“ YES,” said Mrs. Paul, “ they are really the most extraordinary people. Mortimer Lee began to be queer as soon as he was married, and Sidney’s mother was a silly sort of woman. She was born here in Mercer, you know; that house they live in now was left her by her grandfather. After her death her husband came back to it with Sidney. Naturally, he wanted the child to be brought up near her mother’s people, though they’ve all died out now. But I knew him before he was married. Ah, he was very different in those days. Marriage ruined him. Marriage has more effect upon a man’s character than upon a woman’s. Just remember that, sir ! ”
Alan Crossan laughed. “ And always for the worse ? ” he suggested.
“Some men cannot be worse,” said Mrs. Paul significantly ; “ but for Major Lee, all these absurd ideas came into his head after he met his wife.”
“ They were the effect of her death, though, were n’t they ? ” the doctor asked.
Of course,” answered his hostess sharply; “ but if he had n’t had such a wife to die, he would not have been so affected. She was a woman of absolutely no sense, I tell you, — some people called her handsome, though I never could see it ; but that he grieved so wickedly for her shows the result of having lived with her for ten years. For really, you know, by nature, Mortimer Lee is no fool? ”
“ Well, no,” said the young man, smiling.
“ I did n’t see him while she was alive,” proceeded Mrs. Paul, — “ they lived somewhere in the South; but he came back as soon as she died. I’ve sometimes thought it was her doing that he didn’t come before. Sidney must have been about three years old then ; let me see,—yes, they have been here twenty-two years, certainly. Dear me ! I did not realize that Sidney was so old. He took her education in hand as soon as she could talk ; and you see the result. She is her father over again.”
“Is she?” the doctor said. “I remember that she was unlike anybody else when we were children, before I went abroad ; but that was fifteen years ago.”
Alan Crossan sighed. There had been many changes in these fifteen years ; scarcely anything remained as he had known it then. Only the two old houses, Mrs. Paul’s and Major Lee’s, looked as they had looked when he and his mother had come to say good-by, before they sailed for Germany, where he was to be educated, and where his mother had died, leaving him at twenty to drift down into Italy, where the years had wrapped him in a lazy dream, and where he had studied a little, painted a little, and fancied that he had thought a great deal. Indeed, this sunny life might have gone on indefinitely, if the sharp distress of another man had not aroused him to the thought of coming back to America. With that thought came an amused realization of the uselessness of his life, and a desire for the new interest of action. To be sure, he had practiced his profession in the little Italian town where he had first met Robert Steele; but it had never absorbed him any more than his violin had absorbed him, or his woodcarving, or his painting. He was at heart a dilettante, he told himself ; but this reflection did not disturb him, for he declared that he was no more responsible for his disposition than for the color of his eyes, and he was almost as powerless to change the one as the other. But when he came to observe, curiously, though with sympathy, Robert Steele’s pain, he began to be half ashamed of himself, because he had never suffered, and never very greatly cared about anything.
“ Odd,” he thought, “ that it is the sight of trouble which makes me want to live more earnestly; for the deeper you live the more trouble you have. But I suppose trouble is a man’s birthright, and instinct makes him seek it. Well, I am going home, and I am going to do some work in the world before I die.”
Such an impulse was amusing, he said, but that did not change his purpose. " I shall go back to America with you.” he announced to Mr. Steele. “ I shall make a well man of you yet, Bob. I shall be your physician: all rich men have a physician at their elbow, and, thank Heaven, you ’re a rich man now. Don’t groan. It’s a good thing. But if it distresses you too much, why, my fees will doubtless be a comfort. Yes, we 'll go back to Mercer. There are half a dozen families there who will have to employ me, out of sentiment. That’s the advantage of being the son of your father, — it creates sentiment. And they all know you, of course. I tell you, old man, you’ll be a coward if you don’t go back there and live it down. Come, now, when shall we start ? ”
There was a cheerful certainty about this young man’s determinations which made people incapable of resisting them. His friends yielded to his wishes with protestations which were not often serious, because they were known at the outset to be useless. Robert Steele was too sad and too indifferent to protest; and so it came about that they found themselves, that autumn, settled in Mercer, in a house that belonged to Alan, which an obliging tenant had just vacated. The doctor had to admit, however, that sentiment did not move the half dozen families as it should have done, and patients came very slowly.
But Mr. Steele, at least, had not been forgotten. The young man who had invested trust money in a certain company of which he was himself a director, and then, seeing that values were about to fall, had refused to sell without proclaiming the future depreciation of the stock, was too extraordinary a person to be forgotten. If Robert Steele had embezzled fifty thousand dollars, the community could scarcely have been more startled and horrified than when it learned of his abnormal honesty which had permitted fifty thousand shares of stock to become worthless in his hands. The money he had invested had been his mother’s, and that Mrs. Steele’s death was hastened by her bitter and futile anger at her son’s wicked quixotism could not be doubted, least of all by her son. The misery of that time left its imprint upon his soul, and it was the sarcasm of fate that at the end of two years the stock which had been thought worthless slowly regained its value. What did he want with money, while his mother’s reproaches still rang in his ears ?
It was at this crisis that Alan had found him in the little sunshiny Italian town, sick in mind and body, and blurring the misery of memory by a certain daily prick in the arm. He had begun this use of morphine to make bodily pain endurable, for he had been very ill. and after that the tortured mind demanded it. To the doctor Robert Steele had been at first merely an interesting case. A man strong enough to perform an act of moral heroism, but weak enough to seek relief in morphine, was an anomaly which suggested defective cerebration to the physician. But after a while, the sweetness of Robert’s nature, his noble ideality, appealed to the doctor with a demand for respect which grew into reverence.
“ I cannot understand it,” he acknowledged frankly to the sick man. “ You were a fool about that stock beyond a doubt, but it was a glorious folly; and you are a coward now, with nothing glorious about it. But here I am, going back to America with you. Well, such capacity for enthusiasm proves that I am still young.”
This dull November afternoon the doctor had been telling Mrs. Paul of certain noble traits in Robert Steele, for whom she had nothing but contempt, and he had spoken of Major Lee’s kindness to the sick man, to which she replied that that was only because Mortimer Lee was himself unintelligible ; and from that their talk had drifted to those theories which had been developed in the life and education of the major’s daughter.
A chill mist had brought an early dusk into the garden outside, but there was a fire smouldering on the hearth, which made a little halo of brightness, in which Mrs. Paul sat. The room was full of shadows, although the Venetian blinds had been drawn up to the very tops of the long windows, so that the gray afternoon light might delay Davids with the lamps as long as possible. That John Paul, sitting close to one of the windows, his big head showing like a silhouette against the pale background of the sky, could not see to read his paper did not trouble his mother at all. Of course he had not protested ; to John Paul’s mind there were very few occasions that were worthy of protest. But his mother was aware that he had put his paper down, and was waiting for the lights. Indeed, it would have been hard to name any circumstance in her own house of which Mrs. Paul was not aware. She made no comment upon it, however: instead, she repeated Alan’s words.
