An Imperative Duty
by William Dean Howells
OLNEY got back to Boston about the middle of July, and found himself
in the social solitude which the summer makes more noticeable in that
city than in any other. The business, the hard work of life, was going
on, galloping on, as it always does in America, but the pleasure of
life, which he used to be part of as a younger man, was taking a rest,
or if not a rest, then certainly an outing at the sea-shore. He met no
one he knew, and he continued his foreign travels in his native place,
after an absence so long that it made everything once so familiar
He had sailed ten days before from Liverpool, but he felt as if he
had been voyaging in a vicious circle when he landed, and had arrived
in Liverpool again. In several humiliating little ways, Boston recalled
the most commonplace of English cities. It was not like Liverpool in a
certain civic grandiosity, a sort of lion-and-unicorn spectacularity
which he had observed there. The resemblance appeared to him in the
meanness and dulness of many of the streets in the older part of the
town where he was lodged, and in the  littleness of the houses. Then
there was a curious similarity in the figures and faces of the crowd.
He had been struck by the almost American look of the poorer class in
Liverpool, and in Boston he was struck by its English look. He could
half account for this by the fact that the average face and figure one
meets in Boston in midsummer, is hardly American; but the other half
of the puzzle remained. He could only conjecture an approach from all
directions to a common type among those who work with their hands for a
living; what he had seen in Liverpool and now saw in Boston was not the
English type or the American type, but the proletarian type. He noticed
it especially in the women, and more especially in the young girls, as
he met them in the street after their day's work was done, and on the
first Sunday afternoon following his arrival, as he saw them in the
Common. By far the greater part of those listening to the brass band
which was then beginning to vex the ghost of our poor old Puritan
Sabbath there, were given away by their accent for those primary and
secondary Irish who abound with us. The old women were strong, sturdy,
old-world peasants, but the young girls were thin and crooked, with
pale, pasty complexions, and an effect of physical delicacy from their
hard work and hard conditions, which might later be physical
refinement. They were conjecturably out of box factories and
clothier's shops; they went about in threes or fours, with their lank
arms round one another's waists, or lounged upon the dry grass; and
they seemed fond of wearing red jerseys, which accented every fact
of their anatomy. Looking at them scientifically, Olney thought that if
they survived to be mothers they might give us, with better conditions,
a race as hale and handsome as the elder American race; but the
transition from the Old World to the New, as represented in them, was
painful. Their voices were at once coarse and weak; their walk was
uncertain, now awkward and now graceful, an undeveloped gait; he found
their bearing apt to be aggressive, as if from a wish to ascertain the
full limits of their social freedom, rather than from ill-nature, or
that bad-heartedness which most rudeness comes from.
But, in fact, Olney met nowhere the deference from beneath that his
long sojourn in Europe had accustomed him to consider politeness. He
was used in all public places with a kindness mixed with roughness,
which is probably the real republican manner; the manner of Florence
before the Medici; the manner of Venice when the Florentines were
wounded by it after the Medici corrupted them; the manner of the French
when the Terror had done its work. Nobody proved unamiable, though
everybody seemed so at first; not even the waiters at his hotel, where
he was served by adoptive citizens who looked so much like brigands
that he could not help expecting to be carried off and held somewhere
for ransom when he first came into the dining-room. They wore immense
black mustaches or huge whiskers, or else the American beard cut
slanting from the corners of the mouth. They  had a kind of short
sack of alpaca, which did not support one's love of gentility like the
conventional dress-coat of the world-wide waiter, or cheer one's heart
like the white linen jacket and apron of the negro waiter. But Olney
found them, upon what might be called personal acquaintance, neither
uncivil nor unkind, though they were awkward and rather stupid. They
could not hide their eagerness for fees, and they took an interest in
his well-being so openly mercenary, that he could scarcely enjoy his
meals. With two of those four-winged whirligigs revolving on the table
before him to scare away the flies, and working him up to such a
vertigo that he thought he must swoon into his soup, Olney was
uncomfortably aware of the Irish waiter standing so close behind his
chair that his stomach bulged against it, and he felt his breath coming
and going on the bald spot on his crown. He could not put out his hand
to take up a bit of bread without having a hairy paw thrust forward to
anticipate his want; and he knew that his waiter considered each
service of the kind worth a good deal extra, and expected to be
remembered for it in our silver coinage, whose unique ugliness struck
He would not have been ready to say that one of the negro waiters,
whom he wished they had at his hotel, would not have been just as
greedy of money; but he would have clothed his greed in such a smiling
courtesy and such a childish simple-heartedness that it would have been
graceful and winning. He would have used tact in his ministrations; he
would not have  cumbered him with service, as from a wheelbarrow,
but would have given him a touch of help here, and a little morsel of
attention there; he would have kept aloof as well as alert. That is, he
would have had all these charms if he were at his best, and he would
have had some of them if he were at his worst.
In fact, the one aspect of our mixed humanity here which struck
Olney as altogether agreeable in getting home was that of the race
which vexes our social question with its servile past, and promises to
keep it uncomfortable with its civic future. He had not forgotten that,
so far as society in the society sense is concerned, we have always
frankly simplified the matter, and no more consort with the negroes
than we do with the lower animals, so that one would be quite as likely
to meet a cow or a horse in an American drawing-room as a person of
color. But he had forgotten how entirely the colored people keep to
themselves in all public places, and how, with the same civil rights as
ourselves, they have their own neighborhoods, their own churches, their
own amusements, their own resorts. They were just as free to come to
the music on the Common that Sunday afternoon as any of the white
people he saw there. They could have walked up and down, they could
have lounged upon the grass, and no one would have molested them,
though the whites would have kept apart from them. But he found very
few of them there. It was not till he followed a group away from the
Common through Charles Street, where they have their principal church,
 into Cambridge Street, which is their chief promenade, that he
began to see many of them. In the humbler side-hill streets, and in the
alleys branching upward from either thoroughfare, they have their
homes, and here he encountered them of all ages and sexes. It seemed to
him that they had increased since he was last in Boston beyond the
ratio of nature; and the hotel clerk afterward told him there had been
that summer an unusual influx of negroes from the South.
He would not have known the new arrivals by anything in their looks
or bearing. Their environment had made as little impression on the
older inhabitants, or the natives, as Time himself makes upon persons
of their race, and Olney fancied that Boston did not characterize their
manner, as it does that of almost every other sort of aliens. They all
alike seemed shining with good-nature and good-will, and the desire of
peace on earth. Their barbaric taste in color, when it flamed out in a
crimson necktie or a scarlet jersey, or when it subdued itself to a
sable that left no gleam of white about them but a point or rim of
shirt collar, was invariably delightful to him; but he had to own that
their younger people were often dressed with an innate feeling for
style. Some of the young fellows were very effective dandies of the
type we were then beginning to call dude, and were marked by an ultra
correctness, if there is any such thing; they had that air of being
clothed through and through, as to the immortal spirit as well as the
perishable body, by their cloth gaiters, their light trousers, 
their neatly-buttoned cutaway coats, their harmonious scarfs, and their
silk hats. They carried on flirtations of the eye with the young
colored girls they met, or when they were walking with them they paid
them a court which was far above the behavior of the common young white
fellows with the girls of their class in refinement and delicacy. The
negroes, if they wished to imitate the manners of our race, wished to
imitate the manners of the best among us; they wished to be like ladies
and gentlemen. But the young white girls and their fellows whom Olney
saw during the evening in possession of most of the benches in the
Common and the Public Garden, and between the lawns of Commonwealth
Avenue, apparently did not wish to be like ladies and gentlemen in
their behavior. The fellow in each case had his arm about the girl's
waist, and she had her head at times upon his shoulder; if the branch
of a tree overhead cast the smallest rag or tatter of shadow upon them,
she had her head on his shoulder most of the time. Olney was rather
abashed when he passed close to one of these couples, but they seemed
to suffer no embarrassment. They had apparently no concealments to
make, nothing to be ashamed of; and they had really nothing to give
them a sense of guilt. They were simply vulgar young people, who were
publicly abusing the freedom our civilization gives their youth,
without knowing any better, or meaning any worse. Olney knew this, but
he could not help remarking to the advantage of the negroes, that among
all these couples on the benches  of the Common and the Garden and
the Avenue, he never found a colored couple. He thought that some of
the young colored girls, as he met them walking with their decorous
beaux, were very pretty in their way. They had very thin, high, piping
voices, that had an effect both of gentleness and gentility. With their
brilliant complexions of lustrous black, or rich café au lait, or
creamy white, they gave a vividness to the public spectacle which it
would not otherwise have had, and the sight of these negroes in Boston
some how brought back to Olney's homesick heart a sense of Italy, where
he had never seen one of their race.
Olney was very homesick for Italy that Sunday night. After two days in
Boston, mostly spent in exploring the once familiar places in it, and
discovering the new and strange ones, he hardly knew which made him
feel more hopelessly alien. He had been five years away, and he
perceived that the effort to repatriate himself must involve wounds as
sore as those of the first days of exile. The tissues then lacerated
must bleed again before his life could be reunited with the stock from
which it had been torn. He felt himself unable to bear the pain; and he
found no attraction of novelty in the future before him. He knew the
Boston of his coming years too well to have any illusions about it; and
he had known too many other places to have kept the provincial
superstitions of his nonage and his earlier manhood concerning its
primacy. He believed he should succeed, but that it would be in a minor
city, after a struggle with competitors who would be just, and who
might be generous, but who would be able, thoroughly equipped, and
perfectly disciplined. The fight would be long, even if it were
victorious; its prizes would be hard to win, however splendid. Neither
the fight nor the prizes seemed so attractive now as they had seemed at
a distance. He  wished he had been content to stay in Florence,
where he could have had the field to himself, if the harvest could
never have been so rich. But he understood, even while he called
himself a fool for coming home, that he could not have been content to
stay without first coming away.
When he went abroad to study, he had a good deal of money, and the
income from it was enough for him to live handsomely on anywhere; in
Italy it was enough to live superbly on. But the friend with whom he
left his affairs, had put all of Olney's eggs into one basket. It was
the Union Pacific basket which he chose, because nearly every one in
Boston was choosing it at the same time, with the fatuous faith of
Bostonians in their stocks. Suddenly Olney's income dropped from five
or six thousand a year to nothing at all a year; and his pretty scheme
of remaining in Italy and growing up with the country in a practice
among the nervous Americans who came increasingly abroad every year,
had to be abandoned, or at least it seemed so at the time. Now he
wished he had sold some of his depreciated stock, which everybody said
would be worth as much as ever some day, and taken the money to live on
till he could begin earning some. This was what Garofalo, his friend
and fellow-student in Vienna, and now Professor of the Superior Studies
at Florence, urged him to do; and the notion pleased him, but could not
persuade him. It was useless for Garofalo to argue that he would have
to get the means of living in Boston in some such  way, if he went
home to establish himself; Olney believed that he should begin earning
money in larger sums if not sooner at home. Besides, he recurred to
that vague ideal of duty which all virtuous Americans have, and he felt
that he ought, as an American, to live in America. He had been quite
willing to think of living in Italy while he had the means, but as soon
as he had no means, his dormant sense of patriotism roused itself. He
said that if he had to make a fight, he would go where other people
were making it, and where it would not seem so unnatural as it would in
the secular repose of Florence, among those who had all put off their
armor at the close of the sixteenth century. Garofalo alleged the
intellectual activity everywhere around him in science, literature,
philosophy. Olney could not say that it seemed to him a life referred
from Germany, France and England, without root in Italian soil; but he
could answer that all this might very well be without affording a
lucrative practice for a specialist in nervous diseases, who could be
most prosperous where nervous diseases most abounded.
The question was joked away between them, and in the end there
never seemed to have been any very serious question of Olney's staying
in Florence. Now, if there had not been really, he wished there really
had been. Everything discouraged him, somehow; and no doubt his
depression was partly a physical mood. He had never expected to find
people in town at that time in the summer, or to begin practice at 
once; he had only promised himself to look about and be suitably
settled to receive the nervous sufferers when they began to got back in
the fall. Yet the sight of all those handsome houses on the Back Bay,
where nervous suffering, if it were to avail him, must mainly abide,
struck a chill to his spirit; they seemed to repel his intended
ministrations with their barricaded doorways and their close-shuttered
windows. His failure to find Dr. Wingate, with whom he had advised
about his studies, and with whom he had hoped to talk over his hopes,
was peculiarly disheartening, though when he reasoned with himself he
saw that there was an imperative logic in Wingate's absence; a nervous
specialist of his popularity must, of course, have followed nervous
suffering somewhere out of town. Still it was a disappointment, and it
made the expense of Olney's sojourn seem yet more ruinous. The hotel
where he had gone for cheapness was an old house kept on the American
plan; but his outgo of three dollars a day dismayed him when he thought
of the arrangiamento he could have made in Florence for half the money.
He determined to look up a boarding-house in the morning; and the
thought of this made him almost sick.
Olney was no longer so young as he had been; we none of us are as
young as we once were; but all of us have not reached the great age of
thirty, as he had, after seeming sweetly destined to remain forever in
the twenties. He belonged to a family that became bald early, and there
was already a thin place in the  hair on his crown, which he
discovered one day when he was looking at the back of his head in the
glass. It was shortly after the Union Pacific first passed its
dividend; and it made him feel for the time decrepit. Yet he was by no
means superannuated in other respects. His color was youthfully fresh;
his soft full beard was of a rich golden red; what there was of his
hair--and there was by no means little except in that one spot--was of
the same mellow color, which it would keep till forty, without a touch
of gray. His figure had not lost its youthful slimness, and it looked
even fashionable in its clothes of London cut; so that any
fellow-countryman who disliked his air of reserve might easily have
passed him by on the other side, and avoided him for a confounded
He sat on the high-pillared portico of the hotel, smoking for a
half-hour after he returned from his evening stroll, and then he went
to his room, and began to go to bed. He was very meditative about it,
and after he took off his coat, he sat on the edge of the bed,
pensively holding one shoe in his hand, until he could think to unlace
There came a shattering knock at his door, such as rouses you in the
night when the porter mistakes your number for that of the gentleman he
was to call at four. Olney shouted, "Come in!" and sat waiting the
result, with his shoe still in his hand. The door opened and one of
those Irish faces showed itself.
"Are you a doctor, sor?"
The face was withdrawn, and the door was closing, when Olney called
out: "Why? What of it? Does any one want me?"
"I don't know, sor. There's a lady in Twenty-wan that sah your name
in the paper; but she said not to disturb ye if ye wahsn't a doctor."
"A lady?" said Olney. He rapidly reasoned that the lady, whoever
she was, had found his name printed in the Sunday papers among the
arrivals at that hotel, and that she must have some association with
it."Is she ill? Does she know me?"
"I don't know, sor," said the man, with an air of wishing to
conceal nothing. "She don't be in bed, annyway."
Olney reflected a moment, hesitating between a cer- tain
vexation at being molested with this ridiculous message and a vague
curiosity to find out who the lady could be. As a man, he would have
wished to know who any unknown woman could be; as a man of science, he
divined that this unknown woman was probably one of those difficult
invalids who have to be coaxed into anything decisive, even sending for
a doctor; this tentative question of hers must represent ever so much
self-worry and a high degree of self-conquest.
"Tell her, yes, I'm a doctor," he said to the man. He added, for
purposes of identification, "Dr. Edward Olney." He thought for an
instant he would send his card; but he decided this would be silly.
"Ahl right, sor. Thank ye, sor," said the man.
He went away, and Olney put on the shoe he had taken off, and got
into his coat again. He expected the man back at once, and he wished to
be ready, but the messenger did not come for ten or twelve minutes.
Then he brought Olney a note, superscribed in a young-lady-like hand,
and diffusing when opened a perfume which was instantly but
indefinitely memoriferous. Where had he last met the young lady who
used that perfume, so full of character, so redolent of personality?
The mystery was solved by the note, and all the pleasure of the
writer's presence returned to him at the sight of her name.
"DEAR SIR,--My aunt, Mrs. Meredith, is so very far from well, that
she asks me to write for her, and  beg you to come and see her. She
hopes she is not mistaken in thinking it is Dr. Olney whom she met at
Professor Garofalo's in Florence last winter; but if it is not, she
trusts you will pardon the intrusion, otherwise unwarrantable at such
an hour. Yours very truly, RHODA ALDGATE."
"Where is the room?" Olney demanded, putting the note into his
breast pocket, and taking up his hat. He smiled to think how much less
distinctive the diction was than the perfume; he fancied that Miss
Aldgate had written down her aunt's words, which had a formality alien
to the nature of the young girl he remembered so agreeably. As he
followed along through the apparently aimless corridors, up and down
short flights of steps that seemed to ascend at one point only to
descend at another, he recalled the particulars of her beauty; her
slender height, her rich complexion of olive, with a sort of
under-stain of red, and the inky blackness of her eyes and hair. Her
face was of almost classic perfection, and the hair, crinkling away to
either temple, grew low upon the forehead, as the hair does in the
Clytie head. In profile the mouth was firmly accented, with a deep cut
outlining the full lower lip, and a fine jut forward of the delicate
chin; and the regularity of the mask was farther relieved from
insipidity by the sharp wing-like curve in the sides of the sensitive
nostrils. Olney recalled it as a mask, and he recalled his sense of
her wearing this family face, with its somewhat tragic beauty, over
a personality that was at once gentle and gay. The mask, he felt, was
inherited, but the character seemed to be of Miss Aldgate's own
invention, and expressed itself in the sunny sparkle of her looks, that
ran over with a willingness to please and to be pleased, and to consist
in effect of a succession of flashing, childlike smiles, showing
between her red lips teeth of the milkiest whiteness, small, even and
perfect. These looks, the evening he remembered first meeting her and
her aunt, were employed chiefly upon a serious young clergyman,
sojourning in Florence after a journey to the Holy Land. But they were
not employed coquettishly so much as sympathetically, with a readiness
for laughter that broke up the inherited mask with a strange
contradictory levity. Olney was himself immersed in a long and serious
analysis of Romola with the aunt, who appeared to have a conscience of
prodigious magnifying force, cultivated to the last degree by a
constant training upon the ethical problems of fiction. She brought its
powerful lenses to bear upon the most intimate particles of Tito's
character; his bad qualities seemed to give her almost as much
satisfaction as if they had been her own. In knocking at Mrs.
Meredith's door, he now remembered bow charmingly that pretty little
head of Miss Aldgate's, defined by the black hair with its lustrous
crinkle, was set upon her shoulders. 
The young girl herself opened the door, and faced him first with the
tragic family mask. Then she put out her hand to him with the personal
gayety he had recalled. Her laugh, so far as it bore upon the
situation, recognized rather the good joke of their finding themselves
all in an American hotel together than expressed anxiety for her aunt's
condition. It was so glad and free, in fact, that Olney was surprised
to find Mrs. Meredith looking quite haggard on the sofa, from which she
reached him her hand without attempting to rise.
"Isn't it the most fortunate thing in the world," said Miss
Aldgate, "that it should really be Dr. Olney? We couldn't believe it
when we saw it in the paper!" she added; and now Olney perceived that
the laugh which he might have thought indifferent, was a laugh of happy
relief, of trust that since it was he, all must go well.
"Yes, it is indeed," said Mrs. Meredith ; but she had none of the
gayety in putting the burden upon Olney, under Providence, which
flashed out in her niece's smile ; she appeared to doubt whether
Providence and he could manage it, and to relinquish it with misgiving.
"There were so many chances against  it that it scarcely seemed
possible." She examined Olney's face, which had at once begun to hide
the professional opinion he was forming, and seemed to find comfort in
its unsmiling strength. "And I hated dreadfully to trouble you at such
"I believe there's no etiquette as to the time of a doctor's
visits," said Olney, pulling a chair up to the, sofa, and looking down
at her. "I hope, if things go well after I'm settled here, to be called
up sometimes in the, middle of the night, though ten o'clock isn't bad
for my second day in Boston." Miss Aldgate laughed with instant
appreciation of his pleasantry, and Mrs. Meredith wanly smiled. "You
must be even more recent than I am, Mrs. Meredith. I'm afraid that if I
had found your names in the register when I signed mine, I should have
ventured to call unprofessionally. But then it would very likely have
been some other Mrs. Meredith."
Miss Aldgate laughed again, and Olney gave her a look of the
kindness a man feels for any one who sees his joke. She dropped upon
the chair at the head of the sofa, and invited him with dancing eyes to
say some more of these things. But Mrs. Meredith took the word.
"We only got in this morning. That is, the steamer arrived too
late last night for us to come ashore, and we drove to the hotel before
breakfast. You must be rather surprised to find us in such a place."
"Not at all; I'm here myself," said Olney. 
"Oh! " Miss Aldgate laughed.
"I don't assume," he added, "that you came here for cheapness, as
I did. At the hotels on the European plan, as they call it, they charge
you as much for a room as they do for room and board together here."
