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Ethelyn's Mistake by Mary Jane Holmes

Part 3 out of 6

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see if Ethelyn needed her. But Eunice had been before her, and Ethelyn's
toilet was made.

Had this party been at Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's, in Boston, Ethelyn would
have worn her beautiful white satin with the fleecy lace; but here it
would be out of place, she thought, and so she left it pinned up in
towels at the bottom of her trunk, and chose a delicate lavender,
trimmed with white applique. Lavender was not the most becoming color
Ethelyn could wear, but she looked very handsome in it, with the soft
pearls upon her neck and arms. Richard thought her dress too low, while
modest Andy averted his eyes, lest he should do wrong in looking upon
the beautiful round neck and shoulders which so greatly shocked his
mother. "It was ridiculous and disgraceful for respectable wimmen folks
to dress like that," she said to Melinda Jones, who spoke up for
Ethelyn, saying the dress was like that of all fashionable ladies, and
in fact was not as low as Mrs. Judge Miller wore to a reception when
Melinda was at school in Camden.

Mrs. Markham "did not care for Miss Miller, nor forty more like her.
Ethelyn looked ridickerlous, showing her shoulderblades, with that sharp
point running down her back, and her skirts moppin' the floor for half a
yard behind."

Any superfluity of length in Ethelyn's skirts was more than
counterbalanced by Mrs. Markham's, who this night wore the heavy black
silk which her sister-in-law had matched in Boston ten years before. Of
course it was too narrow and too short, and too flat in front, Andy
said, admiring Ethelyn far more than he did his mother, even though the
latter wore the coiffure which Aunt Barbara had sent her, and a big
collar made from the thread lace which Mrs. Captain Markham, of
Chicopee, had also matched in Boston. Ethelyn was perfect, Andy thought,
and he hovered constantly near her, noticing how she carried her hands,
and her handkerchief, and her fan, and thinking Richard must be
perfectly happy in the possession of such a gem.

But Richard was not happy--at least not that night--for, with Mrs.
Miller, and Marcia Fenton, and Ella Backus before her mind, Ethelyn had
lectured him again on etiquette, and Richard did not bear lecturing here
as well as at Saratoga. There it was comparatively easy to make him
believe he did not know anything which he ought to know; but at home,
where the old meed of praise and deference was awarded to him, where his
word was law and gospel, and he was Judge Markham, the potentate of the
town, Ethelyn's criticisms were not palatable, and he hinted that he was
old enough to take care of himself without quite so much dictation.
Then, when he saw a tear on Ethelyn's eyelashes, he would have put his
arm around her and kissed it away, if she had not kept him back, telling
him he would muss her dress. Still he was not insensible to her pretty
looks, and felt very proud of her, as she stood at his side and shook
the hands of the arriving guests.

By eight o'clock the Olneyites had assembled in full force; but it was
not until the train came in and brought the elite from Camden that the
party was fairly commenced. There was a hush when the three ladies with
veils on their heads went up the stairs, and a greater hush when they
came down again--Mrs. Judge Miller, splendid in green moire-antique,
with diamonds in her ears, while Marcia Fenton and Ella Backus figured
in white tarletan, one with trimmings of blue, the other with trimmings
of pink, and both with waists so much lower than Ethelyn's that Mrs.
Markham thought the latter very decent by comparison.

It took the ladies a few minutes to inspect the cut of Mrs. Miller's
dress, and the style of hair worn by Marcia and Ella, whose heads had
been under a hairdresser's hands, and were curiosities to some of the
Olneyites. But all stiffness vanished with the sound of Jerry Plympton's
fiddle, and the girls on the west side of the room began to look at the
boys on the opposite side, who were straightening their collars and
glancing at their "pumps."

Ethelyn did not intend to dance, but when Judge Miller politely offered
to lead her to the floor, saying, as he guessed her thoughts, "Remember
the old adage, 'among the Romans, and so forth,'" she involuntarily
assented, and even found herself leading the first cotillion to the
sound of Jerry Plympton's fiddle. Mrs. Miller was dancing, too, as were
both Marcia and Ella, and that in a measure reconciled her to what she
was doing. They knew something of the lancers there on the prairie, and
terrible Tim Jones offered to call off "if Miss Markham would dance with
him and kind of keep him goin' straight."

Tim had laid a wager with a companion as rough as himself, that he would
dance with the proud beauty, and this was the way he took to win the
bet. The ruse succeeded, too, Richard's eyes and low-toned "Ethelyn!"
availing more than aught else to drive Ethelyn to the floor with the
dreadful Tim, who interlarded his directions with little asides of his
own, such as "Go it, Jim," "Cut her down there, Tom," "Hurry up
your cakes."

Ethelyn could have screamed out with disgust, and the moment the set was
over she said to Richard, "I shall not dance again to-night."

And she kept her word, until toward the close of the party when poor
Andy, who had been so unfortunate as to find everybody engaged or too
tired, came up to her as she was playing an accompaniment to Jerry's
"Money-musk," and with a most doleful expression, said to her, timidly:

"Please, sister Ethie, dance just once with me; none of the girls wants
to, and I hain't been in a figger to-night."

Ethelyn could not resist Andy, whose face was perfectly radiant as he
led her to the floor, and bumped his head against hers in bowing to her.
Eunice was in the same set--her partner the terrible Tim--who cracked
jokes and threw his feet about in the most astounding fashion. And
Ethelyn bore it all, feeling that by being there with such people she
had fallen from the pedestal on which Ethelyn Grant once stood. Her
lavender dress was stepped upon, and her point applique caught and torn
by the big pin Andy had upon his coat cuff. Taken as a whole, that party
was the most dreadful of anything Ethelyn had endured and she could have
cried for joy when the last guest had said good-night, and she was at
liberty to lay her aching head upon her pillow.

Four days after there was a large and fashionable party at Mrs. Judge
Miller's, in Camden, and Ethelyn went over in the cars, taking Eunice
with her as dressing-maid, and stopping at the Stafford House. That
night she wore her bridal robes, receiving so much attention that her
head was nearly turned with flattery. She could dance with the young men
of Camden, and flirt with them, too--especially with Harry Clifford,
who, she found, had been in college with Frank Van Buren. Harry Clifford
was a fast young man, but pleasant to talk with for a while and Ethelyn
found him very agreeable, saving that his mention of Frank made her
heart throb unpleasantly; for she fancied he might know something of
that page of her past life which she had concealed from Richard. Nor
were her fears without foundation, for once when they were standing
together near her husband, Harry said:

"It seems so strange that you are the Ethie about whom Frank used to
talk so much, and a lock of whose hair he kept so sacred. I remember I
tried to buy a part of it from him, but could not succeed until once,
when his funds from home failed to come, and he was so hard up, as we
used to say, that he actually sold, or rather pawned, half of the
shining tress for the sum of five dollars. As the pawn was never
redeemed, I have the hair now, but never expected to meet with its fair
owner, who needs not to be told that the tress is tenfold more valuable
since I have met her, and know her to be the wife of our esteemed
Member," and young Clifford bowed toward Richard, whose face wore a
perplexed, dissatisfied expression.

He did not fancy Harry Clifford much, and he certainly did not care to
hear that he had in his possession a lock of Ethelyn's hair, while the
allusions to Frank Van Buren were anything but agreeable to him. Neither
did he like Ethelyn's painful blushes, and her evident desire for Harry
to stop. It looked as if the hair business meant more than he would like
to suppose. Naturally bright and quick, young Clifford detected
Richard's thoughts, and directly began to wonder if there were not
something somewhere which Judge Markham did not understand.

"I mean to find out," he thought, and watching an opportunity, when
Ethelyn was comparatively alone, he crossed to her side and said in a
low tone, "Excuse me, Mrs. Markham. If in my illusions to Frank Van
Buren I touched a subject which has never been discussed between
yourself and your husband, I meant no harm, I assure you."

Instead of rebuking the impertinent young man, Ethelyn turned very red,
and stammered out something about its being of no consequence; and so
Harry Clifford held the secret which she had kept so carefully from
Richard, and that party in Camden was made the stepping-stone to much of
the wretchedness that afterward came to our heroine.



Richard's trunk was ready for Washington. His twelve shirts, which
Eunice had ironed so nicely, were packed away with his collars and new
yarn socks, and his wedding suit, which he was carrying as a mere matter
of form, for he knew he should not need it during his three months'
absence. He should not go into society, he thought, or even attend
levees, with his heart as sore and heavy as it was on this, his last day
at home. Ethelyn was not going with him. She knew it now, and never did
the face of a six-months wife look harder or stonier than hers as she
stayed all day in her room, paying no heed whatever to Richard, and
leaving entirely to Eunice and her mother-in-law those little things
which most wives would have been delighted to do for their husbands'
comfort. Ethelyn was very unhappy, very angry, and very bitterly
disappointed. The fact that she was not going to Washington had fallen
upon her like a thunderbolt, paralyzing her, as it were, so that after
the first great shock was over she seemed like some benumbed creature
bereft of care, or feeling, or interest in anything.

She had remained in Camden the most of the day following Mrs. Judge
Miller's party, and had done a little shopping with Marcia Fenton and
Ella Backus, to whom she spoke of her winter in Washington as a matter
of course, saying what she had to say in Richard's presence, and never
dreaming that he was only waiting for a fitting opportunity to demolish
her castles entirely. Perhaps if Ethelyn had talked Washington openly to
her husband when she was first married, and before his mother had gained
his ear, her chances for a winter at the capital would have been far
greater than they were now. But she had only taken it for granted that
she was going, and supposed that Richard understood it just as she did.
She had asked him several times where he intended to board and why he
did not secure rooms at Willard's, but Richard's non-committal replies
had given her no cue to her impending fate. On the night of her return
from Camden, as she stood by her dressing bureau, folding away her
point-lace handkerchief, she had casually remarked, "I shall not use
that again till I use it in Washington. Will it be very gay there
this winter?"

Richard was leaning his elbow upon the mantel, looking thoughtfully into
the fire, and for a moment he did not answer. He hated to demolish
Ethie's castles, but it could not be helped. Once it had seemed very
possible that she would go with him to Washington, but that was before
his mother had talked to him upon the subject. Since then the fiat had
gone forth, and thinking this the time to declare it, Richard said at
last, "Put down your finery, Ethelyn, and come stand by me while I say
something to you."

His voice and manner startled Ethelyn, but did not prepare her for what
followed after she had "dropped her finery" and was standing by
her husband.

"Ethelyn," he began, and his eyes did not move from the blazing fire,
"it is time we came to an understanding about Washington. I have talked
with mother, whose age certainly entitles her opinion to some
consideration, and she thinks that for you to go to Washington this
winter would not only be improper, but also endanger your life;
consequently, I hope you will readily see the propriety of remaining
quietly at home where mother can care for you, and see that you are not
at all imprudent. It would break my heart if anything happened to my
darling wife, or--" he finished the sentence in a whisper, for he was
not yet accustomed to speaking of the great hope he had in expectancy.

He was looking at Ethelyn now, and the expression of her face startled
and terrified him, it was so strange and terrible.

"Not go to Washington!" and her livid lips quivered with passion, while
her eyes burned like coals of fire. "I stay here all this long, dreary
winter with your mother! Never, Richard, never! I'll die before I'll do
that. It is all--" she did not finish the sentence, for she would not
say, "It is all I married you for"; she was too much afraid of Richard
for that, and so she hesitated, but looked at him intently to see if he
was in earnest.

She knew he was at last--knew that neither tears, nor reproaches, nor
bitter scorn could avail to carry her point, for she tried them all,
even to violent hysterics, which brought Mrs. Markham, senior, into the
field and made the matter ten times worse. Had she stayed away Richard
might have yielded, for he was frightened at the storm he had invoked;
but Richard was passive in his mother's hands, and listened complacently
while in stronger, plainer language than he had used she repeated in
substance all he had said about the impropriety of Ethelyn's mingling
with the gay throng at Washington. Immodesty, Mrs. Markham called it,
with sundry reflections upon the time when she was young, and what young
married women did then. And while she talked poor Ethelyn lay upon the
lounge writhing with pain and passion, wishing that she could die, and
feeling in her heart that she hated the entire Markham race, from
Richard down to the innocent Andy, who heard of the quarrel going on
between his mother and Ethelyn, and crept cautiously to the door of
their room, wishing so much that he could mediate between them.

