Part 5 out of 5
holding old family papers; here also were articles that he himself
had lately been engaged on--topics relating to scientific
agriculture, soils, and stock-raising. It was the road by which
some of the country gentlemen who had been his forefathers passed
into a larger life of practical affairs--going into the Legislature
of the state or into the Senate; and he had thought of this as a
future for himself. For an hour or two he looked through family
Then he put them aside and squarely faced the meaning of the day.
His thoughts traversed the whole track of Dent's life--one straight
track upward. No deviations, no pitfalls there, no rising and
falling. And now early marriage and safety from so many problems;
with work and honors and wifely love and children: work and rest
and duty to the end. Dent had called him into his room that
morning after he was dressed for his wedding and had started to
thank him for his love and care and guardianship and then had
broken down and they had locked their arms around each other,
trying not to say what could not be said.
He lived again through that long afternoon with his mother. What
had the whole day been to her and how she had risen to meet with
nobility all its sadnesses! Her smile lived before him; and her
eyes, shining with increasing brightness as she dwelt upon things
that meant fading sunlight: she fondling the playthings of his
infancy, keeping some of them to be folded away with her at last;
touching her bridal dress and speaking her reliance on her sons for
sons and daughters; at the close of the long trying day standing at
the foot of the staircase white with weariness and pain, but so
brave, so sweet, so unconquerable. He knew that she was not
sleeping now, that she was thinking of him, that she had borne
everything and would bear everything not only because it was due to
herself, but because it was due to him.
He turned out the lights and sat at a window opening upon the
night. The voices of the land came in to him, the voices of the
vanished life of its strong men.
He remembered the kind of day it was when he first saw through its
autumn trees the scattered buildings of his university. What
impressions it had made upon him as it awaited him there, gray with
stateliness, hoary with its honors, pervaded with the very breath
and spirit of his country. He recalled his meeting with his
professors, the choosing of his studies, the selection of a place
in which to live. Then had followed what had been the great
spectacle and experience of his life--the assembling of picked
young men, all eager like greyhounds at the slips to show what was
in them, of what stuff they were made, what strength and hardihood
and robust virtues, and gifts and grace for manly intercourse. He
had been caught up and swept off his feet by that influence.
Looking back as he did to that great plateau which was his home,
for the first time he had felt that he was not only a youth of an
American commonwealth, but a youth of his whole country. They
were all American youths there, as opposed to English youths and
German youths and Russian youths. There flamed up in him the
fierce passion, which he believed to be burning in them all, to
show his mettle--the mettle of his state, the mettle of his nation.
To him, newly come into this camp of young men, it lay around the
walls of the university like a white spiritual host, chosen youths
to be made into chosen men. And he remembered how little he then
knew that about this white host hung the red host of those
camp-followers, who beleaguer in outer darkness every army of men.
Then had followed warfare, double warfare: the ardent attack on
work and study; athletic play, good fellowship, visits late at
night to the chambers of new friends--chambers rich in furniture
and pictures, friends richer in old names and fine manners and
beautiful boyish gallant ways; his club and his secret society, and
the whole bewildering maddening enchantment of student life, where
work and duty and lights and wine and poverty and want and flesh
and spirit strive together each for its own. At this point he put
these memories away, locked them from himself in their long silence.
Near midnight he made his way quietly back into the main hall. He
turned out the lamps and lighted his bedroom candle and started
toward the stairway, holding it in front of him a little above his
head, a low-moving star through the gloom. As he passed between
two portraits, he paused with sudden impulse and, going over to
one, held his candle up before the face and studied it once more.
A man, black-browed, black-robed, black-bearded, looked down into
his eyes as one who had authority to speak. He looked far down
upon his offspring, and he said to him: "You may be one of those
who through the flesh are chosen to be damned. But if He chooses
to damn you, then be damned, but do not question His mercy or His
justice: it is not for you to alter the fixed and the eternal."
He crossed with his candle to the opposite wall and held it up
before another face: a man full of red blood out to the skin;
full-lipped, red-lipped; audacious about the forehead and brows,
and beautiful over his thick careless hair through which a girl's
fingers seemed lately to have wandered. He looked level out at his
offspring as though he still stood throbbing on the earth and he
spoke to him: "I am not alive to speak to you with my voice, but I
have spoken to you through my blood. When the cup of life is
filled, drain it deep. Why does nature fill it if not to have you
He blew his candle out in the eyes of that passionate face, and
holding it in his hand, a smoking torch, walked slowly backward and
forward in the darkness of the hall with only a little pale
moonlight struggling in through a window here and there.
Then with a second impulse he went over and stood close to the dark
image who had descended into him through the mysteries of nature.
"You," he said, "who helped to make me what I am, you had the
conscience and not the temptation. And you," he said, turning to
the hidden face across the hall, "who helped to make me what I am,
you had the temptation and not the conscience. What does either of
you know of me who had both?
"And what do I know about either of you," he went on, taking up
again the lonely vigil of his walk and questioning; "you who
preached against the Scarlet Woman, how do I know you were not the
scarlet man? I may have derived both from you--both conscience and
sin--without hypocrisy. All those years during which your face was
hardening, your one sincere prayer to God may have been that He
would send you to your appointed place before you were found out by
men on earth. And you with your fresh red face, you may have lain
down beside the wife of your youth, and have lived with her all
your years, as chaste as she."