"Everything is very expensive," sighed Mrs. Meredith. "We paid
three dollars for our carriage from the ship; and I believe it's
nothing to what it is in New York. But it's a great while since I've
been in Boston, and I told them to bring me here because I'd heard it
was an old-fashioned, quiet place. I felt them need of rest, but it
seems very noisy. It was very smooth all the way over; but I was
excited, and I slept badly. The last two or three nights I've scarcely
slept at all."
"Hmm!" said the doctor, feeling himself launched upon the case.
Miss Aldgate rose.
"My dear," said her aunt, "I wish you would look up the
prescription the ship's doctor gave me. I was thinking of sending out
to have it made up, but I shouldn't wish to try it now unless Dr. Olney
Olney profited by Miss Aldgate's absence to feel Mrs. Meredith's
pulse and look at her tongue. He asked her a few formal questions. He
was a little surprised to find her so much better than she looked.
"You seem a little upset, Mrs. Meredith," he said. "You may be
suffering from suppressed seasickness,  but I don't think it's
anything worse." He tried to treat the affair lightly, and he added: "I
don't see why you shouldn't be on good terms with sleep. You know Tito
slept very well, even with a bad conscience."
Mrs. Meredith would not smile with him at the recurrence to their
last conversation. She sighed, and gave him a look of tragical appeal.
" I sometimes think he had an enviable character."
"Or temperament ," Olney suggested. "There doesn't seem to have
been much question of character. But he was certainly well constituted
for getting on in a world where there was no moral law--if he could
have found such a world."
"Then you do believe there is such a law in this world? " Mrs.
Meredith demanded, with an intensity that did not flatter Olney he had
been light to good purpose.
He could not help smiling at his failure. "I would rather not say
till you had got a night's rest."
"No, no," she persisted. "Do you believe that any one can
rightfully live a lie? Do you believe that Tito was ever really at rest
when he thought of what he was concealing?"
"He seems to have been pretty comfortable, except when Romola got
at him with her moral nature."
"Ah, don't laugh! " said Mrs. Meredith. "It isn't a thing to laugh
MissAldgate came in, with a scrap of paper fluttering from her slim
hand, and showing her pretty teeth  in a smile so free of all
ethical question that Olney swiftly conjectured an anxiety of Mrs.
Meredith concerning a nature so apparently free of all personal
responsibility as the young girl looked at that moment. He was aware of
innocently rejoicing in this sense of her, which came from the goodness
and sweet- ness which she looked as much as the irresponsibility. It
might be that Mrs. Meredith bad lost sleep in revolving the problems of
Miss Aldgate's character, and the chances of her being equal to the
duties that had left so little of Mrs. Meredith. If such an aunt and
such a niece were formed to wear upon each other, as the ladies say, it
was clear that the niece had worn the most. With this thought
evanescently in mind, Olney took the prescription from her.
He read it over, but he did not perceive that the sense of it had
failed to reach his mind till Mrs. Meredith said, "If it is one of
those old-fashioned narcotics--he called it a sleeping draught--I would
rather not take it."
Though Olney had not been thinking of the prescription, he now
pretended that he had. "It would be rather a heroic dose for a
first-cabin passenger," he said, "though it might do for the steerage."
He took out his pocket-book and wrote a prescription himself. "There! I
think that ought to get you a night's rest, Mrs. Meredith."
"I suppose we can get it made up?"' she said, irresolutely, lifting
herself a little on one elbow. "I'll take it out and have it done
myself," said  Olney. "There's an apothecary's just under the
He rose, but she said: "I can't let you be at that trouble. We can
send. Will you—"
"I'll ring, Aunt Caroline," said Miss Aldgate; and she ran forward
to press the electric button by the door.
The bell was answered by the same man who came to call the doctor
to Mrs. Meredith. Miss Aldgate took the prescription, and rapidly
explained to. him what she wanted. When she had finished, he looked up
from the prescription at Olney with a puzzled face.
Olney smiled and Miss Aldgate laughed. The man had not understood
"You know the apothecary's shop under the hotel?" Olney began.
"Yes, I know that forst-rate, sor."
"Well, take that paper down and give it to the apothecary, and wait
till he makes up the medicine, and then bring it back to us."
"This paper, sor?"
"No; the medicine."
"And lave the paper wid um?"
"Yes. The apothecary will give you the medicine and keep the
prescription. Do you understand?"
"Well?" "Is the 'pot'ecary after havin' the prescription now,
Olney took the paper out of his hand and shook it at him. " This
paper--this--is the prescription. Do you understand?"
"Take it to the apothecary."
"The man under the hotel, sor?"
"Yes, the one under the hotel. This prescription--this paper--give
it to him; and he will make up a medicine, and give it to you in a
bottle; and then you bring it here."
"The bottle, sor?"
"Yes, the bottle with the medicine in it."
"Ahl right, sor! I understand, sor!"
The man hurried away down the corridor, and Miss Aldgate shut the
door and broke into a laugh at sight of Olney's face, red and heated
with the effort he had been making.
Olney laughed too. "If the matter had been much simpler, I never
should have got it into his head at all!"
"They seem to have no imagination!" said the girl. " Or too much,"
suggested Olney. " There is something very puzzling to us Teutons in
the Celtic temperament. We don't know where to have an Irishman. We can
predicate of a brother Teuton that this will please him, and that will
vex him, but we can't of an Irishman. You treat him with the greatest
rudeness and he doesn't mind it; then you propose to be particularly
kind and nice, and he takes fire with the most bewildering
"I know it," said Miss Aldgate. "That was the way with all our
cooks in New York. Don't you remember, aunty?"
Mrs. Meredith made no answer, and [Editor's note: The blank space
and unfinished sentence appear in the 1893 edition.]
"We can't call them stupid," Olney went on. "I think that as a
general thing the Irish are quicker-witted than we are. They're
sympathetic and poetic far beyond us. But they can't understand the
simplest thing from us. Perhaps they set the high constructive
faculties of the imagination at work, when they ought to use a little
attention and mere common- sense. At any rate they seem more foreign to
our intelligence, our way of thinking, than the Jews--or the negroes
"Oh, I'm glad to hear you say that about the negroes," said Miss
Aldgate. "We were having a dispute this afternoon," she explained,
"about the white waiters here and the colored waiters at the Hotel
Vendome. I was calling on some friends we have there," and Miss Aldgate
flushed a little as she said this: " or rather, they came here to see
us, and then I drove back with them a moment; and it made me quite
homesick to come away and leave those black waiters. Don't you think
they're charming? With those soft voices and gentle manners? My aunt
has no patience with me; she can't bear to have me look at them; but I
never see one of them without loving them. I suppose it's because
they're about the first thing I can remember. I was born in the South,
you know. Perhaps I got to having a sort of fellow- feeling with
them from my old black nurse. You know the Italians say you do."
She turned vividly toward Olney, as if to refer the scientific
point to him, but he put it by with a laugh.
"I'm afraid I feel about them as Miss Aldgate does, Mrs. Meredith;
and I hadn't an old nurse, either. I've been finding them wherever
I've seen them, since I got back." Miss Aldgate clapped her hands. "To
be sure, I haven't been here long enough to get tired of them."
"Oh, I should never tire of them! " said the girl. "But so far,
certainly, they seem to me the most agreeable, the most interesting
feature of the social spectacle."
"There, Aunt Caroline!"
"I must confess," Olney went on, "that it's given me a distinct
pleasure whenever I've met one of them. They seem to be the only people
left who have any heart for life here; they all look hopeful and happy,
even in the rejection from their fellow- men, which strikes me as one
of the most preposterous, the most monstrous things in the world, now
I've got back to it here."
Mrs. Meredith lay with her hand shading her eyes and half her face.
She asked, without taking her hand away, "Would you like to meet them
on terms of social equality--intermarry with them?"
"Oh, now, Aunt Caroline! " Miss Aldgate broke in. Who's talking of
anything like that?"
"I certainly am not," said Olney, as far as the intermarrying
is concerned. But short of that I don't see why one shouldn't associate
with them. There are terms a good deal short of the affection we lavish
on dogs and horses that I fancy they might be very glad of. We might
recognize them as fellow-beings in public, if we don't in private; but
we ignore, if we don't repulse them at every point-from our business as
well as our bosoms. Yes, it strikes one as very odd on getting
home--very funny, very painful. You would think we might meet on common
ground before our common God--but we don't. They have their own
churches, and I suppose it would be as surprising to find one of them
at a white communion-table as it would to find one at a white
Olney said this without the least feeling about the matter, except
a sense of its grotesqueness. He was himself an agnostic, but he could
be as censorious of the Christians who denied Christ in the sacrament,
as if he had himself been a better sort. He added:
"Possibly the negroes would be welcome in a Catholic church; the
Catholics seem to have kept the ideal of Christian equality in their
churches. If ever they turn their attention to the negroes--"
"Oh, I can't imagine a colored Catholic," said Miss Aldgate. "There
seems something unnatural in the very idea."
"All the same, there are a good many of them."
"No, not in Boston, I fancy." Mrs. Meredith had taken no farther
part in the con- versation; she lay rigidly quiet on her sofa, with
her hand shading her eyes.
There was a knock at the door, and Miss Aldgate sprang to open it,
with the effect of being glad to work off her exuberant activity in
that or any other way: with Mrs. Meredith so passive, and Olney so
acquiescent, the discussion of the race problem was not half enough for
The man was there, with the bottle from the apothecary's, and he
and Miss Aldgate had a beaming little interview. He exulted in getting
back with the medicine all right, and she gratefully accepted his high
sense of his offices, and repaid him his outlay, running about the
room, and opening several trunks and bags to find her purse, and then
added something for his trouble.
"Dear me! " she said, when she got rid of him, "I wish they
wouldn't make it quite so clear that they expected to be I remembered."
They've kept my memory on the qui vive every moment I've been in the
Olney smiled in sympathy as he took the bottle from her. "I've
found it impossible to forget the least thing they've done for me, and
I never boasted of my memory."
She stood watching his examination of the label of the bottle, and
his test of its contents from a touch of the inner tip of the cork on
his tongue. "A spoon? I've got one here in aunty's medicine chest. It
would have cost its weight in silver to get one from the din- 
ing-room. And there happens to be ice-water, if you have to give it in
water. Don't say water without ice!"
"Ice-water will do," said Olney. He began to drop the medicine from
the bottle into the spoon, which he then poured into the glass of water
she brought him. "I believe," he said, stirring it, "that if the
negroes ever have their turn--and if the meek are to inherit the earth
they must come to it -- we shall have a civilization of such sweetness
and good-will as the world has never known yet. Perhaps we shall have
to wait their turn for any real Christian civilization."
"You remember the black Madonna at Florence, that used to be so
popular? What Madonna was it? I suppose they will revere her, when they
get to be all Catholics. Were you in any of their churches to-day? You
were saying--" Miss Aldgate put out her hand for the glass.
"No; I never was in a colored church in my life," said Olney. "I'm
critical, not constructive, in my humanity. It's easier."
He went himself with the glass to Mrs. Meredith. She seemed not to
have been paying any attention to his talk with her niece. She lifted
herself up at his approach, and took the glass from him.
"Shall I drink it all?"
"Yes--you can take all of it."
She quaffed it at one nervous gulp, and flung her head heavily down
again. "I don't believe it will make me sleep," she said.
Olney smiled. "Well, fortunately, this kind doesn't require the
co-operation of the patient. It will make you sleep, I think. You may
try keeping awake, if you like."
She opened her eyes with a flash. "Is it chloral?"
"No, it isn't chloral."
"Tell me the truth!" She laid a convulsive clutch upon his wrist,
as he sat fronting her and curiously watching her. "I will not let you
justify yourself by that code of yours which lets the doctor cheat his
patient! If you have been giving me some form of chloral - "
"I haven't been giving you any form of chloral," said Olney,
beginning to smile.
"Then you are trying to hypnotize me!"
Olney burst into a laugh. "You certainly need sleep, Mrs. Meredith!
I'll look in during the fore-noon, about the time you ought to wake,
and de-hypnotize you." He moved toward the door; but before he reached
it he stopped and said, seriously: "I don't know of any code that would
allow me to cheat you, against your will. I don't believe any doctor is
justified in doing that. Unless he has some sign, some petition for
deception, from the patient, you can depend upon it that he finds the
truth the best thing."
"It's the only thing--at all times--in life and death!" cried Mrs.
Meredith, perfervidly. "If I were dying, I should wish to know it!"
"And I shouldn't wish to know it! " said Miss Ald- gate. "I
think there are cases when the truth would be cruel--positively wicked!
Don't you Dr.Olney?"
"Well," said Olney, preparing to escape through the door which he
had set open, "I couldn't honestly say that I think either of us is in
immediate danger. Good-night! " 
Olney did not go to see Mrs. Meredith until noon, the next day. He
thought that if she were worse, or no better, she would send for him,
and that if she did not send, he might very well delay seeing her. He
found her alone. Miss Aldgate, she said, had gone to drive with their
friends at the Vendome, and was to lunch with them. Olney bore her
absence as politely as he could, and hoped Mrs. Meredith had slept.
"Yes, I slept," she said, with a kind of suppressed sigh, "but I'm
not sure that I'm very much the better for it."
"I'm sure you are," said Olney, with resolute cheerfulness; and he
began to go through with the usual touching of the pulse, and looking
at the tongue, and the questions that accompany this business.
Mrs. Meredith broke abruptly away from it all. "It's useless for us
to go on! I've no doubt you can drug me to sleep whenever you will. But
if I'm to wake up, when I wake, to the trouble that's on my mind, the
sleep will do me no good."
She looked wistfully at him, as if she longed to have him ask her
what the matter was; but Olney did not feel authorized to do this. He
had known, almost from the first moment he met Mrs. Meredith, the night
 before, that she had something on her mind, or believed so, and
that if she could tell him of her trouble, she would probably need no
medicine; but he had to proceed, as the physician often must, upon the
theory that only her body was out of order, and try to quiet her spirit
through her nerves, when the true way was from the other direction. It
went through his mind that it might be well for the nervous specialist
hereafter to combine the functions of the priest and the leech,
especially in the case of nervous ladies, and confess his patients
before he began to prescribe for them.
But he could not help feeling glad that things had not come to this
millennial pass; for he did not at all wish to know what Mrs. Meredith
had on her mind. So much impression of her character had been left from
their different meetings in Florence that he had already theorized her
as one of those women, commoner; amongst us than any other people,
perhaps, to whom life, in spite of all experience, remains a sealed
book, and who are always trying to unlock its mysteries with the keys
furnished them by fiction. They judge the world by the novels they have
read, and their acquaintance in the flesh by characters in stories,
instead of judging these by the real people they have met, and more or
less lived with. Such women get a tone of mind that is very tiresome to
every one but other women like them, and that is peculiarly repulsive
to such men as Olney, or, if not repulsive, then very ridiculous. In
Mrs. Meredith's case he did not, so much accuse her of wishing to pose
as a character with a problem to work out; there was nothing
histrionic about the poor woman; but he fancied her hopelessly muddled
as to her plain, every-day obligations, by a morbid sympathy with the
duty-ridden creatures of the novelist's brain. He remembered from that
first talk of the winter before--it had been a long talk, an exhaustive
talk, covering many cases of conscience in fiction besides that of Tito
Malema--that she had shown herself incapable of sinking the sense of
obligation in the sense of responsibility, and that she apparently
conceived of what she called living up to the truth as something that
might be done singly; that right affected her as a body of positive
color, sharply distinguished from wrong, and not shading into and out
of it by gradations of tint, as we find it doing in reality. Such a
woman, he had vaguely reflected, when he came to sum up his
impressions, would be capable of an atrocious cruelty in speaking or
acting the truth, and would consider herself an exemplary person for
having done her duty at any cost of suffering to herself and others.
But she would exaggerate as well as idealize, and he tried to find
comfort now in thinking that what she had on her mind was very likely a
thing of bulk out of all proportion to its weight. Very likely it was
something with reference to her niece; some waywardness of affection or
ambition in the girl. She might be wanting to study medicine, or law,
or divinity; perhaps she wanted to go on the stage. More probably, it
was a question of whom she should marry, and Mrs. Meredith was 
wrestling with the problem of how far in this age of intense
individualization a girl's inclinations might be forced for her good,
and how far let go for her evil. Such a problem would be quite enough
to destroy Mrs. Meredith's peace, if that was what she had on her mind;
and Olney could not help relating his conjecture to these people at the
Vendome, whom Miss Aldgate had gone to drive with and lunch with
to-day, after having, been to drive with them yesterday. Those people
in turn he related to the young clergyman she had spent the evening in
talking with in Florence, when he was himself only partially engaged in
exploring her aunt's conscience. He wondered whether Mrs. Meredith
favored or opposed the young clergyman, and what was just the form of
the trouble that was on her mind, but still without the intention to
inquire it out.
"Well, perhaps," he suggested, half jocosely," the trouble will
disappear when you've had sleep enough."
"You know very well," she answered, "that it won't--that what you
say is simply impossible. I remember some things, you said that night
when we talked so long together, and I know that you are inclined to
confound the moral and the physical, as all doctors are."
Olney would have liked to say, "I wish, my dear lady, you wouldn't
confound the sane and insane in the way you do." But he silently
submitted, and let her go on.
"That made me dislike you; but I can't say it made me distrust
you. I think that if you had been an untruthful person you would have
concealed your point of view from me."
Olney could not say he might not have thought it worth while to do
that. On the contrary, he had a sort of compassion for the lofty
superiority of a woman who so obviously felt her dependence upon him,
and was arming herself in all her pride for her abasement before him.
He knew that she was longing to tell him what was on her mind, and
would probably not end till she had done it. He did not feel that he
had the right to prevent her doing that, and he smiled passively in
saying, "I couldn't advise you to trust me too far."
"I must trust some. one too far," she said, "and I have literally
no one but you." The tears came into her eyes, and Olney, who knew very
well how easily the tears come into women's eyes, was broken up by the
"My dear Mrs. Meredith, I should be very glad to be trusted even
too far, if I could really be of use to you."
"Oh, I don't know that you can," she said. After a pause she added,
abruptly, "Do you believe in heredity?"
Olney felt inclined to laugh. "Well, that's rather a spacious
question, Mrs. Meredith. What do you mean by heredity?"
"You know! The persistence of ancestral traits; the transmission of
character and tendency; the reappearance of types after several
She stopped, and Olney know that he had got at the body of her
anxiety, though she had not yet revealed its very features. He
determined to deal with the matter as reassuringly as he could in the
dark. He smiled in answering, "Heredity is a good deal like the germ
theory. There's a large amount of truth in it, no doubt; but it's truth
in a state of solution, and nobody knows just how much of it there is.
Perhaps we shall never know. As for those cases of atavism--for I
suppose that's what you mean--"
"Yes, yes! Atavism? That is the word."
"They're not so very common, and they're not so very well
ascertained. You find them mentioned in the books, but vaguely, and on
a kind of hearsay, without the names of persons and places; it's a
notion that some writers rather like to toy with; but when you come to
boil it down, as the newspapers say, there isn't a great deal of
absolute fact there. Take the reversion to the inferior race type in
the child of parents of mixed blood--say a white with a mulatto or
"Yes! " said Mrs. Meredith, with eagerness. "Why, it's, very
effective as a bit of drama. But it must be very rare--very rare
indeed. You hear of instances in which the parent of mixed race could
not be known from a white person, and yet the child reverts to the
negro type in color and feature and character. I should doubt it very
Mrs. Meredith cried out as if he had questioned holy writ. "You
should do it! Why should you doubt it, Dr. Olney?" Yet he perceived
that for some reason she wished him to reaffirm his doubt.
"Because the chances are so enormously against it. The natural
tendency is all the other way, to the permanent effacement of the
inferior type. The child of a white and an octoroon is a sixteenth
blood; and the child of that child and a white is a thirty-second
blood. The chances of atavism, or reversion to the black
great-great-great-grandfather are so remote that they may be said
hardly to exist at all. They are outside of the probabilities, and only
on the verge of the possibilities. But it's so thrilling to consider
such a possibility that people like to consider it. Fancy is as much
committed to it as prejudice is; but it hasn't so much excuse, for
prejudice is mostly ignorant, and fancy mostly educated, or
half-educated." Olney folded one leg comfortably across the other, and
went on, with a musing smile."I've been thinking about all this a good
deal within the past two days--or since I got back to Boston. I've been
more and more struck with the fact that sooner or later our race must
absorb the colored race; and I believe that it will obliterate not only
its color, but its qualities. The tame man, the civilized man, is
stronger than the wild man; and I believe that in those cases within
any one race where there are very strong ancestral proclivities on one
side especially toward evil, they will die out before the good
tendencies on the other side, for much the same  reason, that is,
because vice is savage and virtue is civilized."
