Philip and His Wife

XIV.

ALICIA, it appeared, had come hurrying back from her errand to the upper village, and, finding no Roger awaiting her, looked half puzzled and half disturbed, until Esther told her that she had seen Mr, Carey drive by with “ Miss Cecil.” It was all right, if Roger were being entertained ; but before she had time to speculate as to his return Philip came striding up the path and into the hall.

“ Lys ! where are you ? ” he called out so heartily that she knew, as she ran downstairs, that he knew — the one thing in the world worth knowing ! “ Carey wrote me about it,” he said, “and I got off the stage at the gate to come in and tell you that he’s a good fellow, but he ’ll have to do his best to be good enough for you ! ”

“Were n’t you very much surprised, though, Philip ? ” she said, with a blush all over her happy face.

“ Well, no, I can’t say that I was very much surprised,” Philip confessed, greatly amused.

“ Oh, were n’t you ? I was,” Alicia answered him, shy but serious. “ Oh, Philip, you ’re laughing ! ”

But his face was so earnest and so tender that Lyssie forgave the laugh. Then he asked where Roger was, and, learning, had a suggestion to make. “ Let’s go over to East Hill and look at the mowers ; you can watch the street from there, and see the carriage the moment it appears.”

There was something in the simple way in which Philip took for granted the impatient and pretty folly of a lover that made Alicia full of happy ease. He had not that laugh in the eye which says, “ Oh, it is sweet, it is pretty; but you ’d better make the most of it while it lasts.”

“ I ’ll go and get Molly, and join you there,” Philip said, when she had agreed to come as soon as she had seen whether her mother was quite comfortable.

But it takes a good while to make some people comfortable. Philip had been in the field ten minutes before Alicia, her face sobered, arrived. Mrs. Drayton had seized the opportunity to implant an arrow in the child’s tender conscience, by speaking of Alicia’s indecorous haste to see her lover, and her selfish indifference to her mother’s loneliness.

“ Here I sit all day long, and you never give a thought to what it is to me to be shut out from society,” she sighed. “ If it were not for the companionship of my blessed Bible, and my own thoughts of how I shall be recompensed some day for all I’ve borne here, I don’t see how I could endure it! ”

“ Mother, dear, of course I won’t go, if you want me to stay,” Alicia protested.

But Mrs. Drayton shook her head. “ I want you to want to stay, Lyssie. I don’t care for unwilling service. Go, go ! you ‘11 be late.” Then she drew in her breath in a meek sob. “ Perhaps, though, you will be willing to wait one moment, if it’s something for yourself ? I want to pin this rose in your hair. Kneel down.”

Alicia, with a little sigh, knelt down, and her mother put the rose against the soft coil of hair behind her ear. Mrs. Drayton did not declare that she was returning good for evil; hut Lyssie felt the scorch of coals of fire, as her mother intended she should. Indeed, as an expression of pure malice, the heaping of coals of fire may be as telling as a blow ; poor Lyssie. walking over to the meadow, feeling the soft touch of the rose upon her neck, heard the words about loneliness ringing in her ears, and asked herself again, with dismay, “ What will she do when ” —

The grass on the long slope of East Hill had been cut and stacked into cocks some days before, but in the level light the stubbly floor of the field, barred by long shadows from the buttonwoodtrees that edged its western side, looked smooth and soft. There was the scent of new hay in the air; and the whole stretch of the valley, clasped by the faroff curve of the river, lay like a green cup, brimmed with warm and silent peace. Going from one small haymow to another was a cart drawn by two white steers ; three men were loading it, and a woman, who had climbed into it. was forking and trampling the hay into place, her strong young figure standing out clear against the ochre glow of the sunset. Alicia perceived with amusement that one of the men was her brother-in-law ; and then she caught sight of Molly, curled up against a little haystack, plaiting three stalks of grass to make a ring. Molly welcomed her eagerly.

“ Aunt Lyssie, shall I have to say ‘ uncle Roger ’ to Mr. Carey ? ” she inquired.

“Oh, Molly, hush, you little goose ! ” said Lyssie, her face full of charming color. “ Look at your father making hay ; and is n’t that Eliza Todd, raking, on the other side of the cart ? ”

“ I saw father long ago,”Molly announced. “ Is n’t it funny for father to work when he does n’t have to ? He did it once before, all day. Mamma said he was singular. What’s ‘ singular,’ aunt Lyssie ? ”

“ What you are when you are remarkably good.”Alicia said significantly.

Molly did not pursue the subject. She returned to braiding her bits of grass, and sang a strange rune to herself, something after this fashion : —

“ Minnows, minnows, minnows.
Live in water.
Wriggling.
Wriggling.
The sun shines on ’em in the water.
They wriggle,
Up the stream.
Where the sun shines in the water,
The spotted minnows wriggle.’’

Alicia laughed under her breath, and motioned to Philip, who had joined her, to listen. They looked at each other, smiling. Philip, fanning himself with his hat, waited until Molly’s song sank into a whisper, and then said,—

“ The epic is in us all, is n’t it ? Have you been here long, Lys ? Oh, Lyssie, this is the way to live ! It is Splendidly material, and a man takes to it so that I begin to think the other side of us is abnormal, the soul is an excrescence. Yes, I ’d like to make hay or dig potatoes.”

“ I should n’t like to work! ” Molly exclaimed, coming to clamber over her father. and then settling comfortably down in his arms. “ I ’d rather play. Mamma said you were ‘ singular ’ to work, father. Mamina said —

“ Philip,” Alieia broke in. with all the haste of embarrassment, “did Mr. Miller’s work satisfy the judges ? ”

“ No ; I’m sorry, but it does n’t warrant any further encouragement.”

