Part 3 out of 5
"How should I know?"
Kate took this seriously and her head sank lower over her work:
"Ah," she thought to herself, "she will not confide in me any
longer. She keeps her secrets from me--me who shared them all my
"What is it you are making?"
Isabel stretched out her hand, but Kate with a cry threw her breast
downward upon her work. With laughter they struggled over it; Kate
released it and Isabel rising held it up before her. Then she
allowed it to drop to the floor.
"Isabel!" exclaimed Kate, her face grown cold and hard. She
stooped with dignity and picked up the garment.
"Oh, forgive me," implored Isabel, throwing her arms around her
neck. "I did not know what I was doing!" and she buried her face
on the young wife's shoulder. "I was thinking of myself: I cannot
tell you why!"
Kate released herself gently. Her face remained grave. She had
felt the first wound of motherhood: it could not be healed at once.
The friends could not look at each other. Isabel began to draw on
her gloves and Kate did not seek to keep her longer.
"I must go. Dear friend, have you forgiven me? I cannot tell you
what was in my heart. Some day you will understand. Try to
forgive till you do understand."
Kate's mouth trembled: "Isabel, why are you so changed toward me?"
"Ah, I have not changed toward you! I shall never change toward
"Are you too happy to care for me any longer?"
"Ah, Kate, I am not too happy for anything. Some day you will
She leaned far out and waved her hand as she drove away, and then
she threw herself back into the carriage. "Dear injured friend!
Brave loyal woman'" she cried, "the men we loved have ruined both
our lives; and we who never had a secret from each other meet and
part as hypocrites to shield them. Drive home," she said to the
driver. "If any one motions to stop, pay no attention. Drive
Mrs. Osborn watched the carriage out of sight and then walked
slowly back to her work. She folded the soft white fabric over the
cushions and then laid her cheek against it and gave it its first
christening--the christening of tears.
The court-house clock in the centre of the town clanged the hour of
ten--hammered it out lavishly and cheerily as a lusty blacksmith
strikes with prodigal arm his customary anvil. Another clock in a
dignified church tower also struck ten, but with far greater
solemnity, as though reminding the town clock that time is not to
be measured out to man as a mere matter of business, but intoned
savingly and warningly as the chief commodity of salvation. Then
another clock: in a more attenuated cobwebbed steeple also struck
ten, reaffirming the gloomy view of its resounding brother and
insisting that the town clock had treated the subject with sinful
Nevertheless the town clock seemed to have the best of the argument
on this particular day; for the sun was shining, cool, breezes were
blowing, and the streets were thronged with people intent on making
bargains. Possibly the most appalling idea in most men's notions
of eternity is the dread that there will be no more bargaining
A bird's-eye view of the little town as it lay outspread on its
high fertile plateau, surrounded by green woods and waving fields,
would have revealed near one edge of it a large verdurous spot
which looked like an overrun oasis. This oasis was enclosed by a
high fence on the inside of which ran a hedge of lilacs, privet,
and osage orange. Somewhere in it was an old one-story manor
house of rambling ells and verandas. Elsewhere was a little
summer-house, rose-covered; still elsewhere an arbor vine-hung; at
various other places secluded nooks with seats, where the bushes
could hide you and not hear you--a virtue quite above anything
human. Marguerite lived in this labyrinth.
As the dissenting clocks finished striking, had you been standing
outside the fence near a little side gate used by grocers' and
bakers' carts, you might have seen Marguerite herself. There came
a soft push against the gate from within; and as it swung part of
the way open, you might have observed that the push was delivered
by the toe of a little foot. A second push sent it still farther.
Then there was a pause and then it flew open and stayed open. At
first there appeared what looked like an inverted snowy flagstaff
but turned out to be a long, closed white parasol; then Marguerite
herself appeared, bending her head low under the privet leaves and
holding her skirts close in, so that they might not be touched by
the whitewash on each edge. Once outside, she straightened herself
up with the lithe grace of a young willow, released her skirts, and
balancing herself on the point of her parasol, closed the gate with
her toe: she was too dainty to touch it.
The sun shone hot and Marguerite quickly raised her parasol. It
made you think of some silken white myriad-fluted mushroom of the
dark May woods; and Marguerite did not so much seem to have come
out of the house as out of the garden--to have slept there on its
green moss with the new moon on her eyelids--indeed to have been
born there, in some wise compounded of violets and hyacinths; and
as the finishing touch to have had squeezed into her nature a few
drops of wildwood spritishness.
She started toward the town with a movement somewhat like that of a
tall thin lily stalk swayed by zephyrs--with a lilt, a cadence, an
ever changing rhythm of joy: plain walking on the solid earth was
not for her. At friendly houses along the way she peeped into open
windows, calling to friends; she stooped over baby carriages on the
sidewalk, noting but not measuring their mysteries; she bowed to
the right and to the left at passing carriages; and people leaned
far out to bow and smile at her. Her passage through the town was
somewhat like that of a butterfly crossing a field.
"Will he be there?" she asked. "I did not tell him I was coming,
but he heard me say I should be there at half-past ten o'clock. It
is his duty to notice my least remark."
When she reached her destination, the old town library, she mounted
the lowest step and glanced rather guiltily up and down the street.
Three ladies were going up and two men were going down: no one was
coming toward Marguerite.
"Now, why is he not here? He shall be punished for this."
She paced slowly backward and forward yet a little while. Then she
started resolutely in the direction of a street where most of the
law offices were situated. Turning a corner, she came full upon
"Ah, good morning, good morning," he cried, putting his gold-headed
cane under his arm and holding out both hands. "Where did you
sleep last night? On rose leaves?"
"I was in grandmother's bed when I left off," said Marguerite,
looking up at the rim of her hat.
"And where were you when you began again?"
"Still in grandmother's bed. I think I must have been there all
the time. I know all about your old Blackstone and all that kind
of thing," she continued, glancing at a yellow book under his arm
and speaking with a threat as though he had adjudged her ignorant.
"Ah, then you will make a good lawyer's wife."
"I supposed I'd make a good wife of any kind. Are you coming to my
"Well, you know I am too old to make engagements far ahead. But I
expect to be there. If I am not, my ghost shall attend."
"How shall I recognize it? Does it dance? I don't want to mistake
it for Barbee."
"Barbee shall not come if I can keep him at home."
"And why, please?"
"I am afraid he is falling in love with you."
"But why shouldn't he?"
"I don't wish my nephew to be flirted."
"But how do you know I'd flirt him?"
"Ah, I knew your mother when she was young and your grandmother
when she was young: you're all alike."
"We, are so glad we are," said Marguerite, as she danced away from
him under her parasol.
Farther down the street she met Professor Hardage.
"I know all about your old Odyssey--your old Horace and all those
things," she said threateningly. "I am not as ignorant as you
"I wish Horace had known you."
"Would it have been nice?"
"He might have written an ode _Ad Margaritam_ instead of _Ad
"Then I might have been able to read it," she said. "In school I
couldn't read the other one. But you mustn't think that I did not
read a great deal of Latin. The professor used to say that I read
my Latin b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l-l-y, but that I didn't get much English
out of it. I told him I got as much English out of it as the
Romans did, and that they certainly ought to have known what it was
"That must have taught him a lesson!"
"Oh, he said I'd do: I was called the girl who read Latin
perfectly, regardless of English. And, then, I won a prize for an
essay on the three most important things that the United States has
contributed to the civilizations of the Old World. I said they
were tobacco, wild turkeys and idle curiosity. Of course every one
knew about tobacco and turkeys; but wasn't it clever of me to think
of idle curiosity? Now, wasn't it? I made a long list of things
and then I selected these from my list."
"I'd like to know what the other things were!"
"Oh, I've forgotten now! But they were very important at the time.
Are you coming to my ball?"
"I hope to come."
"And is Miss Anna coming?"
"Miss Anna is coming. She is coming as a man; and she is going to
bring a lady."
"How is she going to dress as a man?" said Marguerite, as she
danced away from him under her parasol.
She strolled slowly on until she reached the street of justice and
the jail; turning into this, she passed up the side opposite the
law offices. Her parasol rested far back on one shoulder; to any
lateral observer there could have been no mistake regarding the
face in front of it. She passed through a group of firemen sitting
in their shirtsleeves in front of the engine-house, disappeared
around the corner, and went to a confectioner's. Presently she
reentered the street, and this time walked along the side where the
law offices were grouped. She disappeared around the corner and
entered a dry-goods store. A few moments later she reentered the
street for the third and last time. Just as she passed a certain
law office, she dropped her packages. No one came out to pick them
up. Marguerite did this herself--very slowly. Still no one
appeared. She gave three sharp little raps on the woodwork of the
From the rear office a red head was thrust suddenly out like a
surprised woodpecker's. Barbee hurried to the entrance and looked
up the street. He saw a good many people. He looked down the
street and noticed a parasol moving away.
"I supposed you were in the courthouse," she said, glancing at him
with surprise. "Haven't you any cases?"
"One," he answered, "a case of life and death."
"You need not walk against me, Barbee; I am not a vine to need
propping. And you need not walk with me. I am quite used to
walking alone: my nurse taught me years ago."
"But now you have to learn _not_ to walk alone, Marguerite."
"It will be very difficult."
"It will be easy when the right man steps forward: am I the right
"I am going to the library. Good morning."
"So am I going to the library."