Mrs. Meredith listened intently, but at last, "I wish I could
believe what you say," she sighed, heavily. "But I don't know that that
would relieve me of the duty before me," she added, after a moment's
thought. "Dr. Olney, there is something that I need very much to speak
about--something that must be done--that my health depends upon--I
shall never get well unless--"
"If there is anything you wish to say concerning your health, Mrs.
Meredith," he answered, seriously, "it's of course my duty to hear it."
He sat prepared to listen, but she apparently did not know how to
begin, and after several gasps she was silent. Then, "No, I can't tell
you! " she broke out.
He rose. "Are you to be some time in Boston?" he asked, to relieve
the embarrassment of the situation.
"I don't know. Yes, I suppose a week or two."
"If I can be of use to you in any way, I shall be glad to have you
send for me."
He turned to the door, but as he put his band on the knob she
called out: "No! Don't go! Sit down! I must speak! You remember," she
hurried on, before he could resume his chair, "a young gentleman who
talked with my niece that night at Professor Garofalo's--a Mr.
"The young minister?"
"I remember him very well, though I don't think I spoke with him."
Olney stared at Mrs. Meredith, wondering what this Rev. Mr.
Bloomingdale had to do with the matter, whatever the matter might be.
"It is his mother and sisters that my niece is lunching with," she
said, with an air of explaining. "He is expected on the next steamer,
and then--then I must speak! It can't go on, so. There must be a clear
and perfect understanding. Dr. Olney," she continued, with a glance at
his face, which he felt growing more and more bewildered under the
influence of her words, "Mr. Bloomingdale is very much attached to my
niece. He--he has offered himself ; he offered himself in Liverpool;
and I insisted that Rhoda should not give him a decisive answer
then--that she should take time to think it over. I wished to gain time
"Yes," said Olney, because she seemed to expect him to say
"I wished to gain time and I wished to gain strength, but I have
lost both; and the affair has grown more difficult and complicated. Mr.
Bloomingdale's family are very fond of Rhoda; they are aware of his
attachment--they were in Florence at the time you were, and they came
home without him a few months ago, because he wished to stay on in the
hope of winning her--and they are showing her every attention ; and she
does not see how her being with them complicates everything. Of course
they flatter  her, and she's very headstrong, like all young girls,
and I'm afraid she's committing herself --"
"Do they live at the Vendome?" Olney asked, with a certain distaste
for them, and he was conscious of resenting their attentions to Miss
Aldgate as pushing and vulgar under the circumstances, though he had no
right to do so.
"No. They are just waiting there for him. They are New York State
people--the western part. They are very rich; the mother is a widow,
and they are going to live in Ohio, where Mr. Bloomingdale has a call.
They are kind, good people--very kind; and I feel that Rhoda is abusing
their kindness by being so much with them before she has positively
accepted him; and I can't let her do that until everything is known.
She refused him when he offered himself first in Florence--I've always
thought she had some other fancy--but at Liverpool, where he renewed
his offer just before we sailed, she was inclined to accept him; I
suppose her fancy had passed. As I say, I insisted that she should take
at least a week to consider it, and that he should change his passage
from our steamer to the next. I had no idea of :finding his family in
Boston, but perhaps in the confusion he forgot to tell us. They found
our names in the passenger list, and they came to see us directly after
lunch, yesterday. If the match is broken off now, after--"
Mrs. Meredith stopped in a sort of despair, which Olney shared with
her as far as concerned the blind alley in which he found himself.
He had not the least notion of the way out, and he could only wait her
"I don't see," she resumed, "how my, niece can help accepting him
if she goes on at this rate with his family, and I don't know how to
stop her without telling her the worst at once. I'm afraid she has got
her heart set on him." Mrs. Meredith paused again, and then went on. "I
have shrunk from speaking because I know that the poor young man's
happiness, as well as Rhoda's, is involved, and the peace and
self-respect of his family. There have been times when I have almost
felt that if there were no danger of the facts ever coming to light, I
could make up my mind to die, as I have lived, in a lie. But now I know
I cannot; it is my duty to speak out; and the marriage will not take
place unless everything is known. It will kill her. But it must be
done! Those ancestral traits, those tendencies, may die out, but I
can't let any one take the risk of their recurrence unknowingly. He
must know who and what she is as fully as I do: her origin, her--"
Olney believed that he began to understand. There was some stain
upon that poor child's birth. She was probably not related to Mrs.
Meredith at all; she was a foundling; or she was the daughter of some
man or woman whose vices or crimes might find her out with their shame
if not their propensity some day. Whatever sinister tendency she was
heiress to, or whatever ancestral infamy, it could only be matter of
conjecture, not inquiry, with Olney; but he imagined the worst from
hints that Mrs. Meredith had thrown out, and attributed her to a family
of criminals, such as has here and there found its way into the figures
of the statistician. He was not shocked; he was interested by the fact;
and he did not find Miss Aldgate at all less charming and beautiful in
the conclusion he jumped to than he had found her before. He said to
himself that if the case were his, as it was that young minister's,
there could be no question in it, except the question of her
willingness. to marry him. He said this from the safe vantage of the
disinterested witness, and with the easy decision of one who need not
act upon his decision.
In his instantaneous mental processes, Olney kept his attention fixed
upon Mrs. Meredith, and he was aware of her gasping out:
"My niece is of negro descent."
Olney recoiled from the words, in a turmoil of emotion for which
there is no term but disgust. His disgust was profound and pervasive,
and it did not fail, first of all, to involve the poor child herself.
He found himself personally disliking the notion of her having negro
blood in her veins; before he felt pity he felt repulsion; his own race
instinct expressed itself in a merciless rejection of her beauty, her
innocence, her helplessness because of her race. The impulse had to
have its course; and then he mastered it, with an abiding compassion,
and a sort of tender indignation. He felt that it was atrocious for
this old woman to have allowed her hypochondriacal anxiety to dabble
with the mysteries of the young girl's future in that way, and he
resented having been trapped into considering her detestable question.
His feeling was unscientific; but he could not at once detach himself
from the purely social relation which he had hitherto held toward Miss
Aldgate. The professional view which he was invited to take seemed to
have lost all dignity,  to be impertinent, cruel, squalid, and to
involve the abdication of certain sentiments, conventions, which he was
unwilling to part with, at least in her case. Sensibilities which ought
not to have survived his scientific training and ambition were wounded
to rebellion in him; he perceived as never before that there was an
inherent outrage in the submission of such questions to one of the
opposite sex; there should be women to deal with them.
"How--negro descent?" he asked, stupidly, from the whirl of these
"I will try to tell you," said Mrs. Meredith. "And some things you
said about that--race-- those wretched beings, last night--You were
sincere in what you said? " she demanded of the kind of change that
came into his face.
"Sincere? Yes," said Olney, thinking how far from any concrete
significance he had supposed his words to have for his listeners when
he spoke them. He added, "I do abhor the cruel stupidity that makes any
race treat another as outcast. But I never dreamed--"
Mrs. Meredith broke in upon him, saying:
"It is almost the only consolation I have in thinking she is
rightfully and lawfully my niece, to know that in the course I must
take now, I shall not be seeming to make her an outcast. I honored my
brother for honoring her mother, and giving her his name when there was
no need of his doing it. He did not consult me, and I did not know it
till afterward;  but I should have been the first to urge it, when
it came to a question of marriage or--anything else. For one of our
family there could be no such question; there was none for him.
"He went South shortly after the war, as so many Northern men did,
intending to make his home there; his health was delicate, and his only
hope of strength and usefulness, if not of life, was in a milder
climate. He outlived the distrust that the Southerners had for all
Northern men in those days, and was establishing himself in a very good
practice at New Orleans--I forgot to say he was a physician--when he
met Rhoda's mother. I needn't go over the details; she was an octoroon,
the daughter and the granddaughter of women who had never hoped for
marriage with the white men who fell in love with them; but she had
been educated by her father--he was a Creole, and she was educated in a
Northern convent--and I have no doubt she was an accomplished and
beautiful girl. I never saw her. My brother met her in her father's
house, almost beside her father's death-bed; but even if he had met her
in her mother's house, on her mother's level, it would not have been
possible for him to do otherwise than as he did. He thought at first of
keeping the marriage secret, and of going on as before, until he could
afford to own it and take all the consequences; but he decided against
this, and I was always glad that he did. They were married, after her
father's death; and then my brother's ruin began. He lost his practice
in the families where he  had got a footing, among the well-to-do
and respectable people whom he had made his friends; and though he
would have been willing to go on among a poorer class who could pay
less, it was useless. He had to go away; and for five or six years he
drifted about from one place to another, trying to gain a hold here
and there, and failing everywhere. Sooner or later his story followed
"I don't blame the Southern people; I'm not sure it would have been
better in the North. If it had been known who his wife was, she would
not have been received socially here any more than she was there; and I
doubt if it would not have affected my brother's professional standing
in much the same way. People don't like to think there is anything
strange about their doctor; they must make a confidant, they must make
a familiar of him; and if there is anything peculiar, unusual-- My
husband was a very good man, one of the best men who ever lived, and he
approved of my brother's marriage in the abstract as much as I did; but
even he never liked to think whom he had married. He was always afraid
it would come out among our friends, somehow, and it would be known
that his sister-in-law was--
"At last the poor young creature died, and my brother came North
with his little girl. We hoped that then be might begin again, and make
a new start in life. But it was too late. He was a mere wreck
physically, and he died too within the year. And then it became a
question what we should do with the  child. As long as she was so
merely a child, it was comparatively simple. We had no children of our
own, and when my brother died in another part of the State--we were
living in New York then, and he had gone up into the Adirondack region
in the hope of getting better--it was natural that we should take the
little one home. In a place like New York, nothing is known unless you
make it known, and Rhoda was brought up in our house, without any
conjecture or curiosity from people outside; she was my brother's
orphan, and nobody knew or cared who my brother was; she had teachers
and she had schools like any other child, and she had the
companionships and the social advantages which our own station and
money could command.
"At first my husband and I thought of letting her think herself our
child; but that would have involved a deceit which we were unwilling to
practise; besides, it was not necessary, and it would have been great
pain for her afterwards. We decided to tell her the truth when the time
came, and never anything but the truth, at any time. We never deceived
her, but we let her deceive herself. When she came to the age when
children begin to ask about themselves, we told her that her father had
married in the South, and that her mother, whom she did not remember,
was of French descent; but we did not know of her family. This was all
true; but still it was not the truth; we knew that well enough, but we
promised ourselves that when the time came we would tell her the,
"She made up little romances about her mother, which she came to
believe in as facts, with our sufferance. I should now call it our
Mrs. Meredith appealed to Olney with a glance, and he said, in the
first sympathy he had felt for her, "It was a difficult position."
"She easily satisfied herself--it's astonishing how little
curiosity children have about all the mystery of their coming here--and
as she had instinctively inferred something strange or unusual about
her mother's family, she decided that she had married against her
grandfather's wishes. We left her that illusion, too--it seemed so easy
to leave things then! It was when she ceased to be a child, and we
realized more and more how her life might any time involve some other
life, that the question became a constant pressure upon us. Neither my
husband or myself ever justified the concealment we lived in concerning
her. We often talked of it, and how it must come to an end. But we were
very much attached to her, and we put off thinking definitely about the
duty before us as long as we could. Sometimes it seemed to us that we
ought to tell the child just who and what she was, but we never had the
courage; she does not know to this day. What do you think our duty to
her really was?"
"Your duty?" Olney echoed, vaguely. A little while ago be would
have answered instantly that they had no duty but to keep her in
ignorance as long as she lived; but now he could not honestly do this.
The only thing that he could honestly do was to say, "I don't
know," and this was what he said.
Mrs. Meredith resumed: "My husband had gone out of business, and
there was nothing to keep us at home. But we had nothing definitely in
view when we went abroad, or at least nothing explicitly in view. We
said that we were going abroad for Rhoda's education; but I think that
in my husband's heart, as well as in mine, there was the hope that
something might happen to solve the difficulty; we had no plan for
solving it. I thought, at any rate, if he did not, that in Europe there
would be less unhappiness in store for her than here. I knew that in
Europe, especially on the Continent, there was little or none of that
race prejudice which we have, and I thought--I imagined--I should find
it easier to tell Rhoda the truth, if I could tell her at the same time
that it made no difference to the man she was to marry."
Olney understood ; and he was rather restive under Mrs. Meredith's
apparent helplessness to leave anything to his imagination.
"I hoped it might be some Italian--from the first I liked the
Italians the best. We lived a great deal in Italy, at Rome and Naples,
at Florence, at Venice, even at Milan; and everywhere we tried to avoid
Americans. We went into Italian society almost entirely.
"But it seemed a perfect fatality. Rhoda was always homesick for
America, and always eager to meet Americans. She refused all the offers
that were  made for her--and they began to come, even before she
was fairly in society--and declared that she would never marry any one
but an American. She was always proclaiming her patriotism, and
asserting the superiority of America over every other country in a way
that would have made anybody but a very pretty girl offensive. The
perplexities simply grew upon us, and in the midst of them my husband
died, and then I had no one to advise with or confide in. When his
affairs were settled up, it turned out that we were much poorer than we
had believed. For a while I thought that I should return home, and
Rhoda was always eager to come back, but we staid on at Florence,
living very quietly, and we had scarcely been out at all for a year,
when you first met us at Professor Garofalo's. It was there that she
met Mr. Bloomingdale, and he was so attentive to her. I could see at
once that he was greatly taken with her, and he followed up the
acquaintance in a way that could not leave me any doubt. It was
certainly not her money that attracted him.
"I liked him from the beginning; and his being a minister gave me a
kind of hope, I can hardly tell why. But I thought that if it ever came
to my having to tell him about Rhoda, he would be more reasonable. He
was so very amiable, very gentle, very kind. Did you ever meet him
"No," said Olney, briefly. "I am sorry; I hoped you had; I thought
you might have come to know him well enough to sug-  gest--I don't
like his family, what I've seen of them, so well. If they know at all
what is pending between him and Rhoda, it doesn't seem very nice of
them to be pursuing her so."
Mrs. Meredith sat so dreary in her silence that Olney pitied her,
and found a husky voice to say, "Perhaps they don't know."
"Perhaps not," she assented, sadly. "But my only hope now is in his
being able to take it, when I tell him, as I have hardly the hope that
any other American would. I must tell him, if she accepts him, or
decides to accept him, and the question is whether I shall tell him
before I tell her. If I tell him first, fully and frankly,
perhaps--perhaps--he may choose to keep it from her and she need never
know. What--what do you think?" she entreated.
"Really," said Olney, "that's a matter I have no sort of opinion
about. I'm very sorry, but you must excuse me."
"But you feel that I must tell him?"
"That's another question for you, Mrs. Meredith. I can't answer
She threw herself back on the sofa. "I wish I were dead! I see no
way out of it; and whatever happens, it will kill the child."
Olney sat silent. for some time in a muse almost as dreary as her
own. After having despised her as a morbid sentimentalist with a
hypochondriacal conscience, he had come to respect her, as we respect
any fellow-creature on whom a heavy duty is laid, and  who is
struggling faithfully to stand up under the burden. He said suddenly,
"You mustn't tell him first, Mrs. Meredith!"
"Because--because--the secret is hers, to keep it, or to tell it.
No one else has the right to know it without her leave."
"And if --if she should choose to keep it from him--not tell him at
"I couldn't blame her. It's no fault, no wrong of hers. And who is
to be harmed by its concealment?"
"But the chances--the future--the--the--"
Olney could not bear the recurrence to this phase of the subject.
He made a gesture of impatience.
Mrs. Meredith added, with hysterical haste: "It might come out in a
hundred ways. I can hear it in her voice at times--it's a black voice!
I can see it in her looks! I can feel it in her character--so easy, so
irresponsible, so fond of what is soft and pleasant! She could not deny
herself the amusement of going with those people to-day, though I said
all I could against it. She cannot forecast consequences; she's a
creature of the present hour; she's like them all! I think that in some
occult, dreadful way she feels her affinity with them, and that's the
reason why she's so attracted by them, so fond of them. It's her race
calling her! I don't believe she would ever tell him!"
"I think you ought to leave it to her," said Olney. "And let her
live a lie! Oh, I know too well what that is!" 
"It's bad. But there may be worse things. It seems as if there
might be circumstances in which it was one's right to live a lie, as
you say; for the sake--"
"Never! " said Mrs. Meredith vehemently. "It is better to die--to
kill--than to lie. I know how people say such things and act them, till
life is all one web of falsehood, from the rising to the going down of
the sun. But I will never consent to be a party to any such deceit. I
will tell Rhoda, and then she shall tell me what she is going to do,
and if she is not going to tell him, I will do it. Yes! I will not be
responsible for the future, and I should be responsible if he did not
know. In such a case I could not spare her. She is my own flesh and
blood; she is as dear to me as my own child could be; but if she were
my own child it would be all the same. I would rather see her perish
before my eyes than married to any man who did not know the secret of
her-- O-o-o-o-o!" Mrs. Meredith gave a loud, shuddering cry, as the
door was flung suddenly open, and Miss Aldgate flashed radiantly into
She kept the door-knob in her hand, while she demanded, half
frightened, half amused, "What in the world is the matter? Did I
startle you? Of course! But I just ran in a moment as we were driving
by--we're going over to do our duty by Bunker Hill Monument--to see how
you were getting on. I'm so glad you are here, Dr. Olney." She released
the door-knob, and gave him her hand. "Now I can leave  Aunt
Caroline without a qualm of conscience till after lunch; and I did have
a qualm or two, poor aunty!"
She stooped on one knee beside the sofa, and kissed her aunt, who
seemed to Olney no better than a murderess in the embrace of her
intended victim. In this light and joyous presence, all that he had
heard of the girl's anomalous origin became not only incredible, but
atrocious. She was purely and merely a young lady, like any other; and
he felt himself getting red with shame for having heard what he had
been told against his will.
He could not speak, and he marvelled that Mrs., Meredith could
command the words to say, in quite an every-day voice: "You silly
child! You needn't have stopped. I was getting on perfectly well."
"Of course you were! And I suppose I have interrupted you in the
full flow of symptoms! I can imagine what a perfectly delightful time
you were having with Dr. Olney! I think I'll change these gloves." She
ran into the room that opened from Mrs. Meredith's parlor, and left him
unable to lift his eyes from the floor in her brief absence. She came
back pulling on one long mousquetaire glove, while the other dangled
from her fingers, and began to laugh. "There's one of those colored
waiters down there that even you couldn't have anything to say against
my falling in love with, Aunt Caroline. He's about four feet high, and
his feet are about eighteen inches long, so that he looks just like a
capital L. Hedoesn't lift them when he walks, but he slips along on
 them over the floor like a funny little mouse; I've decided to
call him Creepy-Mousy; it just exactly describes him, he's so small and
cunning. And he's so sweet! I should like to own him, and keep him as
long as he lived. Isn't it a shame that we can't buy them, Dr. Olney,
as we used to do? There! I'll put on the other one in the carriage."
She swooped upon her aunt for another kiss, and then flashed out of
the room as she had flashed into it, and left Mrs. Meredith and Olney
staring at each other.
"Well!" she said."You see! It is the race instinct! It must assert
itself sooner or later."
Olney became suddenly sardonic in the sort of desperation he fell
into. "I should say it was the other-race instinct that was asserting
itself sooner; "and when he had said this he felt somehow a hope, which
he tried to impart to Mrs. Meredith.
At the end of all their talk she said: "But that doesn't relieve me
of the duty I owe to her and to him. I must tell her, at least, cost
what it may. I cannot live this lie any longer. If she chooses to do
so, perhaps--" 
Miss Aldgate came in late in the afternoon. She came in softly, and
then, finding her aunt awake, she let herself fall into an easy-chair
with the air of utter exhaustion that girls like to put on, after
getting home from a social pleasure, and sighed out a long "0-o-o-h,
Her aunt let her sit silent and stare awhile at the carpet just
beyond the toe of her pretty boot before she suggested, "Well?"
"Oh, nothing! Only it got to be rather tiresome, toward the last."
"Why did you stay so long?"
"I couldn't get away; they wouldn't let me go. They kept proposing
this and that, and then they wanted to arrange something for
to-morrow. But I wouldn't."
"They are rather persistent," said Mrs. Meredith. "Yes, they are
persistent. But they are very kind--they are very good-natured. I
wish--I wish I liked them better!"
"Don't you like them?"
"Oh, I like them, yes, in a kind of way. They're a very familyish
sort of a family; they're so muck bound up in one another. Of course
they can do a  great many nice things: Miss Bloomingdale is really
wonderful with her music; and Josie sketches very nicely; and Roberta
sings beautifully,--there's no denying it; but they don't talk very
much, and they're all so tall and handsome and blond; and they sit
round with their hands arranged in their laps, and keep waiting for me
to say things, and then their mother starts, them up and makes them do
something. The worst is she keeps dragging in Mr. Bloomingdale all the
time. There isn't anything that doesn't suggest him--what he thinks,
what he says, where he's been and what he did there; just how far he's
got on his way home by this time; how he's never seasick, but he
doesn't like rough weather. I began to dread the introduction of a new
subject: it was so sure to bring round to him. Don't you think they're
of rather an old-fashioned taste?"
