Dr. Breen's Practice


GRACE burst into the room where her mother sat, and flung her hat aside with a desperate gesture. " Now, mother, you have got to listen to me. Dr. Mulbridge has asked me to marry him ! ”

Mrs. Breen put up her spectacles on her forehead, and stared at her daughter, while some strong expressions, out of the plebeian or rustic past which lies only a generation or two behind most of us, rose to her lips. I will not repeat them here ; she had long denied them to herself as an immoral self-indulgence, and it must be owned that such things have a fearful effect, coming from old ladies. “ What has got into all the men ? What in nature does he want you to marry him for ? ”

“ Oh, for the best reasons in the world ! ” exclaimed the daughter. “ For reasons that will make you admire and respect him,” she added, ironically. “ For great, and unselfish, and magnanimous reasons ! ”

“ I should want to believe they were the real ones, first,” interrupted Mrs. Breen.

“ He wants to marry me because he knows that I can’t fulfill my plans of life alone, and because we could fulfill them together. We shall not only be husband and wife, but we shall be physicians in partnership. I may continue a homœopath, he says, and the State Medical Association may go to the devil.” She used his language, that would have been shocking to her ordinary moods, without blenching, and in their common agitation her mother accepted it as fit and becoming. “ He counts upon my accepting him because I must see it as my duty, and my conscience won't let me reject the only opportunity I shall have of doing some good and being of some use in the world. What do you think I ought to do, mother ? ”

“ There’s reason in what he says. It is an opportunity. You could be of use, in that way, and perhaps it’s the only way. Yes,” she continued, fascinated by the logic of the position and its capabilities for vicarious self-sacrifice, “ I don’t see how you can get out of it. You have spent years and years of study, and a great deal of money, to educate yourself for a profession that you ’re too weak to practice alone. You can’t say that I ever advised your doing it. It was your own idea, and I did n’t oppose it. But when you've gone so far, you’ve formed an obligation to go on. It’s your duty not to give up, if you know of any means to continue. That’s your duty, as plain as can be. To say nothing of the wicked waste of your giving up now, you’re bound to consider the effect it would have upon other women who are trying to do something for themselves. The only thing,” she added, with some misgiving, “ is whether you believe he was in earnest and would keep his word to you.”

Copyright, 1881, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.

“ I think he was secretly laughing at me, and that he would expect to laugh me out of his promise.”

“ Well, then, you ought to take time to reflect, and you ought to be sure that you ’re right about him.”

“ Is that what you really think, mother?”

“ I am always governed by reason, Grace, and by right; and I have brought you up on that plan. If you have ever departed from it, it has not been with my consent, nor for want of my warning. I have simply laid the matter before you.”

“ Then you wish me to marry him ? ”

This was perhaps a point that had not occurred to Mrs. Breen in her recognition of the strength of Dr. Mulbridge’s position. It was one thing to trace the path of duty ; another to support the aspirant in treading it. " You ought to take time to reflect,” Mrs. Breen repeated, with evasion that she never used in behalf of others.

“ Well, mother,” answered Grace, “ I did n’t take time to reflect, and I should n’t care whether I was right about him or not. I refused him because I did n’t love him. If I had loved him, that would have been the only reason I needed to marry him. But all the duty in the world would n’t be enough without it. Duty ? I am sick of duty ! Let the other women who are trying to do something for themselves take care of themselves, as men would. I don’t owe them more than a man would owe other men, and I won’t be hoodwinked into thinking I do. As for the waste, the past is gone, at any rate; and the waste that I lament is the years I spent in working myself up to an undertaking that I was never fit for. I won’t continue that waste, and I won’t keep up the delusion that because I was very unhappy I was useful, and that it was doing good to be miserable. I like pleasure and I like dress ; I like pretty things. There is no harm in them. Why shouldn’t I have them ? ”

“ There is harm in them for you ” — her mother began.

“ Because I have tried to make my life a horror ? There is no other reason, and that is no reason. When we go into Boston this winter I shall go to the theatre. I shall go to the opera, and I hope there will be a ballet. And next summer I am going to Europe; I am going to Italy.” She whirled away toward the door as if she were setting out.

“ I should think you had taken leave of your conscience ! ” cried her mother.

“ I hope I have, mother. I am going to consult my reason after this.”

“ Your reason ! ”

“ Well, then, my inclination. I have had enough of conscience, — of my own, and of yours, too. That is what I told him, and that is what I mean. There is such a thing as having too much conscience, and of getting stupefied by it, so that you can’t really see what’s right. But I don’t care. I believe I should like to do wrong for a while, and I will do wrong, if it’s doing right to marry him.”

She had her hand on the door-knob, and now she opened the door, and closed it after her with something very like a bang.

She naturally could not keep within doors in this explosive state, and she went down-stairs, and out upon the piazza. Mr. Maynard was there, smoking, with his boots on top of the veranda rail, and his person thrown back in his chair at the angle requisite to accomplish this elevation of the feet. He took them down, as he saw her approach, and rose, with the respect in which he never failed for women, and threw his cigar away.

“ Mr. Maynard,” she asked abruptly, “ do you know where Mr. Libby is ? ”

“ No, I don’t, doctor, I’m sorry to say. If I did, I would send and borrow some more cigars of him. I think that the brand our landlord keeps must have been invented by Mr. Trask, the great anti-tobacco reformer.”

