A Story of to-Day: Part Ii
MARGARET stood looking down in her quiet way at the sloping moors and fog. She, too, had her place and work. She thought that night she saw it clearly, and kept her eyes fixed on it, as I said. They plodded steadily down the wide years opening before her. Whatever slow, unending work lay in them, whatever hungry loneliness they held for her heart, or coarseness of deed, she saw it all, shrinking from nothing. She looked at the tense blue-corded veins in her wrist, full of fine pure blood,— gauged herself coolly, her lease of life, her power of endurance, — measured it out against the work waiting for her. The work would be long, she knew. She would be old before it was finished, quite an old woman, hard, mechanical, worn out. But the day would be so bright, when it came, it would atone for all: the day would be bright, the home warm again; it would hold all that life had promised her of good.
All ? Oh, Margaret, Margaret ! Was there no sullen doubt in the brave resolve ? Was there no shadow rose just then, dark, ironical, blotting out father and mother and home, coming nearer, less alien to your soul than these, than even your God ?
If any such cold, masterful shadow rose out of years gone, and clutched at the truest life of her heart, she stifled it, and thrust it down. And yet, leaning on the gate, and thinking drearily, vacantly, she remembered a time when God came nearer to her than He did now, and came through that shadow,—when, by the help of that dead hope, He of whom she read to-night came close, an infinitely tender Helper, who, with the human love that was in her heart to-day, had loved his mother and John and Mary. Now, struggle as she would for healthy hopes and warmth, the world was gray and silent. Her defeated woman’s nature called it so, bitterly. Christ was a dim ideal power, heaven far-off. She doubted if it held anything as real as that which she had lost.
As if to bring back the old times more vividly to her, there happened one of those curious little coincidences with which Fate, we think, has nothing to do. She heard a quick step along the clay road, and a muddy little terrier jumped up, barking, beside her. She stopped with a suddenness strange in her slow movements. “ Tiger!” she said, stroking its head with passionate eagerness. The dog licked her hand, smelt her clothes to know if she were the, same : it was two years since he had seen her. She sat there, softly stroking him. Presently there was a sound of wheels jogging down the road, and a voice singing snatches of some song, one of those cheery street-songs that the boys whistle. It was a low, weak voice, but very pleasant. Margaret heard it through the dark ; she kissed the dog with a strange paleness on her face, and stood up, quiet, attentive as before. Tiger still kept licking her hand, as it hung by her side : it was cold, and trembled as he touched it. She waited a moment, then pushed the dog from her, as if his touch, even, caused her to break some vow. He whined, but she hurried away, not waiting to know how he came, or with whom. Perhaps, if Dr. Knowles had seen her face as she looked back at him, he would have thought there were depths in her nature which his probing eyes had never reached.
The wheels came close, and directly a cart stopped at the gate. It was one of those little wagons that hucksters drive; only this seemed to be a home-made affair, patched up with wicker-work and bits of board. It was piled up with baskets of vegetables, eggs, and chickens, and on a broken bench in the middle sat the driver, a woman. You could not help laughing, when you looked at the whole turn-out, it had such a make-shift look altogether.
The reins were twisted rope, the wheels uneven. It went jolting along in such a careless, jolly way, as if it would not care in the least, should it go to pieces any minute just there in the road. The donkey that drew it was bony and blind of one eye; but he winked the other knowingly at you, as if to ask if you saw the joke of the thing. Even the voice of the owner of the establishment, chirruping some idle song, as I told you, was one of the cheeriest sounds you ever heard. Joel, up at the barn, forgot his dignity to salute it with a prolonged “ Hillo ! ” and presently appeared at the gate.
“ I’m late, Joel,” said the weak voice. It sounded like a child’s near at hand.
“ We can trade in the dark, Lois, both bein’ honest,” he responded, graciously, hoisting a basket of tomatoes into the cart, and taking out a jug of vinegar.
“ Is that Lois ?” said Mrs. Howth, coming to the gate. “ Sit still, child. Don't get down.”
But the child, as she called her, had scrambled off’ the cart, and stood beside her, leaning on the wheel, for she was helplessly crippled.
“ I thought you would be down tonight. I put some coffee on the stove. Bring it out, Joel.”
Mrs. Howth never put up the shield between herself and this member of “ the class,”—because, perhaps, she was so wretchedly low in the social scale. However, I suppose she never gave a reason for it even to herself. Nobody could help being kind to Lois, even if he tried. Joel brought the coffee with more readiness than he would have waited on Mrs. Howth.
“ Barney will be jealous,” he said, patting the bare ribs of the old donkey, and glancing wistfully at his mistress.
“ Give him his supper, surely,” she Said, taking the hint.
It was a real treat to see how Lois enjoyed her supper, sipping and tasting the warm coffee, her face in a glow, like an epicure over some rare Falernian. You would be Sure, from just that little thing, that no sparkle of warmth or pleasure in the world slipped by her which she did not catch and enjoy and be thankful for to the uttermost. You would think, perhaps, pitifully, that not much pleasure or warmth would ever go down so low, within her reach. Now that she stood on the ground, she scarcely came up to the level of the wheel; some defoiunitv of her legs made her walk with a curious rolling jerk, very comical to see. She laughed at it, when other people did; if it vexed her at all, she never showed it. She had turned back her calico sun-bonnet, and stood looking up at Mrs. Howth and Joel, laughing as they talked with her. The face would have startled you on so old and stunted a body. It was a child’s face, quick, eager, with that pitiful beauty you always see in deformed people. Her eyes, I think, were the kindliest, the hope fullest I ever saw. Nothing but the pale thickness of her skin betrayed the fact that set Lois apart from even the poorest poor,— the taint in her veins of black blood.
“ Whoy ! be n’t this Tiger ? ” said Joel, as the dog ran yelping about him. “How coined yoh with him, Lois?”
“ Tiger an’ his master ’s good friends o’ mine,— you remember they allus was. An’ he ’shack now, Mr. Holmes, — been back for a month.”
Margaret, walking in the porch with her father, stopped.
“ Are you tired, father ? It is late.”
“ And you are worn out, poor child! It was selfish in me to forget. Goodnight, dear!”
Margaret kissed him, laughing cheerfully, as she led him to his room-door. He lingered, holding her dress.
“ Perhaps it will be easier for you tomorrow than it was to-day ? ” hesitating.
“ I am sure it will. To-morrow will be sure to be better than to-day.”
She left him, and went away with a slow step that did not echo the promise of her words.
Joel, meanwhile, consulted apart with his mistress.
“ Of course,” she said, emphatically. — “You must stay until morning, Lois. It is too late. Joel will toss you up a bed in the loft.”
The queer little body hesitated.
“ I can stay,” she said, at last. “ It ’s
his watch at the mill to-night.”
“ Whose watch ? ” demanded Joel.
