
with the homesickness always lurking at his heart he went about with her
to the amusements which she frequented, as she said, to help Ellen take
her mind off herself. At the play and the opera he sat thinking of the
silent, lonely house at Tuakingum, dark among its leafless maples, and
the life that was no more in it than if they had all died out of it; and
he could not keep down a certain resentment, senseless and cruel, as if
the poor girl were somehow to blame for their exile. When he betrayed
this feeling to his wife, as he sometimes must, she scolded him for it,
and then offered, if he really thought anything like that, to go back to
Tuskingum at once; and it ended in his having to own himself wrong, and
humbly promise that he never would let the child dream how he felt,
unless he really wished to kill her. He was obliged to carry his self-
punishment so far as to take Lottie very sharply to task when she broke
out in hot rebellion, and declared that it was all Ellen's fault; she was
not afraid of killing her sister; and though she did not say it to her,
she said it of her, that anybody else could have got rid of that fellow
without turning the whole family out of house and home.
Lottie, in fact, was not having a bit good time in New York, which she
did not find equal in any way to Tuskingum for fun. She hated the dull
propriety of the hotel, where nobody got acquainted, and every one was as
afraid as death of every one else; and in her desolation she was thrown
back upon the society of her brother Boyne. They became friends in their
common dislike of New York; and pending some chance of bringing each
other under condemnation they lamented their banishment from Tuskingum
together. But even Boyne contrived to make the heavy time pass more
lightly than she in the lessons he had with a tutor, and the studies of
the city which he carried on. When the skating was not good in Central
Park he spent most of his afternoons and evenings at the vaudeville
theatres. None of the dime museums escaped his research, and he
conversed with freaks and monsters of all sorts upon terms of friendly
confidence. He reported their different theories of themselves to his
family with the same simple-hearted interest that he criticised the song
and dance artists of the vaudeville theatres. He became an innocent but
by no means uncritical connoisseur of their attractions, and he surprised
with the constancy and variety of his experience in them a gentleman who
sat next him one night. Boyne thought him a person of cultivation, and
consulted him upon the opinion he had formed that there was not so much
harm in such places as people said. The gentleman distinguished in
saying that he thought you would not find more harm in them, if you did
not bring it with you, than you would in the legitimate theatres; and in
the hope of further wisdom from him, Boyne followed him out of the
theatre and helped him on with his overcoat. The gentleman walked home
to his hotel with him, and professed a pleasure in his acquaintance which
he said he trusted they might sometime renew.
All at once the Kentons began to be acquainted in the hotel, as often
happens with people after they have long ridden up and down in the
elevator together in bonds of apparently perpetual strangeness. From one
friendly family their acquaintance spread to others until they were,
almost without knowing it, suddenly and simultaneously on smiling and
then on speaking terms with the people of every permanent table in the
dining-room. Lottie and Boyne burst the chains of the unnatural kindness
which bound them, and resumed their old relations of reciprocal censure.
He found a fellow of his own age in the apartment below, who had the same
country traditions and was engaged in a like inspection of the city; and
she discovered two girls on another floor, who said they received on
Saturdays and wanted her to receive with them. They made a tea for her,
and asked some real New Yorkers; and such a round of pleasant little
events began for her that Boyne was forced to call his mother's attention
to the way Charlotte was going on with the young men whom she met and
frankly asked to call upon her without knowing anything about them; you
could not do that in New York, he said.
But by this time New York had gone to Mrs. Kenton's head, too, and she
was less fitted to deal with Lottie than at home. Whether she had
succeeded or not in helping Ellen take her mind off herself, she had
certainly freed her own from introspection in a dream of things which had
seemed impossible before. She was in that moment of a woman's life which
has a certain pathos for the intelligent witness, when, having reared her
children and outgrown the more incessant cares of her motherhood, she
sometimes reverts to her girlish impulses and ideals, and confronts the
remaining opportunities of life with a joyful hope unknown to our heavier
and sullener sex in its later years. It is this peculiar power of
rejuvenescence which perhaps makes so many women outlive their husbands,
who at the same age regard this world as an accomplished fact. Mrs.
Kenton had kept up their reading long after Kenton found himself too busy
or too tired for it; and when he came from his office at night and fell
asleep over the book she wished him to hear, she continued it herself,
and told him about it. When Ellen began to show the same taste, they
read together, and the mother was not jealous when the father betrayed
that he was much prouder of his daughter's culture than his wife's. She
had her own misgivings that she was not so modern as Ellen, and she
accepted her judgment in the case of some authors whom she did not like
She now went about not only to all the places where she could make
Ellen's amusement serve as an excuse, but to others when she could not
coax or compel the melancholy girl. She was as constant at matinees of
one kind as Boyne at another sort; she went to the exhibitions of
pictures, and got herself up in schools of painting; she frequented
galleries, public and private, and got asked to studio teas; she went to
meetings and conferences of aesthetic interest, and she paid an easy way
to parlor lectures expressive of the vague but profound ferment in
women's souls; from these her presence in intellectual clubs was a simple
and natural transition. She met and talked with interesting people, and
now and then she got introduced to literary people. Once, in a book-
store, she stood next to a gentleman leaning over the same counter, whom
a salesman addressed by the name of a popular author, and she remained
staring at him breathless till he left the place. When she bragged of
the prodigious experience at home, her husband defied her to say how it
differed from meeting the lecturers who had been their guests in
Tuskingum, and she answered that none of them compared with this author;
and, besides, a lion in his own haunts was very different from a lion
going round the country on exhibition. Kenton thought that was pretty
good, and owned that she had got him there.
He laughed at her, to the children, but all the same she believed that
she was living in an atmosphere of culture, and with every breath she was
sensible of an intellectual expansion. She found herself in the
enjoyment of so wide and varied a sympathy with interests hitherto
strange to her experience that she could not easily make people believe
she had never been to Europe. Nearly every one she met had been several
times, and took it for granted that she knew the Continent as well as
She denied it with increasing shame; she tried to make Kenton understand
how she felt, and she might have gone further if she had not seen how
homesick he was for Tuskingum. She did her best to coax him and scold
him into a share of the pleasure they were all beginning to have in New
York. She made him own that Ellen herself was beginning to be gayer; she
convinced him that his business was not suffering in his absence and that
he was the better from the complete rest he was having. She defied him,
to say, then, what was the matter with him, and she bitterly reproached
herself, in the event, for not having known that it was not homesickness
alone that was the trouble. When he was not going about with her, or
doing something to amuse the children, he went upon long, lonely walks,
and came home silent and fagged. He had given up smoking, and he did not
care to sit about in the office of the hotel where other old fellows
passed the time over their papers and cigars, in the heat of the glowing
grates. They looked too much like himself, with their air of
unrecognized consequence, and of personal loss in an alien environment.
He knew from their dress and bearing that they were country people, and
it wounded him in a tender place to realize that they had each left
behind him in his own town an authority and a respect which they could
not enjoy in New York. Nobody called them judge, or general, or doctor,
or squire; nobody cared who they were, or what they thought; Kenton did
not care himself; but when he missed one of them he envied him, for then
he knew that he had gone back to the soft, warm keeping of his own
neighborhood, and resumed the intelligent regard of a community he had
grown up with. There were men in New York whom Kenton had met in former
years, and whom he had sometimes fancied looking up; but he did not let
them know he was in town, and then he was hurt that they ignored him.
He kept away from places where he was likely to meet them; he thought
that it must have come to them that he was spending the winter in New
York, and as bitterly as his nature would suffer he resented the
indifference of the Ohio Society to the presence of an Ohio man of his
local distinction. He had not the habit of clubs, and when one of the
pleasant younger fellows whom he met in the hotel offered to put him up
at one, he shrank from the courtesy shyly and almost dryly. He had
outlived the period of active curiosity, and he did not explore the city
as he world once have done. He had no resorts out of the hotel, except
the basements of the secondhand book-dealers. He haunted these, and
picked up copies of war histories and biographies, which, as fast as he
read them, he sent off to his son at Tuskingum, and had him put them away
with the documents for the life of his regiment. His wife could see,
with compassion if not sympathy, that he was fondly strengthening by
these means the ties that bound him to his home, and she silently
proposed to go back to it with him whenever he should say the word.
He had a mechanical fidelity, however, to their agreement that they
should stay till spring, and he made no sign of going, as the winter wore
away to its end, except to write out to Tuskingum minute instructions for
getting the garden ready. He varied his visits to the book-stalls by
conferences with seedsmen at their stores; and his wife could see that he
had as keen a satisfaction in despatching a rare find from one as from
She forbore to make him realize that the situation had not changed, and
that they would be taking their daughter back to the trouble the girl
herself had wished to escape. She was trusting, with no definite hope,
for some chance of making him feel this, while Kenton was waiting with a
kind of passionate patience for the term of his exile, when he came in
one day in April from one of his long walks, and said he had been up to
the Park to see the blackbirds. But he complained of being tired, and he
lay down on his bed. He did not get up for dinner, and then it was six
weeks before he left his room.