“ Is he coming back ? Is n’t he coming back ? ” she demanded breathlessly.

“Why, yes, I reckon he must be coming back. Libby generally sees his friends through. And he ’ll have some curiosity to know how Mrs. Maynard and I have come out of it all.” He looked at her with something latent in his eye; but what his eye expressed was merely a sympathetic regret that he could not be more satisfactory.

“ Perhaps,” she suggested, “ Mr. Barlow might know something.”

“ Well, now,” said Maynard, “ perhaps he might, that very thing. I ’ll go round and ask him.” He went to the stable, and she waited for his return. “ Barlow says,” he reported, “ that he guesses he ’s somewhere about Leyden. At any rate, his mare’s there yet, in the stable where Barlow left her. He saw her there, yesterday.”

“ Thanks. That’s all I wished to know,” said Grace. “ I wished to write to him,” she added boldly.

She shut herself in her room, and spent the rest of the forenoon in writing a letter, which when first finished was very long, but in its ultimate phase was so short as to occupy but a small space on a square correspondence-card. Having got it written on the card, she was dissatisfied with it in that shape, and copied it upon a sheet of note-paper. Then she sealed and addressed it, and put it into her pocket. After dinner she went down to the beach, and walked a long way upon the sands. She thought at first that she would ask Barlow to get it to him, somehow ; and then she determined to find out from Barlow the address of the people who had Mr. Libby’s horse, and send it to them for him by the driver of the barge. She would approach the driver with a nonchalant, imperious air, and ask him to please have that delivered to Mr. Libby immediately, and in case he learned from the stable people that he was not in Leyden, to bring the letter back to her. She saw how the driver would take it, and then she figured Libby opening and reading it. She sometimes figured him one way, and sometimes another. Sometimes he rapidly scanned the lines, and then instantly ordered his horse, and feverishly hastened the men ; again, he deliberately read it, and then tore it into small pieces, with a laugh, and flung them away. This conception of his behavior made her heart almost stop beating ; but there was a luxury in it, too, and she recurred to it quite as often as to the other, which led her to a dramatization of their meeting, with all their parley minutely realized, and every most intimate look and thought imagined. There is of course no means of proving that this sort of mental exercise was in any degree an exercise of the reason, or that Dr. Breen did not behave unprofessionally in giving herself up to it. She could only have claimed in self-defense that she was no longer aiming at a professional behavior ; that she was in fact abandoning herself to a recovered sense of girlhood and all its sweetest irresponsibilities. Those who would excuse so weak and capricious a character may urge, if they like, that she was behaving as wisely as a young physician of the other sex would have done in the circumstances.

She concluded to remain on the beach, where only the children were playing in the sand, and where she could easily escape any other companionship that threatened. After she had walked long enough to spend the first passion of her reverie, she sat down under the cliff, and presently grew conscious of his boat swinging at anchor in its wonted place, and wondered that she had not thought he must come back for that. Then she had a mind to tear up her letter as superfluous ; but she did not. She rose from her place under the cliff, and went to look for the dory. She found it drawn up on the sand in a little cove. It was the same place, and the water was so shoal for twenty feet out that no one could have rowed the dory to land; it must be dragged up. She laughed and blushed, and then boldly amused herself by looking for foot-prints ; but the tide must have washed them out long ago ; there were only the light, small foot-prints of the children who had been playing about the dory. She brushed away some sand they had scattered over the seat, and got into the boat and sat down there. It was a good seat, and commanded a view of the sail-boat in the foreground of the otherwise empty ocean ; she took out her letter, and let it lie in the open hands which she let lie in her lap.

She was not impatient to have the time pass ; it went only too soon. Though she indulged that luxury of terror in imagining her letter torn up and scornfully thrown away, she really rested quite safe as to the event; but she liked this fond delay, and the soft blue afternoon might have lasted forever to her entire content.

A little whiff of breeze stole up, and suddenly caught the letter from her open hands and whisked it out over the sand. With a cry she fled after it, and when she had recaptured it she thought to look at her watch. It was almost time for the barge, and now she made such needless haste, in order not to give herself chance for misgiving or retreat, that she arrived too soon at the point where she meant to intercept the driver on his way to the house; for in her present mutiny she had resolved to gratify a little natural liking for manœuvre, long starved by the rigid discipline to which she had subjected herself. She had always been awkward at it, but she liked it; and now it pleased her to think that she should give her letter secretly to the driver, and on her way to meet him she forgot that she had meant to ask Barlow for part of the address. She did not remember this till it was too late to go back to the hotel, and she suddenly resolved not to consult Barlow, but to let the driver go about from one place to another with the letter till he found the right one. She kept walking on out into the forest through which the road wound, and she had got a mile away before she saw the weary bowing of the horses’ heads, as they tugged the barge through the sand at a walk. She stopped involuntarily, with some impulses to flight; and, as the vehicle drew nearer, she saw the driver turned round upon his seat, and talking to a passenger behind. She had never counted upon his having a passenger, and the fact undid all.

She remained helpless in the middle of the road; the horses came to a standstill a few paces from her, and the driver ceased from the high key of conversation, and turned to see what was the matter.