But this was a matter beyond Andy's ken. He could not even find a
petition in his prayer-book suited to that occasion. Mr. Townsend had
assured him that it would meet every emergency; but for once Mr.
Townsend was at fault, for with the sound of Ethelyn's angry voice
ringing in his ears, Andy lighted his tallow candle and creeping up to
his chamber knelt down by his wooden chair and sought among the general
prayers for one suited "to a man and his wife quarreling." There was a
prayer for the President, a prayer for the clergy, a prayer for
Congress, a prayer for rain, a prayer for the sick, a prayer for people
going to sea and people going to be hanged, but there was nothing for
the point at issue, unless he took the prayer to be used in time of war
and tumults, and that he thought would never answer, inasmuch as he did
not really know who was the enemy from which he would be delivered. It
was hard to decide against Ethelyn and still harder to decide against
"Dick," and so with his brains all in a muddle Andy concluded to take
the prayer "for all sorts and conditions of men," speaking very low and
earnestly when he asked that all "who were distressed in mind, body, or
estate, might be comforted and relieved according to their several
necessities." This surely covered the ground to a very considerable
extent; or if it did not, the fervent "Good Lord, deliver us," with
which Andy finished his devotions, did, and the simple-hearted, trusting
man arose from his knees comforted and relieved, even if Richard and
Ethelyn were not.

With them the trouble continued, for Ethelyn kept her bed next day,
refusing to see anyone and only answering Richard in monosyllables when
he addressed himself directly to her. Once he bent over her and said,
"Ethelyn, tell me truly--is it your desire to be with me, your dread of
separation from me, which makes you so averse to be left behind?"

There was that in his voice which said that if this were the case he
might be induced to reconsider. But though sorely tempted to do it,
Ethelyn would not tell a falsehood for the sake of Washington; so she
made no reply, and Richard drew from her silence any inference he
pleased. He was very wretched those last days, for he could not forget
the look of Ethelyn's eye or the sound of her voice when, as she finally
gave up the contest, she said to him with quivering nostrils and steady
tones, "You may leave me here, Richard, but remember this: not one word
or line will I write to you while you are gone. I mean what I say. I
shall abide by my decision."

It would be dreadful not to hear a word from Ethie during all the dreary
winter, and Richard hoped she would recall her words; but Ethelyn was
too sorely wounded to do that. She must reach Richard somehow, and this
was the way to do it. She did not come downstairs again after it was
settled. She was sick, she said, and kept her room, seeing no one but
Richard and Eunice, who three times a day brought up her nicely cooked
meals and looked curiously at her as she deposited her tray upon the
stand and quietly left the room. Mrs. Markham did not go up at all, for
Ethelyn charged her disappointment directly to her mother-in-law, and
had asked that she be kept away; and so, 'mid passion and tears and
bitterness, the week went by and brought the day when Richard was
to leave.



The gray light of a November morning was breaking over the prairies when
Richard stooped down to kiss his wife, who did not think it worth her
while to rise so early even to see him off. She felt that she had been
unjustly dealt with, and up to the very last maintained the same cold,
icy manner so painful to Richard, who would fain have won from her one
smile to cheer him in his absence. But the smile was not given, though
the lips which Richard touched did move a little, and he tried to
believe it was a kiss they meant to give. Only the day before Ethie had
heard from Aunt Van Buren that Frank was to be married at Christmas,
when they would all go on to Washington, where they confidently expected
to meet Ethelyn. With a kind of grim satisfaction Ethelyn showed this to
her husband, hoping to awaken in him some remorse for his cruelty to
her, if, indeed, he was capable of remorse, which she doubted. She did
not know him, for if possible he suffered more than she did, though in a
different way. It hurt him to leave her there alone feeling as she did.
He hated to go without her, carrying only in his mind the memory of the
white, rigid face which had not smiled on him for so long. He wanted her
to seem interested in something, for her cold apathy of manner puzzled
and alarmed him; so remembering her aunt's letter on the morning of his
departure, he spoke of it to her and said, "What shall I tell Mrs. Van
Buren for you? I shall probably see more or less of them."

"Tell nothing; prisoners send no messages," was Ethelyn's reply; and in
the dim gray of the morning the two faces looked a moment at each other
with such thoughts and passions written upon them as were pitiable
to behold.

But when Richard was fairly gone, when the tones of his voice bidding
his family good-by had ceased, and Ethelyn sat leaning on her elbow and
listening to the sound of the wheels which carried him away, such a
feeling of utter desolation and loneliness swept over her that, burying
her face in the pillows, she wept bitterer tears of remorse and regret
than she had ever wept before.

That day was a long and dreary one to all the members of the prairie
farmhouse. It was lonely there the first day of Richard's absence, but
now it was drearier than ever; and with a harsh, forbidding look upon
her face, Mrs. Markham went about her work, leaving Ethelyn entirely
alone. She did not believe her daughter-in-law was any sicker than
herself. "It was only airs," she thought, when at noon Ethelyn declined
the boiled beef and cabbage, saying just the odor of it made her sick.
"Nothing but airs and ugliness," she persisted in saying to herself, as
she prepared a slice of nice cream toast with a soft-boiled egg and cup
of fragrant black tea. Ethie did not refuse this, and was even gracious
enough to thank her mother-in-law for her extra trouble, but she did it
in such a queenly as well as injured kind of way, that Mrs. Markham felt
more aggrieved than ever, and, for a good woman, who sometimes spoke in
meeting, slammed the door considerably hard as she left the room and
went back to her kitchen, where the table had been laid ever since
Ethelyn took to eating upstairs. So long as she ate with the family Mrs.
Markham felt rather obliged to take her meals in the front room, but it
made a deal more work, and she was glad to return to her olden ways once
more. Eunice was gone off on an errand, and so she felt at liberty to
speak her mind freely to her boys as they gathered around the table.

"It is sheer ugliness," she said, "which keeps her cooped up there to be
waited on. She is no more sick than the dog; but law, I couldn't make
Richard b'lieve it."

"Mother, you surely did not go to Richard with complaints of his wife,"
and James looked reproachfully across the table at his mother, who
replied: "I told him what I thought, for I wa'n't going to have him
miserable all the time thinking how sick she was, but I might as well
have talked to the wind, for any good it did. He even seemed
putcherky, too."

"I should be more than putcherky if you were to talk to me against my
wife if I had one," James retorted, thinking of Melinda and the way she
sang that solo in the choir the day before.

It was a little strange that James and John and Andy all took Ethelyn's
part against their mother, and even against Richard, who they thought
might have taken her with him.

"It would not have hurt her any more than fretting herself to death at
home. No, nor half so much; and she must feel like a cat in a strange
garret there alone with them."

It was John who said this--quiet John, who talked so little, and annoyed
Ethelyn so much by coming to the table in his blue frock, with his pants
tucked in his boots and his curly hair standing every way. Though very
much afraid of his grand sister-in-law, he admired her beyond
everything, and kept the slippers she brought him safely put away with a
lock of Daisy's hair and a letter written him by the young girl whose
grave was close beside Daisy's in the Olney cemetery. John had had his
romance and buried it with his heroine, since which time he had said but
little to womankind, though never was there a truer heart than that
which beat beneath the homespun frock Ethelyn so despised. Richard had
bidden him to be kind to Ethie, and John had said he would; and after
that promise was given had the farmhouse been on fire the sturdy fellow
would have periled life and limb to save her for Dick. To James, too,
Richard had spoken a word for Ethie, and to Andy also; so that there
were left to her four champions in his absence--for Eunice had had her
charge, with promises of a new dress if faithful to her trust; and thus
there was no one against poor Ethelyn saving the mother-in-law, who made
that first dinner after Richard's absence so uncomfortable that John
left the table without touching the boiled Indian pudding, of which he
was so fond, while James rather curtly asked what there was to be gained
by spitting out so about Ethelyn, and Andy listened in silence, thinking
how, by and by, when all the chores were done, he would take a basket of
kindlings up for Ethie's fire, and if she asked him to sit down, he
would do so and try and come to the root of the matter, and see if he
could not do something to make things a little better.



Ethelyn was very sick with a nervous headache, and so Andy did not go in
with his kindlings that night, but put the basket near the door, where
Eunice would find it in the morning. It was a part of Richard's bargain
with Eunice that Ethie should always have a bright, warm fire to dress
by, and the first thing Ethelyn heard as she unclosed her eyes was the
sound of Eunice blowing the coals and kindlings into a blaze as she
knelt upon the hearth, with her cheeks and eyes extended to their utmost
capacity. It was a very dreary awakening, and Ethelyn sighed as she
looked from her window out upon the far-stretching prairie, where the
first snows of the season were falling. There were but few objects to
break up the monotonous level, and the mottled November sky frowned
gloomily and coldly down upon her. Down in the back-yard James and John
were feeding the cattle; the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the
cows came to her ear as she turned with a shiver from the window. How
could she stay there all that long, dreary winter--there where there
was not an individual who had a thought or taste in common with her own?
She could not stay, she decided, and then as the question arose, "Where
will you go?" the utter hopelessness and helplessness of her position
rushed over her with so much force that she sank down upon the lounge
which Eunice had drawn to the fire, and when the latter came up with
breakfast she found her young mistress crying in a heart-broken,
despairing kind of way, which touched her heart at once.

Eunice knew but little of the trouble with regard to Washington. Mrs.
Markham had been discreet enough to keep that from her; and so she
naturally ascribed Ethie's tears to grief at parting with her husband,
and tried in her homely way to comfort her. Three months were not very
long; and they would pass 'most before you thought, she said, adding
that she heard Jim say the night before that as soon as he got his gray
colts broken he was going to take his sister all over the country and
cheer her up a little.

Ethie's heart was too full to permit her to reply, and Eunice soon left
her alone, reporting downstairs how white and sick she was looking. To
Mrs. Markham's credit we record that with a view to please her
daughter-in-law, a fire was that afternoon made in the parlor, and
Ethelyn solicited to come down, Mrs. Markham, who carried the
invitation, urging that a change would do her good, as it was not always
good to stay in one place. But Ethelyn preferred the solitude of her own
chamber, and though she thanked her mother-in-law for her
thoughtfulness, she declined going down, and Mrs. Markham had made her
fire for nothing. Not even Melinda came to enjoy it, for she was in
Camden, visiting a schoolmate; and so the day passed drearily enough
with all, and the autumnal night shut down again darker, gloomier than
ever, as it seemed to Ethelyn. She had seen no one but Mrs. Markham and
Eunice since Richard went away, and she was wondering what had become of
Andy, when she heard his shuffling tread upon the stairs, and a moment
after, his round shining face appeared, asking if he might come in.
Andy wore his best clothes on this occasion, for an idea had somehow
been lodged in his brain that Ethelyn liked a person well dressed, and
he was much pleased with himself in his short coat and shorter pants,
and the buff and white cotton cravat tied in a hard knot around his
sharp, standing collar, which almost cut the bottom of his ears.

"I wished to see you," he said, taking a chair directly in front of
Ethelyn and tipping back against the wall. "I wanted to come before, but
was afraid you didn't care to have me. I've got something for you now,
though--somethin' good for sore eyes. Guess what 'tis?"

And Andy began fumbling in his pocket for the something which was to
cheer Ethelyn, as he hoped.

"Look a-here. A letter from old Dick, writ the very first day. That's
what I call real courtin' like," and Andy gave to Ethelyn the letter
which John had brought from the office and which the detention of a
train at Stafford for four hours had afforded Richard an opportunity
to write.

It was only a few lines, meant for her alone, but Ethelyn's cheek didn't
redden as she read them, or her eyes brighten one whit. Richard was
well, she said, explaining to Andy the reason for his writing, and then
she put the letter away, while Andy sat looking at her, wondering what
he should say next. He had come up to comfort her, but found it hard to
begin. Ethie was looking very pale, and there were dark rings around her
eyes, showing that she suffered, even if Mrs. Markham did assert there
was nothing ailed her but spleen.

At last Andy blurted out: "I am sorry for you, Ethelyn, for I know it
must be bad to have your man go off and leave you all alone, when you
wanted to go with him. Jim and John and me talked it up to-day when we
was out to work, and we think you orto have gone with Dick. It must be
lonesome staying here, and you only six months married. I wish, and the
boys wishes, we could do something to chirk you up."

With the exception of what Eunice had said, these were the first words
of sympathy Ethelyn had heard, and her tears flowed at once, while her
slight form shook with such a tempest of sobs that Andy was alarmed,
and getting down on his knees beside her, begged of her to tell him what
was the matter. Had he hurt her feelings? he was such a blunderin'
critter, he never knew the right thing to say, and if she liked he'd go
straight off downstairs.

