Friends: A Duet


“Friends, lovers that might have been.”


THE process of undermining the reef of Hell Gate had lasted seven years ; a slow-match and five minutes tore its heart out.

In Madam Strong’s gray old stately guest-chamber, Nordhall, one day, made aloud this mysterious and somewhat cheerless reflection.

Young Mrs. Strong had just entered and left the room. Her errand was cornstarch pudding.

Two weeks had gone since Mr. Janet, terrified and trembling, drove slowly up Mrs. Strong’s avenue (he did not know where else to go) at midnight, with Nordhall’s senseless body in Cranby’s suave, anxious, and hospitable wagon.

No man is more urbane than the rumseller who is so unfortunate as to have met with a fight upon his premises. Mr. Cranby had sent for a physician, — the most expensive one he could think of. He had himself accompanied the sad procession. He stood at Madam Strong’s great, reputable door with his hat in his hand. When the lights flashed, and the locks leaped, and a woman, lithe and stern as an angel of rebuke, sprang, with loose hair, down the dim, wide staircase, he sadly bowed, and urged, —

“ Madam, I do assure you, such accidents take place anywhere; it might have happened in a church ! ”

But her eyes turned upon him like swords of flame.

“ Such things,” she said, “ happen only in hell ! ”

Nordhall was unconscious for thirtysix hours. In falling he had broken his left arm, but that was a slight matter. The blow upon the head was the source of anxiety. He recovered very slowly. The two ladies attended him with conscientious care. Naturally, the brunt of the labor fell upon the younger Mrs. Strong. She installed Mr. Griggs as assistant nurse. Nordhall’s cousins came from Boston, and shook hands with him. All the proper things were done. Yet when was there ever an invalid man — a lovely woman being under the same roof-tree — who was not left largely to the ministrations of the lovely woman? To plan otherwise is plainly a defiance of Providence which forestalls its own defeat. Some women yearn over a sick man like a mother over a wounded child. Reliance was one of these women. Nordhall’s life was in danger. It is probable that she saved it. Her consciousness that he had risked it while helping (however reluctantly) to protect her pet drunkard and to further her heart’s work, of course gave a certain personal intensity to the brooding maternal care which she would have expended upon anybody thrown in this way against her mercy. She felt a little as if she had killed him. She devoted herself to his need. She could not do enough.

Copyright, 1881, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.

Inevitably, their relation to one another slightly altered its character, under these conditions. Reliance felt that she had never half known Charley Nordhall. Nordhall felt that he had never known himself.

He used to watch her, as she moved about the room. He found this an absorbing occupation.

“ She do move like a field of grain against the wind,” said Mr. Griggs, one day. Nordhall did not rebuke this remark ; it was reverently made; he felt differently about the “ reformed man,” now. “She is such a “lady!” said Mr. Griggs. “ I never had a — lady — kind to me before.”

“ So that’s what’s the matter with you,” said Nordhall, dreamily regarding the ex-drunkard.


“It is the strangeness of it, is it, that helps you ? The — refinement; the elevation ; the inclination from such a height to such a” — He stopped.

“It is her being such a —lady,” repeated Mr. Griggs perplexedly, but with a touch of doggedness, “ and me being such a—raskill. Those are the two points in my mind, sir. And she cares whether I get drunk. She really does, Mr. Nordhall. It’s give me an idea ” —

“ Go on,” said Nordhall, with an invalid’s idle interest in his nurse’s chatter.

“ It’s give me an idea of the way God makes out to care, —being God, too, to the same time. I can’t express what’s in my mind, sir. I can think, but I don’t know how to express. You ’re getting on fast, Mr. Nordhall. You won’t need me after this week, I take it.”

Thus they got quickly, as men are prone to do, away from the bare nerves.

Mr. Griggs went, and convalescence came. Nordhall crept about the room, or tottered to the balcony, or crawled to the head of the stairs and looked down. Reliance redoubled her gentle attentions, now that he was thrown entirely upon the mercy of her mother and herself.

He watched her, as I say, passing in and out. She was apt to wear white shawls. She had a voice created for a sick-room : very low and sweet, but pulsating with a certain cheerfulness, like muffled silver bells. He knew her voice in every cadence of misery, and — long ago—some of her tones in joy. This was a new note, this sister of charity in her sweet breath.

Sometimes she read to him; sometimes they talked ; sometimes they sat upon the balcony in the summer air. Kaiser came and sat beside her. Nordhall looked over the railing to watch the hollyhocks come gently to their blossoming, — the rose, the gold, the silver; it seemed to him that he could, by leaning over, touch the tall one with the heart of wine.