“My grief!” he shouted. “If it had n’t been for them horses o’ mine, I sh’d ’a’ run right over ye.”

“ I wished to speak with you,” she began. “ I wished to send ” —

She stopped, and the passenger leaned forward to learn what was going on. “ Miss Breen ! ” he exclaimed, and leaped out of the back of the barge and ran to her.

“You — you got my letter!” she gasped.

“ No ! What letter ? Is there anything the matter ? ”

She did not answer. She had become conscious of the letter, which she had never ceased to hold in the hand that she had kept in her pocket for that purpose. She crushed it into a small wad.

Libby turned his head, and said to the driver of the barge, “ Go ahead ; ” and, " Will you take my arm ? ” he added to her. “ It ’s heavy walking in this sand.”

“ No, thank you,” she murmured, recoiling. “ I’m not tired.”

“ Are you well ? Have you been quite well ? ”

“ Oh, yes, perfectly. I did n't know you were coming back.”

“Yes. I had to come back. I’m going to Europe next week, and I had to come to look after my boat, here ; and I wanted to say good-by to Maynard. I was just going to speak to Maynard, and then sail my boat over to Leyden.”

“ It will be very pleasant,” she said, without looking at him. “ It’s moonlight now.”

“ Oh, I sha’n’t have any use for the moon. I shall get over before nightfall, if this breeze holds.”

She tried to think of something else, and to get away from this talk of a sail to Leyden, but she fatally answered, “ I saw your boat this afternoon. I had n’t noticed before that it was still here.”

He hesitated a moment, and then asked, “ Did you happen to notice the dory ? ”

“ Yes ; it was drawn up on the sand.”

“ I suppose it’s all right — if it’s in the same place.”

“ It seemed to be,” she answered faintly.

“ I'm going to give the boat to Johnson.”

She did not say anything, for she could think of nothing to say but that she had looked for seals on the reef, but had not seen any, and this would have been too shamelessly leading. That left the word to him, and he asked timid-


“ I hope my coming don't seem intrusive, Miss Breen ? ”

She did not heed this, but “You are going to be gone a great while ? ” she asked in turn.

“ I don’t know,” he replied, in an uncertain tone, as if troubled to make out whether she was vexed with him or not. “ I thought,” he added, “ I would go up the Nile this time. I’ve never been up the Nile, you know.”

“ No, I did n’t know that. Well,” she added to herself, “ I wish you had not come back! You had better not have come back. If you had n’t come, you would have got my letter. And now it can never be done! No, I can’t go through it all again, and no one has the right to ask it. We have missed the only chance! ” she cried to herself, in such keen reproach of him that she thought she must have spoken aloud.

“ Is Mrs. Maynard all right again ? ” he asked.

“ Yes, she is very much better,”she answered, confusedly, as if he had heard her reproach and had ignored it.

“ I hope you ’re not so tired as you were.”

“ No, I'm not tired now.”

“ I thought you looked a little pale,” he said, sympathetically ; and now she saw that he was so. It irritated her that she should be so far from him, in all helpfulness, and she could scarcely keep down the wish that ached in her heart.

We are never nearer doing the thing we long to do than when we have proclaimed to ourselves that it must not and cannot be.

“ Why are you so pale ? ” she demanded, almost angrily.

“ I ? I did n’t know that I was,” he answered. “ I supposed I was pretty well. I dare say I ought to be ashamed of showing it in that way. But if you ask me, well, I will tell you: I don’t find it any easier than I did at first.”

“ You are to blame, then ! ” she cried. “ If I were a man, I should not let such a thing wear upon me for a moment.”

“ Oh, I dare say I shall live through it,” he answered, with the national whimsicality that comes to our aid in most emergencies.

A little pang went through her heart, but she retorted, “ I would n’t go to Europe to escape it, nor up the Nile. I would stay and fight it where I was.”

“ Stay ? ” He seemed to have caught hopefully at the word.

“ I thought you were stronger. If you give up in this way, how can you expect me ” — She stopped ; she hardly knew what she had intended to say ; she feared that he knew.

But he only said, “ I’m sorry. I did n’t intend to trouble you with the sight of me. I had a plan for getting over the cliff without letting you know, and having Maynard come down to me there.”

“ And did you really mean,” she cried piteously, “to go away without trying to see me again ? ”

“ Yes,” he owned, simply. “ I thought I might catch a glimpse of you, but I did n’t expect to speak to you.”

“ Did you hate me so badly as that ? What had I done to you? ”

“ Done ? ” He gave a sorrowful laugh ; and added, with an absent air,

“ Yes, it’s really like doing something to me ! And sometimes it seems as if you had done it purposely.”

“You know I did n’t! Now, then,” she cried, “ you have insulted me, and you never did that before! You were very good and noble and generous, and would n’t let me blame myself for anything. I wanted always to remember that of you ; for I did n’t believe that any man could be so magnanimous. But it seems that you don’t care to have me respect you! ”

“ Respect ? ” he repeated, in the same vague way. “No, I should n’t care about that unless it was included in the other. But you know whether I have accused you of anything, or whether I have insulted you. I won’t excuse myself. I think that ought to be insulting to your common sense.”

“ Then why should you have wished to avoid seeing me to-day ? Was it to spare yourself ? ” she demanded, quite incoherently now. “ Or did you think I should not be equal to the meeting ? ”

“ I don’t know what to say to you,” answered the young man. “ I think I must be crazy.” He halted, and looked at her in complete bewilderment. “ I don’t understand you at all.”

