In War Time

XIX.

EDWARD had insisted upon taking what was properly Arthur’s task, — the telling of the latter’s engagement to Mrs. Morton. He was well aware that she would listen to her elder son when she would listen to no one else, but he had also other reasons for desiring to come between his mother and brother. Edward was now of age, his own estate was ample, and he knew that she would present arguments about money which his means gave him the ability to put aside; moreover, he had taken this duty on himself with some vague sense of its being, as it were, a penance for the wild desires which still at times shook his firmest resolves.

He found, his mother busy in the library.

“ I want a few moments of your time, mother,” he said.

She turned to listen, with the gentle readiness of attention she had always for him. “ What is it, my boy ? ”

“ I have asked Arty to let me tell you of his engagement to Hester. It is a great pleasure to me, for you know I am very, very fond of her.”

“ Engaged to Arthur ! Nonsense, Edward, they are mere children; and if they were not, it is a thing I should totally disapprove, — totally ! I shall tell Arthur so. I can understand very well why he was unwilling to speak to me about it. There was a time when I was consulted about the affairs of my own household.”

“ But, my dear mother,” said Edward, a little amused, despite his sore heart, “ these are not children, and you must have seen what was going on. As for Arthur, he has made a name for himself, and so far as I can see has the right every man has to marry whom he will. War ages people fast, mother.”

“ Marry ! ” she returned, — “ marry, indeed ! On what is he to marry ? They have neither of them a cent.”

“ But I don’t suppose he wants to marry her to-morrow. Fox wishes him to take a share in his iron works, so as to be himself more at liberty; and I mean, if you don’t altogether disapprove,

— and you won’t, will you, mother?

— to give Arty the capital he will require.”

“ Of course,” said Mrs. Morton, petulantly, “ it is all to be managed without the slightest reference to me. An unknown girl, half educated, coming from nobody knows where, and brought up by these common Yankee Wendells ! ”

Clearly Mrs. Morton was angry and unjust.

“ They may be plain, but common or vulgar they are not; and really, you know, as to what you say about Hester, my dear mother, that is — well, not quite true. The Grays are good old Carolina people. Now please don’t talk so. It is n’t like you. It is n’t at all like you.”

Copyright, 1884, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.

“ Still, among them, Ned, they have trapped Arthur ; and as to the girl ” —

“ Stop, mother! ” he entreated ; “ don’t say any more. No one has trapped him. You hurt me.”

“Hurt you! What do you mean ?”

“ I had not meant to tell even you, dear mother, but now I must. I loved her myself, mother, — I most dearly loved her ! But I am an old, battered, useless man, and no fair young life like that is to be mine.”

“You loved her,” she said, softly, “ and he has taken her from you. Oh, my boy ! ”

“ No, you are again unjust. Neither she nor he knows this, or ever will know it. No one but you knows it.”

“ My poor Ned! Ah, if only I could help you.”

“ But you can help me. No one can help me better than by bringing Hester as near to me as it is God’s good will that she should be.”

“ There is nothing you can say, my son, that lias not full weight with me; but about this matter I should have been consulted sooner. I must think about it. Oh, if it had been you, Ned, you would have told me.”

“ I don’t know that, mother; and you must remember that it is my fault he did not tell you.”

“ And you loved this girl, my son, and you gave her away.”

“ No, she went away,” said Ned, smiling.

“ Who is that on the porch, Ned ? ”

“ It is Miss Ann.”

“ I don’t want to see her. I do not want to see any one. I shall never get over this, Edward, — never.”

“ She may have come about this very thing. It would be quite like her straightforward ways. I am sure she will feel, mother, that she is in the place of a mother to Hester, and, knowing how much her brother owes to you, will think as I do, — that we can do nothing without you.”

“ It would be a very correct and proper feeling for her to have, but I am surprised that any one either thinks or feels correctly nowadays.”

“ But you will see her ? ”

“ Yes, as you wish it. The servants know that I am at home.”

“ And shall I go ? ”

“No. Why should you ?”

Miss Ann entered, looking rosy and plump, with her usual expression of undisturbed calm. Duties were not always pleasant to Ann, but they were to be done, and done effectively, like any household tasks. In ordinary social intercourse Mrs. Morton was a trifle dreaded by Ann Wendell, who felt that her own ways were not as the ways of these people ; but in matters of graver nature no human being would have awed or stayed the spinster for a moment.