Her face brightened.
“ Father’s. He’s back, mum.”
Joel caught himself in a whistle.
“ He ’s very stiddy, Joel, — as stiddy as yoh.”
“ I am very glad he has come back, Lois,” said Mrs. Howth, gravely.
At every place where Lois had been that day she had told her bit of good news, and at every place it had been met with the same kindly smile and “ I’m glad he’s back, Lois.”
Yet Joe Yare, fresh from two years in the penitentiary, was not exactly the person whom society usually welcomes with open arms. Lois had a vague suspicion of this, perhaps ; for, as she hobbled along the path, she added to her own assurance of his “ stiddiness ” earnest explanations to Joel of how he had a place in the Croft Street woollen-mills, and how Dr. Knowles had said he was as ready a stoker as any in the furnace-rooms.
The sound of her weak, eager voice was silent presently, and nothing broke the quiet and cold of the night. Even the morning, when it came long after, came quiet and cool,—the warm red dawn helplessly smothered under great waves of gray cloud. Margaret, looking out into the thick fog, lay down wearily again, closing her eyes. What was the day to her ?
Very slowly the night was driven back. An hour after, when she lifted her head again, the stars were still glittering through the foggy arch, like sparks of brassy blue, and the sky and hills and valleys were one drifting, slow-heaving mass of ashy damp. Off in the east a stifled red film groped through. It was another day coming; she might as well get up, and live the rest of her life out;—what else had she to do ?
Whatever this night had been to the girl, it left one thought sharp, alive, in the exhausted quiet of her brain : a cowardly dread of the trial of the day, when she would see him again. Was the old struggle of years before coming back ? Was it all to go over again ? She was worn out. She had been quiet in these two years : what had gone before she never looked back upon; but it made her thankful for even this stupid quiet. And now, when she had planned her life, busy and useful and contented, why need God have sent the old thought to taunt her? A wild, sickening sense of what might have been struggled up: she thrust it down, — she had kept it down all night; the old pain should not come back, — it should not. She did not think of the love she had given up as a dream, as verse-makers or sham people do; she knew it to be the reality of her life. She cried for it even now, with all the fierce strength of her nature; it was the best she knew ; through it she came nearest to God. Thinking of the day when she had given it up, she remembered it with a vague consciousness of having fought a deadly struggle with her fate, and that she had been conquered,— never had lived again. Let it be; she could not bear the struggle again.
She went on dressing herself in a dreary, mechanical way. Once, a bitter laugh came on her face, as she looked into the glass, and saw the dead, dull eyes, and the wrinkle on her forehead. Was that the face to be crowned with delicate caresses and love ? She scorned herself for the moment, grew sick of herself, balked, thwarted in her true life as she was. Other women whom God has loved enough to probe to the depths of their nature have done the same, — saw themselves as others saw them : their strength drying up within them, jeered at, utterly alone. It is a trial we laugh at. I think the quick fagots at the stake were fitter subjects for laughter than the slow gnawing hunger in the heart of many a slighted woman or a selfish man. They come out of the trial as out of martyrdom, according to their faith: you see its marks sometimes in a frivolous old age going down with tawdry hopes and starved eyes to the grave ; you see its victory in the freshest, fullest lives in the earth. This ■woman had accepted her trial, but she took it up as an indexible fate which she did not understand ; it was new to her; its solitude, its hopeless thirst were freshly bitter. She loathed herself as one whom God had thought unworthy of every woman’s right, — to love and be loved.
She went to the window, looking blankly out into the gray cold. Any one with keen analytic eye, noting the thin muscles of this woman, the childish, scarlet lips, the eyes deep, concealing, would have foretold that she would conquer in the trial, that she would force her soul down,— but that the forcing down would leave the weak, flaccid body spent and dead. One thing was certain : no curious eyes would see the struggle; the body might be nerveless or sickly, but it had the great power of reticence ; the calm with which she faced the closest gaze was natural to her, — no mask. When she left her room and went down, the same unaltered quiet that had baffled Knowles steadied her step and cooled her eyes.
After you have made a sacrifice of yourself for others, did you ever notice how apt you were to doubt, as soon as the deed was irrevocable, whether, after all, it were worth while to have done it ? How poor seems the good gained ! How new and unimagined the agony of empty hands and stilled wish! Very slow the angels are, sometimes, that are sent to minister!
Margaret, going down the stairs that morning, found none of the chivalric unselfish glow of the night before in her home. It was an old, bare house in the midst of dreary moors, in which her life was slowly to be worn out: that was all. It did not matter; life was short: she could thank God for that at least.
She opened the house-door. A draught of cold morning air struck her face, sweeping from the west; it had driven the fog in great gray banks upon the hills, or in shimmering broken swamps into the cleft hollows: a vague twilight filled the space left bare. Tiger, asleep in the hall, rushed out into the meadow, barking, wild with the freshness and cold, then back again to tear round her for a noisy goodmorning. The touch of the dog seemed to bring her closer to his master; she put him away ; she dared not suffer even that treacheiy to her purpose : because, in fact, the very circumstances that had forced her to give him up made it weak cowardice to turn again. It was a simple story, yet one which she dared not tell to herself; for it was not altogether for her father’s sake she had made the sacrifice. She knew, that, though she might be near to this man Holmes as his own soul, she was a clog on him,— stood in his way, — kept him back. So she had quietly stood aside, taken up her own solitary burden, and left him with his clear self-reliant life,—with his Self, dearer to him than she had ever been. Why should it not be ? she thought,—remembering the man as he was, a master among men. He was back again; she must see him. So she stood there with this persistent dread running through her brain.
Suddenly, in the lane by the house, she heard a voice talking to Joel, —the huckster-girl. What a weak, cheery sound it was in the cold and fog ! It touched her curiously’ : broke through her morbid thought as anything true and healthy would have done. “ Poor Lois.! ” she thought, with au eager pity, forgetting her own intolerable future for the moment, as she gathered up some breakfast and went with it down the lane. Morning had come; great heavy bars of light fell from behind the hills athwart the banks of gray and black fog; there was shifting, uneasy, obstinate tumult among the shadows; they did not mean to yield to the coming dawn. The hills, the massed woods, the mist opposed their immovable front, scornfully. Margaret did not notice the silent contest until she reached the lane. The girl Lois, sitting in her cart, was looking, quiet, attentive, at the slow surge of the shadows, and the slower lifting of the slanted rays.
“ T’ mornin’ comes grand here, Miss Marg’et! ” she said, lowering her voice.