“ I wished to see you very much. I wanted your advice, as — as —a friend.” He shook his head. “ Yes ! you shall be my friend, in this at least. I can claim it — demand it. You had no right to — to — make me — trust you so much, and — and — then — desert me.”

“ Oh, very well,” he answered. “ If any advice of mine — But I could n’t go through that sacrilegious farce of being near you, and not ” — She waited breathlessly, a condensed eternity, for him to go on ; but he stopped at that word, and added, “ How can I advise you ? ”

The disappointment was so cruel that the tears came into her eyes and ran down her face, which she averted from him. When she could control herself she said, “ I have an opportunity of going on in my profession now, in a way that makes me sure of success.”

“ I am very glad, on your account. You must be glad to realize ” —

“ No, no ! ” she retorted wildly. “ I am not glad ! ”

“ I thought you ” —

“ But there are conditions ! He says he will go with me anywhere, and we can practice our profession together, and I can carry out all my plans. But first — first — he wants me to — marry him! ”

“ Who ? ”

“ Don’t you know ? Dr. Mulbridge ! ” “ That — I beg your pardon. I ’ve no right to call him names.” The young fellow halted, and looked at her downcast face. “ Well, do you want me to tell you to take him ? That is too much. I did n’t know you were cruel.”

“You make me cruel! You leave me to be cruel! ”

“ I leave you to he cruel ? ”

“ Oh, don’t play upon my words, if you won’t ask me what I answered ! ”

“How can I ask that? I have no right to know.”

“ But you shall know ! ” she cried. “ I told him that I had no plans. I have given them all up, because — because I’m too weak for them, and because I abhor him, and because — But it was n’t enough. He would not take what I said for answer, and he is coming again for an answer.”

“ Coming again ? ”

“ Yes. He is a man who believes that women may change, for reason or no reason ; and ” —

“ You — you mean to take him when he comes back ? ” gasped the young man.

“ Never. Not if he came a thousand times ! ”

“ Then what is it you want me to advise you about ? ” he faltered.

“ Nothing! ” she answered, with freezing hauteur. She suddenly put up her arms across her eyes, with the beautiful, artless action of a shame-smitten child, and left her young figure in bewildering relief. “ Oh, don’t you see that I love you ? ”

“ Could n’t you understand, — could n’t you see what I meant ? ” she asked again that night, as they lost themselves on the long stretch of the moonlit beach. With his arm close about that lovely shape, they would have seemed but one person to the inattentive observer, as they paced along in the white splendor.

“ I could n’t risk anything. I had spoken, once for all. I always thought that for a man to offer himself twice was indelicate and unfair. I could never have done it.”

“ That‘s very sweet in you,” she said; and perhaps she would have praised in the same terms the precisely opposite sentiment. “ It’s some comfort,” she added, with a deep-fetched sigh, “ to think I had to speak.”

He laughed, “ You did n’t find it so easy to make love ! ”

“ Oh, nothing is easy that men have to do ! ” she answered, with passionate earnestness.

There are moments of extreme concession, of magnanimous admission, that come but once in a life-time.


Dr. Mulbridge did not wait for the time he had fixed for his return. He may have judged that her tendency against him would strengthen by delay, or he may have yielded to his own impatience in coming the next day. He asked for Grace with his wonted abruptness, and waited for her coming in the little parlor of the hotel, walking up and down the floor, with his shaggy head bent forward, and his big hands clasped behind him.

As she hovered at the door before entering, she could watch him while he walked the whole room’s length away, and she felt a pang at sight of him. If she could have believed that he loved her, she could not have faced him, but must have turned and run away; and even as it was she grieved for him. Such a man would not have made up his mind to this step without a deep motive, if not a deep feeling. Her heart had been softened so that she could not think of frustrating his ambition, if it were no better than that, without pity. One man had made her feel very kindly toward all other men ; she wished, in the tender confusion of the moment, that she need not reject her importunate suitor, whose importunity, even, she could not resent.

He caught sight of her as soon as he made his turn at the end of the room, and with a quick “ Ah ! ” he hastened to meet her, with the smile in which there was certainly something attractive. “ You see I've come back a day sooner than I promised. I have n't the sort of turn-out you’ve been used to, but I want you to drive with me.”

“ I can’t drive with you, Dr. Mulbridge,” she faltered.

“ Well, walk, then. I should prefer to walk.”

“ You must excuse me,” she answered, and remained standing before him.

“ Sit down,” he bade her, and pushed up a chair towards her. His audacity, if it had been a finer courage, would have been splendid, and as it was she helplessly obeyed him, as if she were his patient, and must do so. “ If I were superstitious I should say that you receive me ominously,” he said, fixing his gray eyes keenly upon her.

“ I do ! ” she forced herself to reply. “I wish you had not come.”

“ That’s explicit, at any rate. Have you thought it over ? ”

“ No; I had no need to do that. I had fully resolved when I spoke yesterday. Dr. Mulbridge, why didn’t you spare me this ? It’s unkind of you to insist, after what I said. You know that I must hate to repeat it. I do value you so highly in some ways that I blame you for obliging me to hurt you — if it does hurt — by telling you again that I don’t love you.”