He resumed his walk, back and forth, back and forth; and his
"What right have I to question them, or judge them, or bring them
forward in my life as being responsible for my nature? If I roll
back the responsibility to them, had they not fathers? and had not
their fathers fathers? and if a man rolls back his deeds upon those
who are his past, then where will responsibility be found at all,
and of what poor cowardly stuff is each of us?"
How silent the night was, how silent the great house! Only his
slow footsteps sounded there like the beating of a heavy heart
resolved not to fail.
At last they died away from the front of the house, passing inward
down a long hallway and growing more muffled; then the sound of
them ceased altogether: he stood noiselessly before his mother's
He stood there, listening if he might hear in the intense stillness
a sleeper's breathing. "Disappointed mother," he said as silently
as a spirit might speak to a spirit.
Then he came back and slowly began to mount the staircase.
"Is it then wrong for a man to do right? Is it ever right to do
wrong?" he said finally. "Should I have had my fling and never
have cared and never have spoken? Is there a true place for
deception in the world? May our hypocrisy with each other be a
virtue? If you have done evil, shall you live the whited
sepulchre? Ah, Isabel, how easily I could have deceived you! Does
a woman care what a man may have done, if he be not found out? Is
not her highest ideal for him a profitable reputation, not a
spotless character? No, I will not wrong you by these thoughts.
It was you who said to me that you once loved all that you saw in
me, and believed that you saw everything. All that you asked of me
was truthfulness that had no sorrow."
He reached the top of the stairs and began to feel his way toward
"To have one chance in life, in eternity, for a white name, and to
Autumn and winter had passed. Another spring was nearly gone. One
Monday morning of that May, the month of new growths and of old
growths with new starting-points on them, Ambrose Webb was walking
to and fro across the fresh oilcloth in his short hall; the front
door and the back door stood wide open, as though to indicate the
receptivity of his nature in opposite directions; all the windows
were wide open, as though to bring out of doors into his house: he
was much more used to the former; during married life the open had
been more friendly than the interior. But he was now also master
of the interior and had been for nearly a year.
Some men succeed best as partial automata, as dogs for instance
that can be highly trained to pull little domestic carts. Ambrose
had grown used to pulling his cart: he had expected to pull it for
the rest of his days; and now the cart had suddenly broken down
behind him and he was left standing in the middle of the long
life-road. But liberty was too large a destiny for a mind of that
order; the rod of empire does not fit such hands; it was
intolerable to Ambrose that he was in a world where he could do as
On this courageous Monday, therefore,--whatsoever he was to do
during the week he always decided on Mondays,--after months of
irresolution he finally determined to make a second dash for
slavery. But he meant to be canny; this time he would choose a
woman who, if she ruled him, would not misrule him; what he could
stand was a sovereign, not a despot, and he believed that he had
found this exceptionally gifted and exceptionally moderated being:
it was Miss Anna Hardage.
From the day of Miss Anna's discovery that Ambrose had a dominating
consort, she had been, she had declared she should be, much kinder
to him. When his wife died, Miss Anna had been kinder still.
Affliction present, affliction past, her sympathy had not failed
He had fallen into the habit of lingering a little whenever he took
his dairy products around to the side porch. Every true man yearns
for the eyes of some woman; and Ambrose developed the feeling that
he should like to live with Miss Anna's. He had no gift for
judging human conduct except by common human standards; and so at
bottom he believed that Miss Anna in her own way had been telling
him that if the time ever came, she could be counted on to do the
right thing by him.
So Ambrose paced the sticky oilcloth this morning as a man who has
reached the hill of decision. He had bought him a new buggy and
new harness. Hitched to the one and wearing the other was his
favorite roan mare with a Roman nose and a white eye, now dozing at
the stiles in the front yard. He had curried her and had combed
her mane and tail and had had her newly shod, and altogether she
may have felt too comfortable to keep awake. He himself seemed to
have received a coating of the same varnish as his buggy. Had you
pinned a young beetle in the back of his coat or on either leg of
his trousers, as a mere study in shades of blackness, it must have
been lost to view at the distance of a few yards through sheer
harmony with its background. Under his Adam's apple there was a
green tie--the bough to the fruit. His eyes sparkled as though
they had lately been reset and polished by a jeweller.
What now delayed and excited him at this last moment before setting
out was uncertainty as to the offering he should bear Miss Anna.
Fundamental instincts vaguely warned him that love's altar must be
approached with gifts. He knew that some brought fortune, some
warlike deeds, some fame, some the beauty of their strength and
youth. He had none of these to offer; but he was a plain farmer,
and he could give her what he had so often sold her--a pound of
He had awaited the result of the morning churning; but the butter
had tasted of turnips, and Ambrose did not think that the taste of
turnips represented the flavor of his emotion. Nevertheless, there
was one thing that she preferred even to butter; he would ensnare
her in her own weakness, catch her in her own net: he would take
her a jar of cream.
