Through Old-Rose Glasses

GABRIELLE felt the cool, earth-scented dawn against her face. The wondering starlight, the ghostly sand road leading off among the pines, the shadowy closed station, all bewildered her.

At dusk the evening before, she had left the crowded, lighted city, had gone to sleep and dreamed. Still in the dusk, she had been called up and left on the lonely station platform where she stood.

“ Your trunk is already in the carriage,” said the general, picking up her valise. “ This way. Miss Cameron came, Peter.”

A white-haired negro driver bowed and replied, “ We suhtainly is glad to see you, miss,” while the general helped her into the carriage.

Gabrielle did not know who the general was or why he was meeting her, until he said, “ I am an old friend of your mother’s, dear Miss Gabrielle. She was greatly admired in Virginia, and I one of her warmest admirers. Miss Sarah sent me to bring you safely to Sweet Hall. I am General Brandon,”

“ Tell me about Miss Sarah,” Gabrielle begged. “ You know I have never met her. This is my first visit in Virginia.”

The general glanced up at the paling stars, and Gabrielle caught the outlines of his face for the first time. It was thin and hard and bony, evidently worn by years, and perhaps by other things. “ Miss Sarah is an angel,” he answered concisely. “ A beautiful woman, a patient friend, a lady of the old school, gentle, refined, pure, — an angel.”

Gabrielle smiled. There was an impulse of retort in her which even the starlight could not quite subdue. “ But I never knew an angel,” she said. “ Tell me what she is like.”

“ I can’t! ” he exclaimed harshly. “ You have to know her a lifetime to know what she is like, and then you can’t tell, more than you can tell of one of those stars. It ’s a point of light infinitely above you, —that ’s all.”

The girl looked up where he pointed, wondering that he should permit himself so bitter a tone. The dusk had a faint pallor, as if the silver lining were showing itself through the night clouds. The stars themselves were silvery and faint, and they twinkled down at the moving blot of the carriage on the white road and at the even lances of the pines in rest on either side, as if they were signaling farewell. Slowly and gently one of them left its place and slipped across the sky. It would not have seemed strange if the others had followed it, leaving empty space for the day.

“ That means that some one has died,” Gabrielle murmured, — “ when a star falls.”

“I’m glad it’s not I,” the general answered. “ I 'm afraid of dying.”

“Are you ? ” Gabrielle asked helplessly. This old man seemed rather an eerie companion with whom to be watching the mysterious death of night.

“ Yes,” he declared, “ I ’m afraid. Most bad men are afraid to die.”

There was no comment possible on such a remark at such short acquaintance. It would have been idle for Gabrielle to assure him that he was not bad, when she did not know. Old Peter chirruped to the horse in away that was almost a chuckle. The breeze stirred through the pines, and the horse’s hoofs padded softly in and out of the sand.

“ I suppose you wonder at my admitting myself to be bad,” the general went on, “but this is a world in which evil succeeds. It makes its mark in more ways than one, though, and our faces show it in the end. A man might as well have it, written across his forehead, — afraid to die.”

“ Perhaps you read more in faces than most people can,” Gabrielle suggested.

“ Perhaps,” he admitted tersely. “ A lawyer should, and I 'm a lawyer. I 'm a religious man, too, " he went on presently ; “ that is, I ’m a religious man just this far : I believe in a hell where the people who miss their punishment here will get it hereafter. That ’s why I am afraid of dying.”

Gabrielle glanced sidewise at him to see if there was any suggestion of insanity in his face. She thought that either he or Miss Sarah, or perhaps both of them, must be insane, or a man who was capable of beginning an acquaintance in this way would never have been sent in the gray dawn to meet her at the station. The general did not look insane. An impartial light had stolen swiftly into the whole sky, putting out the stars, and it showed a man with a haggard face in which all the lines suggested wickedness, but it had intellectual strength which saved it from entire repulsiveness. Apparently he was talking for the relief of expressing himself frankly, as people are tempted to speak to strangers ; but he must have forgotten that she was not to be a stranger long. When they reached Sweet Hall and Miss Sarah, he might remember and be sorry. A moment of silence had fallen between them, and she broke it in the thoughtful, gently combative voice of abstract discussion.

“ Don’t you think that most people are punished in this life ? ” she asked.

He laughed with a clatter of ridicule, but no mirth, and for the first time since they had left the station he looked at her. A glint of approbation shone out through the contemptuous expression on his face, and died away. “ I am a lawyer,” he repeated, “ a successful lawyer, and I know whether people are punished as they deserve or not.” His voice fell so that Peter could not hear. “ If I were punished as I deserve, I should be hung myself, — hung for murder. Every one knows it, but I am the only one who dares say so. I have sent more than one innocent man to the gallows to clear a guilty client. Nobody in the state can arrange evidence or plead against me, and whenever I see a chance of winning my services are to be had. I have held high offices, and defied the laws which I made other people obey. I have been above the law, a law unto myself, but I’m getting old, and I ’m afraid to die. I have triumphed in this life, but there is a hell for such as me.”

Gabrielle had withdrawn her glance from his face, and was watching the little flurries of white sand scatter to left and right as the horse trotted; but she could feel him watching her narrowly, and it occurred to her that he was deliberately studying the effect of his words. With the reassurance of daylight he seemed less uncanny and more to be disliked. She turned to him again with a smile.

“ Let us think of the past instead of the future, General Brandon,” she said. “ Tell me of the old times, when my mother was a girl.”

He acquiesced with a bow. “ I was one of your mother’s warmest admirers,” he declared ; “ and now that the light is fuller, the years seem to glide away. You are your mother’s image, dear Miss Gabrielle.”

“ That is what people always say to daughters who go back,” the girl said, parrying his gallant tone.