He drew in a long breath, and set his teeth hard upon his lip. “ You may depend upon its hurting,” he said ; “ but I was glad to risk the pain, whatever it was, for the chance of getting you to reconsider. I presume I’m not the conventional wooer. I’m too old for it, and I’m too blunt and plain a man. I’ve been thirty-five years making up my mind to ask you to marry me. You’re the first woman, and you shall be the last. You could n’t suppose I was going to give you up for one no ? ”

“ You had better.”

“ Not for twenty ! I can understand very well how you never thought of me in this way ; but there’s no reason why you should n’t. Come, it’s a matter that we can reason about, like anything else.”

“ No. I told you, it ’s something we can’t reason about. Or yes, it is. I will reason with you. You say that you love me ? ”

“ Yes.”

“ If you did n’t love me, you would n’t ask me to marry you ? ”

“ No.”

“ Then how can you expect me to marry you without loving you ? ”

“ I don’t. All that I ask is that you won’t refuse me. I know that you can love me.”

“ No, no, never ! ”

“ And I only want you to take time to try.”

I don’t wish to try. If you persist, I must leave the room. We had better part. I was foolish to see you. But I thought — I was sorry — I hoped to make it less unkind to you ” —

“ In spite of yourself, you were relenting.”

“ Not at all! ”

“ But if you pitied me, you did care for me a little ? ”

“ You know that I had the highest respect for you as a physician. I tell you that you were my ideal in that way, and I will tell you that if ” — She stopped, and he continued for her : —

“ If you had not resolved to give it up, you might have done what I asked.”

“ I did not say that! ” she answered indignantly.

“ But why do you give it up ? ”

“ Because I am not equal to it.”

“ How do you know it ? Who told you ? ”

You have told me, by every look and act of yours, and I’m grateful to you for it.”

“ And if I told you now, by word, that you were fit for it ” —

“ I should n’t believe you.”

“You wouldn’t believe my word? ” She did not answer. “ I see,” he said, presently, “ that you doubt me, somehow, as a man. What is it you think of me ? ”

“ You would n’t like to know.”

“ Oh, yes, I should.”

“Well, I will tell you. I think you are a tyrant, and that you want a slave, not a wife. You wish to be obeyed. You despise women. I don’t mean their minds, — they ’re despicable enough, in most cases, as men’s are,— but their nature.”

“ This is news to me,” he said, laughing. “ I never knew that I despised women’s nature.”

“ It’s true, whether you knew it or not.”

“ Do I despise you ? ”

“ You would, if you saw that I was afraid of you. Oh, why do you force me to say such things ? Why don’t you spare me, — spare yourself ? ”

“ In this cause I could n’t spare myself. I can’t bear to give you up ! I ’m what I am, whatever you say ; but with you I could be whatever you would. I could show you that you are wrong, if you gave me the chance. I know that I could make you happy. Listen to me a moment.”

“ It’s useless.”

“ No ! If you have taken the trouble to read me in this way, there must have been a time when you might have cared ” —

“ There never was any such time. I read you from the first.”

“ I will go away,” he said, after a pause, in which she had risen, and began a retreat towards the door. “ But I will not — I cannot — give you up. I will see you again.”

“ No, sir. You shall not see me again. I will not submit to it. I will not be persecuted.” She was trembling, and she knew that he saw her tremor.

“ Well,” he said, with a smile that recognized her trepidation, “ I will not persecute you. I ’ll renounce these pretensions. But I ’ll ask you to see me once more, as a friend, —an acquaintance.”

“ I will not see you again.”

“ You are rather hard with me, I think,” he urged gently. “ I don’t think I’m playing the tyrant with you now.”

“ You are, — the baffled tyrant.”

“ But if I promised not to offend again, why should you deny me your acquaintance ? ”

“ Because I don’t believe you.” She was getting nearer the door, and as she put her hand behind her and touched the knob the wild terror she had felt, lest he should reach it first and prevent her escape, left her. “ You are treating me like a child that does n’t know its own mind, or has none to know. You are laughing at me, — playing with me ; you have shown me that you despise me.”

He actually laughed. “ Well, you ’ve shown that you are not afraid of me. Why are you not afraid ? ”

“ Because,” she answered, and she dealt the blow now without pity, “I’m engaged, — engaged to Mr. Libby ! ” She whirled about, and vanished through the door, ashamed, indignant; fearing that if she had not fled he would somehow have found means to make his will prevail even yet.

He stood, stupefied, looking at the closed door, and he made a turn or two about the room before he summoned intelligence to quit it. When death itself comes, the sense of continuance is not at once broken in the survivors. In these moral deaths, which men survive in their own lives, there is no immediate consciousness of an end. For a while habit and the automatic tendency of desire carry them on.

He drove back to Corbitant, perched on the rickety seat of his rattling open buggy, and bowed forward, as his wont was, his rounded shoulders bringing his chin well over the dashboard. As he passed down the long sandy street, toward the corner where his own house stood, the brooding group of loafers, waiting in Hackett’s store for the distribution of the mail, watched him through the open door, and from under the boughs of the weather-beaten poplar before it. Hackett had been cutting a pound of cheese out of the thick yellow disk before him for the Widow Holman, and he stared at the street, after Mulbridge passed, as if his mental eye had halted him there for the public consideration, while he leaned over the counter, and held by the point the long knife with which he had cut the cheese.