"Aren't all your authorities in your office?"
"All except one."
They turned into the quiet shady street: they were not the first to
When they reached the steps, Marguerite sank down.
"Why do I get so tired when I walk with you, Barbee? You exhaust
me _very_ rapidly."
He sat down not very near her, but soon edged a little closer.
Marguerite leaned over and looked intently at his big, thin ear.
"What a lovely red your ear is, seen against a clear sky. It would
make a beautiful lamp-shade."
"You may have both of them--and all the fixtures--solid brass--an
antique some day."
He edged a little closer.
Marguerite coughed and pointed across the street: "Aren't those
"Oh, don't talk to me about trees! What do I care about _wood_!
You're the tree that I want to dig up, and take home, and plant,
and live under, and be buried by."
"That's a great deal--all in one sentence."
"Are you never going to love me a little, Marguerite?"
"How can I tell?"
"Don't torture me."
"What am I doing?"
"You are not doing anything, that's the trouble. The other night
I was sure you loved me."
"I didn't say so."
"But you looked it."
"Then I looked all wrong: I shall change my looks."
"Will you name the day?"
"I'll name them all: Monday, Tuesday--"
"Barbee, I'm going to sing you a love song--an old, old, old love
song. Did you ever hear one?"
"I have been hearing mine for some time."
"This goes back to grandmother's time. But it's the man's song:
you ought to be singing it to me."
"I shall continue to sing my own."
Marguerite began to sing close to Barbee's ear:
"I'll give to you a paper of pins,
If that's the way that love begins,
If you will marry me, me, me,
If you will marry me."
"Pins!" said Barbee; "why, that old-time minstrel must have been
singing when pins were just invented. You can have--"
Marguerite quieted him with a finger on his elbow:
"I'll give to you a dress of red,
Bound all around with golden thread,
If you will marry me, me, me,
If you will marry me."
"How about a dress not simply bound with golden thread but made of
it, made of nothing else! and then hung all over with golden
ornaments and the heaviest golden utensils?"
Marguerite sang on:
"I'll give to you a coach and six,
Every horse as black as pitch,
If you will marry me, me, me,
If you will marry me."
"I'll make it two coaches and twelve white ponies."
Marguerite sang on, this time very tenderly:
"I'll give to you the key of my heart,
That we may love and never part,
If you will marry me, me, me,
If you will marry me."
"No man can give anything better," said Barbee, moving closer (as
close as possible) and looking questioningly full into Marguerite's
Marguerite glanced up and down the street. The moment was
opportune, the disposition of the universe seemed kind. The big
parasol slipped a little lower.
"Marguerite. . . Please, Marguerite. . . _Marguerite_."
The parasol was suddenly pulled down low and remained very still a
moment: then a quiver ran round the fringe. It was still again,
and there was another quiver. It swayed to and fro and round and
round, and then stood very, very still indeed, and there was a
Then Marguerite ran into the library as out of a sudden shower; and
Barbee with long slow strides returned to his office.
"Anna," said Professor Hardage, laying his book across his knee as
they sat that afternoon in the shady side porch, "I saw Marguerite
this morning and she sent her compliments. They were very pretty
compliments. I sometimes wonder where Marguerite came from--out of
what lands she has wandered."
"Well, now that you have stopped reading," said Miss Anna, laying
down her work and smoothing her brow (she never spoke to him until
he did stop--perfect woman), "that Is what I have been waiting to
talk to you about: do you wish to go with Harriet to Marguerite's
"I most certainly do not wish to go with Harriet to Marguerite's
ball," he said, laughing, "I am going with you."
"Well, you most certainly are not going with me: I am going with
"If I do not, who will? Now what I want you to do is to pay
Harriet some attention after I arrive with her. I shall take her
into supper, because if you took her in, she would never get any.
But suppose that after supper you strolled carelessly up to us--you
know how men do--and asked her to take a turn with you."
"What kind of a turn in Heaven's name?"
"Well, suppose you took her out into the yard--to one of those
little rustic seats of Marguerite's--and sat there with her for
half an hour--in the darkest place you could possibly find. And I
want you to try to hold her hand."
"Why, Anna, what on earth--"
"Now don't you suppose Harriet would let you do it," she said
indignantly. "But what I want her to have is the pleasure of
refusing: it would be such a triumph. It would make her happy for
days: it might lengthen her life a little."
"What effect do you suppose it would have on mine?"
His face softened as he mused on the kind of woman his sister was.
"Now don't you try to do anything else," she added severely. "I
don't like your expression."
He laughed outright: "What do you suppose I'd do?"
"I don't suppose you'd do anything; but don't you do it!"
Miss Anna's invitation to Harriet had been written some days before.
She had sent down to the book-store for ten cents' worth of tinted
note paper and to the drugstore for some of Harriet's favorite
sachet powder. Then she put a few sheets of the paper in a dinner
plate and sprinkled the powder over them and set the plate where
the powder could perfume the paper but not the house. Miss Anna
was averse to all odor-bearing things natural or artificial. The
perfect triumph of her nose was to perceive absolutely nothing.
The only trial to her in cooking was the fact that so often she
could not make things taste good without making them smell good.
In the course of time, bending over a sheet of this note paper,
with an expression of high nasal disapproval. Miss Anna had
written the following note:
"A. Hardage, Esq., presents the compliments of the season to Miss
Crane and begs the pleasure of her company to the ball. The
aforesaid Hardage, on account of long intimacy with the specified
Crane, hopes that she (Crane) will not object to riding alone at
night in a one-horse rockaway with no side curtains. Crane to be
hugged on the way if Hardage so desires--and Hardage certainly will
desire. Hardage and Crane to dance at the ball together while
their strength lasts."
Having posted this letter, Miss Anna went off to her orphan and
foundling asylum where she was virgin mother to the motherless,
drawing the mantle of her spotless life around little waifs
straying into the world from hidden paths of shame.
It was past one o'clock on the night of the ball.
When dew and twilight had fallen on the green labyrinths of
Marguerite's yard, the faintest, slenderest moon might have been
seen bending over toward the spot out of drapery of violet cloud.
It descended through the secluded windows of Marguerite's room and
attended her while she dressed, weaving about her and leaving with
her the fragrance of its divine youth passing away. Then it
withdrew, having appointed a million stars for torches.
Matching the stars were globe-like lamps, all of one color, all
of one shape, which Marguerite had had swung amid the interlaced
greenery of trees and vines: as lanterns around the gray bark huts
of slow-winged owls; as sun-tanned grapes under the arches of the
vine-covered summer-house; as love's lighthouses above the reefs
of tumbling rose-bushes: all to illumine the paths which led to
nooks and seats. For the night would be very warm; and then
Marguerite--but was she the only one?
The three Marguerites,--grandmother, mother, and
daughter,--standing side by side and dressed each like each as
nearly as was fitting, had awaited their guests. Three high-born
fragile natures, solitary each on the stem of its generation; not
made for blasts and rudeness. They had received their guests with
the graciousness of sincere souls and not without antique
distinction; for in their veins flowed blood which had helped to
make manners gentle in France centuries ago.
The eldest Marguerite introduced some of her aged friends, who had
ventured forth to witness the launching of the frail life-boat, to
the youngest; the youngest Marguerite introduced some of hers to
the eldest; the Marguerite linked between made some of hers known
to her mother and to her child.
Mrs. Conyers arrived early, leaning on the arm of her grandson,
Victor Fielding. To-night she was ennobled with jewels--the old
family jewels of her last husband's family, not of her own.
When the three Marguerites beheld her, a shadow fell on their
faces. The change was like the assumption of a mask behind which
they could efface themselves as ladies and receive as hostesses.
While she lingered, they forebore even to exchange glances lest
feelings injurious to a guest should be thus revealed: so pure in
them was the strain of courtesy that went with proffered
hospitality. (They were not of the kind who invite you to their
houses and having you thus in their power try to pierce you with
little insults which they would never dare offer openly in the
street: verbal Borgias at their own tables and firesides.) The
moment she left them, the three faces became effulgent again.
A little later, strolling across the rooms toward them alone, came
Judge Morris, a sprig of wet heliotrope in his button-hole, plucked
from one of Marguerite's plants. The paraffin starch on his shirt
front and collar and cuffs gave to them the appearance and
consistency of celluloid--it being the intention of his old
laundress to make him indeed the stiffest and most highly polished
gentleman of his high world. His noble face as always a sermon on
kindness, sincerity, and peace; yet having this contradiction, that
the happier it seemed, the sadder it was to look at: as though all
his virtues only framed his great wrong; so that the more clearly
you beheld the bright frame, the more deeply you felt the dark
As soon as they discovered him, the Marguerites with a common
impulse linked their arms endearingly. Six little white feet came
regimentally forward; each of six little white hands made
individual forward movements to be the first to lie within his
palm; six velvet eyes softened and glistened.
Miss Anna came with Harriet; Professor Hardage came alone;
Barbee--burgeoning Alcibiades of the ballroom--came with
Self-Confidence. He strolled indifferently toward the eldest
Marguerite, from whom he passed superiorly to the central one; by
that time the third had vanished.
Isabel came with the Osborns: George soon to be taken secretly home
by Rowan; Kate (who had forced herself to accompany him despite her
bereavement), lacerated but giving no sign even to Isabel, who
relieved the situation by attaching herself momentarily to her
"Mamma," protested Marguerite, with indignant eyes, "do you wish
Isabel to stand here and eclipse your daughter? Station her on the
far side of grandmother, and let the men pass this way first!"
