The Conductor and Rosamond
THE eleven o’clock train on the Towasset railway was just leaving the station at Bethel Plain. The conductor, Mr. George Washington Ingleside, before going through the train for the fares, was taking a parting glance at his handsome face in the little mirror that hung in the baggage car, when his attention was arrested by a wagon driving furiously down the street close by, and containing two or three people, who were standing up and shouting or waving their handkerchiefs. George stepped to the door of the baggage car to make sure that they were signaling the train, but before he could pull the bell-cord the wagon stopped suddenly, and three young people jumped out and ran for the track. George Sprang out on the platform just in time to catch a frightened girl, who was clinging to the steps, while the young man who was with her had gained a firm footing.
“ Where is the other? ” he cried, in alarm. “ I saw three of you.”
“Oh, she is all right,” panted the girl. “ She jumped on the other car. Oh, dear! I thought I was killed.”
“ You deserved to be,” said George, sternly, for he was thoroughly angry with them for giving him such a fright. “No person with a grain of sense would ever attempt what you did. It was a very foolhardy and improper thing to do. We never take on passengers while the train is moving.”
He turned, as he spoke, to include the third member of the party, a young lady who came hurrying and breathless, with flushed, excited face and sparkling, triumphant eyes.
“ But you don’t put them off after they once get on, do you? ” she asked, with a suggestion of defiance, and turning to her friends she congratulated them on their success. George was now more angry with her than he had been with the others, but somehow he did not venture to rebuke her as peremptorily as he had done her companions. He watched her closely, however, as he afterward went through the car, his attention being further attracted by the fact that he often caught her eye, and perceived she had not forgotten him. She was plainly dressed in a rough flannel suit, that could no more disguise the ladylike distinction of her figure than could her heavy walking boots conceal her pretty, slender feet. Her face, though plain, was picturesque and expressive, and her blue eyes were brilliant with triumph and careless defiance, as she sometimes met his glance. Mr. George Ingleside had a well-developed sense of his own personal dignity and importance, and the angry and uncomfortable feeling that this girl was rather amused than impressed by his displeasure remained with him even after she left the train, and until he had forgotten all about her.
A few weeks after, as he was one day standing in the car, talking with a friend, he became aware, through the mysterious sixth sense which apprises us of such matters, that some one behind him was regarding him with attention. He looked around involuntarily, and met the glance of a young lady who was sitting near and talking with two large boys, intent upon her story. The look he surprised convinced him that he was the subject of their conversation, and when he looked again her face, which seemed vaguely familiar, stirred some dormant and unpleasant memory. He glanced at her once or twice, trying to recollect if he had ever seen her, — when a suggestion of resentment in the expression of her eye gave him the clew, and brought vividly to mind the forgotten scene of a few weeks before, when he had ventured to rebuke her. He was surprised to find how strong was his feeling of repulsion and dislike, and was making up his mind not to show her, by so much as a look, that he remembered her, when his attention was absorbed by something else, and he did not even notice when she left the car.
It was full three months after that he saw her again. She took the train, one morning, at Wareham, a little flag station that had just been established, five miles from Bethel Plain. She exchanged a few words with him as he received her fare and checked her trunk, but he could not detect the slightest indication, by word or glance, that she remembered him. They were detained for ten minutes at one of the stations, and soon after, as George was passing through the train, he heard a soft but distinct voice say, “Mr. Ingleside.”
He turned quickly, and bent over the unknown young lady. She looked up at him with an earnest, appealing glance.
“ I am going to New York,” she said. “ Am I likely to get the train at Newfield ? ”
He looked at his watch. The connection was a close one, they were ten minutes behind time; but he mentally resolved she should reach her train at all hazards, and assured her accordingly. She smiled at him brilliantly.
“ Thank you,” she said. Her words, though few, seemed charged with significance, her grateful earnestness had a peculiar charm, and though he turned at once and left her, the look in her eyes haunted him, and once or twice afterward, as he passed through the train, he stopped to reassure her, that he might again have the pleasure of receiving her graceful and eager thanks. She gave him her check before reaching Newfield, and he arranged with the baggage-master to carry her trunk across.
They were just in time. He sprang from the train before it ceased moving, and ran across to where the New York express was standing, the conductor just about to give the signal for starting.
“ Wait a minute ! ” he cried. “ I have a passenger for you.”
He saw her leisurely crossing the depot as the baggage man ran over with her trunk, and when he had received the check he found her in the forward car, where he had told her to await him. She looked up at him with a tranquil smile, as if she had not felt the least anxiety; but the train was moving, and he could only drop the check in her hand and raise his cap as he turned away, without waiting to receive in words the grateful acknowledgment which her eyes expressed.
He sometimes thought of her after that, and wondered who she was. “ She don’t belong around here, that’s certain,” he thought. “ Some New York girl who conies up here to visit, at Governor Ware’s, perhaps, or with the Grants or Ashlands.” George had a certain pride in knowing most of his passengers by sight, and it never occurred to him to wonder why he thought so much about this young lady. Perhaps it was the contrast between the gay defiance of her manner when first they met and the gentle, grateful deference she had shown when last he saw her; or perhaps it was the pleasant consciousness of having gracefully performed an act of kindness. George had seen a good deal of the world in a ten years’ experience of railroad life, and though he had still a quick eye for a pretty face or a stylish figure, it was long since he had seen any woman whose face he remembered as he did hers. Sometimes he fancied he caught a glimpse of her in the crowd on a platform; once he was sure he saw her in a street ear in New York, when a turn of the head or a change of position undeceived him.
The summer time had come again, and he had almost ceased to think of her, when one morning, as he sat in the baggage car reading a newspaper, enjoying a long interval between the stations, the speed of the train slackened, and looking out he saw they had been signaled at the little flag station of Wareham. He stepped out, and found awaiting them a picturesque and striking group, evidently young people of distinction and importance. The young ladies wore pretty mountain dresses; the young men had on sailor shirts or hunting jackets, and all the gay insignia whereby the city youth finds outward expression for the inward consciousness that he has gone into the country to rusticate. George glanced eagerly over the group, and among them he recognized the wellknown face. Her brilliant eyes met his with such an earnest, intent look that he felt sure she remembered him. He followed them into the car, and found her the centre of a gay and laughing group.
“ Sit here by me, please, Miss Rosamond,” pleaded one young man, pointing to a vacant seat.