“ I see some the folks from over to Jocelyn’s, yist’d’y,” he said, in a spasm of sharp, crackling speech, “ and they seemed to think’t Mis’ Mulbridge’d got to step round pretty spry ’f she did n't want another the same name in the house with her.”

A long silence followed, in which no one changed in any wise the posture in which he found himself when Hackett began to speak. Cap’n George Wray, tilted back against the wall in his chair, continued to stare at the store-keeper ; Cap’n Jabez Wray did not look up from whittling the chair between his legs ; their cousin, Cap’n Wray Storrell, seated on a nail-keg near the stove, went on fretting the rust on the pipe with the end of a stiff, cast-off envelope; two other captains, more or less akin to them, continued their game of checkers; the Widow Seth Wray’s boy rested immovable, with his chin and hand on the counter, where he had been trying, since the Widow Holman went out, to catch Hackett’s eye and buy a corn-ball. Old Cap’n Hilly Wray was the first to break the spell. He took his cigar from his mouth, and held it between his shaking thumb and forefinger, while he pursed his lips for speech. “ Jabez,” he said, “ did Cap’n Sam’l git that coalier ? ”

“ No,” answered the whittler, cutting deeper into his chair; “she didn’t signal for him till she got into the channel, and then he’d got a couple o’ passengers for Leyden; and Cap’n Jim brought her up.”

“ I don’t know,” said Cap’n Billy, with a stiff yet tremulous reference of himself to the store-keeper, “as spryness would help her, as long as he took the notion. I guess he’s master of his own ship. Who’s he going to marry ? The grahs-widow got well enough ? ”

“ No. As I understand,” crackled the store-keeper, “ her husband’s turned up. Folks over there seem to think’t he’s got his eye on the other doctor.”

“ Going to marry with her, hey ? Well, if either of ’em gets sick they won’t have to go far for advice, and they won’t have any doctor’s bills to pay. Still, I should n’t ha’ picked out just that kind of a wife for him.”

“ As I understand ” — the store-keeper began; but here he caught sight of Widow Seth Wray’s boy, and asked, “ What’s wanted, bub ? Corn-ball ? ” and turning to take that sweetmeat from the shelf behind him, he added the rest in the mouth of the hollowly reverberating jar — “ she’s got prop’ty.”

“ Well, I never knew a Mulbridge yet ’t objected to prop’ty,—especially other folks’s.”

“ Barlow, he’s tellin’ round that she’s very fine appearin’.” He handed the corn-ball to Widow Seth Wray’s boy, who went noiselessly out on his bare feet.

Cap’n Billy drew several long breaths. When another man might have been supposed to have dismissed the subject he said, “Well, I never knew a Mulbridge that objected to good looks in women folks. They’ve all merried hahusome wives, ever since the old gentleman set ’em the example with his second one. They got their own looks from the first. Well,” he added, “ I hope she’s a tough one. She’s got either to bend or to break.”

“ They say,” said Cap’n George Wray, like one rising from the dead to say it, so dumb and motionless had he been till now, “ that Mis’ Mulbridge was too much for the old doctor.”

“ I don’t know about that,” Cap’n Billy replied, “ but I guess her son’s too much for her : she’s only Gardiner, and he ’s Gardiner and Mulbridge both.”

No one changed countenance, but a sense of Cap’n Billy’s wit sparely, yet satisfyingly, glimmered from the eyes of Cap’n George and the store-keeper, and Cap’n Jabez closed his knife with a snap and looked up. “ Perhaps,” he suggested, “ she’s seen enough of him to know beforehand that there would be too much of him.”

“ I never rightly understood,” said Hackett, “just what it was about him, there in the army, — coming out a year beforehand, that way.”

“ I guess you never will — from him,” said Cap’n Jabez.

“ Laziness, I guess, — too much work,” said old Cap’n Billy. “ What he wants is a wife with money. There ain’t a better doctor anywhere. I’ve heard't up to Boston, where he got his manifest, they thought everything of him. He’s smart enough, but he’s lazy, and he always was lazy, and harder ’n a nut. He’s a curious mixtur’. ’N’ I guess he’s been on the lookout for somethin’ of this kind ever sence he begun practicing among the summer boarders. Guess he’s had an eye out.”

“ They say he ’s pop’lar among ’em,” observed the store-keeper thoughtfully.

“ He’s been pooty p’tic’lar, or they have,” said Cap’n Jabez.

“ Well, most on ’em’s merried women,” Hackett urged. “It’s astonishin’ how they do come off and leave their husbands, the whole summer long. They say they ’re all out o’ health, though.”

“I wonder,” said old Cap’n Billy, “if them coaliers is goin’ to make a settled thing of haulin’ inside before they signal a pilot.”

“ I know one thing,” answered Cap’n Jabez ; “ that if any coalier signals me in the channel, I ’ll see her in hell first.” He slipped his smooth, warm knife into his pocket, and walked out of the store amid a general silence.

“ He’s consid’able worked up about them coaliers,” said old Cap’n Billy. “I don’t know as I’ve heard Jabez swear before, — not since he was mate of the Gallatin. He used to swear then, consid'able.”