There was a hearty welcome from Edward Morton, and a kind but not over-hearty greeting from his mother, who, as Ned said afterwards, had on a black silk dress and her sternest expression, and who, with the light of battle in her eyes, looked at the rosy, plump little woman as if she were an emissary from the camp of a foe.

Ann Wendell talked very little at any time, and was unskilled in the civilized art of saying non-committal nothings. The winds and the storms interested her, and she spoke of them, but with an uncommon earnestness; and this was because she had been born on Cape Cod, and they had been the rough playmates of her calm and ordered childhood. But her talk about weather was almost the only minor chat she knew how to use. She was disturbed as she came in by the presence of Edward Morton, and thinking he might leave before long was relieved when Mrs. Morton, who felt the need of a little neutral conversation, began with the usual commonplace introductories.

“ Did you walk over, Miss Wendell ? What a famous walker you are ! In these delicious May days it is a pleasure to breathe. But you ought to wear a veil; the wind burns one so badly.”

“ Yes, I walked. It is n’t very far. I have never been brought up to wear veils ; ” and then she added with consecutive exactness of reply, “ You mentioned the weather; I don’t feel quite sure about it. It looks like a northeaster brewing, and you know that makes one anxious. It’s so bad for the fishermen.”

Mrs. Morton did not know, but she felt faintly amused, which was well just at this time.

“ Indeed, I hardly ever notice the weather much. I am luckily one of those happy people who have no interest in the weather-cock.”

“ I wish I had not,” said her son. “ I think old Nick invented the east wind.”

“ The winds are all of God’s sending, Edward,” returned Ann, gently shaking her head, and with some mild censure in her tones, while Mrs. Morton looked up abruptly, with displeased surprise that this woman should address her eldest son in this familiar fashion. She had heard her do so before, but just now was doubly ready to make disagreeable comments.

“ And so are many unpleasant things, Miss Ann,” said Edward, smiling. “ But you see, if the winds were predestined, I was predestined to abuse them, and so it’s all a part of the foreordained arrangements of the universe.” He liked to puzzle Ann Wendell.

“ Yes, I dare say,” returned Ann, seriously, getting her mind in order for a skirmish on free will, and the like.

“ My dear Ned,” said Mrs. Morton, smiling, “ you are a great preacher lost. Won’t you take off your cloak, Miss Wendell ? ”

“No, thank you,” she replied. “I have but a few minutes. I came over to talk to you about a thing which has been on my mind ; a matter ” —

“ And shall I leave you with mother? ”

“Is it about Miss Hester Gray?” asked Mrs. Morton, who was getting impatient.

“ Yes, it is about her ; but I was thinking that perhaps your son ” —

“ If it is about Hester I should prefer that Mr. Morton stayed. We were discussing that very disagreeable affair when you came in, and as Edward represents his father, just now, it is my wish that he remain. Will you have the kindness to go on, Miss Wendell?”

Ann did not like it, but the formal directness of this speech in no way troubled her ; and she felt that after all it was a family matter, and that Mrs. Morton had a right to choose who should be present.

“ It must be as you like. You know — I suppose you know — that Arthur has asked Hester to marry him, and that she has said she would.”

“Yes, I have heard as much,” returned Mrs. Morton, stiffly.

“ I am sorry, very sorry, about it. I did not think it would have come about so soon, or I should have felt it my duty to speak of it before. I am to blame, because I know, and I think you must know, that it is a thing which can never be.”

“Never be ! ” broke in Edward. “ Why, what reason on earth, Miss Ann, can you have to say that ? ”

“ Be so good as to keep quiet, Edward ! ” exclaimed his mother. “ I am glad to hear a little common sense from some one. Pray go on, Miss Wendell. I quite agree with you.”

A little puzzled, Ann hesitated for a moment, but only for a moment. “ I was afraid,” she continued, “ that I was wrong. It is very difficult to be always right, but I could not see how any one who knew what we know could just look on and say nothing.”

“Knew what we know?” repeated Mrs. Morton. “ I don’t quite clearly understand you.”

“ Nor I,” added Edward.