The Merediths were late. As they advanced to pay their respects,
Isabel maintained her composure. An observer, who had been told to
watch, might have noticed that when Rowan held out his hand, she
did not place hers in it; and that while she did not turn her face
away from his face, her eyes never met his eyes. She stood a
little apart from the receiving group at the moment and spoke to
him quickly and awkwardly:
"As soon as you can, will you come and walk with me through the
parlors? Please do not pay me any more attention. When the
evening is nearly over, will you find me and take me to some place
where we may not be interrupted? I will explain."
Without waiting for his assent, she left him, and returned with a
laugh to the side of Marguerite, who was shaking a finger
threateningly at her.
It was now past one o'clock: guests were already leaving.
When Rowan went for Isabel, she was sitting with Professor Hardage.
They were not talking; and her eyes had a look of strained
expectancy. As soon as she saw him, she rose and held out her hand
to Professor Hardage; then without speaking and still without
looking at him, she placed the tips of her fingers on the elbow of
his sleeve. As they walked away, she renewed her request in a low
voice: "Take me where we shall be undisturbed."
They left the rooms. It was an interval between the dances: the
verandas were crowded. They passed out into the yard. Along the
cool paths, college boys and college girls strolled by in couples,
not caring who listened to their words and with that laughter of
youth, the whole meaning of which is never realized save by those
who hear it after they have lost it. Older couples sat here and
there in quiet nooks--with talk not meant to be heard and with
occasional laughter so different.
They moved on, seeking greater privacy. Marguerite's lamps were
burnt out--brief flames as measured by human passion. But overhead
burnt the million torches of the stars. How brief all human
passion measured by that long, long light!
He stopped at last:
She placed herself as far as possible from him.
The seat was at the terminus of a path in the wildest part of
Marguerite's garden. Overhead against the trunk of a tree a
solitary lantern was flickering fitfully. It soon went out. The
dazzling lights of the ballroom, glimmering through boughs and
vines, shot a few rays into their faces. Music, languorous,
torturing the heart, swelled and died on the air, mingled with the
murmurings of eager voices. Close around them in the darkness was
the heavy fragrance of perishing blossoms--earth dials of
yesterday; close around them the clean sweetness of fresh
ones--breath of the coming morn. It was an hour when the heart,
surrounded by what can live no more and by what never before has
lived, grows faint and sick with yearnings for its own past and
forlorn with the inevitableness of change--the cruelty of all
For a while silence lasted. He waited for her to speak; she tried
repeatedly to do so. At length with apparent fear that he might
misunderstand, she interposed an agitated command:
"Do not say anything."
A few minutes later she began to speak to him, still struggling for
"I do not forget that to-night I have been acting a part, and that
I have asked you to act a part with me. I have walked with you and
I have talked with you, and I am with you now to create an
impression that is false; to pretend before those who see us that
nothing is changed. I do not forget that I have been doing this
thing which is unworthy of me. But it is the first time--try not
to believe it to be my character. I am compelled to tell you that
it is one of the humiliations you have forced upon me."
"I have understood this," he said hastily, breaking the silence she
had imposed upon him.
"Then let it pass," she cried nervously. "It is enough that I have
been obliged to observe my own hypocrisies, and that I have asked
you to countenance and to conceal them."
He offered no response. And in a little while she went on:
"I ought to tell you one thing more. Last week I made all my
arrangements to go away at once, for the summer, for a long time.
I did not expect to see you again. Two or three times I started to
the station. I have stayed until now because it seemed best after
all to speak to you once more. This is my reason for being here
to-night; and it is the only apology I can offer to myself or to
you for what I am doing."
There was a sad and bitter vehemence in her words; she quivered
"Isabel," he said more urgently, "there is nothing I am not
prepared to tell you."
When she spoke again, it was with difficulty and everything seemed
to hang upon her question:
"Does any one else know?"
His reply was immediate:
"No one else knows."
"Have you every reason to believe this?"
"I have every reason to believe this."
"You kept your secret well," she said with mournful irony. "You
reserved it for the one person whom it could most injure: my
privilege is too great!"
"It is true," he said.
She turned and looked at him. She felt the depth of conviction
with which he spoke, yet it hurt her. She liked his dignity and
his self-control, and would not have had them less; yet she
gathered fresh bitterness from the fact that he did not lose them.
But to her each moment disclosed its new and uncontrollable
emotions; as words came, her mind quickly filled again with the
things she could not say. She now went on:
"I am forced to ask these questions, although I have no right to
ask them and certainly I have no wish. I have wanted to know
whether I could carry out the plan that has seemed to me best for
each of us. If others shared your secret, I could not do this. I
am going away--I am going in the morning. I shall remain away a
long time. Since we have been seen together here to-night as
usual, no one suspects now that for us everything has become
nothing. While I am away, no one can have the means of finding
this out. Before I return, there will be changes--there may be
many changes. If we meet with indifference then, it will be
thought that we have become indifferent, one of us, or both of us:
I suppose it will be thought to be you. There will be comment,
comment that will be hard to stand; but this will be the quietest
way to end everything--as far as anything can ever be ended."
"Whatever you wish! I leave it all to you."
She did not pause to heed his words:
"This will spare me the linking of my name with yours any further
just now; it will spare me all that I should suffer if the matter
which estranges us should be discovered and be discussed. It will
save me hereafter, perhaps, from being pointed out as a woman who
so trusted and was so deceived. It may shield my life altogether
from some notoriety: I could be grateful for that!"
She was thinking of her family name, and of the many proud eyes
that were turned upon her in the present and out of the past.
There was a sting for her in the remembrance and the sting passed
into her concluding words:
"I do not forget that when I ask you to do all this, I, who am not
given to practising deception, am asking you to go on practising
yours. I am urging you to shirk the consequences of your
wrong-doing--to enjoy in the world an untarnished name after you
have tarnished your life. Do not think I forget that! Still I beg
you to do as I say. This is another of the humiliations you have
led me to: that although I am separated from you by all that once
united us, I must remain partner with you in the concealment of a
thing that would ruin you if it were known."
She turned to him as though she experienced full relief through her
hard and cruel words:
"Do I understand, then, that this is to be buried away by you--and
by me--from the knowledge of the world?"
"No one else has any right to know it. I have told you that."
"Then that is all!"
She gave a quick dismissal to the subject, so putting an end to the
She started to rise from her seat; but impulses, new at the
instant, checked her: all the past checked her, all that she was
herself and all that he had been to her.
Perhaps what at each moment had angered her most was the fact that
she was speaking, not he. She knew him to be of the blood of
silent men and to have inherited their silence. This very trait of
his had rendered association with him so endearing. Love had been
so divinely apart from speech, either his or her own: most intimate
for having been most mute. But she knew also that he was capable
of speech, full and strong and quick enough upon occasion; and her
heart had cried out that in a lifetime this was the one hour when
he should not have given way to her or allowed her to say a
word--when he should have borne her down with uncontrollable
It was her own work that confronted her and she did not recognize
it. She had exhausted resources to convince him of her
determination to cast him off at once; to render it plain that
further parley would to her be further insult. She had made him
feel this on the night of his confession; in the note of direct
repulse she sent him by the hand of a servant in her own house the
following afternoon; by returning to him everything that he had
ever given her; by her refusal to acknowledge his presence this
evening beyond laying upon him a command; and by every word that
she had just spoken. And in all this she had thought only of what
she suffered, not of what he must be suffering.
Perhaps some late instantaneous recognition of this flashed upon
her as she started to leave him--as she looked at him sitting
there, his face turned toward her in stoical acceptance of his
fate. There was something in the controlled strength of it that
touched her newly. She may have realized that if he had not been
silent, if he had argued, defended himself, pleaded, she would have
risen and walked back to the house without a word. It turned her
nature toward him a little, that he placed too high a value upon
her dismissal of him not to believe it irrevocable.
Yet it hurt her: she was but one woman in the world; could the
thought of this have made it easier for him to let her go away now
without a protest?
The air of the summer night grew unbearable for sweetness about
her. The faint music of the ballroom had no pity for her. There
young eyes found joy in answering eyes, passed on and found joy in
others and in others. Palm met palm and then palms as soft and
then palms yet softer. Some minutes before, the laughter of
Marguerite in the shrubbery quite close by had startled Isabel.
She had distinguished a voice. Now Marguerite's laughter reached
her again--and there was a different voice with hers. Change!
change! one put away, the place so perfectly filled by another.
A white moth of the night wandered into Rowan's face searching its
features; then it flitted over to her and searched hers, its wings
fanning and clinging to her lips; and then it passed on, pursuing
amid mistakes and inconstancies its life-quest lasting through a
Fear suddenly reached down into her heart and drew up one question;
and she asked that question in a voice low and cold and guarded:
"Sometime, when you ask another woman to marry you, will you think
it your duty to tell her?"
"I will never ask any other woman."
"I did not inquire for your intention; I asked what you would
believe to be your duty."
"It will never become my duty. But if it should, I would never
marry without being true to the woman; and to be true is to tell
"You mean that you would tell her?"
"I mean that I would tell her."