“ Cecil said, if it did n’t, she was going to send him some money,” Lyssie said. “ She’s awfully generous, is n’t she ? ”

“ She enjoys giving, I think,” Philip answered briefly, and added, irrelevantly, that he thought the haymakers had a pretty good time. “ They are not ‘ harried by love of the best ’ — Oh, see that attitude! ” he interrupted himself, sittingup straight, and putting on his glasses to look at the woman in the cart. She was standing, her weight on her left hip, her face crimsoning with exertion, the muscles of her arms, as she raised a forkful of hay and leaned backwards to balance it, lifting into swelling curves. The hay in its place and trodden down, she stopped to draw a full breath, and with her bare bent arm brush back the hair that had fallen across her hot face. Even at this distance Alicia could see her splendid vigor. There was a certain superb well-being about her, as absolutely material as the warm scent of the grass, or the stretch of shadows over the clean field, or the faded colors in the stubble. Standing there knee-deep in the hay, flecking the sweat from her forehead with an impatient finger, she seemed as organic and unconscious as the rocks and trees. Philip, watching her, said again, whimsically. "Yes, yes, it ’s better so ; she is n’t going to tear her soul for any mere ideals ! ”

A sense of spiritual weariness came upon him ; a longing for that life which is as far from sin as it is from virtue, — the life of some men and women, and of the beasts that perish.

Molly, who had trotted off to pick a flower, came running back out of the sunset with two red lilies, which she presented, in solemn childish fashion, to her father and aunt. “ There ’s a man over there,” she said, — “I guess his legs are sick; they wabble. Look, father.”

“ Oh, I fear his legs are sick,” Philip agreed. “ Poor Job ! Lyssie, suppose you go along with Molly. I ’m afraid he may be conversational.”

“ Oh, Philip, is n’t he a little ” —

“ A little! ” said Philip, as he caught Job’s raised and stammering voice. “ I should say so. Go, dear, go ! ” Then he picked himself up lazily, and brushed the hay from his coat, and lounged down to the other side of the field, where he stood, his hands in his pockets, observing the situation. Cecil’s carriage had just come in sight, but his back was towards the road, and he did not see it.

Job Todd was not an attractive object ; he was drunk, but, unfortunately, not quite drunk enough to have passed the ugly stage. His poor brute face was dully purple, his small, cunning eyes swam in stagnant film, and liis loose lips moved in thick, stumbling words.

“ Where is that damned woman o’ mine ? ” he demanded, putting his legs wide apart, to stand more steadily.

“ Oh, Job ! ” quavered Eliza.

The girl who was forking the hay into place stopped and peered over at the scene, and the two men drew together, and said pacifically, “ There, now, Job.”

“ Job, don’t! Oh! ” Eliza cried out, writhing away from the heavy hand he laid on her shoulder,

“ You come home. You get my supper. I ’ll break your damned head if you don’t tend up to your business! ”

“ Oh, I ’ll come, I ’ll come,” she said tremulously, dropping her wooden rake, and walking along a little in front of him.

Philip walked in the same direction. “Hullo, Job.” he said good naturedly. “ Don’t you think you ’d better let Mrs. Todd go on with her work ? ”

But Job, with vast contempt, refused to notice Mr. Shore’s remark ; he stooped to pick up Eliza’s discarded rake, and brandished it in the air, catching himself with a jerk as he lurched forward.

“ The old woman,” he called out to the group about the cart, “ is ” — Job’s drunken fluency in regard to his wife made some one laugh, and the man, instantly infuriated, turned upon her and struck her. and then staggered and fell, tripped up neatly by Philip Shore’s outstretched foot.

“ Don’t, sir ! ” the two mowers called out. “ He ain’t safe, Mr. Shore; don’t meddle with him, sir! ”

The shock made Job sober for an instant ; he got on his legs with surprising quickness. “ You want to fight, do you,” lie said, "you”—and added a string of epithets which made Philip laugh in spite of himself.

“ What command of language you have, Todd! I ’m not anxious to fight. Come, now, behave yourself. Don’t be a fool.”

“ Whose wife is she ? ” roared Job. “ I’m boss in my house. It’s more ’an you are in yours, and for a good reason: your wife ’s worth two of you! But I keep my woman in order. Do you see that ? ” and he made a lunge at Eliza, who ducked and whimpered.

“ I ’ll knock you down if you do that again,” said Philip pleasantly, walking between Job and his wife.

“ Ye will ? Look a’ there, then ! ”

A flame leaped to Philip’s eyes. The men, calling wildly to him to "come off,” to “ stop it,” saw him strip off his coat, and, holding up his left arm to guard his head from Job’s rake, plant a blow under the drunken man’s ear ; and then there was an instant of really sharp struggle, until Philip’s arm hooked about Job’s neck and his right hand caught him under the chin. Todd roared and kicked for a moment, until Philip flung him on the ground.

“ Do you want some more ? The next time you strike a woman I ’ll give you some more ! ” he said, breathless, touching him contemptuously with his foot.

Roger Carey, who had come running down the field, had just reached him, disappointment in every feature.

“ You’ve had it all to yourself ! ” he cried regretfully, and then gave Job a hand and pulled him to his feet. "Have you been bulliragging Mrs. Todd, you brute?” he said. “ I wish I’d been here in time to get a hand in.”

As for Cecil Shore, after her first instant of quick admiration for her husband standing there in his shirt sleeves, his clenched hand drawn back as though his very fingers were tingling with desire to leap at Job’s throat, she thought of the man’s mortification should he realize that she had witnessed his humiliation, and gave the order to drive on. “ But Philip really did that well! ” she said to herself, smiling. Then her face darkened, and she sighed; her vague dissatisfaction with Lyssie’s engagement, or rather with Roger Carey’s engagement, came back. She was half sullen and quite absorbed that evening, as poor little Molly learned to her cost. She came dancing into her mother’s room while Cecil was dressing for dinner, and was kissed and cuddled to her heart’s content, until Cecil pushed her away gently, and said, “ Don’t bother me, precious; mamma must dress. There! you can play with mamma’s rings, if you want to.”

Molly, enchanted, seized the small satin-lined box. and shook the rings into her lap in a shower of light. How beautiful they were, piled stiff upon her little lingers until she could not shut her hands ! Then the charming thought occurred to her that she would string them all on a stalk of grass, and hang them around her mamma’s lovely neck. The very joyousness of the plan kept her silent, and, gathering up the front of her dress to hold all this glitter and gleam, she crept out of the room.