“ And yet you do know that when Captain Gray was dying he said over and over that it was your husband who killed him; and can a dying man lie? The law says he cannot.”

“ And have you really kept that nonsense in your head all this time ? ” exclaimed Mrs. Morton.

“ I have had it on my mind,” replied Ann. “ But it is not nonsense. The law says ” —

“ But the law deals thus only with the sane ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Morton, bewildered an instant by the firm hold which this incident had obtained on Ann’s faith.

“ What does this all mean, mother ? ” said Edward. “ I have listened simply with astonishment, but our good friend Miss Ann is not a rash or hasty talker. Please explain it to me. What does it mean ? ”

“ It is easily explained, Edward. Hester’s father died delirious at the hospital, and unhappily occupied the bed next to your father. Something your father said put it in Captain Gray’s mind that the shot which finally cost him his life was fired by your father. This idea incessantly haunted his brain, and at last was so annoying that we were obliged to move your father before it was quite prudent. I have heard that poor Gray raved about this delusion until he died.”

“ But ” — said Ann.

“One moment, excuse me,” continued Mrs. Morton. “ This is the simple statement of what happened. Mr. Morton said it was impossible and absurd; Dr. Lagrange and Dr. Wendell said the same; and now comes Miss Wendell to ask us to consider this story from a tragic point of view ! ”

It certainly did seem to Edward as nearly ludicrous as so grave a matter could be.

“ Does n’t it seem strange, Miss Ann, that you, of all these various people, should be the only one to continue to think seriously of this matter? Cannot you see in what an exceptional position it places you ? Can you be right, and all these others who know more of it than you altogether wrong ? Surely you cannot have reflected upon the matter.”

“But he said it, — he said it,” urged Ann, firmly. For years she had brooded over this, and now it had become for her a fact not to be questioned. To pass it over in silence appeared an inconceivable mode of dealing with what was for her an awful reality.

“ Said it ! Of course he said it,” answered Mrs. Morton ; “ I heard him say it. But what then ? Dying men say many silly things, and Dr. Lagrange told me that this was perfectly nonsensical. In fact, how could the man know who hurt him, in such a scene as that ? ”

“ But Colonel Morton told him it was so,” replied Ann.

“ Told him! Nonsense. That, at least, is distinctly untrue.”

“ Your husband will not say so, I am sure,” insisted Ann.

“ And I am as sure he will,” said Edward. “ I never heard the story before, but of all the absurd things I ever did hear this seems to me the most so.”

“ Indeed, I agree with you,” said Mrs. Morton.

“ And how could you, Miss Ann, of all people,” urged Edward, “ entertain for a moment such an idea ? Cannot you see what an impossible thing it is, and what mischief it may make? ”

“ We must do our duty, and leave the issues to God. It is true, — I am sure it is true. I think I am sure,” she added, recalling what Dr. Lagrange was reported to have said. “ Even if you do not credit it, Hester must be enabled to use her own judgment upon it. I shall tell her.”

“ No, by heavens, no! ” cried Edward, angrily.

“ But I must.”

“ You cannot dream of such a course,” exclaimed Mrs. Morton. “ Remember that my husband, Arthur, all of us, are concerned ! It seems to me, Miss Wendell, a strange return for what we have tried to do for your brother.”

“ Mother, mother ! ” said Edward.

Ann began to see that there were several sides to this question, clear as it had seemed to her, plain as she had thought that it must be to every one.

“ I am not ungrateful. We owe you much,” and her eyes filled. “ I have not wanted to be unjust, and least of all to you and yours.”

“ Oh, my mother did not mean that,” declared Edward.

“ No,” assented Mrs. Morton, “ I did not; but when such absolute nonsense is talked, how can we stop to choose our words! ”

Ann was hurt and troubled. “ And what can I do ? ” she asked, much moved. “ I see before me a duty. To you it is absurd. And yet it remains. I ask you, as a Christian woman, what can I do ? ”

“ Do ? Do nothing,” returned Mrs. Morton.

“ Wait, at least, till I hear from my father,” urged Edward, sensibly, little knowing the train of events his purpose was to start.

“ You will believe him, I presume ? ” said Mrs. Morton.

“ If he can say that it was not so, and can show us that it was not, I shall believe.”

