Part 2 out of 5
brought business, but not necessarily fame. Driving through this
street, the wives of the lawyers could lean forward in their
carriages and if their husbands were busy, they could smile and
bow; if their husbands were idle, they could look straight ahead.
He passed under the shadow of the old court-house where in his
prime he had fought his legal battles against the commonwealth. He
had been a great lawyer and he knew it (if he had married he might
have been Chief Justice). Then he turned the corner and entered
the street of jurisprudence and the gaol. About midway he reached
the staircase opening from the sidewalk; to his rooms above.
He was not poor and he could have lived richly had he wished. But
when a man does not marry there are so many other things that he
never espouses; and he was not wedded to luxury. As he lighted the
chandelier over the centre-table in his sitting room, the light
revealed an establishment every article of which, if it had no
virtues, at least possessed habits: certainly everything had its
own way. He put his hat and cane on the table, not caring to go
back to the hatrack in his little hall, and seated himself in his
olive morocco chair. As he did so, everything in the room--the
chairs, the curtains, the rugs, the card-table, the punch-bowl, the
other walking-sticks, and the rubbers and umbrellas---seemed to say
in an affectionate chorus: "Well, now that you are in safe for the
night, we feel relieved. So good night and pleasant dreams to you,
for we are going to sleep;" and to sleep they went.
The gas alone flared up and said, "I'll stay up with him."
He drew out and wiped his glasses and reached for the local Sunday
paper, his Sunday evening Bible. He had read it in the morning,
but he always gleaned at night: he met so many of his friends by
reading their advertisements. But to-night he spread it across his
knees and turning to the table lifted the top of a box of cigars,
an orderly responsive family; the paper slipped to the floor and
lay forgotten behind his heels.
He leaned back in the chair with his cigar in his mouth and his
eyes directed toward the opposite wall, where in an oval frame hung
the life-size portrait of an old bulldog. The eyes were blue and
watery and as full of suffering as a seats; from the extremity of
the lower jaw a tooth stood up like a shoemaker's peg; and over the
entire face was stamped the majesty, the patience, and the manly
woes of a nature that had lived deeply and too long. The Judge's
eyes rested on this comrade face.
The events of the day had left him troubled. Any sermon on the
prodigal always touches men; even if it does not prick their
memories, it can always stir their imaginations. Whenever he heard
one, his mind went back to the years when she who afterwards became
Rowan's mother had cast him off, so settling life for him. For
after that experience he had put away the thought of marriage. "To
be so treated once is enough," he had said sternly and proudly.
True, in after years she had come back to him as far as friendship
could bring her back, since she was then the wife of another; but
every year of knowing her thus had only served to deepen the sense
of his loss. He had long since fallen into the habit of thinking
this over of Sunday evenings before going to bed, and as the end of
life closed in upon him, he dwelt upon it more and more.
These familiar thoughts swarmed back to-night, but with them were
mingled new depressing ones. Nothing now perhaps could have caused
him such distress as the thought that Rowan and Isabel would never
marry. All the love that he had any right to pour into any life,
he had always poured with passionate and useless yearnings into
Rowan's--son, of the only woman he had ever loved--the boy that
should have been his own.
There came an interruption. A light quick step was heard mounting
the stairs. A latch key was impatiently inserted in the hall door.
A bamboo cane was dropped loudly into the holder of the hat-rack; a
soft hat was thrown down carelessly somewhere--it sounded like a
wet mop flung into a corner; and there entered a young man
straight, slender, keen-faced, with red hair, a freckled skin,
large thin red ears, and a strong red mouth. As he stepped forward
into the light, he paused, parting the haircut of his eyes and
"Good evening, uncle," he said in a shrill key.
Barbee looked the Judge carefully over; he took the Judge's hat and
cane from the table and hung them in the hall; he walked over and
picked up the newspaper from between the Judge's legs and placed it
at his elbow; he set the ash tray near the edge of the table within
easy reach of the cigar. Then he threw himself into a chair across
the room, lighted a cigarette, blew the smoke toward the ceiling
like the steam of a little whistle signalling to stop work.
"Well, uncle," he said in a tone in which a lawyer might announce
to his partner the settlement of a long-disputed point, "Marguerite
is in love with me!"
The Judge smoked on, his eyes resting on the wall.
"Yes, sir; in love with me. The truth had to come out sometime,
and it came out to-night. And now the joy of life is gone for me!
As soon as a woman falls in love with a man, his peace is at an
end. But I am determined that it shall not interfere with my
"The practice of my profession, sir! The profession of yourself
and of the great men of the past: such places have to be filled."
"Filled, but not filled with the same thing."
"You should have seen the other hapless wretches there to-night!
Pining for a smile! Moths begging the candle to scorch them! And
the candle was as cold as the north star and as distant."
Barbee rose and took a turn across the room and returning to his
chair stood before it.
"If Marguerite had only waited, had concealed herself a little
longer! Why did she not keep me in doubt until I had won some
great case! Think of a scene like this: a crowded court room some
afternoon; people outside the doors and windows craning their necks
to see and hear me; the judge nervous and excited; the members of
the bar beside themselves with jealousy as I arise and confront the
criminal and jury. Marguerite is seated just behind the jury; I
know why she chose that seat: she wished to study me to the best
advantage. I try to catch her eye; she will not look at me. For
three hours my eloquence storms. The judge acknowledges to a tear,
the jurors reach for their handkerchiefs, the people in the court
room sob like the skies of autumn. As I finish, the accused arises
and addresses the court: 'May it please your honor, in the face of
such a masterly prosecution, I can no longer pretend to be
innocent. Sir (addressing me), I congratulate you upon your
magnificent service to the commonwealth. Gentlemen of the jury,
you need not retire to bring in any verdict: I bring it in myself,
I am guilty, and my only wish is to be hanged. I suggest that you
have it done at once in order that nothing may mar the success of
this occasion!' That night Marguerite sends for me: that would
have been the time for declaration! I have a notion that if I can
extricate myself without wounding this poor little innocent, to
forswear matrimony and march on to fame."
"March on to bed."
"Marguerite is going to give a ball, uncle, a brilliant ball merely
to celebrate this irrepressible efflux and panorama of her
emotions. Watch me at that ball, uncle! Mark the rising Romeo of
the firm when Marguerite, the youthful Juliet of this town--"
A hand waved him quietly toward his bedroom.
"Well, good night, sir, good night. When the lark sings at
heaven's gate I'll greet thee, uncle. My poor Marguerite!--Good
night, uncle, good night."
He was only nineteen.
The Judge returned to his thoughts.
He must have thought a long time: the clock not far away struck
twelve. He took off his glasses, putting them negligently on the
edge of the ash tray which tipped over beneath their weight and
fell to the floor: he picked up his glasses, but let the ashes lie.
Then he stooped down to take off his shoes, not without sounds of
Aroused by these sounds or for other reasons not to be discovered,
there emerged from under a table on which was piled "The Lives of
the Chief Justices" a bulldog, cylindrical and rigid with years.
Having reached a decorous position before the Judge, by the slow
action of the necessary machinery he lowered the posterior end of
the cylinder to the floor and watched him.
"Well, did I get them off about right?"
The dog with a private glance of sympathy up into the Judge's face
returned to his black goatskin rug under the Chief Justices; and
the Judge, turning off the burners in the chandelier and striking a
match, groped his way in his sock feet to his bedroom--to the bed
with its one pillow.
Out in the country next morning it was not yet break of dawn. The
stars, thickly flung about, were flashing low and yellow as at
midnight, but on the horizon the great change had begun. Not with
colors of rose or pearl but as the mysterious foreknowledge of the
morning, when a vast swift herald rushes up from the east and
sweeps onward across high space, bidding the earth be in readiness
for the drama of the sun.
The land, heavy with life, lay wrapped in silence, steeped in rest.
Not a bird in wet hedge or evergreen had drawn nimble head from
nimble wing. In meadow and pasture fold and herd had sunk down
satisfied. A black brook brawling through a distant wood sounded
loud in the stillness. Under the forest trees around the home of
the Merediths only drops of dew might have been heard splashing
downward from leaf to leaf. In the house all slept. The mind,
wakefullest of happy or of suffering things, had lost consciousness
of joy and care save as these had been crowded down into the
chamber which lies beneath our sleep, whence they made themselves
audible through the thin flooring as the noise of dreams.
Among the parts of the day during which man may match the elements
of the world within him to the world without--his songs with its
sunrises, toil with noontide, prayer with nightfall, slumber with
dark--there is one to stir within him the greatest sense of
responsibility: the hour of dawn.
If he awaken then and be alone, he is earliest to enter the silent
empty theatre of the earth where the human drama is soon to
recommence. Not a mummer has stalked forth; not an auditor sits
waiting. He himself, as one of the characters in this ancient
miracle play of nature, pauses at the point of separation between
all that he has enacted and all that he will enact. Yesterday he
was in the thick of action. Between then and now lies the night,
stretching like a bar of verdure across wearying sands. In that
verdure he has rested; he has drunk forgetfulness and self-renewal
from those deep wells of sleep. Soon the play will be ordered on
again and he must take his place for parts that are new and
confusing to all. The servitors of the morning have entered and
hung wall and ceiling with gorgeous draperies; the dust has been
sprinkled; fresh airs are blowing; and there is music, the living
orchestra of the living earth. Well for the waker then if he can
look back upon the role he has played with a quiet conscience, and
as naturally as the earth greets the sun step forth upon the stage
to continue or to end his brief part in the long drama of destiny.
The horizon had hardly begun to turn red when a young man,
stretched on his bed by an open window, awoke from troubled sleep.