Margaret said nothing in reply ; the morning, she thought, was gray and cold, as her own life. She stood leaning on the low cart; some strange sympathy drew her to this poor wretch, dwarfed, alone in the world, — some tie of equality, which the odd childish face, nor the quaint air of content about the creature, did not lessen. Even when Lois shook down the patched skirt of her flannel frock straight, and settled the heaps of corn and tomatoes about her, preparatory for a start, Margaret kept her hand on the side of the cart, and walked slowly by it down the road. Once, looking at the girl, she thought with a half smile how oddly clean she was. The flannel skirt she. arranged so complacently had been washed until the colors had run madly into each other in sheer desperation ; her hair was knotted with a relentless tightness into a comb such as old women wear. The very cart, patched as it was, had a snug, cozy look ; the masses of vegetables, green and crimson and scarlet, were heaped with a certain reference to the glow of color, Margaret noticed, wondering if it were accidental. Looking up, she saw the girl’s brown eyes fixed on her face. They were singularly soft, brooding brown.
“ Ye ‘r’ goin’ to th’ mill, Miss Marg’et ? ” she asked, in a half whisper.
“ Yes. You never go there now, Lois ? ”
“ No, ’m.’*
The girl shuddered, and then tried to hide it in a laugh. Margaret walked on beside her, her hand on the cart’s, edge. Somehow this creature, that Nature had thrown impatiently aside as a failure, so marred, imperfect, that even the dogs were kind to her, came strangely near to her, claimed recognition by some subtile instinct.
Partly for this, and partly striving to forget herself, she glanced furtively at the childish face of the distorted little body, wondering what impression the shifting dawn made on the unfinished soul that was looking out so intently through the brown eyes. What artist sense had she, — what could she know — the ignorant huckster—of the eternal laws of beauty or grandeur ? Nothing. Yet something in the girl’s face made her think that these hills, this air and sky, were in fact alive to her,—real; that her soul, being lower, it might be, than ours, lay closer to Nature, knew the language of the changing day, of these earnest-faced hills, of the very worms crawling through the brown mould. It was an idle fancy ; Margaret laughed at herself for it, and turned to watch the slow morning - struggle which Lois followed with such eager eyes.
The light was conquering, growing stronger. Up the gray arch the soft, dewy blue crept gently, deepening, broadening ; below it, the level bars of light struck full on the sullen black of the west, and worked there undaunted, tinging it with crimson and imperial purple. Two or three coy mist-clouds, soon converted to the new allegiance, drifted giddily about, mere flakes of rosy blushes. The victory of the day came slowly, but sure, and then the full morning flushed out, fresh with moisture and light and delicate perfume. The bars of sunlight fell on the lower earth from the steep hills like pointed swords; the foggy swamp of wet vapor trembled and broke, so touched, rose at last, leaving patches of damp brilliance on the fields, and floated majestically up in radiant victor clouds, led by the conquering wind. Victory : it was in the cold, pure ether filling the heavens, in the solemn gladness of the hills. The great forests thrilling in the soft light, the very sleepy river wakening under the mist, chorded in with a grave bass to the rising anthem of welcome to the new life which God had freshly given to the world. From the sun himself, come forth as a bridegroom from his chamber, to the flickering raindrops on the road-side mullein, the world seemed to rejoice exultant in victory. Homely, cheerier sounds broke the outlined grandeur of the morning, on which Margaret looked wearily. Lois lost none of them ; no morbid shadow of her own balked life kept their meaning from her.
The light played on the heaped vegetables in the old cart; the bony legs of the donkey trotted on with fresh vigor. There was not a lowing cow in the distant barns, nor a chirping swallow on the fence-bushes, that did not seem to include the eager face of the little huckster in their morning greetings. Not a golden dandelion on the road-side, not a gurgle of the plashing brown water from the well-troughs, which did not give a quicker pleasure to the glowing face. Its curious content stung the woman walking by her side. What secret of recompense had this poor wretch found ?
“ Your father is here, Lois,” she said carelessly, to break the silence. “ I saw him at the mill yesterday.”
Her face kindled instantly.
“ He ’s home, Miss Marg’et, — yes. An’ it’s all right wid him. Things alius do come right, some time,” she added, in a reflective tone, brushing a fly off Sawney’s ear.
“ Always ? Who brings them right for you, Lois ? ”
“ The Master,” she said, turning with an answering smile.
Margaret was touched. The owner of the mill was not a more real verity to this girl than the Master of whom she spoke with such quiet knowledge.
“ Are things right in the mill ? ” she said, testing her.
A shadow came on her face ; her eyes wandered uncertainly, as if her weak brain were confused, — only for a moment.
“ They ’ll come right! ” she said, bravely. “ The Master ’ll see to it! ”
But the light was gone from her eyes ; some old pain seemed to be surging through her narrow thought; and when she began to talk, it was in a bewildered, doubtful way.
“It’s a black place, th’ mill,”she said, in a low voice. “ It was a good while I was there : frum seven year old till sixteen. ’T seemed longer t’ me ’n’t was. ’T seemed as if I’d been there alius, — jes’ forever, yoh know. ‘Fore I went in, I had the rickets, they say : that’s what ails me. ’T hurt my head, they’ve told me, —made me different frum other folks.”
She stopped a moment, with a dumb, hungry look in her eyes. After a while she looked at Margaret furtively, with a pitiful eagerness.
“ Miss Marg’et, I think there is something wrong in my head. Did yoh ever notice it ? ”
Margaret put her hand kindly on the broad, misshapen forehead.
“ Something is wrong everywhere, Lois,” she said, absently.
She did not see the slow sigh with which the girl smothered down whatever hope had risen just then, nor the wistful look of the brown eyes that brightened into bravery after a while.
“ It ’ll come right,” she said, steadily, though her voice was lower than before.
“But the mill,” — Margaret recalled her.
“ Th’ mill, — yes. There was three of us, — father ’n’ mother ’n’ me, — ’n’ pay was poor. They said times was hard. They was hard times, Miss Marg’et!” she said, with a nervous laugh, the brown eyes strangely wandering.
“Yes, hard,” — she soothed her, gently-
“ Pay was poor, ’n’ many things tuk money.” (Remembering the girl’s mother, Margaret knew gin would have covered the “ many things.”) “ Worst to me was th’ mill. I kind o’ grew into that place in them years : seemed to me like as I was part o’ th’ engines, somehow. Th’ air used to be thick in my mouth, black wi’ smoke ’n’ wool ’n’ smells. It ’s better now there. I got stunted then, yoh know. ’N’ th’ air in th’ alleys was worse, where we slep’. I think mebbe as ’t was then I went wrong in my head. Miss Marg’et! ”
Her voice went lower.
“ ’T is n’t easy to think o’ th’ Master— down there, in them cellars. Things comes right — slow there, — slow.”
Her eyes grew stupid, as if looking down into some dreary darkness.
“ But the mill ? ”
The girl roused herself with a sharp sigh.
