WENDELL received Alice Westerley’s letter with delight which a year before would have been without alloy. He loved her very deeply, and in the presence of a passion so profound, the first and the only one of his life, his self-appreciation faded into the most utter humility, and he wondered that he had ever dared to hope ; while at times there arose in his mind an overwhelming feeling of triumph when he thought of what those who had criticised him so freely would say when this became known. To be justified before men socially and in all other ways by the preference of such a woman was sufficient return for anything the world of lesser beings might have said or done.
It was hard to have any drawback, hard indeed; and he cursed his folly as he thought of being no longer an upright man, clear of shame, worthy of a pure woman’s love. It cannot be said that this sense of degradation was altogether the growth of honest hatred of his weakness and sin, nor yet even the healthy reaction from single acts of wrong and a return to the normal despotism of moral habits which were good and cleanly. It was rather the fact that he had become accustomed to test himself and his ways, and even his little social habits, by the exquisite refinement of purity in Alice, which seemed to envelop him with a charmed atmosphere as his love for her deepened in intensity. It was more by his ideal of her conscience than his own standards that he tried himself, and it was therefore not enough that he still felt secure against exposure ; for there was for him an ever present idea that, come what might, he brought to her a life which, in her eyes, would seem hopelessly defiled. There were hours in these days of waiting when he felt inclined to go away, and to write to her that he was a man unworthy of her love and trust. But then the impossibility of inflicting on himself this anguish rose with her smiling face before him, and by an easy effort he put away the impulse. That Ann had begun to guess the secret of his love he well knew, and feeling that he ought now to tell her he would surely have done so had there not been constantly with him this association of his love with the sense of shame. He felt, however, that he must clear himself of the risks of exposure, and then he could speak with less alloy of discomfort in regard to whatever of terrible the near future threatened. He would wait.
His distress was increased, however, by the fact that four days after Alice left, a new and unpleasant actor came suddenly upon the stage. Wendell had heard nothing more from Henry Gray, but as he was daily expecting to do so he had been worrying himself sick in his effort to replace the money he had taken. At one time he would have gone to Edward for aid, but already much money had been almost forced upon him by that generous friend; and the doctor’s dislike to ask anew was made greater by Edward’s present condition, which was one of growing weakness, with rare intervals of entire freedom from pain. Here was certainly a still possible resource, but it must be a last one. In his trouble he would have turned even to Mrs. Morton, but he was well aware that he was out of favor at present; and he had not forgotten that Mrs. Morton had once or twice, out of her affluence of ready advice, given him some quite friendly counsel as to his need to be rather more economical. Where else to go he knew not, and all the refinement of the man’s emotional nature protested against any recourse to the purse and kindness of the woman he loved. That for him was impossible. Meanwhile, poor Ann worried herself over his haggard face and questioned him in vain. Her conclusion was that his present inclination towards Alice Westerley had not been pleasantly returned, and with her regrets there was mingled in Ann’s mind some trace of another feeling, which she made haste to put down with all the decision of her loving nature. Her feeling that he was troubled, and also her remembrance of the ridicule he had cast upon her grave theory of the relation of Colonel Morton to the rebel Gray, combined now to indispose her to discuss with her brother Hester’s engagement, or the awful difficulty which she conceived of as forbidding it. Once or twice when the new alliance had been referred to before him, he had either left the room, or in some way shown a displeasure which Ann could not comprehend, and which at times inclined her to suspect that possibly he, too, disapproved of it.
Copyright, 1884, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
Wendell was on his way home from the city, after a vain effort to sell his stock and to raise money in impossible ways, when he saw a gentleman standing on the steps of his house. The stranger was a man about fifty-five, and was dressed in a closely buttoned black morning coat, neat check pantaloons and a well-brushed hat that was Piccadilly all over, and wore a rose in his buttonhole. The figure was such as one sees in Bond Street by hundreds of a morning, except that the feet were small, the boots delicate and thin as a girl’s, and that their owner carried a large, shining cane with a huge gold head. Wendell, who noticed faces as doctors learn to do, observed only that the clean-shaven, sallow features were rather strong and gaunt, and that the stranger wore his straight dark hair so long as to excite attention. The incongruities of dress of course escaped Wendell’s observation. The moment the stranger addressed him the doctor knew who he was.
“ Pardon me,” said the gentleman, seeing Wendell take out his pass-key, “ are you not Dr. Wendell ? ”
“ Yes, I am Dr. Wendell.”
“ My name is Henry Gray. I should apologize because I have not written, but now I am here in person, which saves explanations. Permit me, sir, before I enter your house, to thank you for your long and great kindness to my young relative.”
He spoke with a little old-fashioned sense of saying a fine thing, and there were unexpected inflections in his speech. Also his final r’s were softened into broad a’s, but the voice was pleasant and the tones were refined.
“ You will think us well rewarded when you see Hester. Come in. You are very welcome.”
Henry Gray followed his host into the large, low-ceiled room, and sat down while Wendell went in search of Ann and Hester.
Ann was, as she said, awfully flurried, and to Hester’s amusement insisted on her changing her gown. But Ann was a wise woman in her way; she knew the value of first impressions, and was not without a just pride in the maiden to whom she had given a home. As she hastily arranged the girl’s dress, the thought went through Ann’s mind that if she proved to be right about the grave matter recently in dispute, here assuredly was an ally who would see things as they should be seen. She was therefore glad to welcome the new arrival.
Houses and rooms, Mr. Gray took small note of. He had lived in camps and ranches, and slept on the plains, or housed himself in the tepe of the Indian ; but to him as to most of those who have dwelt much in wild border lands there had come a habit of scanning faces closely ; for in such semi-barbarous existences the features lose the diplomatic masks of guarded social life, and to look sharply at a stranger is a needed safeguard for those who mean to illustrate the survival of the fittest. The Cape Cod spinster, in her simple serge dress, with no gay colors save those in her clear eyes and ruddy cheeks, seemed to him a curious personage. He began to wonder what kind of a lady she must have made of his young kinswoman. Certainly the Carolina gentleman, with his personal belief in the Grays, his patriotism limited by state boundaries, and his after years of turbulent border life, was a not less new and amazing type to Ann Wendell, who was now looking with a double interest at one who might be Hester’s future guardian.
Ann came in, with her usual quick movement.
“ I am glad to see you. — very glad,” she said with unusual warmth; “ and Hester will be down in a minute.”
Mr. Gray took Ann’s proffered hand, and bending over it spoke with a sort of stately courtesy, the secret of which is almost lost to the present generation.
“ I have mentioned — but with too much brevity—to your brother how greatly I feel your considerate kindness to my cousin. Allow me to thank you also. We have been fortunate, Miss Wendell, — fortunate.”
