Bell in the Fog
And Other Stories
"Rulers of Kings" "The Conqueror" etc.
New York and London
Harper & Brothers
Publishers :: 1905
I. THE BELL IN THE FOG
II. THE STRIDING PLACE
III. THE DEAD AND THE COUNTESS
IV. THE GREATEST GOOD OF THE GREATEST NUMBER
V. A MONARCH OF A SMALL SURVEY
VI. THE TRAGEDY OF A SNOB
VII. CROWNED WITH ONE CREST
VIII. DEATH AND THE WOMAN
IX. A PROLOGUE (TO AN UNWRITTEN PLAY)
X. TALBOT OF URSULA
The Bell in the Fog
he great author had realized one of the dreams of his ambitious youth,
the possession of an ancestral hall in England. It was not so much the
good American's reverence for ancestors that inspired the longing to
consort with the ghosts of an ancient line, as artistic appreciation of
the mellowness, the dignity, the aristocratic aloofness of walls that
have sheltered, and furniture that has embraced, generations and
generations of the dead. To mere wealth, only his astute and
incomparably modern brain yielded respect; his ego raised its
goose-flesh at the sight of rooms furnished with a single check,
conciliatory as the taste might be. The dumping of the old interiors of
Europe into the glistening shells of the United States not only roused
him almost to passionate protest, but offended his patriotism—which he
classified among his unworked ideals. The average American was not an
artist, therefore he had no excuse for even the affectation of
cosmopolitanism. Heaven knew he was national enough in everything else,
from his accent to his lack of repose; let his surroundings be in
Orth had left the United States soon after his first successes, and, his
art being too great to be confounded with locality, he had long since
ceased to be spoken of as an American author. All civilized Europe
furnished stages for his puppets, and, if never picturesque nor
impassioned, his originality was as overwhelming as his style. His
subtleties might not always be understood—indeed, as a rule, they were
not—but the musical mystery of his language and the penetrating charm
of his lofty and cultivated mind induced raptures in the initiated,
forever denied to those who failed to appreciate him.
His following was not a large one, but it was very distinguished. The
aristocracies of the earth gave to it; and not to understand and admire
Ralph Orth was deliberately to relegate one's self to the ranks. But the
elect are few, and they frequently subscribe to the circulating
libraries; on the Continent, they buy the Tauchnitz edition; and had
not Mr. Orth inherited a sufficiency of ancestral dollars to enable him
to keep rooms in Jermyn Street, and the wardrobe of an Englishman of
leisure, he might have been forced to consider the tastes of the
middle-class at a desk in Hampstead. But, as it mercifully was, the
fashionable and exclusive sets of London knew and sought him. He was too
wary to become a fad, and too sophisticated to grate or bore;
consequently, his popularity continued evenly from year to year, and
long since he had come to be regarded as one of them. He was not keenly
addicted to sport, but he could handle a gun, and all men respected his
dignity and breeding. They cared less for his books than women did,
perhaps because patience is not a characteristic of their sex. I am
alluding, however, in this instance, to men-of-the-world. A group of
young literary men—and one or two women—put him on a pedestal and
kissed the earth before it. Naturally, they imitated him, and as this
flattered him, and he had a kindly heart deep among the cere-cloths of
his formalities, he sooner or later wrote "appreciations" of them all,
which nobody living could understand, but which owing to the sub-title
and signature answered every purpose.
With all this, however, he was not utterly content. From the 12th of
August until late in the winter—when he did not go to Homburg and the
Riviera—he visited the best houses in England, slept in state chambers,
and meditated in historic parks; but the country was his one passion,
and he longed for his own acres.
He was turning fifty when his great-aunt died and made him her heir: "as
a poor reward for his immortal services to literature," read the will of
this phenomenally appreciative relative. The estate was a large one.
There was a rush for his books; new editions were announced. He smiled
with cynicism, not unmixed with sadness; but he was very grateful for
the money, and as soon as his fastidious taste would permit he bought
him a country-seat.
The place gratified all his ideals and dreams—for he had romanced about
his sometime English possession as he had never dreamed of woman. It had
once been the property of the Church, and the ruin of cloister and
chapel above the ancient wood was sharp against the low pale sky. Even
the house itself was Tudor, but wealth from generation to generation had
kept it in repair; and the lawns were as velvety, the hedges as rigid,
the trees as aged as any in his own works. It was not a castle nor a
great property, but it was quite perfect; and for a long while he felt
like a bridegroom on a succession of honeymoons. He often laid his hand
against the rough ivied walls in a lingering caress.
After a time, he returned the hospitalities of his friends, and his
invitations, given with the exclusiveness of his great distinction, were
never refused. Americans visiting England eagerly sought for letters to
him; and if they were sometimes benumbed by that cold and formal
presence, and awed by the silences of Chillingsworth—the few who
entered there—they thrilled in anticipation of verbal triumphs, and
forthwith bought an entire set of his books. It was characteristic that
they dared not ask him for his autograph.
Although women invariably described him as "brilliant," a few men
affirmed that he was gentle and lovable, and any one of them was well
content to spend weeks at Chillingsworth with no other companion. But,
on the whole, he was rather a lonely man.
It occurred to him how lonely he was one gay June morning when the
sunlight was streaming through his narrow windows, illuminating
tapestries and armor, the family portraits of the young profligate from
whom he had made this splendid purchase, dusting its gold on the black
wood of wainscot and floor. He was in the gallery at the moment,
studying one of his two favorite portraits, a gallant little lad in the
green costume of Robin Hood. The boy's expression was imperious and
radiant, and he had that perfect beauty which in any disposition
appealed so powerfully to the author. But as Orth stared to-day at the
brilliant youth, of whose life he knew nothing, he suddenly became aware
of a human stirring at the foundations of his aesthetic pleasure.
"I wish he were alive and here," he thought, with a sigh. "What a jolly
little companion he would be! And this fine old mansion would make a far
more complementary setting for him than for me."
He turned away abruptly, only to find himself face to face with the
portrait of a little girl who was quite unlike the boy, yet so perfect
in her own way, and so unmistakably painted by the same hand, that he
had long since concluded they had been brother and sister. She was
angelically fair, and, young as she was—she could not have been more
than six years old—her dark-blue eyes had a beauty of mind which must
have been remarkable twenty years later. Her pouting mouth was like a
little scarlet serpent, her skin almost transparent, her pale hair fell
waving—not curled with the orthodoxy of childhood—about her tender
bare shoulders. She wore a long white frock, and clasped tightly against
her breast a doll far more gorgeously arrayed than herself. Behind her
were the ruins and the woods of Chillingsworth.
Orth had studied this portrait many times, for the sake of an art which
he understood almost as well as his own; but to-day he saw only the
lovely child. He forgot even the boy in the intensity of this new and
"Did she live to grow up, I wonder?" he thought. "She should have made a
remarkable, even a famous woman, with those eyes and that brow,
but—could the spirit within that ethereal frame stand the
enlightenments of maturity? Would not that mind—purged, perhaps, in a
long probation from the dross of other existences—flee in disgust from
the commonplace problems of a woman's life? Such perfect beings should
die while they are still perfect. Still, it is possible that this little
girl, whoever she was, was idealized by the artist, who painted into her
his own dream of exquisite childhood."
Again he turned away impatiently. "I believe I am rather fond of
children," he admitted. "I catch myself watching them on the street when
they are pretty enough. Well, who does not like them?" he added, with
He went back to his work; he was chiselling a story which was to be the
foremost excuse of a magazine as yet unborn. At the end of half an hour
he threw down his wondrous instrument—which looked not unlike an
ordinary pen—and making no attempt to disobey the desire that possessed
him, went back to the gallery. The dark splendid boy, the angelic little
girl were all he saw—even of the several children in that roll-call of
the past—and they seemed to look straight down his eyes into depths
where the fragmentary ghosts of unrecorded ancestors gave faint musical
"The dead's kindly recognition of the dead," he thought. "But I wish
these children were alive."
For a week he haunted the gallery, and the children haunted him. Then he
became impatient and angry. "I am mooning like a barren woman," he
exclaimed. "I must take the briefest way of getting those youngsters off
With the help of his secretary, he ransacked the library, and finally
brought to light the gallery catalogue which had been named in the
inventory. He discovered that his children were the Viscount Tancred and
the Lady Blanche Mortlake, son and daughter of the second Earl of
Teignmouth. Little wiser than before, he sat down at once and wrote to
the present earl, asking for some account of the lives of the children.
He awaited the answer with more restlessness than he usually permitted
himself, and took long walks, ostentatiously avoiding the gallery.
"I believe those youngsters have obsessed me," he thought, more than
once. "They certainly are beautiful enough, and the last time I looked
at them in that waning light they were fairly alive. Would that they
were, and scampering about this park."
Lord Teignmouth, who was intensely grateful to him, answered promptly.
"I am afraid," he wrote, "that I don't know much about my
ancestors—those who didn't do something or other; but I have a vague
remembrance of having been told by an aunt of mine, who lives on the
family traditions—she isn't married—that the little chap was drowned
in the river, and that the little girl died too—I mean when she was a
little girl—wasted away, or something—I'm such a beastly idiot about
expressing myself, that I wouldn't dare to write to you at all if you
weren't really great. That is actually all I can tell you, and I am
afraid the painter was their only biographer."
The author was gratified that the girl had died young, but grieved for
the boy. Although he had avoided the gallery of late, his practised
imagination had evoked from the throngs of history the high-handed and
brilliant, surely adventurous career of the third Earl of Teignmouth. He
had pondered upon the deep delights of directing such a mind and
character, and had caught himself envying the dust that was older still.
When he read of the lad's early death, in spite of his regret that such
promise should have come to naught, he admitted to a secret thrill of
satisfaction that the boy had so soon ceased to belong to any one. Then
he smiled with both sadness and humor.
"What an old fool I am!" he admitted. "I believe I not only wish those
children were alive, but that they were my own."
The frank admission proved fatal. He made straight for the gallery. The
boy, after the interval of separation, seemed more spiritedly alive than
ever, the little girl to suggest, with her faint appealing smile, that
she would like to be taken up and cuddled.
"I must try another way," he thought, desperately, after that long
communion. "I must write them out of me."
He went back to the library and locked up the tour de force which had
ceased to command his classic faculty. At once, he began to write the
story of the brief lives of the children, much to the amazement of that
faculty, which was little accustomed to the simplicities. Nevertheless,
before he had written three chapters, he knew that he was at work upon a
masterpiece—and more: he was experiencing a pleasure so keen that once
and again his hand trembled, and he saw the page through a mist.
Although his characters had always been objective to himself and his
more patient readers, none knew better than he—a man of no
delusions—that they were so remote and exclusive as barely to escape
being mere mentalities; they were never the pulsing living creations of
the more full-blooded genius. But he had been content to have it so. His
creations might find and leave him cold, but he had known his highest
satisfaction in chiselling the statuettes, extracting subtle and
elevating harmonies, while combining words as no man of his tongue had
combined them before.
But the children were not statuettes. He had loved and brooded over them
long ere he had thought to tuck them into his pen, and on its first
stroke they danced out alive. The old mansion echoed with their
laughter, with their delightful and original pranks. Mr. Orth knew
nothing of children, therefore all the pranks he invented were as
original as his faculty. The little girl clung to his hand or knee as
they both followed the adventurous course of their common idol, the
boy. When Orth realized how alive they were, he opened each room of his
home to them in turn, that evermore he might have sacred and poignant
memories with all parts of the stately mansion where he must dwell alone
to the end. He selected their bedrooms, and hovered over them—not
through infantile disorders, which were beyond even his
imagination,—but through those painful intervals incident upon the
enterprising spirit of the boy and the devoted obedience of the girl to
fraternal command. He ignored the second Lord Teignmouth; he was himself
their father, and he admired himself extravagantly for the first time;
art had chastened him long since. Oddly enough, the children had no
mother, not even the memory of one.
He wrote the book more slowly than was his wont, and spent delightful
hours pondering upon the chapter of the morrow. He looked forward to the
conclusion with a sort of terror, and made up his mind that when the
inevitable last word was written he should start at once for Homburg.
Incalculable times a day he went to the gallery, for he no longer had
any desire to write the children out of his mind, and his eyes hungered
for them. They were his now. It was with an effort that he sometimes
humorously reminded himself that another man had fathered them, and
that their little skeletons were under the choir of the chapel. Not
even for peace of mind would he have descended into the vaults of the
lords of Chillingsworth and looked upon the marble effigies of his
children. Nevertheless, when in a superhumorous mood, he dwelt upon his
high satisfaction in having been enabled by his great-aunt to purchase
all that was left of them.
For two months he lived in his fool's paradise, and then he knew that
the book must end. He nerved himself to nurse the little girl through
her wasting illness, and when he clasped her hands, his own shook, his
knees trembled. Desolation settled upon the house, and he wished he had
left one corner of it to which he could retreat unhaunted by the child's
presence. He took long tramps, avoiding the river with a sensation next
to panic. It was two days before he got back to his table, and then he
had made up his mind to let the boy live. To kill him off, too, was more
than his augmented stock of human nature could endure. After all, the
lad's death had been purely accidental, wanton. It was just that he
should live—with one of the author's inimitable suggestions of future
greatness; but, at the end, the parting was almost as bitter as the
other. Orth knew then how men feel when their sons go forth to
encounter the world and ask no more of the old companionship.
The author's boxes were packed. He sent the manuscript to his publisher
an hour after it was finished—he could not have given it a final
reading to have saved it from failure—directed his secretary to examine
the proof under a microscope, and left the next morning for Homburg.
There, in inmost circles, he forgot his children. He visited in several
of the great houses of the Continent until November; then returned to
London to find his book the literary topic of the day. His secretary
handed him the reviews; and for once in a way he read the finalities of
the nameless. He found himself hailed as a genius, and compared in
astonished phrases to the prodigiously clever talent which the world for
twenty years had isolated under the name of Ralph Orth. This pleased
him, for every writer is human enough to wish to be hailed as a genius,
and immediately. Many are, and many wait; it depends upon the fashion of
the moment, and the needs and bias of those who write of writers. Orth
had waited twenty years; but his past was bedecked with the headstones
of geniuses long since forgotten. He was gratified to come thus publicly
into his estate, but soon reminded himself that all the adulation of
which a belated world was capable could not give him one thrill of the
pleasure which the companionship of that book had given him, while
creating. It was the keenest pleasure in his memory, and when a man is
fifty and has written many books, that is saying a great deal.
He allowed what society was in town to lavish honors upon him for
something over a month, then cancelled all his engagements and went down
His estate was in Hertfordshire, that county of gentle hills and tangled
lanes, of ancient oaks and wide wild heaths, of historic houses, and
dark woods, and green fields innumerable—a Wordsworthian shire, steeped
in the deepest peace of England. As Orth drove towards his own gates he
had the typical English sunset to gaze upon, a red streak with a church
spire against it. His woods were silent. In the fields, the cows stood
as if conscious of their part. The ivy on his old gray towers had been
young with his children.
He spent a haunted night, but the next day stranger happenings began.
He rose early, and went for one of his long walks. England seems to cry
out to be walked upon, and Orth, like others of the transplanted,
experienced to the full the country's gift of foot-restlessness and
mental calm. Calm flees, however, when the ego is rampant, and to-day,
as upon others too recent, Orth's soul was as restless as his feet. He
had walked for two hours when he entered the wood of his neighbor's
estate, a domain seldom honored by him, as it, too, had been bought by
an American—a flighty hunting widow, who displeased the fastidious
taste of the author. He heard children's voices, and turned with the
quick prompting of retreat.
As he did so, he came face to face, on the narrow path, with a little
girl. For the moment he was possessed by the most hideous sensation
which can visit a man's being—abject terror. He believed that body and
soul were disintegrating. The child before him was his child, the
original of a portrait in which the artist, dead two centuries ago, had
missed exact fidelity, after all. The difference, even his rolling
vision took note, lay in the warm pure living whiteness and the deeper
spiritual suggestion of the child in his path. Fortunately for his
self-respect, the surrender lasted but a moment. The little girl spoke.
"You look real sick," she said. "Shall I lead you home?"
The voice was soft and sweet, but the intonation, the vernacular, were
American, and not of the highest class. The shock was, if possible, more
agonizing than the other, but this time Orth rose to the occasion.
"Who are you?" he demanded, with asperity. "What is your name? Where do
The child smiled, an angelic smile, although she was evidently amused.
"I never had so many questions asked me all at once," she said. "But I
don't mind, and I'm glad you're not sick. I'm Mrs. Jennie Root's little
girl—my father's dead. My name is Blanche—you are sick! No?—and I
live in Rome, New York State. We've come over here to visit pa's
Orth took the child's hand in his. It was very warm and soft.
"Take me to your mother," he said, firmly; "now, at once. You can return
and play afterwards. And as I wouldn't have you disappointed for the
world, I'll send to town to-day for a beautiful doll."
The little girl, whose face had fallen, flashed her delight, but walked
with great dignity beside him. He groaned in his depths as he saw they
were pointing for the widow's house, but made up his mind that he would
know the history of the child and of all her ancestors, if he had to sit
down at table with his obnoxious neighbor. To his surprise, however,
the child did not lead him into the park, but towards one of the old
stone houses of the tenantry.
"Pa's great-great-great-grandfather lived there," she remarked, with all
the American's pride of ancestry. Orth did not smile, however. Only the
warm clasp of the hand in his, the soft thrilling voice of his still
mysterious companion, prevented him from feeling as if moving through
the mazes of one of his own famous ghost stories.
The child ushered him into the dining-room, where an old man was seated
at the table reading his Bible. The room was at least eight hundred
years old. The ceiling was supported by the trunk of a tree, black, and
probably petrified. The windows had still their diamond panes,
separated, no doubt, by the original lead. Beyond was a large kitchen in
which were several women. The old man, who looked patriarchal enough to
have laid the foundations of his dwelling, glanced up and regarded the
visitor without hospitality. His expression softened as his eyes moved
to the child.
"Who 'ave ye brought?" he asked. He removed his spectacles. "Ah!" He
rose, and offered the author a chair. At the same moment, the women
entered the room.
"Of course you've fallen in love with Blanche, sir," said one of them.
"Yes, that is it. Quite so." Confusion still prevailing among his
faculties, he clung to the naked truth. "This little girl has interested
and startled me because she bears a precise resemblance to one of the
portraits in Chillingsworth—painted about two hundred years ago. Such
extraordinary likenesses do not occur without reason, as a rule, and, as
I admired my portrait so deeply that I have written a story about it,
you will not think it unnatural if I am more than curious to discover
the reason for this resemblance. The little girl tells me that her
ancestors lived in this very house, and as my little girl lived next
door, so to speak, there undoubtedly is a natural reason for the
His host closed the Bible, put his spectacles in his pocket, and hobbled
out of the house.
"He'll never talk of family secrets," said an elderly woman, who
introduced herself as the old man's daughter, and had placed bread and
milk before the guest. "There are secrets in every family, and we have
ours, but he'll never tell those old tales. All I can tell you is that
an ancestor of little Blanche went to wreck and ruin because of some
fine lady's doings, and killed himself. The story is that his boys
turned out bad. One of them saw his crime, and never got over the
shock; he was foolish like, after. The mother was a poor scared sort of
creature, and hadn't much influence over the other boy. There seemed to
be a blight on all the man's descendants, until one of them went to
America. Since then, they haven't prospered, exactly, but they've done
better, and they don't drink so heavy."
"They haven't done so well," remarked a worn patient-looking woman. Orth
typed her as belonging to the small middle-class of an interior town of
the eastern United States.
"You are not the child's mother?"
"Yes, sir. Everybody is surprised; you needn't apologize. She doesn't
look like any of us, although her brothers and sisters are good enough
for anybody to be proud of. But we all think she strayed in by mistake,
for she looks like any lady's child, and, of course, we're only
Orth gasped. It was the first time he had ever heard a native American
use the term middle-class with a personal application. For the moment,
he forgot the child. His analytical mind raked in the new specimen. He
questioned, and learned that the woman's husband had kept a hat store in
Rome, New York; that her boys were clerks, her girls in stores, or
type-writing. They kept her and little Blanche—who had come after her
other children were well grown—in comfort; and they were all very happy
together. The boys broke out, occasionally; but, on the whole, were the
best in the world, and her girls were worthy of far better than they
had. All were robust, except Blanche. "She coming so late, when I was no
longer young, makes her delicate," she remarked, with a slight blush,
the signal of her chaste Americanism; "but I guess she'll get along all
right. She couldn't have better care if she was a queen's child."
Orth, who had gratefully consumed the bread and milk, rose. "Is that
really all you can tell me?" he asked.
"That's all," replied the daughter of the house. "And you couldn't pry
open father's mouth."
Orth shook hands cordially with all of them, for he could be charming
when he chose. He offered to escort the little girl back to her
playmates in the wood, and she took prompt possession of his hand. As he
was leaving, he turned suddenly to Mrs. Root. "Why did you call her
Blanche?" he asked.
"She was so white and dainty, she just looked it."
Orth took the next train for London, and from Lord Teignmouth obtained
the address of the aunt who lived on the family traditions, and a
cordial note of introduction to her. He then spent an hour anticipating,
in a toy shop, the whims and pleasures of a child—an incident of
paternity which his book-children had not inspired. He bought the finest
doll, piano, French dishes, cooking apparatus, and playhouse in the
shop, and signed a check for thirty pounds with a sensation of positive
rapture. Then he took the train for Lancashire, where the Lady Mildred
Mortlake lived in another ancestral home.
Possibly there are few imaginative writers who have not a leaning,
secret or avowed, to the occult. The creative gift is in very close
relationship with the Great Force behind the universe; for aught we
know, may be an atom thereof. It is not strange, therefore, that the
lesser and closer of the unseen forces should send their vibrations to
it occasionally; or, at all events, that the imagination should incline
its ear to the most mysterious and picturesque of all beliefs. Orth
frankly dallied with the old dogma. He formulated no personal faith of
any sort, but his creative faculty, that ego within an ego, had made
more than one excursion into the invisible and brought back literary
The Lady Mildred received with sweetness and warmth the generous
contributor to the family sieve, and listened with fluttering interest
to all he had not told the world—she had read the book—and to the
strange, Americanized sequel.
"I am all at sea," concluded Orth. "What had my little girl to do with
the tragedy? What relation was she to the lady who drove the young man
"The closest," interrupted Lady Mildred. "She was herself!"
Orth stared at her. Again he had a confused sense of disintegration.
Lady Mildred, gratified by the success of her bolt, proceeded less
"Wally was up here just after I read your book, and I discovered he had
given you the wrong history of the picture. Not that he knew it. It is a
story we have left untold as often as possible, and I tell it to you
only because you would probably become a monomaniac if I didn't. Blanche
Mortlake—that Blanche—there had been several of her name, but there
has not been one since—did not die in childhood, but lived to be
twenty-four. She was an angelic child, but little angels sometimes grow
up into very naughty girls. I believe she was delicate as a child, which
probably gave her that spiritual look. Perhaps she was spoiled and
flattered, until her poor little soul was stifled, which is likely. At
all events, she was the coquette of her day—she seemed to care for
nothing but breaking hearts; and she did not stop when she married,
either. She hated her husband, and became reckless. She had no children.
So far, the tale is not an uncommon one; but the worst, and what makes
the ugliest stain in our annals, is to come.
"She was alone one summer at Chillingsworth—where she had taken
temporary refuge from her husband—and she amused herself—some say,
fell in love—with a young man of the yeomanry, a tenant of the next
estate. His name was Root. He, so it comes down to us, was a magnificent
specimen of his kind, and in those days the yeomanry gave us our great
soldiers. His beauty of face was quite as remarkable as his physique; he
led all the rural youth in sport, and was a bit above his class in every
way. He had a wife in no way remarkable, and two little boys, but was
always more with his friends than his family. Where he and Blanche
Mortlake met I don't know—in the woods, probably, although it has been
said that he had the run of the house. But, at all events, he was wild
about her, and she pretended to be about him. Perhaps she was, for women
have stooped before and since. Some women can be stormed by a fine man
in any circumstances; but, although I am a woman of the world, and not
easy to shock, there are some things I tolerate so hardly that it is all
I can do to bring myself to believe in them; and stooping is one. Well,
they were the scandal of the county for months, and then, either because
she had tired of her new toy, or his grammar grated after the first
glamour, or because she feared her husband, who was returning from the
Continent, she broke off with him and returned to town. He followed her,
and forced his way into her house. It is said she melted, but made him
swear never to attempt to see her again. He returned to his home, and
killed himself. A few months later she took her own life. That is all I
"It is quite enough for me," said Orth.
The next night, as his train travelled over the great wastes of
Lancashire, a thousand chimneys were spouting forth columns of fire.
Where the sky was not red it was black. The place looked like hell.
Another time Orth's imagination would have gathered immediate
inspiration from this wildest region of England. The fair and peaceful
counties of the south had nothing to compare in infernal grandeur with
these acres of flaming columns. The chimneys were invisible in the lower
darkness of the night; the fires might have leaped straight from the
angry caldron of the earth.
But Orth was in a subjective world, searching for all he had ever heard
of occultism. He recalled that the sinful dead are doomed, according to
this belief, to linger for vast reaches of time in that borderland which
is close to earth, eventually sent back to work out their final
salvation; that they work it out among the descendants of the people
they have wronged; that suicide is held by the devotees of occultism to
be a cardinal sin, abhorred and execrated.
Authors are far closer to the truths enfolded in mystery than ordinary
people, because of that very audacity of imagination which irritates
their plodding critics. As only those who dare to make mistakes succeed
greatly, only those who shake free the wings of their imagination brush,
once in a way, the secrets of the great pale world. If such writers go
wrong, it is not for the mere brains to tell them so.
Upon Orth's return to Chillingsworth, he called at once upon the child,
and found her happy among his gifts. She put her arms about his neck,
and covered his serene unlined face with soft kisses. This completed the
conquest. Orth from that moment adored her as a child, irrespective of
the psychological problem.
Gradually he managed to monopolize her. From long walks it was but a
step to take her home for luncheon. The hours of her visits lengthened.
He had a room fitted up as a nursery and filled with the wonders of
toyland. He took her to London to see the pantomimes; two days before
Christmas, to buy presents for her relatives; and together they strung
them upon the most wonderful Christmas-tree that the old hall of
Chillingsworth had ever embraced. She had a donkey-cart, and a trained
nurse, disguised as a maid, to wait upon her. Before a month had passed
she was living in state at Chillingsworth and paying daily visits to her
mother. Mrs. Root was deeply flattered, and apparently well content.
Orth told her plainly that he should make the child independent, and
educate her, meanwhile. Mrs. Root intended to spend six months in
England, and Orth was in no hurry to alarm her by broaching his ultimate
He reformed Blanche's accent and vocabulary, and read to her out of
books which would have addled the brains of most little maids of six;
but she seemed to enjoy them, although she seldom made a comment. He was
always ready to play games with her, but she was a gentle little thing,
and, moreover, tired easily. She preferred to sit in the depths of a big
chair, toasting her bare toes at the log-fire in the hall, while her
friend read or talked to her. Although she was thoughtful, and, when
left to herself, given to dreaming, his patient observation could detect
nothing uncanny about her. Moreover, she had a quick sense of humor, she
was easily amused, and could laugh as merrily as any child in the world.
He was resigning all hope of further development on the shadowy side
when one day he took her to the picture-gallery.
It was the first warm day of summer. The gallery was not heated, and he
had not dared to take his frail visitor into its chilly spaces during
the winter and spring. Although he had wished to see the effect of the
picture on the child, he had shrunk from the bare possibility of the
very developments the mental part of him craved; the other was warmed
and satisfied for the first time, and held itself aloof from
disturbance. But one day the sun streamed through the old windows, and,
obeying a sudden impulse, he led Blanche to the gallery.
It was some time before he approached the child of his earlier love.
Again he hesitated. He pointed out many other fine pictures, and Blanche
smiled appreciatively at his remarks, that were wise in criticism and
interesting in matter. He never knew just how much she understood, but
the very fact that there were depths in the child beyond his probing
riveted his chains.
Suddenly he wheeled about and waved his hand to her prototype. "What do
you think of that?" he asked. "You remember, I told you of the likeness
the day I met you."
She looked indifferently at the picture, but he noticed that her color
changed oddly; its pure white tone gave place to an equally delicate
"I have seen it before," she said. "I came in here one day to look at
it. And I have been quite often since. You never forbade me," she added,
looking at him appealingly, but dropping her eyes quickly. "And I like
the little girl—and the boy—very much."
"Do you? Why?"
"I don't know"—a formula in which she had taken refuge before. Still
her candid eyes were lowered; but she was quite calm. Orth, instead of
questioning, merely fixed his eyes upon her, and waited. In a moment she
stirred uneasily, but she did not laugh nervously, as another child
would have done. He had never seen her self-possession ruffled, and he
had begun to doubt he ever should. She was full of human warmth and
affection. She seemed made for love, and every creature who came within
her ken adored her, from the author himself down to the litter of
puppies presented to her by the stable-boy a few weeks since; but her
serenity would hardly be enhanced by death.
She raised her eyes finally, but not to his. She looked at the portrait.
"Did you know that there was another picture behind?" she asked.
"No," replied Orth, turning cold. "How did you know it?"
"One day I touched a spring in the frame, and this picture came forward.
Shall I show you?"
"Yes!" And crossing curiosity and the involuntary shrinking from
impending phenomena was a sensation of aesthetic disgust that he
should be treated to a secret spring.
The little girl touched hers, and that other Blanche sprang aside so
quickly that she might have been impelled by a sharp blow from behind.
Orth narrowed his eyes and stared at what she revealed. He felt that his
own Blanche was watching him, and set his features, although his breath
There was the Lady Blanche Mortlake in the splendor of her young
womanhood, beyond a doubt. Gone were all traces of her spiritual
childhood, except, perhaps, in the shadows of the mouth; but more than
fulfilled were the promises of her mind. Assuredly, the woman had been
as brilliant and gifted as she had been restless and passionate. She
wore her very pearls with arrogance, her very hands were tense with
eager life, her whole being breathed mutiny.
Orth turned abruptly to Blanche, who had transferred her attention to
"What a tragedy is there!" he exclaimed, with a fierce attempt at
lightness. "Think of a woman having all that pent up within her two
centuries ago! And at the mercy of a stupid family, no doubt, and a
still stupider husband. No wonder—To-day, a woman like that might not
be a model for all the virtues, but she certainly would use her gifts
and become famous, the while living her life too fully to have any place
in it for yeomen and such, or even for the trivial business of breaking
hearts." He put his finger under Blanche's chin, and raised her face,
but he could not compel her gaze. "You are the exact image of that
little girl," he said, "except that you are even purer and finer. She
had no chance, none whatever. You live in the woman's age. Your
opportunities will be infinite. I shall see to it that they are. What
you wish to be you shall be. There will be no pent-up energies here to
burst out into disaster for yourself and others. You shall be trained to
self-control—that is, if you ever develop self-will, dear child—every
faculty shall be educated, every school of life you desire knowledge
through shall be opened to you. You shall become that finest flower of
civilization, a woman who knows how to use her independence."
She raised her eyes slowly, and gave him a look which stirred the roots
of sensation—a long look of unspeakable melancholy. Her chest rose
once; then she set her lips tightly, and dropped her eyes.
"What do you mean?" he cried, roughly, for his soul was chattering.
"Is—it—do you—?" He dared not go too far, and concluded lamely, "You
mean you fear that your mother will not give you to me when she
goes—you have divined that I wish to adopt you? Answer me, will you?"
But she only lowered her head and turned away, and he, fearing to
frighten or repel her, apologized for his abruptness, restored the outer
picture to its place, and led her from the gallery.
He sent her at once to the nursery, and when she came down to luncheon
and took her place at his right hand, she was as natural and childlike
as ever. For some days he restrained his curiosity, but one evening, as
they were sitting before the fire in the hall listening to the storm,
and just after he had told her the story of the erl-king, he took her on
his knee and asked her gently if she would not tell him what had been in
her thoughts when he had drawn her brilliant future. Again her face
turned gray, and she dropped her eyes.
"I cannot," she said. "I—perhaps—I don't know."
"Was it what I suggested?"
She shook her head, then looked at him with a shrinking appeal which
forced him to drop the subject.
He went the next day alone to the gallery, and looked long at the
portrait of the woman. She stirred no response in him. Nor could he feel
that the woman of Blanche's future would stir the man in him. The
paternal was all he had to give, but that was hers forever.
He went out into the park and found Blanche digging in her garden, very
dirty and absorbed. The next afternoon, however, entering the hall
noiselessly, he saw her sitting in her big chair, gazing out into
nothing visible, her whole face settled in melancholy. He asked her if
she were ill, and she recalled herself at once, but confessed to feeling
tired. Soon after this he noticed that she lingered longer in the
comfortable depths of her chair, and seldom went out, except with
himself. She insisted that she was quite well, but after he had
surprised her again looking as sad as if she had renounced every joy of
childhood, he summoned from London a doctor renowned for his success
The scientist questioned and examined her. When she had left the room he
shrugged his shoulders.
"She might have been born with ten years of life in her, or she might
grow up into a buxom woman," he said. "I confess I cannot tell. She
appears to be sound enough, but I have no X-rays in my eyes, and for all
I know she may be on the verge of decay. She certainly has the look of
those who die young. I have never seen so spiritual a child. But I can
put my finger on nothing. Keep her out-of-doors, don't give her sweets,
and don't let her catch anything if you can help it."