“ Rosamond!” mused George. “ I’ve found out one of your names. Give me time, and I ’ll get the other.”
“ Don’t you do it, Rosamond,” said a sarcastic voice. “ He’ll make bad puns and love all the way to Bethel Plain.”
George glanced at the speaker. She was a tall, handsome young lady, stylish and elegant to her finger tips, in spite of the mountain suit.
“ What is the fare to Bethel Plain? ” asked Rosamond, without looking at him.
“ Fifty cents,” he replied.
There was a general scream. “ Fifty cents ! Why, it is only five miles! How ridiculous! Yes, Miss Sallie, do let me pay for you. You know you want all your money to buy lemon drops and give to little ragamuffins.”
George felt vaguely uncomfortable, standing in the midst of all that gay chatter. They ignored his presence so utterly, he was no restraint upon their careless talk; they gave him their fares as they would have put them in a box. Even Rosamond seemed unconscious of him; he had been mistaken in thinking she remembered him. He turned away, and went forward into the baggage car, where he found an old man who had also taken the train at Wareham.
“ Who are your young friends? ” he casually asked.
11 City boarders! ” was the reply, in a tone of intense scorn. “There’s a raft of ’em up to Wareham this summer. One of the Ware girls married a city chap, and they say she holds up her head with the best of 'em down to York. So now she comes up to her father’s every summer; brings her horses and carriage and nigger servants, and cuts a great dash. And her husband’s relations and grand friends come along, too; there ’s a hull lot of ’em to the tavern, and a mess more to Squire Blake’s. And such carryin’s on! — singin’ nights and gallopin’ around all day, rigged up it. short dresses and queer-lookin’ coats, — you see ’em. They can’t waste their good clothes on us country folks except Sundays, and then they fix up till they look worse than they do now, and come sailin’ into church after meetin’s begun, to 4 ’stonish the natives,’ as they say. I guess they ’d be ’stonished if they knew what the natives thought about ’em.”
George laughed, absently. He was recording the fares he had taken. Thirteen fares at fifty cents each made six dollars and a half; five dollars must be credited to the Towasset railway; one dollar and a half would swell the private fortune of Mr. George Ingleside.
It must not be supposed, from this fact, that George was absolutely destitute of conscience, or that he did not heed its voice. Like too many others, he had a conscience whose standard was not the immutable law of God, but the uncertain moral atmosphere of the world he lived in and the shifting opinions of the men who were his associates. His conscience would have rebuked him sharply had he failed of his duty to the railroad company in any other particular, but he hardly ever felt a twinge, even when he appropriated what he had almost come to consider a just, proportion of the money paid him for fares. On this occasion his action was almost mechanical, for he was thinking about the gay party he had just left, and wondering if they would go back on the train at night.
He saw them frequently, after that. Sometimes they went to Bethel Plain, sometimes to other stations along the road, which abounded in beautiful natural scenery. He learned to know thenfaces well, and amused himself guessing at their relationships; the lunch baskets and umbrellas grew familiar ; he noticed when they wore new hats or dresses. But Rosamond always met him with the indifferent and careless glance of a stranger; and though some of the young men often came into the baggage car and exchanged a few words with him in a friendly yet superior manner, and one of the other young ladies would perhaps give him a smile or look of recognition, Rosamond never indicated in the slightest degree that she had ever seen him before, until one morning, as she handed him her fare, she looked up at him with a pleasant, mischievous smile, saying, —
“ Mr. Ingleside, are you never going to reduce the fare to Bethel ? We shall all be impoverished.”
He was so completely taken by surprise that his wits forsook him, though not his self-possession, for he simply replied, “ I ’m afraid not,” and passed on. But words and ideas came to him as soon as he had left her, and with the feeling that if he did not improve the opportunity she had given him he might never have another he turned back, and, sitting down on the arm of the seat opposite her, he expressed his regret that the fares were so extortionate, and disclaimed all responsibility for them.
She smiled pleasantly. “ Oh, no, I didn’t suppose you were to blame; but it is a relief to grumble at somebody, and you are the only representative of the railway that we meet.”
He went on with a few words of explanation. She replied in a friendly manner, as if she had known him for years. He enjoyed it thoroughly, especially as he saw some of her companions exchanging mischievous glances, and he was sorry when the conversation was ended by the train approaching the station. He felt that he had taken a decided step toward making her acquaintance, and expected to hold the advantage he had gained. But when he next saw her, she had evidently forgotten having spoken with him; her manner was as indifferent as ever, and he did not say a word.
September came, and the party at Wareham scattered. One by one they went off on the train, and returned no more. George wondered how many of them he should see again next summer, and imagined Rosamond in her New York home, absorbed in new amusements. He was therefore much surprised, one bright October morning, as they approached Wareham station, to perceive her standing on the platform with a distinguished-looking gentleman, whom he knew very well by sight, and with whom he had a slight personal acquaintance, — Governor Ware, of Wareham. She was bidding him an affectionate farewell, and after she had stepped on the car Mr. Ware turned to George, saying pleasantly, —
“ Good - morning, Ingleside. Take good care of my daughter, will you? Put her off at Newfield, and give her a check for her trunk.”
“Your daughter!” thought George. “ What a goose I was not to guess it before! To be sure, she’s Rosamond Ware.”
The thought was agreeable that she was not a remote possibility in New York, who might never come that way again, but that as she lived near at hand he must sometimes see her. And yet, in another way, she seemed further off than ever; for he felt, without actually thinking it, that the quiet, reserved dignity of these old country families is of all pride the most invincible. She was intent upon a book when he sought her, handed him her fare, saying simply, “ To Newfield, please,” and received the check with just “ Thank you.” He could think of no excuse for further conversation, and after she left, at Newfield, wondered if she would take his train on her return. He hardly thought of it again, however, until she went back, about a fortnight later. When about half-way to Wareham, George noticed that Miss Ware was holding her handkerchief to her face, and thought at first she was crying; but he afterward saw that it was stained with blood, as was also her face, her hair was in disorder, and she seemed in great distress. His kind heart was stirred with the impulse to help her, though he hesitated for fear of intrusion, until he could refrain no longer, and addressing her by name asked if he could help her. She raised her eyes, misty with tears of distress, and thanked him eagerly, following him into the baggage car, where he brought a basin of water and placed it on a trunk, while she knelt before it and gladly washed her bloodstained face. He knew a few simple remedies for bleeding at the nose, and though he feared she might not like any further help from him, still she looked so grateful and friendly that at last he ventured to speak.