“Fifteen years ago!” she said, lifting one delicate hand to shield her face from the fire. “ Is it possible that you have been away fifteen years ? Shame on you ! You deserve to find yourself forgotten. Indeed, I should have forgotten you ten times over, except that I knew your father so well. Yes, you are right in saying that Sidney was different from other children ; perhaps it was because she knew so few of them. That was another of Mortimer Lee’s beautiful ideas,—that she should not know girls of her own age. I suppose he was afraid she might acquire some healthy notions. But he need n’t have been. Good sense is not catching. Look at Sally Lee. I’ve done my best for her. I suppose I’ve seen her nearly every day for twenty years, — but she will always be a goose. She can’t develop brains in her old age. I call Sally old, in spite of her ringlets. Dear me ! why is it that an unmarried woman does not know how to grow old ? ”
The flicker of the fire showed a glimmering. smile in Alan’s eyes. He was standing with his elbow on the high mantelpiece, looking down at the keen old face before him.
“I am very fond of Miss Sally,”he said. “ She belongs to the salt of the earth.”
Mrs. Paul lifted her hands impatiently. “ Good ? ” she said, — “ of course ; but, Lord, how uninteresting goodness can be! ” Her careless glance rested on his face, and lengthened into a steady look. “ Alan,” she declared, “ you are really a very handsome man. You remind me of your father.”
The doctor smiled, — and amusement will always save a man from embarrassment. “ I thought I looked like my mother,” he answered.
“ Oh, your mother ? ” she said carelessly. “ I’m sure I don’t remember her well enough to say. Yes, you have a beautiful face ; but there is nothing behind it. It is the face of a dreamer. It would serve Mortimer Lee right if Sidney fell in love with you ; but she sha n’t. I suppose you have about two cents to live on ? But, seriously, I hope great things from Robert Steele’s being in town.”
“ Great things ? ” said Alan lightly. “ For whom ? Sidney ? ”
“ Of course for Sidney,”returned the other. “ For whom else ? ”
“ Well, there’s Miss Sally ; and as Sidney is never to marry ” —
“ Oh, fudge ! Sally ! Don’t talk to me about Sally,” interrupted Mrs. Paul. “ If the young man has lost his wits, you had better never take him to the major’s again, — that’s all I have to say. And as for Sidney, certainly she will marry. We all know what theories amount to when a girl falls in love.”—she seemed to brush aside an invisible feather. “ Beside, she must marry. What is going to support her when her father’s gone? And he can’t live forever. He’s quite old now ; sixty-five, at least. Yes, Robert Steele’s money is just the thing that family needs. I hope you will make him call there often.”
“ If you remember Robert Steele,” returned the doctor, “you will know that you can’t arrange things for him. And if you decide that he is to fall in love with Sidney, it will be the very thing he ’ll not do.”
“ Fudge!” cried Mrs. Paul again. “ My dear Alan, you don’t know what you are talking about. He can’t help it. Neither could you, if you had anything to support a wife upon.
“ But poor Steele,” protested the doctor, — “ why should you want his heart broken ? If the major is in earnest that Sidney shall not marry, and if she agrees with him ” —
“ Of course he is in earnest, and of course Sidney agrees with him,” Mrs. Paul broke in ; “ but a theory cannot change the order of nature, my young friend. Really, I almost lose my patience when I think of it. Of all ridiculous notions ! A girl must not marry, forsooth, because her husband may die, and so she may be unhappy. As though to be a widow with plenty of money were the hardest thing in the world ! ”
“ You have not found it so?” inquired Alan amiably.
“ You are impertinent, young man ! ” declared his companion, and then she laughed. “ I suppose that is the reason I like you. But these notions of Mortimer Lee’s, — I am sure that they grew out of some disappointment after his wife’s death. I shall never believe that such a man as he could blast his whole life because of a chit of a girl, though I have no doubt that he was really attached to her. He may have loved some one else, for instance, but thought, because he was a widower, — a man is really settled when he is a widower, — or perhaps — But why do I talk to you ? You don’t know anything about Mortimer Lee ; I do. I watched him in those days, I can tell you. Johnny’s father had just died, and I —understood him, naturally. Lord ! how little sense men have ! ” She drew her eyebrows together, and frowned, absently, at the five. The room was quite dark now, and under cover of the shadows John Paul yawned. He had risen, and stood like a spot of burly darkness against the fading oblong of the window. He was not interested in the conversation about the Lees : perhaps because the topic was far from new ; perhaps because he was wondering how that speech upon the tariff, which he had put down when it grew too dark to read, had ended. With his hands behind him, he stood, while his mother talked, staring out into the forlorn and frosted garden, which lay in shivering nakedness under the cold sky. This garden, inclosed by its brick wall, extended behind the house, as well as in a narrow strip on each side of it. In front, below the drawing-room windows, there were no flower-beds; only a bit of decorous lawn, ending in three terraces, and then a hedge along the low stone wall upon the street, which some twenty years ago had been a country road. The street had been graded, so that the old house was left high above its level. The dreary outskirts of the bustling little manufacturing town had pushed closer and closer upon the house ; a mill loomed up in the street below, and now and then a belching flame from a giant chimney sent a flare of light through the fan-shaped window above the white front door, or a fitful gleam across its brass knocker and knob. The hall within was wide and cheerless, although it had plenty of light; the leaded windows on either side of the door threw two lines of fluctuating brightness across the old Turkey carpet; and opposite the drawing-room door — for the house was not double — there was a wide, low window, full of many small panes of glass. To be sure, it looked only upon the blank of the garden wall, dark with ivy, and across a small grass plot, on which, upon a pedestal, was a sadly rusted iron Magdalen, with a cross upon her knees. The sunshine poured through this window in the morning, and the dimity curtains were always pushed back, that the hall might have as much light as possible all day long. Yet it was never anything but gloomy. Dark family portraits in tarnished frames followed the wide staircase, and a faded engraving of the Trial of Effie Deans, hanging between the entrance to the dining-room and the green baize door of the drawingroom, added to its solemnity. Under the staircase stood a row of tall old firebuckets, and a rosewood table for the candles and lamps, which, however, were never lighted until a certain hour, no matter how the late afternoon might darken with fog and mist.