He could not remember that he had ever been sick so long before, and he
was so awed by his suffering, which was severe but not serious, that when
his doctor said he thought a voyage to Europe would be good for him he
submitted too meekly for Mrs. Kenton. Her heart smote her for her guilty
joy in his sentence, and she punished herself by asking if it would not
do him more good to get back to the comfort and quiet of their own house.
She went to the length of saying that she believed his attack had been
brought on more by homesickness than anything else. But the doctor
agreed rather with her wish than her word, and held out that his
melancholy was not the cause but the effect of his disorder. Then she
took courage and began getting ready to go. She did not flag even in the
dark hours when Kenton got back his courage with his returning strength,
and scoffed at the notion of Europe, and insisted that as soon as they
were in Tuskingum he should be all right again.
She felt the ingratitude, not to say the perfidy, of his behavior, and
she fortified herself indignantly against it; but it was not her constant
purpose, or the doctor's inflexible opinion, that prevailed with Kenton
at last a letter came one day for Ellen which she showed to her mother,
and which her mother, with her distress obscurely relieved by a sense of
its powerful instrumentality, brought to the girl's father. It was from
that fellow, as they always called him, and it asked of the girl a
hearing upon a certain point in which, it had just come to his knowledge,
she had misjudged him. He made no claim upon her, and only urged his
wish to right himself with her because she was the one person in the
whole world, after his mother, for whose good opinion he cared. With
some tawdriness of sentiment, the letter was well worded; it was
professedly written for the sole purpose of knowing whether, when she
came back to Tuskingum, she would see him, and let him prove to her that
he was not wholly unworthy of the kindness she had shown him when he was
without other friends.
"What does she say?" the judge demanded.
"What do you suppose?" his wife retorted. "She thinks she ought to see
"Very well, then. We will go to Europe."
"Not on my account!" Mrs. Kenton consciously protested.
"No; not on your account, or mine, either. On Nelly's account. Where is
she? I want to talk with her."
"And I want to talk with you. She's out, with Lottie; and when she comes
back I will tell her what you say. But I want to know what you think,
It was some time before they arrived at a common agreement as to what
Kenton thought, and when they reached it they decided that they must
leave the matter altogether to Ellen, as they had done before. They
would never force her to anything, and if, after all that her mother
could say, she still wished to see the fellow, they would not deny her.
When it came to this, Ellen was a long time silent, so long a time that
her mother was beginning restively to doubt whether she was going to
speak at all. Then she drew a long, silent breath. "I suppose I ought
to despise myself, momma, for caring for him, when he's never really said
that he cared for me."
"No, no," her mother faltered.
"But I do, I do!" she gave way piteously. "I can't help it! He doesn't
say so, even now."
"No, he doesn't." It hurt her mother to own the fact that alone gave her
The girl was a long time silent again before she asked, "Has poppa got
"Why, he wouldn't, Ellen, child, till he knew how you felt," her mother
tenderly reproached her.
"He'd better not wait!" The tears ran silently down Ellen's cheeks, and
her lips twitched a little between these words and the next; she spoke as
if it were still of her father, but her mother understood. "If he ever
does say so, don't you speak a word to me, momma; and don't you let
"No; indeed I won't," her mother promised. "Have we ever interfered,
Ellen? Have we ever tried to control you?"
"He WOULD have said so, if he hadn't seen that everybody was against
him." The mother bore without reply the ingratitude and injustice that
she knew were from the child's pain and not from her will. "Where is his
letter? Give me his letter!" She nervously twitched it from her
mother's hand and ran it into her pocket. She turned away to go and put
off her hat, which she still wore from coming in with Lottie; but she
stopped and looked over her shoulder at her mother. "I'm going to answer
it, and I don't want you ever to ask me what I've said. Will you?"
"No, I won't, Nelly."
The next night she went with Boyne and Lottie to the apartment overhead
to spend their last evening with the young people there, who were going
into the country the next day. She came back without the others, who
wished to stay a little longer, as she said, with a look of gay
excitement in her eyes, which her mother knew was not happiness. Mrs.
Kenton had an impulse to sweep into her lap the lithograph plans of the
steamer, and the passage ticket which lay open on the table before
herself and her husband. But it was too late to hide them from Ellen.
She saw them, and caught up the ticket, and read it, and flung it down
again. "Oh, I didn't think you would do it!" she burst out; and she ran
away to her room, where they could hear her sobbing, as they sat
haggardly facing each other.
"Well, that settles it," said Benton at last, with a hard gulp.
"Oh, I suppose so," his wife assented.
On his part, now, he had a genuine regret for her disappointment from the
sad safety of the trouble that would keep them at home; and on her part
she could be glad of it if any sort of comfort could come out of it to
"Till she says go," he added, "we've got to stay."
"Oh yes," his wife responded. "The worst of it is, we can't even go back
to Tuskingum:' He looked up suddenly at her, and she saw that be had not
thought of this. She made "Tchk!" in sheer amaze at him.
"We won't cross that river till we come to it," he said, sullenly, but
half-ashamed. The next morning the situation had not changed overnight,
as they somehow both crazily hoped it might, and at breakfast, which they
had at a table grown more remote from others with the thinning out of the
winter guests of the hotel, the father and mother sat down alone in
silence which was scarcely broken till Lottie and Boyne joined them.
"Where's Ellen?" the boy demanded.
"She's having her breakfast in her room," Mrs. Kenton answered.
"She says she don't want to eat anything," Lottie reported. "She made
the man take it away again."
The gloom deepened in the faces of the father and mother, but neither
spoke, and Boyne resumed the word again in a tone of philosophic
speculation. "I don't see how I'm going to get along, with those
European breakfasts. They say you can't get anything but cold meat or
eggs; and generally they don't expect to give you anything but bread and
butter with your coffee. I don't think that's the way to start the day,
do you, poppa?"
Kenton seemed not to have heard, for he went on silently eating, and the
mother, who had not been appealed to, merely looked distractedly across
the table at her children.
"Mr. Plumpton says he's coming down to see us off," said Lottie,
smoothing her napkin in her lap. "Do you know the time of day when the
boat sails, momma?"
"Yes," her brother broke in, "and if I had been momma I'd have boxed your
ears for the way you went on with him. You fairly teased him to come.
The way Lottie goes on with men is a shame, momma."
"What time does the boat sail, momma!" Lottie blandly persisted. "I
promised to let Mr. Plumpton know."
"Yes, so as to get a chance to write to him," said Boyne. "I guess when
he sees your spelling!"
"Momma! Do wake up! What time does our steamer sail?"
A light of consciousness came into Mrs. Renton's eyes at last, and she
sighed gently. "We're not going, Lottie."
"Not going! Why, but we've got the tickets, and I've told--"
"Your father has decided not to go, for the present. We may go later in
the summer, or perhaps in the fall."
Boyne looked at his father's troubled face, and said nothing, but Lottie
was not stayed from the expression of her feelings by any ill-timed
consideration for what her father's might be. "I just know," she fired,
"it's something to do with that nasty Bittridge. He's been a bitter dose
to this family! As soon as I saw Ellen have a letter I was sure it was
from him; and she ought to be ashamed. If I had played the simpleton
with such a fellow I guess you wouldn't have let me keep you from going
to Europe very much. What is she going to do now? Marry him? Or
doesn't he want her to?"
"Lottie!" said her mother, and her father glanced up at her with a face
that silenced her.
"When you've been half as good a girl as Ellen has been, in this whole
matter," he said, darkly, "it will be time for you to complain of the way
you've been treated."
"Oh yes, I know you like Ellen the best," said the girl, defiantly.
"Don't say such a thing, Lottie!" said her mother. "Your father loves
all his children alike, and I won't have you talking so to him. Ellen
has had a great deal to bear, and she has behaved beautifully. If we are
not going to Europe it is because we have decided that it is best not to
go, and I wish to hear nothing more from you about it."
"Oh yes! And a nice position it leaves me in, when I've been taking
good-bye of everybody! Well, I hope to goodness you won't say anything
about it till the Plumptons get away. I couldn't have the face to meet
them if you did."
"It won't be necessary to say anything; or you can say that we've merely
postponed our sailing. People are always doing that."
"It's not to be a postponement," said Kenton, so sternly that no one
ventured to dispute him, the children because they were afraid of him,
and their mother because she was suffering for him.
At the steamship office, however, the authorities represented that it was
now so near the date of his sailing that they could not allow him to
relinquish his passages except at his own risk. They would try to sell
his ticket for him, but they could not take it back, and they could not
promise to sell it. There was reason in what they said, but if there had
been none, they had the four hundred dollars which Kenton had paid for
his five berths and they had at least the advantage of him in the
argument by that means. He put the ticket back in his pocket-book
without attempting to answer them, and deferred his decision till he
could advise with his wife, who, after he left the breakfast-table upon
his errand to the steamship office, had abandoned her children to their
own devices, and gone to scold Ellen for not eating.