Naturally, Mrs. Strong’s mission work suffered a slight eclipse at this time. He could see that this troubled her, but that she was too hospitable to desire him to remember it. Delicately regarding her wish, he seemed to forget that she had any other duties in life than to read him Paracelsus, or to bring him pudding. Once in a while it occurred to him that she seemed to forget, too. Then he would remember that she remembered.

He suffered vague phases of feeling ; he drifted on the current of returning life.

Once they had passed an unusually pleasant day. Nordhall got down to lunch. She helped him. Kaiser cried with delight, and conducted him to his chair. Madam Strong was in uncommon spirits. Janet and Jacobs said, “ Glad to see you down, sir ! ” Mr. Janet came over, and shook his hand as if it had been a village pump recently frozen up. The day was superb. After lunch, Madam Strong finished Peveril of the Peak, and went to sleep. They stayed in the cool, shaded parlor. Nordhall lay on the sofa. Reliance played old songs with the soft pedal, He stayed downstairs till after tea. Twilight came on quietly. She glided in and out. Once she sat down, and they talked together a long time. He could not have told what they talked about, — little things ; yet he felt as if she took almost as much comfort from it as himself. He turned presently, and looked at her through the growing dark.

She needed comfort. . . .

Her hand lay relaxed and empty, white against her black dress.

“ I wish I were one of the people who know how to say Thank you,” said Nordhall abruptly. He had never before alluded to what she had done for him. He laid his hand upon hers, as he spoke, moved to one of the slight liberties which the well allow to the sick or the sick receive from the well; yet gravely, as one does to emphasize an earnest word.

“ Don’t, please ! ” said Reliance.

He hesitated for an instant.

“ Don’t — what ? ”

“ It hurts me to be thanked, almost always.”

“ Very well, then.”

“ I am so glad — to help — any one ! What have I to live for, but to help people ? ”

“ ' People ’ must express an obligation now and then,” rather bitterly.

“ Mr. Nordhall, don’t let us quarrel. It has been such a pleasant day ! ”

He removed his hand in silence. Plainly, she had not noticed the slight and reverent touch. He was glad she thought it had been a pleasant day. He lay for a little, quite silent: for he felt weak, just then, with comfort. She began to talk, gently still. He listened idly. Then she went across the halflighted room, and groping for the keys played a little more. Then she came back, and sat silent for a time, again.

By and by she said she must get the air, and would call her mother. As she stood in the bright door-way, she looked over her shoulder and said good-night. She did not return. Janet lighted the lamps. Madam Strong came in, and kindly volunteered to read the Transcript aloud. She dwelt upon the stock list as being of especial interest to a business man.

Kaiser went to sleep on the rug, and snored with unnecessary energy.

Nordhall heard the great front door open and shut, and felt rather than saw that Reliance drifted by the window, with the thick camel’s-hair shawl over her head ; he was glad she had thought to protect herself. He wondered what she was doing out alone there in the silent garden, among the moonlit flowers. He wondered, What was she thinking ? His lips trembled with a senseless, groundless, blind, and battling happiness.

Reliance, in the garden, walked to and fro ; quietly at first, like one who feels the eyes of others still upon her, and does what is expected of her. The moon was high. The heavens were bare. Shadows from the horse-chestnuts fell heavily across the graveled walks, and alternated sharply with jets of white light, like smoke and fire. The wind was warm but restless, rising from the south. The air was heavy with the scent of garden flowers. There were some tall yellow lilies that grew at that time of year. Her husband had a fancy for them, and had first pointed them out to her. They were of a pale flame color, pure and soft; they yielded perfume at night. These flowers stood in the moonlight, in rows, like lamps.

The street was still. The house, too, looked asleep. The garden stretched out like an unreal world. She herself seemed to herself a ghost in it. She glided up and down the defined, dry walks.

Beyond the marshes she could hear the throb to which, of all created sounds, her sense and soul were most responsive,

— the regular pulse of unseen breakers upon unseen shores. She listened for a while to the sea.

She went presently and broke one of the yellow lilies from its stem, bent over it, and caressed the spotless, burning thing. The light of the lily and the light of the moon both struggled on her face. As she stood looking into the flower’s heart, she said, to it — to herself — to who knew whom ? —

“ It would have been an insult — to have noticed —so slight ” —

She lifted the hand with the lily in it to her eyes ; suddenly she drew in her breath, and began to run. She swept across the white walks once or twice, then plunged into the grass, and ran up and down there, like a creature who had received a wound. The grass was long and wet; it clung to her damp dress and tangled her way ; but still she ran,

— aimlessly at first, then with a slower motion and more weakly. She came to a stop against an old fence at the bottom of the garden. Fire-flies were there, leaping from the meadows. Except for the now nearer call of the sea, it was cruelly still. She stretched her arms above her head, and cried out, — broken words, she did not know what. The fire-flies flashed about her, as she stood with the flame-colored lily held aloft. By their illusive light, suddenly turning, she looked for a moment at her own hand. She smote it with the other, as if she would have smitten it off.