Orth and the child spent the long warm days of summer under the trees of
the park, or driving in the quiet lanes. Guests were unbidden, and his
pen was idle. All that was human in him had gone out to Blanche. He
loved her, and she was a perpetual delight to him. The rest of the world
received the large measure of his indifference. There was no further
change in her, and apprehension slept and let him sleep. He had
persuaded Mrs. Root to remain in England for a year. He sent her theatre
tickets every week, and placed a horse and phaeton at her disposal. She
was enjoying herself and seeing less and less of Blanche. He took the
child to Bournemouth for a fortnight, and again to Scotland, both of
which outings benefited as much as they pleased her. She had begun to
tyrannize over him amiably, and she carried herself quite royally. But
she was always sweet and truthful, and these qualities, combined with
that something in the depths of her mind which defied his explorations,
held him captive. She was devoted to him, and cared for no other
companion, although she was demonstrative to her mother when they met.
It was in the tenth month of this idyl of the lonely man and the lonely
child that Mrs. Root flurriedly entered the library of Chillingsworth,
where Orth happened to be alone.
"Oh, sir," she exclaimed, "I must go home. My daughter Grace writes
me—she should have done it before—that the boys are not behaving as
well as they should—she didn't tell me, as I was having such a good
time she just hated to worry me—Heaven knows I've had enough worry—but
now I must go—I just couldn't stay—boys are an awful
responsibility—girls ain't a circumstance to them, although mine are a
Orth had written about too many women to interrupt the flow. He let her
talk until she paused to recuperate her forces. Then he said quietly:
"I am sorry this has come so suddenly, for it forces me to broach a
subject at once which I would rather have postponed until the idea had
taken possession of you by degrees—"
"I know what it is you want to say, sir," she broke in, "and I've
reproached myself that I haven't warned you before, but I didn't like to
be the one to speak first. You want Blanche—of course, I couldn't help
seeing that; but I can't let her go, sir, indeed, I can't."
"Yes," he said, firmly, "I want to adopt Blanche, and I hardly think you
can refuse, for you must know how greatly it will be to her advantage.
She is a wonderful child; you have never been blind to that; she should
have every opportunity, not only of money, but of association. If I
adopt her legally, I shall, of course, make her my heir, and—there is
no reason why she should not grow up as great a lady as any in England."
The poor woman turned white, and burst into tears. "I've sat up nights
and nights, struggling," she said, when she could speak. "That, and
missing her. I couldn't stand in her light, and I let her stay. I know
I oughtn't to, now—I mean, stand in her light—but, sir, she is dearer
than all the others put together."
"Then live here in England—at least, for some years longer. I will
gladly relieve your children of your support, and you can see Blanche as
often as you choose."
"I can't do that, sir. After all, she is only one, and there are six
others. I can't desert them. They all need me, if only to keep them
together—three girls unmarried and out in the world, and three boys
just a little inclined to be wild. There is another point, sir—I don't
exactly know how to say it."
"Well?" asked Orth, kindly. This American woman thought him the ideal
gentleman, although the mistress of the estate on which she visited
called him a boor and a snob.
"It is—well—you must know—you can imagine—that her brothers and
sisters just worship Blanche. They save their dimes to buy her
everything she wants—or used to want. Heaven knows what will satisfy
her now, although I can't see that she's one bit spoiled. But she's just
like a religion to them; they're not much on church. I'll tell you, sir,
what I couldn't say to any one else, not even to these relations who've
been so kind to me—but there's wildness, just a streak, in all my
children, and I believe, I know, it's Blanche that keeps them straight.
My girls get bitter, sometimes; work all the week and little fun, not
caring for common men and no chance to marry gentlemen; and sometimes
they break out and talk dreadful; then, when they're over it, they say
they'll live for Blanche—they've said it over and over, and they mean
it. Every sacrifice they've made for her—and they've made many—has
done them good. It isn't that Blanche ever says a word of the preachy
sort, or has anything of the Sunday-school child about her, or even
tries to smooth them down when they're excited. It's just herself. The
only thing she ever does is sometimes to draw herself up and look
scornful, and that nearly kills them. Little as she is, they're crazy
about having her respect. I've grown superstitious about her. Until she
came I used to get frightened, terribly, sometimes, and I believe she
came for that. So—you see! I know Blanche is too fine for us and ought
to have the best; but, then, they are to be considered, too. They have
their rights, and they've got much more good than bad in them. I don't
know! I don't know! It's kept me awake many nights."
Orth rose abruptly. "Perhaps you will take some further time to think it
over," he said. "You can stay a few weeks longer—the matter cannot be
so pressing as that."
The woman rose. "I've thought this," she said; "let Blanche decide. I
believe she knows more than any of us. I believe that whichever way she
decided would be right. I won't say anything to her, so you won't think
I'm working on her feelings; and I can trust you. But she'll know."
"Why do you think that?" asked Orth, sharply. "There is nothing uncanny
about the child. She is not yet seven years old. Why should you place
such a responsibility upon her?"
"Do you think she's like other children?"
"I know nothing of other children."
"I do, sir. I've raised six. And I've seen hundreds of others. I never
was one to be a fool about my own, but Blanche isn't like any other
child living—I'm certain of it."
"What do you think?"
And the woman answered, according to her lights: "I think she's an
angel, and came to us because we needed her."
"And I think she is Blanche Mortlake working out the last of her
salvation," thought the author; but he made no reply, and was alone in a
It was several days before he spoke to Blanche, and then, one morning,
when she was sitting on her mat on the lawn with the light full upon
her, he told her abruptly that her mother must return home.
To his surprise, but unutterable delight, she burst into tears and flung
herself into his arms.
"You need not leave me," he said, when he could find his own voice. "You
can stay here always and be my little girl. It all rests with you."
"I can't stay," she sobbed. "I can't!"
"And that is what made you so sad once or twice?" he asked, with a
She made no reply.
"Oh!" he said, passionately, "give me your confidence, Blanche. You are
the only breathing thing that I love."
"If I could I would," she said. "But I don't know—not quite."
"How much do you know?"
But she sobbed again and would not answer. He dared not risk too much.
After all, the physical barrier between the past and the present was
"Well, well, then, we will talk about the other matter. I will not
pretend to disguise the fact that your mother is distressed at the idea
of parting from you, and thinks it would be as sad for your brothers
and sisters, whom she says you influence for their good. Do you think
that you do?"
"How do you know this?"
"Do you know why you know everything?"
"No, my dear, and I have great respect for your instincts. But your
sisters and brothers are now old enough to take care of themselves. They
must be of poor stuff if they cannot live properly without the aid of a
child. Moreover, they will be marrying soon. That will also mean that
your mother will have many little grandchildren to console her for your
loss. I will be the one bereft, if you leave me. I am the only one who
really needs you. I don't say I will go to the bad, as you may have very
foolishly persuaded yourself your family will do without you, but I
trust to your instincts to make you realize how unhappy, how
inconsolable I shall be. I shall be the loneliest man on earth!"
She rubbed her face deeper into his flannels, and tightened her embrace.
"Can't you come, too?" she asked.
"No; you must live with me wholly or not at all. Your people are not my
people, their ways are not my ways. We should not get along. And if you
lived with me over there you might as well stay here, for your
influence over them would be quite as removed. Moreover, if they are of
the right stuff, the memory of you will be quite as potent for good as
your actual presence."
"Not unless I died."
Again something within him trembled. "Do you believe you are going to
die young?" he blurted out.
But she would not answer.
He entered the nursery abruptly the next day and found her packing her
dolls. When she saw him, she sat down and began to weep hopelessly. He
knew then that his fate was sealed. And when, a year later, he received
her last little scrawl, he was almost glad that she went when she did.
The Striding Place
eigall, continental and detached, tired early of grouse-shooting. To
stand propped against a sod fence while his host's workmen routed up the
birds with long poles and drove them towards the waiting guns, made him
feel himself a parody on the ancestors who had roamed the moors and
forests of this West Riding of Yorkshire in hot pursuit of game worth
the killing. But when in England in August he always accepted whatever
proffered for the season, and invited his host to shoot pheasants on his
estates in the South. The amusements of life, he argued, should be
accepted with the same philosophy as its ills.
It had been a bad day. A heavy rain had made the moor so spongy that it
fairly sprang beneath the feet. Whether or not the grouse had haunts of
their own, wherein they were immune from rheumatism, the bag had been
small. The women, too, were an unusually dull lot, with the exception of
a new-minded débutante who bothered Weigall at dinner by demanding the
verbal restoration of the vague paintings on the vaulted roof above
But it was no one of these things that sat on Weigall's mind as, when
the other men went up to bed, he let himself out of the castle and
sauntered down to the river. His intimate friend, the companion of his
boyhood, the chum of his college days, his fellow-traveller in many
lands, the man for whom he possessed stronger affection than for all
men, had mysteriously disappeared two days ago, and his track might have
sprung to the upper air for all trace he had left behind him. He had
been a guest on the adjoining estate during the past week, shooting with
the fervor of the true sportsman, making love in the intervals to
Adeline Cavan, and apparently in the best of spirits. As far as was
known there was nothing to lower his mental mercury, for his rent-roll
was a large one, Miss Cavan blushed whenever he looked at her, and,
being one of the best shots in England, he was never happier than in
August. The suicide theory was preposterous, all agreed, and there was
as little reason to believe him murdered. Nevertheless, he had walked
out of March Abbey two nights ago without hat or overcoat, and had not
been seen since.
The country was being patrolled night and day. A hundred keepers and
workmen were beating the woods and poking the bogs on the moors, but as
yet not so much as a handkerchief had been found.
Weigall did not believe for a moment that Wyatt Gifford was dead, and
although it was impossible not to be affected by the general uneasiness,
he was disposed to be more angry than frightened. At Cambridge Gifford
had been an incorrigible practical joker, and by no means had outgrown
the habit; it would be like him to cut across the country in his evening
clothes, board a cattle-train, and amuse himself touching up the picture
of the sensation in West Riding.
However, Weigall's affection for his friend was too deep to companion
with tranquillity in the present state of doubt, and, instead of going
to bed early with the other men, he determined to walk until ready for
sleep. He went down to the river and followed the path through the
woods. There was no moon, but the stars sprinkled their cold light upon
the pretty belt of water flowing placidly past wood and ruin, between
green masses of overhanging rocks or sloping banks tangled with tree and
shrub, leaping occasionally over stones with the harsh notes of an angry
scold, to recover its equanimity the moment the way was clear again.
It was very dark in the depths where Weigall trod. He smiled as he
recalled a remark of Gifford's: "An English wood is like a good many
other things in life—very promising at a distance, but a hollow mockery
when you get within. You see daylight on both sides, and the sun
freckles the very bracken. Our woods need the night to make them seem
what they ought to be—what they once were, before our ancestors'
descendants demanded so much more money, in these so much more various
Weigall strolled along, smoking, and thinking of his friend, his
pranks—many of which had done more credit to his imagination than
this—and recalling conversations that had lasted the night through.
Just before the end of the London season they had walked the streets one
hot night after a party, discussing the various theories of the soul's
destiny. That afternoon they had met at the coffin of a college friend
whose mind had been a blank for the past three years. Some months
previously they had called at the asylum to see him. His expression had
been senile, his face imprinted with the record of debauchery. In death
the face was placid, intelligent, without ignoble lineation—the face of
the man they had known at college. Weigall and Gifford had had no time
to comment there, and the afternoon and evening were full; but, coming
forth from the house of festivity together, they had reverted almost at
once to the topic.
"I cherish the theory," Gifford had said, "that the soul sometimes
lingers in the body after death. During madness, of course, it is an
impotent prisoner, albeit a conscious one. Fancy its agony, and its
horror! What more natural than that, when the life-spark goes out, the
tortured soul should take possession of the vacant skull and triumph
once more for a few hours while old friends look their last? It has had
time to repent while compelled to crouch and behold the result of its
work, and it has shrived itself into a state of comparative purity. If I
had my way, I should stay inside my bones until the coffin had gone into
its niche, that I might obviate for my poor old comrade the tragic
impersonality of death. And I should like to see justice done to it, as
it were—to see it lowered among its ancestors with the ceremony and
solemnity that are its due. I am afraid that if I dissevered myself too
quickly, I should yield to curiosity and hasten to investigate the
mysteries of space."
"You believe in the soul as an independent entity, then—-that it and
the vital principle are not one and the same?"
"Absolutely. The body and soul are twins, life comrades—sometimes
friends, sometimes enemies, but always loyal in the last instance. Some
day, when I am tired of the world, I shall go to India and become a
mahatma, solely for the pleasure of receiving proof during life of this
"Suppose you were not sealed up properly, and returned after one of your
astral flights to find your earthly part unfit for habitation? It is an
experiment I don't think I should care to try, unless even juggling with
soul and flesh had palled."
"That would not be an uninteresting predicament. I should rather enjoy
experimenting with broken machinery."
The high wild roar of water smote suddenly upon Weigall's ear and
checked his memories. He left the wood and walked out on the huge
slippery stones which nearly close the River Wharfe at this point, and
watched the waters boil down into the narrow pass with their furious
untiring energy. The black quiet of the woods rose high on either side.
The stars seemed colder and whiter just above. On either hand the
perspective of the river might have run into a rayless cavern. There
was no lonelier spot in England, nor one which had the right to claim so
many ghosts, if ghosts there were.
Weigall was not a coward, but he recalled uncomfortably the tales of
those that had been done to death in the
Strid. Wordsworth's Boy of
Egremond had been disposed of by the practical Whitaker; but countless
others, more venturesome than wise, had gone down into that narrow
boiling course, never to appear in the still pool a few yards beyond.
Below the great rocks which form the walls of the Strid was believed to
be a natural vault, on to whose shelves the dead were drawn. The spot
had an ugly fascination. Weigall stood, visioning skeletons, uncoffined
and green, the home of the eyeless things which had devoured all that
had covered and filled that rattling symbol of man's mortality; then
fell to wondering if any one had attempted to leap the Strid of late. It
was covered with slime; he had never seen it look so treacherous.
He shuddered and turned away, impelled, despite his manhood, to flee the
spot. As he did so, something tossing in the foam below the
fall—something as white, yet independent of it—caught his eye and
arrested his step. Then he saw that it was describing a contrary motion
to the rushing water—an upward backward motion. Weigall stood rigid,
breathless; he fancied he heard the crackling of his hair. Was that a
hand? It thrust itself still higher above the boiling foam, turned
sidewise, and four frantic fingers were distinctly visible against the
black rock beyond.
Weigall's superstitious terror left him. A man was there, struggling to
free himself from the suction beneath the Strid, swept down, doubtless,
but a moment before his arrival, perhaps as he stood with his back to
He stepped as close to the edge as he dared. The hand doubled as if in
imprecation, shaking savagely in the face of that force which leaves its
creatures to immutable law; then spread wide again, clutching,
expanding, crying for help as audibly as the human voice.
Weigall dashed to the nearest tree, dragged and twisted off a branch
with his strong arms, and returned as swiftly to the Strid. The hand was
in the same place, still gesticulating as wildly; the body was
undoubtedly caught in the rocks below, perhaps already half-way along
one of those hideous shelves. Weigall let himself down upon a lower
rock, braced his shoulder against the mass beside him, then, leaning out
over the water, thrust the branch into the hand. The fingers clutched it
convulsively. Weigall tugged powerfully, his own feet dragged perilously
near the edge. For a moment he produced no impression, then an arm shot
above the waters.
The blood sprang to Weigall's head; he was choked with the impression
that the Strid had him in her roaring hold, and he saw nothing. Then the
mist cleared. The hand and arm were nearer, although the rest of the
body was still concealed by the foam. Weigall peered out with distended
eyes. The meagre light revealed in the cuffs links of a peculiar device.
The fingers clutching the branch were as familiar.
Weigall forgot the slippery stones, the terrible death if he stepped too
far. He pulled with passionate will and muscle. Memories flung
themselves into the hot light of his brain, trooping rapidly upon each
other's heels, as in the thought of the drowning. Most of the pleasures
of his life, good and bad, were identified in some way with this friend.
Scenes of college days, of travel, where they had deliberately sought
adventure and stood between one another and death upon more occasions
than one, of hours of delightful companionship among the treasures of
art, and others in the pursuit of pleasure, flashed like the changing
particles of a kaleidoscope. Weigall had loved several women; but he
would have flouted in these moments the thought that he had ever loved
any woman as he loved Wyatt Gifford. There were so many charming women
in the world, and in the thirty-two years of his life he had never known
another man to whom he had cared to give his intimate friendship.
He threw himself on his face. His wrists were cracking, the skin was
torn from his hands. The fingers still gripped the stick. There was life
in them yet.
Suddenly something gave way. The hand swung about, tearing the branch
from Weigall's grasp. The body had been liberated and flung outward,
though still submerged by the foam and spray.
Weigall scrambled to his feet and sprang along the rocks, knowing that
the danger from suction was over and that Gifford must be carried
straight to the quiet pool. Gifford was a fish in the water and could
live under it longer than most men. If he survived this, it would not be
the first time that his pluck and science had saved him from drowning.
Weigall reached the pool. A man in his evening clothes floated on it,
his face turned towards a projecting rock over which his arm had fallen,
upholding the body. The hand that had held the branch hung limply over
the rock, its white reflection visible in the black water. Weigall
plunged into the shallow pool, lifted Gifford in his arms and returned
to the bank. He laid the body down and threw off his coat that he might
be the freer to practise the methods of resuscitation. He was glad of
the moment's respite. The valiant life in the man might have been
exhausted in that last struggle. He had not dared to look at his face,
to put his ear to the heart. The hesitation lasted but a moment. There
was no time to lose.
He turned to his prostrate friend. As he did so, something strange and
disagreeable smote his senses. For a half-moment he did not appreciate
its nature. Then his teeth clacked together, his feet, his outstretched
arms pointed towards the woods. But he sprang to the side of the man and
bent down and peered into his face. There was no face.
The Dead and the Countess
(Republished from the Smart Set)
t was an old cemetery, and they had been long dead. Those who died
nowadays were put in the new burying-place on the hill, close to the
Bois d'Amour and within sound of the bells that called the living to
mass. But the little church where the mass was celebrated stood
faithfully beside the older dead; a new church, indeed, had not been
built in that forgotten corner of Finisterre for centuries, not since
the calvary on its pile of stones had been raised in the tiny square,
surrounded then, as now, perhaps, by gray naked cottages; not since the
castle with its round tower, down on the river, had been erected for the
Counts of Croisac. But the stone walls enclosing that ancient cemetery
had been kept in good repair, and there were no weeds within, nor
toppling headstones. It looked cold and gray and desolate, like all the
cemeteries of Brittany, but it was made hideous neither by tawdry
gewgaws nor the license of time.
And sometimes it was close to a picture of beauty. When the village
celebrated its yearly pardon, a great procession came out of the
church—priests in glittering robes, young men in their gala costume of
black and silver, holding flashing standards aloft, and many maidens in
flapping white head-dress and collar, black frocks and aprons flaunting
with ribbons and lace. They marched, chanting, down the road beside the
wall of the cemetery, where lay the generations that in their day had
held the banners and chanted the service of the pardon. For the dead
were peasants and priests—the Croisacs had their burying-place in a
hollow of the hills behind the castle—old men and women who had wept
and died for the fishermen that had gone to the grande pêche and
returned no more, and now and again a child, slept there. Those who
walked past the dead at the pardon, or after the marriage ceremony, or
took part in any one of the minor religious festivals with which the
Catholic village enlivens its existence—all, young and old, looked
grave and sad. For the women from childhood know that their lot is to
wait and dread and weep, and the men that the ocean is treacherous and
cruel, but that bread can be wrung from no other master. Therefore the
living have little sympathy for the dead who have laid down their
crushing burden; and the dead under their stones slumber contentedly
enough. There is no envy among them for the young who wander at evening
and pledge their troth in the Bois d'Amour, only pity for the groups of
women who wash their linen in the creek that flows to the river. They
look like pictures in the green quiet book of nature, these women, in
their glistening white head-gear and deep collars; but the dead know
better than to envy them, and the women—and the lovers—know better
than to pity the dead.
The dead lay at rest in their boxes and thanked God they were quiet and
had found everlasting peace.
And one day even this, for which they had patiently endured life, was
taken from them.
The village was picturesque and there was none quite like it, even in
Finisterre. Artists discovered it and made it famous. After the artists
followed the tourists, and the old creaking diligence became an
absurdity. Brittany was the fashion for three months of the year, and
wherever there is fashion there is at least one railway. The one built
to satisfy the thousands who wished to visit the wild, sad beauties of
the west of France was laid along the road beside the little cemetery
of this tale.
It takes a long while to awaken the dead. These heard neither the
voluble working-men nor even the first snort of the engine. And, of
course, they neither heard nor knew of the pleadings of the old priest
that the line should be laid elsewhere. One night he came out into the
old cemetery and sat on a grave and wept. For he loved his dead and felt
it to be a tragic pity that the greed of money, and the fever of travel,
and the petty ambitions of men whose place was in the great cities where
such ambitions were born, should shatter forever the holy calm of those
who had suffered so much on earth. He had known many of them in life,
for he was very old; and although he believed, like all good Catholics,
in heaven and purgatory and hell, yet he always saw his friends as he
had buried them, peacefully asleep in their coffins, the souls lying
with folded hands like the bodies that held them, patiently awaiting the
final call. He would never have told you, this good old priest, that he
believed heaven to be a great echoing palace in which God and the
archangels dwelt alone waiting for that great day when the elected dead
should rise and enter the Presence together, for he was a simple old man
who had read and thought little; but he had a zigzag of fancy in his
humble mind, and he saw his friends and his ancestors' friends as I have
related to you, soul and body in the deep undreaming sleep of death, but
sleep, not a rotted body deserted by its affrighted mate; and to all who
sleep there comes, sooner or later, the time of awakening.
He knew that they had slept through the wild storms that rage on the
coast of Finisterre, when ships are flung on the rocks and trees crash
down in the Bois d'Amour. He knew that the soft, slow chantings of the
pardon never struck a chord in those frozen memories, meagre and
monotonous as their store had been; nor the bagpipes down in the open
village hall—a mere roof on poles—when the bride and her friends
danced for three days without a smile on their sad brown faces.
All this the dead had known in life and it could not disturb nor
interest them now. But that hideous intruder from modern civilization, a
train of cars with a screeching engine, that would shake the earth which
held them and rend the peaceful air with such discordant sounds that
neither dead nor living could sleep! His life had been one long unbroken
sacrifice, and he sought in vain to imagine one greater, which he would
cheerfully assume could this disaster be spared his dead.
But the railway was built, and the first night the train went screaming
by, shaking the earth and rattling the windows of the church, he went
out and sprinkled every grave with holy-water.
And thereafter, twice a day, at dawn and at night, as the train tore a
noisy tunnel in the quiet air, like the plebeian upstart it was, he
sprinkled every grave, rising sometimes from a bed of pain, at other
times defying wind and rain and hail. And for a while he believed that
his holy device had deepened the sleep of his dead, locked them beyond
the power of man to awake. But one night he heard them muttering.
It was late. There were but a few stars on a black sky. Not a breath of
wind came over the lonely plains beyond, or from the sea. There would be
no wrecks to-night, and all the world seemed at peace. The lights were
out in the village. One burned in the tower of Croisac, where the young
wife of the count lay ill. The priest had been with her when the train
thundered by, and she had whispered to him:
"Would that I were on it! Oh, this lonely lonely land! this cold echoing
château, with no one to speak to day after day! If it kills me, mon
père, make him lay me in the cemetery by the road, that twice a day I
may hear the train go by—the train that goes to Paris! If they put me
down there over the hill, I will shriek in my coffin every night."
The priest had ministered as best he could to the ailing soul of the
young noblewoman, with whose like he seldom dealt, and hastened back to
his dead. He mused, as he toiled along the dark road with rheumatic
legs, on the fact that the woman should have the same fancy as himself.
"If she is really sincere, poor young thing," he thought aloud, "I will
forbear to sprinkle holy-water on her grave. For those who suffer while
alive should have all they desire after death, and I am afraid the count
neglects her. But I pray God that my dead have not heard that monster
to-night." And he tucked his gown under his arm and hurriedly told his
But when he went about among the graves with the holy-water he heard the
"Jean-Marie," said a voice, fumbling among its unused tones for
forgotten notes, "art thou ready? Surely that is the last call."
"Nay, nay," rumbled another voice, "that is not the sound of a trumpet,
François. That will be sudden and loud and sharp, like the great blasts
of the north when they come plunging over the sea from out the awful
gorges of Iceland. Dost thou remember them, François? Thank the good
God they spared us to die in our beds with our grandchildren about us
and only the little wind sighing in the Bois d'Amour. Ah, the poor
comrades that died in their manhood, that went to the grande pêche
once too often! Dost thou remember when the great wave curled round
Ignace like his poor wife's arms, and we saw him no more? We clasped
each other's hands, for we believed that we should follow, but we lived
and went again and again to the grande pêche, and died in our beds.
Grâce à Dieu!"
"Why dost thou think of that now—here in the grave where it matters
not, even to the living?"
"I know not; but it was of that night when Ignace went down that I
thought as the living breath went out of me. Of what didst thou think as
thou layest dying?"
"Of the money I owed to Dominique and could not pay. I sought to ask my
son to pay it, but death had come suddenly and I could not speak. God
knows how they treat my name to-day in the village of St. Hilaire."
"Thou art forgotten," murmured another voice. "I died forty years after
thee and men remember not so long in Finisterre. But thy son was my
friend and I remember that he paid the money."
"And my son, what of him? Is he, too, here?"
"Nay; he lies deep in the northern sea. It was his second voyage, and
he had returned with a purse for the young wife, the first time. But he
returned no more, and she washed in the river for the dames of Croisac,
and by-and-by she died. I would have married her, but she said it was
enough to lose one husband. I married another, and she grew ten years in
every three that I went to the grande pêche. Alas for Brittany, she
has no youth!"
"And thou? Wert thou an old man when thou camest here?"
"Sixty. My wife came first, like many wives. She lies here. Jeanne!"
"Is't thy voice, my husband? Not the Lord Jesus Christ's? What miracle
is this? I thought that terrible sound was the trump of doom."
"It could not be, old Jeanne, for we are still in our graves. When the
trump sounds we shall have wings and robes of light, and fly straight up
to heaven. Hast thou slept well?"
"Ay! But why are we awakened? Is it time for purgatory? Or have we been
"The good God knows. I remember nothing. Art frightened? Would that I
could hold thy hand, as when thou didst slip from life into that long
sleep thou didst fear, yet welcome."
"I am frightened, my husband. But it is sweet to hear thy voice, hoarse
and hollow as it is from the mould of the grave. Thank the good God thou
didst bury me with the rosary in my hands," and she began telling the
"If God is good," cried François, harshly, and his voice came plainly to
the priest's ears, as if the lid of the coffin had rotted, "why are we
awakened before our time? What foul fiend was it that thundered and
screamed through the frozen avenues of my brain? Has God, perchance,
been vanquished and does the Evil One reign in His stead?"
"Tut, tut! Thou blasphemest! God reigns, now and always. It is but a
punishment He has laid upon us for the sins of earth."
"Truly, we were punished enough before we descended to the peace of this
narrow house. Ah, but it is dark and cold! Shall we lie like this for an
eternity, perhaps? On earth we longed for death, but feared the grave. I
would that I were alive again, poor and old and alone and in pain. It
were better than this. Curse the foul fiend that woke us!"
"Curse not, my son," said a soft voice, and the priest stood up and
uncovered and crossed himself, for it was the voice of his aged
predecessor. "I cannot tell thee what this is that has rudely shaken us
in our graves and freed our spirits of their blessed thraldom, and I
like not the consciousness of this narrow house, this load of earth on
my tired heart. But it is right, it must be right, or it would not be at
For a baby cried softly, hopelessly, and from a grave beyond came a
mother's anguished attempt to still it.
"Ah, the good God!" she cried. "I, too, thought it was the great call,
and that in a moment I should rise and find my child and go to my
Ignace, my Ignace whose bones lie white on the floor of the sea. Will he
find them, my father, when the dead shall rise again? To lie here and
doubt!—that were worse than life."
"Yes, yes," said the priest; "all will be well, my daughter."
"But all is not well, my father, for my baby cries and is alone in a
little box in the ground. If I could claw my way to her with my
hands—but my old mother lies between us."
"Tell your beads!" commanded the priest, sternly—"tell your beads, all
of you. All ye that have not your beads, say the 'Hail Mary!' one
Immediately a rapid, monotonous muttering arose from every lonely
chamber of that desecrated ground. All obeyed but the baby, who still
moaned with the hopeless grief of deserted children. The living priest
knew that they would talk no more that night, and went into the church
to pray till dawn. He was sick with horror and terror, but not for
himself. When the sky was pink and the air full of the sweet scents of
morning, and a piercing scream tore a rent in the early silences, he
hastened out and sprinkled his graves with a double allowance of
holy-water. The train rattled by with two short derisive shrieks, and
before the earth had ceased to tremble the priest laid his ear to the
ground. Alas, they were still awake!
"The fiend is on the wing again," said Jean-Marie; "but as he passed I
felt as if the finger of God touched my brow. It can do us no harm."
"I, too, felt that heavenly caress!" exclaimed the old priest. "And I!"
"And I!" "And I!" came from every grave but the baby's.
The priest of earth, deeply thankful that his simple device had
comforted them, went rapidly down the road to the castle. He forgot that
he had not broken his fast nor slept. The count was one of the directors
of the railroad, and to him he would make a final appeal.
It was early, but no one slept at Croisac. The young countess was dead.
A great bishop had arrived in the night and administered extreme
unction. The priest hopefully asked if he might venture into the
presence of the bishop. After a long wait in the kitchen, he was told
that he could speak with Monsieur l'Évêque. He followed the servant up
the wide spiral stair of the tower, and from its twenty-eighth step
entered a room hung with purple cloth stamped with golden fleurs-de-lis.
The bishop lay six feet above the floor on one of the splendid carved
cabinet beds that are built against the walls in Brittany. Heavy
curtains shaded his cold white face. The priest, who was small and
bowed, felt immeasurably below that august presence, and sought for
"What is it, my son?" asked the bishop, in his cold weary voice. "Is the
matter so pressing? I am very tired."
Brokenly, nervously, the priest told his story, and as he strove to
convey the tragedy of the tormented dead he not only felt the poverty of
his expression—for he was little used to narrative—but the torturing
thought assailed him that what he said sounded wild and unnatural, real
as it was to him. But he was not prepared for its effect on the bishop.
He was standing in the middle of the room, whose gloom was softened and
gilded by the waxen lights of a huge candelabra; his eyes, which had
wandered unseeingly from one massive piece of carved furniture to
another, suddenly lit on the bed, and he stopped abruptly, his tongue
rolling out. The bishop was sitting up, livid with wrath.
"And this was thy matter of life and death, thou prating madman!" he
thundered. "For this string of foolish lies I am kept from my rest, as
if I were another old lunatic like thyself! Thou art not fit to be a
priest and have the care of souls. To-morrow—"
But the priest had fled, wringing his hands.
As he stumbled down the winding stair he ran straight into the arms of
the count. Monsieur de Croisac had just closed a door behind him. He
opened it, and, leading the priest into the room, pointed to his dead
countess, who lay high up against the wall, her hands clasped, unmindful
for evermore of the six feet of carved cupids and lilies that upheld
her. On high pedestals at head and foot of her magnificent couch the
pale flames rose from tarnished golden candlesticks. The blue hangings
of the room, with their white fleurs-de-lis, were faded, like the rugs
on the old dim floor; for the splendor of the Croisacs had departed with
the Bourbons. The count lived in the old château because he must; but he
reflected bitterly to-night that if he had made the mistake of bringing
a young girl to it, there were several things he might have done to save
her from despair and death.
"Pray for her," he said to the priest. "And you will bury her in the
old cemetery. It was her last request."
He went out, and the priest sank on his knees and mumbled his prayers
for the dead. But his eyes wandered to the high narrow windows through
which the countess had stared for hours and days, stared at the
fishermen sailing north for the grande pêche, followed along the shore
of the river by wives and mothers, until their boats were caught in the
great waves of the ocean beyond; often at naught more animate than the
dark flood, the wooded banks, the ruins, the rain driving like needles
through the water. The priest had eaten nothing since his meagre
breakfast at twelve the day before, and his imagination was active. He
wondered if the soul up there rejoiced in the death of the beautiful
restless body, the passionate brooding mind. He could not see her face
from where he knelt, only the waxen hands clasping a crucifix. He
wondered if the face were peaceful in death, or peevish and angry as
when he had seen it last. If the great change had smoothed and sealed
it, then perhaps the soul would sink deep under the dark waters,
grateful for oblivion, and that cursed train could not awaken it for
years to come. Curiosity succeeded wonder. He cut his prayers short,
got to his weary swollen feet and pushed a chair to the bed. He mounted
it and his face was close to the dead woman's. Alas! it was not
peaceful. It was stamped with the tragedy of a bitter renunciation.
After all, she had been young, and at the last had died unwillingly.
There was still a fierce tenseness about the nostrils, and her upper lip
was curled as if her last word had been an imprecation. But she was very
beautiful, despite the emaciation of her features. Her black hair nearly
covered the bed, and her lashes looked too heavy for the sunken cheeks.
"Pauvre petite!" thought the priest. "No, she will not rest, nor would
she wish to. I will not sprinkle holy-water on her grave. It is wondrous
that monster can give comfort to any one, but if he can, so be it."
He went into the little oratory adjoining the bedroom and prayed more
fervently. But when the watchers came an hour later they found him in a
stupor, huddled at the foot of the altar.