“ It has pleased God in his goodness to give us a pleasant duty,” replied Ann, “and I trust that our stewardship may be found in his eyes to have been wise.”
“ By all means — yes — quite so. Your observations appear to me to be grounded on justice,” said Gray ; “ I have no doubt that I shall find my fair relative all that I might desire.”
“ I trust so,” returned Ann. “ Hester is a good girl, and as a rule acceptable to her elders, and, as far as I have been able to teach her, a good housewife. But here she is, to speak for herself ! ”
“ Upon my soul,” exclaimed her cousin, going forward with both hands extended, “ a Champney from head to feet! ”
Then he kissed her quite formally on the forehead, as she said, —
“You have given us a great surprise, sir. But when did you arrive ? I think you are very, very kind to come to see me.”
“ Bless me, my dear,” he returned, “ I think if I had known what I was to see, I should have come before ! It is astonishing how you favor the Champneys. You don’t remember Elinor Champney, I suppose ? ”
“ No,” replied Hester, embarrassed by his undisguised admiration, “ I cannot say I do. Was she very plain, sir?” she added, slyly.
“ Plain ! A woman, my dear, men fought about. There was poor Tom Manley—but, dear me, that was ages ago ! How old are you, Hester ? ”
“ Almost eighteen.”
“Well, well, what awful mile-stones you children are ! ”
Then Wendell rose. “ We will leave you to your cousin, Hester,” he remarked ; “ you must have a world of things to say,” and so went out with Ann.
“ And you and I, Hester,” said Mr. Gray, “ are all that are left of the good old stock.”
“ And have I really no relation but you ? ” returned Hester, with an odd sense of being socially shipwrecked.
“ Not one, my dear child, not one! The last, I reckon, was Jack Champney. You know he was your fourth cousin, once removed, — no, I should say twice removed, — and he was killed by those damned Yankees. Excuse me, but the two words come together so naturally ! Shot at Shiloh. He commanded a division, and I have heard it said that if he had not been killed we should have exterminated Grant’s army.”
“ Poor fellow!” murmured Hester, endeavoring to get up a little affectionate grief for the cousin once, twice, but now permanently, removed.
“ There was Archie Gray,” continued her cousin, reflectively. “ I forgot him ; but most generally people did forget Archie. He moved up into North Carolina, and set all his slaves free, and just went down in the world. Was n’t much above a cracker at last.”
Hester somehow felt a larger interest in this degraded scion of her race.
“ Cracker ? ” she queried.
“ Cracker, my dear, is a sort of noaccount white man; mostly North Carolina folk.”
“ Was he any nearer to me, Mr. Gray ? ” she asked.
“ Cousin Henry,” he replied, “ or cousin Harry, if you please, child. Stick to the good old Carolina way of standing by your own people. But, your pardon, you asked” —
“ Yes, I asked if he were any nearer relation ; and is he dead, too ? It seems so strange to me, cousin, to be just all alone in the world. I knew I must be, but to be told so brings it home to me.”
“ There is one man your devoted servant,” returned Gray, with a courtierlike tone in his voice, as he surveyed with appreciative eye the cleanly cut nose and proudly carried head above the sloped shoulders.
Hester felt like making one of Mrs. Morton’s room-occupying courtesies, but she only said, with a mental note for Arty’s amusement, —
“ I never can forget your kindness. How could I, indeed ? ” And then, as it seemed right to partake of his interest in their family, she added, “ This Alexander Gray, you were saying” —
“ Archie, my dear, — Archibald ; a family name. Your great-grandfather was Archibald, and this was his second son Archibald’s third son ; all the rest dead, you know.”
“And he is dead, too?” said Hester, still curious.
“Yes, he is dead;” and then he continued with some reluctance, “ A poor devil. Married a Yankee school-mistress. When the war broke out he entered the Union army. I did hear he raised a nigger regiment, and was in that business at Fort Pillow.”
“ And was he killed ? ” asked Hester.
“ Well, he hasn’t been heard of since. I understood that he was killed. A — a — I beg pardon, a good riddance. Had too much of that Compton blood. You know those Edisto Comptons ? Noaccount folks. Don’t you ever marry a Yankee, cousin Hester.”
Hester colored. “ You forget, cousin,” she said, “ that I might have starved if it had not been for my Yankee friends. In fact, I fear you will think me only a lukewarm Southerner. I have tried to be as quiet as I could about the war. I do not yet understand why it came, or why, as they say, it had to come ; but it has cost me my father, and given me the love and help of my friends here, and yours too, and — and — everything, you know,” she added, disconnectedly, remembering with a full heart that her misfortunes had not been without pleasant palliatives.
“ Yes, yes, I understand,” he returned; “ excellent people, I should say. I shall not forget them. But I suppose the name went for something.”
“ My dear cousin!” exclaimed Hester, much amused, “ nobody here knows anything about us, except Mrs. Morton.”
“ Oh! ” said he, “ I don’t consider that can be quite correct. We were here very often in old times. However, time makes sad changes. And Mr. Morton, — is he at home ? A very elegant gentleman, my dear; for a Northern man, quite remarkably so.”
“ He is still in Europe,” replied Hester.
“ And his family ? I must do myself the honor of a call.”
“ They too have been good friends of mine,” said Hester.
“ Then the more reason for me to thank them,” returned Mr. Gray. “ I go to Baltimore to-morrow, but next week I shall return here, and then I must go South. A sad visit, Hester. But it is folly to lament, and you must try, my dear, to look forward with hope. When next this country has a foreign war, we shall try it over, and I hope with better fortune. Just now the foot of the North is on us, and they have another Poland to govern.”
This was all rather perplexing to Hester, who had divided allegiances, and with whom Arthur’s opinions had considerable force.
“ It is sad enough. I trust we shall have no more wars. Arthur — Mr. Arthur Morton says that this way of manufacturing history is disagreeable.”
“Arthur?” he said, suspiciously. “ Who is Arthur ? Oh, Arthur Morton, is it ? I think I saw him in England. Quite an unpleasant young person. Not so well bred as his father. Left the table because I said Mr. Adams was a — a — Yankee ; you can supply the adjective. I perceive you will keep me in order ! ”
This was rather too much for Hester. “ I meant to write to you, but it was not quite settled ; and I think I ought to say that I have promised to marry Mr. Arthur Morton, — Captain Morton he is now.”
Mr. Gray stood up, with a look of amazement on his face. “ And you a woman of our crushed and bleeding Carolina! You have so far forgotten your home, and your blood, and your dead father ? You, the last of the Grays ! Hester, Hester ! And a Yankee officer, too! I thought we were low enough before ! ”
The girl rose also, and stood grasping a chair-back. The quick blood of a masterful race was in her face, and the blue iris, dilating, darkened around the central depth it bounded. “ I owe you much,” she said hastily,—“more than I can ever repay ; but you would respect me little if I were to let you, or any one, say such things as this to me. No obligation can make it right for me to hear such words about the man I love. I think if you had reflected a moment you would not have said them, — never!”