“ You will find that Miss Sarah will say so,” he answered simply, “ and Miss Sarah’s statements are above and beyond all doubt.”

Gabrielle wondered at the conviction of his tone. He might be old and wicked and afraid to die, but he had a child’s faith in Miss Sarah. She tried to picture her mother’s friend out of the reminiscences with which he passed the remainder of the six miles to Sweet Hall; but the image was elusive, for his praise was so absolute that it was colorless. Miss Sarah was an angel, that was all, and the girl’s mind grew alert with curiosity about her.

To an angel, sis o’clock of a spring morning was evidently too early an hour for revelations. Peter opened the great hall door, and the girl passed into the loneliness of an unawakened house. An old negro woman came forward with a hashed manner, and, after greeting her, led the way upstairs. Gabrielle bade the general good-morning, and followed her. From the upper hall a soft voice spoke, flatting and twisting its vowels in a way which takes the place of a written lineage.

“ Did Miss Gabrielle arrive, Lucy ? ”

“ Yes, Miss Sarah.”

“ Come here, child.”

The upper hall was dusky, its windows curtained. Gabrielle went toward the voice, and found herself at a door held slightly open by the white intimation of a hand.

“ Has the general gone home ? ” questioned the voice behind the door.

“Yes, Miss Sarah.”

The door opened further, and a white frill with the voice inside peeped out. A slender hand clasped the girl’s warmly. “ Dear Gabrielle,” the voice said, “ it was mighty sweet of you to come so far to visit me, and I certainly do appreciate it. Go right to your room, child, and go to sleep. We will breakfast late, for you must be tired.”

The white frill brushed the girl’s face, and she was kissed and sent away. She had not seen well enough to return the kiss very accurately, but she had an impression of soft cheeks, delicately curved but thin, an oval face, and a kindly manner exquisitely finished with a reserve like the mist of cold dew on a rose. Miss Sarah’s door closed, and opened again.

“ We shall breakfast at ten, my dear, so you will have time for a refreshing sleep.”

Daylight was prying round the curtains in Gabrielle’s room. The long drive, the excitement of arriving at a strange place at a strange hour, her interest in Miss Sarah, her unpleasant impressions of the general, all combined to make her wakeful past all possibility of sleep. It seemed to her that she could not bear the slow passage of the hours till ten o’clock. She was impatient to explore Sweet Hall, to know Miss Sarah, to meet Miss Sarah’s neighbors, and to find out what their life was like.

Her mother had said to her : “ You cannot understand it till you see it, Gabrielle. You cannot imagine such endless empty days, such thin husks of life, such narrow views. You would go crazy there. I was brought up in it, and I escaped; now you want to marry Staige Gordon and go back into it without knowing what it is. I only ask you to visit Miss Sarah before you answer him.” And Gabrielle had complied, without much fear, but with great curiosity. Her mother had told her so little of Virginia that she had never come into her birthright of interest in the old state until she met Staige Gordon. He was different from any other man she knew, — more vitally alive, more earnest. He was a minister ; she had never cared much for ministers out of the pulpit, but Staige was different, — so young, so free from set phrase or any badge except his manliness to mark him as a special servant of the Lord. He had made the life she lived seem empty and purposeless, and she had only smiled to herself when her mother had said the same things of his life ; and yet, for her mother’s sake, she was willing to make this visit before she promised him. Her meeting with the general had dismayed her a little, giving her a sense of having entered an atmosphere more foreign than she could apprehend ; but she laughed at the thought of letting the strange conversation of one bad old man oppress her like an omen of unhappiness for herself and Staige.

More and more brightness came through the window, until, in spite of the curtain, the room was white with day. It was strangely bare, and affected the wide-eyed girl like a cell, a big graceless cell, from which she would not be freed till ten o’clock. She turned restlessly in her bed, and thought over the things which she had thought before. She felt her mother’s good - by kiss, and heard the whispered last words, " Think every day what it would be if it went on for years.”

There was not a book in the room. She turned again, and discovered herself to be frantically hungry ; if that went on for years, she should grow very thin. It was as if she had been sent to bed supperless for punishment, and while the hours dragged along she wondered if hunger was an affliction unknown to angels, and ladies of the old school. At last Lucy came to the door to call her, and her heart began beating tumultuously with the thought that the first day of her odd investigation had begun.

At breakfast her question about Miss Sarah’s appetite was answered ; notwithstanding the late hour, Miss Sarah did little more than say grace over her plate. She recommended Gabrielle to help herself, again and again, to batter bread, beaten biscuit, and waffles ; and when Gabrielle continually accepted, she looked pleased, but surprised.

“ Traveling always makes me hungry,” Gabrielle explained; " in fact, I ’m usually hungry.”

“ A good appetite is a great blessing, my dear,” Miss Sarah assured her. " Did you enjoy your journey down ?”

“ I slept,” Gabrielle answered. " I always sleep well on the cars.”

Miss Sarah’s delicate face grew sympathetic. “ Are you troubled with wakefulness at home ? ” she asked.

“ No,” said Gabrielle.

A smile which had once owned dimples in Miss Sarah’s cheeks gave a hasty glance across her face to see if they were still there. " It is fortunate that you sleep well,” she said. " To sleep well and to have a good appetite assure good health. Did you find the drive tiresome from the station ? ”

“Oh, not at all,” the girl answered. “ It was just dawn, you know, and one meteor fell when the stars were so faint we could scarcely see it.”

“ And the general was entertaining ? He insisted upon meeting you, though I feared it might embarrass you to be met by a stranger.”

Gabrielle was aware that all her answers were the answers of a child, but she could find no other way to speak. It seemed appropriate, too, for the four walls of the room stared at her with grim prudery out of the eyes of yellowed engravings, giving her a persistent consciousness of youth. " I was n’t embarrassed,” she said half shyly, thinking of the queer statements of the general. " I found him interesting.”