When he awoke he was in his own bed in his little house beside the
church. But it was four days before they would let him rise to go about
his duties, and by that time the countess was in her grave.
The old housekeeper left him to take care of himself. He waited eagerly
for the night. It was raining thinly, a gray quiet rain that blurred the
landscape and soaked the ground in the Bois d'Amour. It was wet about
the graves, too; but the priest had given little heed to the elements in
his long life of crucified self, and as he heard the remote echo of the
evening train he hastened out with his holy-water and had sprinkled
every grave but one when the train sped by.
Then he knelt and listened eagerly. It was five days since he had knelt
there last. Perhaps they had sunk again to rest. In a moment he wrung
his hands and raised them to heaven. All the earth beneath him was
filled with lamentation. They wailed for mercy, for peace, for rest;
they cursed the foul fiend who had shattered the locks of death; and
among the voices of men and children the priest distinguished the
quavering notes of his aged predecessor; not cursing, but praying with
bitter entreaty. The baby was screaming with the accents of mortal
terror and its mother was too frantic to care.
"Alas," cried the voice of Jean-Marie, "that they never told us what
purgatory was like! What do the priests know? When we were threatened
with punishment of our sins not a hint did we have of this. To sleep for
a few hours, haunted with the moment of awakening! Then a cruel insult
from the earth that is tired of us, and the orchestra of hell. Again!
and again! and again! Oh God! How long? How long?"
The priest stumbled to his feet and ran over graves and paths to the
mound above the countess. There he would hear a voice praising the
monster of night and dawn, a note of content in this terrible chorus of
despair which he believed would drive him mad. He vowed that on the
morrow he would move his dead, if he had to un-bury them with his own
hands and carry them up the hill to graves of his own making.
For a moment he heard no sound. He knelt and laid his ear to the grave,
then pressed it more closely and held his breath. A long rumbling moan
reached it, then another and another. But there were no words.
"Is she moaning in sympathy with my poor friends?" he thought; "or have
they terrified her? Why does she not speak to them? Perhaps they would
forget their plight were she to tell them of the world they have left so
long. But it was not their world. Perhaps that it is which distresses
her, for she will be lonelier here than on earth. Ah!"
A sharp horrified cry pierced to his ears, then a gasping shriek, and
another; all dying away in a dreadful smothered rumble.
The priest rose and wrung his hands, looking to the wet skies for
"Alas!" he sobbed, "she is not content. She has made a terrible mistake.
She would rest in the deep sweet peace of death, and that monster of
iron and fire and the frantic dead about her are tormenting a soul so
tormented in life. There may be rest for her in the vault behind the
castle, but not here. I know, and I shall do my duty—now, at once."
He gathered his robes about him and ran as fast as his old legs and
rheumatic feet would take him towards the château, whose lights gleamed
through the rain. On the bank of the river he met a fisherman and begged
to be taken by boat. The fisherman wondered, but picked the priest up in
his strong arms, lowered him into the boat, and rowed swiftly towards
the château. When they landed he made fast.
"I will wait for you in the kitchen, my father," he said; and the priest
blessed him and hurried up to the castle.
Once more he entered through the door of the great kitchen, with its
blue tiles, its glittering brass and bronze warming-pans which had
comforted nobles and monarchs in the days of Croisac splendor. He sank
into a chair beside the stove while a maid hastened to the count. She
returned while the priest was still shivering, and announced that her
master would see his holy visitor in the library.
It was a dreary room where the count sat waiting for the priest, and it
smelled of musty calf, for the books on the shelves were old. A few
novels and newspapers lay on the heavy table, a fire burned on the
andirons, but the paper on the wall was very dark and the fleurs-de-lis
were tarnished and dull. The count, when at home, divided his time
between this library and the water, when he could not chase the boar or
the stag in the forests. But he often went to Paris, where he could
afford the life of a bachelor in a wing of his great hotel; he had known
too much of the extravagance of women to give his wife the key of the
faded salons. He had loved the beautiful girl when he married her, but
her repinings and bitter discontent had alienated him, and during the
past year he had held himself aloof from her in sullen resentment. Too
late he understood, and dreamed passionately of atonement. She had been
a high-spirited brilliant eager creature, and her unsatisfied mind had
dwelt constantly on the world she had vividly enjoyed for one year. And
he had given her so little in return!
He rose as the priest entered, and bowed low. The visit bored him, but
the good old priest commanded his respect; moreover, he had performed
many offices and rites in his family. He moved a chair towards his
guest, but the old man shook his head and nervously twisted his hands
"Alas, monsieur le comte," he said, "it may be that you, too, will
tell me that I am an old lunatic, as did Monsieur l'Évêque. Yet I must
speak, even if you tell your servants to fling me out of the château."
The count had started slightly. He recalled certain acid comments of the
bishop, followed by a statement that a young curé should be sent,
gently to supersede the old priest, who was in his dotage. But he
"You know, my father, that no one in this castle will ever show you
disrespect. Say what you wish; have no fear. But will you not sit down?
I am very tired."
The priest took the chair and fixed his eyes appealingly on the count.
"It is this, monsieur." He spoke rapidly, lest his courage should go.
"That terrible train, with its brute of iron and live coals and foul
smoke and screeching throat, has awakened my dead. I guarded them with
holy-water and they heard it not, until one night when I missed—I was
with madame as the train shrieked by shaking the nails out of the
coffins. I hurried back, but the mischief was done, the dead were awake,
the dear sleep of eternity was shattered. They thought it was the last
trump and wondered why they still were in their graves. But they talked
together and it was not so bad at the first. But now they are frantic.
They are in hell, and I have come to beseech you to see that they are
moved far up on the hill. Ah, think, think, monsieur, what it is to have
the last long sleep of the grave so rudely disturbed—the sleep for
which we live and endure so patiently!"
He stopped abruptly and caught his breath. The count had listened
without change of countenance, convinced that he was facing a madman.
But the farce wearied him, and involuntarily his hand had moved towards
a bell on the table.
"Ah, monsieur, not yet! not yet!" panted the priest. "It is of the
countess I came to speak. I had forgotten. She told me she wished to lie
there and listen to the train go by to Paris, so I sprinkled no
holy-water on her grave. But she, too, is wretched and horror-stricken,
monsieur. She moans and screams. Her coffin is new and strong, and I
cannot hear her words, but I have heard those frightful sounds from her
grave to-night, monsieur; I swear it on the cross. Ah, monsieur, thou
dost believe me at last!"
For the count, as white as the woman had been in her coffin, and shaking
from head to foot, had staggered from his chair and was staring at the
priest as if he saw the ghost of his countess.
"You heard—?" he gasped.
"She is not at peace, monsieur. She moans and shrieks in a terrible,
smothered way, as if a hand were on her mouth—"
But he had uttered the last of his words. The count had suddenly
recovered himself and dashed from the room. The priest passed his hand
across his forehead and sank slowly to the floor.
"He will see that I spoke the truth," he thought, as he fell asleep,
"and to-morrow he will intercede for my poor friends."
The priest lies high on the hill where no train will ever disturb him,
and his old comrades of the violated cemetery are close about him. For
the Count and Countess of Croisac, who adore his memory, hastened to
give him in death what he most had desired in the last of his life. And
with them all things are well, for a man, too, may be born again, and
without descending into the grave.
The Greatest Good of the
orton Blaine returned to New York from his brief vacation to find
awaiting him a frantic note from John Schuyler, the man nearer to him
than any save himself, imploring him to "come at once." The appeal was
supplemented with the usual intimation that the service was to be
rendered to God rather than to man.
The note was twenty-four hours old. Blaine, without changing his
travelling clothes, rang for a cab and was driven rapidly up the Avenue.
He was a man of science, not of enthusiasms, cold, unerring, brilliant;
a superb intellectual machine, which never showed a fleck of rust,
unremittingly polished, and enlarged with every improvement. But for one
man he cherished an abiding sympathy; to that man he hastened on the
slightest summons, as he hastened now. They had been intimate in
boyhood; then in later years through mutual respect for each other's
high abilities and ambitions.
As the cab rolled over the asphalt of the Avenue, Blaine glanced idly at
the stream of carriages returning from the Park, lifting his hat to many
of the languid pretty women. He owed his minor fame to his guardianship
of fashionable nerves. He could calm hysteria with a pressure of his
cool flexible hand or a sudden modulation of his harsh voice. And women
dreaded his wrath. There were those who averred that his eyes could
He leaned forward and raised his hat with sudden interest. She who
returned his bow was as cold in her coloring as a winter night, but
possessed a strength of line and depth of eye which suggested to the
analyst her power to give the world a shock did Circumstance cease to
run abreast of her. She was leaning back indolently in the open
carriage, the sun slanting into her luminous skin and eyes, her face
locked for the benefit of the chance observer, although she conversed
with the faded individual at her side. As her eyes met those of the
doctor her mouth convulsed suddenly, and a glance of mutual
understanding passed between them. Then she raised her head with a
defiant, almost reckless movement.
Blaine reached his friend's house in a moment. The man who had summoned
him was walking aimlessly up and down his library. He was unshaven; his
hair and his clothing were disordered. His face had the modern beauty of
strength and intellect and passion and weakness. A flash of relief
illuminated it as Blaine entered.
"She has been terrible!" he said. "Terrible! I have not had the courage
to call in any one else, and I am worn out. She is asleep now, and I got
out of the room for half an hour. The nurse is exhausted too. Do stay
"I will stay. Let us go up-stairs."
As they reached the second landing two handsome children romped across
the hall and flung themselves upon their father.
"Where have you been?" they demanded. "Why do you shut yourself up on
the third floor with mamma all the time? When will she get well?"
Schuyler kissed them and bade them return to the nursery.
"How long can I keep it from them?" he asked bitterly. "What an
atmosphere for children—my children!—to grow up in!"
"If you would do as I wish, and send her where she belongs—"
"I shall not. She is my wife. Moreover, concealment would then be
They had reached the third floor. He inserted a key in a door, hesitated
a moment, then said abruptly: "I saw in a paper that she had returned.
Can it be possible?"
"I saw her on the Avenue a few moments ago."
Was it the doctor's imagination, or did the goaded man at his side flash
him a glance of appeal?
They entered a room whose doors and windows were muffled. The furniture
was solid, too solid to be moved except by muscular arms. There were no
mirrors nor breakable articles of any sort.
On the bed lay a woman with ragged hair and sunken yellow face, but even
in her ruin indefinably elegant. Her parted lips were black and
blistered within; her shapely skinny hands clutched the quilt with the
tenacious suggestion of the eagle—that long-lived defiant bird. At the
bedside sat a vigorous woman, the pallor of fatigue on her face.
The creature on the bed opened her eyes. They had once been what are
vaguely known as fine eyes; now they looked like blots of ink on
"Give me a drink," she said feverishly. "Water! water! water!" She
panted, and her tongue protruded slightly. Her husband turned away, his
shoulders twitching. The nurse held a silver goblet to the woman's lips.
She drank greedily, then scowled up at the doctor.
"You missed it," she said. "I should be glad, for I hate you, only you
give me more relief than they. They are afraid. They tried to fool me,
the idiots! But they didn't try it twice. I bit."
She laughed and threw her arms above her head. The loose sleeves of her
gown fell back and disclosed arms speckled as if from an explosion of
"Just an ordinary morphine fiend," thought the doctor. "And she is the
wife of John Schuyler!"
An hour after dinner he told the husband and nurse to go to bed. For a
while he read, the woman sleeping profoundly. The house was absolutely
still, or seemed to be. Had pandemonium reigned he could hardly have
heard an echo of it from this isolated room. The window was open, but
looked upon roofs and back yards; no sound of carriage wheels rose to
break the quiet. Despite the stillness, the doctor had to strain his ear
to catch the irregular breathing of the sick woman. He had a singular
feeling, although the most unimaginative of men, that this third floor,
containing only himself and the woman, had been sliced from the rest of
the house and hung suspended in space, independent of natural laws. It
was after the book had ceased to interest him that the idea shaped
itself, born of another, as yet unacknowledged, skulking in the recesses
of his brain. At length he laid aside the book, and going to the bed,
looked down upon the woman, coldly, reflectively—exactly as he had
often watched the quivering of an animal—dissected alive in the cause
Studying this man's face, it was impossible to imagine it agitated by
any passion except thirst for knowledge. The skin was as white as
marble; the profile was straight and mathematical, the mouth a straight
line, the chin as square as that of a chiselled Fate. The jaw was
prominent, powerful, relentless. The eyes were deeply set and gray as
polished steel. The large brow was luminous, very full—an index to the
terrible intellect of the man.
As he looked down on the woman his thin nostrils twitched once and his
lips compressed more firmly. Then he smiled. It was an odd, almost
"A physician," he said, half aloud, "has almost as much power as God.
The idea strikes me that we are the personification of that useful
He plunged his hands into his pockets, and walked up and down the long
thickly carpeted room.
"These are the facts in the case," he continued. "The one man I love and
unequivocally respect is tied, hand and foot, to that unsexed
dehumanized morphine receptacle on the bed. She is hopeless. Every known
specific has failed, must fail, for she loves the vice. He has one of
the best brains of this day prolific in brains; a distressing capacity
for affection, human to the core. At the age of forty-two, in the
maturity of his mental powers, he carries with him a constant sickening
sense of humiliation; a proud man, he lives in daily fear of exposure
and shame. At the age of forty-two, in the maturity of his manhood, he
meets the woman who conquers his heart, his imagination, who compels his
faith by making other women abhorrent to him, who allures and maddens
with the certainty of her power to make good his ideal of her. He cannot
marry her; that animal on the bed is capable of living for twenty years.
"So much for him. A girl of twenty-eight, whose wealth and brain and
beauty, and that other something that has not yet been analyzed and
labelled, have made her a social star; who has come to wonder, then to
resent, then to yawn at the general vanity of life, is suddenly swept
out of her calm orbit by a man's passion; and, with the swiftness of
decision natural to her, goes to Europe. She returns in less than three
months. For these two people there is but one sequel. The second chapter
will be written the first time they are alone. Then they will go to
Europe. What will be the rest of the book?
"First, there will be an ugly and reverberating scandal. In the course
of a year or two she will compel him to return in the interest of his
career. She will not be able to remain; so proud a woman could not stand
the position. Again he will go with her. In a word, my friend's career
will be ruined. So many novelists and reporters have written the
remaining chapters of this sort of story that it is hardly worth while
for me to go any further.
"So much for them. Let us consider the other victims—the children. A
morphine-mother in an asylum, a father in a strange land with a woman
who is not his wife, the world cognizant of all the facts of the case.
They grow up at odds with society. Result, they are morbid, warped,
unnormal. In trite old English, their lives are ruined, as are all lives
that have not had a fair chance."
He returned abruptly to the bedside. He laid his finger on the woman's
"No morphine to-night and she dies. A worthless wretch is sent where she
belongs. Four people are saved."
His breast swelled. His gray eyes seemed literally to send forth smoke;
they suggested some noiseless deadly weapon of war. He exclaimed aloud:
"My God! what a power to lie in the hands of one man! I stand here the
arbiter of five destinies. It is for me to say whether four people
shall be happy or wretched, saved or ruined. I might say, with Nero, 'I
am God!'" He laughed. "I am famed for my power to save where others have
failed. I am famed in the comic weeklies for having ruined the business
of more undertakers than any physician of my day. That has been my rôle,
my professional pride. I have never felt so proud as now."
The woman, who had been moving restlessly for some time, twitched
suddenly and uncontrollably. She opened her eyes.
"Give it to me—quick!" she demanded. Her voice, always querulous, was
raucous; her eyes were wild.
"No," he said, deliberately, "you will have no more morphine; not a
She stared at him incredulously, then laughed.
"Stop joking," she said, roughly. "Give it to me—quick—quick! I am
"No," he said.
Then, as he continued to hold her eyes, her own gradually expanded with
terror. She raised herself on one arm.
"You mean that?" she asked.
He watched her critically. She would be interesting.
"You are going to cure me with drastic measures, since others have
Her face contracted with hatred. She had been a rather clever woman, and
she believed that he was going to experiment with her. But she had also
been a strong-willed woman and used to command since babyhood.
"Give me that morphine," she said, imperiously. "If you don't I'll be
dead before morning."
He stood imperturbable. She sprang from the bed and flung herself upon
him, strong with anger and apprehension.
"Give it to me!" she screamed. "Give it to me!" And she strove to bite
He caught her by the shoulder and held her at arm's-length. She writhed
and struggled and cursed. Her oaths might have been learned in the
gutter. She kicked at him and strove to reach him with her nails,
clawing the air. She looked like a witch on a broomstick.
"What an exquisite bride she was!" he thought. "And what columns of
rubbish have been printed about her and her entertainments!"
The woman was shrieking and struggling.
"Give it to me! You brute! You fiend! I always hated you! Give it to me!
I am dying! I am dying! Help! Help!" But the walls were padded, and she
He permitted her to fling herself upon him, easily brushing aside her
jumping fingers and snapping teeth. He knew that her agony was
frightful. Her body was a net-work of hungry nerves. The diseased pulp
of her brain had ejected every thought but one. She squirmed like an old
autumn leaf about to fall. Her ugly face became tragic. The words shot
from her dry contracted throat: "Give me the morphine! Give me the
Suddenly realizing the immutability of the man in whose power she was,
she sprang from him and ran frantically about the room, uttering harsh
bleatlike cries. She pulled open the drawers of a chest, rummaging among
its harmless contents, gasping, quivering, bounding, as her tortured
nerves commanded. When she had littered the floor with the contents of
the chest she ran about screaming hopelessly. The doctor shuddered, but
he thought of the four innocent people in her power and in his.
She fell in a heap on the floor, biting the carpet, striking out her
arms aimlessly, tearing her night-gown into strips; then lay quivering,
a hideous, speckled, uncanny thing, who should have been embalmed and
placed beside the Venus of Milo.
She raised herself on her hands and crawled along the carpet, casually
at first, as a man stricken in the desert may, half-consciously,
continue his search for water. Then the doctor, intently watching her,
saw an expression of hope leap into her bulging eyes. She scrambled past
him towards the wash-stand. Before he could define her purpose, she had
leaped upon a goblet inadvertently left there and had broken it on the
marble. He reached her just in time to save her throat.
Then she looked up at him pitifully. "Give it to me!"
She pressed his knees to her breast. The red burned-out tear-ducts
yawned. The tortured body stiffened and relaxed.
"Poor wretch!" he thought. "But what is the physical agony of a night to
the mental anguish of a lifetime?"
"Once! once!" she gasped; "or kill me." Then, as he stood implacable,
"Kill me! Kill me!"
He picked her up, put a fresh night-gown on her, and laid her on the
bed. She remained as he placed her, too weak to move, her eyes staring
at the ceiling above the big four-posted bed.
He returned to his chair and looked at his watch. "She may live two
hours," he thought. "Possibly three. It is only twelve. There is plenty
The room grew as still as the mountain-top whence he had that day
returned. He attempted to read, but could not. The sense of supreme
power filled his brain. He was the gigantic factor in the fates of four.
Then Circumstance, the outwardly wayward, the ruthlessly sequential,
played him an ugly trick. His eyes, glancing idly about the room, were
arrested by a big old-fashioned rocking-chair. There was something
familiar about it. Soon he remembered that it resembled one in which his
mother used to sit. She had been an invalid, and the most sinless and
unworldly woman he had ever known. He recalled, with a touch of the old
impatience, how she had irritated his active, aspiring, essentially
modern mind with her cast-iron precepts of right and wrong. Her
conscience flagellated her, and she had striven to develop her son's to
the goodly proportion of her own. As he was naturally a truthful and
upright boy, he resented her homilies mightily. "Conscience," he once
broke out impatiently, "has made more women bores, more men failures,
than any ten vices in the rogues' calendar."
She had looked in pale horror, and taken refuge in an axiom: "Conscience
makes cowards of us all."
He moved his head with involuntary pride. The greatest achievement of
civilization was the triumph of the intellect over inherited
impressions. Every normal man was conscientious by instinct, however he
might outrage the sturdy little judge clinging tenaciously to his bench
in the victim's brain. It was only when the brain grew big with
knowledge and the will clasped it with fingers of steel that the little
judge was throttled, then cast out.
Conscience. What was it like? The doctor had forgotten. He had never
committed a murder nor a dishonorable act. Had the impulse of either
been in him, his cleverness would have put it aside with a smile of
scorn. He had never scrupled to thrust from his path whoever or whatever
stood in his way, and had stridden on without a backward glance. His
profession had involved many experiments that would have made quick
havoc of even the ordinary man's conscience.
Conscience. An awkward guest for an unsuspected murderer; for the
groundling whose heredity had not been conquered by brain. Fancy being
pursued by the spectre of the victim!
The woman on the bed gave a start and groan that recalled him to the
case in hand. He rose and walked quickly to her side. Her eyes were
closed, her face was black with congested blood. He laid his finger on
her pulse. It was feeble.
"It will not be long now," he thought.
He went toward his chair. He felt a sudden distaste for it, a desire for
motion. He walked up and down the room rather more rapidly than before.
"If I were an ordinary man," he thought, "I suppose that tortured
creature on the bed would haunt me to my death. Rot! A murderer I should
be called if the facts were known, I suppose. Well, she is worse. Did I
permit her to live she would make the living hell of four people."
The woman gave a sudden awful cry, the cry of a lost soul shot into the
night of eternity. The stillness had been so absolute, the cry broke
that stillness so abruptly and so horridly, that the doctor,
strong-brained, strong-nerved as he was, gave a violent start, and the
sweat started from his body.
"I am a fool," he exclaimed angrily, welcoming the sound of his voice;
"but I wish to God it were day and there were noises outside."
He strode hurriedly up and down the room, casting furtive glances at the
bed. The night was quiet again, but still that cry rang through it and
lashed his brain. He recalled the theory that sound never dies. The
waves of space had yielded this to him.
"Good God!" he thought. "Am I going to pieces? If I let this wretch,
this criminal die, I save four people. If I let her live, I ruin their
lives. The life of a man of brain and pride and heart; the life of a
woman of beauty and intellect and honor; the lives of two children of
unknown potentialities, for whom the world has now a warm heart. 'The
greatest good of the greatest number'—the principle that governs civil
law. Has not even the worthy individual been sacrificed to it again and
again? Does it not hang the criminal dangerous to the community? And is
that called murder? What am I at this moment but law epitomized? Shall I
hesitate? My God, am I hesitating? Conscience—is it that? A superfluous
instinct transmitted by my ancestors and coddled by a woman—is it that
which has sprung from its grave, rattling its bones? 'Conscience
makes'—oh, shame that I should succumb when so much is at stake—that
I should hesitate when the welfare of four human beings trembles in the
balance! 'Conscience'—that in the moment of my supreme power I should
He returned to the woman. He reached his finger toward her pulse, then
hurriedly withdrew it and resumed his restless march.
"This is only a nightmare, born of the night and the horrible stillness.
To-morrow in the world of men it will be forgotten, and I shall
rejoice.... But there will be recurring hours of stillness, of solitude.
Will this night repeat itself? Will that thing on the bed haunt me? Will
that cry shriek in my ears? Oh, shame on my selfishness! What am I
thinking of? To let that base, degraded wretch exist, that I may live
peaceably with my conscience? To let four others go to their ruin, that
I may escape a few hours of torment? That I—I—should come to this!
'The greatest good of the greatest number. The greatest' ... 'Conscience
makes cowards of us all!'"
To his unutterable self-contempt and terror, he found his will for once
powerless to control the work of the generations that had preceded him.
His iron jaw worked spasmodically, his gray eyes looked frozen. The
marble pallor of his face was suffused with a tinge of green.
"I despise myself!" he exclaimed, with fierce emphasis. "I loathe
myself! I will not yield! 'Conscience'—they shall be saved, and by
me. 'The greatest'—I will maintain my intellectual supremacy—that,
if nothing else. She shall die!"
He halted abruptly. Perhaps she was already dead. Then he could reach
the door in a bound and run down-stairs and out of the house. To be
He ran to the bed. The woman still breathed faintly, her mouth was
twisted into a sardonic and pertinent expression. His hand sought his
pocket and brought forth a case. He opened it and stared at the
hypodermic syringe. His trembling fingers closed about it and moved
toward the woman. Then, with an effort so violent he fancied he could
hear his tense muscles creak, he straightened himself and turned his
back upon the bed. At the same moment he dropped the instrument to the
floor and set his heel upon it.
A Monarch of a Small Survey
he willows haunted the lake more gloomily, trailed their old branches
more dejectedly, than when Dr. Hiram Webster had, forty years before,
bought the ranchos surrounding them from the Moreño grandees. Gone were
the Moreños from all but the archives of California, but the willows and
Dr. Hiram Webster were full of years and honors. The ranchos were
ranchos no longer. A somnolent city covered their fertile acres,
catching but a whiff at angels' intervals of the metropolis of nerves
and pulse and feverish corpuscles across the bay.
Lawns sloped to the lake. At the head of the lawns were large imposing
mansions, the homes of the aristocracy of the city, all owned by Dr.
Webster, and leased at high rental to a favored few. To dwell on
Webster Lake was to hold proud and exclusive position in the community,
well worth the attendant ills. To purchase of those charmed acres was as
little possible as to induce the Government to part with a dwelling-site
in Yosemite Valley.
Webster Hall was twenty years older than the tributary mansions. The
trees about it were large and densely planted. When storms tossed the
lake they whipped the roof viciously or held the wind in longer wails.
There was an air of mystery about the great rambling sombre house; and
yet no murder had been done there, no traveller had disappeared behind
the sighing trees to be seen no more, no tale of horror claimed it as
birthplace. The atmosphere was created by the footprints of time on a
dwelling old in a new land. The lawns were unkempt, the bare windows
stared at the trees like unlidded eyes. Children ran past it in the
night. The unwelcomed of the spreading city maintained that if nothing
ever had happened there something would; that the place spoke its
manifest destiny to the least creative mind.
The rain poured down one Sunday morning, splashing heavily on the tin of
the oft-mended roof, hurling itself noisily through the trees. The
doctor sat in his revolving-chair before the desk in his study. His
yellow face was puckered; even the wrinkles seemed to wrinkle as he
whirled about every few moments and scowled through the trees at the
flood racing down the lawn to the lake. His thin mouth was a trifle
relaxed, his clothes hung loose upon him; but the eyes, black and sharp
as a ferret's, glittered undimmed.
He lifted a large bell that stood on the desk and rang it loudly. A
"Go and look at the barometer," he roared. "See if this damned rain
shows any sign of letting up."
The servant retired, reappeared, and announced that the barometer was
"Well, see that the table is set for twenty, nevertheless; do you hear?
If they don't come I'll raise their rents. Send Miss Webster here."
His sister entered in a few moments. She was nearly his age, but her
faded face showed wrinkles only on the brow and about the eyes. It wore
a look of haunting youth; the expression of a woman who has grown old
unwillingly, and still hopes, against reason, that youth is not a matter
of a few years at the wrong end of life. Her hair was fashionably
arranged, but she was attired in a worn black silk, her only ornament a
hair brooch. Her hands were small and well kept, although the skin hung
loose upon them, spotted with the moth-patches of age. Her figure was
erect, but stout.
"What is it, brother?" she asked softly, addressing the back of the
He wheeled about sharply.
"Why do you always come in like a cat? Do you think those people will
come to-day? It's raining cats and dogs."
"Certainly; they always come, and they have their carriages—"
"That's just it. They're getting so damned high-toned that they'll soon
feel independent of me. But I'll turn them out, bag and baggage."
"They treat you exactly as they have treated you for thirty years and
"Do you think so? Do you think they'll come to-day?"
"I am sure they will, Hiram."
He looked her up and down, then said, with a startling note of
tenderness in his ill-used voice:
"You ought to have a new frock, Marian. That is looking old."
Had not Dr. Webster been wholly deficient in humor he would have smiled
at his sister's expression of terrified surprise. She ran forward and
laid her hand on his shoulder.
"Hiram," she said, "are you—you do not look well to-day."
"Oh, I am well enough," he replied, shaking her off. "But I have noticed
of late that you and Abigail are looking shabby, and I don't choose that
all these fine folks shall criticise you." He opened his desk and
counted out four double-eagles.
"Will this be enough? I don't know anything about women's things."
Miss Webster was thankful to get any money without days of
expostulation, and assured him that it was sufficient. She left the room
at once and sought her companion, Miss Williams.
The companion was sitting on the edge of the bed in her small ascetic
chamber, staring, like Dr. Webster down-stairs, through the trees at the
rain. So she had sat the night of her arrival at Webster Hall, then a
girl of eighteen and dreams. So she had sat many times, feeling youth
slip by her, lifting her bitter protest against the monotony and
starvation of her existence, yet too timid and ignorant to start forth
in search of life. It was her birthday, this gloomy Sunday. She was
forty-two. She was revolving a problem—a problem she had revolved many
times before. For what had she stayed? Had there been an unadmitted hope
that these old people must soon die and leave her with an independence
with which she could travel and live? She loved Miss Webster, and she
had gladly responded to her invitation to leave the New England village,
where she was dependent on the charity of relatives, and make her home
in the new country. Miss Webster needed a companion and housekeeper;
there would be no salary, but a comfortable home and clothes that she
could feel she had earned. She had come full of youth and spirit and
hope. Youth and hope and spirit had dribbled away, but she had stayed,
and stayed. To-day she wished she had married any clod in her native
village that had been good enough to address her. Never for one moment
had she known the joys of freedom, of love, of individuality.
Miss Webster entered abruptly.
"Abby," she exclaimed, "Hiram is ill." And she related the tale of his
Miss Williams listened indifferently. She was very tired of Hiram. She
accepted with a perfunctory expression of gratitude the gold piece
allotted to her. "You are forty-two, you are old, you are nobody," was
knelling through her brain.
"What is the matter?" asked Miss Webster, sympathetically; "have you
been crying? Don't you feel well? You'd better dress, dear; they'll be
She sat down suddenly on the bed and flung her arms about her companion,
the tears starting to her kindly eyes.
"We are old women," she said. "Life has not meant much to us. You are
younger in years, but you have lived in this dismal old house so long
that you have given it and us your youth. You have hardly as much of it
now as we have. Poor girl!"
The two women fondled each other, Abby appreciating that, although Miss
Webster might not be a woman of depths, she too had her regrets, her
yearnings for what had never been.
"What a strange order of things it is," continued the older woman, "that
we should have only one chance for youth in this life! It comes to so
many of us when circumstances will not permit us to enjoy it. I
drudged—drudged—drudged, when I was young. Now that I have leisure
and—and opportunity to meet people, at least, every chance of happiness
has gone from me. But you are comparatively young yet, really; hope on.
The grave will have me in a few years, but you can live and be well for
thirty yet. Ah! if I had those thirty years!"
"I would give them to you gladly for one year of happiness—of youth."
Miss Webster rose and dried her eyes. "Well," she said, philosophically,
"regrets won't bring things. We've people to entertain to-day, so we
must get out of the dumps. Put on your best frock, like a good child,
and come down."
She left the room. Miss Williams rose hurriedly, unhooked a brown silk
frock from the cupboard, and put it on. Her hair was always smooth; the
white line of disunion curved from brow to the braids pinned primly
above the nape of the neck. As she looked into the glass to-day she
experienced a sudden desire to fringe her hair, to put red on her
cheeks; longing to see if any semblance of her youthful prettiness could
be coaxed back. She lifted a pair of scissors, but threw them hastily
down. She had not the courage to face the smiles and questions that
would greet the daring innovation, the scathing ridicule of old man
She stared at her reflection in the little mirror, trying to imagine her
forehead covered with a soft fringe. Nothing could conceal the lines
about the eyes and mouth, but the aging brow could be hidden from
critical gaze, the face redeemed from its unyouthful length. Her cheeks
were thin and colorless, but the skin was fine and smooth. The eyes,
which had once been a rich dark blue, were many shades lighter now, but
the dulness of age had not possessed them yet. Her set mouth had lost
its curves and red, but the teeth were good. The head was finely shaped
and well placed on the low old-fashioned shoulders. There were no
contours now under the stiff frock. Had her estate been high she would
have been, at the age of forty-two, a youthful and pretty woman. As it
was, she was merely an old maid with a patrician profile.
She went down-stairs to occupy her chair in the parlor, her seat at the
table, to be overlooked by the fine people who took no interest whatever
in the "Websters' companion." She hated them all. She had watched them
too grow old with a profound satisfaction for which she reproached
herself. Even wealth had not done for them what she felt it could have
done for her.
The first carriage drove up as she reached the foot of the stair. The
front door had been opened by the maid as it approached, and the rain
beat in. There was no porte-cochère; the guests were obliged to run up
the steps to avoid a drenching. The fashionable Mrs. Holt draggled her
skirts, and under her breath anathematized her host.
"It will be the happiest day of my life when this sort of thing is
over," she muttered. "Thank heaven, he can't live much longer!"
"Hush!" whispered her prudent husband; Miss Webster had appeared.
The two women kissed each other affectionately. Everybody liked Miss
Webster. Mrs. Holt, an imposing person, with the rigid backbone of the
newly rich, held her hostess's hand in both her own as she assured her
that the storm had not visited California which could keep her from one
of dear Dr. Webster's delightful dinners. As she went up-stairs to lay
aside her wrappings she relieved her feelings by a facial pucker
directed at a painting, on a matting panel, of the doctor in the robes
The other guests arrived, and after making the pilgrimage up-stairs,
seated themselves in the front parlor to slide up and down the
horse-hair furniture and await the entrance of the doctor. The room was
funereal. The storm-ridden trees lashed the bare dripping windows. The
carpet was threadbare. White crocheted tidies lent their emphasis to the
hideous black furniture. A table, with marble top, like a graveyard
slab, stood in the middle of the room. On it was a bunch of wax flowers
in a glass case. On the white plastered walls hung family photographs in
narrow gilt frames. In a conspicuous place was the doctor's diploma. In
another, Miss Webster's first sampler. "The first piano ever brought to
California" stood in a corner, looking like the ghost of an ancient
spinet. Miss Williams half expected to find it some day standing on
three legs, resting the other.