Gray cared little for the wrath of men. He was always, as he said calmly, “ personally responsible, sir.” But the anger of a woman was, as it is to all chivalrous men, difficult to deal with ; and then Hester was so splendidly handsome in her wrath. It cooled his own rage a little ; but he was an obstinate man, used to having his way.
“ Oh, child,” he said, assuming the quiet tone of an elder person, “ you have not yet seen your ruined home ; you have not yet seen where Sherman’s bandits cut down your old oaks, and made targets of your ancestors’ pictures ! Oh, Hester, our desolated South — wait, wait till you see it! ”
Somehow this business of her ancestors’ portraits, as to which Gray felt a fierce resentment, struck Hester as a small part of so large a calamity as the war.
“ I may have lost a home,” she replied, “ but I have also found one ; and war—war is all wicked, and there is no good in it. There may be cause for you, a man, a Southern man, to feel bitterly ; but you cannot expect that, situated as I have been, befriended as I have been, I should share your feelings.”
“ Then you should be ashamed to confess it! ” he cried, with momentary anger, yet still wondering as he saw how her features responded to the thoughts she uttered, while her strong, erect form carried unstirred the changing passion of her face. It was like a fair young tree, whose leaves tremble, shaken by the wrath of stormy winds, while the trunk scarce sways, held firmly by its anchoring roots.
“ Ashamed ! ” she repeated, with a smile ; “ and you talk to me about the pictures of my dead ancestors ! I dare say I shall be proud enough of my people when I come to know more about them ; but there is something nearer to me now, and you have dared to ask me to be ashamed of that! ” Her heart swelled beneath the wild unrest of her bosom as she thought of Edward and of the life and love Arthur had laid at the feet of an orphan girl, a stranger in a strange and hostile land. Cry she would not.
“ I have no personal objection to Mr. Morton,” said Gray, a little embarrassed.
“ Nor have I,” returned Hester, scornfully.
“ But how you,” he said, “ a woman of the South, can bend ” —
“ Stop ! ” she exclaimed. “ I repeat what I said. You have no right to use your relationship and my obligations to enable you to insult me. And I will not bear it. I will not bear it from you, or from any one ! ”
“ Good gracious ! ” said Gray, sitting down suddenly. “ There is no doubt of what your breed is ! I think Mr. Morton will have his hands full.”
“ Very likely; but at least he knows how to respect brave men who could risk their lives for their beliefs.”
This was a little unpleasant to Gray, who had been abroad on Confederate business during the war, and who had a slight sense of having fallen below his own standard, because he had not followed his flag into battle. He looked keenly at Hester, and became convinced at once that she had meant no personal slight, which was true.
“ Won’t you sit down ? ” he asked.
“ No. I prefer to stand,” she replied.
“ But you will oblige me by sitting down.” She seated herself.
“ Cousin Hester,” he said, “ I have hurt you. But you must not forget how natural it is for me to feel as I do.”
“ Of course,” answered Hester, who was easily softened, “I know that; but there are things dearer than home or country, and if I have spoken too strongly you should remember that I am here a waif, an orphan, a dependent, and that — that — oh, it is not just like any every-day matter ; it is not just like any girl’s love affair. I ” — She could not go on. There rose up within her consciousness a sense of what her lover was to her: how considerate he had been, how tender; how in this warmth of love he had known how to evolve and ripen all that was best in her. The thought of it brought the color to her cheeks, and the anger went out of her eyes, over which the lids drooped in tender concealment. It was a moment when more than ever before the strength of her love became clear to her. As white light turned by the prism’s plane breaks into unimagined color, the simpleness of maidenhood flashed into the passion and hopes and multiple emotionalities of one whom Love has baptized a woman.
She could not trust herself in speech. Henry Gray observed her keenly. He was beginning to see the power and tenacity of Hester’s nature.
“ And do you really love this young fellow so much ? ”
Hester opened her wide eyes in pure reproach for answer.
“Yes,” she said, after a moment. Just then a laughing face appeared in the doorway.
“ Oh, Arthur — Mr. Morton ! ” exclaimed Hester, hastily setting her moral house in order. “ My cousin, Mr. Henry Gray ; Mr. Arthur Morton, cousin.”
The two men shook hands, and began to talk about indifferent matters, carefully avoiding the topics which were still very bitter in men’s mouths. Arthur had come to see Hester, and after a few moments of this strained conversation felt that Mr. Gray ought to go ; but such was not the latter’s intention, and he sat calmly chatting, resolved to have yet further speech alone with Hester. Then he tried the little social stratagem of silence; but this failed, with so joyous and ready a tongue as Arthur’s, till at last Mr. Gray rose, and saying to Hester, “ I will see you next week ; we have still much to talk about,” bowed over her hand, said a cool goodmorning to Arthur, and left the room.
Then Hester said, “ I have told him, Arty.”
“ Oh, have you ? What a plucky little woman ! Wait a moment. I ought to say something to him myself;” and leaving her in spite of her protests, as she somewhat dreaded what might come of the interview, he overtook Mr. Gray.
“ Let me show you the way to the station.”
“ Oh, thank you,” returned Gray.
“ Miss Gray has told you,” said Arthur, “ of our engagement. I owe you an appearance of need for apology, as you are her sole relative ; but my mother, who does not disapprove, is unwilling that we should be publicly engaged until ray father is heard from. Of course he cannot be anything but pleased, and I had meant to write to you as soon as we received his answer.”
Gray failed for a moment to reply.
“ I hope I make myself clear,” added Arthur.
“ Perfectly,” said Gray. “ I perceive, sir, you have correct ideas. I perceive it, sir, with satisfaction.”
“ And I may presume,” continued Arty, who, save for Hester’s position and feelings, was blandly indifferent as to what Mr. Gray thought, — “I may presume,” and he put on his finest manner, “ that I have your approval ? ”
“ To consider the matter with our Southern frankness,” returned Gray, “ I do not like it. I do not desire Hester to marry at all as yet; and you will pardon me if I say that it could not naturally be agreeable to me that she should marry a Northern man, or an officer of your army.”
Arthur’s inward reply was other than his speech ; what he said was, “ I dare say not; ” and then he added, with a keen sense of the fun of it, “ My father may have like objections. It did not occur to me before.”
Gray saw well enough that he was being mildly chaffed. He did not relish it, and was unwise enough to reply.
“ If your father’s son, Mr. Morton, is as set in his ways as my cousin’s daughter, the form of asking might very well be dispensed with.”
