The House of Fulfilment
by George Madden Martin
THE HOUSE OF
By GEORGE MADDEN MARTIN
AUTHOR OF EMMY LOU
McCLURE, PHILLIPS &CO.
Copyright, 1904, by
McCLURE, PHILLIPS &CO.
Published, September, 1904
Copyright, 1904, by The S. S. McClure Co.
[Illustration: WHAT IS YOUR NAME, DEAR?]
To A. R. M.
Love is enough: ho ye who seek saving,
Go no further: come hither: there have been who have found it,
And these know the House of Fulfilment of craving;
These know the Cup with the roses around it;
These know the World's Wound and the balm that hath bound it.
Elements, breeds, adjustments ...
A new race dominating previous ones.
Harriet Blair was seventeen when she went with her father and mother
and her brother Austen to New Orleans, to the marriage of an older
brother, Alexander, the father's business representative at that place.
It was characteristic of the Blairs that they declined the hospitality
of the bride's family, and from the hotel attended, punctiliously and
formally, the occasions for which they had come. It takes ease to
Alexander Blair, the father, banker and capitalist, of Vermont
stock, now the richest man in Louisville, was of a stern ruggedness
unsoftened by a long and successful career in the South, while his
wife, the daughter of a Scotch schoolmaster settled in Pennsylvania,
was the possessor of a thrifty closeness and strong, practical sense.
Alexander, their oldest son, a man of thirty, to whose wedding they
had come, was what was natural to expect, a literal, shrewd man, with a
strong sense of duty as he saw it. His long, clean-shaven upper lip,
above a beard, looked slightly grim, and his straight-gazing, blue-grey
eyes were stern.
The second son, Austen, was clean-featured, handsome and blond, but
he was also, by report, the shrewd and promising son of his father,
even as his brother was reported before him.
Harriet, the daughter, was a silent, cold-looking girl, who wrapped
herself in reserve as a cover for self-consciousness but, observing
closely, thought to her own conclusions. She had a disillusioning way
of baring facts in these communings, which showed life to her very
honestly but without romance or glamour.
At the wedding, sitting in her white dress by her father and mother
in the flower-bedecked parlours of the Randolphs, Harriet looked at her
brother, standing by the girl of seventeen whom he had just married,
and saw things much as they were. In Molly, the bride of an hour, with
her child's face and red-brown hair and shadowy lashes, she saw a
descendant of pleasure-loving, ease-taking Southerners. Molly's father,
from what Austen had said, was the dispenser of a lavish and
improvident hospitality and a genial dweller on the edge of bankruptcy,
while the mother, a belle of the '40's, some one had told the Blairs,
seemed just the woman to marry her only child to a man opposed to her
people in creed, politics and habitswhich in 1860 meant
somethingbut son of one of the richest men in the South.
Harriet ate her supper close by her father and mother. She did not
know how to mix with these gay, incidental Southerners, and sitting
there, went on with her communings. She could explain it on the
Randolph side, but why Alexander was marrying Molly she could not
understand. Shy and self-conscious, she knew vaguely of a thing called
love. She had met it in her reading rather than seen its acting forces
anywhere about her. To be sure, her brother Austen had been engaged to
a Miss Ransome of Woodford County, a fashionable Kentucky beauty. The
Blairs were a narrowly religious people. Harriet, a school-girl then,
had stood at the window of the stately new stone house in Louisville
which the Blairs called home, and, watching the fashionable world flow
in and out of the high old brick cottage across the street, where Miss
Ransome spent much time with a great-aunt, had wondered.
But love had not proved such a factor after all. Austen's engagement
had been broken.
Harriet went back to Kentucky with the question of Alexander and
Molly still open.
A year later her father went South again. War was loudly
threatening, and he had large interests in Louisiana and Mississippi.
There was a certain sympathy and understanding between the stern,
silent man and his daughter, and he suggested that she go with him and
see the child newly born to Alexander and Molly.
But, reaching New Orleans to find his son gone to Mobile, concerning
these same interests, Mr. Blair decided to join him, and Molly being
about to leave for her father's plantation with the baby and nurse,
that she might the more rapidly convalesce, it was decided that Harriet
The two weeks at Cannes Brulée were strange to the girl, thus
introduced to a Southern house overflowing with guests and servants,
and she moved amid the idling and irresponsibility, the laughter and
persiflage, with a sense of being outside of it all, and the fault, try
as she would, her own.
This feeling was strongest that Sunday afternoon when the gaiety and
badinage seemed to centre about a new arrival, a handsome,
silver-aureoled Catholic priest, confessor to half the parish. Genial,
polished, and affable, his very charm seemed to the Calvinistic-bred
Harriet to invest him the more with the seductions of Romanism, as she
had been taught to regard them.
There were music, cards, a huge bowl frosted with the icy beverage
within, and to the stunned young Puritan the genial little priest in
the midst seemed smiling a bacchanalian benediction over all.
Suddenly, above chatter and music Molly's voice arose, gay but
insistent, Molly there in the big chair, pale and big-eyed, her
strength so slow to return, herself a child in her little muslin dress.
Baby is four weeks old, Molly was declaring, and here is Father
Bonot from service at Cannes Brulée and so with his vestments. I'm here
and Harriet's here, and mamma's here, and everybody else is a cousin or
something. I'm sure I don't know when I can get to church. P'tite shall
be baptized here, now.
And before the slower comprehension of the dazed Harriet had grasped
the meaning of the ensuing preparationsthe draping of the pier-table,
the lighting of waxen candlesa sudden silence had fallen; the gay
abandon of these mercurial Southerners had given place to reverent awe,
even to tears, as the new-born representative of the Puritan Blairs was
brought in, in robes like cascades of lace, while of all that followed,
the one thing seeming to reach the comprehension of Harriet was the
chanting monotone of Father Bonot saying above the child, Mary
Later Molly and Harriet went back to New Orleans, to find Alexander
there but his father gone up to Vicksburg. Molly was to keep Harriet
with her until his return.
Only the girl knew what it meant to find herself near her brother.
It was as if here was something sane, rational, stable, by which to
re-establish poise and standards. Harriet would have trembled to oppose
her brother, so that to see Molly and Alexander together was a
revelation. His sternness and his displeasure alike broke as a wave
upon Molly, and as a wave receded, leaving her, as a wave would leave
the sand, pretty and sparkling and smiling. Other things were
revelations to Harriet, too.
Going down to breakfast one morning, she found her brother
clean-shaven, immaculate, monosyllabic, awaiting the overdue meal. The
French windows were open to the scent of myriads of roses outside, and
also to the morning sun, far too high. The negro servants were hurrying
to and fro, Molly nowhere visible.
Later, as the dishes were being uncovered, she appeared, her
unstockinged little feet thrust into pretty French slippers, and her
cambric nightgown by no means concealed by a negligée, all lace and
ribbons, hastily caught together. Yet she was pretty, pretty like a
lovely and naughty child.
Nor did the embarrassment of Harriet, the presence of the servants,
or her husband's cold preoccupation with his breakfast disturb Molly,
who trailed along with apparent unconcern until, reaching his elbow,
she threw a wicked glance at Harriet, then kissed him on that spot on
his head which, but for a few carefully disposed strands, must have
been termed bald.
At the thing, absurd as it was, there swept over Harriet the hot
shrinking of one made conscious of sex for the first time. With
throbbing at throat and ears, she gazed into her plate, her feeling,
oddly enough, centring in keen revulsion against her brother.
But Molly was dragging a chair to his elbow. What's the fricassee
made of, Alexander?
Her husband vouching her no reply, she slipped an arm about his
neck, and, leaning over, drew his fork to her mouth and tasted the
Then she turned her head sideways to regard him. Don't frown it
back, Alec, the smile I mean. I adore you when you don't want to and
have to let it come. Acknowledge now, this is the way to breakfast.
And Harriet, who had been led to regard playfulness as little less
than vice, was conscious of Molly trying to force a ripe fig between
Alexander's lips, repressed, thin lips upon which softening sat as if
afraid of itself and her.
You see, Molly was explaining, I couldn't get down sooner. P'tite
was making the most absurd catches at her mosquito bar, and Celeste
refusing to laugh at her. You haven't finished your breakfast? Why must
you always hurry off? Noher hand against his mouth, he, risen now,
she on a knee in her chair, clinging to himdon't tell me any more
about Sumter having been fired upon, and your being worried over
business. I hate business. What's anything this moment, if you would
only see it, compared with me, and ripe figs dipped in cream?
And then the triumph of her laugh as, his arms suddenly around her,
he grasped her, lifted, enfolded her for a moment, then as fiercely put
her from him and went out, leaving Harriet sick, shaken, at this sight
of human passion seen for the first time.
The following day Harriet's father returned and she went home.
When she next saw her brother it was in Louisville, where he was
driven back to his own people by reason of his Northern creed and
sympathies. His father-in-law had been among the first to fall in
defence of the Confederacy, and with Alexander, now, was his
mother-in-law, widowed and dependent, and a wife in this sense changed
from child to womanthat she was a fiercely avowed Southerner to the
fibre of her.
With his little family he remained in Louisville a year. If his own
people wondered at the extravagance of his wife and mother-in-law at a
time when incomes were so seriously shrunken, Alexander was too much a
Blair for even a Blair to approach the subject.
The child was sent daily to his mother'she saw to thata pretty
baby, the little Mary Alexina, and robed like a young princess; but
beyond this he seemed to discourage intimacy between the households.
Certainly there was no common ground, the business judgment, large
experience, and the integrity of the Blairs being in the constant
service of the government, while rumor had it that the home of young
Mrs. Alexander Blair was the social rallying place for Southern
Suddenly, in the midst of big affairs, Alexander arranged otherwise
for the maintenance of his wife's mother, whom it was his to support
for the few remaining years of her life, and went to Europe with Molly
and the child. Long after it came to Harriet's hearing that the
frequent presence of a young Confederate officer at his house had led
to the step.
It was four years from this time, in 1867, that Alexander Blair, the
senior, died, to be shortly followed by his wife.
Though the son Alexander returned to Louisville of necessity,
following these events, he left Molly and the child in Washington with
some of her people there. And though his interests became centred in
Louisville again, he never brought his family back, but went and came
between the two places. In domestic infelicity it is our own people we
would hide it from longest. It was two years after, in '69, that
Alexander met his end with the shocking suddenness of accidental death
as he was returning East to Molly and the child.
The leisure of a summer evening had fallen with the twilight. Along
that street in Louisville wherein stood the Blair house, with its
splendid lawn, and its carriage driveway issuing through a tall, iron
gate, front doors were opening and family groups gathering. The yards
wore the fresh green of June. A homecoming crumple-horn ambled by, her
bag swinging heavily. In the South, in 1870, cities were villages
In the parlour of her home Harriet Blair sat, awaiting the arrival
of her brother Austen from Washington, where he had gone to bring back
their dead brother's child.
Harriet, at twenty-six, in lustreless mourning, was handsome and,
some might have said, cold. Her face was finely chiselled, and framed
with light hair waving from its parting in curves regular as the
flutings of a shell. There was a poise, a composure about this Harriet,
making her unlike the tall, shy girl of nine years before.
As the bell rang she laid down her book and rose, and a second later
Austen entered, leading a little girl with a round, short-cropped head.
His eyes met his sister's in greeting, then he loosed the child's hand.
This is your Aunt Harriet, Alexina, he said, and stepped across the
room to stand before the mantel and watch the two.
Harriet bent and kissed the small cheek. Demonstration, even to this
extent, meant much for a Blair. Then she crossed the room. She was more
than ordinarily tall for a woman, with form proportioned to length of
limb, and the beauty of her carriage gained by her unconsciousness of
Having pulled the bell-cord she came back, smiling, calmly
expectant, looking from Austen to the child, who, seated now on the
edge of a chair, was regarding her with grave eyes.
She has a strong look of Alexander, said Harriet, consideringly,
and a little look of youand of me. She is a Blair, though I can see
her mother, too, about the mouth.
The child moved under the scrutiny, but her gaze, returning the
study, did not falter.
Harriet laughed; was it at this imperturbability? I think, she
decided, we may consider her a Blair. Then to the white maid-servant
entering: You may order supper, Nelly, for Mr. Blair and myself. This
is Alexina, and, I should say, tired out. Suppose you give her a warm
bath and let her go right to bedhave you her trunk key, Austen?and
I will send a tray up with her supper afterward.
Then, as Nelly took the key and went out, Harriet addressed her
brother. For, apart from the hygienic advantages of the bath before
the supper, I confesswith faintly discernible amusementto a fancy
for the ceremony as a form, so to speak, emblematic of a moral washing
and a fresh start. She ended with a raising of her brows as she
regarded her brother.
Austen Blair had no use for levity. Mild as this was, he dismissed
it curtly. I would suggest, he said, that you avoid personalities;
it can but be injudicious for any child to hear itself discussed.
Again Harriet laughed; she was provokingly good-humoured. Coming
from her nine years of life beneath Molly's expansive nature, I don't
think you need fear for what she'll gather from me. She took the
child's hand and lifted her from the chair. Here is Nelly, Alexina; go
with her and do what she says. Say good-night to your uncle. Supper,
The dining-room being sombre, one might have said it accorded with
the master, whose frown had not all cleared away.
Harriet was speaking. What of Molly? Was there a scene at parting
with her voluntarily given-up offspring? For her moods, like her
tempers, used to delight in being somewhat inconsistent and mixed.
She has in no way changed, replied Austen. Was it this flat
conciseness in all he said that made levity irresistible to Harriet in
turn? My interview with her was confined to business. That ended, she
told me, as an afterthought, apparently, that the coloured woman was
going to remain with her, and she supposed Alexina could manage on the
train. She also told me that her husband had severed connection with
the legation and was going back to Paris. Alexina was not with them at
the hotel, but with her uncle, Senator Randolph, from whose house Molly
And Molly's parting with the child
Was a piece with it all, tears and relief, just as you would have
And the husband's, this Mr. Garnier's, attitude?
Was enigmatical; how far he understands the situation I had no
means of judging.
I'm sorry for the child, though, said Harriet suddenly, for if
there is anything of Molly in her, life according to the Blair standard
may pall, and, whimsically, her mixture of natures be vexed within
Austen took the Blairs seriously, and at any time he disliked the
personal or the playful. He spoke coldly. Having given the child over
to you from the moment of arrival, of this initiatory tone you are
taking I shall say no more. Duties you assume you do best your own
Harriet arched her brows. You mean, having found better results
followed the withdrawal of your oversight of me as mistress of our
house, you are going to let me alone in this?
Exactly, said her brother, and therefore on the subject, now or
hereafter, I shall say no more. And it was eminently characteristic of
him that he never did.
Meanwhile up-stairs the child had gone through with the bath and the
supper like an automaton in Nelly's hands.
She said 'yes' when I asked her anything, Nelly reported later to
the cook; or she said 'no'. And her lips were set that hard she might
a'most have been Mr. Austen's own child.
And that was all Nelly saw in the little creature she tucked into
the huge, square bedstead under the bobinet mosquito bar. But no sooner
had Nelly's footsteps ceased along the hall than the child, as one
throwing off an armour of repression, rolled out of the high bed and
from under the bar, flinging and disarranging the neat covers with
passionate fury, sobbing wildly. A bead of gas lit the room. She
pattered across the floor to the opened trunk, and when the little
figure, stumbling over its gown, stole back to bed, a heartrendingly
battered, plaster-headed doll was clasped in its arms. And, as the
voices of children at play on the sidewalk came up through the open
windows, the child, shaken with cryingthe more passionate because of
long repressionwas declaring: Sally Ann, baby, I couldn't never have
given you up, not even if I was your own truly mother, Sally Ann, I
Down-stairs the evening passed as evenings usually did when Harriet
and Austen were alone. There were not even the varyings from parlour to
front door that the heat seemed to necessitate for the rest of the
neighbourhood. Front porches are sociable things. The Blairs' was the
only house on the street without one.
The evening passed with the brother and sister at opposite sides of
the black, marble-topped table in the long parlour, she embroidering on
a strip of cambric with nice skill, he quickly and deftly cutting the
wrappers and pages of papers and magazines accumulated in his absence.
To undertake just what he could do justice to and keep abreast of it,
was the method by which he accomplished more than any two men, in
business, in church affairs, in civic duties, for the man took his
citizenship seriously. Both brother and sister had been raised to
economy of time, yet sometimes she mocked at herself for her many
excellencies and sometimes sighed, while he
At ten o'clock Harriet rolled her work together and said good-night,
ascending the crimson-carpeted stairway with the unhurried movement of
an Olympian goddess; that is, if an Olympian goddess could have been so
genuinely above concern about it.
Her room, a front one on the second floor, had a look of
spaciousness and exquisite order. She moved about, adjusting a shade,
setting a gas-bracket at some self-imposed angle of correctness, giving
the sheets of the opened bed a touch of adjustment.
It was the price paid for the free exercise of individuality.
Already, at twenty-six, ways were becoming habits.
These things arranged, she passed to the adjoining room, from
to-night given to Alexina. Turning up the gas, Harriet glanced about at
Nelly's disposition of things, then moved to the bed.
Whatever were the emotions called forth by the relaxed little form,
softly and regularly breathing against a battered doll, or by the
essentially babyish face with the fine, flaxen hair damp and clinging
about the forehead, the Blairs were people to whom restraint was second
nature. Whatever Harriet felt showed only in solicitude for the child
who had thrown aside all cover. But as she drew the sheet and light
blanket up, her hand touched the smoothness of a bared little limb. It
brought embarrassment. She had but once before touched the bareness of
another's body, and that her mother's, and in death.
Was it shame, this surging of strange hotness through her?
The refuge of a Blair was always action. She stepped to the bay of
the room and drew the shutters against the night-wind.
Between the windows stood the bureau. Harriet paused, arrested by a
daguerreotype in a velvet case open upon it. The child must have left
it there. She sat down and laying the picture on her knee, regarded it,
her chin in her palm.
It was the face of the father of the sleeping child, dead less than
a year, for whom his sister was wearing this black trailing in folds
And looking on his face, she recalled another, exquisite in pallor,
with shadowy lashes, the face of Molly, who ten months after
Alexander's death had married again; who not only married but gave up
her child. Had it been the purpose of Alexander to test her for the
child's sake? She had been given her third and the child the same, with
Austen as executor and guardian. In the event of Molly marrying again,
she had been given choice. She might relinquish all right in the
remaining third and keep the child, or by giving up the child could
claim the portion. And the estate was large. In ten months Molly had
And yet, thinking of these things, Harriet bade herself be just,
chief tenet in the Blair creed. Was she so certain Alexander had been
altogether unhappy in his marriage? May not compensations arise out of
a man's own nature if he cares for the woman? For Harriet no longer
asked why her brother had married Molly. She knew, knew that the thing
called love is stronger than reason, than lifesome even claimed, than
death. Not that she knew it of herself, this calm, poised Harriet, but,
watching, she had seen its miracles.
And out of this, Alexander may have drawn his compensation, for,
stronger than the hourly friction of his daily life, stronger than the
hurt of outraged conventionality, thrift, and pride, stronger than the
jealousy which must have often assailed him, had not love survived in
Alexander to the end, love that protected and concealed Molly's
failings from his own people?
Suddenly, over Harriet swept the breath of roses coming into an open
breakfast room and she saw a stern-lipped man lift, enfold a
child-woman to him for a moment, and as fiercely put her from him and
Harriet, breathing quickly, put her brother's picture back, and
going to the bed, lifted the bar and drew the sheet again over the
child. Then she stood looking down. What manner of little creature was
this child of Alexander and Molly?
Glancing about to assure herself all was in order, she put the light
out, and, with hand outstretched against the darkness, moved to the
door, when there swept over her again the vision of Molly clinging to
Alexander, and again she felt the surrender of the man, the fierce
closing of his arms, and again she was shaken by his passion.
And even after she reached her room and sat down at her desk to the
ledger of household accounts, it came over her, and she paused, her
hand pressed to her hot cheek.
But that a little creature had cried itself to sleep in the next
room she did not dream. She would have cried herself, had she known it,
she, to whom tears came seldom and hard. But she was a slow awakening
soul, groping, and she did not know.
The next morning Harriet sat in Alexina's room putting criss-cross
initials on a pile of unmarked little garments. It was part of the
creed that clothes be marked.
Presently, as the child came to her aunt's knee for a completed
garment, Harriet laid a hand on the little shoulder. Demonstration came
hard and brought a flush of embarrassment with it.
Alexina, she said, you haven't mentioned your mother!
The child stood silent but there came a repeated swallowing in her
throat while a slow red welled up over the little face.
Harriet had a feeling of sudden liking and understanding. You would
ratheryou prefer not?
The child nodded, but later, as if from some fear of appearing
unresponsive, she brought an album from her trunk and spread it open on
Harriet's knee. She seemed a loyal small soul to her kinsfolk, mainly
her mother's people, and turning the leaves went through the
At one pageDaddy, she said.
Daddy applied in a baby's cadence to Alexander! Daddy! It was a
revelation of that part of her brother's life which Harriet had
forgotten in accounting assets. Daddy, called fearlessly, with
intonation unconsciously dear and appealing. And Alexander had been
that to his child!
There was no picture of Molly, but there was a torn and vacant space
facing Alexander. Had the child removed one? She bore resentment then?
Harriet had no idea how far a child of nine could comprehend and feel
She would have been surprised at other things a child of nine can
feel. If the routine of the house dragged dully to Alexina, Harriet
never suspected it. The personal attention was detailed to Nelly, who
divined moreNelly, the freckle-faced, humorous-eyed house girl, taken
from the Orphans' Home and trained by Harriet's mother. But, then,
Nelly had been orphaned herself, and had known those first days
following asylum consignment and perhaps had not forgot. Her sympathy
expressed itself through the impersonal, the Blair training not having
encouraged the other.
Such a be-yewtiful dress, said she, laying out the clothes for her
Which was true; no child of Molly's would have suffered for clothes,
Molly loving them too well herself.
And such be-yewtiful slippers, said Nelly, with Alexina in her
lap, pulling up the little stocking and buttoning the strap about the
Alexina's hand held tight to Nelly's hard, firm arm, steadying
herself. Perhaps she divined the intention. Can I come, too, when you
go to set the table? she asked.
But Harriet never suspected. Nor again, that evening while she and
Austen read under the lamp, did Harriet know that Alexina, standing at
the open parlour window gazing at the children playing on the sidewalk,
was fighting back passionate tears of an outraged love and a baffling
sense of injustice.
All at once a child's treble came in from the pavement.
Can't you come play?
Alexina turned, with backward look of eager inquiry to her aunt, who
had come behind her to see who called.
As you please; go if you want, said Harriet good-humouredly.
Austen, too, glanced out. Tip-toe on the stone curbing of the iron
fence perched a little girl, spokesman for the group of children behind
Who is the child? he asked his sister.
Her name is Carringford. She is a grand-daughter of the old
Methodist minister who lives at the corner; secretary of his church
board, or something, isn't he? I've noticed two or three little
Carringfords playing in the yard as I go by, and all of them handsome.
Austen placed them at once. The child's mother was the daughter of
the old minister, and, with husband and children, lived in the little
brown house with him. An interest in the details of the human affairs
about him was an unexpected phase in Austen's character. He liked to
know what a man was doing, his income, his habits, his family ties.
I know Carringford, he remarked; he is book-keeper for Williams,
a good, steady man. As you say, a handsome child, exceedingly so.
Harriet watched until the little niece joined the group outside.
Gregarious little creatures they seem to be, she remarked. There was
good-humour in her tone, but there was no understanding.
The next day was Sunday. On Monday it rained. Tuesday evening
Alexina stood at the parlour window as before, looking out. The little
figure looked very solitary.
May I go play? suddenly she asked. The voice was low, there was no
note even of wistfulness, it was merely the question. There are
children who suffer silently.
Why not? Harriet rejoined, looking up from her magazine. She was
the last person to restrict any one needlessly.
The little niece went forth. The children had not come for her
again. Perhaps they did not want her, but, even with this fear upon
her, go she must.
At the gate she paused and with the big house in its immaculate yard
behind her, gazed up and down.
It was a quiet street with the houses set irregularly back from
fences of varying patterns, and the brick sidewalks were raised and
broken in places by the roots of huge sycamores and maples along the
But the cropped head of Alexina turned this way and that in vain.
The street was deserted, the stillness lonesome. She swallowed hard.
She knew where the little girl named Emily Carringford lived, for she
had pointed out the house that first evening as they ran past in play,
so Alexina slowly crossed the street, hoping Emily might be at her
But first, as she went along, came a wide brick cottage, sitting
high above a basement, a porch across the front. She gazed in between
the pickets of the fence, for it seemed nice in there. The ground was
mossy under the trees, and the untrimmed bushes made bowers with their
branches. She would like to play in this yard. Her eyes travelled on to
the house. A gentleman sat in a cane arm-chair at the foot of the
steps, smoking, and on the porch was a lady in a white dress with
ribbons. The house looked old and the yard looked old, and so did the
gentleman, but the lady was young; maybe she was going to a party, for
it was a gauzy dress and the ribbons were rosy.
Alexina liked the cottage and the lady, and the big, wide yard, and
somehow did not feel as lonesome as she had. She started on to find
Emily, but at that moment the gate of the cottage swung out across her
path. How could she know that the boy upon it, lonely, too, had planned
the thing from the moment of her starting up the street?
Oh, said Alexina, and stopped, and looked at the boy,
uncomfortably immaculate in fresh white linen clothes, but he was
absorbed in the flight of a bird across the rosy western sky.
Come and play, said the straightforward Alexina. Companionship was
what she was in search of.
The boy, without looking at her, shook his head, not so much as if
he meant no, but as if he did not know how to say yes.
Perhaps she divined this, for approaching the gate and fingering its
hasp, she asked,
The boy, assuming a sort of passivity of countenance as for cover to
shyness, kicked at the gate, then scowled as he twisted his neck within
the stiff circle of his round collar with the combative air of one who
wars against starch. There's nobody to play with, he said; they've
all gone to the Sunday-school picnic. I don't go to that church,
nodding in the direction of a brick structure down the street.
You go to the same one as my Aunt Harriet and my uncle, Alexina
informed him. I saw you there, and your name is William. I heard the
lady calling you that, coming out.
The gate which had swung in swung out again, bringing the boy nearer
this outspoken little girl, whose unconsciousness was putting him more
at his ease. He had seen her at church, too, but he could not have told
What's the rest of your nameWilliam what?
Such a question makes a shy person very miserable, but the interest
William Leroy, said the boy tersely. Then, as if in amend for the
abruptness, he added: Sometimes they call it the other way, King
William, you know.
Father and mother.
You mean when you're pretending?
The gate stopped in its jerkings. There had been enough about the
name. He was an imperious youngster. No, I don't, he said; it's
William Leroy backward.
The little girl looked mystified, but evidently thought best to
change a subject about which the person concerned seemed testy. I saw
one once, she said sociably; a real one. He was in a carriage, with
horses and soldiers, and a star on his coat.
One what? demanded the boy.
A king, a real one, you know.
Now, this princeling on the gate knew when his own sex were guying
and he knew the remedy. He did not know this little girl, but he would
not have thought it of her.
A realwhat? he demanded.
A real king, but they don't say king; they say 'l'empereur.'
William looked stern. I don't know what you mean, he returned;
where did you see any king?
The grave eyes were not one bit abashed. In Paris, where we lived,
said the little girl. There was a boy named Tommy watching at the
hotel window, too, and he said, 'Vive le roi,' and Marie, my bonne, she
said, 'Shh: l'empereur!'
The effect of this was unexpected, for the boy, descending from the
gate, turned a keenly irradiated countenance upon her. Do you mean
Paris, my father's Paris, Paris in France?
Why, said the little girl, regarding him with some surprise,
yes. For he was taking her by the hand in a masterful fashion.