“ The general is always interesting,” Miss Sarah declared. " He is a very prominent man in Virginia. He is considered very fascinating.”

Gabrielle marveled, but dared not show it. " I think it was kind of him to meet me,” she said. “No, I really could n’t take another waffle, thank you.”

Miss Sarah dismissed Lucy and the waffles. “I suppose your mother has told you a great deal about General Brandon, my dear ? ” she suggested, folding her napkin with exactitude.

“ No,” Gabrielle acknowledged; “or at least I don’t remember, if she has. Mamma is seldom reminiscent.”

A thin flush spread over Miss Sarah’s delicately chiseled face. " My dear,” she said, with an unexpected quality of tone, which showed that, with all her sedateness, she was speaking from impulse and right out of her heart, — " my dear, it is a great gratification to me that your mother should have sent you to me. I have always half feared that she did not quite forgive me for something that happened in the past. But her letter showed all the old friendship. We had never quarreled, you know ; and although she is somewhat younger than I, we were always the most intimate of friends, yet I feared that in the depths of her heart there might be some feeling of injury or regret. But when her letter came, saying that she could not bear to have your girlhood all pass in ignorance of the old places and the life we lived, I knew that she had forgiven me. I think she must be very happy, or she could not have written so. She is very happy, is she not, Gabrielle ? ”

“ Yes,” the girl answered, with an odd little pain at thought of the double meaning of her mother’s words. “ I think, as the world goes, that mamma is very happy. I know few people as interested in their lives as she is in hers. She is sure that everything is worth while, — that is, in New York. I don’t think she has any regrets, and I don’t believe you ever injured any one, Miss Sarah.”

Miss Sarah glanced down at one of her fragile hands, which rested, trembling slightly, on the table. The fine blue veins and the slender tendons showed in it, and an old-fashioned ring hung loosely on the third finger. “You would scarcely believe it from seeing me now,” she began hurriedly, “ but except for me, my dear, the general and your mother might have married. You might have been General Brandon’s daughter.”

“ Oh no ! ” cried Gabrielle.

Miss Sarah misunderstood her little gasp of surprise and revulsion. “ Indeed, my dear, his manner makes him seem young, but he is more than old enough to be your father,” she declared. “ He is always attentive to young ladies. Did he tell you that he was coming over to take you driving this morning ? ”

“ No, he did n’t mention it,” said Gabrielle. She wondered if it was a necessary part of old-fashioned etiquette that she should have no voice in the matter.

Miss Sarah looked rather pleased at his omission, although she had evidently been pleased at his planning to be attentive to her guest. “ I presume he thought that, on such short acquaintance, it would be more appropriate for me to speak of it,” she explained. “The general is very thoughtful, my dear, and he will not forget his appointment. He never forgets,— in fact, I think he is coming now.”

She rose and went to the window. Gabrielle followed, and saw the general in a single-seated phaeton, driving a lively span of horses toward the door. Miss Sarah clasped the girl’s arm. The color came up into her cheeks and her eyes shone. “ Gabrielle, dear, don’t think me impertinent,” she begged, “but I must take care of you in your mother’s place. Perhaps she did not think to tell you that the general is very fascinating to young girls. It is because he is so attentive and chivalrous, but — but if he says anything to you while you are out driving, you must not take him too seriously.”

Gabrielle felt a shudder of alarm. It had been bad enough to drive with him when he talked of dying; his lovemaking would be more than she could bear. “ Do I have to go with him. Miss Sarah ? ” she asked anxiously.

“ Indeed, I don’t mean to keep you from having a good time,” Miss Sarah answered. “ I hope you “ll see a great deal of the general while you are here. Of course you ’ll go with him.”

The general had little to say in the beginning of the drive, and his hard old countenance seemed more evil at midday than at dawn. Lines of suffering in it, which would have gained Gabrielle’s sympathy at once if they had been in the face of a good man, only added to her sense of revulsion from him. Under his eyes there were swollen areas of purple outlined by deep black marks, and heavy downward creases debarred the narrow fold of his cheek on each side from his mouth. If his eyes had been more prominent, they would have added the last touch of repugnance to his features ; but they were deep-set, and might have suggested a soul, if they had not been too dull to express anything but illness and pain.

Gabrielle made the few remarks which seemed necessary, and then sat in silence, giving more thought to the man beside her and the woman she had left than to the lonely old homesteads which the general pointed out with brief mention as they passed. Her heart sank with a desolation which she did not understand, and she shivered and drew a little further toward her side of the seat, remembering Miss Sarah’s almost proud assurance, “You might have been General Brandon’s daughter.”

“ Do you drive ? ” the general asked suddenly.

“ Yes,” Gabrielle answered. “ I like to.”

“ Good,” he said, and held the reins across to her. “ There is more pleasure in driving. Take them.”

His hand was shaking, and a glance at his face showed all the signs of physical illness which she had ignored in it before. The veins on his forehead were swollen, and his color was congested and dark, as if he were on the point of some violent seizure.

“ Thank you,” she said, taking the reins. Her own hands were trembling, and at first she could not confront the situation. The road stretched down a long wild hillside, with no houses in sight. Behind was an empty bit of forest. The general leaned back with his eyes closed, and groaned. She bent toward him.

“ You are suffering. What can I do for you ?” she asked.

“ At the bottom of the hill — a spring,” he said. “ Drive fast.”

She nodded, and spoke to the horses. They were ready for speed, but tendermouthed, and there was exhilaration in guiding them down the rough road, with constant swervings to avoid rocks and ruts. At the bottom of the road a strip of dark mud across the track marked the overflow of the spring. The spring itself was half hidden by the rich growth which it watered. Gabrielle sprang out, hurried to the clump of green, and parted the leaves. Her own excited face looked up at her out of a shadowed hand breadth of water. An old brown gourd hung on a beheaded sapling at one side. She filled it, and turned to hurry back.