Miss Webster sat on a high-backed chair by the table, nervously striving
to entertain her fashionable guests. The women huddled together to keep
warm, regardless of their expensive raiment. The men stood in a corner,
reviling the mid-day dinner in prospect. Miss Williams drifted into a
chair and gazed dully on the accustomed scene. She had looked on it
weekly, with barely an intermission, for a quarter of a century. With a
sensation of relief, so sharp that it seemed to underscore the hateful
monotony of it all, she observed that there was a young person in the
company. As a rule, neither threats nor bribes could bring the young to
Webster Hall. Then she felt glad that the young person was a man. She
was in no mood to look on the blooming hopeful face of a girl.
He was a fine young fellow, with the supple lean figure of the college
athlete, and a frank attractive face. He stood with his hands plunged
into his pockets, gazing on the scene with an expression of ludicrous
dismay. In a moment he caught the companion's eye. She smiled
involuntarily, all that was still young in her leaping to meet that glad
symbol of youth. He walked quickly over to her.
"I say," he exclaimed, apologetically, "I haven't been introduced, but
do let ceremony go, and talk to me. I never saw so many old fogies in my
life, and this room is like a morgue. I almost feel afraid to look
She gave him a grateful heart-beat for all that his words implied.
"Sit down," she said, with a vivacity she had not known was left in her
sluggish currents. "How—did—you—come—here?"
"Why, you see, I'm visiting the Holts—Jack Holt was my chum at
college—and when they asked me if I wanted to see the oldest house in
the city, and meet the most famous man 'on this side of the bay,' why,
of course, I said I'd come. But, gods! I didn't know it would be like
this, although Jack said the tail of a wild mustang couldn't get him
through the front door. Being on my first visit to the widely renowned
California, I thought it my duty to see all the sights. Where did you
"Oh, I live here. I've lived here for twenty-four years."
"Great Scott!" His eyes bulged. "You've lived in this house for
"And you're not dead yet—I beg pardon," hastily. "I am afraid you think
me very rude."
"No, I do not. I am glad you realize how dreadful it is. Nobody else
ever does. These people have known me for most of that time, and it has
never occurred to them to wonder how I stood it. Do you know that you
are the first young person I have spoken with for years and years?"
"You don't mean it?" His boyish soul was filled with pity. "Well, I
should think you'd bolt and run."
"What use? I've stayed too long. I'm an old woman now, and may as well
stay till the end."
The youth was beginning to feel embarrassed, but was spared the effort
of making a suitable reply by the entrance of Dr. Webster. The old man
was clad in shining broadcloth, whose maker was probably dead these many
years. He leaned on a cane heavily mounted with gold.
"Howdy, howdy, howdy?" he cried, in his rough but hospitable tones.
"Glad to see you. Didn't think you'd come. Yes, I did, though," with a
chuckle. "Well, come down to dinner, I'm hungry."
He turned his back without individual greeting, and led the way along
the hall, then down a narrow creaking stairway to the basement
dining-room, an apartment as stark and cheerless as the parlor, albeit
the silver on the table was very old and heavy, the linen unsurpassed.
The guests seated themselves as they listed, the youngster almost
clinging to Miss Williams. The doctor hurriedly ladled the soup,
announcing that he had a notion to let them help themselves, he was so
hungry. When he had given them this brief attention he supplied his own
needs with the ladle direct from the tureen.
"Old beast!" muttered Mrs. Holt. "It's disgusting to be so rich that you
can do as you please."
But for this remark, delivered as the ladle fell with a clatter on the
empty soup-plate, the first course was disposed of amidst profound
silence. No one dared to talk except as the master led, and the master
was taking the edge off his appetite.
The soup was removed and a lavish dinner laid on the table. Dr. Webster
sacrificed his rigid economic tenets at the kitchen door, but there was
no rejoicing in the hearts of the guests. They groaned in spirit as they
contemplated the amount they should be forced to consume at one of the
The doctor carved the turkeys into generous portions, ate his, then
began to talk.
"Cleveland will be re-elected," he announced dictatorially. "Do you
hear? Harrison has no show at all. What say?" His shaggy brows rushed
together. He had detected a faint murmur of dissent. "Did you say he
wouldn't, John Holt?"
"No, no," disclaimed Mr. Holt, who was a scarlet Republican. "Cleveland
will be re-elected beyond a doubt."
"Well, if I hear of any of you voting for Harrison! I suppose you think
I can't find out what ticket you vote! But I'll find out, sirs. Mark my
words, Holt, if you vote the Republican ticket—"
He stopped ominously and brought his teeth together with a vicious
click. Holt raised his wine-glass nervously. The doctor held his note to
a considerable amount.
"The Republican party is dead—dead as a door-nail," broke in an
unctuous voice. A stout man with a shrewd time-serving face leaned
forward. "Don't let it give you a thought, doctor. What do you think of
the prospects for wheat?"
"Never better, never better. They say the Northern crops will fail, but
it's a lie. They can't fail. You needn't worry, Meeker. Don't pull that
long face, sir; I don't like it."
"The reports are not very encouraging," began a man of bile and nerves
and melancholy mien. "And this early rain—"
"Don't contradict me, sir," cried Webster. "I say they can't fail. They
haven't failed for eight years. Why should they fail now?"
"No reason at all, sir—no reason at all," replied the victim,
hurriedly. "It does me good to hear your prognostications."
"I hear there is a slight rise in Con. Virginia," interposed Mrs. Holt,
who had cultivated tact.
"Nonsense!" almost shouted the tyrant. The heavy silver fork of the
Moreños fell to his plate with a crash. "The mine's as rotten as an old
lung. There isn't a handful of decent ore left in her. No more
clodhoppers 'll get rich out of that mine. You haven't been investing,
have you?" His ferret eyes darted from one face to another. "If you
have, don't you ever darken my doors again! I don't approve of
stock-gambling, and you know it."
The guests, one and all, assured him that not one of their hard-earned
dollars had gone to the stock-market.
"Great Scott!" murmured the youth to Miss Williams; "is this the way he
always goes on? Have these people no self-respect?"
"They're used to him. This sort of thing has gone on ever since I came
here. You see he has made this lake the most aristocratic part of the
city, so that it gives one great social importance to live here; and as
he won't sell the houses, they have to let him trample on their necks,
and he loves to do that better than he loves his money. But that is not
the only reason. They hope he will leave them those houses when he dies.
They certainly deserve that he should. For years, before they owned
carriages, they would tramp through wind and rain every Sunday in winter
to play billiards with him, to say nothing of the hot days of summer.
They have eaten this mid-day dinner that they hate time out of mind.
They have listened to his interminable yarns, oft repeated, about early
California. In all these years they have never contradicted him, not
once. They thought he'd die long ago, and now they're under his heel,
and they couldn't get up and assert themselves if they tried. All they
can do is to abuse him behind his back."
"It all seems disgusting to me."
His independent spirit was very attractive to the companion.
"I'd like to bluff him at his own game, the old slave-driver," he
"Oh don't! don't!" she quavered.
She was, in truth, anxiously awaiting the moment when Dr. Webster should
see fit to give his attention to the stranger.
He laughed outright.
"Why, what makes you so afraid of him? He doesn't beat you, does he?"
"It isn't that. It's the personality of the man, added to force of
"Well, Mr. Strowbridge," cried Dr. Webster, suddenly addressing the
youth, "what are you doing for this world? I hear you are just out of
Harvard University. University men never amount to a row of pins."
Strowbridge flushed and bit his lip, but controlled himself.
"Never amount to a row of pins," roared the doctor, irritated by the
haughty lifting of the young man's head. "Don't even get any more
book-learning now, I understand. Nothing but football and boat-racing.
Think that would make a fortune in a new country? Got any money of your
"My father, since you ask me, is a rich man—as well as a gentleman,"
said Strowbridge, with the expression of half-frightened anger of the
righteously indignant, who knows that he has not the advantages of cool
wit and scathing repartee, and, in consequence, may lose his head. "He
inherited his money, and was not forced to go to a new country and
become a savage," he blurted out.
Mr. Holt extended himself beneath the table, and trod with terrified
significance on Strowbridge's foot. Miss Williams fluttered with terror
and admiration. The other guests gazed at the youth in dismay. For the
first time in the history of Webster Hall the grizzly had been bearded
in his lair.
"Sir! sir!" spluttered Webster. Then he broke into a roar. "Who asked
this cub here, anyway? Who said you could write and ask permission to
bring your friends to my house? How dare you—how dare you—how dare
you, sir, speak to me like that? Do you know, sir—"
"Oh, I know all about you," exclaimed Strowbridge, whose young blood was
now uncontrollable. "You are an ill-bred, purse-proud old tyrant, who
wouldn't be allowed to sit at a table in California if it wasn't for
your vulgar money." He pushed back his chair and stood up. "I wish you
good-day, sir. I pity you. You haven't a friend on earth. I also
apologize for my rudeness. My only excuse is that I couldn't help it."
And he went hurriedly from the room.
To Miss Williams the feeble light went with him. The appalled guests
attacked their food with feverish energy. Dr. Webster stared stupidly at
the door; then his food gave out the sound of ore in a crusher. He did
not speak for some time. When he did he ignored the subject of young
Strowbridge. His manner was appreciably milder—somewhat dazed—although
he by no means gave evidence of being humbled to the dust. The long
dinner dragged to its close. The women went up to the parlor to sip tea
with Miss Webster and slide up and down the furniture. The men followed
the doctor to the billiard-room. They were stupid and sleepy, but for
three hours they were forced alternately to play and listen to the old
man's anecdotes of the days when he fought and felled the grizzly. He
seemed particularly anxious to impress his hearers with his ancient
That night, in the big four-posted mahogany bed in which he had been
born, surrounded by the massive ugly furniture of his old New England
home, Dr. Webster quietly passed away.
Not only the lakeside people, but all of the city with claims to social
importance attended the funeral. Never had there been such an imposing
array of long faces and dark attire. Miss Webster being prostrated, the
companion did the honors. The dwellers on the lake occupied the post of
honor at the head of the room, just beyond the expensive casket. Their
faces were studies. After Miss Williams had exchanged a word with each,
Strowbridge stepped forward and bent to her ear.
"Oh, I say," he whispered, eagerly, "I have to tell some member of this
family how sorry I am for losing my temper and my manners the other day.
It was awfully fresh of me. Poor old boy! Do say that you forgive me."
A smile crept between her red lids.
"He had a good heart," she said. "He would have forgiven you." And then
the long and impressive ceremony began.
All the great company followed the dead autocrat to the cemetery,
regardless of the damaging skies. Miss Williams, as chief mourner, rode
in a hack, alone, directly behind the hearse. During the dreary ride she
labored conscientiously to stifle an unseemly hope. In the other
carriages conversation flowed freely, and no attempt was made to
Two evenings later, as the crowd of weary business men boarded the train
that met the boat from the great city across the bay, it was greeted as
usual by the cry of the local newsboys. This afternoon the youngsters
had a rare bait, and they offered it at the top of their shrill worn
"Will of Dr. Hiram Webster! Full account of Dr. Hiram Webster's
A moment later the long rows of seats looked as if buried beneath an
electrified avalanche of newspapers. At the end of five minutes the
papers were fluttering on the floor amid the peanut-shells and
orange-skins of the earlier travellers. There was an impressive silence,
then an animated, terse, and shockingly expressive conversation. Only a
dozen or more sat with drawn faces and white lips. They were the
dwellers by the lake. Hiram Webster had left every cent of his large
fortune to his sister.
For two weeks Webster Lake did not call on the heiress. It was too sore.
At the end of that period philosophy and decency came to the rescue.
Moreover, cupidity: Miss Webster too must make a will, and before long.
They called. Miss Webster received them amiably. Her eyes were red, but
the visitors observed that her mourning was very rich; they had never
seen richer. They also remarked that she held her gray old head with a
loftiness that she must have acquired in the past two weeks; no one of
them had ever seen it before. She did not exactly patronize them; but
that she appreciated her four millions there could be no doubt.
Strowbridge glanced about in search of Miss Williams. She was not in the
room. He sauntered out to the garden and saw her coming from the dairy.
She wore a black alpaca frock and a dark apron. Her face was weary and
"Could any one look more hopeless!" he thought. "The selfish old
curmudgeon, not to leave her independent! How her face can light up! She
looks almost young."
For she had seen him and hastened down the path. As he asked after her
health and said that he had been looking for her, she smiled and flushed
a little. They sat down on the steps and chatted until approaching
voices warned them that both pleasure and duty were over. She found
herself admitting that she had been bitterly disappointed to learn that
she was still a dependant, still chained to the gloomy mansion by the
lake. Yes; she should like to travel, to go to places she had read of in
the doctor's library—to live. She flushed with shame later when she
reflected on her confidences—she who was so proudly reticent. And to a
stranger! But she had never met any one so sympathetic.
Many were the comments of the visitors as they drove away.
"Upon my word!" exclaimed Mrs. Holt; "I do believe Marian Webster will
become stuck-up in her old age."
"Four millions are a good excuse," said Mrs. Meeker, with a sigh.
"That dress did not cost a cent under three hundred dollars," remarked a
third, with energy. "And it was tried on four times, if it was once. She
is evidently open to consolation."
But Miss Webster had by no means ceased to furnish material for comment.
A month later Mrs. Meeker burst in on Mrs. Holt. "What do you think?"
she cried. "Old Miss Webster is refurnishing the house from top to
bottom. I ran in just now, and found everything topsy-turvy. Thompson's
men are there frescoing—frescoing! All the carpets have been taken up
and are not in sight. Miss Webster informed me that she would show us
what she could do, if she was seventy-odd, but that she didn't want any
one to call until everything was finished. Think of that house being
modernized—that old whited sepulchre!"
Mrs. Holt had dropped the carriage-blanket she was embroidering for her
daughter's baby. "Are you dreaming?" she gasped. "Hiram will haunt the
"Just you wait. Miss Webster hasn't waited all these years for nothing."
Nor had she. The sudden and stupendous change in her fortunes had routed
grief—made her dizzy with possibilities. She had no desire to travel,
but she had had a lifelong craving for luxury. She might not have many
more years to live, she reiterated to Miss Williams, but during those
years her wealth should buy her all that her soul had ever yearned for.
In due course the old exclusive families of the infant city received
large squares of pasteboard heavily bordered with black, intimating that
Miss Webster would be at home to her friends on Thursdays at four of the
clock. On the first Thursday thereafter the parlor of Webster Hall was
as crowded as on the day of the funeral. "But who would ever know the
old barrack?" as the visitors whispered. Costly lace hid the
window-panes, heavy pale-blue satin the ancient frames. The walls were
frescoed with pink angels rising from the tinting clouds of dawn. The
carpet was of light-blue velvet; the deep luxurious chairs and divans
and the portières were of blue satin. The wood-work was enamelled with
silver. Out in the wide hall Persian rugs lay on the inlaid floors,
tapestry cloth hid the walls. Carved furniture stood in the niches and
the alcoves. Through the open doors of the library the guests saw walls
upholstered with leather, low bookcases, busts of marble and bronze. An
old laboratory off the doctor's study had been transformed into a
dining-room, as expensive and conventional as the other rooms. There a
dainty luncheon was spread.
Miss Webster led the lakeside people up-stairs. The many spare bedrooms
had been handsomely furnished, each in a different color. When the
guests were finally permitted to enter Miss Webster's own virgin bower
their chins dropped helplessly. Only this saved them from laughing
The room was furnished as for a pampered beauty. The walls were covered
with pink silk shimmering under delicate lace. The white enamel bed and
dressing-table were bountifully draped with the same materials. Light
filtered through rustling pink. The white carpet was sprinkled with pink
roses. The trappings of the dressing-table were of crystal and gold. In
one corner stood a Psyche mirror. Two tall lamps were hooded with pink.
All saw the humor; none the pathos.
The doctor's room had been left untouched. Sentiment and the value of
the old mahogany had saved it. Miss Williams's room was also the same
little cell. She assisted to receive the guests in a new black silk
gown. Miss Webster was clad from head to foot in English crêpe, with
deep collar and girdle of dull jet.
That was a memorable day in the history of the city.
Thereafter Miss Webster gave an elaborate dinner-party every Sunday
evening at seven o'clock. No patient groans greeted her invitations.
Never did a lone woman receive such unflagging attentions.
At each dinner she wore a different gown. It was at the third that she
dazzled her guests with an immense pair of diamond earrings. At the
fourth they whispered that she had been having her nails manicured. At
the fifth it was painfully evident that she was laced. At the sixth they
stared and held their breath: Miss Webster was unmistakably painted. But
it was at the tenth dinner that they were speechless and stupid: Miss
Webster wore a blond wig.
"They can just talk all they like," said the lady to her companion that
last night, as she sat before her mirror regarding her aged charms. "I
have four millions, and I shall do as I please. It's the first time I
ever could, and I intend to enjoy every privilege that wealth and
independence can give. Whose business is it, anyway?" she demanded,
"No one's. But it is a trifle ridiculous, and you must expect people to
"They'd better talk!" There was a sudden suggestion of her brother's
personality, never before apparent. "But why is it ridiculous, I should
like to know? Hasn't a woman the right to be young if she can? I loved
Hiram. I was a faithful and devoted sister; but he took my youth, and
now that he has given it back, as it were I'll make the most of it."
"You can't be young again."
"Perhaps not, in years; but I'll have all that belongs to youth."
"Not all. No man will love you."
Miss Webster brought her false teeth together with a snap. "Why not, I
should like to know? What difference do a few years make? Seventy is not
much, in any other calculation. Fancy if you had only seventy dollars
between you and starvation! Think of how many thousands of years old the
world is! I have now all that makes a woman attractive—wealth,
beautiful surroundings, scientific care. The steam is taking out my
wrinkles; I can see it."
She turned suddenly from the glass and flashed a look of resentment on
"But I wish I had your thirty years' advantage. I do! I do! Then they'd
The two women regarded each other in silence for a long moment. Love had
gone from the eyes and the hearts of both. Hate, unacknowledged as yet,
was growing. Miss Webster bitterly envied the wide gulf between old age
and her quarter-century companion and friend. Abigail bitterly envied
the older woman's power to invoke the resemblance and appurtenances of
youth, to indulge her lifelong yearnings.
When the companion went to her pillow that night she wept passionately.
"I will go," she said. "I'll be a servant; but I'll stay here no
The next morning she stood on the veranda and watched Miss Webster drive
away to market. The carriage and horses were unsurpassed in California.
The coachman and footman were in livery. The heiress was attired in
lustreless black silk elaborately trimmed with jet. A large hat covered
with plumes was kept in place above her painted face and red wig by a
heavily dotted veil—that crier of departed charms. She held a black
lace parasol in one carefully gloved hand. Her pretty foot was encased
in patent leather.
"The old fool!" murmured Abby. "Why, oh, why could it not have been
mine? I could make myself young without being ridiculous."
She let her duties go and sauntered down to the lake. Many painted boats
were anchored close to ornamental boat-houses. They seemed strangely out
of place beneath the sad old willows. The lawns were green with the
green of spring. Roses ran riot everywhere. The windows of the handsome
old-fashioned houses were open, and Abby was afforded glimpses of
fluttering white gowns, heard the tinkle of the mandolin, the cold
precise strains of the piano, the sudden uplifting of a youthful
"After all, it only makes a little difference to them that they got
nothing," thought the companion, with a sigh.
A young man stepped from one of the long windows of the Holt mansion and
came down the lawn. Miss Williams recognized Strowbridge. She had not
seen him for several weeks; but he had had his part in her bitter
moments, and her heart beat at sight of him to-day.
"I too am a fool," she thought. "Even with her money my case would be
hopeless. I am nearly double his age."
He jumped into a boat and rowed down the lake. As he passed the Webster
grounds he looked up and saw Abby standing there.
"Hulloa!" he called, as if he were addressing a girl of sixteen. "How
are you, all these years? Jump in and take a row."
He made his landing, sprang to the shore and led her to the boat with
the air of one who was not in the habit of being refused. Abby had no
inclination to suppress him. She stepped lightly into the boat, and a
moment later was gliding down the lake, looking with admiring eyes on
the strong young figure in its sweater and white trousers. A
yachting-cap was pulled over his blue eyes. His face was bronzed. Abby
wondered if many young men were as handsome as he. As a matter of fact,
he was merely a fine specimen of young American manhood, whose charm lay
in his frank manner and kindness of heart.
"Like this?" he asked, smiling into her eyes.
"Yes, indeed. Hiram used to row us sometimes; but the boat lurched so
when he lost his temper that I was in constant fear of being tipped
"Hiram must have been a terror to cats."
"Beg pardon! Of course you don't know much slang. Beastly habit."
He rowed up and down the lake many times, floating idly in the long
recesses where the willows met overhead. He talked constantly; told her
yarns of his college life; described boat-races and football matches in
which he had taken part. At first his only impulse was to amuse the
lonely old maid; but she proved such a delighted and sympathetic
listener that he forgot to pity her. An hour passed, and with it her
bitterness. She no longer felt that she must leave Webster Hall. But she
remembered her duties, and regretfully asked him to land her.
"Well, if I must," he said. "But I'm sorry, and we'll do it again some
day. I'm awfully obliged to you for coming."
"Obliged to me?—you?" she said, as he helped her to shore. "Oh, you
don't know—" And laughing lightly, she went rapidly up the path to the
Miss Webster was standing on the veranda. Her brows were together in an
"Well!" she exclaimed. "So you go gallivanting about with boys in your
old age! Aren't you ashamed to make such an exhibition of yourself?"
Abby felt as if a hot palm had struck her face. Then a new spirit, born
of caressed vanity, asserted itself.
"Wouldn't you have done the same if you had been asked?" she demanded.
Miss Webster turned her back and went up to her room. She locked the
door and burst into tears. "I can't help it," she sobbed, helplessly.
"It's dreadful of me to hate Abby after all these years; but—those
terrible thirty! I'd give three of my millions to be where she is. I
used to think she was old, too. But she isn't. She's young! Young!—a
baby compared to me. I could more than be her mother. Oh, I must try as
a Christian woman to tear this feeling from my heart."
She wrote off a check and directed it to her pastor, then rang for the
trained nurse her physician had imported from New York, and ordered her
to steam and massage her face and rub her old body with spirits of wine
Strowbridge acquired the habit of dropping in on Miss Williams at all
hours. Sometimes he called at the dairy and sat on a corner of the table
while she superintended the butter-making. He liked her old-fashioned
music, and often persuaded her to play for him on the new grand piano in
the sky-blue parlor. He brought her many books by the latter-day
authors, all of them stories by men about men. He had a young contempt
for the literature of sentiment and sex. Even Miss Webster grew to like
him, partly because he ignored the possibility of her doing otherwise,
partly because his vital frank personality was irresistible. She even
invited him informally to dinner; and after a time he joked and guyed
her as if she were a school-girl, which pleased her mightily. Of Miss
Williams he was sincerely fond.
"You are so jolly companionable, don't you know," he would say to her.
"Most girls are bores; don't know enough to have anything to talk about,
and want to be flattered and flirted with all the time. But I feel as if
you were just another fellow, don't you know."
"Oh, I am used to the rôle of companion," she would reply.
With the first days of June he returned to Boston, and the sun turned
gray for one woman.
Life went its way in the old house. People became accustomed to the
spectacle of Miss Webster rejuvenated, and forgot to flatter. It may be
added that men forgot to propose, in spite of the four millions. Deeper
grew the gulf between the two women. Once in every week Abby vowed she
would leave, but habit was too strong. Once in every week Miss Webster
vowed she would turn the companion out, but dependence on the younger
woman had grown into the fibres of her old being.
Strowbridge returned the following summer. Almost immediately he called
on Miss Williams.
"I feel as if you were one of the oldest friends I have in the world,
don't you know," he said, as they sat together on the veranda. "And I've
brought you a little present—if you don't mind. I thought maybe you
He took a small case from his pocket, touched a spring, and revealed a
tiny gold watch and fob. "You know," he had said to himself
apologetically as he bought it, "I can give it to her because she's so
much older than myself. It's not vulgar, like giving handsome presents
to girls. And then we are friends. I'm sure she won't mind, poor old
thing!" Nevertheless, he looked at her with some apprehension.
His misgivings proved to be vagaries of his imagination. Abby gazed at
the beautiful toy with radiant face. "For me!" she exclaimed—"that
lovely thing? And you really bought it for me?"
"Why, of course I did," he said, too relieved to note the significance
of her pleasure. "And you'll take it?"
"Indeed I'll take it." She laid it on her palm and looked at it with
rapture. She fastened the fob in a buttonhole of her blouse, but removed
it with a shake of the head. "I'll just keep it to look at, and only
wear it with my black silk. It's out of place on this rusty alpaca."
"What a close-fisted old girl the Circus must—"
"Oh, hush, hush! She might hear you." Abby rose hastily. "Let us walk in
They sauntered between the now well-kept lawns and flower-beds and
entered a long avenue of fig-trees. The purple fruit hung abundantly
among the large green leaves. Miss Williams opened one of the figs and
showed Strowbridge the red luscious pith.
"You don't have these over there."
"We don't. Are they good to eat this way?"
She held one of the oval halves to his mouth.
"Eat!" she said.
And he did. Then he ate a dozen more that she broke for him.
"I feel like a greedy school-boy," he said. "But they are good, and no
mistake. You have introduced me to another pleasure. Now let us go and
take a pull."
All that afternoon there was no mirror to tell her that she was not the
girl who had come to Webster Hall a quarter of a century before. That
night she knelt long by her bed, pressing her hands about her face.
"I am a fool, I know," she thought, "but such things have been. If only
I had a little of her money."
The next day she went down to the lake, not admitting that she expected
him to take her out; it would be enough to see him. She saw him. He
rowed past with Elinor Holt, the most beautiful girl of the lakeside.
His gaze was fixed on the flushed face, the limpid eyes. He did not look
Miss Williams walked back to the house with the odd feeling that she had
been smitten with paralysis and some unseen force was propelling her.
But she was immediately absorbed in the manifold duties of the
housekeeping. When leisure came reaction had preceded it.
"I am a fool," she thought. "Of course he must show Elinor Holt
attention. He is her father's guest. But he might have looked up."
That night she could not sleep. Suddenly she was lifted from her
thoughts by strange sounds that came to her from the hall without. She
opened the door cautiously. A white figure was flitting up and down,
wringing its hands, the gray hair bobbing about the jerking head.
"No use!" it moaned. "No use, no use, no use! I'm old, old, old!
Seventy-four, seventy-four, seventy-four! Oh, Lord! oh, Lord! oh, Lord!
Thy ways are past finding out. Amen!"
Abby closed her door hurriedly. She felt the tragedy out there was not
for mortal eyes to look upon. In a few moments she heard the steps pause
before her door. Hands beat lightly upon it.
"Give me back those thirty years!" whimpered the old voice. "They are
mine! You have stolen them from me!"
Abby's hair rose. "Is Marian going mad?" she thought.
But the next morning Miss Webster looked as usual when she appeared,
after her late breakfast in bed, bedecked for her drive to market. She
had modified her mourning, and wore a lavender cheviot, and the parasol
and hat were in harmony with all but herself.
"Poor old caricature!" thought Abby. "She makes me feel young."
A week later, when the maid entered Miss Webster's bedroom at the
accustomed morning hour, she found that the bed had not been occupied.
Nor was her mistress visible. The woman informed Miss Williams at once,
and together they searched the house. They found her in her brother's
room, in the old mahogany bed in which she too had been born. She was
dead. Her gray hair was smooth under her lace nightcap. Her hands were
folded, the nails glistening in the dusky room. Death had come
peacefully, as to her brother. What had taken her there to meet it was
the last mystery of her strange old soul.
Again a funeral in the old house, again a crowd of mourners. This time
there was less ostentation of grief, for no one was left worth
impressing. The lakeside people gathered, as before, at the upper end of
the parlor and gossiped freely. "Miss Williams ought to have put the
blond wig on her," said Mrs. Holt. "I am sure that is what Marian would
have done for herself. Poor Marian! She was a good soul, after all, and
really gave liberally to charity. I wonder if she has left Miss Williams
"Of course. She will come in for a good slice. Who is better entitled to
Pertinent question! They exchanged amused glances. Words were
superfluous, but Mrs. Holt continued:
"I think we are pretty sure of our shanties this time; Marian was really
fond of us, and had neither kith nor kin; but I, for one, am going to
make sure of some memento of the famous Webster estate." And she
deliberately opened a cabinet, lifted down a small antique teapot, and
slipped it into her bag.
The others laughed noiselessly. "That is like your humor," said Mrs.
Meeker. Then all bent their heads reverently. The ceremony had begun.
Two days later Miss Williams wandered restlessly up and down the hall
waiting for the evening newspaper. She made no attempt to deceive
herself this time. She thought tenderly of the dead, but she was frankly
eager to learn just what position in the world her old friend's legacy
would give her. Two or three times she had been on the point of going to
a hotel; but deeply as she hated the place, the grip of the years was
too strong. She felt that she could not go until the law compelled her.
"I cannot get the capital for ten months," she thought, "but I can get
the income, or borrow; and I can live in the city, or perhaps—But I
must not think of that."
A boy appeared at the end of the walk. His arms were full of newspapers,
and he rolled one with expert haste. Miss Williams could contain,
herself no further. She ran down the walk. The boy gave the paper a
sudden twist and threw it to her. She caught it and ran up-stairs to her
room and locked the door. For a moment she turned faint. Then she shook
the paper violently apart. She had not far to search. The will of so
important a personage as Miss Webster was necessarily on the first page.
The "story" occupied a column, and the contents were set forth in the
head-lines. The head-lines read as follows:
WILL OF MISS MARIAN WEBSTER
SHE LEAVES HER VAST FORTUNE TO CHARITY
FOUR MILLIONS THE PRICE OF ETERNAL FAME
The room whirled round the forgotten woman. She turned sick, then cold
to her marrow. She fell limply to the floor, and crouched there with the
newspaper in her hand. After a time she spread it out on the floor and
spelled through the dancing characters in the long column. Her name was
not mentioned. Those thirty years had outweighed the devotion of more
than half a lifetime. It was the old woman's only revenge, and she had
No tears came to Miss Williams's relief. She gasped occasionally. "How
could she? how could she? how could she?" her mind reiterated. "What
difference would it have made to her after she was dead? And I—oh
God—what will become of me?" For a time she did not think of
Strowbridge. When she did, it was to see him smiling into the eyes of
Elinor Holt. Her delusion fell from her in that hour of terrible
realities. Had she read of his engagement in the newspaper before her
she would have felt no surprise. She knew now what had brought him back
to California. Many trifles that she had not noted at the time linked
themselves symmetrically together, and the chain bound the two young
"Fool! fool!" she exclaimed. "But no—thank heaven, I had that one
little dream!—the only one in forty-three years!"
The maid tapped at her door and announced dinner. She bade her go away.
She remained on the floor, in the dark, for many hours. The stars were
bright, but the wind lashed the lake, whipped the trees against the
roof. When the night was half done she staggered to her feet. Her limbs
were cramped and numbed. She opened the door and listened. The lights
were out, the house was still. She limped over to the room which had
been Miss Webster's. That too was dark. She lighted the lamps and
flooded the room with soft pink light. She let down her hair, and with
the old lady's long scissors cut a thick fringe. The hair fell softly,
but the parting of years was obtrusive. A bottle of gum tragacanth stood
on one corner of the dressing-table, and with its contents Abby matted
the unneighborly locks together. The fringe covered her careworn brow,
but her face was pallid, faded. She knew where Miss Webster had kept her
cosmetics. A moment later an array of bottles, jars, and rouge-pots
stood on the table before her.
She applied the white paint, then the red. She darkened her eyelashes,
drew the lip-salve across her pale mouth. She arranged her soft abundant
hair in a loose knot. Then she flung off her black frock, selected a
magnificent white satin dinner-gown from the wardrobe, and put it on.
The square neck was filled with lace, and it hid her skinny throat. She
put her feet into French slippers and drew long gloves up to her elbows.
Then she regarded herself in the Psyche mirror.
Her eyes glittered. The cosmetics, in the soft pink light, were the
tintings of nature and youth. She was almost beautiful.
"That is what I might have been without aid of art had wealth been mine
from the moment that care of nature's gifts was necessary," she said,
addressing her image. "I would not have needed paint for years yet, and
when I did I should have known how to use it! I need not have been old
and worn at forty-three. Even now—even now—if wealth were mine, and
happiness!" She leaned forward, and pressing her finger against the
glass, spoke deliberately; there was no passion in her tones: "When that
letter came twenty-five years ago offering me a home, I wish I had
flouted it, although I did not have five dollars in the world. I wish I
had become a harlot—a harlot! do you hear? Nothing—nothing in life can
be as bad as life empty, wasted, emotionless, stagnant! I have existed
forty-three years in this great, beautiful, multiform world, and I might
as well have died at birth for all that it has meant to me. Nature gave
me abundantly of her instincts. I could have been a devoted wife, a
happy mother, a gay and careless harlot! I would have chosen the first,
but failing that—rather the last a thousand times than this! For then I
should have had some years of pleasure, excitement, knowledge—"
She turned abruptly and started for the door, stopped, hesitated, then
walked slowly to the wardrobe. She unhooked a frock of nun's veiling and
tore out the back breadths. She returned to the mirror and fastened the
soft flowing stuff to her head with several of the dead woman's
For a few moments longer she gazed at herself, this time silently. Her
eyes had the blank look of introspection. Then she went from the house
and down to the lake.