Come in, he commanded. I want you to tell father; that's father
But Alexina, friendly soul, went willingly enough with him through
the gate and up the wide pavement between bordering beds of
Listen, father, William Leroy was calling to the gentleman at the
foot of the steps; she's been in Paris, your Paris.
The gentleman's ivory-tinted fingers removed the cigar from his
lips. As he turned the western light fell on his lean, clean-shaven
face, thin-flanked beneath high cheek-bones. From between grey brows
thick as a finger rose a Louis Philippe nose, its Roman prominence
accentuated by the hollowness of the cheeks. The iron-grey hair, thrown
back off the face, fell, square-cut, to the coat collar behind.
Never a word spoke the gentleman, only, cigar in hand, waited,
eagle-countenanced, sphinx-like. Yet straight Alexina came to his side,
and her baby eyes, quick to dilate, now confidingly calm, met the ones
looking out piercingly from their retreat beneath the heavy brows, and
quite as a matter of course a little hand rested on his knee as she
stood there, and equally as naturally, his face impassive, did the
fingers of the gentleman close upon it.
A silent compact, silently entered into, for before a word was
interchanged the animated contralto of the lady came down from above.
Who is the little girl, son? What is your name, dear?
Son's wince was visible. He had no knowledge of the little girl's
name, but he did not want to say so.
But she was answering for herself, looking up at the pretty lady,
dressed as though for a party. It's Mary Alexina Blair, she was
saying, but my Aunt Harriet says it's to be just Alexina now.
Oh, said the lady. There was a little silence before she spoke
again. It must be Alexander Blair's child, Georges. Come up, dear, and
let me see you.
But King William, balancing himself on the back of his father's
chair, objected. Hurry, then, mother, he demanded; we want to play.
But Alexina had gone up the steps obediently. The eyes of the lady
were dark and slumbrous, but in them was the slightly helpless look of
short vision. She drew the child close for inspection.
The fair hair, the even brows, the clear-gazing eyes she seemed to
have expected, but the dilation in those same wondering eyes raised to
hers, the short upper-lip, the full under one that trembledthese the
lady did not know. A sensitiveness, a warmth, she said, half aloud.
What did she mean? Then she raised her voice.
See, Willy Leroy, how she stands for me, while you pull away if I
so much as lay my hand on you.
But you look so close, objected Willy, and you fix my hair, and
you say my collar ain't straight. You've seen her now, mother; you've
seen her close, and I want her to come sit on the step.
Go, then, little Mary Alexina Blair, said the lady; he's a little
ingrate whose mother has to barter with him for every concession he
makes her. And, smiling at herself, her face alight and arch with the
animation of her smile, Charlotte Leroy sat back in the scarlet settee
and respread her draperies as a bird its plumage, touching the ribbons
at her waist and throat, resettling them with the air of one who takes
frank pleasure in their presence and becomingness. This done, she
viewed her hands, charming hands heavy with costly rings, and finally,
reassured at all points, she relaxed her buoyant figure and looked
around with smiling return to her surroundings. It was for no party she
was dressed but for her own satisfaction.
Your initials spell Mab, King William was telling Alexina as they
sat on the step; that means you'll be rich. Mine don't spell anything.
I'm named for my grandfather up in Woodford, William Ransome. He's
dead. Father's don't eitherGeorges Gautier Hippolyte Leroy. His
father ran away from France because he was a Girondist, and came to
Louisville because it was French, and father's been to Paris, too;
haven't you, father?
The gentleman thus adjured removed his cigar and addressed his wife.
It begins to amount to garrulity. If the opposite sex produces this at
ten, what are we to expect later on?
Mrs. Leroy's voice had a note of defence in it, as if she could not
brook even humorous criticism of the boy. It was plain where the
passionate ardour in her nature was centred.
I'm glad, I'm glad to see it, she declared. I was afraid it was
not in him, I was beginning to fear he was a self-sufficient little
But her son was continuing the family history. Mother's name was
Charlotte Ransome; wasn't it, mother? When I'm a man I'm going to buy
my grandfather's stock farm back, and we'll live there; won't we,
But the impulsive Charlotte, veering around, here took her husband's
side: 'I'm going toI'm going to,' she mimicked the boy, then began
to chant derisively as in words familiar to both:
And if you don't believe me
And think I tell a lie
But it only gave him an idea. He was not often a host. It was going
to his head. Wait! he ordered, to whom it was not quite clear, and
tore into the house, to be back almost at once, bearing a beribboned
Now, he said, depositing it upon his mother's lap; now, sing it
for her; sing it right, mother. It's 'The Ram of Derby.' This to
Alexina, with a sudden shyness as he found himself addressing her.
But she, unconscious soul, did not recognize it, hers being an
all-absorbed interest, and, reassured, young William went on:
There was a William Ransome once, when he was little, sat on
General Washington's knee, and General Washington sang him 'The Ram of
Derby.' Go on, mother, sing it.
And Charlotte, with eyes laughing down on the two upturned faces,
went on, her jewelled fingers bringing the touch of a practised hand
upon the strings, her buoyant figure responsive to the rhythm, while
into the Munchausen recital she threw a dash, a swing that rendered the
There was a ram of Derby
I've often heard it said,
He was the greatest sheep, sir,
That ever wore a head.
And if you don't believe me
And think I tell a lie,
Just go down to Derby
And see as well as I.
The horns upon this ram, sir,
They reached up to the sky,
The eagles built their nest there,
For I heard the young ones cry.
And if you don't believe me, etc., etc.
The wool upon this ram, sir,
It grew down to the ground,
The devil cut it off, sir,
To make a morning gown.
And if you don't believe me, etc., etc.
And so on through the tale. King William, at her knees, clapped his
hands. Alexina, by him, clapped hers, too, for joy of companionship,
while the third listener sat with unchanging countenance below. But he
liked it, somehow one knew he liked it, knew that he was listening down
there in the dusk.
Perhaps Charlotte knew it, too. The vibrant twang slowed to richer
chords, broke into rippling chromatic, caught a new measure, a minor
note, and her contralto began:
I am going far away, far away to leave you now,
To the Mississippi River I am going
But this was only so much suggestion for her son's active brain.
Tell her, mother, he begged, pulling at Charlotte's sleeve; tell her
about the 'King William.'
And it has lain dormant, this egotism, unsuspected, came up from
out of the dusk.
Charlotte's fingers swept the chords, her eyes fixed adoringly on
her little son's face, the while she sang on, absently, softly:
Down in my ol' cabin home,
There lies my sister an' my brother.
There lies my wife, the joy of my life,
An' the child in the grave with its mother.
But King William, far from being harrowed by the woeful enumeration,
laid an imperious hand on the strings. Tell her, mother; I want you to
Come then, and kiss mother, and I will.
He moved the intervening step and submitted a cheek reluctantly.
Just one and you said you'd tell.
But Charlotte, imperious herself, waved him off; she'd none of him
now. It's because he's a vain boy, little Mary Alexina Blair, and
filled with self-importance, that he wants you to know, and he only
wants me to tell you because he has not quite the assurance to do it
himself; that is why he wants me to tell about the great, white-prowed
We call them bows, not prows, came up out of the dusk.
But she refused the correction. The white-prowed Argo that is
building across the river, to go in search of a golden fleece for
little Jason here, a boat large, oh larger even than those other boats
of little Jason's father, the Captain down there, which used to float
up and down the Mississippi, and which vanished one day into the maw of
But Jason was lifting his voice. Not that way; make her stop,
father; that ain't the way!
But mother was not to be hurried out of her revenge. And this big,
white ark is one day going to float off on the flood of Hope, bearing
Jason and his father and his mother, the last plank of fortune between
Jason was beating with his hands on the steps. Make her stop,
father; make her tell it right; she don't understand what mother means.
Do you? with an appeal to the absorbed Alexina.
That small soul jumped and looked embarrassed to know what to say,
for direct admissions are not always polite. I had an ark once, she
stated, but I sucked the red off Noah, and Marie, my bonne, took it
Leaning down, Charlotte Leroy swept the baby-voiced creature up into
her lap. There was a passion of maternity in the act. You innocent,
she said, and held her fast.
It was nice to be there; the ribbons and the lacy ruffles were soft
beneath her cheek, and the dark eyes of the lady were smiling down.
The child turned suddenly and clung to Charlotte with passionate
It's about the boat his father is building, Willy wants you to
know, little Mab, the lady was telling her, and how, the other day,
the Captain down there and our friends and Willy and I went aboard her,
on the ways at the shipyard over the river, and how, at the ax-stroke,
as she slid down and out across the water, Willy broke the bottle on
the bow and christened the boat 'King William.'
Just so, came up in the Captain's voice.
The moon was rising slowly.
There's some one at the gate, cried Willy.
It's for me, said Alexina, starting up; it's Nelly and she's
Later, Nelly, leading her across the street, was saying, I don't
believe Miss Harriet is going to like it when she knows where you've
But Nelly couldn't say; except that they're the only ladies on the
street not knowing each other, she explained.
The two went in. Alexina dropped Nelly's hand and walked into the
parlour and across to Harriet's knee. Austen sat reading on the other
side of the table.
I've been over to a boy's house, said Alexina; his name is King
William and their other name is Leroy.
Harriet held the cambric strip of embroidery from her and viewed it.
Austen, she asked, is Alexina to play indiscriminately with the
children on the square?
Austen looked across at his sister. It is within your authority to
decide, he returned, but I know of no reason why she should not.
Harriet made no response. Outwardly she was concerned with some
directions to Nelly, waiting to take the child to bed, but inwardly she
was wondering if Austen ever could have cared for this Charlotte
He sat long after Harriet had gone. Then, rising abruptly, he went
out the front door and walked to the corner of the house. It was dark
in the coachman's room above the stable, and the master could go to bed
secure that his oil was not being wasted.
That was all, yet he did not go in. The night was perfect, full of
moonlight and the scent of earth and growing things. It was so still
the houses along the street seemed asleep.
Almost furtively, the gaze of Austen lifted to the cottage, dark and
silent across the way. He had been the one who would not forgive; the
other had been only an impetuous girl.
He stood there long. Perhaps his face was colder, his lips pressed
to a thinner line; perhaps it was the moonlight. Then he turned and
went into the house.
Alexina came to Harriet with information.
Emily goes to school to her aunt, and King William goes there,
Do they? returned Harriet. Her interest was good-humoured rather
I'd like to go, too, said her niece.
Oh, from Harriet, understanding at last; but isn't school about
There's two weeks more.
If it will make you happy, why not, if the teacher does not
So Alexina went with Emily to school. King William was there, but he
hardly noticed her, seeming gloomy and given to taking his slate off
He don't want to come, explained Emily; he's the only boy.
Then what does he come for? queried the practical Alexina.
His mother won't let him go to a public school.
There was more to be learned about William. He fought the boys who
went to the public school, because they jeered him in his ignominy.
Alexina saw it happening up the alley but, strangely enough, when
William appeared at school, he seemed cheered up, though something of a
Out of school, Alexina often went over to Emily's house to play.
There were no servants there, but her mamma beat up things in crocks,
and her great-aunty, a brisk little old woman with sharp eyes, made
yeast cakes and dried them out under the arbour and milked the cow,
too, and Emily's little brother, Oliver, carried milk to the
neighbours. Once in the spotless, shining kitchen, Alexina was allowed
to wield a mop in a dish-pan and, still again, to stir at batter in a
In the room which would have been the parlour in another house,
Emily's grandfather Pryor sat at a table with books around him, and
wrote on big sheets of paper in close writing. He was a stern old man
and his hair stood out fine and white about his head. Once, as he
passed across the front porch, he looked at Emily, then stopped,
pointing to the chain about her neck. It was Alexina's little gold
necklace which Emily had begged to wear.
Take it off, he said.
Emily obeyed, but her checks were flaming, and when he had gone she
threw her head back. When I'm grown, I mean to have them of my own,
and wear them, too, she said.
She seemed happier away from home. Let's go over to your house,
she always said. She liked grown people, too, and Uncle Austen once
patted her head, and after she had gone said to Aunt Harriet: A
handsome child, an unusually pleasing child.
But while Alexina played thus with Emily, more often she trudged
across to King William's.
The nature of engrossment was different over there. Often as not it
was theology, though this, to be sure, was the Captain's word for it,
not his son's.
Willy's mother, like Aunt Harriet, was a Presbyterian. If I had
been a better one, she lamented to her husband one evening, I would
know how to meet his questions now. You don't take one bit of the
responsibility of his religious training, Captain Leroy.
The creed of King William's mamma, when she came to formulate it,
seemed a stern one, and it lost nothing in its setting forth by reason
of her determination to do her duty by her son.
Thank Heaven I had to sit under these things when I was a child,
however I hated it then, or I could not do my part by him now, she
told the Captain. I want him, fervently, to be everything I am not.
Which might, suggested the Captain, be a prig, you know.
But King William, listening, drank in these things. He had a garden
patch in the back yard and knew the nature and habits of every
vegetable in it, and being strictly a utilitarian, he weeded out sickly
plants and unknown cotyledons with a ruthless hand.
Alexina expostulated. Maybe it hurts 'em, she feared.
Maybe it does, said the inexorable William; but they are like the
souls born to be damned. Put 'em on the brush pile there, and after a
while we'll burn 'em.
At other times the yard was a sea-girt coral reef and they the
stranded mariners. Generally Alexina accepted everything. The stories
were new to her. But when she did have knowledge of a thing she stood
firm; for instance, about the ocean, that you could not land every few
moments of your progress and throw out gang-planks.
For I've been there, she insisted, and you couldn't, you know.
At times they adjourned to the commons behind the stable, which, in
reality, were plains frequented by Indians, or, if the yard palled or
rain drove them in, there was fat, black, plausible Aunt Rose in the
basement kitchen to talk to, and if Aunt Rose proved fractious and
drove them out, together with her own brood generally skulking around,
before a threatening dish-rag or broom, there was Charlotte to be
beguiled from more serious occupation into doing her son's bidding.
Charlotte was always busy. The cottage and all in it had come to her
from her father's aunt. She had been accustomed to seeing the windows,
the furniture, the mirrors, the silver door knobs shining; therefore,
she knew such things ought to shine, and since there was no one in
these days but herself to do it, she cleaned, polished, rubbed, and
went to bed limp.
One afternoon in the late fall, when the children sought her, she
was pasting papers over glasses of jelly. We went over the river to
see the boat yesterday, King William was saying to Alexina as they
came in. Tell her about it, mother; about the gold star at the bow.
The papers did not want to stick. He's a bad boy, little Mab,
Charlotte informed her. He made me take him over before he'd promise
to go to the party he's asked to. He wants to be a little boor who
won't know how to act when he grows up.
I'm never goin' to parties when I'm grown up, so what's the use
learning how to act at 'em now? argued her son.
Charlotte dropped a mucilaged paper. But you promised, she
reminded him anxiously; you promised
Oh, well admitted her son.
Charlotte kept a fire in her parlour. Coal was at a fabulous price
in the South that winter, but she had never known a parlour without a
fire, and here she and the children sat in the afternoons, the Captain
often returning early and joining them.
Georges, said Charlotte upon one of these occasions, we are
The Captain smoked in silence. Perhaps he had realized it before.
His keen eyes, however, were regarding her.
But, said Charlotte, we go on acting as though we were rich.
Just so, said the Captain.
When your trousers get shabby, you order more like them. Did you
ever ask your tailor if he has anything cheaper?
Now, trousers of that pearl tint peculiar to the finest fabrics were
as characteristic a part of the Captain's garb as were the black coat,
the low-cut vest, the linen cambric handkerchiefs like small
tablecloths for size, the tall silk hat, and the Henry Clay collar
above the black silk stock.
Did you ever ask him if he had anything cheaper, Georges?
I can't say, admitted Georges, that I ever did. For the Captain
had never asked his tailor a price in his life. When the bill came he
paid it. But it takes income to meet eccentricities of this sort, while
Did the Captain, glancing from his wife to the boy on the floor,
seem to age, to shrink in his chair? For Charlotte was thirty-two and
the boy was ten and the Captain was nearing sixty.
And when your shirts and Willy's things and mine give out, I've
been going right on to the sisters ordering more. Convent prices are
The Captain had nothing to say.
Adele has been telling me that she cuts down her eldest boy's
things for the little one. Adele was the widow of a Confederate
general. So I borrowed her patterns. Listening to Adele talk, I
realized, Georges, that you and Willy and I have to learn how to be
It was at this point that Charlotte brought forth from the chair
behind her a voluminous broadcloth cape, such as men then wore for
outer wrap, and spread it on the mahogany centre-table.
It's perfectly good, if you did discard it, and I'm going to cut it
into something for Willy; I didn't tell Adele I never had tried, she is
so capable, but I borrowed her patterns. And Charlotte brought forth a
The Captain, in the arm-chair, sat and watched. Alexina, from his
knee, where he had a way of lifting her, watched too. Willy, from a
perch on the arm of the sofa, offered suggestions.
This was early in the afternoon. At six o'clock the Captain,
lighting another of an uninterrupted series of cigars, was still
watching silently. On the sofa sat Charlotte, in tears. On the table,
tailor fashion, sat King William, sorting patterns, while Nelly, who
had come for Alexina, stood by and directed.
How does he know? Mrs. Leroy, watching her son a little anxiously,
asked the Captain. I wouldn't like him to develop such a bent. He
doesn't get it from youor from me.
I look at my legs, said William, and then I build it that way.
Another afternoon the Captain looked up from his smoking and spoke
to Charlotte. The children were on the floor turning the pages of a
We have succeeded in securing the loan on a mortgage on the boat.
Cowan arranged it through his bank. It was at a higher rate than we had
agreed on, but we'd lost all the time we could spare. We'll push ahead
now and have things finished by spring.
That night, over at the Blairs', as Alexina climbed into her place
at the table Austen was speaking to Harriet. You remember I told you I
was looking for an investment of the proceeds of those bonds of
Alexina's which matured the other day? This morning I took a mortgage
on a boat Cowan is building at his yard.
Alexina heard her name, but did not understand.
There came a day the following spring when Alexina, seeking her
Harriet gazed at her dismayed, at a loss. Heretofore Alexina had
taken her tears to Nelly or had kept them to herself.
They are going away, she said, King William and them; going in
This, as a matter to cry about, was a mystery to Harriet. Going
where? she asked.
To get the golden fleece, her weeping niece assured her.
Well, said Harriet amused, let us hope they may find it, but why
Alexina got up and carried her tears to her own room. It spoke her
infantile capacity to discriminate that she bore away no resentment;
there are things that the Aunt Harriets with the best wills in the
world need not be expected to understand.
King William's mother, telling her, had held her tight and rocked
her; King William's father, when he saw her lip trembling afterward,
had lifted her on his knee.
Going into the big, high room which was her own, Alexina shut the
door. Then she cast herself on the floor. A little hand, beating about
wildly, came upon Sally Ann, lying unregarded there. Gathering her in
fiercely, presently the sobs grew quieter. Later she wiped her eyes
upon her child and, kissing her tenderly, put her down and went over to
King William's; the time was short and she could have Sally Ann
The next day the cottage was closed and the shutters made fast.
Alexina felt lonesome even to look over there, and Sally Anns are but
But in a year the Leroys came back from St. Louis, between which
city and New Orleans the splendid new King William had been plying.
The judgment of Captain Leroy had been at fault, which is a sad thing
when a man is sixty. The day of the steamboat had passed, because that
of the railroad had come. The King William as a venture was a
So, one morning, the cottage windows were open to the Virginia
creeper outside them. Nelly whispered the news to Alexina at breakfast,
and the child could not eat for hurry to be through and go over.
It was as if King William had been watching for her, for he came
running to the gate and took her hand to conduct her in. He was taller
and thinner, and looked different, and neither could find anything to
say on the way.
Charlotte was sitting in the parlour, her wraps half-removed. They
had only just arrived, and the stillness and closeness of a newly
opened house was about. How does one pack furniture for moving,
Willy? Charlotte began as he appeared.
But he was bringing Alexina. Tell her about it, mother, he said,
so she'll know.
Charlotte, brightening, held out her arms. Then, having lifted the
child to her lap and kissed her, her face grew wan again. There was no
fleece for Jason, little Mab; there is no Land of Colchis, never
believe it. And those seeking, like Willy and me, are like to wander
until youth and hope and opportunity are gone.
She was crying against a little cropped head. King William stood
irresolute, then put an arm around her. Not that way, mummy; don't
tell it that way.
But control had given way. And there is nothing for little Jason.
He must go and fight with his bare hands like any poor churl's
childoh, Willy, Willy, my little son
Alexina, in her lap, sat very still; King William was staring hard
Charlotte went on. We are going away, little Mab, Willy and his
father and I; going away for good. Everything that ever was ours, this
cottage and all, is gone. We are going to a place in the South called
Aden, where there are a few acres that still are ours only because they
would not sell.
A moment they all were still. Then the little breast of Alexina
began to heave. The Leroys had never seen her this way. Sally Ann had,
many times, and Nelly once or twice. She threw herself upon Charlotte.
I want to go, too; I want to go; I hate itthere, with a motion of
self toward the big, white house visible through the window. I hate
it, and I want to go too.
They were all crying now. Suddenly King William stood forth in front
of the child. When we get rich, I'll come for you, he said.
The practical Alexina looked through the arrested tears as she sat
up. But if you don't get rich? she questioned.
Charlotte laughed. She was half child herself. The laugh died. The
other half was woman. Then he won't come; if he is the son of his
father, he won't come.
Nor knowest thou what argument
Thy life to thy neighbour's creed has lent.
All are needed by each one;
Nothing is fair or good alone.
Alexina Blair, at twenty, returned from school to her uncle's home
with but small emotion, as, at fourteen, she had left with little
regret, yet the shady streets, the open front doors, the welcomes
called from up-stairs windows as she passedevidences that she was
back among her own people in the Southall at once made her glad to be
How could she have felt emotion over a mere return to Uncle Austen's
house? She might have felt enthusiasm over Nelly, but Nelly was married
to the gardener at her old asylum and a Katy had taken her place. The
house was the same. If only its stone façade might be allowed to
mellow, to grey a little! But, newly cleaned, it stood coldly
immaculate in its yard of shaven lawn set about with clipped
shrubberies. As for her uncle, Alexina found herself applying the same
adjectives to him, shaven, immaculate, cold.
She wondered what he thought of her, but Uncle Austen never made
Aunt Harriet, on joining her niece in the East early in the summer,
had looked at her consideringly. She seemed pleased.
Why, she said, Alexina, you are a Tennyson young person, tall and
most divinelyyou are a little more intense in your colouring than is
usual with a Blair. I'm glad.
The somewhat doubtful smile on the girl's face deepened as if a
sudden radiance leaped into it. She seized her aunt's hand. Oh, she
said, you're very nice, Aunt Harriet.
Harriet laughed, rather pleased than not, but she still was studying
the girl. She is impulsive and she doesn't look set, the aunt was
telling herselfwas it gratefully? perhaps she is less Blair than I
Austen Blair too, in fact, now viewed his niece with
complacencyshe fulfilled the Blair requirementsbut he talked of
It is the intention of your aunt and myself, he told her promptly,
to introduce you at once to what will be your social world, for it is
well for everyone to have local attachment.
As the matter progressed it appeared that social introduction, as
Uncle Austen understood it, was largely a matter of expenditure. In all
investment it is the expected thing to place where there is likeliest
return. Therefore he scanned the invitation list earnestly.
She can afford to do the thing as it should be done, he remarked
She? But Austen Harriet hesitated. I supposed it was ours, this
affair; it seems the least
Austen looked at her. At first he did not comprehend, then he
replied with some asperity. I have so far kept sentiment and business
apart in managing Alexina's affairs.
Harriet was silenced. It was becoming less and less wise to oppose
Austen. He had his own ideas about the matter. The thing is to be done
handsomely, he set forth, but, as qualification, judiciously.
Therefore he stopped an acquaintance on the street a day or two
before the affair. Are we to have the pleasure of seeing you on
Tuesday? he asked, even a little ostentatiously, for the young man had
neglected to accept or decline.
Austen reported the result to Harriet. For there is no use ordering
a supper for five hundred if but four hundred and ninety-nine are
coming, he told her.
No? said Harriet.
Exactly, said her brother.
Alexina, present at the conversation, looked from the one to the
other. Uncle Austen was Uncle Austen; there was a slight lift of the
girlish shoulders as she admitted this. But Aunt Harriet
For Harriet had changed. She had been changing these past two
summers. She was absent, forgetful, absorbed, even irritable. Aunt
Harriet! And recalled, she would colour and look about in startled
Alexina and Harriet had been always on terms friendly and pleasant,
but scarcely to be called intimate; terms that, after a cordial
good-night, closed the door between their rooms, and while the girl had
been conscious of a fondness for her serene and capable aunt, there
were times too, when, met by that same serenity, she had felt she must
rebel, and in secret had thrown her young arms out in impotent,
But now Aunt Harriet forgot and neglected and grew cross like any
one, and the sententious utterances of Uncle Austen irritated her.
Alexina, going into her room one day, found her with her head bowed on
the desk. Was she crying? The girl slipped out.
Was Aunt Harriet unhappy? The heart of Alexina warmed to her.
The evening of Alexina's return home Harriet had come to her door.
To twenty years thirty-eight seems pitiably far along in life, yet
Harriet called up no such feeling in Alexina. No passion of living writ
itself on Galatea's check while she was in marble, and Alexina, opening
the door to the tap, thought her aunt beautiful.
If there are callers to-night, Harriet said, I want you to come
down. My friends are not too elderly, she smiled in the old,
good-humoured way, to be nice to you this winter.
So later Alexina went down to the library, a room long unfurnished,
now the only really cheerful room in the house. Was it because Harriet
had furnished it?
The girl always had realized in an indefinite way that Harriet was a
personage; later, in their summers away together, she discovered that
men liked her handsome aunt.
In the library she found a group who, from the conversation, seemed
to be accustomed to dropping in thus in casual fashion. They were men
of capacity and presence, one felt that, even in the case of that long
avowed person of fashion, Mr. Marriot Bland, who was getting
dangerously near to that time of life when he would be designated an
old beau. He was a personage, too, of his type. Alexina shook hands
with him gaily; she had been used to his coming since she first came to
live with Aunt Harriet and Uncle Austen. Harriet introduced the others.
The girl's spirits rose; she felt it was nice that she should be
And they? What does middle-age feel, looking upon youth, eager-eyed,
buoyant, flushed with the first glow from that unknown about to dawn?
Oh, it was a charming evening. The girl showed she thought it so and
smiled, and the men smiled too, as they joined Harriet in making her
the young centre. Perhaps there was a tender something in the smiles.
Was it for their own gone youth?
One, a Major Rathbone, stayed after the others left. He sat building
little breastworks on the centre-table out of matches taken from the
bronze stand by the lamp, and as he talked he looked over every now and
then at Harriet on the other side.
In the soberer reaction following the breaking up of the group,
Alexina, too, found time to look at Harriet. It was an Aunt Harriet
that she had never seen before. The colour was richly dyeing this
Harriet's cheeks, and the jewel pendant at her throat rose and trembled
and fell, and her white lids fell, too, though she had laughed when her
eyes met laughter and something else in the brown eyes of the Major
fixed on her.
It was of Mr. Marriot Bland the Major was speaking, his smooth,
brown hand caressing his clean-shaven chin.
So cruelly confident are you cold Dianas, he was saying. Now,
even a Penelope must hold out the lure of her web to an old suitor, but
Alexina laughed. She had jumped promptly into a liking for this
lean, brown man with the keen, humorous eyes and the deliberate yet
quick movements, and now absorbed in her thoughts, was unconscious of
her steadfast gaze fixed on him, until he suddenly brought his eyes to
bear on hers with humorous inquiry.
Well? he inquired.
Now Alexina, being fair, showed blushes most embarrassingly, but she
could laugh too.
What's the conclusion? he demanded; or would it be wiser not to
Alexina laughed again. She knew she liked this Major.