Mrs. Paul’s rules were not to be broken by such things as wind and weather. And as for cheerlessness, — her house suited her, she said, and other people were not obliged to live in it. It did suit her, although sometimes she resented the loud intrusion of the approaching town, but it was more with the petulance which is an occupation than because of any genuine annoyance. The felting in the windows, and the green baize door closing with noiseless tightness, shut out the clamor of the street below. Furthermore, there was always the consciousness that, if she wished, she could move away, as half a dozen other families had done; their estates being swallowed up by streets, and their dignified old houses turned into mills, or factories, or great tenements. When money is to be considered, human beings often display a curious indifference to the roofs which have sheltered their joys and sorrows and their sacred death-beds; but it was not any sentimental regard for her old house which kept Mrs. Paul here on the hill, nor was it altogether the feeling of superiority in being loyal to traditions to which her neighbors had been faithless.
Her sense of duty, she declared more than once, was really morbidly strong. “ Of course,” she said candidly to Miss Sally, “you and Sidney are no companions for me, and Mortimer Lee never sees fit to come to see me ; but what would you do without me ? Heaven knows what would become of Sidney if I were not here to teach her manners. No, I will not give you up.”
Little by little, all her interests had centred upon the major’s household. It was ten years since the last of her older neighbors had moved away; and although no one knew that they had ceased to remember, or were themselves forgotten, these friendships belonged only to the past.
“ Yes,” Mrs. Paul explained to the doctor, “ my first thought is for Sidney. With a simpleton for an aunt and a wicked infidel for a father, what would become of her if it were not for me ? And I mean that she shall be married, I can tell you that, — if it were only to teach Mortimer Lee a lesson ! Everybody knows Robert Steele’s folly, but it’s all over and past. I ’m not one to remember a man’s sins against him. Besides, he has his money back again, and this time he ’ll keep it. Now, remember, you are to take him with you to the major’s every chance you get. I shall invite him to meet Sidney here, too. it won’t be the first time I ’ve given Providence a hint. Johnny knows that. I was bound he should n’t have her, for Sidney must marry a rich man, and Johnny has n’t a cent, except what I choose to give him.”
John Paul shrugged his shoulders in the dusk, but did not speak.
“ It’s a pity he is n’t well,” she continued. “ What did you say was the matter with him ? ”
“ I did not say,” Alan answered briefly.
Mrs. Paid laughed, with an impatient gesture. “ Oh, you young doctors ! ” she said, “your importance is most amusing. I suppose you use it instead of sense. There ! go home. I’m tired of you. I wish you would see that that medicine is sent in for Scarlett. I hope you appreciate my friendship in letting you experiment upon my maid. Johnny ! ”
“ Yes, mother,” said her son, coming to her side, as the door closed behind the doctor.
“ I will play a game of draughts with you,” she said, pushing her straightbacked armchair a little farther from the fire; “ there is time before tea. Just fetch the table, and ring for Davids to bring the lamps.”
John Paul rang the bell, and silently brought the small table, with its inlaid checkerboard of ivory and ebony ; as he did so, the baize door opened, and Davids stood like a lean shadow against the dusk of the hall behind him.
“ You may fetch the lamps,” said Mrs. Paul, beginning to arrange her men, the old-fashioned rings flashing upon her hands.
“ It is not,” said Davids, moving his shaven jaws with deliberation, “ a quarter to six.”
Mrs. Paul looked up. “ I think you might as well bring them,” she said half apologetically, “ if they are ready.”
“ They are not yet lighted ” — he began to say, with respectful stubbornness, but John Paul interrupted him quietly.
“ Bring the lamps, Davids,” he said, and the man went at once to get them.
“ I can give my own orders, thank you!” cried Mrs. Paul angrily. “You take too much upon yourself, sir! Please remember that this is my house.”
She was still frowning when Davids returned with two tall lamps, whose ground-glass globes faithfully imprisoned the light. He put one on either end of the mantel, and then, with a noiseless step, brought a footstool, and arranged a screen between his mistress and the fire, which had brought a delicate flush to her soft old cheek. After that he lit the candles in the sconces and put another lamp on a table at Mrs. Paul’s elbow, so that in a moment the room was flooded with soft light.
This drawing-room of Mrs. Paul’s was handsome, and almost interesting ; but the wainscoting above the bookcases built into the wall made the corners dark, and there was no cheerful litter of home life about it. A bust of the late Mr. Paul stood between the further windows, and over the mantel there was a painting of a very young girl in a white gown and pink ribbons. This was Annette, the child who had died, and for whom, it was said, Mrs. Paul had not grieved. Indeed, she had seemed angry at the child rather than at fate. She never spoke of her, but silence is sometimes more bitter than words.
All this was more than twenty-five years ago, when John Paul was less than twelve years old, and had been sent away to boarding-school that he might not be a nuisance to his mother. Mrs. Paul did not often look up at this picture, even when she was alone, and she had been heard to say carelessly that a woman could live her youth over again in her daughter, whereas a son —
But Providence arranged those things, she supposed.
When Mrs. Paul’s door closed behind Alan Crossan, he stood a moment upon the steps thinking. A bell had rung in one of the factories, and down in the street a group of tired girls chattered shrilly as they turned toward their homes. Alan, looking through the arbor which covered the flight of stone steps down the terraces to the gate, could see them, and the cobble-stones of the street, and the dingy doorways opposite. It was only through the arbor one caught a glimpse of it all, for on either side of the gate, along the wall, was the high blackthorn hedge.
Just now, heavy drays, loaded with rattling iron rods or hales of dirty cotton, rumbled slowly past. A hand-organ, a block away, broke into a sharp jingling tune ; one of the mill-girls began to dance, and there was a shout of noisy laughter from her companions. Alan Crossan frowned. It set his teeth on edge, he said to himself, — the bleak skies, the bald and vulgar streets, and the shrewd wind clattering through the branches of the trees. The doctor was tired. He had been in the almshouse infirmary all the morning, and then had come home to find Robert Steele sunk in the deepest depression.
Of course Alan understood its cause. As his friend made a better and better fight against his controlling weakness ; as, steadily, he pushed his morphine further from him, he not only suffered physically, but he grew more aware of his cowardice, and the burden of that thought seemed to fling his soul into the dust of shame. Ordinarily, Alan’s glad courage was quick to cheer and comfort the sick man, but this dark afternoon he had felt incapable of the exertion of cheerfulness, and so had wandered out, rather aimlessly, and had found himself, towards dusk, in Mrs. Paul’s drawingroom. She amused him, and that, he declared, was good for his moral nature, so it had been a duty to call upon her. As he stood now watching the jostling crowd in the street, Robert’s loneliness oppressed him; but he found himself thinking of Major Lee’s library and Miss Sally’s kindness, rather than of his own power to help his friend. He was in that frame of mind where a man likes to be made much of. " 1 will go and ask Miss Sally to give me a cup of tea,” he said.