She went back into the house, presently. Jacobs had been there and helped Nordhall up to bed. Her mother was locking the parlor windows. Only Kaiser came up and smelt of the crushed, yellow flower she held. No one spoke to her. She got up-stairs, —the hall was dark. But the light of the lily was on her.

Nordhall woke the next day with that stir at the heart which recalls a happiness whose nature is so evanescent that one does not know whether it is an experience or an expectation.

The dawn had been dewy, and the day was fresh. Wet branches swept in at his opened windows. There were robins on the balcony, twittering and stirring tamely about ; one was singing. Jacobs was at work with an unseen scythe in an unseen shadow, and the breath of new-mown hay came up. The sick man felt strong, and would rise and surprise her. He sat at the window in the gray damask arm-chair, resting, after he was dressed. He looked out over the garden, where the flowers glowed, and drank the morning with his boyish eyes. All the fevers of life seemed laid. The world was real and young ; no ghosts in it to-day ; ghosts did not walk, thank Heaven, by the July sun. A man might have moments, in a long life (and a guarded one), when no one could blame him if he were too happy to think about dead people.

He crept down softly, clinging to the banister for the support his well soul could not yield his feeble body yet. He would go into the parlor and wait for her. She would come in and look. . . .

She was already there. She stood with her back towards him. She seemed to be searching for something; she ran her finger over the tufted sofa, and stooped, groping on the carpet with slender, sliding hand. Then she turned and looked out of the window. She did not see him, and he too stood still. She wore a white morning-gown ; the high profile of her hair was towards him, and the upper curve of the cheek.

We all know that maddening turn of a woman’s head. Ah, what a woman she was ! — all woman, all woman ; no ghost to-day.

Nordhall stirred, and stepped into the parlor. He only said good-morning, yet it seemed to him that he said half that was in his heart. He only held out his hand, yet it seemed to him that he held out his life to her.

She would come half-way, perhaps ; she too needed comradeship and comforting ; she would turn and smile —

She turned, but she did not smile ; or, if so. faintly as a disordered dream. She bade him good-morning quietly, said she was glad to see him down — she did not expect — she supposed — And then she faltered, and seemed to remember that he still stood, and that he was weak and trembled. Her manner changed. She led him quickly to the sofa, and softly said, —

“ You have done too much. I will bring you a cup of coffee this moment. Do not stir till you get it.”

This was all ; yet it seemed to him that she said an inhuman thing. She was kind, — oh, as kind as love ; yet it seemed to him that she had been cruel as the grave.

When she returned with the coffee, he saw that she had not slept, and that she had been weeping. He did not try to speak. His brain whirled, and he grew faint, He drank the coffee feverishly, and closed his eyes. All he felt now was that he did not understand her. He said he would take his breakfast there alone, if it were not too much trouble ; and so she left him without a word. He lay and listened to the robin on the balcony, who sang on rapturously.

Madam Strong chiefly attended to Nordhall’s wants that day. Reliance passed in and out, but wandered often into the garden, and sat for hours in her own room. Madam Strong did not comment on the circumstance. She read the Advertiser, and expatiated on Dr. Bishop’s success with Mr. Nordhall’s case. She had the utmost confidence in Dr. Bishop. She believed him to be the superior of many more celebrated men. He had always treated the best people in Salem. Nordhall listened confusedly.

Towards night she came into the parlor, and drawing her blue yarn from the old-fashioned black-silk bag that she wore at her side, began composedly to knit and say, —

“ Reliance lias been out of sorts today.”

Nordhall pinned his eyes to the blacksilk bag ; it was run on clasps of black ivory that extended on either side, like gymnasium poles ; the blue yarn seemed to be vaulting over these poles, as if competing for an athletic prize.

“ She met with an affliction yesterday,” pursued Madam Strong, in her finished, exasperating manner. “ She lost her wedding-ring.”


“ Yes, poor girl ! She felt it very keenly. She has just found it. She dropped it in the garden last evening, while walking there to get the air before retiring. She has cried herself sick. She has been at the church-yard — where my son lies— half the day. Her hand has grown so thin, I have often urged her to get a guard. I am quite relieved that it was not lost.”

The old black-silk bag shut with a soft snap, and the blue gymnast quivered, impaled upon the ivory pole, from which it seemed to have no longer courage or power to get away. Nordhall watched the senseless thing with interest, wondering how it was either going to get on and be knitted into anything, or climb back into the bag and be shut up.


“ You may take sarza to open the liver, steel to open the spleen, flower of sulphur for the lungs, castoreum for the brain; but no receipt opencth the heart but a true friend.” — BACON.

