MR. ARTHUR MORTON would have justified the suspicions of the Quaker colonel. He paid his visit to Hester in the presence of Miss Pearson, and was to go home that day ; and when was Miss Hester to go ?
Mrs. Westerley was not astonished when he telegraphed her that he was detained, and as little surprised when he told, next day, how pleasant the journey had been, and how, of course, he had felt himself obliged to wait for Hester, and had left her at Dr. Wendell’s, and had seen dear old Ned, who was looking a lot better. “ And how nice of you, Mrs. Westerley, to have them all here to dine, — Hester, and Ned, and the doctor ! Miss Ann won’t come,” he added. " Why does n’t she come? And my colonel,— why isn’t he coming, either? I wish I had thought to ask you to have him, too.”
“ Do give me time to breathe, Arty,” answered the widow. “ We can’t have everybody.”
“Oh, I just mentioned him because he looked so ill. I met him at the station. He was sending off a squad of men, and told me that he had telegraphed for his major, and was going back at once. I ’m off as soon as I can get my outfit.”
Alice Westerley felt as if there had been a leaf doubled down in her life book, — what, as a child, she had called a dog-ear, — and now of course everybody opened the volume at that place.
“ How is your mother? ” she asked.
“ Well, pretty well. But every one you meet abroad now is detestable. No one believes in the North, and mother says it is depressing. Shu declares that she will not stay another year.”
“ Another year ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Westerley, in astonishment.
“ Yes. Father does n’t even talk of returning, and I think it will end in her coming over alone for a while.”
“ Bell, go arid dress for dinner. And mind that, you are very attentive to the old gentleman, — you know he likes it; and don’t leave him alone with Dr. Wendell and the madeira.”
“ Oh, no, of course not; and as to madeira, I have n’t heard it mentioned for a year ! ”
Edward, with Hester and the doctor, came punctually ; but Wilmington was late, and Arthur, of course. He was at the age when time lias no value, and seems as boundlessly abundant as sand in the desert.
Hester was in simple white, with a rose in her hair. She was a source of unending wonder to “Wendell and to Edward. Was this tall, fair woman, with eyes like violets dowered with souls, the awkward girl of six months ago? This amazing bit of Nature’s sleight-of-hand seemed to them incomprehensible: a being child-like now, and presently clad with the well-bred composure of grown womanhood ! As for Arty, he looked half dazed for a moment, as she turned to greet him. He said afterwards to Edward, in Bis exuberant way, “ Was n’t she just like June days, Ned? You could n’t tell whether she was child or woman, spring or summer ! ”
In fact, as Colonel Fox had predicted, Hester had gone past Arthur, and he was puzzled at the metamorphosis. At last Mr. Wilmington came, and they went merrily to dinner. Mrs. Westerley’s dinners were always successful. She had learned the golden rule never to put the stupid people to entertain the clever ones. But to-day there was no need for her social arts, and the party was gay without help from her. For this she was thankful. She felt dull, and was glad not to exert herself. So she talked quietly to Wilmington, and caught, at times, the bits of chat which fell from her other guests; watching with the pleasure of a gentlewoman the effect on Hester of six months’ training with a refined and somewhat accurate old lady, or smiling as she recalled the social lessons of her own childhood.
“Sherry, sir?” whispered John to Mr. Wilmington.
The old gentleman raised his glass. “Your good health, Miss Gray,” he said. The girl smiled, and tasted her wine, He was perhaps the last of a generation who drank healths, and he never gave up the ancient custom.
“ Good manners, that child,” he murmured to Mrs. Westerley. “I dined out yesterday, and do you know, when I asked a young fellow to take wine with me, he said he never drank.”
“ Poor fellow ! ” said the widow, much amused.
“And you think I shall never be a colonel, Hester ? ” she overheard Arty say.
“ Well, not never, but not in six months, you know.”
“ Arty believes that he will be a general in that time,” laughed Edward.
“ I know he would make a better one than some of them, Mr. Edward.”
“That might be,” observed Wendell.
“But, Hester, do you carry bugs about yet ? ”
“ And lizards ?” said Edward.
“ And salamanders ?” added Wendell.
“ Oh, no,” she laughed. “ I am limited to a little plant hunting. And oh, I meant to tell you before ! I took with me to school — and Miss Ann never knew it, either — a jar full of caterpillar cocoons, so as to have my butterflies in the spring. I wish you could have seen Miss Pearson’s face when she saw them ! ”
“And what did she say?” asked Wendell.
“ Oh, she said that several of the girls would be butterflies in a year or two, and that her crop was large enough. I could n’t help laughing, but I cried afterwards.”
“ What a horrid old maid ! ” exclaimed Arty.
“ Not the least horrid. A dear old lady. And as to old maids, I mean to be one myself.”
Arty looked up, and murmured to himself, “ That will be when I am a colonel, I presume.”
“ We shall take nets and go after beetles to-morrow evening,” said Edward, “ and Arty shall carry the lantern.”
“ Try your eyes, Hester,” suggested the embryo colonel, under his breath, to his neighbor.
“ What’s that, Hester ? ” asked Wendell.
“ He says I shall find it trying to my eyes! ”
“ Oh! ” exclaimed Mrs. Westerley, who had caught the side glance. “ Quite time,” she thought, “ that this young gentleman was in the field ! ”
“ Eyes ? What’s that about eyes ? ” queried Wilmington, who was a little deaf unless it was desirable that he should not hear. “ Her eyes are good enough, I should say ; and I think,” he added in an aside to Mrs. Westerley, “ that she is beginning to know how to use them.” Then there was, as always in those days, some desultory war talk.
“ Hester,” said Arthur, “ I shall come to see you again, in my full war rig, before I go.”
“ I would rather you did not,” she said to him quietly. “ I know you must go; but I am a Carolinian, and I try to think nothing about this war. I don’t want to find out whether it is right or wrong. It is awful to me, —awful.”