He thought again of Robert, as he opened the heavy iron gate and found himself in the street, and he declared that he was a brute to leave his friend alone. But he did not turn back.
Major Lee’s house was on the other side of Mrs. Paul’s garden wall. Its long-unused driveway (for the major kept no carriage) circled about a little lawn before the porch, and then opened upon a side street, which was really only a lane. Back of the house there was a great tangled garden, inclosed, like Mrs. Paul’s, by a brick wall, — it was much larger than hers ; and beyond it was a pasture, and then a hillside crowned by sparse, open woods; beyond that were the rolling hills of the tranquil country, untouched as yet by the taint of trade.
The confusion of the bustling town did not intrude here, as it did at Mrs. Paul’s. Perhaps this was because of that large silence which seemed to hold the life within.
“ How little the major talks ! ” Alan thought, as he came through the lane, and looked up at the great gray house, set back in its walled courtyard, “ and Sidney only listens. How gracious that bend of her head is, when she listens! Miss Sally talks, of course, but she does not say anything, and her voice is so pleasant,”
The Lees’ house was larger than Mrs. Paul’s, being double and with low wings on either side. The veranda, with its four white pillars reaching above the second story, gave it a certain stateliness, in spite of a look of dilapidation and neglect.
“ The fact is,” Mrs. Paul had once explained to Robert Steele and the doctor, “ Mortimer Lee has no money for repairs. He saves every cent for Sidney, Sally tells me. But I believe he grows poorer and poorer each year. I don’t understand it, unless Sally is wasteful about her housekeeping, which I am sure is very likely, for she has less sense than any one I know. She tries to make both ends meet, but ” — Mrs. Paul closed her lips with decision, though with the look of being able to say more, if she chose; which indeed was true, but, frank as she was in expressing her opinion of the major’s sister, she would have been incapable of parading her arrangements with Miss Sally, whereby she listened every day to a French novel, or history, or the newspaper, and Miss Sally, in consequence, accumulated a little fund, which she called — although Mrs. Paul did not know it — her “ poor money.” Sidney, quite unconscious of payment being made, sometimes took her aunt’s place, although only when it was history or the news.
“ French novels won’t hurt you, Sally,” Mrs. Paul declared frankly; “you are too old and too silly.”
So Miss Sally, with her delicate and gentle face tingling with blushes, read many strange things to the handsome old woman in the carved armchair. That Miss Sally often went home and washed her little hands with vigorous and tearful protest and with a burning sense of degradation Mrs. Paul never knew, but she would have been delighted had she discovered it.
Housekeeping for Mortimer Lee, with his Virginia ideas of living and his narrow income, was not easy; but Miss Sally was always joyfully content, for was not money being put aside, little by little, for Sidney’s future support ? Beside, the pleasure of having her allowance for household expenses go always a little further than she had dared to hope, in making her brother and her niece comfortable, filled her faithful life with a reason for being. They were so patient with her, she thought, these two shining ones ; they let her love them all she could, though she was so different and so dull. How often she thanked God, with tears, for the blessing of being able to give them all her humble life !
The doctor walked across the sharp cobble-stones of the courtyard, up between the two ailantus-trees which guarded the wide flight of steps, and rang the bell. He could hear its echoing jangle through the long hall, and then, a moment later. Miss Sally Lee’s light, hurrying step. The premonition of cheerfulness inside made him shiver in the raw wind. Some wet leaves drifted heavily down from the ivy which had matted thick across the lintel of the window, and a shutter banged drearily on the other side of the house. He was glad to take Miss Sally’s cordial hand, and then follow her along the hall and into the library. As they opened the door a gush of firelight danced out, and lit, two sudden stars in Sidney’s eyes, as she glanced up from her seat in the corner of the old sofa by the hearth.
The room was full of the dusky glow of the fire, for the lamps had not yet been lighted ; it glimmered on the bindings of the books which lined the walls and on the heavy furniture, and it lit a mimic flame in the darkness against the window-panes.
“ Sit down, dear Alan ! " cried Miss Sally, pushing a chair toward the fire before the doctor could prevent her. “ How is poor Mr. Steele, and won’t you tell Sidney she must not try to read by firelight ? I was just going to fetch her a lamp when you rung.”
Miss Sally’s small, anxious face and timid manner always caused Alan to think of a deprecating bird, and made him want to stroke the somewhat ruffled plumage of her hair and dress, and bid her never fear. Instead, he remonstrated with Sidney. “ By this flickering light ? ” he said. “ Why, I am astonished at you ! ”
She had been bending down, so that the fire could shine on the page of her book, and her smooth cheek was scorched in spite of her protecting hand.
“ I just wanted to finish a paragraph,” she explained, smiling at his reproaches and closing the book quietly.
“ What is it ? ” said the doctor. “ What ! Von Hartmann, and in German ? To ruin your eyes for that sort of thing, Sidney, reflects upon your judgment.”
“ I did n’t understand it very well,” she said, ” and I did n’t like to give it up.”
“Of course you didn’t understand it,” Alan declared, with the instant irritation of a man who sees a charming young woman do a thing which is not charming. Sidney Lee and German pessimism were not compatible ; it was like running a steam-engine through a flower garden for a girl to study that sort of thing, he had said to himself more than once. " Nobody understands it who has a healthy mind,” he continued. Sidney only smiled. “ At least, no one ought to want to understand it,”he amended, beginning to be good-natured again.
The lazy sweetness of Alan Crossan’s temper forbade annoyance for any length of time, so, as he began to talk to Miss Sally, he dropped his solicitude for Sidney’s brown eyes, and banished her unpleasant course of reading from his mind.
The cordial firelight, the faint scent of many leather-covered books, mingling with Miss Sally’s mild chatter, rested and comforted him. He began to think — for it was not necessary to follow her words — of how he would brace Robert Steele when he went home, and his intention was so genuine that it made him forgive himself for leaving his friend alone all the afternoon. From a word caught now and then, he knew that Miss Sally was saying kindly things about Mr. Steele. That she did not know the secret of his illness did not trouble Alan; he was quite certain that her sympathy for suffering did not depend upon the cause of the suffering ; and so, sure of her interest, he burst out into praises of Robert which made him forget that he had been selfish in leaving the sick man.