After a little silence she stirred in her seat and spoke, all her
"I am going to ask you, if you ever do, not to tell her as you have
told me--after it is too late. If you cannot find some way of
letting her know the truth before she loves you, then do not tell
her afterward, when you have won her life away from her. If there
is deception at all, then it is not worse to go on deceiving her
than it was to begin to deceive her. Tell her, if you must, while
she is indifferent and will not care, not after she has given
herself to you and will then have to give you up. But what can
you, a man, know what it means to a woman to tell her this! How
can you know, how can you ever, ever know!"
She covered her face with her hands and her voice broke with tears.
"You have no right to call me by my name, and I have no right to
hear it, as though nothing were changed between us."
"I have not changed."
"How could you tell me! Why did you ever tell me!" she cried
abruptly, grief breaking her down.
"There was a time when I did not expect to tell you. I expected to
do as other men do."
"Ah, you would have deceived me!" she exclaimed, turning upon him
with fresh suffering. "You would have taken advantage of my
ignorance and have married me and never have let me know! And you
would have called that deception love and you would have called
yourself a true man!"
"But I did not do this! It was yourself who helped me to see that
the beginning of morality is to stop lying and deception."
"But if you had this on your conscience already, what right had you
ever to come near me?"
"I had come to love you!"
"Did your love of me give you the right to win mine?"
"It gave me the temptation."
"And what did you expect when you determined to tell me this? What
did you suppose such a confession would mean to me? Did you
imagine that while it was still fresh on your lips, I would smile
in your face and tell you it made no difference? Was I to hear you
speak of one whose youth and innocence you took away through her
frailties, and then step joyously into her place? Was this the
unfeeling, the degraded soul you thought to be mine? Would I have
been worthy even of the poor love you could give me, if I had done
"I expected you to marry me! I expected you to forgive. I have
this at least to remember: I lost you honestly when I could have
won you falsely."
"Ah, you have no right to seek any happiness in what is all sadness
to me! And all the sadness, the ruin of everything, comes from
"Remember that my wrong-doing did not begin with me. I bear my
share: it is enough: I will bear no more."
A long silence followed. She spoke at last, checking her tears:
"And so this is the end of my dream! This is what life has brought
me to! And what have I done to deserve it? To leave home, to shun
friends, to dread scandal, to be misjudged, to bear the burden of
your secret and share with you its shame, to see my years stretch
out before me with no love in them, no ambitions, no ties--this is
what life has brought me, and what have I done to deserve it?"
As her tears ceased, her eyes seemed to be looking into a future
that lacked the relief of tears. As though she were already passed
far on into it and were looking back to this moment, she went on,
speaking very slowly and sadly:
"We shall not see each other again in a long time, and whenever we
do, we shall be nothing to each other and we shall never speak of
this. There is one thing I wish to tell you. Some day you may
have false thoughts of me. You may think that I had no deep
feeling, no constancy, no mercy, no forgiveness; that it was easy
to give you up, because I never loved you. I shall have enough to
bear and I cannot bear that. So I want to tell you that you will
never know what my love for you was. A woman cannot speak till she
has the right; and before you gave me the right, you took it away.
For some little happiness it may bring me hereafter let me tell you
that you were everything to me, everything! If I had taught myself
to make allowances for you, if I had seen things to forgive in you,
what you told me would have been only one thing more and I might
have forgiven. But all that I saw in you I loved. Rowan, and I
believed that I saw everything. Remember this, if false thoughts
of me ever come to you! I expect to live a long time: the memory
of my love of you will be the sorrow that will keep me alive."
After a few moments of silent struggle she moved nearer.
"Do not touch me," she said; "remember that what love makes dear,
it makes sacred."
She put out a hand in the darkness and, closing her eyes over
welling tears, passed it for long remembrance over his features:
letting the palm lie close against his forehead with her fingers in
his hair; afterward pressing it softly over his eyes and passing it
around his neck. Then she took her hand away as though fearful of
an impulse. Then she put her hand out again and laid her fingers
across his lips. Then she took her hand away, and leaning over,
laid her lips on his lips:
"Good-by!" she murmured against his face, "good-by! good-by!
Mrs. Conyers had seen Rowan and Isabel together in the parlors
early in the evening. She had seen them, late in the evening, quit
the house. She had counted the minutes till they returned and she
had marked their agitation as they parted. The closest association
lasting from childhood until now had convinced her of the
straightforwardness of Isabel's character; and the events of the
night were naturally accepted by her as evidences of the renewal of
relationship with Rowan, if not as yet of complete reconciliation.
She herself had encountered during the evening unexpected slights
and repulses. Her hostesses had been cool, but she expected them
to be cool: they did not like her nor she them. But Judge Morris
had avoided her; the Hardages had avoided her; each member of the
Meredith family had avoided her; Isabel had avoided her; even
Harriet, when once she crossed the rooms to her, had with an
incomprehensible flare of temper turned her back and sought refuge
with Miss Anna. She was very angry.
But overbalancing the indignities of the evening was now this
supreme joy of Isabel's return to what she believed to be Isabel's
destiny. She sent her grandson home that she might have the drive
with the girl alone. When Isabel, upon entering the carriage, her
head and eyes closely muffled in her shawl, had withdrawn as far as
possible into one corner and remained silent on the way, she
refrained from intrusion, believing that she understood the
emotions dominating her behavior.
The carriage drew up at the door. She got out quickly and passed
to her room--with a motive of her own.
Isabel lingered. She ascended the steps without conscious will.
At the top she missed her shawl: it had become entangled in the
fringe of a window strap, had slipped from her bare shoulders as
she set her foot on the pavement, and now lay in the track of the
carriage wheels. As she picked it up, an owl flew viciously close
to her face. What memories, what memories came back to her! With
a shiver she went over to a frame-like opening in the foliage on
one side of the veranda and stood looking toward the horizon where
the moon had sunk on that other night--that first night of her
sorrow. How long it was since then!
At any other time she would have dreaded the parting which must
take place with her grandmother: now what a little matter it seemed!
As she tapped and opened the door, she put her hand quickly before
her eyes, blinded by the flood of light which streamed out into the
dark hall. Every gas-jet was turned on--around the walls, in the
chandelier; and under the chandelier stood her grandmother,
waiting, her eyes fixed expectantly on the door, her countenance
softened with returning affection, the fire of triumph in her eyes.
She had unclasped from around her neck the diamond necklace of old
family jewels, and held it in the pool of her rosy palms, as though
it were a mass of clear separate raindrops rainbow-kindled. It was
looped about the tips of her two upright thumbs; part of it had
slipped through the palms and flashed like a pendent arc of light
The necklace was an heirloom; it had started to grow in England of
old; it had grown through the generations of the family in the New
It had begun as a ring--given with the plighting of troth; it had
become ear-rings; it had become a pendant; it had become a tiara;
it had become part of a necklace; it had become a necklace--completed
circlet of many hopes.
As Isabel entered Mrs. Conyers started forward, smiling, to clasp
it around her neck as the expression of her love and pleasure; then
she caught sight of Isabel's face, and with parted lips she stood
Isabel, white, listless, had sunk into the nearest chair, and now
said, quietly and wearily, noticing nothing:
"Grandmother, do not get up to see me off in the morning. My trunk
is packed; the others are already at the station. All my
arrangements are made. I'll say good-by to you now," and she stood
Mrs. Conyers stood looking at her. Gradually a change passed over
her face; her eyes grew dull, the eyelids narrowed upon the balls;
the round jaws relaxed; and instead of the smile, hatred came
mysteriously out and spread itself rapidly over her features: true
horrible revelation. Her fingers tightened and loosened about the
necklace until it was forced out through them, until it glided,
crawled, as though it were alive and were being strangled and were
writhing. She spoke with entire quietness:
"After all that I have seen to-night, are you not going to marry
Isabel stirred listlessly as with remembrance of a duty:
"I had forgotten, grandmother, that I owe you an explanation. I
found, after all, that I should have to see Rowan again: there was
a matter about which I was compelled to speak with him. That is
all I meant by being with him to-night: everything now is ended
"And you are going away without giving me the reason of all this?"
Isabel gathered her gloves and shawl together and said with simple
As she did so, Mrs. Conyers, suddenly beside herself with aimless
rage, raised one arm and hurled the necklace against the opposite
wall of the room. It leaped a tangled braid through the air and as
it struck burst asunder, and the stones scattered and rattled along
the floor and rolled far out on the carpet.
She turned and putting up a little white arm, which shook as though
palsied, began to extinguish the lights. Isabel watched her a
"Good night, grandmother, and good-by. I am sorry to go away and
leave you angry."
As she entered her room, gray light was already creeping in through
the windows, left open to the summer night. She went mournfully to
her trunk. The tray had been lifted out and placed upon a chair
near by. The little tops to the divisions of the tray were all
thrown back, and she could see that the last thing had been packed
into its place. Her hand satchel was open on her bureau, and she
could see the edge of a handkerchief and the little brown wicker
neck of a cologne bottle. Beside the hand satchel were her purse,
baggage checks, and travelling ticket: everything was in readiness.
She looked at it all a long time:
"How can I go away? How can I, how can I?"
She went over to her bed. The sheet had been turned down, the
pillow dented for her face. Beside the pillow was a tiny
reading-stand and on this was a candle and a book--with thought of
her old habit of reading after she had come home from pleasures
like those of to-night--when they were pleasures. Beside the book
her maid had set a little cut-glass vase of blossoms which had
opened since she put them there--were just opening now.