He lay for a few moments without moving, then he sat up on the edge
of the bed. His hands rested listlessly on his kneecaps and his
eyes were fixed on the sky-line crimsoning above his distant woods.
After a while he went over and sat at one of the windows, his eyes
still fixed on the path of the coming sun; and a great tragedy of
men sat there within him: the tragedy that has wandered long and
that wanders ever, showing its face in all lands, retaining its
youth in all ages; the tragedy of love that heeds not law, and the
tragedy of law forever punishing heedless love.
Gradually the sounds of life began. From the shrubs under his
window, from the orchard and the wet weeds of fence corners, the
birds reentered upon their lives. Far off in the meadows the
cattle rose from their warm dry places, stretched themselves and
awoke the echoes of the wide rolling land with peaceful lowing. A
brood mare in a grazing lot sent forth her quick nostril call to
the foal capering too wildly about her, and nozzled it with
rebuking affection. On the rosy hillsides white lambs were leaping
and bleating, or running down out of sight under the white sea-fog
of the valleys. A milk cart rattled along the turnpike toward the
It had become broad day.
He started up and crossed the hall to the bedroom opposite, and
stood looking down at his younger brother. How quiet Dent's sleep
was; how clear the current of his life had run and would run
always! No tragedy would ever separate him and the woman he loved.
When he went downstairs the perfect orderliness of his mother's
housekeeping had been before him. Doors and windows had been
opened to the morning freshness, sweeping and dusting had been
done, not a servant was in sight. His setters lay waiting on the
porch and as he stepped out they hurried up with glistening eyes
and soft barkings and followed him as he passed around to the barn.
Work was in progress there: the play of currycombs, the whirl of
the cutting-box, the noise of the mangers, the bellowing of calves,
the rich streamy sounds of the milking. He called his men to him
one after another, laying out the work of the day.
When he returned to the house he saw his mother walking on the
front pavement; she held flowers freshly plucked for the breakfast
table: a woman of large mould, grave, proud, noble; an ideal of her
place and time.
"Is the lord of the manor ready for his breakfast?" she asked as
she came forward, smiling.
"I am ready, mother," he replied without smiling, touching his lips
to her cheek.
She linked her arm in his as they ascended the steps. At the top
she drew him gently around until they faced the landscape rolling
wide before them.
"It is so beautiful!" she exclaimed with a deep narrow love of her
land. "I never see it without thinking of it as it will be years
hence. I can see you riding over it then and your children playing
around the house and some one sitting here where we stand, watching
them at their play and watching you in the distance at your work.
But I have been waiting a long time for her to take my place--and
to take her own," and she leaned heavily on his arm as a sign of
her dependence but out of weakness also (for she did not tell him
all). "I am impatient to hear the voice of your children, Rowan.
Do you never wish to hear them yourself?"
As they stood silent, footsteps approached through the hall and
turning they saw Dent with a book in his hand.
"Are you grand people never coming to breakfast?" he asked,
frowning with pretended impatience, "so that a laboring man may go
to his work?"
He was of short but well-knit figure. Spectacles and a thoughtful
face of great refinement gave him the student's stamp. His
undergraduate course at college would end in a few weeks.
Postgraduate work was to begin during the summer. An assistant
professorship, then a full professorship--these were successive
stations already marked by him on the clear track of life; and he
was now moving toward them with straight and steady aim. Sometimes
we encounter personalities which seem to move through the discords
of this life as though guided by laws of harmony; they know neither
outward check nor inward swerving, and are endowed with that
peaceful passion for toil which does the world's work and is one of
the marks of genius.
He was one of these--a growth of the new time not comprehended by
his mother. She could neither understand it nor him. The pain
which this had given him at first he had soon outgrown; and what
might have been a tragedy to another nature melted away in the
steady sunlight of his entire reasonableness. Perhaps he realized
that the scientific son can never be the idol of a household until
he is born of scientific parents.
As mother and elder son now turned to greet him, the mother was not
herself aware that she still leaned upon the arm of Rowan and that
Dent walked into the breakfast room alone.
Less than usual was said during the meal. They were a reserved
household, inclined to the small nobilities of silence. (It is
questionable whether talkative families ever have much to say.)
This morning each had especial reason for self-communing.
When they had finished breakfast and came out into the hall. Dent
paused at one of the parlor doors.
"Mother" he said simply, "come into the parlor a moment, will you?
And Rowan, I should like to see you also."
They followed him with surprise and all seated themselves.
"Mother," he said, addressing Her with a clear beautiful light in
his gray eyes, yet not without the reserve which he always felt and
always inspired, "I wish to tell you that I am engaged to Pansy
Vaughan. And to tell you also, Rowan. You know that I finish
college this year; she does also. We came to an understanding
yesterday afternoon and I wish you both to know it at once. We
expect to be married in the autumn as soon as I am of age and a man
in my own right. Mother, Pansy is coming to see you; and Rowan, I
hope you will go to see Pansy. Both of you will like her and be
proud of her when you know her."
He rose as though he had rounded his communication to a perfect
shape. "Now I must get to my work. Good morning," and with a
smile for each he walked quietly out of the room. He knew that he
could not expect their congratulations at that moment and that
further conference would be awkward for all. He could merely tell
them the truth and leave the rest to the argument of time.
"But I cannot believe it, Rowan! I cannot!"
Mrs. Meredith sat regarding' her elder son with incredulity and
distress. The shock of the news was for certain reasons even
greater to him; so that he could not yet command himself
sufficiently to comfort her. After a few moments she resumed: "I
did not know that Dent had begun to think about girls. He never
said so. He has never cared for society. He has seemed absorbed
in his studies. And now--Dent in love. Dent engaged, Dent to be
married in the autumn--why, Rowan, am I dreaming, am I in my
senses? And to this girl! She has entrapped him--poor, innocent,
unsuspecting Dent! My poor, little, short-sighted bookworm."
Tears sprang to her eyes, but she laughed also. She had a mother's
hope that this trouble would turn to comedy. She went on quickly:
"Did you know anything about this? Has he ever spoken to you about
"No, I am just as much surprised. But then Dent never speaks in
She looked at him a little timidly: "I thought perhaps it was this
that has been troubling you. You have been trying to hide it from
He dropped his eyes quickly and made no reply.
"And do you suppose he is in earnest, Rowan?"
"He would never jest on such a subject."
"I mean, do you think he knows his own mind?"
"He always does."
"But would he marry against my wishes?"
"He takes it for granted that you will be pleased: he said so."
"But how can he think I'll be pleased? I have never spoken to this
girl in my life. I have never seen her except when we have passed
them on the turnpike. I never spoke to her father but once and
that was years ago when he came here one cold winter afternoon to
buy a shock of fodder from your father."
She was a white character; but even the whiteness of ermine gains
by being necked with blackness. "How can he treat me with so
little consideration? It is just as if he had said: 'Good morning,
mother. I am going to disgrace the family by my marriage, but I
know you will be delighted---good morning.'"
"You forget that Dent does not think he will disgrace the family.
He said you would be proud of her."
"Well, when the day comes for me to be proud of this, there will
not be much left to be ashamed of. Rowan, for once I shall
"How can you interfere?"
"Then you must: you are his guardian."
"I shall not be his guardian by the autumn. Dent has arranged this
perfectly, mother, as he always arranges everything."
She returned to her point. "But he _must_ be kept from making such
a mistake! Talk to him as a man. Advise him, show him that he
will tie a millstone around his neck, ruin his whole life. I am
willing to leave myself out and to forget what is due me, what is
due you, what is due the memory of his father and of my father: for
his own sake he must not marry this girl."
He shook his head slowly. "It is settled, mother," he added
consolingly, "and I have so much confidence in Dent that I believe
what he says: we shall be proud of her when we know her."
She sat awhile in despair. Then she said with fresh access of
conviction: "This is what comes of so much science: it always tends
to make a man common in his social tastes. You need not smile at
me in that pitying way, for it is true: it destroys aristocratic
feeling; and there is more need of aristocratic feeling in a
democracy than anywhere else: because it is the only thing that can
be aristocratic. That is what science has done for Dent! And this
girl I--the public school has tried to make her uncommon, and the
Girl's College has attempted, to make her more uncommon; and now I
suppose she actually thinks she _is_ uncommon: otherwise she would
never have imagined that she could marry a son of mine. Smile on,
I know I amuse you! You think I am not abreast of the times. I am
glad I am not. I prefer my own. Dent should have studied for the
church--with his love of books, and his splendid mind, and his
grave, beautiful character. Then he would never have thought of
marrying beneath him socially; he would have realized that if he
did, he could never rise. Once in the church and with the right
kind of wife, he might some day have become a bishop: I have always
wanted a bishop in the family. But he set his heart upon a
professorship, and I suppose a professor does not have to be
particular about whom he marries."
"A professor has to be particular only to please himself--and the
woman. His choice is not regulated by salaries and congregations."
She returned to her point: "You breed fine cattle and fine sheep,
and you try to improve the strain of your setters. You know how
you do it. What right has Dent to injure his children in the race
for life by giving them an inferior mother? Are not children to be
as much regarded in their rights of descent as rams and poodles?"
"You forget that the first families in all civilizations have kept
themselves alive and at the summit by intermarriage with good,
clean, rich blood of people whom they have considered beneath them."
"But certainly my family is not among these. It is certainly alive
and it is certainly not dying out. I cannot discuss the subject
with you, if you once begin that argument. Are you going to call
"Certainly. It was Dent's wish and it is right that I should."
"Then I think I shall go with you, Rowan. Dent said she was coming
to see me; but I think I should rather go to see her. Whenever I
wished to leave, I could get away, but if she came here, I
"When should you like to go?"