The general was hanging at the side of the carriage, one foot on the step, one hand grasping the dashboard, and the other clinging to the supports of the carriage cover. Before she could reach him or call out, he sank heavily to the ground between the wheels. She dropped the gourd, and, running behind the phaeton, lifted the back of it round so that the wheels could turn without passing over him; then she led the horses away, and tied them.

The general followed her motions with his eyes, and when she filled the gourd again and came back to him, he was able to say, “ Vertigo — my head.”

She poured water over his forehead and hair, and, taking him by the shoulders, drew him on to the grass at the roadside. After that she saturated the linen lap-robe at the spring, and wrapped it round his head. His hands were cold. She chafed them, searched through the carriage, found a heavier lap-robe, and covered him with it. Then she stood and looked down at him.

As long as there was anything she could do, she had worked with little thought except to take as good care of him as she knew how. His slight weight had seemed easy to handle, and she had moved him with no consciousness of his personality, just as she had swung the carriage to one side without being aware of its weight. But now he and his illness became gruesome to her. The fear of death which he had confessed was in his eyes, and a horror of his darkened face and struggling respiration crept over her and surrounded her, as if she had suddenly begun to feel the pressure of the atmosphere, from which there is no escape. The sensation got into her throat, so that she could scarcely find her voice, but, commanding it, she stooped and asked if she should go for help.

“No, it is passing,” he said. “Stay.”

His eyes implored her with the last word, so that she took his hands again and rubbed them ; but the tenderness of the action did not change her sense of being held against her will. His illness seemed like part of the moral degradation which she felt about him. She believed that she should have felt it if he had not declared it to her himself, and she wondered if Miss Sarah, with her exquisite refinement, could be as ignorant of it as she appeared.

Not a wayfarer came in sight of them. The white clouds drifted silently above, and somewhere in the distance a mourning dove cooed, with insistent repetition of its hopelessness. The horses strained back and forth to the limit of their tether, cramping the phaeton until the wheels scraped against the guards, and kept looking inquiringly toward the general. Once one of them whinnied.

The general’s hand closed sharply on Gabrielle’s. “ I shall die like this some day,” he whispered. “ I shall die and go to hell. Don’t you see why I 'm afraid ? ”

The girl’s nerves recoiled ; he was aware of it, and he pulled her hand closer to him, though she had not tried to withdraw it. She had to lean a trifle nearer, while his eyes held hers by their revolting fear of being left alone. She could not speak to reassure him ; she would scarcely have spoken if she could. The moments passed in an intense abhorrence which turned her white and haggard. A vision of herself as another person came to her, and a shudder of pity crossed her face.

The general saw it, and his grasp relaxed a little, though he still detained her hand. “ You are sorry for me,” he said weakly, “ sorry for a bad man fearing death. But I am much better now ; soon we can go on. You have been very good to me, and very brave. You are your mother’s image, dear Miss Gabrielle. She feared nothing.”

The girl followed an unexpected impulse in her answer. “ Miss Sarah tells me you were very fond of my mother once,” she told him.

The old man smiled. “ Your mother was charming. I was one of her warmest admirers,” he declared in the set phrase which was part of his code of compliment. “ I have been fond of many women at many times, but only of one woman at all times, dear Miss Gabrielle.”

“ Miss Sarah ? ” Gabrielle asked.

“ She is an angel,” the old man said softly,— " like a point of light infinitely above me, like a star ” —

Gabrielle looked away. She had seen the tears gathering in his eyes. He was silent a moment, and then his hand tightened again on hers. “ You will not tell her,” he pleaded. “ This is nothing, only a passing vertigo, but it might alarm her, and she could scarcely pardon me for giving you such an unpleasant experience, — such an unsuitable experience for a young girl. She had intrusted you to me for entertainment. I felt ill, but I had no thought of anything like this.”

Gabrielle could see his haggard soul in his eyes, and she felt sure that something deeper than his fear of Miss Sarah’s displeasure at the turn her entertainment had taken was pleading for secrecy. “ Of course I shall say nothing about this,” she assured him, “ but I think you ought to tell her you are feeling ill. She is such an old friend.”

“ No, no ! ” he answered sharply, pushing the wet cloth back from his forehead, and rising to his elbow. “ I am Miss Sarah’s suitor. It would be taking advantage of her sympathy.” His arm shook as it supported him, but his face was determined. “ We will drive on. I am well enough now,” he said. “This will all pass. I have had a touch of it before, and I know. The air is what I need. We will take a long drive, and by dinner time I shall be myself. You are not afraid to take a ten-mile circuit with me, round by Lochinvar, to save Miss Sarah from alarm ?”

“ For Miss Sarah’s sake,” Gabrielle answered, with a smile, thinking of Miss Sarah’s warning. The general had evidently passed the time when he could be relied on to make love to all young girls, but it was terrible to think of driving with him ten miles further. She helped him into the carriage, in spite of his protest that he should be helping her. The horses pawed eagerly as she untied them. The general leaned back against the cushions, weak and a trifle dizzy still, and did not talk. Gabrielle gave her attention to the horses, and tried to keep herself from consciously loathing him. She felt as if she had taken the skeleton out of somebody’s closet, and were driving with it. And this was Miss Sarah’s lover, and too chivalrous to tell her he was ill. She wondered upon what footing he and Miss Sarah stood.

Gradually her thought wandered from these strange old lovers to her own life, in which love wavered in the balance against the loneliness of which her mother had told her, and which she realized now as she rode beside the general through the silent country, meeting only negroes and curious-eyed, unkempt white people who could never be a part of her life. And yet it was unfair to judge of the queer old country without Staige. Staige, with his vitality and purpose, could bring any place to life, and the very loneliness which her reason counted against his cause had an opposite effect upon her heart. Here of all places she felt that she needed him. Thinking of him seemed to protect her from the general’s presence, and all the way round Lochinvar she played with the fancy that he was sitting between her and the old man with the ghastly face.