She had not the heart to scold her when she found the girl lying face
downward in the pillow, with her thin arms thrown up through the coils
and heaps of her loose-flung hair. She was so alight that her figure
scarcely defined itself under the bedclothes; the dark hair, and the
white, outstretched arms seemed all there was of her. She did not stir,
but her mother knew she was not sleeping. "Ellen," she said, gently,
"you needn't be troubled about our going to Europe. Your father has gone
down to the steamship office to give back his ticket."
The girl flashed her face round with nervous quickness. "Gone to give
back his ticket!"
"Yes, we decided it last night. He's never really wanted to go, and--"
"But I don't wish poppa to give up his ticket!" said Ellen. "He must
get it again. I shall die if I stay here, momma. We have got to go.
Can't you understand that?"
Mrs. Kenton did not know what to answer. She had a strong superficial
desire to shake her daughter as a naughty child which has vexed its
mother, but under this was a stir stronger pity for her as a woman, which
easily, prevailed. "Why, but, Ellen dear! We thought from what you said
"But couldn't you SEE," the girl reproached her, and she began to cry,
and turned her face into the pillow again and lay sobbing.
"Well," said her mother, after she had given her a little time, "you
needn't be troubled. Your father can easily get the ticket again; he can
telephone down for it. Nothing has been done yet. But didn't you really
want to stay, then?"
"It isn't whether I want to stay or not," Ellen spoke into her pillow.
"You know that. You know that I have got to go. You know that if I saw
him--Oh, why do you make me talk?"
"Yes, I understand, child." Then, in the imperious necessity of blaming
some one, Mrs. Kenton added: "You know how it is with your father. He is
always so precipitate; and when he heard what you said, last night, it
cut him to the heart. He felt as if he were dragging you away, and this
morning he could hardly wait to get through his breakfast before he
rushed down to the steamship office. But now it's all right again, and
if you want to go, we'll go, and your father will only be too glad."
"I don't want father to go against his will. You said he never wanted to
go to Europe." The girl had turned her face upon her mother again; and
fixed her with her tearful, accusing eyes.
"The doctors say he ought to go. He needs the change, and I think we
should all be the better far getting away."
"I shall not," said Ellen. "But if I don't--"
"Yes," said her mother, soothingly.
"You know that nothing has changed. He hasn't changed and I haven't. If
he was bad, he's as bad as ever, and I'm just as silly. Oh, it's like a
drunkard! I suppose they know it's killing them, but they can't give it
up! Don't you think it's very strange, momma? I don't see why I should
be so. It seems as if I had no character at all, and I despise myself
so! Do you believe I shall ever get over it? Sometimes I think the best
thing for me would be to go into an asylum."
"Oh yes, dear; you'll get over it, and forget it all. As soon as you see
others--other scenes--and get interested--"
"And you don't you don't think I'd better let him come, and--"
Ellen began to sob again, and toss her head upon the pillow. "What shall
I do? What shall I do?" she wailed. "He hasn't ever done anything bad
to me, and if I can overlook his--his flirting--with that horrid thing,
I don't know what the rest of you have got to say. And he says he can
explain everything. Why shouldn't I give him the chance, momma? I do
think it is acting very cruel not to let him even say a word."
"You can see him if you wish, Ellen," said her mother, gravely. "Your
father and I have always said that. And perhaps it would be the best
thing, after all."
"Oh, you say that because you think that if I did see him, I should be so
disgusted with him that I'd never want to speak to him again. But what
if I shouldn't?"
"Then we should wish you to do whatever you thought was for your
happiness, Ellen. We can't believe it would be for your good; but if it
would be for your happiness, we are willing. Or, if you don't think it's
for your happiness, but only for his, and you wish to do it, still we
shall be willing, and you know that as far as your father and I are
concerned, there will never be a word of reproach--not a whisper."
"Lottie would despise me; and what would Richard say?"
"Richard would never say anything to wound you, dear, and if you don't
despise yourself, you needn't mind Lottie."
"But I should, momma; that's the worst of it! I should despise myself,
and he would despise me too. No, if I see him, I am going to do it
because I am selfish and wicked, and wish to have my own way, no matter
who is harmed by it, or--anything; and I'm not going to have it put on
any other ground. I could see him," she said, as if to herself, "just
once more--only once more--and then if I didn't believe in him, I could
start right off to Europe."
Her mother made no answer to this, and Ellen lay awhile apparently
forgetful of her presence, inwardly dramatizing a passionate scene of
dismissal between herself and her false lover. She roused herself from
the reverie with a long sigh, and her mother said, "Won't you have some
breakfast, now; Ellen?"
"Yes; and I will get up. You needn't be troubled any more about me,
momma. I will write to him not to come, and poppa must go back and get
his ticket again."
"Not unless you are doing this of your own free will, child. I can't
have you feeling that we are putting any pressure upon you."
"You're not. I'm doing it of my own will. If it isn't my free will,
that isn't your fault. I wonder whose fault it is? Mine, or what made
me so silly and weak?"
"You are not silly and weak," said her mother, fondly, and she bent over
the girl and would have kissed her, but Ellen averted her face with a
piteous "Don't!" and Mrs. Kenton went out and ordered her breakfast
She did not go in to make her eat it, as she would have done in the
beginning of the girl's trouble; they had all learned how much better she
was for being left to fight her battles with herself singlehanded.
Mrs. Kenton waited in the parlor till her husband same in, looking gloomy
and tired. He put his hat down and sank into a chair without speaking.
"Well?" she said.
"We have got to lose the price of the ticket, if we give it back. I
thought I had better talk with you first," said Kenton, and he explained
"Then you had better simply have it put off till the next steamer.
I have been talking with Ellen, and she doesn't want to stay. She wants
to go." His wife took advantage of Kenton's mute amaze (in the nervous
vagaries even of the women nearest him a man learns nothing from
experience) to put her own interpretation on the case, which, as it was
creditable to the girl's sense and principle, he found acceptable if not
imaginable. "And if you will take my advice," she ended, "you will go
quietly back to the steamship office and exchange your ticket for the
next steamer, or the one after that, if you can't get good rooms, and
give Ellen time to get over this before she leaves. It will be much
better for her to conquer herself than to run away, for that would always
give her a feeling of shame, and if she decides before she goes, it will
strengthen her pride and self-respect, and there will be less danger--
when we come back."
"Do you think he's going to keep after her!"
"How can I tell? He will if he thinks it's to his interest, or he can
make anybody miserable by it."
Kenton said nothing to this, but after a while he suggested, rather
timorously, as if it were something he could not expect her to approve,
and was himself half ashamed of, "I believe if I do put it off, I'll run
out to Tuskingum before we sail, and look after a little matter of
business that I don't think Dick can attend to so well."
His wife knew why he wanted to go, and in her own mind she had already
decided that if he should ever propose to go, she should not gainsay him.
She had, in fact, been rather surprised that he had not proposed it
before this, and now she assented, without taxing him with his real
motive, and bringing him to open disgrace before her. She even went
further in saying: "Very well, then you had better go. I can get on very
well here, and I think it will leave Ellen freer to act for herself if
you are away. And there are some things in the house that I want, and
that Richard would be sure to send his wife to get if I asked him, and I
won't have her rummaging around in my closets. I suppose you will want
to go into the house?"
"I suppose so," said Renton, who had not let a day pass, since he left
his house, without spending half his homesick time in it. His wife
suffered his affected indifference to go without exposure, and trumped up
a commission for him, which would take him intimately into the house.
The piety of his son Richard had maintained the place at Tuskingum in
perfect order outwardly, and Kenton's heart ached with tender pain as he
passed up the neatly kept walk from the gate, between the blooming ranks
of syringas and snowballs, to his door, and witnessed the faithful care
that Richard's hired man had bestowed upon every detail. The grass
between the banks of roses and rhododendrons had been as scrupulously
lawn-mowered and as sedulously garden-hosed as if Kenton himself had been
there to look after its welfare, or had tended the shrubbery as he used
to do in earlier days with his own hand. The oaks which he had planted
shook out their glossy green in the morning gale, and in the tulip-trees,
which had snowed their petals on the ground in wide circles defined by
the reach of their branches, he heard the squirrels barking; a red-bird
from the woody depths behind the house mocked the cat-birds in the
quince-trees. The June rose was red along the trellis of the veranda,
where Lottie ought to be sitting to receive the morning calls of the
young men who were sometimes quite as early as Kenton's present visit in
their devotions, and the sound of Ellen's piano, played fitfully and
absently in her fashion, ought to be coming out irrespective of the hour.
It seemed to him that his wife must open the door as his steps and his
son's made themselves heard on the walk between the box borders in their
upper orchard, and he faltered a little.
"Look here, father," said his son, detecting his hesitation. "Why don't
you let Mary come in with you, and help you find those things?"