"How can I read? How can I sleep?"
She crossed to a large window opening on the lawn in the rear of
the house--and looked for the last time out at the gray old pines
and dim blue, ever wintry firs. Beyond were house-tops and
tree-tops of the town; and beyond these lay the country--stretching
away to his home. Soon the morning light would be crimsoning the
horizon before his window.
"How can I stay?" she said. "How can I bear to stay?"
She recalled her last words to him as they parted:
"Remember that you are forgotten!"
She recalled his reply:
"Forget that you are remembered!"
She sank down on the floor and crossed her arms on the window sill
and buried her face on her arms. The white dawn approached,
touched her, and passed, and she did not heed.
The home of the Merediths lay in a region of fertile lands adapted
alike to tillage and to pasturage. The immediate neighborhood was
old, as civilization reckons age in the United States, and was well
conserved, It held in high esteem its traditions of itself,
approved its own customs, was proud of its prides: a characteristic
community of country gentlemen at the side of each of whom a
characteristic lady lived and had her peculiar being.
The ownership of the soil had long since passed into the hands of
capable families--with this exception, that here and there between
the borders of large estates little farms were to be found
representing all that remained from slow processes of partition and
absorption. These scant freeholds had thus their pathos, marking
as they did the losing fight of successive holders against more
fortunate, more powerful neighbors. Nothing in its way records
more surely the clash and struggle and ranking of men than the
boundaries of land. There you see extinction and survival, the
perpetual going under of the weak, the perpetual overriding of the
Two such fragmentary farms lay on opposite sides of the Meredith
estate. One was the property of Ambrose Webb, a married but
childless man who, thus exempt from necessity of raking the earth
for swarming progeny, had sown nearly all his land in grass and
rented it as pasturage: no crops of children, no crops of grain.
The other farm was of less importance. Had you ridden from the
front door of the Merediths northward for nearly a mile, you would
have reached the summit of a slope sweeping a wide horizon.
Standing on this summit any one of these bright summer days, you
could have seen at the foot of the slope, less than a quarter of a
mile away on the steep opposite side, a rectangle of land covering
some fifty acres. It lay crumpled into a rough depression in the
landscape. A rivulet of clear water by virtue of indomitable crook
and turn made its way across this valley; a woodland stood in one
corner, nearly all its timber felled; there were a few patches of
grain so small that they made you think of the variegated peasant
strips of agricultural France; and a few lots smaller still around
a stable. The buildings huddled confusedly into this valley seemed
to have backed toward each other like a flock of sheep, encompassed
by peril and making a last stand in futile defence of their right
to exist at all.
What held the preeminence of castle in the collection of structures
was a small brick house with one upper bedroom. The front entrance
had no porch; and beneath the door, as stepping-stones of entrance,
lay two circular slabs of wood resembling sausage blocks, one half
superposed. Over the door was a trellis of gourd vines now
profusely, blooming and bee-visited. Grouped around this castle in
still lower feudal and vital dependence was a log cabin of one room
and of many more gourd vines, an ice-house, a house for fowls, a
stable, a rick for hay, and a sagging shed for farm implements.
If the appearance of the place suggested the struggles of a family
on the verge of extinction, this idea was further borne out by what
looked like its determination to stand a long final siege at least
in the matter of rations, for it swarmed with life. In the quiet
crystalline air from dawn till after sunset the sounds arising from
it were the clamor of a sincere, outspoken multitude of what man
calls the dumb creatures. Evidently some mind, full of energy and
forethought, had made its appearance late in the history of these
failing generations and had begun a fight to reverse failure and
turn back the tide of aggression. As the first step in
self-recovery this rugged island of poverty must be made
self-sustaining. Therefore it had been made to teem with animal
and vegetable plenty.
On one side of the house lay an orderly garden of vegetables and
berry-bearing shrubs; the yard itself was in reality an orchard of
fruit trees, some warmed by the very walls; under the shed there
were beegums alive with the nectar builders; along the garden walks
were frames for freighted grape-vines. The work of regeneration
had been pushed beyond the limits of utilitarianism over into a
certain crude domain of aesthetics. On one front window-sill what
had been the annual Christmas box of raisins had been turned into a
little hot-bed of flowering plants; and under the panes of glass a
dense forest of them, sun-drawn, looked like a harvest field swept
by a storm. On the opposite window ledge an empty drum of figs was
now topped with hardy jump-up-johnnies. It bore some resemblance
to an enormous yellow muffin stuffed with blueberries. In the
garden big-headed peonies here and there fell over upon the young
onions. The entire demesne lay white and green with tidiness under
yellow sun and azure sky; for fences and outhouses, even the trunks
of trees several feet up from the ground, glistened with whitewash.
So that everywhere was seen the impress and guidance of a spirit
evoking abundance, order, even beauty, out of what could so easily
have been squalor and despondent wretchedness.
This was the home of Pansy Vaughan; and Pansy was the explanation
of everything beautiful and fruitful, the peaceful Joan of Arc of
that valley, seeing rapt visions of the glory of her people.
In the plain upper room of the plain brick house, on her hard white
bed with her hard white thoughts, lay Pansy--sleepless throughout
the night of Marguerite's ball. The youngest of the children slept
beside her; two others lay in a trundle-bed across the room; and
the three were getting out of sleep all that there is in it for
tired, healthy children. In the room below, her father and the
eldest boy were resting; and through the rafters of the flooring
she could hear them both: her father a large, fluent, well-seasoned,
self-comforting bassoon; and her brother a sappy, inexperienced
bassoon trying to imitate it. Wakefulness was a novel state for
Pansy herself, who was always tired when bedtime came and as full
of wild vitality as one of her young guineas in the summer wheat;
so that she sank into slumber as a rock sinks into the sea,
descending till it reaches the unstirred bottom.
What kept her awake to-night was mortification that she had not
been invited to the ball. She knew perfectly well that she was not
entitled to an invitation, since the three Marguerites had never
heard of her. She had never been to a fashionable party even in
the country. But her engagement to Dent Meredith already linked
her to him socially and she felt the tugging of those links: what
were soon to become her rights had begun to be her rights already.
Another little thing troubled her: she had no flower to send him
for his button-hole, to accompany her note wishing him a pleasant
evening. She could not bear to give him anything common; and
Pansy believed that no one was needed to tell her what a common
For a third reason slumber refused to descend and weigh down her
eyelids: on the morrow she was to call upon Dent's mother, and the
thought of this call preoccupied her with terror. She was one of
the bravest of souls; but the terror which shook her was the terror
that shakes them all--terror lest they be not loved.
All her life she had looked with awe upward out of her valley
toward that great house. Its lawns with stately clumps of
evergreens, its many servants, its distant lights often seen
twinkling in the windows at night, the tales that reached her of
wonderful music and faery dancing; the flashing family carriages
which had so often whirled past her on the turnpike with scornful
footman and driver--all these recollections revisited her to-night.
In the morning she was to cross the boundary of this inaccessible
world as one who was to hold a high position in it.
How pictures came crowding back! One of the earliest recollections
of childhood was hearing the scream of the Meredith peacocks as
they drew their gorgeous plumage across the silent summer lawns; at
home they had nothing better than fussing guineas. She had never
come nearer to one of those proud birds than handling a set of tail
feathers which Mrs. Meredith had presented to her mother for a
family fly brush. Pansy had good reason to remember because she
had often been required to stand beside the table and, one little
bare foot set alternately on the other little bare foot, wield the
brush over the dishes till arms and eyelids ached.
Another of those dim recollections was pressing her face against
the window-panes when the first snow began to fall on the scraggy
cedars in the yard; and as she began to sing softly to herself one
of the ancient ditties of the children of the poor, "Old Woman,
picking Geese," she would dream of the magical flowers which they
told her bloomed all winter in a glass house at the Merediths'
while there was ice on the pines outside. Big red roses and
icicles separated only by a thin glass--she could hardly believe
it; and she would cast her eye toward their own garden where a few
black withered stalks marked the early death-beds of the pinks and
But even in those young years Pansy had little time to look out of
windows and to dream of anything. She must help, she must work;
for she was the oldest of five children, and the others followed so
closely that they pushed her out of her garments. A hardy,
self-helpful child life, bravened by necessities, never undermined
by luxuries. For very dolls Pansy used small dried gourds, taking
the big round end of the gourd for the head of the doll and all the
rest of the gourd for all the rest of the body.
One morning when she was fourteen, the other children were clinging
with tears to her in a poor, darkened room--she to be little mother
to them henceforth: they never clung in vain.