Cecil did not notice her absence. She forgot the child, and the rings too, until she heard a wail from the garden, down below the terrace. Of course the inevitable accident had happened. A moment later Rosa brought Molly to her mother, and the little girl, catching her breath with fright, tried to explain that the stalk of grass had broken, "and — and the rings — spilt! ” In fact, three of them had leaped as though from a sling out into the pool. It seemed as if the smouldering irritation of Cecil’s thoughts sprang into flame.

“ You naughty little thing! ” she cried. “ How dare you take my rings out of doors?” And while her lips were still set with anger she punished the child, who screamed with pain and terror, and then pushed her towards Rosa. “ Just put her right straight to bed, Rosa. Don’t speak another word, Molly, or I ’ll spank you, you wicked little girl! Rosa, send John down to the pool at once. Tell him he must find the rings to-night. Which are they ? Oh. Molly, you horrid child ! Rosa, my sapphire has gone ! The other two are not so important. But John must find them to-night, somehow.”

XV.

Of course the tussle in the hayfield was discussed in Old Chester, and it brought up the question of Eliza’s possible danger in remaining with Job. Her possible degradation had been long ago dismissed, or never thought of. The economic propriety of placing upon the community the burden of supporting Job’s neglected but increasing family had been pointed out only by innocent, straightforward, sensible Lyssie. The indignity done to marriage by urging the continuance of a relation from which love and respect and tenderness had fled, leaving in their place brutality and lust, had never been considered. But when it came to the chance of physical injury to Eliza, then indeed Old Chester was aroused and perplexed.

“ Perhaps we ought to tell her to leave him ? ” said Miss Susan, worried and anxious. “Maybe, if she left him, he would really turn over a new leaf for the mere discomfort of it ; but to separate husband and wife ! ”

Miss Susan Carr sat in front of her writing-desk, thinking what had best he done. There was no use to ask Dr. Lavendar ; he would say that Eliza must stick to her duty, even if Job cut her throat some fine day while he was drunk. Mrs. Dale took this view, too; and these two people certainly ought to know. Dr. Lavendar had had so much experience, and as for Mrs. Dale — well, everybody knew poor Eben Dale’s failings. But Susan Carr’s first, simple, unecclesiastical, common-sense impulse was to say that Job and Eliza had no business to live together.

Miss Susan, in her swivel chair, staring absently at the cluttered pigeonholes of her desk, her heels stretched straight out in front of her, her hands thrust down into the pockets of her short sack, pushed out her lips in puzzled and troubled reflection. But suddenly, catching sight of the corner of a letter, she winced, and drew herself together, and thrust back into the halfopen little drawer the envelope which held Mr. Joseph Lavendav’s proposal.

So far, Miss Carr had succeeded in “ staving him off,” as she expressed it. No doubt her firm words to Dr. Lavendar had helped her good work, for of course the disappointed older brother must have told Joseph that there was no hope for him ; but her own efforts had been unceasing. As this crumpled corner of his letter brought him swiftly to her mind, she congratulated herself upon her success in preventing the declaration which would have resulted in his mortification ; but, glad as she was for his sake, she could not help a little pang on her own account. It is hard to lose a friend just because one has acted from a sense of duty. Susan Carr had in all honesty done the kindest thing she knew ; but in consequence Joseph Lavendar treated her with unmistakable coldness and offense. In fact, it appeared that he bad taken the hint she had tried to give him ; and now, with an unreasonableness most admirably feminine, Miss Susan was conscious of feeling, as Mrs. Drayton would have said, “ a little bitter.”

“ He would have had no cause to be unfriendly even if I had refused him, instead of just keeping him from speaking,” she reflected, with some spirit ; “ and I will be his friend, I don’t care how angry he is ! ” She did not add, as she had often done before, that he had been Donald’s friend, and so of course must be hers ; for once she forgot the sweet, faded romance, which lay between her youth and her middle age like a rose pressed between the pages of a book. She sat there in her revolving chair, looking at the confusion of her desk, and wishing that at least Joseph Lavendar knew how heartily she respected and liked him, notwithstanding what she bad done. Well, unjust as he might be, it was a comfort to see with what friendliness his brother treated her. Dr. Lavendar showed no resentment; only a troubled gentleness, “ as though,” said Miss Susan to herself, “ he realized just how hopeless it ’was.” She reproached herself for not making more of this comfort. “ I ought not to be unhappy,” she thought. “ I ’ve done my duty, and I’m sure that ought to be enough of a consolation.” But she sighed deeply.

Miss Susan was quite right about Dr. Lavendar’s friendliness. He made a point of seeing her oftener than before ; and although he never spoke to her of Joseph, the whole melancholy situation was continually in his mind. At first he had been quite overwhelmed by it and altogether hopeless, and, with an injustice as natural as it was deplorable, more bitter than ever towards Mrs. Pendleton.

Indeed, when Mr. Joseph, conscious and uncomfortable, had followed his letter down to Old Chester, his brother had been so unmistakably cold to him that poor Joey felt all his courage ooze away ; consequently, that week Mrs. Pendleton’s affections did not become engaged. But Dr. Lavendar had not breathed freely until be saw the coach roll off on Monday morning. “ Well, he’s safe for five days ! ” he said. Then his mind went back to the estimable Miss Susan ; and by and by, in spite of himself, he began to hope. “ If Joey can just be made to appreciate Utile Dulci ! ” he thought; and he decided to try to make Joey appreciative. Now Dr. Lavendar was a wise man. and therefore he was aware that the effort to induce one person to care for another person is generally as successful as the effort to make water run uphill. If he had wanted any proof of this axiom, there was Mr. Joseph’s own endeavor in behalf of himself and Mrs. Pendleton. Mere insistence. Dr. Lavendar knew, was not only useless ; it was almost prohibitive of the result desired. “ So,” said Dr. Lavendar in his own mind, “I must be subtle ! ”

When Joseph came home on Saturday, he found bis brother in quite a different mood from that which had made his previous visit so melancholy. Dr. Lavendar was eager to tell him about Lyssie’s engagement; he had much to say of the way in which Philip had thrashed Job Todd : be was full of the new chapter in The History of Precious Stones; in fact, he spoke of anything and everything but the old bitter subject. And through all his conversation singularly irrelevant remarks about Utile Dulci came in, like the chorus of a Greek play. As for Mr. Joseph, while he was interested to learn of Lyssie’s happiness, and was sorry about Job, and listened to Miss Susan’s praises respectfully, he had his own business to attend to.