“In them years I got dazed in my head, I think. ’T was th’ air ‘n’ th’ work. I was weak alius. ’T got so that th’ noise o’ th’ looms went on in my head night ’n’ day, — alius thud, thud. ’N’ hot days, when th’ hands was chaffin’ ‘n’ singin’, th’ black wheels ’n’ rollers was alive, starin’ down at me, ’n’ th’ shudders o’ th’ looms was like snakes crcepin’,—creepiu’ ancar all th’ time. They was very good to me, th’ hands was, — very good. Ther’ ’s lots o’ th’ Master's people down there, out o’ sight, that’s so low they never heard His name : preachers don’t go there. But He ’ll see to ’t. He ’ll not min’ their cursin’ o’ Him, seein’ they don’t know His face, ’n’ thinkin’ He belongs to th’ gentry. I knew it wud come right wi’ me, when times was th’ most bad. I knew ”-
The girl was trembling now with excitement, her hands working together, her eyes set, all the slow years of ruin that had eaten into her brain rising before her, all the tainted blood in her veins of centuries of slavery and heathenism struggling to drag her down. But above all, the Hope rose clear, simple : the trust in the Master : and shone in her scarred face, — through her marred senses.
“ I knew it wud come right, alius. I was alone then : mother was dead, and father was gone, ’n’ th’ Lord thought ’t was time to see to me,—special as th’ overseer was gettin’ me an enter to th’ poorhouse. So He sent Mr. Holmes along. Then it come right ! ”
Margaret did not speak. Even this mill-girl could talk of him, pray for him; but she never must take his name on her lips 1
“ He got th’ cart fur me, ‘n’ this blessed old donkey, ‘n’ my room. Did yoh ever see my room, Miss Marg’et’?”
Her face lighted suddenly with its peculiar childlike smile.
“ No ? Yoh ’ll come some day, surely ? It’s a pore place, yoh ’ll think ; but it’s got th’ air, — th’ air.”
She stopped to breathe the cold morning wind, as if she thought to find in its fierce freshness the life and brains she had lost.
“ Ther’ ’s places in them alleys ’n’ dark holes, Miss Marg’et, like th’openin’s to hell, with th’ thick smells ’n’ th’ sights yoh’d see.”
She went back with a terrible dinging pity to the Gehenna from which she had escaped. The ill of life was real enough to her, — a hungry devil down in those alleys and dens. Margaret listened, waking to the sense of a different pain in the world from her own,— lower deeps from which women like herself draw delicately back, lifting their gauzy dresses.
“ Openin’s to hell, they ’re like. People as come down to preach in them think that, ’pears to me, — ’n’ think we ’ve but a little way to go, bein’ born so near. It’s easy to tell they thinks it,—shows in their looks. Miss Marg’et! ”
Her face flashed.
“ Well, Lois ? ”
“ Th’ Master has His people ’mong them very lowest, that’s not for such as yoh to speak to. He knows ’em : men ’n’ women starved ’n’ drunk into jails ’n’ work-houses, that’d scorn to be cowardly or mean,—that shows God’s kindness, through th’ whiskey ’n’ thievin’, to th’ orphints or — such as me. Ther ’s things th’ Master likes in them, ’n’ it ’ll come right,” she sobbed, “ it ’ll come right at last; they ’ll have a chance — somewhere.”
Margaret did not speak; let the poor girl sob herself into quiet. What had she to do with this gulf of pain and wrong ? Her own higher life was starved, thwarted. Could it be that the blood of these her brothers called against her from the ground ? No wonder that the huckster-girl sobbed, she thought, or talked heresy. It was not an easy thing to see a mother drink herself into the grave. And yet — was she to blame ? Her Vir-
ginian blood was cool, high-bred ; she had learned conservatism in her cradle. Her life in the West had not yet quickened her pulse. So she put aside -whatever social mystery or wrong faced her in this girl, just as you or I would have done. She had her own pain to bear. Was she her brother’s keeper ? It was true, there was wrong; this woman’s soul lay shattered by it; it was the fault of her blood, of her birth, and Society had finished the work. Where was the help ? She was free,— and liberty, Dr. Knowles said, was the cure for all the soul’s diseases, and-
Well, Lois was quiet now, — ready with her childish smile to be drawn into a dissertation on Barney’s vices and virtues, or a description of her room, where " th’ air was so strong, ’n’ the fruit ’n’ vegetables allus stayed fresh, — best in this town,” she said, with a bustling pride.
They went on down the road, through the corn-fields sometimes, or on the riverbank, or sometimes skirting the orchards or barn-vards of the farms. The fences were well built, she noticed, — the barns wide and snug-Iooking: for this county in Indiana is settled by New England people, as a general thing, or Pennsylvanians. They both leave their mark on barns or fields, I can tell you ! The two women were talking all the way. In all his life Dr. Knowles had never heard from this silent girl words as open and eager as she gave to the huckster about paltry, common things, — partly, as I said, from a hope to forget herself, and partly from a vague curiosity to know the strange world which opened before her in this disjointed talk. There were no morbid shadows in this Lois’s life, she saw. Her pains and pleasures were intensely real, like those of her class. If there were latent powers in her distorted brain, smothered by hereditary vice of blood, or foul air and life, she knew nothing of it. She never probed her own soul with fierce self-scorn, as this quiet woman by her side did; — accepted, instead, the passing moment, with keen enjoyment. For the rest, childishly trusted “ the Master.”
This very drive, now, for instance, — although she and the cart and Barney went through the same routine every day, you would have thought it was a new treat for a special holiday, if you had seen the perfect abandon with which they all threw themselves into the fun of the thing. Not only did the very heaps of ruby tomatoes, and corn in delicate green casings, tremble and shine as though they enjoyed the fresh light and dew, but the old donkey cocked his ears, and curved his scraggy neck, and tried to look as like a high-spirited charger as he could. Then everybody along the road knew Lois, and she knew everybody, and there was a mutual liking and perpetual joking, not very refined, perhaps, but hearty and kind. It was a new side of life for Margaret. She had no time for thoughts of self-sacrifice, or chivalry, ancient or modern, watching it. It was a very busy ride, — something to do at every farmhouse; a basket of eggs to be taken in, or some egg-plants, maybe, which Lois laid side by side, Margaret noticed, — the pearly white balls close to the heap of royal purple. No matter how small the basket was that she stopped for, it brought out two or three to put it in ; for Lois and her cart were the event of the day for the lonely farm-houses. The wife would come out, her face ablaze from the oven, with an anxious charge about that butter; the old man would hail her from the barn to know “ ef she’d thought toh look in th’ mail yes’rday ”; and one or the other was sure to add, “Jes’ time for breakfast, Lois.” If she had no baskets to stop for, she had “ a bit o’ business,” which turned out to be a paper she had brought for the grandfather, or some fresh mint for the baby, or “jes’ to inquire fur th’ fam’ly.”