That same autumn when woods were turning red and wild grapes
turning black and corn turning yellow, a cherished rockaway drawn
by a venerated horse, that tried to stop for conversation on the
highroad whenever he passed a neighbor's vehicle, rattled out on
the turnpike with five children in it and headed for town: Pansy
driving, taking herself and the rest to the public school. For
years thereafter, through dark and bright days, she conveyed that
nest of hungry fledglings back and forth over bitter and weary
miles, getting their ravenous minds fed at one end of the route,
and their ravenous bodies fed at the other. If the harness broke,
Pansy got out with a string. If the horse dropped a shoe, or
dropped himself, Pansy picked up what she could. In town she drove
to the blacksmith shop and to all other shops whither business
called her. Her friends were the blacksmith and the tollgate
keeper, her teachers--all who knew her and they were few: she had
no time for friendships. At home the only frequent visitor was
Ambrose Webb, and Pansy did not care for Ambrose. The first time
she remembered seeing him at dinner, she--a very little girl--had
watched his throat with gloomy fascination. Afterward her mother
told her he had an Adam's apple; and Pansy, working obscurely at
some problem of theology, had secretly taken down the Bible and
read the story of Adam and the fearful fruit. Ambrose became
associated in her mind with the Fall of Man; she disliked the
No time for friendships. Besides the labors at school, there was
the nightly care of her father on her return, the mending of his
clothes; there was the lonely burning of her candle far into the
night as she toiled over lessons. When she had learned all that
could be taught her at the school, she left the younger children
there and victoriously transferred herself for a finishing course
to a seminary of the town, where she was now proceeding to graduate.
This was Pansy, child of plain, poor, farmer folk, immemorially
dwelling close to the soil; unlettered, unambitious, long-lived,
abounding in children, without physical beauty, but marking the
track of their generations by a path lustrous with right-doing.
For more than a hundred years on this spot the land had lessened
around them; but the soil had worked upward into their veins, as
into the stalks of plants, the trunks of trees; and that clean,
thrilling sap of the earth, that vitality of the exhaustless mother
which never goes for nothing, had produced one heavenly flower at
last--shooting forth with irrepressible energy a soul unspoiled and
morally sublime. When the top decays, as it always does in the
lapse of time, whence shall come regeneration if not from below?
It is the plain people who are the eternal breeding grounds of high
In the long economy of nature, this, perhaps, was the meaning and
the mission of this lofty child who now lay sleepless, shaken to
the core with thoughts of the splendid world over into which she
was to journey to-morrow.
At ten o'clock next morning she set out.
It had been a question with her whether she should go straight
across the fields and climb the fences, or walk around by the
turnpike and open the gates. Her preference was for fields and
fences, because that was the short and direct way, and Pansy was
used to the short and direct way of getting to the end of her
desires. But, as has been said, she had already fallen into the
habit of considering what was due her and becoming to her as a
young Mrs. Meredith; and it struck her that this lady would not
climb field fences, at least by preference and with facility.
Therefore she chose the highroad, gates, dust, and dignity.
It could scarcely be said that she was becomingly raimented. Pansy
made her own dresses, and the dresses declared the handiwork of
their maker. The one she wore this morning was chiefly
characterized by a pair of sleeves designed by herself; from the
elbow to the wrist there hung green pouches that looked like long
pea-pods not well filled. Her only ornament was a large oval pin
at her throat which had somewhat the relation to a cameo as that
borne by Wedgwood china. It represented a white horse drinking at
a white roadside well; beside the shoulder of the horse stood a
white angel, many times taller, with an arm thrown caressingly
around the horse's neck; while a stunted forest tree extended a
solitary branch over the horse's tail.
She had been oppressed with dread that she should not arrive in
time. No time had been set, no one knew that she was coming, and
the forenoons were long. Nevertheless impatience consumed her to
encounter Mrs. Meredith; and once on the way, inasmuch as Pansy
usually walked as though she had been told to go for the doctor,
but not to run, she was not long in arriving.
When she reached the top of the drive in front of the Meredith
homestead, her face, naturally colorless, was a consistent red; and
her heart, of whose existence she had never in her life been
reminded, was beating audibly. Although she said to herself that
it was bad manners, she shook out her handkerchief, which she had
herself starched and ironed with much care; and gathering her
skirts aside, first to the right and then to the left, dusted her
shoes, lifting each a little into the air, and she pulled some
grass from around the buttons. With the other half of her
handkerchief she wiped her brow; but a fresh bead of perspiration
instantly appeared; a few drops even stood on her dilated
nostrils--raindrops on the eaves. Even had the day been cool she
must have been warm, for she wore more layers of clothing than
usual, having deposited some fresh strata in honor of her wealthy
As Pansy stepped from behind the pines, with one long, quivering
breath of final self-adjustment, she suddenly stood still, arrested
by the vision of so glorious a hue and shape that, for the moment,
everything else was forgotten. On the pavement just before her, as
though to intercept her should she attempt to cross the Meredith
threshold, stood a peacock, expanding to the utmost its great fan
of pride and love. It confronted her with its high-born composure
and insolent grace, all its jewelled feathers flashing in the sun;
then with a little backward movement of its royal head and
convulsion of its breast, it threw out its cry,--the cry she had
heard in the distance through dreaming years,--warning all who
heard that she was there, the intruder. Then lowering its tail and
drawing its plumage in fastidiously against the body, it crossed
her path in an evasive circle and disappeared behind the pines.
"Oh, Dent, why did you ever ask me to marry you!" thought Pansy, in
a moment of soul failure.
Mrs. Meredith was sitting on the veranda and was partly concealed
by a running rose. She was not expecting visitors; she had much to
think of this morning, and she rose wonderingly and reluctantly as
Pansy came forward: she did not know who it was, and she did not
Pansy ascended the steps and paused, looking with wistful eyes at
the great lady who was to be her mother, but who did not even greet
"Good morning, Mrs. Meredith," she said, in a shrill treble,
holding herself somewhat in the attitude of a wooden soldier, "I
suppose I shall have to introduce myself: it is Pansy."
The surprise faded from Mrs. Meredith's face, the reserve melted.
With outstretched hands she advanced smiling.
"How do you do. Pansy," she said with motherly gentleness; "it is
very kind of you to come and see me, and I am very glad to know
you. Shall we go in where it is cooler?"
They entered the long hall. Near the door stood a marble bust:
each wall was lined with portraits. She passed between Dent's
ancestors into the large darkened parlors.
"Sit here, won't you?" said Mrs. Meredith, and she even pushed
gently forward the most luxurious chair within her reach. To Pansy
it seemed large enough to hold all the children. At home she was
used to chairs that were not only small, but hard. Wherever the
bottom of a chair seemed to be in that household, there it was--if
it was anywhere. Actuated now by this lifelong faith in literal
furniture, she sat down with the utmost determination where she was
bid; but the bottom offered no resistance to her descending weight
and she sank. She threw out her hands and her hat tilted over her
eyes. It seemed to her that she was enclosed up to her neck in
what might have been a large morocco bath-tub--which came to an end
at her knees. She pushed back her hat, crimson.
"That was a surprise," she said, frankly admitting the fault, "but
there'll never be another such."
"I am afraid you found it warm walking, Pansy," said Mrs. Meredith,
opening her fan and handing it to her.
"Oh, no, Mrs. Meredith, I never fan!" said Pansy, declining
breathlessly. "I have too much use for my hands. I'd rather
suffer and do something else. Besides, you know I am used to
walking in the sun. I am very fond of botany, and I am out of
doors for hours at a time when I can find the chance."
Mrs. Meredith was delighted at the opportunity to make easy vague
comment on a harmless subject.
"What a beautiful study it must be," she said with authority.
"Must be!" exclaimed Pansy; "why, Mrs. Meredith, don't you _know_?
Don't you understand botany?"
Pansy had an idea that in Dent's home botany was as familiarly
apprehended as peas and turnips in hers.
"I am afraid not," replied Mrs. Meredith, a little coolly. Her
mission had been to adorn and people the earth, not to study it.
And among persons of her acquaintance it was the prime duty of each
not to lay bare the others' ignorance, but to make a little
knowledge appear as great as possible. It was discomfiting to have
Pansy charge upon what after all was only a vacant spot in her
mind. She added, as defensively intimating that the subject had
another dangerous side:
"When I was a girl, young ladies at school did not learn much
botany; but they paid a great deal of attention to their manners."
"Why did not they learn it after they had left school and after
they had learned manners?" inquired Pansy, with ruthless
enthusiasm. "It is such a mistake to stop learning everything
simply because you have stopped school. Don't you think so?"
"When a girl marries, my dear, she soon has other studies to take
up. She has a house and husband. The girls of my day, I am
afraid, gave up their botanies for their duties: it may be
"No matter how many children I may have," said Pansy, positively,
"I shall never--give--up--botany! Besides, you know, Mrs.
Meredith, that we study botany only during the summer months, and I
do hope--" she broke off suddenly.
Mrs. Meredith smoothed her dress nervously and sought to find her
"Your mother named you Pansy," she remarked, taking a gloomy view of
the present moment and of the whole future of this acquaintanceship.
That this should be the name of a woman was to her a mistake, a
crime. Her sense of fitness demanded that names should be given to
infants with reference to their adult characters and eventual
positions in life. She liked her own name "Caroline"; and she
liked "Margaret" and all such womanly, motherly, dignified, stately
appellatives. As for "Pansy," it had been the name of one of her
husband's shorthorns, a premium animal at the county fairs; the
silver cup was on the sideboard in the dining room now.
"Yes, Mrs. Meredith," replied Pansy, "that was the name my mother
gave me. I think she must have had a great love of flowers. She
named me for the best she had. I hope I shall never forget that,"
and Pansy looked at Mrs. Meredith with a face of such gravity and
pride that silence lasted in the parlors for a while.
Buried in Pansy's heart was one secret, one sorrow: that her mother
had been poor. Her father wore his yoke ungalled; he loved rough
work, drew his religion from privations, accepted hardship as the
chastening that insures reward. But that her mother's hands should
have been folded and have returned to universal clay without ever
having fondled the finer things of life--this to Pansy was
remembrance to start tears on the brightest day.