"No, Anderson," Ethelyn said, "you have not hurt my feelings, and I do
not wish you to go, but, oh, I am so wretched and so disappointed, too!"

"About goin' to Washington, you mean?" Andy asked, resuming his chair,
and his attitude of earnest inquiry, while Ethelyn, forgetting all her
reserve, replied: "Yes, I mean that and everything else. It has been
nothing but disappointment ever since I left Chicopee, and I sometimes
wish I had died before I promised to go away from dear Aunt Barbara's,
where I was so happy."

"What made you promise, then? I suppose, though, it was because you
loved Dick so much," simple-minded Andy said, trying to remember if
there was not a passage somewhere which read, "For this cause shall a
man leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they twain
shall be one flesh."

Ethelyn would not wound Andy by telling him how little love had had to
do with her unhappy marriage, and she remained silent for a moment,
while Andy continued, "Be you disappointed here--with us, I mean, and
the fixins?"

"Yes, Anderson, terribly disappointed. Nothing is as I supposed. Richard
never told me what I was to expect," Ethelyn replied, without stopping
to consider what she was saying.

For a moment Andy looked intently at her, as if trying to make out her
meaning. Then, as it in part dawned upon him, he said sorrowfully:
"Sister Ethie, if it's me you mean, I was more to blame than Dick, for I
asked him not to tell you I was--a--a--wall, I once heard Miss Captain
Simmons say I was Widder Markham's fool," and Andy's chin quivered as he
went on: "I ain't a fool exactly, for I don't drool or slobber like Tom
Brown the idiot, but I have a soft spot in my head, and I didn't want
you to know it, for fear you wouldn't like me. Daisy did, though, and
Daisy knew what I was and called me 'dear Andy,' and kissed me when
she died."

Andy was crying softly now, and Ethelyn was crying with him. The hard
feeling at her heart was giving way, and she could have put her arms
around this childish man, who after a moment continued: "Dick said he
wouldn't tell you, so you must forgive him for that. You've found me
out, I s'pose. You know I ain't like Jim, nor John, and I can't hold a
candle to old Dick, but sometimes I've hope you liked me a little, even
if you do keep calling me Anderson. I wish you wouldn't; seems as if
folks think more of me when they say 'Andy' to me."

"Oh, Andy, dear Andy," Ethelyn exclaimed: "I do like you so much--like
you best of all. I did not mean you when I said I was disappointed."

"Who, then?" Andy asked, in his straightforward way. "Is it mother? She
is odd, I guess, though I never thought on't till you came here. Yes,
mother is some queer, but she is good; and onct when I had the typhoid
and lay like a log, I heard her pray for 'her poor dear boy Andy';
that's what she called me, as lovin' like as if I wasn't a fool, or
somethin' nigh it."

Ethelyn did not wish to leave upon his mind the impression that his
mother had everything to do with her wretchedness, and so cautiously as
she could she tried to explain to him the difference between the habits
and customs of Chicopee and Olney. Warming up with her theme as she
progressed, she said more than she intended, and succeeded in driving
into Andy's brain a vague idea that his family were not up to her
standard, but were in fact a long way behind the times. Andy was in a
dilemma; he wanted to help Ethelyn and did not know how. Suddenly,
however, his face brightened, and he asked, "Do you belong to
the church?"

"Yes," was Ethelyn's reply.

"You do!" Andy repeated in some surprise, and Ethelyn replied, "Not the
way you mean, perhaps; but when I was a baby I was baptized in the
church and thus became a member."

"So you never had the Bishop's hands upon your head, and done what the
Saviour told us to do to remember him by?"

Ethelyn shook her head, and Andy went on: "Oh, what a pity, when he is
such a good Saviour, and would know just how to help you, now you are so
sorry-like and homesick, and disappointed. If you had him you could tell
him all about it and he would comfort you. He helped me, you don't know
how much, and I was dreadful bad once. I used to get drunk,
Ethie--drunker'n a fool, and come hiccuppin' home with my clothes all
tore and my hat smashed into nothin'."

Andy's face was scarlet as he confessed to his past misdeeds, but
without the least hesitation he went on: "Mr. Townsend found me one day
in the ditch, and helped me up and got me into his room and prayed over
me and talked to me, and never let me off from that time till the
Saviour took me up, and now it's better than three years since I tasted
a drop. I don't taste it even at the sacrament, for fear what the taste
might do, and I used to hold my nose to keep shut of the smell. Mr.
Townsend knows I don't touch it, and God knows, too, and thinks I'm
right, I'm sure, and gives me to drink of his precious blood just the
same, for I feel light as air when I come from the altar. If religion
could make me, a fool and a drunkard, happy, it would do sights for you
who know so much. Try it, Ethie, won't you?"

Andy was getting in earnest now, and Ethelyn could not meet the glance
of his honest, pleading eyes.

"I can't be good, Andy," she replied; "I shouldn't know how to begin or
what to do."

"Seems to me I could tell you a few things," Andy said. "God didn't want
you to go to Washington for some wise purpose or other, and so he put it
into Dick's heart to leave you at home. Now, instead of crying about
that I'd make the best of it and be as happy as I could be here. I know
we ain't starched up folks like them in Boston, but we like you, all of
us--leastwise Jim and John and me do--and I don't mean to come to the
table in my shirt-sleeves any more, if that will suit you, and I won't
blow my tea in my sasser, nor sop my bread in the platter; though if
you are all done and there's a lot of nice gravy left, you won't mind
it, will you, Ethelyn?--for I do love gravy."

Ethelyn had been more particular than she meant to be with her reasons
for her disappointment, and in enumerating the bad habits to which she
said Western people were addicted, she had included the points upon
which Andy had seized so readily. He had never been told before that his
manners were entirely what they ought not to be; he could hardly see it
so now, but if it would please Ethie he would try to refrain, he said,
asking that when she saw him doing anything very outlandish, she would
remind him of it and tell him what was right.

"I think folks is always happier," he continued, "when they forgit to
please themselves and try to suit others, even if they can't see any
sense in it."

Andy did not exactly mean this as a rebuke, but it had the effect of one
and set Ethelyn thinking. Such genuine simplicity and frankness could
not be lost upon her, and long after Andy had left her and gone to his
room, where he sought in his prayer-book for something just suited to
her case, she sat pondering all he had said, and upon the faith which
could make even simple Andy so lovable and good.

"He has improved his one talent far more than I have my five or ten,"
she said, while regrets for her own past misdeeds began to fill her
bosom, with a wish that she might in some degree atone for them.

Perhaps it was the resolution formed that night, and perhaps it was the
answer to Andy's prayer that God would have mercy upon Ethie and incline
her and his mother to pull together better, which sent Ethelyn down to
breakfast the next morning and kept her below stairs a good portion of
the day, and made her accept James' invitation to ride with him in the
afternoon. Then when it was night again, and she saw Eunice carrying
through the hall a smoking firebrand, which she knew was designed for
the parlor fire, she changed her mind about staying alone upstairs with
the books she had commenced to read, but brought instead the white,
fleecy cloud she was knitting, and sat with the family, who had never
seen her more gracious or amiable, and wondered what had happened. Andy
thought he knew; he had prayed for Ethie, not only the previous night,
but that morning before he left his room, and also during the day--once
in the barn upon a rick of hay and once behind the smoke-house.

Andy always looked for direct answers to his prayers, and believing he
had received one his face was radiant with content and satisfaction,
when after supper he brushed and wet his hair and plastered it down upon
his forehead, and changed his boots for a lighter pair of Richard's, and
then sat down before the parlor fire with the yarn sock he was knitting
for himself. Ethelyn had never seen him engaged in this feminine
employment before, and she felt a strong disposition to laugh, but
fearing to wound him, repressed her smiles and seemed not to look at him
as he worked industriously on the heel, turning and shaping it better
than she could have done. It was not often that Ethelyn had favored the
family with music, but she did so that night, playing and singing pieces
which she knew were familiar to them, and only feeling a momentary pang
of resentment when, at the close of "Yankee Doodle," with variations,
quiet John remarked that Melinda herself could not go ahead of that!
Melinda's style of music was evidently preferable to her own, but she
swallowed the insult and sang "Lily Dale," at the request of Andy, who,
thinking the while of dear little Daisy, wiped his eyes with the leg of
his sock, while a tear trickled down his mother's cheek and dropped
into her lap.

"I thought Melinda Jones wanted to practice on the pianner," Eunice
said, after Ethelyn was done playing; "I heard her saying so one day and
wondering if Miss Markham would be willin'."

Ethelyn was in a mood then to assent to most anything, and she expressed
her entire approbation, saying even that she would gladly give Melinda
any assistance in her power. Ethelyn had been hard and cold and proud so
long that she scarcely knew herself in this new phase of character, and
the family did not know her, either. But they appreciated it fully, and
James' eyes were very bright and sparkling when, in imitation of Andy,
he bade his sister good-night, thinking, as she left the room how
beautiful she was and how pleased Melinda would be, and hoping she would
find it convenient to practice there evenings, as that would render an
escort home absolutely necessary, unless "Terrible Tim" came for her.

Ethelyn had not changed her mind when Melinda came home next day, and as
a matter of course called at the Markhams' in the evening. But Ethelyn's
offer had come a little too late--Melinda was going to Washington to
spend the winter! A bachelor brother of her mother's, living among the
mountains of Vermont, had been elected Member of Congress in the place
of the regular member, who had resigned, and as the uncle was wealthy
and generous, and had certain pleasant reminiscences of a visit to Iowa
when a little black-eyed girl had been so agreeable to him, he had
written for her to join him in Washington, promising to defray all
expenses and sending on a draft for two hundred dollars, with which she
was to procure whatever she deemed necessary for her winter's outfit.
Melinda's star was in the ascendant, and Ethelyn felt a pang of
something like envy as she thought how differently Melinda's winter
would pass from her own, while James trembled for the effect Washington
might have upon the girl who walked so slowly with him along the beaten
path between his house and her father's, and whose eyes, as she bade him
good-night, were little less bright than the stars shining down upon
her. Would she come back like Ethelyn? He hoped not, for there would
then be an end to all fond dreams he had been dreaming. She would
despise his homely ways and look for somebody higher than plain Jim
Markham in his cowhide boots. James was sorry to have Melinda go, and
Ethelyn was sorry, too. It seemed as if she was to be left alone, for
two days after Melinda's return, Marcia Fenton and Ella Backus came out
from Camden to call, and communicated the news that they, too, were
going on to Washington, together with Mrs. Judge Miller, whose father
was a United States Senator. It was terrible to be thus left behind,
and Ethelyn's heart grew harder against her husband for dooming her to
such a fate. Every week James, or John, or Andy brought from the post a
letter in Richard's handwriting, directed to Mrs. Richard Markham, and
once in two weeks Andy carried a letter to the post directed in
Ethelyn's handwriting to "Richard Markham, M.C.," but Andy never
suspected that the dainty little envelope, with a Boston mark upon it,
inclosed only a blank sheet of paper! Ethelyn had affirmed so solemnly
that she would not write to her husband that she half feared to break
her vow; and, besides that, she could not forgive him for having left
her behind, while Marcia, Ella, and Melinda were enjoying themselves so
much. She knew she was doing wrong, and not a night of her life did she
go to her lonely bed that there did not creep over her a sensation of
fear as she thought, "What if I should die while I am so bad?"

At home, in Chicopee, she used always to go through with a form of
prayer, but she could not do that now for the something which rose up
between her and Heaven, smothering the words upon her lips, and so in
this dreadful condition she lived on day after day, growing more, and
more desolately and lonely, and wondering sadly if life would always be
as dreary and aimless as it was now. And while she pondered thus, Andy
prayed on and practiced his lessons in good manners, provoking the mirth
of the whole family by his ludicrous attempts to be polite, and feeling
sometimes tempted to give the matter up. Andy was everything to Ethelyn,
and once when her conscience was smiting her more than usual with regard
to the blanks, she said to him abruptly: "if you had made a wicked vow,
which would you do--keep it or break it, and so tell a falsehood?"

Andy was not much of a lawyer, he said, but "he thought he knew some
scripter right to the pint," and taking his well-worn Bible he found and
read the parable of the two sons commanded to work in their
father's vineyard.

"If the Saviour commended the one who said he wouldn't and then went and
did it, I think there can be no harm in your breaking a wicked vow:
leastways I should do it."