“ I admit,”he said, his face full of charming animation, “that his action about that money was absurd ; we all acknowledge that. But the motive was noble. And after all, it’s the motive that counts, — yes, it excuses the individual, even if it wrecks a community. He threw away trust money, and the world calls that sort of thing dishonorable ; but he did it from a strained idea of honor. Think how brave a man has to be to turn the world’s standards upside down ! When you come to think of it, though, that’s what all great men have done. Yes, Bob is a man capable of greatness. I’m so glad you and the major are good to him, Miss Sally. His own people are very cold, you know. Those Townsends on the other side of the river are relatives of his, and Kate Townsend is civil to him, though no one else is. The Draytons in Ashurst are his cousins, but the colonel has n’t noticed him since he returned, and of course Steele won’t go there without an invitation. As for me, I am that anomaly a man without relatives, — except the Pauls; they are third cousins, I believe, — so I have no one who will show him kindness and appreciation, and that sort of thing. But the fact is, there are not many people big enough to appreciate Steele, anyhow. Not that I believe much in relations,” he went on, amused by Miss Sally’s horror of such a sentiment; “the tie of blood is purely conventional. Sometimes people are friendly in spite of it, but not often. I am convinced that if Mrs. Paul should recollect that her husband was my grandfather’s cousin she would treat me as badly as she does John, so pray don’t mention it, Miss Sally? ”
“ Oh, I won’t, Alan,” she responded, in an anxious flutter; “ but I’m sure you are wrong. Dear Mrs. Paul would only love you more. But you must always feel sure that we love you. Your mother was a dear friend of mine, although I was so much younger than she. I shall always remember how kind she was when I came here first, just a girl, and so distressed at my brother’s unhappiness.”
Alan did not speak. The reference to his mother silenced him. Her memory was the one deep and sacred thing in his life, the one sorrow of his cloudless years, whereby he was a richer and better man. He felt the pity in Sidney’s eyes, although he did not look at her, and he almost forgave her Von Hartmann ; or rather, he almost forgave the major, who was responsible for Von Hartmann. The reality of Alan’s own sorrow revealed his unconscious flippancy when he once told Mrs. Paul that Major Lee’s grief of twenty-two years was like a fly in amber : it might be pertect, but it had no vitality. He could not let Miss Sally speak of his mother again.
“ Do you know Katherine Townsend ? ” he said to Sidney, in a changed voice. She was staring into the fire, her chin resting in her hand and her elbow on her knee.
She shook her head. “No,” she said.
“ You don’t know many girls of your own age, do you ? ” he asked.
“ No,” she answered. “You see, all the people we used to know have moved away, except Mrs. Paul. Not that I ever knew any children very well. Somehow, I did not need to know children, when I had father ; and now there are nothing but tenements around us.”
Miss Sally sighed. “ Dear me ! she said, “and what dreadful places they are, the tenement-houses There is so much suffering among the mill people.”
“ You enjoy it, dear, " interposed Sidney, smiling a little, with her serious eyes on Miss Sally’s troubled face. “ What would you do without your sewing-school and your visits to your sick people ? She will make you go to see them, too, Alan.”
“ Do you go ? ” he said, watching the firelight shine in her eyes.
“ Oh, no! ” cried Miss Sally deprecatingly ; “ no, indeed, Sidney could n’t go. You don’t know how sad it is, Alan.”
Sidney shook her head, with a shiver. “No,” she said. “It is dreadful to know that there is suffering, — but to go to see it! ”
“ But if by going you make it less ? " Alan persisted, too interested to be displeased.
“ But you know it cannot really be helped,” she answered gently. “ The facts of life are not to be changed by a bowl of soup or a bottle of medicine. Of course there is the pleasure of giving,— to the giver; but that is really all there is.”
“ Altruism is another word for selfishness, then ? ” Alan said, laughing. “ Do you go all the way with Spencer, Sidney ? ”
“ No ; I am only glad the walls are high, and shut such things out. I — I saw a baby’s funeral to-day, aunty; and oh, the poor father and mother were taking the baby’s little rocking-horse out to the grave with them, to leave it there, I suppose.”
“ What pathos there is in that,” said the doctor, — “that putting things on the grave ! It is a sort of compromise with death.”
Sidney nodded, but Miss Sally was full of interest. “ Did you notice where the funeral came from, my dear ? Was it from Mary Allen’s, do you think ? But you don’t know where she lives. It came out of Dove’s Lane, you say ? Oh, yes, — yes, I‘m afraid it was her baby. I heard that it was sick. I must go to see her, to-morrow; poor, poor thing! ”
Sidney looked up at the doctor and smiled. " That is the way she does,” she said.
They did not talk of the pitiful little funeral any longer, for Miss Sally’s kind eyes were full of tears, and Sidney shrank from any mention of pain. The sight of her aunt’s concern seemed to fill her with silent impatience; she frowned at the fire, and for a while no one spoke.
The logs had smouldered into a dull glow, when Miss Sally rose to bring the lamps. Alan sprang to his feet to help her, but Sidney, lifting her eyes from the red ashes, only glanced back into the shadows, and said she had not realized that it was so dark. Miss Sally, however, refused Alan’s aid, and the two young people fell again into silence, until a step in the hall made a sudden gladness flash into Sidney’s face, and she rose to welcome her father. Alan could hear the murmur of their voices in the hall, and then they entered together; the major standing for a moment in the doorway, like a wavering shadow, while he put his glasses astride his nose, and peered through them at the guest in the chimney corner. Then he extended his hand to the young man, in silent and friendly greeting.
His eyes were only for Sidney, but he smiled at Alan when he heard Miss Sally, as she came in with the lamps, tell the doctor that he must stay to tea, and he said gently, “ Yes, surely, surely.” From the hollows under his shaggy brows, eyes as dark and shining as Sidney’s own watched her as Alan talked. It seemed as though every motion and glance of hers fell upon the shrine of his heart; he smiled when she did, for very joy of seeing his darling pleased. He did not listen to what the young man said to her, although sometimes he bent his white head in gracious attention ; he took no part in the conversation, and did not speak again until they rose to go in to tea.
Then he said, “ I called upon Mr. Steele this afternoon, Alan.”
“ Did you? ” cried the doctor, his face brightening with surprise and pleasure. But the major did not pursue the subject just then.
“ Will you give my sister your arm, sir?” he said courteously.
As he spoke, he offered his own to his daughter, and gravely followed Alan and Miss Sally to the dining-room. This formality was as much a part of the major’s precise and silent life as was his daily walk to the bank or his cigar at seven. Family rudeness, which goes by the name of affection, was impossible in Mortimer Lee’s household; that the stately walk through the wide, bare hall was to a most frugal tea-table was of no importance, and could have no effect upon these decencies of life, — at least in the major’s mind.
