This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Writer:
Language:
Form:
Genre:
Published:
  • 1899
Collection:
Tags:
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Maurice laughed lightly and glanced at his friend. Ashe did not smile, but he bowed as if in resignation to the command of a leader.

“You are to go to Mrs. Frostwinch’s this very afternoon,” Mrs. Wilson declared. “It won’t do to lose any time. If once her votes get pledged to the other party, there’s an end to that. That’s your work. Now you,” she continued, turning to Wynne, “are to go to Springfield and the western part of the State.”

“The western part of the State?” Maurice ejaculated in astonishment. “Do you work there too?”

“Of course we have to cover the whole diocese,” she returned vivaciously. “Did you suppose we left everything but Boston to the enemy?”

He could only reply by a stare. He had never in his life encountered anything like this woman, and he was bewildered by her audacity, her alertness, her beauty, and the dash with which she carried everything off.

“You will go to-morrow,” she went on, “and I will send you the list of the men you have to see. I’m sorry not to go over it with you, but I have an engagement this morning, and I shall be late now. You are staying with Mrs. Staggchase, aren’t you?”

“Yes; she is my cousin.”

“So much the better for you. It’s a liberal education to have a cousin as clever as that. Good-by. Thank you both for coming.”

She rang as she spoke, and handed the young men over to the maid who appeared; the maid in turn handed them over to the footman, and by him they were seen safely out of the house. As they turned away from the door, Ashe sighed deeply, while Wynne was smiling to himself.

“What a–a–what a woman!” Philip said fervently. “She’s amazing!”

“Oh, yes,” his friend laughed; “but what do you or I know about women anyway?”

VI

HEART-BURNING HEAT OF DUTY
Love’s Labour’s Lost, i. 1.

As Philip Ashe, his eyes cast down in earnest thought, approached Mrs. Frostwinch’s gate that afternoon, he looked up suddenly to find himself face to face with Mrs. Fenton. She was dressed in dark, heavy cloth, set down the waist with small antique buckles of dark silver; and seemed to him the perfection of elegance and beauty.

“Good morning, Mr. Ashe,” she greeted him, smiling. “I did not expect to find you coming to hear Mrs. Crapps.”

“To hear Mrs. Crapps?” he echoed. “Who is Mrs. Crapps?”

Mrs. Fenton turned back as she was entering the iron gate which between stately stone posts shut off the domain of the Frostwinches from the world, and marked with dignity the line between the dwellers on Mt. Vernon Street and the rest of the world.

“Do you mean,” asked she, “that you didn’t know that Mrs. Crapps, the mind-cure woman, is to lecture here this afternoon?”

Ashe drew back.

“I certainly did not know it,” he answered. “I was coming to speak to Mrs. Frostwinch about the election.”

“It’s the last of three lectures,” Mrs. Fenton explained. “Mrs. Crapps, you know, is the woman that has been curing Mrs. Frostwinch.”

Ashe stood hesitatingly silent in the gateway a moment.

“I should like to see her,” he said thoughtfully. “Not from mere curiosity, but because I cannot understand what gives these persons a hold over intelligent men and women.”

“The thing that gives her a hold over Mrs. Frostwinch is that she has raised her up from a bed of sickness. Come in with me, and see her. I should like to see how she strikes you. You can speak to Mrs. Frostwinch after the lecture.”

He hesitated a moment, and then followed her, saying to himself with suspicious emphasis that the fact that the invitation came from her had nothing to do with his acceptance. He soon found himself seated in the great dusky drawing-room of the Frostwinch house, an apartment whose very walls were incrusted with conservative traditions. It was furnished with richness, but both with much greater simplicity and greater stiffness than he had seen in any of the houses he had thus far been in. The chief decoration, one felt, was the air of the place’s having been inhabited by generations of socially immaculate Boston ancestors. There was a savor of lineage amounting almost to godliness in the dark, self-contained parlors; and if pedigree were not in this dwelling imputed for righteousness, it was evidently held in becoming reverence as the first of virtues. There are certain houses where the atmosphere is so completely impregnated with the idea of the departed as to give a certain effect as a spiritual morgue; and in the drawing- room of Mrs. Frostwinch there was a good deal of this flavor of defunct, but by no means departed, merit. Grim portraits stared coldly from the walls, Copleys that would have looked upon a Stuart as parvenu; the Frostwinch and Canton arms hung over the ends of the mantel; while the very furniture seemed to condescend to visitors. Ashe could not have told why the place affected him as overpowering, but he none the less was conscious of the feeling. The company was apparently nearly all assembled when he came in, and he sank down into a chair in a corner, glad to escape observation.

The speaker of the afternoon was already in her place when he entered, and he examined her with curiosity. She was a woman who might have been forty years of age, with a hard, eager, alert face; her forehead was narrow, her lips thin and straight, her nostrils cut too high. Her eyes were bold and sharp, dominating her face, and fixing upon the hearers the look of a bird of prey. Mrs. Crapps’s hair was tinged with gray, and in her whole appearance there was a sharpness which seemed to speak of one who had battled with the world. Ashe was struck by the personality of the woman, yet strongly repelled. She was evidently a creature of abundant vitality, and exultantly dominant of will. The bold, black eyes sparkled with determination, and he could at once understand that Mrs. Crapps was one to establish easily an influence over any nature naturally weak or debilitated by disease.

Ashe listened with curiosity to the opening of the address. The voice of the speaker had much of the vivacity of her glance. She spoke with an air of candor and frankness, and yet Philip found himself distrusting her from the outset. He said to himself that it was because he was prejudiced, that he doubted; but he yet felt that her manner would in any case have begotten repulsion. She had that air of insistence, of determination to be believed, which belongs to the speaker who is absorbed rather in the desire to prevail than in the wish to be true. He felt that her air of conviction was no proof of her conception of the truth of what she was saying; she protested too much. He was at first so absorbed in watching the woman that he paid little heed to her theories; but he soon began to flush with indignation. This woman, with her bold air and masculine dominance, sat there talking of herself as a present incarnation of Christ; of Christ as the incarnation of the human will; of disease as a sin; and of death as a mere figment of the imagination. The paganism of the Persian as he had heard it at Mrs. Gore’s seemed to him less offensive than this. He moved uneasily in his seat, his cheeks flushing, and his lips pressed together. Presently he felt the glance of Mrs. Fenton, who sat near him, and looking up he encountered her eyes. She seemed to him to show sympathy with his feeling, but to remind him that this was not the time or place for protest. He regained instantly his self-control, and perhaps from that time on thought less of Mrs. Crapps than of his neighbor.

The talk of Mrs. Crapps was commonplace enough, and hackneyed enough, could Ashe but have known it. There was the usual patter about spiritual and physical freedom, about faith and perfection, “the Deific principle as a rule of health,” a jumble of things medical and things physical, things profane and things holy mingled in a strange and unintelligible jargon. By the time that the eager-eyed speaker had talked for an hour Ashe felt his mind to be in confusion, and he could not but feel that not a few of the hearers must be in a state of utter mental bewilderment if the address had impressed at all.

“The end of the whole matter is,” Mrs. Crapps said in closing, “that mankind has for ages submitted to this cruel superstition of death. We have bowed ourselves beneath the wheels of this Juggernaut; we have sent to the dark tomb our best loved friends; we crouch and cower in awful fear of the time when we shall follow. We hear ever thrilling in our ears the quivering minor chord of human woe, voice of the burning heart-pain of the race, launched rudderless upon a troubled sea of woe, and undrowned even by the throbbing march-beats of the progression of man down the vista of the ages. And yet there is no death. This fear is only the terror of children frightened by ghosts of their own invention. What we dread has no existence save in the fevered and fancy-fed fear of blinded men. O my hearers, why can we not seize upon the hem of this truth which the Messiah came to teach! Death is but sin; and sin has been removed by atonement; the holiness of the soul is immortal. There is, there can be no death! Receive the glad tidings, and cry it aloud! There is no death! Let all the earth hear, until there is none so base, so low, so poor, so ignorant, so sinful that he shall not be immortal. It is his birthright, for we are all born to eternal life.”

The voice of Mrs. Crapps took on a more persuasive inflection as she delivered this peroration; and it was easy to see that she had affected the nerves if not the minds of her audience. There was a deep hush as she concluded. She lifted for a moment her sharp black eyes toward heaven, and then dropped her glance to earth, as if overcome by feeling, or as if with awe she had caught sight of sacred mysteries which it was not lawful to look upon. In a moment more she raised her eyes, and invited any of her hearers to question her about anything connected with the subject which troubled them. For a breathing time there was silence, and then a lady asked with a puzzled air:–

“But do you Christian Scientists deny”–

“I beg your pardon,” Mrs. Crapps interrupted, leaning forward with a deprecatory smile, “but I am not a Christian Scientist.”

“I mean do you Faith Healers”–

“That is not our title,” Mrs. Crapps said with gentle insistence.

“Are you called Mind Curers, then?”

“No,” the priestess responded, with an air lofty yet condescending; “with those forms of error we have no dealing or sympathy. It is true that those who teach faith-healing, mind-cure, or any sort of religious rejuvenance, have in part taken our high tenets; but they have in each case obscured them by errors and follies of their own. We are the Christian Faith Healed,–not healers, you will observe, because we believe that all mankind are really healed, and that all that is needed is that they recognize and acknowledge this precious truth.”

The ladies present looked at one another in some confusion, and Ashe caught in the eyes of Mrs. Staggchase, who sat half facing him, a gleam of amusement. This emboldened him to repeat the question which had been abandoned by its first asker, who had evidently been overwhelmed by the delicacy of the distinction of sects made by Mrs. Crapps.

“Do you then,” he asked, “deny the existence of death?”

“Utterly,” the seeress returned, bending upon him a bold look as if to challenge him to differ from what she asserted. “It is as amazing as it is melancholy that mankind should have submitted to the indignity of death so long.”

“How can they submit to that which does not exist?”