This was Andy's advice, and that night, long after the family were in
bed, a light was shining in Ethelyn's chamber, where she sat writing to
her husband, and as if Andy's spirit were pervading hers, she softened,
as she wrote and asked forgiveness for all the past which she had made
so wretched. She was going to do better, she said, and when her husband
came home she would try to make him happy.

"But, oh, Richard," she wrote, "please take me away from here to Camden,
or Olney, or anywhere--so I can begin anew to be the wife I ought to be.
I was never worthy of you, Richard. I deceived you from the first, and
if I could summon the courage I would tell you about it."

This letter which would have done so much good, was never finished, for
when the morning came there were troubled faces at the prairie
farmhouse--Mrs. Markham looking very anxious and Eunice very scared,
James going for the doctor and Andy for Mrs. Jones, while up in Ethie's
room, where the curtains were drawn so closely before the windows, life
and death were struggling for the mastery, and each in a measure coming
off triumphant.



Richard had not been very happy in Washington. He led too quiet and
secluded a life, his companions said, advising him to go out more, and
jocosely telling him that he was pining for his young wife and growing
quite an old man. When Melinda Jones came, Richard brightened a little,
for there was always a sense of comfort and rest in Melinda's presence,
and Richard spent much of his leisure in her society, accompanying her
to concerts and occasionally to a levee, and taking pains to show her
whatever he thought would interest her. It was pleasant to have a lady
with him sometimes, and he wished so much it had been practicable for
Ethelyn to have come. "Poor Ethie," he called her to himself, pitying
her because, vain man that he was, he thought her so lonely without him.
This was at first, and before he had received in reply to his letter
that dreadful blank, which sent such a chill to his heart, making him
cold, and faint, and sick, as he began to realize what it was in a
woman's power to do. He had occasionally thought of Ethelyn's threat,
not to write him a line, and felt very uncomfortable as he recalled the
expression of her eyes when she made it. But he did not believe she was
in earnest. She surely could not hold out against the letter he wrote,
telling how he missed her every moment, and how, if it had been at all
advisable, he would have taken her with him. He did not know Ethelyn,
and so was not prepared for the bitter disappointment in store for him
when the dainty little envelope was put into his hand. It was her
handwriting--so much he knew; and there lingered about the missive faint
traces of the sweet perfume he remembered as pervading everything she
wore or used. Ethelyn had not kept her vow; and with a throb of joy
Richard tore open the envelope and removed the delicate tinted sheet
inside. But the hand of the strong man shook and his heart grew heavy as
lead when he turned the sheet thrice over, seeking in vain for some line
or word, or syllable or sign. But there was none. Ethelyn had kept her
vow, and Richard felt for a moment as if all the world were as
completely a blank as that bit of gilt-edged paper he crumpled so
helplessly in his hand. Anon, however, hope whispered that she would
write next time; she could not hold out thus all winter; and so Richard
wrote again with the same success, until at last he expected nothing,
and people said of him that he was growing old, while even Melinda
noticed his altered appearance, and how fast his brown hair was turning
gray. Melinda was in one sense his good angel. She brought him news from
home and Ethelyn, telling for one thing of Ethie's offer to teach her
music during the winter; and for another, of Ethie's long drives upon
the prairie, sometimes with James, sometimes with John, but oftenest
with Andy, to whom she seemed to cling as to a very dear brother.

This news did Richard good, showing a better side of Ethie's character
than the one presented to him. She was not cold and proud to the family
at home; even his mother, who wrote to him once or twice, spoke kindly
of her, while James warmly applauded her, and Andy wrote a letter,
wonderful in composition, and full of nothing but Ethelyn, who made
their home so pleasant with her music, and songs, and pretty face. There
was some comfort in this^ and so Richard bore his burden in silence, and
no one ever dreamed that the letters he received with tolerable
regularity were only blank, fulfillments of a hasty vow.

With Christmas came the Van Buren set from Boston--Aunt Sophia, with
Frank, and his girlish bride, who soon became a belle, flirting with
every man who offered his attentions, while Frank was in no way behind
in his flirtations with the other sex. Plain, matter-of-fact Melinda
Jones was among the first to claim his notice after he learned that she
was niece of the man who drove such splendid blacks and kept so handsome
a suite of rooms at Willard's; but Melinda was more than his match, and
snubbed him so unmercifully that he gave her up, and sneered at her as
"that old-maidish girl from the West." Mrs. Dr. Van Buren had been
profuse in her inquiries after Ethelyn, and loud in her regrets at her
absence. She had also tried to patronize both Richard and Melinda,
taking the latter with her to the theater and to a reception, and trying
to cultivate her for the sake of poor Ethie, who was obliged to
associate with her and people like her. Melinda, however, did not need
Mrs. Van Buren's patronage. Her uncle was a man of wealth and mark, who
stood high in Washington, where he had been before. His niece could not
lack attention, and ere the season was over the two rival belles at
Washington were Mrs. Frank Van Buren, from Boston, and Miss Melinda
Jones, from Iowa.

But prosperity did not spoil Melinda, and James Markham's chances were
quite as good when, dressed in pink silk, with camelias in her hair, she
entertained some half-dozen judges and M.C.'s as when in brown delaine
and magenta ribbons she danced a quadrille at some "quilting bee out
West." She saw the difference, however, between men of cultivation and
those who had none, and began to understand the cause of Ethelyn's cold,
proud looks when surrounded by Richard's family. She began also silently
to watch and criticise Richard, comparing him with other men of equal
brain, and thinking how, if she were his wife, she would go to work to
correct his manners. Possibly, too, thoughts of James, in his blue frock
and cowhide boots, occasionally intruded themselves upon her mind; but
if so, they did not greatly disturb her equanimity, for, let what might
happen, Melinda felt herself equal to the emergency--whether it were to
put down Frank Van Buren and the whole race of impudent puppies like
him, or polish rough James Markham if need be. How she hated Frank Van
Buren when she saw his neglect of his young wife, whose money was all he
seemed to care for; and how utterly she loathed and despised him after
the night, when, at a party given by one of Washington's magnates, he
stood beside her for half an hour and talked confidently to her of
Ethelyn, whom, he hinted, he could have married if he would.

"Why didn't you, then?" and Melinda turned sharply upon him, with a look
in her black eyes which made him wince as he replied: "Family
interference--must have money, you know! But, zounds! don't I pity
her!--tied to that clown, whom--"

Frank did not finish the sentence, for Melinda's eyes fairly blazed with
anger as she cut him short with "Excuse me, Mr. Van Buren; I can't
listen to such abuse of one whom I esteem as highly as I do Judge
Markham. Why, sir, he is head and shoulders above you, in sense and
intellect and everything which makes a man," and with a haughty bow,
Melinda swept away, leaving the shamefaced Frank alone in his

"I'd like to kick myself if I could, though I told nothing but the
truth. Ethie did want me confoundedly, and I would have married her if
she hadn't been poor as a church mouse," Frank muttered to himself,
standing in the deep recess of the window, and all unconscious that just
outside upon the balcony was a silent, motionless form, which had heard
every word of his conversation with Melinda, and his soliloquy

Richard Markham had come to this party just to please Melinda, but he
did not enjoy it. If Ethie had been there he might; but he could not
forget the blank that day received, or the letter from James, which said
that Ethelyn was not looking as well as usual, and had the morning
previously asked him to turn back before they had ridden more than two
miles. He could not be happy with that upon his mind, and so he stole
from the gay scene out upon the balcony, where he stood watching the
quiet stars and thinking of Ethelyn, when his ear had caught by the
mention of her name.

He had not thought before who the couple were standing so near to him,
but he knew now it was Melinda and Frank Van Buren, and became an
involuntary listener to the conversation which ensued. There was a
clenching of his fist, a shutting together of his teeth, and an impulse
to knock the boasting Frank Van Buren down; and then, as the past
flashed before him, with the thought that possibly Frank spoke the truth
and Ethelyn had loved him, there swept over him such a sense of anguish
and desolation that he forgot all else in his own wretchedness. It had
never occurred to him that Ethelyn married him while all the time she
loved another--that perhaps she loved that other still--and the very
possibility of it drove him nearly wild.

He was missed from the party, but no one could tell when he left, for no
one saw him as he sprang down into the garden, and taking refuge in the
paths where the shades were the deepest, escaped unobserved into the
street, and so back to his own room, where he went over all the past
and recalled every little act of affection on Ethelyn's part, weighed it
in the balance with proofs that she did not care for him and never had.
So much did Richard love his wife and so anxious was he to find her
guiltless that he magnified every virtue and excused every error until
the verdict rendered was in her favor, and Frank alone was the
delinquent--Frank, the vain, conceited coxcomb, who thought because a
woman was civil to him that she must needs wish to marry him; Frank, the
wretch who had presumed to pity his cousin, and called her husband a
clown! How Richard's fingers tingled with a desire to thrash the
insulting rascal; and how, in spite of the verdict, his heart ached with
a dull, heavy fear lest it might be true in part, that Ethie had once
felt for Frank something deeper than what girls usually feel for their
first cousins.

"And supposing she has?" Richard's generous nature asked. "Supposing she
did love this Frank once on a time well enough to marry him? She surely
was all over that love before she promised to be my wife, else she had
not promised; and so the only point where she is at fault was in
concealing from me the fact that she had loved another first. I was
honest with her. I told her of Abigail, and it was very hard to do it,
for I felt that the proud girl's spirit rebelled against such as Abigail
was years ago. It would have been so easy, then, for Ethelyn to have
confessed to me, if she had a confession to make; though how she could
ever care for such a jackanapes as that baboon of a Frank is more than I
can tell."

Richard was waxing warm against Frank Van Buren, whom he despised so
heartily that he put upon his shoulders all the blame concerning
Ethelyn, if blame there were. He would so like to think her innocent,
and he tried so hard to do it, that he succeeded in part, though
frequently as the days passed on, and he sat at his post in the House,
listening to some tiresome speech, or took his solitary walk toward
Arlington Heights, a pang of something like jealousy and dread that all
had not been open and fair between himself and his wife cut like a
knife through his heart, and almost stopped his breath. The short
session was wearing to a close, and he was glad of it, for he longed to
be home again with Ethelyn, even if he were doomed to meet the same
coldness which those terrible blanks had brought him. Anything was
preferable to the life he led, and though he grew pale as ashes and his
limbs quivered like a reed when, toward the latter part of February, he
received a telegram to come home at once, as Ethelyn was very sick, he
hailed the news as a message of deliverance, whereby he could escape
from hated Washington a few days sooner. He hardly knew when or how the
idea occurred to him that Aunt Barbara's presence would be more
acceptable in that house, where he guessed what had happened; but occur
to him it did; and Aunt Barbara, sitting by her winter fire and thinking
of Ethelyn, was startled terribly by the missive which bade her join
Richard Markham at Albany, on the morrow, and go with him to Iowa, where
Ethie lay so ill. A pilgrimage to Mecca would scarcely have looked more
formidable to the good woman than this sudden trip to Iowa; but where
her duty was concerned she did not hesitate, and when at noon of the
next day the New York train came up the river, the first thing Richard
saw as he walked rapidly toward the Central Depot at Albany was Aunt
Barbara's bonnet protruding from the car window and Aunt Barbara's hand
making frantic passes and gestures to attract his notice.



For one whole week the windows of Ethelyn's room were darkened as dark
as Mrs. Markham's heavy shawl and a patchwork quilt could make them. The
doctor rode to and from the farmhouse, looking more and more concerned
each time he came from the sick-room. Mrs. Jones was over almost every
hour, or if she did not come Tim was sent to inquire, his voice very low
and subdued as he asked, "How is she now?" while James' voice was lower
and sadder still as he answered, "There is no change." Up and down the
stairs Mrs. Markham trod softly, wishing that she had never harbored an
unkind thought against the pale-faced girl lying so unconscious of all
they were doing for her. In the kitchen below, with a scared look upon
her face, Eunice washed and wiped her dishes, and wondered if Richard
would get home in time for the funeral, and if he would order from
Camden a metallic coffin such as Minnie Dayton had been buried in; and
Eunice's tears fell like rain as she thought how terrible it was to die
so young, and unprepared, too, as she heard Mrs. Markham say to the
Methodist clergyman when he came over to offer consolation.

Yes, Ethelyn was unprepared for the fearful change which seemed so near,
and of all the household none felt this more keenly than Andy, whose
tears soaked through and through the leaf of the prayer-book, where was
printed the petition for the sick, and who improvised many a touching
prayer himself, kneeling by the wooden chair where God had so often met
and blessed him.