Edward was somewhat amused at her doubts, but also much relieved. “ That will answer perfectly. And you and I will talk it all over. I am sure I can satisfy you, — quite sure. And you will not speak of this to Hester until we have heard from my father.”

“ No, I will not ; not now, at least.”

“ Then it is settled ? ”

“ Yes, for the present; ” and she rose and went away, not quite as well satisfied with herself as she had been.

“ Yet I was right,” she thought; “ if it were only an accident of war, I should still be right! ”

“ Well, my son,” said Mrs. Morton, rather illogically, “ you see what comes of association with such people as these, and how it ends ? ”

Edward smiled. “Hardly. But, mother, did you ever dream or hear of such inconceivable nonsense ? Poor Miss Ann has lived so out of the world that she is really to be excused ; but the mischief of it all, mother, — the mischief! Why, the mere whisper of such a thing would craze a girl like Hester; and then — poor Arty ! ”

“ I said it could n’t possibly come to any good, and now you see.”

“ But it must come to good, mother, and it will. And now you are going to try to see it as I do, and think what it will be for me to have a sister like Hester.”

“ I shall do, as I have always done, the best for my children; but I am sure your father won’t like it.”

“ Wait till he hears what I say,” he returned. “ I shall write at once. I cannot get this thing out of my head. It seems to me so full of danger.”

“ It is certainly very disagreeable. You may say to Arthur, Ned, that I will think it over. I cannot see my way to any conclusion as yet; and meanwhile I would rather not talk to him about it.”

“ But won’t he feel hurt ? ”

“ That he should have thought about before,” she said, and went upstairs, resolving that she would talk it all over with Alice Westerley, who had heard this strange tale, and who, as her friend remembered, had simply smiled at it as a matter of odd interest.

Edward wrote at once to his father, inclosing a note from Arthur, and with less patience than was usual with him awaited a reply.

XX.

Mrs. Grace by degrees recovered from the shock of her tilt with Mrs. Westerley. Hers was a moral constitution not prone to suffer long from wounds, and she soon began again to take a complacent interest in the affairs of her neighbors. She had not quite liked a letter she had received from Colonel Fox, and had also had some difficulty in explaining to Mr. Grace what she had done to justify her cousin’s refusal to act longer as her trustee. At present she was a good deal taken up with her daughter, who was malarious from much furtive ingestion of bon-bons; but the mother still found leisure to do a little dull talk when occasion offered. It had seemed to her that it was wise to ignore Alice Westerley’s rebuffs, and she therefore lost no occasion to speak to her, — a course alike unpleasing and amazing to her sensitive victim.

There had been a meeting at Miss Clemson’s house, and the rooms had been filled with women interested in the care of the orphans made by the war. As usual Mrs. Morton kept things straight, and so checked diffusive talk that the work was soon over and assigned to committees. Then most of the women went away, and the few who were left fell to chatting.

Miss Clemson looked taller than ever in her small rooms, and also more gaunt, having adopted a new and wholesome but implacable kind of dress, which seemed to have disposed, once for all, of the kindly curves of the human frame.

“Where did you get the pattern of that table cover ? ” asked Mrs. Grace.

“Is n’t it quaint?” said Miss Clemson. “Miss Wendell made it; or rather, to be precise, Miss Gray made it after a design which Miss Wendell gave her; but I added the fringe myself.”

“ It is very nice,” assented Mrs. Grace. “ I suppose we shall soon have news of

Hester Gray and Arthur Morton. But how his mother will hate it! Not a cent, my dear. And in her old age, too ! ”

“ Really,” returned Miss Clemson, “ the interest which marriage appears to possess for some people, Mrs. Grace, is curious to me.”

“ But why curious ? ” asked Mrs. Bullock. “ I can understand your own indifference to it, my dear. It’s a bad habit you acquired young:” which was true, since in her blonde youth Miss Clemson had been fatal; but then and always had vaguely resented the admiration of men.

“ Why ? ” she returned. “ If you would read Quetelet or Buckle, you would see that marriage is purely a matter of statistics. Given so many men and women, there will be just so many marriages. The unit in such matters is of mere fractional value.”

“ I don’t think I quite approve of your views,” exclaimed Mrs. Grace.

“ I dare say,” said Miss Clemson, indifferently; and then Mrs. Bullock laughed.