“It exists in seeming, but not in reality.”

A murmur ran through the company, and Philip met the eyes of Mrs. Fenton, who shook her head slightly, as who would say that discussion was futile.

“But–but how”–one hearer began falteringly, and then stopped, evidently too overwhelmed by the astounding nature of the proposition laid down to be able even to frame a question.

“Indeed,” Mrs. Crapps said, taking up the word, “we may well ask how. It transcends the incredible that the monstrous delusion of death should ever have been entertained for an instant. The explanation lies in sin. Death is but the projection of a sin-burdened conscience upon the mists of the unknown. Thank God that it has been given to our generation to tear away the veil from this falsehood, and to recognize the absolute unreality of the phantom which the ignorance and superstition of guilty humanity have conjured up.” The smooth, deliberate voice of Mrs. Staggchase broke the silence which this declaration produced.

“It is then your idea that death comes entirely from the belief of mankind?”

“What we call death undoubtedly has that origin,” Mrs. Crapps answered.

“How then could so extraordinary a delusion have had a beginning?”

A faint shade crossed the face of the seeress, but it merged instantly into a smile of patient superiority.

“That is the question unbelief always asks,” she said. “It seems so difficult to answer, and yet it is really so simple. The idea of death of course arose from a distorted projection of the condition of sleep upon the diseased imagination. With sin came the bewilderment of human reason, and the delusion followed as an inevitable morbid growth.”

“Then the earlier generations of mankind were immortal?”

“Undoubtedly. We have traces of the fact in all the old mythologies.”

“But what became of them?”

“Once the idea of death had entered the world,” Mrs. Crapps said impressively, “it spread like the plague until it had infected all mankind. Even those who had lived for ages to prove it false were not able to resist the prevalence of the thing they knew to be untrue,–any more,” she added, dropping her eyes, and speaking in a tone sad and patient, “than we who to-day understand that there is no such thing as death can resist the overwhelming power of the belief of the masses of the race. The might of the will of the majority, directed by an appalling delusion, compels us to submit to that which we yet know to be an unreality.”

Again there was a hush. The woman was appealing to the most fundamental facts of human experience and the most poignant emotions of human life, and boldly denying or confounding both. It seemed to Ashe that the only possible answer to such talk was an accusation either of madness or blasphemy. The silence was once more broken by Mrs. Staggchase.

“But if there is no such thing as death,” she observed, with the faintest touch of irony perceptible in her well-bred voice, “of course you do not really die; and since you do not share the general delusion in thinking yourselves to be dead, it would seem to follow that although you may be dead for the world in general, you are still immortal for yourselves and each other.”

The black eyes of Mrs. Crapps sparkled, but she controlled herself, and shook her head with an air of gentle remonstrance.

“It proves how strong is the hold upon mankind of this delusion,” she said, “that what I tell you appears incredible. The truth is always incredible, because the blind eyes of humanity can see only half-truths except by great effort. I have tried to enlighten you, and I can do no more. It is for you and not for myself that I speak.”

She rose from her chair, which seemed to be the signal for the breaking up of the assembly, and that her cleverness in securing the last word was not without its effect was apparent by the murmurs of the company. In another moment, however, Ashe heard as at Mrs. Gore’s the exchange of greetings and bits of news, the making of appointments for shopping or theatre-going, and all the trivial chat of daily life. He stood aside until the crowd should thin, and in the mean time had the felicity of being near Mrs. Fenton. He began to feel himself almost overcome by the delight of being so near her, of meeting her clear glance, frank and sympathetic, of hearing her voice, of noting the ripples of her hair, the curve of nostril and neck. He was like a boy in the first budding of passion before reason has softened the extravagance of his feeling. The talk of the afternoon, his indignation at the words of Mrs. Crapps, his feeling that he had been assisting at a sacrament of impiety, were all forgotten as he stood talking to his neighbor.

“Come,” she said at length, “I must speak to Mrs. Frostwinch before I go.”

He bent forward to remove a chair which was in her way, and her gloved hand brushed against his. He covered the spot with his other hand as if he would preserve the precious touch.

“I found Mr. Ashe at the door,” Mrs. Fenton said to the hostess, “and I would not let him turn back. I was too much interested in his errand.”

“I am sorry if he needed urging to come in,” Mrs. Frostwinch responded with graceful courtesy; “but what was the errand?”

“Mrs. Wilson asked me to see you in relation to the election,” Ashe answered.

“Elsie is having a beautiful time managing this election,” commented Mrs. Frostwinch. “She hasn’t been so amused for a long time. She thinks Father Frontford is a puppet in her hands, while he knows that she is one in his.”

“I hope,” Mrs. Fenton put in, “that you may be able to help Mr. Ashe. I can answer for it that he is not making the matter one of amusement.”

Ashe could not help flushing. He thanked her with a glance, and turned again to Mrs. Frostwinch.

“I do not know or like the electioneering of such affairs,” he said gravely; “but since there is a strong effort being made on the other side it certainly seems necessary to do whatever can be done fairly.”

A few last visitors who had been chatting among themselves now came forward to say good-by. Mrs. Fenton also took leave, and Ashe found himself alone with his hostess and Mrs. Crapps.

“Mrs. Crapps, Mr. Ashe,” Mrs. Frostwinch said.

It seemed to him that there was in the manner of Mrs. Frostwinch something of condescension, as if the Faith Healed was a sort of upper servant. He had himself not outlived the ingenuous period wherein a youth feels that the preservation of truth in the world depends upon his not covering his impressions, and he was accordingly extremely cold in his manner.

“Ah, a new disciple to our faith, I trust,” Mrs. Crapps said, fixing upon him her keen, bold eyes.

“I have never even heard of your doctrine until to-day,” he answered.

“But surely it must strike you at once,” she responded, with a manner evidently meant to be insinuating.

He hesitated. He remembered that he had been expressly warned not to say anything against the vagaries with which Mrs. Frostwinch was concerned; but his conscience would not allow him to evade this direct challenge.

“It struck me as being blasphemous,” he responded with unnecessary fervor.

Mrs. Crapps raised her eyes to the ceiling, and uttered a theatrical sigh.

“Oh, sacred truth!” she exclaimed.

“Come, Mrs. Crapps,” Mrs. Frostwinch interposed almost sharply, “you know that Mr. Ashe is right. It is blasphemous, and I feel as if I’d allowed my house to be used for a sacrifice to false gods. If you will excuse us, I wish to speak with Mr. Ashe on business. Will you kindly come to the library, Mr. Ashe.”

As he followed, Philip caught sight in a mirror of the face of Mrs. Crapps. It wore a singular smile, but whether of anger or contempt he could not tell.

“I dare say, Mr. Ashe,” Mrs. Frostwinch remarked, as soon as they were seated in the library, “that it seems strange to you that I have that woman speak in my parlors. Of course I don’t mean to apologize, but I am sorry that you should hear things that shocked you.”

“Dear madam,” he answered, leaning forward in his eagerness, “what I heard does not matter; but it does seem to me a pity that such things should be said, and said under your protection.”

He was too much in earnest to be self-conscious, even when she regarded him in silence a moment before replying.

“You are perhaps right,” she said at length, “although you exaggerate the influence of such things.”

“I do not pretend to know whether they are influential or not,” he returned simply. “It is only that they do not seem to me to be right. If they are wrong, they are wrong.”

She smiled and sighed.

“Life is not so simple as that,” was her reply. “The woman has saved my life. I should have been in my grave months ago but for her. My physician insists now that I haven’t any real right to be out of it. I cannot refuse to allow her to say the thing that she believes, since that thing has a certain proof in my very life.”

Philip shook his head.

“It is not for me to judge,” said he, “but the way in which all sorts of heresies and strange doctrines are taught and played with in Boston seems to me monstrous. The persons of influence who lend their names and aid”–

He broke off suddenly, recalled by the half-smile in her eyes to the fact that he was condemning her.

“There is much in what you say,” Mrs. Frostwinch assented. “I suppose that the difficulty is that we have ceased to recognize any authority in matters of belief.”

“But the church!”

“Yes, there is the church,” she said doubtfully, “but to many it has ceased to be an authority, and modern thought allows so much individual freedom. Our church has never claimed to be infallible like the Catholic; and individual freedom of conscience has come pretty generally to mean freedom from conscience.”

“Then it is a pity that the authority which is exercised in the Roman church is not exercised in ours.”

“Ah, Mr. Ashe, you reckon without the spirit of the age in which we live. But tell me what I can do for you in the matter of the election.”

Mrs. Frostwinch was a devout churchwoman in her way, although she was now in appearance following after strange gods. She readily promised her aid in favor of Father Frontford.

“I agree with you, Mr. Ashe,” she said, “that everything possible should be done to stem the tide of laxness which seems advancing everywhere. The mental reservations of Mr. Strathmore are certainly so broad that they may cover anything. I know women who go to his church and simply say the beginning of the creed: ‘I believe in God;’ and who do not hesitate in private to explain that by the name God they mean whatever force it is that moves the universe, whether it is intelligent or not.”

“How dreadful!” Philip exclaimed. “How can the church endure if this goes on?”

They talked for some time longer, and Mrs. Frostwinch assured him that she would do her best to secure the votes of the clergymen who were her pensioners. Ashe left her with a pleasant feeling in his heart that he had accomplished his mission without sacrificing his convictions. Yet perhaps more potent still in warming his heart was the remembrance of the pleasant words which Mrs. Fenton had spoken in his behalf. The memory colored all his thoughts of elections, of bishops, and of creeds, as a gleam of rosy light tinges all upon which it falls.

VII

THE SHOT OF ACCIDENT
Othello, iv. 1.

“I knew that she was to send me tickets,” Maurice Wynne said, standing with an open note in his hand. “She insisted upon that; but why should she send parlor-car checks too?”