“Oh, yes,” she said, frankly, “do anything you’ve a mind to. I never can stop it myself.”
So after joining her hands above her head and crowding up her nostril a piece he had torn from his handkerchief, he knelt down beside her, and gently clasped her soft throat, compressing the artery there. He did this with much trepidation, fearing she might shrink from his touch, or manifest some embarrassment; but if he had been her grandfather, she could not have taken it more coolly. The ludicrous aspect of the affair seemed especially to strike her, and she even ventured a joke upon the absurdity of the situation. George had never been so near her before, or seen her with her hat off; he noticed how prettily the hair grew about her forehead, and a little scar upon her temple. He never had thought about the color of her eyes, but it surprised him to see that they were a pale, clear blue, with a shading of darker color around the edge of the iris that gave them brilliancy and expression. He would have liked to kneel there indefinitely, but the train drew near a station, and he was obliged to leave her for a few moments. When he came back she was sitting on a trunk, looking pale and exhausted; after having established her in a comfortable arm-chair he instinctively withdrew.
Before they reached Wareham she seemed quite well again, and when she left the train her thanks, though not profuse, were unmistakably heartfelt and sincere.
That evening George had the toothache. He did not feel like sitting in the office of the hotel and talking about money and politics, as was his custom; so he had a fire made in his room, put on an old coat and a pair of slippers, tied up his face with a silk handkerchief, and, after taking a stiff dose of something hot, sat down before the fire to roast away his pain. His thoughts naturally went back over the events of the day, and lingered upon the episode of the afternoon. He recalled Miss Ware’s pleasant, refined face, the frank simplicity of her manner, the genuine fun that could not be repressed. He was pleased with the tacit confidence she had shown in him, with her freedom from all embarrassment.
“There’s where she showed her breeding,” he thought, as he imagined how some girls would have giggled and blushed, and made themselves deliciously uncomfortable. “It’s a real pleasure to look straight into such clear, honest eyes.”
Honest ! He sprang to his feet, and paced the room, for suddenly, sharp, piercing as a sword thrust, there came to him the stinging sense of how this girl would have shrunk from him if she had known him as he was, — how those eyes would have blazed with indignant scorn if she had known it was a dishonest hand that touched her. For a moment he measured himself by what he felt to be her standard, and saw himself as she would look upon him. Old memories, old thoughts and principles, came trooping back to him, and he saw from what he had fallen. He thought of his mother, and the prayers she taught him; he remembered learning the ten commandments, and that “ Thou shalt not steal ” had been one of his favorites, it was so short and easy. He felt again the public opinion of the country village where he was brought up, the severe, old-fashioned notions of right and duty, having the Bible as an authoritative standard. How long it was since he had left all this behind him! He was but a boy in his teens when he was thrown upon the world to make his future, and found his ideas so strait-laced and antiquated that he made all haste to be rid of them. A position which he secured upon one of the great railroad thoroughfares brought him into an atmosphere very different from that of his country home, and in the whirl and hurry of that exciting life no wonder his opinions were jostled out of him. He saw men respected and admired for the great fortunes they had got by doubtful means, stealing called misappropriation or hypothecating, cheating styled irregularity, and successful roguery deemed smartness. Getting money, by fair means or otherwise, seemed the great aim of life to many of the men by whom he was surrounded, and he had been unfortunate in some of his associates. The handsome, clever boy, with his bright, winning manner, attracted the attention of men much older than himself, who flattered and caressed him, while they undermined his integrity by sneering at his opinions and teaching him their own. He had a facile nature, that yielded readily to the influence of those around him; and it was perhaps by reason of this ready sensibility that he felt so keenly the lofty purity and innocence of the high-souled woman into whose eyes he had looked that afternoon, But such bitter self-reproach and condemnation were torment to George, whose own self-respect was almost as essential to his happiness as was the esteem of others, and he shook off these thoughts that pressed upon him, as a dog shakes off the rain.
“ I declare,” said he, aloud, throwing himself into his chair, “ I feel like the bad little boy in a Sunday-School book. It must be the toothache, or something else, has gone to my head. A pretty figure I ’d cut, with all Miss Rosamond Ware’s high-toned notions! Such lofty ideas are very beautiful, and I would n’t think much of a woman without them; but a man of the world, like myself, might as well put on a white muslin dress and pink ribbons. I 've got to take the world as I find it, and do the best I can, and trust to luck for the rest. As long as I’m careful and cover up my tracks, I guess I ’ll pass muster with most of them.” He mixed another tumbler of something hot, and, picking up one of Ouida’s novels, read himself into a calm and peaceful frame of mind again before he slept the sleep of the just.
When the morrow came, his world looked bright and fair again. His selfesteem had come to him; he laughed at the emotion of the night before, and even confided to the baggage-master that he “ had a confounded toothache last night, and the worst fit of the blues you ever saw.”
He had made such an advance in his acquaintance with Miss Ware that he expected a friendly and familiar greeting next time he saw her. But weeks passed by, and even months, before she took the train again, one morning in December. Their former meeting seemed then so remote and half forgotten that George decided to wait and see if she chose to meet him with the friendly manner of their parting before he ventured to do the same. He caught her eye as he came along the car to meet her, but her glance was cold and indifferent, with no sign of recognition except that it was instantly withdrawn. She did not even look at him when he stood beside her, but her companion, a lady whose style and elegance led him to guess that she was the “ Ware girl who married a city chap,” paid the fares for both and received the checks he brought them. He felt a little indignant and affronted that Miss Ware should not recognize him, but his self-esteem made haste to assure him that he had received no real slight. Because he had rendered her a little service and she had been grateful, it was no reason why months after she should meet him as a friend, when he was socially a stranger. With such thoughts his pride was comforted, especially as he became convinced that she had been talking about him. Miss Ware did not look at him, but her friend regarded him with more than ordinary interest and curiosity. After they left the train at Newfield, he went and sat down in the seat they had occupied, and his feet striking something on the floor he stooped and picked up a little black note-book which one of them had dropped. He opened it, with eager curiosity. On the fly-leaf was written the name of Rosamond Ware, and underneath, as a sort of motto, the verse, “ I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” He frowned slightly, in grave disapprobation.