The doctor had taken tea here frequently since his return to Mercer ; for when he had called first, the major, holding his hand silently for a moment, had said, “ Let us see you often, Alan. I loved your father, sir.” There was something in the old man’s voice which made Alan’s eyes sting for an unaccustomed instant, and he had come, very often. Sometimes, as he went home, after having taken a great deal of tea from Miss Sally’s little thin blue cups, and eaten many slices of bread, he would secretly satisfy his appetite at a convenient shop; for there was a marked absence upon the major’s tea-table of those things which appeal best to a hungry man, although, to be sure, there was a great show of silver, and plenty of glass dishes cut into wide, unequal stars. But it was a pleasure to Alan to be there, even if he stopped at an eatinghouse afterwards.
The dining-room was behind the library ; its corners were cut off to make convenient closets for Miss Sally’s jellies, thereby turning the room into an octagon. It was large, and always seemed dark because of the heavy sideboard, the big armchairs, and the bare and shining mahogany table, although the walls were covered with a light paper in a wide, faint pattern of green palm leaves, and the chintz hangings in the windows were pale and faded.
The major and Miss Sally were at either end of the table, and Sidney sat opposite the doctor; as usual the group was very silent. The major had but few interests ; Miss Sally had no opinions ; and Sidney’s serene indifference to the world needed no words. So, the doctor, eating his bread and drinking his tea, could, without the interruption of conversation, look at Sidney and enjoy himself very much for a whole hour, for Mortimer Lee did not understand haste.
Sidney had a habit., which delighted Alan, of looking up at a person from under her level brows ; thinking her own thoughts all the while, but smiling with a grave, impersonal kindliness. Alan could even forget German pessimism when she looked at him in this way. That he ventured sometimes to return her calm, wide-eyed gaze never disconcerted her, which made him perhaps less happy. Now, in a gown of some vague color, that shimmered a little when she moved, and was darned faintly in one or two places (one cannot expect one’s grandmother’s frocks to wear overwell), Sidney sat dreaming over her bread and honey, quite unconscious of the young man’s eyes; her cup, with a quaint little rosy garland about it, or the Chinese pagoda on her plate, interested her as much as he did. The soft color on her cheek was like the flush of clover; the shadows from her shining hair rested on a smooth white forehead; the two lamps on the sideboard and the candles at either end of the table did not light the dining-room very well, so there were many shadows on the youngface.
Miss Sally’s little maid, who always looked as anxious as her mistress, waited on them as noiselessly as though she were only a small gray and white shadow herself; it was in one of the pauses, while she removed the plates, that the major said again, “Yes, I called this afternoon upon Robert Steele. I am sorry that he does not look better.”
“ Yet he is improving,” Alan answered. “ But you know it is hard lines, Major Lee. There are plenty of people to call him a fool; though a man can bear that, for who is going to decide what is wisdom and what is folly, in this world ? But when it comes to being called a rogue ” —
“ True,” said the major, — “true.”
“ Oh, how can any one be so wicked as to think that he meant to do anything wrong ! ” cried Miss Sally warmly.
“ It occurred to me,” said the major, “ that it might perhaps be painful for the young man to be alone so much " — He paused abruptly. It struck him that this might seem to indicate that he thought Alan neglectful of his friend, so he hastened to say, “ And you are. of necessity, absent occasionally, needing recreation from your professional duties, " — Alan smiled, — “ so I ventured to ask Mr. Steele to make us a little visit. My sister will, I am sure, see that he is made comfortable ; and with my household and your frequent calls he will be at least less lonely.”
“ I hope he said he would come,” said Alan joyously. “Ah, he is a good fellow! I know you will like him and find him delightful.”
“ Most certainly,” returned the major, lifting his eyebrows a little. He had not asked Robert Steele for his own pleasure.
Miss Sally, however, was saying to herself in dismay, “A visitor, and eggs thirty-five cents a dozen ! ”
“ He did not say definitely that we might expect him,” proceeded the host. “Doubtless he wishes to consult his physician. I depend upon you to present my request in more attractive terms than I was able to do.”
“ Oh, I shall insist upon his coming,” answered the doctor cheerfully; “it will be the best thing in the world for him. Miss Sally, you will rob me of a patient ! ”
“ Pray,” Major Lee protested, “ pray do not make my invitation insistent. The young man must not be driven into it. I could not refrain, however, from asking him to come, he was apparently in such a sad state.”
That suggestion of a “ sad state ” sobered the doctor. Perhaps before urging him to come to his house, the major ought to know of Mr. Steele’s struggle with himself! So, afterwards, when his host had risen to open the door for his sister and daughter, and then had returned to the table for his single small glass of wine, Alan spoke of the cause of Robert’s illness with some lightness, but with much tenderness towards his friend. Major Lee made no comment; he only said again, as he pushed the decanter towards Alan, “ I shall depend upon you, sir, to tell Mr. Steele how much pleasure it will give me to see him in my house.”
It was evident that he meant to forget the doctor’s explanation.
“ So the major has invited your Steele to visit him ? ” said John Paul. “ Do you realize what an effort that is to him ? I suppose he did it because everybody is so down on Mr. Steele. I am myself, — confound him! — though I don’t think him anything but a crank.”
Alan laughed and frowned. “You can’t appreciate him, Paul, — that‘s what’s the matter with you. But the invitation is odd. Mrs. Paul has an idea — But I fancy the very fact of the major’s taking Bob into his house shows the strength of his theories ? ”
The doctor wanted to be contradicted, but his companion, after a moment’s pause to guess the meaning of the unfinished sentence, nodded, and said, “Yes, exactly. Mortimer Lee would not hesitate to bring all the attractive men in the world into Sidney’s presence. She’s safe, — more’s the pity for the girl.”
Alan looked at him with lazy annoyance. To have Paul assume so positively that Sidney’s unnatural training would certainly spoil her life irritated him; and yet it gave him a vague assurance, too. The thought of Robert’s probable intimacy with the major’s family had not been entirely pleasant to the doctor; indeed, the more he had reflected upon it, the less certain he became that such a visit would benefit the sick man. But all the while he was thoroughly aware of the fear which lay behind this thought, and even amused by its pretense, so it did not prevent him from using his utmost influence to persuade his friend to go to the major’s; though when, at last, after much urging, Robert consented, Alan took up his violin, and spent an hour, with knitted brows, picking out a difficult movement.
He reflected now that there was no reason why John Paul’s assurance that Sidney was safe should be comforting, but it was, at least so far as Mr. Steele was concerned.
The two men had met upon the little covered bridge that spanned the hurrying river, upon either side of which lay the manufacturing town of Mercer, and now they were walking on together: Alan to the house of an unexpected patient, and John Paul —
“ I am going,” he had explained, with unnecessary frankness, and with a dull flush upon his brown cheek, — “ I am going out to Red Lane to see a little boy. He has some pups. It’s Ted Townsend, — brother of Miss Katherine Townsend, you know: nice boy; nice pups.”