I was wondering, she confessed. You are so different from what I
expected. I heard Aunt Harriet and Uncle Austen discussing one of your
editorials, so I read it. I thought you would be differentfiercer
maybe, andermore aggressive.
Alexina began to blush again, for the Major was so edified at
something that his enjoyment was suspicious.
But no man is expected to live down to his editorials, Miss
Alexina; I write 'em for a living.
He stroked his chin as he regarded her, but there was laughter too
out of the tail of his eye across at Aunt Harriet, who was laughing
also, though she looked teased.
Later Alexina learned more about this Major Rathbone. It was Emily
Carringford who told her. Emily came over promptly the day after
Alexina's return and, admitted by Katy, ran up as of old.
Alexina, hearing her name called, turned from a melée of unpacking
as the other reached the open doorway.
Oh, Emily, she said, and stood and gazed.
Emily stood, too, archly, and, meeting Alexina's look, laughed. Her
blush was an acknowledgment; she did not even pretend to misunderstand
Aunt Harriet told me howhow lovely you were, and Uncle Austen
told me last night that my friend, Miss Emily, he considered an
'unusually good-looking womana handsome woman, in fact.' The niece
had her uncle's every conciseness of tone as she quoted. But somehow
with it all, I wasn't prepared
She came forward with hands out.
Emily forgot to take the hands. Did he say that, really, Alexina?
Yes; why shouldn't he? Oh, Emily, it must be joy, or does it
frighten you to know you're so beautiful?
She was letting her fingers touch, almost with awe, the curve of the
Emily laughed, but the crimson on the cheek deepened.
And your voice? demanded Alexina. I want to hear you sing. Did
you get the place in the choir you wrote me about?
Miss Harriet got it for me; it was she who suggested itthat is,
she got Mr. Blair to get it for me. It's at your church, you know.
Uncle Austen? No. Did he, really?
But the surprise in Alexina's voice was unfair to her uncle. To help
people to the helping of themselves was part of his creed. He looked
upon it as a furthering of the general social economy, as indeed he had
pointed out more than once to those he was thus assisting.
But Alexina had many things to ask. She pushed Emily into a chair.
Is it pleasantthe choir? she began.
Pleasant? Well, Emily looked away and coloured, I like the money;
I've never been able to have any clothes before. There was a scene at
home about itmy singing, I mean, in any but my own church, and for
money. It was grandfather, of course; it's always been grandfather. He
says it's spiritual prostitution, whatever he means by that, taking
money for praising the Lord in an alien faith. She laughed in an
off-hand way. No, I'll be honest, I'd have to be sooner or later with
you, anyhow, I hate itnot the work and rehearsals so much, but the
being patronized. When some of those women stop me, with the air of
doing the gracious thing, to tell me they have enjoyed my singing, oh,
I could Again she laughed, but her cheeks were blazing. Then she
leaned over and fingered some of the girlish fineries strewing the bed.
I hate it at home, too, when it comes to being honest about
thingssix of us, with grandfather and Aunt Carrie making eight, in
that little house!
Later, Alexina chanced to refer to Major Rathbone. She spoke
enthusiastically, for she either liked people or she did not like them.
Hadn't you heard about him? asked Emily in surprise. He met Miss
Harriet two years ago, and he's been coming ever since. It's funny,
too, that he should. He's the Major Rathbone, you know
But Alexina looked unenlightened.
Why, said Emily, the Major Rathbone who was the Confederate
guerrillathe one who captured and burned a train-load of stuff your
grandfather and Mr. Austen had contracted to deliver for the
government. I've heard people tell about it a dozen different ways
since he's been coming to see Miss Harriet. Anyway, however it was, the
government at the time put a price on his head and your grandfather and
Mr. Austen doubled it. And now they say he's in love with Miss
In love! With Aunt Harriet! Alexina grew hot. Aunt Harriet! She felt
strange and queer. But Emily was saying more. Mr. Blair and Major
Rathbone aren't friends even yet; I was here to supper with Miss
Harriet one evening last winter, and Mr. Blair was furious over an
editorial by Major Rathbone in the paper that day about some political
appointments from Washington. Mr. Blair had had something to do with
them, had been consulted about them from Washington, it seems. Major
Rathbone's a Catholic, too.
It rushed upon Alexina that she had spoken to the Major of a family
discussion over his editorials.
Emily stayed until dusk. As Alexina went down to the door with her,
they met Uncle Austen just coming in. He stopped, shook hands, and
asked how matters were in the choir.
As Emily ran down the steps he addressed himself to his niece. A
praiseworthy young girl to have gone so practically to work. Then as
Emily at the gate looked back, nodding archly, he repeated it. A
praiseworthy young girl, praiseworthy and sensible, his gaze following
her, as well as handsome.
He went in, but Alexina lingered on the broad stone steps. It was
October and the twilight was purple and hazy. Chrysanthemums bloomed
against the background of the shrubbery; the maples along the street
were drifting leaves upon the sidewalk; the sycamores stood with their
shed foliage like a cast garment about their feet, raising giant white
limbs naked to heaven.
There were lights in the wide brick cottage. Strangers lived there
now. A swinging sign above the gate set forth that a Doctor Ransome
The eddying fall of leaves is depressing. Autumn anyhow is a
melancholy time. Alexina, going in, closed the door.
The Blair reception to introduce their niece may have been to others
the usual matter of lights and flowers and music, but to the niece it
was different, for it was her affair.
She and her aunt went down together. The stairway was broad, and
to-night its banister trailed roses.
Alexina was radiant. She even marched up and kissed her uncle.
Things felt actually festive.
All the little social world was there that evening. Alexina recalled
many of the girls and the older women; of the older men she knew a few,
but of the younger only one could she remember as knowing.
He was a rosy-cheeked youth with vigorous, curling yellow hair, and
he came up to her with a hearty swinging of the body, smiling in a
friendly and expectant way, showing nice, square teeth, boyishly far
apart. She knew him at once; he had gone to dancing school when she
did, and she was glad to see him.
Why, Georgy, she said, and held out a hand, just as it was borne
in upon her that Georgy wore a young down on his lip and was a man.
Oh, she said, blushing, I hope you don't mind?
He was blushing, too, but the smile that showed his nice spaced
teeth was honest.
No, he said; I don't mind.
Which Alexina felt was good of him and so she smiled back and
chatted and tried to make it up. And Georgy lingered and continued to
linger and to blush beneath his already ruddy skin until Harriet,
turning, sent him away, for Harriet was a woman of the world and Georgy
was the rich and only child of the richest mamma present, and the other
mammas were watching.
Alexina's eyes followed him as he went, then wandered across the
long room to Emily. She had expected to feel a sense of responsibility
about Emily, but Uncle Austen, after a long and precise survey of her
from across the room, put his eye-glasses into their case and went to
her. His prim air of unbending for the festive occasion was almost
comical as he brought up youths to make them known. This done he fell
back to his general duties as host.
But Alexina, watching Emily, felt dissatisfaction with her, her
archness was overdone, her laughter was anxious.
Why should Emily stoop to strive so? With her milk-white skin and
chestnut hair, with her red lips and starry eyes there should have
belonged to her a pride and a young dignity. Alexina, youthfully stern,
It brought her back to the amusing things of earth, however, that
Uncle Austen should take Emily home when it was over. Would Emily be
arch with Uncle Austen? Picture it!
Several of the older men lingered after the other guests were gone,
and they, with Harriet and Alexina, had coffee in the library. The
orderliness of the room, compared with the dishevelled appearance
elsewhere now the occasion was over, seemed cheerful, and these men
friends of Aunt Harriet were interesting. The talk was personal, as
among intimates. The local morning paper, opposed to Major Rathbone's
own, it seemed, had taxed the Major with aspiring to be the next
nominee of his party for Congress. And this was proving occasion for
much banter at his expense by the other men, for the truth was the
Major was being considered as a possibility, but a possibility
tempered, for one thing, by the fact that his guerrilla past shed a
somewhat lurid light upon his exemplary present.
But why want to keep it secret as if it were something dark and
plotting? insisted Harriet Blair. Why not come right out and admit
your willingness if your party wants you?
The men laughed in varying degrees of delight at this feminine
perspicacity. The Major regarded her with somewhat comical humour,
looking a little shamefaced, though he was laughing too. For the fear
my party can't afford to have me, he answered. It takes money. They
are casting about for a richer available man first, and, that failing,
Here Austen Blair came in, bringing a breath of the November chill.
Or was it his own personality that brought the chill, Alexina wondered.
For, to do him justice, there was a distinction, a fine coldness, a
bearing about him which distinguished him in any company.
Promptly on his coming the group broke up. The others passed into
the hall to hunt overcoats, but the Major paused to address Harriet,
who had risen and was looking at him as he spoke. There was colour in
her face, and light.
Friday evening, then, he was saying, you will go with me to hear
Austen, who had taken a cup of coffee from Alexina, looked up
sharply. He put the cup down.
Harriet smiled acquiescence. Friday evening, she agreed.
Later, in the hall, as the outer door shut behind the group of
departing men, Austen turned on his sister, his nostrils tense with
Do you realize what you are doing? he asked. Have you utterly
lost sight of how this man was regarded by your father, if you prefer
to put consideration for me out of the matter?
Harriet continued to unfasten her long glove. The colour was gone
from her face, and the light, but otherwise she stood outwardly serene.
The fight was fair, she said calmly, and also mutual.
Her brother regarded her fixedly, then he spoke. Though what there
is to be gained in thus setting yourself in opposition to my repeatedly
expressed wishes I do notall at once two steely points seemed to
leap into the blue intensity of his gazeunlessin Heaven's name,
Harriet, is it possible that you mean to
Mean to what? she repeated. Harriet was meeting his eyes with a
look as unflinching as his. She seemed unconsciously to have drawn
herself to her full, superb height, but she had grown white as her
He suddenly resumed his usual manner. Take the child on to bed, he
said, glancing at Alexina standing startled, looking from one to the
other. This is no time to have the matter out.
I agree with you quite, said his sister, and held out a hand to
the girl. Alexina took it quickly, impulsively, and held to it as they
went up the garlanded stairway, which suddenly looked tawdry and
garish. In the hall above the girl lifted Harriet's hand and put her
cheek against it, then almost ran in at her own door.
The Blairs met about the breakfast table next morning at the usual
time; a matter of four hours for sleep instead of eight would have been
insufficient excuse to Austen for further upsetting of routine; and
there was none of the chit-chat that would seem natural on a morning
following the giving of a large social affair.
Aunt Harriet was dumb and Uncle Austen tense, or so it seemed to the
third and youngest Blair about the board. She had been conscious of
sharp interchange checked as she entered. Uncle Austen even forgot to
look up at her interrogatively as she came in, though she was a moment
Was the trouble still about the Major? Was Aunt Harriet determined
to go with him Friday evening?
Whatever the cause, Friday came, with the strained relations between
sister and brother unrelieved.
The town was in the midst of its social season, the Blair reception
being one of several crowding each other. On this Friday Harriet and
Alexina were to attend an afternoon affair, and later Alexina was to go
to an evening occasion with her uncle, who had consented icily, as
though to emphasize the fact that it was Harriet's engagement which
made it necessary for him to take the girl.
Alexina, coming down a little before five, found Harriet standing in
the parlour, ready, gloves on and wrap on a chair. To be young is to be
ardent. Not all youthful things are young. Alexina was young.
You are beautiful, Aunt Harriet, she declared.
But it was as if Harriet did not hear. Was it premonition, that
A moment, Alexina, she was saying. Listen, was that the bell?
John, probably, said Alexina, to let us know the carriage is
But it was Major Rathbone who came in upon them in his quick fashion
a moment later. His overcoat was a cape affair which somehow seemed to
suit his personality, and ever after Alexina could see him throwing the
cavalier-like drapery back with impatient gesture.
You are not gone then, Harriet, he said; I am glad for that.
Quickly as the words were spoken, the Harriet on his lips was not
lost upon Alexina. She turned to go, quite hot and with impulsive
haste, but the Major, putting out a hand, detained her.
No, Miss Alexina; I'd really rather you would stay if you will be
so kind, he said, then turned to the older woman. I have just had
some words with your brother on the club-house steps and I knocked him
down. I came on straight here, preferring you should hear my regret
from myself. I lost my temper.
He was facing Harriet, who had taken a step towards him at his
entrance, then had stopped. Looking at her he went on rapidly:
There is this I want to say. Yesterday I thought never to have the
right to say it since I was too poor to ask you to listen. To-night I
came here to say that I love you from my soul, and near you or away
from you, alive or dead, will go on loving you and wanting you. Had you
been poor I would have fought like any man to make you care; as it is I
knocked your brother down for saying I was trying to do it because you
are rich, to further my political ambition. I knocked him down for
that, and for some other, older reasons. There is nothing more to say;
no, in the divine bigness of your nature don't think you have to speak.
I cannot come here any more, even if you would permit me, after what
has happened, and I can't expect you to go to-night of course. But if
ever I can serve you I am yours, soul and body, and will be while there
is life in me. That's all at last. What, as he turned, crying, Miss
Alexina? For me? Or for him? I assure you there was little hurt but his
arrogance. Dare I ask you to shake hands?
And he was gone in his abruptly quick fashion and the latch of the
outer door was heard clicking behind him.
It aroused Harriet and she came to herself. She was trembling, but
on her face was a look of one who has entered Heaven. Then it seemed to
come to her that he was gone.
I mustoh, stop him, Alexina. He must know
The girl ran into the hall, but the outer door was heavy, and in her
haste she was awkward getting it open. As it gave finally the rush of
wind drove her inward. The steady rainfall of the day, freezing as it
touched the ground, had changed to finely driven sleet. The steps
glared with ice. But already the Major was at the gate, and through the
dusk she could see his umbrella lowered against the wind as he turned
and started up the street. She called after him impulsively,
beseechingly, but realized the futility of it through the fierce rush
of wind and sleet. John was just driving out the carriage-way from the
stable. Indeterminate, she closed the door and turned back to the
Harriet had sunk upon a chair, and in her eyes, looking far off, was
a light, a smile, or was it tears?
She sprang up and turned, her face one heavenly blush, as Alexina
entered. Had she thought it would be he?
Gone? Oh, Alexina, I mustI have to tell him. Ring the bell. John
must go for him. After what has happened I cannot stand it that the
knowledge should all be mine.
But she was already pulling the bell-cord herself, then turned to
Alexina blushing and radiant.
I am thirty-eight years old, Alexina; I am not even young, and yet
he cares for me.
The bell had rung; both had heard the far-off sound of it, but no
one answered, maid or man-servant.
She rang again. I had no time, the words would not come, I tried to
tell him, she said pleadingly to Alexina, as if the girl were
arraigning her, then suddenly dropped into the chair by the bell-cord,
and with her face in her hands against its back went into violent
Alexina stood hesitant. There are times for silence. She would go
and find Katy.
But she met her hurrying from the kitchen towards the parlour, the
shawl over her head full of sleet and wet. She was panting and her eyes
were large. Alexina was vaguely conscious of the cook, breathing
excitement, somewhere back in the length of the hall, and behind her
some trades-boy, his basket on his arm, his mouth gaping.
It's Major Rathbone, said Katy, panting; John ran into him coming
out the carriage gate. The horses slipped and he had his umbrella down
and didn't see. I was coming from the grocery.
Oh, said Alexina; Katy, oh
Harriet had heard and was already in the hall and struggling with
the outer door. I can'tit won'toh, Alexina, help me!
Katy had reached the door too, and put her hand on the knob.
They've already started to the infirmary with him, Miss Harriet, John
and that young doctor across the street, before I came in. He told them
to take him there himself. He was half up, holding to the fence, before
John was off the box. 'Stop the doctor there getting in his buggy,' he
said to John, 'and get me around to the infirmary.'
And the doctorwhat did he say? demanded Alexina.
He said 'Good Lord, man!' and he swore just awful at John being so
slow helping get him in the carriage.
Harriet all at once was herself, perfectly controlled.
Go get me my long cloak, please, Katy, she said.
Oh, Miss Harriet, from Katy; you ain't thinking of goin'
outit's sleetin' awfulwithout the carriage!
But Harriet already had reached the stairs going for the wrap
Alexina followed her. What is it, Aunt Harriet? she begged. Where
are you going?
Harriet answered back from her own doorway. To the infirmary.
Action is the one thing always understood by youth. Alexina entirely
approved. I'll go, too, she said, and ran into her room to change her
wrap for a darker one.
There was but one infirmary at the time in the city, and that a
Catholic institution. They could walk a square and take a car to the
door. Alexina, in her haste, never thought of money, but Harriet, as
she came down, had her purse.
Neither spoke on the way; it was all they could do to keep umbrellas
open in the fierce drive of wind and sleet. Alexina bent her head to
catch breath; the sleet whipped and stung her face, the wind seized her
loose cape, her light skirts, bellying them out behind her. But
Harriet, ahead, tall, poised, went swiftly on, and, in the light from
the street gas-post as they waited for a car, her face showed no
consciousness of storm or of aught about her. Yet it was Harriet who
stopped the car, who made the change, and paid the fares. The ride into
town was in silence. It was Harriet who rang the bell before the
infirmary building, who led the way over the icy pavement, up the wide
brick walk through the grounds; it was Harriet who rang the bell at the
big central door, and it was she who entered first past the little
Sister who opened that door.
Not that the little Sister meant to permit itit was against rules,
she assured them, visiting hours were over. She could tell them
nothing. The doctors were with the gentleman now.
But she let them in. Prison doors must have opened to Harriet that
night, she would have put the little Sister aside if need be and walked
in, Alexina felt that. Perhaps the little Sister felt it too. She
glanced at Harriet furtively, timidly, and, murmuring something about
going to see, glided away.
The two stood in the hall, Alexina gazing at the patron Saint of the
place, in marble on his pedestal. After a time the little Sister
returned and told them the doctor would see them presently and said
something about the parlour, but Harriet shook her head.
Again they waited, the woman and the girl sitting in chairs against
the painted wall, facing the Saint in his niche. The instincts of long
ago arose within Alexina, and unconsciously her lips moved for comfort
to herself in a prayer to the benign old Saint before her, there being
nothing incongruous to her that she was using a little form of child's
prayer taught her by her Presbyterian aunt.
And still they waited, so long that Alexina felt she could not stand
the silence longer, or the waiting. She looked at Harriet, who was
gazing before her, her face colourless, her eyes unseeing. Alexina
began to wonder if the Sister had forgotten they were there.
But at last she came stealing noiselessly back, and, following her,
a young man.
Alexina recognized him at once as the young doctor she had seen
going in and out the cottage, and whose name she remembered was
Harriet arose to meet him. He was young and boyish and looked
unnerved. The others will be down in a momentthe other doctorshe
told her; when I saw it was badyou know I'm just beginningI turned
His nice blue eyes looked quite distressed.
How bad? asked Harriet steadily.
He looked at her quite miserably, the boy, then gathered himself
May I askI beg pardonmay I know who I am talking to? though
true to tell he knew who she was, living as he did across from her, but
in his young embarrassment did not know how to say so.
The tall, beautiful woman stood a moment before him, then a slow
colour came up over her throat and face. I am Miss BlairMajor
Alexina had come close to her side and her young eyes were on the
He understood; doubtless he had heard the two names connected
before; the affairs of the wealthy Miss Blair and the somewhat famous
editor were likely to be talked over in a city the size of Louisville,
or, perhaps, being young, he merely divined. His distress increased; he
looked quite wretched. It's badI'm mighty sorry to be the one to
Did she grow taller, whiter? Are youare the doctors still
They are through for the present and coming down now.
Then I will go to him. Oh, but I mustthis to the horrified
little Sister's upraised hands of protest and headshake of negation.
It's against all rules, ejaculated the little Sister.
Miss Blair addressed herself to the young doctor.
Kindly take me to the room, she said.
The abashed young fellow looked from one to the other. But he
started. The little Sister, however, hastily interposing herself
between Miss Blair and progress, was heard to murmur that name of
Go and bring her, said Harriet.
The Sister departed in haste, to return speedily with the Mother,
her calm face beneath its bands mild, benignant, but inexorable.
But I am, returned Harriet to anything she could say. I am going
The dominant calmness of the Mother had met its equal. Finally, in
her turn, she retreated behind authority and mentioned Father Ryan.
Oh, said Harriet, go and bring him.
He came, heavy of jowl, keen and humorous of eye, but his manner
disturbed, distraught, as with one whose absorption is elsewhere.
Suddenly Harriet remembered that he was the intimate, the friend of
I am going to him, said Harriet; nothing that you can say makes
The Father gazed at her thoughtfully. Then he nodded. No, he said;
you are right; nothing will.
Just then the two other physicians came down the stairs.
A word with you first, gentlemen, please, said the Father. The
four men gathered at the foot of the stairway.
Watching, an outsider would have said that the priest and the young
doctor were pleaders with the others for the cause of Miss Blair.
Later, the Mother herself led Harriet up the stairs and along a
corridor, the young doctor following with Alexina.
I think Ido you think I ought to go with her? Alexina had
faltered to him.
The two young things gazed at each other indeterminate. Alexina's
eyes were swimming, like a child's, with unshed tears. Never has
tragedy such epic qualities as in youth. Then he turned and led the
way. Yes, he told her, I think if I were you I would.
Harriet was by the bed when they entered, gazing down on the lean,
brown face of the man, whose eyes were closed. The Sister in charge,
sitting on the other side, was speaking in a low voice. Had she seen
fit to tell what she knew?
For Harriet turned as they entered and looked at them. Her face was
set as in marble. It was cold, it was stern; only, the eyes fixed on
the young doctor's face were imploring.
Will he wake first? she asked.
The young fellow seemed to shrink before the majesty of her
suffering. Alexina put out a hand to touch her and drew it back,
afraid. If only she were not so superbly self-controlled.
Yes, he will most likely awake, he assured her, and must have done
so even if he had not thought it.
She took off her hat, a large, festive affair with plumes and
jewelled buckles, and dropped her wrap. There was a low chair near the
bed. She drew it close and sat down, her eyes on the face on the
pillow. Jewels gleamed in the lace of her gown, and the shining silk of
its folds trailed the floor about her.
Alexina stole across to a far and shadowed corner of the room and
sat down by a table. She was crying and striving to keep it noiseless.
The doctor stood irresolute, then made a movement.
Do you have to go? said Harriet, turning.
No; I expect to be here in the building all night. There might come
Stay, please, she asked him; here.
He sat down by the open fire and she turned again to the face on the
The night passed. Now and then the Sister moved noiselessly about,
or the doctor came to the bedside, lifted the inert hand, laid it down,
and went back to the fire.
Alexina moved from her chair to the window or to the fire and back
again. Now and again she knew that she must have slept a little, her
head against the table. So the night passed.
The square framed by the window sash was turning grey when there
came a movement, and the eyelids of the face on the pillow lifted.
Harriet was leaning over before the others, the nurse or doctor, got to
the bed, and must have been there when the eyes opened. She must have
seen consciousness of her presence in them, too, and possibly
questioning, for she spoke rapidly, eagerly, like one who had said the
thing over and over in readiness for the moment, though her voice
shook. You said you loved me from your soul, and, living or dead,
would go on loving and wanting my love?
There seemed no wonder in the voice replying, only content. There
was even the usual touch of humour in his reply. And will go on
wanting your love, he said.
But I am here to tell you how I love you, she returned.
The room was still, like death. Then in the man's voice: Is this
Her voice hurried on. And how, living or dead, I will go on loving
and wanting you.
It was no pity that trembled in her voice, it was passion. He moved.
After a time he spoke again. It was to call her name, to say it as
to himself. This time he knew it was love this woman was talking of,
I could not bear it that you should not know, she hurried on to
tell him. I made them let me come to you.
You know then, Harriet; they have told you?
She was human; the sound that broke from her was the cry of a rent
The doctor, who had gone back to the mantel, crouched over the fire.
The Sister seemed to shrink into the shadows beyond the narrow bed.
Alexina clenched her hands, her head on her arms outstretched on the
But Harriet had regained herself. I am here to ask you something.
May I be married to younowat once, I mean?
His response was not audible, only her reply. Oh, surely you will.
For the rest of my lifeto have beenyou will give me this, won't
There was a quick movement from him, and a sound of warning from the
nurse who moved forward out of the shadow.
Material things seemed to come back to Harriet. Alarm sprang into
her voice. Shall I go away? she asked the nurse, even timidly.
The answer came from him. No; oh, no. Since it may be for so little
time I may ask it of you; stay with me, Harriet.
She turned to the doctor.
Stay, he told her, poor boy, new to these things.
Then give me my way, Harriet begged, turning back again. She had
forgotten the others already. You said that after what happened
between you and Austen you wanted it known how you felt to me. Haven't
I the same right and more, since it was my brother who said it, to want
the world to know how I feel to you?
They could feel the laugh in his reply. The world, the world, as if
you ever cared for what the worldcome, be honest, Harriet; you say
this in the generous desire of making it up to me.
But I doI do care. I could clap my hands, I could glory to cry it
from the house-tops, how I care, how I am here, on my knees, begging
you will marry me.
You are kneeling? Yes? Kneel then; even that, since it brings you
closer. But let's not talk of this now. I'm not used to the knowledge
of the first yet. Will you put your hand in mine, Harriet?
The girl over in the shadow felt that her heart would break. And
this was love. The great, sad thing was love!
He was talking again. I never thought, surely, to be a stick of a
man like this. I could have made a royal lover, Harriet. A man's blood
at forty is like wine at its fulness. My headwon't liftGod, that it
should come to find me like this! yet, kiss me, will you, Harriet?
But a moment and she returned to her pleading. They will send me
away from you, you know, I have no right to be hereunless you give it
Was she using this, the inference, to move him?
For he caught it at once. You cameI see, I see.
But she had fled from her position. It's not that, as if I cared,
as if you thought I cared, it's because I want to have been
But the other had stuck. Is the doctor there? he asked.
The young fellow came to the bed.
I would like to see Father Ryan, said the Major.
The priest came. The two were intimates. He listened to the
instructions, the exigencies of the case to be met by him. A license
was necessary. And try and get Miss Blair's brother to accompany you,
and to come here with you; you will make it all clear to him.
Harriet was looking up at the priest, whom she saw as the friend of
the man she loved. And you will come back and marry us yourself, won't
you? she asked.
He was looking down at her. Even after the long night, in the cold
light of a winter dawn, and in the garishness of an evening gown in
daylight, she was triumphantly beautiful. With her hand on the smooth
brown hand of the Major, she sat and looked up at the cassocked priest.
The marble of her face had given way to a divine light and radiance.
He looked down on her.
I will come, he told her.
It was some hours before he was back. The young doctor had gone and
come. Dawn had broadened into a grey and sullen day. Breakfast was sent
up and placed in an adjoining room for Harriet and Alexina. The girl
tried to eat, if only to seem grateful to the Sister bringing it, but
Harriet wandered about the room, and, when Alexina brought her a cup of
coffee, shook her head. She watched the door until the doctors were
gone and she might return to him, then went in and sat by him again.
His eyes were closed, but his hand, seeking as she sat down, found
hers. Later, as the priest returned, the gaze from the pillow turned to
the door eagerly. Austen was not with him. The face steeled.
The Mother came in, and at a sign from the priest they gathered
around, Alexina, the young doctor, the nurse.
With his hand in Harriet's the Major followed to the end.
Nor was he going to die. There was deeper knowledge of life yet for
the woman by him to learn.
Afterward, Doctor Ransome drove Alexina home in his buggy, where she
and the voluble, excited Katy packed some things for Harriet.
And Miss Harriet never to let us hear a word, and Maggie and me
never closing our eyes all the night, Miss Alexina, Katy said.