"No, no," said Kenton, sinking into one of the wooden seats that flanked
the door-way. "I promised your mother that I would get them myself. You
know women don't like to have other women going through their houses."
"Yes, but Mary!" his son urged.
"Ah! It's just Mary, with her perfect housekeeping, that your mother
wouldn't like to have see the way she left things," said Kenton, and he
smiled at the notion of any one being housekeeper enough to find a flaw
in his wife's. "My, but this is pleasant!" he added. He took off his
hat and let the breeze play through the lank, thin hair which was still
black on his fine, high forehead. He was a very handsome old man, with a
delicate aquiline profile, of the perfect Roman type which is perhaps
oftener found in America than ever it was in Rome. "You've kept it very
nice, Dick," he said, with a generalizing wave of his hat.
"Well, I couldn't tell whether you would be coming back or not, and I
thought I had better be ready for you."
"I wish we were," said the old man, "and we shall be, in the fall, or the
latter part of the summer. But it's better now that we should go--on
"Oh, you'll enjoy it," his son evaded him.
"You haven't seen anything of him lately?" Kenton suggested.
"He wasn't likely to let me see anything of him," returned the son.
"No," said the father. "Well!" He rose to put the key into the door,
and his son stepped down from the little porch to the brick walk.
"Mary will have dinner early, father; and when you've got through here,
you'd better come over and lie down a while beforehand."
Kenton had been dropped at eight o'clock from a sleeper on the Great
Three, and had refused breakfast at his son's house, upon the plea that
the porter had given him a Southern cantaloupe and a cup of coffee on the
train, and he was no longer hungry.
"All right," he said. "I won't be longer than I can help." He had got
the door open and was going to close it again.
His son laughed. "Better not shut it, father. It will let the fresh air
"Oh, all right," said the old man.
The son lingered about, giving some orders to the hired man in the
vegetable garden, for an excuse, in the hope that his father might change
his mind and ask him to come into the house with him; he felt it so
forlorn for him to be going through those lifeless rooms alone. When he
looked round, and saw his father holding the door ajar, as if impatiently
waiting for him to be gone, he laughed and waved his hand to him. "All
right, father? I'm going now." But though he treated the matter so
lightly with his father, he said grimly to his wife, as he passed her on
their own porch, on his way to his once, "I don't like to think of father
being driven out of house and home this way."
"Neither do I, Dick. But it can't be helped, can it?"
"I think I could help it, if I got my hands on that fellow once."
"No, you couldn't, Dick. It's not he that's doing it. It's Ellen; you
know that well enough; and you've just got to stand it."
"Yes, I suppose so," said Richard Kenton.
"Of course, my heart aches for your poor old father, but so it would if
Ellen had some kind of awful sickness. It is a kind of sickness, and you
can't fight it any more than if she really was sick."
"No," said the husband, dejectedly. "You just slip over there, after a
while, Mary, if father's gone too long, will you? I don't like to have
him there alone."
"'Deed and 'deed I won't, Dick. He wouldn't like it at all, my spying
round. Nothing can happen to him, and I believe your mother's just made
an excuse to send him after something, so that he can be in there alone,
and realize that the house isn't home any more. It will be easier for
him to go to Europe when he finds that out. I believe in my heart that
was her idea in not wanting me to find the things for him, and I'm not
going to meddle myself."
With the fatuity of a man in such things, and with the fatuity of age
regarding all the things of the past, Kenton had thought in his
homesickness of his house as he used to be in it, and had never been able
to picture it without the family life. As he now walked through the
empty rooms, and up and down the stairs, his pulse beat low as if in the
presence of death. Everything was as they had left it, when they went
out of the house, and it appeared to Kenton that nothing had been touched
there since, though when he afterwards reported to his wife that there
was not a speck of dust anywhere she knew that Mary had been going
through the house, in their absence, not once only, but often, and she
felt a pang of grateful jealousy. He got together the things that Mrs.
Kenton had pretended to want, and after glancing in at the different
rooms, which seemed to be lying stealthily in wait for him, with their
emptiness and silence, he went down-stairs with the bundle he had made,
and turned into his library. He had some thought of looking at the
collections for his history, but, after pulling open one of the drawers
in which they were stored, he pushed it to again, and sank listlessly
into his leather-covered swivel-chair, which stood in its place before
the wide writing-table, and seemed to have had him in it before he sat
down. The table was bare, except for the books and documents which he
had sent home from time to time during the winter, and which Richard or
his wife had neatly arranged there without breaking their wraps. He let
fall his bundle at his feet, and sat staring at the ranks of books
against the wall, mechanically relating them to the different epochs of
the past in which he or his wife or his children had been interested in
them, and aching with tender pain. He had always supposed himself a
happy and strong and successful man, but what a dreary ruin his life had
fallen into! Was it to be finally so helpless and powerless (for with
all the defences about him that a man can have, he felt himself fatally
vulnerable) that he had fought so many years? Why, at his age, should he
be going into exile, away from everything that could make his days bright
and sweet? Why could not he come back there, where he was now more
solitary than he could be anywhere else on earth, and reanimate the dead
body of his home with his old life? He knew why, in an immediate sort,
but his quest was for the cause behind the cause. What had he done, or
left undone? He had tried to be a just man, and fulfil all his duties
both to his family and to his neighbors; he had wished to be kind, and
not to harm any one; he reflected how, as he had grown older, the dread
of doing any unkindness had grown upon him, and how he had tried not to
be proud, but to walk meekly and humbly. Why should he be punished as he
was, stricken in a place so sacred that the effort to defend himself had
seemed a kind of sacrilege? He could not make it out, and he was not
aware of the tears of self-pity that stole slowly down his face, though
from time to time he wiped them away.
He heard steps in the hall without, advancing and pausing, which must be
those of his son coming back for him, and with these advances and pauses
giving him notice of his approach; but he did not move, and at first he
did not look up when the steps arrived at the threshold of the room where
he sat. When he lifted his eyes at last he saw Bittridge lounging in the
door-way, with one shoulder supported against the door-jamb, his hands in
his pockets and his hat pushed well back on his forehead. In an instant
all Kenton's humility and soft repining were gone. "Well, what is it?"
"Oh," said Bittridge, coming forward. He laughed and explained, "Didn't
know if you recognized me."
"I recognized you," said Kenton, fiercely. "What is it you want?"
"Well, I happened to be passing, and I saw the door open, and I thought
maybe Dick was here."
It was on Kenton's tongue to say that it was a good thing for him Dick
was not there. But partly the sense that this would be unbecoming
bluster, and partly the suffocating resentment of the fellow's impudence,
limited his response to a formless gasp, and Bittridge went on: "But I'm
glad to find you here, judge. I didn't know that you were in town.
Family all well in New York?" He was not quelled by the silence of the
judge on this point, but, as if he had not expected any definite reply to
what might well pass for formal civility, he now looked aslant into his
breast-pocket from which he drew a folded paper. "I just got hold of a
document this morning that I think will interest you. I was bringing it
round to Dick's wife for you." The intolerable familiarity of all this
was fast working Kenton to a violent explosion, but he contained himself,
and Bittridge stepped forward to lay the paper on the table before him.
"It's the original roster of Company C, in your regiment, and--"
"Take it away!" shouted Kenton, "and take yourself away with it!" and he
grasped the stick that shook in his hand.
A wicked light came into Bittridge's eye as he drawled, in lazy scorn,
"Oh, I don't know." Then his truculence broke in a malicious amusement.
"Why, judge, what's the matter?" He put on a face of mock gravity, and
Kenton knew with helpless fury that he was enjoying his vantage. He
could fall upon him and beat him with his stick, leaving the situation
otherwise undefined, but a moment's reflection convinced Kenton that this
would not do. It made him sick to think of striking the fellow, as if in
that act he should be striking Ellen, too. It did not occur to him that
he could be physically worsted, or that his vehement age would be no
match for the other's vigorous youth. All he thought was that it would
not avail, except to make known to every one what none but her dearest
could now conjecture. Bittridge could then publicly say, and doubtless
would say, that he had never made love to Ellen; that if there had been
any love-making it was all on her side; and that he had only paid her the
attentions which any young man might blamelessly pay a pretty girl. This
would be true to the facts in the case, though it was true also that he
had used every tacit art to make her believe him in love with her. But
how could this truth be urged, and to whom? So far the affair had been
quite in the hands of Ellen's family, and they had all acted for the
best, up to the present time. They had given Bittridge no grievance in
making him feel that he was unwelcome in their house, and they were quite
within their rights in going away, and making it impossible for him to
see her again anywhere in Tuskingum. As for his seeing her in New York,
Ellen had but to say that she did not wish it, and that would end it.
Now, however, by treating him rudely, Kenton was aware that he had bound
himself to render Bittridge some account of his behavior throughout, if
the fellow insisted upon it.