“It is all part of your temptation,” Mrs. Staggchase responded, smiling. “Of course if you go as the representative of Mrs. Wilson it is fitting that you go in state. If you were to represent the church now”–

“If I don’t go as a representative of the church,” he responded, as she paused with a significant smile, “I go as nothing.”

“Oh, I thought that it was Elsie that was sending you. However, it’s no matter. The point is that you are becoming acquainted with the luxuries of life. You are being tried by the insidious softness of the world.”

He regarded her with some inward irritation. He had a half-defined conviction that she was mocking him, and that her words were more than mere badinage. He was not without a suspicion that his cousin was sometimes histrionic, and that many things which she said were to be regarded as stage talk. He did not know how far to take her seriously, and this gave him a feeling at once confused and uncomfortable. To be played with as if he were not of discernment ripe enough to perceive her raillery or as if he were not of consequence sufficient to be taken seriously, offended his vanity; and the man whom the devil cannot conquer through his vanity is invulnerable. Wynne had no answer now for the words of Mrs. Staggchase. He contented himself with a glance not entirely free from resentment, at which she laughed.

“I wonder, Cousin Maurice,” she said, “if you realize how completely you have changed in the ten days you have been here. It is like bringing into light a plant that has been sprouting in the dark.”

He did not answer for a moment, trying to find it possible to deny the charge.

“The fact that you know me better makes me seem different,” he answered evasively.

“How much has the fact that you don’t know yourself so well to do with it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, anything you like. I merely suspect that you are not so sure of your vocation as you were in the Clergy House. Even a deacon is human, I suppose; and if life is alluring, he can’t help feeling it. Are you still sure that the clergy should be celibate, for instance?”

He felt her eyes piercing him as if his secret thoughts were open to her, and he knew that he was flushing to his very hair. He hastened to answer, not only that he might not think, but that she might not perceive that he had admitted any doubt to his heart.

“More than ever,” he responded. “It is impossible not to see that a clergyman who is married must have his thoughts distracted from his sacred calling.”

Mrs. Staggchase leaned back in her chair and regarded him with the smile which he found always so puzzling and so disconcerting.

“You did that very well,” she said, “only you shouldn’t have put in the word ‘sacred.’ That made it all sound conventional. However, you probably meant it. She is distracting.”

The hot blood leaped into his face so that he knew that it was utterly impossible to conceal his confusion.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he stammered.

Instantly his conscience reproached him with not speaking the truth. He responded to his conscience that it was impossible in circumstances like these to say the whole, and that what he had said was not untrue. He could not know what his cousin meant by her pronoun, and if the thought of Miss Morison had come instantly into his mind, it by no means followed that it was she of whom Mrs. Staggchase was thinking. Life seemed suddenly more complex than he had ever dreamed it possible; and before this remark the unsophisticated deacon became so completely confused that for the instant it was his instinctive wish to be once more safely within the sheltering walls of the Clergy House, protected from the temptations and vexations of the world. He was after all of a nature which did not yield readily, however, and the next thought was one of defiance. He would not yield up his secret, and he defied the world to drag it from him. His companion smiled upon him with the baffling look which her husband called her Mona Lisa expression, and then she laughed outright.

“My dear boy,” she said, “you are no more a priest than I am; and you are as transparent as a piece of crystal. Well, I am fond of you, and I’m glad to have a hand in proving to you that you are not meant for the priesthood before it’s too late.”

“But it hasn’t been proved to me,” he cried, not without some sternness.

“Oh, bless you, it’s in train, and that’s the same thing. ‘Not poppy, nor mandragora, nor all the drowsy syrups of the east’ could put you to sleep again in the dream you had in the Clergy House. It will take you a little longer to find yourself out, but the thing is done nevertheless.”

As she spoke, a servant came to the door to announce the carriage. Mrs. Staggchase held out her hand.

“Good-by,” she said, as Maurice rose, and came forward to take it. “I hope that we shall see you again in a couple of days. I have still a good deal to show you.”

He had recovered his self-possession a little, and answered her with a smile:–

“You make it so delightful for me here that I am not sure you are not right in saying that you are my temptation.”

“Oh, I’ve already given up the office of tempter,” she responded quickly. “I found a rival, and that I never could endure. You’ll have your temptation with you.”

It seemed to Maurice when he came to take his seat in the parlor car that his cousin was little short of a witch. In the chair next to his own sat Berenice Morison. She greeted him with a friendly nod and smile.

“Mrs. Wilson told me that you were going on this train,” she said, “and she got a chair for you next to mine so that you should take care of me.”

He bowed rather confusedly, but with his heart full of delight.

“I shall be glad to do anything I can for you,” he answered, vexed that he had not a better reply at command.

He saw the dapper young man across the aisle regard him curiously, and a feeling of dissatisfaction came over him as he reflected upon the singularity of his garb, and the incongruity between the clerical dress and the squiring of dames. Religious fervor is nourished by martyrdom, but it is seldom proof against ridicule. It is not impossible that the faint shade of amusement which Maurice fancied he detected in the eyes of the stranger opposite was a more effective cause for discontent with his calling than any of the influences to which he had been exposed under the auspices of Mrs. Staggchase.

He could not help feeling, moreover, that there was a gleam of fun in the clear dark eyes of Miss Morison. She was so completely at ease, so entirely mistress of the situation, that Wynne, little accustomed to the society of women, and secretly a little disconcerted by the surprise, felt himself at a disadvantage. It touched his vanity that he should be smiled at by the trimly appointed dandy opposite, and that he should be in experience and self-possession inferior to the girl beside him. He began vaguely to wonder what he had been doing all his life; he reflected that he had not in his old college days been so ill at ease, and it annoyed him to think that two years in the Clergy House should have put him so out of touch with the simplest matters of life. He said to himself scornfully that he was a monk already; and the thought, which would once have given him satisfaction, was now fraught with nothing but vexation and self-contempt. He had a subtile inclination to give himself up to the impulse of the moment. He felt the intoxication of the presence of Miss Morison, and he yielded to it with frank unscrupulousness. He resolved that he would repent afterward; yet instantly demanded of himself if this were really a sin. He was after all a man, if he had chosen the ecclesiastic calling. If indeed he were transgressing he told himself half contemptuously that as he did penance doubly, once that imposed by his own spiritual director and again that set by the Catholic at the North End, he might be held to expiate amply the pleasure of this hour. He at least was determined to forget for the once that he was a priest, and to remember only that he was a man, and that he loved this beautiful creature beside him. He noted the curve of her clear cheek and shell-like ear; the sweep of her eyelashes and the liquid deeps of her dark eyes. He let his glance follow the line of her neck below the rounded chin, and became suddenly conscious that he was fascinated by the soft swell of her bosom. The blood came into his cheeks, and he looked hastily out of the window.

The train was already clear of the city, and was speeding through the suburbs, rattling gayly and noisily past the ostentatious stations and the scattered houses. Maurice felt that his companion was secretly observing him, although she was apparently looking at the landscape which slid precipitately past. He wished to say something, and desired that it should not be clerical in tone. He would fain have spoken, not as a deacon, but as a man of the world.

“Are you going to New York?” he asked.

“I shall not have the pleasure of your company so far,” she returned with a smile.

“No,” he responded naively. “I am going only to Springfield.”

“Ah,” she said, smiling again; and too late he realized that she had meant that she was not going through.

He was the more vexed with himself because he was sure that his confusion was so plain that she could not but see it, and that it was with a kind intention of relieving his embarrassment that she spoke again.

“I am going to visit my grandmother in Brookfield.”

He replied by some sort of an unintelligible murmur, and was doubly angry with himself for being so shy and awkward. He glanced furtively at the trim young man opposite, and was relieved to find that that individual was reading and giving no heed. He wondered why he should be so completely thrown out of his usual self-possession by this girl, so that when he talked to her, and was most anxious to appear at his best, he was most surely at his worst. There came whimsically into his head a thought of the wisdom of training the clergy to the social gifts and graces, and he remembered the flippant speech of Mrs. Wilson about the need of their being able to pay compliments.

“I seem to be specially stupid when I try to talk to you,” he said with boyish frankness.

Miss Morison looked at him curiously.

“Am I to take that as a compliment or the reverse?” she asked.

“It must be a compliment, I suppose, for it shows how much power you have over me.”

He was reassured by her smile, and felt that this was not so badly said.

“The power to make you stupid, I think you intimated.”

“Oh, no,” he responded, with more eagerness than the occasion called for; “I didn’t mean that.”

She smiled again, a smile which seemed to him nothing less than adorable, and yet which teased him a little, although he could not tell why. She took up the novel which lay in her lap.

“Have you read this?” she inquired.

He shook his head.

“You forget,” he answered, “that I am a deacon. At the Clergy House we do not read novels.”

“How little you must know of life,” returned she.

There was a silence of some moments. The train rushed on, past fields desolate under patches of snow, and stark, leafless trees; over rivers dotted with cakes of grimy ice; between banks of frost-gnawed rock. The landscape in the dim January afternoon was gray and gloomy; and as day declined everything became more lorn and forbidding. Maurice turned away from the window, and sighed.

“How disconsolate the country looks!” said he. “I am country bred, and I don’t know that I ever thought of the sadness of it; but now if I see the country in winter it makes me sigh for the people who have to live there all the year round.”

“But they don’t notice it any more than you did when you lived in it.”

“Perhaps not; but it seems to me as if they must. At any rate they must feel the effects of it, whether they are conscious of it or not.”

Miss Morison looked out at the dull, sodden fields and stark trees.

“I am afraid that you were never a true lover of the country,” said she thoughtfully. “You should know my grandmother. She is almost ninety, but she is as young as a girl in her teens. She has lived in the finest cities in the world,–London, Paris, St. Petersburg, and of course our American cities. Now she is happiest in the country, and can hardly be persuaded to stay in town. She says that she loves the sound of the wind and the rain better than the noise of the street-cars.”

“That I can understand,” he answered; “but I am interested in men. I don’t like to be away from them. There is something intoxicating in the presence of masses of human beings, in the mere sense that so many people are alive about you.”