"I never liked this family very much," said Mrs. Meredith. "They
seemed very estimable people, but not--"
"Our kind? No, decidedly. Did Dr. Olney stay long?"
"No. Why do you ask? " Mrs. Meredith returned, with a startled
"Oh, nothing. You seemed to be quite chummy with him, and not to
want me round a great deal when I came in." Miss Aldgate had discovered
the toe of her boot just beyond her skirt, apparently with some
surprise, and she leaned forward to touch it with the point of her
parasol, as if to make sure of it. "Is he  coming again this
evening? " she asked, leaning back in her chair, and twisting her
parasol by its handle.
"Not unless I send for him. I have his sleeping medicine."
"Yes. And I know how to drop it. Did he think it strange my being
away from you so much when you needed a doctor?"
"He knew I didn't need any doctor. Why do you ask such a question
"I don't know. I thought it might have struck him. But I thought I
had better try and see if I could get used to them or not. They're
pretty formal people--conventional. I mean in the way of dress and that
kind of thing. They're formal in their ideals, don't you know. They
would want to do just what they thought other people were doing; they
would be dreadfully troubled if there was anything about them that was
not just like everybody else. Do you think Mr. Bloomingdale would be
"I never--liked his family very much," Mrs. Meredith repeated.
"What little I saw of them," she added, as if conscientiously.
"Oh, that doesn't count, Aunt Caroline!" said the girl, with a
laugh. "You never liked the families of any of the Americans that you
thought fancied me. But the question is not whether we like his family,
but whether he's like them."
"You can't separate him from his family, Rhoda. You must remember
that. Each of us is bound by a thousand mysterious ties to our kindred,
our ancestors; we can't get away from them--" 
"Oh, what stuff, aunty! " Miss Aldgate was still greatly amused. "I
should like to know how I'm bound to my mother's family, that I never
saw one of; or to her father or grandfather?"
"How?" Mrs. Meredith gasped.
"Yes. Or how much they were bound to me, if they never tried to
find me out or make themselves known by any sort of sign? I'm bound to
you because we've always been together, and I was bound to Uncle
Meredith because he was good to me. But there isn't anything mysterious
about it. And Mr. Bloomingdale is bound to his family in the same way.
He's fond of them because he's been nice to them and they've been nice
to him. I wonder," she mused, while Mrs. Meredith felt herself slowly
recoil from the point which she had been suddenly caught up to,
"whether I really care for him or not? There were very nice things
about him; and no, he was not tiresome and formal-minded like them. I
wish I had been a little in love with some one, and then I could tell.
But I've never had anything but decided dislikings, though I didn't
dislike him decidedly. No, I rather liked him. That is, I thought he
was good. Yes, I respected his goodness. It's about the only thing in
this world you can respect. But now, I remember, he seemed very young,
and all the younger because he thought it was his duty as a minister to
seem old. Did you care very much for his sermon?"
Rhoda came to the end of her thinking aloud with a question that
she had to repeat before her aunt asked, drearily in answer, "What
"Why, we only heard him once! The one he preached in Florence. I
didn't have a full sense of his youth till I heard that. Isn't it
strange that there are ever young ministers? I suppose people think
they can make up in inspiration what they lack in experience. But that
day when I looked round at those men and women, some of them
gray-haired, and most of them middle-aged, and all of them knowing so
much more about life, and its trials and temptations, and troubles and
sorrows, than poor Mr. Bloomingdale--I oughtn't to call him poor--and
heard him going on about the birds and the flowers, I wondered how they
could bear it. Of course it was all right; I know that. But if the
preacher shouldn't happen to be inspired, wouldn't it be awful? How
old do you suppose Dr. Olney is?"
"I don't know."
"He seems rather bald. Do you think he is forty?"
"Dear me, no, child! He isn't thirty yet, I dare say. Some men are
bald much earlier than others. It's a matter of--heredity."
"Heredity! Everything's heredity with you, Aunt Caroline!" the girl
laughed. "I'll bet he's worn it off by thinking too much in one
particular spot. "You know that they say now they can tell just what
place in the brain a person thinks this or that; and just where the
will-power comes from when you wink your eye, or wiggle your little
finger. I wonder if Dr. Olney knows all those things? Have you tried
him on your favorite heredity yet?" 
"What do you mean, Rhoda?"
"I know you have!" the girl exulted. "Well, he is the kind of man I
should always want to have for my doctor if I had to have one; though I
don't think he's done you a great deal of good yet, Aunt Caroline: you
look wretched, and I shall feel like scolding Dr. Olney when he comes
again. But what I mean is, he has such noble ideas: don't you think he
"Yes--yes. About what?"
"Why, about the negroes, you know." Mrs. Meredith winced at the
word. "I never happened to see it in that light before. I thought when
we had set them free, we had done everything. But I can see now we
haven't. We do perfectly banish them, as far as we can; and we don't
associate with them half as much as we do with the animals. I got to
talking with the Bloomingdales this afternoon, and I had to take the
negroes' part. Don't you think that was funny for a Southern girl?"
Mrs. Meredith looked at her with a ghastly face, and moved her lips in
answer, without making any sound. "They said that the negroes were an
inferior race, and they never could associate with the whites because
they never could be intellectually equal with them. I told them about
that black English lawyer from Sierra Leone that talked so well at the
table d'hôte in Venice--better than anybody else--but they wouldn't
give way. They were very narrow-minded; or the mother was; the rest
didn't say anything; only made exclamations. Mrs. Bloomingdale said Dr.
Olney must be a  very strange physician, to have those ideas. I
hope Mr. Bloomingdale isn't like her. You would say he was a good deal
younger than Dr. Olney, wouldn't you?"
"Yes--not so very. But why--"
Rhoda broke out into a laugh of humorous perplexity. "Why, if he
were only a little older, or a good deal older, he could advise me
whether to marry him or not?" The laughter faded suddenly from her
eyes, and she fell back dejectedly against her chair, and remained
looking at her aunt, as if trying to read in her face the silent
working of her thought. "Well?" she demanded, finally.
Mrs. Meredith dropped her eyes. "Why need you marry any one?"
"What a funny question! " the girl answered, with the sparkle of a
returning smile. "So as to have somebody to take care of me in my old
age!" The young like to speak of age so, with a mocking incredulity;
they feel that, however it may have fared with all the race hitherto,
they never can be old, and they like to make a joke of the mere notion.
"You'll be getting old yourself some day, Aunt Caroline, and then what
shall I do? Don't you think that a woman ought to got married?
"Yes--yes. Not always--not necessarily. Certainly not to have some
one to take care of her."
"Of course not! That would be a very base motive. I suppose I
really meant, have somebody for me to take care of. I think that is
what keeps  one from being lonesome more than anything else. I do
feel so alone sometimes. It seems to me there are very few girls so
perfectly isolated. Why, just think! With the exception of you, I don't
believe I've got a single relation in the world." Rhoda seemed
interested rather than distressed by the fact. "Now there are the
Bloomingdales," she went on; "it seems as if they had connections
everywhere. That is something like a family. If I married Mr.
Bloomingdale, I could always have somebody to take care of as long as I
lived. To be sure, they would be Bloomingdales," she added, dreamily.
"Rhoda!" said her aunt, "I cannot let you speak so. If you are in
earnest about Mr. Bloomingdale--"
"I am. But not about his family--or not so much so."
"You cannot take him without taking his family; that is always the
first thing to be thought of in marriage, and young people think of it
the last. The family on each side counts almost as much as the couple
themselves in a marriage."
"Mine wouldn't," the girl interpolated. "There's so very little of
If Mrs. Meredith was trying to bring the talk to this point, she
now seemed to find herself too suddenly confronted with it, and she
shrank back a little. "I don't mean that family is the first thing."
"You just said it was, aunty!"
"The first thing," Mrs. Meredith continued, ignoring the teasing
little speech, "is to make sure of yourself, to be satisfied that you
love him." 
"It's so much easier," the girl sighed in mock-seriousness, "to be
satisfied that I don't love them."
"But that won't do, Rhoda," said Mrs. Meredith, and I can't let you
treat the matter in this trivial spirit. It is a most important
matter--far more important than you can realize."
"I can't realize anything about it--that's the trouble."
"You can realize whether you wish to accept him or not."
"No; that's just what I can't do."
"You've had time enough."
"I've had nearly a week. But I want all the time there is; it
wouldn't be any too much. I must see him again--after seeing so much of
"Rhoda!" her aunt called sternly to her from the sofa.
But Rhoda did not respond with any sort of intimidation. She was
looking down into the street from the window where she sat, and she
suddenly bowed. "It was Dr. Olney," she explained. "He was just coming
into the hotel, and he looked up. I wonder how he knew it was our
window? He seems twice as young with his hat on. I wish he'd wear his
hat in the room. But of course he can't."
Everything that had happened since Rhoda came in made it more
difficult for Mrs. Meredith to discharge the duty that she thought she
had nerved herself up to. She had promised herself that if Rhoda had
decided to accept Mr. Bloomingdale, she would speak,  and tell her
everything; but she was not certain yet that the girl had decided,
though from the way in which she played with the question, and her
freedom from all anxiety about it, she felt pretty sure that she had.
She wished, vaguely, perversely, weakly, that she had not, for then the
ordeal for them both could be postponed indefinitely again. She
sympathized with the girl in her trials through the young minister's
family, who were so repugnant to her in their eagerness for her, and
she burned with a prophetic indignation in imagining how such people
would cast her off when they knew what she really was. The young man
himself seemed kind and good, and if it were a question of him alone,
she believed she could trust him; but these others! that mother, those
sisters! She recoiled from the duty of humiliating the poor girl before
them, so helplessly, innocently, ignorantly guilty of her own origin.
The child's gayety and lightness, her elfish whimsicality and
thoughtless superficiality, as well as those gleams and glimpses of a
deeper nature which a word or action gave from time to time, smote the
elder woman's heart with a nameless pain and a tender compassion. By
all her circumstance Rhoda had a right to be the somewhat spoiled and
teasing pretty thing that she was; and all that sovereign
young-ladyishness which sat so becomingly upon her was proper to the
station a beautiful young girl holds in a world where she has had only
to choose and to command. But Mrs. Meredith shuddered to think with
what contempt, open or masquerad- ing as pity, all this would be
denied to her. Doubtless she exaggerated; the world slowly changes; it
condones many things to those who are well placed in it; and it might
not have fared so ill with the child as the woman thought; but Mrs.
Meredith bad brooded so long upon her destiny that she could see it
only in the gloomiest colors. She was darkling in its deepest shadow
when she heard Rhoda saying, as if at the end of some speech that she
had not caught, "But he doesn't seem to have any more family than I
"Who? " Mrs. Meredith asked.
"You don't know anything about his family."
"Well, I don't know anything about my own," Rhoda answered,
lightly. She added, soberly, after a moment: "Don't you think it's
rather strange that my mother's family never cared to look us up in any
way? Even if they were opposed to her marrying papa, one would think
they might have forgiven it by this time. The family ties are so
strong, among the French."
Mrs. Meredith dropped her eyes, and murmured, "It may be different
with the Creoles."
"No, I don't believe it is. I've heard it's more so. Did papa never
see any of mamma's family but her father? It seems so strange that she
should have been as much alone as I am. I know I have you, Aunt
Caroline. Well, I don't know what to think about Mr. Bloomingdale. I'm
always summing up his virtues; he's very good, and he's good-looking,
 and he's good-natured. He's rich, though I don't let that count.
He parts his hair too much on one side, but that doesn't matter, I
could make him part it in the middle, and it's a very pretty shade of
brown. His eyes are good, and his mouth wouldn't be weak if he wore his
beard full. I think he has very good ideas, and I'm sure he would be
devoted all his days. It isn't so easy to sum a person up, though, is
it? I wish I knew whether I cared for him. I don't believe I've ever
been in love with anybody yet. Of course, I've had my fancies. I do
respect Mr. Bloomingdale, and when I think how very anxious he was to
have me care for him, I don't know but I could if I really tried. But
ought one to have to try? That's the question. Oughtn't the love to go
of itself, without being pushed or pulled? I wish I knew! Aunt
Caroline, do you believe in 'learning to love' your husband after
marriage? That's what happens in some of the stories; but it seems very
ridiculous. I wish it was my duty to marry him--or not to; then I could
decide. I believe I'm turning out quite a slave of duty. I must have I
caught it from you, Aunt Caroline. Now I can imagine myself sacrificing
anything to duty. If Mr. Bloomingdale were to step ashore from the next
steamer, and drive to the hotel without stopping to take breath, and
get himself shown up here, and say, 'I've just dropped in, Miss
Aldgate, to offer you the opportunity of uniting your life with mine in
a high and holy purpose--say working among the poor on the east side in
New York, or going down to edu-  cate the black race in the
South!--I believe I should seize the opportunity without a murmur.
Perhaps he may. Do you think he will?"
Rhoda ended her monologue with a gay look at her aunt, who was
silent at the end, as she had been throughout, turning the trouble
before them over and over in her mind. As happens when we are
preoccupied with one thing, all other things seem to tend toward it and
bear upon it; half a dozen mere accidents of the girl's spoken reverie
touched the sore place in Mrs. Meredith's soul and fretted it to an
anguish that she asked herself how she could bear. It all accused and
judged and condemned her, because she had kept putting by the duty she
had to discharge, and making it contingent upon that decision of the
girl's which she was still far from ascertaining. In her recoil from
this duty she had believed that if it need not be done at this time, it
somehow need never be done; or she had tried to believe this. If Rhoda
rejected this young man, she might keep her safe forever from the fact
which she felt must wreck the life of the light-hearted, high-spirited
girl. That was the refuge which Mrs. Meredith had taken from the task
which so strongly beset her; but when she had formulated the case to
herself, the absurdity, the impossibility of her position appeared to
her. If Rhoda cared nothing for Mr. Bloomingdale, the day would come
when she would care everything for some one else; and that day could
not be postponed, nor the duty of that day. It would be crueler to
leave her unarmed  against the truth until the moment when her
heart was set upon a love, and then strike her down with it. Mrs.
Meredith now saw this; she saw that the doubt in which she was resting
was the very moment of action for her; and that the occasion was
divinely appointed for dealing more mercifully with the child than any
other that could have offered. She had often imagined herself telling
Rhoda what she had to tell, and with the romantic coloring from the
novels she had read, she had painted herself in the heroic discharge of
her duty at the instant when the girl was radiant in the possession of
an accepted love, and had helped her to renounce, to suffer, and to
triumph. She had always been very strong in these dramatized
encounters, and had borne herself with a stony power throughout,
against which the bruised and bleeding girl had rested her broken
spirit; but now she cowered before her. She longed to fail upon her
knees at her feet, and first implore her forgiveness for what she was
going to do, and not speak till she had been forgiven; but habit is
strong, really stronger than emotion of any sort, and so Mrs. Meredith
remained lying on her sofa, and merely put up her fan to shut out the
sight of the child, as she said, "And if it were your duty to give up
Mr. Bloomingdale, could you do it?"
"Oh, instantly Aunt Caroline! " answered Rhoda, with a gay
burlesque of fortitude. "I would not hesitate a single week. But why do
you ask such an awful question?"
"Is it a very awful question? " Mrs. Meredith palpitated. 
"Well, rather! One may wish to give a person up, but not as a
Mrs. Meredith understood this well enough, but it was her perfect
intelligence concerning the whole situation that seemed to disable her.
She made out to say, "Then you have decided not to give him up yet?"
"I've decided--I've decided--let me think!-- not to decide till I
see him again! What do you mean by if it were my duty to give him up?"
"It would be your duty," Mrs. Meredith faltered, "to give him up,
unless you were sure you loved him."
"Oh, yes; certainly. That."
"You wouldn't wish him, after you've seen so much of his family,
not to know everything about yours, if you decided to accept him?"
"Why, you're all there is, Aunt Caroline! You're the end of the
story. I should hope he understood that. What else is there?"
"Nothing--nothing-- There is very little. But we ought to tell Mr.
Bloomingdale all we know--of your mother's family."
"Why, certainly. I expected to do that. There was nothing
disgraceful about them, I imagine, except their behavior toward mamma."
"You speak as if there were. What are you keeping back, Aunt
Caroline?" Rhoda sat upright, and faced her aunt with a sort of sudden
fierceness which  she sometimes showed when she was roused to
self-assertion. This was seldom, in the succession of her amiable
moods, but when it happened, Mrs. Meredith saw in it the outbreak of
the ancestral savagery, and shuddered at it as a self-betrayal rather
than a self-assertion; but perhaps self-assertion is this with all of
us. "What are you hinting at? If there was anything dishonorable--"
Mrs. Meredith found herself launched at last. She could not go back
now; she could not stop. She had only the choice, in going on, of
telling the truth, or setting sail to shipwreck under some new lie. For
this, both will and invention failed her; she was too weak mentally, if
she was not too strong morally, for this. She went on, with a kind of
"If there were something dishonorable that was not, their fault,
that was their wrong, their sorrow, their burden--what should you think
of your father's marrying your mother, with a full knowledge of it?"
"I should think he did nobly and bravely to marry her. But that's
nothing. What was the disgrace? What had they done, that they had to
suffer innocently? You needn't be afraid of telling me everything. I
don't care what Mr. Bloomingdale or any one thinks; I shall be proud of
them for it; I shall be glad!" Mrs. Meredith saw with terror that the
girl's fancy had kindled with some romantic conjecture. "Who was my
"I know very little about him, Rhoda," said Mrs. Meredith, seeking
to rest in this neutral truth. "Your  father never told me much,
except that he was a Creole, and--and rich; and--and--respected, as
those things went there, among his people--"
"Was he some old slaver, like those in Mr. Cable's book? I
shouldn't care for that! But that would have been his fault, and it
wouldn't have been any great disgrace; and you said--And my grand-
mother--who was she?"
"She was--not his wife."
"Oh! " said the girl, with a quick breath, as if she had been
struck over the heart. "That was how the dishonor--" She stopped, with
an absent stare fixed upon her aunt, who waited in silence for her to
realize this evil which was still so far short of the worst. Where she
sat she could not see the blush of shame that gradually stained the
girl's face to her throat and forehead. "Who was she?"
Mrs. Meredith tried to think how the words would sound as she said
them, and simultaneously she said them, "She was his slave."
The girl was silent and motionless. With her head defined against
the open window, her face showed quite black toward her aunt, as if the
fact of her mother's race had remanded her to its primordial hue in
touching her consciousness. Mrs. Meredith had risen, and sat with one
hand grasping the wrap that still covered her feet, as if ready to cast
it loose, and fly her victim's presence, if it became intolerable. But
she found herself too weak to stand up, and she waited, throbbing and
quaking, for Rhoda to speak. 
The girl gave a little, low, faltering laugh, an inarticulate note
of such pathetic fear and pitiful entreaty that it went through the
woman's heart. "Aunt Caroline, are you crazy?"
"Crazy?" The word gave her an instant of strange respite. Was she
really mad, and had she long dreamed this thing in the cloudy deliriums
of a sick brain ? The fact of her hopeless sanity repossesses her from
this tricksy conjecture. [" missing in original] If I were only crazy!"
"And you mean to say-- to tell me --that--that --I am--black?"
"Oh, no, poor child! You are as white as I am--as any one. No one
would ever think--"
"But I have that blood in me? It is the same thing!" An awful
silence followed again, and then the girl said: "And you let me grow up
thinking I was white, like other girls, when you knew--You let we pass
myself off on myself and every one else, for what I wasn't! Oh, Aunt
Caroline, what are you telling me this ghastly thing for? It isn't
true! You couldn't have let me live on all these years thinking I was a
white person, when--You would have told me from the very beginning, as
soon as I could begin to understand anything. You wouldn't have told me
all those things about my mother's family, and their being great
people, and disowning her, and all that! If this is true you wouldn't
have let me believe that, you and Uncle Meredith?"
"We let you believe it, but you made it up yourself ; we never told
you anything." 
"But you couldn't have thought that was being honest, and so you
couldn't have done it--you couldn't. And so it isn't any of it true
that you've just told me. But why did you tell me such a thing? I don't
believe you have told me it. Why, I must be dreaming. It's as if --as
if --you were to come to a perfectly well person, and tell them that
they were going to die in half an hour. Don't you see? How can you tell
me such a thing ? Don't you understand that it tears my whole life up,
and flings it out on the ground? But you know it isn't true. Oh, my, I
think my head will burst! Why don't you speak to me, and tell me why
you said such a thing? Is it because you don't want me to marry Mr.
Bloomingdale? Well, I won't marry him. Now will you say it?"