As she had grown older the girl had been led to reflect more and more on her position and its difficulties, and this sort of thoughtfulness was new and surprising to Arthur. “ How old she grows!” he reflected. “ I see, Hester,” he said, — “ I see ! I ought to have thought all that for myself.”
“Thank you,” she returned, feeling that he was gentle and generous.
“ And now let us have a truce to war,” said the hostess, who knew better than Arthur what was in Hester’s mind, and suspected that this incessant war gossip might be unpleasant to her. “Come, Hester, we will go;” and so saying, Mrs. Westerley rose, and left the men to their wine, remarking as she passed Wendell, “ Lest I forget it later, will you kindly tell Miss Ann that I will come and see her about Hester tomorrow; a little early, — about twelve o’clock, I may say. And Edward, you will take care of our friends?”
The next day, when Alice Westerley entered Miss Wendell’s parlor, Dr. Wendell rose and came in from the back room. His face, which was easily moved, expressed clearly the pleasure of which he was conscious whenever she was near him. Indeed, it would have been hard for any one, and least of all for one who was sensitive to beauty in form and color and sound, not to have dwelt with growing interest on one who combined all these attractions. In no other woman whom he had known were the mysteries of womanhood so developed. That he did not understand her fully was a part of her charm. Wendell himself was looking well. The combination of a forehead which was delicately moulded, and looked wiser than the man was, with a mouth of unusual mobility, and free from the mask of the mustache, gave to his face an unusual capacity to exhibit whatever feeling was dominant.
He was now under the elating influence of a new idea, which he thought could be brought in time to useful development. He had been seized with the fancy that it would be interesting to search into, and elaborate on paper, the differences between American and European types of various maladies. For this he meant to drop, as he said, for a time other favorite subjects, for which he had collected a good deal of material of value. Mere observation within restricted fields, under some organizing and applicative mind, should have been his sole function. When he came to a point in his studies where it was needful to compare acquired facts, in order to know how to observe further, or how to obtain by experiment facts which should explain the observations of the post-mortem table, he began to find difficulties which usually ended in barring his path, until some newer, and because newer more fascinating, subject attracted for a time his easily exhaustible energy. In fact, his mental ambitions were high, his power to pursue them limited ; while his capacity to be pleased with the recurrent dreams of possible future intellectual achievements was as remarkable as his failure to see why he constantly failed to realize them. Hence, while respected as a man with much general and scientific knowledge, he was known among doctors as having contributed nothing to their journals save barren reports of cases, and to naturalists as a clever amateur. But of these siftings of a man by his fellows, the public which is to use him learns little or nothing, so that to Alice Westerley be represented the brilliant and original physician, to be justified by the patient issues of the years which go to the slow growth of a doctor’s reputation.
“ I am very happy,” he began, “ to see you. But now I must go.”
Just then Ann Wendell, about to enter the room, passed him as he went out, and Mrs. Westerley heard her say, —
“ I thought, brother, there was a meeting at the hospital about something.”
“Yes, there is, Ann, But I was delayed.”
“ You can’t possibly catch the train now.”
“ Oh, yes, I can. It is only a step.”
“ Well, hurry, Ezra,” she said, and so left him ; Alice Westerley beginning to have a faint suspicion that it was just possible he had lingered to see her. To a woman accustomed to admiration this was a trifling matter; and the fact that he had probably failed of a small duty thereby would have been of no disturbing value in her estimates, until iteration had given to such lapses a body of weight, or until some chance had occurred to see the large results of what seemed singly to be but trivial failures.
“You must excuse me,” said Miss Wendell, remembering that in her haste she had spoken so as to be overheard. “ My brother has his mind so full of his work that he forgets, sometimes.”
“ But what noble work,” exclaimed Mrs. Westerley, “and what a life of constant self-sacrifice ! ”
Ann had heard all this before. She looked calmly at life from standpoints of duty or religion, which did not vary. If she had said literally what was in her mind, it would have been that doctors knew pretty well what was before them ; or else, being fast bound to their profession, ought simply to accept as of their own making that which it is pleasant to find other good people call self-sacrifice. But it is not in even as exactly moral a nature as Ann’s to be mathematically moral.
“ Yes,” she said, “ I think it to be counted a privilege when one is called to a life of much giving, even of what one is obliged to give.”
“ I hope he does not suffer from these constant exposures in our rough weather? I thought that he looked better than common to-day.”
“ No ; he is what I call a strong man. And your winters seem very mild to folks from the Cape. Like all of us, he has now and then fits of the blues; but just at present he is very happy over some new medical idea.”
“ About American and European diseases ? Oh, yes, he spoke of it last night. I thought it so very interesting ; and he tells me it is such a fresh idea.”
Ann was always calmly pleased when her brother announced to her any of these novel views, which at first sight assumed to him an importance immense enough to justify the enthusiasm of which he was always capable at the outset of undertakings. With his schemes, plans, or researches, as intellectual interests, she had no true sympathy ; and it would have been foreign to her nature and her nurture to seem to be that Which she was not, even for his gratification.
“ It must be delightful for my brother to find people like yourself, who can enter into his ideas. I am very stupid, you know,” she added, placidly smiling. “ And really, I think Hester understands him in some ways better than I do ! ”
“ Indeed ! ”
“ You know,” she continued, — for she was by this time, it must be remembered, on terms of easy acquaintanceship with Mrs. Westerley, — “it isn’t always just quite agreeable to feel that some one else can be in any way more to your brother than you are, but certainly Hester is a great pleasure to him. I sometimes tell him that I think if she were older, or he were younger, he would fall in love with her ! ”
This was not a pleasant idea to Mrs. Westerley. She hardly knew why, but even as a jest it seemed to her not quite what she would have called nice.