The next day the city on the ranchos was able to assure itself
comfortably that Webster Lake had had its tragedy.
Of the Tragedy it knew nothing.
The Tragedy of a Snob
he first twenty-three years of Andrew Webb's life were passed in that
tranquillity of mind and body induced by regular work, love of exercise,
and a good digestion. He lived in a little flat in Harlem, with his
widowed mother and a younger sister who was ambitious to become an
instructor of the young and to prove that woman may be financially
independent of man. At that time Andrew's salary of thirty dollars a
week, earned in a large savings-bank of which he was one of many
book-keepers, covered the family's needs. Mr. Webb had died when his son
was sixteen, leaving something under two thousand dollars and a
furnished flat in Harlem. For a time the outlook was gloomy. Andrew left
school and went to work. Good at figures, stoically steady, he rose by
degrees to command a fair remuneration. A brother of Mrs. Webb,
currently known as "Uncle Sandy Armstrong," lived in miserly fashion on
the old homestead in New Jersey. Occasionally he sent his sister a
ten-dollar bill. Mrs. Webb, believing him to be as straitened as
herself, albeit without a family, never applied to him for assistance.
Twice a year she dutifully visited him and put his house in order. Her
children rarely could be induced to accompany her. They detested their
fat garrulous unkempt uncle, and only treated him civilly out of the
goodness of their hearts and respect for their mother. On Christmas Day
he invariably dined with them, and his meagre presents by no means
atoned for his atrocious table-manners.
The family in the flat was a happy one, despite the old carpets, the
faded rep furniture, the general air of rigid economy, and the
inevitable visits of Uncle Sandy. Mrs. Webb was sweet of temper, firm of
character, sound of health. Her cheeks and eyes were faded, her black
dress was always rusty, her general air that of a middle-class
gentlewoman who bore her reverses bravely. Polly was a plump bright-eyed
girl, with a fresh complexion and her mother's evenness of temper. In
spite of her small allowance, she managed to dress in the prevailing
style. She had barely emerged from short frocks when she took a course
of lessons in dress-making, she knew how to bargain, and spent the
summer months replenishing her own and her mother's wardrobe. Mrs. Webb
did the work of the flat, assisted by an Irish maiden who came in by the
day: there was no place in the flat for her to sleep.
Andrew was the idol of the family. He supported them, and he was a
thoroughly good fellow; he had no bad habits, and they had never seen
him angry. His neighbors were regularly made acquainted with the proud
fact that he walked home from his office in lower Broadway every
afternoon in the year, "except Sundays and during his vacation," as his
mother would add. She was a conscientious woman. Moreover, they thought
him very handsome. He was five feet ten, lean, and athletic in
appearance. It is true that his head was narrow and his face cast in a
heavy mould; but there was no superfluous flesh in his cheeks, and his
thick skin was clean. Like his sister, he managed to dress well. He was
obliged to buy his clothes ready-made, but he had the gift of selection.
When the subtle change came, his mother and sister uneasily confided to
each other the fear that he was in love. As the years passed, however,
and he brought them no new demand upon their affections and resources,
they ceased to worry, and finally to wonder. Andrew was not the old
Andrew; but, if he did not choose to confide the reason, his reserve
must be respected. And at least it had affected neither his generosity
nor his good temper. He still spent his evenings at home, listened to
his mother or Polly read aloud, and never missed the little supper of
beer and crackers and cheese before retiring.
One morning, while Webb was still one with his little family, he read,
as was usual with him on the long ride down-town, his Harlem edition of
one of the New York dailies. He finished the news, the editorials, the
special articles: nothing was there to upset the equilibrium of his
life. His attention was attracted, as he was about to close the paper,
by a long leaded "story" of a ball given the night before by some people
named Webb. Their superior social importance was made manifest by the
space and type allotted them, by the fact that their function was not
held over for the Sunday issue, and by the imposing rhetoric of the
Andrew read the story with a feeling of personal interest. From that
moment, unsuspected by himself, the readjustment of his mind to other
interests began—the divorce of his inner life from the simple
conditions of his youth.
Thereafter he searched the Society columns for accounts of the doings of
the Webb folk. Thence, by a natural deflection, he became generally
interested in the recreations of the great world: he acquired a habit,
much to his sister's delight, of buying the weekly chronicles of
Society, and all the Sunday issues of the important dailies.
At first the sparkle and splendor, the glamour and mystery of the world
of fashion dazzled and delighted him. It was to him what fairy tales of
prince and princess are to children. For even he, prosaic, phlegmatic,
with nerves of iron and brain of shallows, had in him that germ of the
picturesque which in some natures shoots to high and full-flowered
ideals, in others to lofty or restless ambitions, coupled with a true
love of art; and yet again develops a weed of tenacious root and coarse
enduring fibre which a clever maker of words has named snobbery.
Gradually within Andrew's slow mind grew a dull resentment against Fate
for having played him so sinister a trick as to give him the husk
without the kernel, a title without a story that any one would ever
care to read. Why, when one of those Webb babies was due,—the family
appeared to be a large one,—could not his little wandering ego have
found its way into that ugly but notable mansion on Fifth Avenue instead
of having been spitefully guided to a New Jersey farm? Not that Andrew
expressed himself in this wise. Had he put his thoughts into words, he
would probably have queried in good terse English: "Why in thunder can't
I be Schuyler Churchill Webb instead of a nobody in Harlem? He's just my
age, and I might as well have been he as not."
His twenty-third birthday cake, prepared by loving hands, had scarcely
been eaten when the waves of snobbery first lapped his feet. At
twenty-five they had broken high above his head, and the surge was ever
in his ears. He was not acutely miserable: his health was too perfect,
his appetite too good. But deeper and deeper each week did he bury his
perplexed head in the social folk-lore of New York and Newport. Oftener
and oftener during the city season did he promenade central Fifth Avenue
from half-past four until half-past five in the afternoon of pleasant
days. He lived for the hour which would find him sauntering from
Forty-first Street to the Park and back again. He knew all the
fashionable men and women by sight. There was no one to tell him their
names, but the names themselves were more familiar than the rows of
figures in his books down-town. He fitted them to such presences as
seemed to demand them as their right. He grew into a certain intimacy
with the slender trimly accoutred girls who held themselves so erectly
and wore their hair with such maidenly severity. They were so different
in appearance from all the women he had known or seen, and from the
languishing creatures in his mother's cherished Book of Beauty, that
he came to look upon them as a race apart, which they were; as something
not quite human, which was a slander. As they stalked along so briskly
in their tailor-made frocks, their cheeks and eyes brilliant with
health, the average observer would have likened them to healthy
high-bred young race-horses.
On the whole, however, Andrew gave the full measure of his admiration to
the women who took their exercise less violently. When the spring came,
and the Park was green, he would stand in the plaza, surrounded by its
great hotels, the deep rumble of the avenue behind him, forgetting even
the phalanxes of tramping girls, with their accessories of boys and
poodles. Before him were the wide gates of the Park, the green wooded
knolls rolling away—almost to his home in Harlem. Just beyond the gates
was a bend in the driveway, and he never tired of watching the stream of
carriages wind as from a cavern and roll out to the avenue. The vivid
background claimed as its own those superb traps with their dainty
burdens of women who held their heads so haughtily, whose plumage was so
brilliant. The horses glittered and pranced. The parasols fluttered like
butterflies above the flower-faces beneath. Webb would stand entranced,
bitterly thankful that there was such a scene for him to look upon,
choking back a sob that he had no part in it.
When summer came and Society flitted to Newport, that paradise in which
he only half believed, he was more lonely and glum than the loneliest
and glummest and most blasé clubman, who clung to his window because
he hated Newport and could not afford London. Quite accidentally, when
his infatuation was about three years old, he came into a singular
compensation. In the summer, during his ten days' vacation, when he was
tramping through the woods, he fell in with a party of Western people,
who manifested much interest in New York. To Andrew there was only one
New York, and with that his soul was identified. Insensibly, he began
to talk of New York Society as if it were part of his daily experience.
His careful, if restricted, study of its habits had made him
sufficiently familiar with it to enable him to deceive the wholly
ignorant. He described the people, their brilliant "functions," the
individualities of certain of its members. He talked freely of Ward
McAllister, and imitated that gentleman's peculiarities of thought and
speech, so familiar to the newspaper reader. For the time he deceived
himself as well as his hearers; and so fascinating did he find this
delusion, that he remained with the inquisitive and guileless party
until the end of his vacation. After that he made it a point each year
to attach himself to some party of tourists, and to tell them of New
York Society, plus Andrew Webb. He was not a liar in the ordinary sense
of the word. In his home and in the bank where he played his daily game
of give-and-take, his reputation for veracity was enviable. Every mortal
not an idiot has his day-dreams. Webb merely dreamed his aloud to an
audience. And these summers were the oases of his life.
He had one other pleasure equally keen. On the first day of each month
he dined at Delmonico's. In the beginning it meant the forfeit of his
usual stand-up luncheon, but he had decided that the cause was worthy
of the sacrifice. One evening, however, he lingered on upper Fifth
Avenue longer than usual, and entered late. The restaurant was crowded.
He stood at the door, hesitating, knowing that he would not be permitted
to seat himself at a table already occupied by even one person. Suddenly
a small common-looking little man came forward and touched his arm.
"Won't you share my table?" he said, effusively. "My name's Slocum, and
I've seen you here often. You mustn't go away. Come in."
Andrew gratefully accepted, and followed Mr. Slocum over to the little
table on the other side of the room.
"I say," said Slocum, after Webb had ordered his dinner, "I've hit on a
plan. It's been in my head for some time. How often do you come here?"
"Once a month."
"That's my game exactly. I'm a clerk on a small salary; but I must have
one good dinner a month, if I don't have my hair cut. Now, suppose we
dine together. One portion's enough for two, and the same dinner'll only
cost each of us half what it does now. See?"
Andrew did not take kindly to Mr. Slocum: the vulgar young man was so
different from the magnificent creatures about him. But the offer was
not to be ignored, and he closed with it. For the following three years,
until he was twenty-eight, he dined regularly at Delmonico's, and in
that rarefied atmosphere his head gently swam. He forgot the flat in
Harlem,—forgot that he was Andrew, not Schuyler Churchill Webb.
One day word came that "Uncle Sandy Armstrong" was dead. Andrew could
not get away, nor Polly, who was then a teacher; but Mrs. Webb hastily
packed an old carpet-bag and went over to superintend her brother's
funeral. That evening the young people discussed the death of their
relative in a business-like manner, which their mother would have
resented, but which was justifiable from their point of view.
"I suppose ma will have the farm," remarked Polly, still a plump, rosy,
and well-dressed Polly, albeit with an added air of importance and a
slightly didactic enunciation. "How much do you suppose it's worth?"
Andrew, who was lying on the sofa smoking a pipe, protruded his upper
lip. "Four thousand,—not a cent more. The orchard's all gone to seed,
and the house too."
"We might mortgage the land, and fit the house up for summer boarders."
Andrew frowned heavily. His sister was absently tapping a pile of
compositions on the table beside her, and did not see the frown. She
would not have suspected the cause if she had.
"As well that as anything," he replied, indifferently. "No one will buy
it, that's positive, with all that marsh."
Two days later he returned home to find the very atmosphere of the place
quivering with excitement. Bridget stood in the doorway of the kitchen,
which faced the end of the narrow hallway personal to the Webb abode.
Her round eyes glittered in a purple face. She waved her arms wildly.
[Transcriber's Note: In the original, "She waved her alms wildly."]
"Oh, Mr. Webb!" she began.
"Andrew, come here," shrieked Polly from the other end of the hall.
"Come here, quick!"
It was not Webb's habit to move rapidly; but, fearing that his mother
was ill, he walked briskly to the parlor. Mrs. Webb, trembling as from a
recent nervous shock, her face flushed, a legal document in her lap, sat
in an upright chair, apparently in the best of health. Polly was on the
verge of hysterics.
"What do you think has happened?" she cried. "Tell him, ma; I can't."
Then she flung herself face downward on the sofa and kicked her heels
"We are rich, Andrew," said Mrs. Webb, with a desperate effort at
calmness. "Your Uncle Sandy has been investing and doubling money these
twenty years. He has left one hundred and fifty thousand dollars,—fifty
thousand to each of us."
Andrew's knees gave way. He sat down suddenly. He had but one thought. A
radiant future flashed the little room out of vision. That would be his
which for five years he had desired with all the insidious force of a
"Say something, Andrew, for heaven's sake!" cried Polly, "or I shall
scream. Fifty thousand dollars all my own! No more school, no more
dress-making! We'll all go to Europe. Ma says it's well invested, and we
shall have four thousand a year each. Goodness—goodness—goodness me!"
"I should like to fit up the old house and live there," said Mrs. Webb.
"But—yes—I should like to see Europe first. That was one of the dreams
of my youth."
"And I'll have a sealskin! At last! You shall have a magnificent black
silk and a pair of diamond earrings—"
"Polly!" exclaimed her mother, "what should I do with diamonds? A new
black silk—a rich one—yes, I shall like that. Poor Sandy!"
Andrew leaned forward and took the document and laid it on his knee. He
stroked it as tenderly as if it had been a woman's head and he another
man. There was no sentiment in his nature, although he was an admirer of
beauty—New York beauty. After a time he detached himself from his
thoughts and talked the matter over with his mother and sister. When
they asked him what he should do he replied, confusedly, that he did not
know. But the plans of neither were so well defined as his.
All that night he sat on the edge of his bed staring at the worn
outlines of the boy and the dog on the rug under his feet. Fifty
thousand dollars! It seemed a great fortune to him. Such a sum had been
familiar enough in figures for many years. But that it might represent a
concrete wad of bills was a fact which had never presented itself to his
imagination before. Fifty thousand dollars! He did not know what the
objects of his idolatry were worth, merely that they were idle and
luxurious. These fifty thousand dollars would enable him to be idle and
luxurious—and to meet society at last on its own ground.
The interval between that night and the day upon which the estate was
settled, Andrew passed in a sort of impatient dream. Never before had
days, weeks, months seemed so long; never had he so dissociated himself
from his little world and melted into that luminous circle of which he
was to become a component part. How he was to obtain his passport into
fashionable society was a question that did not concern him. Its portals
were typified to him by the wide gates of Central Park, through which
all might roll upon whom fortune smiled. One blessed fact possessed his
mind: by the first of July he should be master of his future, liberated
from his desk, free to go to Newport. When his foot actually pressed
that reservation, all the rest would come about quite naturally. At this
time he still preserved his self-respect. He felt quite the equal of the
men he had brushed elbows with at Delmonico's—the pink-faced youths
with their butter-colored tops, the affable elderly men with their
bulbous stomachs and puffy eyes. And he had caught many of their little
fads. He had risen in the night, and opening the door connecting the
kitchen and dining-room, that he might have sufficient scope, he had
practised the remarkable gait of the New York youth of fashion: that
slight forward inclination of the shoulders, that slighter crab-like
angle of the body, that ponderous thoughtful tread: the only difference
from the walk of the "tough" being in the length of the step. One hand
was in a pocket, the other absently manipulated a stick. He had also
witnessed the hand-shake, and of his proficiency in this accomplishment
he felt assured.
On the third day of July, one hour after the law had yielded up its
temporary foundling, he ordered an elaborate outfit from the most
fashionable tailor in New York. This order and others drilled a large
hole in his first quarter's income, but he regarded that as a trifling
detail. His mother and sister were meanwhile selling the homely
necessities of their flat at auction, as the first step to a year
abroad. They wondered at Andrew's desire to go to Newport, but had heard
that it was a pretty place with a good bathing-beach, and much visited
by tourists. They spent the last night together in a hotel; and Mrs.
Webb, in spite of a faint protest from Andrew, ordered beer and crackers
and cheese. They had eaten this little supper for many years, and the
women, who were very tearful, insisted that this last evening together
must be as much like the dear old evenings as possible. It was a sad
It was a profoundly hot August day when Andrew left the steamboat and
actually stood upon Newport soil. More properly, he stood upon a plank
wharf, and was not impressed with the dock. But as the omnibus rolled
through the town his heart began to swell, his rather dull eyes to glow.
The hour was two, and the city asleep under its ivy and flowers. After
New York, it seemed deliciously quiet, and old, and aristocratic. The
pounding of the horses' hoofs, the voices of the people in the omnibus,
were desecrating. He had glimpses of long avenues, dark, green, dim; a
flash of villa top or imposing gateway behind the stately trees. He felt
that he was in paradise.
He was in a mood to admire the hotel, plain and unpretending structure
as it was; it was so old and still and highly respectable. He descended
from the omnibus nervously and went into the office. A clerk handed him
a pen, and he registered his name in a clerkly hand, "A. Armstrong
Webb." He had decided to acknowledge his debt to his uncle and add a
cubit to his stature at the same time. The clerk wheeled the book round,
glanced indifferently at the name, and handed a key to a bell-boy.
Webb, conscious of a faint chill, followed the boy up-stairs. The room
to which he was conducted was an ordinary one overlooking the area. He
had been treated as any commonplace and unknown traveller would be. The
thought increased the chill; then he philosophically concluded that a
nobleman travelling incognito would be treated in the same way, and went
down-stairs to the dining-room. There he was somewhat surprised to find
that dinner was being served instead of luncheon. He had supposed that
dinner in a Newport hotel would be served at eight o'clock.
After dinner he went out to the veranda, sat himself on one of the
chairs by the railing, and smoked an expensive cigar. He was beginning
to feel strangely lonely. There seemed to be very few people in the
hotel, and he experienced his first pang of helplessness, of doubt. He
had supposed that the hotel would be full of great people. As he glanced
down the avenue, those big houses seemed like tombs, buried, themselves,
under a rank growth of foliage. And it was so wondrous quiet!
His cigar cheered him somewhat, and he sauntered back to the office and
entered into conversation with the clerk, a good-humored little
Englishman with cheeks like his own apples. The clerk knew at a glance
that the stranger was neither a "swell" nor a frequenter of Newport; but
he liked his manly appearance, and readily met his advances. To his
dismay, Webb learned that the "swells" no longer went to the hotels; or,
if obliged to do so for a short period, secluded themselves in their
rooms. They lived in cottages. Oh yes! all those fine houses were called
cottages. It was a sort of fad—American modesty, the clerk supposed.
There was not much run of any sort at the hotel until the fifteenth,
when a good many tourists came. Oh yes! there were some people there,
mostly old ones, who had come every season for many years, he believed.
Rather depressing parties, these; they looked so old-fashioned, and
didn't do much to brighten up things.
Webb, with growing dejection, left the hotel and strolled up the avenue.
There his spirits revived. The avenue was so beautiful, so gloomy, so
old! He drew in deep inhalations of its unmistakably aristocratic
atmosphere. He felt its subtle possessing influence. Once more his
imagination awakened. He leaned on a Gothic gateway and gazed upon a
superb Queen Anne cottage with Tudor towers. Incongruities in
architecture mattered nothing to him. He precipitated his astral part
through the massive door and wandered, with ponderous, thoughtful
tread, over the deep carpets of the drawing-rooms and corridors. He
drank tea on the back veranda with languid dames and with men who had
never stood at desks. He threw himself into an arm-chair and listened to
a slim-waisted smooth-haired girl coquetting with the piano. He sat with
the haughty chatelaine and talked of—there his imagination failed him.
He hardly knew what these people talked of, although he had read many
society novels. As far as his memory served him, they talked of nothing
in particular. He wandered down the avenue, dreaming his dream at many
gate-posts. He saw no one, but thereby was the illusion deepened.
Newport for the hour was his.
He returned to the hotel veranda, lit another cigar, and was about to
meditate upon some plan of campaign, when suddenly an odd and delightful
thing happened. It was four-and-thirty of the clock. As if to the
ringing of a bell and the rising of a curtain, Bellevue Avenue became
suddenly alive with carriages. The big gates seemed to yawn
simultaneously and discharge their expensive freight. It was as if these
actors in the Newport drama would lose their weekly salary did they step
on the boards a moment too late. The avenue, with its gay frocks and
parasols, was like a long flower-bed in spring. Webb's cigar went out.
He leaned forward eagerly, straining his eyes.
In some of the superb traps were decrepit old dowagers wagging their
feeble heads, wondering, perhaps, how much longer their millions would
keep them alive. Sometimes their young heirs were with them, patient and
placid. Others were pitifully alone. Several men were on horseback,
riding in the agonized fashion of the day. There were carriages full of
girls with complexions of ivory and claret, air of ineffable daintiness.
Now and then a victoria would roll by in which women lolled, heavily
veiled with crape. Webb wondered if they really could sorrow like common
folks. Mingling with the superb turnouts were barouches unmistakably
hired, occupied by people dressed with a certain cheap smartness. Here
and there a girl, probably of the people, cantered half defiantly down
the line, a sailor-hat on her head, her jacket open over a shirt and
"four-in-hand." Once a yoke of oxen, driven by a bareheaded maid,
straggled into the throng.
The avenue before the hotel became deserted once more. The upper end was
blocked with carriages, all apparently bent in the same direction.
Andrew ran down the steps, half inclined to follow, half fearing they
would never return. A number of open hacks stood before the hotel. A
driver immediately approached Andrew.
"Like a drive, sir?"
"Yes," said Webb. "Go where the others are going."
"Certainly, sir. And, if you be a stranger, I can tell you most of the
Andrew could have tipped him on the spot. He should be able to identify
those people at last! He felt that he had advanced another step!
"We'll drive slow and meet them on their return," said the driver. He
indicated with a gesture of contempt a passing carriage.
"You see them, sir? They be people that comes to the hotels and goes
away and talks about spending the summer in Newport. But any one could
tell that they're just hotel people, and that the hack is hired. They
don't deceive nobody here."
The words gave Andrew a hint for which he was thankful. He understood
that he must not stay at the hotel. Where should he go, however? He must
take a "cottage," he supposed.
They rolled down a thick-leaved avenue and out over the stubby
sand-hills by the sea. Here and there a large mansion crowned the
heights, and Andrew was glad to see the traditional cottage in full
relief. He paid it scant attention, however. The procession of
carriages had already turned, and his faithful guide uttered many a name
which sounded like old sweet music in his ears. Some of the younger
faces were unfamiliar; but they, too, bore names that the newspapers had
"Now look with all your eyes," cried the driver, suddenly. "Here's Mrs.
Johnny Belhaven. She's worth more millions than all the rest put
together, and is an A1 whip."
A plump but distinguished-looking woman bore down on them in what
appeared to be a chariot. Andrew had never seen anything so high on
wheels before. Mrs. Belhaven looked down upon her "Order" as from a
throne, and wore a slightly supercilious expression.
"And there's Ward McAllister," continued the driver, excitedly; "him as
is the leader of the Four Hundred, you know."
Andrew almost raised himself from his seat. He stared with bulging eyes
at the tired carelessly dressed elderly man with whom he had been
intimate so many years.
He returned to the hotel. His spirits were normal again. He had taken
his part in a fragment of the daily life of Newport. As he passed
through the office on his way to the elevator, the clerk beckoned to
"As you seem a stranger, sir," he said, apologetically, "I thought I
would introduce you to Mr. Chapman. He's the correspondent of several
New York papers, and could tell you how to amuse yourself."
A short thick-set amiable young man shook Andrew's hand heartily. Mr.
Chapman was not the sort of person Andrew had gone to Newport to meet,
but he was glad of any friendship, temporarily.
The two young men went out to the veranda. Andrew proffered his new
cigar-case. The other accepted gratefully. He was the free-lance
correspondent of several New York weekly papers, and his salary was not
large. He tipped his chair back, put his feet on the railing, and
confided to Webb that he hated Newport.
"I wouldn't have come here this summer if I could have got out of it,"
he said, gloomily. "It's my third year, and the place gets worse every
season. These people are so stuck-up there's no approaching them for
news. Even Lancaster, who has a sort of entrée because he is connected
with a swagger family, admits that it's as much as his life is worth to
get anything out of them. He's the correspondent of the New York Eye.
What's worse, they don't do anything. Here it is the third of August,
and not a ball has been given—just little things among themselves that
you can't get at. It's enough to drive a fellow to drink. I've faked
till my poor imagination is worn to a thread; the papers have to have
news. But I've done one big thing this summer,—a corking beat. Did you
notice half-way down the avenue a new house surrounded by a big stone
wall? That's the new Belhaven house. They'd sworn that no reporter
should so much as pass the gates, no paper should ever show an eager
world the interior of that marble mausoleum. The newspapers were wild.
Even Lancaster had no show. I was bound that I'd get into that house, if
I had to go as a burglar. And I did, but not that way. I bribed their
butcher to let me dress up as his boy; took a camera, and photographed
the house and grounds from the seclusion of the meat-wagon. I flirted
with the cook and got her to show me the drawing-rooms. It was early,
and the family wasn't up. I dodged the butler and took snap-shots. The
other newspaper men were ready to brain me. I felt sorry for some of
them, but I had joy over Lancaster. He'd bribed the caterer and florist
to keep their best bits of news for him. A low trick that; not but what
I'd do it myself if I had his salary. He got a scoop last year, and you
couldn't speak to him for a month after. Mrs. Foster,—she's one of the
biggest guns, you know, a regular cannon,—refurnished her house last
summer, and all the New York papers wanted photographs. She went cranky,
and said they shouldn't have them. Wouldn't even listen to Lancaster's
pleadings. But he hadn't jollied the butler for nothing. She didn't stop
here last summer—only came down every two weeks and rearranged every
stick of the furniture. The butler was nearly distracted. It was as much
as his place was worth to have her find any of the chairs out of place,
and the rooms had to be swept. So he hit on a plan. He bought a camera
and photographed the rooms every time Mrs. Foster came down. One day he
met Lancaster on the avenue and confided his method of keeping up with
the old lady. You may be sure Lancaster was not long getting a set of
those photos. It cost the newspaper a pot of money, for the butler was
no fool. But there they were next Sunday. And Mrs. Foster doesn't know
to this day how it was done."
Webb listened with mingled amusement and dismay. He was slowly beginning
to realize the determined segregation, from the common herd, of these
people, to whom he had come so confidently to offer homage. He changed
"I don't want to stay here, don't you know," he said, glancing
scornfully over his shoulder at the hotel which in its day had housed
the most distinguished in the land. "What would you advise? Take a
"Take a cottage!" Mr. Chapman fairly gasped. "Are you a millionaire in
disguise? If you were, I don't believe you could get one. The swells
shut up theirs when they don't come, or let them to their friends. The
others are mostly taken year after year by the same people. No; I'll
tell you what you want—a bachelor's apartment. They are not so easy to
get either, but I happen to know of one. It was rented four years ago by
Jack Delancy, but he blew in most of his money, and then tried to
recuperate on cordage. The bottom fell out of that, and now goodness
knows where he is. At all events, his apartment is to let. Suppose we go
now and see it. There's no time to lose."
Andrew assented willingly, profoundly thankful that he had met Mr.
Chapman. The apartment was near the hotel. They found it still vacant,
furnished with a certain bold distinction. The rent was high, but Andrew
stifled the economic promptings of his nature, and manfully signed a
check. That night there was nothing to be seen in Newport, not even a
moon. The city was like a necropolis. Andrew gratefully employed his
leisure hunting for servants. The following day he was comfortably
installed and had invited the fortunate Mr. Chapman to dinner. He found
that gentleman next morning on the beach, taking snap-shots at the
"This sort of thing goes," Chapman said, "although these people are just
plain tourists. I label them 'the beautiful Miss Brown,' or 'the famous
Miss Jones,' and the average reader swallows it, to say nothing of the
fact that it makes the paper look well. The swells won't go in with the
common herd, and want the ocean fenced in too, as it were. There are
some of them over there in their carriages, taking a languid interest in
the scene because they've nothing better to do. But they'd no more think
of getting out and sitting on this balcony, as they do at Narragansett,
than they'd ride in a street-car. Want to go up to the Casino and see
the stage go off? That's one of the sights."
Andrew had spent a half-hour the evening before gazing at the graceful
brown building which had long been a part of his dreams. He welcomed the
prospect of seeing a phase of its brilliant life.
They reached the Casino a few minutes before the coach started. A large
round-shouldered man, with face and frame of phlegmatic mould, occupied
the seat and swung his whip with a bored and absent air. Two or three
girls, clad in apotheosized organdie, and close hats, were already on
top of the coach. An elderly beau was assiduously attending upon a young
woman who was about to mount the ladder. She was a plain girl, with an
air of refined health, and simply clad in white.
"She's worth sixteen million dollars in her own right," said Chapman,
with a groan.
On the sidewalk, between the Casino and the coach, were two groups of
girls. One group gazed up at their friends on the coach, wishing them
good-fortune; the other gazed upon the first, eagerly and enviously.
Andrew looked from one to the other. The girls who talked to those on
the coach wore organdie frocks of simple but marvellous construction.
Shading their young pellucid eyes, their bare polished brows, were large
Leghorn hats covered with expensive feathers or flowers. Air, carriage,
complexion, manner, each was a part of the unmistakable uniform of the
New York girl of fashion. But the others? Andrew put the question to
"Oh, they're natives. We call them that to distinguish them from the
cottagers. They get close whenever they get a chance, and copy the
cottagers' clothes and manners. But it doesn't take a magnifying-glass
to see the difference."
Andrew looked with a pity he did not admit was fellow-feeling at the
pretty girls with their bright complexions, their merely stylish
clothes—which reminded him of Polly's—the inferior feathers in their
chip hats. The sharp contrast between the two groups of girls was almost
"I've got to leave you," said Chapman; "but I'll see you later. Take
care of yourself."
The horn tooted, the whip cracked, the coach started. The men on the
club balcony above the Casino watched it lazily. The street between the
coach and the green wall opposite had been blocked with carriages that
now rolled away.
Webb turned his attention to the group of cottagers. One of the girls
wore a yellow organdie trimmed with black velvet ribbons, a large
Leghorn covered with yellow feathers and black velvet. She was not
pretty, but she had "an air," and that was supremest beauty in Andrew's
eyes. Another was in lilac, another in pink. Each had the same sleek
brown hair, the same ivory complexion. In attendance was a tall clumsily
built but very imposing young man with sleepy blue eyes and a mighty
mustache. The girls paid him marked attention.
They chatted for a few moments, then walked through the entrance of the
Casino, over the lawn, towards the lower balcony of the horseshoe
surrounding it. Andrew followed, fascinated. The young man in attendance
walked after the manner of his kind, and Andrew, unconsciously imitating
him, ascended the steps, seated himself with an air of elaborate
indifference opposite the party in the narrow semicircle, and composed
his face into an expression of blank abstraction. His trouble was
wasted: they did not see him. They had an air of seeing no one in the
world but their kind. One of the girls, to Andrew's horror, crossed her
knees and swung her foot airily. The young man sank into a slouching
position. Another girl joined the group, but he did not rise when
introduced, nor offer to get her a chair. She was obliged to perform
that office, at some difficulty, for herself.
The band began to play. Andrew leaned forward, gazing at the floor,
intent upon hearing these people actually converse. But their talk only
came to him in snatches between the rise and fall of the music. Like
many other New-Yorkers, he had a deaf ear.
"My things disappear so"—(from the yellow girl) ... "I suspect my maid
wears them.... Don't really know what I have.... Don't dare say
anything." This was said with a languid drawl which Andrew thought
"Shall you go to Paris this year?"
"I don't know ... till time comes.... Then we keep four servants up all
night packing.... Must have some new gowns.... You know how you have to
talk to Ducet and Paquin yourself."
The young man went to sleep. The girls put their heads together and
whispered. After a time they arose with a little capricious air, which
completed Andrew's subjugation, and strolled away.
That evening, as he sat with Chapman over the coffee in the stately
little dining-room of the victim of cordage, the journalist remarked
"I say, old fellow, you don't seem to be in it. Don't you know anybody
here at all?"
Andrew shook his head gloomily.
"Well, you'll have a stupid time, I'm afraid. There are only three
classes of people that come to Newport—the swells, the people who want
to see the swells, and the correspondents whose unhappy fate it is to
report the doings of the swells. Now, what on earth did you come here
Andrew had not a confiding nature, but he could not repress a dark
flush. The astute little journalist understood it.
"It's too bad you didn't bring a letter or two. One would have made it
easy work. You look as well as any of them, and you've got the boodle.
Where did you come from, anyway?"
Chapman puckered his lips about his cigar. "That's bad. It's harder for
a non-commissioned New-Yorker to get into society than for a
district-attorney to get into heaven. Didn't you make any swagger
friends at college?"
"I never went to college."
"Too bad! A man should always strain a point to get to college. If he's
clever he can make friends there that he can 'work' for the rest of his
Little by little, with adroit use of the detective faculty of the modern
reporter, he extracted from Webb the tale of his years—even the extent
of his fortune. The young aspirant's ingenuousness made him gasp more
than once; but he had too kindly a nature to state to Webb the
hopelessness of his case. His new friend was manly and generous, and had
won from him a sincere liking, tempered with pity. Better let him find
out for himself how things stood; then, when his eyes were open, steer
him out of his difficulties.
He rose in a few moments. "Well," he said, cheerily, "I wish I were
Lancaster. I might be able to do something for you: but I'm not in
it—not for a cent. You may as well take in the passing show, however.