Miss Anna was in her usual high spirits that morning. She was
trying a new recipe for some dinner comfort for Professor Hardage,
when her old cook, who also answered the doorbell, returned to the
kitchen with word that Mr. Webb was in the parlor.
"Why, I paid him for his milk," exclaimed Miss Anna, without
ceasing to beat and stir. "And what is he doing in the parlor?
Why didn't he come around to the side door? I'll be back in a
moment." She took off her apron from an old habit of doing so
whenever she entered the parlor.
She gave her dairyman the customary hearty greeting, hurried back
to get him a glass of water, inquired dispassionately about grass,
inundated him with a bounteous overflow of her impersonal humanity.
But he did not state his business, and she grew impatient to return
to her confection.
"Do I owe you for anything, Mr. Webb?" she suddenly asked, groping
for some clew to this lengthening labyrinthine visit.
He rose and going to the piano raked heavily off of the top of it a
glass jar and brought it over to her and resumed his seat with a
"Cream!" cried Miss Anna, delighted, running her practised eye
downward along the bottle to discover where the contents usually
began to get blue: it was yellow to the bottom. "How much is it?
I'm afraid we are too poor to buy so much cream all at once."
"It has no price; it is above price."
"How much is it, Mr. Webb?" she insisted with impatience.
"It is a free gift."
"Oh, what a beautiful present!" exclaimed Miss Anna, holding it up
to the light admiringly. "How can I ever thank you."
"Don't thank me: you could have the dairy! You could have the
cows, the farm."
"O dear, no!" cried Miss Anna, "that would be altogether too much!
One bottle goes far beyond all that I ever hoped for."
"I wish ail women were like you."
"O dear, no! that would not do at all! I am an old maid, and women
must marry, must, must! What would become of the world?"
"You need not be an old maid unless you wish."
"Now, I had never thought of that!" observed Miss Anna, in a very
peculiar tone. "But we'll not talk about myself; let us talk about
yourself. You are looking extremely well--now aren't you?"
"No one has a better right. It is due you to let you know this.
There's good timber in me yet."
"Due _me_! I am not interested in timber."
"Anna," he said, throwing his arms around one of his knees, "our
hour has come--we need not wait any longer."
"Wait for _what_?" inquired Miss Anna, bending toward him with the
scrutiny of a near-sighted person trying to make out some looming
Miss Anna rose as by an inward explosion.
He kept his seat and stared at her with a dropped jaw. Habit was
powerful in him; and there was something in her anger, in that
complete sweeping of him out other way, that recalled the domestic
usages of former years and brought to his lips an involuntary
"I meant nothing offensive."
"I do not know what you meant, and I do not care: go!"
He rose and stood before her, and with a flash of sincere anger he
spoke his honest mind: "It was you who put the notion in my head.
You encouraged me, encouraged me systematically; and now you are
pretending. You are a bad woman."
"I think I am a bad woman after what has happened to me this
morning," said Miss Anna, dazed and ready to break down.
He hesitated when he reached the door, smarting with his honest
hurt; and he paused there and made a request.
"At least I hope that you will never mention this; it might injure
me." He did not explain how, but he seemed to know.
"Do you suppose I'd tell my Maker if He did not already know it?"
She swept past him into the kitchen.
"As soon as you have done your work, go clean the parlor," she said
to the cook. "Give it a good airing. And throw that cream away,
throw the bottle away."
A few moments later she hurried with her bowl into the pantry;
there she left it unfinished and crept noiselessly up the
backstairs to her room.
That evening as Professor Hardage sat opposite to her, reading,
while she was doing some needlework, he laid his book down with the
idea of asking her some question. But he caught sight of her
expression and studied it a few moments. It was so ludicrous a
commingling of mortification and rage that he laughed outright.
"Why, Anna, what on earth is the matter?"
At the first sound of his voice she burst into hysterical sobs.
He came over and tried to draw her fingers away from her eyes.
"Tell me all about it."
She shook her head frantically.
"Yes, tell me," he urged. "Is there anything in all these years
that you have not told me?"
"I cannot," she sobbed excitedly. "I am disgraced."
He laughed. "What has disgraced you?"
"Good heavens!" he cried, "has somebody been making love to you?"
His face flushed. "Come," he said seriously, "what is the meaning
of this, Anna?"
She told him.
"Why aren't you angry with him?" she complained, drying her eyes.
"You sit there and don't say a word!"
"Do you expect me to be angry with any soul for loving you and
wishing to be loved by you? He cast his mite into the treasury,
"I didn't mind the mite," she replied. "But he said I encouraged
him, that I encouraged him _systematically_."
"Did you expect him to be a philosopher?"
"I did not expect him to be a--" She hesitated at the harsh word.
"I'm afraid you expected him to be a philosopher. Haven't you been
kind to him?"
"Why, of course."
"Why, of course."
"Did you have any motive?"
"You know I had no motive--aren't you ashamed!"
"But did you expect him to be genius enough to understand that?
Did you suppose that he could understand such a thing as kindness
without a motive? Don't be harsh with him, Anna, don't be hard on
him: he is an ordinary man and judged you by the ordinary standard.