"I want nothing to do with you, sir," he said, less violently, but, as he
felt, not more effectually. "You are in my house without my invitation,
and against my wish!"
"I didn't expect to find you here. I came in because I saw the door
open, and I thought I might see Dick or his wife and give them, this
paper for you. But I'm glad I found you, and if you won't give me any
reason for not wanting me here, I can give it myself, and I think I can
make out a very good case for you." Kenton quivered in anticipation of
some mention of Ellen, and Bittridge smiled as if he understood. But he
went on to say: "I know that there were things happened after you first
gave me the run of your house that might make you want to put up the bars
again--if they were true. But they were not true. And I can prove that
by the best of all possible witnesses--by Uphill himself. He stands
shoulder to shoulder with me, to make it hot for any one who couples his
wife's name with mine."
"Humph!" Kenton could not help making this comment, and Bittridge, being
what he was, could not help laughing.
"What's the use?" he asked, recovering himself. "I don't pretend that
I did right, but you know there wasn't any harm in it. And if there had
been I should have got the worst of it. Honestly, judge, I couldn't tell
you how much I prized being admitted to your house on the terms I was.
Don't you think I could appreciate the kindness you all showed me?
Before you took me up, I was alone in Tuskingum, but you opened every
door in the place for me. You made it home to me; and you won't believe
it, of course, because you're prejudiced; but I felt like a son and
brother to you all. I felt towards Mrs. Kenton just as I do towards my
own mother. I lost the best friends I ever had when you turned against
me. Don't you suppose I've seen the difference here in Tuskingum? Of
course, the men pass the time of day with me when we meet, but they don't
look me up, and there are more near-sighted girls in this town!" Kenton
could not keep the remote dawn of a smile out of his eyes, and Bittridge
caught the far-off gleam. "And everybody's been away the whole winter.
Not a soul at home, anywhere, and I had to take my chance of surprising
Mrs. Dick Kenton when I saw your door open here." He laughed forlornly, as
the gleam faded out of Kenton's eye again. "And the worst of it is that
my own mother isn't at home to me, figuratively speaking, when I go over
to see her at Ballardsville. She got wind of my misfortune, somehow, and
when I made a clean breast of it to her, she said she could never feel
the same to me till I had made it all right with the Kentons. And when a
man's own mother is down on him, judge!"
Bittridge left Kenton to imagine the desperate case, and in spite of his
disbelief in the man and all he said, Kenton could not keep his hardness
of heart towards him. "I don't know what you're after, young man," he
began. "But if you expect me to receive you under my roof again--"
"Oh, I don't, judge, I don't!" Bittridge interposed. "All I want is to
be able to tell my mother--I don't care for anybody else--that I saw you,
and you allowed me to say that I was truly sorry for the pain--if it was
pain; or annoyance, anyway--that I had caused you, and to go back to her
with the hope of atoning for it sometime or somehow. That's all."
"Look here!" cried Renton. "What have you written to my daughter for?"
"Wasn't that natural? I prized her esteem more than I do yours even; but
did I ask her anything more than I've asked you? I didn't expect her to
answer me; all I wanted was to have her believe that I wasn't as black as
I was painted--not inside, anyway. You know well enough--anybody knows--
that I would rather have her think well of me than any one else in this
world, except my mother. I haven't got the gift of showing out what's
good in me, if there is any good, but I believe Miss Ellen would want to
think well of me if I gave her a chance. If ever there was an angel on
earth, she's one. I don't deny that I was hopeful of mercy from her,
because she can't think evil, but I can lay my hand on my heart and say
that I wasn't selfish in my hopes. It seemed to me that it was her due
to understand that a man whom she had allowed to be her friend wasn't
altogether unworthy. That's as near as I can come to putting into words
the motive I had in writing to her. I can't even begin to put into words
the feeling I have towards her. It's as if she was something sacred."
This was the feeling Renton himself had towards his daughter, and for the
first time he found himself on common ground with the scapegrace who
professed it, and whose light, mocking face so little enforced his
profession. If Bittridge could have spoken in the dark, his words might
have carried a conviction of his sincerity, but there, in plain day,
confronting the father of Ellen, who had every wish to believe him true,
the effect was different. Deep within his wish to think the man honest,
Kenton recoiled from him. He vaguely perceived that it was because she
could not think evil that this wretch had power upon her, and he was
sensible, as he had not been before, that she had no safety from him
except in absence. He did not know what to answer; he could not repel
him in open terms, and still less could he meet him with any words that
would allow him to resume his former relations with his family. He said,
finally: "We will let matters stand. We are going to Europe in a week,
and I shall not see you again. I will tell Mrs. Kenton what you say."
"Thank you, judge. And tell her that I appreciate your kindness more
than I can say!" The judge rose from his chair and went towards the
window, which he had thrown open. "Going to shut up? Let me help you
with that window; it seems to stick. Everything fast up-stairs?"
"I--I think so," Kenton hesitated.
"I'll just run up and look," said Bittridge, and he took the stairs two
at a time, before Kenton could protest, when they came out into the hall
together. "It's all right," he reported on his quick return. "I'll just
look round below here," and he explored the ground-floor rooms in turn.
"No, you hadn't opened any other window," he said, glancing finally into
the library. "Shall I leave this paper on your table?"
"Yes, leave it there," said Kenton, helplessly, and he let Bittridge
close the front door after him, and lock it.
"I hope Miss Lottie is well," he suggested in handing the key to Kenton.
"And Boyne" he added, with the cordiality of an old family friend.
"I hope Boyne has got reconciled to New York a little. He was rather
anxious about his pigeons when he left, I understand. But I guess Dick's
man has looked after them. I'd have offered to take charge of the
cocoons myself if I'd had a chance." He walked, gayly chatting, across
the intervening lawn with Kenton to his son's door, where at sight of him
bra. Richard Kenton evanesced into the interior so obviously that
Bittridge could not offer to come in. "Well, I shall see you all when
you come back in the fall, judge, and I hope you'll have a pleasant
voyage and a good time in Europe."
"Thank you," said Kenton, briefly.
"Remember me to the ladies!" and Bittridge took off his hat with his
left hand, while he offered the judge his right. "Well, good-bye!"
Kenton made what response he could, and escaped in-doors, where his
daughter-in-law appeared from the obscurity into which she had retired
from Bittridge. "Well, that follow does beat all! How, in the world did
he find you, father?"
"He came into the house," said the judge, much abashed at his failure to
deal adequately with Bittridge. He felt it the more in the presence of
his son's wife. "I couldn't, seem to get rid of him in any way short of
kicking him out."
"No, there's nothing equal to his impudence. I do believe he would have
come in here, if he hadn't seen me first. Did you tell him when you were
going back, father? Because he'd be at the train to see you off, just as
"No, I didn't tell him," said Kenton, feeling move shaken now from the
interview with Bittridge than he had realized before. He was ashamed to
let Mary know that he had listened to Bittridge's justification, which he
now perceived was none, and he would have liked to pretend that he had
not silently condoned his offences, but Mary did not drive him to these
deceptions by any further allusions to Bittridge.
"Well, now, you must go into the sitting-room and lie down on the lounge;
I promised Dick to make you. Or would you rather go up-stairs to your
"I think I'll go to my room," said Kenton.
He was asleep there on the bed when Richard came home to dinner and
looked softly in. He decided not to wake him, and Mary said the sleep
would do him more good than the dinner. At table they talked him over,
and she told her husband what she knew of the morning's adventure.
"That was pretty tough for father," said Richard. "I wouldn't go into
the house with him, because I knew he wanted to have it to himself; and
then to think of that dirty hound skulking in! Well, perhaps it's for
the best. It will make it easier, for father to go and leave the place,
and they've got to go. They've got to put the Atlantic Ocean between
Ellen and that fellow."
"It does seem as if something might be done," his wife rebelled.
"They've done the best that could be done," said Richard. "And if that
skunk hasn't got some sort of new hold upon father, I shall be satisfied.
The worst of it is that it will be all over town in an hour that
Bittridge has made up with us. I don't blame father; he couldn't help
it; he never could be rude to anybody."
"I think I'll try if I can't be rude to Mr. Bittridge, if he ever
undertakes to show in my pretence that he has made it up with us," said
Richard tenderly found out from his father's shamefaced reluctance,
later, that no great mischief had been done. But no precaution on his
part availed to keep Bittridge from demonstrating the good feeling
between himself and the Kentons when the judge started for New York the
next afternoon. He was there waiting to see him off, and he all but took
the adieus out of Richard's hands. He got possession of the judge's
valise, and pressed past the porter into the sleeping-car with it, and
remained lounging on the arm of the judge's seat, making conversation
with him and Richard till the train began to move. Then he ran outside,
and waved his hand to the judge's window in farewell, before all that
leisure of Tuskingum which haunted the arrival and departure of the
Mary Kenton was furious when her husband came home and reported the fact
"How in the world did he find out when father was going?"
"He must have come to all the through trains since he say him yesterday.