And Harriet Blair a person usually so observant and punctilious
And Mr. Blair, he asked where you were, Miss Harriet and you, when
he came, and then he dressed and went to the party he was going to take
you to, as if nothing had happened. And the Father came this morning
and talked, but Mr. Blair hardly said a word, and when they left the
priest went one way and Mr. Blair he went the other.
Doctor Ransome came in his buggy and took Alexina back. On reaching
the infirmary they found that Major Rathbone's sister from Bardstown,
who had been sent for, had arrived. Alexina had not known that he had a
sister until she found her in the room next to the Major's, with
She was childlike and small and was looking at Harriet, helpless and
frightened. She was, it proved, twenty-three years old, and a widow
with two children.
And Stevie takes care of us, she explained. Stevie was the
Major; us was herself and the babies.
She had brought both the babies. I couldn't leave them and come,
you know, she said.
One of them lay on the bed, asleep, a little chap four years old,
his coat unfastened, his hair tumbled. The other, the younger, asleep
too, lay on the mother's knee, Harriet regarding him. He was aquiline,
lean and handsome, baby as he was, like a little deer hound.
His name is Stevie, said Stephen's sister.
Harriet looked up from the child to the mother, almost jealously.
Then he is mine, too; I have some part in him too, since his name is
For two months Austen Blair and his niece lived on in the big house.
Alexina wondered if her uncle were not different from other people,
for it must be the abnormal human who would not ask one question about
his sister; mere curiosity must have demanded that much, Alexina
thought, having a lively curiosity herself. To be sure, Aunt Harriet,
from Uncle Austen's standpoint, had outraged every convention to which
they had been bred; she had married a man between whom and her family
there had been bitterest enmity, between whom and her brother there had
been personal encounter; she had gone from her brother's roof to be
married in a Catholic institution, by a Catholic priest.
It almost made Alexina laugh when she summed up the enormity of the
offending. She gloried in it herself; she adored Aunt Harriet and loved
her for it.
But the fact that her uncle could thus ignore the whole subject made
it harder for Alexina to go to him about a matter which had arisen
A letter had come to her from her mother. Though it was eleven years
since she had seen the handwriting, she knew it, as Katy, bringing the
mail, handed it to her.
It seemed to Alexina that her pulses stopped and the tide of her
blood flowed backward. Katy, closing the door as she went, brought her
to herself, and she flung the letter from her the width of the room,
her gaze following it.
She sat like one stunned with horror. Then rage succeeded. What
right had thisthis so-called mother to write to her?
But she need not read it, and Alexina sprang up and went about her
household duties, as if in interviews with grocery-man and butcher,
with cook and laundress, she could forget that her mother had written
her, that the letter lay up-stairs awaiting her.
She would not read it, she assured herself; but all the while she
knew that she would, and when the time came she opened it quietly and
read it through. Then she put it in its envelope and threw it from her
again across the room, and sat immovable, the lines of her young face
setting as though by some steeling process. Suddenly she caught sight
of her face in the glass. On it was the look of Uncle Austen.
She sprang up and, dragging forth her cloak and hat and furs, fled
from the house. She must turn to some one, she must get away from the
horror that was upon her. She would go to Aunt Harriet.
It was a frosty day and a light fall of snow was on the pavements.
She met Dr. Ransome and Emily Carringford strolling along as though it
were summer. She had introduced him to Emily, and one would say she had
done him a good turn. She smiled as they called to her from across the
street. He admired Emily and it looked as if Emilybut, then, Emily
sparkled and glowed for any man, even for Uncle Austen.
She saw Georgy wave his hat gaily from the platform of a street-car
and look as though he meant to swing off and join her. She was seeing a
good deal of him these days. She shook her head and pointed with her
muff, and a moment later turned in at the Infirmary gate. She had
walked rapidly and felt better somehow. The Major was daily growing
stronger, though the fear was that he might never walk again, but,
rather than accept this verdict, he and Aunt Harriet were going East
for advice or, if need be, to Paris.
Paris! The horror surged back upon her. She stopped short in her
very turning to close the gate and stood engrossed with the misery of
it, for it was from Paris her mother had written to say she was coming
I have reached the end of my money, ma chere, she wrote, as you
come into yours, which Austen, being a Blair, will have cared for. I
will teach you to love life, now that you are grown. When you were a
child you were impossible, you disconcerted and judged me, but it is
unfair to let you taste life according to Blair seasoning only. So
write me, ma fille, mon enfant, of your whereabouts, in the care of
your Uncle Randolph in Washington, for I follow this steamer across.
And then, as though her mood had changed: In any case, I shall not
trouble you long. It is my lungs, they tell me. It is a curious
sensation, may you never know it, having your furniture seized. Le bon
Dieu and Celeste have stood between me and much.
Celeste! Tall, gaunt, and taciturnnegro mammy to Alexina and to
Molly before her. Celeste! It all stifled the girl. She hated Celeste.
Celeste had chosen to go with the mother, and the child had been left
And where was M. Garnier, the husbandthe promising young French
poet, as Uncle Randolph had termed him to some one, in the child
Alexina's hearing, those years ago? The letter made no mention of him.
Alexina closed the Infirmary gate and walked up the wide pavement to
the entrance. The little Sister knew her well now and smiled a welcome
as she let her in. Passing along the hall Alexina hesitated before the
marble saint in his niche. Hers was no controversial soul; what she
wanted was comfort. Perhaps the blend of Presbyterianism and
Catholicism may be tolerance. Then she went on through the spotless
halls to the second floor.
As the door opened Harriet looked around. She had been writing by
the Major's couch, and he had fallen asleep, his hand on hers, the
portfolio lying open on her lap. She smiled at Alexina, then nodded at
the hand detaining her.
Could it be the same Aunt Harriet, this yearning-eyed woman? Her
hair, always beautiful, had loosened and drooped over her temple, and
the thought swept upon Alexina, how human, how sweetly dear it made her
look, this touch of carelessness because of greater concern. It moved
the girl, bending to kiss her, to slip to her knees instead and throw
adoring young arms about her.
And then a strange thing happened; the head of the woman drooped for
support against the girl's shoulder and, with a sudden trembling all
through her, Harriet began to cry. Only for a moment; then, lifting her
head and putting the hand of the sleeper gently on the couch, she arose
and drew the girl over to the window.
You go to-morrow? asked Alexina.
Yes; Dr. Ransome has arranged to go with us then. I don't know why
I cry, for he's better. He's been dictating an editorial. I'm unnerved,
I suppose, and it's beginning to tell.
You are worn out with the two months of strain, Aunt Harriet, and
the worry and unhappiness.
Unhappiness? Harriet laughed a little wildly. Unhappiness? I
thought you understood better than that. I'm happy, for the first time
in all my easy, prosperous, level life. It's out of the depths we bring
up happiness, Alexina. And come what may, I've known, am knowing
itnothing can take the knowledge from me now.
She was crying again, her head bent against the window pane. I
never knew how to get near to any one; I've been alone all my life till
now. Maybe you have been lonely all along. I didn't know. Living with
Austen and meoh, I'm sorry for you, Alexina. I'm going away now with
Stephen; but when we come back I mean to make it up to you and see that
you have opportunities and friends. Oh, Alexina, we do all require it,
the joy of having some one needing us. And you'll be nice to Louise for
me, won't you, while we're gone?
Louise was the sister of Stephen, and she and the babies were to
remain in Louisville in the house the Major and Harriet had taken
against their return, an unpretentious house on a cross street.
Stephen has arranged it all, Harriet was saying; he won't let me
do a thing. He will not consider for a moment that he isn't going to be
able to keep his position on the paper; they're filling it for him
among themselves still. If he wasn't soso fiercely proud! It's Austen
that rankles, you see.
There was a movement on the couch. Harriet went swiftly over to the
waker. It is on Olympus they take time for deliberate and stately
progression; Harriet had come down to the human world.
It's a soporific thing, quoth the Major, listening to one's own
editorials. I never heard one through before. You there, Alexina? Where
have you been these two days? I hope you're not holding it against us
that Georgy is sending all his flowers to me? It's his delicate way,
you see; reaching round through me via Harriet to you.
There was a tap and the little Sister entered. It was company. It
was always company. The Major's life had been close to the heart and
centre of things. It was laughable to see the reserved Harriet's pride
in his popularity. It was a certain judge this time, and with him an
old comrade-at-arms, come up from the Pennyroyal to see him.
But had you better? Harriet expostulated.
The Major caught her hand and laughed at her. But these are fond
farewells, you see, dear lady, he explained.
Was he drawing her to him by the hand he held? For suddenly Harriet
bent over and kissed him; nor did Alexina feel any consciousness or
shame, and the little Sister went out softly with glistening eyes.
So it came about that Alexina did not open her heart to Harriet
after all, and the aunt went away next day without knowing.
Yet Harriet influenced the girl in her decision.
Alexina, standing at her window, watched a sparrow tugging at some
morsel that had fallen upon the snow and essaying to fly upward and
away with it. She was lonesome; the house was so big; it seemed so
empty. She was thinking about Aunt Harriet, who was giving her strength
out to some one, who had opened her arms to Louise and the babies,
whose days were full of thought and planning, and through whose eyes
shone something never there before.
Alexina left the window and re-read the postscript of her letter.
In any case I shall not trouble you long. It is my lungs, they tell
me. It is a curious sensation, may you never know it, having your
furniture seized. Le bon Dieu and Celeste have stood between me and
It was to her uncle after all that Alexina went with the matter that
night. He was in the parlour reading and laid down his paper to give
attention. The substance of the letter heard, the two perpendicular
lines between his brow relaxed, for it was a case of his judgment being
justified, and a man likes to feel he has been right.
It is what I expected, he said, only it has been longer coming.
She has her father's people in Washington, she has no claim on you. He
lifted his paper.
But said Alexina.
He lowered it and waited.
Her mouth grew set. He always made her stubborn. Fingering the
upholstery of his chair, she looked at him, though it took courage to
look at Austen Blair under some circumstances. She found herself
suddenly disposed to defend her mother. But if I feel a claim, Uncle
Austen? I wanted to tell you I think I ought to write to her to come.
Come where? asked Austen Blair.
To be surewhere could she write her to come? There fell a silence.
Then he spoke, and curtly. In three months you will be of age, a
fact which no doubt your mother has remembered. Until then I forbid it;
after that it is your affair. In the interim, it has been my intention,
and I meant to say as much to you, to make you acquainted with your
affairs. I had expected you to live on in my house. Under the
conditions you propose you will, of course, make your own
Alexina, listening, looked at him. One would have said tears were
welling. Had he raised his eyes to hers, put out a hand
But he returned to his paper.
Her cheeks blazed, her head went up, and something ran like a
vivifying flame over her face. It was a pity Austen did not see her
then. He demanded beauty in a woman. He should have seen his young
niece angry. Then she turned and went up to her room and wrote her
mother to come. But, the letter written, she leaned upon the desk and
broke into wild and passionate crying.
Alexina for several years had been made partially acquainted with
The evening her uncle chose to go over the whole with her, Alexina,
in the midst of it, put a hand timidly on his. I am grateful, Uncle
Austen, you know that, she said.
The matter of the mother was fresh between them. I have been paid,
as any one else, for my services, he answered.
She drew her hand back.
The books were a clear record of what had been done year by year.
Cowan Steamboat Mortgage, read Alexina from a page of early
entries. What was that?
A mortgage held for you on a boat built at the Cowan shipyards.
What was the name of the boat? Alexina's voice sounded suddenly
strained and odd.
The 'King William,' said Austen. The boat never paid for itself,
and the mortgage was foreclosed and the boat sold.
The girl's eyes narrowed with curious intentness. As she listened
she pushed her hair back with the hand propping her head as if its
weight oppressed her. And then? she asked. Here are more entries.
I bought the boat in at a figure a little over the mortgage; river
affairs were down. Later, a couple of yearsyou'll find it therethe
boat sold for double the price.
She closed the book. That's enough, I believe, she said, for one
evening. But it is doubtful if he was at all aware of anything strange
in her tone.
She tripped on her skirts, so impetuous was her flight up the
stairs, and, in her room, flung herself upon the bed. Her hands even
beat fiercely as she cried, but there was no doll Sally Ann to be
gathered in for comfort now.
They had loved her, they had been good to her. Mrs. Leroy had rocked
her, the Captain had held her on his knee.
She sprang up and went to bathe her eyes. If she knew where they
were, or how to find them, she would go
She wondered if Emily or her mother had known about this.
She went to the Carringfords' the next afternoon. She liked to go
over to the little brown house and she liked Emily's strong-featured,
outspoken mother; there was a certain homely charm even in the
clear-starched fresh calico dresses she wore.
Mrs. Carringford was drawing large loaves of golden-brown bread from
the oven as Alexina came in by way of the kitchen door. The smell of it
Wait a moment, Alexina, she said, as she rose and turned the
loaves out onto a clean crash towel spread upon the table. I want a
word with you before you go up-stairs. It's about Emily; you know, I
suppose, that your uncle is coming over right often to see her?That
big hat looks well on your yellow hair, AlexinaAnd I'm going to be
plain: it's bad for Emily; she's discontented with things now, she
always has been.
Alexina's eyes dilated. Coming to see Emily? Doesdoes Emily want
him to come?
Alexina, called Emily down the stairs; aren't you coming up?
Alexina went up to the room which Emily shared with her two little
sisters. It was hard on her. There were various attempts to have it as
a girl fancies her room. The airiness of Swiss muslins, however cheap,
the sheen of the colour over which the airiness lies, the fluttering of
ruffled edgesthese seem to be expressions of girlhood. But Emily's
little sisters shared the room with her. They were there when Alexina
Now go out, Emily told them; we want to be alone.
The little girls looked up. Miss Alexina was tall and fair and
friendly, she wore lovely dresses, she went to balls, and they adored
her. She felt the flattery and liked it too. Oh, she interceded, no,
Yes, said Emily; we want to talk. Go on, NanNell; don't you
The little sisters gathered up books and slates with some show of
resentment; it was their room too. Emily shut the door behind them.
The breadths of a light-hued silk dress were lying about the room.
Emily was ripping on the waist. It's a dress Miss Harriet gave mother
for a quilt while you were away, but I told her it would be no such
thing if I could devise it otherwise.
She frowned, then threw the waist down. Not that I don't hate
itthe devising, the scheming.
I wouldn't do it, said Alexina bluntly.
Which is easy for you to say, retorted Emily, her eyes sweeping
Alexina from top to toe. Harriet Blair knew how to dress the girl.
Yes, said Alexina; I suppose that's true. It was part of her
hold on Emily, her fairness. But you're welcome to anything of mine;
I've reason somehow to hate 'em all.
The colour heightened on Emily's face and she looked eager. Passion
expresses itself variously. The stern old grandfather abased and denied
the physical and material needs. Emily exulted in the very sheen of
rich fabric, in the feel of satin laid to cheek. Was the grandchild but
fulfilling the law of reaction? The soul of Emily and the soul of the
old preacher saw each other across a vast abyss.
It's for the Orbisons' I need a dress, said Emily. Of course, I
know it's because I have a voice I'm asked.
Yet, knowing that for herself she never would have been asked, there
was exultation in Emily's tone.
Alexina got up suddenly. Somehow she didn't want to discuss the
Leroys with Emily after all.
Down-stairs she stopped again in the spotless, shining kitchen, the
clean odour where soft-soap is used always lingering. Alexina liked it;
all her knowledge of the dear homely details of life she was familiar
with, she had gotten here.
You remember the Leroys? she asked Mrs. Carringford.
Why, yes; I sent them milk twice a day.
Did you know why they went away?
Wasn't it because they had put everything into thater She
Boat? suggested the girl.
BoatMrs. Carringford accepted the wordand so had to, after it
Sold, supplied Alexina. Did youdid people know who it was held
The plain-spoken Mrs. Carringford looked embarrassed. Well,
Alexina, you know how it is in a neighbourhood.
Then you knew the boat was bought in for me?
Why, yes; I did.
Did the Leroys know it?
Why, naturally, I should suppose so.
That was all that Alexina wanted to know, yet not all, either. Her
colour rose a little. It made her pretty. Do you know anything of the
Not a word, said Mrs. Carringford.
What do you hear from Miss Harriet and Major Rathbone?
They are still East. Dr. Ransome came back yesterday.
Yes; I know he did, said Mrs. Carringford. He was here to see
Emily last night. He's a nice boy. There was emphasis in her way of
making the statement. Harriet Blair had once remarked that Mrs.
Carringford was that anomalya sane woman. Yet she opposed the visits
of Austen Blair and spoke heartily concerning the other one. Garrard
is a nice boy; I like him.
Alexina became twenty-one in May. She had found that in the settling
of her affairs it would be necessary for her to remain in Louisville
and so had written her mother to come to her there. She explained about
the change in her life to the Carringfords, to find that they knew all
about her mother; probably her little world, Georgy, Dr. Ransome, knew
it, too, while these years she had comforted herself with the thought
that, at least, it was her secret shame.
Mrs. Carringford put an arm about her and kissed her. There was
approval in the action.
Emily looked at her, then laughed nervously, while a vivid scarlet
rose to the roots of her chestnut hair.
As Alexina passed through the front-room study going home, the old
minister glanced up from his writing and called her name. He pushed his
spectacles back onto his leonine head, looking up as she came toward
him. She was surprised, for he never had seemed conscious even of her
comings and goings.
There are two ties that are not of our making, he told her; the
spiritual tie between the Creator and the created, and the material tie
between the parent and the child. They are ties not of duty but of
nature, as indestructible as matter. God go with you.
She felt strange and choked, though she was not sure she knew what
A week after she became of age she was dismantling the bay-windowed
room of such things as were hers. Little by little it grew as cold and
cheerless as the one adjoining, now the personality of Aunt Harriet was
gone out of it. What would become of Uncle Austen after both were gone?
She had tried to force from him some expression of feeling, at first
wistfully, then determinedly. There is a chance, had he responded, that
she would have made other arrangements for her mother. Then she told
herself she did not care and went hotly on with her preparations.
She had taken two bedrooms and a parlour at a hotel, and had written
her mother to go directly there, but the night of her arrival the girl
felt she could not go to meet her. It was too late an hour anyhow, she
would wait until morning, but she shrank so from that first moment she
could not sleep.
She and her uncle met at the breakfast table the next morning. She
made one or two attempts at conversation. I go to-day, Uncle Austen,
she said at last, and, leaning forward, pushed a paper across the table
to him. It was the final statement of the household expenditures under
Her board from her first coming had been paid into the general house
fund, and, accordingly, she had included against herself charge for
these several days in the new month.
Noting it, Austen Blair nodded; it was the first approval accorded
her for some time.
She laughed. I go to-day, she repeated.
Her uncle, who had risen, put the paper, neatly folded, into his
wallet, then crossed to her and put out his hand.
I will not see you again then? he said, and shook hands.
A moment after she heard the front door close.
There were the servants to bid good-by, and that being done there
was no excuse to linger.
It was a warm May day; the magnolia in the yard, the pirus
japonicas, the calycanthus, the horse chestnuts, were in bloom. The
lawn was green, the edges of the gravel paths were newly cut and trim.
Alexina, in her muslin dress and Leghorn hat, turned on the stone
flagging and looked back at the home she was leaving. Home?
The girl, pausing in the yard of the big house, glanced across the
street to a shabby old brick cottage. Her affection was for it.
The hotel was in the business part of the city near the river. A
street-car would have taken her directly there but she walked, as if
seeking to put the moment off. The way took her past the house
furnished and waiting for Aunt Harriet and the Major. Louise was
sitting on an up-stairs window-sill with little Stevie, and caught his
small fist and waved it to her. A curtain was fluttering out an opened
window and a comfortable looking coloured woman was sweeping the
pavement. The place had an air of relaxation, of comfort, already. Aunt
Harriet was going to have a home.
The arrangements had been made at the hotel, and the child, for a
very child she was, went in at the ladies' entrance where a sleepy
bell-boy sat, always nodding, past the pillared corridor, on up-stairs,
and along the crimson-carpeted hallways. She was trembling, her throat
In the suite she had taken, a bed-room either side opened into a
connecting parlour. It was the knob of the parlour door she turned
after a tap. Then she went in.
Why, you tall, charming, baby-faced! Celeste, Celeste, here's
your baby! Come here to me, Malise. Why the child's hands are cold!
How foolish to have dreaded it so! It was all goneeven the
constraint. The twelve years were as nothing. She was again the baby
child, Malise, so-called by her mother's people.
And her mother? The linen pillows on the sofa beneath her head
looked cool and pleasantly rumpled, and the sheer white wrapper was
fine and softly laundered as a baby's. Her hair, hanging in two plaits
over the pillows, had no suggestion of carelessness; it looked
fascinating, it looked lovely.
The mother, holding her daughter's hands, was gazing up curiously,
interestedly, her lips parted, as pleased interest will part any
child's. There was contagious laughter in the eyes, too, the laugh of
expectancy about to be gratified, as with children while the curtain
goes up on a new scene. You are as pretty as you can be, Malise; the
Blair features used to look so solemn on a baby!
Alexina looked around. It was Celeste, tall, brown, regarding her
with covert eyes as of old. Celeste had never loved her, the child had
known that; her love belonged to the mother, her first charge, her
Southern born, all her own. The father's blood in this second child was
alien; Celeste had resented it as she had resented that father and all
his kind. She had been jealous for the mother against the father and
child from the first.
Alexina, drawing a hand from her mother's, gave it to Celeste. The
old woman took it loosely, then let it drop. Things were to be as of
old, then, between them.
The girl turned back to her mother. But, Molly, the name came
naturally, she had known her mother by no other, your health, you
know; tell me about that.
What did this dilation in Molly's eyes mean? And she glanced
sidewise, secretly, as if at fear of some dreaded thing, lurking.
Did I write about that? Oh, well, perhaps I was, then, but not now;
not at all now.
The haste to disclaim was feverish, and the look directed by Celeste
at Alexina was sullen, even while the old woman's strong, resistless
brown hand was pushing her mistress back onto the pillows.
Got to res' lil' while, p'tite; got to min' Celeste an' lay back
an' res' now.
Then to her daughter, who suddenly felt herself a little compelled
creature again, so was she carried into the past by the old woman's
soft, Creole slurring: 'Tain', lil' missy, 'tain' like Madame Garnier
she aire seeck actual, but jus' she taire, easy like.
Madame Garnier! That meant Molly! The illusions were all gone. The
girl backed from the couch. Twelve years rolled between Molly and
herself, years full of resentment. A slow red came up and over the
But Molly, back upon the pillows, gave no sign. She flung her plaits
out of the way and slipped her arms under her head. There is a
slenderness that is not meagreness, but delicacy; thus slight, thus
pretty, were Molly's wrists. The arms under her head tilted her face so
the light fell on it. It was a narrow, piquant face, with no lines to
mar its delicacy. The odd difference in the eyebrows, which had
fascinated Alexina as a child, one arched, one straight, lent laughter
to it even in repose. Yet the mouth drooped, like a child's, with
pathos and appeal. Could one say no to that mouth, it was so wistful?
It was an alluring face, and moved you so to tenderness, to do battle,
to give protection, that it hurt.
Throw off your hat, Malise, suggested Molly. Celeste, take her
parasol from that chair. There is so much to hear about. I asked la
femme de charge, when she was in this morning, if she'd ever heard of
the Blairs. Everybody used to know everything about everybody when I
was here before and the servants most of all, and, mon Dieu, she knew
all about them. 'Miss Blair is married,' she told me. 'I know that,'
said I, for you'd mentioned that much in your letter, Malise. 'She ran
off to get married,' said she. 'Oh, hush,' I told her.
She had retained her very colloquialisms, this Molly, too
unconscious and too indolent to know she had them, probably, or to
So she told me all about it, how tall, cold, proper Harriet had run
off from Blair proprieties and Austen, to marry a Southerner and a
Catholic! It's as if the virgin in marble had stepped down and done
Molly was amused. It narrowed her eyes till they laughed through the
I never heard anything so funny in my life, Malise, asas Harriet
eloping. What is it Jean Garnier would quote from his adored
Shakespeare about Diana and her icicles? Make me stop! It hurts meto
laugh. Oh-o-h, mammyGod, mammy!
The appeal died in a little choke, and the morsel of handkerchief
pressed to her mouth showed a spot of crimson, but Celeste was already
there, putting Alexina aside. You can ring fo' lil' iceyonder, she
told the girl jealously. Then, efen I were lil' missy, I'd go in
therethat one is yo' rooman' I'd shet my do'h. When it's over with,
p'tite won't want fo' you to have been in heah.
But pushed into the adjoining room and with the door shut between,
Malise still could hear. She did not want to hear; she tried not to
hear. She was awed and frightened.
Am I going to die this time, Celeste? I'm afraid, mammy; my hands
are cold. Don't rub them with the rings on, you fool; you hurt. No, no;
don't go away, mammy! mammy! I couldn't sleep last night; that's why
I'mI'm tired. The night was so long and I was afraid. I see Jean when
I try to sleep. I hear him cough. Give me something to make me
sleepoh, mammy, give it to me.
The girl in the next room stood gazing out the window over the roofs
and chimney stacks at the yellow tide of the river sweeping down
towards the pier bridge spanning it, but she was not seeing it. She was
filled with pity and terror.
It grew quieter in the next room, then still, then the door between
opened and closed. It was Celeste, outwardly unmoved and taciturn.
P'tite's gone to sleep. Shall I help lil' missy unpack her things?
Summer in a half-grown Southern city is full of charm; pretty girls
in muslin dresses stroll the shopping streets and stop on the sidewalks
to chat with each other and with callow youths; picnic parties board
the street cars, and in the evenings sounds of music and dancing float
out from open doors and windows along the residence streets.
Alexina, chaperoned by Harriet Blair, would have found herself in
these things, yet never quite of them.
Malise, Molly said quite earnestly, a day or so after her coming,
don't you think it's stuffy here?
It was stuffy; hotel rooms in summer are apt to be; Alexina felt as
apologetic as if Molly were the one who had given up a spacious,
comfortable home to come and live in rooms for her. I'm sorry, she
said. She had explained the necessity for it before.
I thought you'd gotten the bank to take charge of your affairs,
Molly reminded her; so why do we have to stay?
I have, but it's a different thing, very, from having Uncle Austen,
She stopped; it might seem to be reminding Molly that she had caused
the break with Austen Blair.
But Molly never took disagreeable things personally. She threw her
arms back of her head. Can't you propose something to do? she
We might go round to the stores, suggested Alexina doubtfully. She
hated stores herself.
Molly brightened. I need some summer things.
Alexina agreed, yet she wondered. Seven trunks can disgorge a good
many clothes; mere debris from the wreckage of things, Molly
explained, though they didn't look it. Yet in a way Alexina understood.
It wasn't the actual things Molly wanted; it was the diversion, and so
at the suggestion Molly cheered up. You look pretty in summer clothes,
Malise, she stated with graciousness, as they started. On the way she
went in and bought chocolates; not that she wanted them eitherit was
too hot for candy, she saidbut one must be doing something.
Coming out the door they met Georgy, who promptly stopped. He was a
beautiful youngster, with a buoyant and splendid heartiness, and now he
was flushing ruddily with pleasure up to his yellow hair.
Alexina blushed, too; she hardly knew why, except that he did, and
told his name to Molly, who regarded him with smiling eyes and gave him
her hand, whereupon he blushed still more and then suggested that he go
along with them.
A group of young matrons and their daughters stood at the door of
the shop to which they were bound, chatting in easy, warm weather
fashion. Alexina knew them slightly but Georgy knew them well, and they
were greeted with salutations and laughter.
Molly smiled, too, an interested smile that brightened as she was
introduced, and she remembered having known the mother of this one when
she, Molly, had lived in Louisville before, and the husband of another
one, and all the while she was letting her eyes smile from one to the
other of the group, who meanwhile were telling Georgy that they were
planning a dance.