She looked at him with more interest than he had ever seen in her eyes.

“But I don’t understand,” she began hesitatingly, “why”–

“Why what?” he asked as she paused.

“I don’t know that I ought to say it, but having begun I may as well finish. I was going to say that I could not understand how one so interested in men and so sensitive to humanity could be content to choose a profession which cuts him off from so much of active life.”

“It was from interest in men, I suppose, that I chose it. I wanted to reach them, to do something for them. Although,” Maurice concluded, flushing, “I don’t think that I realized at that time the feeling of being carried away by the mere presence of crowds of living beings.”

There was another interval of silence, during which they both looked out at the cold landscape, blotted and marred by patches of snow tawny from a recent thaw.

“I doubt if you have got the whole of it,” Miss Morison said thoughtfully, turning toward him. “Dear old grandmother is as deeply interested in the human as anybody can be. She always makes me feel that my life in the midst of folk is very thin and poor as compared to hers. She has known almost everybody worth knowing. Grandfather was minister to England and Russia, and she of course was with him. Yet she’s content and happy off here in Brookfield.”

“Perhaps,” Wynne returned hesitatingly, “there’s something the matter with the age. I don’t suppose that at her time of life she has anything of this generation’s restless”–

He broke off abruptly.

“Well?” his companion said curiously.

He smiled and sighed.

“I don’t know why I am talking to you so frankly,” replied he. “As a matter of fact I find that I’m more frank with you than I am with myself. I’ve always refused to own to myself that there was anything restless in my feeling toward life; yet here I am saying it to you.”

“One often thinks things out in that way. Hasn’t that been your experience?”

“Yes,” he responded thoughtfully; “although I don’t know that I ever realized it before. I see now that I’ve often reasoned out things that bothered me simply by trying to tell them to my friend, Mr. Ashe.”

“Is he your bosom friend and confidant? It is usually supposed to be a woman in such a case.”

“Oh, no,” was his somewhat too eager rejoinder; “I never talked like this to a woman. I never wanted to before.”

A look which passed over her face seemed to tell him that the talk was taking a tone more confidential than she liked. He was keyed up to a pitch of excitement and of sensitiveness; and a thrill of disappointment pierced him. He became at once silent; and then he fancied that she glanced at him as if in question why his mood had changed so suddenly. The train rolled into the station at Worcester, and he went out to walk a moment on the platform, and to try to collect his thoughts. He had forgotten now to question his right to be enjoying the companionship of Miss Morison; he gloated over her friendly looks and words, thinking of how he might have said this and that, and thus have appeared to better advantage, and resolving to be more self- controlled for the remainder of the ride. The open air was refreshing; and a great sense of joyousness filled him to overflowing. When again he took his seat in the car he could have laughed from simple pleasure.

The chat of the latter part of the journey was more easy and unconstrained than at the beginning. It was not clear to Wynne what the change was, but he was aware that he was somehow talking less self- consciously than before. They spoke of one thing and another, and it teased the young man somewhat that when now and then his companion mentioned a book he had seldom seen it. The things which he had read of late years he knew without asking that she would not have seen. Even the names of current writers of fiction were hardly known to him, and an allusion to what they had written was beyond him. In spite of a word which now and again brought out the difference between his world and hers, however, Maurice thoroughly enjoyed the talk. Now and then he would reflect in a sort of sub-consciousness that the delight of this hour was to be dearly paid for with penance and repentance, but this provoked in him rather the determination at least to enjoy it to the full while it lasted, than any inclination to deny himself the present gratification.

It has been remarked that the ecclesiastical temper is histrionic; and Wynne was not without a share of this spirit. He would have gone to the stake for a conviction, and made a beautifully effective death-scene for the edification of men and angels, not for a moment aware that there was anything artificial in what he was doing. Now he was not without a consciousness that he was playing the role of a lover and a prodigal, sincere in his love and devotion; yet none the less subtly aware how much more interesting is repentance when there is genuine human passion to repent, is renunciation when there is real love to sacrifice; of how much more effective is saintliness set off against a background of transgression. It was a real if somewhat childish joy to be able to sin actually yet without going beyond hope; of being dramatically false to his vows without crossing the line of possible pardon.

“We shall be in Brookfield in ten minutes,” Miss Morison said, beginning to look about for her belongings. “We pass the New York express just here.”

Hardly had she spoken when suddenly and without warning there was an outburst of shrieks from the whistle of the engine, answered and blended with that of another. Before Maurice could realize what the outburst meant, there followed a horrible shock which seemed to dislocate every joint in his body. Berenice was thrown violently into his arms, flung as a dead weight, and shrieking as she fell against his breast. Instinctively he clasped her, and in the terror of the moment it was for a brief instant no more to him that his embrace enfolded her than if she had been the veriest stranger. A hideous din of yells, of crashing wood and rending iron, of shivering glass, of escaping steam, of indescribable sounds which had no resemblance to anything which he had ever heard or dreamed of, and which seemed to beat upon his ears and his brain like blows of bludgeons wielded by the hands of infuriate giants. The end of the car before him was beaten in; splinters of wood and fragments of glass flew about him like hail; it was like being without warning exposed to the fiercest fire of batteries of an implacable enemy. A woman was dashed at his very feet torn and bleeding, her face mangled so that he grew sick and faint at the sight; pinned against the seat opposite, transfixed by a long splinter as with a javelin, was the dapper young man, horribly writhing and mowing, and then stark dead in an instant, staring with wide open eyes and distorted face like a ghastly mask. Moans and shrieks, grindings and roarings, howlings and babbling cries that were human yet were piercingly inarticulate filled the air with an inhuman din which drove him to a frenzy. It seemed as if the world had been torn into fragments.

Yet all this was within the space of a second. Indeed, although all these things happened and he saw and heard them clearly, there was no pause between the first alarming whistle and the overturning of the car which now came. He was lifted up; he saw the whole car sway with a dizzying, sickening motion, and then plunge violently over. Fortunately it so turned that he and Miss Morison were on the upper side. He fell across the aisle, striking the chair opposite, but somehow instinctively managing to protect Berenice from the force of the concussion. She no longer cried out, but she clung convulsively about his neck, and as they swayed for the fall he saw in her eyes a look of wild and desperate appeal. He forgot then everything but her. The desire to protect and save her, the feeling that he belonged absolutely to her and that even to the death he would serve her, swallowed up every other feeling. As they went over a vise-like grip caught his arm, and amid all the infernal confusion he somehow connected that despairing clutch with a succession of shrill and piercing shrieks which rang in his ear, seeming to be close to him. He remembered that in the chair behind his had been a young girl, and he felt a pity for her that choked him like a hand at his throat. Then as they went down he instinctively but vainly tried to shake off the hold, which was as that of a trap. It was like being in the actual grip of death.

All sorts of loose articles fell with them from the upturned side of the car to the other; they were part of a cataract of falling bodies, involved as in a crushing avalanche. Wynne found himself in this falling shower crumpled up between two chairs, one of his feet evidently thrust through a broken window and the other still held by that convulsive clasp. Miss Morison was half above him, partly supported by a chair which still held by its fastenings to the floor. He could not see her face, and his body was so twisted that he could not move his head with freedom. Berenice was evidently insensible, but whether stunned from the shock or more seriously hurt he could not tell. He struggled fiercely to free himself, straining her to his breast. There were still movements in the car after it had overturned. It rocked and settled; for some time small articles continued to fall. He drew the face of the unconscious girl more closely into his bosom to protect it. As he did so he was aware that his arm was hurt. A burning, biting pain singled itself out from all the aches of blows and contusions. He seemed to remember that a long time ago, some hours nearer the beginning of this catastrophe which had lasted but a moment, he had felt something rip and tear the flesh; but he had been so absorbed in the attempt to shield Berenice that he had not heeded. Now the anguish was so great that it seemed impossible to endure it. He set his teeth together, determined not to cry out lest she should hear him and think that he lacked courage. Then it seemed to him that he was swooning. He struggled against the feeling; and for what seemed to him an interminable time he wavered between consciousness and insensibility. It was either growing darker or he was losing the power to see. He could not distinguish clearly any longer that human hand, smeared with blood, sticking ludicrously in the air from amid a pile of bags, coats, and all sorts of things thrown together just where the position of his head constrained him to look. He had been seeing that hand for a long time, it seemed to him, and only now that the darkness had so increased as to cut it off from his sight did he realize what it was and what it must mean.

He still retained a consciousness of the face of Berenice, warm against his bosom, and with each wave of faintness he struggled to keep his senses that he might protect her. The din of noises seemed far away, the cries somewhere at a distance ever increasing. The moans that had seemed to him those of the girl who clutched his arm grew fainter, until they were lost in the buzz and whirr of a hundred other sounds. Then the clasp which held him relaxed as suddenly as if a rope had been cut away. It came into his mind with a wave of horror that the girl who had held him was dead. The thought that Berenice might be dead also followed like a flash, and aroused his benumbed senses. He spoke to her; he tried to move; to release her from her position. He seemed buried under a mound of debris, and she gave no sign of life. He exhausted himself in frantic attempts to escape; to get his arms free; to turn his head far enough to see her face; to thrust back the rubbish which had fallen against them. The anguish to his arm was so great that he could not continue; he could do nothing but suffer whatever fate had in store for him. He tried to pray; but his prayers were broken and confused ejaculations.