You broke your alabaster box at his feet, and he secretly suspected
that you were working for something more valuable than the box of
ointment. The world is full of people who are kind without a
motive; but few of those to whom they are kind believe this."
Before Miss Anna fell asleep that night, she had resolved to tell
Harriet. Every proposal of marriage is known at least to three
people. The distinction in Miss Anna's conduct was not in telling,
but in not telling until she had actually been asked.
Two mornings later Ambrose was again walking through his hall.
There is one compensation for us all in the large miseries of
life--we no longer feel the little ones. His experience in his
suit for Miss Anna's hand already seemed a trifle to Ambrose, who
had grown used to bearing worse things from womankind. Miss Anna
was not the only woman in the world, he averred, by way of swift
indemnification. Indeed, in the very act of deciding upon her, he
had been thinking of some one else. The road of life had divided
equally before him: he had chosen Miss Anna as a traveller chooses
the right fork; the left fork remained and he was now preparing to
follow that: it led to Miss Harriet Crane.
As Ambrose now paced his hallway, revolving certain details
connected with his next venture and adventure, the noise of an
approaching carriage fell upon his ear, and going to the front door
he recognized the brougham of Mrs. Conyers. But it was Miss
Harriet Crane who leaned forward at the window and bowed smilingly
to him as he hurried out.
"How do you do, Mr. Webb?" she said, putting out her hand and
shaking his cordially, at the same time giving him a glance of
new-born interest. "You know I have been threatening to come out
for a long time. I must owe you an enormous bill for pasturage,"
she picked up her purse as she spoke, "and I have come to pay my
debts. And then I wish to see my calf," and she looked into his
eyes very pleasantly.
"You don't owe me anything," replied Ambrose. "What is grass?
What do I care for grass? My mind is set on other things."
He noticed gratefully how gentle and mild she looked; there was
such a beautiful softness about her and he had had hardness enough.
He liked her ringlets: they were a novelty; and there hung around
her, in the interior of the carriage, a perfume that was unusual to
his sense and that impressed him as a reminder of her high social
position. But Ambrose reasoned that if a daughter of his neighbor
could wed a Meredith, surely he ought to be able to marry a Crane.
"If you want to see the calf," he said, but very reluctantly, "I'll
saddle my horse and we'll go over to the back pasture."
"Don't saddle your horse," objected Harriet, opening the carriage
door and moving over to the far cushion, "ride with me."
He had never ridden in a brougham, and as he got in very nervously
and awkwardly, he reversed his figure and tried to sit on the
little front seat on which lay Harriet's handkerchief and parasol.
"Don't ride backwards, Mr. Webb," suggested Harriet. "Unless you
are used to it, you are apt to have a headache," and she tapped the
cushion beside her as an invitation to him. "Now tell me about my
calf," she said after they were seated side by side.
As she introduced this subject, Ambrose suddenly looked out of the
window. She caught sight of his uneasy profile.
"Now, don't tell me that there's any bad hews about it!" she cried.
"It is the only pet I have."
"Miss Harriet," he said, turning his face farther away, "you forget
how long your calf has been out here; it isn't a calf any longer:
it has had a calf."
He spoke so sternly that Harriet, who all her life had winced
before sternness, felt herself in some wise to be blamed. And
coolness was settling down upon them when she desired only a
melting and radiant warmth.
"Well," she objected apologetically, "isn't it customary? What's
the trouble? What's the objection? This is a free country!
Whatever is natural is right! Why are you so displeased?"
About the same hour the next Monday morning Ambrose was again
pacing his hallway and thinking of Harriet. At least she was no
tyrant: the image of her softness rose before him again. "I make
no mistake this time."
His uncertainty at the present moment was concerned solely with the
problem of what his offering should be in this case: under what
image should love present itself? The right thought came to him by
and by; and taking from his storeroom an ornamental basket with a
top to it, he went out to his pigeon house and selected two blue
squabs. They were tender and soft and round; without harshness,
cruelty, or deception. Whatever they seemed to be, that they were;
and all that they were was good.
But as Ambrose walked back to the house, he lifted the top of the
basket and could but admit that they did look bare. Might they
not, as a love token, be--unrefined? He crossed to a flower bed,
and, pulling a few rose-geranium leaves, tucked them here and there
about the youngsters.
It was not his intention to present these to Harriet in person: he
had accompanied the cream--he would follow the birds; they should
precede him twenty-four hours and the amative poison would have a
chance to work.
During that forenoon his shining buggy drawn by his roan mare,
herself symbolic of softness, drew up before the entrance of the
Conyers homestead. Ambrose alighted; he lifted the top of the
basket--all was well.
"These pets are for your Miss Harriet," he said to the maid who
answered his ring.
As the maid took the basket through the hall after having watched
him drive away, incredulous as to her senses, she met Mrs. Conyers,
who had entered the hall from a rear veranda.
"Who rang?" she asked; "and what is that?"
The maid delivered her instructions. Mrs. Conyers took the basket
and looked in.
"Have them broiled for my supper," she said with a little click of
the teeth, and handing the basket to the maid, passed on into her
Harriet had been spending the day away from home. She returned
late. The maid met her at the front door and a few moments of
conversation followed. She hurried into the supper room; Mrs.