"Oh, don't hurry me! I shall need time--a great deal of time! Do
you suppose they have a parlor? I am afraid I shall not shine in
the kitchen in comparison with the tins."
She had a wry face; then her brow cleared and she added with relief:
"But I must put this whole trouble out of my mind at present! It
is too close to me, I cannot even see it. I shall call on the girl
with you and then I shall talk quietly with Dent. Until then I
must try to forget it. Besides, I got up this morning with
something else on my mind. It is not Dent's unwisdom that
Her tone indicated that she had passed to a more important topic.
If any one had told her that her sons were not equally dear, the
wound of such injustice would never have healed. In all that she
could do for both there had never been maternal discrimination; but
the heart of a woman cannot help feeling things that the heart of a
mother does not; and she discriminated as a woman. This was
evident now as she waived her young son's affairs.
"It is not Dent that I have been thinking of this morning," she
repeated. "Why is it not you that come to tell me of your
engagement? Why have you not set Dent an example as to the kind of
woman he ought to marry? How many more years must he and I wait?"
They were seated opposite each other. He was ready for riding out
on the farm, his hat on his crossed knees, gloves and whip in hand.
Her heart yearned over him as he pulled at his gloves, his head
dropped forward so that his face was hidden.
"Now that the subject has come up in this unexpected way, I want to
tell you how long I have wished to see you married. I have never
spoken because my idea is that a mother should not advise unless
she believes it necessary. And in your case it has not been
necessary. I have known your choice, and long before it became
yours, it became mine. She is my ideal among them all. I know
women, Rowan, and I know she is worthy of you and I could not say
more. She is-high-minded and that quality is so rare in either
sex. Without it what is any wife worth to a high-minded man? And
I have watched her. With all her pride and modesty I have
discovered her secret--she loves you. Then why have you waited?
Why do you still wait?"
He did not answer and she continued with deeper feeling:
"Life is so uncertain to all of us and of course to me! I want to
see you wedded to her, see her brought here as mistress of this
house, and live to hear the laughter of your children." She
finished with solemn emotion: "It has been my prayer, Rowan."
She became silent with her recollections of her own early life for
a moment and then resumed:
"Nothing ever makes up for the loss of such years--the first years
of happy marriage. If we have had these, no matter what happens
afterward, we have not lived for nothing. It becomes easier for us
to be kind and good afterward, to take an interest in life, to
believe in our fellow-creatures, and in God."
He sprang up.
"Mother, I cannot speak with you about this now." He turned
quickly and stood with his back to her, looking out of doors; and
he spoke over his shoulder and his voice was broken: "You have had
one disappointment this morning: it is enough. But do not think of
my marrying--of my ever marrying. Dent must take my place at the
head of the house. It is all over with me! But I cannot speak
with you about this now," and he started quickly to leave the
parlors. She rose and put her arm around his waist, walking beside
"You do not mind my speaking to, you about this, Rowan?" she said,
sore at having touched some trouble which she felt that he had long
been hiding from her, and with full respect for the privacies of
"No, no, no!" he cried, choking with emotion. "Ah, mother,
mother!"--and he gently disengaged himself from her arms.
She watched him as he rode out of sight. Then she returned and sat
in the chair which he had, quitted, folding her hands in her lap.
For her it was one of the moments when we are reminded that our
lives are not in our keeping, and that whatsoever is to befall us
originates in sources beyond our power. Our wills may indeed reach
the length of our arms or as far as our voices can penetrate space;
but without us and within us moves one universe that saves us or
ruins us only for its own purposes; and we are no more free amid
its laws than the leaves of the forest are free to decide their own
shapes and season of unfolding, to order the showers by which they
are to be nourished and the storms which shall scatter them at last.
Above every other she had cherished the wish for a marriage between
Rowan and Isabel Conyers; now for reasons unknown to her it seemed
that this desire was never to be realized. She did not know the
meaning of what Rowan had just said to her; but she did not doubt
there was meaning behind it, grave meaning. Her next most serious
concern would have been that in time Dent likewise should choose a
wife wisely; now he had announced to her his intention to wed
prematurely and most foolishly; she could not altogether shake off
the conviction that he would do what he had said he should.
As for Dent it was well-nigh the first anxiety that he had ever
caused her. If her affection for him was less poignant, being
tenderness stored rather than tenderness exercised, this resulted
from the very absence of his demand for it. He had always needed
her so little, had always needed every one so little, unfolding his
life from the first and drawing from the impersonal universe
whatever it required with the quietude and efficiency of a
prospering plant. She lacked imagination, or she might have
thought of Dent as a filial sunflower, which turned the blossom of
its life always faithfully and beautifully toward her, but stood
rooted in the soil of knowledge that she could not supply.
What she had always believed she could see in him was the
perpetuation under a new form of his father and the men of his
These had for generations been grave mental workers: ministers,
lawyers, professors in theological seminaries; narrow-minded,
strong-minded; upright, unbending; black-browed, black-coated; with
a passion always for dealing in justice and dealing out justice,
human or heavenly; most of all, gratified when in theological
seminaries, when they could assert themselves as inerrant
interpreters of the Most High. The portraits of two of them hung
in the dining room now, placed there as if to watch the table and
see that grace was never left unsaid, that there be no levity at
meat nor heresy taken in with the pudding. Other portraits were
also in other rooms--they always had themselves painted for
posterity, seldom or never their wives.
Some of the books they had written were in the library, lucid
explanations of the First Cause and of how the Judge of all the
earth should be looked at from without and from within. Some that
they had most loved to read were likewise there: "Pollock's Course
of Time"; the slow outpourings of Young, sad sectary; Milton, with
the passages on Hell approvingly underscored--not as great poetry,
but as great doctrine; nowhere in the bookcases a sign of the
"Areopagitica," of "Comus," and "L'Allegro"; but most prominent the
writings of Jonathan Edwards, hoarsest of the whole flock of New
World theological ravens.
Her marriage into this family had caused universal surprise. It
had followed closely upon the scandals in regard to the wild young
Ravenel Morris, the man she loved, the man she had promised to
marry. These scandals had driven her to the opposite extreme from
her first choice by one of life's familiar reactions; and in her
wounded flight she had thrown herself into the arms of a man whom
people called irreproachable. He was a grave lawyer, one of the
best of his kind; nevertheless he and she, when joined for the one
voyage of two human spirits, were like a funeral barge lashed to
some dancing boat, golden-oared, white-sailed, decked with flowers.
Hope at the helm and Pleasure at the prow.
For she herself had sprung from a radically different stock: from
sanguine, hot-blooded men; congressmen shaping the worldly history
of their fellow-beings and leaving the non-worldly to take care of
itself; soldiers illustrious in the army and navy; hale country
gentlemen who took the lead in the country's hardy sports and
pleasures; all sowing their wild oats early in life with hands that
no power could stay; not always living to reap, but always leaving
enough reaping to be done by the sad innocent who never sow;
fathers of large families; and even when breaking the hearts of
their wives, never losing their love; for with their large open
frailties being men without crime and cowardice, tyrannies,
With these two unlike hereditary strains before her she had, during
the years, slowly devised the maternal philosophy of her sons.
Out of those grave mental workers had come Dent--her student. She
loved to believe that in the making of him her own blood asserted
itself by drawing him away from the tyrannical interpretation of
God to the neutral investigation of the earth, from black theology
to sunlit science--so leaving him at work and at peace, the
ancestral antagonisms becoming neutralized by being blended.
But Rowan! while he was yet a little fellow, and she and her young
husband would sit watching him at play, characteristics revealed
themselves which led her to shake her head rebukingly and say: "He
gets these traits from you." At other times contradictory
characteristics appeared and the father, looking silently at her,
would in effect inquire: "Whence does he derive these?" On both
accounts she began to look with apprehension toward this son's
maturing years. And always, as the years passed, evidence was
forced more plainly upon her that in him the two natures he
inherited were antagonistic still; each alternately uppermost; both
in unceasing warfare; thus endowing him with a double nature which
might in time lead him to a double life. So that even then she had
begun to take upon herself the burden of dreading lest she should
not only be the mother of his life, but the mother of his
tragedies. She went over this again and again: "Am I to be the
mother of his tragedies?"
As she sat this young summer morning after he had left her so
strangely, all at once the world became autumn to her remembrance.
An autumn morning: the rays of the sun shining upon the silvery
mists swathing the trees outside, upon the wet and many-colored
leaves; a little frost on the dark grass here and there; the first
fires lighted within; the carriage already waiting at the door; the
breakfast hurriedly choked down--in silence; the mournful noise of
his trunk being brought downstairs--his first trunk. Then the
going out upon the veranda and the saying good-by to him; and
then--the carriage disappearing in the silver mists, with a few red
and yellow leaves whirled high from the wheels.
That was the last of the first Rowan,--youth at the threshold of
manhood. Now off for college, to his university in New England.
As his father and she stood side by side (he being too frail to
take that chill morning ride with his son) he waved his hand
protectingly after him, crying out: "He is a good boy." And
she, having some wide vision of other mothers of the land who
during these same autumn days were bidding God-speed to their
idols--picked youth of the republic--she with some wide vision of
this large fact stood a proud mother among them all, feeling sure
that he would take foremost place in his college for good honest
work and for high character and gentle manners and gallant
bearing--with not a dark spot in him.
It was toward the close of the first session, after she had learned
the one kind of letter he always wrote, that his letters changed.
She could not have explained how they were changed, could not have
held the pages up to the inspection of any one else and have said,
"See! it is here." But she knew it was there, and it stayed there.
She waited for his father to notice it; but if he ever noticed it,
he never told her: nor did she ever confide her discovery to him.