All at once he distinguished amid the chaos of noises roaring and singing in his ears something which made his heart stand still; which pierced to his dulled consciousness like a stab. It was the cry of “Fire!” He had once seen a servant with her hair in flames, and instantly arose before him the picture of her shriveling locks and the terror of her face. He seemed to see the dear head on his bosom–The thought was more than he could bear, and for the first time he cried out, shouting for help in a transport of frenzied fear. He was so absorbed in his thought of Berenice that he had forgotten himself; but the realization of his own peril revived as a waft of smoke came over him, choking and bewildering. He was then to die here, stifled or wrapped in the torture of flame. Then the wild and desperate thought sprang up that at least if he must die he should die with her on his bosom, clasped in his arms. He might give himself up to the delirium of that joy, since there was no more of earth to contaminate it. But the horror of it! The anguish for her as well as for him! Not by fire! His thoughts whirled in his brain like sparks caught in a hurricane. He scarcely knew where he was or what had happened to him. Only he was acutely aware of the acrid smoke, of how it increased, constantly more dense and stifling.

However the mind may for a moment be turned aside from its usual way by circumstances, habit is quick to reassert itself. The habitual constrains men even in the midst of events the most startling. The mind of Wynne had been too long bred in priestly forms not to turn to the religious view here in the face of death. His conscience cried out that he might be responsible for the peril and disaster which had come upon them. With the unconscious egotism of the devotee, he felt that heaven had been avenging the impiousness of his sin. He had dared to trifle with his sacred calling, to look back to the loves of the world and of the flesh, and swift destruction had overtaken him. And Berenice had been crushed by the divine vengeance which had so deservedly fallen on him. He groaned in anguish, seeming to see how she had perished through the blight of his passion. Not by fire, O God! Not by fire! How long would it be possible to breathe in this stifling reek, heavy with unspeakable odors? It was his crime that had brought her to this death. He, a man set apart and consecrated to the work of God, had turned from heaven to earth, and heaven had smitten with one blow him and the woman who had been unwittingly his temptation. And she so innocent, so pure, so sacred! Through his distraught mind rushed a pang of hatred against the power that could do this. He was willing to suffer for his sin, but where was the justice of involving her in his ruin? It was because this was what would hurt him most! It was the work of a devil! Then this thought seemed to him a new transgression which might lessen the chances of his being able to save her, and he tried to forget it in prayer, to atone by penitence. He offered his own life amid whatever tortures would propitiate the offended deity, but he prayed that she might be spared.

All this time–and whether the time were long or short he could not tell–he had heard continued cries and groans. He had now and then been dully aware of a change in the noises. Now it would seem as if all else was swallowed up in the sound of tremendous blows, as if the car were being struck again and again by a mighty battering-ram. Then a chorus of shouting went roaring up, as if an army cried. Noise and physical sensation were too intimately blended to be separated; his brain struggled in confusion, emerging now and then for a moment of consecutive thought and sinking back into semi-unconsciousness as a spent swimmer goes down, fighting wildly for life. He knew that a light had come into the car. He saw it amid the smoke, and his first thought was that it was flame. Dulled and half asphyxiated, he said to himself now almost with indifference that the end had come. Then with a thrill which for a moment aroused all his energies he recognized that it was the glow of a lantern. He was aware that rescuers were close above him, climbing down through the windows over his very head. He cried to them in a paroxysm of appeal:–

“Save her! Save her!”

Whether he was heeded amid the babble of cries and all the noises which seemed to swell to drown his voice, he could not tell, but in another instant he felt that friendly hands had seized Miss Morison, and were endeavoring to lift her insensible form. He strove to loosen his hold, but the effort gave him agony so intolerable that he could do nothing. A thousand points seemed to rend and tear him as he tried to move, and when a voice somewhere above him shouted: “We’ll have to try to lift them together!” he experienced a strange sort of double consciousness as if he stood outside of himself and heard others talking of him. He felt himself grasped under the arms, and the pain of being moved was too horrible to be endured. He shrieked in mortal agony, and then in a whirl of dizzying circles seemed to go down in a tide of blackness sparkling with millions of sharp scintillations.

VIII

LIKE COVERED FIRE
Much Ado about Nothing, iii. 1.

Philip Ashe found himself less and less able either to understand or to sympathize with the politics of Mrs. Wilson. He believed in the righteousness of her cause, and was keenly alive to the peril of the appointment of Mr. Strathmore to the vacant bishopric. It is an inevitable and necessary condition of enthusiasm that it shall be narrow; and religious fervor would be impossible to a mind open to conviction. To accept the possibility of any opposed truth is to be secretly doubtful of the creed which one holds; and tolerance is of necessity the child of indifference. Had Ashe been able to perceive that the church would go on much the same no matter which of the rival candidates was chosen, it would have been impossible for him to be so deeply concerned for the success of Father Frontford. As it was he was as much in earnest as Mrs. Wilson, and thus he felt forced to acquiesce in the strangeness of her methods of work. He said to himself that he supposed this electioneering to be a necessity, no matter how unpleasant; and he added the reflection that in any case it was not in his power to prevent it.

Other feelings were, moreover, completely absorbing his mind. Although he was not yet conscious that anything had come between him and the church, priesthood in which had been his highest earthly ideal, the truth was that his passion for Mrs. Fenton waxed steadily. Chance threw them together. Mrs. Fenton had been appointed to a committee on charities, and it happened that Ashe was a visitor in the North End in a region which the committee were making an especial field of labor. He was called into consultation with her, and sometimes they even went together to visit some of the poverty-stricken families which evidently existed chiefly to be subjects for philanthropic manipulation. Day by day Ashe felt her speak to him more easily and familiarly; and although their talk was strictly impersonal and unemotional, none the less did it feed his growing love.

The nature which does not sometimes try to deceive itself is an abnormal one; and Ashe was not behind his fellows in devising excuses for the joy which he found in Mrs. Fenton’s presence. He dwelt in his musings upon her devotion to the church, her good works, her visitings of the poor and sick. He assured himself with a vehemence too feverish not to be fallacious that he was instigated only by entirely disinterested feelings; by the desire to assist in deeds of Christian helpfulness, and by pleasure in the society of one whose devotion to godliness was so marked. He argued with himself as eagerly as if he were struggling to convince another, protesting to his own secret heart as earnestly as he would have protested to a friend.

A man seldom really deceives himself, however, save in thinking that he can deceive himself. There were moments in which his inner self rose up and laughed him to scorn; moments in which his sin glowed before him in colors blood-red. He saw himself apostate, false to his vows, drawn away by his earthly lusts and beguiled. There were nights when he cast himself upon the ground in an agony of self-abasement, beating his breast and praying in a passion of remorse; times when by the cruelty of his self-accusings he involuntarily sought to do penance for the sweet sin which festered in his bosom.

Worse than all was the color which was imparted to his passion by the self-imposed prohibitions which he was violating. The insistence upon the earthly side of love which is an inevitable accompaniment to the idea that woman is a temptation, cannot but degrade the relation of the sexes in the mind of the professed celibate. To keep before the thoughts the theory that passion is a snare and a pollution is to render it impossible to love with purity and self-abandonment. Poor Philip, endowed at birth with a nature of instinctive delicacy, could not free himself from the taint of his training; yet he shrank as from hot iron from the blasphemy of connecting any shadow of earthliness with the woman who had become his ideal. His only resource was to take refuge in repeating to himself that he did not love Mrs. Fenton; but even in denying it he felt that he was defending himself from a charge which was a degradation to her as well as to himself. He fell into that morbid state of mind where whatever he tried as a remedy made his disease but the worse; where the idea of love was the more horrible to him the more it possessed and pervaded his whole being.

Mrs. Herman was not unobservant of his condition, although she was far from understanding his state of mind. She felt that there was little use in forcing his confidence, but she gave him now and then an opportunity to confide in her, feeling sure that he would be the better for freeing his heart in speech.

She was sitting one afternoon alone in the library when Ashe came home from a missionary expedition. The day was gray and gloomy, and the early twilight was shutting down already, so that the fire began to shine with a redder hue. Mrs. Herman was taking her tea alone, and as it chanced, she was thinking of her cousin.

“You are just in time for tea,” she greeted him. “It is hot still.”

“But I seldom take tea,” he answered, seating himself by the fire with an air of weariness which did not escape her.

“That is so much more reason that you should take it now. It will have more effect. I can see that you are tired out. One lump or two?”

He yielded with a wan smile, and, resuming his seat, sat sipping his tea in silence for some moments. At length he sighed so heavily that she asked with a smile:–

“Is it so bad as that?”

“Is what so bad?” he returned, looking at her in surprise.

“You sighed as if all life had fallen in ruins about your feet, and I couldn’t help wondering if there were really no joy left to you.”

He smiled rather soberly, and did not at once reply. The fire burned cheerily on the hearth, noiseless for the most part, but now and then purring like a cat full of happy content; the shadows showed themselves more and more boldly in the corners, daring the firelight to chase them to discover their secrets. The colors of the room were softened into a dull richness; the dim gilding on the old books which had belonged to Helen’s father, dead since her infancy, caught now and then a gleam from a tongue of flame which sprang up to peer into the gathering dusk; the copper tea equipage reflected a red glow, and gave to the picture a certain suggestion of comfort and cheer.

“I was thinking how comfortable it is here,” Philip said at length.

“And that made you sigh?”

“Yes; I’m ashamed to say that it came over me how far away from me all this is.”

“If it is,” she returned slowly, “it is simply because you choose that it shall be.”

He turned his face toward her as if about to protest; then looked again into the fire. The conversation seemed ended, until Mrs. Herman spoke again as if nothing had been said.

“You have been slumming this afternoon?”

“I do not like the name, but I suppose I have.”

“It isn’t a cheerful day to go poking about alone among the tenement houses.”

“I was not alone,” Ashe answered with a hesitation which she could not help noting and with a significant softening of voice. “Mrs. Fenton was with me.”

“Ah!”

The exclamation was involuntary. In an instant there had flashed upon Helen’s mind a suspicion of the true state of things. The despondency of her cousin, the reflection upon the comfort of domesticity, connected themselves in her thought with trifling incidents which had before come under her observation; and his manner of speaking brought instantly to her mind the conviction that Ashe was thinking of Mrs. Fenton with more than the friendliness of acquaintanceship. When Philip looked up with a question in his eyes, however, she was already on her guard.