“ No,” she replied, setting aside with a well-practiced conversational device the later statement. “ I can understand that a woman who is the sister of such a man as Dr. Wendell might well desire to he everything to him in his life. But how well Hester looks! Your speaking of her makes me think of what I came about. I want you to let me take her to Newport in August. Won’t you, Miss Ann ? ”
Ann was willing enough. She liked Alice Westerley as well as she could conscientiously like any woman who had spent summers at Saratoga and in London, and who dared to say, without sign of compunction, that she had been to two balls in one evening. Moreover, she had herself made up her mind that chance, or, as she preferred to say, the will of God, had taken out of her hands the responsibility of Hester’s training ; while also, perhaps, there was in her mind, as the result of various circumstances, what the chemists would call a precipitate of jealousy as to Hester’s relations to her brother. This was so easily stirred up that it was apt to cloud her judgment, which naturally would have made her wish to keep Hester as much as possible within her own control. In morals and social action, as in physics, it is common to find that we act under the domination of a number of influences, and submit in our decisions to what the physicist calls a resultant of forces.
“ I have no doubt,” she replied, “that my brother will feel that Mr. Gray would wish Hester to be with you, at least a part of the summer.”
“ Thank you,” said Alice. “ I have already mentioned it to him, and he has said that what you would wish would be what he desired.”
Ann would have preferred that her brother should first have spoken to her.
She had an uneasy sense that he was in some vague manner moving away from her and her influence.
“ And it will not be till August,” added Mrs. Westerley.
“ I think he will be glad of the delay, and Mr. Edward Morton, too. He has almost taken possession of Hester since she came back.”
“ I am glad the poor fellow finds anything so pleasant to interest him, He has such high standards that any one, old or young, must be the better for his company.” Then after some further chat the widow rose. “ I must go,” she said. “ My love to Hester. Is she in ? ”
“ No ; she has gone to walk with Arthur. I asked them to leave a note at a Mrs. Grace’s for my brother.”
“ Mrs. Grace ? ” exclaimed Alice, interrogatively, and surprised into undue curiosity.
“Yes. She sent to ask him to call on her this morning, and he had to write that he could not see her till the afternoon.”
She has had six doctors in a year, my dear Miss Ann, and she abuses them all in turn ! ”
“Dear me,” said Ann, “ I hope she won’t abuse Ezra ! ”
Alice had her own views as to this, but she felt self-convicted of having mildly gossiped about a woman whom she detested, and she therefore held her peace and went away; still believing that, as regarded Mrs. Grace, it might be wise to put her friend the doctor on his guard.
Two days later, early in July, Arthur joined his regiment.
“Don’t say good-by,” begged Edward. " Slip away without it. You will be back and forth, I suppose, and these good-bys in war times are too hard. Always one thinks anew of what may happen. I told Hester that you would n’t be here again.”
But I must see her before I go, Ned. I came here out of uniform on purpose to see her.”
“Out of uniform— Hum — I see — that’s right. But really, I would n’t see her, if I were you. Just oblige me about this.”
“ But I hate to go off that way.”
“ I know ; but she has, as is natural, Arty, a good deal of feeling about the war, and as she grows older it deepens, — and — altogether, I think I would just go away quietly.”
“ Well, Ned, I don’t quite see it, and — well, I ‘ll do as you say ; but you ’ll tell her, won’t you ? ”
“ Yes, dear old boy, I ’ll tell her ! After all, it can’t be to her quite what it is to me ; and yet even I would far rather say good-by now.”
“ Then good-by, Ned.”
“ Don’t be foolishly rash, Arty; and God keep you ! ”
And so was said one of the million partings of the great war.
“ Poor Ned ! ” murmured Arthur, feeling in his poetic young heart all that the staying at home meant for the gallant and high-minded gentleman left looking after him, as he walked up the street towards Mrs. Westerley’s.
Mrs. Grace was the middle-aged wife of a merchant, who had been first one of her father’s clerks, and then, through much industry and indifference to anything but the begetting of dollars, his junior partner. Like many men who win success in cities, he had come from a country farm, and nothing was more remote from his visions, when he became a clerk, than the idea that, like the good apprentice, he might marry his master’s daughter. But when he grew useful enough to be noticed, and to be asked as a younger partner to dine at Mr. Johnston ’s table, he fell an easy prey to the eldest daughter, who, having seen three sisters married in turn, felt that it was well to dismiss her hopes of position in favor of the ruddy-faced, rather stout young man, who was somewhat her junior. Mr. Johnston, who was not overprosperous, knew full well the value of Richard Grace, and realized the fact that he ran some danger of losing his energetic partner. It was true that his own family had been solid merchants, with an accepted social position, for three generations of absolute inactivity, except as to varied fortunes in getting and losing money ; but then, social considerations could not be allowed, as he told his wife, to stand in the way of business, and therefore in due time his daughter became Mrs. Grace, and had sons and daughters after her kind.
The husband became what such men always become. He prospered to a certain extent, and but for the many arrows in his quiver might have been called rich. He liked a quiet life; drank a little of a morning, a little more at bedtime ; drove a fast horse late every afternoon, played euchre three times a week, read the Ledger, and believed in the Pennsylvania Railroad. There were two things in his life he disliked: one was that Colonel Fox, a distant cousin of his wife, was the relentless trustee of her small estate, which was bringing, in safe ground rents, six per cent. in place of the ten which her husband felt it would have brought in his own business ; the other was his wife’s tongue, and the consequences thereof. When he stayed at home on the off evenings of his euchre club, without lifting his eyes from his newspaper he said “ Yes— yes ” at such intervals as a long experience had proved to him were reasonably competent to keep her in the belief that he was listening. They were in fact mutually unentertaining. As to what he did, or in what enterprises he engaged, she was in no wise concerned, nor did he himself conceive that these were matters in which a woman should have any share ; while, unless her heedless talk brought him into trouble, and explanations became needful, he had long ceased to listen, even at meal-times. Nor was he much to blame. There was about her mental operations a bewildering indefiniteness, which baffled the best bred attention; and when Mrs. Grace talked, what she was saying was as unlikely to have any relation to what she had said before as are the successive contents of a naturalist’s trawl-net after deep-sea dredging. Her life had been a feeble acetous fermentation. Her position was less good than it had been. Her daughters had married out of what she considered her own proper sphere of social life; and altogether she had come by degrees to have a dull sense of being somehow wronged.