Dance? Molly's eyes grew inquiringly eager. Favors were they
speaking of? She had a trunk full of Parisian knick-knacks, she told
them. Come around to the hotel, she suggested, all of you: why not
And so it was that the stream of things gayest caught Molly and
Molly's daughter into its swirl. The banks along the way were flowery,
the sky was blue, and Alexina began to find the waters of dalliance
sweet. Hitherto girlish groups had seemed to make themselves up and
leave her out, and there always had been a disconcerting lack of things
to talk about in dressing-rooms and strictly feminine assemblies. Now
she found herself in the planning and the whirl, happy as any.
There was exhilaration, too, in this sudden realization of what an
income meant, which she had not had much opportunity of learning
before, and these days she laughed out of very exuberance and sudden
joy in living.
It seems as if I didn't really know you, sometimes, said the
literal Georgy, out calling with her one evening. It makes you awful
pretty, you know, to be jolly this way, which was meant to be more
complimentary than it sounded.
They were stepping up on the porch of the house to which they were
bound. Alexina laughed and caught a handful of rose petals from a
blossoming vine clambering the post and cast them on Georgy.
There were other swains than Georgy these days, too, and not all of
them were youths, either, not that it mattered in the least who they
were; for in the beginning it is the homage, not the individual, that
She hung over the offerings which came to her from them with a
rapture which was more than any mere joy; it was relief. Suppose such
things had been denied her? There are maidens, worthy maidens, who
never know them, and so Alexina blushed divinely with relief. Roses to
And Molly, watching, would grow peevishnot over the flowers; Molly
was too sure of her own charm for that. Alexina really did not know
what it was about, and she did not believe Molly quite knew herself.
There was a lazy-eyed personage the young people called Mr. Allie.
Their mothers had called him Mr. Randall, but then he had been the
contemporary of the mothers.
No daughter of these bygone belles was secure in her place to-day
until the seal of Mr. Allie's half-serious, half-lazy approval was upon
her, or so the mothers and the daughters felt. Mr. Allie was perennial,
indolently handsome, an idler in the gay little world, yet somehow one
believed he could have gone at life in earnest had there been need.
He, too, sent roses to Alexina, and flowers from him meant something
subtly flattering, and he came strolling around at places and sat down
by her, saying pretty things to make her blush, apparently to watch her
doing it. Not that she minded as much as she worried, because she felt
she ought to mind, and in her heart she knew she didn't really.
She had gone out with him half a dozen times perhaps, when, one
evening at a dance, Mr. Allie, seeking, found her at the far end of a
veranda where the side steps went down to the gravel. She and Georgy
were sitting there together. Georgy was telling her of his aspirations
and, in passing, dwelling on the lack of any civic spirit in the town,
the inference seeming to be that Georgy, modest as he was, some day
himself meant to supply it.
Mr. Allie told Georgy that a waiting damsel was expecting him, then
took Georgy's place. He did not speak for a while, and Alexina never
Would you rather go in and dance? at last he asked.
Why, said Alexina; no. Which was not quite true for she loved to
dance these days. She used to be afraid she was not going to have a
successive partner and it marred the full enjoyment of the one she had,
Still, any one would be flattered to have Mr. Allie asking, so she
Then we'll stay, he said; which was not brilliant, to be sure, but
it was the way in which Mr. Allie said things which made them seem
pregnant of many meanings.
After that neither of them spoke, yet Alexina's pulses began to
beat. The big side yard upon which the steps descended was flooded with
moonlight, and a mockingbird was sending forth a trial note or two. And
it was June.
For you know, really, you're the very dearest of them all, said
Mr. Allie, with soft decision, as if he had been arguing about it.
There was not a thing to say, and she could not have said it if
there had been.
And I've known a good many, continued Mr. Allie, which probably
was true, only Mr. Allie knew how true; but I've never felt just this
way about any of them before.
Then they sat very still, and the bird note rose and fell.
Maybe you'd rather go in, said Mr. Allie as the music began again.
Was it hurt in his tone?
Oh, said Alexina, no.
Mr. Allie picked up the end of the scarf which had fallen to the
steps and put it about her shoulders again. It brought his face around
where he could see hers. Was he laughing? Or were his eyes full of
reproach? For what? He did not look a bit like a contemporary of
anybody's mother. Yet perhaps the moustache that drooped over the mouth
did hidelines, and the lazy eyes sometimes did look tired. Youth has
its dreams, vague, secret, yet the Prince of the dreams should be no
Mr. Allie with eyes that look weary and tired.
If I thought, said Mr. Allie softly, oh, so softly; if I thought
that you could care?
Oh, said Alexina, no, I couldn't.
She sobbed. It seemed cruel to Mr. Allie.
Then they talked it over, he so gently, she with self-reproach and
little chokes against tears. He even held her hand, she too
tender-hearted to know how to take it away, though the remorse eating
into her heart was forgotten somewhat in the glow, the wonder that this
thing, this sad but beautiful thing should come to her. Presently he
took her in. The rest of the evening sped hazily. Going home, she
talked to Mr. Allie and Molly as in a dream.
Reaching the hotel, and in their own apartment, Alexina sank down on
the sofa, her wrap and fan falling unobserved, and sat, chin on palm,
shyly remembering, shrinking a little, and blushing. Suddenly
conscious, she turned and found Molly in her doorway between,
undressing, and looking at her with knowledge and with laughter. She
had forgotten Molly, who had been rummaging and had brought out some
olives and crackers and wine. Molly lunched at all unheard-of hours.
Alexina sprang up. She turned white, then scarlet.
'Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,' Jean Garnier would
say, Molly began, unloosing her waist and laughing again. Mais non,
mon enfant, you take these things too seriously; it is time you
understood. He has said as much to every pretty girl there, one time
and another, and to most of their mothers before them, only they all
understood. It's very charming in you, of course, right now, and to a
man like him, irresistible but, stillMalise
Alexina looked at Molly. Then up welled a red that rose to her hair
and spread down her throat and over her bare young shoulders. She would
never misunderstand again. It is a cruel thing, the hotness of shame.
But Molly was staring. Malise was beautiful with her head so proudly up
and her cheeks flaming.
There was more to understand. They were a gay crowd, the young
people and their elders with whom Molly and Alexina and Georgy were
going. Things came to Alexina slowly.
It isn't just nice, she told Molly anxiously, an evening at the
Willy Fields'; Georgy says you've all been in the pantry opening more
champagne. I'm sure they're acting like there's been enough, and he
thinks, too, we ought to go home.
Good Lord, said Molly. She looked so slender, so childishly
innocent standing there where the daughter had drawn her aside, one
couldn't believe she had said it. This is the way you used to go on
when you were a child. One would think you'd had your fill of what
people ought to do, living with the Blairs.
Alexina looked at her. That Molly should dare allude to that past
this way! Then she went and found her mother's wrap and brought it.
Put it on, she said.
Molly laughed rebelliously, then waveringly.
We are going home, said the daughter.
Molly essayed to put it on but didn't seem able to find the hooks,
and Alexina, hardening her heart, would not help her, but went to find
Georgy. He was looking stern himself, and forlorn and young, and the
fact that she knew why did not serve to make Alexina happier.
The cars had stopped running and they walked home, leaving hilarity
behind them. Molly was acting stubbornly, her tones were injured, and
her talk incessant. Alexina couldn't make her stop.
Jean was just such another clog as Malise, she told Georgy. He
was forever harping about proprieties, and he wore me out trying to
make me tie my money up; Malise isn't stingy, I'll say that, though she
might have beenshe's a Blair. Jean shivered over spending money. And
after there wasn't any left, he used to sit and cough and cry over his
Shakespeare about it. He had thought he was going to be a great poet
once, himself, Jean had.
In the light of the setting moon one could see Molly's childlike
face; and her voice, with its upward cadence, was more plaintive than
the face. The very look and the sound of her were sweet, seductively
He liked to believe himself a Gascon, too, Jean did, and he loved
his Villon too. He wasn't well ever; he couldn't always breathe, Jean
couldn't, but, vraiment, he could swagger as well as any.
The night was still, the streets asleep. Nearing the hotel now, the
way led past blocks of warehouses and wholesale establishments. Molly
stumbled over a grating. Georgy steadied her. They went on, their
footsteps echoing up from the flagging as from a vault.
I'm cold, complained Molly, and, querulously, you know, Malise,
it will make me cough if I take cold. Jean coughed. After he coughed
for a year and the money was gone, he raised more on our things. Then
they came and seized them, except my trunks; Jean had sent those away.
I was sick, too; I took the cough from Jean, and I was afraid after I
heard one could take it, so he made me come away. Celeste had some
money. He made us come; he said it would be easier to know I was over
here, and it would be better for him at the hospital'les soeurs sont
bonnes,' Jean said over and over.
Alexina was hearing it for the first time. People like Molly supply
no background, the present is the only moment, and Alexina was not one
At the hotel entrance, in the ladies' deserted hallway, even the
nodding bell-boy gone, Georgy paused. Molly went and sat down in a
chair against the wall. She laughed unsteadily, though there was
nothing to laugh about. Her lids were batting and fluttering like a
sleepy child's. I thought you said it was late, Malise, she remarked.
Wait, entreated Georgy of Alexina, and squared himself between her
and her mother. He was a dear, handsome boy. He gazed pleadingly at the
tall, fair-haired girl whose eyes were meeting his so apologetically.
You said to me there, to-night, you couldn't care for me that way,
he told her, but couldn't you marry me anyhow, Alexina, and we'll take
care of her together?
For he thought she knew what he did. Her eyes, which had lowered,
lifted again, doubtfully, wistfully. Was she wishing she could? They
met his. Perhaps his were too humble.
A shiver went through the girl. Then came a sobbing utterance. I
can't, I can't; but oh, if you only knew how I wish I could!
She broke down in tears. Don't be mad with me, Georgy.
Oh, said Georgy, preparing to go, it's not that I'm mad. I reckon
you don't understand these things yet, Alexina.
It seemed all at once as if some wilful perversity seized Molly; at
home she was so petulant Alexina dared not cross her, for to anger her
was to make her cough; abroad she was gayer than any, almost to
recklessness. Celeste, taciturn and secretive, kept herself between
mother and daughter insistently, and often the door to Molly's room was
locked until afternoon. Mrs. Garnier must not be disturbed, she said.
One of these times, a day in late July, Alexina went out to the
Carringfords'. Emily knew most of the comings and goings of Alexina and
her mother. In her heart probably she was envious, though to Alexina
she was concerned.
That picnic of last week is being talked about, Alexina, she said.
Alexina flushed, but she was honest. It ought to be, she said.
Gaiety can tread close upon the heels of recklessness. But if Molly
went the daughter had to go, for this very reason, though she could not
tell Emily this.
So she spoke of other things. Do you know anything of Uncle
Austen? she asked. Is he still taking his meals down-town and
sleeping at the house?
Emily looked conscious. Yes, she said, I think he is.
Somehow Alexina felt that Emily not only knew but wanted it to be
felt that she knew. Then why hesitate and say only that she thought so?
How's Garrard? Alexina asked suddenly. Garrard was young Doctor
Ransome. Emily flushed a little, but she answered unconcernedly, Well
enough, I reckon.
On Alexina's return to the hotel, the clerk stopped her in the
corridor, looking a little embarrassed under the clear, surprised gaze
of the young lady. It's about a little matter with Mrs. Garnier; it's
been running two months now.
A moment after, as she went on blindly up the stairs, a folded paper
in her hand, she understood; understood what Georgy had offered to
share with her, what the taciturn secretiveness of Celeste meant. She
went in through the parlour to her mother's room, from which of late
she had been so much shut out.
Molly, she said, her voice sounding strange to herself, as she
held out the paper open.
Molly, risen on her pillow, looked at it, at her, her eyes growing
big. She was frightened, and cowered a little, crumpling some letters
in her lap.
Don't look at me like that, Malise, she said. I've some of the
money you gave me leftI'll help to pay it.
That she was afraid only because of the bill!
Oh Alexina breathed it rather than uttered it.
Molly, risen from her elbow to sitting posture, was looking at her
with big, miserable eyes, her throat, so slight and pretty, swelling
with the sobs coming.
But the other came first, and with it came the terror. Malise,
Malise, hold me; hold me. I'm afraid!
Celeste was out.
Alexina, holding her mother, could reach the bell, and rang it,
again and again.
Oh, she said to the boy when he came; get a doctor.
What one? he asked.
Alexina remembered Dr. Ransome.
Then she sat and fed ice to Molly and tried to keep her still. It is
a fearful thing to feel the close, clinging touch of a person we are
shrinking from. It was a hot, drowsy afternoon. The clock on the
parlour mantel ticked with maddening reiteration. It seemed hours
before Dr. Ransome came. Then a moment later Celeste returned. Molly
flung her arms out to the old woman.
He's dead, mammy, she wailed; Jean's dead; the letters came after
you wentand I'm afraid, I'm afraid of it, I'm afraid to die!
It was to Celeste Molly had to tell it. The daughter listened with a
sudden resentment towards Celeste.
Molly was not going to be better right at once, and Alexina and Dr.
Garrard Ransome had many opportunities for talk. She stopped him in the
parlour, as he was going, one morning. It had been on her mind for a
long time to ask him something. It's odd, your name being Ransome,
she said. Mrs. Leroy, who used to live where you do, had been a Miss
She's my cousin Charlotte, said the young fellow; that's how my
mother came to fancy living where we do, when we came down from
Woodford to Louisville. She used to visit the Leroys there you see.
Oh, said Alexina, really? They were very good to me.
The blue eyes of the doctor were regarding her intently, but as if
thought were concentrated elsewhere. I wonder if it was you Cousin
Charlotte meant? I was down there two winters ago for a month. They
live in Florida, at a place called Aden.
Yes, said Alexina, Aden.
And she asked me about some young girl who, she said, lived across
from the cottage. Of course I didn't know.
I wasn't there then, said Alexina; I was at school. They were
good to me; are they welland happy? The eagerness was good to see,
so dejected had the girl seemed of late.
Well, yes, or were when mother last heard. Happy, too, I reckon, as
it's counted with us poor families used to better things.
Tell me about them, if you don't mind. They were the best friends I
Well, he said, looking rather helpless in the undertaking, there
isn't much to tell. They're getting along. The Captain was book-keeper
for a steamboat line down there, went home every week, but, somehow, a
year ago, they dropped him; he's getting old, the Captain is.
Yes, he must be. And Mrs. Leroy?
Cousin Charlotte? Well, she's Cousin Charlotte. Some ways she's a
real child about things and mighty helpless when it comes to managing,
but she never thinks about repining, and it's funny how she'll do
whatever King tells her.
King? Oh, he's all right. Queer fellow though, some ways,
imperturbable as a young owl. Best poker player down there, and that's
saying something. It's motley, Aden is, like all those small towns
since the railroad went through 'em.
The young man happening to glance at Miss Alexina, saw that he had
said something wrong. He was the only child of his mother and so knew
how ladies feel on certain subjects. Yet, on the other hand, Miss
Alexina adored Major Rathbone, and the Major's poker record, while
possibly of a more local character, was scarcely less celebrated than
his guerrilla past. Still, ladies are expected to be inconsistent.
I shouldn't have told that, I reckon, he remarked; you all don't
see these things as we do. He's a fine fellow, King is. He's a great
shot, too, cheerfully; I went on a week's hunt down in the glades
with him. King's all right.
Maybe he was, but it sounded as though he was trifling. Hasn't he a
business? she asked with condemning brevity.
I don't know about calling it a business, said William Leroy's
cousin; I know he's the busiest. It's a big old place, you see, the
grove they own, and he's reclaiming it. There's just one subject he's
discursive on, and that's the best fertilizer for young orange trees.
Somehow William Leroy did not shine against this background as his
well-intending cousin meant he should. And they're poor, Mrs. Leroy
and the Captain? asked Miss Blair.
Well, admitted Garrard, they aren't rich.
The girl sat thinking. I'm going down there, she said suddenly.
Is there a hotel? There is? Then I'm going to take Molly and go down
to see them. There's something I want to tell Mrs. Leroy and the
As good a place as any, agreed Dr. Garrard. I told you at the
start Mrs. Garnier must not try a winter here.
We'll go, declared Alexina, then stopped. Maybe they would not be
glad to see her. But don't mention the possibility if you should be
writing, she begged; don't mention knowing meplease. II'd like to
discover it all for myself.
After he had gone she went to the piano, near the window looking out
over the warehouse roofs to the river, and, softly fingering some
little melody, sat thinking.
There was a tap and Alexina turned on the piano stool as Emily
Carringford came in. Somehow Emily, so prettily, daintily charming in
her fresh white dress, made Alexina cross. She felt wilted and jaded,
and who cared if she did? That her present state was brought about by
her own choosing only made her crosser.
What was it in Emily's manner? Had she grown more beautiful in a
night? She dropped into a chair, and, holding her parasol by either end
across her knee, looked over at Alexina on the stool, and, looking,
laughed. It was a laugh made of embarrassment and complacency, half
shy, half bold.
Your Uncle Austen last night asked me to marry him, Alexina, she
Emily Alexina sprang from the stool and stood with apprehension
rushing to her face in rising colour and dilated gaze. OhEmily!
Was it foreboding in her eyes as they swept Emily's girlish
He didn't seem to mind my being poor, said Emily; he said it was
my practical and praiseworthy way of going to work that made him
firstoh, Alexina, she coloured and looked at the other, he didn't
even mind our little houseand mother doing the work.
A sort of rage against Emily seized Alexina. She stamped her foot.
Oh, she cried, why shouldn't he the rather go down on his
unbending knees in gratitude that you'll even listen? You're twenty-one
and he's fifty-one. You have everything, you're lovely, you've your
voice, you haven't begun to live yetoh, I know he's my uncle, and I
remember all he's done for me, but I've known him years, Emily,
years, and I've never seen Uncle Austen laugh once.
What on earth has laughing to do with it? Alexina always was queer.
This from Emily. Not that she said it, except in the puzzled,
uncomprehending stare at Alexina, while she returned to what she had
come to communicate. We're going to be married the first day of
October, she said. Mr. Blair has to go East on some business then.
Alexina drew herself together with a laugh. What was the useyet
she could not divest herself of a responsibility.
She looked at Emily, who was looking at her. Their eyes met. Alexina
Emily, she said, there's a thingit took effort to say ita
thing maybe you haven't thought of. It came to Aunt Harriet; it comes
to everybody, I feel sure. Won't you be cutting yourself off from any
right to it? The red was waving up to Alexina's very hair.
Emily showed no resentment at this implication which both seemed to
take for granted, but then she was not following Alexina very closely,
her own thoughts being absorbing. The wedding will have to be in our
little house, she said, so it won't make much difference about the
dress; nobody'll be there. But for the rest, I'm going to have some
clothes. I told mother and father and grandfather so this morning.
Alexina went over and seized the other's hands as children do. A
softer feeling had come over her. Perhaps Emily was doing this thing to
help her people. Besides, she and Emily used to weave wonderful garbs
in bygone days, for the wearing to the Prince's ball. To be sure, one
never had pictured an Uncle Austen as the possible Prince, but still
Emily should have them, if she wanted them.
Alexina's gaze fell upon a flower lying on the floor, which had
dropped out of Garrard Ransome's buttonhole. The boy loved flowers as
most men from the blue grass country do, and the cottage yard was a
wilderness of them. She had almost forgotten Garrard's share in this.
She picked the flower up and handed it to Emily. Dr. Ransome has been
here, she said, feeling treacherousfor the other man, after all, was
Emily took it, and laid it against the lace of her parasol, this way
I've always, as far back as I can remember, meant to be somebody,
something, said Emily. She said it without emotion, as one states a
fact. Then she rose and picked up her glove. Sometimes I've thrown my
arms out and felt I could scream, it all has seemed so poor and crowded
and hateful to me, which was large unburdening of self for Emily. Then
she went. At the door she laid the flower on a chair.
The three weeks of Molly's illness brought it to the end of August,
and, as she convalesced, Alexina began to plan for Aden. In the midst
of her preparations the Major and Harriet returned.
She went out to the house the morning of their arrival. The luggage
was being unloaded at the curb as she reached the gate, and, hearing
voices as she stepped on the porch, she looked in at the parlour
window. Harriet, her hat yet on, was bending her head that little
Stevie, urged by his mother, might kiss her. The baby was no shyer
about it than the woman, yet the woman smiled as the baby's lips
touched her face.
As she rose she saw Alexina and came to the door to meet her. She
kissed the girl almost with embarrassment, yet kept hold of her hands,
while suddenly her eyes filled with something she tried to laugh away.
I had your letter, she was saying, and resent it, too, that you
are going, and so does Stephen. Her face changed, her voice grew
hesitant, hurried. He's never going to be better than nowwas it a
sob?but since I may have him, may keep him, and he is willing now to
live so for me, though not at first, not at firstOh, Alexina, it has
Alexina followed her into the parlour. The Major was there in a
wheeled chair, the babies afar off, refusing to obey the maternal pokes
and pushes to go to him, and regarding him and his wheeled affair with
furtive, wide-eyed suspicion. The eyes of the Major were full of the
humour of it.
Now had I been a gamboling satyr on hoofs they would have accepted
me at once, he assured Alexina. It's this mingling of the familiar
with the unnatural
He was holding the girl's hand while he spoke and looking up keenly
at her pretty, tired face. There had been enough in her letters for
them to have divined something of her trouble.
To some it comes early, to others late, Alexina, he said quite
gently. He had noted the signsthe violet shadows beneath the baffled
young eyes, the hint of the tragedy in their depths.
Alexina sat down suddenly and, leaning her face on the arm of the
wheeled chair, began to cry, not that she meant to do it at all.
Time was when Harriet would have been at a loss, even now she was
embarrassed, though she hovered over the girl, anxious and solicitous,
and even touched the pretty, shining hair with her hand.
Let her alone: let her cry it out, said the Major.
Alexina, groping for his hand, held to it like a very child and
Joy will be part of the Kingdom of God.
Immediately after the wedding Alexina and Molly went South. Molly
turned petulant at sight of Aden and Alexina could not blame her;
indeed, she and Celeste were of a mind with her as they drove from the
station to the hotel.
The horses ploughed through loose, greyish sand, the sidewalks along
the street, ostensibly the business thoroughfare, were of board, not in
the best of repair, and the skyline of the street was varied according
as the frame stores had or did not have a sham front simulating a
second story. Men sat on tilted chairs beneath awnings along the way
and stared at the occupants of the carriage as it passed. It was
mid-afternoon, which, in Aden, seemed to be a glaring, shadeless hour
and, but for these occasional somnolent starers, a deserted one. Yet
people lived here, existed, spent their lives in this crude, poor
hideousness, this mean newness; the Leroys lived here! And that their
son would let them, would remain himself!
What did we come for anyhow? queried Molly. The world is full of
charming places. You do adopt the queerest notions, Malise.
Malise sat convicted. It had sounded so alluring, so suggestive of
charm and languor; the very name of Aden had breathed a sort of magic.
And Alexina had come, too, buoyed up by a large and epic idea of
restitution. How foolish, how young, how almost insulting from the
Leroys' standpoint it suddenly seemed.
We spent two winters in Italy, Jean and I, and one in Algiers,
Molly was saying plaintively. Heavens, Malise, they're building that
house on stilts, right over a sinkhole of tin cans.
For that matter there were tin cans everywhere. It was most
Even Louisville was better than this, said Molly grudgingly.
Don't look so resigned, Malise; it's not becoming.
They turned a corner and the driver stopped before a long,
two-storied building, painted white, which proved to be the hotel. It
stood up from the street on wooden posts, the space between latticed. A
railed gallery ran across the front, steps ascending midway of its
length. Two giant live-oaks flanked the building either end, the wooden
sidewalk cut out to encircle their great roots, and, while handbills
and placards were tacked up and down the rugged, seamy trunks, yet grey
moss drooped from the branches and swept the gallery posts. The
building looked roomy, old-fashioned and reposeful, and Alexina's
spirits rose. She gathered up the wraps, Celeste the satchelsno one
ever looked to Molly to gather up anythingand they went in.
The place seemed deserted and asleep, but just inside the doorway,
where the hall broadened into an office, a man stood looking through a
pile of newspapers. His clothes were black and his vest clerical; below
its edge hung a small gold cross. He turned politely, then said he
would go and find some one.
Dear me, said Molly, brightening, he's handsome.
Two days after, they were settled in comfortable rooms overlooking
the hotel grounds. A slope down to a small lake boasted some gnarled
old live-oaks and pines, and one side was set out with a young orange
grove. Across the water one could see several more or less pretentious
new houses built around the shore. The breeze tasted of pine and Molly
had slept a night through without coughing.
But, Heavens! she complained, the second afternoon, lolling back
in a wooden arm-chair on the hotel gallery; isn't there anything to
Alexina and the young man in clerical garb were her audience. He was
the Reverend Harrison Henderson, and had charge of the Episcopal Church
of Aden and lived at the hotel. He seemed a definite and earnest man.
His blond profile was strong. It was a rather immobile face, perhaps,
but it lighted with very evident pleasure as he answered Mrs. Garnier.
How would you like to go out to Nancy? he proposed; it's quite an
affair for a lake down here, and a young fellow out there rents
Charming, agreed Molly, sitting up. You have ideas; you can't
have been here long.
Mr. Harrison smiled, though it was an acknowledging rather than a
mirthful smile. Life is too earnest for mere laughter, but his zeal to
serve Mrs. Garnier was not to be doubted.
What do you say, Miss Blair? he asked, turning to that young
Who?I? Alexina had been leaning forward with her elbow on the
gallery railing, her eyes looking off to a line of pines against the
sky. She had been wondering how she should inquire about the Leroys,
and if she really wanted to. She came back to the veranda and the
I think it would be charming, too, she replied.
Then we'll go right away. I'll order the carriage, so as to see the
sunset, he said, and rose. You will need wraps for Mrs. Garnier.
Somehow a man never thinks the other woman will need anything.
He spoke briskly and went off down the plank sidewalk towards town
with a swing. The day was fair, the air was soft, and the blood in the
Reverend Henderson, despite the dogmatic taint in it, was red and
* * * * *
Out at Lake Nancy Osceola, a young fellow in flannel shirt,
knickerbockers and canvas shoes, was scanning the shore from a wooden
pier which ran out the extent of shallow water, having just made fast
the sail-boat rising and falling with the swell at the pier's end.
A grove of well grown orange trees stretched up the slope from the
water. The trees were heavy with fruit and looked sturdy and well cared
for. To the right stood the frame packing sheds, and beyond, amid
higher foliage against the cerulean sky, showed a house roof.
But the young fellow on the pier was gazing in the other direction,
where, through the straight vistas of the grove, a carriage was being
driven under the trees, the top sweeping the fruit laden branches. The
young man hallooed as he started in the pier, but a negro digging among
the trees had dropped his spade and was running up. The carriage
stopped and the young minister of the Aden Episcopal Church got out.
Naturally, it was to be supposed that it was some person with no more
But there were others than the Reverend Mr. Henderson
descendingtwo ladies. Some party from the hotel come for a sail,
It was the duty of coloured Pete to go with sailing parties, but
there was work that he should finish this afternoon. The old darky was
backing the horse. The minister and the ladies were approaching.
The young fellow was just in from a sail, having been down to the
sedge land with his gun, but he would go again. He gave a call. It's
all right, Pete; go on with the ditching.
His eyes were indifferent as he watched the approach, though their
glance was straight and clear and keen. Suddenly the look changed,
intensified, and the young fellow's shoulders squared.
The minister led the way, talking with the pretty, slight woman, who
stopped with protest every step as her feet went down in sand. Behind
them came a jaunty-looking girl with light-footed carriage. The wind
was ruffling and tossing her hair and she held to her hat as she
stopped under the orange trees to look upon the prospect.