The days passed slowly at Sweet Hall. To Gabrielle their unbroken aimlessness was not plausible. They were all like dreams in which the dreamer is conscious of unreality, although the knowledge of the general’s concealed illness hung above each hour like a threat. Time and again he quitted Sweet Hall abruptly, with such a look as had preceded his attack, and, until his next visit, Gabrielle watched every figure that approached along the road with a certainty that it was a messenger bringing bad news.

Miss Sarah, all in ignorance, talked of the general’s odd fascinating ways, and exerted herself to provide other social life, in order, Gabrielle felt, that her young friend might not become too much attached to him. Two maiden ladies and a broken-down college student drove across from Lochinvar, and asked Gabrielle over some afternoon to play croquet. The clergyman from a cross-roads chapel called, and two girls, third cousins of Miss Sarah’s, came from their homes, twenty miles distant, and stayed three days. There was a ball in Sweet Briar, the little railway town, and although Gabrielle would not let the general and Miss Sarah take her, for fear it would tire them, the discussion of the question was an event in itself. Gabrielle wrote home about it. When excitements crowded very close in the daytime, the Sweet Hall ladies went early to bed ; and when the general came in the evening, to play dummy whist, Miss Sarah and Gabrielle took a nap next day. Gabrielle was amazed at the facility with which she learned to take naps, when other entertainments failed. Something favorable to napping pervaded the air. The people she met all spoke of taking naps, and sometimes, when she looked out across the green, sun-warmed hills, she caught the whole landscape taking its beauty sleep under a half-visible spring haze.

One morning after Peter had been to Sweet Briar for the mail, Gabrielle came dancing into Miss Sarah’s room with an open letter in her hand. She was blushing with pleasure, excitement, and a certain shyness, and she looked at Miss Sarah half appealingly.

Miss Sarah folded the sheets of the county paper she was reading. “ You have news, my dear ? ” she asked. She often said that Gabrielle wrote and received more letters than any one else she ever saw, — “ certainly more than any other young lady,” she would correct herself, thinking of the probable magnitude of the general’s correspondence.

Gabrielle was transformed to childishness by her news. She gave a joyful swoop, and kissed Miss Sarah on both cheeks. “ Oh, I ’m so happy, — so happy ! ” she cried. “ I have a letter from Staige Gordon, and he ’s coming. Only think of it, he ’ll be here this afternoon, and I suppose I ought to meet him at the train.”

“ Meet him at the train, — Staige Gordon ? ” Miss Sarah gasped out of a sea of bewilderment. “ Not Staige Gordon of Gordonsville ? ” She got her head out of one wave only to have another break above it.

“ Yes, Staige Gordon of Gordonsville ! ” Gabrielle cried. “ Do you know him ? He ’s coming this afternoon, and do you think it would be wrong if I asked the general to lend me his horses to drive to Sweet Briar and meet the train ? Peter has been once, you know, and Job must be tired. The general is sure to be over before time to start.”

“ Sit down, sit down, my dear.” Miss Sarah was smoothing out her dress, as if to have it in more correct folds would soothe her mind. “ You speak so rapidly that I don’t quite understand. Is Staige Gordon an acquaintance of yours ? ”

“ An acquaintance ! ” the girl echoed frankly. “ Why, I’m jumping up and down and clapping my hands at the thought of seeing him. He ’s a very dear friend.”

Miss Sarah gasped again. “ My dear,” she protested, “ if people were to hear you speak so unguardedly, they might think — why, I don’t know what they would think.”

“ I suppose they would think I am very fond of him,” the girl said. “ and I am.”

“ But surely,” Miss Sarah insisted, flushing a little, “ you would not wish people to know — why, I reckon that even if I were engaged to a young man I should hesitate — I should fear people would consider me indiscreet or unmaidenly ” —

Gabrielle saw the whole refined, reticent, repressed, insincere life of the oldfashioned maidenly maidens exemplified in Miss Sarah’s shocked face. She had never realized before how far her own ideals varied from those of the women a generation older than she. It hurt her a little that she had shocked Miss Sarah, not so much because she disliked being misunderstood as because it was painful to Miss Sarah to misunderstand. Her manner lost the exuberance which the thought of Staige’s coming into that lonely place had given her.

“ Why, Miss Sarah,” she said gently, “ can it be unmaidenly to show that one likes a man who is worthy to be liked, particularly if he has sought one’s friendship ? ”

“ There are little ways of showing favor,” Miss Sarah answered, “but to go about revealing one’s liking openly is certainly indiscreet; and — and do you not shrink from the idea of it, my dear ? ”

“Not at all,” said Gabrielle. “Women and men are both human; I don’t see why a girl should shrink from liking a man unless there is something repulsive about him, — some coarseness or wickedness.”

Miss Sarah drew back perceptibly from the mere words. “ Don’t, my dear,” she protested. “ A young girl like you knows nothing about the wickedness of the world. It is better for you not to think of it. As long as a girl keeps her maidenly reserve she will never admit a man to too great intimacy, and if his intentions are serious, her parents can inquire into his habits. And as for your meeting a young man at the train, I could never permit that, my dear.”

“ But why not ? ” asked Gabrielle. “ I meet so many of them every summer, when we are in the country, you know.”

“ And your mother permits it ? ” Miss Sarah’s face was troubled.

“ Why, of course she does. Sometimes they are to be guests at the house, and I take them home ” —

“ Your mother must have changed very much,” Miss Sarah interrupted, “ and perhaps in the North it is not misunderstood ; but Staige Gordon is a Virginian, and if you were to meet him at the train he would consider it an unbecoming advance ; and so, even if your mother permits it at home, I cannot permit it here.”