"Rhoda!" her aunt began, "whether you married Mr. Bloomingdale or
not, the time had come-- "
"No! The time had gone. It had come as soon as I could speak or
understand the first word. Then would have been the time for you to
tell me such a thing if it were true, so that I might have grown up
knowing it, and trying to bear it. But it isn't true, and you're just
saying it for some other reason. What has happened to you, Aunt
Caroline? I am going to send for Dr. Olney; you're not well. It's
something in that medicine of his, I know it is. Let me look at you!"
She ran suddenly toward Mrs. Meredith, who recoiled, crouching back
into the corner of her sofa. The girl broke into a hysterical laugh.
"Do you think I will hurt you? Oh, Aunt Caroline, take it  back,
take it back! See, I'll get on my knees to you!" She threw herself down
before the sofa where Mrs. Meredith crouched. "Oh, you couldn't have
been so wicked as to live such a lie as that!"
"It was a lie, the basest, the vilest," said Mrs. Meredith, with a
sort of hopeless gasp. "But I never saw the time when I must tell you
the truth--and so I couldn't."
"Oh, no, no! Don't take yourself from me!" The girl dropped her
head on the woman's knee, and broke into a wild sobbing. "I don't know
what you're doing this for. It can't be true--it can't be real. Shall I
never wake from it, and have you back ? You were all I had in the
world, and now, if you were not what I thought you, so true and good, I
haven't even you any more. Oh, oh, oh! "
"Oh, it was all wrong," said Mrs. Meredith, in a tearless misery, a
dry pang of the heart for which her words were no relief. "There hasn't
been a day or an hour when I haven't felt it; and I have always prayed
for light to see my duty, and strength to do it. God knows that if I
could bear this for you, how gladly I would do it. I have borne it all
these years, and the guilt of the concealment besides; that is
something, though it is nothing to what you are suffering. I know
that--I know that!"
The girl sobbed on and on, and the woman repeated the same things
over and over, a babble of words in which there was no comfort, no
help, but which sufficed to tide them both over from the past which had
 dropped into chaos behind them to a new present in which they must
try to gain a footing once more.
The girl suddenly ceased to bemoan herself, and lifted her head, to
look into her aunt's face. "And my mother," she said, ignoring the
piteous sympathy she saw, "was she my father's slave, too?"
"She was your father's wife. Slavery was past then, and he was too
good a man for anything else, though he knew his marriage would ruin
him, as it did."
"At least there is some one I can honor, then; I can't honor him,"
said the girl, with an unpitying hardness in her tone. She rose to her
feet,. and turned toward the door of her own room.
"Is there--is there anything else that I can tell that you wish to
know?" her aunt entreated. "Oh, child! If you could only understand--"
"I do understand," said the girl.
Mrs. Meredith, in her millionfold prefigurations of this moment,
had often suffered from the necessity of insinuating to the ignorance
of girlhood all the sad details of the social tragedy of which she was
the victim. But she perceived that this at least was to be spared her,
that the girl had somehow instantly realized the whole affair in these
aspects. In middle life we often forget, amidst the accumulations of
experience, how early the main bases of it were laid in our
consciousness. We suppose, when we are experienced, that knowledge
comes solely from experience; but knowledge, or if not knowledge, then
truth, comes largely  from perception, from instinct, from
divination, from the intelligence of our mere potentialities. A man can
be anything along the vast range from angel to devil; without living
either the good thing or the bad thing in which his fancy dramatizes
him, he can perceive it. His intelligence may want accuracy, though
after-experience often startlingly verifies it; but it does not want
truth. The materials of knowledge accumulate from innumerable
unremembered sources. All at once, some vital interest precipitates the
latent electricity of the cloudy mass in a flash that illumines the
world with a shadowless brilliancy and shows everything in its very
form and meaning. Then the witness perceives that somehow from the
beginning of conscious being he had understood all this before, and
every influence and circumstance had tended to the significance
The proud, pure girl who had been told that her mother was
slave-born and sin-born, had lived as carefully sheltered from the
guilt and shame that are in the world as tender love and pitying fear
could keep her; but so much of the sad fact of evil had somehow reached
her that she stood in a sudden glare of the reality. She understood,
and she felt all scathed within by the intelligence, by whatever the
cruelest foe could have told her with the most unsparing fulness,
whatever the fondest friend could have wished her not to know. The
swiftness of these mental processes no words can suggest; we can
portray life, not living. 
"'I am going to my room, now," she said to her aunt, "and whatever
happens, don't follow me, don't call me. If you are dying, don't speak
to me. I have a right to be alone."
She crossed to the door of her chamber opening from the little
parlor, and closed it behind her, and her aunt fell back again on her
sofa. She was too weak to follow her if she had wished, and she was too
wise to wish it, She lay there revolving the whole misery in her mind,
turning it over and over ten thousand times. She said to herself that
it was worse, far worse, than she had ever pictured it; but in fact it
was better, for her. She pretended otherwise, but for her there was the
relief in the situation of a lie owned, a truth spoken, and with
whatever heart-wrung drops she told the throes of the anguish beyond
that door, for herself she was glad. It was monstrous to be glad, she
knew that; but she knew that she was glad.
After awhile she began to be afraid of the absolute silence that
continued in Rhoda's room, and then she did what men would say a man
would not have done; she crept to the door and peeped and listened. She
could not hear anything, but she saw Rhoda sitting by the table
writing. She went back to her sofa, and lay there more patiently now;
but as the time passed she began to be hungry; with shame that did not
suffer her to ring and ask for anything to eat, she began to feel the
weak and self-pitiful craving of an invalid for food.
The time passed till the travelling-clock on the  mantel showed
her that it was half-past seven. Then Rhoda's door was flung open, and
the girl stood before her with her hat on, and dressed to go out. She
had a letter in her hand, and she said, with a mechanical hardness, "I
have written to him, and I am going out with the letter. When I come
"You can send your letter out," pleaded her aunt; she knew what the
girl had written too well to ask. "It's almost dark; it's too late for
you to be out on the streets alone."
"Oh, what could happen to me?" demanded Rhoda, scornfully. "Or if
some one insulted a colored girl, what of it? When I come back I will
pack for you, and in the morning we will start for New Orleans, and try
to find out my mother's family."
Her aunt said nothing to this, but she set herself earnestly to
plead with the girl not to go out. "It will be dark, Rhoda, and you
don't know the streets. Indeed you mustn't go out. You haven't had any
dinner--For my sake--"
"For your sake!" said Rhoda. She went on, as if that were answer
enough, "I have written to him that all is over between us--it was,
even before this: I could never have married him--and that when he
arrives we shall be gone, and he must never try to see me again. I've
told you all that you could ask, Aunt Caroline, and now there is one
thing I want you to answer me. Is there any one else who knows this?"
"No, indeed, child!" answered Mrs. Meredith instantly, and she
thought for the instant that she was  telling the truth. "Not
another living soul. No one ever knew but your uncle--"
"Be careful, Aunt Caroline," said the girl, coming up to her sofa,
and looking gloomily down upon her. "You had better always tell me the
truth, now. Have you told no one else?"
"Not Dr. Olney?"
It was too late, now that Mrs. Meredith perceived her error. She
could not draw back from it, and say that she had forgotten; Rhoda
would never believe that. She could only say, "No, not Dr. Olney."
"Tell me the truth, if you expect ever to see me again, in this
world or the next. Is it the truth? Swear it!"
"It is the truth," said the poor woman, feeling this now and
astonishing lie triply riveted upon her soul; and she sank down upon
the pillow from which she had partly lifted herself, and lay there as
if crushed under the burden suddenly rolled back upon her.
"Then I forgive you," said the girl, stooping down to kiss her.
The woman pushed her feebly away. "Oh, I don't want your
forgiveness, now," she whimpered, and she began to cry.
Rhoda made no answer, but turned and went out of the room.
Mrs. Meredith lay exhausted. She was no longer hungry, but she was
weak for want of food. After a while she slid from the sofa, and then
on her hands  and knees she crept to the table where the bottle
that held Dr. Olney's sleeping medicine stood. She drank it all off.
She felt the need of escaping from herself; she did not believe it
would kill her; but she must escape at any risk. So men die who mean to
take their lives; but it is not certain that death even is an escape
from ourselves. 
In the street where Rhoda found herself the gas was already palely
burning in the shops, and the moony glare of an electric globe was
invading the flush of the sunset, whose after-glow still filled the
summer air in the western perspective. She did not know where she was
going, but she went that way, down the slope of the slightly curving
thoroughfare. She had the letter which she meant to post in her hand,
but she passed the boxes on the lamp-posts without putting it in. She
no longer knew what else she meant to do, in any sort, or what she
desired; but out of the turmoil of horror, which she whirled round and
round in, some purpose that seemed at first exterior to herself began
to evolve. The street was one where she would hardly have met ladies of
the sort she had always supposed herself of; gentility fled it long
ago, and the houses that had once been middle-class houses had fallen
in the social scale to the grade of mechanics' lodgings, and the shops,
which had never been fashionable, were adapted strictly to the needs of
a neighborhood of poor and humble people. They were largely provision
stores, full of fruit, especially watermelons; there were some
groceries, and some pharmacies of that professional neatness which
pharmacies are of  everywhere. The, roadway was at this hour
pretty well deserted by the express wagons and butcher carts that bang
through it in the earlier day; and the horse-cars coming and going on
its incline and its final westward level, were in the unrestricted
enjoyment of the company's monopoly of the best part of its space.
At the first corner Rhoda had to find her way through groups of
intense-faced suburbans who were waiting for their respective cars, and
who heaped themselves on board as these arrived, and hurried to find
places, more from force of habit than from necessity, for the pressure
of the evening travel was already over. When she had passed these
groups she began to meet the proper life of the street--the women who
had come out to cheapen the next day's provisions at the markets, the
men, in the brief leisure that their day's work had left them before
bedtime, lounging at the lattice doors of the drinking-shops, or
standing listlessly about on the curb-stones smoking. Numbers of young
fellows, of the sort whose leisure is day-long, exchanged the comfort
of a mutual support with the house walls, and stared at her as she
hurried by; and then she began to encounter in greater and greater
number the colored people who descended to this popular promenade from
the up-hill streets opening upon it. They politely made way for her,
and at the first meeting that new agony of interest in them possessed
This was intensified by the deference they paid her as a young
white lady, and the instant sense that she  had no right to it in
that quality. She could have borne better to have them rude and even
insolent; there was something in the way they turned their black eyes
in their large disks of white upon her, like dogs, with a mute animal
appeal in them, that seemed to claim her one of them, and to creep
nearer and nearer and possess her in that late-found solidarity of
race. She never know before how hideous they were, with their flat
wide-nostriled noses, their out-rolled thick lips, their mobile,
bulging eyes set near together, their retreating chins and foreheads,
and their smooth, shining skin; they seemed burlesques of humanity,
worse than apes, because they were more like. But the men were not half
so bad as the women, from the shrill-piped young girls, with their
grotesque attempts at fashion, to the old grandmothers, wrinkled or
obese, who came down the sloping sidewalks in their bare heads, out of
the courts and alleys where they lived, to get the evening air. Impish
black children swarmed on these uphill sidewalks and played their
games, with shrill cries racing back and forth, catching and escaping
There colored folk were of all tints and types, from the comedy of
the pure black to the closest tragical approach to white. She saw one
girl, walking with a cloud of sable companions, who was as white as
herself, and she wondered if she were of the same dilution of negro
blood; she was laughing and chattering with the rest, and seemed to
feel no difference, but to be pleased and flattered with the court paid
her by the inky dandy who sauntered beside her. 
"She has always known it; she has never felt it! " she thought
bitterly. "It is nothing; it is natural to her; I might have been like
She began to calculate how many generations would carry her back,
or that girl back, in hue, to the blackest of those loathsome old
women. She knew what an octoroon was, and she thought, "I am like her,
and my mother was darker, and my grandmother darker, and my
great-grander like a mulatto, and then it was a horrible old negress, a
savage stolen from Africa, where she bad been a cannibal."
A vision of palm-tree roofs and grass huts, as she had seen them in
pictures, with skulls grinning from the eaves, floated before her eyes;
then a desert with a long coffle of captives passing by, and one black,
naked woman, fallen out from weakness, kneeling, with manacled hands,
and her head pulled back, and the Arab slaver's knife at her throat.
She walked in a nightmare of these sights; all the horror of the wrong
by which she came to be, poured itself round and over her.
She emerged from it at moments with a refusal to accept the loss of
her former self, like that of the mutilated man who looks where his arm
was, and cannot believe it gone. Like him, she had the full sense of
what was lost, the unbroken consciousness of what was lopped away. At
these moments all her pride reasserted itself'; she wished to punish
her aunt for what she had made her suffer, to make her pay pang for
pang. Then the tide of reality overwhelmed her  again, and she
grovelled in self-loathing and despair. From that she rose in a frenzy
of longing to rid herself of this shame that was not hers; to tear out
the stain; to spill it with the last drop of her blood upon the ground.
By flamy impulses she thrilled towards the mastery of her misery
through its open acknowledgment. She seemed to see herself and hear
herself stopping some of these revolting creatures, the dreadfulest of
them, and saying, "I am black, too. Take me home with you, and let me
live with you, and be like you every way." She thought, "Perhaps I have
relations among them. Yes, it must be. I will send to the hotel for my
things, and I will live here in some dirty little back court, and try
to find them out."
The emotions, densely pressing upon each other, the dramatizations
that took place as simultaneously and insuccessively as the events of a
dream, gave her a new measure of time; she compassed the experience of
years in the seconds these sensations outnumbered. All the while she
seemed to be walking swiftly, flying forward; but the ground was
uneven: it rose before her, and then suddenly fell. She felt her heart
beat in the middle of her throat. Her head felt light, like the
blowball of a dandelion. She wished to laugh. There seemed two selves
of her, one that lived before that awful knowledge, and one that had
lived as long since, and again a third that knew and pitied them both.
She wondered at the same time if this were what people meant by saying
one's brain was turned;  and she recalled the longing with which
her aunt said, "If I were only crazy! " But she knew that her own
exaltation was not madness, and she did not wish for escape that way.
"There must be some other," she said to herself; "if I can find the
courage for it, I can find the way. It's like a ghost: if I keep going
towards it, it won't hurt me; I mustn't be afraid of it. Now, let me
see! What ought I to do? Yes, that is the key: Duty." Then her thought
flew passionately off. "If she had done her duty all this might have
been helped. But it was her cowardice that made her murder me. Yes, she
has killed me!"
The tears gushed into her eyes, and all the bitterness of her trial
returned upon her, with a pressure of lead on her brain.
In the double consciousness of trouble she was as fully aware of
everything about her as she was of the world of misery within her; and
she knew that this had so far shown itself without that some of the
passers were noticing her. She stopped, fearful of their notice, at the
corner of the street she had come to, and turned about to confront an
old colored woman, yellow like saffron, with the mild, sad face we
often see in mulattoes of that type, and something peculiarly pitiful
in the straight underlip of her appealing mouth, and the cast of her
gentle eyes. The expression might have been merely physical, or it
might have been an hereditary look, and no part of her own personality,
but Rhoda felt safe in it.
"What street is this?" she asked, thinking sud-denly, "She is
the color of my grandmother; that is the way she looked; " but though
she thought this she did not realize it, and she kept an imperious
attitude towards the old woman.
"Charles Street, lady."
"Oh, yes; Charles. Where are all the people going?"
"The colored folks, lady?"
"Well, lady, they's a kyind of an evenin' meetin' at ouah choach
to-night. Some of 'em's goin' there, I reckon; some of 'em's just out
fo' a walk."
"Will you let me go with you? " Rhoda asked.
"Why, certainly, lady," said the old woman. She glanced up at
Rhoda's face as the girl turned to accompany her. "But I'm a-goin' to
"Yes, yes. That's what I mean. I want to go to your church with
you. Are you from the South--Louisiana? She would be the color," she
thought. "It might be my mother's own mother."
"No, lady: from Voginny. I was bawn a slave; and I lived there till
after the wa'. Then I come Nawth."
"Oh," said Rhoda, disappointedly, for she had nerved herself to
find this old woman, her grandmother.
They walked on in silence for a while; then the old woman said, "I
thought you wasn't very well, when I noticed you at the cawnah."
"I--I am well," Rhoda answered, feeling the tears  start to her
eyes again at the note of motherly kindness in the old woman's voice.
"But I am in trouble; I am in trouble."
"Then you're gwine to the right place, lady," said the old woman,
and she repeated solemnly these words of hope and promise which so many
fainting hearts have stayed themselves upon: "'Come unto me, all ye
that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest unto your
souls.' Them's the words, lady; the Lawd's own words. Glory be to God;
glory be to God!" she added in a whisper.
"Yes, yes," said Rhoda, impatiently. "They are good words. But they
are not for me. He can't make my burden light; He can't give me rest.
If it were sin, He could; but it isn't sin; it's something worse than
sin; more hopeless. If I were only a sinner, the vilest, the wickedest,
how glad I should be!" Her heart uttered itself to this simple nature
as freely as a child to its mother.
"Why, sholy, lady," said the old woman, with a little shrinking
from her as if she had blasphemed, "sholy you's a sinnah?"
"No, I am not! " said the girl, with nervous sharpness. "If I were
a sinner, my sins could be forgiven me, and I could go free of my
burden. But nothing can ever lift it from me."
"The Lawd can do anything, the Bible says. He kin make the dead
come to life. He done it oncet, too."
The girl turned abruptly on her. "Can He change your skin? Can He
make black white?" 
The old woman seemed daunted; she faltered. "I don't know as he
ever tried, lady; the Bible don't tell." She added, more hopefully,
"But I reckon He could do it if He wanted to."
"Then why doesn't He do it?" demanded the girl. "What does He leave
you black for, when He could make you white?"
"I reckon He don't think it's worth while, if He can make me
willing to be black so easy. Somebody's got to be black, and it might
as well be me," said the old woman, with a meek sigh.
"No, no one need be black!" said Rhoda, with a vehemence that this
submissive sigh awakened in her. "If He cared for us, no, one would
"Sh!" said the old woman, gently.
They had reached the church porch, and Rhoda found herself in the
tide of black worshippers who were drifting in. The faces of some were
supernaturally solemn, and these rolled their large-whited eyes
rebukingly on the young girls showing all their teeth in the smiles
that gashed them from ear to ear, and carrying on subdued flirtations
with the polite young fellows escorting them. It was no doubt the best
colored society, and it was bearing itself with propriety and
self-respect in the court of the temple. If their natural gayety and
lightness of heart moved their youth to the betrayal of their pleasure
in each other in the presence of their Maker, He was perhaps
propitiated by the gloom of their elders.
"Tain't a regular evenin' meetin'," Rhoda's com-panion
explained to her. It's a kind o' lecture." She exchanged some stately
courtesies of greeting with the old men and women as they pushed into
the church; they called her sister, and they looked with at least as
little surprise and offence at the beautiful young white lady with her
as white Christians would have shown a colored girl come to worship
with them. "De preacher's one o' the Southern students; I ain't hud him
speak; but I reckon the Lawd's sent him, anyway."
Rhoda had no motive in being where she was except to confront
herself as fully and closely with the trouble in her soul as she could.
She thought, so far as such willing may be called thinking, that she
could strengthen herself for what she had henceforth to bear, if she
could concentrate and intensify the fact to her outward perception; she
wished densely to surround herself with the blackness from which she
had sprung, and to reconcile herself to it, by realizing and owning it
with every sense.
She did not know what the speaker was talking about at first, but
phrases and words now and then caught in her consciousness. He was
entirely black, and he was dressed in black from head to foot, so that
he stood behind the pulpit light like a thick, soft shadow cast upon
the wall by an electric. His absolute sable was relieved only by the
white points of his shirt-collar, and the glare of his spectacles,
which, when the light struck them, heightened the goblin effect of his
presence. He had no discernible features, and  when he turned his
profile in addressing those who sat at the sides, it was only a
wavering blur against the wall. His voice was rich and tender, with
those caressing notes in it which are the peculiar gift of his race.
The lecture opened with prayer and singing, and the lecturer took
part in the singing; then he began to speak, and Rhoda's mind to
wander, with her eyes, to the congregation. The prevailing blackness
gave back the light here and there in the glint of a bald head, or from
a patch of white wool, or the cast of a rolling eye. Inside of the
bonnets of the elder women, and under the gay hats of the young girls,
it was mostly lost in a characterless dark; but nearer by, Rhoda
distinguished faces, sad, repulsive visages of a frog-like ugliness
added to the repulsive black in all its shades, from the unalloyed
brilliancy of the pure negro type to the pallid yellow of the quadroon,
and these mixed bloods were more odious to her than the others, because
she felt herself more akin to them; but they were all abhorrent. Some
of the elder people made fervent responses to thoughts and sentiments
in the lecture as if it had been a sermon. "That is so!" they said.
"Bless the Lord, that's the truth!" and, "Glory to God!" One old
woman, who sat in the same line of pews with Rhoda, opened her mouth
like a catfish, to emit these pious ejaculations.