"Don't let Ethie die, Good Father, don't let her die; at least not till
she is ready, and Dick is here to see her--poor old Dick, who loves her
so much. Please spare her for him, and take me in her place. I'm good
for nothing, only I do hope I'm ready, and Ethie ain't; so spare her and
take me in her place."

This was one of Andy's prayers--generous, unselfish Andy--who would have
died for Ethelyn, and who had been in such exquisite distress since the
night when Eunice first found Ethelyn moaning in her room, with her
letter to Richard lying unfinished before her. No one had read that
letter--the Markhams were too honorable for that--and it had been put
away in the portfolio, while undivided attention was given to Ethelyn.
She had been unconscious nearly all the time, saying once when Mrs.
Markham asked, "Shall we send for Richard?" "Send for Aunt Barbara;
please send for Aunt Barbara."

This was the third day of Ethelyn's danger, and on the sixth there came
a change. The shawl was pinned back from the window, admitting light
enough for the watchers by the bedside to see if the sufferer still
breathed. Life was not extinct, and Mrs. Markham's lips moved with a
prayer of thanksgiving when Mrs. Jones pointed to a tiny drop of
moisture beneath the tangled hair. Ethelyn would live, the doctor said,
but down in the parlor on the sofa where Daisy had lain was a little
lifeless form with a troubled look upon its face, showing that it had
fought for its life. Prone upon the floor beside it sat Andy, whispering
to the little one and weeping for "poor old Dick, who would mourn for
his lost boy."

Andy was very sorry, and to one who saw him that day, and, ignorant of
the circumstances, asked what was the matter that he looked so solemn,
he answered sadly, "I have just lost my little uncle that I wanted to
stand sponsor for. He only lived a day," and Andy's tears flowed afresh
as he thought of all he had lost with the child whose life numbered
scarcely twenty-four hours in all. But that was enough to warrant its
being now among the spirits of the Redeemed, and heaven seemed fairer,
more desirable to Andy than it had done before. His father was there
with Daisy and his baby uncle, as he persisted in calling Ethelyn's dead
boy until James told him better, and pointed out the ludicrousness of
the mistake. To Ethelyn Andy was tender as a mother, when at last they
let him see her, and his lips left marks upon her forehead and cheek.
She was perfectly conscious now, and when told they had sent for
Richard, manifested a good deal of interest, and asked when he would
probably be there. They were expecting him every train; but ere he came
the fever, which seemed for a time to have abated, returned with double
force and Ethelyn knew nothing of the kisses Richard pressed upon her
lips, or the tears Aunt Barbara shed over her poor darling.

There were anxious hearts and troubled faces in the farmhouse that day,
for Death was brooding there again, and they who watched his shadow
darkening around them spoke only in whispers, as they obeyed the
physician's orders. When Richard first came in Mrs. Markham wound her
arm around his neck, and said, "I am so sorry for you, my poor boy,"
while the three sons, one after another, had grasped their brother's
hand in token of sympathy, and that was all that had passed between them
of greeting. For the rest of the day, Richard had sat constantly by
Ethelyn, watching the changes of her face, and listening to her as she
raved in snatches, now of himself, and the time he saved her from the
maddened cow, and now of Frank and the huckleberries, which she said
were ripening on the Chicopee hills. When she talked of this Richard
held his breath, and once, as he leaned forward so as not to lose a
word, he caught Aunt Barbara regarding him intently, her wrinkled cheek
flushing as she met his eye and guessed what was in his mind. If Richard
had needed any confirmation of his suspicions, that look on transparent
Aunt Barbara's face would have confirmed them. There had been something
between Ethelyn and Frank Van Buren more than a cousinly liking, and
Richard's heart throbbed powerfully as he sat by the tossing, restless
Ethelyn, moaning on about the huckleberry hills, and the ledge of rocks
where the wild laurels grew. This pain he did not try to analyze; he
only said to himself that he felt no bitterness toward Ethelyn. She was
too near to death's dark tide for that. She was Ethie--his darling--the
mother of the child that had been buried from sight before he came.
Perhaps she did not love him, and never would; but he had loved her, oh!
so much, and if he lost her he would be wretched indeed. And so,
forgiving all the past of which he knew, and trying to forgive all he
did not know, he sat by her till the sun went down, and his mother came
for the twentieth time, urging him to eat. He had not tasted food that
day, and faint for the want of it he followed her to where the table had
been set, and supper prepared with a direct reference to his
particular taste.

He felt better and stronger when supper was over, and listened eagerly
while Andy and Eunice, who had been the last with Ethelyn before her
sudden illness, recounted every incident as minutely and reverently as
if speaking of the dead. Especially did he hang on what Andy said with
reference to her questioning him about the breaking of a wicked vow, and
when Eunice added her mite to the effect that, getting up for some
camphor for an aching tooth, she had heard a groan from Ethelyn's room,
and had found her mistress bending over a half-finished letter, which
she "reckoned" was to him, and had laid away in the portfolio, he waited
for no more, but hurried upstairs to the little bookcase where Eunice
had put the treasure--for it was a countless treasure, that unfinished
letter, which he read with the great tears rolling down his cheeks, and
his heart growing tenfold softer and warmer toward the writer, who
confessed to having wronged him, and wished so much that she dare tell
him all. What was it she had to tell? Would he ever know? he asked
himself, as he put the letter back where he found it. Yes, she would
surely tell him, if she lived, as live she must. She was dearer to him
now than she had ever been, and the lips unused to prayer, save as a
form, prayed most earnestly that Ethie might be spared. Then, as there
flashed upon him a sense of the inconsistency there was in keeping aloof
from God all his life, and going to him only when danger threatened, he
bowed his head in very shame, and the prayer died on his lips. But Andy
always prayed--at least he had for many years; and so the wise strong
brother sought the simple weaker one, and asked him to do what he had
not power to do.

Andy's swollen eyes and haggard face bore testimony to his sorrow, and
his voice was very low and earnest, as he replied: "Brother Dick, I'm
prayin' all the time. I've said that prayer for the sick until I've worn
it threadbare, and now every breath I draw has in it the petition, 'We
beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord.' There's nothing in that about
Ethie, it's true; but God knows I mean her, and will hear me all
the same."

There was a touching simplicity in Andy's faith, which went to the heart
of Richard, making him feel of how little avail was knowledge or wisdom
or position if there was lacking the one thing needful, which Andy so
surely possessed. That night was a long, wearisome one at the farmhouse;
but when the morning broke hope and joy came with it, for Ethelyn was
better, and in the brown eyes, which unclosed so languidly, there was a
look of consciousness, which deepened into a look of surprise and joyful
recognition as they rested upon Aunt Barbara.

"Is this Chicopee? Am I home? Oh, Aunt Barbara, I am so glad! you can't
guess how glad, or know how tired and sorry your poor Ethie has been,"
came brokenly from the pale lips, as Ethelyn moved nearer to Aunt
Barbara and laid her head upon the motherly bosom, where it had so often
lain in the dear old Chicopee days.

She did not notice Richard, or seem to know that she was elsewhere than
in Chicopee, back in the old home, and Richard's pulse throbbed quickly
as he saw the flush come over Ethie's face, and the look of pain creep
into her eyes, when a voice broke the illusion and told her she was
still in Olney, with him and the mother-in-law leaning over the bed-rail
saying, "Speak to her, Richard."

"Ethie, don't you know me, too?--I came with Aunt Barbara."

That was what he said, as he bent over her, seeking to take in his own
one of the feverish little hands locked so fast in those of Aunt
Barbara. She did know then, and remember, and her lip quivered in a
grieved, disappointed way as she said, "Yes, Richard, I know now. I am
not at home, I'm here;" and the intonation of the voice as it uttered
the word "here," spoke volumes, and told Aunt Barbara just how homesick
and weary and wretched her darling had been here. She must not talk
much, the physician said, and so with one hand in Richard's and one in
Aunt Barbara's she fell away to sleep again, while the family stole out
to their usual avocations, Mrs. Markham and Eunice to their baking,
James and John to their work upon the farm, and Andy to his Bethel in
the wood-house chamber, where he repeated: "Blessed be the Lord God of
Israel who has visited and redeemed his people," and added at the
conclusion the Gloria Patri, which he thought suitable for the occasion.



They were very pleasant to Ethelyn, for with Aunt Barbara anticipating
every want, and talking of Chicopee; she could not be very weary. It was
pleasant, too, having Richard home again, and Ethie was very soft and
kind and amiable toward him; but she did not tell him of the letter she
had commenced, or hint at the confession he longed to hear. It would
have been comparatively easy to write it, but with him there where she
could look into his face and watch the dark expression which was sure to
come into his eyes, it was hard to tell him that Frank Van Buren had
held the first place in her affections, if indeed he did not hold it
now. She was not certain yet, though she hoped and tried to believe that
Frank was nothing more than cousin now. He surely ought not to be, with
Nettie calling him her husband, while she too was a wife. But so subtle
was the poison which that unfortunate attachment had infused into her
veins that she could not tell whether her nature was cleared of it or
not, and so, though she asked forgiveness for having so literally kept
her vow, and said that she did commence a letter to him, she kept back
the most important part of all. It was better to wait, she thought,
until she could truly say, "I loved Frank Van Buren once, but now I love
you far better than ever I did him."

Had she guessed how much Richard knew, and how the knowledge was
rankling in his bosom, she might have done differently. But she took the
course she thought the best, and the perfect understanding Richard had
so ardently hoped for was not then arrived at. For a time, however,
there seemed to be perfect peace between them, and could Richard have
forgotten Frank Van Buren's words or even those of Ethie herself when
her fever was on, he would have been supremely happy. But to forget was
impossible, and he often found himself wondering how much of Frank's
assertion was true, and if Ethelyn would ever be as open and honest
with him as he had tried to be with her. She did not get well very fast,
and the color came slowly back into her lips and cheeks. She was far
happier than she had been before since she first came to Olney. She
could not say that she loved her husband as a true wife ought to love a
man like Richard Markham, but she found a pleasure in his society which
she had never experienced before, while Aunt Barbara's presence was a
constant source of joy. That good woman had prolonged her stay far
beyond what she had thought it possible when she left Chicopee. She
could not tear herself away, when Ethie pleaded so earnestly for her to
remain a little longer, and so, wholly impervious to the hints which
Mrs. Markham occasionally threw out, that her services were no longer
needed as nurse to Ethelyn, she stayed on week after week, seeing far
more than she seemed to see, and making up her mind pretty accurately
with regard to the prospect of Ethie's happiness, if she remained an
inmate of her husband's family.

Aunt Barbara and Mrs. Markham did not harmonize at all. At first, when
Ethie was so sick, everything had been merged in the one absorbing
thought of her danger, and even the knowledge accidentally obtained that
Richard had paid Miss Bigelow's fare out there and would pay it back,
had failed to produce more than a passing pang in the bosom of the
close, calculating, economical Mrs. Markham; but when the danger was
past, it kept recurring again and again, with very unpleasant
distinctness, that Aunt Barbara was an expense they could well do
without. Nobody could quarrel with Aunt Barbara--she was so mild, and
gentle, and peaceable--and Mrs. Markham did not quarrel with her, but
she thought about her all the time, and fretted over her, and remembered
the letter she had written about her ways and her being good to Ethie,
and wondered what she was there for, and why she did not go home, and
asked her what time they generally cleaned house in Chicopee, and if she
dared trust her cleaning with Betty. Aunt Barbara was a great annoyance,
and she complained to Eunice and Mrs. Jones, and Melinda, who had
returned from Washington, that she was spoiling Ethelyn, babying her
so, and making her think herself so much weaker than she was.

"Mercy knew," she said, that in her day, when she was young and having
children, she did not hug the bed forever. She had something else to do,
and was up and around in a fortnight at the most. Her table wasn't
loaded down with oranges and figs, and the things they called banannys,
which fairly made her sick at her stomach. Nobody was carryin' her up
glasses of milk-punch, and lemonade, and cups of tea, at all hours of
the day. She was glad of anything, and got well the faster for it.
Needn't tell her!--it would do Ethelyn good to stir around and take the
air, instead of staying cooped up in her room, complaining that it is
hot and close there in the bedroom. "It's airy enough out doors," and
with a most aggrieved look on her face, Mrs. Markham put into the oven
the pan of soda biscuit she had been making, and then proceeded to lay
the cloth for tea.