But the eyes watching her did not turn, knowing the scene on which
she was gazing. It was Lake Nancy, long and lizard-likeits sapphire
water shimmering beneath the breezestretching westward between
curving, twisting, inletted shores, fringed near at hand with the
bright green of young oranges and lemons, and farther on by the darker
live-oak and pine, while on the opposite side the line of forest
stretched heavy and sombre, trailing grey moss hoariness into Nancy's
And while the girl gazed on Nancy the young man watched her with a
curious intentness but with no doubt. Then he walked in the length of
the pier to meet them. As the girl's eyes came round to him she changed
to a startled pallor, white as her serge gown, and her eyes dilated,
then into them came eagerness.
Except for a tightening pull on muscles about nose and mouth the
young fellow stood impassive.
The colour rushed back into the girl's face. The young man had
turned and was shaking hands with Mr. Henderson. The minister was
mentioning names, too, but the girl had her back to them and was
studying the outstretch. Her head was high.
When she turned again Mr. Henderson was carefully piloting the other
lady into the boat. Malise, that lady was calling. Malise, forced by
this to come and be helped in, found herself in the stern. But her
throat, because of a choked-back sob, hurt, and a vast homesickness and
sense of futility was upon her.
When presently she could look up and around the little craft was
skimming out across the lake to deep water, where it shifted westward
and flew into the dying afternoon.
There were billowy puffs of clouds high above, softly flushing into
rose with a golden fleeciness to their edges. Her mother's talk and
dulcet-toned laughter reached the girl, punctuated with the serious
accents of Mr. Henderson. The two were sitting where the seats, running
about, came together at the bow, and he, with an elbow on the rail, was
looking at Molly. Such a wistful, pretty child she looked in her white
canvas dress, with her wind-blown, gauzy veil fluttering from her hat.
Alexina's eyes were fixed on them, but she was conscious, too, of a
gaze on her, which for all her hot pride and hurt she could not look
around and meet. Once, when the sail was shifting and she knew the eyes
would, perforce, be concerned therewith, she stole a hurried survey and
saw a well-knit figure, quick in its movements, the muscles playing
beneath the flannel shirt. A discarded coat was upon the seat near her.
Down, please, came in cool, deliberate tones from the owner of the
coat and the gaze. The head of the girl went down, while the sail swung
about. The boat dipped, righted, then flew ahead, following the curving
shores of the lake.
The very air seemed flushing, the shimmering water had a thousand
tints, the shores slipping by breathed out odours of mould, and leaf
and vine. The western sky was triumphing, clouds of purple and of
crimson lifting one above another about a golden centre. And they in
the boat were speeding into the glory; the very rosiness of the air
seemed stealing down upon them and enveloping them. The sense of
avoirdupois, of gravitation, was lost; one felt winged, uplifted; it
was good all at once, it was good to live, to be.
The eyes and the gaze were on her again; she felt them and turned
suddenly and faced them. The look she met was deep and warm, but it
changed, holding hers, grew cool, enigmatical, impersonal. Did he not
know her then, or did he not want to know her?
This time tears of hurt and pride rushed to her eyes. He was
watching, but she could not get her eyes away, even with those hateful
The sail shifted, for no reason apparently. Down, please, he
commanded. But as the boat dipped, shook itself, righted again, and
flew on through the rosy light, his head came up near hers and his
voice, in the old, boyish way, said: Really?
Sudden light shone through the tears in the girl's eyes. Molly would
have wrung her hands with an artist's anguish, this was the place for
I thought you didn't want to know me and I was hurt, said Alexina.
It was yours to know first, said Willy Leroy stoutly, but his eyes
Oh, said Alexina, doubtfully; why, yes; perhaps it was. And then
she laughed, too, gaily.
As Molly, Alexina and Mr. Henderson sat on the front gallery of the
hotel the next morning, they were joined by one Mr. Thompson Jonas, a
lawyer of Aden, who lived above his office and took his meals at the
Mr. Jonas was small, wiry and muscular, of Georgia stock, with a
fierce little air and a fierce moustache, and quick, bright blue eyes,
never still. He had sprung to the aid of Molly and Alexina one morning
and flung a door open as they passed from the dining-room, and speedily
they were all good friends.
It was characteristic of him that he should have flung the door
back, not merely opened it. There was something of homage in the act.
Within the body of the little man was the chivalrous spirit of a
Chevalier Bayard, a Coeur de Lion. The big soul of Mr. Jonas was
imprisoned in his pigmy person as the spirit of the genius in the
He was a Nimrod, too, and even now stood in hunting accoutrements,
seeming rather to have been shaken into his natty leggings than they to
have been drawn onto him, and there was a flare and dip to his wide,
soft hat and a jaunty fling to his knotted tie. His dog, a Gordon
setter bitch, sat on her haunches by him as he stood, his fingers
playing with her silky ears.
Now, you'd better come go with me, Henderson, he was urging, the
buggy's here at the door and you need ityou need this sort of thing
It's a busy day with me, thank you, answered the Reverend
Henderson a little coldly, for this Mr. Jonas was a man of no church.
His faith, he had frequently assured the young clergyman, would long
ago have died for breathing space in any creed he yet had met with.
When you're older you'll understand better what I mean, my dear
boy, the little man had in good part and cheerfulness assured the
other. Come around and use my books any time you like.
For the soul of Mr. Jonas enthusedor convinced its owner that it
didover Confucius, and further revelled in the belief that it delved
in occult knowledge; it also led him to place the volumes of the early
Fathers on his book-shelves and the literature of the Saints and of
Kant and Comte and Swedenborg; it conducted its owner to the feet of
Emerson and Thoreau; it made him talk Darwinism. Jesus Christ and
Plato, Mr. Jonas loved to say, made up his ideal philosophy.
Mr. Henderson, on the other hand, spoke of church buildings in Aden
other than his own as assembling places. It was inevitable he did not
give his approval to Mr. Jonas. His feeling against the little man even
made him enumerate the occupations ahead for the day, as if it was a
sort of avowal of the faith to thus declare them.
It's a busy day with me, thank you. I have a feast day service and
a guild meeting, besides my parochial duties and a vestry meeting for
Dear me, said Molly, looking at him. To be sureI'd forgotten
you're a minister. The young man looked up, instant self-arraignment
in his face, for permitting it to be forgotten.
When do you have service? Molly was saying. We must come over,
Malise and I.
He told her gravely.
Mr. Jonas was standing against the gallery railing, rising and
falling on his neat little toes, the setter's eyes following his every
movement. He was facing Mrs. Garnier and her daughter, looking from the
mother, with her red-brown hair and shadowy lashes, to the girl, quite
lovely, also, when she smiled in this sweet, sudden way up at him. She
had nice hair, too, something the colour of wild honey.
Charming women, charming women, he was summing them up.
Yet could Mr. Jonas have called to mind any women, the old or young,
the forlorn or charming, who had not moved him to chivalric emotion in
Alexina was looking up the street. Mr. Jonas turned, too, as a
wagonette, drawn by two big, iron-grey mules, swung round the corner, a
glitter of brass and a hint of red about the harness. A young fellow on
the front seat was driving; a lady sat behind.
The finest boy and best shot in Jasmine County, said Mr. Jonas,
starting forward as the mules were reined up at the hotel entrance,
and the foolishest, most profoundly wise mother.
Alexina was going forward, too. Wethat is, I know them, she told
him; they are old friends, the Leroys.
For she had known Charlotte in a moment.
A darky boy lounging about came to take the mules and Willy sprang
his mother out, as lightly as ever a girl would spring, and brought her
up the steps to Alexina.
Charlotte's embrace was eager and ardent; then she cried a little,
with her face against the girl's shoulder.
For my youth, she said the next instant, lifting her head and
smiling at the girl. I'm almost a middle-aged woman, little Mab; I'm
nearly forty-five and I don't want to be.
Vivacity, as of old, dwelt in Charlotte's face and animated her
lively movements, but her brilliant eyes were somewhat sunken, as
happens with women of marked features and dashing beauty; the skin was
growing sallow too, and as the cheeks and temples drew in the features
I don't know how to grow old, said Charlotte, and truthfully, I
don't know how to let go. I haven't the resourcefulness, or quiet, or
repose, for an old woman.
Always, 'way back as Charlotte Ransome, she had loved the showy, and
she loved it still, as evidenced by the scarlet ribbon from which her
fan hung, and the flowered muslin, showing the hand of village
dressmaking. But she bore herself with the smiling pleasure of a child
Willy joined them. He had been talking with Mr. Jonas, and evidently
had declined the expedition too, for the little man, calling to the
setter, went off grumbling and upbraiding the lot of them.
We came early to avoid the heat, Charlotte explained, as they went
to join Molly and Mr. Henderson.
Molly's eyes swept Mrs. Leroy's youthful fineries wonderingly,
curiously. It was no credit to Molly that her sixth sense lay in an
instinctive selection of the appropriate in the beautiful. She wondered
much as a child wonders over the mysterious, at what she more often
than not saw on others.
She lolled back now in her simple dress, of which Alexina had reason
to know the cost, and she lolled indifferentlyCeleste or some one
would press out the rumples when need bethen she held out a pretty
hand to Charlotte.
But Mrs. Leroy, the greetings over, spread her draperies with some
care and absorption as she sat down. She was another type of helpless
person, the reverse of Molly, with a carping sense of responsibility.
Molly's gaze followed her concern with lazy interest in which lurked
laughter, for the dress upon which the care was bestowed was so, well
Alexina's face grew hot; she hated Molly, whose every thought she
was reading; and, by the girl's arrangement, they fell into two groups,
Molly and the men making one, King William perched on the railing of
the gallery, and Alexina and Mrs. Leroy the other, drawn a little
apart. There was so much to say.
We see the Kentucky papers, Charlotte told Alexina, so I know of
most of the happenings. She drew a little breath. And Austen Blair is
Yes, said Alexina, just before we came.
Charlotte was regarding her like a child with a secret trembling on
its lips. I was engaged to him once, Alexina, and we broke it. Light
from many sides began to break in upon Alexina.
Oh, she said; Mrs. Leroy!
It's odd, isn't it? said Charlotte. He was the only man ever
caring for me that I never subjugatedexcept Willy here Her voice
brightened, while she nodded, in her near-sighted way, at Mr.
Henderson. As for him, he's ruled me and browbeat me all his life.
And Charlotte smiled contentedly at the minister.
Alexina reached out and, with a passionate sort of protectingness,
took hold of the beringed hand wielding a fan with vivacity and
I wish we could have given him more advantages, Mrs. Leroy was
continuing; but he's had to plan for us somehow instead. I remember he
wasn't eleven years old, though it seemed natural enough he should be
doing it at the time, when we came over from St. Louis to Louisville
without his father, and Willy had to buy the tickets and check the
trunks. I suppose I ought to have realized it, but I never had done
such things in my life, and I lost my purse in the depot, I remember,
and a gentleman found it, and so Willy took hold.
We sent him into town here, after we came to Aden, to the
Presbyterian minister, who taught him. He wanted to go to college, not
that he'd admit it now. Then as soon as he was any size he began at his
father about reclaiming the grove. That is, Willy planned and Georges
listened. Willy'd got an idea from Mr. Jonas that the railroad was
coming through some day, just as it has, but it's been a long pull and
a wait, for this is the first full yield for his trees. He's been
offered seven thousand for the crop as it hangs, but the mortgage is
eight thousand on the place, which went for fertilizing and ditching
and sheds, and living, you know, so Willy is holding for eight thousand
and Mr. Jonas is urging for nine.
Charlotte's pride in these statements was beaming.
As soon as the grove proves itself, the place will sell for several
times its old value, and we're going back to Kentucky, to Woodford.
Willy wants to buy back my father's farm, not that he'll let me say
that he does, he's so afraid of admitting anything, but when he was
nineteen, three years ago, he had the measleswasn't it dear and
comical, like he was a child againand he let me hold his hand, in the
dark room, you know, and we talked about it, when we would go back.
The girl was patting Charlotte's hand softly and winking back tears
while she laughed. Why tears? She herself had no idea.
Mrs. Leroy had a thousand questions to ask, she said, but somehow
she never got to them.
Dear me, she said presently, we have to go and I've talked of
nothing but my own affairs. In my solitude down here I've grown a
As if she had been ever anything else, the unconscious soul!
But to be with one of my own sexsome one linked with the past,
too, is extenuation. There's so much a woman can't talk of with men,
they have such different ways of seeing things, and let her love her
men folk never so dearly, if there's none of her own sex around, a
woman's lonesome, Alexina.
Yes, said Alexina, she is. But she said it absently, for she was
conscious of King William's gaze being upon her. She looked up
laughing, yet a little confused, for his look was warm.
He slipped along the railing, leaving Mrs. Garnier and the minister
chatting. In this blue serge suit and straw hat he looked very like the
King William of long ago, dark, keen and impatient.
What do you think of it, Aden? he asked.
I like it, said Alexina. Somehow as soon as you are in a thing
the scene changes to out of doors. It used to be Indians on the common,
or Crusoe in the yard, back there in Louisville.
You began by saying you liked it, he reminded her. Did he think to
tease? His eyes were naughty. Here was a zest; this was no Georgy.
And I do, she said, standing to it. I do like it.
Was he always laughing at people, this William Leroy?
They are coming to spend a day with us this week, Alexina and her
mother, Mrs. Leroy here told her son, at which, for all the
imperturbability of his countenance, Alexina was conscious of something
a little less happy about the son.
They're very good to come, he responded. The tone might be called
Certain recollections were crowding upon Alexina. Mrs. Leroy's
management, her housekeeping, even to a child's comprehension, had been
palpably erratic and unexpected.
The girl understood his masculine helplessness. Hers were the eyes
that laughed now.
I've set the table in your house before, she informed him, while
you made toast.
His countenance cleared. He met her gaze solemnly. It's a bargain,
he said. What day, mother?
That night Alexina was chatting with Mr. Jonas. She liked him. You
said this morning, she reminded him, that Mrs. Leroy was the wisest,
foolishest motherwhat did you mean?
Just that, said Mr. Jonas. Hasn't her very incompetency made the
For the next three days Mr. Henderson avoided them. He spoke in the
hall or dining-room, to be sure, but joined them no more in plans or on
And Molly turned petulant. Why had they ever come to Aden, she
moaned. Can't you propose something, Malise? she besought.
Alexina, endeavouring to write letters, felt tired. She had been up
at Molly's call a dozen times in the night.
We're going to spend to-morrow with Mrs. Leroy, she reminded her
She looks like Mrs. Malaprop, said Molly crossly.
The daughter's face flushed. Youth is rawly sensitive to ridicule of
its friends. Besides, what would they find at Lake Nancy? It would be
poor, she expected that, and it might bepitiful? Not to her, not to
her, but Molly was so unable to see behind things. If a thing was poor
to Molly it was only poor and she said so. Alexina hoped her mother
would not go.
But when Friday came Molly, in feverish, restless state, was ready
for anything and even brightened up over it, while it was Alexina who
was petulant, and put on one dress and took it off, and tried another,
even with William Leroy down-stairs in the wagonette, waiting.
But she felt better as she came out into the sunshine and the dress
she had finally decided on seemed to settle on her into sudden
William shook hands. There was a comfortable sense of humour about
It's fair to divide families into component parts on occasions, he
stated, and put Alexina in a place by his own and Molly behind. Molly
And, besides, we are going to drop Henderson at a sick
parishioner's on the way, he said, with a naughty glance at her. I
met him starting to the livery stable just now and stopped him.
Molly's face cleared. She met his eyes with insouciance, but,
somehow, one felt all at once that she liked him better.
Mr. Henderson came out with a satchel and climbed in. He looked
stern and uninviting, Alexina thought, but the note of Molly's random
remarkings promptly brightened. Willy flicked the whip above the big
grey span and off they trotted across town, westward.
The morning was keen enough that the sun's warmth was pleasant and
quickened the blood. Aden was left behind. Here and there on the
outskirts frame houses, crudely and hideously cheap, were building.
Land everywhere was being cleared, the felled trees lying about, the
whirl of a portable sawmill telling their destiny, while burning stumps
filled the air with creosote pungency.
Then the despoilments of progress were left behind and the untouched
pine woods closed about them, and trees rose tall, straight, twigless,
to where a never-ceasing murmur soughed, and the light came sifting,
speckled, and flickering through the gloom, upon the sandy ground and
scrub palmetto beneath.
Alexina breathed deep. It was quiet, and peaceful and solemn.
Isn't it? said William sociably.
She looked up; she hadn't spoken.
The trees thinned, grew sparse, and the road came out into the open.
A mile farther on they entered a belt of hummock land, a wild growth of
live-oak, cypress, magnolias, thicketed, intertwisted, rank. Grey moss
trailed and swept their faces as they passed under, vines clambered and
swung and festooned, gophers crawled out of the path, and a gleaming
snake slid across the road and into the palmetto undergrowth.
He was looking at her as they came out, she flushed and ecstatic.
But wait, said he, until I show it to you after a while in
Just beyond the hummock he drew rein at a clearing before an
unpainted frame house, even cheaper and more hideous than the most. Mr.
Henderson got out, King handing the satchel after him.
It's a death-bed, he said under his breath to the two, as the
minister went toward the house; that's the pitiful part of it down
here, people taking all they've got to get here, only to die.
Don'tdon't tell about it, said Molly sharply.
William Leroy touched the mules and they went on. A little later
Alexina felt Molly's hand upon her. Come back with me, Malise, she
begged. Her face looked drawn and grey.
But we're there, explained King, and a minute after turned in at
an old iron gate, flanked by two ancient live-oaks. An osage hedge, cut
back upon its woody stock, stretched about the place either side from
the gate. Within, the driveway made a sweep off towards buildings in
the rear, while a shell path led up to the house, which was of frame,
wide, with porches across the front, up-stairs and down. Bermuda grass
covered the sandy surface of the yard, which was large and sloped back
towards the lake, visible through the grove. Here and there a banana
plant reared its ragged luxuriance and a stunted palm or two struggled
upward; there was on old rustic seat beneath a gnarled wild orange
As Willy helped them out, Charlotte appeared and came animatedly
down the path between the borders of crepe myrtle. Alexina ran ahead to
meet her. The girl's hands were quite cold. Mrs. Leroy's white dress,
relic of bygone fashion, fluttered with rose-coloured ribbons, and
suddenly Alexina seemed to see a wide old cottage in a shrub-grown
yard, and on its porch a lady in a gauzy dress with rosy ribbons,
gathering a little child into her lap.
The girl threw her arms about this Charlotte in the old white dress,
and then, because her eyes were full of foolish tears, ran on, for the
Captain was on the porch, in a cane arm-chair, a line of blue smoke
trailing up from the cigar in his fingers. Laughing and breathless she
went up the steps and their eyes met. Never a word spoke either, but
the hand of the man closed on the girl's and rested there until the
others came up.
Willy wouldn't let me do a thing about your coming, Alexina, Mrs.
Leroy began, as she reached them; he said he'd tend to it himself and
wouldn't let me give a direction. He's fussy sometimes and notionate,
like the time when the surveyors were staying with us, and Mandy set
some dishes on a chair. I'd already told him she didn't know how to
clear a table for dessert, and he said I ought to have taught her.
The girl's eyes danced. You're all of you the same, the very same;
not one of the three has changed.
Charlotte beamed. She took it with undisguised pleasure that she had
King came round the house. He had taken the mules to the stable.
I'm holding you to that bargain, he reminded Alexina.
Molly looked bored. Such things were only playful and interesting as
she was part of them. Then she said she was tired, evidently having no
mind for a morning with Mrs. Leroy.
You shall go up and lie down in my room, said Charlotte.
The three women went in. The hall dividing the house was wide and
high, its floor of boards a foot wide, and bare but for a central strip
of carpet; an old mahogany hat-tree stood against one wall, a mahogany
sofa against the other, with straight backed chairs flanking both. It
was all labouriously clean and primly bare.
The rooms up-stairs were big, with old mahogany furniture set
squarely about them.
They didn't want me to bring the furniture, Willy and his father,
when we came, Charlotte told Alexina; it cost more to get it here
than to buy new, but I didn't want new; I wanted this.
Everything was innocent of covers or hangings, nor were there any
pictures. She explained this.
I don't know how to drive nails, she told them, and Willy and the
Captain don't care. Willy had the house papered this fall in case of
people coming about buying, and the papering men took the nails out the
walls and he won't bother to put them in. They're all in here.
Charlotte didn't mean the nails; she threw open a closet door and
ancestral Ransomes, neatly set against the walls, peered out of the
Alexina put a hand over Charlotte's on the door knob. Molly yawned.
It seems chilly here in my room, said Charlotte; the sun isn't
round this side yet. Put your hats on the bed and Mrs. Garnier shall go
lie on Willy's sofa.
They followed her across the hall. He has his bed and things in
there, she explained, nodding towards an adjoining room, and he keeps
his books and such in here.
On the floor, otherwise uncarpeted, lay a bearskin. There was a sofa
against the wall and a plain deal table in the centre of the room,
piled with papers, books and pipes, about a lamp. There were some
chairs; a gun-rack, antlers, an alligator skin and some coloured prints
of English hunting scenes on the walls, and an old-fashioned,
brass-mounted cellarette hung in an angle. The south window looked out
across the grove upon Nancy; between the two east windows stood an old
Charlotte suggesting that Mrs. Garnier put on a wrapper, the two
went back to her bed-room. Alexina stood hesitating. She felt a sense
of surreptitiousness and embarrassment, and then took a step to the
book-caseany one might do that muchand read the titles of the
About orange culture and fertilizing these first seemed to be, and
those next were concerned with the breeding of stock. They meant
Woodford and the future, probably. She skipped to the other shelves.
Buckle's Introduction to the History of Civilization, Hallam's Middle
Ages, Wealth of Nations, Wilhelm Meister, Poems of Heinrich Heine,
several volumes of Spencer and Huxley, Slaves of Paris, Lecocq, the
Detective, File No. 118, The Lerouge Case, The Scotland Yard Detective,
Carlyle's French Revolution, Taxidermitology, Renan's Life of Jesus,
Pole on Whist, Hoyle, Tom Sawyer, Past and Present, Pickwick Papers,
Herodotus, an unbroken shelf of Walter Scott, A Pair of Blue Eyes,
Cousin Pons, Drainage, Pendennis, Small Fruit Culture.
Why, here was a world, within these glass doors, she did not know.
Yet she had read diligently among Uncle Austen's books. She looked back
in memory over his shelves; Macaulay, yes, Uncle Austen cared so
essentially for Macaulay, and for Bancroft and Prescott, and Whittier
and Lowell. There were the standards in fiction and poetry in
well-bound sets. Uncle Austen himself admired Alexander Pope, and
Franklin's Autobiography; he liked Charles Reade's novels, too, bearing
on institutional reforms
Here Mrs. Leroy and Molly came back, Molly in a white wrapper and
Charlotte bearing a pillow and a silk quilt.
Willy's calling, Charlotte told Alexina; he wants you.
He was at the foot of the stairs, and, waiting for her to get down,
watched her hand on the banister. The wood was dark and the hand was
white and slender. Then he held out a big, checked apron. She walked
into it and looked over her shoulder while he tied the strings behind.
It takes time to set a table when neither is just certain where
things are to be found. Hunting together in sideboard, cupboards, and
on pantry shelves brings about a feeling of knowing each other very
well. There was so much, too, to talk about.
Do you remember it was Alexina pausing with a goblet in hand to
Have you forgot King, producing a carving set, would rejoin.
Presently she paused. Twice she started to speak, hesitated, then
said, There's a thing I want to ask you, or, rather, want to say
Her voice was a little tremulous and breathless.
You rememberthat is, you haven't forgot the 'King William'?
She was looking away from him and he looking at her, his mouth odd,
yet smiling, too. She was an honest and a pleasant thing to look upon.
Yes, he told her, as well as I remember the raft we put off on from
the desert island and the plains back of the stablehave you forgotten
the trackless plains where we sat down to starve in the snow, with
never a sign of deer or buffalo for days, or even a thing on wing? We'd
just lighted on Hiawatha those days. There was an Indian, by the way,
came up from the grass water yesterday and brought us venison for
It was evident he did not mean to let her return to the subject.
Presently Alexina untied the apron. I must see your mother some,
But she does not want you, declared his mother's son; she's
overjoyed to think you're with me. She thinks there is something
deficient in her son; she insists I've never spoken to a girl since we
left you in Louisville. Besides, she's in the kitchen, I hear her out
there now, all fluttered herself and fluttering Aunt Mandy.
But Alexina would go. I must call Molly in time for dinner, she
Now William Leroy supposed Mrs. Garnier to be in his mother's room.
A moment later he followed Alexina up the stairs, meaning to get
something out of his desk which he wished to show her. He was a most
direct youth, considering that he was, by his mother's confession, a
timorous one. There was an odd little smile about his mouth, perhaps
because all things looked pleasant right now.
His nature was practical rather than sanguine, and built in general
only on things achieved, but to-day the fruit was hanging golden on the
trees and the grove was one of the few new ones in bearing. He had
anticipated the railroad by several years in planting, and now the
grove and house were going to bring a figure larger than he ever had
As the Israelites yearned for Canaan, he was looking towards the
pastoral lands of Kentucky. To-day, for the once, he would let this new
buoyancy, this unanalyzed optimism run warm in his blood; why not? He
was young, he was strong, he was master of his circumstances for the
He went up the steps lightly, springily, with a sort of exuberant
joy in the mere action. His canvas shoes made no sound. The stairs
landed him at his own door. He brought up short.
Alexina was standing midway of the threshold; he thought he heard a
She turned hurriedly, her hands outspread across the doorway as by
Don't, she begged; please go away. Then as he wheeled, No,
wait She swallowed before she could speak.
It's Molly, she said; can you send us back to town?
Not well, the daughter was trying to say. The boy's
straightforward eyes were fixed on hers inquiringly.
What's the use; I can't lie, the girl broke down miserably. I
ought not to have come with her. Her arms dropped from across the
doorway. In all perplexity he was waiting. He had a glimpse of Molly
within, drooping against the table, and her eyes regarding them with a
kind of furtive fear.
His hunting flask from out the cellarette was there on the table.
The girl was speaking with effort. I'm sorry; she must have felt
bad and found it.
She suddenly hid her face in her hands against the casement.
That roused him. He felt dazed. It needed a woman here to feel the
I'll get mother, he said.
Oh, begged the girl, and quivered; can't we get back to town
withoutmust she know?
King was growing himself again. Why, he said, of all people, yes,
He went down the steps two at a time. There was no sensitive
apprehension in his manner when he brought her back, as there often was
concerning his mother; he knew her strength as well as her
She came straight up and hardly noticed Alexina as she passed but
went on to Molly, whose eyes, full of shame and fear, were dully
watching the scene.
Charlotte put her arms about her, drew her to the sofa, and sat by
her. Poor dear, she said; poor dear.
Molly drooped, trembled, then turned and clung to her, crying
piteously. You're sorry for me? I did it because I'm afraid. He said
they all come down here to die. Malise don't know, she don't
understand, she's hard.
You go down to your dinner, Alexina, said Charlotte; it's
waiting. Oh, yes, yes you will go. There was finality in the tone,
very different from Charlotte's usually indefinite directions. Leave
your mother to me; oh, you needn't tell me anything about it; I know.
And take that hardness out of your face, Alexina, it's your own fault
if you let this embitter you, it's ourselves that let things spoil our
lives, not the things. I'll tell you something, that you may believe I
know, something that I told Willy at a time his arrogance seemed to
need the knowledge. My father, my great, splendid, handsome father, all
my life was this way. But he came straight home to my mother, and so
she kept him from worse, and held him to his place in the world. Keep
on loving them, it's the only way. Many a time we've all cried together
like babies, father and mother and I, by her sofa.
Willy, called Charlotte. The boy ran up from below. Take Alexina
down to her dinner and afterwards take her out of doors. No, you're not
going back to the hotel, not to-night. Willy can send Peter in for your
woman and your things, for you're going to stay here till she's better
and you see this thing differently.