Conyers sat alone.
"Mother," exclaimed Harriet with horror, "have you _eaten_ my
Mrs. Conyers stabbed at a little pile of bones on the side plate.
"This is what is left of them," she said, touching a napkin to her
gustatory lips. "There are your leaves," she added, pointing to a
little vase in front of Harriet's plate. "When is he going to send
you some more? But tell him we have geraniums."
The next day Ambrose received a note:
"Dear Mr. Webb: I have been thinking how pleasant my visit to you
was that morning. It has not been possible for me to get the
carriage since or I should have been out to thank you for your
beautiful present. The squabs appealed to me. A man who loves
them must have tender feeling; and that is what all my life I have
been saying: Give me a man with a heart! Sometime when you are in
town, I may meet you on the street somewhere and then I can thank
you more fully than I do now. I shall always cherish the memory of
your kind deed. You must give me the chance to thank you very
soon, or I shall fear that you do not care for my thanks. I take a
walk about eleven o'clock.
Ambrose must have received the note. A few weeks later Miss Anna
one morning received one herself delivered by a boy who had ridden
in from the farm; the boy waited with a large basket while she read:
"Dearest Anna: It is a matter of very little importance to mention
to you of course, but I am married. My husband and I were married
at ------ yesterday afternoon. He met me at an appointed place and
we drove quietly out of town. What I want you to do at once is,
send me some clothes, for I left all the Conyers apparel where it
belonged. Send me something of everything. And as soon as I am
pinned in, I shall invite you out. Of course I shall now give
orders for whatever I desire; and then I shall return to Mrs.
Conyers the things I used on my bridal trip.
"This is a very hurried note, and of course I have not very much to
say as yet about my new life. As for my husband, I can at least
declare with perfect sincerity that he is mine. I have made one
discovery already, Anna: he cannot be bent except where he has
already been broken. I am discovering the broken places and shall
govern him accordingly.
"Do try to marry, Anna! You have no idea how a married woman feels
toward one of her sex who is single.
"I want you to be sure to stand at the windows about five o'clock
this afternoon and see the Conyers' cows all come travelling home:
they graze no more these heavenly pastures. It will be the first
intimation that Mrs. Conyers receives that I am no longer the
unredeemed daughter of her household. Her curiosity will, of
course, bring her out here as fast as the horse can travel. But,
oh, Anna, my day has come at last! At last she shall realize that
I am strong, _strong_! I shall receive her with the front door
locked and talk to her out of the window; and I expect to talk to
her a long, _long_ time. I shall have the flowers moved from the
porch to keep them from freezing during that interview.
"As soon as I am settled, as one has so much more time in the
country than in town, I may, after all, take up that course of
reading: would you object?
"It's a wise saying that every new experience brings some new
trouble: I longed for youth before I married; but to marry after
you are old--that, Anna, is sorrow indeed.
"Your devoted friend,
"HARRIET CRANE WEBB.
"P.S. Don't send any but the _plainest_ things; for I remember,
noble friend, how it pains you to see me _overdressed_."
It was raining steadily and the night was cold. Miss Anna came
hurriedly down into the library soon after supper. She had on an
old waterproof; and in one hand she carried a man's cotton
umbrella--her own--and in the other a pair of rubbers. As she sat
down and drew these over her coarse walking shoes, she talked in
the cheery tone of one who has on hand some congenial business.
"I may get back late and I may not get back at all; it depends upon
how the child is. But I wish it would not rain when poor little
children are sick at night--it is the one thing that gives me the
blues. And I wish infants could speak out and tell their symptoms.
When I see grown people getting well as soon as they can minutely
narrate to you all their ailments, my heart goes out to babies.
Think how they would crow and gurgle, if they could only say what
it is all about. But I don't see why people at large should not be
licensed to bring in a bill when their friends insist upon
describing their maladies to them: doctors do. But I must be
going. Good night."
She rose and stamped her feet into the rubbers to make them fit
securely; and then she came across to the lamp-lit table beside
which he sat watching her fondly--his book dropped the while upon
his lap. He grasped her large strong hand in his large strong
hand; and she leaned her side against his shoulder and put her arm
around his neck.
"You are getting younger, Anna," he said, looking up into her face
and drawing her closer.
"Why not?" she answered with a voice of splendid joy. "Harriet is
married; what troubles have I, then? And she patronizes--or
matronizes--me and tyrannizes over Ambrose: so the world is really
succeeding at last. But I wish her husband had not asked me
_first_; that is her thorn."
"And the thorn will grow!"
"Now, don't sit up late!" she pleaded. "I turned your bed down and
arranged the pillows wrong end out as you will have them; and I put
out your favorite night-shirt--the one with the sleeves torn off
above the elbows and the ravellings hanging down just as you
require. Aren't you tired of books yet? Are you never going to
get tired? And the same books! Why, I get fresh babies every few
years--a complete change."