Eunice had been home for a day or two with a felon on her thumb, and
thus a greater proportion of the work had fallen upon Mrs. Markham,
which to some degree accounted for her ill-humor. Mrs. Jones and Melinda
were spending the afternoon with her, but the latter was up in Ethie's
room. Melinda had always a good many ideas of her own, and she had
brought with her several new ones from Washington and New York, where
she had stayed for four weeks at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. But Melinda,
though greatly improved in appearance, was not one whit spoiled. In
manner, and the fit of her dress, she was more like Ethelyn and Mrs.
Judge Miller, of Camden, than she once had been, and at first James was
a little afraid of her, she puffed her hair so high, and wore her gowns
so long, while his mother, looking at the stylish hat and fashionable
sack which she brought back from Gotham, said her head was turned, and
she was altogether too fine for Olney. But when, on the next rainy
Sunday, she rode to church in her father's lumber wagon, holding the
blue cotton umbrella over her last year's straw and waterproof--and when
arrived at the church she suffered James to help her to alight, jumping
over the muddy wheel, and then going straight to her accustomed seat in
the choir, which had missed her strong voice so much--the son changed
his mind, and said she was the same as ever; while after the day when
she found Mrs. Markham making soap out behind the corn-house, and
good-humoredly offered to watch it and stir it while that lady went into
the house to see to the corn pudding, which Eunice was sure to spoil if
left to her own ingenuity, the mother, too, changed her mind, and wished
Richard had been so lucky as to have fixed his choice on Melinda. But
James was far from wishing a thing which would so seriously have
interfered with his hopes and wishes. He was very glad that Richard's
preference had fallen where it did, and his cheery whistle was heard
almost constantly, and after Tim Jones told, in his blunt way, how
"Melind was tryin' to train him, and make him more like them dandies at
the big tavern in New York," he, too, began to amend, and taking Richard
for his pattern, imitated him, until he found that simple, loving Andy,
in his anxiety to please Ethelyn, had seized upon more points of
etiquette than Richard ever knew existed, and then he copied Andy,
having this in his favor: that whatever he did himself was done with a
certain grace inherent in his nature, whereas Andy's attempts were
awkward in the extreme.

Melinda saw the visible improvement in James, and imputing it rather to
Ethelyn's influence than her own, was thus saved from any embarrassment
she might have experienced had she known to a certainty how large a
share of James Markham's thoughts and affections she possessed. She was
frequently at the farmhouse; but had not made what her mother called a
visit until the afternoon when Mrs. Markham gave her opinion so freely
of Aunt Barbara's petting and its effect on Ethelyn.

From the first introduction Aunt Barbara had liked the practical,
straightforward Melinda, in whom she found a powerful ally whenever any
new idea was suggested with regard to Ethelyn. To her Aunt Barbara had
confided her belief that it was not well for Ethelyn to stay there any
longer--that she and Richard both would be better by themselves; an
opinion which Melinda heartily indorsed, and straightway set herself at
work to form some plan whereby Aunt Barbara's idea might be carried out.

Melinda was not a meddlesome girl, but she did like to help manage other
people's business, doing it so well, and evincing so little selfishness
in her consideration for others, that when once she had taken charge of
a person's affairs she was pretty sure to have the privilege again. When
Richard ran for justice of the peace, and she was a little girl, she had
refused to speak to three other little girls who flaunted the colors of
the opposition candidate; and when he was nominated first for Judge and
then as member for the district, she had worked for him quite as
zealously as Tim himself, and through her more than one vote, which
otherwise might have been lost, was cast in his favor. As she had worked
for him, so she now worked for Ethelyn, approaching Richard very
adroitly and managing so skillfully that when at last, on the occasion
of her visit to his mother's, Aunt Barbara asked him, in her presence
and Ethelyn's, if he had never thought it would be well both for himself
and wife to live somewhere else than there at home, he never dreamed
that he was echoing the very ideas Melinda had instilled into his mind
by promptly replying that "he had recently thought seriously of a
change," and then asked Ethie where she would like to live--in Olney or
in Camden.

"Not Olney--no, not Olney!" Ethelyn gasped, thinking how near that was
to her mother-in-law, and shrinking from the espionage to which she
would surely be subjected.

Her preference was Davenport, but to this Richard would not listen.
Indeed, he began to feel sorry that he had admitted a willingness to
change at all, for the old home was very dear to him, and he thought he
would never leave it. But he stood committed now, and Melinda followed
him up so dexterously, that in less than half an hour it was arranged
that early in June Ethelyn should have a home in Camden--either a house
of her own, or a suite of rooms at the Stafford House, just which she
preferred. She chose the latter, and, womanlike, began at once in fancy
to furnish and arrange the handsome apartments which looked out upon
Camden Park, and which Melinda said were at present unoccupied. Melinda
knew, for only two days before she had been to Camden with her brother
Tim and dined at the Stafford House, and heard her neighbor on her right
inquire of his vis-a-vis how long since General Martin left the second
floor of the new wing, and who occupied it now. This was a mere happen
so, but Melinda was one of those to whom the right thing was always
happening, the desired information always coming; and if she did
contrive to ascertain the price charged for the rooms, it was only
because she understood that one of the Markham peculiarities was being a
little close, and wished to be armed at every point.

Richard had no idea that Melinda was managing him, or that anyone was
managing him. He thought himself that Camden might be a pleasant place
to live; as an ex-Judge and M.C. he could get business anywhere; and
though he preferred Olney, inasmuch as it was home, he would, if Ethelyn
liked, try Camden for a while. It is true the price of the rooms, which
Melinda casually named, was enormous, but, then, Ethelyn's health and
happiness were above any moneyed consideration; and so, while Mrs.
Markham below made and molded the soda biscuit, and talked about
dreading the hot weather if "Ethelyn was going to be weakly," Aunt
Barbara, and Melinda, and Richard settled a matter which made her eyes
open wide with astonishment when, after the exit of the Joneses and the
doing up of her work, it was revealed to her. Of course, she charged it
all to Aunt Barbara, wishing that good woman as many miles away as
intervened between Olney and Chicopee. Had the young people been going
to keep house, she would have been more reconciled, for in that case
much of what they consumed would have been the product of the farm; but
to board, to take rooms at the Stafford House where Ethelyn would have
nothing in the world to do but to dress and gossip, was abominable. Then
when she heard of the price she opposed the plan with so much energy
that, but for Aunt Barbara and Melinda Jones, Richard might have
succumbed; but the majority ruled, and Ethelyn's eyes grew brighter, and
her thin cheeks rounder, with the sure hope of leaving a place where she
had been so unhappy. She should miss Melinda Jones; and though she would
be near Mrs. Miller, and Marcia Fenton, and Ella Backus, they could not
be to her all Melinda had been, while Andy--Ethelyn felt the lumps
rising in her throat whenever she thought of him and the burst of tears
with which he had heard that she was going away.

"I can't help thinkin' it's for the wuss," he said, wiping his smooth
face with the cuff of his coat-sleeve. "Something will happen as the
result of your goin' there. I feel it in my bones."

Were Andy's words prophetic? Would something happen, if they went to
Camden, which would not have happened had they remained in Olney?
Ethelyn did not ask herself the question. She was too supremely happy,
and if she thought at all, it was of how she could best accelerate her
departure from the lonely farmhouse.

When Mrs. Markham found that they were really going, that nothing she
could say would be of any avail, she gave up the contest, and,
mother-like, set herself at work planning for their comfort, or rather
for Richard's comfort. It was for him that the best and newest
featherbed, weighing thirty pounds and a half to a feather, was aired
and sunned three days upon the kitchen roof, the good woman little
dreaming that if the thirty-pounder was used at all, it would do duty
under the hair mattress Ethelyn meant to have. They were to furnish
their own rooms, and whatever expense Mrs. Markham could save her boy
she meant to do. There was the carpet in their chamber--they could have
that; for after they were gone it was not likely the room would be used,
and the old rag one would answer. They could have the curtains, too, if
they liked, with the table and the chairs. Left to himself and his
mother's guidance, Richard would undoubtedly have taken to Camden such a
promiscuous outfit as would have made even a truckman smile; but there
were three women leagued against him, and so draft after draft was drawn
from his funds in the Camden bank until the rooms were furnished; and
one bright morning in early June, a week after Aunt Barbara started for
Chicopee, Ethie bid her husband's family good-by, and turning her back
upon Olney, turned also the first leaf of her life's history in
the West.



Richard was not happy in his new home; it did not fit him like the old.
He missed his mother's petting; he missed the society of his plain,
outspoken brothers; he missed his freedom from restraint, and he missed
the deference so universally paid to him in Olney, where he was the only
lion. In Camden there were many to divide the honors with him; and
though he was perhaps unconscious of it, he had been first so long that
to be one of many firsts was not altogether agreeable. With the new home
and new associates more like those to which she had been accustomed,
Ethelyn had resumed her training process, which was not now borne as
patiently as in the halcyon days of the honeymoon, when most things wore
the couleur de rose and were right because they came from the pretty
young bride. Richard chafed under the criticisms to which he was so
frequently subjected, and if he improved on them in the least it was not
perceptible to Ethlyn, who had just cause to blush for the careless
habits of her husband--habits which even Melinda observed, when in
August she spent a week with Ethelyn, and then formed one of a party
which went for a pleasure trip to St. Paul and Minnehaha. From this
excursion, which lasted for two weeks, Richard returned to Camden in
anything but an amiable frame of mind. Ethelyn had not pleased him at
all, notwithstanding that she had been unquestionably the reigning belle
of the party--the one whose hand was claimed in every dance, and whose
company was sought in every ride and picnic. Marcia Fenton and Ella
Backus faded into nothingness when she was near, and they laughingly
complained to Richard that his wife had stolen all their beaux away, and
they wished he would make her do better.

"I wish I could," was his reply, spoken not playfully, but moodily, just
as he felt at the time.

He was not an adept in concealing his feelings, which generally showed
themselves upon his face, or were betrayed in the tones of his voice,
and when he spoke as he did of his wife the two young girls glanced
curiously at each other, wondering if it where possible that the grave
Judge was jealous. If charged with jealousy Richard would have denied
it, though he did not care to have Ethelyn so much in Harry Clifford's
society. Richard knew nothing definite against Harry, except that he
would occasionally drink more than was wholly in accordance with a
steady and safe locomotion of his body; and once since they had been at
the Stafford House, where he also boarded, the young lawyer had been
invisible for three entire days. "Sick with a cold" was his excuse when
he appeared again at the table, with haggard face and bloodshot eyes;
but in the parlor, and halls, and private rooms, there where whispers of
soiled clothes and jammed hats, and the servants bribed to keep the
secret that young lawyer Clifford's boots were carried dangling up to
No. 94 at a very late hour of the night on which he professed to have
taken his cold. After this, pretty Marcia Fenton, who, before Ethelyn
came to town, had ridden oftenest after the black horses owned by Harry,
tossed her curls when he came near, and arched her eyebrows in a manner
rather distasteful to the young man; while Ella Backus turned her back
upon him, and in his hearing gave frequent lectures on intemperance and
its loathsomeness. Ethelyn, on the contrary, made no difference in her
demeanor toward him. She cared nothing for him either way, except that
his polite attentions and delicate deference to her tastes and opinions
were complimentary and flattering, and so she saw no reason why she
should shun him because he had fallen once. It might make him worse, and
she should stand by him as an act of philanthropy, she said to Richard
when he asked her what she saw to admire in that drunken Clifford.

Richard had no idea that Ethelyn cared in the least for Harry Clifford;
he knew she did not, though she sometimes singled him out as one whose
manners in society her husband would do well to imitate. Of the two
young men, Harry Clifford and Frank Van Buren, who had been suggested to
him as copies, Richard preferred the former, and wished he could feel as
easy with regard to Frank as he was with regard to Harry. He had never
forgotten that fragment of conversation overheard in Washington, and as
time went on it haunted him more and more. He had given up expecting any
confession from Ethelyn, though at first he was constantly expecting it,
and laying little snares by way of hints and reminders; but Ethelyn had
evidently changed her mind, and if there was a past which Richard ought
to have known, he would now probably remain in ignorance of it, unless
some chance revealed it. It would have been far better if Richard had
tried to banish all thoughts of Frank Van Buren from his mind and taken
Ethelyn as he found her; but Richard was a man, and so, manlike, he
hugged the skeleton which he in part had dragged into his home, and
petted it, and kept it constantly in sight, instead of thrusting it out
from the chamber of his heart, and barring the door against it. Frank's
name was never mentioned between them, but Richard fancied that always
after the receipt of Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's letters Ethelyn was a little
sad, and more disposed to find fault with him, and he sometimes wished
Mrs. Dr. Van Buren might never write to them again. There was one of her
letters awaiting Ethelyn after her return from Minnesota, and she read
it standing under the chandelier, with Richard lying upon the couch near
by, watching her curiously. There was something in the letter which
disturbed her evidently, for her face flushed, and her lips shut firmly
together, as they usually did when she was agitated. Richard already
read Aunt Barbara's letters, and heretofore he had been welcome to Mrs.
Van Buren's, a privilege of which he seldom availed himself, for he
found nothing interesting in her talk of parties, and operas and
fashions, and the last new color of dress goods, and style of
wearing the hair.