When vacation came, it brought a request from Rowan that he might
be allowed to spend the summer with college friends farther
north--camping, fishing, hunting, sailing, seeing more of his
country. His father's consent was more ready than her own. The
second session passed and with the second vacation the request was
renewed. "Why does he not come home? Why does he not wish to come
home?" she said, wandering restlessly over the house with his
letter in her hands; going up to his bedroom and sitting down in
the silence of it and looking at his bed--which seemed so strangely
white that day--looking at all the preparations she had made for
his comfort. "Why does he not come?"
Near the close of the third session he came quickly enough,
summoned by his father's short fatal illness.
Some time passed before she observed anything in him but natural
changes after so long an absence and grief over his great loss. He
shut himself in his room for some days, having it out alone with
himself, a young man's first solemn accounting to a father who has
become a memory. Gradually there began to emerge his new care of
her, and tenderness, a boy's no more. And he stepped forward
easily into his place as the head of affairs, as his brother's
guardian. But as time wore on and she grew used to him as so much
older in mere course of nature, and as graver by his loss and his
fresh responsibilities, she made allowances for all these and
brushed them away and beheld constantly beneath them that other
Often while she sat near him when they were reading, she would look
up and note that unaware a shadow had stolen out on his face. She
studied that shadow. And one consolation she drew: that whatsoever
the cause, it was nothing by which he felt dishonored. At such
moments her love broke over him with intolerable longings. She
remembered things that her mother had told her about her father;
she recalled the lives of her brothers, his uncles. She yearned to
say: "What is it, Rowan? You can tell me anything, anything. I
know so much more than you believe."
But some restraint dissuaded her from bridging that reserve. She
may have had the feeling that she spared him a good deal by her not
For more than a year after his return he had kept aloof from
society--going into town only when business demanded, and accepting
no invitations to the gayeties of the neighborhood. He liked
rather to have his friends come out to stay with him: sometimes he
was off with them for days during the fishing and hunting seasons.
Care of the farm and its stock occupied a good deal of his leisure,
and there were times when he worked hard in the fields--she thought
so unnecessarily. Incessant activity of some kind had become his
craving--the only ease.
She became uneasy, she disapproved. For a while she allowed things
to have their way, but later she interfered--though as always with
her silent strength and irresistible gentleness. Making no comment
upon his changed habits and altered tastes, giving no sign of her
own purposes, she began the second year of his home-coming to
accept invitations for herself and formally reentered her social
world; reassumed her own leadership there; demanded him as her
escort; often filled the house with young guests; made it for his
generation what the home of her girlhood had been to her--in all
sacrificing for him the gravity and love of seclusion which had
settled over her during the solemn years, years which she knew to
be parts of a still more solemn future.
She succeeded. She saw him again more nearly what he had been
before the college days--more nearly developing that type of life
which belonged to him and to his position.
Finally she saw him in love as she wished; and at this point she
gradually withdrew from society again, feeling that he needed her
The noise of wheels on the gravel driveway of the lawn brought the
reflections of Mrs. Meredith to an abrupt close. The sound was
extremely unpleasant to her; she did not feel in a mood to
entertain callers this morning. Rising with regret, she looked
out. The brougham of Mrs. Conyers, flashing in the sun, was being
driven toward the house--was being driven rapidly, as though speed
meant an urgency.
If Mrs. Meredith desired no visitor at all, she particularly
disliked the appearance of this one. Rowan's words to her were
full of meaning that she did not understand; but they rendered it
clear at least that his love affair had been interrupted, if not
been ended. She could not believe this due to any fault of his;
and friendly relations with the Conyers family was for her
instantly at an end with any wrong done to him.
She summoned a maid and instructed her regarding the room in which
the visitor was to be received (not in the parlors; they were too
full of solemn memories this morning). Then she passed down the
long hall to her bedchamber.
The intimacy between these ladies was susceptible of exact
analysis; every element comprising it could have been valued as
upon a quantitative scale. It did not involve any of those
incalculable forces which constitute friendship--a noble mystery
remaining forever beyond unravelling.
They found the first basis of their intimacy in a common wish for
the union of their offsprings. This subject had never been
mentioned between them. Mrs. Conyers would have discussed it had
she dared; but she knew at least the attitude of the other.
Furthermore, Mrs. Meredith brought to this association a beautiful
weakness: she was endowed with all but preternatural insight into
what is fine in human nature, but had slight power of discovering
what is base; she seemed endowed with far-sightedness in high,
clear, luminous atmospheres, but was short-sighted in moral
twilights. She was, therefore, no judge of the character of her
intimate. As for that lady's reputation, this was well known to
her; but she screened herself against this reputation behind what
she believed to be her own personal discovery of unsuspected
virtues in the misjudged. She probably experienced as much pride
in publicly declaring the misjudged a better woman than she was
reputed, as that lady would have felt in secretly declaring her to
be a worse one.
On the part of Mrs. Conyers, the motives which she brought to the
association presented nothing that must be captured and brought
down from the heights, she was usually to be explained by mining
rather than mounting. Whatever else she might not have been, she
was always ore; never rainbows.
Throughout bird and animal and insect life there runs what is
recognized as the law of protective assimilation. It represents
the necessity under which a creature lives to pretend to be
something else as a condition of continuing to be itself. The
rose-colored flamingo, curving its long neck in volutions that
suggest the petals of a corolla, burying its head under its wing
and lifting one leg out of sight, becomes a rank, marvellous
flower, blooming on too slight a stalk in its marshes. An insect
turns itself into one of the dried twigs of a dead stick. On the
margin of a shadowed pool the frog is hued like moss--greenness
beside greenness. Mrs. Conyers availed herself of a kind of
protective assimilation when she exposed herself to the environment
of Mrs. Meredith, adopting devices by which she would be taken for
any object in nature but herself. Two familiar devices were
applied to her habiliments and her conversations. Mrs. Meredith
always dressed well to the natural limit of her bountiful years;
Mrs. Conyers usually dressed more than well and more than a
generation behind hers. On occasions when she visited Rowan's
unconcealed mother, she allowed time to make regarding herself
almost an honest declaration. Ordinarily she Was a rose nearly
ready to drop, which is bound with a thread of its own color to
look as much as possible like a bud that is nearly ready to open.
Her conversations were even more assiduously tinged and fashioned
by the needs of accommodation. Sometimes she sat in Mrs.
Meredith's parlors as a soul sick of the world's vanities, an urban
spirit that hungered for country righteousness. During a walk one
day through the gardens she paused under the boughs of a weeping
willow and recited, "Cromwell, I charge thee fling away ambition--"
She uniformly imparted to Mrs. Meredith the assurance that with her
alone she could lay aside all disguises.
This morning she alighted from her carriage at the end of the
pavement behind some tall evergreens. As she walked toward the
house, though absorbed with a serious purpose, she continued to be
as observant of everything as usual. Had an eye been observant of
her, it would have been noticed that Mrs. Conyers in all her
self-concealment did not conceal one thing--her walk. This one
element of her conduct had its curious psychology. She had never
been able to forget that certain scandals set going many years
before, had altered the course of Mrs. Meredith's life and of the
lives of some others. After a lapse of so long a time she had no
fear now that she should be discovered. Nevertheless it was
impossible for her ever to approach this house without "coming
delicately." She "came delicately" in the same sense that Agag,
king of Amalek, walked when he was on his way to Saul, who was
about to hew him to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.
She approached the house now, observant of everything as she
tripped. Had a shutter been hung awry; if a window shade had been
drawn too low or a pane of glass had not sparkled, or there had
been loose paper on the ground or moulted feathers on the bricks,
she would have discovered this with the victorious satisfaction of
finding fault. But orderliness prevailed. No; the mat at the
front door had been displaced by Rowan's foot as he had hurried
from the house. (The impulse was irresistible: she adjusted it
with her toe and planted herself on it with a sense of triumph.)
As she took out her own and Isabel's cards, she turned and looked
out across the old estate. This was the home she had designed for
Isabel: the land, the house, the silver, the glass, the memories,
the distinction--they must all be Isabel's.
Some time passed before Mrs. Meredith appeared. Always a woman of
dignity and reserve, she had never before in her life perhaps worn
a demeanor so dignified and reserved. Her nature called for peace;
but if Rowan had been wronged, then there was no peace--and a
sacred war is a cruel one. The instant that the two ladies
confronted each other, each realized that each concealed something
from the other. This discovery instantly made Mrs. Meredith cooler
still; it rendered Mrs. Conyers more cordial.
"Isabel regretted that she could not come."
"I am sorry." The tone called for the dismissal of the subject.
"This is scarcely a visit to you," Mrs. Conyers went on; "I have
been paying one of my usual pastoral calls: I have been to Ambrose
Webb's to see if my cows are ready to return to town. Strawberries
are ripe and strawberries call for more cream, and more cream calls
for more calves, and more calves call for--well, we have all heard
them! I do not understand how a man who looks like Ambrose can so
stimulate cattle. Of course my cows are not as fine and fat as
Rowan's--that is not to be expected. The country is looking very
beautiful. I never come for a drive without regretting that I live
in town." (She would have found the country intolerable for the
same reason that causes criminals to flock to cities.)
Constraint deepened as the visit was prolonged. Mrs. Conyers
begged Mrs. Meredith for a recipe that she knew to be bad; and when
Mrs. Meredith had left the room for it, she rose and looked eagerly
out of the windows for any sign of Rowan. When Mrs. Meredith
returned, for the same reason she asked to be taken into the
garden, which was in its splendor of bloom. Mrs. Meredith culled
for her a few of the most resplendent blossoms--she could not have
offered to any one anything less. Mrs. Conyers was careful not to
pin any one of these on; she had discovered that she possessed a
peculiarity known to some florists and concealed by those women who
suffer from it--that flowers soon wilt when worn by them.