"How many generations of babies do you suppose there have been
since this immortal infant was born?" he asked, laying his hand
reverently over the book on his lap as if upon the head of a divine
"I don't know and I don't care," she replied. "I wish the immortal
infant would let you alone." She stooped and kissed his brow, and
wrung his hand silently, and went out into the storm. He heard her
close the street door and heard the rusty click of her cotton
umbrella as she raised it. Then he turned to the table at his
elbow and kindled his deep-bowled pipe and drew over his legs the
skirts of his long gown, coarse, austere, sombre.
He looked comfortable. A rainy night may depress a woman nursing a
sick child that is not her own--a child already fighting for its
feeble, unclaimed, repudiated life, in a world of weeping clouds;
but such a night diffuses cheer when the raindrops are heard
tapping the roof above beloved bookshelves, tapping the
window-panes; when there is low music in the gutter on the back
porch; when a student lamp, throwing its shadow over the ceiling
and the walls, reserves its exclusive lustre for lustrous
pages--pages over which men for centuries have gladly burnt out the
oil of their brief lamps, their iron and bronze, their silver and
gold and jewelled lamps--many-colored eyes of the nights of ages.
It was now middle September of another year and Professor Hardage
had entered upon the work of another session. The interval had
left no outward mark on him. The mind stays young a long time when
nourished by a body such as his; and the body stays young a long
time when mastered by such a mind. Day by day faithfully to do
one's work and to be restless for no more; without bitterness to
accept obscurity for ambition; to possess all vital passions and to
govern them; to stand on the world's thoroughfare and see the young
generations hurrying by, and to put into the hands of a youth here
and there a light which will burn long after our own personal taper
is extinguished; to look back upon the years already gone as not
without usefulness and honor, and forward to what may remain as
safe at least from failure or any form of shame, and thus for one's
self to feel the humility of the part before the greatness of the
whole of life, and yet the privileges and duties of the individual
to the race--this brings blessedness if it does not always bring
happiness, and it had brought both to him.
He sat at peace beside his lamp. The interval had brought changes
to his towns-people. As he had walked home this afternoon, he had
paused and looked across at some windows of the second story of a
familiar corner. The green shutters, tightly closed, were gray
with cobweb and with dust. One sagged from a loosened hinge and
flapped in the rising autumn wind, showing inside a window sash
also dust-covered and with a newspaper crammed through a broken
pane. Where did Ravenel Morris live now? Did he live at all?
Accustomed as he was to look through the distances of human
history, to traverse the areas of its religions and see how its
great conflicting faiths have each claimed the unique name of
revelation for itself, he could not anywhere discover what to him
was clear proof either of the separate existence of the soul or of
its immortal life hereafter. The security of that belief was
denied him. He had wished for it, had tried to make it his. But
while it never became a conviction, it remained a force. Under all
that reason could affirm or could deny, there dwelt unaccountable
confidence that the light of human life, leaping from headland to
headland,--the long transmitted radiance of thought,--was not to go
out with the inevitable physical extinction of the species on this
planet. Somewhere in the universe he expected to meet his own, all
whom he had loved, and to see this friend. Meantime, he accepted
the fact of death in the world with that uncomplaining submission
to nature which is in the strength and sanity of genius. As
acquaintances left him, one after another, memory but kindled
another lamp; hope but disclosed another white flower on its
He sat at peace. The walls of the library showed their changes.
There were valuable maps on Caesar's campaigns which had been sent
him from Berlin; there were other maps from Athens; there was
something from the city of Hannibal, and something from Tiber.
Indeed, there were not many places in Isabel's wandering from which
she had not sent home to him some proof that he was remembered.
And always she sent letters which were more than maps or books,
being in themselves charts to the movements of her spirit. They
were regular; they were frank; they assured him how increasingly
she needed his friendship. When she returned, she declared she
would settle down to be near him for the rest of life. Few names
were mentioned in these letters: never Rowan's; never Mrs.
Osborn's--that lifelong friendship having been broken; and in truth
since last March young Mrs. Osborn's eyes had been sealed to the
reading of all letters. But beneath everything else, he could
always trace the presence of one unspoken certainty--that she was
passing through the deeps without herself knowing what height or
what heath her feet would reach at last, there to abide.
As he had walked homeward this afternoon through the dust,
something else had drawn his attention: he was passing the Conyers
homestead, and already lights were beginning to twinkle in the many
windows; there was to be a ball that night, and he thought of the
unconquerable woman ruling within, apparently gaining still in
vitality and youth. "Unjailed malefactors often attain great
ages," he said to himself, as he turned away and thought of the
lives she had helped to blight and shorten.
As the night advanced, he fell under the influence of his book, was
drawn out of his poor house, away from his obscure town, his
unknown college, quitted his country and his age, passing backward
until there fell around him the glorious dawn of the race before
the sunrise of written history: the immortal still trod the earth;
the human soldier could look away from his earthly battle-field and
see, standing on a mountain crest, the figure and the authority of
his Divine Commander. Once more it was the flower-dyed plain,
blood-dyed as well; the ships drawn up by the gray, the wrinkled
sea; over on the other side, well-built Troy; and the crisis of the
long struggle was coming. Hector, of the glancing plume, had come
back to the city for the last time, mindful of his end.