Nordhall concluded that it was time for him to get well ; and he proceeded to this end with great intentness. In less than a week from the day Reliance broke and bruised the golden lily, she had her flowers to herself. She walked much in the garden in the evenings of that waning moon, alone and calm. She searched no longer for lost rings, but wisely did as her mother bade her, and bought a guard.

The day that Nordhall left the house, she put on her bonnet and went to a temperance society, a business women ’s reading room, and a mission prayermeeting.

The next day, she called on five " reformed men ” and three sick girls, and attended a conference of coöperative visitors.

Reliance Strong was in no sense a remarkable person. Unless to love loyally is to be distinguished, she had no claim to the unusual. She was like many other delicate and tender women whom you and I know, and her life was like so many other women’s lives that I hesitated at the outset to tell her story, and I hesitate more and more as I go on. It is my reassurance that no one will read it through who does not love women, and follow with some degree of comprehension the whirl of the all but invisible hair-springs by which the pulsations of their lives are touched. I am not without comfort sometimes, too, that these hidden wheels stir so fast, given a certain momentum to their secret strength, that such a story as this cannot be very long. The jeweled machinery yields and wears. Then, perhaps, we buy us a new time-piece, or we patch up the old one, or, possibly, we go without any for the rest of our lives. But the struggle to keep golden hours by a weakened mainspring is over, and with it the tale.

Reliance, I say, was not remarkable ; yet in one respect I may retract the words. She had acquired by nature or by grace a power far less common among women than with men, — she knew how to withdraw from an indefinite and unrestful relation. She did not parry and play with a position which she did not clearly relish, nor with a feeling which she did not fully understand.

Something was the matter between her and Charley Nordhall. She would give him a chance to find out what. She plunged into her mission work with greatly increased energy. The slightly neglected shop-girls greeted her back. The somewhat overlooked invalids met her with outstretched hands. The patient but a little perplexed “ reformed men ” took heart, and welcomed her with watchful eyes.

“ I know we can’t expect you to be always just so,” said Mr. Janet, philosophically, “ but a man situated as I be is a great deal more so when you are ! ”

She did not answer this singularly lucid remark ; her lip trembled in the fine profile cut against her veil. It was after the meeting, and she stood in the low door of the mission room, with the sunset struggling over her into the close, dusty, and now silent place. Her heart smote her once again ; but not this time for Nordhall’s sake. She turned and looked about the room. Little Janet, who was “ organist,” was just closing the asthmatic melodeon. The janitor was gathering up the battered hymn-books. Mr. Griggs stood, with his hat off, regarding her with his famishing eyes ; he was pale with long abstinence and looked feeble. She could feel how every nerve in him cried for the indulgence between which and him her ideal stood. She stood, — she !

Her hand was ungloved. (It was the left one, on which her wedding-ring hung fettered by a fine gold chain.) She gave it to Mr. Janet, in one of the silent pledges whose power over the giver is doubled by the fact that the recipient cannot understand it. The miserable place seemed sacred to her as she turned away.

She saw little of Nordhall for several weeks. He called, of course; he expressed his gratitude. Madam Strong sat in the room, and the conversation took that feebly unobjectionable and general tone which insures safety, if not entertainment. Reliance talked a good deal about her poor people ; a perfectly objective direction of thought, in which his inclination seemed to follow her. Nordhall proposed going to one of the temperance prayer-meetings; but Reliance did not encourage this herculean effort at reformation. Nordhall’s bright boy’s eyes fell when he perceived this. He sincerely wanted to go; he said he should like to hear Griggs pray.

“ Would you, really ? ” she asked, piercingly. He flushed, but made her no answer just then. Afterwards, Madam Strong having stepped out after her camphor bottle, he said very frankly that he was not a fellow to propose that sort of thing for the sake of her society. It was her turn to color. She felt that she had misrepresented herself, and stood in an undesirable attitude. They got on badly together that evening, and he went away at half past eight.

When he had gone she felt ashamed of herself, and as if John would be ashamed of her ; and so went miserably up-stairs, took out her husband’s picture, and cried over it for a while. It seemed to her that in all her life she had never needed him as she needed him now. He would know just what to do about Charley Nordhall.

Some time intervened between this and Nordhall’s next appearance. He was very busy ; he wrote a note of five lines to say so, and to ask, Had the ladies any commands upon his services in New York? He traveled a little, and attended to neglected duties. The real-estate business acquired a renewed importance in his mind, and its influence upon the interests of the country assumed a directness of which he was not always aware.

He set his teeth over it. He too could work, as well us she. They went their separate ways in that loud silence and with that pursuant consciousness of each other which belong only to ill-adjusted and unsatisfied relations.