“ There are some things,” Arthur answered, “ which we do as mere ceremonies ; but on my honor, if I had supposed I should be talked to after this fashion, neither your years nor Hester herself would have made me go even so far as the ceremony of asking.”
Halting suddenly, Gray turned on him. “ Mr. Morton, you are a young man, and I am well on in life. We can’t quarrel like men, and when that decent course is impossible there is no use in scolding one another. A word more. You have won, and we have lost. Make some allowance for sore bones, sir! There is my hand,—you shall hear no more of this matter from me; and by George, sir, I am glad you are a soldier. I said something foolish about that, I believe, but I did n’t mean it.”
Arthur shook his hand warmly.
“ I dare say I have need to apologize myself,” he declared. “ Thank you. But here is your train. Hester will be pleased, I am sure.”
Mr. Gray took off his hat, while Arthur touched his in soldier fashion, and then, seized by the contagion of Gray’s ceremoniousness, made a salute as bountiful as that of the Southern gentleman, and went his way back to Hester, to condole with her over the pictures of her ancestors.
The interview was probably satisfactory, as Arthur was able to tell her that his mother had been very nice to him, and hoped it would all be well when the colonel was heard from, and also that Ned had sent his love. It was now Thursday, and by the next Thursday they would be sure to hear, because his father was to telegraph.
Meanwhile Ann Wendell was greatly dissatisfied with herself. The effect left upon her mind by the dying delirium of Hester’s father had been profound, and Hester’s engagement was to her as if a ghost had risen from the grave to chide her failure to perform a manifest duty, which she knew she had put aside, awaiting the hour when Hester should be old enough to hear so terrible a tale. It is impossible to estimate the force with which such grim events impress themselves on people of simple lives and limited range of experience. They are recalled as men recall their first sensation of the terrors of an earthquake. It was true that Dr. Lagrange and Ezra had smiled at it all; but they were both friends of the Mortons, and Ann knew but too well Ezra’s tendency to put aside unpleasant ideas, and that of course he would dislike to offend Mrs. Westerley. All this seemed clear; but to whom should she go in her deep and serious distress of mind ? She had rashly promised not to speak to Hester, — not, at least, until she had heard what Colonel Morton would say; and if he too were again to pronounce what seemed to her so grave as but the dream of a dying man, what then ? She had said it would satisfy her ; but would it, or should it ? Was not Hester the only competent judge ? Had not she a right to hear this story ? In vain the troubled and straightforward woman tried to see it as Edward saw it. Even if Hester’s father had been, through pure accident, shot by a certain man, could Hester rightfully marry that man’s son ? In her worry Ann became singularly perplexed as to what was wrong and what right, grieving vainly over her promise of secrecy, until suddenly it came to her that this promise was limited to Hester. There was Mr. Gray, of whom already she had thought as an adviser, — of all persons the one on whose shoulders she could put her care, and rest content that it was where it should be. He should promise not to speak of it to Hester until they heard from Mr. Morton. The more she thought this over the clearer it seemed; for now, in Lagrange’s silence, — and she had twice written to him, — it appeared to be her only resource, and something she felt sure she must do.
Hester had told her that Mr. Gray would call the next Friday afternoon, on his way to Newport, where he had landed property, which had been transferred to a Northern friend for security during the war. Meantime, he was to be moving about, and letters were uncertain; so that, much annoyed at the delay, Ann finally resolved to await the chance of a personal interview, and, having settled this, sought to put the whole matter aside for the time.
Thursday was the earliest date at which Edward, who was now constantly in bed, could look for a reply by cable, and he was becoming anxious despite his own convictions. On Thursday afternoon he sent for Dr. Wendell. The doctor found him looking badly, and sat by his bedside a long while ; liking to talk with him, and having it over and over again on his lips to mention that he himself was in debt, and needed large help. It seemed hard to do just then, and he decided that he would wait. Mr. Gray had spoken no word, and given him no chance to say anything of their business matters, and so he had yet a little time.
“ Does my disease,” asked Edward, “ make you fear any sudden result ? I mean, am I within the risk of dying suddenly ? I have long meant to ask you.”
“ No. I do not think you are. The condition you are now in is common in these troubles, and will pass away. You may even be better than before.”
“ I am glad of that, for mother’s sake. How strange it is that as life gets less and less worth having we should cling to it the more ! I suppose this fierce clutch at what little is left of existence is really a feature of some diseases more than of others.”
“ Yes, it is so, I think,” said Wendell.
“Well, for what has given to my life of late such sweetness as it has, I have to thank you, doctor. You see even now I can read.” His bed was littered with books and scientific journals. “ Do you remember giving me this little Marcus Aurelius ? See how I have marked it ! I sometimes wonder if in another world I shall be able to thank that grand heathen. Between pains, this morning, I have been worrying through Heine’s Philosophy and Religion. It’s hard reading, I can tell you. and I have done nothing but look in the dictionary at every second line. It seems to me that Heine must have suffered a good deal as I do, and that has given me a more personal interest in what he wrote. But it is painful to see how his opinions shifted. Could n’t you take it home and make out these three passages I have marked ? I can’t clear them up.”
“ I will try. I think I see your difficulty,” answered Wendell, who read German well. “ But I must go. When will you hear from the colonel ? ”
He was unaware of all that this telegram was to answer, as they had agreed that it was best to say nothing about the matter, and Alice, who very likely would have discussed it with him, was still away.
“ We must hear to-morrow,” replied Edward. “ And by the way,” he added, smiling, for he had for some time back suspected what was Alice’s relation to Wendell, — “ by the way, you will find our friend Mrs. Westerley here to-morrow afternoon. Don’t fail to see me, please.”
Then Wendell rose.
“ One moment,” said the sick man. “ I have several times meant to ask you not to worry about our little debts, and to say also that when I am better I would like to talk to you about your money matters. I have a notion, from what Miss Ann let fall last week, that perhaps you need a little lift. It is a mere guess, but if I am right I trust that you will say so.”
“ It is only too true,” assented Wendell, a great hope leaping up within him. “ I have been very unfortunate in several ways.”
“ That is enough for me to know. Let us talk it all over to-morrow ; but, by the way, give me some idea of what you need ; how much, I mean, and don’t hesitate about it, please.”
“ I scarcely dare to say how much. People don’t pay my bills, and I — well, in fact, our little investments have all gone wrong, and ” —
“ Oh, but how much will set you fairly afoot, my dear doctor ? ”
“ If I could borrow five thousand dollars ” —
“ If you could ? You shall. Why not have told me before ? Cannot you see that it is a great happiness to feel that I can help one who has so amply helped me ? I shall be paying a debt, not making one. No mere money could pay what is due from me to you ; just remember that, doctor, when we come to foot up our relative claims.”