At that moment Alice Westerley, who overheard them, and who was in high good humor, joined the group.

“ Don’t any of you trust Jane Clemson on the subject of marriage,” she said. “After filling her wigwam with countless scalps, she sits down and says that nobody else ought to go on the warpath.”

“ I don’t think,” rejoined Miss Clemson, who took all discussion gravely,— “ I don’t think that marriage should be the single goal of a woman’s existence. Let us educate women as well as men are educated, and then they will have so many higher aims in life that they will not condescend to dress and talk and dance merely to please men.”

“ I should think that just a little ignorance might be conducive to bliss in those days,” said Alice. “ I should like to start a rival college, with professorships of the art of pleasing. What not to know should be one branch of study. Your wise girl graduates would be nowhere.”

“ Men will never truly respect us,” returned Miss Clemson, “ until we compete with them in their universities and in their professions.”

“ I shall advise Arty to apply for admission at Vassar.”

“ I don’t think he could pass.”

“ Perhaps not. It would depend somewhat on the age of the examiners. But I must speak to Helen Morton before I go,” and she turned away, laughing.

“ It is impossible for Alice to discuss anything seriously,” said Miss Clemson. “ It is really a sad defect in so fine a nature.”

“I quite agree with you,” murmured Mrs. Grace, to whom the remark was not addressed.

Miss Clemson rather resented her assenting opinion, but said nothing further.

Then Mrs. Bullock spoke with decisiveness about the warmth of the weather.

“ Yes. It seems nearly impossible to regulate the temperature of one’s rooms. I looked at my thermometers before you came, but they don’t quite agree. One does expect thermometers to agree, even if people do not. Please to open that window behind you, Mrs. Bullock.”

“ Dr. Withers,” remarked Mrs. Grace, “says that I keep my house too cool; but Sarah — she is never hot enough.”

“ Dr. Withers ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Bullock. “ I thought Dr. Wendell attended you.”

“ Not now. I could not get him to come into my views. He says Sarah has no liver.”

“ Rather odd, that, I must say,” commented Miss Clemson.

“ Yes, was n’t it ? — when I know she is just all liver and malaria, and that’s what’s the matter with her. But then he never was of much account about livers, and they do say his practice is going to pieces. Mrs. Starr has left him, and Mrs. Evans is going to give him up.”

“ I am afraid,” said Mrs. Bullock, who had also her views as concerned doctors,— “ I am afraid he does n’t consider constitutions enough. There is everything in knowing people’s constitutions.”

“ I hope you are both wrong,” responded Miss Clemson, who liked Wendell. “ I never change my doctor.”

“ Oh, don’t you ? ” said Mrs. Grace.

“ Because I never have one! ” cried Miss Clemson, laughing.

During this talk Mrs. Westerley, who was pretending to sympathize with a sad tale of departing cooks, and like grievances, was keenly listening to the chat beside her. She knew that Wendell was not keeping his patients, and a sense of indignant annoyance arose in her mind that this wretched woman should dare to sit in judgment on a man like Wendell. She felt more and more that she, at least, must stand by him. Then a new phase of the talk caught her ear.

“ I don’t think,” continued Miss Clemson, who never allowed abuse of the absent, “ that people here appreciate Dr. Wendell’s abilities. He ought to be in a great city. I think myself that it is very difficult to judge of a physician. We have n’t the opportunities or even the knowledge.”

“ I dare say,” replied Mrs. Bullock, who was facile in abandoning her opinions. “ And I must say this for Dr. Wendell: he went last week to see my farmer’s wife, and she and three of her children had small-pox ; and I can tell you if I were a doctor I certainly would not attend cases of small-pox ! I did hear that Dr. Withers would n’t go.”

“ Oh, I suppose it is n’t his specialty,” explained Mrs. Grace; “ and after all, it is their business.”

“ Still, I think it is a brave thing,” said Miss Clemson, “ to face diseases as they do. I call a man brave who just coolly goes as an every-day affair, and takes these risks. It is the only pursuit in quiet times in which the peril is incessant and the call for quiet courage constant.”

“ Well, I am glad my doctor does n’t go to such cases,” said Mrs. Grace. “ But I must speak to Mrs. Morton.”