One day, Reliance and Kaiser went down to the shore, and walked, as their wont was when she could find time, alone together up and down the beach. Reliance was not happy that day. Her work had gone wrong. One of her men had broken his pledge. One of her girls was “ keeping company ” with a rascal. One of her sick people had died suddenly, — had sent for her ; she was in Boston matching crape for her motherin-law, and when she came home, tired and dusty, in the evening train, she was too late. Mr. Griggs was out of employment and the coöperative treasury out of funds. Philanthropy seemed to her of less value than life itself just then, and more than this she knew not how to say. She was not very well ; had stayed at home with her mother and her poor people during the July fevers, instead of hunting up Myrtle Snowe or some other cool old friend, and going to the mountains, as Nordhall had wished her to do. She was tired. Her whole heart ached.

Then, too, it happened to be one of those frequently recurring, little, unimportant anniversaries, of whose existence none but the mourner knows. This is the day when the dear one brought us a rosebud, gave us a book, sang us a song, took us to drive; or we walked to see a sunset fold, or a foxberry bloom ; or there was a poem read, a headache cured; or hands touched, or lips met. And this was the hour, and the years have not buried it; they cannot, nor can we.

Reliance, on the yellow beach, wandered to and fro. The sky was yellow, too, and hence the sea; it was the sunset of a gray day. Dull splendors had broken out of yielding cloud and mist; a glory was on the horizon which was fog an hour ago. Into this glory the slender, dark-robed outline of the solitary figure on the shore could not fuse, — black cannot melt to gold, — but rebelled from her atmosphere, and appealed the more to the eye that watched her, for this reason.

He thought at first he would tell her so, coming upon her suddenly, almost brusquely, as he did. But he told her nothing. She was a little startled at seeing him, and he only strolled by her side a moment or so, in silence. Then he spoke to Kaiser, and then he said — what was perfectly true — that he did not expect to overtake her ; he had come out for a hard walk alone on the hard sand.

“ And I too,” she said smiling.

He hesitated. “Shall we pursue the objects which drew us here ?”

“ I don’t know,” said Reliance, with gentle vagueness.

“ Shall I leave you to your own devices ? I can go about my own.”

“Just as you like, Mr. Nordhall. I am glad to see you ; you know that.” She spoke with a grave, sweet dignity. There was never any ingenious parrying of words between these two. No man could have drawn inconceivable conclusions from fantastic glimpses of feeling in her conversation. As for the thousand-and-one refined phases of that modern emotion which used to be called flirtation, but which we have now “ evoluted ” into a form of psychological study, a man would as soon have made them the staple of a morning call on St. Catherine or Elizabeth Frye as to have offered them to this young and beautiful widow.

“Are you glad to see me always?” asked Charles Nordhall, with an honest flush.

“ Why. certainly I am!” But this was without any flush at all.

“And glad to-day ? I hope you are particularly so to-day! It is a good while since I have seen you ; and there are not many such evenings as this in a summer.”

They walked on together, drawing nearer to the water, and so nearer to the glory in the heavens, beyond the shifting sea and stable shore.

“ Not many such in a life-time, I think,” murmured Reliance, after this pause. She was moved by the color, by the sound. The wave broke at her feet gently, but somewhere the breakers cried; the sun was ready to sink into the yielding tide. It seemed to her that they all alike—sun and shore, she and John, sky and molten mist —were part of the splendor, made the glory. And Nordhall, too, — Nordhall was a part of it; she could see that he was ; she could not see her husband. . . .

She stirred, and they strolled, splashing their feet in the warm and glittering shallow wave that overtook them. They walked in perfect silence for what seemed a long time. The sun dropped.

“ I ’m tired ! ” she said abruptly.

He led her to the nearest rock, and wrapped her shawl around her. She submitted quietly, — so quietly that he marveled, till, looking at her, he saw that her lip was quivering.

“You are tired out! ” he cried.

“ I believe I am,” she said, trying to smile. “ It has been coming on for a long time. Don’t mind it ! ”

He sat down beside her on the great brown bowlder. He knew that she was afraid she should cry ; he would not look at her, nor speak. She was one of the women from whom a tender word spoken at the wrong (or the right) moment will bring the scorching tears which a sharp or neglectful one would have frozen stiff. For a silence, he left her to struggle with herself.

When she spoke, which she did soon enough, she was quite under her own control; not at all, he keenly felt, under his, as she might have been had he made her cry. He half repented his delicate and honorable impulse. He did not know how grateful she was to him, nor that such are the little acts which a woman never forgets, and always reveres as if they were a species of heroism. The man capable of them seems to her, for the moment, less unlike herself ; the sympathy is stronger to the fancy; he seems like a woman to her; the clay is finer to the touch.

She began to talk directly, when she had recovered herself, of the waning light; of the advancing fog ; of a beach of Norton’s this reminded her of; and whether Mr. Nordhall thought William Hunt could paint waves.

