a steady wind all the way to the horizon.
“Changed so many things?” he said, half aloud. “Everything!” Ah, yes, she had changed the whole world for Joseph Louden–at his first sight of her! And now it seemed to him that he was to lose her, but not in the way he had thought.
Almost from the very first, he had the feeling that nothing so beautiful as that she should stay in Canaan could happen to him. He was sure that she was but for the little while, that her coming was like the flying petals of which he had told her.
He had lain upon the earth; and she had lifted him up. For a moment he had felt the beatific wings enfolding him with gentle protection, and then saw them lifted to bear the angel beyond his sight. For it was incredible that the gods so loved Joe Louden that they would make greater gifts to him than this little time with her which they had granted him.
“Changed so many things?”
The bars that had been between him and half of his world were down, shattered, never more to be replaced; and the ban of Canaan was lifted. Could this have been, save for her? And upon that thought he got to his feet, uttering an exclamation of bitter self-reproach, asking himself angrily what he was doing. He knew how much she gave him, what full measure of her affection! Was not that enough?–Out upon you, Louden! Are you to sulk in your tent, dour in the gloom, or to play a man’s part, and if she be happy, turn a cheery face upon her joy?
And thus this pilgrim recrossed the bridge, emerging to the street with his head up, smiling, and his shoulders thrown back so that none might see the burden he carried.
Ariel was waiting on the porch for him. She wore the same dress she had worn that Sunday of their tryst; that exquisite dress, with the faint lavender overtint, like the tender colors of the beautiful day he made his own. She had not worn it since, and he was far distant when he caught the first flickering glimpse of her through the lower branches of the maples, but he remembered. . . . And again, as on that day, he heard a far-away, ineffable music, the Elf-land horns, sounding the mysterious reveille which had wakened his soul to her coming.
She came to the gate to meet him, and gave him her hand in greeting, without a word–or the need of one–from either. Then together they set forth over the sun-flecked pavement, the maples swishing above them, heavier branches crooning in the strong breeze, under a sky like a Della Robbia background. And up against the glorious blue of it, some laughing, invisible god was blowing small, rounded clouds of pure cotton, as children blow thistledown.
When he opened her parasol, as they came out into the broad sunshine beyond Upper Main Street, there was the faintest mingling of wild roses and cinnamon loosed on the air.
“Joe,” she said, “I’m very happy!”
“That’s right,” he returned, heartily. “I think you always will be.”
“But, oh! I wish,” she went on, “that Mr. Arp could have lived to see you come down the Court- house steps.”
“God bless him!” said Joe. “I can hear the `argument’!”
“Those dear old men have been so loyal to you, Joe.”
“No,” he returned; “loyal to Eskew.”
“To you both,” she said. “I’m afraid the old circle is broken up; they haven’t met on the National House corner since he died. The Colonel told me he couldn’t bear to go there again.”
“I don’t believe any of them ever will,” he returned. “And yet I never pass the place that I don’t see Eskew in his old chair. I went there last night to commune with him. I couldn’t sleep, and I got up, and went over there; they’d left the chairs out; the town was asleep, and it was beautiful moonlight–“
“To commune with him? What about?”
“Why?” she asked, plainly mystified.
“I stood in need of good counsel,” he answered, cheerfully, “or a friendly word, perhaps, and–as I sat there–after a while it came.”
“What was it?”
“To forget that I was sodden with selfishness; to pretend not to be as full of meanness as I really was! Doesn’t that seem to be Eskew’s own voice?”
“Weren’t you happy last night, Joe?”
“Oh, it was all right,” he said, quickly. “Don’t you worry.”
And at this old speech of his she broke into a little laugh of which he had no comprehension.
“Mamie came to see me early this morning,” she said, after they had walked on in silence for a time. “Everything is all right with her again; that is, I think it will be. Eugene is coming home. And,” she added, thoughtfully, “it will be best for him to have his old place on the Tocsin again. She showed me his letter, and I liked it. I think he’s been through the fire–“
Joe’s distorted smile appeared. “And has come out gold?” he asked.
“No,” she laughed; “but nearer it! And I think he’ll try to be more worth her caring for. She has always thought that his leaving the Tocsin in the way he did was heroic. That was her word for it. And it WAS the finest thing he ever did.”
“I can’t figure Eugene out.” Joe shook his head. “There’s something behind his going away that I don’t understand.” This was altogether the truth; nor was there ever to come a time when either he or Mamie would understand what things had determined the departure of Eugene Bantry; though Mamie never questioned, as Joe did, the reasons for it, or doubted those Eugene had given her, which were the same he had given her father. For she was content with his return.