The first Casino hop is on to-night. Put on your togs and go."
"Anybody there?" asked Andrew, loftily.
"Oh, rather. All the cottagers will be there, or a goodly number of
them. And it's a pretty sight."
"But how can I get in?"
"By paying the sum of one dollar, old man."
Andrew's cigar dropped from his mouth.
"Do you mean to say that they go to a place and dance—in full
dress—on the floor—with everybody? Why, any one can pay a dollar."
Chapman laughed. "Oh!—well—go and see how it is for yourself. Meet me
in the gallery at ten, and I'll tell you who's who. Au revoir."
At half-past nine Andrew stood before his mirror and regarded himself
meditatively. Without vanity, he could admit that so far as appearance
counted he would be an ornament to any ballroom. His strong young figure
carried its evening clothes with the air of a gentleman, not of a
waiter. He had seen fashionable men in Delmonico's who needed their
facial tresses to avoid confusion. Chapman had that day pointed out to
him two scions of distinguished name whose "sideboards" had caused him
to mistake them for coachmen. He stroked his own mustache. It had never
been cut, and was as silken as the hair of the ladies he worshipped. His
head had been cropped by the most fashionable barber in New York. He
wore no jewels. In a word, he was correct, and he assured himself of the
fact with proud humility. Nevertheless, his heart was heavy behind his
From his apartment it was but a few steps to the Casino. He walked there
without injury to his pumps, bought his ticket at the office, half
fearing that it would be refused him, and sauntered across the lawn to
the inner door of the ballroom. The horseshoe was brilliantly lighted,
and, with its airy architecture, looked as if awaiting a revel of the
fairies. The cottagers, Andrew understood, would alight at an outside
door. They were subscribers, and the office was not for them.
He went up to the gallery to await his friend. It was less than a fourth
occupied by pretty girls—"natives," he recognized at once. Some wore
hats, others were in local substitute for full dress—a muslin or Indian
silk turned away at the throat, a flower in the hair. He took a chair
before the railing. The one beside him was occupied by a handsome
dark-eyed girl who had made a brave attempt to be smart. She wore a red
silk frock and a red rose in her rough abundant hair. Round her white
throat she had gracefully arranged some silk lace. Andrew paid that
tribute to her charms of one whose eyes have been too long accustomed to
great works of art to take any interest in the chromo. Nevertheless, he
was young and she was young. They flirted mildly until Chapman came in
and introduced them.
"Miss Leslie is an old friend of mine, Webb," he said in his hearty way.
"I hope you will be friends too."
Miss Leslie bowed and beamed and flashed her pretty teeth. Andrew made
some vague remark, wondering at the spite of fate, then forgot her
utterly. Chapman had whispered to him that the cottagers were coming.
He leaned eagerly over the rail. A number of buxom dames, accompanied by
slender girls, were filing in. Some of the old women were in white
satin, with many jewels on their platitudinous bosoms. The slim
sisterhood, with their deerlike movements, their curried hair arranged
to simulate a walnut on the crown of their little heads, their tiny
waists and white necks and arms, riveted Andrew's gaze as ever. Some
looked like Easter lilies in their pure white gowns, others like
delicate orchids. One beautiful young woman, evidently a matron, wore a
gown of black gauze, with a row of sparkling crescents, stars, and
clusters, about the low line of the corsage.
"Isn't she lovely?" whispered Miss Leslie. "She got a French Duke. But
she deserved her luck. She's sweet."
All were very décolletée.
"Reminds one of the days when slaves were put up on sale at the mart,
not far from this very spot," murmured Chapman.
One sprightly matron entered with an imperious air, and was immediately
"Who's she?" inquired Andrew, scornfully. "Why, her frock and gloves are
soiled, and her hair's dyed."
"Oh, she's out of sight, my boy! Once in a while they do look like that.
She's going to lead things this summer. Wish she'd hurry up!" Then he
named a number of people to Webb.
The band on the platform facing the triple row of seats at the far end
began a waltz. Most of the men were elderly and well preserved. They
danced with the girls. The half-dozen youths improved their chances by
assiduous attentions to the unwieldy dames. Andrew thought that his
princesses danced very badly. Many of them were taller than the men, and
looked about to go head first over the shoulders whose support they
seemed to disdain. The little ones bounded like rubber balls. The old
women formed groups and gossiped. A number sat about a plethoric lady,
whose diamonds made her look like a crystal chandelier. Chapman informed
Webb that she was a duchess.
"You see that fellow over there!" he exclaimed, suddenly, indicating
with the point of his lead-pencil a young man with a vulgar, vacuous
face and a clumsy assumption of the grand air; "well, he was nobody a
year ago,—a distant connection of the Webbs; but they never recognized
his existence until he came into some money. Then they took him up, and
now he's out of sight. It's too bad you didn't happen to be that kind of
Webb. You look a long sight more of a gentleman than he does."
"Are any of the Webbs here?" asked Andrew, choking with bitterness.
"There's the old girl over there. Regular old ice-chest."
"Is—is—Schuyler Churchill Webb here?"
"He's just come in. He is talking to the duchess—the French one."
Andrew gazed with dull hatred at the plain amiable-looking young man,
whose air of indefinable elegance seemed to reach forth and smite him in
the face. The gulf, which had been a gradually widening rift, seemed
suddenly to yawn.
"Well, I must go," said Chapman. "I have to get my stuff off, you know.
Will see you in the morning."
As he left, Miss Leslie renewed her pleasantries, hoping that Andrew
would ask her to go down and dance. She was terribly afraid of the great
folk, poor little soul, but she felt that this strong self-reliant young
man would protect her. Andrew excused himself in a few moments, however,
and went down-stairs. He had bought the right to be in the same room
with those people, and he would claim it.
The treble row of seats was evidently reserved for strangers; no
cottagers were at that end of the room. They sat about the other three
sides with an air of being on their own ground. Andrew walked resolutely
into the room, and took possession of one of the chairs reserved for his
kind. He had only three or four neighbors; most of the tourists had gone
up-stairs, and were darkly surveying the scene. There were no
decorations, but the dowagers were a jewelled dado, the girls an
animated bed of blossoms.
For one hour Andrew sat there, and at its end he comprehended why the
cottagers did not concern themselves about the tickets sold. Not one icy
glance had been directed at the treble row of seats, not one inquiring
stare bent upon the occasional tourist-couple who summoned courage to
take a whirl. He and his companions might have been invisible intruders
on a foreign planet, for all the notice the elect took of them. There
was nothing overt, nothing unkind, but the stranger was as effectually
frozen out as if he had fled before a battery of lorgnettes. The
cottagers were like one large family. There was no more reserve among
the young people than if they had been a party of happy well-trained
schoolchildren. What wonder that the stranger within their gates felt
his remoteness! During the "Lancers" they almost romped. They might have
been on the lawn of one of their own cottages, and these outsiders
hanging on the fence. To any and all without their world they were
At the end of the hour Andrew rose heavily and left his seat. His face
was gray, his knees shook a little. He understood.
But his cup of bitterness was not yet full. As he made his way down the
passage behind one of the rows of chairs reserved for the cottagers, he
beheld a girl who had just entered. He stood still and stared at her,
wondering that he had ever thought other women beautiful. If those he
had worshipped were princesses, this was a goddess. Only New York could
give her that nameless distinction, so curiously unlike the graceful
breeding of older lands,—the difference between the hothouse orchid and
the lily of ancient parks. This girl's figure was more Junoesque than
was usual with her kind, her waist larger. She was very tall. Her
carriage was one of regal simplicity, as if she were wont to walk on
stars. Her shining brown hair was gathered into a knot at the base of
her classic head. Her brow and chin and throat were perfect in their
modelling. Her skin, of a marvellous whiteness, seemed to shed a light
of its own; one might surely examine it with a microscope and find no
flaw. Her mouth and nose were irregular, but her large blue-gray eyes
shone triumphant, and she had beautiful ears. She wore a simple gown of
pale blue organdie, clinging to her faultless figure, even at the throat
and wrists. At her right was the new-found relative of the Webbs, half a
head too short to reach that exquisite ear with his mumblings. About her
were several other men.
Andrew's capacity for love may not have been very profound, but he
loved this woman at once and finally. It was a love that would have
delighted the cynical Schopenhauer and the philosophical Darwin. The
instinct of selection had never been more spontaneously and unerringly
exercised. He was conscious of neither passion nor sentiment, however.
She hovered in his visions as a companion at great functions—his
possession whom all the world would envy. It was not so much she he
loved as what she represented.
His attention was momentarily distracted by the remarkable antics of an
elderly man. This person was bowing and genuflecting before the goddess,
rolling his eyes upward, throwing out his hands, clasping and wringing
them—a pantomime of speechless admiration. To Andrew he looked like an
elderly billy-goat with a thorn in its hoof. The goddess looked down
upon him with an expression of good-natured contempt. The men applauded
heartily. Andrew once more riveted his gaze on the face which had
completed his undoing. In a moment the girl's clear eyes met his, then
moved past as indifferently as if she had gazed upon space. Andrew
turned, forgetting his hat, and almost ran from the house, down the
street, and up the stairs to his apartment. He flung himself into a
chair, buried his face in his hands, and groaned aloud. The
hopelessness of his case surged through his brain with pitiless
reiteration. He might as well attempt to fly to one of the cold stars
above his casement as to besiege the society of New York. There was
literally no human being out of earth's millions to give him the line
that would pass him through those open invincible portals. Had he been a
baboon from Central Africa, his chances would have been better; he would
have compelled their attention for a moment.
There were heavy portières over his door; no one could hear his
groans, and he afforded himself that measure of relief. The tears ran
down his cheeks; he twisted his strong hands together. Those whose
hearts have been convulsed by the bitterness of love, by the loss of
children, by the downfall of great hopes, may read with scorn this
suffering of a snob. It may seem a mean and trivial emotion. But he has
had scant opportunity to study his kind who knows nothing of the power
of the snob to suffer. An artist may toil on unrecognized, yet with the
deep delight of his art as compensation. A man in public life may be
stung with a thousand bitter defeats, but he has the joy of the fight,
the self-respect of legitimate ambition. But for the repeated defeats of
even the successful snob, what compensation? Step by step he climbs, to
find another still to mount, each bristling with obstacles, to which he
yields the shreds and patches of his self-respect. The bitter knowledge
that he is on tolerance is ever with him—that no matter how high he
rises, he can never reach his goal, for at the goal are only those who
have never known the need to strive. 'Tis a constant battle for a
soap-bubble, an ambition without soul.
And Andrew? He had not even planted his foot on the first step. For five
years he had lived in a fool's paradise, a corroding dream. There was
literally nothing else on earth that he wanted. His money had come to
him as the very irony of Fate. It could not give him the one thing he
wished, and he had no other use for it. His dream was over. He felt like
an aged man set free from an asylum for the demented after a period of
incarceration which had devoured the good years of his life. He looked
at what still seemed wealth to him as such a man would look at all the
joys of light and liberty and taste, offered to his paralyzed senses.
When the sun rose it shone down with an air of personal sympathy upon
the fleet of white yachts in the bay, upon the grand old avenues, upon
the relics of an historic past no cottager ever thinks of, upon the
splendid houses of those who have made Newport's younger fame. And it
straggled through one pair of heavy curtains and gleamed upon the white
face of a young man who had joined the ranks of those that proclaim the
world their conqueror.
Crowned with One Crest
(Published in Vanity Fair, London, in 1895)
eople were beginning to wonder if an American, having captured a title
and worn it for five years, would renounce it for mere good looks and
brains; in other words, if Lady Carnath, formerly Miss Edith Ingoldsby,
of Washington, and still earlier—before her father had found leisure to
crown a triumphant financial career with the patriotic labors of a
United States Senator—of Boone, Iowa, would marry Butler Hedworth,
M.P., a gentleman of some fortune and irreproachable lineage who had
already made himself known on the floor of the House, but was not so
much as heir-presumptive to a title. So many American maidens had
placidly stood by while their mammas "arranged" a marriage between their
gold-banked selves and the impecunious scion of an historical house,
that the English, when forced to admit them well-bred, found solace in
the belief that these disgustingly rich and handsome girls were without
Nevertheless, Lady Carnath, who had worn her weeds but a year, permitted
Butler Hedworth to pay her attentions so pronounced that her world was
mildly betting on his possible acceptance as husband or lover. It was
argued that during the life of Lord Carnath his wife's demeanor had been
above comment, but a cynic remarked that women had all sorts of odd
ideals; and was widely quoted.
Edith Ingoldsby had bought her Earl and paid a high price for him;
nevertheless she had liked him better than any man but one that she had
ever known, and they had been the best of friends. When she met him she
was in the agonies of her only passion, and had clutched the first
opportunity to bury alive the love that was destroying her beauty and
her interest in life.
The passion had lingered for a time, then gone the way of all passions
unfed by a monotonous environment and too much leisure. She found it
very interesting to be an English countess. For a while she had the
impression of playing a part in a modern historical drama; but before
long she realized, with true American adaptability, that her new life
was but the living chapters of a book whose earlier parts had been
serial instalments of retiring memory. Her great wealth, her beauty, her
piquant dashing thoroughbred manner, her husband's popularity and title,
created for her a position that would have closed any wound not
irritated by domestic unhappiness; and this canker was not in her rose.
When Carnath died she mourned him sincerely, but not too profoundly to
anticipate pleasurably the end of the weeded year. When she met Hedworth
she was as free of fancy and of heart as if she had but stepped from a
"Yes, I was in love once—" she admitted to him one evening as they sat
alone. She blushed as she tripped at the word "before." Hedworth had
made no declaration as yet; they were still playing with electricity,
and content with sparks. "At least, I thought I was. All girls have
their love freaks. I had had several—when I was in my teens. This
seemed more serious, the grande passion—because there was an
obstacle: he was married. If he had been free, if there had been no
barrier between myself and what I wanted, I think it would have been
quite different. You see, I had had my own way so long that the
situation, combined, of course, with the man himself—who was very
magnetic—fascinated me; and I let myself go, to see what it would be
like to long for something I could not have. I suppose it was my
imagination that was at work principally; but I ended by believing
myself frantically in love with him."
Hedworth stood up as she paused, and leaned against the mantel, looking
down at her. They were in her boudoir, a yellow satin room that looked
like a large jewel-casket. Lady Carnath's long slender round figure
betrayed its perfections in a gown of black chiffon; on her white neck
and arms and in her black hair were many diamonds; she had dressed for
the opera, then given the evening to Hedworth. Her dark face was
delicately modelled; the mouth and chin were very firm, but the lips
were full and red. The eyes in repose were a trifle languid, in
animation mutable and brilliant. The brows were finely pencilled, and
the soft dark hair, brushed back from a low forehead, added to the
general distinction of her appearance. Hedworth studied her face as he
had studied it many times.
"Well?" he asked. He had an abrupt voice, suggestive of temper, and the
haughty bearing which is the chief attraction of Englishmen for American
women. His face was as well chiselled as the average of his kind, but
lacked the national repose. The eyes were very clever, the features
mobile; the tenacity and strength of his nature were indicated in the
lower part of his face and in the powerful yet supple build of the man.
"What sort of a man was this Johnny?"
"Oh, I am not very good at describing people—quite different from
"I don't care what he looked like. A man only looks to a woman who is in
love with him as she imagines he looks. Was he in love with you?"
"Yes, of course he was."
"Did he tell you so?"
The delicate red in Lady Carnath's dark cheek deepened. "Yes. He did."
"Did you tell him that you loved him?"
"What did he do?"
"I don't know that you have any right to be so curious."
"Of course you need not answer if you don't wish. Did he kiss you?"
"Yes, he did, if you want to know. We had a tremendous scene. I went
into high tragics, and, I suppose, bored the poor man dreadfully."
"He was much more matter-of-fact, I suppose?"
"Where did this scene take place?"
"In the drawing-room one afternoon when he had walked home with me from
"What happened the next time you met him?"
"I never saw him again—that is, alone."
Hedworth's face and tone changed suddenly. Both softened. "Why not?"
She raised her head from the back of the sofa and lifted her chin
defiantly. "I did not dare—if you will know. Carnath came along shortly
after, and I took him as soon as he offered himself. Why do you look so
pleased? The one was as bad as the other, only in the course I took
there was no scandal."
"Which is the point. Scandal and snubs and vulgar insinuation in print
and out of it would have demoralized you. How do you feel towards this
man now? If he were free and came for you would you marry him?"
She shook her head, and looked up at him, smiling and blushing again.
"He is no more to me than one of the book-heroes I used to fancy myself
in love with."
"Why didn't he get a divorce and marry you? I thought any one could get
a divorce in the States."
"You English people know so much about the United States! You are
willing to believe anything and to know nothing. I really think you feel
that your dignity would be compromised if you knew as much about America
as we know about Europe. Your attitude is like that of old people to a
new invention which is too remarkable for their powers of appreciation,
so they take refuge in disdain."
He smiled, as he always did when her patriotism flamed. "You haven't
answered my question."
"What?—oh, divorce. If a man has a good wife, no matter how
uncongenial, he can't get rid of her unless he is a brute; and I didn't
happen to like that sort of man."
"Like? I thought you said just now that you loved him."
"I don't think now that I did. I explained that a while ago."
"Why have you changed your mind?"
"I never knew a man to ask so many questions."
But before he left her he knew.
Edith anticipated pleasurably the sensation her engagement would make,
but did not announce it at once. She had a certain feminine
secretiveness which made her doubly enjoy a happiness undiluted by
publicity; moreover, some further deference was due to Carnath. She was
very happy, the more so as she had believed until a short while ago that
her strong temperamental possibilities were vaulted in her nature's
little church-yard. "Our hearts after first love are like our dead," she
thought; "they sleep until the hour of resurrection." Hedworth dominated
her, had taken her love rather than asked for it, and, although he was
jealous and exacting, she was haunted by the traditions of man's
mutability, and studied her resources as it had never occurred to her to
study them before. She found that the outer envelopes of her personality
could be made to shift with kaleidoscopic brilliancy, and except when
Hedworth needed repose—she had much tact—she treated him to these many
moods in turn. It is possible that she added to her fascination, but,
having won him without effort, she might have rested on her laurels. He
was deeply in love with her, and worried himself with presentiments of
what might happen before she would consent to name the wedding-day. Both
being children of worldly wisdom, however, they harlequined their
misgivings and were happy when together.
Fortunately for both, she was heavy-laden with femininity, and was
content to give all, and receive the little that man in the nature of
his life and inherited particles has to offer. She was satisfied to be
adored, desired, mentally appreciated. If his ego was always paramount,
his spiritual demands so imperious that he appropriated the full measure
of sympathy and comprehension that Nature has let loose for man and
woman, not caring to know anything of her beyond the fact that she was
the one woman in the world in whom he saw no fault, she was satisfied to
have it so. She was a clever woman, but not too clever; and their
chances of happiness were good.
And then a strange thing happened to her.
Hedworth was called to Switzerland by his mother, who fell ill. His
parting with Edith occupied several hours, and during the three or four
days following, his affianced protested that she was inconsolable. But
his letters were frequent and characteristic, and she began to enjoy the
new phase of their intercourse: the excitement of waiting for the post,
the delight which the first glimpse of the envelope on her
breakfast-tray gave her, the novelty of receiving a fragment of him
daily, which her imagination could expand into his hourly life and
thoughts. The season was over, and she had little else to do. She
expected him back at any moment, and preferred to await his arrival in
One evening she was sitting in her bedroom thinking of him. The night
was hot and the windows were open. It was very late. She had been
staring down upon the dark mass of tree-tops in the Park,
recapitulating, phase by phase, the growth of her feeling for Hedworth.
Suddenly it occurred to her that it bore a strong racial resemblance to
her first passion, and, being too intelligent to have escaped the habit
of analysis, she dug up the old love and dissected it. It had been
better preserved than she would have thought, for it did not offend her
sense; and she gave an hour to the office. She went back to her first
moment of conscious interest in the hero of her tragedy, galvanized the
thrill she had felt when he entered her presence, her restlessness and
doubt and jealousy when he was away, or appeared to neglect her; the
recognition that she was in the hard grasp of a passion in which she had
had little faith; the sweetness and terror of it, the keen delight in
the sense of danger. There had been weeks of companionship before he had
defined their position; it occurred to her now that he had managed her
with the skill and coolness of a man who understood women and could keep
his head, even while quickened with all that he inspired. She also
recalled, her lips curling into a cynical grin, that she had felt the
same promptings for spiritual abandonment, of high desire to help this
man where he was weak, to restore some of his lost ideals, or to replace
them with better; to root out the weeds which she recognized in his
nature, and to coax the choked bulbs of those fairer flowers which may
have been there before he and the world knew each other too well. Then
she relived the days and nights of torment when she had walked the floor
wringing her hands, barely eating and sleeping. She recalled that she
had even beaten the walls and flung herself against them.
The procession was startlingly familiar and fresh of lineament; even the
moments of rapture, whose memory is soonest to fade, and the fitful
solace she had found, in those last days, imagining what might have
She got up and walked about the room, half amused, half appalled. "What
does it mean?" she thought. "Is it that there is an impalpable entity in
this world for me, and that part of it is in one man and part in
another? Is the man who has the larger share the one I really love? Is
that the explanation of loving a second time? It certainly is very
She turned her thoughts to Hedworth, but they swung aside and pointed
straight to the other man. She half expected to see his ghost framed in
the dark window, he seemed so close. She found herself living the past
again and again, instinct with its sensations. He had had much in his
life to cark and harrow, and the old sympathy and tenderness vibrated
aloud, and little out of tune. She wondered what had become of him, what
he was doing at the moment. She did not believe that he had loved any
woman since; he had nearly exhausted his capacity for loving when he met
And at the same time she was distinctly conscious that if the two men
stood before her she should spring to Hedworth. Nevertheless, when she
conjured his image, the shadowy figure of the other man stood behind,
looking over Hedworth's shoulder, with the half-cynical smile which had
only left his mouth when he had told her, with white face whose muscles
were free of his will for the moment, that he loved her.
"Is it the old love that is demanding its rights, not the man?" she
thought. "Is it true, then, that all we women want is love, and that it
is as welcome in one attractive frame as another? That it is not
Hedworth I love, but what he gives me? Now that I even suspect this, can
I be happy? Will that ghost always look over his shoulder?"
She was a woman of sound practical sense, and had no intention of
risking her happiness by falling a victim to her imagination. She
pressed the electric-button and wrote a letter to her former lover—a
friendly letter, without sentimental allusion, asking for news of him.
The sight of the handwriting that once had thrilled her, as well as the
nature of his reply, would at least bring her to some sort of mental
climax. Moreover, he might be dead. It might be spiritual influence that
had handled her imagination. She was not a superstitious woman; she was
merely wise enough to know that she knew nothing, and that it was folly
to disbelieve anything.
Hedworth did not return for three weeks. During that time it seemed to
her that her brain was an amphitheatre in which the two men were
constantly wrestling. She never saw one without the other. When Hedworth
mastered for the moment she was reminded that he was merely playing a
familiar tune on her soul-keys. She felt for the man who had first
touched those keys a persistent tenderness, and during the last days
watched restlessly for his letter. But she felt no desire whatever to
see him again. For Hedworth she longed increasingly.
Hedworth returned. The other man vanished.
She announced the engagement. They had been invited to the same houses
for the autumn. Necessarily they saw little of each other, and planned
to meet in the less-frequented rooms and in the woods. At first they
enjoyed this new experience; but when they found themselves in a large
party that seemed to pervade every corner of the house and grounds at
once, and two days had passed without an interview of five minutes'
duration, Hedworth walked up to her—she was alone for the moment—and
"Four weeks from to-day we marry."
She gave a little gasp, but made no protest.
"I have had enough of dawdling and sentimentalizing. We will marry at
your place in Sussex on the second of October."
"Very well," she said.
Shortly after she went to Paris to confer with the talent that should
enhance her loveliness, then paid Mrs. Hedworth a visit in Switzerland.
Hedworth met her there, and his mother saw little of her guests. Edith
returned to England alone. Hedworth was to follow at the end of the
week, and spend the few remaining days of his bachelorhood at the house
of a friend whose estate adjoined the one Lady Carnath had bought not
long after her husband's death.
Several days after her return she was sitting at her dressing-table
when a letter was handed her bearing the Washington post-mark. Her maid
was devising a new coiffure, and she was grumbling at the result. She
glanced at the handwriting, pushed the letter aside, and commanded the
maid to arrange her hair in the simple fashion that suited her best.
After the woman had fixed the last pin, Edith critically examined her
profile in the triple mirror; then thrust out a thin little foot to be
divested of its mule and shod in a slipper that had arrived that morning
from Paris: she expected people to tea. While the maid was on her knees
Edith bethought herself of the letter and read it:—
Dear Lady Carnath—I have been in Canada all summer. No letters
were forwarded. I find yours here at the Metropolitan. Thanks,
I am well. Life is the same with me. I eat and drink and
wither. But you are a memory to be thankful for, and I have
never tried to forget you. I was glad to learn through Tower,
whom I met in Montreal, that you were well and happy. I wish I
may never hear otherwise.
Then followed several pages of news of her old friends.
"Poor fellow!" thought Edith with a sigh. "But I doubt if any woman or
any circumstances would ever make a man like that happy. There are those
wretched people, and I am not half dressed!"
Nevertheless, he again took his stand in her brain and elbowed
Hedworth—whose concrete part was still detained in Switzerland. She did
not answer the letter at once; it was not an easy letter to answer. But
it haunted her; and finally she sat down at her desk and bit the end of
She sat staring before her, the man in complete possession. And
gradually the color left her face. If this old love, which her mind and
senses had corporealized, refused to abdicate, had she any right to
marry Hedworth? Now that she had unlocked this ghost, might not she find
it at her side whenever her husband was absent, reminding her that she
was a sort of mental bigamist? Carnath had no part in her dilemma; she
barely recalled his episode.
She was as positive as she had been when the past unrolled itself that
she had no wish to see the first man again; that did he stand before her
his power would vanish. He was a back number—a fatal position to occupy
in the imagination of a vital and world-living woman.
"Is it all that he awakened, made known to me, represented, that arises
in resentment? Or is it that the soul only gives itself once,
acknowledges only one mate? The mind and body, perhaps, obey the demand
for companionship again. The soul in its loneliness endeavors to
accompany these comrades, but finds itself linked to the mate of the
past. Probably when a woman marries a man she does not love, the soul,
having no demand made upon it, abstracts itself, sleeps. It is when a
mate to whom it might wholly have given itself appears, that, in its
isolation and desolation, it clamors for its wedded part."
Her teeth indented the nib of her penholder. "Was ever a woman in such a
predicament before? So illusionary and yet so ridiculously actual! Shall
I send Hedworth away and sit down with this phantom through life? I
understand that some women get their happiness out of just that sort of
thing. Then when I forget Hedworth would I forget him? Is passion
needed to set the soul free? Until Hedworth made me feel awakened
womanhood personified, I had not thought of this man for years, not even
during the year of my mourning, when I was rather bored. What am I to
do? I can't fling my life away. I am not a morbid idiot. But I can't
marry one man if what I feel for him is simply the galvanizing of a
corpse. Hedworth ought to be taken ill and his life despaired of. That
is the way things would work out in a novel."
Her face grew whiter still. She had experienced another mental shock.
For the first time she realized that no woman could suffer twice as she
had suffered five years ago. That at least was all the other man's. Her
capacity for pain had been blunted, two-thirds exhausted. If Hedworth
left her, died, she might regret him, long to have him back; but the
ghost of that abandon of grief, that racking of every sense, that
groping in an abyss while a voiceless something within her raved and
shrieked, resolved itself into a finger of fire, which wrote Hedworth's
"What shall I do? What shall I do?" She dipped the pen into the ink and
put it to the paper. At least, for the moment, she could write a
friendly note to this man, convey tactful sympathy, little good as it
would do him. The letter must be answered.
She heard a step on the gravel beneath her open window. She sprang to
her feet, the blood rushing to her hair. She ran to the window and
leaned out, smiling and trembling. Hedworth's eyes flashed upward to
hers. She was, it must be admitted, a product of that undulating and
alluring plain we call "the world," not of those heights where the few
who have scaled them live alone.
Death and the Woman
(This story first appeared in Vanity Fair, London, in 1892)
er husband was dying, and she was alone with him. Nothing could exceed
the desolation of her surroundings. She and the man who was going from
her were in the third-floor-back of a New York boarding-house. It was
summer, and the other boarders were in the country; all the servants
except the cook had been dismissed, and she, when not working, slept
profoundly on the fifth floor. The landlady also was out of town on a
The window was open to admit the thick unstirring air; no sound rose
from the row of long narrow yards, nor from the tall deep houses
annexed. The latter deadened the rattle of the streets. At intervals the
distant elevated lumbered protestingly along, its grunts and screams
muffled by the hot suspended ocean.
She sat there plunged in the profoundest grief that can come to the
human soul, for in all other agony hope flickers, however forlornly. She
gazed dully at the unconscious breathing form of the man who had been
friend, and companion, and lover, during five years of youth too
vigorous and hopeful to be warped by uneven fortune. It was wasted by
disease; the face was shrunken; the night-garment hung loosely about a
body which had never been disfigured by flesh, but had been muscular
with exercise and full-blooded with health. She was glad that the body
was changed; glad that its beauty, too, had gone some other-where than
into the coffin. She had loved his hands as apart from himself; loved
their strong warm magnetism. They lay limp and yellow on the quilt: she
knew that they were already cold, and that moisture was gathering on
them. For a moment something convulsed within her. They had gone too.
She repeated the words twice, and, after them, "forever." And the
while the sweetness of their pressure came back to her.
She leaned suddenly over him. HE was in there still, somewhere. Where?
If he had not ceased to breathe, the Ego, the Soul, the Personality was
still in the sodden clay which had shaped to give it speech. Why could
it not manifest itself to her? Was it still conscious in there, unable
to project itself through the disintegrating matter which was the only
medium its Creator had vouchsafed it? Did it struggle there, seeing her
agony, sharing it, longing for the complete disintegration which should
put an end to its torment? She called his name, she even shook him
slightly, mad to tear the body apart and find her mate, yet even in that
tortured moment realizing that violence would hasten his going.
The dying man took no notice of her, and she opened his gown and put her
cheek to his heart, calling him again. There had never been more perfect
union; how could the bond still be so strong if he were not at the other
end of it? He was there, her other part; until dead he must be living.
There was no intermediate state. Why should he be as entombed and
unresponding as if the screws were in the lid? But the faintly beating
heart did not quicken beneath her lips. She extended her arms suddenly,
describing eccentric lines, above, about him, rapidly opening and
closing her hands as if to clutch some escaping object; then sprang to
her feet, and went to the window. She feared insanity. She had asked to
be left alone with her dying husband, and she did not wish to lose her
reason and shriek a crowd of people about her.
The green plots in the yards were not apparent, she noticed. Something
heavy, like a pall, rested upon them. Then she understood that the day
was over and that night was coming.
She returned swiftly to the bedside, wondering if she had remained away
hours or seconds, and if he were dead. His face was still discernible,
and Death had not relaxed it. She laid her own against it, then withdrew
it with shuddering flesh, her teeth smiting each other as if an icy wind
She let herself fall back in the chair, clasping her hands against her
heart, watching with expanding eyes the white sculptured face which, in
the glittering dark, was becoming less defined of outline. Did she light
the gas it would draw mosquitoes, and she could not shut from him the
little air he must be mechanically grateful for. And she did not want to
see the opening eye—the falling jaw.
Her vision became so fixed that at length she saw nothing, and closed
her eyes and waited for the moisture to rise and relieve the strain.
When she opened them his face had disappeared; the humid waves above the
house-tops put out even the light of the stars, and night was come.
Fearfully, she approached her ear to his lips; he still breathed. She
made a motion to kiss him, then threw herself back in a quiver of
agony—they were not the lips she had known, and she would have nothing
His breathing was so faint that in her half-reclining position she could
not hear it, could not be aware of the moment of his death. She extended
her arm resolutely and laid her hand on his heart. Not only must she
feel his going, but, so strong had been the comradeship between them, it
was a matter of loving honor to stand by him to the last.
She sat there in the hot heavy night, pressing her hand hard against the
ebbing heart of the unseen, and awaited Death. Suddenly an odd fancy
possessed her. Where was Death? Why was he tarrying? Who was detaining
him? From what quarter would he come? He was taking his leisure, drawing
near with footsteps as measured as those of men keeping time to a
funeral march. By a wayward deflection she thought of the slow music
that was always turned on in the theatre when the heroine was about to
appear, or something eventful to happen. She had always thought that
sort of thing ridiculous and inartistic. So had He.
She drew her brows together angrily, wondering at her levity, and
pressed her relaxed palm against the heart it kept guard over. For a
moment the sweat stood on her face; then the pent-up breath burst from
her lungs. He still lived.
Once more the fancy wantoned above the stunned heart. Death—where was
he? What a curious experience: to be sitting alone in a big house—she
knew that the cook had stolen out—waiting for Death to come and snatch
her husband from her. No; he would not snatch, he would steal upon his
prey as noiselessly as the approach of Sin to Innocence—an invisible,
unfair, sneaking enemy, with whom no man's strength could grapple. If he
would only come like a man, and take his chances like a man! Women had
been known to reach the hearts of giants with the dagger's point. But he
would creep upon her.
She gave an exclamation of horror. Something was creeping over the
window-sill. Her limbs palsied, but she struggled to her feet and looked
back, her eyes dragged about against her own volition. Two small green
stars glared menacingly at her just above the sill; then the cat
possessing them leaped downward, and the stars disappeared.