But Nordhall heard her with rebellious irresponsiveness. He could not so soon abandon that other mood; nay, more, he would not. It had not darkened, but it had deepened, before he turned, and without any preparation, looking down at her through the subdued but still live color of the evening, said, —

“ I begin to think I was not honest, once, In a thing I said to you. I wish to confess.”

“ Oh, I will absolve!” she answered quickly.

He thought, She does not wish to hear me. She fears me; or she fears what I shall say. He answered, —

“ I am very much in earnest. Will you permit me to go on ? ”

“ It is plain I could not prevent you if I tried. Yes, go on.”

“I said — once—that I valued your friendship for your husband’s sake. That was true, so far as it went. It does not go far enough. I desire your friendship for my own sake — now.” He paused, and added slowly, “ Perhaps I always did. But I did not know it as well as I know it now. I desire — that we may be friends — you and I — because we are you and I; I wish it for my own sake and for yours. I wish to be quite clear. I know that I have made myself obnoxious to you lately ; I hope it was partly that we did not understand one another. I want, above all things, that we should understand each other with perfect distinctness, if we can. I ask your permission that we may be personal friends for the sake of no other than ourselves. Do I make myself plain ? ”

“ I think so,” said Reliance, in a low voice. She had sunk back against the bowlder, which now had grown purple, like a royal figure. She wrapped her shawl about her, as if preparing for a conversation of some length. Nordhall took a gray stone at her feet, and leaned on his elbow, looking up. She noticed just then the color of his hair, and wondered if she had never observed it before. She had usually thought about his boyish eyes when she looked at him. Often, poor fellow, she had not thought about him at all.

“ I wonder,” she asked abruptly, “ what you would think it meant, precisely. What is a friend ? ”

“ Definitions are always dangerous,” murmured Nordhall, inaudibly. Then, raising his voice to a gently argumentative tone, he seemed to put her question aside in that imperious, because easy, way which he had at times. “ Now, look here. Here we are. I am a solitary fellow, not so young as I was, — I am thirty-seven. I find I mind it, living in a vacuum, more than I used to do. My mother is dead. I have no sisters. My housekeeper is sixtyone. You know I don’t care for society women, and you know I never did. You and John used to make me so happy, in Boston. I remember the first time he asked me home to tea I said, ‘ Your wife won’t want me.’ I was afraid of intruding; you don’t know how afraid of intruding I was ! But you made me so easy, so happy! I remember just how you walked across the room. I remember how you looked when you asked if I ate olives, and if I would have cream. I had only seen you at dinner-parties and such places, before,— among the other women. I remember how you asked me to light the fire, after tea, as if I belonged there. From the time when I saw you in your own house and you were so good to a homeless fellow, and John was so good,—he said, I remember, when I said you would n’t want me, ' Trust my wife ’ ” —

“ Oh, don't! ” she cried, putting up both hands. “ Oh, don’t, don’t, don't !

I can’t bear it ! I cannot bear it! Oh, what shall I do?

She sank ; she hid her face against the purple bowlder, — soft as velvet to the eye, hard as iron to the touch, — and on its granite shoulder lay and sobbed as if she would sob her soul out.

He let her cry. He let her cry till she was worn out. All his life and strength struggled to comfort her. But she was John’s wife. He left her to the arms of the rock. lH only put out his hand in the twilight, and stroked the fringe of her shawl.

By and by, they perceived that it was growing dark; they seemed both to have a recognition of the fact at the same moment, and simultaneously stirred and rose. Neither spoke. She gave him her hand, and he helped her from the purple rock to the gray one, — both black now, — and so upon the lighter, yielding sand. His fingers, as they met hers, touched the chained wedding-ring.

They walked home without one word. She was perfectly quiet now, and leaned wearily towards him. When they had gone through the syringa arbor and up the long front yard, at the foot of the steps she paused, and said, —

“ If we are to be better friends, to understand each other better, — and there is no reason why John should mind ” —

“ There is no such reason ! ” whispered Nordhall, impetuously. “ I ask for nothing but friendship. I want nothing else ! I only want that what I have shall be mine. John would not blame me for this, — nor you either.”

“I could not do anything for which my husband could blame me ! ” She drew herself to her full height, and dropped his arm.

Then she said, “ I am too tired to talk about it to-night,” and like a spirit she was gone.


“ There sometimes occurs in a strong soul a love firm enough to transform itself into impassioned friendship so as to become a duty, and appropriate the quality of virtue.” —CHATEAUBRIAND.

That delightful consciousness of having left something of the first importance so far unexplained to a woman as to necessitate an immediate occasion for seeing her again followed Nordhall the next day, through the (for the time being) depreciated interests of the realestate business, whose value to the country and to posterity seemed less marked than it had of late.