“ Brother Jim,” he said, as they sat at the tea table that night, and there came a moment’s pause in Dr. Lavendar’s excited flow of conversation, “ brother Jim, it seems only proper to say to you that I mean to — to — to do it tonight.”

“ Do what ? ”

“ Request the honor of ” —

“ Oh, Joey, Joey, what a fool you are ! ” groaned the old clergyman. He pushed his chair back a little, and beat a tremulous tattoo on the table with his shaking fingers. In a moment all his assumed interest in other things disappeared ; it was not a time for subtlety, but for action. “ Joey, of course I ’d never think of betraying the affairs of any of my parishioners to any one else, even to you, but — I — the fact is — why don’t you go and see Miss Susan ?

“Miss Susan?” said Joseph Lavendar. “ Why should I ? She is no more in sympathy with my views than — than you are, brother Jim,"’ he ended sadly.

Dr. Lavendar, pouring out another cup of tea for himself, his lips pursed tightly together, his fingers gripping the teapot handle till his knuckles were white, swallowed twice, and said, “ Joey, you make me seem impatient; but not at all, not at all. I am merely — ah — infuriated by your folly ! ” Here he noticed his overflowing cup, and put the teapot down. He was trembling.

Joseph rose silently, and wiped up the tea from the table.

“ If you speak to this — lady, that implies, I suppose, marriage ? ” said Dr. Lavendar, his voice quite husky with fear. “ But it occurs to me to ask you whether you know that if she marries she must relinquish her fortune ? ”

Joseph was silent, but his face changed.

“ It is asking a good deal of a lady to relinquish her fortune,” Dr. Lavendar proceeded breathlessly.

“I did not know that,”Mr. Joseph said, in a low voice. "At least, I may have heard it, but I had forgotten it.”

The two brothers looked at each other, and neither spoke. Dr. Lavendar had played his highest card; he hardly dared to speak, lest he should undo any good which that appeal to Joseph’s chivalry might have accomplished. The little dining-room was not very light, and the bare dark top of the table between the brothers made it seem still more sombre. Dr. Lavendar poured out another cup of tea, and drank it defiantly. Mr. Joseph got up, and stood at the window. "It looks a little like rain,” he observed.

“ That — that will be good for Susan Carr’s farm ! ” Dr. Lavendar exclaimed, breathing hard.

Joseph made no reply.

“ Susan is a very superior woman, Joey, don’t you think so ? ”

“Very superior,” Mr. Joseph agreed listlessly. There was a look of pained bewilderment in his large, mild eyes. Dr. Lavendar could almost have wept for his brother’s lack of intelligence, and for his good Susan’s disappointment.

So Joseph did not “do it” that night. He lit the lamp in the library, and pretended to read. He must not give in to James ! It would be dishonorable, and a slight to the lady, if his kindliness of word and manner were not followed by a declaration ; unless, indeed, this hint about the money and the will should be true? In which case Mr. Joseph would rather suffer the imputation of dishonorable conduct than request a lady to make a sacrifice for his sake. Dr. Lavendar had judged his brother well when he used that argument. Poor Mr. Joseph was very miserable; he said to himself that he hoped Jim was mistaken. Who would know ? He thought immediately of Susan Carr. He could ask her help again.

“ She is kind,” he said to himself, — “ she is kind, though she has seemed a little unfriendly of late about this. But Miss Susan has certainly a kind heart.” And so, on Sunday evening, after supper,

— which was dull enough, with the constraint and pain between the brothers,

— Mr. Joseph said he was going to consult Miss Susan about a voluntary.

“ Well, he ’s safe for to-night,” Dr. Lavendar thought. “ But poor Susan ! poor Susan ! ” He walked to the gate with Joseph, struggling to find some word to say about her and for her; but nothing came except his rather purposeless insistence upon the fact that Utile Dulci was an intelligent person, — “ most intelligent, Joey. Of course I can’t talk about other people’s affairs, but — but — give her my love, Joey; give Utile Dulci my love, boy, — do you hear ? ”

Miss Susan was sitting by her round centre table, her feet on a high footstool, her elbows propped on the arms of her chair ; she was holding a large book close to her eyes. She had, for the moment, forgotten her anxieties about Joseph Lavendar in following Smith’s reasons for ploughing under a potato field to supply the soil with humic acid, rather than covering it with manure. Miss Susan, presenting the soles of stout boots to the caller, and frowning with interest, did not invite any tender confidences ; still less so when, hearing Mr. Lavendar’s voice, she dropped her book, and, with an awkward clatter, pushed away her footstool, and stood up, red and embarrassed, and almost angry.

Mr. Joseph steadied the tottering footstool, and picked up a newspaper that had slipped rustling to the floor, and made his apologies for having startled his hostess.

“ We men are apt to forget the timidity of the gentler sex.”

“I ’m not timid,” Susan Carr said decidedly.

But Mr. Joseph would not listen to such self-depreciation. “ Oh, come, come, Miss Susan, there is nothing more engaging in a lady.”

“ Well,” Miss Carr retorted, her selfpossession returning, and struggling to defend herself and him from the inevitable moment which she felt was approaching, “ well, you ought to admire my neighbor, then ; she, poor little soul, is afraid of a caterpillar ! ”

“ Is she indeed ? Is she indeed ? Yes, I have noticed it in her, — very pleasing ; yes.” He sat down, his hands on his neat brown broadcloth knees, his face a little wistful and anxious. “ I suppose you see a good deal of your neighbor ? Your life must be quite lonely, and she doubtless enlivens it, and ” —

“ Not lonely at all.” interposed Miss Susan, the color mounting to her face : “ and anyhow, the poor little lady is really so — so — I don’t want to be unkind,” cried Susan Carr, scarcely knowing what she said, but willing to hide behind Mrs. Pendleton for protection — “ she is so silly, you know. I ’m sure I should rather he alone than talk to Mrs. Pendleton ! ” There was no malice in this attack, only she must keep Mr. Lavendar silent. She wondered if she might not introduce the subject of soil dressing? "Yes,” she said desperately, “ I am not lonely. Since Donald’s death I have grown used to spending my evenings with my books. I was just reading to-night ” —

Mr. Lavendar let her talk on ; when she had finished her excited résumé of Smith’s admirable work, he said, resignedly. that he did not know much about farming; he remembered that Donald had been very wise in matters of that kind. He spoke absently and rather sadly ; and Miss Susan felt that her desperate reference to her dead lover had saved her. And so, although it hurt her curiously, she spoke again of Donald. It seemed to Susan Carr, as she tried to shelter herself under his name, that he had never been so far removed, so truly dead. Far off. with dismay and pain, she saw a strange moment approaching, — a moment when she must acknowledge that her grief for Donald was dead.