"It was too much twaddle for him," he had said in reply to Ethelyn's
questions as to whether he would like to see what Aunt Van Buren
had written.

Now, however, she did not offer to show him the letter, but crumpled it
nervously in her pocket, and going to her piano, began to play
dashingly, rapidly, as was her custom when excited. She did not know
that Richard was listening to her, much less watching her, as he lay in
the shadow, wondering what that letter contained, and wishing so much
that he knew. Ethelyn was tired that night, and after the first heat of
her excitement had been thrown off in a spirited schottische, she closed
her piano, and coming to the couch where Richard was lying, sat down by
his side, and after waiting a moment in silence, asked "of what he was

There was something peculiar in the tone of her voice--something almost
beseeching, as if she either wanted sympathy, or encouragement for the
performance of some good act. But Richard did not so understand her. He
was, to tell the truth, a very little cross, as men, and women, too, are
apt to be when tired with sight-seeing and dissipation. He had been away
from his business three whole weeks, traveling with a party for not one
member of which, with the exception of his wife, Melinda, Marcia, and
Ella, did he care a straw.

Hotel life at St. Paul he regarded as a bore, second only to life at
Saratoga. The falls of Minnehaha "was a very pretty little stream," he
thought, but what people could see about it go into such ecstasies as
Ethelyn, and even Melinda did, he could not tell. Perhaps if Harry
Clifford had not formed a part of every scene where Ethelyn was the
prominent figure, he might have judged differently. But Harry had been
greatly in his way, and Richard did not like it any more than he liked
Ethelyn's flirting so much with him, and leaving him, her husband, to
look about for himself. He had shown, too, that he did not like it to
Marcia Fenton and Ella Backus who probably thought him a bear, as
perhaps he was. On the whole, Richard was very uncomfortable in his
mind, and Aunt Van Buren's letter did not tend in the least to improve
his temper; so when Ethelyn asked him of what he was thinking, and
accompanied her question with a stroke of her hand upon his hair, he
answered her, "Nothing much, except that I am tired and sleepy."

The touch upon his hair he had felt to his finger tips, for Ethelyn
seldom caressed him even as much as this; but he was in too moody a
frame of mind to respond as he would once have done. His manner was not
very encouraging, but, as if she had nerved herself to some painful
duty, Ethelyn persisted, and said to him next: "You have not seen Aunt
Van Buren's letter. Shall I read you what she says?"

Every nerve in Richard's body had been quivering with curiosity to see
that letter, but now, when the coveted privilege was within his reach,
he refused it; and, little dreaming of all he was throwing aside,
answered indifferently: "No, I don't know that I care to hear it. I
hardly think it will pay. Where are they now?"

"At Saratoga," Ethelyn replied; but her voice was not the same which had
addressed Richard first; there was a coldness, a constraint in it now,
as if her good resolution had been thrown back upon her and frozen up
the impulse prompting her to the right.

Richard had had his chance with Ethelyn and lost it. But he did not know
it, or guess how sorry and disappointed she was when at last she left
him and retired to her sleeping-room. There was a window open in the
parlor, and as the wind was rising with a sound of rain, Richard went to
close it ere following his wife. The window was near to the piano and as
he shut it something rattled at his feet. It was the crumpled letter,
which Ethelyn had accidentally drawn from her dress pocket with the
handkerchief she held in her hand when she sat down by Richard. He knew
it was that letter, and his first thought was to carry it to Ethelyn;
then, as he remembered her offer to read it to him, he said, "Surely
there can be no harm in reading it for myself. A man has a right to know
what is in a letter to his wife."

Thus reasoning, he sat down by the side light as far away from the
bedroom door as possible and commenced Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's letter. They
were stopping at the United States, and there was nothing particular at
first, except her usual remarks of the people and what they wore; but on
the third page Richard's eye caught Frank's name, and skipping all else,
leaped eagerly forward to what the writer was saying of her son. His
conduct evidently did not please his mother; neither did the conduct of
Nettie, who was too insipid for anything, the lady wrote, adding that
she was not half so bright and pretty as when she was first married, but
had the headache and kept her own room most of the time, and was looking
so faded and worn that Frank was really ashamed of her.

"You know how he likes brilliant, sparkling girls," she wrote, "and of
course he has no patience with Nettie's fancied ailments. I can't say
that I altogether sympathize with her myself; and, dear Ethie, I must
acknowledge that it has more than once occurred to me that I did very
wrong to meddle with Frank's first love affair. He would be far happier
now if it had been suffered to go on, for I suspect he has never
entirely gotten over it; but it is too late now for regrets. Nettie is
his wife, and he must make the best of it."

Then followed what seemed the secret of the Van Buren discomfort. The
bank in which most of Nettie's fortune was deposited had failed, leaving
her with only the scanty income of five hundred dollars a year, a sum
not sufficient to buy clothes, Mrs. Van Buren said. But Richard did not
notice this--his mind was only intent upon Frank's first love affair,
which ought to have gone on. He did not ask himself whether, in case it
had gone on, Ethelyn would have been there, so near to him that her soft
breathing came distinctly to his ear. He knew she would not; there had
been something between her and Frank Van Buren, he was convinced beyond
a doubt, and the fiercest pang he had ever known was that which came to
him when he sat with Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's letter in his hand, wondering
why Ethie had withheld the knowledge of it from him, and if she had
outlived the love which her aunt regretted as having come to naught.
Then, as the more generous part of his nature began to seek excuses for
her, he asked himself why she offered to read the letter if she had
really been concerned in Frank's first love affair, and hope whispered
that possibly she was not the heroine of that romance. There was comfort
in that thought: and Richard would have been comforted if jealousy had
not suggested how easy it was for her to skip the part relating to
Nettie and Frank, and thus leave him as much in the dark as ever. Yes,
that was undoubtedly her intention. While seeming to be so open and
honest, she would have deceived him all the more. This was what Richard
decided, and his heart grew very hard against the young wife, who looked
so innocent and pretty in her quiet sleep, when at last he sought his
pillow and lay down by her side.

He was very moody and silent for days after that, and even his clients
detected an irritability in his manner which they had never seen before.
"There was nothing ailed him," he said to Ethelyn, when she asked what
was the matter, and accused him of being positively cross. She was very
gay; Camden society suited her; and as the season advanced, and the
festivities grew more and more frequent, she was seldom at home more
than one or two evenings in the week, while the day was given either to
the arrangement of dress or taking of necessary rest, so that her
husband saw comparatively little of her, except for the moment when she
always came to him with hood and white cloak in hand to ask him how she
looked, before going to the carriage waiting at the door. Never in her
girlish days had she been so beautiful as she was now, but Richard
seldom told her so, though he felt the magic influence of her brilliant
beauty, and did not wonder that she was the reigning belle. He seldom
accompanied her himself. Parties, and receptions, and concerts, were
bores, he said; and at first he had raised objections to her going
without him. But after motherly Mrs. Harris, who boarded in the next
block, and was never happier than when chaperoning someone, offered to
see to her and take her under the same wing which had sheltered six
fine and now well-married daughters, Richard made no further objections.
He did not wish to be thought a domestic tyrant; he did not wish to seem
jealous, and so he would wrap Ethie's cloak around her, and taking her
himself to Mrs. Harris' carriage, would give that lady sundry charges
concerning her, bidding her see that she did not dance till wholly
wearied out, and asking her to bring her home earlier than the previous
night. Then, returning to his solitary rooms, he would sit nursing the
demon which might so easily have been thrust aside. Ethie was not
insensible to his kindness in allowing her to follow the bent of her own
inclinations, even when it was so contrary to his own, and for his sake
she did many things she might not otherwise have done. She snubbed Harry
Clifford and the whole set of dandies like him, so that, though they
danced, and talked, and laughed with her, they never crossed a certain
line of propriety which she had drawn between them. She was very
circumspect; she tried at first in various ways to atone to Richard for
her long absence from him, telling him whatever she thought would
interest him, and sometimes, when she found him waiting for her, and
looking so tired and sleepy, playfully chiding him for sitting up for
her, and telling him that though it was kind in him to do so, she
preferred that he should not. This was early in the season; but after
the day when Mrs. Markham, senior, came over from Olney to spend the
day, and "blow Richard's wife up," as she expressed it, everything was
changed, and Ethelyn stayed out as late as she liked without any
concessions to Richard. Mrs. Markham, senior, had heard strange stories
of Ethelyn's proceedings--"going to parties night after night, with her
dress shamefully low, and going to plays and concerts bareheaded, with
flowers and streamers in her hair, besides wearing a mask, and
pretending she was Queen Hortense."

"A pretty critter to be," Mrs. Markham had said to the kind neighbor who
had returned from Camden and was giving her the particulars in full of
Ethelyn's misdoings. "Yes, a pretty critter to be! If I was goin' to
turn myself into somebody else I'd take a decent woman. I wonder at
Richard's lettin' her; but, law! he is so blind and she so headstrong!"

And the good woman groaned over this proof of depravity as she
questioned her visitor further with regard to Ethie's departures
from duty.

"And he don't go with her much, you say," she continued, feeling more
aggrieved than ever when she heard that on the occasion of Ethie's
personating Hortense, Richard had also appeared as a knight of the
sixteenth century, and borne his part so well that Ethelyn herself did
not recognize him until the mask was removed.

Mrs. Markham could not suffer such high-handed wickedness to go
unrebuked, and taking as a peace offering, in case matters assumed a
serious aspect, a pot of gooseberry jam and a ball of head cheese, she
started for Camden the very next day.

Ethelyn did not expect her, but she received her kindly, and knowing how
she hated a public table, had dinner served in her own room, and then,
without showing the least impatience, waited a full hour for Richard to
come in from the court-house, where an important suit was pending. Mrs.
Markham was to return to Olney that night, and as there was no time to
lose, she brought the conversation round to the "stories" she had heard,
and little by little laid on the lash till Ethelyn's temper was roused,
and she asked her mother-in-law to say out what she had to say at once,
and not skirt round it so long. Then came the whole list of misdemeanors
which Mrs. Markham thought "perfectly ridiculous," asking her son how he
"could put up with such work."

Richard wisely forbore taking either side; nor was it necessary that he
should speak for Ethie. She was fully competent to fight her own battle,
and she fought it with a will, telling her mother-in-law that she should
attend as many parties as she pleased and wear as many masks. She did
not give up her liberty of action when she married. She was young yet,
and should enjoy herself if she chose, and in her own way.

This was all the satisfaction Mrs. Markham could get, and supremely
pitying "her poor boy," whom she mentally decided was "henpecked," she
took the cars back to Olney, saying to Richard, who accompanied her to
the train, "I am sorry for you from the bottom of my heart. It would be
better if you had stayed with me."

Richard liked his mother's good opinion, but as he walked back to the
hotel he could not help feeling that a mother's interference between man
and wife was never very discreet, and he wished the good woman had
stayed at home. If he had said so to Ethelyn, when on his return to his
rooms he found her weeping passionately, there might have come a better
understanding between them, and she probably would have stayed with him
that evening instead of attending the whist party given by Mrs. Miller.
But he had fully determined to keep silent, and when Ethelyn asked if
she was often to be subjected to such insults, he did not reply. He went
with her, however, to Mrs. Miller's, and knowing nothing of cards,
almost fell asleep while waiting for her, and playing backgammon with
another fellow-sufferer, who had married a young wife and was there
on duty.

Mrs. Markham, senior, did not go to Camden again, and when Christmas
came, and with it an invitation for Richard and his wife to dine at the
farmhouse on the turkey Andy had fattened for the occasion, Ethelyn
peremptorily declined; and as Richard would not go without her, Mrs.
Jones and Melinda had their seats at table, and Mrs. Markham wished for
the hundredth time that Richard's preference had fallen on the latter
young lady instead of "that headstrong piece who would be his ruin."