He took an earlier train than usual out from Boston, and sought her at the first pardonable hour. As he walked up the avenue, that night, he looked at the great horse-chestnut shadow meeting over his head, and across the garden where some snow-ball bushes stood white in the night, and towards the gray marshes, and up at the eloquent house, and thought within how small a compass the drama of his feeling for this woman had been played. How limited the scenery through which she and he had moved in these four widowed years! It made her dearer to him that this was so. He was a quiet fellow, liking quiet ways and near horizons. What should he have done if she had been one of the mourners who want to be taken to the theatre to “ be got out of themselves,” or who must keep running to Paris for a “ change of scene ” ?

He thought, with a thrill of pride in her not unlike the haughtiness of possession, how sincere a life it had been, how real she was. He thought of her unselfishness, her modesty, the sweet outgoing of her nature to those more needy than herself; how rare, how fine, this bruised but vital womanhood !

Nordhall exulted over her, as he walked up the lonely avenue.

He did not fully analyze the nature that so appealed to and commanded him. Yet he plied himself with queries, keen and inevitable as stabs of physical pain. Whence grew a genuineness real and rich as life ? Whence sprang this tenderness, sad and sweet and mysterious as death ? Whence came this deepening wealth and beauty of a character to which every year added new splendors, like a picture before which he stood, distant and awed, to watch the artist lay the wet, fresh colors on, — he who could not touch it?

Some works belong to their creator, like those of the great Belgian painter, who never parted with his own, but elaborated his pictures from year to happy year, until he died and left their glory to his country, perfected and unique.

. . . Whose picture was this ? Whose work was she ? To whom belonged the bewildering outline, the tender tint, the fine harmony ?

He did not answer his own questions. He did not admit in words that no power on earth could make and keep a woman like this woman but the eternal fertility of constant love. He did not say to himself that the very ideal which he reverenced was the daily growth of causes which separated and must separate it from himself.

He only went up the steps and rang the bell, and asked for her.

Madam Strong was not well that night; she lay on the sofa in the drawing-room, and apologized to Mr. Nordhall, carefully covered with an afghan knit in mourning colors, gray and black. She found a bronchial difficulty in her throat, and talked about Dr. Bishop. Nordhall and Reliance sat by the table and chatted quietly. Reliance was drawing up a list of tableaux for the entertainment in the coffee rooms. He helped her, and they discussed many little things. If she only said, “ Would you have a temperance dialogue ? ” he felt as if she needed him. If he only ruled off her programme, it seemed to him as if he upheld her. She was gentle, cheerful, and calm. They had a pleasant time.

Her scrap-book, among other things that could be assessed as taxable for the temperance entertainment, lay upon the table. He took it up, with the delicately familiar glance which says : I know I may! She did not forbid. He turned the leaves slowly, pleased with her permission ; yet, had she refused it, he would have been profoundly hurt.

“ Ah ! ” he said suddenly.

“ Ah what ? ”

You have that thing, too ! I never heard of anybody else who liked it. It came out in tlie Pacific, I think, anonymously. Apparently, it fell dead. I carried away the remains and buried them ; but I thought myself the only mourner.”

She held out her hand for the book, with a sparkle of pleased curiosity. She was at the time assiduously cutting gilt paper for a tableau (name and nature as yet indistinct) in which Janet was to figure. Janet had begged to be allowed to “ act in something with stars.” Mrs. Strong read and returned the poem, with the air of an astronomer disturbed at an eclipse.

These were the lines: —

Thrust backward on the border of the Land,
Defied, yet dauntless, we obey, and drop
Our level lids, —dazzled. None see so far
As the denied. To none, so radiant, lift
The foreheads of the reigning hills. To whom
So fair, the garments of the valley, when
She leans against their feet ?

Not lost, O Land,

The mute, majestic forests where no man
Has set his foot; thy tropic balm and calm
Of tangles where the moon shines warm enough
To call the blush upon the rounding grape.
Not lost the unfamiliar, far, bright sands
Of hidden beaches waking with the wave
That calls the soul to sail a virgin sea.
Gold is the gleam that never fell on trodden shores,
Thy shadows purple splendors be, brave Land !
O perfumes faint, for which we have no name!
Strange blossoms none have ever culled, nor can,
And colors new-created! Glorious !
Ye are not lost, but living. Living, we.
Await us. Ye are ours. Each to his own
Shall come. The sure can wait. We set our seal
Of kingdom and discovery upon
Thy silences and solitudes, and wild
Surprises, and unfathomed rest.

O Friend,

Step hither; look with me. Draw near. Shrink not.
Since we shall share the empire, are we not
So strong that we can share the exHe, too ?