It was out of reason to expect such a person not to be critical of her more happy neighbors; but her criticism was after all less that of determined malice than the mere simmering of a slow intelligence, limited in its interests, and heated, or rather but merely warmed, by disappointments, which, like everything else, she felt but vaguely. It is not. however, to be presumed that such women are inoperative in life. If they have ruled stolidly a stolid family, they acquire dangerous habits of self-assertion ; and as obstinacy is the armor of dull minds, Mrs. Grace was apt, when attacked. to retreat within its shell, with changeless opinions. There are some stupid people, and certain antagonistic but clever people, who enjoy in their different ways the pleasure of holding theories, which they treat like spoilt children, and indulge at the social cost of others. Of such theories Mrs. Grace had her share. She had a high estimate of her insight into maladies, dosed her helpless family a good deal, and expected to be heard with attention by her doctors, of whom, as a natural consequence, she had many. She disbelieved in vaccination, and had views as to the impropriety of experiments on animals, which may have arisen, as Mrs. Westerley said, from some mysterious defensive instinct as to transmutation in kind.
The Sanitary Commission was a great resource at present in Mrs. Grace’s life, and late in the morning of the day she had sent for Wendell she entered the busy room of its local office with a sense of tranquil satisfaction. Here she found Ann Wendell, aided by Hester, busily engaged in inspecting and sorting undergarments intended to be sent to Pennsylvania regiments. Alice Westerley was occupied at a table with accounts, and two or three older and some younger women were sewing, or packing different articles.
Alice Westerley nodded to the newcomer, and the other women, who represented very various degrees of social life brought together by one purpose, spoke to her as she came in.
“ What is there to-day ? ” she asked Miss Wendell.
“ Oh, everything,” replied Ann. “ You might help Hester to pack these socks. This is Mrs. Grace, Hester. Make room for her, my dear.”
“ What a tall girl you are ! ” said Mrs. Grace, and knelt down, talking as she somewhat sluggishly helped to pack the box between them. “ And you are Miss Wendell’s niece, Hester ? ”
“ No, I am not her niece.”
“Oh, yes, I remember, — her ward.”
“ Oh, no, I am not that, either,” answered the girl, whose instincts were quick and defensive.
“ Now, I remember : Sarah — that’s my daughter — told me about you, and how your father was killed. And, you know, Sarah says you are engaged to Arthur Morton.”
“ I am not engaged to Mr. Arthur Morton ! ” exclaimed the girl, coloring as much with anger as with shame. “ I am a young girl at school, and I do not see why any one should say such things about me! ”
“ But you know you look eighteen, my dear, — quite eighteen. I suppose your dress — the way you are dressed — makes you look less young.”
“ I dare say I seem older than I am,” said Hester.
“ But you might be nineteen, to look at you. You know Dr. Wendell is to be my doctor.”
“ Indeed ! ” And Hester nervously crammed away rebellious socks into the unoccupied corners left by Mrs. Grace’s clumsy stowage.
“ I sent for him because he believes in malaria.”
Hester was silent, and so aroused Mrs. Grace’s dull suspicions.
“ He does believe in malaria, doesn’t he? — I mean in Germantown. Dr. Mason says it’s nonsense ; but then I never have agreed with him. He did say, though, that Sarah had malaria, and after all it was measles; but I think measles is malaria,” she added, with a sense of triumphant logic. “ There must be an awful amount of malaria on the Potomac.”
“ I hardly think I know anything about it,” returned Hester, and went on packing, her thoughts meanwhile far away with Arty and the war ; for even the poorest husbandman may effectively sow seed.
“ I should say Arthur Morton would be a right good match for almost any girl,” observed Mrs. Grace, with her amazing capacity for dangerous digression.
Hester looked down resolutely, wondering if the woman could know what thoughts were in her mind. The simple purity of a nature trembling at the gates of womanhood was disgusted and disturbed at this rude criticism of her most pleasant relations in life.
But Mrs. Westerley, having ended her work, was standing over them, and had overheard the last sentence.
“ You are packing very badly, Hester,” she said, which was true. “ Leave that to Mrs. Grace, and come and copy this list.”
Hester rose, with a look of relief, and went to the desk.
“ Oh, Mrs. Westerley,” she whispered, “ what a dreadful person ! ”
“Yes, my child, but never mind.”
Then Mrs. Grace investigated Ann Wendell’s views as to vaccination, and was gently amazed to find that Ann had no particular views at all on this matter. Not so, however, Miss Clemson, her neighbor, a tall young woman, with a thin, pugnacious nose, and a mind quite too satisfactorily logical to be attractive to the common masculine mind, which finds a mysterious gratification in the indefiniteness of young women.
“Vaccination?” she said distinctly, while the surrounding persons looked up with the pleased sense of something amusing in prospect, — “ vaccination ? Have you ever made a study of the subject ? That is, have you ever really inquired into the statistics ? ” She spoke with a clear and deliberate articulation.
“.No ; but I have my opinions.”
“ You say No. Is that a negation of the value of vaccination ? Because you must be aware,” she continued blandly, “ that that would be a mere repetition of what you have just stated. Now, an accurate examination of the statistics of variola ” —
“ Of what ? ” asked Mrs. Grace.
“ Of variola,” repeated Miss Clcmson, not stopping to explain — “ would show that before Jenner’a time ” —
“ Oh, I know ! ” interrupted Mrs. Grace. “ I have seen all that in the papers, over and over; but I need not say that that does n’t satisfy me. I think you wall find Dr. Wendell agrees with me. Is n’t it so, Miss Wendell ? ”
Ann kept silence. She did not know anything about it, except that her brother did vaccinate people ; and also, it may be added, the wisdom and great good of holding her tongue had been borne in upon her, as she said, with effective clearness.