“ Religious!” he thought. “I would n’t have guessed it; she looks too jolly.”
He turned the leaves with growing interest. There was a little of everything in the book. Miss Ware seemed to be in the habit of writing down there whatever came into her head, — quotations, verses that pleased her, and some that were evidently original, with bits of humorous parodies containing personal allusions for the benefit of her friends, who sometimes added their versions or comments. He saw evidence that she was highly educated, and of considerable native cleverness and ability. On one page were equivalent idioms in four or five languages; on another the following fable: —
“ A Prudent Worm, whose Maiden Aunt had long enjoined the duty of Early Rising, awoke one morning before Dawn, to begin his Daily Task upon the Finest Cabbage in the Garden. A belated Owl, who was hurrying home from his Night’s Work, espied the Worm in the Fading Darkness, and, remarking that he had no Idea Worms rose so Early, swallowed him with Avidity.
11 Moral: Virtue sometimes o’erleaps itself and comes down on the Other Side. Moral Reflection: It’s a Poor Proverb that works both Ways.”
Beneath this was written in a boyish hand, “ By R. Ware. Fable Editor, N. Y. World.”
George laughed heartily. “She’s a smart one,” he mused. “That’s better than half the fables in the World.”
At last he came to a page on which was a curious and elaborately interwoven monogram. It had been made in pencil, and then nearly rubbed out, and covered with hasty scrawls. Under it was written, “ Du bist so nah’ und doch so fern.” George could not translate the motto, but he studied the monogram with an eager, though faint suspicion. With his pencil he traced again the lines that had been erased, and proved pretty clearly to his own satisfaction that the letters were “ G. W. I.,” the initials of his own name. He was now burning with curiosity to know the meaning of what was written below ; but suddenly he perceived that the train had stopped and the passengers were moving. He sprang to his feet and hurried out, but in his next interval of leisure he copied the inscription and took it to a friend.
“Here, Will,” said he, “you understand French. Tell me what that means.”
“ That ain’t French! ” cried his friend, with the scorn of superior knowledge. “ It’s German. It means, 4 Thou art so near and yet so far.’ ”
“Thanks!” said George, hurrying away delighted. The meaning of the phrase confirmed his suspicion. It was certainly appropriate. Circumstances had often thrown them near together, and yet they were held far apart by pride, dignity, and social laws. George rather made up his mind that if she felt a special interest in him, as he was now almost sure, it was his place to break down these intangible barriers, and meet her as a friend. He studied the little note-book with increasing interest, as it revealed to him more of Miss Ware’s character, and when, a few days later, he received a note from her, making inquiries about it and inclosing stamps for its return to her if it had been found, he shook his head.
“ No you don’t, Miss Ware. I’m going to have this little keepsake of you, if you won’t speak to me.” So he wrote a reply, gravely expressing his regret that he had been unable to find it, and put her stamps away to return them to her when he should next see her, thinking that would be an easy mode of opening the friendly conversation which he anticipated. He put her letter in his pocket with quite a sentimental feeling of tenderness, and at night, when he looked for it to read it again, was provoked and disgusted to find he had inadvertently torn it up to light a cigar.
A day or two after, he was again examining the note-book, and as he lingered at a page covered with the addresses of her friends, street numbers in New York and Philadelphia, or the names of bankers in Europe, his attention was arrested by this one: “I. G. W. Care Lombard and Odin, Geneva, or Poste Restante, Stuttgart.”
“ I. G. W.,” — those were the letters of the curious monogram. Some friend, lover perhaps, near to her heart by ties of love or kindred, far away in a foreign land. His mistake flashed upon him as irresistibly ludicrous, and he threw back his head and laughed aloud.
“ Oh, you conceited ass,” he cried, “ to think Miss Ware had written your monogram with a sentimental motto in her note-book! And you were going to take pity on the poor girl, and break down the barrier! Oh, George, your imagination is running away with you.”
He really wanted to tell somebody about it, for it seemed too good a joke to keep. His view of the matter changed radically, and he was now repelled by the idea of trying to scrape acquaintance with a lady who probably felt herself above him, and he dismissed the matter from his mind. But when, a few weeks later, Miss Ware took the train at Newfield, on her return, he remembered her stamps in his pocket, and found a convenient opportunity to return them to her, saying gravely,—
“ I am very sorry I could not find your book. I have inquired of every one I thought likely to know anything about it, and looked through all the coaches that might have been on the train that day.”
“ Oh, I am sorry to have given you so much trouble,” she said. She had on her dignity now, that quiet reserve that held him softly at a distance; but it carried with it such grace and gentleness that he was not sure but he liked it better than her friendliness and fun. He quietly disclaimed her gratitude, and then sat sorting his tickets, wishing he could think of something further to say. He became aware that she was scrutinizing him closely; he could feel, without seeing it, her keen and searching gaze. But it gave him no uneasiness; he knew he was handsome and well dressed, and he had no objection to Miss Ware looking at him just as long as she close. His conscience pricked him a little for having lied to her so calmly ; perhaps she valued her book highly. Never mind, he could suddenly discover it and send it to her yet; he did not care much to keep it. And then, by some association of ideas, he remembered his mental experience that night he had the toothache, the sudden awakening of his conscience. He recalled his analogy about the white muslin and pink ribbons; he had been much pleased with it at the time, and had felt it quite convincing; but now it dawned upon him, in a vague, halfexpressed fashion, that his snowy linen and faultless attire were in their way as nice and dainty as any feminine adornments, and that he did not deem extreme personal purity and neatness of the outer man inconsistent with his position and business, or with his character as a man of the world. Was there honestly any reason why the hidden man of the heart could not be equally spotless and pure? There awoke within him a strange and irresistible longing for his lost moral excellence and goodness, a loathing of the foul stain upon his character, which all at once seemed intolerably hideous and dark. He rose hastily and walked away, fearing to betray his emotion. What was it about this girl that awoke such thoughts within him? Was it her influence, or something else, that had raised this storm of feeling? He had a decided and uneasy conviction that he was going to have trouble with his well-behaved conscience. Why could he not take things easy, as he had always done? He had thought this thing all over and settled it to his satisfaction, and now why could n’t it stay settled? Such mental experience as this, to say the least, was very disagreeable.