"I think she named you beautifully," said Mrs. Meredith, breaking
that silence, "and I am glad you told me, Pansy." She lingered with
quick approval on the name.
But she turned the conversation at once to less personal channels.
The beauty of the country at this season seemed to offer her an
inoffensive escape. She felt that she could handle it at least
with tolerable discretion. She realized that she was not deep on
the subject, but she did feel fluent.
"I suppose you take the same pride that we all do in such a
Sunlight instantly shone out on Pansy's face. Dent was a
geologist; and since she conceived herself to be on trial before
Mrs. Meredith this morning, it was of the first importance that she
demonstrate her sympathy and intelligent appreciation of his field
"Indeed I do feel the greatest pride in it, Mrs. Meredith," she
replied. "I study it a great deal. But of course you know
perfectly the whole formation of this region."
Mrs. Meredith coughed with frank discouragement.
"I do not know it," she admitted dryly. "I suppose I ought to know
it, but I do not. I believe school-teachers understand these
things. I am afraid I am a very ignorant woman. No one of my
acquaintances is very learned. We are not used to scholarship."
"I know all the strata," said Pansy. "I tell the children stories
of how the Mastodon once virtually lived in our stable, and that
millions of years ago there were Pterodactyls under their bed."
"I think it a misfortune for a young woman to have much to say to
children about Pterodactyls under their bed--is that the name?
Such things never seem to have troubled Solomon, and I believe he
was reputed wise." She did not care for the old-fashioned
reference herself, but she thought it would affect Pansy.
"The children in the public schools know things that Solomon never
heard of," said Pansy, contemptuously.
"I do not doubt it in the least, my dear. I believe it was not his
knowledge that made him rather celebrated, but his wisdom. But I
am not up in Solomon!" she admitted hastily, retreating from the
subject in new dismay.
The time had arrived for Pansy to depart; but she reclined in her
morocco alcove with somewhat the stiffness of a tilted bottle and
somewhat the contour. She felt extreme dissatisfaction with her
visit and reluctance to terminate it.
Her idea of the difference between people in society and other
people was that it hinged ornamentally upon inexhaustible and
scanty knowledge. If Mrs. Meredith was a social leader, and she
herself had no social standing at all, it was mainly because that
lady was publicly recognized as a learned woman, and the world had
not yet found out that she herself was anything but ignorant.
Being ignorant was to her mind the quintessence of being common;
and as she had undertaken this morning to prove to Dent's mother
that she was not common, she had only to prove that she was
learned. For days she had prepared for this interview with that
conception of its meaning. She had converted her mind into a kind
of rapid-firing gun; she had condensed her knowledge into
conversational cartridges. No sooner had she taken up a mental
position before Mrs. Meredith than the parlors resounded with
light, rapid detonations of information. That lady had but to
release the poorest, most lifeless, little clay pigeon of a remark
and Pansy shattered it in mid air and refixed suspicious eyes on
But the pigeons soon began to fly less frequently. And finally
they gave out. And now she must take nearly all her cartridges
home! Mrs. Meredith would think her ignorant, therefore she would
think her common. If Pansy had only known what divine dulness,
what ambrosial stupidity, often reclines on those Olympian heights
As last she rose. Neither had mentioned Dent's name, though each
had been thinking of him all the time. Not a word had been spoken
to indicate the recognition of a relationship which one of them so
desired and the other so dreaded. Pansy might merely have hurried
over to ask Mrs. Meredith for the loan of an ice-cream freezer or
for a setting of eggs. On the mother's part this silence was
kindly meant: she did not think it right to take for granted what
might never come to pass. Uppermost in her mind was the cruelty of
accepting Pansy as her daughter-in-law this morning with the
possibility of rejecting her afterward.
As Pansy walked reluctantly out into the hall, she stopped with a
deep wish in her candid eyes.
"Oh, Mrs. Meredith, I should so much like to see the portrait of
Dent's father: he has often spoken to me about It."
Mrs. Meredith led her away in silence to where the portrait hung,
and the two stood looking at it side by side. She resisted a
slight impulse to put her arm around the child. When they returned
to the front of the house, Pansy turned:
"Do you think you will ever love me?"
The carriage was at the door. "You must not walk," said Mrs.
Meredith, "the sun is too hot now."
As Pansy stepped into the carriage, she cast a suspicious glance at
the cushions: Meredith upholstery was not to be trusted, and she
seated herself warily.
Mrs. Meredith put her hand through the window: "You must come to
see me soon again, Pansy. I am a poor visitor, but I shall try to
call on you in a few days."
She went back to her seat on the veranda.
It has been said that her insight into goodness was her strength;
she usually had a way of knowing at once, as regards the character
of people, what she was ever to know at all. Her impressions of
Pansy unrolled themselves disconnectedly:
"She makes mistakes, but she does not know how to do wrong. Guile
is not in her. She is so innocent that she does not realize
sometimes the peril of her own words. She is proud--a great deal
prouder than Dent. To her, life means work and duty; more than
that, it means love. She is ambitious, and ambition, in her case,
would be indispensable. She did not claim Dent: I appreciate that.
She is a perfectly brave girl, and it is cowardice that makes so
many women hypocrites. She will improve--she improved while she
was here. But oh, everything else! No figure, no beauty, no
grace, no tact, no voice, no hands, no anything that is so much
needed! Dent says there are cold bodies which he calls planets
without atmosphere: he has found one to revolve about him. If she
only had some clouds! A mist here and there, so that everything
would not be so plain, so exposed, so terribly open! But neither
has _he_ any clouds, any mists, any atmosphere. And if she only
would not so try to expose other people! If she had not so
trampled upon me in my ignorance; and with such a sense of triumph!
I was never so educated in my life by a visitor. The amount of
information she imparted in half an hour--how many months it would
have served the purpose of a well-bred woman! And her pride in her
family--were there ever such little brothers and sisters outside a
royal family! And her devotion to her father, and remembrance of
her mother. I shall go to see her, and be received, I suppose,
somewhere between the griddle and the churn."
As Pansy was driven home, feeling under herself for the first time
the elasticity of a perfect carriage, she experimented with her
posture. "This carriage is not to be sat in in the usual way," she
said. And indeed it was not. In the family rockaway there was
constant need of muscular adjustment to different shocks at
successive moments; here muscular surrender was required: a
comfortable collapse--and there you were!
Trouble awaited her at home. Owing to preoccupation with her visit
she had, before setting out, neglected much of her morning work.
She had especially forgotten the hungry multitude of her
dependants. The children, taking advantage of her absence, had fed
only themselves. As a consequence, the trustful lives around the
house had suffered a great wrong, and they were attempting to
describe it to each other. The instant Pansy descended from the
carriage the ducks, massed around the doorsteps, discovered her,
and with frantic outcry and outstretched necks ran to find out what
it all meant. The signal was taken up by other species and genera.
In the stable lot the calves responded as the French horn end of
the orchestra; and the youngest of her little brothers, who had
climbed into a fruit tree as a lookout for her return, in
scrambling hurriedly down, dropped to the earth with the boneless
thud of an opossum.
Pansy walked straight up to her room, heeding nothing, leaving a
wailing wake. She locked herself in. It was an hour before dinner
and she needed all those moments for herself.
She sat on the edge of her bed and new light brought new
wretchedness. It was not, after all, quantity of information that
made the chief difference between herself and Dent's mother. The
other things, all the other things--would she ever, ever acquire
them! Finally the picture rose before her of how the footman had
looked as he had held the carriage door open for her, and the ducks
had sprawled over his feet; and she threw herself on the bed, hat
and all, and burst out crying with rage and grief and mortification.
"She will think I am common," she moaned, "and I am not common!
Why did I say such things? It is not my way of talking. Why did I
criticise the way the portrait was hung? And she will think this
is what I really am, and it is not what I am! She will think I do
not even know how to sit in a chair, and she will tell Dent, and
Dent will believe her, and what will become of me?"
"Pansy," said Dent next afternoon, as they were in the woods
together, "you have won my mother's heart."
"Oh, Dent," she exclaimed, tears starting, "I was afraid she would
not like me. How could she like me, knowing me no better?"
"She doesn't yet know that she likes you," he replied, with his
honest thinking and his honest speech, "but I can see that she
trusts you and respects you; and with my mother everything else
follows in time."
"I was embarrassed. I did myself such injustice."
"It is something you never did any one else."
He had been at work in his quarry on the vestiges of creation; the
quarry lay at an outcrop of that northern hill overlooking the
valley in which she lived. Near by was a woodland, and she had
come out for some work of her own in which he guided her. They lay
on the grass now side by side.
"I am working on the plan of our house, Pansy. I expect to begin
to build in the autumn. I have chosen this spot for the site. How
do you like it?"
"I like it very well. For one reason, I can always see the old
place from it."
"My father left his estate to be equally divided between Rowan and
me. Of course he could not divide the house; that goes to Rowan:
it is a good custom for this country as it was a good custom for
our forefathers in England. But I get an equivalent and am to
build for myself on this part of the land: my portion is over here.
You see we have always been divided only by a few fences and they
do not divide at all."
"The same plants grow on each side, Dent."