As she paused, unwilling to reply, Alice Westerley, perceiving her difficulty, said, smiling, “ And of course you do not have your own children vaccinated ? ”
“ My children are vaccinated because Richard would have it. Richard is just too awfully obstinate. Sarah says ‘he’s a regular pièce de réesistance.’ I’ve mostly forgotten my French, but I guess that’s about what he is. But that does n’t change my mind.”
Alice Westerley and Miss Clemson exchanged furtive glances of amusement, and one young woman fled, convulsed with suppressed laughter, into the buck storeroom.
At last Miss Clemson attained sufficient composure to murmur, “Oh, of course not; but perhaps you might agree with him if you were to read Dr. Jenner’s original treatise.”
“ Oh, I presume you ’ve read it,” said Mrs. Grace.
“ Yes, I have,” returned Miss Clemson, simply. In fact, there were few things she had not read about, and her memory made her a dangerous opponent.
“Won’t yon ask for labels, Mrs. Grace ? ” said Alice, wishing to stop the talk, and longing for a solitary laugh.
Mrs. Grace rose heavily, and saying, “No one should vaccinate me,” went into a back room in search of the desired articles.
“I do not think I envy Dr. Wendell, Miss Ann,” began an indiscreet miss at her side. “ They say she has a doctor every two months, and that ” —
“ Hush,” exclaimed Alice Westerley; “don’t let’s talk gossip here. We are getting to be as bad as a Dorcas meeting ! ”
“ Was that gossip, Mrs. Westerley ? ” asked the young person. “ I thought anybody could talk about doctors.”
“ Doctors ! ” said Alice, laughing, —
“ doctors, indeed ! You know that you were not discussing doctors! ”
“ Mrs. Westerley is right,” added Miss Clemson. “ There is no need to talk about persons at all, Susie.”
“ But were n’t you talking about a Dr. Jenner ? ” replied the young person, calmly triumphant.
“ Good heavens ! ” exclaimed Miss Clemson.
“ And what did I say ? ” went on Miss Susan ; and there was a burst of laughter, which cleared the air, and amidst which Hester and Miss Wendell went away with the widow.
Then Mrs. Grace returned to the room, having been unable to find the labels, “ And would n’t Miss Susie find them ? ” which enabled that young person to drop her work, and chatter with a clerk and two other maidens in the back room.
“ What were you all laughing at?” questioned Mrs. Grace, all unexplained mirth being suspiciously unpleasant to her.
“ We were laughing at one of those chatterbox girls,” returned Miss Clemson.
“ Oh, was that all ? And where is Alice Westerley ? ” said Mrs. Grace, who by no means indulged in so naming that lady when present, but who had no objection to the varied circle within earshot supposing her to be on terms of intimacy with the widow. Mrs. Grace was beginning to feel quite decisively the effects of that gradual fall from a good position which is so common a feature of American life, and which had already begun to show in her parents. In colonial days her people had won much money, and with it the chance of culture; but, as old Mr. Wilmington said, they were like some wines, and did n’t take kindly to fining. In another generation they would disappear socially, having failed in the competitions of our uneasy life. Mrs. Grace had in fact an indistinct sense of lapsing from her rank, and her children were still sinking, and did not care about it, or perhaps as yet did not feel it.
“ Don’t you think our Sanitary should have a new president, since Mrs. Morton does n’t appear to come back ? ” asked this lady.
“ I cannot see why,” replied Miss Clemson. “Mrs. Westerley is vicepresident, and that answers every purpose.”
“ And a good one,” assented Mrs. Bullock, a motherly woman in the corner, ceasing to count the pile of garments before her. “ We should only just change her title, if we made her president, and of course we could not elect any one else.”
That was not at all Mrs. Grace’s idea. She herself had dimly felt aspirations after office, but she had sense enough to say, “ Oh, yes, of course not,” which was sufficient; and then she added, “And where is Miss Wendell? ”
“ Gone with Mrs. Westerley.”
“Oh! They do say she is going to marry that doctor.”
“ Who do say ? ” queried Miss Clemson ; “ and who is to marry who ? ”
“ Oh, several say. You know he’s there all the time ; and for my part I do not see how a young woman like that can be so imprudent as to have an unmarried man for her doctor.”
“ Is she ever ill ? ” asked the matron in the corner.
“ Oh, I suppose so, or why should he go there ? ”
“ I should not believe that he went there at all, at least without proof. How often does he go there, Mrs. Grace?” It was a question for investigation with Miss Clemson. She was too accurate for perfect manners, but was nevertheless well bred.
“I suppose you wouldn’t doubt my word ? ”
“ Oh, no,” replied Miss Clemson, who was in a high state of disgust, “ not your word; only your power of observation, or perhaps your talent for arithmetic. When people are slandered, I like to ask for proofs.”
Mrs. Grace was silent a moment, but a rosy young woman came to her aid, who showed already a reasonable promise of being in middle life a bore of great inertia, having the gift of indefinitely explaining minute commonplaces, and being, as yet, so pretty that her face was a bribe to some measure of endurance. “ I think Mrs. Grace means that when a doctor goes very often, and when you know he is a young man, and when you see he is handsome, — why, I think it must make a difference.”
Miss Clemson beat an impatient tattoo on the table with her tliimbled forefinger.
Then Mrs. Grace announced with emphasis, as if she had really thought it all over, “ Yes, it must make a difference. It must make a great difference.”
“ I don’t think,” remarked Mrs. Bullock, “ that I understand, quite.”
“ Who could ! ” cried Miss Clemson. “ But this much I understand : that Mrs. Grace desires us to believe that there is some impropriety in Mrs. Westerley being attended, when ill, by Dr. Wendell. I hope Mrs. Grace will not feel hurt if I say that all this kind of gossip is dangerous.”
“ You are right,” said Mrs. Bullock, who felt that, true or not, it was hardly the kind of talk to which young girls should be made to listen.