“ I do not know how to thank you. You little know what it is you are doing for me. It is an inestimable obligation. I have been so wretched about my debts, — and — altogether ” —
“ Well, let us drop it now. You will hurt me if you make so much of it. What is money after all ? Now, if it could buy me escape from pain for a month — or hire new legs” —
“ Even if all you say be true, I too have been helped in turn, and I can never forget that whatever has been my fortune as a doctor in this place, you and yours have always stood by me.”
“ And with reason,” exclaimed Edward. “ We all of us owe you much, but my own little debts to you, doctor, are debts of the spirit, not to be counted ; as Arty says, like the gold in the cloud banks of sunset.”
“ I don’t think I deserve much praise for it,” returned Wendell, smiling ; “ it was certainly for the most part unconscious benevolence, if that can be called benevolence at all.”
“ I rather fancy,” said Ned, who was not to be talked out of his sense of gratitude, — “I rather fancy that what you call ‘ unconscious benevolence ’ is merely the outcome of habits of doing kind and fitting things. I can see that it must be a part of a physician’s life to think of how he can teach the sick — I mean the crippled sick — to fill up the gaps which disease has made in their means of happiness.”
“ Yes ; it may be so,” remarked Wendell thoughtfully. He felt that perhaps he had not considered enough this side of his duties, except when, as in Ned’s case, the patient had interested him. He was impressed now, as Edward talked on, with the manner in which by degrees the man of action had become the man of thought, as the shadows of pain and bodily disability had gathered about him; and the idea passed through Wendell’s mind that it was like the thoughtfulness which comes at dusk of day, when the body is wearied, and the light which tempts to active ways is spent. “ Yes, it may be so,” he repeated. “ I am afraid we do not always keep ourselves enough alive to the chances of such helpfulness.”
“ That may very well be; but the calls made upon a man by your work are so various that I can well imagine how hard it must be to give them all their just share of attention.”
“ You are right,” returned Wendell, all of whose better nature was getting food for reflection out of the young man’s sick-bed meditations. “ A doctor’s life has in it, however, a good deal to harm his moral growth, and needs watching. It is difficult not to become despotic from mere habit of control, and still harder to be tender and yet decided, and to keep good tempered amidst the unreasonableness of patients and their friends.”
He was half consciously becoming morally autobiographic.
“ I suppose,” said Edward, “ a doctor ought to be all of a man with the best of a woman. I think I should like to be a physician. The human nature he sees in its nakedness must be interesting, and a man who walks among the tragedies of life must have noble chances to help and guide and set folks right. You know, don’t you, the Eastern proverb, ‘ Where the earthquake has been the best grain grows ’ ? ”
“ No, I never heard it. It’s good, though, is n’t it? But you have cheated me into overstaying my time, and I must go.”
“ Well, good-by. I think I feel better for our chat. Don’t forget the medicine you said you would send, — I hope it will quiet my unruly heart; and don’t come till the afternoon. You have always more time to talk then.”
Ann Wendell’s nature made her deal temperately with the lesser problems of moral life, but sense of wrong or injustice, or the presence of a distinctly neglected duty, disturbed her painfully. When once she was sure of what ought to be done, — and when sure, she was as a rule apt to be very sure, — she became uneasy until she had seized on that duty, and justified herself by shaking it into a state of incapacity to excite her further, much as a quiet terrier will suddenly awaken to the presence of a rat, and with instinctive abruptness of energy destroy its power to disturb him. Such outbreaks of activity antagonistic to the habits of a life baffle the student of human nature because of their exceptional rarity. We see this illustrated dangerously in animal life by the sudden stroke of the sluggish serpent, and as concerns man in the occasional rashness of the timid, the queer lapses of the methodical, or the strange self-committals of the naturally cautious and diplomatic.
Ann had reached such a crisis, and nothing but competent action would satisfy her. She would certainly have her talk with Mr. Gray, and at once; but there came to her now the suspicion that she might feel easier, and better able to face Mrs. Morton’s anger, if she were to remind that lady beforehand that the pledge of secrecy applied only to Hester, and to tell her that she thought it an urgent duty to put the responsibility of an ultimate decision upon Hester’s nearest relative. Ann would have been wiser had she spoken rather than written ; but she dreaded the possibility of being talked out of the course she had laid down for herself, and to leave no chance of a reply wrote and dispatched her note about four o’clock, and sending Hester to the city on an errand, told her that she herself desired to talk to Mr. Gray alone, and would detain him until Hester’s return. Then, feeling that she had thus cleared her path, she sat down and awaited Mr. Gray’s arrival, which she counted upon, as he had telegraphed Hester in the morning that he would be with her about five or six o’clock.
Meanwhile, Wendell went out, telling his sister that he might return late. He was doing some work for a doctor near by, who, being absent, had left him his carriage. He visited a patient on the way, and then drove rapidly over to the Mortons’, full of hope and relief, and thinking as he went along of Alice Westerley. Edward’s words had raised him into one of the moods of elation which had been rare or absent of late, and he drove through the lanes making thankful and honest resolutions for the happy future which opened before him. In his pleasant abstraction he passed Ann’s messenger, a little lad who did their errands, and presently, leaving his carriage at the stable, walked up to the house. On the porch he saw Alice Westerley alone.
“ Sit down here a moment,” she said. “ Mrs. Morton is with Ned, and Arty is writing letters. I cannot tell how glad I am to see you. You look better.”
“ Oh, do I ? Gladness is a good physician. Alice, my Alice, you will not keep me longer in this horrible suspense ? I have sometimes thought, this past week, that you could not care for me as I care for you. Why should you delay so long, and why should I still have to wait until it pleases Colonel Morton to write a telegram ? What on earth have we to do with him ? ”
“ Some day, soon, I will tell you why,” she replied. “ I have been unhappy about Hester. If you had been with me I should have had to tell you, but now — Do you know what that is ? ” and, laughing, she held up a telegram envelope.
“ Oh, Alice ! ” he exclaimed. “ And is it all right about Hester ? ”
“ Yes,” she returned, “ it is all right. The colonel has said it is to be as Helen wishes. She has the telegram. But you are very nice to think first of Hester.”
“ And now, Alice ” —
“ Well ? ” she said, demurely.
“ Your hesitations are over.”
“ They are over for life.”
“ My God ! ” he whispered. He felt like a slave who has found a jewel in his path, and trembled with the sense of a possession beyond even the dreams of love’s sweet avarice. She realized at once, with her quick sympathies, the man’s intensity of happiness, and looked up at him shyly, with watchful joy.
“ I am going to walk home,” she said. “ Helen thinks I have gone; but I waited for you. I will go slowly, so that you can overtake me easily. Don’t be long.”