Meanwhile as they walked she talked of flowers, of housekeeping;
she discussed Marguerite's coming ball and Dent's brilliant
graduation. She enlarged upon this, praising Dent to the
disparagement of her own grandson Victor, now in retreat from
college on account of an injury received as centre-rush in his
football team. Victor, she protested, was above education; his
college was a kind of dormitory to athletics.
When we are most earnest ourselves, we are surest to feel the lack
of earnestness in others; sincerity stirred to the depths will
tolerate nothing less. It thus becomes a new test of a companion.
So a weak solution may not reveal a poison when a strong one will.
Mrs. Meredith felt this morning as never before the real nature of
the woman over whom for years she had tried to throw a concealing
charity; and Mrs. Conyers saw as never before in what an impossible
soil she had tried to plant poison oak and call it castle ivy.
The ladies parted with coldness. When she was once more seated in
her carriage, Mrs. Conyers thrust her head through the window and
told the coachman to drive slowly. She tossed the recipe into a
pine tree and took in her head. Then she caught hold of a brown
silk cord attached to a little brown silk curtain in the front of
the brougham opposite her face. It sprang aside, revealing a
little toilette mirror. On the cushion beside her lay something
under a spread newspaper. She quickly drew off her sombre visiting
gloves; and lifting the newspaper, revealed under it a fresh pair
of gloves, pearl-colored. She worked her tinted hands nimbly into
these. Then she took out a rose-colored scarf or shawl as light as
a summer cloud. This she threw round her shoulders; it added no
warmth, it added color, meaning. There were a few other youthward
changes and additions; and then the brown silk curtain closed over
Another woman leaned back in a corner of the brougham. By a trick
of the face she had juggled away a generation of her years. The
hands were moved backward on the horologe of mortality as we move
backward the pointers on the dial of a clock: her face ticked at
the hour of two in the afternoon of life instead of half-past five.
There was still time enough left to be malicious.
One morning about a week later she entered her carriage and was
driven rapidly away. A soft-faced, middle-aged woman with gray
ringlets and nervous eyes stepped timorously upon the veranda and
watched her departure with an expression of relief--Miss Harriet
Crane, the unredeemed daughter of the household.
She had been the only fruit of her mother's first marriage and she
still remained attached to the parental stem despite the most
vigorous wavings and shakings of that stem to shed its own product.
Nearly fifty years of wintry neglect and summer scorching had not
availed to disjoin Harriet from organic dependence upon her mother.
And of all conceivable failings in a child of hers that mother
could have found none so hard to forgive as the failure to attract
a man in a world full of men nearly all bent upon being attracted.
It was by no choice of Harriet's that she was born of a woman who
valued children as a kind of social collateral, high-class
investments to mature after long periods with at least reasonable
profits for the original investors. Nor was it by any volition of
hers that she had commended herself to her mother in the beginning
by being a beautiful and healthful child: initial pledge that she
could be relied upon to turn out lucrative in the end. The parent
herself was secretly astounded that she had given birth to a child
of so seraphic a disposition.
Trouble and disappointment began with education, for education is
long stout resistance. You cannot polish highly a stone that is
not hard enough to resist being highly polished. Harriet's soft
nature gave way before the advance of the serried phalanxes of
knowledge: learning passed her by; and she like the many "passed
By this time her mother had grown alarmed and she brought Harriet
out prematurely, that she might be wedded before, so to speak, she
was discovered. Meantime Mrs. Crane herself had married a second
and a third time, with daughters by the last husband who were
little younger than her eldest; and she laughingly protested that
nothing is more confusing to a woman than to have in the house
children by two husbands. Hence further reason for desiring
immediate nuptials: she could remove from the parlors the trace of
At first only the most brilliant matches were planned for Harriet;
these one by one unaccountably came to naught. Later the mother
began to fall back: upon those young men who should be glad to
embrace such an opportunity; but these less desirable young men
failed to take that peculiar view of their destinies. In the
meanwhile the Misses Conyers had come on as debutantes and were
soon bespoken. At the marriage of the youngest, Harriet's mother
had her act as first bridesmaid and dressed her, already fading, as
though she were the very spirit of April.
The other sisters were long since gone, scattered north and south
with half-grown families; and the big house was almost empty save
when they came in troops to visit it.
Harriet's downward career as an article of human merchandise had
passed through what are perhaps not wholly unrecognizable stages.
At first she had been displayed near the entrance for immediate
purchase by the unwary. Then she had been marked down as something
that might be secured at a reduced price; but intending buyers
preferred to pay more. By and by even this label was taken off and
she became a remnant of stock for which there was no convenient
space--being moved from shelf to shelf, always a little more
shop-worn, a little more out of style. What was really needed was
Mrs. Conyers did not take much to heart the teachings of her Bible;
but it had at least defined for her one point of view: all
creatures worth saving had been saved in pairs.
Bitter as were those years for Harriet, others more humiliating
followed. The maternal attempts having been discontinued, she,
desperate with slights and insults, had put forth some efforts of
her own. But it was as though one had been placed in a boat
without oars and told to row for life: the little boat under the
influence of cosmic tides had merely drifted into shallows and now
This morning as she sat idly rocking on the veranda, she felt that
negative happiness which consists in the disappearance of a
positively disagreeable thing. Then she began to study how she
should spend the forenoon most agreeably. Isabel was upstairs; she
would have been perfectly satisfied to talk with her; but for
several mornings Isabel had shown unmistakable preference to be let
alone; and in the school of life Harriet had attained the highest
proficiency in one branch of knowledge at least--never to get in
anybody's way. Victor Fielding lay under the trees with a pipe and
a book, but she never ventured near him.
So Harriet bethought herself of a certain friend of hers on the
other side of town, Miss Anna Hardage, who lived with her brother,
Professor Hardage--two people to trust.
She put on her hat which unfortunately she had chosen to trim
herself, tied a white veil across the upper part of her face and
got out her second-best pair of gloves: Harriet kept her best
gloves for her enemies. In the front yard she pulled a handful of
white lilacs (there was some defect here or she would never have
carried white lilacs in soiled white gloves); and passed out of the
gate. Her eyes were lighted up with anticipations, but ill must
have overtaken her in transit; for when she was seated with Miss
Anna in a little side porch looking out on the little green yard,
they were dimmed with tears.
"The same old story," she complained vehemently. "The same
ridicule that has been dinned into my ears since I was a child."
"Ah, now, somebody has been teasing her about being an old maid,"
said Miss Anna to herself, recognizing the signs.
"This world is a very unprincipled place to live in," continued
Harriet, her rage curdling into philosophy.
"Ah, but it is the best there is just yet," maintained Miss Anna,
stoutly. "By and by we may all be able to do better--those of us
who get the chance."
"What shall I care then?" said Harriet, scouting eternity as a
palliative of contemporary woes.
"Wait! you are tired and you have lost your temper from thirst:
children always do. I'll bring something to cure you, fresh from
the country, fresh from Ambrose Webb's farm. Besides, you have a
dark shade of the blues, my dear; and this remedy is capital for
the blues. You have but to sip a glass slowly--and where are
they?" And she hastened into the house.
She returned with two glasses of cool buttermilk.
The words and the deed were characteristic of one of the most
wholesome women that ever helped to straighten out a crooked and to
cool a feverish world. Miss Anna's very appearance allayed
irritation and became a provocation to good health, to good sense.
Her mission in life seemed not so much to distribute honey as to
sprinkle salt, to render things salubrious, to enable them to keep
their tonic naturalness. Not within the range of womankind could
so marked a contrast have been found for Harriet as in this maiden
lady of her own age, who was her most patient friend and who
supported her clinging nature (which still could not resist the
attempt to bloom) as an autumn cornstalk supports a frost-nipped
If words of love had ever been whispered into Miss Anna's ear, no
human being knew it now: but perhaps her heart also had its under
chamber sealed with tears. Women not even behind her back jested
at her spinsterhood; and when that is true, a miracle takes place
indeed. No doubt Miss Anna was a miracle, not belonging to any
country, race, or age; being one of those offerings to the world
which nature now and then draws from the deeps of womanhood: a pure
gift of God.
The two old maids drained their rectifying beverage in the shady
porch. Whether from Miss Anna's faith in it or from the simple
health-giving of her presence, Harriet passed through a process of
healing; and as she handed back the empty glass, she smiled
gratefully into Miss Anna's sparkling brown eyes. Nature had been
merciful to her in this, that she was as easily healed as wounded.
She now returned to the subject which had so irritated her, as we
rub pleasantly a spot from which a thorn has been extracted.
"What do I care?" she said, straightening her hat as if to complete
her recovery. "But if there is one thing that can make me angry,
Anna, it is the middle-aged, able-bodied unmarried men of this
town. They are perfectly, _perfectly_ contemptible."
"Oh, come now!" cried Miss Anna, "I am too old to talk about such
silly things myself; but what does a woman care whether she is
married or not if she has had offers? And you have had plenty of
good offers, my dear."
"No, I haven't!" said Harriet, who would tell the truth about this
"Well, then, it was because the men knew you wouldn't have them."
"No, it wasn't!" said Harriet, "it was because they knew I would."
"Nonsense!" cried Miss Anna, impatiently. "You mustn't try to palm
off so much mock modesty on me, Harriet."
"Ah, I am too old to fib about it, Anna! I leave _that_ to my many
sisters in misfortune."
Harriet looked at her friend's work curiously: she was darning
Professor Hardage's socks.