“But, Miss Sarah ”— Gabrielle wanted of all things to see Staige alone, and she felt as if she could not wait for the slow formalities. She dropped on one knee beside her friend, and lookedup,half laughing, half pleading, into the frail old face which made her think of one of those exquisite miniatures in which all the lines glide imperceptibly beyond beauty into attenuated grace. “ Staige will not misunderstand,” she declared. “ He knows our ways, and perhaps you will think differently when I tell you that he wants me to marry him.”

“You are engaged?” Miss Sarah asked.

“ No-o,” said Gabrielle. “ I’m thinking about it. I feel now as if he could help me think.”

Miss Sarah smiled, and the smile turned wistful as she looked into the girl’s face, seeing a little beyond its frankness into a sweet reserve just changing into confidence. “ It is strange,” she said more sadly than she knew, “ it seems natural for most women to look forward to marriage, but I could never bring myself to consider it.”

Gabrielle understood, but she could not reach out impulsively, as she would if Miss Sarah had been less timid. They were silent a moment, the shy, repressed older woman unconsciously envying the girl who dared to take her womanhood in full, and yet was broadly human quite as much as womanly. Gabrielle was first to speak: —

“ It’s all right, then, for me to meet him, is n’t it ? ”

Miss Sarah came out. of her musing. “ Why, my dear,” she said in agitation, — “ why, my dear, if he is your suitor and you have not accepted him, you certainly must not meet him at the train. It pains me to refuse you anything, but I should feel very remiss if I let you go. Peter can go again, or perhaps the general will go himself. Neither the general nor I have seen Staige since he was a little boy, but we shall both be pleased to meet him again. The Gordons are related to the Brandons, and of course the general will ask Staige to stop with him. It will be much pleasanter than at the hotel in Sweet Briar.”

“ And much closer, too,” said Gabrielle. “I’m glad of that.”

“ My dear ! ” expostulated Miss Sarah.

The girl laughed. She could not be repressed when Staige was coming. Staige would make her sure again that life is for the living in all places. It had scarcely been fair of her mother to send her down to judge of modern conditions in a spot which chance had made the loneliest in the state, robbing it of its young people, and preserving it from contact with the world until all its old maids and bachelors and widows had fallen asleep.

The general had not fallen asleep, to be sure, but he was likely to at any time, and for long. He was looking very ill, yet he entered at once into the project of meeting and entertaining Staige, when Miss Sarah decorously intimated it to him, and he showed an old man’s alertness in regard to love affairs, with an old beau’s affectation of jealousy. It was hard to convince him that Staige was more than nineteen ; yet when he expressed a mournful resignation at the prospect of sharing the ladies of Sweet Hall with a younger rival, it was evident that the difference in their ages did not strike him as very great He begged Miss Sarah and Gabrielle to save him one or two smiles a day, and when he set out for Sweet Briar he kissed their hands. Gabrielle had never seen him so gay, and she and Miss Sarah had never been so full of repartee. She wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. The observer in her saw it all as such a pathetic spectacle, and the starved youth in her was so happy.

The carriage returned at last, but Gabrielle found that even happiness could not quite overcome the embarrassment which she felt at meeting Staige, with Miss Sarah looking on, ready to be horrified at too much cordiality, and the general watching like a hawk for something to joke about. Miss Sarah was painstakingly careful to say nothing which would mark Staige as a lover, but the general was anxious that he should be branded past mistake. Gabrielle had never heard jests so alarmingly personal, so evidently intended to make selfconscious sweethearts blush and writhe.

Staige did not seem disconcerted, and once his eyes sought hers, full of laughter, and she realized that he understood the general’s lightness better, and was more prepared for it, than she. He had probably been teased in this way about every girl in his congregation, and was used to it. The thought pained her. It took from his dignity.

When the mid-afternoon dinner was over, relief finally came in the form of a discussion between the general and Miss Sarah in regard to a date which was quite out of Gabrielle’s and Staige’s memory ; the sun, too, went down just then in a cloud of glory which required witnesses, and Miss Sarah thought there was excuse enough for sending the young people out into the garden, where they could talk alone.

“ You will find it like the garden of Eden,” the general said as they started out. " One thing grows there which you must not bring back to the house.”

“ What is that ? ” Staige asked. " What are we forbidden ? ”

The general laughed, but there was a curious undernote in his voice. “ Bleeding hearts grow out there,” he explained. “ Don’t bring them back.”

Miss Sarah blushed faintly, though only Gabrielle was looking at her. “ The dicentra is a flower that is very much admired,” she said.

The general turned and lifted her hand to his lips. “ It is so much admired that we pick it whether we would or no,” he answered.

A silence which had loitered all through the brilliant sunlit day, waiting patiently for twilight in Miss Sarah’s garden, came forward to meet the two young people as they went outdoors. They walked down a box-bordered path, and between blossoming lilacs, syringas, and calacanthus, standing in crowded groups, with their perfume around them like a special atmosphere ; and, as they walked, they wondered what would be the first word they should say. Then they came to beds of lower-growing flowers, and in one of them was a great clump of bleeding hearts.

Gabrielle stooped and lifted a long stem which had curved over until the bright unbroken flowers at the tip were almost on the ground. Her own heart was torn by many thoughts. Doubts which she had believed Staige’s coming would silence rose in her, unanswered. Even the sweetness of the garden would be hard to breathe, if it were to last for years. Staige bent toward her, but she must not let him speak.

“ Tell me,” she said, — “ everybody here knows everybody else, — tell me about the general and Miss Sarah.”