He read once more through the old scene that is never old, and then
put his book aside and sat thoughtful. "_I know not if the gods
will not overthrow me. . . . I have very sore shame if, like a
coward, I shrink away from battle; moreover mine own soul
forbiddeth me. . . . Destiny . . . no man hast escaped, be he
coward or be he valiant, when once he hath been born_."
His eyes had never rested on any spot in human history, however
separated in time and place, where the force of those words did not
seem to reign. Whatsoever the names under which men have conceived
and worshipped their gods or their God, however much they have
believed that it was these or it was He who overthrew them and made
their destinies inescapable, after all, it is the high compulsion
of the soul itself, the final mystery of personal choice, that
sends us forth at last to our struggles and to our peace: "_mine
own soul forbiddeth me_"--there for each is right and wrong, the
eternal beauty of virtue.
He did not notice the sound of approaching wheels, and that the
sound ceased at his door.
A moment later and Isabel with light footsteps stood before him.
He sprang up with a cry and put his arms around her and held her.
"You shall never go away again."
"No, I am never going away again; I have come back to marry Rowan."
These were her first words to him as they sat face to face. And
she quickly went on:
"How is he?"
He shook his head reproachfully at her: "When I saw him at least he
seemed better than you seem."
"I knew he was not well--I have known it for a long time. But you
saw him--in town--on the street--with his friends--attending to
"Yes--in town--on the street--with his friends--attending to
"May I stay here? I ordered my luggage to be sent here."
"Your room is ready and has always been ready and waiting since the
day you left. I think Anna has been putting fresh flowers in it
all autumn. You will find some there to-night. She has insisted
of late that you would soon be coming home."
An hour later she came down into the library again. She had
removed the traces of travel, and she had travelled slowly and was
not tired. All this enabled him to see how changed she was; and
without looking older, how strangely oldened and grown how quiet of
spirit. She had now indeed become sister for him to those images
of beauty that were always haunting him--those far, dim images of
the girlhood of her sex, with their faces turned away from the sun
and their eyes looking downward, pensive in shadow, too freighted
with thoughts of their brief fate and their immortality.
"I must have a long talk with you before I try to sleep. I must
empty my heart to you once."
He knew that she needed the relief, and that what she asked of him
during these hours would be silence.
"I have tried everything, and everything has failed. I have tried
absence, but absence has not separated me from him. I have tried
silence, but through the silence I have never ceased speaking to
him. Nothing has really ever separated us; nothing ever can. It
is more than will or purpose, it is my life. It is more than life
to me, it is love."
She spoke very quietly, and at first she seemed unable to progress
very far from the beginning. After every start, she soon came back
to that one beginning.
"It is of no use to weigh the right and the wrong of it: I tried
that at first, and I suppose that is why I made sad mistakes. You
must not think that I am acting now from a sense of duty to him or
to myself. Duty does not enter into my feeling: it is love; all
that I am forbids me to do anything else."
But after a while she went back and bared before him in a way the
history of her heart. "The morning after he told me, I went to
church. I remember the lessons of the day and the hymns, and how I
left the church before the sermon, because everything seemed to be
on his side, and no one was on mine. He had done wrong and was
guilty; and I had been wrong and was innocent; and the church
comforted him and overlooked me; and I was angry and walked out of
"And do you remember the day I came to see you and you proposed
everything to me, and I rejected everything? You told me to go
away for a while, to throw myself into the pleasures of other
people; you reminded me of prayer and of the duty of forgiveness;
you told me to try to put myself in his place, and reminded me of
self-sacrifice, and then said at last that I must leave it to time,
which sooner or later settles everything. I rejected everything
that you suggested. But I have accepted everything since, and have
learned a lesson and a service from each: the meaning of prayer and
of forgiveness and of self-sacrifice; and what the lapse of time
can do to bring us to ourselves and show us what we wish. I say, I
have lived through all these, and I have gotten something out of
them all; but however much they may mean, they never constitute
love; and it is my love that brings me back to him now."
Later on she recurred to the idea of self-sacrifice: much other
deepest feeling seemed to gather about that.
"I am afraid that you do not realize what it means to a woman when
a principle like this is involved. Can any man ever know? Does he
dream what it means to us women to sacrifice ourselves as they
often require us to do? I have been travelling in old lands--so
old that the history of each goes back until we can follow it with
our eyes no longer. But as far as we can see, we see this
sorrow--the sorrow of women who have wished to be first in the love
of the men they have loved. You, who read everything! Cannot you
see them standing all through history, the sad figures of girls who
have only asked for what they gave, love in its purity and its
singleness--have only asked that there should have been no other
before them? And cannot you see what a girl feels when she
consents to accept anything less,--that she is lowered to herself
from that time on,--has lost her own ideal of herself, as well as
her ideal of the man she loves? And cannot you see how she lowers
herself in his eyes also and ceases to be his ideal, through her
willingness to live with him on a lower plane? That is our wound.
That is our trouble and our sorrow: I have found it wherever I have
Long before she said this to him, she had questioned him closely
about Rowan. He withheld from her knowledge of some things which
he thought she could better bear to learn later and by degrees.
"I knew he was not well," she said; "I feared it might be worse.