As to the amount that cart carried, it was a perpetual mystery to Lois. Every day since she and the cart went into partnership, she had gone into town with a dead certainty in the minds of lookers-on that it would break down in five minutes, and a triumphant faith in bers in its unlimited endurance. “ This cart ’ll be right side up fur years to come,” she would assert, shaking her head. “ It's got no more notion o’ givin’ up than me nor Barney,— not a bit.” Margaret had her doubts,— and so would you, if you had heard how it creaked under the load, — how they piled in great straw panniers of apples: black apples with yellow hearts, — scarlet veined, golden pippin apples, that held the warmth and light longest, — russet apples with a hot blush on their rough brown skins, — plums shining coldly in their delicate purple bloom, — peaches with the crimson velvet of their cheeks aglow with the prisoned heat of a hundred summer days.
I wish with all my heart some artist would paint me Lois and her cart! Mr. Kitts, the artist in the city then, used to see it going past his room out by the coal-pits every day, and thought about it seriously. But he had his grand battlepiece on hand then,—and after that he went the way of all geniuses, and died down into colorer for a photographer. He met them, that day, out by the stone quarry, and touched his hat as he returned Lois’s “ Good-morning,” and took a couple of great papaws from her. She was a woman, you see, and he had some of the schoolmaster’s old-fashioned notions about women. He was a siekly-looking soul. One day Lois had heard him say that there were papaws on his mother’s place in Ohio; so after that she always brought him some every day. She was one of those people who must give, if it is nothing belter than a Kentucky banana.
After they passed the stone quarry, they left the country behind them, going down the stubble-covered hills that fenced in the town. Even in the narrow streets, and through the warehouses, the strong, dewy air had quite blown down and off the fog and dust. Morning (town morning, to be sure, but still morning) was shining in the red window-panes, in the tossing smoke up in the frosty air, in the very glowing faces of people hurrying from market with their noses nipped blue and their eyes watering with cold. Lois and her cart, fresh with country breath hanging about them, were not so out ot place, after all. House-maids left the steps half-scrubbed, and helped her measure out the corn and Hems, gossiping eagerly; the newsboys “Hi-d!” at her in a friendly, patronizing way; women in rusty black, with sharp, pale bices, hoisted their baskets, in which usually lay a scraggy bit of flitch, on to the wheel, their whispered bargaining ending oftenest in a low “ Thank ye, Lois! ”—for she sold cheaper to some people than they did in the market.
Lois was Lois in town or country. Some subtile [tower lay in the coarse, distorted body, in the pleading child’s face, to rouse, wherever they went, the same curious, kindly smile. Not, I think, that dumb, pathetic eye, common to deformity, that cries, “ Have mercy upon me, O my friend, for the hand of God hath touched me ! ” — a deeper, mightier charm, rather: a trust down in the fouled fragments of her brain, even in the bitterest hour of her bare, wretched life,—a faith, faith in God, faith in her fellow-man, faith in herself. No human soul refused to answer its summons. Down in the dark alleys, in the very vilest ot the black and white wretches that crowded sometimes about her cart, there was an undefined sense of pride in protecting this wretch whose portion of life was more meagre and low than theirs. Something in them struggled up to meet the trust in the pitiful eyes, — something which scorned to betray the trust,—some Christ-like power, smothered, dying, under the filth of their life and the terror of hell. Not lost. If the Great Spirit of love and trust lives, not lost!
Even in the cold and quiet of the woman walking by her side the homely [lower of the poor huckster was not weak to warm or to strengthen. Margaret left her, turning into the crowded street leading to the part of the town where the factories lay. The throng of anxious-faced men and women jostled and pushed, but she passed through them with a different heart from yesterday’s. Somehow, the morbid fancies were gone ; she was keenly alive ; the homely real life of this huckster had fired her, touched her blood with a more vital stimulus than any tale of crusader. As she went down the crooked maze of dingy lanes, she could hear Lois's little cracked bell far off: it sounded like a Christmas song to her. She half smiled, remembering bow sometimes in her distempered brain the world had seemed a gray, dismal Dance of Death. How actual it was to-day, — hearty, vigorous, alive with honest work and tears and pleasure ! A broad, good world to live and work in, to sutler or die, if God so willed it,— God, the good ! She entered the vast, dingy factory ; the woollen dust, the clammy air of copperas were easier to breathe in ; the cramped, sordid ofbce, the work, mere trifles to laugh at; and she bent over the ledger with its hard lines in earnest good-will, through the slow creeping hours of the long day. She noticed that the unfortunate chicken was making its heart glad over a piece of fresh earth covered with damp moss. Dr. Knowles stopped to look at it when he came, passing her with a surly nod.
“ So your master’s not forgotten you,” he snarled, while the blind old hen cocked her one eye up at him.
Pike, the manager, had brought in some bills.
“ Who’s its master ? ” he said, curiously, stopping by the door.
“ Holmes, — he feeds it every morning.”
The Doctor drawled out the words with a covert sneer, watching the quiet, cold face bending over the desk, meantime.
“ Bah ! it’s the first thing he ever fed, then, besides himself. Chickens must he nearer his heart than men.”
Knowles scowled at him; he had no fancy for Pike’s scurrilous gossip.
The quiet face was unmoved. When he heard the manager’s loot on the ladder without, he tested it again. He had a vague suspicion which he was determined to verify.
“ Holmes,” he said, carelessly, “has an affinity for animals. No wonder. Adam must have been some such man as he, when the Lord gave him ‘ dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air.’ ”
The hand paused courteously a moment, then resumed its quick, cool movement over the page. He was not baffled.
“ If there were such a reality as mastership, that man was born to rule. Pike will find him harder to cheat than me, when he takes possession here.”
She looked up now, attentive.
“ He came here to take my place in the mills, — buy me out, — articles will be signed in a day or two. I know what you think,— no,— not worth a dollar. Only brains and a soul, and he's sold them at a high figure, — threw his heart in,— the purchaser being a lady. It was light, I fancy,—starved out, long ago.”
The old man’s words were spurted out in the bitterness of scorn. The girl listened with a cool incredulity in her eyes, and went back to her work.
“Miss Herne is the lady, — my partner’s daughter. Herne and Holmes they ’ll call the firm. He is here every day, counting future profit.”
Nothing could be read on the cold still face ; so he left her, cursing, as he went, men who put themselves up at auction, — worse than Orleans slaves. Margaret laughed to herself at his passion; as for the story he hinted, it was absurd. She forgot it in a moment.
Two or three gentlemen down in one of the counting-rooms, just then, looked at the story from another point ot view. They were talking low, out of hearing from the clerks.
“ It ‘s a good thing for Holmes,” said one, a burly, farmer-like man, who was choosing specimens of wool.
“ CheapAnd long credit. Just half the concern he takes.”