He looked at her, and then glanced about him. She turned quickly to go, but he caught her as she moved, and kissed her passionately.
“ Oh, Ezra ! ” she cried, in alarm. “ How could you ! ”
“ I could not help it,” he answered. “Ah, now I know you are mine ! You will pardon me.”
“ If, — if,” she said, smiling and red, “ you will never, never do it again ? ”
“ Never,” he replied, and went into the house.
While this little matter was being thus arranged on the porch, Mrs. Morton was seated by her son’s bedside. The telegram for which Edward had eagerly waited had come, and for the second time he was reading it aloud, when Arthur suddenly walked into his chamber. “What’s that, Ned?” he asked. “ The answer from father ? ”
Mrs. Morton had meant that he should know only the general tenor of the dispatch until Ann had been seen, and the whole matter deprived of its mischievous possibilities. But fate had overruled her, and her son had heard enough to make it necessary that he should hear the whole. There was no help for it now, and she quickly cast about her for aid as she gave him the paper.
“ That’s droll,” said Arthur, reading it aloud. “ What does my father mean ? He says, ‘ It is absurd. Use your own judgment. See letter.’ What does he mean by ‘ absurd ’ and all that ? ”
“ It refers,” returned Mrs. Morton, “ to another question, which does not altogether concern you. The latter part does. Are you not satisfied, my son ? ”
Edward looked up. He hated indirectness, but he was silent.
“ Oh, thank you, mother,” said Arthur, rising. “ And you will love her, too, mother, and you will feel satisfied, won’t you ? ”
“ I always did love her, but ” —
“ Oh, don’t spoil it, mother,” begged Ned.
“ My son’s wife will be my daughter,” she answered, and then she kissed Arthur, “ I will go over to see Hester tonight, and now I must send this to Ann Wendell.” So she wrote a little note of caution to Ann, and gave it, with the inclosed telegram, to Arthur, that he might send his happy news to Hester Gray. Then Mrs. Morton rose from the bedside.
“ Don’t go yet, mother,” said Edward. “ I want to say something. I have learned lately that my friend, Dr. Wendell, is in debt. I don’t think he has succeeded as he ought to have done, and the little money he and his sister had seems to have been badly invested, and so far as I can make it out has been lost.”
Mrs. Morton interrupted him : “ I never did think he had any sense about business matters, and I am equally sure that he is one of those people who must buy what they chance to want at the moment. Your uncle Richard was much that kind of person. I paid his debts twice. Did Dr. Wendell ask you to help him ? ”
“ No, he did not. I have lent him a little money from time to time. Perhaps we, who have never had to think about money, do not realize the temptations of people like Wendell, who have refined wants and scanty means. I have offered to aid him further, but to do so effectually will, I fancy, demand at least five thousand dollars. I could not arrange this, lying helpless here in bed, and that is why I want to trouble you. In a week or two, or a little later, I shall have all I want; but I spent so much on the Sanitary and the soldiers’ orphan business that really I shall lack at least a thousand of what he will need.”
“ But don’t you think, my son ” —
“ Think ! Mother,” he said, wearily, “ I am past thinking. I can only feel. And besides, I am a sick man, and I do not want to wait to do this thing. I wish to do it now, at once.”
Mrs. Morton’s impulse was always to act in accordance with Edward’s wishes, but the habit of advising was also strong.
“ I meant,” she observed, “ to ask you to think, dear Ned, if this is not a rather inconsiderate use of a large sum of money. I really cannot see what claim Dr. Wendell has on you, and I do certainly think there is a strange want of propriety, to say the least, in using his position as a doctor to get money out of a man so much his junior.”
“ Please not to say that. You hurt me when you talk in that way of Wendell. You forget, mother, that it was I who worried out of him the secret of his debts, and that it was I who offered him help, — not he who asked it. I don’t feel, mother, that you are ever quite just to the doctor.”
“ I have tried to be just, Edward. I never have thoroughly liked him, but nothing ever goes quite straight, and the next thing will be that Alice Westerley will marry him.”
“ I wish she would,” said Edward, “ for you would adopt him, then.”
“ How much have you lent him, Edward ? ”
“ About six or eight hundred dollars. I never kept any account of it.”
“ I suppose not, Ned; and now you want to lend him five thousand ? ”
“ Yes, mother; but let us drop this as a business matter. My love of books and botany and the microscope, and in fact all that has made life endurable of late, has been as it were a gift from this man. That the debt is uncommercial is the more reason why you and I should recognize it.”
Had it been any one but Edward, Mrs. Morton would have smiled, amused at the debit and credit account thus set before her ; but this large-eyed, pale, and wasting youth, and the shrunken, bony hand, so white and feeble, now resting in hers, held her, so that she seemed to become a part of the sick frame, and to feel with its gentle heart, until her worldly criticisms faded, with some realizing sense of the slight shame he felt that she should hesitate.
“ You always have your way with me, Ned,” she said softly.
“ And you like it,” he replied, smiling. “ But kiss me, mother, and then go away, please. I am in a good deal of pain, and I shall fight it better alone.”
“ And I have made you talk so much, darling.”
“ That has its pleasant side, too, mother. Ah, there is a good deal of sweetness in life yet! ”
“ If only I could give you more! ”
“ But you are its biggest sugar-bowl, as it is,” he returned, laughing, that he might send her away feeling, as he knew she would, that if after all he was able to jest with her he could not be so very ill.
As he saw her leave the room, and heard her through the half-open door sit down at her writing-table, he set his teeth, and with clenched hands wrestled with the agony of gathering pain.
“ My God! ” he muttered, “ what good can there be in pain like this ? One cannot think for it! If pain does not make a man think, what use can it be ? Ah, that is a let-up.”
Humor, in some natures apparently the quickest at call among the lighter sprites who inhabit the caverns of the mind, which no illness destroys, and which is peculiarly apt to rise on the sudden subsidence of pain, was strong in this young man.
“ Ah, if I only had hold of the grandfather, or whoever he was, that left me this little legacy of his laziness or his wickedness ! Arty says ‘ every one is in the higher sense his own grandfather.’ I wish I was mine. I ’d feel more responsible. He says that’s Emerson. I don’t believe it. By George, I must have that anodyne ! ”
There were two vials, much alike, on the little table by his bed : one the medicine sent by the doctor the day before. Still resolute not to let his mother know of his increasing anguish, he tried to read the directions on the labels, but failing to see them distinctly, uncorked one of the bottles, thinking that the familiar odor of the anodyne to which he was accustomed might suffice to guide him. He found, however, that it was not what he sought. As he set it down his hand shook so much that he upset the vial, and spilt a large part of its contents between the bed and the table. He recorked it, murmuring, “ I am no better than a child,” and with a moan of pain gave up the task. To his relief he heard Arthur coming upstairs, laughing and talking with Wendell,— two eager, joyous men. They lingered on the top landing for what seemed to the sufferer an age ; but he waited with a stern patience which they who have seen or have themselves felt the grip of such suffering can alone appreciate.