The night was warm, and as the church filled, the musky exhalations
of their bodies thickened the air,  and made the girl faint; it
seemed to her that she began to taste the odor; and these poor people,
whom their Creator has made so hideous by the standards of all his
other creatures, roused a cruel loathing in her, which expressed itself
in a frantic refusal of their claim upon her. In her heart she cast
them off with vindictive hate. "Yes," she thought, "I should have
whipped them, too. They are animals; they are only fit to be slaves."
But when she shut her eyes, and heard their wild, soft voices, her
other senses were holden, and she was rapt by the music from her frenzy
of abhorrence. In one of these suspenses, while she sat listening to
the sound of the lecturer's voice, which now and then struck a plangent
note, like some rich, melancholy bell, a meaning began to steal out of
it to her whirling thoughts.
"Yes, my friends," it went on saying, "you got to commence doing a
person good if you expect to love them as Jesus loved us when he died
for us. And oh, if our white brethren could only understand--and
they're gettin' to understand it--that if they would help us a little
more, they needn't hate us so much, what a great thing," the lecturer
lamely concluded--"what a great thing it would be all round!"
"Amen! Love's the thing," said the voice of the old woman with the
catfish mouth; and Rhoda, who did not see her, did not shudder. Her
response inspired the lecturer to go on. "I believe it's the one way
out of all the trouble in this world. You can't  fight your way
out, and you can't steal your way out, and you can't lie your way out.
But you can love your way out. And how can you love your way out? By
helpin' somebody else! Yes, that's it. Somebody that needs your help.
And now if there's any one here that's in trouble, and wants to get out
of trouble, all he's got to do is to help somebody else out. Remember
that when the collection is taken up durin' the singin' of the hymn.
Our college needs help, and every person that helps our college helps
himself. Let us pray!"
The application was apt enough, and Rhoda did not feel anything
grotesque in it. She put into the plate which the old woman passed to
her from the collector all the money she had in her purse, notes and
silver, and two or three gold pieces that had remained over to her from
her European travel. Her companion saw them, and interrupted herself in
her singing to say, "The Lawd'll bless it to you; He'll help them that
helps them that can't help themselves."
"Yes, that is the clew," the girl said to herself. "That is the way
out; the only way. I can endure them if I can love them, and I shall
love them if I try to help them. This money will help them."
But she did not venture to look around at the objects; of her
beneficence; she was afraid that the sight of their faces would harden
her heart against them in spite of her giving, and she kept her eyes
shut, listening to their pathetic voices. She stood forgetful after the
lecturer had pronounced the benediction-- he was a divinity student
and he could not forego it--and her companion had to touch her arm.
Then she started with a shiver, as if from a hypnotic trance.
Once out on the street she was afraid, and begged the old woman to
go back to her hotel with her.
"Why, sholy, lady," she consented.
But Rhoda did not hear. Her mind had begun suddenly to fasten
itself upon a single thought, a sole purpose, and "Yes," she pondered,
"that is the first thing of all; to forgive her; to tell her that I
forgive her, and that I understand and pity her. But how--how shall I
begin? I shall have to do her some good to begin with, and how can I do
that when I hate her so? I do hate her; I do hate her! It is her
As she hurried along, almost running, and heedless, of the old
woman at her side, trying to keep up with her, it seemed to her that if
her aunt had told her long ago, when a child, what she was, she would
somehow not have been it now. It was not with love, not with pardon,
but with frantic hate and accusal in her heart, that she burst into the
room, and rushed to Mrs. Meredith's sofa, where she lay still. "Aunt
Caroline, wake up! Can you sleep when you see me going perfectly crazy?
It is no time for sleeping! Wake! The moony pallor of an electric light
suspended over the street shone in through the naked window  and
fell upon Mrs. Meredith's face. It was white, and as the girl started
back her foot struck the empty bottle from which the woman had drained
the sleeping medicine, and let lie where she had let it fall upon the
floor. Rhoda caught it up, and flew with it to the light.
The thing that had been lurking in a dark corner of Olney's mind,
intangible if not wholly invisible, came out sensible to touch and
sight when he parted with Mrs. Meredith. At first it masqueraded a
little longer as resentment of that hapless creature's fate, a creature
so pretty, so proud, and by all the rights of her youth and sex heiress
of a prosperous and unclouded future, the best love and the tenderest
care that any man could give her. Then it began to declare itself a
fear lest the man whose avowal had given him the right to know
everything concerning her, might prove superior to it, and nobly
renounce his privilege, and gladly take her for what she had always
seemed, for what, except in so remote degree, she really was. Then
Olney knew that he was himself in love with her, and that he was
judging a rival's possibilities by his own, and dreading them. He had
an impulse to go back to Mrs. Meredith and say that he was ready to
take all those risks and chances which she had counted so great, and
laugh them to scorn in the gladness of his heart if he could only hope
that Rhoda would ever love him. A few years before he would have obeyed
his impulse, and even now he dramatized an obedience to it, and exacted
from Mrs.  Meredith a promise that she would not speak to Miss
Aldgate until he had found time to put his fortune to the touch, and if
he won, would never speak to her. But at thirty he had his hesitations,
his misgivings, not indeed as to the wish, but as to the way. For one
thing, he was too late, if Mrs. Meredith's conjectures were right; and
for another, he felt it dishonorable to do what he longed in his heart
to do, and steal from this man, whom he began to hate, the love upon
which his courageous wooing had given him the right to count. Such a
thing would be not theft only in the possible but not probable case she
did not care for his rival, and he had no means of knowing the fact as
to that. It might be defended if not justified on the ground that he
wished to keep her forever in ignorance of what it was Mrs. Meredith's
clear duty otherwise to tell her; Olney comforted himself with the
theory that a woman who had delayed in her duty so long would doubtless
put it off till the last moment, and that until this Mr. Bloomingdale
actually appeared, and there was no loop-hole left her, she would not
cease attempting to escape from her duty.
He postponed any, duty which he himself had in the matter through
the love he now owned; he made it contingent upon hers; but all the
same, he determined to forego no right it gave him. Again he had a mind
to go back to Mrs. Meredith, and ask her to do nothing until
Bloomingdale came, and then, before she spoke, to authorize him to
approach the man as her family physician and deal tentatively,
hypothetically,  with the matter, and interpret his probable
decision from his actual behavior.
This course, which appeared the only course open to him, commended
itself more and more to Olney as he thought of it; here was something
practicable, here was something that was perhaps even obligatory upon
him; he tried to believe it was obligatory. But it occurred to him only
after long turmoil of thinking and feeling in other directions, and it
was half-past seven o'clock before he returned from a walk he took as a
final means of clearing his mind, and went to Mrs. Meredith's room to
propose it to her. He knocked several times without response, and then
went to the once to see if she had gone out and left her key with the
clerk ; he was now in a hurry to speak to her.
The clerk felt in the pigeon-hole of Mrs. Meredith's number. "Her
key isn't here, but that's no sign she hasn't gone out. Ladies seldom
leave their keys when they go out . we're only too glad if they leave
'em when they go away for good. I thought she was sick."
"She would be able to drive out."
Olney mastered his impatience as well as he could, and went in to
his dinner. After dinner he knocked again at Mrs., Meredith's door, and
confirmed himself in the belief that she had gone out. After that it
was not so easy to wait for her to come back. He wished to remain of
the mind he had been about speaking to her of Rhoda, and to avow
himself her  lover at all risks, but more and more he began to
feel that he was too late, that he was quixotic, that he was
ridiculous. He felt himself wavering from his purpose, and he held to
it all the more tenaciously for that reason. If he was willing to
hazard all upon the chance of being in time, that gave him the right to
ask that the girl might be spared; but when he thought she and Mrs.
Meredith were probably spending the evening together with the
Bloomingdales, his courage failed. It was but too imaginable that Miss
Aldgate had made up her mind to accept that man, and that her aunt
would tell her all that he longed to save her from knowing before he
could prevent it.
When at last he went a third time to her door, he ventured to turn
the knob, and the door opened to his inward pressure. It let in with
him a glare of gas from the lamp in the entry, and by this light he saw
Rhoda standing beside her aunt's sofa with the empty bottle in her
hand. She had her hat on, and at the face she turned him across her
shoulder, a shiver of prescience passed over him. It was the tragic
mask, the inherited woe, unlit by a gleam of the brightness which had
sometimes seemed Heaven's direct gift to the girl on whom that burden
of ancestral sin and sorrow had descended.
"What is the matter?" he murmured.
Rhoda gave him the empty bottle. "She's drunk it all. She's dead."
"Oh, no," he almost laughed. "It would be too soon." He dropped on
his knees beside the insensi-ble body, and satisfied himself by
pulse and breath that the life had not yet left it. But to keep it
there was now the business, and Olney began his losing light with a
sort of pluriscience in which it seemed to him that he was multiplied
into three selves: one applying all the antidotes and using all the
professional skill with instant coolness; another guarding the probable
suicide from the conjecture of the hotel servants and keeping the whole
affair as silent as possible; another devotedly vigilant of the poor
girl who was so deeply concerned in the small chances of success
perceptible to Olney, and who, whether he succeeded or not, was
destined to so sad an orphanage. When he thought of the chance that
fate was invisibly offering her, he almost wished he might fail, but he
fought his battle through with relentless scientific conscience. At the
end it was his part to say, "It's over; she's dead."
"I know she was," Rhoda answered apathetically. "I expected it."
"Where were you? " he asked, with the sort of sad futility with
which, when all is done, the spirit continues its endeavor. "Was she
"Yes. I had gone out," Rhoda said.
"What time was that?" Olney wondered that he had not asked this
before; perhaps he had made some mistake through not having verified
"It was about half-past seven," answered the girl.
"You went out at half-past seven! And when did you return?" 
"We had a quarrel. I didn't come back till nearly ten--when you
The poignancy of Olney's interest remained, but it took another
direction. "You were out all the evening alone? Excuse my asking," he
made haste to add, "But I don't understand --"
"I wasn't alone," said Rhoda. "I met an old colored woman on the
street, and she went with me to the colored church. She came home with
me." The girl said this quietly, as if there were nothing at all
strange in it.
Her calm left Olney in the question which he was always pressing
home to himself ; whether her aunt had told her that thing. It was on
his tongue to ask her why she went to the colored church, and what her
quarrel with her aunt was about. He asked her instead, "Did you think,
when you left her, that Mrs. Meredith seemed different at all-- that--?
"I didn'tnotice,"said Rhoda. "No. She seemed as she often did. But
I know she thought she hadn't taken enough of the medicine. She wanted
to sleep more."
Rhoda sat by the window of the little parlor where she had sat when
the dead woman had told her that dreadful thing, and she remembered how
she had glanced out of it and seen Olney in the street. The gas was now
at full blaze in the room, but she glanced through the window again,
and saw that the day was beginning to come outside. She turned from the
chill of its pale light, and looked at Olney. Through the 
irresistible association of ideas, she looked for his baldness with the
lack-lustre eyes she lifted to his face.
"Is there anything you wish me--anything I can do?" he asked, after
a silence, in which he got back to the level of practical affairs,
though still stupefied from what Rhoda had said.
"I mean, notify your friends--your family--telegraph--"
"I have no friends--no relatives. We were alone; all our family
"But Mr. Meredith's family--there is surely some one that you can
call upon at this time."
A strong compassion swelled in Olney's heart; he yearned to take
her in his arms and be all the world to one who had no one in all the
She remained as if dazed, and then she said, with a perplexed look:
"I was trying to think who there was. Mr. Meredith's people lived in
St. Louis; I remember some of them when I was little. . Perhaps my aunt
would have their address."
She went into the adjoining chamber where the dead woman lay, in
the atmosphere of useless drugs and effectless antidotes, and Olney
thought, "It's the mechanical operation of custom; she's going to ask
her," but Rhoda came back with an address-book in her hand, as if she
had gone directly to Mrs. Meredith's writing case for it with no such
error of cerebration. 
"Here it is," she said.
"Very well. I'll telegraph them at once. But in the mean time, what
will you do, Miss Aldgate? You can't stay here in the hotel--she can't.
How can I be of use to you?" Olney felt all the disinterestedness in
the world in asking, but in what he asked next he had a distinct
consciousness of self-interest, or at least of selfish curiosity.
"Shall I let your friends at the Vendome--"
"Oh, no, no, no!" she broke out. "Not on any account! I couldn't
bear to see them. I)don't think of such a thing! No, indeed, I can't
The self-seeker is never fully rewarded, and Olney was left with a
doubt whether this reluctance meant abhorrence of the Bloomingdales, or
unwillingness to receive kindness from them which might involve some
loss of her perfect independence to the spirited girl; she would not
choose or be chosen for any reason but one. He could not make out from
her manner as yet whether her aunt had spoken what was on her mind to
speak or not; it seemed such a cruel invasion of her rights even to
conjecture, that he tried to put the question out of his thoughts. He
began again while he was sensible of an unequal struggle with the
question, which intruded itself in the swift whirl of his anxieties, as
to what could immediately be done for her.
"Is there anything else you would suggest?"
"No," said the girl, in the dreamy quiet she seemed helpless to
emerge from. "I suppose it wouldn't do,  even if we could find
her. I was thinking of the old woman I saw to-night," she explained. "I
would like to go and stay with her if I could."
"Is it some one you know?"
"No, I don't know her. I just met her on the street, and we went to
the colored people's church together. I went out after dinner and left
my aunt alone. That was when she drank it."
She added the vague sentences together with a child's heedlessness
as to their reaching her listener's intelligence, and she did not
persist in her whimsical suggestion.
Olney left it too. "You must let me got you another room," he said;
"You can't stay here any longer," and he made her take her hat and come
with him to the hotel parlor. He went to arrange the business with the
clerk, and to tell him of Mrs. Meredith's death; then he had to go
about other duties connected with the case, which he rather welcomed as
a distraction; to notify the fact and cause of Mrs. Meredith's death to
the authorities, and to give the funeral preparations in charge. But
when this was all done, and he could no longer play off the aggregate
of these minor cares against his great one, he began to be harassed
again about Miss Aldgate.
It was so much easier to dispose of the friendless dead than the
friendless living, Olney thought, with a sardonic perception of one of
the bitterest truths in the world; and he was not consoled by the
reflection that it is often the man readiest to do all for a woman who
can do nothing for her. At the same time he hurried along imagining a
scene in which Rhoda owned her love for him, and for his sake and her
own, consented to throw convention to the winds, and to unite her fate
with his in a marriage truly solemnized by the presence of death. He
was aroused from this preposterous melodrama by a voice that said, with
liking and astonishment, "Why, Dr. Olney!" and he found himself
confronted with Mrs. Atherton, whom he had known as Miss Clara
Kingsbury. In another moment she had flooded him with inquiry and
explanation, from which he emerged with the dim consciousness that he
had told her how he happened not to be in Florence, and had heard how
she happened to be in Boston. Her presence in the city at such an
untimely season was to be accounted for by the eccentric spirit in
which she carried on her visiting for the Associated Charities; she
visited her families in the summer, while most people looked after
their families only in  the winter. She excused herself by saying
that Beverly was so near, and sometimes it gave her a chance for a
little bohemian lunch with Mr. Atherton.
Olney laid his trouble before her. He knew from of old that if he
could not count upon her tact, he could count upon her imagination, and
he was quite prepared for the sympathy with which she rushed to his
succor, a sympathy that in spite of the circumstances could not be
called less than jubilant.
"Why, the poor, forlorn, little helpless creature!" she exulted.
"I'll go to the hotel at once with you, doctor; and she must come down
to Beverly with me, and stay till her friends come on for her."
The question whether he was not bound in honor to tell Mrs.
Atherton just what Miss Aldgate was, crazily visited him, and became a
kind of longing before he could rid himself of it; he dismissed it only
upon the terms of a self-promise to entertain it some other time; and
he availed himself of her good offices almost as joyfully as she
proposed them. He had to submit to the romantic supposition which he
was aware Mrs. Atherton was keeping out of her words and looks, and he
joined her in the conspicuous pretence she made throughout the affair
that he was acting from the most disinterested, the most scientific
It was not so hard as he had fancied it might be to get Miss
Aldgate's consent to Mrs. Atherton's hospitality. It was the only
possible thing for her, and she acquiesced simply, like one accustomed
to favors; she expressed a sense of the kindness done her, with  a
delicate self-respect which Olney hardly know how to account for upon
the theory that Mrs. Meredith had spoken to her. Apparently she
appreciated all the necessities of the case, and she did not
troublesomely interpose any of the reluctanaces of grief which he had
expected. If he could have wished any difference in her it would have
been for rather less composure; but then this might have been the
apathy following the great shock she had received. He willingly
accepted Mrs. Atherton's theory, hurriedly whispered at parting, that
she did not realize what had happened yet; Mrs. Atherton seemed to
prize her the more for it.
He came back from seeing them off on the train to the hotel, where
he found a telegram from Mrs. Meredith's connections in St. Louis. They
were very sorry; they were unable to come on; they would write. Olney
felt a grateful lift of the heart in thinking of Miss Aldgate in Mrs.
Atherton's affectionate keeping, as he crumpled the despatch in his
hand and tossed it on his dismal white-marble hearth. He believed that
he read between its words a revelation of the fact that the dead
woman's husband had not kept Rhoda's secret from his family, and that
these unable friends, whatever they wrote, were not likely to urge any
claim to comfort the girl.
It was Mrs. Bloomingdale who came to do this with several of her
large and passive daughters, about as long after the evening papers
came out as would take her to drive over from the Vendome. Olney had
been able to persuade the reporters who got hold of the case  that
there was nothing to work up in it, and the paragraph that Mrs.
Bloomingdale saw was discreet enough; it attributed Mrs. Meredith's
death to an overdose of the soporific prescribed for her, and it
connected Olney's name with the matter as the physician who happened to
be stopping in the hotel with the unfortunate lady.
"I came the instant I read it," Mrs. Bloomingdale explained, "for I
couldn't believe the evidence of my senses," and she added such a
circumstantial statement of her mental struggle with the fact projected
into her consciousness as could leave no doubt that the fact itself was
far less important than the effect produced upon her.
As Olney listened he lost entirely a lurking discomfort he had felt
at Miss Aldgate's refusal to let those people have anything to do with
her or for her in her calamity. Whatever the son might be, the mother
was a vulgarly selfish woman, posing before him as a generous
benefactress, who was also a martyr. "I asked for you, doctor," she
went on, at the end of her personal history in connection with the
affair, "because I preferred not to intrude upon that poor young
creature without learning just how I ought to approach her. As I said
to my daughter Roberta, in coming along"--she put the tallest and
serenest of the big, still blondes in evidence with a wave of her
hand--"I would be ruled entirely by what you said of the newspaper
Olney said of it dryly that it was quite correct. 
"Oh, I am so relieved, doctor!" said Mrs. Bloomingdale. "I didn't
know, don't you know--I thought perhaps that there were facts--details
which you preferred to keep from the public; that there were peculiar
circumstances--aberration, don't you know; and that kind of thing. But
I'm so glad there wasn't!"
Olney felt a malicious desire to disturb this crowing complacency
which he believed was the cover of mean anxieties and suspicions. He
asked, "Do you mean suicide?"
"Well, no; not that exactly. But--" She stopped, and he merely
"There was no evidence of suicidal intent."
"Oh! " said Mrs. Bloomingdale, but, as he intended, .not so
crowingly this time. "And then -you think I can ask for Miss Aldgate?"
"Miss Aldgate is not here--" Olney began.
"She is with Mrs. Atherton, at Beverly. She couldn't remain here,
"And may I ask--do I understand--Why didn't Miss Aldgate let us
Olney rejoiced to be able to say, "I suggested that, but she
preferred not to disturb you."
"And why did she prefer that? " said Mrs. Bloomingdale, with rising
"I'm sorry, I don't know. It was by accident that I met Mrs.
Atherton on the street; she is a well- known lady here, and she at once
took Miss Aldgate home with her." 
At the bottom of his heart Olney did not feel altogether easy at
what he knew of Miss Aldgate's relations to the Bloomingdale family. He
would have liked to blind himself to facts that proved her weak or at
least light-mindedly fond of any present pleasure at the cost of any
future complication, but he was not quite able to do so, much as he
wished to inculpate the Bloomingdales. He was silent, and attempted no
farther explanation or defence of Rhoda's refusal to see them.
"I presume, Dr. Olney," Mrs. Bloomingdale went on, "that you know
nothing of the circumstances of our acquaintance with Miss Aldgate; and
I can't expect you to sympathize with my--my--surprise that she should
have turned from us at such a time. But I must say that I am very
greatly surprised. Or not surprised, exactly. Pained."
"I am very sorry," Olney said again. "I have no right to intervene
in any matter so far beyond my functions as Mrs. Meredith's physician,
but I venture to suggest that the blow which has fallen on Miss Aldgate
is enough to account for what seems strange to you in--"
"Of course. Certainly. I make allowance for that," said Mrs.