It was the Tuesday before Lent. The gay season was drawing to a close,
for Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Miller, who led the fashionable world of Camden
before Ethelyn's introduction to it, were the highest kind of
church-women, and while neglecting the weightier matters of the law
were strict to bring their tithes of mint, and anise, and cummin. They
were going to wear sackcloth and ashes for forty days and stay at home,
unless, as Mrs. Miller said to Ethelyn, they met occasionally in each
other's house for a quiet game of whist or euchre. There could be no
harm in that, particularly if they abstained on Fridays, as of course
they should. Mr. Bartow himself could not find fault with so simple a
recreation, even if he did try so hard to show what his views were with
regard to keeping the Lenten fast. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Howard intended
to be very regular at the morning service, hoping that the odor of
sanctity with which they would thus be permeated would in some way atone
for the absence of genuine heart-religion and last them for the
remainder of the year. First, however, and as a means of helping her in
her intended seclusion from the world, Mrs. Howard was to give the
largest party of the season--a sort of carnival, from which the revelers
were expected to retire the moment the silvery-voiced clock on her
mantel struck the hour of twelve and ushered in the dawn of Lent. It was
to be a masquerade, for the Camdenites had almost gone mad on that
fashion which Ethelyn had the credit of introducing into their midst;
that is, she was the first to propose a masquerade early in the season,
telling what she had seen and giving the benefit of her larger
experience in such matters.

It was a fashion which took wonderfully with the people, for the
curiosity and interest attaching to the characters was just suited to
the restless, eager temperament of the Camdenites, and they entered into
it with heart and soul, ransacking boxes and barrels and worm-eaten
chests, scouring the country far and near and even sending as far as
Davenport and Rock Island for the necessary costumes. Andy himself had
been asked by Harry Clifford to lend his Sunday suit, that young scamp
intending to personate some raw New England Yankee; and that was how
Mrs. Markham, senior, first came to hear of the proceedings which, to
one of her rigid views, savored strongly of the pit, especially after
she heard one of the parties described by an eye-witness, who mentioned
among other characters his Satanic Majesty, as enacted by Harry
Clifford, who would fain have appeared next in Andy's clothes! No wonder
the good woman was enraged and took the next train for Camden, giving
her son and daughter a piece of her mind and winding up her discourse
with: "And they say you have the very de'il himself, with hoofs and
horns. I think you might have left him alone, for I reckon he was there
fast enough if you could not see him."

Ethelyn had not approved of Harry Clifford's choice, and with others had
denounced his taste as bad; but she enjoyed the masquerades generally,
and for this last and most elaborate of all she had made great
preparations. Richard had not opposed her joining it, but he did wince a
little when he found she was to personate Mary, Queen of Scots, wishing
that she would not always select persons of questionable character, like
Hortense and Scotland's ill-fated queen. But Ethie had decided upon her
role without consulting him, and so he walked over piles of
ancient-looking finery and got his boots tangled in the golden wig which
Ethie had hunted up, and told her he should be glad when it was over,
and wished mentally that it might be Lent the year around, and was
persuaded into saying he would go to the party himself, not as a masker,
but in his own proper person as Richard Markham, the grave and dignified
Judge whom the people respected so highly. Ethie was glad he was going.
She would always rather have him with her, if possible; and the genuine
satisfaction she evinced when he said he would accompany her did much
toward reconciling him to the affair about which so much was being said
in Camden. When, however, he came in to supper on Tuesday night
complaining of a severe headache, and saying he wished he could remain
quietly at home, inasmuch as he was to start early the next morning for
St. Louis, where he had business to transact, Ethelyn said to him: "If
you are sick, of course I will not compel you to go. Mr. and Mrs. Miller
will look after me."

She meant this kindly, for she saw that he was looking pale and
haggard, and Richard took it so then; but afterward her words became so
many scorpions stinging him into fury. It would seem as if every box,
and drawer, and bag, had been overturned, and the contents brought to
light, for ribbons, and flowers, and laces were scattered about in wild
confusion, while on the carpet, near the drawer where Ethie's little
mother-of-pearl box was kept, lay a tiny note, which had inadvertently
been dropped from its hiding-place when Ethie opened the box in quest of
something which was wanted for Queen Mary's outfit. Richard saw the note
just as he saw the other litter, but paid no attention to it then, and
after supper was over went out as usual for his evening paper.

Gathered about the door of the office was a group of young men, all his
acquaintances, and all talking together upon some theme which seemed to
excite them greatly.

"Too bad to make such a fool of himself," one said, while another added,
"He ought to have known better than to order champagne, when he knows
what a beast a few drops will make of him, and he had a first-class
character for to-night, too."

Richard was never greatly interested in gossip of any kind, but
something impelled him now to ask of whom they were talking.

"Of Hal Clifford," was the reply. "A friend of his came last night to
Moore's Hotel, where Hal boards, and wishing to do the generous host Hal
ordered champagne and claret for supper, in his room, and got drunker
than a fool. It always lasts him a day or two, so he is gone up for

Richard had no time to waste in words upon Harry Clifford, and after
hearing the story started for his boarding-place. His route lay past the
Moore House and as he reached it the door opened and Harry came reeling
down the steps. He was just drunk enough to be sociable, and spying
Richard by the light of the lamppost he hurried to his side, and taking
his arm in the confidential manner he always assumed when intoxicated,
he began talking in a half-foolish, half-rational way, very disgusting
to Richard, who tried vainly to shake him off. Harry was not to be
baffled, and with a stammer and a hiccough he began: "I say--a--now, old
chap, don't be so fast to get rid of a cove. Wife waiting for you, I
suppose. Deuced fine woman. Envy you; I do, 'pon honor, and so does
somebody else. D'ye know her old beau that she used to be engaged to,
is here?"

"Who? What do you mean?" Richard asked, turning sharply upon his
companion, who continued:

"Why, Frank Van Buren. Cousin, you know; was chum with me in college, so
I know all about it. Don't you remember my putting it to her that first
time I met her at Mrs. Miller's? Mistrusted by her blushing there was
more than I supposed; and so there was. He told me all about it
last night."

Richard did not try now to shake off his comrade. There seemed to be a
spell upon him, and although he longed to thrash the impudent young man,
saying such things of Ethelyn, he held his peace, with the exception of
the single question:

"Frank Van Buren in town? Where is he stopping?"

"Up at Moore's. Came last night; and between you and me, Judge, I took a
little too much. Makes my head feel like a tub. Sorry for Frank. He and
his wife ain't congenial, besides she's lost her money that Frank
married her for. Serves him right for being so mean to Mrs. Markham, and
I told him so when he opened his heart clear to the breast-bone and told
me all about it; how his mother broke it up about the time you were down
there; and, Markham, you don't mind my telling you, as an old friend,
how he said she went to the altar with a heavier heart than she would
have carried to her coffin. Quite a hifalutin speech for Frank, who used
to be at the foot of his class."

Richard grew faint and cold as death, feeling one moment an impulse to
knock young Clifford down, and the next a burning desire to hear the
worst, if, indeed, he had not already heard it. He would not question
Harry; but he would listen to all he had to say, and so kept quiet,
waiting for the rest. Harry was just enough beside himself to take a
malicious kind of satisfaction in inflicting pain upon Richard, as he
was sure he was doing. He knew Judge Markham despised him, and though,
when sober, he would have shrunk from so mean a revenge, he could say
anything now, and so went on:

"She has not seen him yet, but will to-night, for he is going. I got him
invited as my friend. She knows he is here. He sent her a note this
morning. Pity I can't go, too; but I can't, for you see, I know how
drunk I am. Here we part, do we?" and Harry loosed his hold of Richard's
arm as they reached the corner of the street.

Wholly stunned by what he had heard, Richard kept on his way, but not
toward the Stafford House. He could not face Ethelyn yet. He was not
determined what course to pursue, and so he wandered on in the darkness,
through street after street, while the wintry wind blew cold and chill
about him; but he did not heed it, or feel the keen, cutting blast. His
blood was at a boiling heat, and the great drops of sweat were rolling
down his face, as, with head and shoulders bent like an aged man, he
walked rapidly on, revolving all he had heard, and occasionally
whispering to himself, "She carried a heavier heart to the altar than
she would have taken to her coffin."

"Yes, I believe it now. I remember how white she was, and how her hand
trembled when I took it in mine. Oh! Ethie, Ethie, I did not deserve
this from you."

Resentment--hard, unrelenting resentment--was beginning to take the
place of the deep pain he had at first experienced, and it needed but
the sight of Mrs. Miller's windows, blazing with light, to change the
usually quiet, undemonstrative man into a demon.

"She is to meet him here to-night, it seems, and perhaps talk over her
blighted life. Never, no, never, so long as bolts and bars have the
power to hold her. She shall not disgrace herself, for with all her
faults she is my wife, and I have loved her so much. Oh, Ethie, I love
you still," and the wretched man leaned against a post as he sent forth
this despairing cry for the Ethie who he felt was lost forever.

Every little incident which could tend to prove that what Harry had said
was true came to his mind; the conversation overheard in Washington
between Frank and Melinda, Ethelyn's unfinished letter, to which she had
never referred, and the clause in Aunt Van Buren's letter relating to
Frank's first love affair. He could not any longer put the truth aside
with specious arguments, for it stood out in all its naked deformity,
making him cower and shrink before it. It was a very different man who
went up the stairs of the Stafford House to room No--from the man who
two hours before had gone down them, and Ethelyn would hardly have known
him for her husband had she been there to meet him. Wondering much at
his long absence, she had at last gone on with her dressing, and then,
as he still did not appear, she had stepped for a moment to the room of
a friend, who was sick, and had asked to see her when she was ready.
Richard saw that she was out, and sinking into the first chair, his eyes
fell upon the note lying near the bureau drawer. The room had partially
been put to rights, but this had escaped Ethie's notice, and Richard
picked it up, glowering with rage, and almost foaming at the mouth when,
in the single word, "Ethie," on the back, he recognized Frank Van
Buren's writing!

He had it then--the note which his rival had sent, apprising his wife of
his presence in town, and he would read it, too. He had no scruples
about that, and his fingers tingled to his elbows as he opened the note,
never observing how yellow and worn it looked, or that it was not dated.
He had no doubt of its identity, and his face grew purple with passion
as he read:

"MY OWN DARLING ETHIE: Don't fail to be there to-night, and, if
possible, leave the 'old maid' at home, and come alone. We shall have so
much better time. Your devoted,


Words could not express Richard's emotions as he held that note in his
shaking hand, and gazed at the words, "My own darling Ethie." Quiet men
like Richard Markham are terrible when roused; and Richard was terrible
in his anger, as he sat like a block of stone, contemplating the proof
of his wife's unfaithfulness. He called it by that hard name, grating
his teeth together as he thought of her going by appointment to meet
Frank Van Buren, who had called him an "old maid," and planned to have
him left behind if possible. Then, as he recalled what Ethelyn had said
about his remaining at home if he were ill, he leaped to his feet, and
an oath quivered on his lips at her duplicity.

"False in every respect," he muttered, "and I trusted her so much."

It never occurred to him that the note was a strange one for what he
imagined it to portend, Frank merely charging Ethelyn to be present at
the party, without even announcing his arrival or giving any explanation
for his sudden appearance in Camden. Richard was too much excited to
reason upon anything, and stood leaning upon the piano, with his livid
face turned toward the door, when Ethie made her appearance, looking
very pretty and piquant in her Mary Stuart guise. She held her mask in
her hand, but when she caught a glimpse of him she hastily adjusted it,
and springing forward, "Where were you so long? I began to think you
were never coming. We shall be among the very last. How do I look as
Mary? Am I pretty enough to make an old maid like Elizabeth jealous
of me?"

Had anything been wanting to perfect Richard's wrath, that allusion to
an "old maid" would have done it. It was the drop in the brimming
bucket, and Richard exploded at once, hurling such language at Ethelyn's
head that, white and scared, and panting for breath, she put up both her
hands to ward off the storm, and asked what it all meant. Richard had
locked the door, the only entrance to their room, and stooping over
Ethelyn he hissed into her ear his meaning, telling her all he had heard
from Harry Clifford, and asking if it were true. Ere Ethelyn could reply
there was a knock at the door, and a servant's voice called out,
"Carriage waiting for Mrs. Markham."

It was the carriage sent by Mrs. Miller for Ethelyn, and quick as
thought Richard stepped to the door, and unlocking it, said hastily,
"Give Mrs. Miller Mrs. Markham's compliments, and say she cannot be

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