Alice listened eagerly. It soothed her immeasurably to feel that here was some one who could call Wendell brave. She would have liked to kiss the tall spinster, who had thus ignorantly poured balm on her wounds, but contented herself with saying, as she turned to leave, —

“My dear, how well you look ! And what is your secret for keeping a complexion like a baby’s ? It must be the way you ’re dressed; but then you women who never think about such things have always the nicest dresses; ” for which little fib let us hope the fair widow may be forgiven, and her flattery set down to an honest desire to pay her debts with usury thereto.

Altogether the morning had been a good one for her lover, and with a new tenderness and a pride that set her wondering if Fox himself would have stood this other test of courage, she went out into the May sunshine feeling in pleasant accord with the weather.

Then Mrs. Morton overtook her, and said that she would walk to her house, as she had something to say to her ; and so, leaving the other women, they turned into Mrs. Westerley’s gate. In the drawing-room they found Hester and Mr. Wilmington, who was apt to make some excuse to see Mrs. Westerley as often as he could. He had not misused his leisure, and in fact preferred, as he said, one woman at a time.

“ So, Miss Hester,” he had remarked, “ Master Arthur has been saying pretty things to you, I hear ? ”

“ Indeed, you must be misinformed,” replied the young lady, beginning to grow quite unreasonably warm.

“ Oh, but he has told me all about it,” said Wilmington.

“ Then you had best not believe a word he says,” she returned, smiling. “ I never do.”

“Watch him well, my dear; watch him well. The godfather who could renounce for any of that Morton breed the devil and the — What’s the rest of it ? ”

“ How should I know ? ” answered Hester. “ I never was a godfather.”

“ Nor I. But there is something they renounce. I would n’t do it for Edward, and I would n’t for Arthur. Oh, you are a rash young woman ! ”

“ But I am not to be a godfather ; and with your counsel,” she returned archly, “ and your experience of those things he ought to have had renounced for him, don’t you think we may get along? ”

“ Oh, it’s ‘ we ’ now ! Be very good, and tell me what you want for a wedding present.”

“ A house, and a carriage and four,” she cried, laughing.

“ Gracious, I shall be a ruined man ! But here come Mrs. Westerley and Mrs. Morton.”

“ Oh ! ” exclaimed Hester, who had not seen the latter lady for some time, and who dreaded the encounter. Mrs. Westerley kissed her, and Mrs. Morton asked how she was, and was coldly civil, as such a woman well knows how to be ; while poor Hester, who fully understood that she was by no means to be welcomed into the Morton family, felt as if no corner could be undesirably small as a refuge.

Wilmington was aware that there was an unpleasant check in Hester’s love affair, and he also liked to annoy Mrs. Morton at times ; so partly from disapproval of her present course, and partly from habit, he lapsed into the repetitions which were apt to overtake him when with more than one person, or when it pleased him not to help the talk.

“ I don’t think Edward is very well,” said Mrs. Morton, speaking past Hester.

“ No, he is n’t well,” muttered Wilmington. “ Looks sick.”

“ And I have lost two cows in a week.”

“ Two cows in a week ! ”

“ Don’t you think that is atrociously bad luck, Mr. Wilmington ? ”

“ Yes, that’s bad luck.”

Then Mrs. Morton felt forced to fall back on Hester, as Mrs. Westerley, standing apart, had just said, “ Pardon me, Helen, I must open these notes.” She began to talk to Hester about her studies, and was presently struck with the girl’s gentle self-possession.

“ And was Edward a good teacher ? ” she inquired, watching her critically.

“ Surely,” thought Hester, quite conscious of being under inspection, “ a mother-in-law that is to be is terrible;” and then, remembering whose mother she was, her pride melted. “ But what woman would want to let a girl like me marry such a son as Arty ? ” And thinking thus, she replied, “ Oh, Mrs. Morton, Mr. Edward was the best of teachers ; and who is there like him ? I think him the best of men.”

Wilmington opened his eyes at her, murmured, “Indeed!” and relapsed into what might have seemed slumber to those who did not know his ways.

“ Yes, and life has been hard for him, poor fellow! ”

“ But perhaps that is why lie makes it gentler for every one else. I think in the old Round Table days there might have been people like him, but not now.”

Hester had lost her terror in the pleasant task of praising her hero, Edward.