Bloomingdale; and Olney was aware of receiving this proof of her
amiability, her liberality, with regret; he would have so willingly had
it otherwise, in justification of Miss Aldgate. "And I know that the
past year has been one of great anxiety both to Mrs. Meredith and Miss
Aldgate. You knew they had lost their money?" 
"No," said Olney, with a joyful throb of the heart, "I didn't."
"I have understood so. Miss Aldgate will be left without
anything--in a manner. But that would have made no difference to us. We
should have been only too glad to prove to her that it made no
difference. But if she prefers not to see us--We expect my son by
Wednesday's steamer in New York." She added this suddenly and with
apparent irrelevance, but Olney perceived that she wished to test his
knowledge of the whole case, and she had instantly learned from his
face that he knew much more than he would own. But he made no verbal
concession to her curiosity. "I think you met my son in Florence?" she
"I saw him at Professor Garofalo's one night."
"He was there a great deal. It was there he met Mrs. Meredith."
Olney said nothing, and Mrs. Bloomingdale rose, and as with the same
motion her large daughters rose. " May I ask, Dr. Olney, that you will
give Miss Aldgate our love, and say to her that if there is anything we
can do, we shall be so--I suppose you have had to communicate with Mrs.
Meredith's--or Mr. Meredith's rather--family?"
"They will be at the funeral, of course; and if --"
"They are not coming," said Olney. " They have telegraphed that
they are unable to come."
"Oh," said Mrs. Bloomingdale; and after a little pause she said,
"Good-afternoon," and led her girls out. 
Olney felt that he had parted with an enemy, and that though he had
in one sort tried to keep a conscientious neutrality, he had discharged
himself of an offensive office in a hostile manner, that he had made
her his enemy if not Miss Aldgate's enemy. She suspected him he knew
that, of having somehow come between her and Miss Aldgate of his own
will as well as Rhoda's. In view of this fact he had to ask himself to
be very explicit as to his feelings, his hopes, his intentions; and
after a season of close question, the response was very clear. He could
not doubt what he wished to do; the only doubt he had was as to how and
where and whether he could do it. 
THE day of the funeral Bloomingdale arrived. None of his family had
come to the last rites, though Olney had made it a point both of
conscience and of honor to let them know when and where the ceremony
would take place. He felt that their absence was an expression of
resentment, but that it was a provisional resentment merely. There was
a terrible provisionality about the whole business, beginning with the
provisional deposition of the dead in the receiving-vault at Mount
Auburn, till it could be decided where the long-tormented clay was
finally to rest. Every decision concerning the affair seemed postponed,
but he did not know till when; death had apparently decided nothing; he
did not see how life should.
Bloomingdale came to see him in the evening, after dinner. His
steamer had been late in getting up to her dock, and he had missed the
first train on to Boston. He explained the fact briefly to Olney, and
he said he had come directly to see him. He recalled their former
meeting in Florence, but said, with somehow an effect of
disappointment, that he had taken an older man whom he had seen at
Professor Garofalo's for Dr. Olney. On his part, Olney could have owned
to an equal disappointment. He remembered perfectly  that Mr.
Bloomingdale was a slight, dark man; but the composite Bloomingdale
type, from the successive impressions of his mother's and sisters'
style, was so deeply stamped in his consciousness that he was surprised
to find the young minister himself neither large nor blond. His mind
wandered from him to the father whom he had never seen, but who had
left so distinct a record of himself in his son, and not in his
daughters, as fathers are supposed usually to do. Then Olney's thoughts
turned to that whole vexed question of heredity, and he lost himself
deeply in conjecture of Rhoda's ancestry, while Bloomingdale was
feeling his way forward to inquire about her through explanation and
interest concerning Mrs. Meredith, and a fit sympathy, a most
intelligent and delicate appreciation of the situation in all its
details. Before the fact formulated itself in his mind, Olney was aware
of feeling that this man was as different from his family in the most
essential and characteristic qualities as he was different from them in
temperament and complexion.
"And now about Miss Aldgate, Dr. Olney," he said, with a kind of
authority, which Olney instinctively, however unwillingly, admitted. "
I shall have to tell you why I am so very anxious to know how she
is--how she bears this blow. I am afraid my mother betrayed to you the
hurt which she felt, that Miss Aldgate should not have turned to her in
her trouble; but I can understand how impossible it was she should.
Without reflecting upon my mother at all for her  feeling--for I
can see how she would feel as she does--I must say I don't share it.
While Miss Aldgate was still uncertain about--about myself--it was
simply impossible that she should receive any sort of favor or kindness
from my family even in such an exigency as this. It would have been
indelicate; it must have been infinitely easier for her to accept the
good offices of a total stranger, as she has done. Dr. Olney, I have to
ask your good offices--and I have first to make you a confidence, as my
reason for asking them. I'm sure you will understand me! "
In the fervor of his feeling the young man's voice trembled, and
Olney felt himself moved with a curious involuntary kindness for
him--the sort of admiring pity which men have been said to feel toward
a brave foeman they mean to fight to the death. 'I had a very great
hope--and I think I had grounds for my hope--that Miss Aldgate would
have consented to be my wife when she met me, if this terrible
visitation--if all had gone well." The words sent a cold thrill through
Olney's heart, and the mere suggestion that Rhoda could be anybody's
wife but his own steeled it against this pretender to her love. "I
offered myself to her in Liverpool before she sailed, and she was to
have given me her answer here when we met. Now, I don't know what to
do. I don't know anything. The whole world seems tumbled back into
chaos. I can't urge anything upon her at such a time. I'm not even sure
that I can decently ask to see her. And yet if I don't, what may not
she think? Can't you  help me in this matter? You were Mrs.
Meredith's physician, and you stand in a sort of relation to Miss
Aldgate that would authorize you to let her know that I am here, and
very anxious to know what her wish--her will--is as to our meeting. It
might not be professional, exactly, but--I came to you with the hope
that it might be possible. Does it seem asking too much? I should be
Olney saw that the man's sensitiveness was taking fire, and in
spite of his resentment of a request which set aside all his own secret
hopes and intentions as non-existent, he could not forbear a concession
to his unwitting rival's generous feeling. "Not at all," he said; "but
I doubt my authority to intervene in any way. I have no right--"
"Only the right I've suggested," the young man urged. " I wouldn't
have you assume anything for my sake. But I know that the circumstances
are more than ordinarily distressing, and that Mrs. Meredith's death
came in a way that might make Miss Aldgate afraid that--that--there
might be some shadow of change in me on account of them. At such times
we have misgivings about everybody; but I wish it to be understood that
no circumstance could influence my feeling toward her."
"I don't know whether I understand you exactly," said Olney, with a
growing dread of the man's generosity.
"Why, I suppose, from what I am able to learn, that poor Mrs.
Meredith committed suicide." 
"Not at all,"Olney promptly returned. "There is no evidence of
that. There's every indication that she simply took an overdose of the
medicine I prescribed. It wouldn't have killed her of itself, but her
forces were otherwise weakened."
"I'm glad, for her sake, to hear it," said Bloomingdale, "but it
would have made no difference with me if it had been different. If she
had taken her life in a fit of insanity, as I inferred it would only
have made me more constant in the feeling. There is no conceivable
disadvantage which would not have endeared Miss Aldgate more to me. I
could almost wish for the direst misfortune, the deepest disgrace," he
went on, while the tears sprang to his eyes, "to befall her, if only
that I might show her that it counted nothing against her, that it
counted everything for her!"
Olney's heart sank within him, and he felt guilty before this
unselfish frankness, which, if a little boyish, was still so noble. He
knew very well that if such a lover could be told everything, it would
not matter the least to him; that the girl might be as black as ebony,
and his passion would paint her divinely fairer than the lily. Olney
knew this from his own thoughts as well as from the other's words; he
was himself like the spirit he conceived:
"Du gleichst dem Geist dem du begreifst."
But he was aware of an instant purpose not to let his rival be
brought to the test; and he was aware at the same time of a duty he had
to let him somehow have  his chance. "After all," he reflected,
"what reason have I to suppose that she ever cared a moment for me, or
ever could care? Very likely she likes this fellow ; he is lovable; he
is a fine fellow, though I hate him so; and what right have I to stand
between them? He must have his chance." When he came to this point, he
said aloud, coldly, "I don't understand what you expect me to do."
"Nothing! Only this: to let me go and see the lady with whom Miss
Aldgate is staying, and learn from her whether and when Miss Aldgate
will see me. That's all I can reasonably ask. I ought to ask as much if
I meant to give her up--and it's all that I ask meaning never to give
her up. Yes, that's all I can ask!" he repeated, desperately.
"That will be a very simple matter," said Olney. "Miss Aldgate is
with Mrs. Atherton, at Beverly. I can give you her address, and my
card to her."
"Yes,yes! Thank you--thank you ever so much.But--but if I present
myself without explanation, what will this lady think?"
"She'll give your name to Miss Aldgate, and that will be
explanation enough," said Olney, finding something a little superfine
in this hesitation, and refusing to himself to be the bearer of any
sort of confidences to Mrs. Atherton, who would be only too likely to
take a romantic interest in the devoted young minister. Olney meant to
give him an even chance, but nothing more.
"True! " said Bloomingdale, nervously gnawing his  lip.
"True!" He clrew a long breath, and added, "Of course, I can't go now
Olney said nothing as to this. He was writing on his card Mrs.
Atherton's address and the introduction for Bloomingdale which he
combined with it. He had resolved to go down himself that night.
Bloomingdale clung fervently to his hand in parting.
"I can never thank you enough!" he palpitated.
"You have verv little to thank me for," said Olney.
IF Mrs. Atherton thought it strange of Dr. Olney, to drive up to her
sea-side door at half-past nine, out of a white fog that her hospitable
hall lamp could pierce only a few paces down the roadway, she
dissembled her surprise so well that he felt he was doing the most
natural thing, not to say the most conventional thing, in the world.
She was notoriously a woman of no tact, but of so much heart that where
it was a question at once of friendship and of romance, as the question
of Dr. Olnev and of Miss Aldgate was with her, she exercised a sort of
inspiration in dealing with it. She put herself so wholly at the
service of their imagined exigency that she now made Olney feel his
welcome most keenly: a welcome which expressed that she would have been
equally glad and equally ready to receive him in her sweet-matted,
warm-rugged, hearth-fire-lit little drawing-room, if he had suddenly
appeared at half-past two in the morning. The Japanese portiere had not
ceased tinkling behind him when she appeared through it, with
outstretched hand. She promptly refused his excuses. "I really believe
I was somehow expecting you to-night; and I'm ashamed that Mr. Atherton
isn't up to bear witness to my presentiment. But he's had rather a
tiresome day, in  town, and he's gone to bed early. I'm glad to
say that Miss Aldgate has gone to her room, too. She's feeling the
reaction from the tension she's been in, and I hope it will be a
complete letting down for her. Have you heard anything more from those
strange people? Very odd they shouldn't any of them have come on!"
Mrs. Atherton meant the St. Louis connections of Mrs. Meredith, and
Olney said, with an embarrassed frown, " No, they haven't made any sign
"The strange thing about a tragedy of this kind is," Mrs. Atherton
remarked, " that you never can realize that it's ended. You always
think there's going to be something more of it. I suppose I was
thinking that you had heard something disagreeable from those people,
though I don't know what they could say or do to heighten the tragedy."
"I don't either," Olney answered. " But something else has
happened, Mrs. Atherton. You were quite right in your foreboding that
the end was not yet." He paused with a gloomier air than he knew, for
Bloomingdale's appearance was to him bv far the most tragical phase of
the affair. Then he went on thoughtfully. "I hardly know how to
approach the matter without seeming to meddle in it more than I mean to
do. I wish absolutely to put myself outside of it. But there's a kind
of necessity that I should tell you about it." As he said this the kind
of necessity that he had thought there was instantly vanished, and left
him feeling rather blank. There was no  necessity at all that he
should tell Mrs. Atherton what relation Bloomingdale bore, and wished
to bear, toward Miss Aldgate. All that he had to do, if he had to do
anything, was to tell her that he had given him his card to her, and
that she might expect him in the morning, and so leave her to her
conjectures. If he went beyond this, he must go very far beyond it, and
not make any confidence for Bloomingdale without making a much ampler
confidence for himself. "The fact is, I wish to submit a little case
of conscience to you."
Mrs. Atherton was delighted; and if she had been drowsy before,
this would have aroused her to the most vigilant alertness. She knew
that the case of conscience must somehow have something to do with Miss
Aldgate; she believed that it was nothing but a love affair in
disguise, and a love affair, with a strong infusion of moral question
in it, promised a pleasure to Mrs. Atherton's sympathetic nature which
nothing else could give. "Yes?" she said.
"Mrs. Atherton," Olnev resumed, "how far do you think a man is
justified in pursuing an advantage which another has put in big hands
unknowingly--say that another, who did not know that I was his enemy,
had put in my hands? "
"Not very far, Dr. Olney," she answered, promptly. "In fact, not at
all. That is, you might justify such a man, if the case were some one
else's. But you couldn't justify him if the case were yours."
"I was afraid you would say so; I knew you would  say so.
Well, the case is mine," said Olney," and it's this. I've run down here
to-night to tell you that I've given my card to a gentleman who will
call here in the morning."
Olney paused, and Mrs. Atherton said, "I'm sure I shall be glad to
see any friend of yours, Dr. Olney."
"He isn't my friend," Olney returned, gloomily.
"Then, any enemy," Mrs. Atherton suggested.
Olney put the little pleasantry by."The day before Mrs. Meredith
died, she told me something that I need not speak of except as it
relates to this Mr. Bloomingdale."
"It's Mr. Bloomingdale who's coming, then?"
"Yes. Do you know anything about him?"
"Oh, no! Only it's a very floral kind of name."
"I wish I could be light about the kind of person he is. But I
can't. He's a very formidable kind of person: very sensible, very
frank, very generous."
Mrs. Atherton shook her head with a subtle intelligence. " These
might be very disheartening traits--in another."
"They are. They complicate the business for me. This Mr.
Bloomingdale has offered himself to Miss Aldgate." Mrs. Atherton's
attentive gaze expressed no surprise; probably she had divined this
from the beginning. 'He was to have had his answer when he met her in
Boston," Olney said, with an effect of finding the words a bad taste in
his mouth. That was the arrangement in Liverpool. But, of course,
He stopped, and Mrs. Atherton took the word, with a lofty courage:
"Of course now he has all the greater right to it."
"Yes," said Olney, though he did not see why.
"I shall be glad to see Mr. Bloomingdale when he comes," Mrs.
Atherton went on; "and though it's an embarrassing moment, I must
manage to prepare Miss Aldgate for his coming. She will certainly have
her mind made up by this time."
There was something definitive in Mrs. Atherton's tone that made
Olney feel as if he had transacted his business, and he rose. He had
felt that he ought to tell Mrs. Atherton of his own hopes or purposes
in regard to Miss Aldgate; but now that he had given Bloomingdale away,
this did not seem necessary. In fact, by a sudden light that flashed
upon it, he perceived that it would be allowing his rival a fairer
chance if he let him have it without competition. Afterwards when he
got out of the house he thought he was a fool to do this; but he could
not go back and make his confession without appearing a greater fool;
and he kept on to the station, and waited there till the last train for
town came lagging along, and then he put himself beyond temptation, at
least for the night.
He spent what was left of it in imaginary interviews, now with Mrs.
Atherton, now with Bloomingdale, now with Rhoda, and now with all of
them in various combinations, and constructed futures varying in
character from the gayest happiness to the gloom of the  darkest
tragedy, lit by the one high star of self-renunciation. Olney got
almost as much satisfaction out of the renunciation as out of the
fruition of his hopes. It is apt to be so in these hypothetical cases;
perhaps it is often so in experience.
He waited heroically about all the next day to hear from Mrs.
Atherton. Something in the pressure of her hand at parting had assured
him that she understood everything, and that she was his friend; that
they were people of honor, who were bound to do this thing at any cost
to him, but that a just Providence would probably not let it cost him
much, or at least not everything.
When her letter came at last, hurried forward by a special delivery
stamp that spoke volumes in itself, it brought intelligence which at
first made Olney feel that he must somehow have been guilty of an
unfairness towards Bloomingdale, that he had tacitly if not explicitly
prejudiced his case. There was a little magnanimous moment in which he
could not rejoice that Miss Aldgate had absolutely refused to see Mr.
Bloomingdale; that she had shown both surprise and indignation at his
coming; and that no entreaty or argument of Mrs. Atherton's had
prevailed with her to show him the slightest mercy, or to send him any
message but that of abrupt refusal, which Mrs. Atherton softened to him
as best she could. She wrote now that she was sure there must be some
misunderstanding but that in Miss Aldgate's state of nervous
exaltation, it was perfectly useless to urge anything in  excuse
of him, and she had to resign herself to the girl's decision. She
coincided with Olney in his idea of Bloomingdale's character. She
owned to a little fancy for him, and to a great deal of compassion. He
had borne the severe treatment he received very manfully, and at the
same time gently. He seemed to accept it as final, and he did not rebel
against it by the slightest murmur. Olney perceived that Mrs. Atherton
had been recognized as his rival's confidante far enough to be
authorized to pour balm into his wounds, and that she probably had not
spared the balm. 
OLNEY expected, without being able to say why exactly, a second visit
from the man who was not only his former rival. Perhaps it was because
he believed he knew why Miss Aldgate had refused to see him that he
rather thought the young man would come to ask him. But he did not
come, and in the mean time Olney began to perceive that it would have
been preposterous for him to have come. Till he learned by inquiry of
the clerk at the Vendome that Bloomingdale had left there with his
mother and sisters, he did not feel that the minister was out of the
story, and that it remained for him alone to read it to the end. He
took it for granted that Rhoda treated the man who had certainly a
claim upon her kindness in that brusque, not to say brutal manner, out
of mere hysterical weakness. She had made up her mind to refuse him,
and as she felt she might not have strength to endure the sight of the
pain she must inflict, she had determined not to witness it. Whether
she had loved him too well to afflict him with her secret, or not well
enough to trust him with it, was what remained a question with Olney,
and he turned from one point of it to the other with the wish to answer
it in a sense different from both. What he wished to believe was 
that she did not love the poor young fellow at all, but this seemed to
be too good to be true, and he could not believe it with the constancy
of his desire. Nevertheless he had a fitful hold upon it, and it was
this faith, wavering and elusive as it was, that encouraged him to
think Miss Aldgate would not refuse to see him, and that he might at
any rate go down at once to Mrs. Atherton's, and ask about her if not
When he had reasoned to this conclusion, which he reached with
electrical rapidity as soon as he knew that Bloomingdale was gone, he
acted upon it. Mrs. Atherton received him with a cheerfulness that
ignored, at least in Miss Aldgate's presence, the fact that lay hidden
in their thoughts if not in hers. Olney was not obliged to ask about
her or for her; she came down with.Mrs. Atherton, as if it were
entirely natural she should do so; and the pathetic confidingness of
her reception of him as an old friend, brightened almost into the
gayety that was her first and principal charm for him. If it had
appeared at once this gayety would have troubled him; he would have
doubted it for that levity of nature, of race, for which Mrs. Meredith
had seen it; but it came out slowly like sunshine through mist, and
flattered him with the hope that he had evoked it upon her tragic mask.
At the same time he was puzzled, if not shocked, that she seemed
forgetful of the woman, so recently gone forever, who had been in all
effects a mother to her, and who had sacrificed and borne more than
most mothers for her her sake. He was himself too inexperienced, as
yet, to  know that we grieve for the dead only by fits, by
impulses; that the soul from time to time flings off with all its
force, the crushing burden, which then sinks slowly back and bows it in
sorrow to the earth again; that if ever grief is constant, it is
madness, it is death.
Mrs. Atherton could have told him of moments when the girl was
prostrated by her bereavement, and realized to their whole meaning the
desolation and despair which it had left her to. But she could not have
told him of the stony weight of unforgiveness at the child's heart; of
her unreasoning resentment of the dead woman's revelation, as if she
had created the fact that she had felt so sorely bound to impart. The
tragic circumstances of her death had not won her pardon for this: the
girl felt through all that her aunt had somehow made it so; and for
her, ignorant of it all her life till that avowal, she had indeed made
it so. Whether a wiser and kinder conscience might not have found it
possible to keep the secret, in which there was no guilt or
responsibility for the girl, and trust the Judge of all the earth for
the end, is a question which the casuist of Mrs. Meredith's school
could not deal with. Duty with her could mean but one thing, and she
had done her duty. Certainly she was not to be condemned for it; but
neither was the affection which she had so sorely wounded to blame if
it had conceived for her memory the bitter drop of hate which poisoned
all Rhoda's thoughts of her. What the girl had constantly said to
herself from the first was what she still said: that having kept this
secret  from her all her life, it was too late for her aunt to
speak when she did speak at last. Another not involved in the
consequences of her act might not have taken this view of it; but this
was the view taken of it by the girl who felt herself its victim, and
who helplessly resented it, in spite of all that had happened since.