Staige straightened himself, feeling as if he had let a moment which he needed slip out of his hands. “All Virginia knows their story,” he answered. “ The general has been courting Miss Sarah for thirty-five years. They say he proposes to her once a month, and she would miss it sadly if he stopped. There was a time when he held the love of half the girls in the state in his hands, and he threw it all away to reach for Miss Sarah’s. He has never tired of reaching for it, because it is never within reach, — that ’s all.”

“ And yet she loves him,” Gabrielle said,— “I know she loves him. But how can she, — how could all of them, — when he seems so horribly evil ? ”

She spoke with an earnestness which made Staige feel as if the question of the general and Miss Sarah had some bearing upon his own life. “ You must remember,” he said almost sadly, “ things were very different in those days. They are very different down here still. You can scarcely understand. The old-fashioned idea was to bring girls up in a sort of shy ignorance. They did not know that wickedness meant cruelty and uncleanness and selfishness. If they heard that a man was bad, they were not repelled from him, because they did not know what badness really means in any form. It was all a mystery, and so it fascinated them.”

“ Yes,” the girl interrupted, “that is Miss Sarah’s expression. She says the general is ' considered very fascinating.’ It has seemed to me the strangest word for him ; and sometimes, when I see her eyes resting on him in such a shy, pathetic way, I feel like crying. It ’s so pitiful that any good woman should not know some better fascination than that. And yet, when she can look at him so, why does n’t she marry him ? ”

Staige shook his head. “ I don’t know, but perhaps it is like this,” he suggested. “ She may have an instinct which takes the place of knowledge, and keeps her above her own ideals. She is flattered by his devotion, and she loves him, and yet the pure soul in her unconsciously holds aloof ; she thinks it is just ' maidenliness,’ but perhaps she would never have felt so if the general had been a different man.”

“ But all those other girls,” Gabrielle urged. “ They were ready to marry him. Is it true that my mother was one of them ? ”

“ Report says so,” he told her. “ It scarcely seems possible when one thinks of your father ; but perhaps her memory of Virginia would be pleasanter exeept for that.”

Gabrielle lifted a quivering face. " Perhaps so,” she said; “ but even without that, life would still be the same. People would still think that sleep was activity ; ignorance, virtue ; and insincerity, reserve. Miss Sarah is sure that a hundred things which make up my daily life are wicked, and yet she shuts her ears to all the wickedness the general boasts of, and her eyes to all that his face tells. I begin to understand why my mother said ‘escaped.’ ”

He looked at her as she stood tremulous among the flowers, and the fear of what her words might be foretelling to him rose choking in his throat. He was too unprepared to plead with her, or to tell her what his life was as he saw it; he had told her long ago, and he had thought she understood, — that this trial was a mere form. He stepped closer; but when she saw his face the tears came up in her eyes, and she stooped again, groping for the bleeding hearts.

He caught at her aim. “ Don’t pick them,” he begged hoarsely.

“ Would n’t it be better to pick them now than afterward ? ” she whispered. “I — I don’t think I can face it, Staige. I believed I could when I came, I believed it this morning when I heard from you; but now, someway, the thought of the long, repressed years — you are so much better than I — you can do it for your work, for the hope of helping people, but I — I am afraid of all the people telling stories of the past. And to think it would n’t be for a little while, but for all our lives; that is the awful part, — for all our lives.”

He took his hand from her arm and stood silent, his pride pierced to the quick by realizing how much he had asked. She still searched blindly among the flowers, her breast rising and falling with quick, noiseless sobs, and he could not take her in his arms and comfort her, because she dared not face his life. The insistent sweetness of the garden swayed around them, and the sunlight left the tips of the tall pine trees behind the house. It was one of those torturing pauses which are too sad to put an end to, because after them follows the full, unending sadness of the years.

After a long time she faced him once more. She had expected that he would speak. " Can you forgive me ? ” she asked.

“ I wanted you to sacrifice too much,” he said. “I did not know. You must forgive me.”

“ Don’t,” she begged sharply. He seemed to have gone further from her than she thought he could with so few words, and she saw that he would not be like the general. He would never ask again.

He glanced toward the house. " Shall we go in so soon, or walk a little farther ? ” he questioned.

“ I can’t go in yet,” she said, and so they walked on through the importuning of the twilight; the dew distilled around them, and out of the slowly fading glow in the west the evening star began to shine. At the foot of the garden they turned to retrace their steps. It was startling to see how near they still were to the house, — they had gone so far.

“ There is another thing,” she said, wavering. “I — I can’t go back to where I was before.”

“ Gabrielle ? ”

“ Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know yet! ” she cried. “ I must take more time.”

The house door was flung open, and Miss Sarah called in a voice as sharp and terrifying as a shot. Without a word they ran to answer her. She stood on the porch, bending a white face forward into the dusk. Her hands were locked together in front of her, to hold her quiet till they came.

“ The general ! ” she cried, as Staige bounded up the steps. “ The general! ”

Staige and Gabrielle ran past her into the parlor. Shadows filled it, but a sound of heavy breathing guided them to the general, lying on the floor. Staige struck a match, and its flicker showed them the limp figure, the darkened face, and the fixed, unconscious eyes. Gabrielle hurried away for lights and cold water. Peter and Lucy and the cook were huddled together in the dining room, drawn by Miss Sarah’s scream, but too much frightened to come farther. She gave them directions and hurried back.

Miss Sarah had come in, and stood near the general. “ We were talking, and he grew — agitated ” — she said, “ and suddenly he fell here at my feet.” She wrung her hands, and then buried her face in them, giving way to loud sobs. “I — I felt — as if I had struck him down,” she gasped pitifully, for her calamity had shattered the reserve which was as much a part of her as the oldfashioned primness of her dress.