She realized that she was horribly frightened. "Is it possible?" she
thought. "Am I afraid of Death, and of Death that has not yet come? I
have always been rather a brave woman; He used to call me heroic; but
then with him it was impossible to fear anything. And I begged them to
leave me alone with him as the last of earthly boons. Oh, shame!"
But she was still quaking as she resumed her seat, and laid her hand
again on his heart. She wished that she had asked Mary to sit outside
the door; there was no bell in the room. To call would be worse than
desecrating the house of God, and she would not leave him for one
moment. To return and find him dead—gone alone!
Her knees smote each other. It was idle to deny it; she was in a state
of unreasoning terror. Her eyes rolled apprehensively about; she
wondered if she should see It when It came; wondered how far off It was
now. Not very far; the heart was barely pulsing. She had heard of the
power of the corpse to drive brave men to frenzy, and had wondered,
having no morbid horror of the dead. But this! To wait—and wait—and
wait—perhaps for hours—past the midnight—on to the small hours—while
that awful, determined, leisurely Something stole nearer and nearer.
She bent to him who had been her protector with a spasm of anger. Where
was the indomitable spirit that had held her all these years with such
strong and loving clasp? How could he leave her? How could he desert
her? Her head fell back and moved restlessly against the cushion;
moaning with the agony of loss, she recalled him as he had been. Then
fear once more took possession of her, and she sat erect, rigid,
breathless, awaiting the approach of Death.
Suddenly, far down in the house, on the first floor, her strained
hearing took note of a sound—a wary, muffled sound, as if some one were
creeping up the stair, fearful of being heard. Slowly! It seemed to
count a hundred between the laying down of each foot. She gave a
hysterical gasp. Where was the slow music?
Her face, her body, were wet—as if a wave of death-sweat had broken
over them. There was a stiff feeling at the roots of her hair; she
wondered if it were really standing erect. But she could not raise her
hand to ascertain. Possibly it was only the coloring matter freezing and
bleaching. Her muscles were flabby, her nerves twitched helplessly.
She knew that it was Death who was coming to her through the silent
deserted house; knew that it was the sensitive ear of her intelligence
that heard him, not the dull, coarse-grained ear of the body.
He toiled up the stair painfully, as if he were old and tired with much
work. But how could he afford to loiter, with all the work he had to do?
Every minute, every second, he must be in demand to hook his cold, hard
finger about a soul struggling to escape from its putrefying tenement.
But probably he had his emissaries, his minions: for only those worthy
of the honor did he come in person.
He reached the first landing and crept like a cat down the hall to the
next stair, then crawled slowly up as before. Light as the footfalls
were, they were squarely planted, unfaltering; slow, they never halted.
Mechanically she pressed her jerking hand closer against the heart; its
beats were almost done. They would finish, she calculated, just as those
footfalls paused beside the bed.
She was no longer a human being; she was an Intelligence and an EAR. Not
a sound came from without, even the Elevated appeared to be temporarily
off duty; but inside the big quiet house that footfall was waxing
louder, louder, until iron feet crashed on iron stairs and echo
She had counted the steps—one—two—three—irritated beyond endurance
at the long deliberate pauses between. As they climbed and clanged with
slow precision she continued to count, audibly and with equal
precision, noting their hollow reverberation. How many steps had the
stair? She wished she knew. No need! The colossal trampling announced
the lessening distance in an increasing volume of sound not to be
misunderstood. It turned the curve; it reached the landing; it
advanced—slowly—down the hall; it paused before her door. Then
knuckles of iron shook the frail panels. Her nerveless tongue gave no
invitation. The knocking became more imperious; the very walls vibrated.
The handle turned, swiftly and firmly. With a wild instinctive movement
she flung herself into the arms of her husband.
When Mary opened the door and entered the room she found a dead woman
lying across a dead man.
(TO AN UNWRITTEN PLAY)
haracters: James Hamilton, Mary Fawcett, Rachael Lavine, two slaves.
Place: Nevis, British West Indies. Time: The month of April, 1756.
[A large room, with open windows, to which are attached heavy inside
wooden shutters furnished with iron bars. Beyond the windows are seen
masses of tropical trees and foliage, green and more brilliantly hued,
filled with screaming birds and monkeys. In the court is a fountain. The
house is half-way up the mountain, and between the trees is a glint of
the sea. The room is severely simple. There are no curtains, carpets,
nor upholstered furniture; but there are two handsome pieces of
mahogany, a bookcase full of books bound in old calf, a table on which
are tropical fruits and cooling drinks in earthen jugs, one or two
palm-trees, and Caribbean pottery on shelves. In one corner is a harp.
In the distance is heard a loud menacing roar. The sky is covered with
racing clouds. Suffusing everything is a livid light.
Mistress Fawcett is leaning on her crutch, looking through one of the
windows. Two slaves are crouching on the floor. All are in an intense
attitude, listening. Suddenly there is heard the quick loud firing of
cannon, four guns in rapid succession. The negroes shriek and crouch
lower as if they would insinuate their trembling bodies through the
floor. Mistress Fawcett hastily closes the window by which she is
standing, swings to and bars its shutters. Immediately after may be
heard the sound, gradually diminishing in the distance, of a long line
of windows slammed and barred. Mistress Fawcett attempts to move the
shutters of the other window, but the hinges are rusty and defy her
MISTRESS FAWCETT (to the slaves). Come here. Close this window. Did you
not hear the guns? A hurricane is upon us.
THE SLAVES (crouching lower and wailing almost unintelligibly). Oh,
mistress, save us! Send for oby doctor!
MISTRESS FAWCETT. To strangle you with a horse-hair pie! Your obeah
charlatans are grovelling in their cellars. Only our courage and our two
hands can save us to-day. Come! (Beating the floor with her crutch.) A
hundred man slaves on the estate, and not one to help us save the house!
Are my daughter and I to do it all? Get up! (She menaces them with her
THE SLAVES (not moving). Oh, mistress!
[Enter RACHAEL. She walks to the open window and looks out.]
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Close the windows, Rachael. I cannot. And those
creatures are empty skulls.
RACHAEL. In a moment.
MISTRESS FAWCETT. In a moment? Open your ears. Do you want to see the
roof racing with the wind?'
RACHAEL. The hurricane is still miles away.
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Great God! How can you stand there and wait for a
hurricane? Do you realize that an hour, if this old house be not strong
enough, may see us struggling out in those roaring waters? These
desolate afflicted Caribbees! They have tested my courage many times,
and I can go through this without flinching; but I cannot stand that
unnatural calm of yours.
RACHAEL. Do I seem calm? (She closes and bars the window.) It is a fine
sight. We may never have such another.
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Nor live to know.
RACHAEL (her back is still turned, as she shakes and tests the window).
Well, what of that? Are you so in love with life?
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Even at sixty I am in no haste to be blown out of it.
And if I were twenty—
RACHAEL (turning suddenly, and facing her mother). At twenty, with forty
years of nothingness before you, cut off from all the joy of life, on an
island in the Caribbean Sea, what then? (She snaps her fingers.) That
for the worst a hurricane can do!
MISTRESS FAWCETT (uneasily). Do not let us talk of personal things
RACHAEL. I never felt more personal.
MISTRESS FAWCETT (looking at her keenly). I believe you are excited.
RACHAEL (she clinches her hands and brings them up sharply to her
breast). Excited! Call it that if you like. All my life I have longed
for the hurricane, and now I feel as if it were coming to me alone.
MISTRESS FAWCETT (evasively). I do not always understand you, Rachel.
You are a strange girl.
RACHAEL (bursting through her assumed composure). Strange? Because I
long to feel the mountain shaken, as I have been shaken through four
terrible weeks? Because I long to hear the wind roar and shriek its
derision of man, make his quaking soul forget every law he ever knew,
stamp upon him, grind him to pulp—
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Hush! What are you saying? I do not know you—"the
ice-plant of the tropics," indeed! The electricity of this hurricane has
RACHAEL. That I will not deny. (She laughs.) But I do deny that I am not
myself, whether you recognize me or not. Which self that you have seen
do you think my real one? First, the dreaming girl, in love with books,
the sun, the sea, and a future that no man has written in books; then,
while my scalp is still aching from my newly turned hair, I am thrust
through the church doors into the arms of a brute. A year of dumb
horror, and I run from his house in the night, to my one friend, the
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Not another word! I believed in him! There wasn't a
mother on St. Kitts who did not envy me. No one could have imagined—
RACHAEL. No one but a girl of sixteen, to whom no one would listen—
MISTRESS FAWCETT. I commanded you to hush.
RACHAEL. Command the hurricane! I will speak!
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Very well, speak. It may be our last hour—who knows?
(She seats herself, sets her lips, and presses her hands hard on the
handle of her crutch.)
RACHAEL. Did you think you knew me in the two years that followed, years
when I was as speechless as while in bondage to John Lavine, when I
crouched in the dark corners, fearing the light, the sound of every
man's voice? Then health again, and normal interests, but not hope—not
hope! At nineteen I had lived too long! You are sixty, and you have not
the vaguest idea what that means! Then, four weeks ago—
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Ah!
RACHAEL. James Hamilton came. Ah, how unprepared I was! That I—I
should ever look upon another man except with loathing! Sixty and
twenty—perhaps somewhere between is the age of wisdom! And the law
holds me fast to a man who is not fit to live! All nature awoke in me
and sang the hour I met Hamilton. For the first time I loved children,
and longed for them. For the first time I saw God in man. For the first
time the future seemed vast, interminable, yet all too short. And if I
go to this man who has made me feel great and wonderful enough to bear a
demi-god, a wretch can divorce and disgrace me! Oh, these four terrible
weeks—ecstasy, despair—ecstasy, despair—and to the world as
unblinking as a marble in a museum! Do you wonder that I welcome the
hurricane, in which no man dare think of any but his puny self? For the
moment I am free, and as alive, as triumphant as that great wind
outside—as eager to devastate, to fight, to conquer, to live—to
live—to live. What do I care for civilization? If James Hamilton were
out there among the flying trees and called to me, I would go. Hark!
Listen! Is it not magnificent?
[The hurricane is nearer and louder. The approaching roar is varied by
sudden tremendous gusts, the hissing and splashing of water, the howling
of negroes and dogs, the wild pealing of bells. In the room below is
heard the noise of many trampling feet, slamming of windows, and
MISTRESS FAWCETT. The negroes have taken refuge in the cellar—every one
of them, beyond a doubt, two hundred and more! God grant they do not die
of fright or suffocation. It is useless to attempt to coax them up here.
These only wait until our backs are turned. Look!
[The slaves have crawled to the door on the left. They are livid. Their
tongues hang out. Rachael runs forward, seizes them by their long hair,
and administers a severe shaking.]
RACHAEL. Wake up! Wake up! We need your help. The windows must be
watched every moment.
[A terrible gust shakes the house. As Rachael relaxes her hold, the
slaves collapse again, but clutch at her skirts, mumbling and wailing.
Rachael gazes at them a moment, makes a motion as if to spurn them with
her foot, then shrugs her shoulders and opens the door.]
RACHAEL. Go. Die in your own way. May I be granted the same privilege
[The slaves stumble out.]
MISTRESS FAWCETT. I see you recognize no will but your own to-night.
They are my slaves, and I had bidden them stay. But in truth they are
useless; and as for you—have your little hour. I embittered too many.
It may be your last. And—thank God!—Hamilton is not here.
RACHAEL (with great agitation). Where is he? At sea? Riding over the
mountain—far from shelter—
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Trust any man to take care of himself, let alone a
Scot. No doubt he is over on St. Kitts, brewing swizzle with Will
Hamilton. Will's house is one of the strongest in the Caribbees. Look!
[One of the heavy shutters has been forced open by the wind, which has
shattered the outer glass. Leaves and glass fly into the room. Rachael
and her mother hurl themselves against the heavy wooden blind. By
exerting all their strength they succeed in fastening it again. Then
they examine the other window. Mistress Fawcett sits down, panting,
holding her hand to her heart.]
RACHAEL. I will see to the other windows. (She runs out of the room.)
MISTRESS FAWCETT. If she knew that Hamilton was on Nevis an hour before
the guns were fired! As like as not he helped to fire them, for he is a
guest at the Fort. If I had not commanded him to go when he came this
afternoon, he would be here now. Thank heaven, no man could breast this
hurricane and live! I know her! I know her—little as she thinks it!
Will she continue to obey me? And after I am dead? Ah! Do I allow myself
to fear aught in this hurricane, I shall never see the morning. (She
presses her hand hard against her heart, and composes herself.)
[Rachael returns. She pours out a drink and forces her mother to take
it, while her own head is erect and listening. Her nostrils dilate; one
can almost see her ears quiver. The wind increases every moment in
violence. In it may now be heard a peculiar monotonous rattle, the
agitation of seeds in the dry pods of the "giant" tree.]
RACHAEL. Did you see? I had but a glimpse, but hours could not have made
the picture more vivid. I could see the great wind. The tops of the
palms are flying about like Brobdingnagian birds, their long blades
darting out like infuriated tongues. I saw the oranges flung about in a
great game of battledore and shuttlecock—as if the hurricane remembered
to play in its fury! I saw men shrieking at the masts of a ship. Their
puny lives! Why are they not glad to die so splendid a death?
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Thank God, Hamilton is not here!
RACHAEL. I tell you that, if he were, the greatest man of his time would
one day call you grandam.
MISTRESS FAWCETT (rising with energy). Hark ye, Rachael! Calm yourself!
You have had your hour of wildness. I understand your mood—the relief,
the delight to give to the storm what you cannot give to Hamilton. But
enough! I can stand no more. I am old. My heart is nearly worn out. If
the storm unnerves me, I am undone.
RACHAEL. Very well, mother. I will put my soul back in its coffin—if I
can. This is a favorable moment. There is a lull.
MISTRESS FAWCETT (she seats herself again). Come here, Rachael.
(Rachael, who has apparently calmed herself, approaches and stands
beside her mother. She tenderly rearranges the old woman's hair, which
fell from her cap during her struggle with the blind.) Rachael, these
hours, I repeat, may be our last on earth. This house is old. The
hurricane may uproot it. Like you, I am not afraid to die. Indeed, I
should welcome death to-night if I could take you with me. Bitterer than
any pain has been the thought of leaving you alone in the world. I am
glad you have broken the silence you imposed. I never could have broken
it. I ask you now to forgive me, and I acknowledge that I alone was
responsible for the tragedy of your married life. That I was deceived is
no excuse. I am reckoned more astute than most. I should have known that
behind that white and purring exterior was a cruel and hideous
voluptuary. But I had known Danes all my life, and respected them, and
you were the child of my old age. I knew that I had not long to live.
But I am not making excuses. I ask you humbly to forgive me.
RACHAEL. Forgive you! I have been bred in philosophy, and I have always
loved you perfectly.
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Ah! I did not know. Until to-night you have been so
reticent. And silent people think—think—
RACHAEL. I have thought, but never to blame you. And what is past is
past. I waste no time on what cannot be undone. The soul must have its
education, and part of that is to be torn up by the roots, trampled,
beaten, crucified. Let me hope that, having had that course at the
beginning of my life, I have had it once for all.
MISTRESS FAWCETT. There are worse things than a loveless marriage with a
brute. One is to love a man you cannot marry, and be cast aside by him,
while your heart is still alive with the love he has sloughed off like
an old skin that has begun to chafe. And then, without friends—with
children, perhaps, the world snatching at its skirts as it passes
you—the uncommon and terrible disgrace of divorce. Rachael!—will you
not promise me—
RACHAEL. I promise you this—in normal mood, I will think of you first.
But, do I ever meet Hamilton when I feel as I do to-night, I should not
think—not think, I say—not think nor care! Am I like those cattle in
the cellar? Did not Nature fashion me to love and hate, to create and
suffer—to feel as she does to-night?
MISTRESS FAWCETT (with a long sigh). Thank heaven, Hamilton is not here!
RACHAEL. Yes, it comes again.
[The hurricane bursts with renewed fury. The concussions are like the
impact of artillery. Hail rattles on the roof. Trees and roofs crash
against one another in mid-air. Suddenly the house springs and rocks.
Simultaneously there is a long horrid shriek from the negroes in the
RACHAEL. Has Nevis been torn from her foundations?
MISTRESS FAWCETT. It was an earthquake. A hurricane tugs at the very
roots of the earth. Pray heaven that the fires in Nevis are out. But we
have no time to think on imaginary horrors. Look to the windows. (As
Rachael examines the windows, Mistress Fawcett thrusts her head towards
the outer door, as if listening in an agony of apprehension. She raises
herself from the chair, her eyes expanded, but keeps her face turned
from Rachael, and says, steadily): I think I hear the rattle of a
shutter in the dining-room. Run and see. And examine all the other
windows before you return. Remember that if the wind gets in, the roof
will go. (Rachael runs out of the room. Immediately after there is a
loud knocking at the front door, which is on the side of the house at
present sheltered from the direct attack of the storm. Mistress Fawcett
hobbles forward and secures more firmly the iron bar, making it
impossible for an outsider to force his way in.)
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Who is there?
A Voice without. It is I—James Hamilton.
MISTRESS FAWCETT. You cannot enter.
HAMILTON. Not enter? I have braved death, and worse, to come to you,
knowing that you were alone. Nor would you leave a dog out on such a
MISTRESS FAWCETT. I would open to the most desperate criminal in the
islands, but not to you. Go! Go! At once! (She turns her head in great
anxiety towards the long line of rooms where Rachael is examining the
windows.) Surely she cannot hear us; the wind is too great. (Raising her
voice again.) You cannot enter. If my daughter opens the door to you, it
will be after violence to me. Now will you go—or, at least, make no
further sign? You are welcome to the shelter of the veranda until the
hurricane veers, when you can take refuge in an outhouse.
HAMILTON. You have not an outhouse on the estate. Not one stone is upon
another, except in this house. Hardly a tree is standing. If you send me
away, it is to certain death.
MISTRESS FAWCETT (in a tone of great distress). What shall I do? I do
not wish you so ill as that. If I admit you, will you let me hide you?
Promise me not to reveal yourself to Rachael?
HAMILTON. I will not promise.
[Rachael enters. She raises her head with a quick half-comprehending
RACHAEL. Who is out there?
MISTRESS FAWCETT (she turns sharply, draws herself up, and places her
back to the door). James Hamilton.
RACHAEL. Ah! (She is about to advance quickly, when she notes the
significance of her mother's face and attitude.) Let him in!
MISTRESS FAWCETT. No.
RACHAEL. It is not possible! You? Why, he must be half dead. But, of
course, you are only waiting to extract a promise from me.
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Will you make it?
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Then he can die out there in the storm. (Rachael
laughs, and approaches her swiftly. Mistress Fawcett raises her hand
warningly.) I shall struggle with you, and you know that will mean my
death. You may choose between us. (Rachael utters a cry, and covers her
face with her hands. Hamilton throws himself against the door with
violence, but the iron bar guards it.)
HAMILTON. The hurricane is veering, Mistress Fawcett. Do not you hear
the absolute stillness? In a few moments it will burst out of the west
with increased fury. Unless you admit me, I shall stay here and meet it.
I have crawled here, wriggled here, like a snake. It has taken me two
hours to cover half a mile. I shall not crawl back. I came here to
protect Rachael—to die with her, if inevitable—
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Or to ruin her life.
HAMILTON. That is done.
MISTRESS FAWCETT. True; but I can protect her from worse.
RACHAEL. Very well! You can keep him out. You cannot keep me in. I shall
not struggle with you; nor will I admit any one to your house against
your will. But if you do not open that door—at once—I go out by
MISTRESS FAWCETT. Rachael! Do I count for nothing? I have loved you so!
Is this all you have to give me in return?
RACHAEL. I know your motive—your love. I misprize neither. But if women
loved their mothers better than the man of their hearts there would be
the end of the race. And what is the will of either of us against Fate?
Cannot you understand? Why was he permitted to reach me to-night? What
man has ever lived through a hurricane before? Nature has held her
breath to let him pass. Do you suppose your puny strength can hold us
apart? Quick! Answer! (She half turns towards the door leading into the
MISTRESS FAWCETT. You have conquered. But wait until I am out of this
room. (She falls heavily on her crutch, and hobbles out. Rachael holds
her breath until the door closes behind her, then runs forward and
lowers the bar. Hamilton enters. He is hatless. His long cape is torn
and covered with leaves and mould. He closes and bars the door behind
him, and Rachael, seeing him safe, and her desire so near to fulfilment,
experiences a revulsion of feeling. She falls back, and hurriedly
fetching a pan of coals from a corner, fires them, and mixes a punch.)
RACHAEL (hurriedly). You are cold. You are exhausted. In a moment I will
give you a hot drink.
[Hamilton, after a long look at her, throws himself into a chair by the
table, and stares at the floor, his hand at his head.]
HAMILTON. Thank you. I need it. I feel as if all the hurricane were in
RACHAEL (pouring the punch into a silver goblet). Drink.
HAMILTON. Gratefully! (He raises the goblet.) I drink—to the hurricane.
RACHAEL (she moves restlessly about, but remains on the other side of
the table). Tell me of your journey here. I should think you would be
gray and old! Ah, the color comes back to your face! You are young
HAMILTON (he has drained the goblet and set it on the table; he rises,
and looks full at her). Did you doubt that I would come?
RACHAEL (speaking lightly, and averting her eyes). I thought you were on
HAMILTON (vehemently). Still I would have come. I knew the hurricane
would give you to me. And out there, fighting inch by inch, the breath
beaten out of my body, my arms almost torn from their sockets, maddened
by the terrible confusion, I still knew that Nature was driving me to
you, as she has separated us since the day I came, with her smiling,
RACHAEL (still half frivolous under the sudden wrench from tragic
despair). And, after that terrible experience, you still have love and
romance in you! I should want a warm bed, and
then—to-morrow—to-morrow—we will sit on the terrace and watch the
calm old sun go down into the calm old sea, with not a thought for the
torn old earth—
HAMILTON. Rachael! I did not come here to jest.
RACHAEL. I must go to my mother! She is alone! What have I done?
HAMILTON. Stay where you are! Do you mean that you wish you had not
opened the door?
RACHAEL (she hesitates a moment, then raises her eyes to his, and
answers distinctly). No! (She is leaning on the table, which she has
deliberately kept between them. Hamilton throws himself into his chair,
and, leaning forward, clasps her wrists with his hands.)
HAMILTON. This hurricane is the end of all things, or the beginning.
RACHAEL (she throws her head back, with a gesture of triumph). The
HAMILTON. Yes, the storm has come as a friend, not as an enemy, no
matter which way—no matter which way. (He speaks hoarsely and slowly.
There is a silence, during which they stare at each other until both are
breathless, and the table, under the pressure of Hamilton's arms, slowly
HAMILTON. Yes; the storm returns.
[Without further warning, the hurricane bursts out of the west with the
fury of recuperated power. The house trembles. The slaves screech in the
cellar. A deluge of water descends on the roof. The confusion waxes
louder and louder, until it seems as if the noise alone must grind all
things to dust. Hamilton thrusts aside the table, and takes Rachael
violently in his arms. Her laugh of delight and triumph blends curiously
with the furious noise of the hurricane.]
Talbot of Ursula
(This story first appeared in the Anglo-Saxon Review, and is
republished by kind permission of Mrs. George Cornwallis-West)
he Señora as usual had written a formal little note in the morning
asking John Talbot to eat his birthday dinner at the Rancho de los
Olivos. Although he called on the Señora once a week the year round, she
never offered him more than a glass of angelica or a cup of chocolate on
any other occasion; but for his natal day she had a turkey killed, and
her aged cook prepared so many hot dishes and dulces of the old time
that Talbot was a wretched man for three days. But he would have endured
misery for six rather than forego this feast, and the brief embrace of
home life that accompanied it.
The Señora and the padre of the Mission were Talbot's only companions
in Santa Ursula, although for political reasons he often dropped in at
the saloon of the village and discussed with its polyglot customers such
affairs of the day as penetrated this remote corner of California. And
yet for twenty-three years he had lived in Santa Ursula, year in and
year out, save for brief visits to San Francisco, Sacramento, and the
Why had he stayed on in this God-forsaken hole after he had become a
rich man? He asked himself the question with some humor as he walked up
and down the corridor of the Mission on this his fortieth birthday; and
he had asked it many times.
To some souls the perfect peace, the warm drowsy beauty of the scene
would have been a conclusive answer. Two friars in their brown robes
passed and repassed him, reading their prayers. Beyond the arches of the
corridor, abruptly below the plateau on which stood the long white
Mission, was, so far as the eye was responsible, an illimitable valley,
cutting the horizon on the south and west, cut by the mountains of Santa
Barbara on the east. The sun was brazen in a dark-blue sky, and under
its downpour the vast olive orchard which covered the valley looked like
a silver sea. The glittering ripples met the blue of the horizon
sharply, crinkled against the lower spurs of the mountain. As a bird
that had skimmed its surface, then plunged for a moment, rose again,
Talbot almost expected to see it shake bright drops from its wings. He
sighed involuntarily as he reflected that in the dark caves and arbors
below it was very cool, far cooler than he would be during an eight-mile
ride under the mid-day sun of Southern California. Then he remembered
that the Señora's sala was also dark and cool, and that part of his
way lay through the cotton-woods and willows by the river; and he smiled
whimsically again. He had salted his long sojourn at Santa Ursula with
One mountain-peak, detached from the range and within a mile of the
Mission, was dense and dark with forest, broken only here and there by
the bowlders the earth had flung on high in her restless youth. There
was but a winding trail to the top, and few had made acquaintance with
it. John Talbot knew it well, and that to which it led—a lake in the
very cup of the peak, so clear and bright that it reflected every needle
of the dark pines embracing it.
And to the west of the Mission—past the river with its fringe of
cotton-woods and willows, beyond a long dusty road which led through
fields and cañon and over more than one hill—was the old adobe house of
the Rancho de los Olivos.
Talbot was a practical man of business to-day. The olive orchard was
his, the toy hotel at the end of the plateau, the land upon which had
grown the rough village, with its one store, its prosperous saloon, its
post-office, and several shanties of citizens not altogether estimable.
He was also a man of affairs, for he had represented the district for
two years at the State Legislature, and was spoken of as a future
Senator. It cannot be said that the people among whom he had spent so
many years of his life loved him, for he was reserved and had never been
known to slap a man on the back. Moreover, it was believed that he
subscribed to a San Francisco daily paper, which he did not place on
file in the saloon, and that he had a large library of books in one of
his rooms at the Mission. As far as the neighbors could see, the priest
was the only man in the district in whom he found companionship.
Nevertheless he was respected and trusted as a man must be who has never
broken his word nor taken advantage of another for twenty-three years;
and even those who resented the manifest antagonism of his back to the
national familiarity felt that the dignity and interest of the State
would be safe in his hands. Even those most in favor of rotation had
concluded that it would not be a bad idea to put him in Congress for
life, after the tacit fashion of the New England States. At all events
they would try him in the House of Representatives for two or three
terms, and then, if he satisfied their expectations and demonstrated his
usefulness, they would "work" the State and send him to the United
States Senate. Santa Ursula had but one street, but its saloon was the
heart of a hundred-mile radius. And it was as proud as an old don. When
its leading citizen became known far and wide as "Talbot of Ursula," a
title conferred by the members of his Legislature to distinguish him
from two colleagues of the same name, its pride in him knew no bounds.
The local papers found it an effective head-line, and the title clung to
him for the rest of his life.
It was only when a newspaper interviewed Talbot after his election to
the State Senate that his district learned that he was by birth an
Englishman. He had emigrated with his parents at the age of fourteen,
however, and as the population of his district included Germans, Irish,
Swedes, Mexicans, and Italians, his nationality mattered little.
Moreover, he had made his own fortune, barring the start his uncle had
given him, and he was an American every inch of him. England was but a
peaceful dream, a vale of the hereafter's rest set at the wrong end of
life. He recalled but one incident of that time, but on that incident
his whole life had hinged.
It was some years now since it had grouped itself, a tableau of gray
ghosts, in his memory, but he invoked it to-day, although it seemed to
have no place in the hot languid morning with that Southern sea hiding
its bitter fruit breaking almost at the feet of this long white
red-tiled Mission whose silver bells had once called hundreds of Indians
to prayer. (They rang with vehemence still, but few responded.)
Nevertheless the memory rose and held him.
His mother, a widow, had kept a little shop in his native village. He
had gone to school since the tender age of five, and had paid more
attention to his books than to the village battle-ground, for he grew
rapidly, and was very delicate until the change to the new world made a
man of him. But he loved his books, the other boys were kind to him, and
altogether he was not ill-pleased with his life when one day his mother
bade him put on his best clothes and come with her to a wedding. He
grumbled disdainfully, for he had an interesting book in his hand; but
he was used to obey his mother; he tumbled into his Sunday clothes and
followed her and other dames to the old stone church at the top of the
village. The daughter of the great family of the neighborhood was to be
married that morning, and all the little girls of John's acquaintance
were dressed in white and had strewn flowers along the main street and
the road beyond as far as the castle gates. He thought it a silly
business and a sinful waste of posies; but in the church-yard he took
his place in the throng with a certain feeling of curiosity.
The bride happened to be one of the beauties of her time; but it was not
so much her beauty that made John stare at her with expanding eyes and
mouth as she drove up in an open carriage, then walked down the long
path from the gate to the church. He had seen beauty before; but never
that look and air of a race far above his own, of light impertinent
pride, never a lissome daintily stepping figure, and a head carried as
if it bore a star rather than a bridal wreath. He had not dreamed of
anything alive resembling this, and he knew she was not an angel. After
she had entered the church he drew a long breath and glanced sharply at
the village beauties. They looked like coarse red apples; and, alas, his
mother was of their world.
When the bride reappeared he stared hard at her again, but this time he
noticed that there were similar delicate beings in her train. She was
not the only one of her kind, then. The discovery filled him with
amazement, which was followed by a curious sensation of hope. He broke
away from his mother and ran after the carriage for nearly a mile,
determined to satisfy his eager eyes as long as might be. The bride
noticed him, and, smiling, tossed him a rose from her bouquet. He had
that flower yet.
It was a week before he confided to his mother that when he grew up he
intended to marry a lady. Mrs. Talbot stared, then laughed. But when he
repeated the statement a few evenings later during their familiar hour,
she told him peremptorily to put such ideas out of his head, that the
likes of him didn't marry ladies. And when she explained why, with the
brutal directness she thought necessary, John was as depressed as a boy
of fourteen can be. It was but a week later, however, that his mother,
upon announcing her determination to emigrate to America, said to him:
"And perhaps you'll get that grand wish of yours. Out there I've heard
say as how one body's as good as another, so if you're a good boy and
make plenty of brass, you can marry a lady as well as not." She forgot
the words immediately, but John never forgot them.
Mrs. Talbot died soon after their arrival in New York, and the brother
who had sent for her put John to school for two years. One day he told
him to pack his trunk and accompany him to California in search of gold.
They bought a comfortable emigrant wagon and joined a large party about
to cross the plains in quest of El Dorado. During that long momentous
journey John felt like a character in a book of adventures, for they had
no less than three encounters with red Indians, and two of his party
were scalped. He always felt young again when he recalled that time. It
was one of those episodes in life when everything was exactly as it
He and his uncle remained in the San Joaquin valley for a year, and
although they were not so fortunate as many others, they finally moved
to San Francisco the richer by a few thousands. Here Mr. Quick opened a
gambling-house and saloon, and made money far more rapidly than he had
done in the northern valley—where, in truth, he had lost much by night
that he had panned out by day. But being a virtuous uncle, if an
imperfect member of society, he soon sent John to the country to look
after a ranch near the Mission of Santa Ursula. The young man never knew
that this fine piece of property had been won over the gambling table
from Don Roberto Ortega, one of the maddest grandees of the Californias.
His grant embraced some fifty thousand acres and was bright in patches
with little olive orchards. John planted with olive-trees, at his own
expense, the twelve thousand acres which had fallen to his uncle's
share; the two men were to be partners, and the younger was to inherit
the elder's share. He inherited nothing else, for his uncle married a
Mexican woman who knifed him and made off with what little money had
been put aside from current extravagances. But John worked hard, bought
varas in San Francisco whenever he had any spare cash, supplied almost
the entire State with olives and olive-oil, and in time became a rich
And his ideal? Only the Indians had driven it temporarily into the
unused chambers of his memory. Not gold-mines, nor his brief taste of
the wild hot life of San Francisco, nor hard work among his olive-trees,
nor increasing wealth and importance, had driven from his mind that
desire born among the tombstones of his native village. It was the woman
herself with a voice as silver as his own olive leaves, who laughed his
dream to death, and left him, still handsome, strong, and lightly
touched by time, a bachelor at forty.
He saw nothing of women for several years after he came to the Mission,
for the one ranch house in the neighborhood was closed, and there was
no village then. He worked among his olive-trees contentedly enough,
spending long profitable evenings with the intellectual priests, who
made him one of their family, and studying law and his favorite science,
political economy. Although the boy was very handsome, with his
sun-burned, well-cut face and fine figure, it never occurred to the
priests that the most romantic of hearts beat beneath that shrewd,
accumulative brain. Of women he had never spoken, except when he had
confided to his friends that he was glad to get away from the very sight
of the terrible creatures of San Francisco; and that he dreamed for
hours among his olive-trees of the thoroughbred creature who was one day
to reward his labors and make him the happiest of mortals never entered
the imagination of the good padres.