But I think even you would have been suited, Mary, if you had seen his
failure to walk off from the depot arm-in-arm with me:
"I wouldn't have been suited with anything short of your knocking, him
"Oh, that wouldn't have done," said Richard. After a while he added,
patiently, "Ellen is making a good deal of trouble for us."
This was what Mary was thinking herself, and it was what she might have
said, but since Dick had said it she was obliged to protest. "She isn't
to blame for it."
"Oh, I know she isn't to blame."
The father of the unhappy girl was of the same mixed mind as he rode
sleeplessly back to New York in his berth, and heard the noises of
slumber all round him. From time to time he groaned softly, and turned
from one cheek to the other. Every half-hour or so he let his window-
curtain fly up, and lay watching the landscape fleeting past; and then he
pulled the curtain down again and tried to sleep. After passing Albany
he dozed, but at Poughkeepsie a zealous porter called him by mistake, and
the rest of the way to New York he sat up in the smoking-room. It seemed
a long while since he had drowsed; the thin nap had not rested him, and
the old face that showed itself in the glass, with the frost of a two
days' beard on it, was dry-eyed and limply squared by the fall of the
muscles at the corners of the chin.
He wondered how he should justify to his wife the thing which he felt as
accountable for having happened to him as if he could have prevented it.
It would not have happened, of course, if he had not gone to Tuskingum,
and she could say that to him; now it seemed to him that his going, which
had been so imperative before he went, was altogether needless. Nothing
but harm had come of it, and it had been a selfish indulgence of a
It was a little better for Kenton when he found himself with his family,
and they went down together to the breakfast which the mother had engaged
the younger children to make as pleasant as they could for their father,
and not worry him with talk about Tuskingum. They had, in fact, got over
their first season of homesickness, and were postponing their longing for
Tuskingum till their return from Europe, when they would all go straight
out there. Kenton ran the gauntlet of welcome from the black elevator-
boys and bell-boys and the head-waiter, who went before him to pull out
the judge's chair, with commanding frowns to his underlings to do the
like for the rest of the family; and as his own clumsy Irish waiter stood
behind his chair, breathing heavily upon the judge's head, he gave his
order for breakfast, with a curious sense of having got home again from
some strange place. He satisfied Boyne that his pigeons and poultry had
been well cared for through the winter, and he told Lottie that he had
not met much of anybody except Dick's family, before he recollected
seeing half a dozen of her young men at differed times. She was not very
exacting about them and her mind seemed set upon Europe, or at least she
talked of nothing else. Ellen was quiet as she always was, but she
smiled gently on her father, and Mrs. Kenton told him of the girl's
preparations for going, and congratulated herself on their wisdom in
having postponed their sailing, in view of all they had to do; and she
made Kenton feel that everything was in the best possible shape. As soon
as she got him alone in their own room, she said, "Well, what is it,
Then he had to tell her, and she listened with ominous gravity. She did
not say that now he could see how much better it would have been if he
had not gone, but she made him say it for her; and she would not let him
take comfort in the notion of keeping the fact of his interview with
Bittridge from Ellen. "It would be worse than useless. He will write to
her about it, and then she will know that we have been, concealing it."
Kenton was astonished at himself for not having thought of that. "And
what are you going to do, Sarah?"
"I am going to tell her," said Mrs. Kenton.
"Why didn't poppa tell me before?" the girl perversely demanded, as soon
as her another had done so.
"Ellen, you are a naughty child! I have a great mind not to have a word
more to say to you. Your father hasn't been in the house an hour. Did
you want him to speak before Lottie and Boyne!"
"I don't see why he didn't tell me himself. I know there is something
you are keeping back. I know there is some word--"
"Oh, yon poor girl!" said her mother, melting into pity against all sense
of duty. "Have we ever tried to deceive you?"
"No," Ellen sobbed, with her face in her hands. "Now I will tell you
every word that passed," said Mrs. Kenton, and she told, as well as she
could remember, all that the judge had repeated from Bittridge. "I don't
say he isn't ashamed of himself," she commented at the end. "He ought to
be, and, of course, he would be glad to be in with us again when we go
back; but that doesn't alter his character, Ellen. Still, if you can't
see that yourself, I don't want to make you, and if you would rather go
home to Tuskingum, we will give up the trip to Europe."
"It's too late to do that now," said the girl, in cruel reproach.
Her mother closed her lips resolutely till she could say, "Or you can
write to him if you want to."
"I don't want to," said Ellen, and she dragged herself up out of her
chair, and trailed slowly out of the room without looking at her mother.
"Well?" the judge asked, impatiently, when he came in as soon after this
as he decently could. They observed forms with regard to talking about
Ellen which, after all, were rather for themselves than for her; Mrs.
Kenton, at least, knew that the girl knew when they were talking about
"She took it as well as I expected."
"What is she going to do?"
"She didn't say. But I don't believe she will do anything."
"I wish I had taken our tickets for next Saturday," said Kenton.
"Well, we must wait now," said his wife. "If he doesn't write to her,
she won't write to him."
"Has she ever answered that letter of his?"
"No, and I don't believe she will now."
That night Ellen came to her mother and said she need not be afraid of
her writing to Bittridge. "He hasn't changed, if he was wrong, by coming
and saying those things to poppa, and nothing has changed."
"That is the way I hoped you would see it; Ellen." Her mother looked
wistfully at her, but the girl left her without letting her satisfy the
longing in the mother's heart to put her arms round her child, and pull
her head down upon her breast for a cry.
Kenton slept better that night than his wife, who was kept awake by a
formless foreboding. For the week that followed she had the sense of
literally pushing the hours away, so that at times she found herself
breathless, as if from some heavy physical exertion. At such times she
was frantic with the wish to have the days gone, and the day of their
sailing come, but she kept her impatience from her husband and children,
and especially from Ellen. The girl was passive enough; she was almost
willing, and in the preparation for their voyage she did her share of the
shopping, and discussed the difficult points of this business with her
mother and sister as if she had really been thinking about it all. But
her mother doubted if she had, and made more of Ellen's sunken eyes and
thin face than of her intelligent and attentive words. It was these that
she reported to her husband, whom she kept from talking with Ellen, and
"Let her alone," she insisted, one morning of the last week. "What can
you do by speaking to her about it? Don't you see that she is making the
best fight she can? You will weaken her if you interfere. It's less
than a week now, and if you can only hold out, I know she can."
Kenton groaned. "Well, I suppose you're right, Sarah. But I don't like
the idea of forcing her to go, unless--"
"Then you had better write to that fellow, and ask him to come and get
This shut Kenton's mouth, and he kept on with his shaving. When he had
finished he felt fresher, if not stronger, and he went down to breakfast,
which he had alone, not only with reference to his own family, but all
the other guests of the hotel. He was always so early that sometimes the
dining-room was not open; when this happened, he used to go and buy a
newspaper at the clerk's desk, for it was too early then for the news-
stand to be open. It happened so that morning, and he got his paper
without noticing the young man who was writing his name in the hotel
register, but who looked briskly up when the clerk bade Kenton good-
morning by name.
"Why, judge!" he said, and he put out a hand which Kenton took with
trembling reluctance and a dazed stare. "I thought you sailed last
"We sail next Saturday," said Kenton.
"Well, well! Then I misunderstood," said Bittridge, and he added: "Why,
this is money found in the road! How are all the family? I've got my
mother here with me; brought her on for a kind of a little outing.
She'll be the most surprised woman in New York when I tell her you're
here yet. We came to this hotel because we knew you had been here, but
we didn't suppose you were here! Well! This is too good! I saw Dick,
Friday, but he didn't say anything about your sailing; I suppose he
thought I knew. Didn't you tell me you were going in a week, that day in
"Perhaps I did," Kenton faltered out, his eyes fixed on Bittridge's with
a helpless fascination.
"Well, it don't matter so long as you're here. Mother's in the parlor
waiting for me; I won't risk taking you to her now, judge--right off the
train, you know. But I want to bring her to call on Mrs. Kenton as soon
after breakfast as you'll let me. She just idolizes Mrs. Kenton, from
what I've told her about her. Our rooms ready?" He turned to the clerk,
and the clerk called "Front!" to a bellboy, who ran up and took
Bittridge's hand-baggage, and stood waiting to follow him into the
parlor. "Well, you must excuse me now, judge. So long!" he said, gayly,
and Kenton crept feebly away to the dining-room.
He must have eaten breakfast, but he was not aware of doing so; and the
events of his leaving the table and going up in the elevator and finding
himself in his wife's presence did not present themselves consecutively,
though they must all have successively occurred. It did not seem to him
that he could tell what he knew, but he found himself doing it, and her
hearing it with strange quiet.
"Very well," she said. "I must tell Ellen, and, if she wishes, we must
stay in and wait for their call."
"Yes," the judge mechanically consented.