Another good influence came into his life that winter, when an older brother, who had been several years in California, returned to New England, having accepted a position on the Towasset railway. They would keep house at Towasset, so that George could come and live with them. Mrs. Allen Ingleside took a great fancy to her handsome, agreeable brother-in-law. She was a bright, cheerful, good little woman; rather too good for comfort, George feared, when one evening, early in their acquaintance, she invited him to go to prayermeeting with her, as if she expected him to jump at the chance. George found some polite and excellent reason for declining, but did not feel quite even with her until he invited her to go out driving with him on Sunday afternoon. But he enjoyed, on the whole, the new experience. It was a good thing for this homeless man, who had lived in hotels for years, to know the wholesome restraint of a Christian household and the love of a little child. The moral superiority of his brother’s family was not so oppressive as it might have been, if he had not felt himself to be their superior in more important respects. Lucy Ingleside was a pretty nice little sister, — he would not think of being ashamed of her anywhere; but her grammar was sometimes defective, she ate with her knife and said “sir” to him, deferred to him in all matters of taste and etiquette, and had the most profound and openly avowed admiration of his polished address and graceful manners.
George’s new friends and interests absorbed his mind so that he seldom thought of Rosamond Ware, and she did not take the train again that winter, though he noticed her once or twice at the station, when she had driven over with some friend. But when midsummer came, her New York friends came with it. They were eager as before for picnics and excursions, and he began to see her often. She grew very friendly in her manner, and greeted him with a smile and pleasant good morning; and though she sometimes just paid her fare and said no more, still George noticed she almost always detained him for a few words. They often left things on the train, that he must look up; sometimes she had a handful of letters, and asked him to post them; she sent by him for a mileage ticket, and that involved two or three interviews; or perhaps the whole party wanted excursion tickets to some point on the line, and she seemed to be the leader, and arranged the business. There was no other passenger on the train who so often needed to speak with him, and he sometimes suspected that she sought a pretext for conversation; and yet her reason was always such a good one that it hardly seemed possible. She occasionally added some general remark, to which George responded in the same tone, but he never felt himself upon any secure footing of acquaintance. He never presumed upon the opportunities she gave him, nor made any advance toward her; for it pleased him better to watch her afar off, as it were, and yet be near her and talk with her, and a definite acquaintance would in some way have robbed the affair of half its attraction. He liked to be reminded of the German motto in the note-book.
But vague and indefinite as was his interest in Miss Ware, her moral influence over him was ever growing stronger. He felt, or fancied he did, a purity and nobility of character that put him constantly to shame. If George had lost his integrity in spite of good influences he would not have remained so sensitive to them, but he had for years been surrounded by men many of whom had a moral standard even lower than his own. But now his conscience had been once thoroughly awakened, and it had never slept so soundly since; his life in his brother’s family had been a daily rebuke to him, and when he came again to meet this girl whose touch had first roused his better nature he found himself tormented with a constant inward struggle. He felt ashamed to receive the tacit confidence she showed in him, to meet the clear, direct gaze of her truthful eyes, and then go away and “manipulate” his returns, or “ hypothecate ” the fares she paid him. He could no longer shake off these thoughts as lightly us he had done at first; if he succeeded in banishing them during his active business hours, they returned upon him as soon as he was alone; he would awake in the night to a horror of darkness and shame. He was angry with himself, because he could no longer regard the matter as he had done; angry with Miss Ware, when he dimly recognized her influence; restless, impatient, and unhappy.
One evening the party from Wareham took the train at Newfield on their way home. George was surprised not to find Miss Ware among them when he took their fares, as he fancied he had seen her. Just before they reached the station, he stepped out on the last platform to alight, and there she sat upon the steps of the car, with a young man whose conspicuous society-pin proclaimed to the world that he was a freshman at Yale. They rose as he came out, and Miss Ware at once pulled out her ticket; but her companion laid his hand upon her arm.
“Stop, Miss Rosamond,” he said, “ we’ve got to the station.”
“ What do you mean? ” she asked.
“ Why, don’t you see? ” he went on, unheeding the severe, indignant gaze, which George noted distinctly, “ It’s Mr. Conductor’s business to take our fare, and he hasn’t done it, and now he can’t help himself. We’ve got to the station. All he can do is to stop the train and put us off, and that ’s just what we want.”
He looked up at George for admiring recognition of his smartness.
“ Pay your fare, Al James, or I shall pay it for you,” said Rosamond, sternly. “ I don’t want Mr. Conductor to think I go traveling around the country with a thief and a swindler.”
“Why, that’s all right,” said Al, looking rather shamefaced, and pulling out his money. “ The railroad swindles us all the time, taking such big fares, and it’s only fair to get a little of it back again.”
“ I call it stealing,” said Rosamond, shortly, as she stepped off the car, “ and I’m sorry your ideas of right and wrong are so hazy.”
George felt uncomfortable at the time, and that night, when he found himself alone with his conscience, the words thief and swindler rang unpleasantly in his cars. If Miss Ware regarded that little evasion as such a serious matter, what would she think of him ? She would call him a thief and swindler in sober earnest. He was guilty of stealing,— of crime which, if known, would make him an object of horror and loathing to all pure and good people, such as Rosamond Ware or his sister Lucy. It gave him no relief just now to think of others no better than himself; that there were other swindlers who were respected and esteemed; that nobody would ever discover it; and that he had the confidence and regard of all who knew him. The last thought had more of sting than comfort. Thief and swindler! The stain upon him, though hidden from the eyes of men, was no less black and horrible, a secret plague spot.
“ Oh, Lord, I can’t stand this!” he muttered, as he tossed restlessly about. “ I ’ll swear off for a month, at least, and see how it seems to be honest. Let me see; it’s now the 3d of August. From now till the 3d of September, I won’t take a cent of money that don't honestly belong to me, and after that we ’ll see; so now be satisfied, and let me alone.” Having thrown this sop to his conscience, he resolutely banished the matter from his mind, and was soon asleep.
He awoke the next morning with a vague sense of pleasure, and had hardly time to wonder what it meant, when he recalled his resolution of the night before, and was delighted to find how lighthearted and happy it made him to feel like an honest man. “ I shall be confoundedly hard up,” he thought; “and there’s those debts I meant to pay. But never mind, I ’ll get along somehow for a month, and be able to look Miss Ware in the face, or anybody else, without being ashamed of myself.”