"Why do you do that, Anna? Socks are dirt cheap. You might as
well go out into the country and darn sheep."
"Ah, you have never had a brother--my brother! so you cannot
understand. I can feel his heels pressing against my stitches when
he is walking a mile away. And I know whenever his fingers touch
the buttons I have put back. Besides, don't you like to see people
make bad things good, and things with holes in them whole again?
Why, that is half the work of the world, Harriet! It is not his
feet that make these holes," continued Miss Anna, nicely, "it is
his shoes, his big, coarse shoes. And his clothes wear out so
soon. He has a tailor who misfits him so exactly from year to year
that there is never the slightest deviation in the botch. I know
beforehand exactly where all the creases will begin. So I darn and
mend. The idea of his big, soft, strong feet making holes in
anything! but, then, you have never tucked him in bed at night, my
dear, so you know nothing about his feet."
"Not I!" said Harriet, embarrassed but not shocked.
Miss Anna continued fondly in a lowered voice: "You should have
heard him the other day when he pulled open a drawer: 'Why, Anna,'
he cried, 'where on earth did I get all these new socks? The
pair I left in here must have been alive: they've bred like
rabbits.'--'Why, you've forgotten,' I said. 'It's your birthday;
and I have made you over, so that you are as good as new--_me_!'"
"I never have to be reminded of my birthday," remarked Harriet,
reflectively. "Anna, do you know that I have lived about
one-eighth of the time since Columbus discovered America: doesn't
that sound awful!"
"Ah, but you don't look it," said Miss Anna, artistically, "and
that's the main object."
"Oh, I don't feel it," retorted Harriet, "and that's the main
object too. I'm as young as I ever was when I'm away from home;
but I declare, Anna, there are times when my mother can make me
feel I'm about the oldest thing alive."
"Oh, come now! you mustn't begin to talk that way, or I'll have to
give you more of the antidote. You are threatened with a relapse."
"No more," ordered Harriet with a forbidding hand, "and I repeat
what I said. Of course you know I never gossip, Anna; but when I
talk to you, I do not feel as though I were talking to anybody."
"Why, of course not," said Miss Anna, trying to make the most of
the compliment, "I am nobody at all, just a mere nonentity,
"Anna," said Harriet, after a pause of unusual length, "if it had
not been for my mother, I should have been married long ago.
Thousands of worse-looking women, and of actually worse women,
marry every year in this world and marry reasonably well. It was
because she tried to marry me off: that was the bottom of the
deviltry--the men saw through her."
"I am afraid they did," admitted Miss Anna, affably, looking down
into a hole.
"Of course I know I am not brilliant," conceded Harriet, "but then
I am never commonplace."
"I should like to catch any one saying such a thing."
"Even if I were, commonplace women always make the best wives: do
"Oh, don't ask that question in this porch," exclaimed Miss Anna a
little resentfully. "What do I know about it!"
"My mother thinks I am a weak woman," continued Harriet, musingly.
"If my day ever comes, she will know that I am, strong, Anna,
"Ah, now, you must forgive your mother," cried Miss Anna, having
reached a familiar turn in this familiar dialogue. "Whatever she
did, she did for the best. Certainly it was no fault of yours.
But you could get married to-morrow if you wished and you know it,
Harriet." (Miss Anna offered up the usual little prayer to be
The balm of those words worked through Harriet's veins like a
poison of joy. So long as a single human being expresses faith in
us, what matters an unbelieving world? Harriet regularly visited
Miss Anna to hear these maddening syllables. She called for them
as for the refilling of a prescription, which she preferred to get
fresh every time rather than take home once for all and use as
Among a primitive folk who seemed to have more moral troubles than
any other and to feel greater need of dismissing them by artificial
means, there grew up the custom of using a curious expedient. They
chose a beast of the field and upon its head symbolically piled all
the moral hard-headedness of the several tribes; after which the
unoffending brute was banished to the wilderness and the guilty
multitude felt relieved. However crude that ancient method of
transferring mental and moral burdens, it had at least this
redeeming feature: the early Hebrews heaped their sins upon a
creature which they did not care for and sent it away. In modern
times we pile our burdens upon our dearest fellow-creatures and
keep them permanently near us for further use. What human being
but has some other upon whom he nightly hangs his troubles as he
hangs his different garments upon hooks and nails in the walls
around him? Have we ever suspected that when once the habit of
transferring our troubles has become pleasant to us, we thereafter
hunt for troubles in order that we may have them to transfer, that
we magnify the little ones in order to win the credit of having
large ones, and that we are wonderfully refreshed by making other
people despondent about us? Mercifully those upon whom the burdens
are hung often become the better for their loads; they may not live
so long, but they are more useful. Thus in turn the weak develop
For years Miss Anna had sacrificially demeaned herself in the
service of Harriet, who would now have felt herself a recreant
friend unless she had promptly detailed every annoyance of her
life. She would go home, having left behind her the infinite
little swarm of stinging things--having transferred them to the
head of Miss Anna, around which they buzzed until they died.
There was this further peculiarity in Harriet's visits: that the
most important moments were the last; Just as a doctor, after he
has listened to the old story of his patient's symptoms, and has
prescribed and bandaged and patted and soothed, and has reached the
door, turns, and noting a light in the patient's eye hears him make
a remark which shows that all the time he has really been thinking
about something else.
Harriet now showed what was at the bottom of her own mind this
"What I came to tell you about, Anna, is that for a week life at
home has been unendurable. There is some trouble, some terrible
trouble; and no matter what goes wrong, my mother always holds me
responsible. Positively there are times when I wonder whether I,
without my knowing it, may not be the Origin of Evil."
Miss Anna made no comment, having closed the personal subject, and
"It has scarcely been possible for me to stay in the house.
Fortunately mother has been there very little herself. She goes
and goes and drives and drives. Strange things have been
happening. You know that Judge Morris has not missed coming on
Sunday evening for years. Last night mother sat on the veranda
waiting for him and he did not come. I know, for I watched. What
have I to do but watch other people's affairs?--I have none of my
own. I believe the trouble is all between Isabel and Rowan."
Miss Anna dropped her work and looked at Harriet with sudden
"I can give you no idea of the real situation because it is very
dramatic; and you know, Anna, I am not dramatic: I am merely
historical: I tell my little tales. But at any rate Rowan has not
been at the house for a week. He called last Sunday afternoon and
Isabel refused to see him. I know; because what have I to do but
to interest myself in people who have affairs of interest? Then
Isabel had his picture in her room: it has been taken down. She
had some of his books: they are gone. The house has virtually been
closed to company. Isabel has excused herself to callers. Mother
was to give a tea; the invitations were cancelled. At table Isabel
and mother barely speak; but when I am not near, they talk a great
deal to each other. And Isabel walks and walks and walks--in the
garden, in her rooms. I have waked up two or three times at night
and have seen her sitting at her window. She has always been very
kind to me, Anna," Harriet's voice faltered, "she and you: and I
cannot bear to see her so unhappy. You would never believe that a
few days would make such a change in her. The other morning I went
up to her room with a little bunch of violets which I had gathered
for her myself. When she opened the door, I saw that she was
packing her trunks. And the dress she had ordered for Marguerite's
ball was lying on the bed ready to be put in. As I gave her the
flowers she stood looking at them a long time; then she kissed me
without a word and quickly closed the door."
When Harriet had gone. Miss Anna sat awhile in her porch with a
troubled face. Then she went softly into the library, the windows
of which opened out upon the porch. Professor Hardage was standing
on a short step-ladder before a bookcase, having just completed the
arrangement of the top shelf.
"Are you never going to get down?" she asked, looking up at him
He closed the book with a snap and a sigh and descended. Her
anxious look recalled his attention,
"Did I not hear Harriet harrowing you up again with her troubles?"
he asked. "You poor, kind soul that try to bear everybody's!"
"Never mind about what I bear! What can you bear for dinner?"
"It is an outrage, Anna! What right has she to make herself
happier by making you miserable, lengthening her life by shortening
yours? For these worries always clip the thread of life at the
end: that is where all the small debts are collected as one."
"Now you must not be down on Harriet! It makes her happier; and as
to the end of my life, I shall be there to attend to that."
"Suppose I moved away with you to some other college entirely out
of her reach?"
"I shall not suppose it because you will never do it. If you did,
Harriet would simply find somebody else to confide in; she _must_
tell _everything_ to _somebody_. But if she told any one else, a
good many of these stories would be all over town. She tells me
and they get no further."
"What right have you to listen to scandal in order to suppress it?"
"I don't even listen always: I merely stop the stream at its
"I object to your offering your mind as the banks to such a stream.
Still I'm glad that I live near the banks," and he kissed his hand
"When one woman tells another anything and the other woman does not
tell, remember it is not scandal--it is confidence."
"Then there is no such thing as confidence," he replied, laughing.
He turned toward his shelves.
"Now do rest," she pleaded, "you look worn out."
She had a secret notion that books instead of putting life into
people took it out of them. At best they performed the function of
grindstones: they made you sharper, but they made you thinner--gave
you more edge and left you less substance.
"I wish every one of those books had a lock and I had the bunch of
"Each has a lock and key; but the key cannot be put into your
pocket, Anna, my dear; it is the unlocking mind. And you are not
to speak of books as a collection of locks and keys; they make up
the living tree of knowledge, though of course there is very little
of the tree in this particular bookcase."
"I don't see any of it," she remarked with wholesome literalness.
"Well, here at the bottom are lexicons--think of them as roots and
soil. Above them lie maps and atlases: consider them the surface.