“ It has no title,” said Nordhall, feeling that some one should speak. “ I should call it — if I must call it at all — Discovered, — Unexplored. Who was that wise fellow who said poems ought to have no titles ? ”

“ IIow many rays would exact science permit in a gilt-paper planet,” replied Reliance, thoughtfully, “if it had to cut them with extremely dull embroidery scissors, from a pattern furnished — and adored — by Janet? Yes; I like the poem. I wish you would pick up a few of these nebulæ scattered round the table.” Nordhall felt a vague hurt, as if the continuity and intensity of his sentiment had jarred with the variety and delicacy of hers; while at the same time he respected his own impulse sturdily. What if he had quoted poetry at an unexpected moment ? At least his mood was as worthy as her recoil from it. He shut the scrap-book, however, and became as devoutly astronomical as she could wish.

When Madam Strong went, by and by, to sleep, — Dr. Bishop having recommended naps, — and the gray and black afghan took on a less insistent character to their consciousness (there was a bereaved work-basket left with crape bows; but this was not so expressive), Nordhall and Reliance quickly fell into one of those silences which are so much more awkward and vocal than speech. She worked over her stars a few minutes, but was the first to speak, and she said, without looking up, snipping burning bits of gold paper over her black dress,—

“ I want to understand, exactly, what you meant by saying that it was for my sake.”

“ That what was for your sake ”

“ That we should understand each other better, and be better friends, — for your sake, and mine too. Why mine too ? ”

“ Because I think you need me.”

He had never spoken like this to her. She lifted her protesting eyes. He had brought his lips together with a decision Which alarmed, but a gentleness which disarmed her.

“ You are lonely,” he said, with suppressed breath. “ You are as lonely as you can be, and live. I desire to help you. I desire to comfort you all I can.”

“ You always have tried to help me.”

“ Yes, but so imperfectly, so poorly ; always with some doubt or misconception behind. I could Help you more, far more, if you would let me.”

“ I have my husband ! ” She looked over her shoulder, as if he stood there.

“ You can’t see him ! ” cried Nordhall, cruelly.

“ What does that matter ? He is there.”

Instinctively, Nordhall looked over her shoulder, too, into the warm, lighted, empty air. His eye traversed the bright vacancy, the length of the drawing-room, and returned. His manner changed.

“ Perhaps he is. I hope so, if that helps you any. I offer you nothing which I should not offer if he were,— though I can’t see him, either. I am not here as your lover, Reliance Strong. I am here as your friend.”

Her face crimsoned terribly, like crimson lightning, for that one instant, then she went deadly pale ; and then her calm and natural look came back.

Please don’t think I misunderstand ! I am not so vain, so conscious. I do not think about things in that way. I don’t,

Through a failure to receive the author’s proof in season for correction, Mr. Lloyd’s article goes to our readers without the strong confirmatory facts and figures which his revision embodied. His paper was written several months ago, and as printed represents the condition of things at the time of writing. Some minor errors of statement, not affecting his positions generally, have necessarily remained uncorrected.

indeed ! I only want to do what is quite right. If it is right to take the kind of friendship you speak of, to need you, to depend on you, when T am perplexed or tired . . . Oh, I am so tired, lately, it seems to me as if I could not live another day ! ”

She dropped her paper, as if ashamed of her own impulsive words, and moved from him ; went across to the low window, opened it, stood by it, then stepped over and out upon the piazza. He followed her without a moment’s hesitation, stopping only to draw the afflicted afghan closer over Madam Strong, who had partially waked and spoken. He closed the window after he had passed through.

This little pause gave Reliance recovery of herself. She stood looking up at him. They seemed to be shut apart there, — they two alone together in the September night. She held up her hands in that appealing way no other woman had, and with her sweet self-possession said,—

“ Dear Mr. Nordhall, I am willing to let you be my friend, as well as John’s. I think it must be right. I think my husband would feel it to be so. Let us help each other all we can. It is a hard world ... to live in. ... I need help.” . . .

Her voice dropped. He reverently took both her hands in his, for a solemn instant; then put them down, as if they had been dead desires.

His ideal of himself stood there beside them on the dark veranda ; invisible but powerful as the dead man’s spirit. It was as if four of them were there, — John and Reliance Strong, Charles Nordhall and Charles Nordhall’s vision. At that moment he felt himself to be capable of something unexampled in the history of the feeling that man knows for woman. He felt himself capacious for the last sacrifice and the powerful protection that only lie who is wrought of passionate selfcontrol and controlled passion can rentier to her whom he might have loved.

Of all the forms and shades of fine relation possible between delicate men and women, none, perhaps, is of a subtler power over character, as none is of a sadder, than this which exists when the free soul and bound lips say, You whom I might have loved. None, perhaps, knows either happiness so secret, so unselfish, or fidelity so hopeless and so permanent.

“ But I will never love her ! ” cried the visible to the invisible Nordhall, in the September night. “ I will befriend her — for her sake.”

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.