Joseph Lavendar did not return to her loneliness; he only asked her, in a constrained way, did she see much of Mrs. Pendleton ? And by the bye, did Miss Susan know whether it was true, this gossip that one heard about the will of the late Mr. Pendleton ? Mr. Lavendar thought it a most unjust will for any man to make; for his part, he believed that a lady’s affections could be engaged a second time — did not Miss Susan think so ? — without disloyalty to their first object.

“ Indeed I don’t ” she said emphatically, — “ indeed I don’t! The will ? Well, I’m sure I don’t know. I’ve heard so, but of course one can’t tell certainly. Perhaps not. But I’m sure it does n’t need a will to keep one faithful ! ”

She was so flurried that Joseph Lavendar looked at her in bewilderment. “ You appear to find this subject displeasing,” he said mildly. “ I did not mean ” —

“ Oh,” stammered Susan Carr. “ I don’t want to seem unkind, but don’t — don’t! Mr. Joseph, I can’t let you. Please never speak of it. never ! ”

Mr. Lavendar rose; the color came into his face,— even his pale bald forehead was faintly mottled with red ; he opened his lips twice before he said, “ Certainly not! certainly not! I beg your pardon, ma’am.”

A moment later he bade her goodnight. and, with pursed-up lips, bowed himself stiffly out of the room.

As he went home, he hardly remembered to congratulate himself upon the fact that there was at least some uncertainty about the testament of the late Mr. Pendleton, so dumfounded and nearly angry was he at Miss Susan.

“ And she used to be so intelligent! ” he thought, almost as Dr. Lavendar might have done.

As for Susan Carr, when he had left her, she put her head down on the open pages of the book upon subsoils and cried heartily. “ And I like him so much,” she said, again and again, “ and now he is dreadfully offended ! ”

She was more worn out by the excitement of this fencing with her old friend than she would have been by a day’s tramp over her farm. After a while she dried her eyes, and looked about the silent room. Yes, it was lonely ; Joseph was right. She got up, her lower lip unsteady. and, with her hands clasped behind her, walked up and down ; once she stopped before Donald’s picture. “ It has been lonely,” she said, staring hard at the faded photograph ; “ yes, it has, Donald! ”

She did not sleep well that night; the sense of the solitude of her life was heavy upon her. Even the next morning she stopped once in her busy work about the garden, to sit down on the upper step of the porch and think about her loneliness ; her cheery face grew dull, and showed a hint of age about the lips.

“ And now, I suppose, I shall even lose the interest of the choir,” she thought; “for if Joseph Lavendar will go on being foolish, I ’ve got to give that up; I can’t be meeting him without a third person by. And Lyssie won’t be very regular, now that she has this new interest. Dear me, what an interest it must be ! ” She sighed, and stared with unseeing eyes at a scarlet pimpernel which had seized a little root-hold for itself in a crevice at the foot of the steps. She remembered, dully, that she must go down to the barn and see about putting up the stanchions for her Jersey heifer, a pretty creature who was now a mother, and so must have a stall, and put her deerlike head between the stanchions, and forget her careless life in meadows and upland pastures. Miss Susan had been greatly interested in Clover’s pedigree, and her “ coming in,” and the butter quality of the milk ; but somehow, this morning it all seemed dull and fiat. To look after a cow’s comfort, or decide on the necessity of tan bark for the strawberry bed, or point out the need of a tin patch on the corner of the corn-bin, — all the imperative interests of her quiet life looked suddenly dreary and useless.

It is a pity, for the mere human sympathy of it, that the heads of households, deeply concerned with joy and sorrow and themselves, do not oftener remember this pain which comes to the unmarried woman, — the consciousness of unimportance. Almost every unmarried woman experiences it at one time or another in her life, whether she is the necessary maiden aunt, whose usefulness can scarcely be exaggerated, but who feels the lack of the personal element in the appreciation of her labors, or whether she is that melancholy creature who solitarily eats and drinks and sleeps, and prolongs a colorless existence, ignorant forever of either joy or sorrow.

“ Nobody cares,” Susan Carr thought, with wistful but matter-of-fact intelligence. Yet she must go on building stanchions and stopping mouseholes, over, and over, and over again. Then the fresh color deepened a little in her face. If it had been possible for her to return his regard, Joseph Lavendar would have “ cared.” She sighed, and tapped her heavy boot upon the step, and rested her chin in her strong hand. She almost wished it had been possible ! “ But of course it was n’t,” she said to herself; and that made her think again of her duty to Joseph Lavendar. Yes, Lyssie would probably miss the choir-practicing, if this young Carey meant to come down often to spend Saturday and Sunday in Old Chester ; then it came to her as quite an inspiration that perhaps Mrs. Pendleton would come and sing in the choir. “ Not that she can sing.” Miss Susan reflected, “ but she ’ll be there, and I ’ll always walk home with her. Oh dear, I ought to have been more neighborly, and then I should n’t feel as though I were making a convenience of her in asking her to come.” Susan Carr got up carefully, so that her skirts should not brush the pimpernel. “I ’ll go in and ask her now,” she said.

But while she waited in the little widow’s trim parlor, Miss Susan began to wish she had chosen some other method of protecting Mr. Lavendar. She looked about her, and became conscious of the brown of her ungloved hands, and the limp lines of her woolen gown, which had shrunk in many rains, and faded to a yellow-gray along the edges of the plaits ; she felt large and clumsy, and touched timidly a hit of delicate fancywork on the table, and wondered why she did not care to do things like that.