“ Nice girl ? ” Alan observed, stopping to light a cigarette, his eyes smiling over the sputtering match in his hollow hand.
“ Oh! ” returned the older man hastily ; “yes, quite so. Don’t see much of her, of course. She has pupils, and that sort of thing. She has to earn her own living, you know. Steele is her cousin, is n’t he ? ”
“ Yes, but she would n’t permit him ” — Alan began to resent.
“ No,” interrupted John impatiently, “ she won’t permit any one, — that’s just it. And she has those sisters to look after, and Ted.”
“ And the pups ? ” suggested Alan, but John did not notice him.
“ Why, think of it, Crossan,” he said, taking his hands out of his pockets to gesticulate : “ here she is, — Katherine Townsend, a woman who is worth any ten I ever saw in my life (I ’m just an outsider, and unprejudiced; you’d say the same thing if you knew her), — here she is, giving music lessons to this little Eliza Jennings in the tollhouse. Eliza Jennings is a nice little thing, no doubt, but ” —
John Paul wore a fur cap, and as he spoke his forehead seemed to disappear under it in two big wrinkles.
“ Does Mrs. Paul know Miss Townsend ? ” inquired the doctor, after a moment’s pause; and his companion’s abrupt “No” made Alan’s eyes dance. Robert Steele, and the smallness of his own practice, and all the little worries of life could be forgotten when he found anything droll. It was a happy temperament, this, which could banish an unpleasant thought by a merry one. “ With it, a man does n’t live on a mountain-top,” Alan had said gayly, “ but he finds the foot-hills amazingly pleasant.”
John had no more to say of the sister of the boy with the pups ; although, as they went past the toll-house, he looked searchingly into the window from which it was Mrs. Jennings’ habit to extend one tight, plump hand for a penny. But the small room within was empty, in John’s eyes, although, indeed, Eliza Jennings sat in a big chair, with a crocheted antimacassar on its back, rocking comfortably. There was a row of geraniums on the window-sill beside her, which strained the wintry sunshine through a net of scarlet blossoms and broad, vigorous leaves.
“Was it Mr. Paul, ma?” she said, with a sort of gasp, as the fur cap vanished from the small horizon of the tollwindow. Eliza’s freckled little face grew quite intent as she spoke. It is curious how lasting is the interest in a question of this nature. Eliza Jennings had kept a half look, which meant hope and expectation, upon the small window of the toll-house for many months. Yes, it was almost a year since Mr. John Paul had begun to take these frequent walks towards Red Lane, and in that time Eliza had had many a pleasant nod, or a word or two about the weather, as he handed her a penny for the toll.
With a view to this interest of her life, Eliza could not have lived in a better place than the toll-house. The pedestrian could not come from Old Mercer to Little Mercer save across this bridge. Then, too, as he returned, he must stop long enough to extract a penny from the pocket of his breeches, and where a man is tall and stout this is not done hastily.
The gray toll-house at the end of the covered bridge did not seem to belong among the smart new houses of Little Mercer, but rather as if it had been pushed out of the older town when the bridge first crossed the river, and now looked back with regret. There was a yard around it, inclosed by high palings, which were always dazzling with fresh whitewash. In summer, poppies, and bouncing-bets, and bachelor’s-buttons pushed between the bars, and gazed with honest sweetness at the foot-passengers, for the garden was always full of riotous color and perfume. Now, only a few brown stalks stood straight and thin in the snow. The wooden arbor in the middle was reached by a tiny graveled walk, which curled about among the flower-beds to make a respectable length. On this cold November morning its seats were piled with powdery snow, which rose in a gleaming dust when the wind blew from up the river, and then settled in small icy ripples along the floor.
This arbor, in which, during the summer, it was the custom of Mrs. Jennings to serve tall glasses of ice-cream to hot wayfarers, had, even in November, a certain sacredness for Eliza. Was it not here that she had first talked to Mr. John Paul? It was a July day, — ah, how well she remembered it! He had brought little Ted Townsend into the summer-house, through the hot sweetness of the blazing garden, and had begged Eliza to fetch him two glasses of ice-cream.
“ Every fi’ cents Kitty gives me,” Ted said, breathless with anticipation, “ I spend here, don’t I, Miss Eliza? ”
John, in a look across Ted’s curly head, good-naturedly shared his amusement with Eliza, who felt her heart beat with pleasure.
“ He’s just grand ! ” she told her mother, and Mrs. Jennings agreed with her daughter. “ It was real good in him to treat Master Ted,”she said, “ though I should have thought a gentleman like him would 'a’ brought the boy’s sister along too ; for it would seem right nice to her, workin’ all day like she does, teachin’ this one or that one ; ” and Mrs. Jennings was glad that her Eliza could stay at home, like a lady, with only a bonnet to trim now and then for a neighbor.
But the little milliner had resented even this small criticism upon the grand gentleman in the garden.
Mrs. Jennings, except where love made her shrewd, was a woman of slow, dull thought, but she began to connect her daughter’s sudden desire for improvement in one way or another with that scene in the garden. Not long afterwards, seeing Eliza so faithful in her blundering practice upon the melodeon, she had suggested that her daughter should take music lessons from Miss Townsend, “an’ really be a musician, ’Liza,” she explained. “Besides, they ain’t real well off, you know, and I like to help a body along.”
“ And pray why not ? ” Katherine had demanded of Mr. John Paul, as he stood indignant and aghast in her small parlor.
“ But, Miss Townsend,” he stammered, “you —you are ” —
“ Delighted to have a new pupil,” she finished, and laughed.