“ All of which does n’t change my opinion,” put in Mrs. Grace.
“ And are you quite willing I should tell Mrs. Westerley ?” asked Miss Clemson.
“ Good gracious, no ! ” returned Mrs. Grace. “ Why should any one tell her ? ”
“ Then why,” continued Miss Clemson, “ need any one say such things ? I hate gossip ; it is always inaccurate.”
“ Oh, I don’t think Mrs. Grace meant to gossip,” exclaimed the forward young person from her corner.
“ I never gossip,” said Mrs. Grace, “but I have my own opinions.”
“ Then let us all have our own opinions, and keep them, like other precious things, to ourselves,” returned Miss Clemson, wearily. “ Where are those labels, Susie ? ”
If any one had told Mrs. Grace that she was maliciously sowing a slander, it would have surprised that lady. She was simply saying what came uppermost, and her mind, as Arty once said, was “ like our Christmas grab-bag : you never knew what you would pull out.” Nevertheless, she had done some evil, ignorantly or not, and evil has a feline tenacity of life.
For the present no more came of it than that Mrs. Bullock, who had overheard Mrs. Grace’s talk with Hester, thought it well to say to Mrs, Westerley something about the strong desire they all felt that Mrs. Grace should by no good-nature of Mrs. Westerley be allowed to become the head of their branch of the commission.
“ Rest easy, my dear,” said the widow; “not while I am alive.”
“ She ought to be shut up,” returned the matron. “I do think, Mrs. Westerley, there are some people in the penitentiary who have done less harm in their lives. You should have heard her talk to Hester Gray about being engaged to young Morton ! It was simply disgusting, and ” —
“ No doubt,” broke in Alice, “ but I do not think she really wants to hurt anybody. For my part, I hardly care to hear what she said, and for that reason I interrupted you. You won’t mind my interrupting you, but I am really ashamed to confess that sometimes what that woman says has the power to make me unreasonably angry.”
“ Well, it’s all right. I had nothing else to say.” This was hardly more true than Mrs. Grace’s gossip ; but the speaker was glad to have had time to reflect, and had hastily concluded that what she had meant to add further were best left unsaid.
The summer sped away, and the war went on its unrelenting course as Grant drew tighter his paralyzing lines around Petersburg, and the wearied rebel army struggled with the vigor of a brave race against men as gallant and more numerous ; while to the little circle of friends Arthur’s frequent and clever letters brought a new and anxious interest in this dreadful death-wrestle.
Hester was changing in a way that surprised Ann Wendell, and both surprised and interested Alice. By degrees the effects of her former dreary school life and the subsequent sense of isolation, as well as the shock and terror of her father’s death, were wearing off. For a long while, and more and more as with larger knowledge she realized this novel experience of a death, its memory oppressed the girl at times ; but time is stronger in the young than any memories, however sad, and Hester was now exhibiting such joy of happy thoughtlessness as belongs of pleasant right to her age.
Alice Westerley saw plainly that Hester showed, as she grew older, a little too much tendency to be her own mistress, — a fault which was due rather to the early lack of firm home training than to any uneradicable peculiarity in Hester’s mental or moral structure. The widow, like Mrs. Morton, had also her doubts as to whether Ann Wendell was exactly the person to mould or manage a lighthearted girl of resolute nature, and felt a certain anxiety as to whether Hester was to look for permanent help from Henry Gray, or was to be dependent upon her own exertions. It was best, she thought, to assume that the latter was to be the case ; but yet it was not in Alice’s kindly nature to be able to feel that so young and joyous a creature should be on this account made to know too early the bitterness of having to look forward into a future of selfsustaining labor among absolute strangers. She would at least take her to Newport, and see, as she said. Meanwhile she wrote to Henry Gray, who was like a bird on the wing for restlessness, and who for some reason made no reply.
Yet whatever were Alice’s doubts and fears, there were none now for Hester, nor for Edward Morton. His health was still infirm, and likely to be so for life ; but even his occasional pain and sleeplessness only tended to make him more and more dependent upon Hester’s gentle help.
They had gone out together for an afternoon drive, which meant usually a little wandering about through lanes and by-roads behind a lazy old horse, which they hitched to a fence now and then, while they gathered flowers, or looked for grubs and beetles, or watched ant heaps by the hour. Hester had thus come to know by degrees the beauty of that charming neighborhood, happily preserved to-day by the Park inclosures ; and it was a fresh delight when her friend could show her some new lane, or discuss with her, book in hand and map on knee, their doubts as to the track of Revolutionary armies, or with equal interest the family name of a fern or a butterfly. They were both somewhat silent, as they drove lazily along, on this their last summer afternoon together, until at last Edward said, smiling, “ Queer, is n’t it, Hester, that as this is our last chance for a good gabble we should both be mum as mice! Let us improve the occasion, as Miss Ann’s preacher says. Look down the river. What a leaf crop there is this year! ”
They crossed the Schuylkill at the Falls’ Bridge, and passed southward along the bank, until at last the young man said, “ We will try the hill’ here, Hester. I want to show you something ; but I shall need help. Give me my stick, and let us go slowly, and halt as often as the Potomac army,”
Then, tardily enough, — for he walked with difficulty, — they crossed the Heading railroad, and climbed up a narrow, sunken lane, brier-set and dark with sumach and dogwood. “ We are on the old inclined plane of the railway, Hester,” he said, as he paused for breath near the summit. “And this is our way, here, to the right; ” and so saying he broke through a close, wild hedge of alders and judas-trees, and turned with pleasure to see the joy of the eager young face at his side. Before them lay a rolling bit of grass land, bounded on three sides by forest, much as it is to-dav ; not far away rose a green hillside, above a gray stone spring house, and to their right, in the woods, a brook chuckled merrily noisy answers to the dauntless catbirds, who love the wood edges, and the wood robin, who likes its darkened depths. The trees about them stirred the girl’s unaffected love of nature. “ These be honest gentlemen,” said Edward, standing bareheaded. Three matchless tulip poplars, stateliest of trees, rose serene, with moveless shining leaves, beside the more feminine graciousness of a group of maples, perfect as to form and densely clad in August greenery. “ Ah, Hester,” he said, “you who love trees should say a prayer for him who spared these noble fellows. But here is my spring. This is what we came to see.”