Mrs. Pendleton’s parlor was a pretty, ladylike room ; there were canary-bird cages hanging in the windows, and there were an open piano, and an embroidery frame, and bunches of flowers on the table. And when she came in, with her delicate, hasty step, and her sleek brown hair nearly hidden under a small square of lace, and her neat black silk apron over a white dress made mournful by occasional black dots, Mrs. Pendleton seemed to match the femininity of the room ; she had all the comforting, caressing feminine ways which were so impossible to Susan Carr, but which must have made life very agreeable for the late Mr. Pendleton. She ran to get Miss Susan a footstool, and then pulled a shade down to shield the clear, strong eyes that were used to the full glare of noon sunshine in open fields.

“ How kind of you to come in, dear Miss Carr! ” she said. “ I was feeling very lonely this morning.”

“ Were you ? ” said Miss Susan, in her loud voice, which made Mrs. Pendleton wink. “Were you? Why, so was I ! I think we ought to see more of each other. Here we are, two lone women ” —

Mrs. Pendleton sighed, and glanced at her husband’s picture above the fireplace. “ Exactly. Of course I still feel rather a stranger here, though every one is so kind. Roger’s engagement to dear Alicia seems to bring me nearer to you all, — although Frances Drayton and I were great friends right off ; and Jane Dale, even if a little stern at times, is always exceedingly kind to me.”

Miss Carr never could suppress a quiver of surprise in her face when Mrs. Pendleton used thus freely the first names of persons whom she would never have dreamed of addressing so informally.

“ Mrs. Dale and Mrs. Drayton have enjoyed your society,” she said stiffly; “ and I ’m sure ” —

But Mrs. Pendleton fluttered up from her chair. “ Dear, dear! I didn’t give you a fan! ” she cried, and ran to fetch a little open-work ivory affair run through with a pink ribbon, and clattering very much when one tried to use it.

Miss Susan looked at it as though afraid that it would break in her hands, and spread it carefully open upon her brown linsey-woolsey lap.

“Yes,” Mrs. Pendleton declared, “ I ’m truly gratified by dear Roger’s engagement. But do you think dear Alicia is much like her sister ? Much as I admire and love Cecil Shore, I do hope dear Alicia is not just like her ? ”

“ Lyssie has n’t Cecil’s looks,” said Miss Carr gruffly, “ but she has some of her sister’s good points, I am sure.”

“Exactly. But I was thinking. I called on Cecil yesterday, and her little Molly — dear me! why, she never thought of obeying her mother. I hope Lyssie will — it sounds a little indelicate, but still, such things do happen, you know — 1 hope if Lyssie at any time has — I mean if — if there should be a family, 1 hope Lyssie will insist upon obedience. I really felt it so much when I saw that little Molly that I almost wanted to warn dear Alicia ; but of course it would not have been proper.”

“ It would have been premature, I think,” Miss Carr said. “ If I don’t ask her now about the practicing, she will make me so cross 1 sha’n’t do it at all.” she thought; and said, abruptly, something about Lyssie being a good deal occupied just now, and she wondered whether Mrs. Pendleton would not come and sing in the choir.

“ I ? But I don’t sing very well.” The color came into the little birdlike creature’s face, and she sewed rapidly. Then, with a conscious look at Miss Susan, she added, “ And I bn afraid it would n’t do, anyhow, for me to come ; I’m afraid I ought to keep away, considering the circumstances.”

Susan Carr grew red and hot. Not do ? Why would n’t it do? Of course it would do ! Her kind face was suddenly angry and alarmed. She remembered Mr. Joseph’s impetuosity in the stagecoach, and it occurred to her that he might have told Mrs. Pendleton his hopes. But even if he had, it was most improper in her to make any such reference.

“ Of course it will do for you to come,” she declared loudly ; “ it will be much pleasanter for us all to have you, and we really need another voice.”

“ If I thought it would n’t be harder for Mr. Lavendar? ” Mrs; Pendleton pondered doubtfully.

Miss Susan stared at her. “ I never met such an indelicate person ! ” she thought. She got up, and stood in a truculent attitude, her hand on her hip. “ I assure you, Mrs. Pendleton, your presence will be a great addition; it will be a good deal pleasanter for Mr. Lavendar, and for me too.” (“I don’t know how much she knows,” thought Miss Susan, “ but that may enlighten her as to the real state of the case.”)

“ Do you really think so? ” Mrs. Pendlcton said slowly. “ Well, then I ’ll come. Yes, I ’ll come.”

XVI.

Vigilance being the price of success, Miss Susan Carr felt that, although she had so far kept Mr. Lavendar silent, she must not relax her care ; and for that reason she named an evening when he was not in town, for a little festivity in compliment to Mr. Roger Carey, when he should come down to Old Chester to have another glimpse of Lyssie. Mr. Carey was to spend four days in town, and go away on Tuesday ; so Miss Susan sent out a number of neat little notes, requesting the pleasure of everybody’s company at eight o’clock on Monday evening.

“It is quite marked not to have it on Saturday, when Joseph is in town; he will feel the slight, and it will show him there’s no hope for him,” she said to herself, with melancholy satisfaction. To consider and protect another person is one way of creating a tenderness for him. Miss Susan Carr’s good intentions towards her unsuccessful suitor kept him constantly in her mind ; and protected her, too, from that dismayed afterthought which follows an impulsive invitation, — an afterthought which even the most hospitable have been known to feel.

Her invitation had been given on the spur of the moment, when Lyssie had told her that Roger was coming.

“ Well, we must have a little entertainment for him! ” said good Miss Susan heartily, and oblivious, as such well-meaning persons are. to the bore it might be to Roger Carey to spend one of his precious evenings in company. “ We must have a little party, Lyssie, my child. Ellen shall do some jellied tongues, and I ’ll make the cake myself. “ You will have to lend me some spoons. Lyssie, and I ’ll borrow Mrs. Dale’s punch bowl.”

Miss Carr beamed, and Lyssie kissed her and thanked her. all the pretty gratitude of youth speaking in her eyes.