* * * * *
That evening King and Alexina sat on the edge of the pier, the water
lapping the posts beneath their swinging feet. He was peeling joints of
sugar-cane and handing her sections on the blade of his knife, she
trying to convince herself that they were as toothsome as he insisted
they were. He could idle like a child.
But the girl's mind was back there in the house. According to your
mother, she was saying, there's got to be affection back of the doing
of a duty. Poor child, she was putting it so guardedly, so
impersonally she thought.
Well, said he, dropping his unappreciated bits of cane, piece by
piece into the water, that's a woman's way of looking at it.
What's a man's? asked the girl, at that, how does a man do hard
He just does 'em, I should say, and doesn't analyze. He's got to be
at something, you know; it's part of the creed.
What creed? demanded Alexina.
Oh, said Alexina, yes, I see.
Molly, Alexina and Celeste stayed a week at Nancy with the Leroys.
It was a household wherein there was no strain, no tension, though, to
be sure, there was small management. One had a comical comprehension
that Mandy the cook and Tina the wash-woman kept their families off the
gullibility and good faith of their mistress.
Alexina was sent into the sunshine.
Keep her outdoors, Charlotte commanded Willy; the child's
Mr. Jonas drove out with trophies of game as offerings to Mrs.
Garnier. One morning Mr. Henderson came with him in the buckboard, and
Molly and the two men sat in the sunshine on the porch and talked.
Did he die? she asked the minister presently.
The man at the house where you stopped that day? She asked it as
one driven to know, even while apprehensive of the answer.
Exultation leaped for an instant to the young man's face, a stern
joy. He died, he told her, but in the faith at the end.
In what faith? Molly asked curiously. She was a child in so many
The Church, he told her, with reproof in his tone.
The click of Mr. Jonas's incisors upon incisors chopped the air.
But Molly moved a little nearer the minister.
Yes, she agreed slowly, unwillingly almost; they all do. Father
Bonot used to say it over and over. They all come back to the Church
She was shivering.
There was a quick, snapped off h'ah from Mr. Jonas.
Mr. Henderson looked bewildered. I did not know; then, Mrs.
Garnier, you are
I'm a Catholic, said Molly, a little in wonder.
Romanist? said the other gently.
But Molly wasn't listening, nor would she have known what the
distinction meant, had she been. It was Mr. Jonas who gave forth
another sound that was almost a snort, and marched off to where King
and Alexina were sitting on the step.
Molly watched him go, then glanced around as if to insure aloofness,
and leaned forward, her fingers pulling at the edge of her
You helped him to die, and you're a priestone sort of a
priestand I want to tell you
No, said the other, you do not understand; let me make you see.
It doesn't matter, said Molly; no, hurriedly, let me tell you.
I want to tell you. It will help me. I take thingsI have to; anything
that will make me forget and make me sleep. I'm afraidI take it
because I'm afraid to die.
He looked at her out of dull eyes. She was, self-avowedly,
everything he held abhorrentalien, worldly, and weak. He stammered
somethingwas he asking God to help her, or himself?and left her.
Later, as he and Mr. Jonas drove back to Aden, the eyes of Mr. Jonas
snapped. You're brewing mischief to your own or somebody else's peace
of mind; you always are when you look like that. Out with it, man.
Why Mr. Henderson should out with it, he himself knew less than any,
but Mr. Jonas had a way.
The minister's words came forth with effort.
I've been seeking light to know why Mrs. Garnier was sent down
here. I've never cared for a woman before; I can't seem to tear it out.
But to-day it's made clear: she was sent to me to be saved.
From her faith? inquired Mr. Jonas.
But the minister was impervious to the sarcasm.
To the faith, said Mr. Henderson.
The others gone, Alexina, King William and the Captain sat on the
porch. The girl who was on the step reached up and put a hand on the
locket swinging from the Captain's fob. May I? she asked, I used to,
often, you know.
The Captain slipped the watch out and handed it to her, the rest
depending, and she opened the locket, a large, thin, plain gold affair.
This, she said, bending over it, then looking up at the Captain
archly, this is Julie Piquet, your mother, wife of Aristide Leroy,
refugee and Girondist.
She recited it like a child proud of knowing its lesson, then
regarded him out of the corners of her eyes, laughing.
There answered the faintest flicker of a smile somewhere in the old
The girl returned to the study of the dark beauty on the ivory
again, its curly tresses fillet bound, its snowy breasts the more
revealed than hidden by the short-waisted, diaphanous drapery.
And because it had been your father's locket, with you and your
mother in it, Mrs. Leroy wouldn't let you change it to put her in; and
so this on the other side is you, young Georges Gautier Hippolyte
Written G. Leroy in general, interpolated the gentleman's son.
And this is how you looked at twenty, dark and rosy-cheeked, with a
handsome aquiline nose. You never were democratic, for all your grand
pose at being; do you believe he was? This to King. Look at him here;
if ever there was an inborn, inbred aristocratic son of a
He barricaded the streets of Paris with his fellow-students in his
turn, don't forget, said King.
Where his papa had sent him for a more cosmopolitan knowledge of
life than Louisville could afford, supplemented Alexina gaily.
And where he wrote verses to a little dressmaker across the hall,
Verses? said Alexina. Did he write verses? I never heard about
No? said the son; hasn't he ever written verses to you? Well,
since I've opened the way to it, I was leading up to it all the while,
why I have. I'll show 'em to you. I've had 'em in my pocket
waiting the opportunity three days now. Which was true. He had been
going for them that first day.
He produced a small card photograph, somewhat faded, which, taken in
Alexina's hand, showed her a little girl's serious face, with
She had a nice, straight little nose, anyhow, said Alexina
approvingly, studying the card.
Turn it over, said William Leroy. He had a way of commanding
people. Some day Alexina intended warring with him about it, but she
turned it over now. The lines inscribed on its reverse were in a round
and laboured script that, despite effort, staggered down hill.
I wrote 'em, said Willy Leroy, moimyself, with gulped-down
tears at leaving you. I've never written any since.
She was reading them.
Out loud, he commanded.
She read them aloud. She was laughing, but she was blushing
This is Alexina and she
Is a girl but she
Plays like I tell her and she
Cried because we had to come away
And this is Alexina.
He thinks, your son does, said Alexina, addressing herself to the
Captain, that he was a precocious person, whereas he was only
Young, said the Captain.
Lamentably egotistical, said Alexina.
Give it to me, said Willy, my picture and my feelings thereon.
No, said the girl; I want it.
Yes. He said it with the King William air. She made a little
mouth, but gave him the card, which he put back in his wallet and the
wallet into his pocket. You're welcome to a copy of the lines, he
Alexina, bestowing on him a glance of lofty disdain, departed,
high-headed, into the house.
But he ran after her and stooped, that he might look into her face;
was he laughing at her?
Oh, she said, and wheeled upon him, but had to laugh too, such was
the high glee behind the sweet gravity on William Leroy's countenance.
Glee there was, yet, too, something else in the dark eyes laughing at
her, something unconsciously warm and caressing.
The girl ran quickly up-stairs.
And William Leroy, brought to himself, stood where she left him. The
hand on the newel-post suddenly closed hard upon it, then he
straightened and walked into the parlour, and, sitting down, stared at
the embers of the wood fire, as one bewildered. Then his head lifted as
with one who understands. On his face was a strange look and a light.
Alexina went up to her mother and Mrs. Leroy. Molly was lolling in a
big chair in the sunshine, idly swinging the tassel of her wrapper to
and fro. The shadows about her eyes were other than those lent by the
sweep of her childlike lashes, and she looked wan. But she looked at
peace, too. In her present state the flow of Mrs. Leroy's personal chat
was entertainment. Now, there was always one central theme to
Charlotte's talk, whatever the variations.
He hasn't a bit of false pride, Willy hasn't, she was stating.
After his father lost his position, those two years before the trees
began paying, there's nothing Willy wouldn't turn his hand to. He
carried a chain for the surveyors and went as guide for parties hunting
and fishing in the glades.
Molly's attention sometimes wandered from these maternal
You were Charlotte Ransome before you were married, weren't you?
she asked irrelevantly. You used to come to New Orleans winters,
didn't you? You were at a party at my Uncle Randolph's once when I was
a girl and you were spoken of as a great beauty, I remember. There was
a pompon head-dress too, one winter, called the Charlotte Ransome.
The Charlotte listening, only the vivacity of smile and eyes left of
her beauty, the Charlotte living the obscure life of a little raw
Southern town, let her needle fall, the needle she handled with the
awkwardness of a craft acquired late. She was darning an old
tablecloth, come down from her mother's day, that day when triumphs and
adulation made up life, and when cost or reckoning was a thing she
troubled not herself about. She was that Charlotte Ransome again,
called up by Mrs. Garnier, the beauty, the fashion, and the belle.
Oh, she said, the joy of youth, the joy! Old Madame d'Arblay, the
Louisville milliner, devised that pompon head-dress out of her own
cleverness, and I remember my old Aunt Polly Ann Love tried to talk her
down on the price. How it comes back, the intoxication of it, and the
living. Drink deep, little Mab, it never offers twice. I seemed to have
divined it never would be again.
The girl looked from one woman to the other. Molly still pursued
this thing called adulation, and Mrs. Leroy, big-hearted, simple-souled
as she was, looked yearningly back on that which was gone.
Was this all, then? Was life forever after empty, except as with
Mrs. Leroy, of duties that occupied but did not satisfy? And what of
women who are neither beauties nor belles? What has life to offer them?
A vast depression came over the girl. And was this all? Both women
bore witness that it was.
I heard tell in those days, Molly was saying to Mrs. Leroy, of a
dozen men in the South you might have married. How did you
comecuriouslyin the end to marry Captain Leroy, so much older,
and so quiet, ander
Charlotte was too simple to resent the question, which to her meant
only affectionate interest. Besides, she was an egotist, and livened
under talk of herself. She had no concealment; indeed, had she been
cognizant of any skeleton in the family closet, it must speedily have
lost its gruesomeness to her, so constantly would she have it out,
annotating its anatomy to any who showed interest.
Because he came to us in our trouble, said Charlotte, to mother
and me when father died. He was shot, my father, you know, in a
political quarrel on the street in Lexington, the year before the war.
And Captain Georges came to us. We'd always known him. His father and
my Uncle Spottswood Love operated the first brandy distillery in
Kentucky. Captain Georges had brought me pretty things from New Orleans
and Paris all my life. I meant never to marry, then; I'd been unhappy.
But it turned out we were poor, and so when Georges said for me to
marry him that he might care for mother and me, why
Oh, breathed Alexina. It was denunciation. Certain scenes of
childhood had burned into her memory, which she had interpreted later.
Molly had not loved daddy, either.
No one was ever so good, so nobly, generously good to a woman as
Georges has been to me, Mrs. Leroy was saying; and even in our
poverty he and Willy have managed, and kept it somehow from me, and
long, oh, long ago, I came to love him dearly.
The young arraigner, hearing, gazed unconvinced. She pushed the
weight of her hair back off her forehead, as she always did when
impatient. Came to love him dearly. With that mere affection which
grows from association, and dependence and habit.
The girl sitting on the window-sill in the sunshine drew a long
breath. There was more in life than these two had found; all
unknowingly, they had proved it.
Charlotte kept them with her the week, then Molly turned restless.
I can't stand hearing another thing about Willy, Malise, she
declared. I think he's a very dictatorial and outspoken person
So Molly and Alexina and Celeste went back to the hotel, which had
filled during the week of their absence. There was life and bustle in
the halls as they went in and, from their windows up-stairs, they could
see the lake gay with sail-boats.
The talk down-stairs concerned dances, picnics, fishing parties. The
somnolent Molly awoke, languor fell from her and she stepped to the
centre of the gay little whirl, the embodied spirit of festivity. Mr.
Henderson, incongruous element, was there, too, with deliberate
election it would seem, for Molly's eyes did no inviting or
encouraging. She did not need him in capacity of attendant or diverter
these days, and it was clear that in any other capacity he embarrassed
her. But he was not deterred because of that.
You are coming to church, remember, he told her on Sunday morning.
Molly did not even play at archness with him now; she looked timid.
And at the hour she went, and Alexina with her. They had heard him
officiate before, and it seemed the mere performance of the law; but
into the dogmatic assertions of his discourse to-day glowed that fire
which is called inspiration. The Reverend Henderson was living these
Molly, slim and elegant in her finery, moved once or twice in the
pew. Alexina could not quite tell if she was listening. But she was.
Dear me, she said, from under the shadow of her lace parasol, as they
walked home, how wearing it must be to be soerintense. She spoke
lightly, but she shivered a little. The Reverend Henderson had laid
stress upon his text, In the midst of life we are in death!
As they went up the hotel steps Molly turned and looked around her
and Alexina turned too, since it was Molly's mood. The sky was blue,
the air breathed with life and glow and sparkle. There was a taste
almost of sea about it. On the prim young orange trees about the new
houses across the street the fruit hung golden.
He used to reach them for meFather Bonot did, said Molly,
slowly, before I was tall enough. They're sweeterLouisiana oranges
are. I used to run and hide behind his skirts, too, when I was afraid
my mother was going to whip me.
They went in. Half way up the stairs Molly paused. You Blairs,
you're all like himnot like Father Bonot.
Like who? asked Alexina.
Like Mr. Henderson. You Blairs and Mr. Henderson would have pulled
aside your skirts so my mother could have caught me and whipped me.
Something like apprehension sprang into Alexina's eyes. Oh, she
said anxiously, no; surely I'm not like that, and Aunt Harriet's not!
Yes, you are, said Molly stubbornly, you all of you are. It's
becausea sort of childish rage seized on herit's because you're
all of you soso damnably sure of your duty. And Molly's foot stamped
the landing in her little fury.
It was funny, so funny that Alexina laughed. And perhaps it was
true. She could have hugged Molly; she never came so near to being fond
of Molly before.
* * * * *
December arrived, Christmas came and went. Life was almost
pastoralno, hardly that; it was more un fete champetre. Each
day after breakfast the hotel emptied itself into the sunshine and
merriment, emptied itself, that is, of all but the invalids. Molly
shunned these. She never even looked the way of one if she could help
There was a lake party one night. They took boat at the hotel pier
in various small craft and followed the chain of lakes to an island
midway of the farthest. The moon was up as they started.
The party was of the gayest, and one might have said that Mr.
Henderson was out of his element. Certainly his face was hardly
suggestive of hilarity. But he followed Mrs. Garnier into one of the
larger boats and took his place with a sort of doggedness. Even in the
moonlight the sharpening angle of his cheek-bone was visible, and the
deepening of the sockets in which his eyes were set, eyes that followed
Mrs. Garnier insistently.
Molly being of the party, it followed that Alexina was, too, but
that William Leroy was of it seemed to quicken something in his own
sense of humour. His manner with the gay world was perhaps a little
stony. He avowed, when thus accused by Alexina and Mr. Jonas, that it
was to cover bashfulness.
I hate people, he declared.
Yet, for a bashful youth, he was singularly deliberate and
masterful, seeming to know what he wanted and how to get it. To-night
it was that Alexina go with him in a small boat. The others started
first, a youth in a striped flannel coat, strumming a guitar.
King put out last. He rowed slowly and often the boat drifted. When
they entered the lock connecting the first lake with the next, the
other boats had all passed through. The moon scarcely penetrated the
dense foliage on the banks above them, and the ripple of the water
against the boat seemed only to emphasize the silence, the aloofness.
There must have been an early blossom of jasmine about, so sweet was
When they passed out into the vaulted space and open water of the
next lake, the other boats were far ahead. The tinkling cadence of the
guitar floated back to them.
He rowed lazily on. Presently he spoke. I wonder if you remember
how we used to talk, 'way back yonder, about the Land of Colchis?
Yes, said Alexina; I remember.
I believe we are there at last. We closed the contract for our
oranges to-day. It's pretty fair gold, the fruit in Colchis. We pick
for delivery on Monday.
He never had talked to her of personal affairs before, it was Mrs.
Leroy who had told her what she knew.
There are several purchasers looking at the place we are going to
sell, for dwellers in Colchis, you know, are only sojourners; they long
The Jasons, too?
This Jason at any rate. He wants four seasons to his year, and to
hear his horse's feet on pike, and to put his seed into loam.
They slipped through the next lock and out upon the long length of
Cherokee, the lake of the island which was their destination. It seemed
to bring self-consciousness upon the speaker.
You are so the same as you used to be, he said, I forget. How do
I know you want to hear all this?
You do know, said Alexina, honestly.
He did not answer. They were coming up to the other boats now,
beached at the island. Lights were flickering up and down the sand and
the rosy glare of a beach fire shone out from under the darkness of the
trees. Figures were moving between it and them and they could hear
voices and laughter.
You do know, repeated the girl.
They had grounded. He was shipping the oars. Then he got up and held
out a hand to steady her. She, standing, put hers into it. They did not
look at each other.
Yes, he said, I do know. You're too honest to pretend.
He helped her along and out upon the sand. There was a negro boy
awaiting to take charge of the boat. They went up the slight declivity.
He had not loosed her hand, she had not withdrawn it. The laughter, the
chat, the aroma of boiling coffee, the rattle of dishes being unpacked
reached them. They stood for a moment in the shadow, then her hand left
his and they went to join the others.
The dozen men and women were grouped about the pine-knot fire, for
the warmth was grateful.
There was badinage and sally, light, foolish stuff, perhaps, but
flung like shining nebulæ along the way by youth in its whirl of mere
being. It is good to know how to be frivolous sometimes. Alexina felt
the exhilaration of sudden gaiety, daring. She sat down by the youth
with the guitar and the striped flannel coat.
'And both were young, and one was beautiful,'
warbled the owner to his guitar, making room for her. Right here,
Miss Blair, by me.
More than one presently stole a look at the tall, rather handsome
Miss Blair, hitherto conceded reserved and different from her mother.
She was laughing contagiously with the youth, and in the end she gained
the guitar over which they were wrangling. She knew a thing or two
about a guitar herself, it seemedCharlotte Leroy could have explained
howas many chords as the owner anyhow. But the young Leroy, it would
appear, was sulky, certainly unsociable, sitting there, removed to the
outskirts of things, to smoke and stare at the moon. Yet never once did
the girl look his way. It was enough that they were to return together.
Nor was she paying attention to Molly either. There are times when
the mad leap and rush of one's own blood absorbs all consciousness.
Molly was gay, too, feverishly gay. Some one had brewed a hot
something for the delectation and comforting of the chilly ones, and
Molly's thin little hand was holding out her picnic cup as often as any
one would fill it. It was Mr. Jonas who presently took the cup away and
tried to wipe a stain off the pretty dress with his handkerchief.
When the start homeward was made, King came over to Alexina.
I have to ask you to change to the large boat going back, he said,
a little stiffly perhaps; Mr. Jonas is taking Mrs. Garnier in the
small one, and Mr. Henderson says he will see to you.
When she answered her voice was lightly nonchalant.
Why not? she said, absorbed in putting on her jacket.
She took her place in the boat by Mr. Henderson. Evidently the
evening had gone wrong with him, for his face was ghastly in the
moonlight, and his long, nervous fingers never stopped fingering the
little gold cross hanging below the line of his vest.
William Leroy did not return with the party at all. Not that she was
concerned with that, Alexina assured herself proudly, it was only that
she could not help hearing the others wondering at his entering a boat
with the negro boy and rowing swiftly away up the lake. It was clear to
her. Lake Nancy would have been the next lake on the chain had the
channel been cut. He meant to tramp across home to save himself the
trouble of going back to town. She did not think he had very good
manners at any rate. Yet, when the boats came in at the hotel pier, it
was William Leroy who met them. He waited for Alexina and walked with
her a little ahead of the others up through the yard.
Mrs. Garnier is not well, he told her. I went home and drove in
and Mr. Jonas is putting her in the wagon now. We'll take her out to
mother; she's all upset over something.
She stopped short, having forgotten her mother. I can't let you,
she declared; it isn't right to Mrs. Leroy.
Mother's waiting, he said. You'd better go in and say something
to somebody, and get Celeste.
Mrs. Leroy said that people always obeyed the King William tone.
Alexina stood, hesitating. He waited.
Then she went.
He was in the wagonette when she and Celeste came out. The place was
still and deserted, even Mr. Jonas gone, for which Alexina was
Molly was on the back seat, and Celeste, gaunt and taciturn, started
to mount beside her.
Molly protested. Not you, mammy; go in front. I want Malisenot
the big Malise, you knowthe little one.
The girl, taking the wraps from the old woman, got in by her mother
and began to put a shawl about her. The dew was falling heavily. Molly
touched her hand. Once Alexander said to me, 'Let Malise keep tight
hold on you, Molly.'
William Leroy was flicking the mules travelling briskly through the
sandy streets, and talking to the old woman, but she was sullen and the
Alexina's heart was choking her. Her fatherdaddyMolly had spoken
to her of daddy.
And all the while Molly was talking on, feverishly, incessantly.
You must keep him away, Malise, that minister, he worries me and his
eyes make me uncomfortable, following me. He makes me remember things,
and I don't want to. He says it's his duty. He said to-night I'm not
going to get well and that he had to tell me in order to save me from
myself. Make him keep away from me, Malise; I'm afraid of him. I took
it, that, to-night, to forget what he said; say it isn't so,
Willy leaned back over the seat, talking in steady, everyday
fashion. There's the moon setting ahead of us; see it, Mrs. Garnier?
Everything's so still, you say? Why, no; it's not so still. There is a
cock crowing somewhere, and that must be a gopher scuttling under the
palmetto. Now, look backward. See that line of light? It's the dawn.
The next evening at Nancy, an hour or two after supper, King William
was tapping at Mrs. Garnier's door, which was ajar.
She is asleep, warned Alexina from within.
Then come on out, he begged, the moon's up.
Go on, Mrs. Leroy told her, Willy wants you, which to Charlotte
was reason for all things.
It's windy, he called softly, bring a wrap.
The girl came, bringing her reefer jacket and her Tam and put them
on in the hall. The jacket was blue, the Tam was scarlet, and both were
jaunty. He regarded her in them with satisfaction.
Now, there, said he, with King William approval, I like that.
They went down and out. She was tired, she said, so they sat on the
bench under the wild orange. The moss, drooping from the branches,
fluttered above them. The wind was fitful, lifting and dying. It was a
grey night, with scattered mists lying low over the lake, while a shoal
of little clouds were slipping across the face of the moon.
It's been too soft and warm, said he; it can't last.
But Alexina shivered a little, for there was a chill whenever the
Walk down to the pier, he begged, and back. Then you shall go
The path led through the grove. Stopping to select an orange for
her, he passed his hand almost caressingly up and down a limb of the
And you begin to pick the oranges Monday? said Alexina.
And this is Thursday.
They walked on. He was peeling away the yellow rind that she might
have a white cup to drink from.
I won't be here to see the picking, said Alexina. I have to go to
Kentucky for two weeks, something about business. Uncle Austen wrote me
in the letter you brought out to-day, that it would simplify things if
I could come. And EmilyEmily Carringford, you knowUncle Austen's
wife, wrote too, asking me to stay with them.
So, said he, you go
Monday. I've been talking to your mother, and she's willing, if
Captain Leroy and you are; I came out to ask youI am always to be
asking favors of your family, it seemsif you will let me leave Molly
here instead of at the hotel. Celeste can attend to everything.
Why not? asked Willy.
It'sit's a business proposition, said Alexina. But it took a bit
of courage to bring it out.
Is it? said he.
Or I can't do it, you know.
They had reached the lake and were sitting like children on the edge
of the pier. The water was ruffled, the incoming waves white-crested,
and the wind was soughing a little around the boat-house behind them.
He was breaking bits off a twig and flinging them out to see them drift
Great country this, he said, that can't produce a pebble for a
fellow to fling.
He looked off toward the shining, shadowy distance, where the moon
gleamed against the mists. You arethen he changed the form of his
questionare you very rich?
Leave the very out, and, yes, I suppose I am rich, said Alexina.
You are sowellyourself, he said, sometimes I find myself
The girl swallowed once, twice, as if from effort to speak. She was
looking off, too, against the far shore. Is it a thing to have to be
remembered? then she asked.
Isn't it? said King William, turning on her suddenly. There was a
sharp harshness in his tones. I wish to God it wasn't.
She got up, and he sprang up, too, facing her. Suddenly she stamped
her foot. The wind, rising to a gale now, was blowing her hair about
her face and she was angry. It made her beautiful. She might have been
a Valkyr, tall, wind-tossed.
But the sob in her voice was human. I've had Uncle Austen say such
things to me in his fear I might let other people forget it, and a girl
I cared for at school let it come between us, but I thought youI had
a right to think you were bigger. Your mother is, oh, yes, she is, and
your father is. Not that I despise the other, either. She lifted her
head defiantly. It's a grand and liberating thing, though it was
shackles on me in Uncle Austen's hands. I don't despise it; I couldn't;
but that it should have to be remembered
Just so, said Willy Leroy, in his father's phrase.
Her head went up again and she looked at him full, straight, then
turned and fled towards the house.
He ran after her, came abreast, and after the fashion he had,
stooped to see into her face. Don't go away, in from memad, he
begged. Was he laughing?
But I am mad, she returned promptly.
But don't go in either way, he said; stay, mad if you will, but
stay. Oh, I'm not proud, he was breathing hard again, that isonly
this proud; I shall build onto my little gold of Colchis until we stand
at least nearer equaland then
Each looked at the other, with defiance almost. She was as beautiful
as Harriet Blair.
Then, said the girl, then you'll be that far less my equal. Let
me go. And she jerked her sleeve from his hand and ran into the house.
The morning after dawned sunless and chill. The sky was a pale
leaden, below which darker masses of clouds scurried. The wind blew
strong, steady, resistless. At breakfast they all sat shivering.
Have Pete start fires, said King William to Charlotte, and you
had better move Mrs. Garnier over to my room before night. For there
were not fire-places in all the rooms.
It was a dreary morning every way. The breakfast was poor and scant.
Aunt Mandy defended herself. Ev'y thing done give out, she declared.
Mis' Charlotte been so occapied she done forgot to order things f'om
Convicted, Charlotte looked at Willy, then hastily took the
defensive. Mandy ought to have reminded me, she declared.
No, ma'am, responded Mandy. I done quit this thing uv
tellin' an' havin' you say things give out too soon.
Willy sat stony. The Captain shivered. One realized all at once that
he was an old man. The thermometer is at forty-six, King, he
Yes, said the son, and falling.
All morning it fell. At noon it registered forty degrees. The wind
still swept a gale that whistled and shrieked at the corners of the
house, and the three women passed the morning in Charlotte's room,
shivering about the open fire-place. Pete spent his day chopping and
bringing in arm-loads of fat pine wood. All the sense of
dissatisfaction with Aden returned. Desolate grey sand is a hideous
exchange for sward, and orange trees look like toys from a Noah's ark.
At dinner there was a furrow between King's straight, dark brows.
It's thirty-eight, he told his father, and falling. It's clearing,
Afterwards he was talking to Pete in the hall.
No, sir, reiterated Pete, we's too far below the line, ain't
never heard of sech a thing down here.
At four o'clock King came in to say he was going to town. It's down
to thirty-four, he told his father. I'm going in and telegraph up the
river for reports.
And what then, son? asked the Captain. What can you do?
It was a hitherto unexperienced danger threatening Aden. But youth
cannot sit and wait. Alexina, from the window in Charlotte's room, saw
King William fling himself on his horse at the gate and gallop off. The
wind had ceased. The live-oaks on either side of the old iron gate
stood motionless, their moss hanging in dreary, sombre lengths. There
was no sound of bird or insect. And it was coldcold. Alexina had a
jacket over her woollen dress, for Aden houses are not built for cold,
which poured in at casements, beneath doors, at keyholes. Molly, on the
couch drawn up to the fire, coughed and coughed again. Alexina went to
her. I'm cold, she complained; and how dreary it is.