“ There is a lady in the case ? ” suggested a young doctor, who, by virtue of having spent six months in the South, dropped his r-s, and talked of “ niggahs ” in a way to make a Georgian’s hair stand on end.
“ A lady in the case ? ”
“ O-f course. Only child of Herne’s. He comes down with the dust as dowry. Good thing for Holmes. ’Stonishin’ how he’s made his way up. If money’s what he wants in this world, he ’s making a long stride now to ’t.”
The young doctor lighted his cigar, assorting that—•
“ Ba George, some low people did get on, re-markably ! Mary Herne, now, was best catch in town.”
“ Do you think money is what he wants?” said a quiet little man, sitting lazily on a barrel, — a clergyman, whom his clerical brothers shook their heads when they named, but never argued with, and bowed to with uncommon deference.
The wool-buyer hesitated with a puzzled look.
“No,”he said,slowly; “ Stephen Holmes is not miserly. I ’ve knowed him since a boy. To buy place, power, perhaps, eh? Yet not that, neither,” he added, hastily. “ We think a sight of him out our way, (self-made, you see,) and would have had him the best office in the State before this, only he was so cursedly indifferent.”
“ Indifferent, yes. No man cares much for stepping-stones in themselves,” said the clergyman, half to himself.
“ Great fault of American society, especially in West,” said the young aristocrat. “ Stepping-stones lie low, as my reverend friend suggests ; impudence ascends; merit and refinement scorn such dirty paths,”—with a mournful remembrance of the last clime in his waistcoat-pocket.
“ But do you,” exclaimed the farmer, with sudden solemnity, “ do you understand this scheme of Knowles’s? Every dollar he owns is in this mill, and every dollar of it is going into some castle in the air that no sane man can comprehend.”
“ Mad as a March hare,” contemptuously muttered the doctor.
His reverend friend gave him a look,
—after which he was silent.
“ I wish to the Lord some one would persuade him out of it,” persisted the wool-man, earnestly looking at the quiet face of his listener, “ We can’t spare old Knowles’s brain or heart while he ruins himself. It’s something of a Communist fraternity : I don’t know the name, but I know the thing.”
Very hard common-sense shone out of his eyes just then at the clergyman, whom he suspected of being one of Knowles's abettors.
“ There ’s two ways for ’em to end. If they ’re made out of the top of society, they get so refined, so idealized, that every particle flies off on its own special path to the sun, and the Community ’s broke; and if they To made of the lower mud, they keep going down, down together, — they live to drink and eat, and make themselves as near the brutes as they can. It is n’t easy to believe, Sir, but it’s true. I have seen it. I’ve seen every one of them the United States can produce. It’s fads, Sir; and facts, as Lord Bacon says, ‘ are the basis of every sound speculation.’ ”
The last sentence was slowly brought out, as quotations were not exactly his forte, but, as he said afterwards, — “ You see, that nailed the parson.”
The parson nodded gravely.
“ You ’ll find no such experiment in the Bible,” threw in the young doctor, alluding to “ serious things ” as a peaceoffering to his reverend friend.
“ One, I believe,” dryly.
“ Well,” broke in the farmer, folding up his wool, “ that ’s neither here nor there. This experiment of Knowles’s is like nothing known since the Creation. Plan of his own. He spends his days now hunting out the gallows-birds out of the dens in town here, and they ’re all to be transported Into the country to start a new Arcadia. A few men and women like himself, but the bulk is from the dens, I tell you. All start fair, level ground, perpetual celibacy, mutual trust, honor, rise according to the stuff that’s in them, — pah ! it makes me sick ! ”
“ Knowles’s inclination to that sort of people is easily explained,” spitefully lisped the doctor. “ Blood, Sir. His mother was a half-breed Creek, with all the propensities of the redskins to fire-water and ‘ itching palms.’ Blood will out.”
“ Here he is,” maliciously whispered the wool-man. “ No, it ’s Holmes,” he added, after the doctor had started into a more respectful posture, and glanced around frightened.
He, the doctor, rose to meet Holmes’s coming footstep, — “a low fellah, but always sure to be the upper dog in the fight, goin’ to marry the best catch,” etc., "etc. The others, on the contrary, put on their hats and sauntered away into the street.
So the day broadened hotly; the shadows of the Lombardy poplars curdling up into a sluggish pool of black at their roots along the dry gutters. The old schoolmaster in the shade of the great horse-chestnuts (brought from the homestead in the Piedmont country, every one) husked corn for his wife, composing, meanwhile, a page of his essay on the “ Sirventes de Bertrand de Born." The day passed for him as did his life, half in simple-hearted deed, half in vague visions of a dead world, never to he real again. Joel, up in the barn by himself, worked through the long day in the old fashion, — pondering gravely (being of a religious turn) upon a sermon by the Reverend Mr. Clinche, reported in the “ Gazette ”; wherein that disciple of the meek feaeher invoked, as he did once a week, the curses of the law upon his political opponents, praying the Lord to sweep them immediately from the face of the earth. Which rendering of Christian doctrine was so much relished by Joel, and the other leading members of Mr. Clinche's church, that they hinted to him it might be as well to continue choosing his texts from Moses and the Prophets until the excitement of the day was over. The New Testament was,—well,—hardly suited for the emergency; did not, somehow, chime in with the lesson of the hour. I may remark, in passing, that this course of conduct so disgusted the HighChurch rector of the parish, that he not only ignored all new devils, (as Mr. Carlyle might have called them,) but talked as if the millennium were un fait accompli, and he had leisure to go and hammer at the poor dead old troubles of Luther’s time. One thing, though, about Joel: while he was joining in Mr. Clinche's prayer for the “ wiping out ” of some few thousands, he was using up all the fragmeats of the hot day in fixing a stall for a half-dead old horse he had found by the road-side. Let us hope, that, even if the listening angel did not grant the prayer, he marked down the stall at least, as a something done for eternitv.
Margaret, through the heat and stifling air, worked steadily alone in the dusty office, the cold, homely face bent over the hooks, never changing but once. It was a trifle then ; yet, when she looked back afterwards, the trifle was all that gave the day a name. The room shook, as I said, with the thunderous, incessant sound of the engines and the looms; she scarcely heard it, being used to it. Once, however, another sound came between,—a slow, quiet tread, passing through the long wooden corridor, — so firm and measured that it sounded like the monotonous boatings of a clock. She heard it through the noise in the far distance; it came slowly nearer, up to the door without,— passed it, going down the echoing plank walk. The girl sat quietly, looking out at the dead brick wall. The slow step fell on her brain like the sceptre of her master; if Knowles had looked in her face then, he would have seen bared the secret of her life. Holmes had gone by, unconscious of who was within the door. She had not seen him; it was nothing but a step she heard. Yet a power, the power of the girl’s life, shook off all outward masks, all surface cloudy fancies, and stood up in her with a terrible passion at the sound; her blood burned fiercely; her soul looked out from her face, her soul as it was, as God knew it,—God and this man. No longer a cold, clear face; you would have thought, looking at it, what a strong spirit the soul of this woman would be, if set free in heaven or in hell. The man who held it in his power went on carelessly, not knowing that the mere sound of his step had raised it as from the dead. She, and her right, and her pain, were nothing to him now, she remembered, staring out at the taunting hot sky. Yet so vacant was the sudden life opened before her when he was gone, that, in the desperation of her weakness, her mad longing to see him but once again, she would have thrown herself at his feet, and let the cold, heavy step crush her life out, — as he would have done, she thought, choking down the icy smother in her throat, if it had served his purpose, though it cost his own heart’s life to do it. He would trample her down, if she kept him back from his end ; but be false to her, false to himself, that he would never be !