Then all books are history of course. But here is a great central
trunk rising out of the surface which is called History in
especial. On each side of that, running to the right and to the
left, are main branches. Here for instance is the large limb of
Philosophy--a very weighty limb indeed. Here is the branch of
Criticism. Here is a bough consisting principally of leaves on
which live unnamed venomous little insects that poison them and die
on them: their appointed place in creation."
"And so there is no positive fruit anywhere," she insisted with her
practical taste for the substantial.
"It is all food, Anna, edible and nourishing to different mouths
and stomachs. Some very great men have lived on the roots of
knowledge, the simplest roots. And here is poetry for dates and
wild honey; and novels for cocoanuts and mushrooms. And here is
Religion: that is for manna."
"What is at the very top?"
His eyes rested upon the highest row of books.
"These are some of the loftiest growths, new buds of the mind
opening toward the unknown. Each in its way shows the best that
man, the earth-animal, has been able to accomplish. Here is a
little volume for instance which tells what he ought to be--and
never is. This small volume deals with the noblest ideals of the
greatest civilizations. Here is what one of the finest of the
world's teachers had to say about justice. Aspiration is at that
end. This little book is on the sad loveliness of Greek girls; and
the volume beside it is about the brief human chaplets that Horace
and some other Romans wore--and then trod on. Thus the long story
of light and shadow girdles the globe. If you were nothing but a
spirit, Anna, and could float in here some night, perhaps you would
see a mysterious radiance streaming upward from this shelf of books
like the northern lights from behind the world--starting no one
knows where, sweeping away we know not whither--search-light of the
mortal, turned on dark eternity."
She stood a little behind him and watched him in silence, hiding
"If I were a book," she said thoughtlessly, "where should I be?"
He drew the fingers of one hand lingeringly across the New
"Ah, now don't do that," she cried, "or you shall have no dinner.
Here, turn round! look at the dust! look at this cravat on one end!
look at these hands! March upstairs."
He laid his head over against hers.
"Stand up!" she exclaimed, and ran out of the room.
Some minutes later she came back and took a seat near the door.
There was flour on her elbow; and she held a spoon in her hand.
"Now you look like yourself," she said, regarding him with approval
as he sat reading before the bookcase. "I started to tell you what
Harriet told me."
He looked over the top of his book at her.
"I thought you said you stopped the stream at its source. Now you
propose to let it run down to me--or up to me: how do you know it
will not run past me?"
"Now don't talk in that way," she said, "this is something you will
want to know," and she related what Harriet had chronicled.
When she had left the room, he put back into its place the volume
he was reading: its power over him was gone. All the voices of all
his books, speaking to him from lands and ages, grew simultaneously
hushed. He crossed the library to a front window opening upon the
narrow rocky street and sat with his elbow on the window-sill, the
large fingers of one large hand unconsciously searching his
brow--that habit of men of thoughtful years, the smoothing out of
the inner problems.
The home of Professor Hardage was not in one of the best parts of
the town. There was no wealth here, no society as it impressively
calls itself; there were merely well-to-do human beings of ordinary
intelligence and of kindly and unkindly natures. The houses,
constructed of frame or of brick, were crowded wall against wall
along the sidewalk; in the rear were little gardens of flowers and
of vegetables. The street itself was well shaded; and one forest
tree, the roots of which bulged up through the mossy bricks of the
pavement, hung its boughs before his windows. Throughout life he
had found so many companions in the world outside of mere people,
and this tree was one. From the month of leaves to the month of no
leaves--the period of long hot vacations--when his eyes were tired
and his brain and heart a little tired also, many a time it
refreshed him by all that it was and all that it stood for--this
green tent of the woods arching itself before his treasured
shelves. In it for him were thoughts of cool solitudes and of
far-away greenness; with tormenting visions also of old lands, the
crystal-aired, purpling mountains of which, and valleys full of
fable, he was used to trace out upon the map, but knew that he
should never see or press with responsive feet.
For travel was impossible to him. Part of his small salary went to
the family of a brother; part disappeared each year in the buying
of books--at once his need and his passion; there were the expenses
of living; and Miss Anna always exacted appropriations.
"I know we have not much, but then my little boys and girls have
nothing; and the poor must help the poorer."
"Very well," he would reply, "but some day you will be a beggar
"Oh, well then, if I am, I do not doubt that I shall be a thrifty
old mendicant. And I'll beg for _you_! So don't you be uneasy;
and give me what I want."
She always looked like a middle-aged Madonna in the garb of a
housekeeper. Indeed, he was wont to call her the Madonna of the
Dishes; but at these times, and in truth for all deeper ways, he
thought of her as the Madonna of the Motherless. Nevertheless he
was resolute that out of this many-portioned salary something must
yet be saved.
"The time will come," he threatened, "when some younger man will
want my professorship--and will deserve it. I shall either be put
out or I shall go out; and then--decrepitude, uselessness, penury,
unless something has been hoarded. So, Anna, out of the frail
uncertain little basketful of the apples of life which the college
authorities present to me once a year, we must save a few for what
may prove a long hard winter."
Professor Hardage was a man somewhat past fifty, of ordinary
stature and heavy figure, topped with an immense head. His was not
what we call rather vaguely the American face. In Germany had he
been seen issuing from the lecture rooms of a university, he would
have been thought at home and his general status had been assumed:
there being that about him which bespoke the scholar, one of those
quiet self-effacing minds that have long since passed with entire
humility into the service of vast themes. In social life the
character of a noble master will in time stamp itself upon the look
and manners of a domestic; and in time the student acquires the
lofty hall-mark of what he serves.
It was this perhaps that immediately distinguished him and set him
apart in every company. The appreciative observer said at once:
"Here is a man who may not himself be great; but he is at least
great enough to understand greatness; he is used to greatness."
As so often is the case with the strong American, he was
self-made--that glory of our boasting. But we sometimes forget
that an early life of hardship, while it may bring out what is best
in a man, so often wastes up his strength and burns his ambition to
ashes in the fierce fight against odds too great. So that the
powers which should have carried him far carry him only a little
distance or leave him standing exhausted where he began.
When Alfred Hardage was eighteen, he had turned his eyes toward a
professorship in one of the great universities of his country;
before he was thirty he had won a professorship in the small but
respectable college of his native town; and now, when past fifty,
he had never won anything more. For him ambition was like the
deserted martin box in the corner of his yard: returning summers
brought no more birds. Had his abilities been even more
extraordinary, the result could not have been far otherwise. He
had been compelled to forego for himself as a student the highest
university training, and afterward to win such position as the
world accorded him without the prestige of study abroad.
It became his duty in his place to teach the Greek language and its
literature; sometimes were added classes in Latin. This was the
easier problem. The more difficult problem grew out of the demand,
that he should live intimately in a world of much littleness and
not himself become little; feel interested in trivial minds at
street corners, yet remain companion and critic of some of the
greatest intellects of human kind; contend with occasional malice
and jealousy in the college faculty, yet hold himself above these
carrion passions; retain his intellectual manhood, yet have his
courses of study narrowed and made superficial for him; be free yet
submit to be patronized by some of his fellow-citizens, because
they did him the honor to employ him for so much as a year as sage
and moral exampler to their sons.
Usually one of two fates overtakes the obscure professional scholar
in this country: either he shrinks to the dimensions of a true
villager and deserts the vastness of his library; or he repudiates
the village and becomes a cosmopolitan recluse--lonely toiler among
his books. Few possess the breadth and equipoise which will enable
them to pass from day to day along mental paths, which have the
Forum of Augustus or the Groves of the Academy at one end and the
babbling square of a modern town at the other; remaining equally at
home amid ancient ideals and everyday realities.
It was the fate of the recluse that threatened him. He had been
born with the scholar's temperament--this furnished the direction;
before he had reached the age of twenty-five he had lost his wife
and two sons--that furrowed the tendency. During the years
immediately following he had tried to fill an immense void of the
heart with immense labors of the intellect. The void remained; yet
undoubtedly compensation for loneliness had been found in the
fixing of his affections upon what can never die--the inexhaustible
delight of learning.
Thus the life of the book-worm awaited him but for an interference
excellent and salutary and irresistible. This was the constant
companionship of a sister whose nature enabled her to find its
complete universe in the only world that she had ever known: she
walking ever broad-minded through the narrowness of her little
town; remaining white though often threading its soiling ways; and
from every life which touched hers, however crippled and confined,
extracting its significance instead of its insignificance, shy
harmonies instead of the easy discords which can so palpably be
struck by any passing hand.
It was due to her influence, therefore, that his life achieved the
twofold development which left him normal in the middle years; the
fresh pursuing scholar still but a man practically welded to the
people among whom he lived--receiving their best and giving his
But we cannot send our hearts out to play at large among our kind,
without their coming to choose sooner or later playfellows to be
loved more than the rest.
Two intimacies entered into the life of Professor Hardage. The
first of these had been formed many years before with Judge Ravenel
Morris. They had discovered each other by drifting as lonely men
do in the world; each being without family ties, each loving
literature, each having empty hours. The bond between them had
strengthened, until it had become to each a bond of strength
indeed, mighty and uplifting.
The other intimacy was one of those for which human speech will
never, perhaps, be called upon to body forth its describing word.
In the psychology of feeling there are states which we gladly
choose to leave unlanguaged. Vast and deep-sounding as is the
orchestra of words, there are scores which we never fling upon such
instruments--realities that lie outside the possibility and the
desirability of utterance as there are rays of the sun that fall
outside the visible spectrum of solar light.
What description can be given in words of that bond between two,
when the woman stands near the foot of the upward slope of life,
and the man is already passing down on the sunset side, with
lengthening afternoon shadows on the gray of his temples--between
them the cold separating peaks of a generation?