“The weather is so doleful,” she hastened to add, “that I should think that even philanthropy might lose its power of amusing.”

“Cousin Helen,” returned he, with some hesitation, “I do not like to hear you speak in that way of what is part of my life work.”

She smiled; then sighed and shook her head.

“My dear Philip,” replied she, “I had certainly no intention of wounding you; and if you’ll let me say so, I think you are going out of your way to find cause of offense. Philanthropy isn’t a thing so sacred that it is not to be spoken of with a smile.”

“No; but”–

“But what?”

He did not answer at once. He put down his empty cup absently, and then sat staring into the fire as if he were trying there to read the solution of the riddle of existence.

“Come,” Helen observed, after waiting for a little, “you have something on your mind. What is it? It will do you good to tell it, even if I’m not clever enough to help you.”

“I am sure that you could help me,” he began eagerly; and then in a changed voice he added, “if anybody could.”

She left her place behind the tea-table and came nearer to him, sitting directly before the fire. The light fell on her convincing face and on her wavy hair. She folded her hands in her lap, and looked at him.

“Well?” she said.

“I do not know how to say it,” Philip responded slowly. “I am afraid that you have not much sympathy with my views of life.”

“I probably have more than you realize. It’s true that I do not believe as you do, but we are both Puritans at heart, so that in the end our theories come to much the same thing.”

He looked up with evident inability to follow her meaning.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“Very likely I couldn’t make myself clear if I tried to explain. Suppose we give up abstractions and come to the concrete. What is the especial thing in which you think that my theories are different from yours?”

“I do not think,” he answered, hesitating more than ever, “that you have much sympathy with asceticism.”

“None whatever,” she declared uncompromisingly. “Nobody could have more honor for a sacrifice to principle than I have; but I believe that a sacrifice to an idea is apt to be the outcome of nothing but vanity or policy.”

“But what is the difference?”

“Why, an idea is a thing that we believe with the head; don’t you know the way in which we think things out while we secretly feel altogether different?”

“I do not think I follow you; but surely self-denial is a sacrifice to principle.”

“Not necessarily. I’m afraid I may seem to you profane, Philip, but I must say that it seems to me that asceticism is one of the worst plague-spots which ever afflicted humanity. The root of it is the pagan idea of propitiating a cruel deity by self-torture.”

“How can you say so!” he cried. “It is the pure devotion of a man to the good of his higher nature and to the good of the race.”

“As far as the race goes, vicarious suffering can’t be anything, so far as I see, except an effort to placate an unforgiving deity. As for the devotion of a man to his higher nature, you will never convince me that to go against nature and to indulge in morbidness is improving to anything. But here we are, swamped in a bog of great moral propositions again. We can’t agree about these things, and the thing which we really want to say will be lost sight of entirely.”

He turned his face away from her again, either troubled by what she had been saying or unable to find words and confidence to go on with the confession of his trouble.

“Is it,” Helen inquired, “that you have found that you have yourself a doubt of the value of asceticism?”

“No, not that,” he answered, dropping his voice; “but–but I begin to doubt myself.”

She leaned forward in her chair. Some power outside of her own will seemed to constrain her.

“Philip,” she said, bending over and touching his hand, “has love made you doubt?”

The question evidently took him entirely by surprise. She wondered what impulse had made her speak and how her question would affect him. He flushed to his forehead, and cast at her a look so full of pathetic appeal that she felt the tears come into her eyes. It was the look of a hunted creature which sees no way of escape, yet which has not the fury of resistance, which pleads its own weakness. She knew that Philip could not equivocate and that the secret of his heart lay bare before her. She shrank from what she had done, and a flood of pity and sympathy filled her mind.

He gave her no more than a single look, and then buried his face in his hands.

“I have betrayed my high calling,” he exclaimed in a voice of bitter suffering. “I have put my hand to the plough and looked back. I am too weak to be worthy to”–

“Stop,” she interposed brusquely, although she was deeply touched. “I can’t listen to that sort of talk. It isn’t wholesome and it isn’t manly. If you have fallen short of your ideal, your experience is that of the rest of the race. I suppose the secret of our making any progress is the power of conceiving things higher than we can reach. It keeps us trying.”

“But I devoted myself to”–

“My dear boy,” she interrupted him again, “you are like the rest of us. You told yourself that you would be above all the passions and emotions of common humanity, and you are discouraged to find that you’re human after all. That’s really the whole of it.”

“But to allow yourself to love”–

It was not necessary for her to interrupt him now. He stopped of his own will, casting down his eyes and blushing like a school-boy. It seemed to her that it might be better to try raillery.

“To allow yourself, O wise cousin!” she cried. “Men do not allow or disallow themselves to love. It’s deeper business than that.”

“But I should have had strength not to yield.”

“Is there anything discreditable in loving?” she demanded.

“There is for a priest.”

“If there were, you are not a priest.”

“In intention I am; and that is the same in the sight of Heaven.”

She could not repress a gesture of impatience. She felt at once an inward annoyance and a secret admiration. The temper of his mind was exasperatingly like her own in its tenacity of conviction. He would not excuse himself by any shifts, no matter how convincing they might seem to others. The matter must be met fairly and frankly, and she must reach his deepest feelings if she would move him. She reflected how best to deal with him, and with her thoughts mingled the question whether Edith Fenton could return Philip’s love. The young man was well made and sufficiently good-looking, although paled by study and austerities. He was of good birth and property, and from a worldly point of view not entirely an unsuitable match for the widow, should she think of a second husband. He was somewhat younger than Mrs. Fenton; and Helen was not without the thought that this passion might be on his part no more than the inevitable result of his coming in contact with a beautiful woman after having been immured in the monastic seclusion of the Clergy House; a passion which would pass with a wider acquaintance with the world. The whole matter perplexed and troubled her, and yet she earnestly longed to help her cousin.

“Dear Philip,” she said, “I can’t tell you how I enter into your feeling. I don’t agree with you, but we are not so far apart in temperament, if we are in doctrine. I’m afraid that you’ll think that I’m merely tempting you when I say that it seems to me that your conscientiousness is entirely right, and that your conviction is all wrong.”

“Of course I know that you do not hold the same faith that I do.”

“But one of your own faith might remind you that your own church upholds the marriage of the clergy.”

“Yes,” he assented with apparent unwillingness, “but my conscience does not.”

“Do you mean that you find your conscience a better guide than the church? That seems to put you on my ground, after all.”

“Oh, no, no! Certainly I do not put myself above the authority of the church.”

“The eagerness with which you disclaim any common ground with me isn’t polite,” she retorted, glad of a chance to speak more lightly and smilingly; “but it’s sincere, and that is better.”

“I wasn’t trying to disclaim thinking as you do; but to insist that I do not set myself above the church.”

“Then I repeat that the church sanctions the marriage of the clergy. If you don’t agree, I don’t see why you do not really belong in the Roman Catholic Church.”

There was a long pause, during which she watched her cousin narrowly. He seemed to be thinking deeply, with eyes intent on the fire. She was so little prepared for the direction which his thought took that she was startled when he said at last with a sigh:–

“I do sometimes find myself envying the absolute authority with which the Roman Catholic Church speaks.”

“Authority!” she repeated indignantly. “Do you mean that you wish to give up your individuality?”

“No; not that; but it must be of unspeakable comfort in times of mental doubt to repose on unquestioned and unquestionable authority.”

Helen rose from her place by the fire and walked to the window. She felt that she was on very delicate ground, and she would gladly have escaped from the discussion could she have done so without the feeling of having evaded. She stood a moment looking out into the darkening street, dusky in the growing January twilight, bleak and dreary. Then with a sudden movement she went to her husband’s desk and took up a picture of her boy, a beautiful, manly little fellow of three years, of whom Philip was especially fond. Crossing to her cousin, she put the picture in his hand, at the same time turning up the electric light behind him.

“See,” she said, with feminine adroitness. “I don’t think I’ve shown you this picture of Greyson.”

He looked at it earnestly, and sighed.

“It is beautiful,” said he. “Greyson is a son to be proud of and to love.”

“Well?” she asked significantly.

“What do you mean?” returned he. “What has Greyson’s picture to do with what we were talking about?”

She took the photograph from his hand, extinguished the light, and walked back toward the desk. The room seemed darker than before now that the firelight only was left. Suddenly she turned, with an outburst almost passionate:–

“O Philip!” she exclaimed. “Can’t you see? My son! Surely if there is anything in this world that is holy, that is entirely pure and noble, it is parentage. Do you suppose that all the churches in the world, with authority or without it, could make Grant and me feel that there is anything higher for us than to take our little son in our arms and thank God for him!”

He did not answer, and she controlled her emotion, smiling at her own extravagance, while she wiped away a tear. She kissed the picture, and put it in its place; then she returned to her chair by the fire.

“I don’t expect you to understand my feeling,” she said. “You never can until you have a son of your own. If a little cherub like Grey puts his baby hands into your eyes and pulls your hair, you’ll suddenly discover that a good many of your old theories have evaporated.”

“But, Cousin Helen,” he began hesitatingly, “certainly there is often sin”–

She interrupted him indignantly.

“There is no sin in faithful, loving, self-respecting marriage,” she insisted. “That is what I am talking about. It is the holiest thing on earth. Anything may be degraded. I’ve even heard of a burlesque of the sacrament. I don’t see why I shouldn’t speak frankly, Philip. You are in a state of mind that is morbid and self-tormenting. If you love a woman, tell her so honestly and clearly; and if she is a good woman and can love you, go down on your knees, and thank God.”

He leaned his forehead on his hands, as if he were struggling with himself. The firelight shone on his rich hair, auburn like her own. Helen watched him anxiously, wondering if she had said too much, and whether she were taking too great a responsibility in the advice she gave. Certainly anything must be good that took him out of his unhealthy mood.

“Come,” she said, rising, and turning on the electric light again. “It is time for Grant to be at home, and for me to be dressing. We are to dine at the Bodewin Rangers to-night.”