Whether she was in any degree excusable, or whether she was wholly
in the wrong in this feeling, must remain for each to decide, and to
each must be left the question of how far the Puritan civilization has
carried the cult of the personal conscience into mere dutiolatry. The
daughter of an elder faith would have simplified the affair, and
perhaps shirked the responsibility proper to her, by going first with
her secret to her confessor, and then being ruled by him. Mrs. Meredith
had indeed made a confessor of her physician, after the frequent manner
of our shrill-nerved women, but even if Olney could have felt that he
had the right to counsel her on the moral side, it is doubtful if she
could have found the strength to submit to him.
Olney's interest in her was mainly confined to the episodes of the
last few days, and vivid as these had been, it could not hold him long
in censure of Miss Aldgate's behavior; he began to yield to the charm
of her presence, and in a little while hazily to wonder what his
reserves about her were. She was in the black that seems to grow upon
women in the time of mourning, and it singularly became her. It is the
 color for the South, and for Southern beauty, like the inky
shadow cast by the effulgence of tropical skies, it is the counterpart
of the glister and flash of hair and eyes which no other hue could set
off so well. The girl's splendor dazzled him from the sable cloud of
her attire, and in Mrs. Atherton's blond presence, which also bad its
sumptuousness--she was large and handsome, and had as yet lost no grace
of her girlhood--he felt the tameness of the Northern type. It was the
elder world, the beauty of antiquity, which appealed to him in the
lustre and sparkle of this girl; and the remote taint of her servile
and savage origin gave her a kind of fascination which refuses to let
itself be put in words: it was like the grace of a limp, the occult,
indefinable lovableness of a deformity, but transcending these by its
allurement in infinite degree, and going for the reason of its effect
deep into the mysterious places of being where the spirit and the
animal meet and part in us. When Olney followed some turn of her head,
some movement of her person, a wave of the profoundest passion surged
up in his heart, and he knew that he loved her with all his life, which
he could make his death if it were a question of that. The mood was of
his emotional nature alone; it sought and could have won no
justification from his moral sense, which indeed it simply submerged
and blotted out for the time.
There was no reason why he should not stay now as long as he liked,
or why he should not come again as often as Mrs. Atherton could find
pretexts for asking  him. Between them they treated the matter
very frankly. He took her advice upon the taste and upon the wisdom of
urging his suit at so strange a time; and she decided that in the
anomalous situation to which Miss Aldgate was left, her absolute
friendlessness and helplessness, there were more reasons for his wooing
than against it. They took Mrs. Atherton's husband into their
confidence, and availed themselves of the daylight of a legal mind upon
their problem. He greatly assisted to clear up the coarser difficulties
by communicating as Miss Aldgate's lawyer with her aunt's connections
in St. Louis. Mrs. Meredith had left to her niece the remnant of the
property she had inherited from her husband, and his family willingly,
almost eagerly, accepted the conditions of the will. They waived any
right to question it in any sort, and they made no inquiries about Miss
Aldgate, or her purposes or wishes.
Olney agreed with the Athertons that their behavior was very
singular, but he kept his own conjectures as to the grounds of it. They
were, in fact, hardly conjectures any more; they were convictions. He
felt sure that they knew the secret which Mrs. Meredith believed her
husband had kept from all the world; but this did not concern him so
deeply as the belief that had constantly grown upon him since their
first meeting in Mrs. Atherton's presence, that Rhoda knew it too. He
had no reason for his belief; it was quite without palpable proofs; it
was mere intuition; and yet he was more and more sure of the fact.
His assurance of it strengthened with his belief that the girl
loved him, and had perhaps had her fancy for him from the moment they
saw each other in Florence. The evidences that a woman gives of her
love before it is asked are always easily resolvable into something
else; and in both these things Olney's beliefs were of the same
quality, and they were of the same measure. But the one conviction
began to taint and poison the other. The man's sweetest and fondest
hope became a pang to him, because it involved the fear that the girl
might have decided to accept his love and yet keep her secret. In any
case he desired her love; as before himself he did not blame her for
withholding her secret till she found what seemed to her the best time
for imparting it; but for her own sake he could have wished that she
would heroically choose the worst. This tacit demand upon her was made
from his knowledge of how safe it would be for her to tell him
everything, and it left out of the account the fact that till he asked
her to be his wife he had no claim upon her, that he could have no
terms from her till he owned himself won. Love is a war in which there
can be no preliminaries for grace; the surrender must be unconditional,
before these can even be mentioned.
There were times, of course, when Olney could not believe that the
girl knew what at other times she seemed to withhold from him; but at
all times the conjecture had to be kept to himself. If she knew, she
practised a perfect art in concealing her knowledge which made him fear
for the future; and if she  did not know, then she showed an
indifference to her aunt's memory which seemed not less than unnatural.
He conceived the truth concerning her when he said to himself that
Rhoda must hold Mrs. Meredith responsible for the fact if she had
imparted it; and that time alone could clear away her confusion of mind
and enable her to be just to the means which she confounded with the
cause of her suffering. But he could not have followed her into those
fastnesses of the more intensely personalized feminine consciousness
where the girl relentlessly punished her aunt in thought, not for doing
her duty, but for doing it too late, when she could remain through life
only the unreconciled victim of her origin, instead of revealing it
early enough to enable her to accept it and annul it by conforming
herself to it.
As this was what Rhoda had never ceased to believe would have been
possible, her heart remained sore with resentment in the midst of the
love which she could riot help letting Olney divine. Circumstance had
drawn their lives into a sudden intimacy which neither would or could
withdraw from; they drifted on toward the only possible conclusion
together. For the most part the sense of their love preoccupied them.
She turned from her desperate retrospect and blindly strove to keep
herself in the present, and to shun the future as she tried to escape
the past; he made sure of nothing to build on except the fact that at
least she did not know that Mrs. Meredith had confided her secret to
him. With this certain, he could take all  chances. He could trust
time to soften her heart toward the dead, and he could forgive the
concealment toward himself which she used. One thing that he could not
understand was her apparent willingness to remain just where and as she
was indefinitely; he did not realize that it was apparent only, and as
a man he did not account for her patience--if it were patience--as an
effect of the abeyance in which the whole training of women teaches
them to keep themselves. The moral of their education from the moment
they can be instructed in anything is passivity, and to take any
positive course must be a negation almost of their being; it must cost
an effort unimaginable to a man.
The summer weeks faded away into September, when one morning Olney
came to see Rhoda, and found her sitting on a bench to the seaward of a
group of birches. The trees had already dropped a few yellow leaves on
the lawn, which looked like flowers strewn in the still vividly green
grass. It was one of those pale mornings when a silvery mist blots the
edge of the sea and lets the sails melt into it. She was looking
wistfully out at them, across Mrs. Atherton's wall, which struggled so
conscientiously to look wild and unkempt, with its nasturtiums
clambering over it; but she did not affect to be startled when Olney's
steps made themselves heard on the gravel-walk coming toward her.
She flushed with the same joy that thrilled in his heart, and
waited for him to come near enough to  take her hand before she
asked, " Oh, didn't you see Mrs. Atherton?"
"She sent me word that you were here, as if that were what I
wanted," he answered, smiling over the hand he held.
"Well, I can tell you myself, then," she said, sitting down again.
"Yes; or not, as you like," he returned.
"No, it is isn't whether I like or not. I am going away."
"Yes," he said quietly. "Where?"
"To--to New Orleans. To look up my mother's family." She lifted her
eyes anxiously to his face, and then helplessly let her glance fall. "I
have been talking it over with Mrs. Atherton, and she thinks too that I
ought to try to find them."
Olney's heart gave a leap. He knew that she was hovering on the
verge of a confession, which she longed to make for his sake, and that
he ought not to suffer her till he had made his own confession. He had
the joy of realizing her truth, and he rested nervelessly in that a
moment, before he could say lightly, " I don't see why you should do
"Don't you think--think--that it's my duty?" she pleaded.
"Not in the least! From the experience I've had with the St. Louis
branch of your family I don't think it's your duty to look any of them
up. Why do you think it is your duty? Have they tried to find you?"
"They are very poor and humble people--the humblest," she faltered
piteously. "They--" 
Her breath went in silence, and he cried, "Rhoda! Don't go away!
Stay! Stay with me. Or, if you must go somewhere, go back with me to
Florence, where the happiness of my life began when I first knew you
were in the world. I love you! I ask you to be my wife!"
She let her hand seem to sink deeper in his hold, which had somehow
not released it yet; she almost pushed it in for an instant, and then
she pulled it away violently. "Never!" She sprang to her feet and
gasped hoarsely out, "I am a negress!"
Something in her tragedy affected Olney comically; perhaps the
belief that she had often rehearsed these words as answer to his
demand. He smiled. "Well, not a very black one. Besides, what of it, if
I love you?"
"What of it?" she echoed. "But don't you know? You mustn't!"
The simpleness of the words made him laugh outright; these she had
not rehearsed. She had dramatized his instant renunciation of her when
he knew the fatal truth.
"Why not? I love you, whether I must or not!"
As tragedy the whole affair had fallen to ruin. It could be
reconstructed, if at all, only upon an octave much below the operatic
pitch. It must be treated in no lurid twilight gloom, but in plain,
simple, matter-of-fact noonday.
"I can't let you," she began, in a vain effort to catch up some
fragments of her meditated melodrama  about her. "You don't
understand. My grandmother was a slave."
"The more shame to the man that called himself her master! " said
Olney. " But I do know--I understand everything--I know everything!" He
had not meant to say this. He had always imagined keeping his knowledge
from her till they were married, and then in some favored moment
confessing that her aunt had told him, and making her forgive her for
having told him. But now, in his eagerness to spare her the story which
he saw she had it on her conscience to tell him in full, the truth had
"You know it!" she exclaimed, with a fierce recoil. "How do you
"Your aunt told me," he answered, hardily. He must now make the
best of the worst.
"Then she was false to me with her last breath! Oh, I will never
"Oh, yes you will, my dear," said Olney, with the quiet which he
felt to be his only hope with her. "She had to tell met to advise with
me, before she told you. I wish she had never told you, but if she had
not told me, she would have defrauded me of the sweetest thing in
"The privilege of stooping to such a creature as I?" she demanded,
He took her hand and kissed it, and kept it in his. "No: the right
of saying that you are all the dearer to me for being just what you
are, and that I'm prouder of you for it. And now, don't say that you
will not  forgive that poor soul, who suffered years for every
hour that you have suffered from that cause. She felt herself sacredly
bound to tell you."
"It was too late then," said the girl, with starting tears. " She
killed me. I can't forgive her."
"Well, what can that matter to her? She can forgive you; and that's
the great thing."
"What do you mean?" she asked, weakly trying to get her hand away.
"How came she to tell you that she hadn't told me?"
"I--I made her," faltered the girl. " I asked her if she had. I was
"Yes. You had no right to do that. Of course she had to deny it,
and you made her take a new lie on her conscience when she had just
escaped from one that she had carried for you all your life." Olney
gave her back her hand. "Whatever you do with me, for your own sake put
away all thoughts of hardness towards that poor woman."
There was a long silence. Then the girl broke into sudden tears. "I
do; I will! I see it now! It was cruel, cruel! But I couldn't see it
then; I couldn't see anything but myself ; the world was filled with
me--blotted out with me! Ah, can she ever forgive me? If I could only
have one word with her, to say that there never was any real hardness
in me toward her, and I didn't know what I was doing! Do you think I
made her kill herself? Tell me if you do! I can bear it--I deserve to
bear it!" 
"She never meant to kill herself," said Olney, sincerely. "I feel
sure of that. But she's gone, and you are here; the question's of you,
not of her; and I only asked you to be just to yourself. I did' nt mean
to tell you now that I knew your secret from her, but I'm not sorry I
told you, if it's helped you to substitute a regret for a resentment."
"It's done that for all my life long."
"Ah, I didn't mean it to go so far as that!" said Olney, smiling.
"No matter! It's what I must bear. It's a just punishment." She
rose suddenly, and put out her hand to him. "Good-by."
"What for?" he asked. "I'm not going."
"But I am. I'm going away to find my mother's people, if I can--to
help them and acknowledge them. I tried to talk with Mrs. Atherton
about it, the other day, but I couldn't rightly, for I couldn't let her
understand fully. But it's true--and be serious about it, and don't
laugh at me! Oughtn't I to go down there and help them; try to educate
them, and elevate them; give my life to them? Isn't it base and
cowardly to desert them, and live happily apart from them, when--"
"When you might live so miserably with them?" Olney asked. " Ah,
that's the kind of question that I suspect your poor aunt used to
torment herself with! But if you wish me to be really serious with you
about it, I will say, Yes, you would have some such duty toward them,
perhaps, if you had voluntarily chosen  your part with them--if
you had ever consented to be of their kind. Then it would be base and
cowardly to desert them; it would be a treason of the vilest sort. But
you never did that, or anything like it, and there is no more specific
obligation upon you to give your life to their elevation than there is
upon me. Besides, I doubt if that sort of specific devotion would do
much good. The way to elevate them is to elevate us, to begin with. It
will be an easy matter to deal with those simple-hearted folks after
we've got into the right way ourselves. No, if you must give your life
to the improvement of any particular race, give it to mine. Begin with
me. You won't find me unreasonable. All that I shall ask of you are the
fifteen-sixteenths or so of you that belong to my race by heredity; and
I will cheerfully consent to your giving our colored connections their
Olney broke off, and laughed at his joke, and she joined him
helplessly. " Oh! don't laugh at me!"
"Laugh at you? I feel a great deal more like crying. If you go down
there to elevate the blacks, what is to become of me? I don't really
object to your going, but I want to go with you."
"What do you mean?" she entreated, piteously.
"What I said just now. I love you, and I ask you to be my wife."
"I said I couldn't. You know why."
"But you didn't mean it, or you'd have given me some reason."
"Some reason?" 
"Yes. What you said was only an excuse. I can't accept it. Rhoda,"
he added, seriously, " I'm afraid you don't understand! Can't you
understand that what you told me--what I knew already--didn't make the
slightest difference to me, and couldn't to any man who was any sort of
a man! Or yes, it does make a difference! But such a kind of difference
that if I could have you other than you are by wishing I wouldn't--for
my own selfish sake at least, I wouldn't wish it for the world. Can't
you understand that?"
"No, I can't understand that. It seems to me that it must make you
loathe me. Oh!" she shuddered. "You don't know how hideous they are--a
whole churchful, as I saw them that night. And I'm like them!"
Olney's heart ached for her, but he could not help his laugh.
"Well, you don't look it. Oh, you poor child! Why do you torment
"I can't help it. It's burnt into me. It's branded me one of them.
I am one. No, I can't escape. And the best way is to go and live among
them and own it. Then perhaps I can learn to bear it, and not hate them
so. But I do hate them. I do, I do! I can't help it and I don't blame
you for hating me!"
"I don't happen to hate even you," said Olney, going back to his
lightness. "My trouble's another kind. Perhaps I should hate you, and
hate them, if I'd come of a race of slave-holders, as you have. But my
people never injured those poor creatures, and so  I don't hate
them, or their infinitesimal part in you."
He found himself, whenever it came to the worst with her in this
crisis, taking a tone of levity which was so little of his own volition
that it seemed rather to take him. He was physician enough to flatter
his patient for her good, and instinctively he treated Rhoda as if she
were his patient. It did flatter her to have that side of her ancestry
dwelt upon, and to be treated as the daughter of slave-holders; she who
would not reconcile herself to her servile origin, listened with a kind
of fascination to his tender mockery, in which she felt herself swayed
by the deep under-current of his faithful love.
"Come, come!" he went on, and at his touch she dropped weakly back
into her seat again, and let him take her hand and hold it. "I know how
this fact has seized upon you and blotted everything else out of the
world. But life's made up of a great deal else; and you are but one
little part injured to many parts injurer. You belong incomparably more
to the oppressors than to the oppressed, and what I'm afraid of is that
you'll keep me in hopeless slavery as long as I live. Who would ever
imagine that you were as black as you say ? Who would think--"
"Ah, you've confessed it! You would be ashamed of me, if people
knew! That is it!"
"If you'll answer me as I wish, I'll go up with you to the house
and tell Mrs. Atherton. I've rather a fancy for seeing how she would
take it. But I can't  unless you'll let me share in the disgrace
with you. Will you?"
"Never! It shall never be known! For your sake! I can bear it; but
you shall not. Promise me that you'll never tell a living soul!" She
caught him nervously, by the arm, and clung to him. It was her sign of
He accepted it, and said: " Very well, I promise it. But only on
one condition: that you believe I'm not afraid to tell it. Otherwise my
self-respect will oblige me to go round shouting it to everybody. Do
"Yes, I promise: [sic]" and now she yielded to the gayety of his
mood, and a succession of flashing smiles lit up her face, in which her
doom was transmuted to the happiest fortune. She kept smiling, with her
bands linked through his arm and her form drawn close to him; while
their talk flowed fantastically away from all her awful questions..
Their love performed the effect of common-sense for them, and in its
purple light they saw the every-day duties of life plain before them.
They spoke frankly of the incidents of the past few days, and he told
her now of his interview with the Bloomingdale family, and how he felt
that be had hardened Mrs. Bloomingdale's heart against her by his
unsympathetic behavior in denying them an interview with Rhoda herself.
This made her laugh, but she said, with a shudder: "I couldn't
have borne to look at them. From the first moment after my aunt told
me, I felt that I must  prevent their ever seeing me again. I
wrote to him, and I carried the letter out with me to post it, and make
sure it went; and then somehow I forgot to post it."
"Ah," said Olney, " I suppose that's the reason why he came to see
me, and to ask where he could find you."
"Yes," answered Rhoda, placidly.
"There is only one thing in the whole affair that really troubles
me," said Olney, " and that's the very short shrift you gave that poor
"Why, when I had written to him I would not see him again, I
supposed he was persisting, and it was only the other day that I found
the letter, which I'd forgotten to post. It was in the pocket of the
dress I wore that night to the church."
"And you don't think his persisting--his caring so much for
you--gave him the right to see you?"
"Not the least."
"Ah, a man never understands a woman's position on that question."
"Why, of course, if I had cared for him--"
"I don't know but I've a little case of conscience here myself. I
had awful qualms when that poor fellow was talking with me. I perceived
that he was as magnanimous as I was on the subject of heredity, and
that, I thought, ought to count in his favor. Will you let it?"
"Why not?' 
" Because I don't care for him."
"How simple it is! Well, he's off my conscience, at any rate."
She began to grieve a little."But if you are sorry--"
"If you think you will ever regret--if you're not sure that you'll
never be troubled by--by--that, then we had better--"
"My dear child," said Olney, "I'm going to leave all the trouble of
that to you. I assure you that from this on I shall never think of it.
I am going to provide for your future, and let you look after your
She dropped her head with a sob upon his shoulder, and as he
gathered her in his arms he felt as if he had literally rescued her
from her own thoughts of herself.
He was young and strong, and he believed that he would always be
able to make her trust him against them, because now in the fulness of
their happiness he prevailed.
There are few men who, when the struggle of life is mainly over, do
not wonder at the risks they took in the days of their youth and
strength; and it could not be pretended that Olney found more than the
common share of happiness in the lot he chose; but then it could be
said honestly enough that he did not consider either life or love
valuable for the happiness they could yield. They were enough in
themselves. He was not a seeker after happiness, and when he  saw
that even his love failed at times to make life happy for his wife, he
pitied her, and he did not blame her. He knew that in her hours of
despondency there was that war between her temperament and her
character which is the fruitful cause of misery in the world, where all
strains are now so crossed and intertangled that there is no definite
and unbroken direction any more in any of us. In her, the infusion was
only a little greater than in most others, and if Olney ever had any
regret it was that the sunny-natured antetypes of her mother's race had
not endowed her with more of the heaven-born cheerfulness with which it
meets contumely and injustice. His struggle was with that hypochondria
of the soul into which the Puritanism of her father's race had sickened
in her, and which so often seems to satisfy its crazy claim upon
conscience by enforcing some aimless act of self-sacrifice. The silence
in which they lived concerning her origin weighed upon her sometimes
with the sense of a guilty deceit, and it was her remorse for this that
he had to reason her out of. The question whether it ought not to be
told to each of their acquaintance who became a friend had always to be
solved anew, especially if the acquaintance was an American; but as yet
their secret remains their own. They are settled at Rome, after a brief
experiment of a narrower field of practice at Florence; and the most
fanciful of Olney's compatriot patients does not dream that his wife
ought to suffer shame from her. She is thought to look so very Italian
that you  would really take her for an Italian, and he represents
to her that it would not be the ancestral color, which is much the same
in other races, but the ancestral condition which their American
friends would despise if they knew of it; that this is a quality of the
despite in which hard work is held all the world over, and has always
followed the children of the man who earns his bread with his hands,
especially if he earns other people's bread too.