“ You are a wise little woman.” It was enough to talk about Edward to satisfy Mrs. Morton, and the girl had been artlessly clever in her speech.

Then Mr. Wilmington woke up. “ He is n’t worth much compared to Arthur,” he said; “rather a sentimental young man.”

Mrs. Morton laughed. “ Oh,” she said, gayly, “ that hook was not too well baited ! Come and dine with us tomorrow.”

“ On one condition,” he returned, looking, as Mrs. Westerley afterwards declared, as wicked as the scapegoat: “ and that is that I may have Miss Hester.”

Mrs. Morton was equal to the occasion. “ Certainly,” she assented, in her most quiet tone, “ we shall expect you, Miss Gray.”

“ But Hester dines with me,” rejoined Mrs. Westerley, promptly.

“ Then you will both come,” continued Mrs. Morton, with frosty politeness. “ At seven, dear.”

“ You are very good, Mrs. Morton,” Hester replied, “but I think I promised to dine here with Mr. Edward and Mr. Arthur Morton.”

“ What, all the family! You will have to endure me quite alone, Mr. Wilmington ; ” and then Mrs. Morton felt that somehow the battle was not for her to-day, but she had, nevertheless, a distinct sense of approval of the calmness of her young adversary under fire.

In a little while Mr. Wilmington went away with Hester, and made himself pleasant, as he knew full well how to do, and the two elder women were left alone.

“ I wonder, Alice, that you allow that woman Mrs. Grace to speak to you. Edward calls her the ‘ news fiend.’ Is n’t that delightfully descriptive? ”

“ My dear, I never cut people now. It is an endless annoyance. You have to be so on your guard not to speak to them. I don’t know how it may be with you, but time does betray one so. I want to scalp some woman to-day, and in a year I only care just to pinch her a little, and in another year I am indifferent about her altogether. I think I like that big angel Ned’s views. He told me that he quarreled outright with a man once in Texas, and that it was like having measles: it prevented him from ever quarreling with anybody else.”

“ Oh, there is no one like that boy. But he can be angry, I assure you.”

“Of course he can. A man is worth little who cannot.”

“ I have always lived with men who were capable enough in that line. And do you know, dear, that is one of the things I never did like about Dr. Wendell. He seems to be quite unable to get into a good honest rage at anything.”

“ Perhaps he controls himself.”

“ No, the man is too gentle. He has, I think, a—well, a sleek disposition.”

“ Oh, what an unpleasant phrase, Helen ! ” cried her friend, coloring slightly. “ I think you are unfair, and this matter of Arty’s has made you irritable, too.”

“ Take care,” said Mrs. Morton, playfully shaking her finger at her friend,— “ take care ! It is n’t only Mrs. Grace who talks about you. I have always wanted you to marry, — and it is very good of me, too, dear, — but not Dr. Wendell, Alice. At least marry a gentleman.”

“ I think he is one,” retorted Alice, angry, and governing herself with difficulty.

“ A kind of one ; not just precisely our kind.”

“ And pray, Helen, what are our kind like ? ”

“ You know, Alice, quite as well as I do.”

“ I don’t think I do, or if I do I am tired of our kind. When I mean to marry Dr. Wendell or any one, I will let you know.”

Then Mrs. Morton understood that she had said enough, and made up her mind that her friend would marry Wendell.

“ Well, I am glad that you are not committed in any way.”

“ Of that you may rest assured,” said Alice. This was hardly true, but she believed that she had a fair right to so construe her present relations. More and more had she felt to-day that she was keeping him and herself in a false position. She was sore, too, from the whips of these idle tongues. Now she would end it all, and do the thing and abide by it, and so put herself where no one could dare to talk thus to her of the man she loved.

“ But, Helen,” she added, “what was it you wanted to say to me ? Of course it was n’t about this. I think we may drop Dr. Wendell.”

“No, it was quite another matter;” and then she told Alice the story of Miss Ann’s visit. “ And now what do you think of it? What with these Wendells, and this absurd love affair of Arthur’s, and this serio-comic performance of that Yankee old maid, I am what my old nurse used to describe as ‘ about done out.’ ”

Alice winced a little, but, keeping her repeated hurts to herself, she answered, “ I don’t wonder. But is it so bad, after all ? Let us look at it calmly. I warned you about Hester, and you did nothing.”