Katherine Townsend was always cordial and occasionally sincere. This time, she was both. “ Don’t you see,” she said, “it would be absurd in me to say I would not instruct little Eliza how to play upon her organ with twenty-two stops. I want pupils, and she wants lessons. Why should we both be disappointed ? ”
“I — I could find you some pupils; there are lots of people who would be glad" — he began ; but there was nothing more to say. Miss Katherine Townsend was a young woman who managed her own affairs. Her little house was quite out of sight of any wistful eyes at the toll-house window which might follow Mr. John Paul’s figure to the turn by the big barberry bush, which hid the footpath along Red Lane. To be sure, it was plain enough that Mr. Paul often happened to be going in or coming out from Old Mercer just when Miss Townsend did, but he never paid the toll for her; she always put down her own money in the most matter-offact way, and what could be more natural than for Eliza to say, “ Well, ma, they ain’t hardly friendly. A young gentleman who was waiting on a young lady would n’t let her pay her own toll.” And Mrs. Jennings assured her that she was right. Indeed, Mrs. Jennings would have assured Eliza of almost anything, so truly did the heart in her large bosom feel all her daughter’s joys and griefs. It was not necessary that Eliza should confide in her. Although she had never seen the diary in which was recorded, in violet ink, the emotions of an empty and harmless little life, Mrs. Jennings knew all, with that maternal instinct which is not dependent upon knowledge. Perhaps the only thing she had not guessed was her daughter’s desire for a confidante. Eliza had often thought how happy she would be if she could only “ tell ” some one, — granted, of course, that the day should come when there would be anything more to “tell" than that there had been a cheery goodmorning or a laugh about Ted’s passion for ice-cream, and granted also that the confidante should not be her mother. With such indifference is maternal devotion too often received ! Sometimes, in a pleasant dream, while she trimmed a bonnet behind the geraniums in the window, or watched the light from the river ripple upon the low ceiling, she thought how much she should like to tell Miss Katherine Townsend that she had “ given away her heart.” She often pictured the scene to herself, as she sat rocking and sewing, in that delightful misery which only the sentimental young woman knows; and she would sometimes drop a tear upon her ribbon, which always brought her back to practical life with anxious haste. But although Miss Townsend was most kind during the weekly music lesson, this confidential talk never seemed possible. There was a look behind those gray eyes which forbade intimacy, and sometimes made Eliza’s thick little fingers tumble over each other on the keys, and her heart beat with a sort of fright.
“ It’s perfectly ridiculous in you, ’Liza,” said Mrs. Jennings impatiently ; “ she ain’t got any more money than we have, so I tell you ! Yes, and them three children to bring up, too. It was different enough when her pa was alive. There ! I’m sorry for her. But you do make me real pervoked at you, when you act as if you wore more ’n half afraid of her. She ain’t situated so as to be proud.”
And indeed Miss Katherine Townsend would have been apt to agree with the mistress of the toll-house. There was much anxiety and hard work in her plain and quiet life, much keen disgust, and weariness with many things. But below all this, which may be forgotten, there was a dull regret which she never put into words. It was in her mind this cold, bright afternoon, when the doctor and John Paul had come over the bridge, and then out along the turnpike into the country.
Katherine had come home from a lesson, tired, she said to herself, of everything ; which was but another way of saying that she was feeling the lack of some absorbing occupation of mind. These music lessons were necessary, but never pleasant; Katherine had too much selfconsciousness ever to find teaching a delight for its own sake. Ted had run down the lane to welcome her. He had forgotten his coat, in excess of affection, and Ted’s colds were a constant anxiety to his sister Carrie and Louise were squabbling in the upper hall ; and the one maid-of-all-work came with heavy, slip-shod tread to the foot of the stairs, to say that the flour was out and the coal low.
Why did the girls squabble? Why did Ted cough ? Why were Maria’s aprons always dingy ? " Father’s house ought not to be like this; father’s children ought not to have such voices.” Something seemed to come up into Katherine’s throat, but she only stopped to kiss Ted, and break up the small quarrel by asking her sisters to see that his shoes were not wet. Then she dropped down upon her bed until tea-time. She hid her tired eyes in the cool pillow, although with no thought of tears. Miss Katherine Townsend was not one of those women to whom can come the easy relief of tears. Beside, she had nothing to cry about. This thought of John Paul, she said to herself, was too familiar for emotion, and too impersonal. She was only sorry that he was not a braver and a stronger man.
“And yet he is so good,” she said, with that same feeling in her throat,— “ so good, and honest, and kind. Oh, what shall I do if I cannot make Ted a brave man ! ”
Of course this young woman understood John’s attentions to Ted ; she knew what those accidental meetings on the bridge meant to the big, slow, simple man ; but what was she to infer if he never put his meaning into words ? What she did infer, and what made her manner such that these unspoken words seemed more and more impossible to John, was, that he was unwilling to marry upon the small income which Mrs. Paul gave him; and that he was too indolent or too cowardly to take his life out of his mother’s hands, and live it as he chose, in poverty if necessary, and love. For, knowing the sort of life which John Paul led, and knowing too that it was not the natural bent of the man, her conclusion was that he led it because it was easiest. She knew just how his day was passed. There was the warehouse in the morning, where he sat in a little glass office, but where the old head clerk never dreamed of going for assistance or advice. She “ preferred to give her own advice,” Mrs. Paul had declared contemptuously. John read the letters, but Murray answered them as he saw fit ; his ostensible employer, meanwhile, studying his English newspaper, or writing scholarly and stupid articles upon free trade (“ which would be the ruin of the house,” grumbled Murray, “ if anybody ever read them, and they should help the other party”). Besides this, the mornings were good times to look up the pedigrees of favorite dogs. One of these researches among kennel-books resulted in a present to Ted of the mastiff puppies, which greatly inconvenienced Ted’s sister. In the afternoon, John could walk, or ride, or read more newspapers, and dream much of Katherine Townsend.
But she, here alone in the cold November dusk, thinking of this lazy, comfortable life, said to herself that it served him right that, after such a day, he had to spend his dull evening until nine listening to his mother’s tongue, while they played at draughts by the drawingroom fire, “ and just because he has not the courage to break away from it all! ” Although in her heart she added “ and love me,” yet her indignation was that which every earnest mind feels at the sight of neglected possibilities, and not at all the smaller pain of wounded selfesteem. Perhaps her inner consciousness, however, that he did love her made this finer attitude of mind possible.
But Katherine, in her bitter thoughts, was not just. She did not understand that this sort of life may begin in a sense of duty, and end in the habit of content. John Paul had gone into the warehouse for his mother’s sake. How glad he would have been to do the work there heartily and earnestly, and how completely his mother had pushed his desires aside, Katherine did not know, and would hardly have respected him more had she known. She could not guess the gentleness of this silent man, or imagine that he shrank from disappointing his mother, even though he hurt his self-respect by the sacrifice.
But little by little, habit had blurred that pain. John was thirty-six, and for years he had been living on the very small allowance which his mother chose to make him. He had never felt that he earned it, unless indeed he earned it by sitting in silence beneath her gibes, to which he had become so accustomed that he could think his own thoughts all the while. One of the best things he had ever written upon the tariff had been thought out during a game of draughts, while Mrs. Paul had railed about Miss Sally Lee until she was white with anger.
One other thing Katherine overlooked: John had no motive for action greater than this self-sacrifice upon which he was throwing away his soul.
“ If she cared anything about me,” he said to himself, “if she would even look at me, I’d fling the whole thing over in a minute.”
So this makeshift of life went on, and John Paul made no effort to do anything but endure. He wished he had known Miss Townsend before ; perhaps she would have cared for him when he was younger. John felt very old and very steady now, and the only thing he could do was to comfort himself by seeing Ted often, and hearing him talk about Kitty ; which was certainly not very satisfactory for a lover.