Again the bells across the Square rang out their chime. The paths were decorously enlivened with family and neighborhood groups, bound churchward; and the rumble of the organ, playing the people into their pews, shook on the air. And Joe knew that he must speak quickly, if he was to say what he had planned to say, before he and Ariel went into the church.
“Ariel?” He tried to compel his voice to a casual cheerfulness, but it would do nothing for him, except betray a desperate embarrassment.
She looked at him quickly, and as quickly away.
“I wanted to say something to you, and I’d better do it now, I think–before I go to church for the first time in two years!” He managed to laugh, though with some ruefulness, and continued stammeringly: “I want to tell you how much I like him–how much I admire him–“
“Admire whom?” she asked, a little coldly, for she knew.
“So do I,” she answered, looking straight ahead. “That is one reason why I wanted you to come with me to-day.”
“It isn’t only that. I want to tell you–to tell you–” He broke off for a second. “You
remember that night in my office before Fear came in?”
“Yes; I remember.”
“And that I–that something I said troubled you because it–it sounded as if I cared too much for you–“
“No; not too much.” She still looked straight ahead. They were walking very slowly. “You didn’t understand. You’d been in my mind, you see, all those years, so much more than I in yours. I hadn’t forgotten YOU. But to you I was really a stranger–“
“No, no!” he cried.
“Yes, I was,” she said, gently but very quickly. “And I–I didn’t want you to fall in love with me at first sight. And yet–perhaps I did! But I hadn’t thought of things in that way. I had just the same feeling for you that I always had– always! I had never cared so much for any one else, and it seemed to me the most necessary thing in my life to come back to that old companionship– Don’t you remember–it used to trouble you so when I would take your hand? I think I loved your being a little rough with me. And once, when I saw how you had been hurt, that day you ran away–“
“Ariel!” he gasped, helplessly.
“Have you forgotten?”
He gathered himself together with all his will. “I want to prove to you,” he said, resolutely, “that the dear kindness of you isn’t thrown away on me; I want you to know what I began to say: that it’s all right with me; and I think Ladew–” He stopped again. “Ah! I’ve seen how much he cares for you–“
“Ariel,” he said, “that isn’t fair to me, if you trust me. You could not have helped seeing–“
“But I have not seen it,” she interrupted, with great calmness. After having said this, she finished truthfully: “If he did, I would never let him tell me. I like him too much.”
“You mean you’re not going to–“
Suddenly she turned to him. “NO!” she said, with a depth of anger he had not heard in her voice since that long-ago winter day when she struck Eugene Bantry with her clenched fist. She swept over him a blinding look of reproach. “How could I?”
And there, upon the steps of the church, in the sudden, dazzling vision of her love, fell the burden of him who had made his sorrowful pilgrimage across Main Street bridge that morning.
A manifold rustling followed them as they went down the aisle, and the sibilance of many whisperings; but Joe was not conscious of that, as he took his place in Ariel’s pew beside her. For him there was only the presence of divinity; the church was filled with it.
They rose to sing:
“Ancient of days, Who sittest, throned in glory, To Thee all knees are bent, all voices pray; Thy love has blest the wide world’s wondrous story With light and life since Eden’s dawning day.”
And then, as they knelt to pray, there were the white heads of the three old friends of Eskew Arp; and beyond was the silver hair of Martin Pike, who knelt beside his daughter. Joe felt that people should be very kind to the Judge.
The sun, so eager without, came temperately through the windows, where stood angels and saints in gentle colors, and the face of the young minister in this quiet light was like the faces in the windows. . . .
“Not only to confront your enemies,” he said; “that is not enough; nor is it that I would have you bluster at them, nor take arms against them; you will not have to do that if, when they come at you, you do not turn one inch aside, but with an assured heart, with good nature, not noisily, and with steadfastness, you keep on your way. If you can do that, I say that they will turn aside for you, and you shall walk straight through them, and only laughter be left of their anger!”
There was a stir among the people, and many faces turned toward Joe. Two years ago he had sat in the same church, when his character and actions had furnished the underlying theme of a sermon, and he had recognized himself without difficulty: to-day he had not the shadow of a dream that the same thing was happening. He thought the people were turning to look at Ariel, and he was very far from wondering at that.
She saw that he did not understand; she was glad to have it so. She had taken off her gloves, and he was holding them lightly and reverently in his hands, looking down upon them, his thin cheeks a little flushed. And at that, and not knowing the glory that was in his soul, something forlorn in his careful tenderness toward her gloves so touched her that she felt the tears coming to her eyes with a sudden rush. And to prevent them.
“Not the empty gloves, Joe,” she whispered.