“ Yes, yes, I’m going,” said Dr. Lavendar to Philip, on the afternoon preceding the social event. “ I don’t know why. I have my own home, and my books, and my pipe ; so why 1 should go and chatter for a whole evening, and eat indigestible messes, I can’t understand. Do you think Miss Susan would be offended if I went home at half past nine,

Philip ? ”

“ You must stay for the supper, must n’t you ? ” Philip suggested. You know, next to Lyssie and Carey, you are the star. Yes, I ’m afraid you must n’t leave until after ten.”

“ Well, well,” said Dr. Lavendar resignedly, “ I suppose she meant well, — Susan means better than most people. She ’s a fine woman, Philip, a fine woman, but really ” —

“ She does well, too,” Philip interposed.

“ She’s spent this whole day with poor little Eliza Todd. The baby was born this morning, and Miss Susan has been taking care of the mother and child as though she were a trained nurse.”

“ In spite of anxieties about her ball ? ” said the old clergyman, smiling and frowning. “ So the baby ‘s come ? Is Job sober ? ”

“ We don’t know. He beat Eliza yesterday, and this followed ; lie promptly disappeared when he saw what he had done. That is what I came to see you about, sir. I think it’s time this matter was taken in hand.”

“ Dear, dear ! Why, this is very bad, — really, this is very bad. How is the poor thing doing. Philip ? She’s in good hands if Susan Carr is looking after her. But it’s too bad ! ” Dr. Lavendar was greatly concerned ; he pushed bis chair back from his lathe, and drummed on the table with worried finger tips. He had been cutting a green garnet when Philip entered, and his reluctance to put his work aside was evident; but now all that was forgotten. “ Too bad ; dear, dear! ” be said.

“ What a poor, forlorn little thing she is ! ” said Philip ; “ and I remember what a nice little body she seemed when they first came to Old Chester. That Todd is a perfect beast.”

“ I never saw a beast who would n’t be insulted at the comparison,” Dr. Lavendar declared, chuckling to himself. “ Insulted — ho ! ho ! — yes, insulted. Well, women are strange creatures. Why did she ever marry him ? Brown told me — Brown married’em in Mercer — be told rae be warned the silly tiling ; told her she was a foolish woman to marry a drinking man. But she would do it, would do it. Yes, in marriage women are like kings : ‘ kittle cattle to shoe behind.’ Well, so are men, for that matter,” he ended, and sighed deeply.

He got up and hobbled stiffly across the room to a high-backed leather chair that stood by the hearth. It was cooler, on this glowing August day, near the dark cavern of the empty fireplace; it looked cooler, at least, for the soot on the chimney back caught cold, iridescent gleams from the pale light filtering down the chimney and falling on the dusty heap of ashes between the andirons. Dr. Lavendar drew a little leather tobacco pouch from the pocket of his faded dressing gown, and began to fill his brierwood pipe. “ Sometimes this question of marriage seems quite puzzling,” he said sadly.

“ I ’ve been struck by that myself,” Philip confessed, with a curious smile, “ but I must say it seems simple enough in this case. She ought to leave him.” He had followed the old man, and stood leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece.

“ What ? Leave Job ? Eliza leave her husband ? Come, come, sir, we don’t believe in such things in Old Chester.”

Philip looked a little anxious; he ’wanted to gain Dr. Lavendar’s consent to a step he was meditating, — the breaking up of the Todds’ wretched home, and the separation of the husband and wife. He knew — so great was the old clergyman’s influence in his parish — that Eliza could hardly be persuaded to take such a step without his consent.

“ See here, sir,” said Dr. Lavendar, pulling hard upon his pipe, “ you’ve come back to the home of your youth, but don’t put on airs ; don’t bring any of your wicked, worldly ideas here to corrupt us.”

“ On the contrary,” said Philip, with the affectionate impertinence of the young man who knows he is liked, “ what I ’m afraid of is that you ’ll corrupt me. In my wicked, worldly way, I had supposed we had some responsibilities to each other; but I find Old Chester particeps criminis in an attempted murder, for you’ve none of you interfered to keep Todd from attacking his wife.”

“ Interfered ? “ cried the other indignantly. "Sir, I had a conversation with Todd only a week ago. I said to him, ‘ Todd ’ — Young man, what are you grinning at ? ”

“Grinning ? ” Philip protested. “ My dear Dr. Lavendar ! But look here, ought n’t something to be done about it? For the woman’s safety,—to say nothing of other reasons, — for her personal safety, she ought to be taken away from Todd.”

“ And what, sir, will become of Todd ? ” Dr. Lavendar demanded, twinkling up at Philip with his fierce little brown eyes. “ When he is n’t drunk, his wife ’s an influence for good. And would you have her leave him, to save her precious skin ? ”

“ There is something beside her skin to he considered ; the degradation ” —

“ She took him for better or worse,” Dr. Lavendar broke in. “ Well, she’s got the worse. Let her stick to her bargain and do her duty. The only thing I wish is that she could be taught to hold her tongue. She ought to be more intelligent, and not talk to him when he’s drunk. Well, well, poor soul ! I may seem severe, but not at all; I was merely explaining. And this baby is the seventh ? We must see that she has her coal this winter.”

“ But that’s just the point,” said Philip. “ The seventh ! and there may be seventeen. And you and Miss Susan will go on supporting them. Now, are n’t you simply encouraging Todd in drunkenness and idleness, when you two take care of his family for him ? Why, as a mere matter of political economy it’s bad.”

“ Political economy ! Upon my word, Philip, I should n’t have thought it of you, — to bring economics into a question of sentiment.”

“ Sentiment! ” said Philip Shore, with a gesture of disgust. “ There ’s no sentiment in a relation like this ; it’s simply debasing to the man and the woman and the community.”

” There’s nothing debasing about it. They are married. What are you talking about ? ”

Philip hesitated, and then said gravely, “ It seems to me, sir, as shameful for a man and woman to live within the law hating and despising each other, as these two poor things do, as to live outside the law with love. That ’s why I say it’s debasing.”

Dr. Lavendar looked at him, speechless with horror.

“ One of these days,” proceeded the young man thoughtfully,“ perhaps we ’ll he moral enough and civilized enough to have the state break up such marriages. The very idea of the seventeen possible children is shameful, and a menace to the state. For what sort of citizens are they likely to be, the children of such parents? ”

“ The children are the Lord’s affair,” began Dr. Lavendar.