It was painful for Mrs. Kenton to see how the girl flushed when she
announced the fact of Bittridge's presence, for she knew what a strife of
hope and shame and pride there was in Ellen's heart. At first she said
that she did not wish to see him, and then when Mrs. Kenton would not say
whether she had better see him or not, she added, vaguely, "If he has
brought his mother--"
"I think we must see them, Ellen. You wouldn't wish to think you had
been unkind; and he might be hurt on his mother's account. He seems
really fond of her, and perhaps--"
"No, there isn't any perhaps, momma," said the girl, gratefully. "But I
think we had better see them, too. I think we had better ALL see them."
"Just as you please, Ellen. If you prefer to meet them alone--"
"I don't prefer that. I want poppa to be there, and Lottie and Boyne
Boyne objected when he was told that his presence was requested at this
family rite, and he would have excused himself if the invitation had been
of the form that one might decline. "What do I want to see him for?" he
puffed. "He never cared anything about me in Tuskingum. What's he want
"I wish you to come in, my son," said his mother, and that ended it.
Lottie was not so tractable. "Very well, momma," she said. "But don't
expect me to speak to him. I have some little self-respect, if the rest
of you haven't. Am I going to shake hands with him! I never took the
least notice of him at home, and I'm not going to here."
Bittridge decided the question of hand-shaking for her when they met. He
greeted her glooming brother with a jolly "Hello, Boyne!" and without
waiting for the boy's tardy response he said "Hello, Lottie!" to the
girl, and took her hand and kept it in his while he made an elaborate
compliment to her good looks and her gain in weight. She had come
tardily as a proof that she would not have come in at all if she had not
chosen to do so, and Mrs. Bittridge was already seated beside Ellen on
the sofa, holding her hand, and trying to keep her mobile, inattentive
eyes upon Ellen's face. She was a little woman, youthfully dressed, but
not dressed youthfully enough for the dry, yellow hair which curled
tightly in small rings on her skull, like the wig of a rag-doll. Her
restless eyes were round and deep-set, with the lids flung up out of
sight; she had a lax, formless mouth, and an anxious smile, with which
she constantly watched her son for his initiative, while she recollected
herself from time to time, long enough to smooth Ellen's hand between her
own, and say, "Oh, I just think the world of Clarence; and I guess he
thinks his mother is about right, too," and then did not heed what Ellen
The girl said very little, and it was Bittridge who talked for all,
dominating the room with a large, satisfied presence, in which the judge
sat withdrawn, his forehead supported on his hand, and his elbow on the
table. Mrs. Kenton held herself upright, with her hands crossed before
her, stealing a look now and then at her daughter's averted face, but
keeping her eyes from Mrs. Bittridge, who, whenever she caught Mrs.
Kenton's glance, said something to her about her Clarence, and how he
used to write home to her at Ballardsville about the Kentons, so that she
felt acquainted with all of them. Her reminiscences were perfunctory;
Mrs. Bittridge had voluntarily but one topic, and that was herself,
either as she was included in the interest her son must inspire, or as
she included him in the interest she must inspire. She said that, now
they had met at last, she was not going to rest till the Kentons had been
over to Ballardsville, and made her a good, long visit; her son had some
difficulty in making her realize that the Kentons were going to Europe.
Then she laughed, and said she kept forgetting; and she did wish they
were all coming back to Tuskingum.
If it is a merit to treat a fatuous mother with deference, Bittridge had
that merit. His deference was of the caressing and laughing sort, which
took the spectator into the joke of her peculiarities as something they
would appreciate and enjoy with him. She had been a kittenish and petted
person in her youth, perhaps, and now she petted herself, after she had
long ceased to be a kitten. What was respectable and what was pathetic
in her was her wish to promote her son's fortunes with the Kentons, but
she tried to do this from not a very clear understanding of her part,
apparently, and little sense of the means. For Ellen's sake, rather than
hers, the father and mother received her overtures to their liking
kindly; they answered her patiently, and Mrs. Kenton even tried to lead
the way for her to show herself at her best, by talking of her journey on
to New York, and of the city, and what she would see there to interest
her. Lottie and Boyne, sternly aloof together in one of their momentary
alliances, listened to her replies with a silent contempt that almost
included their mother; Kenton bore with the woman humbly and sadly.
He was, in fact, rather bewildered with the situation, for which he felt
himself remotely if not immediately responsible. Bittridge was there
among them not only on good terms, but apparently in the character of a
more than tolerated pretendant to Ellen's favor. There were passages of
time is which the father was not sure that the fellow was not engaged to
his daughter, though when these instants were gone he was aware that
there had been no overt love-making between them and Bittridge had never
offered himself. What was he doing there, then? The judge asked himself
that, without being able to answer himself. So far as he could make out,
his wife and he were letting him see Ellen, and show her off to his
mother, mainly to disgust her with them both, and because they were
afraid that if they denied her to him, it would be the worse for them
through her suffering. The judge was not accustomed to apply the tests
by which people are found vulgar or not; these were not of his simple
world; all that he felt about Mrs. Bittridge was that she was a very
foolish, false person, who was true in nothing but her admiration of her
rascal of a son; he did not think of Bittridge as a rascal violently, but
helplessly, and with a heart that melted in pity for Ellen.
He longed to have these people gone, not so much because he was so
unhappy in their presence as because he wished to learn Ellen's feeling
about them from his wife. She would know, whether Allen said anything to
her or not. But perhaps if Mrs. Kenton had been asked to deliver her
mind on this point at once she would have been a little puled. All that
she could see, and she saw it with a sinking of the heart, was that Ellen
looked more at peace than she had been since Bittridge was last in their
house at Tuskingum. Her eyes covertly followed him as he sat talking, or
went about the room, making himself at home among them, as if he were
welcome with every one. He joked her more than the rest, and accused her
of having become a regular New-Yorker; he said he supposed that when she
came back from Europe she would not know anybody in Tuskingum; and his
mother, playing with Ellen's fingers, as if they had been the fringe of a
tassel, declared that she must not mind him, for he carried on just so
with everybody; at the same time she ordered him to stop, or she would go
right out of the room.
She gave no other sign of going, and it was her son who had to make the
movement for her at last; she apparently did not know that it was her
part to make it. She said that now the Kentons must come and return her
call, and be real neighborly, just the same as if they were all at home
together. When her son shook hands with every one she did so too, and
she said to each, "Well, I wish you good-morning," and let him push her
before him, in high delight with the joke, out of the room.
When they were gone the Kentons sat silent, Ellen with a rapt smile on
her thin, flushed face, till Lottie said, "You forgot to ask him if we
might BREATHE, poppa," and paced out of the room in stately scorn,
followed by Boyne, who had apparently no words at the command of his dumb
rage. Kenton wished to remain, and he looked at his wife for
instruction. She frowned, and he took this for a sign that he had better
go, and he went with a light sigh.
He did not know what else to do with himself, and he went down to the
reading-room. He found Bittridge there, smoking a cigar, and the young
man companionably offered to bestow one upon him; but the judge stiffly
refused, saying he did not wish to smoke just then. He noted that
Bittridge was still in his character of family favorite, and his hand
trembled as he passed it over the smooth knob of his stick, while he sat
waiting for the fellow to take himself away. But Bittridge had
apparently no thought of going. He was looking at the amusements for the
evening in a paper he had bought, and he wished to consult the judge as
to which was the best theatre to go to that night; he said he wanted to
take his mother. Kenton professed not to know much about the New York
theatres, and then Bittridge guessed he must get the clerk to tell him.
But still he did not part with the judge. He sat down beside him, and
told him how glad he was to see his family looking so well, especially
Miss Ellen; he could not remember ever seeing her so strong-looking. He
said that girl had captured his mother, who was in love with pretty much
the whole Kenton family, though.
"And by-the-way," he added, "I want to thank you and Mrs. Kenton, judge,
for the way you received my mother. You made her feel that she was among
friends. She can't talk about anything else, and I guess I sha'n't have
much trouble in making her stay in New York as long as you're here. She
was inclined to be homesick. The fact is, though I don't care to have it
talked about yet, and I wish you wouldn't say anything to Dick about it
when you write home, I think of settling in New York. I've been offered
a show in the advertising department of one of the big dailies--I'm not
at liberty to say which--and it's a toss-up whether I stay here or go to
Washington; I've got a chance there, too, but it's on the staff of a new
enterprise, and I'm not sure about it. I've brought my mother along to
let her have a look at both places, though she doesn't know it, and I'd
rather you wouldn't speak of it before her; I'm going to take her on to
Washington before we go back. I want to have my mother with me, judge.
It's better for a fellow to have that home-feeling in a large place from
the start; it keeps him out of a lot of things, and I don't pretend to be
better than other people, or not more superhuman. If I've been able to
keep out of scrapes, it's more because I've had my mother near me, and I
don't intend ever to be separated from her, after this, till I have a
home of my own. She's been the guiding-star of my life."