“ Them coaliers is enough to make any one swear,” said Cap’n George. “ If it’s any ways fair weather they won’t take you outside, and they cut you down from twenty-five dollars to two dollars if they take you inside.”

Old Cap’n Billy did not answer before he had breathed a while, and then, having tried his cigar and found it out, he scraped a match on his coat-sleeve. He looked at the flame while it burned from blue to yellow. “ Well, I guess if anybody’s been p’tic’lar, it’s been him. There ain’t any doubt but what he’s got a takin’ way with the women. They like him. He’s masterful, and he ain’t a fool, and women most gen’ly like a man that ain’t a fool. I guess if he’s got his eye on the girl’s prop’ty, she ’ll have to come along. He ’d begin by having his own way about her answer ; he ’d hang on till she said Yes, if she did n’t say it first-off; and he’d keep on as he’d begun. I guess if he wants her it’s a match.” And Cap’n Billy threw his own into the square box of tobacco-stained sawdust under the stove.

Mrs. Maynard fully shared the opinion which mocked Dr. Mulbridge’s defeat with a belief in his invincible will. When it became necessary, in the course of events which made Grace and Libby resolve upon a short engagement, to tell her that they were going to be married, she expressed a frank astonishment. “ Walter Libby ! ” she cried. “ Well, I am surprised. When I was talking to you, the other day, about getting married, of course I supposed it was going to be Dr. Mulbridge. I did n’t want you to marry him, but I thought you were going to.”

“ And why,”demanded Grace, with mounting sensation, “did you think that ? ”

“ Oh, I thought you would have to.”

“ Have to ? ”

“ Oh, you have such a weak will. Or I always thought you had. But perhaps it’s only a weak will with other women. I don’t know ! But Walter Libby ! I knew he was perfectly gone upon you, and I told you so at the beginning ; but I never dreamt of your caring for him. Why, it seems too ridiculous.”

“ Indeed ! I’m glad that it amuses you.”

“ Oh, no, you ’re not, Grace. But you know what I mean, He seems so much younger.”

“ Younger? He’s half a year older than I am.”

“ I did n’t say he was younger. But you ’re so very grave, and he’s so very light. Well, I always told Walter Libby I should get him a wife, but you were the last person I should have thought of. What’s going to become of all your high purposes ? You can't do anything with them when you ’re married ! But you won’t have any occasion for them, — that’s one comfort.”

“ It’s not my idea of marriage that any high purpose will be lost in it.”

“ Oh, it is n’t anybody’s, before they get married. I had such high purposes I could n’t rest. I felt like hiring a hall, as George says, all the time. Walter Libby is n’t going to let you practice, is he? You must n’t let him! I know he’d be willing to do anything you said, but a husband ought to be something more than a mere & Co.”

Grace laughed at the impudent cynicism of all this, for she was too happy to be vexed with any one just then. “ I’m glad you’ve come to think so well of husbands’ rights at last, Louise,” she said.

Mrs. Maynard took the little puncture in good part. “ Oh, yes ; George and I have had a good deal of light let in on us. I don’t suppose my character was much changed outwardly in my sickness,” she suggested.

“ It was not,” answered Grace warmly. “ It was intensified, — that was all.”

Mrs. Maynard laughed in her turn, with real enjoyment of the conception. “ Well, I was n’t going to let on, unless it came to the worst; I did n’t say much, but I kept up an awful thinking. It would have been easy enough to get a divorce, and George would n’t have opposed it; but I looked at it in this way : that the divorce would n’t have put us back where we were, any way, as I had supposed it would. We had broken into each other’s lives, and we could n’t get out again, with all the divorces under the sun. That’s the worst of getting married : you break into each other’s lives. You said something like it to me, that day when you came back from your sail with Walter Libby. And I just concluded that there could n’t be any trial that would n’t be a great deal easier to bear than getting rid of all your trials; and I just made up my mind that if any divorce was to be got, George Maynard might get it himself; a temporary separation was bad enough for me, and I told him so, about the first words I could speak. And we 're going to try the new departure on that platform. We don’t either of us expect we can have things perfectly smooth, but we’ve agreed to rough it together when we can’t. We’ve found out that we can’t marry and then become single, any more than we could die and come to life again. And don’t you forget it, Grace ! You don’t half know yourself, now. You know what you have been ; but getting married lets loose all your possibilities. You don’t know what a temper you’ve got, nor how badly you can behave, — how much like a naughty, good-for-nothing little girl ; for a husband and wife are just two children together : that’s what makes the sweetness of it, and that’s what makes the dreadfulness. Oh, you 'll have need of all your good principles, I can tell you ; and if you’ve a mind to do anything practical in the way of high purposes, I reckon there ’ll be use for them all.”

Another lady who was astonished at Grace’s choice was more incurably disappointed and more grieved for the waste of those noble aims with which her worshiping fancy had endowed the girl even more richly than her own ambition. It was Grace’s wish to pass a year in Europe before her husband should settle down in charge of his mills ; and their engagement, marriage, and departure followed so swiftly upon one another that Miss Gleason would have had no opportunity to proffer remonstrance or advice. She could only account for Grace’s course on the theory that Dr. Mulbridge had failed to offer himself; but this explained her failure to marry him, without explaining her marriage with Mr. Libby. That remained for some time a mystery, for Miss Gleason firmly refused to believe that such a girl could be in love with a man so much her inferior: the conception not only disgraced her idol, but cast shame upon all other women, whose course in such matters is notoriously governed by motives of the highest sagacity and judgment.