“ I know,” said Mrs. Morton, gravely.

“ And of course you will have to yield.”

“ I suppose so,” groaned Mrs. Morton, who was what Mrs. Bullock called “ low in her mind.”

“ And except as to money, what can you say ? The girl is pretty, wellmannered, intelligent, sweet-tempered. What more on earth can you want? ”

Mrs. Morton was too shrewd to talk to Alice as she had done to Edward. “ Every one is against me,” she said so plaintively that Alice laughed aloud.

“ And every one ought to be against you.”

“ Edward wants to give him money to join Colonel Fox in his iron works,” said Mrs. Morton sorrowfully.

“ Not really ? How hard on you, Helen ! ”

“ You are really too outrageous,” rejoined the injured lady; “but it is always so ! I never have my own way.”

Alice smiled. “If Hester had come to you, and said, ‘ Mr. Morton wants to marry me, and I think I ought not to let him without your consent,’ you would have kissed her, and said, ‘ Now that’s the kind of girl for a daughter! ’ Would n’t you, Helen ? ”

Mrs. Morton smiled despite herself. “ I dare say I should.”

“ You always do come right in the end. But I overheard you say to Mr. Wilmington that Ned was not so well. Is it this tragedy of Miss Ann’s ? ”

“ Partly that, I think ; and I am afraid I have worried him about Arty.”

“ The more reason for doing so no longer.”

“ Perhaps you are right, Alice. I will talk to Arty.”

“ Do, dear. And about the other matter. Miss Wendell, you say, has promised to be silent, and Edward has written, and asked an answer by cable ?”

“ Yes.”

“Then,” continued Alice, “you can do no more. Tell Arty you must wait to hear from his father, but of course not a word about the other trouble. In twelve days — let me see, that will be about May 14th. We shall hear then, and it will be all cleared up, even to Ann’s satisfaction, and you will welcome this dear child to your heart. I wish she were my daughter.”

“ I will think of it, dear. How good and patient you are, Alice ! I don’t wonder every one loves you.” And so the two women cried a little, and kissed one another, and Mrs. Morton went away feeling somehow that her burden was lighter, while Alice went upstairs happy in her victory, and singing like a bird for pure joy.

By and by she sat down at a table near to the window, and, after a moment’s thought, wrote thus to Wendell : —

“ I wondered why you had not been here to-day, but now I know it is because you have cases of small - pox. Come and see me when you feel it to be safe. Tell Hester to be patient and to wait. I have had a satisfactory talk with Mrs. Morton. As soon as they hear from Colonel Morton everything will come right. I have delayed answering you in form, partly from an indecision which has been as painful to me as to you, as you must know by this time. But now I mean to end it, and if I ask you after this to wait a few days you will not mind it, I am sure. I have had a fancy — and you ought to be glad to think that I am yet young enough to have caprices — that I would not say, frankly, Yes, until we have heard from Colonel Morton about this other matter. Now I am very truly Alice Westerley ; but after that I shall be very truly yours. A. W.”

That she was even yet quite free from indecision cannot be said ; but this was all that was left of it, and she felt happier than she had done for many days.

Decision is a pleasant inn after a troubled journey that has led us hither and thither. To the wholesome-minded guest it is apt to open wide the kindliest hospitalities of hope, where we are served by cheerful fancies and feed on what we will.

Having thus ended this matter, Alice looked out over the shrubbery and across the hills and fields ; and everywhere the little riddles of last autumn’s thousand seeming deaths were being answered in the swarming life of spring. Birds went busily from bough to bough, with wooings in which there was little indecision. The air was dotted with insect life forever on the wing, and over all a bustling western wind drove a great flock of clouds across the sky.

A warm, inquisitive sunshine stirred all creation with throbs of reawakened life, and in the woman’s heart also was springtime, and mysterious longings, and growth of sweet feminine hopes, and welcomes for the tender happiness which promised her a larger and yet a truer life in the days to come. Such sense of exaltation to higher levels of existence and its better purposes comes instinctively to those who nobly love.

As she sat and thought, Wendell’s face came before her, with its prevalent undertone of sadness and its air of scholarly refinement. “ Not a gentleman ! ” she murmured, smiling. “Ah, we shall see ! ”

S. Weir Mitchell