He put up his hand to arrest her, and said in a tone that wrung her heart:–

“But, Cousin Helen, I cannot speak of love to a woman until I am ready to give up for her my priestly calling.”

“Until you are willing to give up your unwholesome idea of celibacy and asceticism, you mean.”

“It would be sacrificing a principle to a passion.”

Helen sighed.

“I could reason with you,” she returned, half-humorously, “but how shall I get on with all the Puritan ancestors who prevail in you and me! The thing that I say isn’t that you are to give up your notions about the celibacy of the priesthood in order to marry, but because they are unwholesome and abnormal. The thing that most closely links you to humanity is the thing that best fits you to be of use in the world.”

He regarded her with a glance of painful intensity.

“But suppose,” he suggested, “that the woman I loved could not love me? Then I should come back to the church, and lay on the altar only a discarded and worthless sacrifice.”

“Come back to the church!” she echoed. “You don’t leave it. If marriage takes you out of the church, then the sooner such a church is left the better! Do you realize what you are doing, Philip? Do you remember that you insult the good name of your mother by the view you take of marriage? I am sick of all this infamous condemnation of what to me is holy! If the church cannot rise to a noble and pure conception of it, the sooner the church is done away with, the better for mankind!”

“But you wrong the church,” he interrupted eagerly. “The church makes marriage a sacrament; it recognizes its purity; it”–

“Then what are you doing,” she burst in, “with your exceptions to the theory of the church? It is you who degrade it–Pardon me, cousin,” she added in a calmer voice, coming to him and laying her fingers lightly on his shoulder. “I am speaking out of my heart. I have the shame of knowing that I once failed to realize how high and how noble a thing marriage is. I am older than you, and I have suffered as I hope you may never have to suffer; the end of it all is that I have learned that there is nothing else on earth so blessed as the real love of husband and wife. Of course,” she concluded, as he would have interrupted, “I talk as a woman, and I cannot decide what you are to do. Only I would like you to believe that I would help you if I could, and that what I say of marriage is the thing which seems to me the truest thing on earth.”

Then without waiting for reply, she went away and left him to his thoughts.

IX

HIS PURE HEART’S TRUTH
Two Gentlemen of Verona, iv. 2.

“Who is Mr. Rangely?” Ashe inquired one morning at breakfast.

Mrs. Herman looked at her husband as if she expected him to reply, although the question had been addressed to her.

“Fred Rangely,” Grant Herman answered, “is a writer. He writes for the magazines and is a newspaper man. He’s written one or two novels, and the first one was pretty successful. He’s written plays too.”

Helen smiled.

“Grant is too good-natured to tell you what you really want to know,” she commented. “Mr. Rangely was once in some sort a friend of his, in the old days when there was still something like an artistic brotherhood in Boston, and he can’t bear to say things that are not to his credit. Now I should have answered your question by saying that Fred Rangely is a warning.”

“A what?” Ashe asked, while Herman sighed.

“A warning. A dozen years ago he was one of the most promising men about. He had made a good beginning, he was clever and popular, and both as a novelist and as a playwright we hoped for great things from him.”

“And now?”

“Now he is a failure.”

Herman looked up almost reprovingly.

“I don’t think he would recognize that,” he observed.

“No, he wouldn’t; and that’s the worst of it. Ten years ago if anybody had said of Fred Rangely: ‘Here’s a fellow that has started out to do good work, but has found that there’s more money in sensationalism; who despises the popular taste and caters to it; who writes things he doesn’t believe for the newspapers and spends the money in running after society,’ he would have pronounced such a fellow a cad. Now he would say: ‘Well, a man must live, you know; and the public will only pay for what it wants.’ It’s lamentable.”

“You put it rather worse than it is,” her husband responded. “We are all in the habit of judging men as if their degradation was deliberate, which as a matter of fact I suppose it never is. Rangely hasn’t coolly accepted the choice between honesty and Philistinism. It’s all come gradually.”

“Like learning to pick pockets,” she interpolated.

“Besides,” Herman continued, “we over-estimated in the beginning both his character and his talent. He found he couldn’t do what was expected of him, and he was weak enough to do then what was most comfortable instead of what seemed to him highest. It is what nine men out of ten do.”

“Of course,” Helen assented, “but after all it has come about by his giving in on one thing after another. There was always a good deal that is attractive about him, but he never showed much moral stamina. He could never have married as he did if he had possessed fine instincts.”

“And his wife?” Ashe inquired.

“Oh, he married a New York girl, who”–

“There, there,” broke in Herman good-naturedly. “It is just as well not to go into a characterization of Mrs. Rangely. I own that there isn’t much good to be said of her; so it is as well to let her pass.”

“Well, so be it,” his wife assented, smiling. “I have only to say,” she added, turning to her cousin, “that when Grant declines to have a woman discussed it is equivalent to a condemnation more severe”–

“Nonsense,” protested Herman. “Don’t believe her, Ashe. As for Mrs. Rangely, it’s enough to say that she is merely an imitation in most things, and that she has called out the worst of her husband’s nature instead of the best. I’m sorry to say it, but I’m afraid it’s true.”

Mrs. Herman looked at him with a smile which seemed to tease him for having been betrayed into saying a thing so much more severe than were his usual judgments. Then with true feminine instinct she brought the talk back to its most significant point.

“Why did you ask about his wife?” she inquired of Philip.

“I–I did not know,” he returned, so evidently disconcerted that she did not press the matter.

Had Helen been a gossip she might have added that Rangely had acquired the reputation of being always philandering with some woman or other. Before his marriage he had been the slave of Mrs. Staggchase, and now, after devotion to all sorts of society women, he had come to be counted as one of the train of admirers who offered their devotion at the shrine of Mrs. Wilson. Where a Frenchwoman prides herself on the intensity of the devotion of some man not her husband, an American of the same type glories in the number of slaves that her charms ensnare. In either case the root of the matter is vanity rather than passion. The American fashion is at once the more demoralizing and the less dangerous. Mrs. Wilson in the early days of her married life had tried to make her husband jealous by allowing the desperate attentions of a single lover. She never repeated the experiment. The lover went abroad to recover from the sting of having been made hopelessly ridiculous, and Mrs. Wilson learned that in marrying she had found a master. Fortunately she had married for love, and no woman loves a man less for finding him able to control her. In these days Mrs. Wilson amused himself by having a troop of admirers, and perhaps prided herself upon being able to outdo the wiles of the other women of her set in securing and holding her captives; but she discussed them with her husband with the utmost frankness, mocking them to their faces if they made a step across the line which she drew for them. They were kept in a state of marked but respectful admiration. It was expected of them that they should pretend to be consumed by a passion as violent as they might please, but always a passion which was hopeless, which asked for no reward but to be allowed to continue; which found in mere admission to her presence joy enough at least to keep it alive.

It may be that Rangely had more vanity than the rest of Mrs. Wilson’s followers, or it may be that he was more resolute. Certain it is that he was more presuming than the rest, and that his devotion had not failed to produce a good deal of talk. Little as Mrs. Herman was accustomed to pay attention to social gossip, she had not failed to hear tattle about Elsie Wilson; and while she probably did not much heed it, she was at heart too conscientious not to feel shame and irritation. That a woman in the position of Mrs. Wilson should allow herself to give rise to vulgar gossip moved her to deep disapproval; while she could not but feel contempt for the man who neglected his own wife to wait upon the caprices of one whom Helen looked upon as a heartless and vain creature.

Behind the question which Ashe had asked about Rangely lay an incident which had occurred the day previous. He was now called upon to see Mrs. Wilson frequently in relation to matters connected with the election, and with that instinct which was inborn she had carelessly exercised upon him her arts of fascination. There is a certain sort of woman in whom the mere presence of anything masculine awakens the rage for conquest. It is as impossible for such women not to exert their fascinations as it is for a magnet to cease to attract. It is the destiny of woman to love, and dangerous is she who is inspired only with the desire to be loved, the woman who instead of loving man loves love. Elsie was saved from being such a monster by the fact that she had a husband strong enough to subdue and control her nature; but nothing could prevent her from trying her wiles on every man she met.

Philip was too completely unsophisticated to understand, and too much absorbed by his passion for another woman to respond to the cunning attractions of Mrs. Wilson; yet it is not impossible that she so far influenced him as to render him unconsciously jealous of another man. He had surprised Rangely kissing the hand of that lady with an air of devotion so warm that the blood of the young deacon rose in resentment which he supposed to be entirely disapproval. He was in a state of mind which made him especially sensitive to any suggestion of love; and the sight of any man caressing the hand of a beautiful woman could not but set his heart throbbing with disconcerting rapidity. In his world even the touch of a woman’s fingers was almost a forbidden thing, and to kiss them an act not to be so much as imagined. Philip dared not think, or to define to himself what significance he attached to this incident. An unsophisticated man is often suspicious from the simple fact that he is forced to distrust his judgment. He is unable to estimate the value of appearances, and in the end often falls the victim of errors which might seem to arise from malevolence or low-mindedness, when in reality they are the inevitable fruit of ignorance.

As Philip stood confronted with Mrs. Wilson after Rangely had left the room it seemed to him that he read unspeakable things in her glance. His clerical bias with its unholy blight of asceticism, his ignorance of the world, made him a victim of a misapprehension which brought the blood to his cheeks. His hostess looked at him curiously, and then burst into a laugh.

“Upon my word,” she cried, “I believe you are shocked! You are really too delicious!”

He flushed hotter yet, and there came over him a helpless sense of being alike unable to understand this brilliant creature or to cope with her.

“But–but,” he stammered, “I–I”–

“Well?” she demanded, her eyes dancing. “You what? You saw Mr. Rangely kiss my hand. You may kiss it too, if you like; though I doubt if you can do it half so devotedly. He’s had a lot of practice with a lot of hands.”

Ashe stared at her with wide open eyes.

“But has he a wife?” he asked gravely.