At an angle of the wood was a quiet little pool of cold water, set about with narrow slabs of marble stained with the fallen leafage of many an autumn. In its depths pink willow rootlets, which our boys call foxtails, were tangled with the white roots of a sturdy maple, which rose in wholesome strength above the surrounding trees. Hester knelt down, and, smiling, saw her face set in the brown mirror’s little square of mottled sun and shade.
As she looked, Edward stood over her, and she saw his face in the still spring, beside her own. She laughed prettily, and bent over to drink ; but looked up as she touched the water. “ I have drunk you all up, Mr. Edward ! ” she cried, still laughing. Edward shrank back. Disease had made the once strong young man unnaturally sensitive and nervous. He remembered the story of this little forest well, and how once a fair maiden, drinking here, like this girl, had seen of a sudden, beside her own face, that of a man ; and how she had come to love that sombre face; and how in after days its owner had wrecked her life, and betrayed his country in its darkest hour.
Hester arose, seeing the trouble in her friend’s face.
“ What is it ? ” she asked, “ What is the matter ? ”
“ Nothing,” he returned hastily. “ A little tired, I suppose.”
He wondered, indeed, at the strange stir and tumult in himself. Not for the world would he have told her that grim legend of Arnold’s well. “ Come away! ” he exclaimed. " Let us see what there is in our bag. I am all right now. We have a lot of jolly queer things. How the doctor will like it! I sometimes wonder now, Hester, how I could ever have so despaired of life. What helpful things books are ! Don’t you marvel what sick folks did in the Middle Ages ? I mean poor devils of halfsick folks, like me.”
“ I think,” said the girl, doubtfully, “they must have looked even more at the skies and the flowers than we do ; but I don’t know, really. If I were sick, I should n’t be as patient as you. Mrs. Westerley tells me I am sometimes impatient, now.”
“ But why does she say that ? ”
“ Indeed, I don’t know. No, I hardly mean that : I do know very well ! She scolded me a little yesterday, and I suppose I was n’t quite as meek as I ought to have been. But I have promised to be so awfully good at Newport! ”
“ Little scamp ! It’s a nice place for you to begin a career of goodness. I would n’t trust you ! ”
“ Yes, you would ! I should n’t like it if you ceased to trust me. Oh there is a droll-looking bug ! I wonder what it is ! ”
“ Let the bugs alone, little friend, and come and sit down. I am mortally tired.”
Then the girl found that perhaps she too was tired, which was scarcely the case ; but she was tenderly thoughtful with and for Edward.
“ Let us read Arthur’s letter,” she suggested. “ I have been saving it, as Miss Ann says, for ‘ gooding,’ ”
“ What a nice old English word! There’s a stump for me, and you can lie on the grass. And now for dear old Arty,” said Edward, as he cast a pleased glance at Hester, who was opening Arthur’s letter with that dainty care which, to a more experienced observer than her companion, might have gone far to tell her modest secret.
As he looked down upon her, a thought came to him of the contrast between her vigorous and growing life and his own increasing feebleness ; and, looking up, Hester saw him gazing past her, dreaming. What meaning there was in the profound sadness of his eyes she did not comprehend ; but seeing the sadness, was by instinct moved with some sweet womanly equality of mere emotion.
“ What is it, Mr. Edward ?” she said.
“ Nothing, dear,” he answered ; but there was a look of grievous defeat about the young man, and when, in after-years, Hester stood before the stricken lion of Lucerne, some remembrance of her hour at the spring, beneath the maples, came hack to her, and with eyes full of tears she turned away. “ Don’t mind me,” he continued ; “ go on. What does the living say to the dead, Hester ? ”
“ Nonsense ! ” she answered, cheerfully. “ That does n’t sound like you. You are worth some dozen of certain live folks I know.”
“ Then your acquaintance must have queer limitations. What does he say ? ”
“ Mr. Arthur says,” she replied, carefully spreading out the letter on her lap, — “ he says ” —
“ But why do you say ‘ Mr. Arthur ’ ? ”
“ Oh, I am practicing,” said Hester, with a wicked demureness of repressed fun. “ That was what Mrs. Westerley lectured me about yesterday.”
“ No ! not really ? Why, she is worse than mamma.”
“ Yes. She orders authoritatively that I am to call you both ‘ Mr. Morton.’ Mrs. Westerley does not approve of the way young girls have of calling men by their first names. Do you understand ? ”
Edward whistled. “ And when does it begin ? ”
“ Oh, I begged off till I come back. I said it would n’t seem so sudden then.”
“ I shall be told to call you Miss Gray, next.”
“ Oh, no ! ”
“ Oh, yes ! Why not?”
“But I won’t like that, at all! I won’t have it; and Arty — he ” —
“ Wait a little, my dear ; you don’t know Mrs. Alice. She will have her way, you will find; and as to ‘Won’t,’
— you know what happened to him?”
“ Yes, I know. But I like him well ;
and I like all his family, — ‘ Sha’n’t,’ and ‘Can’t,’ and the rest.”
“ A bad connection, Miss Gray,” he said, smiling. “ But what about Arty ?
— Mr. Morton, I should say.”
“ Mr. Morton says : —
“DEAR QUEEN ESTHER [that’s for short, I fancy], — I suppose the newspapers tell you all about us in general ; more, in fact, than we know ourselves. Fox swears like our army in Flanders (every one swears in the army, — except me) when the reporters come to our bivouac. And, by the bye, tell Ned to send me some onions and a little old Rye. Don’t forget the onions. He knows where there’s some at home. I mean Rye. Yesterday we had a little relief from this endless drill and loafing. The colonel gives us no peace about drilling. There was an alarm at daybreak, and we had a sharp affair with a — [something — it is blotted out] Confederate regiment.” (He had written Carolina, but remembering what eyes were to see it had erased the number and State, which would have told Hester that it was her father’s old regiment.)