Mrs. Breen hesitated between the duty of accompanying the young couple on their European travels and that of going to the village where Libby’s mills were situated, in Southern New Hampshire. She was not strongly urged to a decision by her children, and she finally chose the latter course. The mill property had been a long time abandoned before Libby’s father bought it, and put it in a repair which he did not hasten to extend to the village. This had remained in a sort of picturesque neglect, which harmonized with the scenery of the wild little valley where it nestled ; and Mrs. Breen found, upon the vigorous inquiry which she set on foot, that the operatives were deplorably destitute of culture and drainage. She at once devoted herself to the establishment of a circulating library and an enlightened system of cess-pools, to such an effect of ingratitude in her beneficiaries that she was quite ready to remand them to their former squalor when her son-in-law returned. But he found her work all so good that he mediated between her and the inhabitants, and adopted it with a hearty appreciation that went far to console her, and finally popularized it. In fact, he entered into the spirit of all practical reforms with an energy and intelligence that quite reconciled her to him. It was rather with Grace than with him that she had fault to find. She believed that the girl had returned from Europe materialized and corrupted ; and she regarded the souvenirs of travel with which the house was filled as so many tokens of moral decay. It is undeniable that Grace seemed for a time to have softened to a certain degree of self-indulgence. During the brief opera season, the first winter after her return, she spent a week in Boston ; she often came to the city, and went to the theatres and the exhibitions of pictures. It was for some time Miss Gleason’s opinion that these escapades were the struggles of a magnanimous nature, unequally mated, to forget itself. When they met, she indulged the habit of regarding Mrs. Libby with eyes of latent pity, till one day she heard something that gave her more relief than she could ever have hoped for. This was the fact, perfectly ascertained by some summer sojourners in the neighborhood, that Mrs. Libby was turning her professional training to account by treating the sick children among her husband’s operatives.

In the fall Miss Gleason saw her heroine at an exhibition of pictures. She rushed across the main hall of the Museum to greet her. “ Congratulate you,” she deeply whispered, “on realizing your dream ! Now you are happy ; now you can be at peace !

“ Happy ? At peace ? ”

“In the good work you have taken up. Oh, nothing, under Gawd, is lost! ” she exclaimed, getting ready to run away, and speaking with her face turned over her shoulder towards Mrs. Libby.

“Dream? Good work? What do you mean ? ”

“ Those factory children ! ”

“ Oh ! ” said Mrs. Libby coldly ; “ that was my husband’s idea.”

“ Your husband’s ! ” cried Miss Gleason, facing about again, and trying to let a whole history of suddenly relieved anxiety speak in her eyes. “ How happy you make me ! Do let me thank you! ” In the effort to shake hands with Mrs. Libby she knocked the catalogue out of her hold, and vanished in the crowd without knowing it. Some gentleman picked it up, and gave it to her again, with a bow of burlesque devotion.

Mrs. Libby flushed tenderly. “ I might have known it would be you, Walter. Where did you spring from ? ” “ I 've been here ever since you came.” “ What in the world doing ? ”

“ Oh, enjoying myself.”

“ Looking at the pictures ? ” “Watching you walk round.”

“ I thought you couldn’t be enjoying the pictures,” she said, simply. “ I’m not.”

She was not happy, indeed, in any of the æsthetic dissipations into which she had plunged, and it was doubtless from a shrewder knowledge of her nature than she had herself that her husband had proposed this active usefulness, which she once intended under such different conditions. At the end of the ends she was a Puritan ; belated, misdated, if the reader will, and cast upon good works for the consolation which the Puritans formerly found in a creed. Riches and ease were sinful to her, and somehow to be atoned for ; and she had no real love for anything that was not of an immediate humane and spiritual effect. Under the shelter of her husband’s name the benevolent use of her skill was no queerer than the charity to which many ladies devote themselves ; though they are neither of them people to have felt the anguish which comes from the fear of what other people will think. They go their way in life, and are probably not disturbed by any misgivings concerning them. It is thought, on one hand, that he is a man of excellent head, and of a heart so generous that his deference to her in certain matters is part of the devoted flattery which would spoil any other woman, but that she consults his judgment in every action of her life, and trusts his sense with the same completeness that she trusts his love. On the other hand, when it is felt that she ought to have done for the sake of woman what she could not do for herself, she is regarded as sacrificed in her marriage. If, it is feared, she is not infatuated with her husband, she is in a disgraceful subjection, without the hope of better or higher things. If she had children, they might be a compensation and refuge for her; in that case, to be sure, she must he cut off from her present resource in caring for the children of others, though the conditions under which she now exercises her skill certainly amount to begging the whole question of woman’s fitness for the career she had chosen. Both parties to this contention are, strange to say, ladies. If it has not been made clear, from the events and characters of the foregoing history, which opinion is right, I am unable to decide. It is well, perhaps, not to be too explicitly in the confidence of one’s heroine. After her marriage perhaps it is not even decorous.

W. D. Howells.

  1. Copyright, 1881, by W. D. HOWELLS. All rights reserved.