Let me tell you this: no one knows him as I do. I must speak
plainly. First, there was his trouble; that shadowed for
him one ideal in his life. Then this drove him to a kind of
self-concealment; and that wounded another ideal--his love of
candor. Then he asked me to marry him, and he told me the truth
about himself and I turned him off. Then came the scandals that
tried to take away his good name, and I suppose have taken it away.
And then, through all this, were the sufferings he was causing
others around him, and the loss of his mother. I have lived
through all these things with him while I have been away, and I
understand; they sap life. I am going up to write to him now,
and will you post the letter to-night? I wish him to come to
see me at once, and our marriage must take place as soon as
Rowan came the next afternoon. She was in the library; and he
went in and shut the door, and they were left alone.
Professor Hardage and Miss Anna sat in an upper room. He had no
book and she had no work; they were thinking only of the two
downstairs. And they spoke to each other in undertones, breaking
the silence with brief sentences, as persons speak when awaiting
news from sick-rooms.
Daylight faded. Outside the lamplighter passed, torching the grimy
lamps. Miss Anna spoke almost in a whisper: "Shall I have some
light sent in?"
"Did you tell him what the doctors have said about his health?"
"No; there was bad news enough without that for one day. And then
happiness might bring back health to him. The trouble that
threatens him will have to be put down as one of the consequences
of all that has occurred to him--as part of what he is and of what
he has done. The origin of disease may lie in our troubles--our
nervous shocks, our remorses, and better strivings."
The supper hour came.
"I do not wish any supper, Anna."
"Nor I. How long they stay together!"
"They have a great deal to say to each other, Anna."
"I know, I know. Poor children!"
"I believe he is only twenty-five."
"When Isabel comes up, do you think I ought to go to her room and
see whether she wants anything?"
"And she must not know that we have been sitting up, as though we
felt sorry for them and could not go on with our own work."
"I met Marguerite and Barbee this afternoon walking together. I
suppose she will come back to him at last. But she has had her
storm, and he knows it, and he knows there will never be any storm
for him. She is another one of those girls of mine--not sad, but
with half the sun shining on them. But half a sun shining
steadily, as it will always shine on her, is a great deal."
"Hush!" said Miss Anna, in a whisper, "he is gone! Isabel is
coming up the steps."
They heard her and then they did not hear her, and then again and
then not again.
Miss Anna started up:
"She needs me!"
He held her back:
"No, Anna! Not to help is to help."
One afternoon late in the autumn of the following year, when a
waiting stillness lay on the land and shimmering sunlight opened up
the lonely spaces of woods and fields, the Reaper who comes to all
men and reaps what they have sown, approached the home of the
Merediths and announced his arrival to the young master of the
house: he would await his pleasure.
Rowan had been sitting up, propped by his pillows. It was the room
of his grandfather as it had been that of the man preceding; the
bed had been their bed; and the first to place it where it stood
may have had in mind a large window, through which as he woke from
his nightly sleep he might look far out upon the land, upon rolling
Rowan looked out now: past the evergreens just outside to the
shining lawn beyond; and farther away, upon fields of brown
shocks--guiltless harvest; then toward a pasture on the horizon.
He could see his cattle winding slowly along the edge of a russet
woodland on which the slanting sunlight fell. Against the blue sky
in the silvery air a few crows were flying: all went in the same
direction but each went without companions. He watched their wings
curiously with lonely, following eyes. Whither home passed they?
And by whose summons? And with what guidance?
A deep yearning stirred him, and he summoned his wife and the nurse
with his infant son. He greeted her; then raising himself on one
elbow and leaning over the edge of the bed, he looked a long time
at the boy slumbering on the nurse's lap.
The lesson of his brief span of years gathered into his gaze.
"Life of my life," he said, with that lesson on his lips, "sign of
my love, of what was best in me, this is my prayer for you: may you
find one to love you such as your father found; when you come to
ask her to unite her life with yours, may you be prepared to tell
her the truth about yourself, and have nothing to tell that would
break her heart and break the hearts of others. May it be said of
you that you are a better man than your father."
He had the child lifted and he kissed his forehead and his eyes.
"By the purity of your own life guard the purity of your sons for
the long honor of our manhood." Then he made a sign that the nurse
When she had withdrawn, he put his face down on the edge of the
pillow where his wife knelt, her face hidden. His hair fell over
and mingled with her hair. He passed his arm around her neck and
held her close.
"All your troubles came to you because you were true to the
highest. You asked only the highest from me, and the highest was
more than I could give. But be kind to my memory. Try to forget
what is best forgotten, but remember what is worth remembering.
Judge me for what I was; but judge me also for what I wished to be.
Teach my son to honor my name; and when he is old enough to
understand, tell him the truth about his father. Tell him what it
was that saddened our lives. As he looks into his mother's face,
it will steady him."
He put both arms around her neck.
"I am tired of it all," he said. "I want rest. Love has been more
cruel to me than death."
A few days later, an afternoon of the same autumnal stillness, they
bore him across his threshold with that gentleness which so often
comes too late--slowly through his many-colored woods, some leaves
drifting down upon the sable plumes and lodging in them---along the
turnpike lined with dusty thistles--through the watching town, a
long procession, to the place of the unreturning.
They laid him along with his fathers.