“ Fox had a near thing of it, and I was twice in among their guns. Had to come out again in a hurry. I thought of ” —
Here the girl paused, confused.
“ Oh, I know,” said Edward. “ He thought of me. Go on; I can stand it!”
Hester looked down. “ I thought of my dear Ned, and knowing how much better a soldier he would have made than I, wished he might have been with me. But don’t think I like it at all. Any one who says they like it is stupid, or lies. I don’t. I never realized until now how dreadful is war; but I think I know that I ought to be here, and why. Yet when a fellow is in the thick of one of these mad rushes at death through smoke, there is something of a wild joy about it. At all events, it does one some good. That is, it does the decent fellows good. It seems to me I am older by years in these few months; but then,for people who think at all, there is time and material here for thinking, and much to learn about war out of books on tactics, and so on, with practical lessous at intervals. Edward, who was always the boldest man I know, keeps writing me not to accept needless peril. Tell him I do not mean to. It is really necessary sometimes for officers to expose themselves as examples, when men are shaky, but not often. I think of it now because that was just what Fox did yesterday. We were all lying down, or in shelter, having made a stand after what came near being a stampede ; and what does Fox do but begin to walk up and down, with a cigarette in his mouth, pretending to be using his field-glass. I got up as he passed me, and said, ‘Let me do that, sir ; ’ and what did he say but ‘Lie down, or you ’ll get hit; and when you address me, sir, be good enough to salute.’ And the balls were as thick as mosquitoes in a Jersey marsh. Oh, Hester, one must see a man in the ennui of camp, and then in the field, to know him. It seems to me that what I have heard Dr. Lagrange say of disease is true of war. It ruins some men morally, and some it makes nobler, — like my brother Ned ! ”
Oh, Mr. Edward, is n’t that just like Arty ! ’ said Hester, pausing.
“ Arty is a dear old goose about me,” returned Edward. “ He thinks I am a patient martyr, but he does n’t know how much I have wriggled at the stake.”
“I have everything, I think,” went on Hester, rising, and standing thoughtfully before him, the letter in her hand,— “everything; but I am not as patient as you who have so little.”
“You can’t count another man’s wealth, child. I have my little Hester, and this August day, and these woods, and all the strange world I am peeping into.”
“ Yes, I know,” murmured Hester, softly, the morn of womanhood, that was waking under the fading dusk of childish indifferences to the larger trials of life, beginning to glow with warmth of appreciative feeling.
“ It is n’t bad for any one to know how much he is a help in other folks’ lives,” continued Edward. " It makes him better, too, I dare say. And now for more help. Give me a hand, — now a good pull. I must heft pretty heavy, as Miss Ann says. We ’ll keep the rest of Arty’s letter for to-night. There seems to be a lot of it, and it is late. I hope my horse has kept quiet. I wish he was nearer ; I am pretty tired.”
The next day Hester went to Newport, whence she wrote to Edward often, and to Arthur rarely. Alice perceived well enough where this close intimacy of two attractive young folks might end, but scarcely saw how to lessen the danger ; and now, feeling more and more that she disliked the responsibility, she wrote to Mrs. Morton quite frankly, but only to learn that Morton would not return until he was fit for duty, and that of course she, Mrs. Morton, did not fancy the idea of a match of this kind at all, and knew Alice would discourage whatever might make it a possible event — all of which left Mrs. Westerley quite as helpless and more anxious than before, and not much comforted by this final phrase of her friend’s letter.
“For after all,” she wrote, " I dare say you are mistaken ; and then boys always have one or two affairs of this kind. They are pretty bad for a girl, I think, but they do not hurt men,” — which to Alice, who was very much attached to Hester, seemed on the whole to partake rather strongly of the selfishness of maternal affection, and to be a little too like Helen Morton, who was apt to think first of her own children, and in their relations to others of them alone.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Westerley, as she found, had her hands full at Newport, where she had many friends, and where it was difficult always to leave Hester out of the constant social engagements of that charming place.
“ Luckily,” she wrote to Mrs. Morton, “most of the nicer young men are where they should be, at the war; but there are enough and too many older lads, on their vacation holidays; and even with your ideas and mine, it is hard to keep this very gay young lady from seeing that she is admired, and from being disappointed because I do not allow her to go about as she does at Germantown.”
Nevertheless, Hester enjoyed this new life, and saw enough of men, old and young, in Mrs. Westerley’s drawingroom to widen her horizon as to the general opinion of Miss Gray.
With some little interior mutiny of criticism, Hester came to yield tranquilly enough to her friend’s social discipline, and to observe that among the class of girls she saw and found pleasant, the most of them were quite as much controlled as she. Then she began, as Alice delayed leaving Newport, to enjoy still more the refined culture of its lingering lovers, and to return with fresh zest to outdoor enjoyments.
“Now,” she wrote to Wendell, “there is, as it were, a new spring, —just as if the flowers had come again to say goodby ; and there are golden-rods above the beaches, and little dandelions, smaller than in spring, are here (I don’t think they are true dandelions, but I left my Gray’s Botany at home) ; and then there is a purple flower, which an old lady told me was the Michaelmas daisy. I think it is an aster, and so pretty ; and what the people call freckled alders, with red berries. And oh, you should see the cliffs, and the sea ! I never saw it before, and now it seems like an old friend ; and if I only had you and Arty and Edward, I should be just too happy. But why does n’t Arty write? We have ceased to hear at all.”
Arty had other business on hand, and was in the thick of the savage fighting that resulted in the destruction of the Weldon railroad, and of which news soon reached his anxious friends at the North. Late in September Mrs. Westerley returned to her home, and Hester went back, with no great satisfaction, to her school life.
S. Weir Mitchell.