Such a generation of toiling years separated Professor Hardage from
Isabel Conyers. When, at the age of twenty, she returned after
years of absence in an eastern college--it was a tradition of her
family that its women should be brilliantly educated--he verged
upon fifty. To his youthful desires that interval was nothing; but
to his disciplined judgment it was everything.
"Even though it could be," he said to himself, "it should not be,
and therefore it shall not."
His was an idealism that often leaves its holder poor indeed save
in the possession of its own incorruptible wealth. No doubt also
the life-long study of the ideals of classic time came to his
guidance now with their admonitions of exquisite balance, their
moderation and essential justness.
But after he had given up all hope of her, he did not hesitate to
draw her to him in other ways; and there was that which drew her
unfathomably to him--all the more securely since in her mind there
was no thought that the bond between them would ever involve the
possibility of love and marriage.
His library became another home to her. One winter she read Greek
with him--authors not in her college course. Afterward he read
much more Greek to her. Then they laid Greek aside, and he took
her through the history of its literature and through that other
noble one, its deathless twin.
When she was not actually present, he yet took her with him through
the wide regions of his studies---set her figure in old Greek
landscapes and surrounded it with dim shapes of loveliness--saw her
sometimes as the perfection that went into marble--made her a
portion of legend and story, linking her with Nausicaa and
Andromache and the lost others. Then quitting antiquity with her
altogether, he passed downward with her into the days of chivalry,
brought her to Arthur's court, and invested her with one character
after another, trying her by the ladies of knightly ideals--reading
her between the lines in all the king's idyls.
But last and best, seeing her in the clear white light of her own
country and time--as the spirit of American girlhood, pure,
refined, faultlessly proportioned in mental and physical health,
full of kindness, full of happiness, made for love, made for
motherhood. All this he did in his hopeless and idealizing worship
of her; and all this and more he hid away: for he too had his crypt.
So watching her and watching vainly over her, he was the first to
see that she was loved and that her nature was turning away from
him, from all that he could offer--subdued by that one other call.
"Now, Fates," he said, "by whatsoever names men have blindly prayed
to you; you that love to strike at perfection, and pass over a
multitude of the ordinary to reach the rare, stand off for a few
years! Let them be happy together in their love, their marriage,
and their young children. Let the threads run freely and be
joyously interwoven. Have mercy at least for a few years!"
A carriage turned a corner of the street and was driven to the
door. Isabel got out, and entered the hall without ringing.
He met her there and as she laid her hands in his without a word,
he held them and looked at her without a word. He could scarcely
believe that in a few days her life could so have drooped as under
a dreadful blight.
"I have come to say good-by," and with a quiver of the lips she
turned her face aside and brushed past him, entering the library.
He drew his own chair close to hers when she had seated herself.
"I thought you and your grandmother were going later: is not this
"Yes, it is very unexpected."
"But of course she is going with you?"
"No, I am going alone."
"For the summer?"
"Yes, for the summer. I suppose for a long time."
She continued to sit with her cheek leaning against the back of the
chair, her eyes directed outward through the windows. He asked
"Is there any trouble?"
"Yes, there is trouble."
"Can you tell me what it is?"
"No, I cannot tell you what it is. I cannot tell any one what it
"Is there anything I can do?"
"No, there is nothing you can do. There is nothing any one can do."
Silence followed for some time. He smiled at her sadly:
"Shall I tell you what the trouble is?"
"You do not know what it is. I believe I wish you did know. But I
cannot tell you."
"Is it not Rowan?"
She waited awhile without change of posture and answered at length
without change of tone:
"Yes, it is Rowan."
The stillness of the room became intense and prolonged; the
rustling of the leaves about the window sounded like noise.
"Are you not going to marry him, Isabel?"
"No, I am not going to marry him. I am never going to marry him."
She stretched out her hand helplessly to him. He would not take it
and it fell to her side: at that moment he did not dare. But of
what use is it to have kept faith with high ideals through trying
years if they do not reward us at last with strength in the crises
of character? No doubt they rewarded him now: later he reached
down and took her hand and held it tenderly.
"You must not go away. You must be reconciled, to him. Otherwise
it will sadden your whole summer. And it will sadden his."
"Sadden, the whole summer," she repeated, "a summer? It will
sadden a life. If there is eternity, it will sadden eternity."
"Is it so serious?"
"Yes, it is as serious as anything, could be."
After a while she sat up wearily and turned her face to him for the
"Cannot you help me?" she asked. "I do not believe I can bear
this. I do not believe I can bear it."
Perhaps it is the doctors who hear that tone oftenest--little
wonder that they are men so often with sad or with calloused faces.
"What can I do?"
"I do not know what you can do. But cannot you do something? You
were the only person in the world that I could go to. I did not
think I could ever come to you; but I had to come. Help me."
He perceived that commonplace counsel would be better than no
counsel at all.
"Isabel," he asked, "are you suffering because you have wronged
Rowan or because you think he has wronged you?"
"No, no, no," she cried, covering her face with her hands, "I have
not wronged him! I have not wronged any one! He has wronged me!"
"Did he ever wrong you before?"
"No, he never wronged me before. But this covers everything--the
"Have you ever had any great trouble before, Isabel?"
"No, I have never had any great trouble before. At times in my
life I may have thought I had, but now I know."
"You do not need to be told that sooner or later all of us have
troubles that we think we cannot bear."
She shook her head wearily: "It does not do any good to think of
that! It does not help me in the least!"
"But it does help if there is any one to whom we can tell our
"I cannot tell mine."
"Cannot you tell me?"
"No, I believe I wish you knew, but I could not tell you. No, I do
not even wish you to know."
"Have you seen Kate?"
She covered her face with her hands again: "No, no, no," she cried,
"not Kate!" Then she looked up at him with eyes suddenly kindling:
"Have you heard what Kate's life has been since her marriage?"
"We have all heard, I suppose."
"She has never spoken a word against him--not even to me from whom
she never had a secret. How could I go to her about Rowan? Even
if she had confided in me, I could not tell her this."
"If you are going away, change of scene will help you to forget it."
"No, it will help me to remember."
"There is prayer, Isabel."
"I know there is prayer. But prayer does not do any good. It has
nothing to do with this."
"Enter as soon as possible into the pleasures of the people you are
"I cannot! I do not wish for pleasure,"
"Isabel," he said at last, "forgive him."
"I cannot forgive him."
"Have you tried?"
"No, I cannot try. If I forgave him, it would only be a change in
me: it would not change him: it would not undo what he has done."
"Do you know the necessity of self-sacrifice?"
"But how can I sacrifice what is best in me without lowering
myself? Is it a virtue in a woman to throw away what she holds to
be as highest?"
"Remember," he said, returning to the point, "that, if you forgive
him, you become changed yourself. You no longer see what he has
done as you see it now. That is the beauty of forgiveness: it
enables us better to understand those whom we have forgiven.
Perhaps it will enable you to put yourself in his place."
She put her hands to her eyes with a shudder: "You do not know what
you are saying," she cried, and rose.
"Then trust it all to time," he said finally, "that is best! Time
alone solves so much. Wait! Do not act! Think and feel as little
as possible. Give time its merciful chance. I'll come to see you."
They had moved toward the door. She drew off her glove which she
was putting on and laid her hand once more in his.
"Time can change nothing. I have decided."
As she was going down the steps to the carriage, she turned and
"Do not come to see me! I shall come to you to say good-by. It is
better for you not to come to the house just now. I might not be
able to see you."
Isabel had the carriage driven to the Osborns'.
The house was situated in a pleasant street of delightful
residences. It had been newly built on an old foundation as a
bridal present to Kate from her father. She had furnished it with
a young wife's pride and delight and she had lined it throughout
with thoughts of incommunicable tenderness about the life history
just beginning. Now, people driving past (and there were few in
town who did not know) looked at it as already a prison and a doom.
Kate was sitting in the hall with some work in her lap. Seeing
Isabel she sprang up and met her at the door, greeting her as
though she herself were the happiest of wives.
"Do you know how long it has been since you were here?" she
exclaimed chidingly. "I had not realized how soon young married
people can be forgotten and pushed aside."
"Forget you, dearest! I have never thought of you so much as since
I was here last."
"Ah," thought Kate to herself, "she has heard. She has begun to
feel sorry for me and has begun to stay away as people avoid the
But the two friends, each smiling into the other's eyes, their arms
around each other, passed into the parlors.
"Now that you are here at last, I shall keep you," said Kate,
rising from the seat they had taken. "I will send the carriage
home. George cannot be here to lunch and we shall have it all to
ourselves as we used to when we were girls together."
"No," exclaimed Isabel, drawing her down into the seat again, "I
cannot stay. I had only a few moments and drove by just to speak
to you, just to tell you how much I love you."
Kate's face changed and she dropped her eyes. "Is so little of me
so much nowadays?" she asked, feeling as though the friendship of a
lifetime were indeed beginning to fail her along with other things.
"No, no, no," cried Isabel. "I wish we could never be separated."
She rose quickly and went over to the piano and began to turn over
the music. "It seems so long since I heard any music. What has
become of it? Has it all gone out of life? I feel as though
there were none any more."
Kate came over and looked at one piece of music after another
"I have not touched the piano for weeks."
She sat down and her fingers wandered forcedly through a few
chords. Isabel stepped quickly to her side and laid restraining
hands softly upon hers: "No; not to-day."
Kate rose with averted face: "No; not any music to-day!"
The friends returned to their seat, on which Kate left her work.
She took it up and for a few moments Isabel watched her in silence.
"When did you see Rowan?"
"You know he lives in the country," replied Isabel, with an air of
"And does he never come to town?"