“ Staige will take the general’s horses, and go with Peter for the doctor,” Gabrielle said, and drew her to a seat. “ Peter does n’t dare drive them, and Job is too slow. I know what to do until the doctor comes. You must not be frightened. He may be better very soon.” (She turned back to Staige. “ You must go,” she told him in a lower voice.

“ I have seen the general almost like this before, only Miss Sarah does n’t know. There is n’t much to be done except to get the doctor, and you will drive faster than Peter. He has gone to get the carriage.”

“ All right,” Staige said. He gave a questioning, hopeless glance at Miss Sarah, and left the room.

Lucy and the cook came in with a mattress, and laid the general on it. Gabrielle bound his head in wet cloths, and raised it with pillows ; she had the women bring warm irons for his feet and chafe his hands. He continued to breathe with a heavy labor which made his unconsciousness seem brutish and horrible. His face photographed itself on the girl’s mind, and she knew that it would haunt her in moments of morbid weariness, appearing out of the dark when she longed for sleep ; Miss Sarah’s sobbing completed her sense of chaotic disorder and desolation.

She went to Miss Sarah and put a hand on her shoulder. “You must stop crying,” she said. “What if the general were to come to, and hear you ? It would make him worse again.’

Miss Sarah controlled herself a moment, and looked up through the dimness of her tears. “ Will he get better ? ” she asked.

“ I don’t know,” Gabrielle answered. “ We can only wait.”

The older woman slipped to her knees, and bowed her head on her clasped hands. She was trembling violently and sobbing harder than before, and in broken, half-coherent words she began begging God for the general’s life. Gabrielle stood by her side, hurt by the necessity which made her hear, inexpressibly pained and sympathetic, yet tingling with the consciousness of the torture which would burn Miss Sarah’s cheeks some time when she remembered. Through the broken apology and petition, she learned that the general had taken the time when she and Staige were in the garden to press his suit again, and Miss Sarah had again refused. There seemed to be no reason except the intangible one that she preferred his friendship to any closer relation, and she explained to God that the general had often said that it would kill him if she kept on refusing, but she had thought that it was only a part of his chivalry. This time he had cried out sharply, “ You are leaving me to die alone,” and had fallen at her feet. She huddled herself close to the chair, gasping and spent, while Gabrielle found the tears running down her own face, it was so terrible a thing to have happened to Miss Sarah. The colored women working over the general began to sob, and one of them prayed softly, begging the Lord to listen, and not leave her little mistress with a broken heart. Miss Sarah found articulate speech again, and in sharp moans, wrung by mental anguish out of physical exhaustion and suffering, she promised to marry the general if God would let him live. Gabrielle left her and stood by the general, finding his oblivion less hard to bear than Miss Sarah’s convulsive pleading.

“ What a strange thing it is,” the girl thought, “ that she is willing to grant to him dying what she would never grant while he lived ! ”

She knew of nothing more to be done for the general, and she could only wait, — wait with an awed feeling that she was in the anteroom of the great chamber of decrees. Within it God sat in silence, pondering his answer to Miss Sarah’s prayer. The beautiful dim night which breathed through the windows was his council room, and this small lighted space, crowded and audible with suffering, was no greater, compared to his domain, than the time of a single life is to eternity. But it was very terrible. Her thoughts went back to the city, — another, larger waiting room, with lights and hurrying figures, laughter, anguish, cries, timid innocence and faithful wickedness, — it was all the same as here, with the great thoughtful silence on the other side the door ; she could not straighten out the puzzle of it, but she saw that the small activities of her existence in the city would be no better a refuge from the solemnity of life than Miss Sarah’s wakeful napping in the middle of the day. She had told Staige that she could not face his outlook, but perhaps it was all life that she shrank from, having had time in the quiet weeks to look deeper than ever before into its mystery.

The general’s breathing grew easier. Lucy touched Gabrielle, calling her attention, and she knelt beside him. His eyes were conscious, and haunted by the knowledge that he had been near to death.

“ Miss Sarah will come to you,” she said softly. “ She will never leave you.”

Miss Sarah hurried across the room, but paused, swaying, as she met the general’s eyes. For a moment their imploring only made her remember that she would rather be his friend.

“ You promised,” Gabrielle whispered tensely, — “ you promised God.”

Miss Sarah drew her breath with a final sob, and pressed one frail hand tight against her heart. “I — promised,” she murmured, and, dropping on her knees, she passed her arm under his head. Her soft wet cheek pressed his. She glanced up, wondering if the room and her old self could see, then bent again and kissed him. Death would part them soon, but in the sweetness of the moment lost peace came back to the general’s face, and lost youth to hers. Gabrielle’s heart seemed breaking as she left the room.

The white driveway led from the house, and she followed it. At the gate she paused, and held her head between her hands. Tears coursed down her cheeks, but she could not tell why she was crying. It was so strange and sad and holy just to live that every nerve quivered, and flashes of understanding kept the pulse in her temples struggling like a bird beating its wings. She tried to brush the tears from her eyes and look up at the big kind stars, so full of perfect knowledge and of calm ; but the stars blurred, and she bowed her head. A pause of weariness came to her, and through the hush of thought she heard a far-off rhythm of hoofbeats muffled in the sand. She did not stir, but her thought timed itself to the distant measure, and a cool air dried the tears upon her cheeks.

The sound grew closer and closer. She could not break the suspense by looking to see how close, but stood with her head bowed, waiting by the open gate. Wheels creaked through the sand. She heard Staige’s voice, and looked up. The foam-flecked horses reared beside her, checked suddenly. Staige jumped from the carriage, and Peter drove on.

“ The doctor was gone ; he ’ll come as soon as he gets home,” Staige said. “ I hurried back to help ” — There was dread and question on his face.

Gabrielle took a step toward him. “ The general is better, Staige,” she began tremulously, “ but — oh, Staige, I have been waiting so long.”

Mary Tracy Earle.