He was twenty and the ranch was his when he met Delfina Carillo. Don
Roberto Ortega had opportunely died before gambling away more than half
of his estate, and his widow, who was delicate, left the ranch near
Monterey, where they had lived for many years, and came to bake brown in
the hot suns of the South. Her son, Don Enrique, came with her, and John
saw him night and morning riding about the country at top speed, and
sometimes clattering up to the corridor of the Mission and calling for
a glass of wine. He was a magnificent caballero, slim and dark, with
large melting eyes and long hair on a little head. He wore small-clothes
of gayly colored silk, with much lace on his shirt and silver on his
sombrero. His long yellow botas were laced with silver, and his saddle
was so loaded with the same metal that only a Californian horse could
have carried it. John turned up his nose at this gorgeous apparition,
and likened him to a "play actor" and a circus rider; nevertheless, he
was very curious to see something of the life of the Californian
grandee, of which he had heard much and seen nothing, and when Padre
Ortega, who was a cousin of the widow, told him that a large company was
expected within a fortnight, and that he had asked permission to take
his young friend to the ball with which the festivities would open, John
began to indulge in the pleasurable anticipations of youth.
But he did not occupy the interval with dreams alone. He went to San
Francisco and bought himself a wardrobe suitable for polite society. It
was an American outfit, not Californian, but had John possessed the
wealth of the northern valleys he could not have been induced to put
himself into silk and lace.
The stage did not go to Santa Ursula, but a servant met him at a
station twenty miles from home with a horse, and a cart for his trunk.
He washed off the dust of three days' travel in a neighboring creek,
then jumped on his big gray mare, and started at a mild gallop for his
ranch. He felt like singing his contentment with the world, for the
morning was radiant, he was on one of the finest horses of the country,
and he was as light of heart as a boy should be who has received a hint
from fortune that he is one of the favorites. He looked forward to the
social ordeal without apprehension, for by this time he had all the
native American's sense of independence, he had barely heard the word
"gentleman" since his arrival in the new country, his education was all
that could be desired, he was a landed proprietor, and intended to be a
rich and successful man. No wonder he wanted to sing.
He had ridden some eight or ten miles, meeting no one in that great
wilderness of early California, when he suddenly drew rein and listened.
He was descending into a narrow cañon on whose opposite slope the road
continued to the interior; his way lay sharply to the south when he
reached the narrow stream between the walls of the cañon. The sound of
many voices came over the hills opposite, and the voices were light, and
young, and gay. John remembered that it was time for Doña Martina's
visitors to arrive, and guessed at once that he was about to fall in
with one of the parties. The young Californians travelled on horseback
in those days, thinking nothing of forty miles under a midsummer sun.
John, who was the least self-conscious of mortals, was moved to
gratitude that he wore a new suit of gray serge and had left the dust of
stage travel in the creek.
The party appeared on the crest of the hill, and began the descent into
the cañon. John raised his cap, and the caballeros responded with a
flourish of sombreros. It would be some moments before they could meet,
and John was glad to stare at the brilliant picture they made. Life
suddenly seemed unreal, unmodern to him. He forgot his olive-trees, and
recalled the tales the priests had told him of the pleasures and
magnificence of the Californian dons before the American occupation.
The caballeros were in silk, every one of them, and for variety of hue
they would have put a June garden to the blush. Their linen and silver
were dazzling, and the gold-colored coats of their horses seemed a
reflection of the sun. These horses had silver tails and manes, and
seemed invented for the brilliant creatures who rode them. The girls
were less gorgeous than the caballeros, for they wore delicate flowered
gowns, and a strip of silk about their heads instead of sombreros
trimmed with silver eagles. But they filled John's eye, and he forgot
the caballeros. They had long black braids of hair and large dark eyes
and white skins, and at that distance they all looked beautiful; but
although John worshipped beauty, even in the form of olive-trees and
purple mists, it was not the loveliness of these Spanish girls that set
his pulses beating and sent the blood to his head. This was almost his
first sight of gentlewomen since the memorable day in his native
village, and the certainty that his opportunity had come at last filled
him with both triumph and terror as he spurred down the slope, then
paused and watched the cavalcade pick their way down through the golden
grass and the thick green bush of the cañon. In a moment he recognized
Don Enrique Ortega, who spoke to him pleasantly enough as he rode into
the creek and dropped his bridle that his horse might drink. The two
young men had met at the Mission, and although Enrique regarded the
conquerors of his country as an inferior race, John was as good as any
of them, and doubtless it was best to make no enemies. Moreover, his
manners were very good.
"Ah, Don Juan," he exclaimed, "you have make the visit to Yerba
Buena—San Francisco you call him now, no? I go this morning to meet my
friends who make for the Rancho de los Olivos so great an honor. Si you
permit me I introduce you, for you are the friend de my cousin, Padre
The company had scattered down the stream to refresh their horses,
making a long banner of color in the dark cañon. Don Enrique led John
along the line, and presented him solemnly to each in turn. The
caballeros protested eternal friendship with vehement insincerity, and
the girls flashed their eyes and teeth at the blue-eyed young American
without descending from their unconscious pride of sex and race. They
had the best blood of Spain in them, and an American was an American, be
he never so agreeable to contemplate.
The girls looked much alike in the rebosos which framed their faces so
closely, and John promptly fell in love with all of them at once.
Selection could take place later; he was too happy to think of anything
so serious as immediate marriage. But one of them he determined to have.
He rode out of the cañon with them, and they were gracious, and
chattered of the pleasures to come at the Rancho de los Olivos.
John noticed that Enrique kept persistently at the side of one maiden,
and rode a little ahead with her. She was very tall and slim, and so
graceful that she swayed almost to her horse's neck when branches
drooped too low. John began to wish for a glimpse of her face.
"That is Delfina Carillo," said the girl beside him, following his gaze.
"She go to marry with Enrique, I theenk. He is very devot, and I think
she like him, but no will say."
Perhaps it was merely the fact that this dainty flower hung a little
higher than the others that caused John's thoughts to concentrate upon
her, and roused his curiosity to such an extent that he drew his
companion on to talk of the girl who was favored by Enrique Ortega. He
learned that she was the daughter of a great rancher near Santa Barbara,
and was La Favorita of all the country round.
"She have the place that Chonita Iturbi y Moncada have before, and many
caballeros want to marry with her, but she no pay much attention; only
now I think like Enrique. Ay, he sing so beautiful, Señor, no wonder si
she loving him. Serenade her every night, and she love the musica."
"It certainly must be that," thought John, "for he hasn't an idea in his
He did not see her until that night. The priest wore the brown robe of
his order to the ball, and John his claw-hammer. They both looked out of
place among those birds of brilliant plumage.
Doña Martina, large and coffee-colored, with a mustache and many jewels,
sat against the wall with other señoras of her kind. They wore heavy red
and yellow satins, but the girls wore light silks that fluttered as they
Doña Martina gave him a sleepy welcome, and he turned his attention to
the dancing, in which he could take no part. He knew that his manners
were good and his carriage easy, but the lighter graces had not come his
At the moment a girl was dancing alone in the middle of the sala, and
John knew instinctively that she was Delfina Carillo. Like the other
girls, she wore her hair high under a tall comb, but her gown was white
and trimmed with the lace of Spain. Her feet, of course, were tiny, and
showed plainly beneath her slightly lifted skirts; and she danced with
no perceptible effort, rather as if swayed by a light wind, like the
pendent moss in the woods. She had just begun to dance when John
entered, and the company was standing against the wall in silence; but
in a few moments the young men began to mutter, then to clap and stamp,
then to shout, and finally they plunged their hands wildly into their
pockets and flung gold and silver at her feet. But she took no notice
beyond a flutter of nostril, and continued to dance like a thing of
light and air.
Her beauty was very great. John, young as he was, knew that it was
hardly likely he should ever see beauty in such perfection again. It was
not an intellectual face, but it was faultless of line and delicate of
coloring. The eyes were not only very large and black, but the lashes
were so long and soft the wonder was they did not tangle. Her skin was
white, her cheeks and lips were pink, her mouth was curved and flexible;
and her figure, her arms and hands and feet had the expression in their
perfect lines that her face lacked. John noticed that she had a short
upper lip, a haughty nostril, and a carriage that expressed pride both
latent and active. It was with an effort that she bent her head
graciously as she glided from the floor, taking no notice of the
offerings that had been flung at her feet.
And John loved her once and for all. She was the sublimation of every
dream that his romantic heart had conceived. He felt faint for a moment
at the difficulties which bristled between himself and this superlative
being, but he was a youthful conqueror, and life had been very amiable
to him. He shook courage into his spirit and asked to be presented to
her at once.
Her eyes swept his face indifferently, but something in his intense
regard compelled her attention, and although she appeared to scorn
conversation, she smiled once or twice; and when she smiled her face was
"That was very wonderful, that dance, señorita; but does it not tire
"You are glad to give such great pleasure, I suppose?"
"You are so used to compliments—I know how the caballeros go on—you
won't mind my saying it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw—and I
have been about the world a bit."
"I wish I could dance, if only to dance with you."
"You no dance?" Her tone expressed polite scorn, although her voice was
"Would—would—you talk out a dance with me?"
"Oh no." She looked as astonished as if John had asked her to shut
herself up alone in her room for the rest of the evening, and she swayed
her back slowly upon him and lifted her hand to the shoulder of Enrique.
In another moment she was gliding down the room in his arm, and John
noted that the color in her cheek was deeper.
"It is impossible that she can care for that doll," he thought;
But in the days that followed he realized that the race was to be a hot
one. He was included in all the festivities, and they went to
meriendas among the cotton-woods by the river and in the hills, danced
every night, were entertained by the priests at the Mission, and had
bull-fights, horse-races, and many games of skill. Upon one occasion
John was the happy host of a moonlight dance among his olive-trees.
Enrique's attentions to his beautiful guest were persistent and
unmistakable, and, moreover, he serenaded her nightly. John, riding
about the ranch late, too restless to sleep, heard those dulcet tones
raining compliments and vows upon Delfina's casement, and swore so
furiously that he terrified the night birds.
But he, too, managed to keep close to Delfina, in spite of an occasional
scowl from Enrique, who, however, held all Americans in too lofty a
contempt to fear one. John had several little talks apart with her, and
it was not long before he discovered that nature had done little for the
interior of that beautiful shell. She had read nothing, and thought
almost as little. What intelligence she had was occupied with her
regalities, and although sweet in spite of her hauteur, and unselfish
notwithstanding her good-fortune, as a companion she would mean little
to any man. John, however, was in the throes of his first passion, and
his nature was ardent and thorough. Had she been a fool, simpering
instead of dignified, he would not have cared. She was beautiful and
magnetic, and she embodied an ideal. The ideal, however, or rather the
ambition that was its other half, played no part in his mind as his love
deepened. He wanted the woman, and had he suddenly discovered that she
was a changeling born among the people, his love and his determination
to marry her would have abated not a tittle.
His olive-trees were neglected, and he spent the hours of their
separations riding about the country with as little mercy on his horses
as had he been a Californian born. Sometimes, touched by the youthful
fervor in his eyes, Delfina would melt perceptibly and ask him a
question or two about himself, a dazzling favor in one who held that
words were made to rust. And once, when he lifted her off her horse
under the heavy shadow of the trees, she gave him a glance which sent
John far from her side, lest he make a fool of himself before the entire
company. Meanwhile he was not unhappy, in spite of the wildness in his
blood, for he found the tremors of love and hope and fear as sweet as
they were extraordinary.
One evening the climax came.
Delfina expressed a wish to see the lake on the summit of the solitary
peak. It had been discovered by the Indians, but was unknown to the
luxurious Californians. The company was assembled on the long corridor
traversing the front of the Casa Ortega when Delfina startled Enrique by
a command to take them all to the summit that night.
"But, señorita mia," exclaimed Enrique, turning pale at the thought of
offending his goddess, "there is no path. I do not know the way. And it
is as steep as the tower of the Mission—"
John came forward. "There is an Indian trail," he said, "and I have
climbed it more than once. But it is very narrow—and steep, certainly."
Delfina's eyes, which had flashed disdain upon Enrique, smiled upon
John. "We go with you," she announced; "to-night, for is moon. And I
ride in front with you."
On the whole, thought Talbot, glancing towards the great peak whose
wilderness was still unrifled, that was the happiest night of his life.
They outdistanced the others by a few yards, and they were obliged to
ride so close that their shoulders touched. It was the full of the moon,
but in the forest there was only an occasional splash of silver. They
might have fancied themselves alone in primeval solitude had it not been
for the gay voices behind them. And never had Delfina been so
enchanting. She even talked a little, but her accomplished coquetry
needed few words. She could express more by a bend of the head or an
inflection of the voice than other women could accomplish with
vocabularies and brains. John felt his head turning, but retained wisdom
enough to wait for a moment when they should be quite alone.
The lake looked like a large reflection of the moon itself, for the
black trees shadowed but the edge of the waters. So great was the beauty
of the scene that for a few moments the company gazed at it silently,
and the mountain-top remained as still as during its centuries of
loneliness. But, finally, some one exclaimed, "Ay, yi!" and then rose
a chorus, "Dios de mi alma!" "Dios de mi vida!" "Ay, California!
California!" "Ay, de mi, de mi, de mi!"
Everybody, even Enrique, was occupied. John caught the bridle of
Delfina's horse, and forced it back into the forest. And then his words
tumbled one over the other.
"I must, I must!" he said wildly, keeping down his voice with
difficulty. "I've scarcely had a chance to make you love me, but I
can't wait to tell you—I love you. I love you! I want to marry you!
Oh—I am choking!" He wrenched at his collar, and in truth he felt as if
the very mountain were trembling.
Delfina had thrown back her head. "Ay!" she remarked. Then she laughed.
She had no desire to be cruel, but her manifest amusement brought the
blood down from John's head, and he shook from head to foot. His white
face showed plainly in this fringe of the forest, and she ceased
laughing and spoke kindly.
"Poor boy, I am sorry si I hurt you, but I no can marry you. Never I can
love the Americano; no is like our men, so handsome, so graceful, so
splendid. I like you, for are very nice boy, but I go to marry with
Enrique. So no theenk more about it." Then as he continued to stare, the
youthful agony in his face touched her, and she leaned forward and said
softly, "Can kiss me once si you like. You are boy to me, no more, so I
no mind." And he kissed her with a violence of despair and passion which
caused her maiden mind to wonder, and which she never experienced again.
He went no more to the Casa Ortega, and hid among his olive-trees when
the company clattered by the Mission. At the end of another week she
returned to her home, and three months later she returned as the bride
of Enrique Ortega.
Talbot smiled slightly as he recalled the sufferings of the boy long
dead. There had been months when he had felt half mad; then had
succeeded several years of melancholy and a distaste for everything in
life but work. He could not bring himself to sell the ranch and flee
from the scene of his disappointment, for he was young enough to take a
morbid pleasure in the very theatre of his failure.
He did not see Delfina again for three years. By that time she had three
children and had begun to grow stout. But she was still very beautiful,
and John kept out of her way for several years more.
But the years rolled round very swiftly. Doña Martina died. So did six
of the ten children Delfina bore. Then Enrique died, leaving his
diminished estates, his wife, and his four little girls to the care of
This was after fourteen years of matrimony and six years of intimacy
between Talbot and the family of Los Olivos. One day Enrique, in
desperation at the encroachments of certain squatters, had bethought
himself of the American, now the most influential man in the county, and
gone to him for advice. Talbot had found him a good lawyer, lent him
the necessary money, and the squatters were dispossessed. Enrique's
gratitude for Talbot knew no bounds; he pressed the hospitality of Los
Olivos upon him, and in time the two became fast friends.
Ortega and Delfina had jogged along very comfortably. She was an
exemplary wife, a devoted mother, and as excellent a housekeeper as
became her traditions. He made a kind and indulgent husband, and if
neither found much to say to the other, their brief conversations were
amiable. Enrique developed no wit with the years, but he was always a
courteous host and played a good game of billiards, besides taking a
mild interest in the affairs of the nation. John soon fell into the
habit of spending two nights a week at the Rancho de los Olivos, and
never failed to fill his pockets with sweets for the little girls, who
preferred him to their father.
And his love! He used to fancy it was buried somewhere in the mausoleum
of flesh which had built itself about Delfina Carillo. She weighed two
hundred pounds, and her black hair and fine teeth were the only remnants
of her splendid beauty. Her face was large and brown, and although she
retained her dignity of carriage and moved with the old slow grace, she
looked what she was, the Spanish mother of many children.
The change was gradual, and brought no pang with it. John's memory was
a good one, and sometimes when it turned to his youth and the one
passion of his life, he felt something like a sob in his soul, a
momentary echo of the old agony. But it was only an echo; he had
outgrown it all long since. He sometimes wondered that he loved no other
woman, why his ambition to have an aristocratic wife had died with his
first passion; and concluded that the intensity of his nature had worn
itself out in that period of prolonged suffering, and that he was
incapable of loving again. And the experience had satisfied him that
marriage without love would be a poor affair. Once in a while, after
leaving the plain coffee-colored dame who filled the doorway as she
waved him good-bye, he sighed as he recalled the exquisite creature of
his youth. But these sighs grew less and less frequent, for not only was
the grass high above that old grave in his heart and he a busy and
practical man, but the Señora Ortega had become the most necessary of
his friends. What she lacked in brain she made up in sympathy, and she
had developed a certain amount of intelligence with the years. It became
his habit to talk to her of all his ambitions and plans, particularly
after the death of Enrique, when they had many uninterrupted hours
Upon Ortega's death Talbot took charge of the estate at once, and into
the particulars of her handsome income it never occurred to the widow to
inquire. One by one the girls married, and Talbot dowered them all. They
were pretty creatures, and John loved them, for each had in her face a
morsel of Delfina Carillo's lost beauty; and if they recalled the pain
of his youth they recalled its sweetness too. The Señora recalled
For the last year she had been quite alone. Two of her daughters lived
in the city of Mexico. One had married a Spanish Consul and returned
with him to Spain. The other lived in San Francisco, and as soon as
domestic affairs would permit intended to visit her sisters. Talbot,
when at home, called on the Señora once a week and always carried a
novel or an illustrated paper in his saddle-bag.
"Is the tragedy at this end or the other?" thought Talbot, as he walked
up and down the Mission corridor on his fortieth birthday—"that I could
not have her when I was mad about her, or that I can have her now and
don't want her?"
He knew that the Señora was lonesome in her big house and would have
welcomed a companion, but he knew also that the desire moved sluggishly
in the depths of her lazy mind. If he were willing, well and good. If
otherwise, it mattered not much.
His Indian servant cantered up with his horse, he gave a last regretful
glance at the cool corridor of the Mission, and then went out into the
He was only a stone heavier than in the old days, but he rode more
slowly, for this his favorite mare was no longer young. His day for
breaking in bucking mustangs was over, and he liked an animal that would
behave itself as became the four-footed companion of his years.
The road through the pale green cotton-woods and willows that wooded the
banks of the river—as dry as the heavens—was almost cold, and
refreshingly dim; but when the bed and its fringe turned abruptly to the
south his way led for five sweltering miles through sun-burned fields
and over hills as yellow as polished gold. The sky looked like dark-blue
metal in which a hole had been cut for a lake of fire. The heat it
emptied quivered visibly in the parched fields, and the mountains swam
in a purple haze. Talbot had a grape-leaf in his hat, and the suns of
California had baked his complexion long since, but he wished that his
birthday occurred in winter, as he had wished many a time before.
It was an hour and a half before he rode into the grounds surrounding
Casa Ortega. Then he spurred his horse, for here were many old oak-trees
and the atmosphere was twenty degrees cooler. A Mexican servant met him,
and he dismounted and walked the few remaining yards to the house. He
sighed as he remembered that Herminia, the last of the girls to marry,
had been there to kiss him on his last birthday. He would gladly have
had all four back again, and now they had passed out of his life
The Casa Ortega was a very long adobe house one story in height and one
room deep, except in an ell where a number of rooms were bunched
together. The Señora had it whitewashed every year, and the red tiles on
the roof renewed when necessary; therefore it had none of the pathetic
look of old age peculiar to the adobe mansions of the dead grandees.
A long veranda traversed the front, supported by pillars and furnished
with gayly painted chairs; but it was empty, and Talbot entered the
sala at once. It was a long room, severely furnished in the old style,
and facing the door was a painting of Delfina Carillo. Talbot rarely
allowed his eyes to wander to this portrait. Had he dared he would have
asked for its removal. The grass was long above the grave, but there
were such things as ghosts.
The Señora was sitting in a corner of the dim cool room, and rose at
once to greet him. She came forward with a grace and dignity of carriage
that still had the power to prick his admiration. But she was very dark,
and the old enchanting smile had lost its way long since in the large
cheeks and heavy chin. Even her eyes no longer looked big, and the
famous lashes had been worn down by many tears; for there were six
little graves in the Ortega corner of the Mission church-yard, and she
had loved her children devotedly. She carried her two hundred pounds as
unconsciously as she had once carried her willowy inches, and she wore
soft black cashmere in winter and lawn in summer, fastened at the throat
with a miniature of the husband of her youth. She was only thirty-nine,
but there was not a vestige of youth about her anywhere, and her whole
being expressed a life lived, and a sleepy contentment with the fact.
Talbot often wondered if she had no hours of insupportable loneliness;
but she gave no sign, and he concluded that novels and religion
"So hot it is, no?" she said in her soft hardly audible tones, that,
like her carriage and manner, were unchanged. "You have the face very
red, but feel better in a little while. Very cool here, no?"
"I feel ten years younger than I did a quarter of an hour ago. There was
a time—alas!—when I could stand the suns of California for six hours
at a stretch, but—"
"Ay, yes, we grow more old every year. Is twenty now since we merienda
all day and dance all night—when I am a visitor here, no more; and you
are the thin boy with the long arms, and legs, and try to grow the
It was the first time she had ever referred to their youth, and he
stared at her. But her face was as placid as if she had been helping him
to chicken with Chile-sauce, and he wondered if it could change.
Involuntarily he glanced at the portrait. It seemed alive with
expression, and—the room was almost dark—he fancied the eyes were
"How can she stand it?" he thought. "How can she?"
"You are improve," she continued politely. "The American mens no grow
old like the Spanish—or like the women that have ten children and get
so stout and have the troubles—"
"You have retained much, Señora," exclaimed Talbot, blundering over the
first compliment he he had paid her in twenty years.
She smiled placidly and moved her head gently; the word "shake" could
never apply to any of her movements. "I have the mirror—and the
picture. And I no mind, Don Juan. When the woman bury the six children,
no care si she grow old. The more soon grow old the more soon die and
see the little ones—am always very fond of Enrique also," she added,
"but when am young love more. He is very good man always, but he grow
old like myself and very fat. Only you are improve, my friend. That one
reason why always I am so glad to see you. Remind me of that time when
all are young and happy."
Old Marcia announced dinner, and Talbot sprang to his feet with a
sensation of relief and offered the Señora his arm. She made no further
references to their youth during the excellent and highly seasoned
repast, but discussed the possibilities of the crops and listened with
deep attention to the political forecast. She knew that politics were
becoming the absorbing interest in the life of her friend, and although
she also knew that they would one day put a continent between herself
and him, she had long since ceased to live for self, and never failed to
When the last dulce had been eaten they went out upon the veranda and
talked drowsily of minor matters until both nodded in their comfortable
chairs, and finally fell asleep.
For a time the heavy dinner locked Talbot's brain, but finally he began
to dream of his youth, and the scenes of which Delfina Carillo had been
the heroine were flung from their rusty frames into the hot light of his
memory, until he lived again the ecstasy and the anguish of that time.
The morning's reminiscences had moved coldly in his mind, but so intense
was his vision of the woman he had worshipped that she seemed bathed in
He awoke suddenly. The Señora still slept, and her face was as placid as
in consciousness. It was slightly relaxed, but the time had not yet come
for the pathetic loss of muscular control. Still, she looked so large
and brown and stout that Talbot rose abruptly with an echo of the agony
that had returned in sleep, and entered the sala and stood
deliberately before the portrait. It had been painted by an artist of
much ability. There was atmosphere behind it, which in the dim room
detached it from the canvas; and the curved red mouth smiled, the eyes
flashed with the triumph of youth and much conquest, the skin was as
white as the moon-flowers in the fields at night.
Talbot recalled the night he had taken this woman in his arms—not the
woman on the veranda—and involuntarily he raised them to the picture.
"And I thought it was over," he muttered, with a terrified gasp. "But I
believe I would give my immortal soul and everything I've accomplished
in life if she would come out of the frame and the past for an hour and
"Whatte you say?" drawled a gentle voice. "I fall asleep, no? Si you
ring that little bell Marcia bring the chocolate. You find it too hot
"Oh, no; I prefer it out-of-doors. It is cooler now, and I like all the
air I can get."
He longed to get away, but he sipped his chocolate and listened to the
domestic details of his four vicarious daughters. The Señora was
immensely proud of her five grandchildren. Their photographs were all
over the house.
At six o'clock he shook hands with her and sprang on his horse. Half-way
down the avenue he turned his head, as usual. She stood on the veranda
still, and smiled pleasantly to him, moving one of her large brown hands
a little. He never saw the Señora again.
Talbot was obliged to go to San Francisco a day or two later, and when
he returned the Señora was in bed with a severe cold. He sent her a box
of books and papers, and another of chocolates, and then forgot her in
the excitement of the elections. It was the autumn of the year 1868, and
he was an enthusiastic admirer of Grant. He stumped the State for that
admirable warrior and indifferent statesman, with the result that his
own following increased; and his interest in politics waxed with each of
several notable successes in behalf of the candidate. He finally
announced decisively that he should run for Congress at the next
elections, and a member of the House of Representatives from his
district dying two days later, he was appointed at once to fill the
The Señora was still in bed with a persistent cold and cough when he
left for Washington late in November, but he rode over to leave a
good-bye with old Marcia, and ordered a bookseller in San Francisco to
send her all the illustrated papers and magazines.
She entered his mind but seldom during those interesting months in
Washington. Talbot became sure of his particular talent at last, and
determined to remain in politics for the rest of his life. Moreover, the
excitement until the 4th of March was intense, for Southern blood was
still hot and bitter, and there were rumors in the air that Grant would
be assassinated on the day of his inauguration. He was not, however, and
Talbot was glad to be in Washington on that memorable day. He wrote the
Señora an account both of the military appearance of the city and of the
brilliant scene in the Senate Chamber, but she had ceased, for the time,
to be a weekly necessity in his life.
And being a bachelor, wealthy, handsome, and properly launched, he was
soon skimming that social sea of many crafts. For the first time since
his abrupt severance from the Los Olivos festivities he enjoyed society.
San Francisco's had seemed a poor imitation of what novels described,
but Washington was full of brilliant interest. And he met more than one
woman who recalled his boyish ideals, women who were far more like the
vision in the English church-yard than Delfina Carillo; who, indeed, had
not resembled the English girl in anything but manifest of race, and had
been an ideal apart, never to be encountered again in this world.
It was a long and exciting session, and he gave all the energies of his
mind to the great question of reconstruction, but more than once he
asked himself if the time had not come to marry, if it were not a duty
to his old self to gratify the ambition to which he owed the
foundations of his success with life. A beautiful and high-bred wife
would still afford him profound satisfaction, no doubt of that. He could
in the last ten or twelve years have married more than one charming San
Francisco girl, but that interval of passionate love between his
youthful ambition and his many opportunities had given him a distaste
for a lukewarm marriage. Here in Washington, however, California seemed
a long way off, and he was only forty, in the very perfection of mental
and physical vigor. Could he not love again? Surely a man in the long
allotted span must begin life more than once. He found himself, after an
hour, in some beautiful woman's boudoir, or with a charming girl in the
pale illumination of a conservatory, longing for the old tremors of hope
and despair, and he determined to let himself go at the first symptom.
But he continued to be merely charmed and interested. If the turbulent
waters were in him still, they had fallen far below their banks and
would not rise at his bidding.
It was not to be expected that the Señora would write; she hated the
sight of a pen, and only wrote once a month—with sighs of protest that
were almost energetic—to her daughters. Padre Ortega was too old for
correspondence; consequently Talbot heard no news of Santa Ursula
except from his major-domo, who wrote a monthly report of the progress
of the olive-trees and the hotel. This person was not given to gossip,
and Talbot was in ignorance of the health of his old friend, in spite of
one or two letters of inquiry, until almost the end of the session. Then
the major-domo was moved to write the following postscript to one of his
The Señora is dying, I guess—consumption, the galloping kind.
You may see her again, and you main't. We're all sorry here,
for she's always bin square and kind.
There still remained three weeks of the session, but Talbot's committee
had finished its work, and he was practically free. He paired with a
friendly Democrat, and started for California the day he received the
letter. The impulse to go to the bedside of his old friend had been
immediate and peremptory. He forgot the pleasant women in Washington,
his new-formed plans. The train seemed to walk.
They were not sentimental memories that moved so persistently in his
mind during that long hot journey overland. Had they risen they would
have been rebuked, as having no place in the sad reality of to-day. An
old friend was dying, the most necessary and sympathetic he had known.
He realized that she had become a habit, and that when she left the
world he would be very much alone. His mind dwelt constantly on that
large brown kindly presence, and he winked away more than one tear as he
reflected that he should go to her no more for sympathy, do nothing
further to alleviate the loneliness of her life. In consequence he was
in no way prepared for what awaited him at Los Olivos.
He arrived at night. Padre Ortega was away, so he could get no news of
the Señora except that she was still alive. He sent her a note at once,
telling her to expect him at eleven the next morning.
Again he took a long hot ride over sun-burned hills and fields, for it
wanted but a few weeks of his birthday. As he cantered through the oaks
near the house he saw that a hammock was swung across the veranda, and
that some one lay in it—a woman, for a heavy braid of black hair hung
over the side and trailed on the floor.
"Surely," he thought, "surely—it cannot be the Señora—in a hammock!"
And then he suddenly realized that the disease must have taken her
His hands trembled as he dismounted and tied his horse to a tree, and he
lingered as long as he could, for he felt that his face was white. But
he was a man long used to self-control, and in a moment he walked
steadily forward and ascended the steps to the veranda. And then as he
stood looking down upon the hammock he needed all the control he
For the Señora had gone and Delfina Carillo lay there. Not the
magnificent pulsing creature of old, for her face was pinched and little
blue veins showed everywhere; but the ugly browns had gone with her
flesh, her skin was white, and her cheeks flamed with color. Her eyes
looked enormous, and her mouth had regained its curves and mobility,
although it drooped. She wore a soft white wrapper with much lace about
the throat; and she looked twenty-six, and beautiful, wreck as she was.
"Delfina!" he articulated. "Delfina!" And then he sat down, for his
knees were shaking. The blood seemed rushing through his brain, and
after that first terrible but ecstatic moment of recognition, he was
conscious of a poignant regret for the loss of his brown old friend. He
glanced about, involuntarily. Where had she gone—that other
personality? For even the first soul of the woman looked from the great
eyes in the hammock.
Delfina stared at him for some moments, without speaking. Then she said,
with a sigh, "Ay—it is Juan."
She sat up abruptly. "Listen," she said, speaking rapidly. "At first I
no know you, for the mind wander much; and then Marcia tell me I think
always I am the girl again. Sometimes, even when I have the sense, I
theenk so too, for am alone, have nothing to remind, and I like theenk
that way. When I am seeck first Herminia coming to see me, but I write
her, after, am well again, for I know she and the husband want to go to
Mexico. Then, after I get worse, I am very glad she going, that all my
girls are away; for the dreams I have when the mind is no right give me
pleasure and bring back the days when am young and so happy. I feel glad
I go to die that way and not like the old peoples. So happy I am
sometimes, Juan, you cannot theenk! Was here, you remember, for two
months before I marry, and often I see you and Enrique and all my
friends, and myself so gay and beautiful, and all the caballeros so
crazy for me, and all the splendid costumes and horses. Ay California!
Her youth, too, is gone, Juan! Never she is Arcadia again." She paused,
but did not lie down, and in a few moments went on: "And often I theenk
of you—often. So strange, for love Enrique then; but—I no
know—missing you terreeblay when you go to Washington, and read all
they say about you in the papers. So long now since Enrique going, and
the love go long before—the love that make me marry him, I mean, for
always love the husband; that was my duty. So, when my youth come back,
though I think some by Enrique, suppose you are more in the mind, which,
after all, is old, though much fall away. And I want, want to see you,
but no like to ask you to come, for you are so busy and so ambeetious,
and I know I live till you come again si is a year, and that make me
feel happy. No cry, my friend. I no cry, for is sweet to be young again.
Often I no can understand why not loving you then; you are so fine man
now—but was boy then, and I admeer so much the caballeros, so splendid,
and talk so graceful; no was use then to the other kind. But, although I
no theenk much before—have so many babies and so much trouble, and,
after, nothing no matter—always I feel deep down I have miss something
in life; often I sigh, but no know why. But theenk much when go to die,
and now I know that si I am really young again, and well, I marry you
and am happy in so many ways with you, and have the intelligence. Never
I really have been alive. I know that now."
She fell back, panting a little, and her voice, always very low, had
become almost inaudible. She motioned to a bottle of angelica on the
table beside her, and John took her in his arms and put the glass to her
lips. It brought the color back to her face, and she lifted her arms and
crossed them behind his neck.
"Juan," she whispered coaxingly, "you have love me once—I know, and
sometimes have cried, because theenk how I have made you suffer. Make
the believe I am really the young girl again, and love me like then.
Going very soon now—and will make me very happy."
"It is easy enough to imagine," he said; "easy enough! It will be a
ghastly travesty, God knows, but could I have foreseen to-day during
that terrible time, I would have welcomed it as better than nothing."