Kenton was unable to make any formal response, and, in fact, he was so
preoccupied with the question whether the fellow was more a fool or a
fraud that he made no answer at all, beyond a few inarticulate grumblings
of assent. These sufficed for Bittridge, apparently, for he went on
contentedly: "Whenever I've been tempted to go a little wild, the thought
of how mother would feel has kept me on the track like nothing else
would. No, judge, there isn't anything in this world like a good mother,
except the right kind of a wife."
Kenton rose, and said he believed he must go upstairs. Bittridge said,
"All right; I'll see you later, judge," and swung easily off to advise
with the clerk as to the best theatre.
Kenton was so unhappy that he could not wait for his wife to come to him
in their own room; he broke in upon her and Ellen in the parlor, and at
his coming the girl flitted out, in the noiseless fashion which of late
had made her father feel something ghostlike in her. He was afraid she
was growing to dislike him, and trying to avoid him, and now he presented
himself quite humbly before his wife, as if he had done wrong in coming.
He began with a sort of apology for interrupting, but his wife said it
was all right, and she added, "We were not talking about anything in
particular." She was silent, and then she added again: "Sometimes I
think Ellen hasn't very fine perceptions, after all. She doesn't seem to
feel about people as I supposed she would."
"You mean that she doesn't feel as you would suppose about those people?"
Mrs. Kenton answered, obliquely. "She thinks it's a beautiful thing in
him to be so devoted to his mother."
"Humph! And what does she think of his mother?"
"She thinks she has very pretty hair."
Mrs. Kenton looked gravely down at the work she had in her hands, and
Kenton did not know what to make of it all. He decided that his wife
must feel, as he did, a doubt of the child's sincerity, with sense of her
evasiveness more tolerant than his own. Yet he knew that if it came to a
question of forcing Ellen to do what was best for her, or forbidding her
to do what was worst, his wife would have all the strength for the work,
and he none. He asked her, hopelessly enough, "Do you think she still
cares for him?"
"I think she wishes to give him another trial; I hope she will." Kenton
was daunted, and he showed it. "She has got to convince herself, and we
have got to let her. She believes, of course, that he's here on her
account, and that flatters her. Why should she be so different from
other girls?" Mrs. Kenton demanded of the angry protest in her husband's
His spirit fell, and he said, "I only wish she were more like them."
"Well, then, she is just as headstrong and as silly, when it comes to a
thing like this. Our only hope is to let her have her own way."
"Do you suppose he cares for her, after all?"
Mrs. Kenton was silent, as if in exhaustive self-question. Then she
answered: "No, I don't in that way. But he believes he can get her."
"Then, Sarah, I think we have a duty to the poor child. You must tell
her what you have told me."
Mrs. Kenton smiled rather bitterly, in recognition of the fact that the
performance of their common duty must fall wholly to her. But she merely
said: "There is no need of my telling her. She knows it already."
"And she would take him in spite of knowing that he didn't really care
"I don't say that. She wouldn't own it to herself."
"And what are you going to do?"
"Nothing. We must let things take their course."
They had a great deal more talk that came to the same end. They played
their sad comedy, he in the part of a father determined to save his child
from herself, and she in hers of resisting and withholding him. It ended
as it had so often ended before--he yielded, with more faith in her
wisdom than she had herself.
At luncheon the Bittridges could not join the Kentons, or be asked to do
so, because the table held only four, but they stopped on their way to
their own table, the mother to bridle and toss in affected reluctance,
while the son bragged how he had got the last two tickets to be had that
night for the theatre where he was going to take his mother. He seemed
to think that the fact had a special claim on the judge's interest, and
she to wish to find out whether Mrs. Kenton approved of theatre-going.
She said she would not think of going in Ballardsville, but she supposed
it was more rulable in New York.
During the afternoon she called at the Kenton apartment to consult the
ladies about what she ought to wear. She said she had nothing but a
black 'barege' along, and would that do with the hat she had on? She had
worn it to let them see, and now she turned her face from aide to side to
give them the effect of the plumes, that fell like a dishevelled feather-
duster round and over the crown. Mrs. Kenton could only say that it
would do, but she believed that it was the custom now for ladies to take
their hats off in the theatre.
Mrs. Bittridge gave a hoarse laugh. "Oh, dear! Then I'll have to fix my
hair two ways? I don't know what Clarence WILL say."
The mention of her son's name opened the way for her to talk of him in
relation to herself, and the rest of her stay passed in the celebration
of his filial virtues, which had been manifest from the earliest period.
She could not remember that she ever had to hit the child a lick, she
said, or that he had ever made her shed a tear.
When she went, Boyne gloomily inquired, "What makes her hair so much
darker at the roots than it is at the points?" and his mother snubbed him
"You had no business to be here, Boyne. I don't like boys hanging about
where ladies are talking together, and listening."
This did not prevent Lottie from answering, directly for Boyne, and
indirectly for Ellen, "It's because it's begun to grow since the last
It was easier to grapple with Boyne than with Lottie, and Mrs. Kenton
was willing to allow her to leave the room with her brother unrebuked.
She was even willing to have had the veil lifted from Mrs. Bittridge's
hair with a rude hand, if it world help Ellen.
"I don't want you to think, momma," said the girl, "that I didn't know
about her hair, or that I don't see how silly she is. But it's all the
more to his credit if he can be so good to her, and admire her. Would
yon like him better if he despised her?"
Mrs. Kenton felt both the defiance and the secret shame from which it
sprang in her daughter's words; and she waited for a moment before she
answered, "I would like to be sure he didn't!"
"If he does, and if he hides it from her, it's the same as if he didn't;
it's better. But you all wish to dislike him."
"We don't wish to dislike him, Ellen, goodness knows. But I don't think
he would care much whether we disliked him or not. I am sure your poor
father and I would be only too glad to like him."
"Lottie wouldn't," said Ellen, with a resentment her mother found
pathetic, it was so feeble and aimless.
"Lottie doesn't matter," she said. She could not make out how nearly
Ellen was to sharing the common dislike, or how far she would go in
fortifying herself against it. She kept with difficulty to her negative
frankness, and she let the girl leave the room with a fretful sigh, as if
provoked that her mother would not provoke her further. There were
moments when Mrs. Kenton believed that Ellen was sick of her love, and
that she would pluck it out of her heart herself if she were left alone.
She was then glad Bittridge had come, so that Ellen might compare with
the reality the counterfeit presentment she had kept in her fancy; and
she believed that if she could but leave him to do his worst, it would be
the best for Ellen.
In the evening, directly after dinner, Bittridge sent up his name for
Mrs. Kenton. The judge had remained to read his paper below, and Lottie
and Boyne had gone to some friends in another apartment. It seemed to
Mrs. Kenton a piece of luck that she should be able to see him alone, and
she could not have said that she was unprepared for him to come in,
holding his theatre-tickets explanatorily in his hand, or surprised when
"Mrs. Kenton, my mother's got a bad headache, and I've come to ask a
favor of you. She can't use her ticket for to-night, and I want you to
let Miss Ellen come with me. Will you?"
Bittridge had constituted himself an old friend of the whole family from
the renewal of their acquaintance, and Mrs. Kenton was now made aware of
his being her peculiar favorite, in spite of the instant repulsion she
felt, she was not averse to what he proposed. Her fear was that Ellen
would be so, or that she could keep from influencing her to this test of
her real feeling for Bittridge. "I will ask her, Mr. Bittridge," she
said, with a severity which was a preliminary of the impartiality she
meant to use with Ellen.
"Well, that's right," he answered, and while she went to the girl's room
he remained examining the details of the drawing-room decorations in easy
security, which Mrs. Kenton justified on her return.
"Ellen will be ready to go with you, Mr. Bittridge."
"Well, that's good," said the young man, and while he talked on she sat
wondering at a nature which all modesty and deference seemed left out of,
though he had sometimes given evidence of his intellectual appreciation
of these things. He talked to Mrs. Kenton not only as if they were in
every-wise equal, but as if they were of the same age, almost of the same
Ellen came in, cloaked and hatted, with her delicate face excited in
prospect of the adventure; and her mother saw Bittridge look at her with
more tenderness than she had ever seen in him before. "I'll take good
care of her, Mrs. Kenton," he said, and for the first time she felt
herself relent a little towards him.
A minute after they were gone Lottie bounced into the room, followed by
"Momma!" she shouted, "Ellen isn't going to the theatre with that
"Yes, she is."
"And you let her, momma! Without a chaperon?"
Boyne's face had mirrored the indignation in his sister's, but at this
unprecedented burst of conventionality he forgot their momentary
alliance. "Well, you're a pretty one to talk about chaperons! Walking
all over Tuskingum with fellows at night, and going buggy-riding with
everybody, and out rowing, and here fairly begging Jim Plumpton to come
down to the steamer and see you off again!"
"Shut up!" Lottie violently returned, "or I'll tell momma how you've
been behaving with Rita Plumpton yourself."
"Well, tell!" Boyne defied her.