"There is one thing I have to tell you. If you are coming into our
family, you ought to know it beforehand. There is a shadow over
our house. It grows deeper every year and we do not know what it
means. That is, my mother and I do not know. It is some secret in
Rowan's life. He has never offered to tell us, and of course we
have never asked him, and in fact mother and I have never even
spoken to each other on the subject."
It was the first time she had even seen sadness in his eyes; and
she impulsively clasped his hand. He returned the pressure and
then their palms separated. No franker sign of their love had ever
passed between them.
He went on very gravely: "Rowan was the most open nature I ever saw
when he was a boy. I remember this now. I did not think of it
then. I believe he was the happiest. You know we are all
pantheists of some kind nowadays. I could never see much
difference between a living thing that stands rooted in the earth
like a tree and a living thing whose destiny it is to move the foot
perpetually over the earth, as man. The union is as close in one
case as in the other. Do you remember the blind man of the New
Testament who saw men as trees walking? Rowan seemed to me, as I
recall him now, to have risen out of the earth through my father
and mother--a growth of wild nature, with the seasons in his face,
with the blood of the planet rising into his veins as intimately as
it pours into a spring oak or into an autumn grape-vine. I often
heard Professor Hardage call him the earth-born. He never called
any one else that. He was wild with happiness until he went to
college. He came back all changed; and life has been uphill with
him ever since. Lately things have grown worse. The other day I
was working on the plan of our house; he came in and looked over my
shoulder: 'Don't build, Dent,' he said, 'bring your wife here,' and
he walked quickly out of the room. I knew what that meant: he has
been unfortunate in his love affair and is ready to throw up the
whole idea of marrying. This is our trouble, Pansy. It may
explain anything that may have been lacking in my mother's
treatment of you; she is not herself at all." He spoke with great
tenderness and he looked disturbed.
"Can I do anything?" What had she been all her life but
"If I ever can, will you tell me?"
"This is the only secret I have kept from you, Pansy. I am sure
you have kept none from me. I believe that if I could read
everything in you, I should find nothing I did not wish to know."
She did not reply for a while. Then she said solemnly: "I have one
secret. There is something I try to hide from every human being
and I always shall. It is not a bad secret, Dent. But I do not
wish to tell you what it is, and I feel sure you will never ask me."
He turned his eyes to her clear with unshakable confidence: "I
Pansy was thinking of her mother's poverty.
They sat awhile in silence.
He had pulled some stems of seeding grass and drew them slowly
across his palm, pondering Life. Then he began to talk to her in
the way that made them so much at home with one another.
"Pansy, men used to speak of the secrets of Nature: there is not
the slightest evidence that Nature has a secret. They used to
speak of the mysteries of the Creator. I am not one of those who
claim to be authorities on the traits of the Creator. Some of my
ancestors considered themselves such. But I do say that men are
coming more and more to think of Him as having no mysteries. We
have no evidence, as the old hymn declares, that He loves to move
in a mysterious way. The entire openness of Nature and of the
Creator--these are the new ways of thinking. They will be the only
ways of thinking in the future unless civilization sinks again into
darkness. What we call secrets and mysteries of the universe are
the limitations of our powers and our knowledge. The little that
we actually do know about Nature, how open it is, how unsecretive!
There is nowhere a sign that the Creator wishes to hide from us
even what is Life. If we ever discover what Life is, no doubt we
shall then realize that it contained no mystery."
She loved to listen, feeling that he was drawing her to his way of
thinking for the coming years.
"It was the folly and the crime of all ancient religions that their
priesthoods veiled them; whenever the veil was rent, like the veil
of Isis, it was not God that men found behind it: it was nothing.
The religions of the future will have no veils. As far as they can
set before their worshippers truth at all, it will be truth as open
as the day. The Great Teacher in the New Testament--what an
eternal lesson on light itself: that is the beauty of his Gospel.
And his Apostles--where do you find him saying to them, 'Preach my
word to all men as the secrets of a priesthood and the mysteries of
"It is the tragedy of man alone that he has his secrets. No doubt
the time will come when I shall have mine and when I shall have to
hide things from you, Pansy, as Rowan has his and hides things from
us. Life is full of things that we cannot tell because they would
injure us; and of things that we cannot tell because they would
injure others. But surely we should all like to live in a time
when a man's private life will be his only life."
After a silence he came back to her with a quiet laugh: "Here I am
talking about the future of the human race, and we have never
agreed upon our marriage ceremony! What a lover!"
"I want the most beautiful ceremony in the world."
"The ceremony of your church?" he asked with great respect, though
"My church has no ceremony: every minister in it has his own; and
rather than have one of them write mine, I think I should rather
write it myself: shouldn't you?"
"I think I should," he said, laughing.
He drew a little book out of his breast pocket: "Perhaps you will
like this: a great many people have been married by it."
"I want the same ceremony that is used for kings and queens, for
the greatest and the best people of the earth. I will marry you by
"A good many of them have used this," and he read to her the
ceremony of his church.
When he finished neither spoke.
It was a clear summer afternoon. Under them was the strength of
rocks; around them the noiseless growth of needful things; above
them the upward-drawing light: two working children of the New
World, two pieces of Nature's quietism.
It was the second morning after Marguerite's ball.
Marguerite, to herself a girl no longer, lay in the middle
of a great, fragrant, drowsy bed of carved walnut, once her
grandmother's. She had been dreaming; she had just awakened. The
sun, long since risen above the trees of the yard, was slanting
through the leaves and roses that formed an outside lattice to her
These blinds were very old. They had been her grandmother's when
she was Marguerite's age; and one day, not long before this,
Marguerite, pillaging the attic, had found them and brought them
down, with adoring eyes, and put them up before her own windows.
They were of thin muslin, and on them were painted scenes
representing the River of Life, with hills and castles, valleys and
streams, in a long series; at the end there was a faint vision of a
crystal dome in the air--the Celestial City--nearly washed away.
You looked at these scenes through the arches of a ruined castle.
A young man (on one blind) has just said farewell to his parents on
the steps of the castle and is rowing away down the River of Life.
At the prow of his boat is the figurehead of a winged woman holding
Marguerite lay on her side, sleepily contemplating the whole scene
between her thick, bosky lashes. She liked everything but the
winged woman holding the hour-glass. Had she been that woman, she
would have dropped the hour-glass into the blue, burying water, and
have reached up her hand for the young man to draw her into the
boat with him. And she would have taken off her wings and cast
them away upon the hurrying river. To have been alone with him, no
hour-glass, no wings, rowing away on Life's long voyage, past
castles and valleys, and never ending woods and streams! As to the
Celestial City, she would have liked her blinds better if the rains
of her grandmother's youth had washed it away altogether. It was
not the desirable end of such a journey: she did not care to land
Marguerite slipped drowsily over to the edge of the bed in order to
be nearer the blinds; and she began to study what was left of the
face of the young man just starting on his adventures from the
house of his fathers. Who was he? Of whom did he cause her to
think? She sat up in bed and propped her face in the palms of her
hands--the April face with its October eyes--and lapsed into what
had been her dreams of the night. The laces of her nightgown
dropped from her wrists to her elbows; the masses of her hair, like
sunlit autumn maize, fell down over her neck and shoulders into the
purity of the bed.
Until the evening of her party the world had been to Marguerite
something that arranged all her happiness and never interfered
with it. Only soundness and loveliness of nature, inborn,
undestroyable, could have withstood such luxury, indulgence,
surfeit as she had always known.
On that night which was designed to end for her the life of
childhood, she had, for the first time, beheld the symbol of the
world's diviner beauty--a cross. All her guests had individually
greeted her as though each were happier in her happiness. Except
one--he did not care. He had spoken to her upon entering with the
manner of one who wished himself elsewhere, he alone brought no
tribute to her of any kind, in his eyes, by his smile, through the
pressure of his hand.
The slight wounded her at the moment; she had not expected to have
a guest to whom she would be nothing and to whom it would seem no
unkindness to let her know this. The slight left its trail of pain
as the evening wore on and he did not come near her. Several
times, while standing close to him, she had looked her surprise,
had shadowed her face with coldness for him to see. For the first
time in her life she felt herself rejected, suffered the
fascination of that pain. Afterward she had intentionally pressed
so close to him in the throng of her guests that her arm brushed
his sleeve. At last she had disengaged herself from all others and
had even gone to him with the inquiries of a hostess; and he had
forced himself to smile at her and had forgotten her while he spoke
to her--as though she were a child. All her nature was exquisitely
loosened that night, and quivering; it was not a time to be so
wounded and to forget.
She did not forget as she sat in her room after all had gone. She
took the kindnesses and caresses, the congratulations and triumphs,
of those full-fruited hours, pressed them together and derived
merely one clear drop of bitterness--the languorous poison of one
haunting desire. It followed her into her sleep and through the
next day; and not until night came again and she had passed through
the gateway of dreams was she happy: for in those dreams it was he
who was setting out from the house of his fathers on a voyage down
the River of Life; and he had paused and turned and called her to
come to him and be with him always.
Marguerite lifted her face from her palms, as she finished her
revery. She slipped to the floor out of the big walnut bed, and
crossing to the blinds laid her fingers on the young man's
shoulder. It was the movement with which one says: "I have come."
With a sigh she drew one of the blinds aside and looked out upon
the leaves and roses of her yard and at the dazzling sunlight.
Within a few feet of her a bird was singing. "How can you?" she
said. "If you loved, you would be silent. Your wings would droop.