At last they came in.
“ How are you to-day ? ” asked Wendell gently.
“ In torment,” said Edward, under his breath. “ But take care, or mother may hear.”
At this moment Mrs. Morton entered the room, excited and angry.
“ Let me speak to you a moment, doctor,” she exclaimed.
“ What is it ? ” asked Edward, who had rarely seen his quiet mother so manifestly disturbed.
“Matter enough,” she said. “Ann Wendell writes me, as she says, from a sense of duty, to remind me that she has never pledged herself to conceal that ridiculous story from any one but Hester, and that this afternoon she means to tell it all to Mr. Henry Gray.”
Wendell and Arthur looked amazed.
“ What is it ? ” inquired Wendell.
“Your sister,” replied Mrs. Morton, too vexed for reflection, “ has got a craze about that stupid nonsense of poor Hester’s father having been killed by my husband, and thinks Hester ought to know it.”
“ Ann ! ” cried Wendell, — “ Ann of all people! Why, Mrs. Morton, she and I talked this over, a year ago at least. I never dreamed of its having any practical hold on her. Is n’t there some mistake ? ”
“ No ; here is her note. It is an old story and a foolish one,” said Mrs. Morton, “ but it will make mischief.”
“ Let her tell it,” said Edward, with his usual good sense. “ It is time we had done with it.”
“ And that was the meaning of the telegram, was it?” observed Arthur. “ I heard my father once mention it in France as a singular incident. But great heavens, to tell Hester! and to tell her now.”
“ And just as this telegram has come,” exclaimed Mrs. Morton, “ to want to talk it over with Mr. Gray, whom we barely know, and who does not want Hester to marry ! What inconceivable folly ! Just think how he may see fit to put it to Hester ! ”
“ They both ought to know it some time,” said Edward ; “ but it should be told quietly, and not by one who believes it.”
“ But it is simply ludicrous,” returned Wendell.
“ Ludicrous or not,” said Edward, “ we must stop her, and at once, too. Mother, order the doctor’s carriage. Drive home at once, doctor, and possibly you may be in time. You can stop her, can’t you ? Hurry, mother.”
“ I think so, — I hope so,” rejoined Wendell, who was vexed and flurried, and knew better than they what Ann was when on what Mrs. Westerley called the war-path of a duty.
Mrs. Morton had gone out at the first mention of action.
“ Great heavens, how I suffer ! ” said Edward. “ Doctor, give me the anodyne before you go. This pain will kill me some day. It is like knives in my heart! ”
Wendell was terribly annoyed at his sister’s folly, and in hot haste to repair it. “ Is this the bottle I sent you today ? ” he asked. “ I can’t see; your curtains make the room so dark.”
“ Yes, that is it, I believe,” returned Edward, groaning. “ Look for yourself, I really don’t know, and for God’s sake hurry ; I shall die of pain. But about Ann, your sister, — that is more important. I forget other people in my misery. Let Arty give me my medicine. But be quick, some one. Now do go.”
Wendell glanced hastily at the vials in the half light of the darkened room, and taking up the one which was yet full, asked Arthur to put it on the mantel.
“There, Arthur,” said Wendell, “is the anodyne, the one left on the table. It has been partly used.” He spoke low, adding, “ A teaspoonful, and be quick. I shall return as soon as possible. He is very ill.”
“ But perhaps you had better wait.”
“ No, I must go. He wants me to go. There is not a moment to lose. The medicine will ease him. Don’t delay ; ” and speaking as he moved toward the door, he went away annoyed and in angry haste.
Mrs. Morton came into the room as the doctor left it, and while Arthur was pouring out the medicine.
“ Is that his anodyne ? ” she asked.
“ Yes, mother, it is all right. Lift him, please.”
Then he put the glass to his brother’s lips, saying, “ There, dear Ned, that will help you.”
Edward drank it hastily.
“Oh, mother, that pain — that pain! I was sure it would kill me. Bring back the doctor! ” he suddenly called, in a sharply pitched voice. “ Quick ! ” Arthur, without question, gave one glance, and fled from the room. Then Edward looked up at his mother with an infinite tenderness in his eyes, the thankfulness of a departing guest.
“ What is it ? ” she cried. “ Oh, what is the matter ? Speak, Ned, —speak to me!”
But there was no answer. His face whitened; an awful semblance of a smile went over it. He was dead.
For an instant she said no word, but paused motionless by his side. Then a wild terror seized her. She picked up the vial, which had been left on the table by the bed, and staggered to the window. On the label she read, “ Poison. Tincture of Aconite. Dose one drop.”
“ My God ! ” she exclaimed. “ Oh, Ned, my son, my own boy ! and Arty. It will kill him.”
For a moment she stood perfectly still, gazing at the label. Her faculties seemed to gain a superhuman acuteness. All that was involved in this discovery came swiftly before her, — all that it meant for herself and for others, all the vistas of interminable misery for her only remaining child. The clear conception of what had happened and would happen was followed by that concentration of mind which is possible only when every power within the mental sphere is brought to a focus by such intensity of will as some one of the despotic instincts can alone call forth. Turning to the mantelpiece, she seized the bottle which stood where Arthur had placed it. With the vials clinking in her trembling hand, she moved swiftly to the window, looking, as she went, at the label, on which was written, “ Anodyne. Take one teaspoonful as directed.” She returned quickly to execute her purpose of placing the anodyne on the table at the bedside. The dead, gray face smote her as she neared it, as with a physical blow, and, tottering, she dropped one of the vials. She stooped, groping about to find it; but this brief delay was fatal, for as she rose again with the bottle in her hand, Alice Westerley and Wendell hastily entered. At the terrible spectacle before them Wendell, always impulsive and emotional, lost the self-control which the doctor commonly learns to keep in the face of the most abrupt tragedies; but he loved Arthur well, and at sight of the dead a sudden terror dazed him, as with a quick step he strode to the bedside.
“ My God, Mrs. Morton,” he cried, “ he is dead ! Where is the medicine he took ? ”
“ Here,” said Mrs. Morton, firmly, handing him the anodyne. “ I took it from the table.”
She was too late. Obeying an impulse, regretted an instant later, he put to his lips the spoon which Arthur had used, and as suddenly let it fall, with a shock of remembrance at his own responsibility for what had occurred.
Alice Westerley saw his dismay. She shut the door which was near her.