So the hot, long day wore on,—the red bricks, the dusty desk covered with wool, the miserable chicken peering out, growing sharper and more real in the glare. Life was no morbid nightmare now; her weak woman’s heart found it actual and near. There was not a pain nor a want, from the dumb hunger in the dog’s eyes that passed her on the street, to her father’s hopeless fancies, that did not touch her sharply through her own loss, with a keen pity, a wild wish to help to do something to save others with this poor life left iri her hands.
So the hot day wore on in the town and country ; the old sun glaring down like some fierce old judge, intolerant of weakness or shams,—baking the hard earth in the streets harder for the horses’ feet, drying up the bits of grass that grew between the boulders of the gutter, scaling off the paint from the brazen faces of the interminable brick houses. He looked down in that city as in every American town, as in these where you and I live, on the same countless maze of human faces going day by day through the same monotonous routine. Knowles, passing through the restless crowds, read with keen eye among them strange meanings by this common light of the sun, —meanings such as you and I might read, if our eyes were clear as his, — or morbid, it may be. A commonplace crowd like this in the street without: women with cold, fastidious faces, heavy-brained, bilious men, dapper ‘prentices, draymen, prize-fighters, negroes. Knowles looked about him as into a seething caldron, in which the people I tell you of were atoms, where the blood of uncounted races was fused, but not mingled, — where creeds, philosophies, centuries old, grappled hand to hand in their death-struggle,—where innumerable aims and beliefs and powers of intellect, smothered rights and triumphant wrongs, warred together, struggling for victory.
Vulgar American life ? He thought it a life more potent, more tragic in its history and prophecy, than any that has gone before. People called him a fanatic. It may be that he was one: yet the uncouth old man, sick in soul from some gnawing pain of his own life, looked into the depths of human loss with a mad desire to set it right. On the very faces of those who sneered at him he found some traces of failure or pain, something that his heart carried up to God with aloud and exceeding bitter cry. The voice of the world, be thought, went up to heaven a discord, unintelligible, hopeless,— the great blind world, astray since the first ages ! Was there no hope, no help ?
The hot sun shone down, as it had done for six thousand years; it shone on open problems in the lives of these men and women who walked the streets, problems whose end and beginning no eye could read. There were places where it did not shine : down in the fetid cellars, in the slimy cells of the prison yonder: what riddles of human life lay there he dared not think of. God knows how the man groped for the light,—for any voice to make earth and heaven clear to him.
So the hot, long day wore on, for all of them. There was another light by which the world was seen that day, rarer than the sunshine, purer. It fell on the dense crowds,—upon the just and the unjust. It went into the fogs of the fetid dens from which the coarser light was barred, into the deepest mires where a human soul could wallow, and made them clear. It lighted the depths of the hearts whose outer pain and passion men were keen to read in the unpitying sunshine, and bared in those depths the feeble gropings for the right, the loving hope, the unuttered prayer. No kindly thought, no pure desire, no weakest faith in a God and heaven somewhere could he so smothered under guilt that this subtile light did not search it out, glow about it, shine through it, hold it up in full view of God and the angels, — lighting the world other than the sun had done for six thousand years. We have no name for the light: it has a name, —yonder. Not many eyes were clear to see its shining that day; and if they did, it was as through a glass, darkly. Yet it belonged to us also, in the old time, the time when men could “ hear the voice of the Lord God in the garden in the cool of the day.” It is God’s light now alone.
Yet poor Lois caught faint glimpses, I think, sometimes, of its heavenly clearness. I think it was this light that made the burning of Christinas fires warmer for her than for others, that showed her all the love and outspoken honesty and hearty frolic which her eyes saw perpetually in the old warm-hearted world. That evening, as she sat on the step of her brown frame shanty, knitting at a great blue stocking, her scarred face and misshapen body very pitiful to the passersby, it was this light that gave to her face its homely, cheery smile. It made her eyes quick to know the message in the depths of color in the evening sky, or even the flickering tints of the green creeper on the wall with its crimson cornucopias filled with hot sunshine. She liked clear, vital colors, this girl, — the crimsons and blues. They answered her, somehow. They could speak. There were things in the world that like herself were marred, —did not understand,— were hungry to know: the gray sky, the mud swamps, the tawny lichens. She cried sometimes, looking at them, hardly knowing why: she could not help it, with a vague sense of loss. It seemed at those times so dreary for them to he alive, — or for her. Other things her eyes were quicker to see than ours r delicate or grand lines, which she perpetually sought for unconsciously,—in the homeliest things, the very soft curling of the woollen yarn in her fingers, as in the eternal sculpture of the mountains. Was it the disease of her injured brain that made all things alive to her,—that made her watch, in her ignorant way, the grave hills, the flashing, victorious rivers, look pitifully into the face of some dingy mushroom trodden in the mud before it scarce had lived, just as we should look into human faces to know what they would say to us ? TV as it the weakness and ignorance that made everything she saw or touched nearer, more human to her than to you or me ? She never got used to living as other people do; these sights and sounds did not come to her common, hackneyed. TV by, sometimes, out in the hills, in the torrid quiet of summer noons, she had knelt by the shaded pools, and buried her hands in the great slumberous beds of water-lilies, her blood curdling in a feverish languor, a passioned trance, from which she roused herself, weak and tired.
She had no self-poised artist sense, this Lois, — knew nothing of Nature’s laws. Yet sometimes, watching the dun sea of the prairie rise and fall in the crimson light of early morning, or, in the farms, breathing the blue air trembling up to heaven exultant with the life of bird and forest, she forgot the poor coarse thing she was, some coarse weight fell off, and something within, not the sickly Lois of the town, went out, free, like an exile dreaming of home.