He looked out for her with interest after that, almost as if he expected her to know the change in him. He had an opera-glass that one of them had left in the car; he meant to give it to Miss Ware, and next time he saw her he took it from his pocket, saying, “ Did you leave an opera-glass on the train, a few days ago? ”
“ Oh, did you find one? ” said she, gladly. “I did n’t lose it myself, but one of my friends has been mourning the loss of hers. Yes, thank you, this is it,” as he gave it to her. “ She will be so much obliged.”
George bowed, and passed on. Half a dozen words from Rosamond Ware said more than an hour’s talk from some women. When she left the train her eyes again said, Thank you, as she cave him a grateful smile. When he went back into the baggage car he sat down beside his brother, who was on the train that day.
“ Who was that young lady you helped off just now ? ” said Allen Ingleside.
“ I helped off half a dozen,” said George.
“ She ’s in love with you.”
“ Did she tell you so? ” George answered, carelessly, trying not to look delighted.
“ Yes, she did, by the way she looked at you, as you walked down the platform.”
“ Is that the way Lucy looks at you? ” laughed George.
“No,” retorted his brother. “ Lucy can’t; she has n’t got eyes like this one. Why don’t you go for her, George ? She’s a mighty nice-looking girl, somehow, and if she’s soft on you it’s too good a chance to lose.”
“Yes, why don’t I?” said he, sarcastically. “ She ’s Governor Ware’s daughter.”
“ Well, I don’t care,” said Allen, recovering at once from the announcement. “ Ware is n’t rich, for all he holds his head so high; and I suppose she’s a woman, with eyes in her head, if she is Governor Ware’s daughter. You ’re a mighty nice-looking fellow. I suppose you know it. You ’ve got the look of a gentleman, besides. I bet this girl would jump at you. I like her looks. I’ve noticed her before, and the way she looked at you.”
“ Oh, she ’s not the kind I ’d want to marry,” said George, impatiently; “ she ’s too high toned. I ’d have to stand on moral tiptoes all the time to associate with her.”
“ I don’t know much about moral tiptoes,” said Allen Ingleside, “but I do know it’s not a bad idea for a man to have a wife that’s a little better than he is. I know I’ve been through temptations when the thought of Lucy and little Lu has been a mighty good thing for me; and I don't believe there’s many men but what are better off for some safeguard.”
George turned away. He did not want to marry Rosamond Ware, but he did not care to talk about it in that way; perhaps because it made him realize what a wild impossibility such a thing would be. His brother’s words, however, had made an impression upon him, and he began to wonder if Miss Ware were indeed particularly attracted toward him. He had noticed that keen, intent look she often gave him, and it was odd, too, how she always had to speak to him about something. But next time she went up on the cars she had three young men with her, bright, fine-looking fellows, all admiration and devotion, and George did not feel so sure about it. But he was not afraid of her attendants, and, purposely misunderstanding her, punched twenty miles from her ticket instead of five, which involved an explanation.
“ Oh, I beg your pardon,” he said. I thought you said to Colesville. However, I will remember that I owe you fifteen miles, and make it right next trip you make.”
She assented, and George passed on, feeling that he had not gained much, after all. But as he turned and came back, she looked up at him as if to speak, and he paused and sat down in the seat behind her.
“ Mr. Ingleside,” she said, “ won't you give me three tickets from Warehum to Bethel Plain for that fifteen miles ? - those little stop-over tickets, I mean. I ’ll use them myself, but I might want to take the other trains.”
He shook his head. “ I ’d gladly oblige you, Miss Ware, but I'm afraid I can’t do that. I ’ll remember it, though.”
But then,” she said, looking mischievous, “you might die, you know, and then I'd lose my fares.”
“ Oh, no, I shan’t die,” he said, lightly. “I’m too wicked for that.” And then, with a sudden impulse, he added, “ Besides, if I should die, you would n’t want to go on the train any more.”
The smile died out of her eyes. “ I might have to, if I did n’t want to,” she said, indifferently, as if she did not realize the significance of his words; and then she turned directly around, and began talking with her companions. The young man who sat beside her looked up at him with a supercilious air of surprise, but although George returned the look with interest, he did not mind it half so much as he did that slow, deliberate turning of Miss Ware’s head. There was something very expressive about it, as there was about everything she did. He felt that she was displeased and disgusted with him, that he had sunk in her opinion, and he fancied her manner was more distant when he met her afterward.
Meantime the month was slipping away, and he had no definite idea what he should do at the end of it. Deep in his mind, not yet acknowledged to himself, was the secret conviction that the vow he had taken would not be renewed: that one month of honest dealing was all the concession he could afford to his scruples. But he did not think of the matter much, feeling that he should have a struggle with himself any way at the end of the month, and there was no use anticipating it. But he confessed to himself that he had not been so happy for years as these last few weeks had made him.
The first of September was close at hand, when one day, at evening, the parry from Wareham. were going home on the train. George found Miss Ware at the end of the last car, sitting out on the steps with the young man they called Al James; and after taking their fares he went back into the car and sat down in the seat at the end, though with no intention of listening. George was a thief, but he was no eavesdropper. One must draw a line somewhere. He drew it there. But the window was open; the voices outside were clear and penetrating, and raised above the ordinary tone. George’s hearing was acute, and the first words so arrested his attention that he listened in spite of himself.
“ Oh, Miss Rosamond,” said Al James, “ I hear your pet conductor is up to some little dodges.”
“ What do you mean by that ? ” asked Miss Ware. There was an indignant ring in her voice.
“ Sereno Trask was telling me about it,” he replied. “ His father’s a director, and he’s loafin’ round on the engines half the time. He said one of the freight conductors told him that Ingleside gobbled the fares. He said he ’d been suspected for some time, but the superintendent was a great friend of his, and would n’t listen to anything. But finally they stirred up the president, and last Monday they began watching him; had detectives or experts go on the train, perhaps. I don’t know about that, exactly, but they were going to spot him. Sereno said it was a great secret, of course; but he ” —
“ It’s a lie,” said Miss Ware, warmly, - a cruel, wicked lie! Don’t you ever repeat it again.”
“Why, how do you know?” cried her companion, in surprise. “ What do you pick up cudgels for the fellow so for? You don’t know anything about him.”