“ The devil’s, I should say. I tell you what it is, the human race will have to pay a high price some time for its philanthropy ; you good people who are doing your level best to keep such poor little wretches alive, and advocating their being born, are trying to secure the survival of the unfittest! ”

“ Well, upon ray word ! ” said Dr. Lavendar again, “ is it murder you want ? And you ’re a fool, sir ; you forget your Bible : ‘ Children are from the Lord ; happy is the man that hath his quiver full of ’em ; ’ and as for breaking up marriages, ‘ Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.’ I never heard such sentiments in my life. You grieve me, Philip, I tell you ; yes, grieve me, sir.”

Philip was distressed at the effect of his theories ; he would have gone back to the danger to Eliza Todd of remaining with a husband who beat her, but Dr. Lavendar insisted upon an explanation. Yet be hardly had patience to listen while Philip, reluctant to grieve his old friend, tried to explain his position in regard to separation, and his belief that divorce was a concession necessary to the present stage of spiritual evolution, and always deplorable as delaying the idealization of marriage. “ But I do believe in separation,” he ended earnestly, “ and 1 think a higher morality will demand it.”

Stuff ! ” exclaimed the old clergyman. “ You’d have people part as soon as they got tired of their bargain. How much sacredness would a bargain have if it could be dissolved for every whim ? You are advocating free love, Philip! Do you realize that ? You are advocating free love ! ”

“Well,” said Philip, “if there’s any choice between your ecclesiastical reason and my social reason for deciding upon the moment when a bad bargain should end, I must say I think the odds are with me. It’s a matter of degree ; you make another crime necessary before you will allow the criminality of a loveless marriage to end ; I say, end it because it is a crime.”

“ Marriage a crime ? ” Dr. Lavendar repeated, bewildered.

“ A marriage without love is at variance with the interests of society,” said Philip ; “ that seems to me a crime.”

“ But that is n’t the fault of marriage ; that’s because one or both of them are selfish fools! Let them try to love each other. But go on, go on,” he commanded resignedly. “ I should like to know just how lost to all moral sense you are ! ”

But Philip was evidently anxious to change the subject; he said, restrainedly, something about the curious survival of Mosaic law in regard to marriage, while in other relations of life — parents and children, buyers and sellers — it did not prevail. “ Some of those old laws have been the bulwarks of crime,” he added ; “think how they protected slavery, and burned witches, and did all sorts of unpleasant tilings.”

But Dr. Lavendar fumed and fretted, and waved his pipe at him. “ Well, never mind the Mosaic laws,— I’m sure I ’m glad you are so well acquainted with your Bible, though there is another person of perverted views who can quote Scripture for his purpose, too, — but I want to ask you one question: Where does duty come in ? Do you think we can get along without duty in this civilization you talk so much about? Young man, for eighteen hundred years the ultimatum of marriage has rested upon a divine word concerning it, and men and women have done their duty, and we’ve gotten along pretty well, 1 think. Talk about your civilization and your economics ! I tell you. Philip, you belong to this ungodly time of rooting up and casting out the things that were sacred to your fathers.” He spoke in his angry way, frowning heavily, and shaking his lean, grimy forefinger at the young man. “And another thing I want to know is, what will you do with the children when you go about breaking up families ? Don’t you see any duties to the children and the home ? ”

Philip started as though something had stabbed him. “ First of all, for the children’s sake I ’d have such marriages broken up. The living together of a husband and wife divorced in everything but word is horrible for the children. Think of the partisanship ! And when respect has ceased and love has ceased, what sort of a home does that make for the children ? I ’m not talking of gross sins now; I mean the mere living together of a father and mother who don’t love each other. Whether it’s their misfortune or their failure, or whatever you choose to call it” —

“ Sin,” said Dr. Lavendar.

— “ they ought to part just because of the children, even if there were no desire for personal integrity.”

“ I never expected to hear you say you believed in free love! ” declared the other, too irritated to answer by any argument.

“ I don’t,” Philip began. “ I only said ” —

“ Oh. you used a lot of fine words,” interrupted Dr. Lavendar, “ but that’s what it amounted to. Philip, the older we grow, the more we learn of what we call science, I tell you, the more we come back to God. And you ’ll find, when you get over being modern, that the old words, the simple words, ‘ Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,’ — words that you, in your wisdom, have discarded, — hold the eternal truth for us. Yes, sir, this civilization you are so fond of talking about rests on marriage.”

“ Indeed it does ! ” cried Philip Shore, the personal reality breaking suddenly through his merely intellectual, argumentative statements. “ My God ! a man’s salvation rests on it. Only, what do you call marriage ? ” He caught his breath, and stood silent, grinding his heel down on the hearth. “ Why, Dr. Lavendar,” he went on, in a low voice, “ what God hath joined man cannot put asunder! Trouble can’t sunder such a husband and wife, nor sin, nor misery, nor death itself, if God has joined them. But when the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eye. or the pride of life joins a man and woman, is that marriage ? If they are not sundered ” — he stopped, and walked the length of the room — “ if they are not sundered,” he said harshly, “ if they have not the moral courage to part, it is degradation, it is defilement, it is ” —

“ It is duty,” said Dr. Lavendar.

“ This question of marriage and divorce,” cried the young man passionately,

“ is the question of our day ! We must meet it, we must answer it, — some of us. But we have no appeal except to eternal principles. This is n’t a time to talk about Moses and the prophets; we ’ve got to come to the God in men’s souls, the still, small voice, the heavenly vision! Yes, that is the only ultimate word. But who has courage for it ? And if a man does n’t have courage, look at the penalty : the continuance of a lie, for expediency or decency or mere comfort, shuts him out from all spiritual possibilities.”

“ Shuts him out from spiritual possibilities ? Shuts him out ? Man, it opens the door to him, if such continuance be his duty. Philip, my boy, no priest or prophet, no Bible or liturgy, no vision upon Patmos, ever exceeded the inspiration which comes to a man from the simple doing of his duty!”

Philip, lifting his head with sudden solemnity, as though he heard a summons in the words, said slowly, “ I am sure of that.”

Margaret Deland .