You tell me, that, doubtless, in the wreck of the creature’s brain, there were fragments of some artistic insight that made her thus rise above the level of her daily life, drunk with the mere beauty of form and color. I do not know, —not knowing how sham or real a thing you mean by artistic insight. But I do know that the clear light I told you of shone for this girl dimly through this beauty of form and color; and ignorant, with no words for her thoughts, she believed in it as the Highest that she knew. I think it came to her thus an imperfect language, (not an outward show of tints and lines, as to some artists,) — a language, the same that . Moses heard when he stood alone, with nothing between his naked soul and God, but the desert and the mountain and the bush that burned with fire. I think the weak soul of the girl staggered from its dungeon, and groped through these heavybrowed hills, these color-dreams, through even the homely kind faces on the street, to find the God that lay behind. So the light showed her the world, and, making its beauty and warmth divine and near to her, the warmth and beauty became real in her, found their homely shadows in her daily life. So it showed her, too, through her vague childish knowledge, the Master in whom she believed,—showed Him to her in everything that lived, more real than all beside. The waiting earth, the prophetic sky, the coarsest or fairest atom that she touched was but a part of Him, something sent to tell of Him, — she dimly felt; though, as I said, she had no words for such a thought. Yet even more real than this. There was no pain nor temptation down in those dark cellars where she went that He had not borne, — not one. Nor was there the least pleasure came to her or the others, not even a cheerful fire, or kind words, or a warm, hearty laugh, that she did not know He sent it and was glad to do it. She knew that well! So it was that He took part in her humble daily life, and became more real to her day by day. Very homely shadows her life gave of His light, for it was His : homely, because of her poor way of living, and of the depth to which the heavy foot of the world had crushed her. Yet they were there all the time, in her cheery patience, if nothing more. To-night, for instance, how differently the surging crowd seemed to her from what it did to Knowles! She looked down on it from her high wood-steps with an eager interest, ready with her weak, timid laugh to answer every friendly call from below. She had no power to see them as types of great classes ; they were just so many living people, whom she knew, and who, most of them, had been kind to her. Whatever good there was in the vilest face, (and there was always something,) she was sure to see it. The light made her poor eyes strong for that.
She liked to sit there in the evenings, being alone, yet never growing lonesome; there was so much that was pleasant to watch and listen to, as the cool brown twilight came on. If, as Ivnowles thought, the world was a dreary discord, she knew nothing of it. People were going from their -work now, — they had time to talk and joke by the way, — stopping, or walking slowly down the cool shadows of the pavement; while here and there a lingering red sunbeam burnished a window, or struck athwart the gray boulder-paved street. From the houses near you could catch a faint smell of supper : very friendly people those were in these houses; she knew them all well. The children came out with their faces washed, to play, now the sun was down : the oldest of them generally came to sit with her and hear a story.
After it grew darker, you would see the girls in their neat blue calicoes go sauntering down the street with their sweethearts for a walk. There was old Polston and his son Sam coming home from the coal-pits, as black as ink, with their little tin lanterns on their caps. After a while Sam would come out in his suit of Kentucky jean, his face shining with the soap, and go sheepishly down to Jenny Ball’s, and the old man would bring his pipe and chair out on the pavement, and his wife would sit on the steps. Most likely they would call Lois down, or come over themselves, for they were the most sociable, coziest old couple you ever knew. There was a great stopping at Lois’s door, as the girls walked past, for a bunch of the flowers she brought from the country, or posies, as they called them, (Sam never would take any to Jenny but “old man” and pinks,) and she always had them ready in broken jugs inside. They were good, kind girls, every one of them, — had taken it in turn to sit up with Lois last winter all the time she had the rheumatism. She never forgot that time, — never once.
Later in the evening you would see an old man coming along, close by the Wall, with his head down,—a very dark man, with gray, thin hair, — Joe Yare, Lois’s old father. No one spoke to him, — people always were looking away as he passed ; and if old Mr. or Mrs. Polston were on the steps when he came up, they would say, “ Good-evening, Mr. Yare,” very formally, and go away presently, it hurt Lois more than anything else they could have done. But she bustled about noisily, so that he would not notice it. If they saw the marks of the ill life he had lived on his old face, she did not; his sad, uncertain eyes may have been dishonest to them, but they were nothing but kind to the misshapen little soul that he kissed so warmly with a “ Why, Lo, my little girl! ” Nobody else in the world ever called her by a pet name.
Sometimes he was gloomy and silent, but generally he told her of all that had happened in the mill, particularly any little word of notice or praise he might have received, watching her anxiously until she laughed at it, aud then rubbing his hands cheerfully. He need not have doubted Lois’s faith in him. Whatever the rest did, she believed in him ; she always had believed in him, through all the dark, dark years, when he was at home, and in the penitentiary. They were gone now, never to come back. It had come right. She, at least, thought his repentance sincere. If the others wronged him, and it hurt her bitterly that they did, that would come right some day too, she would think, as she looked at the tired, sullen face of the old man bent to the window-pane, afraid to go out. They had very cheerful little suppers there by themselves in the odd, bare little room, as homely and clean as Lois herself.
Sometimes, late at night, when he had gone to bed, she sat alone in the door, while the moonlight fell in broad patches over the quiet square, and the great poplars stood like giants whispering together. Stiil the far sounds of the town came up cheerfully, while she folded up her knitting, it being dark, thinking how happy an ending this was to a happy day. When it grew quiet, she could hear the solemn whisper of the poplars, and sometimes broken strains of music from the cathedral in the city floated through the cold and moonlight past her, far off into the blue beyond the hills. All the keen pleasure of the day, the warm, bright sights and sounds, coarse and homely though they were, seemed to fade into the deep music, and make a part of it.
let, sitting there, looking out into the listening night, the poor child’s face grew slowly pale as she heard it. It humbled her. It made her meanness, her low, weak life so real to her! There was no pain nor hunger she had known that did not find a voice in its inarticulate cry. She ! what was she ? All the pain and wants of the world must be going up to God in that sound, she thought. There was something more in it, — an unknown meaning that her shattered brain struggled to grasp. She could not. Her heart ached with a wild, restless longing. She had no words for the vague, insatiate hunger to understand. It was because she was ignorant and low, perhaps; others could know. She thought her Master was speaking. She thought the unknown meaning linked all earth and heaven together, and made it plain. So she hid her face in her hands, and listened while the low harmony shivered through the air, unheeded by others, with the message of God to man. Not comprehending, it may be,— the poor girl, — hungry still to know. Yet, when she looked up, there were warm tears in her eyes, and her scarred face was bright with a sad, deep content and love.
So the hot, long day was over for them all, — passed as thousands of days have done for us, gone down, forgotten : as that long, hot day we call life will be over some time, and go down into the gray and cold. Surely, whatever of sorrow or pain may have made darkness in that day for you or me, there were countless openings where we might have seen glimpses of that other light than sunshine: the light of the great Tomorrow, of the land where all wrongs shall be righted.
If we had but chosen to see it, — if we only had chosen!