“ Mr. Ingleside is my friend,” she said, with spirit. “ I would vouch for his integrity anywhere, or trust him with anything. Besides, he has been good to me. I have been indebted to him for a great many little acts of courtesy and kindness, and I think it is a pity if I could not defend him when I hear him stabbed like that. Such a mean, cowardly slander! It is cruel as murder, and a great deal meaner. A man’s character is more precious than life, and yet a boy like you can hint it away in that style, and your victim never know it. Do you tell Sereno Trask never to repeat that story again, and to go and learn the ninth commandment.”
George sat within, feeling that a crisis had come upon him. The question that had been latent in his mind for weeks now came forward and demanded an immediate answer, and he recognized that the decision made would be final. Nothing in the future would ever arouse him more thoroughly than this girl’s words had done. His fright at her companion’s disclosure and his gratitude for his narrow escape from detection were powerful motives, but his strongest emotion was that awakened by this genuine expression of confidence and trust from the lips of Rosamond Ware. All that was good and noble within him awoke, and cried out in answer. He hesitated, balanced; a wave of feeling swept over him, and he yielded.
“ I will,” he said, solemnly. With a feeling akin to that which prompts men to take an oath upon a sacred book, he took from his pocket the little black note-book; but upon the brink of decisive action a sudden sense of his own weakness overwhelmed him. The memory of his past sin taunted him. If he took this vow, could he ever keep it? This exalted mood would pass away, as other moods had done, and in the common, daily life to come the old influences would overpower him; his resolution would not stand the test of years. He paused, appalled by the consciousness of his own moral decay. He turned the cover of the book, and the motto on the fly-leaf stared him in the face: “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me.” It seemed a glorious and inspiring answer to these sickening doubts, and the heart of this prayerless man laid hold upon it, and went forth in a strong and speechless cry for some divine, immortal strength, beyond his own, to supplement his human will. He raised his right hand, and laid it on the little book with a feeling of deep solemnity.
“ I swear that I will never again take to myself one cent of monev, or anything else, that does not honestly belong to me; and may the God my mother worshiped help me to keep this vow, for I can never keep it of myself.” He softly repeated these words, and then rose to his feet with a sense of freedom and relief, like one who, having long been stifled in an unwholesome atmosphere, draws a deep, free breath of pure air again. He looked out; they were approaching the station. He walked to the forward end of the car, alighted while they were yet in motion, and turned to meet Miss Ware. Her eyes were still bright, and her face aglow with indignation and excitement, and as he held up his hand to assist her she laid her own in it, and gave him a hearty hand clasp of friendship, for the first time in her life.
The solemnity of that hour remained with George Ingleside for days, and when the exaltation of his mood passed away his abiding purpose was unchanged. His repentance, for the time at least, was honest and sincere, and he immediately began laying aside money to accumulate until he should have a sum sufficient to pay back to the railroad company all he had taken from them dishonestly. Miss Ware’s friends were scattering from Wareham, and he knew she had gone herself, though he had not seen her. Mr. Ware had made complaint at the office that the train had run by a signal, and in the investigation which followed stated that upon the occasion referred to he had gone to take the train with his two daughters, who were compelled to make their journey by another route. George was deeply chagrined that his train should have been so negligent; he generally had an eye out when they passed Wareham, and he purposed to make Miss Ware the handsomest apology in his power the next time he saw her.
About two weeks later she took the train on her return, and George was impressed, as he had never been before, by the elegance and beauty of her figure. Her traveling dress had heretofore been severely plain and unbecoming, as was also the mountain dress she wore on their excursions; and she had seemed curiously indifferent to all the little arts of dress whereby most women strive to look their prettiest. She had, nevertheless, been always lady-like and attractive, but there was now about her that indescribable, impressive something we call “style,” which is to some men — and George was one of them — more effective than beauty; and by the skillful arrangement of color and outline she had made herself pretty and bewitching, and almost beautiful. She seemed alive, intense, full of some suppressed excitement. He knew her keen glance was upon him, as he was busy taking the fares, before he reached her. It confused him, and he deferred his apology for the present. Not long after, as he was passing through the car, she detained him, and asked if, by and by, when it was convenient, she might have a few minutes’ talk with him. George was delighted with the proposition, but assented with outward composure, and in his. next interval of leisure he sought her. She indicated that he should take the seat beside her, and spoke of the incident of a fortnight before, when his train had passed the signal, thinking he ought to know of it. He then made the apology he had intended, and after receiving it most graciously she quietly turned the conversation to other things, and George found himself talking gayly with her upon general principles. He was sorry when his duties compelled him to leave her; but after he had been through the train again, a bright idea struck him.
“ Why not try it again? ” he thought. “ She seemed to enjoy it; but if she don’t like it this time, I ’ll soon find it out.” So he went back, and sat down beside her again. She looked up with a pleasant smile of welcome; nothing could be more affable and friendly than her manner. Her conversation was piquant, stimulating, suggestive, throwing new, vivid light on old, thought-worn topics. It seemed to George that he had never before talked with any one so agreeable, though he did afterward remember that it was himself, and not she, who did most of the talking. She drew him out upon subjects where he was well informed and intelligent; he felt he was appearing at his best, and was surprised at his own eloquence, while she listened with graceful, eager attention. The shadows of evening gathered, the brakeman lighted the lamps, the people were gradually leaving the train, there was no one near them, they two were alone together in the dim light. George was not at all romantic, but the situation and surroundings did heighten his enjoyment. He left Miss Ware with reluctance when the train drew near a station; he came back eagerly when his duties were over, to catch the frank welcome of her eyes. He noticed that she never alluded to their previous acquaintance. He would have liked to recall their first meeting, or some subsequent incident, but she delicately controlled the conversation, and he was not able to do it.
Just before they reached Wareham there was an unexpected detention: a rock had fallen on the track from an overhanging hill-side, and it was nearly an hour before they could remove it and go on. George thought of Miss Ware as soon as the train started, and, remembering that the Wareham stage would have left some time before, he hurried to her as soon as he could, and asked if the detention would occasion her any trouble.
“ Oh, yes! ” she cried. “ I was intending to go up in the stage. But then,” she added, “ it is no matter. I can easily walk up.”
“ If you will allow me,” said he, eagerly, “ I will put my train in the care of the baggage-master, and go up with you. I can got back in time to go over to Towasset on the next train.”