“ Oh, doctor,” she asked, “ what is it ? What has happened ? There is something wrong ! Did he take the wrong medicine, Helen ? ”
“I — I don’t know,” returned Wendell, who had recognized the taste of the deadly poison, and was trying to collect his routed faculties. “ When I left, him he was in great pain, but I did not think in any danger.”
At this moment, Arthur, who had delayed to call a servant to take charge of Wendell’s horse, came in abruptly. He was painfully excited.
“ Is be very ill ? Oh, doctor, what is the matter ? ” Then he saw the openeyed, blank face of death. “ But he is dead! Impossible ! — how can he be dead ? ” Then, coming nearer, he looked at Edward, and turning on Wendell seized him by the arm, saying with the strange, hoarse utterance of an awful dread, “ What was it? What did it? Was the medicine right? I gave him what he always takes ! Did I make a mistake ? ”
Wendell saw his own peril.
“ Hush, Arty,” he said ; “ here is the bottle. Look, it is all right. No one is to blame.”
Arthur seized the vial, and strode to the window ; then he sunk into a chair, exclaiming, “ Thank God for that, at least ! I was afraid, mother, — I was afraid I had made some mistake. Oh, my brother ! ”
“ There has been no mistake,” said Wendell. “ Take your mother away, my boy.”
Helen Morton, stern and tearless, put her hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “ Help me to my room,” she murmured; “ I am faint;” but as she passed Wendell she gathered force enough to say, “ Thank you,” and went out like one who, on the crumbling verge of some abyss, has by a desperate effort won a firmer ground, but who now, when the effort is over, feels all the accumulation of the horror which, while in action, it was impossible to realize. Full well she knew that Alice and Wendell understood what had happened, but Arthur, at least, did not, and come what might he must never know.
Alice and Wendell were left with the dead.
“ Wait one moment,” she whispered, and went to the door, where the anxious servants were collecting. “ Go down-stairs,” she said, addressing them, “ and let Mrs. Morton’s maid go to her at once. I shall want some of you presently. I will ring. Mr. Edward is dead. It is some heart trouble, I believe. Don’t make a noise.”
Alice was quiet and collected. She had, as she thought, seen through the matter only too clearly, and knew at once that Arthur must have made a mistake, and that for the present a great calamity had been averted. Closing the door she turned to Wendell.
“ Oh, Ezra! ” she said, in a suppressed voice, “ how terrible! I don’t mean for Edward, — God has been kind to him, — but Arthur and Helen ! Oh, Ezra, what shall we do ? I wish I had not known it all. It is such a dreadful thing to know; and how can it be hidden ? How can it ? ”
“ If,” he replied, “ no one ever speaks of it to Arthur, he will certainly not suspect anything. I — I had to set his mind at rest.”
“ Yes, yes, I know,” she returned ; “ but what a sad necessity ! ”
She knew that he had not told Arthur the truth, but not for a moment did she blame him, nor could she dream how black the lie for self-protection had really been.
By this time Wendell had regained full possession of his mental powers. Many strange and dreadful possibilities went through his mind. He saw that he was safe if he played out the rôle which hard circumstance had arranged for him, and which he had seemed to accept as a means of saving Arthur. There are men — and how many let each of us say — who would have frankly taken on themselves the blame of Edward’s death. Had Wendell done so, he would have drawn to himself for life the woman at his side. Even now she was thinking of the immense courage which, from her estimate, it must have taken to shelter another with a falsehood. Unfortunately, Wendell’s instincts of self-defense betrayed him, as they are apt to betray a too emotional and too imaginative nature; and when, later, he came to think it all over more calmly, he felt that were his true share known, Alice would shrink from him in horror. But men of half-feminine temperament rarely understand the grandeur of sacrifice of which women are capable. There are women who can love men they do not respect; but there are others who cannot love unless they also respect, and to them, when once their love is given, the path of some difficult duty is no less the path to their larger love than it is, as the poet has sung, the path to glory.
Alice had said that what he had done was a sad necessity.
“ I think,” he returned, “ that you had better advise Mrs. Morton never to mention, nor discuss with Arthur, the subject of his brother’s death.”
“ But you, — you will have to say of what he died; and is n’t there some form ? It is you I am thinking of. Won’t you have to give a certificate about the cause of his death ? Is not that usual ? ”
Strange to say, Wendell was more disturbed by this necessity of disobeying the habitual moral code of his profession than by the mere fact of the lie itself.
“ Yes, I must do it,” he rejoined, — “ I must do it; there is no help for it. And what a sacrifice ! ”
“ It does seem more than should be asked of any one,” she returned sadly. “ How can you do it ? ”
“ I shall simply say that it was death from paralysis of the heart, which is true. Can you see anything else I can do ? ”
“ I cannot,” she replied ; “ but I should rather do it myself than have you do it. I would rather lie than have you lie,” and she began to feel a gathering horror at this discussion by the side of the mute form before them. “ Do what you think right. God sees, and he alone can judge!” She would have submitted to any torture to win for him some escape from what, as she grew calmer, all her nature increasingly abhorred, and abhorred in vain. “ Let us go. I cannot talk any longer, and — and — won’t you close his eyes, Ezra ? ”
Wendell bent over the dead man, troubled deeply by his own capacity to evolve ideas which shook him emotionally.
“ Now,” he thought, — “ now, perhaps he knows all. And how well he loved me ! ” Twice he touched the open lids, and twice drew back. At last he closed them softly. “ And does he blame me ? ” he murmured.
Then Alice kissed the dead face, and went out, followed by Wendell. A few minutes later she came out of Mrs. Morton’s room.
“ Mrs. Morton wants to see you tomorrow. early,” she said. “ You have had a sore trial,” and, standing on the step above him, she kissed him, and went up-stairs again. Wendell stayed a moment looking after her, and then turning to meet Arthur, said a few words of commonplace consolation, such as people are apt to say on these occasions.
“ You are very kind,” rejoined the young man. “ You are always very kind. Since I have had a quiet moment I remember that you pointed out to me the vial, so that of course there could not be any mistake.”
Wendell hesitated a moment.
“ I really don’t remember. I suppose I did. Yes, of course I did. But why should you be troubled about the medicine. It was his heart disease that killed him. It had nothing to do with his medicine. That was all right.”
He might yet have to say that he had thus spoken to insure Arthur’s peace of mind.
“ It’s a great relief,” said the latter, —a greater than any one can imagine.”
“ Well, never speak of it to your mother,” rejoined Wendell. “ It’s all right. No one was to blame. Best never to discuss it with your mother, or any one. It is God’s doing.” Then he had a sudden horror of what he had said. “ I mean,” he added, “it could n’t have been helped.” The young fellow wrung his hand and turned sadly away, as the doctor went slowly and thoughtfully down the staircase.
S. Weir Mitchell.