It had cleared and the sky was a pale, chilly blue. The sun set in a
yellow pallor. The night fell.
King came in and warmed his hands at the parlour fire. Alexina and
Charlotte had come down now.
Thirty-two, he told his father, and falling.
Neither the Captain nor his son ate much supper, but near-sighted
Charlotte, absorbed in things at hand, seemed unconscious of anything
more amiss than discomfort from the cold. After supper the son
Molly was coughing sadly. They had moved her bed across to Willy's
sitting-room, and a fire crackled on the stone hearth; but it was to be
one of the nights when she would not sleep, or but fitfully, and when
Celeste and Alexina would not sleep either. At nine o'clock they
persuaded her to bed.
But talk, Malise, you and mammy talk. I don't have chance to think
when people keep on talking; and, mammy, rub my hands; it helps, to
have some one rub them.
At ten she wanted a drink of water. Alexina went to the window where
she had set a tumbler outside. The night was still and clear, the stars
glittering. The moon would rise soon now. How large the grove showed
itself from this south window, stretching away to the southwest around
the curving shores of Nancy. As Alexina opened the window she shivered,
despite the heavy wool of her white wrapper. As she took in the
glasswas it? Yes, over the surface of the water radiated a ferny,
splintery film, which was ice.
Molly, feverish and restless, drank it thirstily, and said it was
good, but it roused her so that she began to talk again.
He said I couldn't prevent his praying for me, she was harping on
the minister. For my soul, she laughed uneasily. I told him to let
my soul alone. It's perfectly funny, Malise, that I've got to be prayed
over when I don't want to be.
The night wore on. Celeste was nodding, even while her brown hands
went on rubbing up and down the slim white wrist and arm.
The wood on the andirons broke and fell apart. The room grew
shadowy. Build it up, Malise, begged Molly; I like it light.
There was no more wood up-stairs. It was past twelve o'clock and the
house was still. Alexina opened the door into the hall. A lamp in case
of need, because of Molly, was burning on a stand. Alexina had
remembered that there was wood piled on the parlour hearth. Her
slippers were noiseless.
Down-stairs she paused, then tip-toed to the front door. The big
thermometer and barometer in one hung against a side of the recess and
could be seen through the glass side-lights. It was bright moonlight
now, the shadows of the rose vine clear cut on the porch floor. She
looked at the thermometer.
She looked again.
It had come, then, what never had come to Aden before. From the talk
of the day she had gleaned enough to know that the fruit hanging on
William Leroy's trees was but so much sodden, worthless pulp.
She turned back towards the parlour where the firelight was
flickering out the doorway, then stopped. He was in his father's chair
before the hearth. His elbow was on his knee and the hand on which his
chin was propped was clenched. The flame flared up. His face was
haggard and harsh.
She fled back up-stairs. Molly had fallen asleep, Celeste was
The girl shut the door and dropped in a little heap on the bearskin
before the fire. She was shivering, but in her eyes, fixed on the
embers, was a yearning, brooding light that made them beautiful. Then
suddenly she hid her face in her hands, her head bowed on her knees,
and began to sob.
The Captain, Mrs. Leroy and Alexina, on the gallery, watched King as
he trudged across the yard. He was going for his horse that he might
take a telegram into Aden for Alexina, who was to leave the following
He trudged sturdily and was whistling under his breath as he went.
But it's a debtI owe it to you, said the girl suddenly, turning
on the Captain. She spoke with vehemence, entreaty, passion.
We put that aside the other daydiscussed, said the Captain
You did, declared the girl; but notyou can't say I did.
And Mrs. Leroy saw the right, the justice of it, when I talked to her
But I hadn't heard Georges then, Charlotte hastened to say, and I
see now how you're trying to make a purely business affair a personal
one. Poor Charlotte, she did not see anything of the kind; she was
quoting the Captain.
But it is a debt, declared the girl, crying a little against her
will, and you have no right to refuse me. The whole transaction was a
taking advantage, and hard, and mean; it was the pound of flesh, and
you said, Mrs. Leroy, that if the grove could be held a year or two,
and not sacrificed right away
The boy will fight that part out, said the Captain. The words
sounded final, but the hand laid on the girlish one clasping the arm of
his chair made it right.
How can he? she insisted, with stubbornness.
I don't know, said the father.
The three sat silent. King, waving his hat at them as he rode
around, stooped from his horse, opened the gate and went through. He
was not a person to be offered sympathy. Right now he was absorbingly
But Mrs. Leroy admitted, Alexina began again, her under lip
No, Alexina, said Charlotte hastily; I didn't. Or I ought not to
have, she added honestly. I've never set myself against Georges in
things concerning Willy since we came down here. We talked it out then,
Georges and I. It's been hard to see Willy fighting things; he was born
imperious, but he's used to battling now. I see what Georges meant.
It's better for people to learn how to battle. If I had ever been
The sun was slanting in under the old, wild orange tree on to the
gallery. Again the three sat silent. Then out of the silence the
Captain spoke. He was an old man who had laid down the burden of labour
to lift and carry the heavier load of inaction in silence, as he had
carried the other. His tone was impersonal.
There was a giant wrestler, one Antæus of Lybia, if I remember my
classics, Alexina. King used to lie on the rug when you both were
children and read you about him. So many times as this Antæus was
brought to earth, he arose renewed, if I recall. The boy must wrestle
with his own fate.
On entering Uncle Austen's house, self-consciousness and constraint
closed in like bars across the door of spontaneity. Alexina had arrived
the night before and they were at breakfast. Uncle Austen was
facetiously affable, and his sportive sallies, not being natural with
him, embarrassed his audience. There is something almost pitiable in
the sight of middle-age grown playful.
Emily, Uncle Austen's wifeembarrassing realization in
itselflooked in her plate constrainedly, so that Alexina, if only
that his further playfulness might be prevented, threw herself into the
conversation and chattered volubly, but in vain, for Uncle Austen found
chance to reply.
There was complacency in his facetiousness, too. He had married him
a wife, and the pride of the thing coming to him this late made him a
little absurd, and yet, Alexina reflected, he was a man of big ability
and varied interests, prominent in whatever large enterprises the city
boasted, banks, railroads, bridges; a power in the Republican party of
his state, his name standing for respectability, wealth, and
I'm taking pretty good care of your old friend Emily, Alexina?
Uncle Austen was demanding playfully, as he arose from the table;
she's standing transplanting pretty well, eh?
Emily got up abruptly, so abruptly her chair would have turned over
but for his quickness in getting there to catch it, but his good humour
was proof even against this, though he ordinarily frowned at
awkwardness. He set the chair in place, and taking Emily's hand as they
all went from the room, patted it ostentatiously. Alexina grew hot.
A pretty hand, a hand for a man to be proud to own, eh, Alexina?
Emily almost snatched it away and paused at the foot of the stairs.
Good-by, she said.
He was finding his overcoat and feeling for his gloves. Then he took
a little whisk-broom from the rack drawer and brushed his hat with
nicety. He was smiling with high humour. The man's content was almost
I'm glad to have you here, Alexina, he said; very glad. I will
feel that Emily is having the companionship she ought to have in my
The click of the door as he closed it seemed to breathe a brisk and
satisfied complacency. Emily had fled up-stairs. Alexina followed her
How strange it seemed to hear her moving about in what had been Aunt
Come in, she called.
Alexina went in.
He might at least have refurnished it, mightn't he? said Emily,
with a laugh. It was not a pleasant laugh.
What would you like for dinner? she asked Alexina, her hand on the
I don't care, said Alexina; anything.
So it doesn't cost too much, said Emily, laughing the laugh that
was not pleasant.
Later, the conferences with the servants over, she sat down to make
certain entries in the ledger, open on the desk. Alexina picked up a
He asked me one day, said Emily, turning, what had become of an
end of roast that ought to have come back made over, and said there
must be waste in the kitchen.
Don't, said Alexina. I wouldn't, Emily.
Why not? You knew it all before.
Alexina flushed. Yes, she said slowly, I did. I knew itbefore.
How are your mother and the little girls, Emily?
Motheroh, all right. He told me to ask Nan and Nell over every
Friday from school to supper, and mother and father and Oliver over to
Sunday night tea. 'It ought, in the end,' he told me, 'to make an
appreciable saving in your mother's providing, these continued absences
from stated meals.'
You mustn't, Emily. Tell me about the winter. Have you been gay?
Gay? Emily wheeled from the desk. She gazed at Alexina almost
wildly. Then she laughed again. Gay! oh, my great Heavengay! Then
you don't know? I am going to bear him a childand, oh, help me
somehow; Alexina, I loathe him.
A child, Uncle Austen and Emily a child! A warmth swept out of
Alexina's very soul and enveloped her. She knew, and she did not know.
Other women and girls had taken it for granted always that she knew,
and talked on before her. It meant to her something vague,
unapproachable, veiled, and a great, overwhelming consciousness stifled
and choked her.
I went out on the platform of the train while we were away, Emily
was saying, Emily who never, even in childhood, had curbed a mood, a
dislike, a humour, and tried to throw myself off, but I was afraid.
Alexina shrank. I mustn't listenyou mustn't tell meit's between
you and him, Emily.
Emily had gotten up and was walking about.
He offered Oliver a place in the bank, to please me, I thought.
Oliver's nineteen now. The place had been paying eighteen dollars a
week, and Oliver had only been making twelve. So he offered it to him
at fifteen. 'To the benefiting of both sides,' he came home and told
Emily stood still, her eyes tearless and hard. Put on your wraps,
Alexina, and we'll go drive. It's like a duty, a task, the exercising
of the horses. It hangs over me like a nightmare that I've got it to
do, until I've gone out and gotten it over.
Yes, said Alexina, on familiar ground, I know. I've hated those
horses too, before you. But you ought to be like Aunt Harriet, Emily;
don't be like metell him so.
Emily, unlocking the wardrobe door, suddenly flung up her arms
against it and hid her face in them. I've tried, I have tried, and I
can'tI can't; I'm afraid of him, Alexina.
But the child comingtheir child? Perhaps the child would make it
right. When it came, Emily would love her child? Perhaps she did; she
never talked about it afterwards, and Alexina never saw her with it; it
died in the summer, soon after its coming.
When she did see the two again, her uncle and Emily, on her own
return to Louisville in the late fall, the embarrassing playfulness had
left Uncle Austen. Perhaps the steely coldness of his manner was worse.
Had Emily daredeven in her mourning there was something about her
that was reckless. But she did not dare. She was twenty-two and he was
fifty-two, and she was to live afraid of him, to see him an old man,
for he is living now.
Harriet laughed at Alexina's wonder over her. It took me a time to
realize that hospitality means the incidental oftener than the
invited, she confessed. My guests, you know, Alexina, were formally
asked, and the other would have fretted me. That was why, I suppose, I
had no intimates.
Harriet never knew, it would seem, these days, whether the Judge,
the Colonel, Father Ryan, the man from the office chatting in the
library with the Major, one or all, were going to stay for supper or
were not; yet she had come to the place where she could smile in serene
and genuine welcome, the while everybody moved up and the coloured
housemaid slipped in an extra chair and plate.
And she only laid a hand on the spoon with which little Stevie
hammered his plate.
I'd take it away and spank him myself, you know, confided Louise,
Stevie's mother, to Alexina; I do spank William.
But all of life seemed to be moving for Harriet with serenity. Every
trivial happening was swallowed up in the joy that death had spared her
her husband. And the Major, whatever the agony, the horror, preceding
the acceptation of a maimed life, had not lost the vital grace of
humour. Life flowed in and out of the Rathbone home with him for centre
as it had used to do in and out of his office. The room where he sat
amid his papers and books was a rallying place because the strong will
and personality of the man in the wheeled chair made it so.
He's been meaning for years to do a series of guerrilla articles a
magazine has wanted of him, and now he's at them, said Harriet, and
he has given in this far, in his stiff-necked pride, that he's bought
an interest in the paper for me, and it keeps him in touch and
The Major had been watching Alexina. At the end of several days'
observations he leaned back in his chair and addressed her. His eyes
were humorous. There's an encouraging promise about you, Alexina, he
informed her. Then he caressed his lean chin with his lean, smooth
hand. A promise that gives me hope. You've laughed at my jokes since
you've been here, and not from mere politeness either. Now, Harriet
smiles out of the goodness of her heart because she thinks she ought
But he caught at Harriet's hand even while they all three laughed,
for it was patent to everybody that Harriet had no idea what his jokes
were about, which was the amusing thing of all, seeing that it was the
Major's humour that she confessed had attracted her.
And yet the eyes of the man often deepened and glowed as he watched
her move about the house, for she made even the trivial duties seem
beautiful because of her unconscious earnestness and her joy in their
On the return to Aden, that last hour on the train, Alexina was
trembling. She was glad, glad to be back, yet of the actual moment of
arrival she was afraid.
It was Peter, and alone, who met her at the station with the
wagonette. The high ecstasy of her shrinking fell like collapsing walls
beneath her. Life was grey, level, flat.
Mrs. Garnier's po'ly this mornin', Pete told her as they drove
homeward. Mis' Cha'lotte wouldn't leave her to come, and Mr. Willy,
he's been gone for a week now, down to the grasswater with a pahty of
gen'l'men, as guide.
She felt strangely tired and quiet. It was going to be hard to seem
as glad to be back as she ought. Yet the world, as they drove out to
Nancy, was rioting in bud, and new leaf and bloom. Magnolias were
uplifting giant ivory cups of heavy sweetness; every tree-trunk, rail
and stump bore a clambering weight of yellow jasmine bloom; the tai-tai
drooped pendulous fringes of faintest fragrance, and wild convolvulus
ran riot over the palmetto. There were bird-song and sunshine and
And she could not feel glad, she could not feel glad.
Promptly Molly dragged the girl off to their room. She looked
slighter and more wistful-eyed and bored to death. You promised me
that we would go early in March, if I stayed out hereyou promised,
Malise. And I've stayed. You promised we'd go to The Bay, where there
are people and hotels and it's gay. And it's March now. You look so
tall and cold, Malise! what's the matter?
Alexina, restless and absent, wandered out on the porch to the
Captain. She chatted to him about Louisville, but there were sharpening
angles about his face that made her heart ache. She went up to Mrs.
I don't know what we are going to do, Alexina, Charlotte told her.
Willy said I was not to think or worry about it, I was to put it all
aside until he got back. But it hurts. He went off looking so gaunt. I
don't believe he slept a night through after the freeze; all hours I
could hear him up, walking around, but he don't like it if I notice,
Alexina dropped down and put her head in Charlotte's lap and cried,
and Charlotte patted the girl's wealth of shining hair and cried too.
But since he could go without a sign to her, Alexina could go too.
That day she wrote for rooms at The Bay Hotel. The answer came that she
could have what she wanted by the eighth. She told Mrs. Leroy she and
Molly would go on that date.
She could leave without a sign too, she had said, but in her heart
there was joy that Fate had given her to the eighth. She would not have
moved a finger to stay, but since he was to return on the sixth, why
But the very day the letter from The Bay reached her, a Seminole
came up from the glades with game from King and a note. The party was
considering making a longer stay, he wrote to his mother, so she need
not worry in case he did not return.
I told him in my answer, said Charlotte, that you all were going.
Dear me, I'll miss you so.
Then he would know, he would know, and if he did not come it would
be because it was his desire not to.
Molly confessed to a few bills in town. Malise had left money, yet
Molly had managed to make accounts at a fruiterer's, the café, as it
called itself, the drug store, the stationer's, and the two dry-goods
I'm glad you're not stingy like the Blairs, Molly told her; you
know, Malise, they're really mean. Your grandfather Blair carried you
out to their gate once to see a hand-organ man and his monkey. You were
too pleased for anything, and when the man finally moved away your
grandfather told you, 'Say good-by to the monkey, Alexina.'
Truth to tell, Molly and Charlotte seemed to have had a fine time in
the absence of their two youthful monitors. Charlotte was as wax in the
naughty Molly's hands. Even now, with Alexina on the scene, Molly
proceeded to put Mrs. Leroy up to a thing that never would have entered
that innocent soul's head.
Charlotte went mysteriously to town one morning, Peter in his best
clothes driving her, and came back beaming.
I've asked some of the Aden young people out for the evening before
you go, she told Alexina. The halls and the parlours are so big, you
Charlotte beamed and Molly looked innocent. Alexina gazed at Mrs.
Leroy dismayed. What would the Captain, what would King William think?
It would never occur to Mrs. Leroy until afterward that she could not
afford such a thing.
I think we ought to do it together, said Alexina privately to her.
Molly and I owe Aden some return.
Charlotte was made to see it. Had Willy come along, she would have
seen it as speedily after his will, be that what it might.
Whatever the Captain thought, he sat unmoved in the midst of the
deluge of water and mopping that suddenly swept about him on the porch.
There must have been Dutch in Charlotte somewhere, for hospitality with
her meant excess of cleaning.
It was a miserable week altogether to Alexina. The days dragged
through to their nights, and the nights to morning. She had never known
so hateful a time. She hated the grove, where thousands of oranges,
gathered into piles, lay rotting, and where the smiling trees, wherever
their buds had escaped injury, were putting out scattered blooms; she
hated the lake, and the Cherokee roses in bloom, she hated the crepe
myrtles and the camelias in the yard. To walk meant wading through
sand; there was nothing in town to make the drive worth while. The
shame, the sting was in everything that was beautiful. That she should
Mr. Jonas and Mr. Henderson drove out one evening, Mr. Jonas to talk
over matters with the Captain. Alexina wandered off by herself.
Presently she heard Mrs. Leroy calling softly. It's your mother,
she told Alexina in a whisper, as the girl came back to the house. I
don't believe Mr. Henderson is good for her.
Molly was talking to Mr. Jonas rapidly, eagerly, like one defending
self, as Alexina reached them. Mr. Henderson was regarding her out of
It's not that I think I'm sick, Molly was saying, like he says I
am. I'm better, really, much better, only while he was talking about,
about thingsit's a dreadful religion his; I'd rather be without any,
like Jean, than have one like hisI remembered how Father Bonot used
to pull the oranges for me I couldn't reach. Here's Malise come back.
Malise, let's not go to The Bay after all; I'm tired; let's go to
Cannes Brulée. He's there, Father Bonot is, they told me in Washington.
He's an old, old man. Let's go back home there.
Why, yes, said the girl, if you want, we'll go.
You were a little baby at Cannes Bruléeyes, animatedly, that's
what we'll do. We'll go home to Father Bonot, Malise.
At the touch of Mr. Jonas the minister started. His face was grey.
Then he got up and followed the other. On the way in to Aden in the
buckboard he hardly spoke until the hotel was reached.
Mr. Jonas stopped the mare before the plank sidewalk. The minister
came to himself as out of chaos.
My God, he said.
Mr. Jonas turned the wheel. Only yours? he rejoined briskly.
The minister, on the sidewalk now, looked up at him dazedly. I
don't know what you mean, he said.
Not yet, returned Mr. Jonas, with cheerful reassurance; you will,
you will, though.
* * * * *
So again Alexina made plans. They would go on the eighth as before,
she and Celeste and Molly, but they would go to Cannes Brulée.
Supper was over and the Captain sat smoking in his cane chair on the
gallery. If King was coming, it would be to-night; the train from the
South came in at seven, and he knew that they were going.
Alexina, sitting on the steps below him, was glad it was the Captain
out here with her, rather than the others. It was like the quiet and
cover of twilight, the silence of the Captain. Moving a little, she put
a hand upon the arm of his chair. His closed upon it and his eyes
rested on her young, beautiful profile, though she did not know it.
The moon came up. The clock in the hall struck eight. Molly was
lying on the sofa inside, Mrs. Leroy moving about as was her wont,
straightening after the servants had gone, and innocently
unsystematizing what little system they employed.
Outside sat the man and the girl. There were night calls from birds
and insects, but beyond these sounds the girl's heart listening,
Between where the road emerged from the hummock and the gate to
Nancy was a stretch of old corduroy road over a marshy strip. Elsewhere
a horse's hoofs sank into sand. Willy Leroy would ride out, if he came,
probably on Mr. Jonas's mare.
The girl sat, all else abeyant, listening. She heard the first
hoof-beat, the first clattering thud on wood. Her hand slipped from the
Captain's; she sat still.
She sat stiller even as Willy rode in and called halloo to the
house, while his mother and Molly, and even Celeste, came out. She
hardly moved as he touched her hand and went past her with the others
into the house, and left her there.
She did not know how long it was they came and went, Pete with the
horse to the stable, Mrs. Leroy getting the boy his supper. The talk of
the father and mother and son rose and fell within.
She heard them closing shutters, hunting lamps, and moving up the
steps. But he came out and sat on the step near her, and yet far away.
They did not look toward each other. And yet he knew how she looked,
fair, still, perhaps a little cold; and she knew how he looked, tanned
and bronzed, yet good to see in his hunting clothes.
Shy as two young, wild things they sat, and wordless.
Presently he spoke, looking away from her.
Mother wrote me you were going. I came up to say good-by. They're
to wait for me in camp.
After that they both were silent, how long neither knew. Then the
girl stood up.
It must be late, she said.
Oh, he said, no
Yes, she said; I think you'll find it is. Good-night.
In her packing Alexina had left out a muslin dress for Mrs. Leroy's
evening. Going up from the hurried supper to dress, she glanced at it,
then drew forth a box from a trunk and pulled the contents therefrom.
The dress that came forth shimmered and gleamed and floated; it was a
thing that must have enfolded any woman to beautiful lines, and have
made any throat, any head, lift. It was a purchase she had been in a
way ashamed of, tempted to it in a moment of weakness, urged on by
Now she laid it forth and dressed with care, grave as some young
priestess. Molly watched her curiously. Even at the hotel there had
been occasions for only simple clothes.
But the girl even brought forth some leather cases. Generally it was
her little pose that she did not care for jewels, but in her heart she
loved them, as every woman does, primitive or civilized, young or
three-score-and-ten. Now she put on what she had. Of late the fairness
of Malise had deepened into abiding beauty, yet to-night it was the
garb she was emphasizing it would seem, and what it stood for, not the
You're curious, said Molly. I would have thought it was a time
for the simplest.
Should you? said Alexina.
The evening turned into a really spontaneous little affair. It was
the sort of thing the young people of Adendwellers in the various
frame houses about the town, all sojourners from a common cause,
somebody's healthit was the sort of thing these young people got up
about every other night in the year. Two mandolins, a violin, and a
harp made music. A college boy with a cough, and a Mexican bar-keeper
played the mandolins, the local boot and shoe dealer the violin, an
Italian the harp, and the whole called itself a string band.
Charlotte Leroy, in a rejuvenated dress of former splendour, was a
beaming soul of delight. That Alexina, Willy and Celeste had really
seen to everything Charlotte had no idea, for neither had she sat down
But she beamed now while Molly's low laughter rose softly.
Alexina rearranged lights and adjusted decorations. She went out to
the kitchen and took a reassuring survey. Later, she told the Aden
youths who asked, she didn't believe she meant to dance. They did not
press her; perhaps it was the gown, perhaps it was her manner
preventing. She laughed, as if it mattered! She talked with Mr. Jonas,
but all the time she knew that William Leroy, in his white flannel
clothes, was outside, smoking, on the gallery. After a while she went
out. He was leaning against a pillar, and turned at her step. The night
was flooded as by an ecstasy of moonlight. His eyes swept her bare
shoulders and arms, the shimmering dress, the jewels, then turning, he
Come and dance, said Alexina.
I don't know how.
It's your own fault, said the girl as promptly; you climbed up on
back sheds at dancing school so you wouldn't have to learn.
It gave me my own satisfaction at the time, said he.
There's so much that's your own fault, she returned, and which
you cover up by pretending that you don't like or want. You're as human
as any one else. You make yourself believe you don't want things
because you're stubborn and proud, but you do, you do.
Under proper conditions, he admitted largely, I might, yes.
Under any conditions, in your heart you want them, we all want
them; you're not different.
Well, and what then?
You are not honest, that is what then.
Well, he returned, and what then?
She was almost crying. You exonerate yourself, you condone
yourself, you say you would, you could, you willsome day, ifif thus
and so. You think some better condition is going to bring the
confidence to be what nature meant you to be; yes, you do think it, you
do, you do. But it has to grow out of yourself. I can tell you that,
and when the time you think for comes, to be what you'd like to be,
you'll have lost the power. I want to say it, I mean to say it, I want
to hurt you, I hope my saying it can hurt you, so I can go away glad,
glad I've hurt you. There, I've said it; don't stop me, don't; I came
to say it and I'm going back now.
He was breathing hard. Oh, no, he said, you're not. He glanced
around. Then he stepped down from the gallery and turned. Come, let
yourself go, I'll steady you.
She hesitated, brushing some wet from her cheek with her hand. She
did not know until then there had been tears.
Come, he reiterated. It was the tone women, even Molly, obeyed.
She slipped down and he caught her and set her on her feet. Pick up
your dress, he said, the grass is wet.
Everywhere, it seemed, there were couples strolling. Around to the
right, by the side door, with its little, vine-covered pent-house, was
a bench beneath a tree; Aunt Mandy and Mrs. Leroy aired their crocks
and pans thereon. He led the way to it, spread out his handkerchief,
and Alexina, gathering up her gleaming dress, sat down. The comical
side of it must have occurred to him, the girl gathering up a dress fit
for a princess, to sit there. He laughed, not an altogether humorous
Illustrative of the true state of things, as it were, he said. I
proffer my lady a milk-bench.
A sob rose in her throat. I hate you, she said hotly.
That you bestow feeling of any sort, to such degree, is
flattering, said he nastily.
You're very rude.
It puts us on a sort of equality, and establishes me in my own
self-respect, so to speak, to have face to be rude to une grande
You're not honest, and you know it, and it's hurting you while
you're doing it.
Just so, said William, after the fashion of his father. Where are
To the house.
I won't. I've said what I had to say.
He came after her. And now you shall listen. They stood and looked
at each other. Her eyes measured him with some scorn, his met the look
squarely. I care for you as the only thing worth while in life, he
I've not so much pride left you need think you have to say that to
save it, she burst forth.
You are the one not true now. You know it, you have known it right
along. I hadn't even the arts of your world to know how to conceal it.
My world! said Alexina.
Very well; let's both be honest. I've fought it because I've had
enough decency to see the impossibilityoh, my God!what's the use
being fool enough to talk about it. I haven't one cent on earth that's
my own; I'm worse than a beggar, if we are going to be quite honest
about matters, since I am a debtor.
Oh, said Alexina; oh, don't.
I fought it out, or thought I had, down there in the glades, and
then got up and came back because I couldn't let you gowithout
I'm glad, said Alexina, I'm glad.
You don't know what you're saying.
I do know, said the girl. I'm glad, I'm glad
Her young face was white and solemn in the moonlight, but her eyes
came up to his with a splendid courage. I'm glad, she repeated.
It might have been a moment, an hour, a day, an æon, the two looked
at each other. Then their hands went out to each other, for very need
of human touch in the great awe of it.
When he spoke both were trembling.
Will you wait? he asked her. It may be long. But the note in his
voice was new. The fight even then was begun.
Yes, she told him, grave eyes meeting grave eyes, for young love
is solemn. Then he drew her to him and sight and sound went out, and
the solid round earth was spurned. And yet they were but two of the
long, unending line, mounting thus to God and His heaven, for it is for
this we are come into the world.
Suddenly Alexina slipped her hands from his and fled.
Molly was on the porch with Mr. Jonas. A toy harness from the
cotillion favors jangled on her dress. She had sunk laughing on a bench
to get breath.
Yes, she told Mr. Jonas, we go in the morning, to Cannes Brulée.
Alexina was coming up on the porch and to Molly. Straight she
slipped to her knees and her arms went around her mother.
Dear me, Malise, said Molly.
The head of the girl hid itself in the curve of the mother's neck
Dear me, Malise, said Molly, you're such a child.
THE McCLURE PRESS, NEW YORK