“Oh, no,” she said, decidedly. “ I could not think of giving you so much trouble.”
George was stung by her refusal. He had made the offer upon a sudden impulse, without stopping for reflection, and now he thought Miss Ware deemed it presumption. He had never meant to give her an opportunity to snub him; he did not think he deserved it now.
“ Very well, suit yourself,” he said, and left her. But his pride then took a sudden turn. “ I will go,” he resolved. “ It is n’t safe for her to walk up alone, and my offer was perfectly proper, and she had no business to refuse it. I won't be put down so! ”
He gave the necessary directions to the baggage-master, and left the train at Wareham. When it had moved off without him, he turned and confronted Miss Ware, throwing the light of his lantern in her face. Her eyes were dark and misty with tears of distress; she advanced a step, and laid her hand upon his arm.
“ Oh, Mr. Ingleside,” she said, “ I shall be grateful and glad beyond measure for your protection and escort. I did n't dare to give you so much trouble, but I wanted you to come with me, awfully.”
Ah, how his wounded pride and vanity were healed! He turned away to conceal his delight, and put her trunk, with his lantern, in the little depot, while she arranged her dress for walking. They were ready in a moment, and as they started she put her hand within his arm. George will not soon forget that walk. Miss Ware had such a quick and spirited step that the mere exercise was pleasure; she seemed so gay and bright and full of life; and when they passed through dark and gloomy woods, where the moonlight could not penetrate, she turned and thanked him again gratefully, and wondered what she should have done, in that, awful place, if it had not been for his kindness. There came over him a keen sense of how much he owed this girl, how strong had been her power over him for good; of the disgrace and exposure from which her words had saved him; and he longed to express his gratitude. It would be impossible to tell her the whole black story, but it seemed as if he could not help acknowledging in some way how much she had done for him. But when, at last, they parted in the village street of Wareham, and after a few sincere and hearty words of gratitude she laid her hand in his, to say good-by, he held it tight for an instant, dumb with strong emotion, and simply said good-night, and turned away.
“ I ’m glad I did n’t, on the whole,” he muttered as he walked rapidly back to the station. “ I should n’t have said what I meant to, and likely as not she'd have thought I was making love to her, and murdered me with rage. I believe I never came so near being spoony on her as I was to-night. How pretty and bright she looked in the moonlight! ” As he went back over the ground, he reviewed the conversation they had together, recalling all her gayety and brightness. He was just in time for the night train, and as he passed through the car, looking for a seat, his brother Allen sprang up to meet him, with an exclamation of surprise.
“ Why, George, my boy, where did you come from ? Did your train run off and leave you? ”
“ No,” replied George. 11 I stopped over a train, on some business.”
“ Odd I did n’t see you before,” said Allen. “ I 've got a piece of news for you. You ’ve got a chance now to work off your California fever.”
George took a seat beside him, and listened with interest while his brother read him a letter he had just received from a friend in San Francisco, making them both a most advantageous offer to go into business there.
” I suppose I need n’t ask whether you ’ll go,” said Allen Ingleside, when he had finished the letter. “ Lucy is perfectly wild. She has longed to go back ever since we came East, but it’s better luck than she expected to be able to take you with us.”
George could not help catching his brother’s excitement. The opening was a fine one; he had long been anxious to go West; there was no reason why he should not accept immediately. His mind was at once absorbed by the plans and prospects involved in the sudden charge, and among other thoughts was one of gratitude that his repentance had come in time for him to leave the old life, as well as begin the new, an honest man.
The days that followed were busy and exciting. His resignation was handed in at once, to take effect as soon as they were ready to leave; his own arrangements were soon made; and he only awaited the departure of his brother’s family. He often thought of Rosamond Ware, and hoped he might see her once again before he left, though at that season of the year the chance was a slight one.
When the last day came, a general interest was manifest among the passengers, and a group of friends surrounded him, as he stood in the baggage car.
“Well, George,” said one, “sorry to hear you ’re going to leave. What’s that for? Tired of your place? ”
“ Oh, no,” he answered. “ I like the railroad very much, and the people along the line; but my brother and I have had a very good offer out in California, and he is anxious to return. He came from there a year ago, you know, and Mrs. Ingleside belongs there, and wants to go back to her friends; so we have decided to start. Yes, this is my last run on the train.”
He stepped to the door; they were approaching Warehatn, and it was his last chance. His face grew bright, for there, upon the platform, stood the picturesque little figure, waving the signal flag. How lucky he was! He did not step off the train to meet her, preferring to wait until he saw her in the car. He intended to stop and speak with her a few moments, tell her he was going away, and say good-by; it was surely appropriate, after the pleasant talk they had had together. As he started, his brother, who had been amusing himself with his little girl, called out after him, “ Here, George! Going in the other car? Take Lucy back to her mother, will you? ”
George could not very well refuse. He took the child, muttering grimly, “ I ’ll bet she ’ll think it’s mine.”
As he passed Miss Ware his emotion unsettled him.
“ God bless her,” he said to himself. “ If I can’t tell her how much I owe her and what she has been to me, I won’t say anything. If I once began, I could n’t stop myself.” So when he returned, he simply said good morning, and passed on with an unspoken good-by. When they stopped at Bethel Plain he hastened to the end of the car, where Miss Ware was ready to alight. As she came down the steps her face showed some strong emotion; her eyes were dark with unshed tears, her lip quivered, and the hand she laid in his trembled unmistakably. A confused rush of thought overcame him. She must have heard! Every one on the train was talking of him. Was it possible she cared ? He started a few steps after her. She was just meeting a gay party of friends; her face was bright with welcome; he heard her merry voice. He laughed a little at himself as he turned away.
He has never seen her since. Out in California they call him a promising and prosperous business man. The vow he took has not yet been broken; he has thus far been worthy of the respect and esteem he has everywhere received. Sometimes, when he remembers the past, it seems that he would give years of life if he could look back upon a stainless record of unshaken integrity, and his growing horror of his old sin is a hopeful indication of future rectitude. His busy, active life leaves little room for dreams and fancies, but his air castles, when he has any, are always in New England. He turns first to the marriages and deaths in the Bethel Courier, which follows him across a continent, and in the inner breast pocket of his coat, where his strong heart beats against it, there is still a little black note-book, worn with frequent handling, and bearing on the fly-leaf the name of Rosamond Ware.