“Meaning to remind me that I have a husband?” she gayly returned. “Yes; we are both of us married. To think,” she continued, spreading out her hands and appealing to the universe at large, “that such simplicity exists! Where have you been all your life? Did you never kiss a lady’s hand–or a lady’s lips, for that matter?”

“I think you forget, Mrs. Wilson,” Ashe said with real dignity, “that I am a priest.”

She regarded him with lifted brows for a moment. Then she moved to a seat.

“Come,” said she; “sit down and talk to me. Where have you passed your life? You cannot have been brought up in a monastery, for we don’t have them in our church.”

“It is a great pity,” responded Philip, obeying her command, and seating himself in a large arm-chair near her.

“Do you really mean it?” was her reply. “Yes, I believe you do! You were evidently born to be a monk. Oh, how _triste_ it must be to be made without an appreciation of us!”

He remained silent, his face more grave than ever.

“Well,” she went on, settling herself comfortably in the corner of her sofa amid a pile of sumptuous cushions, “tell me something about your life. It may be that you were designed by fate to introduce a new order of monks.”

“There is not much to tell,” he responded stiffly and almost mechanically. “I was brought up in the country by a widowed mother. I went through Harvard and the Divinity School, and since then I have lived at the Clergy House.”

She regarded him closely. Her glance seemed half mocking, and yet to search into the very secrets of his heart, as if she were asking him questions which he would not have dared to ask himself. Her eyes suggested impossible things; they demanded if he had not known of forbidden cups which held wine deliriously enticing. He cast down his glance, no longer able to endure hers, yet not knowing why he was thus abashed.

“But don’t you know anything of life?” she questioned. “How could you go through Harvard without seeing something of it? What were your amusements?”

“I rowed some, and I walked. The only thing that was a real pleasure outside of my work was to be with Maurice Wynne. I do not remember that I ever thought about needing to be amused. Of course I knew a few fellows. I never knew a great many of the men.”

“And no women?”

“None except the boarding-house keeper.”

She looked at him rather incredulously. Then she once more threw out her hands in a gesture of amusement and amazement.

“Good heavens!” declared she; “there are just two things which might be done with you. You should be put in a glass case as a unique specimen of otherwise extinct virtue; or you should be sent to Paris to learn to be a real man. However, it’s not my place to take charge of you, so that may pass.”

There burned in the cheek of Ashe a spot of crimson which was perhaps too deep not to betoken something of the nature of earthly indignation.

“Mrs. Wilson,” he said, “I came here to discuss church interests, and not to be myself the subject of remarks which you certainly would not think of making to other gentlemen who call on you.”

She clapped her hands.

“Bravo!” she cried. “There’s the making of a man in him. It’s a thousand pities you can’t go to Paris and learn the fun of life.”

He rose indignantly.

“If you wish only to talk lightly of evil things,” said he, “I do not see that it is necessary for me to take up more of your time.”

“Well,” she responded, smilingly unmoved, “I’ll confess that if there is one thing for which I am especially grateful to Providence it is for its having spared me the ennui of having to live in a virtuous world! But sit down, and I’ll talk as if that blessing had not been granted to us. As for the salutation of Mr. Rangely which so shocked your reverence, that was part of the campaign. He had just promised to write an article for the ‘Churchman’ advocating Father Frontford from the point of view of a layman; and of course until that is in print it is necessary to be gracious to him. The trouble with you is that you’ve seen so little of life that you exaggerate the most innocent things. You really are rather insulting to me, if you think of it; but I pardon it because you don’t know what you were doing. I suppose you never wanted to kiss a woman’s hand or to write a sonnet to her eyebrow?”

Ashe felt the blood rush into his face in so hot a tide that he involuntarily turned away from his tormentor and walked toward the door. The question would in any case have been disconcerting, but it was made doubly so by the word which recalled the phrase from the Persian hymn which was in his mind so closely associated with Mrs. Fenton: “O thou, to the arch of whose eyebrow the new moon is a slave!” He had taken but a step, however, before Mrs. Wilson sprang from her seat, clapping her hands again. She interposed between him and the door, her face radiant with fun and mischief.

“Oh, what a blush!” she cried. “Upon my word, there’s a woman; there is a woman even in that icebox you keep for a heart!”

She burst into a peal of laughter, while he stood confounded and speechless, trying to look unconscious, and vexatiously aware of how completely he failed. Mrs. Wilson laid the tips of her slender fingers on his arm, and peered up into his eyes.

“I wouldn’t have believed it, St. Anthony! Come, make me your mother confessor, and I’ll give you good advice. It’s part of my mission to take charge of the love affairs of the clergy. Only yesterday I spent half the afternoon trying to find out how deeply Mr. Candish is smitten with a pretty widow.”

Ashe started in amazement and alarm. The words of Mrs. Herman connecting the name of Mrs. Fenton with that of Candish flashed into his mind, and seemed to supply what Mrs. Wilson left unspoken. The jealous pang which he felt at this confirmation of the interest of Candish in the woman he loved was doubled by the resentment he felt that this mocking torment before him should dare even to think of Edith. Almost without knowing it he broke out excitedly into protest.

“How dare you meddle with her affairs?” he cried.

Mrs. Wilson stared at him an instant in amazement, evidently taken completely aback. Then a light of cunning comprehension flashed into her sparkling eyes.

“Ah!” exclaimed she. “You too! Is Mrs. Fenton so irresistible to the ecclesiastical heart?”

He confronted her in silence. A wave of misery, of helplessness, of weakness, swept over him. He had no right even to be Mrs. Fenton’s defender. He was, as Mrs. Wilson intimated, not a real man, but a priest. The very tone of the whole conversation this morning showed how far she was from regarding him as one having any part in her world. He had only injured Mrs. Fenton by his ill-judged outburst, and given this creature who so delighted in baiting him one more opportunity. Worse than all else was the fact that he had given her a chance to jest about the woman whom he loved. The tears rushed to his eyes in the intensity of his feelings, and the beautiful face before him, with its teasing brightness and dancing fun, swam in his vision. He hated its laughter, and he expected fresh mockery for the emotion which he could not help betraying. To his surprise, however, Mrs. Wilson again laid her hand on his arm, and her face lost its gayety.

“You poor boy,” she said, with genuine feeling in her tone, “is it so real as that? I wouldn’t have hurt you for the world, if I had known. What business had you to be meddling with vows and renunciation until you knew what they meant?”

She moved back to her seat as she spoke, motioning Ashe to resume his place. He was too deeply moved to obey her.

“If you will excuse me,” he said, “I will see you to-morrow in regard to those delegates. I–I am not quite myself.”

“But you shall not go without saying that you forgive me for my teasing. Really, I am sorry and ashamed. I never intend to hurt you, but I see that my teasing may be taken more seriously than it is meant.”

There was real gentleness and pity in her smile, and as she rose to stand looking into his face with a winning smile of apology he forgot all his bitterness.

“The trouble is with me,” he said. “I do not understand the world, and I should keep out of it.”

“Oh, not at all,” she retorted briskly. “You should learn how to live in it.”

A spark of mischief kindled in her glance as she spoke, and she extended to him the back of her hand. Her smile challenged him, and he had been won and moved by the sympathy of her voice. The hand, too, was so beautiful, so slender, so feminine; he had so keen a longing to be comforted, to be soothed by womanly softness, and to assuage his loneliness by woman’s sympathy, that it seemed impossible to resist the invitation of those delicate fingers. He took her hand, and raised it half way to his lips. Then he dropped it abruptly, letting his own arm swing lifelessly to his side.

“No,” he said bitterly. “I am a priest!”

X

A SYMPATHY OF WOE
Titus Andronicus, iii. 1.

The first sensation which returning consciousness brought to Berenice Morison, after the shock of the collision and the feeling that the whole train had been hurled confusedly into space, was that of coming into fresher air as if she were emerging from the depths of the sea. Opening her eyes without comprehending where she was or what had happened, she found herself on the side of an overturned car. Around her were dreadful noises, yells, groans, cries, shouts; her nostrils were filled with the reek of burning stuffs; the light of lanterns and of torches blinded her eyes; a sense of horror oppressed her; appalling calamity which she could not understand seemed to have overtaken her; and she shuddered with terror unspeakable. Her first impulse was to shriek and to attempt to flee from the fearful things which surrounded her; but instantly the self-control of returning reason made itself felt.

Berenice found herself supported by a couple of men, and it became clear to her in an instant that she had just been lifted from that pit below where she could see the glint of flame and the blinding smother of smoke, and from which came such heartrending cries that she instinctively tried to cover her ears. In the movement she realized that beside the hold which her rescuers had of her, she was grasped by other arms; that she was in the embrace of a man apparently dead. In the dim light her dazed sense did not recognize him, and she struggled to release herself from the hold of this corpse.

“Take him away from me!” she shrieked hysterically in mingled terror and repulsion.

“Gently, gently,” said one of the men who held her. “He’s got killed tryin’ to save yer.”

“If this cut in his arm was in your back,” remarked the other, who was unlocking the hands so strongly clasped behind her, “it’d ‘a’ been a finisher.”

Her head reeled, and she nearly swooned again; but somehow she found herself released, and passed down from the car into the arms of more men.

“For God’s sake, hurry,” one of them said. “It’s getting too hot to stand here.”

A blistering puff of smoke enwrapped her as she went down. She saw a face blackened and ghastly advance in the flaring light of a lantern. Hands that seemed to come out of a cloud and a great darkness helped and sustained her, until she was out of the instant press beside the burning car. When once she was free and stood upon her feet, she regained something like self-possession. Her head swam, but she realized the situation and felt that she was able to help herself.

“I am not hurt,” she said to those who would have assisted her. “Don’t mind me.”

As she spoke, the body of a man was passed out of the smoke close to her, and she saw that it was Wynne. Instantly she remembered being flung into his arms, although what followed she could not recall. She looked at him now with a piercing conviction that he was dead. His

You may also like: