When Least Aware
THE one passenger who had just quitted the fast disappearing train stood on the old platform and looked wonderingly about her. Of station proper there was none. A long, low, open, dilapidated freight shed, with a caboose-like room stuck on at one end, rows of peach baskets, heaped-up fruit crates, a pile of fresh-hewn lumber, — these were what Helen Boscath saw. There were no loungers, no vehicles, no signs of habitation even; and, but for the timely appearance of a conciliatory dog, she would have feared that there had been some mistake. Miss Boscath herself never made mistakes. It had been her fortunate privilege to find life easy and all prepared to her hand. Metaphorically speaking, she had traveled from Dan to Beersheba, from Europe to Cathay,everywhere, indeed,that an affluent young gentlewoman may travel with perfect comfort to herself, without the shade of a mishap, the hint of an adventure. But adventure, like Happiness in the fable, may sometimes stay at home.
Where there is a dog there is, sooner or later, his master, and Miss Boscath waited perforce for the master. He came hurrying out of the dingy little waitingroom, struggling into his coat as he ran, — a young countryman, whose face showed gaping surprise. He stared at the lady, and she, with an inevitable reflection of his expression in her own, stared in return.
“This is Bendon’s Cut, is n’t it?”
“Yes’m,” was the reply.
Miss Boscath breathed freely. “What time, then, does the up train leave for Garnock ? ”
The man looked blank. “The up train? Why, it’s gone, ’m.”
“Gone?” she echoed vaguely, and instinctively turned towards her own vanished train.
The man, whom she perceived to be the station-master, was much more perturbed than she. “You see,” he faltered apologetically, “You ought to told the conductor you wanted to get off here; for the train don’t always stop, ’cause there’s so little passenger travel this way. Then, if this train’s late, as its mighty apt to be, owin’ to the freight, the conductor stops the Garnock train on the siding a mile out, and lets the passengers for it off there. You’ve passed the train without knowin’.”
During this explanation Miss Boscath became all serenity again. “Well,” she said, with a finely detached air, yet with a certain peremptoriness of tone, “when does the next train go ?”
The man looked from her to the dog, then back again, and, with lowered voice, as if it were a secret, murmured, “ 7.40 tomorrow morning.”
But Helen’s beautiful eyes never lost their habitual tranquillity, as she said perfunctorily, pleasantly, but with utter unconcern, “What, then, shall I do?”
For there had always been people in her life to do things, to find ways and means, — there might be delays, but never deprivations. She laid a kindly indifferent hand on the shabby little cur’s head.
The late August atmosphere was golden. Through the trees came level sunshafts neck and neck with the shadows of trunk and bough, and the woods’ stillness was like a profound embrace. Over all and through all there was a feeling of life’s superabundance, of life at its height, at its cresting flood, straining at bounds, ready to break through and fall, in she knew not what torrents of power, beauty, change. She had that curiously thrilling sense that, given another moment, and everything must change. The sensation was new, and, for the instant, it held her.
“ What shall I do, then ?” she repeated carelessly.
There was no immediate answer, and, looking questioningly at the man, she found him regarding her in open dismay. “Lord knows, lady; I don’t!” was his final reply, in a tone that so touched her sense of humor that she laughed.
“Is there no hotel, then, inn, or lodging-place near here?” she asked encouragingly.
Her spark of laughter evidently troubled him still further.
“Lady,” he said solemnly, “you don’t take it in; there ain’t any ‘here.’ ‘Bendon’s Cut’ is just nothing. It was meant for freight; and that’s ’bout all it’s used for. Wa’n’t your ticket for Fairview Junction? Most people go that way. You ought to’ve spoke sooner,” he added dolefully.
For the first time Miss Boscath had, as the phrase is, to do her own thinking. “But surely there is some decent farmhouse where I can pass the night. Have n’t you a home and some womankind belonging to you ? ” — then, seeing his embarrassment, — “any accommodations will do,” she said sweetly.
The color rose in the young stationmaster’s sunburnt, freckled face. Speech was difficult; but after what seemed to the lady an extraordinary pause, he stammered, “I know, ’m— we coidd ha’ done it, and we’d love to. But you see, Miss, the baby came this mornin’. My wife, she was turrible sick for a while, so sick that Mother thought we ought to send for her mother. My buggy — it’s all I’ve got — ’s gone now, and won’t be back till midnight. Mother herself is sleepin’ in the parlor, — but you’re just as welcome; we’ll try to make you comfortable” — He stopped. The pride and joy of fatherhood, the sense of mortal peril faced and safely passed, evidently rushed over him and lifted his plain young face into ecstasy. Again Helen felt that new thrill, and had that inkling of life’s Protean nature. She was drawing very near to the heart of things, she thought, to the elemental humanity common to us all, and wondered that never before had she had so complete a sense of that nearness.
At this moment was heard the rumbling of wheels from a vehicle hidden by the freight shed. As if inspired, the station-master bawled, “Uncle Ben, aw, Uncle Be-en! ” The rumbling ceased, and a decent old colored man hurried forward.
“Ben, is Mr. Miles at Rosedene?”
“Ya-as, sir; he’s goin’ to be there a fortnit come Chewsday,” replied Ben, looking at the lady in friendly amazement.
“This lady’s missed the train,” said the station-master, anxiously.
“I was going to Garnock, to General Winnefield’s,” explained Miss Boscath carelessly. “ How far is that from here ? ’ ’
“Oh, that’s twenty-five miles as the crow flies,” said Ben, with a discouraging head-shake. “It’s more’n half a day’s ride; and it’s sundown now.”
For the first time there came to Helen Boscath some realization of the predicament. She drew a quick breath, and looked vividly about her. The lateness of the hour, the day’s decline, the wood’s loneliness as well as stillness, struck home as she remembered that she was a woman, young, beautiful, and unprotected. It was not pleasant to be thrust suddenly back upon the sharp edge of sex, and to be made to feel its insufficiency. From the two men in front of her Miss Boscath for the instant recoiled; and it was in a different tone that she again asked: —
“Then what shall I do?”
“Mr. Miles will know,” said the station-master confidently.
“Missy, could you wait till I bring him over? It’s on’y ’bout five miles,” said Uncle Ben, in the sweetest, most matter-of-fact voice imaginable.
Miss Boscath looked almost helpless. “I hate to keep you,” she said, turning to the station-master, “but I — yes, I believe I’m afraid. I could n’t wait here alone, you know.”
“I would n’t have you for the world,” was the prompt reply, “and I’m goin’ to see you through, safe an’ sound, no matter what comes. You’re welcome to the best we got; but I just know it ain’t what you’re accustomed to,” —
“Why, good Lord, Mr. Charley,” swept in old Ben, bland rebuke and injured surprise in his manner, — “I’m goin’ to take the lady over to Rosedene, an’ I’m on’y studyin’ how to get the carriage over here, or her over there, seein’ it’s late. Missy,”turning winningly to Helen, “I reckon you never rode in a peach-wagon. ’T ain’t so slumberin’ as an ox-cart; we drive four mules to ours, an’ they just go. I got two clean coffee sacks for your feet to set on, an’ if Mr. Charley will lend me the cushion off his ole cheer, I reckon you might make out. All our quality childern round here has ridden some time in a peach-wagon.”
Miss Boscath’s semi-European education did not cover a knowledge of coffee sacks as footrugs, nor of a peach-wagon and mules as an equipage; but the pleased, relieved look of the station-master’s face encouraged her, so she expressed her thanks and willingness to go.
With the dog for company the two men left her for a moment, and then returned to escort her to the peach-wagon. Old Ben carried her bag and umbrella, Mr. Charley her coat, while the dog ran and wagged before. She looked in politely concealed dismay at the queer slatted vehicle she was to ride in, and into which both men helped her to climb. A clean pine board had been laid across as a seat, and on it was the borrowed cushion. This latter evidently troubled old Ben.
“My, my, Mr. Charley,” grumbled he, “cyan’ the Railroad Company afford somethin’ better than an ole rag leakin’ its insides out? ’Tain’t, fittin’ for a dog to set on, let alone humans,” and he vigorously punched the exuding hair into the split leather covering.
Mr. Charley murmured an apology; and Helen, glad to meet her willing helpers half way, said, “Oh, it will do very well!” and sat promptly down upon it.
The station-master climbed up beside Ben, the dog jumped in behind, the old man gathered up the reins, and the four dapper little mules were off.
When one is ten years old a five-mile ride in a springless peach-wagon is a delight; at twenty-nine it is a question of good-humored endurance, and Miss Boscath had not gone far before feeling that for her it would be the latter. The road was excellent, but the jogging would have relieved, as it is said to do, the most confirmed dyspeptic.
Speech was infrequent. The two men exchanged at long intervals a desultory remark, but as Miss Boscath did not address them they did not feel at liberty to speak to her. Old Ben’s silken courtesy, deferential without servility, impressed her as different from anything she had as yet known; while the free, opulent kindness of the young countryman in prolonging his absence from the sick wife and newborn child, in order to provide first for her bodily comfort and ease of mind, touched her to the quick. She had thought that the sense of obligation could never be quite pleasant, but there was a sense deeper than any mere personal feeling in being the recipient of kindness so generous and complete. Her eyes, fixed intently on the young man, drew his own. He had been sitting rapt, a little pucker of anxiety on his brow, a half-smile on his lips; but now, as he caught her sympathetic look, he breathed deep, and said, involuntarily, “It weighs ten pounds.”
Old Ben, with one of those unreproducible African sounds of wonder and admiration, half turned in his seat, while Miss Boscath said, “ Have you thought of a name ?”
“My mother, and hers, too, is named Mary; but my wife, she’s laid off to call it Myrtle.”
Miss Boscath was evidently expected to give an opinion. “How would Mary Myrtle do, then, Mr. — ? I haven’t the pleasure of knowing your name yet.”
“Jones, ’m; Charles Jones is mine.”
“Mary Myrtle Jones, then, seems to go very well, if your wife should like it, Mr. Jones” —
“Call me Charley, ’m, — everybody does, Charley’s good enough for me. If the dogs could speak, I reckon they’d call me Charley, too. Seems like I get around better on ‘ Charley ’ than I do on ‘Mr. Jones.”’
“Law, Mr. Charley, you ought n’t to feel shy with your own name,” remonstrated Uncle Ben.
“ Oh, it ain’t that! ' Mr. Jones ’ is like Sunday does; you don’t really mind ’em, but you don’t want to ’less you have to,” explained Mr. Charley cheerfully.
“I suppose you have lived here always?” ventured Miss Boscath, by a happy inspiration divining that the “personal note” is the natural note of the race.
“Born an’ raised right here, in this very county,” was the proud reply.
“And you, too, — Uncle Ben?” she asked sweetly. She hesitated slightly before uttering his familiar title, for her acquaintance with the colored people was theoretical, a gleaning from the printed page.
“Ya-as, ’m, ya-as, Missy; I come out of the Taskerville family; an’ we all b’long right here, ’ceptin’ those that b’long on the Jeems River.”
He said this as if all the world knew of the Taskerville family.
“You were, then, I suppose, a” — she wondered if he would mind — “a slave ? ”
“Of co’se,” was the serene reply. “ Law, Missy, ’t wa’ n’t nothing else to be ’less we’d been poor white, which was worse. But ’t was all one to me. I was raised right along with our white childern, same eatin’, same mindin’, ‘ Duty to’a’ds God, an’ duty to’a’ds my neighbor.’” The old man chuckled softly.
“The on’e’est time ole Marster ever whupped me was when he really whupped Mr. Miles. We ’ticed away Uncle Zeb’s coon-dogs with a piece o’ cheese, an’ went coon-huntin’ Sunday afternoon.” Uncle Ben shook with the rich, compressed laughter of his race. “Lordy, Lordy, hope I may die, if we did n’t have fun! But ole Marster was layin’ for us when we come back, an’ he lit into Mr. Miles, an’ give him three times three; first, for disobedience; second, for Sunday-breakin’; third, for settin’ me, one o’ the young slaves, a bad example. Ya-as, ’m, he whupped him good.”
“And then he whipped you?” asked Miss Boscath earnestly.
“No, ma’am, he never teched me.”
“But I thought you said he did?”
“He did n’t exac’ly lick me, Missy, but late that evenin’ he caught me sneakin’ up the back way with a plateful of apple dumplin’s for Mr. Miles, who was shut up in his own room on bread an’ water. Missy, ’t was a bigpie-plate jam-full. An’ ole Marster made me set down right there with that pie-plate on my knees, an’ eat every las’ drap o’ that dumplin’ with the silver spoon I’d nabbed off the suppertable. Ya-as,’m, that’s what he did. I would n’t ha’ minded a trouncin’, but I do think ’t was a mortal shame to spoil a body’s appetite for apple dumplin’, an’ I ain’t never cared much for apple dumplin’ since. G’long!” Ben slapped the reins down on the mules’ backs, and put them to a faster trot.
Miss Boscath was silent. She did not know just what to say, just how to respond to the old man’s reminiscential joy; and it occurred to her that your true cosmopolite is one who can meet another on that other’s own, and best, ground. Evidently, then, with this regard she was not a cosmopolite, and she wondered how far she fell short of so desirable a completeness.
The windless air was full of an exultant odor of ripened life. When the hard white road dipped suddenly, nature would close quickly in with its leafy shadows and sense of approaching night; or when the road rose on some height, nature would fall away to show in wide rich fields, plentiful orchards, oak - studded woodland, while beyond —
“Are those mountains or clouds, there to the southeast ? ” asked Helen.
“Missy, that’s the Blue Ridge, — surely you’ve heard tell o’ them,” said Uncle Ben solemnly.
“Yes, I’ve heard of them,” said Miss Boscath, smiling. She rested her eyes on the mountains so softly outlined, so wonderfully blue. Why is it, she thought, that the mountains cause such a feeling of expectancy ? And it gave her a thrill of joy that she had the feeling. It seemed a warrant of youth, an earnest that for her there was still the unforeseen, a something to happen. For her life was surely nearing its flood, but was not yet at the flood. The Veiled Power which is about us had still something in reserve; and never had it so come home to her that life was like a picture which did not yet compose, a melody half caught, a message whose meaning was not yet plain.
She sharply roused herself. Was not her unusual feeling the result of her unusual adventure ? Was not she, Helen Boscath, on her way to a strange house, convoyed by two strange men, neither of whom she had ever seen until within the hour ? Was not she chancing the courtesy and good will of utter strangers, vouched for by a young, socially ignorant countryman, and an old negro ? What would her world say, or rather, what would it not say ? And she smiled at the thought.
“Did you get that white drake you were talkin’ about, Uncle Ben?” asked Mr. Charley with interest.
“ I did n’t buy none; Mr. Miles gimme one, an’ two Berkshire pigs he fotched me from the fair,” answered the old man.
“Do you raise pigs?” asked Helen in surprise.
“Naw, ’m, I raise hawgs, Missy,” he returned sweetly. “Miss Amelia says there ain’t no bacon like mine. I started with five acres that Mr. Miles gimme, an’ I got thirty now. Mr. Miles’s been like a father to me,” he added fervently.
“He must be a Nestor — your Mr. Miles,” said Helen lightly, thinking with relief of the old patriarchal ex-master, a fit counterpart to the old, kind ex-slave.
But Ben looked shocked. “No, ma’am, he’s ’Piscopal, like all of ’em, an’ a vestryman in the church.”
“Oh, I only meant that he was wise, and learned in the world’s ways, and could take care of himself and others.”
“Yes, ’m, he’s all that; he’s a friend to all who need friendin,”’ said Mr. Charley heartily. “He got me my place with the railroad. You’ll be all right, lady, when you get to Rosedene and Mr. Miles. ’ ’
“An’ Miss Amelia,” added Ben quickly, in a tone which showed a wider acquaintance with conventions than his faded blue jeans and shoestring hat would have betokened; and it occurred to Miss Boscath that the old man, probably a lifelong familiar in a family of standing, was more conversant with social observances than she had deemed possible. She felt the more inclined to accept and trust the unknown hospitality which awaited her.
“Here’s our woods gate, Missy,” said Ben, as he at last turned in from the road; and then they drove through the chill, odorous dusk of oak, chestnut, and maple, along a winding avenue which ended in closely planted cedars and Lombardy poplars. The sun had set, but the light from the zenith fell in a soft shadowless flood upon lawn and house. This latter impressed Miss Boscath as being very open and still. Doors and windows were flung wide. It was just the usual colonial house, however, a two-storied square main building, with pillared portico rising to the roof, and low flaring wings.
Helen’s heart beat as it had not done even when she was presented at Court. She had prefigured how things would be, whom she would meet; but still she was by no means sure, and it is uncertainty which has its zest. For the first time it came to her that in her multifariously easy life nothing had ever happened — all had taken place. She had been rather too numbingly certain beforehand of just what would be. Where had she seen the phrase, “a goldfish bowl existence”? Evidently she belonged to the goldfish gentry, and she was one of these pitiful little fishes now suddenly tossed into a running stream.
“Wait a minute, Missy, till I fotch a cheer for you to step down on,” said Ben brightly, “an’ then I’ll go get Mr. Miles.” He drew up before the portico, swung nimbly out, ran up the steps into the hall, reappeared with a chair, and, before Helen could hesitate, she was out and standing on the ground. From the foot of the half dozen low steps she could partly see into the wide hall with its open door at the further end. Just then some one came suddenly from one side, and paused in the doorway. Projected thus against the light, Helen saw him on the instant, a gentleman, young, personable, dressed in linen, and with a flower in his buttonhole.
“Hi, Mr. Miles, is that you, sir” —began Ben; but before he could finish Mr. Miles was down the steps with hand extended. “You missed the train, of course? That always happens unless one knows this haphazard road. And Ben naturally brought you to us. I always tell him that his head just matches his heart, which is one of the best in the world.”
Helen never knew whether he took or she gave her hand. Her confusion went over her like a breaker; but when she had emerged, as it were, she found herself in the hall, with a vague consciousness that her host had led her up the steps, that his hand was hard as iron, and its grasp unconsciously strong.
“I rejoice at my good fortune,” she was saying, “in finding such kindness as Uncle Ben’s, and such consideration as yours.” And to her own ears the speech sounded wretchedly “set” and formal. Evidently it belonged to the goldfish bowl, not to the running stream. The stream would take much for granted, would take freely, she fancied, and would expect to be taken freely in return.
“But — but — I thought” — she faltered — “ from what Uncle Ben said, that Mr. Miles would be his contemporary.”
The young man smiled. “His contemporary, the Miles of a by-gone generation, fell in the Valley campaign. He was my uncle. He is the hero of Uncle Ben’s youth, and much-vaunted memory.”
“And you are Mr. Miles, too ?”
“Miles Smallwood, at your service.” The perfume of courtesy in his voice and bearing made the old-fashioned phrase a commonplace.
“I am Helen Boscath.”
There was a pause. Catching the intensity of Smallwood’s gaze, Helen wondered that it should be also wistful. But there was about her a finish, a rich and full effect, which suggested the unattainable. Her unmistakable beauty, dark but with blue eyes, the fine lines of face, head, and shoulders, the perfection of her dress, as fitting as the bark to the tree, — all gave Miles Smallwood a tingling sense of values he had never before reckoned with.
“I fancy you were on your way to Garnock, to General Winnefield’s,” he said.
“Yes, and Mrs. Winnefield — Laura — wrote me that if I would get off at Bendon’s Cut, and take the train for Garnock Station, I should find the drive to Garnock Hall particularly fine. I never dreamed that it was necessary to speak to the conductor. But how did you know I was bound for the Winnefields’?”
“Oh, beauty and fashion are wont to rally there,” he answered lightly. “Mrs. Winnefield, the General’s young, pretty wife, has her friends coming and going: you are evidently of them, — you talk like them.”
“And how do I talk?” asked Miss Boscath, wondering.
“Well, your speech suggests linguistic abilities, — there is a sibilaney of the s, an Italian effect to the r. If not somewhat de-Americanized, like Mrs. Winnefield, you are perceptibly Europeanized.”
“Would you have us, then, wholly American ? ”
“What is it to be ‘wholly American,’ — something compounded of every man’s best ?”
Miss Boscath bethought herself. She had scarce met the man, and already they had reached the “personal note.” Could two country bumpkins have done better — or worse ?
At this moment a soft, shuffling step was heard, and old Ben came back with a lady, a tiny, bent figure which came slowly forward.
“My grandmother, Mrs. Taskerville,” said Smallwood formally. “Grandmother, this is Miss Boscath: we shall have the pleasure of her company until she can go on to Garnock.” He took his grandmother’s hand, and guided it to Helen’s.
“I am glad to see you, my dear; or rather to have you with us, — for I can scarce see.”
Miss Boscath took the little shriveled hand, light and soft as down, in unconscious silence. Polite platitudes were impossible, for the creature before her was so old that she inspired Helen with awe, — so small, frail, exquisite, that Helen caught her breath. The delicate, withered face was like a translucency for — what ? — the soul ? Surely all the finest issues of life were made manifest by the ineffable expression of this old, half sightless face, which had a beauty of perfected living, of perfected adjustment to spiritual ends, such as no mere youth, however physically lovely, can ever show.
“I am happy to be with you, to feel your kindness,” faltered Miss Boscath.
The intensity of Smallwood’s gaze now affected Helen, and her eyes turned involuntarily to his. He stood as if on guard, as one who has been obliged to disclose a treasure, and is rightly jealous of an idle sight of it. His eyes were monitory, yet questioning. Did the stranger recognize the treasure? Was Helen’s own womanhood sufficiently affined to this rare womanhood beside her for her rightly to estimate it? Had she, indeed, that subtle power of appreciation which is the only true appropriation ? She entered, at all events, into his feeling, if she could not have formulated his thought; and she felt that whatever Smallwood might, or might not, know, he had at least known the noblest heights of womanhood, and that such knowledge had had a vital influence upon his own life. Like a dart of white light the thought flashed through her mind of how great would be the compliment of this man’s regard.
“Ben, take Miss Boscath’s bag upstairs,” the old lady was saying. “You will find Crecy there, my dear; and you will excuse me, for my impaired sight makes it hard for me to get about.”
Helen followed Ben mechanically, and found herself presently in a huge bedroom where an elderly mulattress was arranging an armful of towels on a rack. The worn mahogany furniture, notwithstanding bulk and quantity, yet left the room looking rather bare. The walls were wainscoted half way to the ceiling; above the wainscot Miss Boscath had her first view of fresh whitewash, and, accustomed as she was to the immaculate, it nevertheless impressed her that this generously sized room was wonderfully neat. Against the uncompromising whiteness of wall, ornaments and pictures stood startlingly out, and her attention was immediately caught by an old German print hanging above the carved wooden mantel which, by the bye, was higher than her own tall head. The picture, yellow with age, represented the death of Clorinda, with Tancred kneeling beside her. The fineness of the engraving, its quaint anachronisms, and depth of artistic feeling, so pleased Miss Boscath that she enlivened her toilet-freshening by prolonged consideration.
When the tea-bell rang she went quickly down, and found Mrs. Taskerville and Smallwood awaiting her. Smallwood had his grandmother on one arm, and he offered Helen the other; she took it, and they went out to tea. The table was bare, in what to her was a French fashion, with mats under all the plates and dishes. Ben, in full regimentals, white jacket and apron, and his “best pants,” waited. Could Miss Boscath have overheard a little colloquy in the kitchen, she would have fully understood.
“ You goin’ to wait to-night, Uncle Ben ? ” asked Aunt Filly, the cook.
“If the Lord spares me,” grimly returned Ben. “S’pose I’m goin’ to let that white trash at Garnock get ahead o’ Rosedene? Not much! English butler — huh! That foreign lady’s quality clean through: says ’Uncle Ben’ just as natural! So you tell Crecy to get out the green India, the bigges’ napkins, an’ the old carafes, an’ I’ll ’tend to ’em. An’ tell that triflin’ nigger, Clem, not to lay his finger on a blessed thing. He’s clumsier than a bear gettin’ over a brush fence.”
So the best things were duly set out, and Ben — himself of the best — waited. There was still light enough to dispense with lamps, and Helen had full benefit of color, polish, shine, mellowed by long gentle use.
As they talked, Miss Boscath incidentally told a little something of herself, of her life abroad, her journeyings, her ignorance of this part of the country. She “placed” herself, delicately as unmistakably, for the benefit of her host and hostess — she thought it “due” them, — yet could not tell whether they really appreciated, or even quite understood, her doing so. Within certain limits they seemed like simplicity itself, and yet it dawned on her that the freedom of intimacy might be as rigidly withheld as was the freedom of hospitality plenteously given.
“Miles, before the light fails, I want you to take Miss Boscath out and show her the Rosery, the old pride of Rosedene, the origin of the name,” said Mrs. Taskerville sweetly.
“ Certainly,” answered Smallwood. “My grandfather’s grandfather,” he continued, turning to Helen, “when he received the grant for this land, found, back of where the house now is, a shallow ravine full of wild roses. Hence the name; and, in the enchanted times before the war, Rosedene’s famous Rosery was rather a brag of the country side.”
“I should like to see it,” said Miss Boscath, “but why do you say ‘enchanted times before the war?’”
“Because the myth-making faculty of the South has begun to work upon it, and, like Falstaff’s men in buckram, it loses nothing by time and distance. Every farm has become a ‘place,’ or a ‘plantation ; ’ a half dozen slaves are now magnified into an army of feudal retainers; everybody then rolled in luxury, and supped off gold plates.” His smile faded. “The glory of the South doesn’t lie in the past and in foolish fictions concerning it, but in the present, in the way the South has accepted hard conditions, and is bending her strength to the task of fulfilling them, — the strength that comes of suffering” — He broke off, and glanced towards his grandmother.
When they went back into the hall, a log was smouldering in the fireplace, and Smallwood put the old lady into a sheltered spot before it. Miss Boscath noted his solicitude, and caught the quality of his tone as he said, “Had n’t you rather that we stayed with you?”
“No, I want you to show our company something of the old place,” she persisted earnestly.
They therefore went out together, across a wide lawn where sheep were nibbling, and passed by a slender opening through a wall of osage orange into the rose garden. In dimensions it was after all a modest spot, set formally with box, inclosed on three sides by the osage hedge, while the fourth, declining into the little ravine, was left free as of old, to the wild roses. In the middle of the garden was a sun dial, and beside it a much-marred statue of Psyche. They walked at first in that restful, unconscious silence of instinctive affinity and comprehension.
“I like a garden that is n’t too trimly kept, " said Miss Boscath presently. “ Nature should be allowed some liberty, license even, — should be guided, not repressed.”
“Yes,” said Smallwood absently, “ I ’m trying to bring the whole thing back by degrees. I don’t like renovations that are too startlingly new, so I try to keep everything together and toned down.”
‘“The whole thing?’”
“The place generally. — it came to me mortgaged.”
Unconsciously Helen scanned him. He was but little taller than she, so that their eyes were nearly on a level. His strong jaw and heavily moulded lips, sharp-cut on the edges, were balanced by an unusual sweep of brow and somewhat deepset, sagacious eyes. While not strictly handsome, he was memorable, she thought, which is better.
He responded to her close scrutiny by a smile, saying, “Oh, the world is always well worth the price of admission, — you evidently think I must have had a rather hard time.”
She colored a little, — “The price of admission ?”
“The toil, hardships, pain even; the hope, often denied, always deferred; the ambitions foregone; the aspirations — Well, it costs nothing to aspire; and who grudges the toll of a heartache to his ideals!”
He spoke lightly, as one who flings his meaning on the winds according to the hearer’s apprehension.
“Your philosophy is cheery,” said the lady.
“It’s the general philosophy of a working world, which mustn’t stop for selfpity or regret. I’m no better than my peers — the workers generally.”
“Then it has been a little hard ?” Her voice was as soft as the wind in the mimosas.
“It would have been ‘hard ’ if I had n’t overcome.”
“Ah, but you have overcome, then ?”
“I’m in the way of it.”
“But you have done the thing you could rather than the thing you would?” She seated herself on Psyche’s pedestal.
Smallwood rested an elbow on the dial and leaned towards her. “If I gave you the details, would you furnish me with a brief for complaint?”
She hesitated; then fixed her lovely eyes on him. “I’m afraid that, like Mephistopheles, I like my mouse alive; like life warm from the lips of those who really live — and you are one of them. ’
“Then, with all your seeing, books have thought for you ? ’ ’
“That would be to admit that I haven’t the ‘experiencing mind. ’ But, partly, yes; women have to take life at second hand, you know.”
“And do you regret this law?”
Her smile was alluring. “Not when I may have my mouse alive, my story direct.”
Smallwood drew a deep breath. “Are n’t you afraid of inciting me to the egotism of the self-made man?”
“But you are not self-made?” She spoke with surprise.
“In a measure, yes; in one sense, no. Science has a hard task to strike a balance between environment on the one hand and heredity on the other. But I hold to our country proverb, that ‘there’s more in the breed than there is in the pasture.’” There was a pause.
“ Do you smoke ? ” suggested the lady.
“No,” was the unsoftened reply. And to her it was suggestive of small economies rigidly practiced, of small personal indulgences unflinchingly eschewed.
There fell a longer pause. The hour when, above all others, time seems to stand still, the softened light, the dusk stealing from every leafy covert, the scented stillness —
Smallwood brushed his hand across his face as if to dispel illusion.
“When I want a thing, I want it, oh, so much!” said the lady gently.
“And do you think I don’t want a thing, ‘ oh, so much ? ’ ” demanded Smallwood almost sharply. He roused himself and stood straight beside the dial. “Who are the bravest, the most hideously rash, — what is it that makes men rash, Miss Boscath ?”
His voice might mean either jest or earnest, but it sent her blood coursing.
“Death, and the unattainable,” was her immediate answer. For the temptation to “dare” him a little was well-nigh irresistible, to try her woman’s wit, her power of perception, as against his plenitude of man’s life, — to try the strength of the tide, — she turned sharp from the thought, and looked away from him.
Smallwood set his teeth. “ You are the finest audience man ever had,” he said half ruefully, — “butafter ?” Then without giving her time to reply, “But let’s pretend that this is death and the unattainable, and that there is no ‘after.’ ”
Miss Boscath drew her breath. It is one thing to feel the strength of the tide; quite another to be borne down by the current. Her heart beat. Hitherto it had always been her vanity which had agreeably pulsated. A moment ago she would not look at him; now she could not.
“ Well, where shall I begin ? ” He flung the question lightly, in a tone which instantly restored her confidence in herself and him. He had gone to the other side of the dial and was now leaning with his arms crossed upon its top. His eyes and mouth had the look of one who has gathered up the reins, and has himself well in hand. No man, she thought, was less likely to prove a fool than this one, seeing that idle spendthrift of his emotions he evidently was not. He might have his moment of divine madness, but the moment would not be evocable at her, or any woman’s, will. She rather blushed for herself.
“Where shall I begin?” he repeated.
“At the beginning,” she returned, smiling.
“Then I’ll begin with the Centennial. I was twelve years old that summer, and grew up, as children sometimes do, unknown to their elders. I had a half-fare excursion ticket given me, and with a cousin two years older went to Philadelphia under the care of the conductors. We saw everything, but I always remember the Centennial, as it were, through thin slices of Bologna sausage and an arm-long roll of Vienna bread, for we lived on that fare for five days. We had cots under the stairway of a cheap hotel from which we sallied forth in the morning to return at night. That was my first introduction to Life spelled with capitals,” — he made a gesture — “and it will always remain writ large on the pages of fancy.” His tone changed. “My father died that winter, my mother the following spring; my grandmother was thus left with me, my two sisters, and this heavily mortgaged home. Every cent went to pay the interest, and the question was, how were we to be educated. The summer I was thirteen I became agent for a lamp which I sold through half a dozen counties, and saved the proceeds. At sixteen, I was agent for some sewing machines. At eighteen I taught school for the six winter months, and for the other six I pasted or painted advertisements on every telegraph pole and farm outbuilding between here and tidewater.” He smiled grimly. “So, by working a year, and studying a year, I won my degree at the University and also at Princeton; and for the last seven years I’ve worked this place regularly, and been principal of the old academy in town here. My removes of fortune have been constantly for the better. When I was a mere kid a neighbor gave me a lamb. This I tended till it became fine Southdown mutton. Then I exchanged it for a pig. I tended piggy till he became a prize porker; then I swapped him for a calf. My calf I raised to a heifer, and traded her off for a colt. The colt proved unusually good, and as a three-year-old I traveled him up to the Hagerstown Fair, and sold him to a circus man for one hundred and thirty dollars. For years he was ‘Osceola, the Equine Wonder;’ and his rider, who figured in sawdust life as ‘Monsieur Xenio, the Unsurpassable Bareback Artist,’ was in private Mike Mulvey, a warm-hearted Irishman. I used to go to the circus every fall in order to see Oscie and his rider, and always found them flourishing.”
Miss Boscath’s eyes asked an irresistible question. “I’m going to throw manners to the dogs, Mr. Smallwood, and be plain woman. Do you mind telling me what you did with the money ? It rounds the story, you know.”
“I put a new roof on the house.”
“Forgive me,” said Helen confusedly.
He laughed frankly. “That’s nothing. ‘Plain woman’ will do for all ordinary occasions of life; gentlewoman for the extraordinary; and for the extremes — the reticences, silences, blindnesses, and oblivions, — a lady.”
“Your grandmother taught you that.” The soft swift words were like a bird’s dart.
“She showed it to me.” It was the return dart. Each paused, with the effect of wheeling away.
“But if you’re a soft-hearted fellow like me, Miss Boscath,” pursued Smallwood, “it’s terrible to trade in live things. It rent my heart to part from my poor tame sheep; but the night I sold my horse I wanted to he down and die.”
He started violently, then checked himself, and stood tense against the dial. It was not so dark but that he could see the sudden glitter on her lashes, the winning pity of her eyes, the faint quiver of the silent lips. He raced on, to gain time, to overtake himself.
“So this is the simple tale of my moving accidents by flood and field. And as for finding life hard — well, one thing done at a time and to the full, and life is never hard.”
She smiled: “I could not wish your life different seeing that its outcome is so — interesting.”
The word was evidently a substitute, not to say subterfuge, and she looked at him to see how he would take it. Smallwood frowned. “It is more than my deserts to have entertained a lady’s idle hour.” His bearing was proud, his tone mocking.
From wistfulness her look changed to entreaty, for she could not but divine that he had unclasped somewhat of the tables of his heart. She regarded him intrepidly. “You have not entertained. You have filled with thought, which is food, a — what you would call — an empty, objectless life.”
Their eyes met, an endless, elemental moment in which neither could look away. The swallows circled black against the west; the cheep of a homing bird fell to them from the near distance; close at hand the lone cry of the whip-poor-will seemed to shut them in; a star or two had trembled slowly out. Smallwood strode suddenly forward to offer his hand, but Miss Boscath rose lightly to her feet without help.
“You have n’t told me the lettering on the dial.” She spoke as if she had been running.
“The lettering?” he looked about vaguely as if forgetful of time and place. “Oh, it’s a dog-latin couplet which in English runs: —
The Minutes are his wings, —
Then climb with those and fly with these
To better, higher Things.’
I tease my grandmother by calling it a Watts Hymn.”
She made no rejoinder, and then in silence they walked back to the house.
The lamps were burning in the hall, and Mrs. Taskerville in her accustomed place sat knitting. Smallwood, excusing himself, went out, and left Miss Boscath free to look about her. The chintz coverings were old and faded; the ceiling — and walls where not wainscoted — needed repainting; and much of the tiled hearth was broken. In contrast to the heavy old furniture there were light wicker chairs and tables scattered about, and a tall clock ticked in one corner. Comfort and economy were equally evident. Helen went closer to the mantel to look at the carving beneath. It represented Indians singly and in groups; a white man lay bound, with his head on a huge stone, while beside it knelt an Indian girl with her arms flung out above him.
“ Heavens!” said Smallwood gayly behind her, “don’t you recognize Pocahontas and Captain John Smith?”
“Of course I do,” returned the lady almost indignantly. “I was only admiring the size of the boulder on which John’s head is laid. But it’s really very spirited.”
“ Is n’t it ? — and done by a local woodcarver famous in my grandfather’s time for his mantels.”
Miss Boscath took a seat near Mrs. Taskerville, and Smallwood sat down by a reading-lamp. The truthful light flooded his strong, work-hardened hands, and revealed mercilessly the quality of his ready-made linen clothes.
“Tell us something of what you’ve seen, my dear,” said Mrs. Taskerville with interest. “We quiet folk like to hear of the world’s doings.”
Helen glanced at Smallwood.
“Perhaps we all like our mouse alive,” he said significantly.
Thus encouraged she told one little incident after another, and, memory warming to its work, she was soon launched on a pretty stream of pleasant recollections. She discovered that she had a traveler’s pack, and that there was pleasure in unrolling it. Her own world said always the same things, just as it went always to the same places, so that there was not much inducement to compare notes. She addressed herself almost pointedly to Mrs. Taskerville, yet felt that Smallwood was her true listener. As she talked she realized that never before had she made so full, single, and wholly personal, an impression. She had been sought, of course, but there had been other considerations, — her wealth and social prestige. She could give much, and well understood that the self behind the giving had never been the sole motive. After all, her world was one of barter, however adroitly and prettily the truth might be disguised. But while she thus talked, there crowded to her mind trains of vivid thought very different from those she vocally presented. What, after all, did the life she was retailing amount to ? Was it a Barmecide feast, all seeming and nothing real? Life, for her, had been so superimposed from without, so carefully prepared and sifted, that she wondered whether it had not come near to being dangerously sterilized. The verb “ to live ” can never take the passive form, but of herself, she thought, it would be truer to say, — She is lived. And quite irrelevantly it flashed upon her that it is soul and mind that grow up on the instant, in moments of grave responsibility or of keen emotional revelation.
She wished that the man under the lamplight did not sit so still, as if he were drinking in all she had to say: interest such as this could only be justified to itself by a corresponding interest on her part, — was she prepared to return the debt in kind ? The trappings of her life seemed to fall away. The Seven League Boots of — what ? were carrying her — where ? Books had thought for her, true; but she had also thought for herself, and she well knew why. For the first time she was tempted to tell what had been, to her, a deeply significant episode. Frankness for frankness, why should n’t she disclose something of her life ? Why should n’t she doff her usual conventional self, and enjoy a moment of reality ? She had been asked a question, — why not answer it with another?
Turning suddenly to Smallwood she said, “You asked me, ‘Who are the bravest, the most hideously rash ? ' Question for question, — What is the greatest and surest of touchstones?”
Was it actually her own voice which put that telling question? Smallwood started violently; then sat rigid. But his amazement was not more evident than his swift comprehension. The Protean quality which she had felt in outward nature now seemed transferred to her own inmost being. Surely, she thought, the greatest marvels lie within. She was conscious of gathering herself up, of putting forth all her powers. She had been given the outlines of a life, — she would retaliate in kind. For Helen well knew why her world believed her ambitious, given over to a fine, quintessential worldliness; but she was now tempted to see how some one else would interpret that episode. She caught her breath.
“Speaking of these foreign marriages, something came under my own observation,” began Miss Boscath easily.
“One day, some years ago, a young girl found herself engaged to — a — a Count Onofrio. I say, found herself; for she could n’t disentangle the processes either then or later. There were meetings, — always in the crowd of relatives and friends, — there were compliments, flowers, confetti, the usual thing,” —
Helen’s fine voice, full of its “linguistic abilities,” was impersonal enough, but Mrs. Taskerville let fall her knitting, while Smallwood gripped the wicker chair arms until they creaked.
“Thegirl took the count’s arm at balls, he danced with her often — in silence, though — they never talk to young girls over there; and Count Onofrio was too well brought up to try to talk, even to an American; he would n’t have expected it of himself.” Miss Boscath laughed softly. — “But somehow the girl knew he liked her; he waited for her, watched for her, and so” — Helen stopped.
“Oh, this sort of thing is like smile for smile, — we all know about it; — the girl smiled back,” said Smallwood carelessly.
“The count’s courtesy was like velvet; his compliments like pearls; his beauty like that of some rare cameo, and as unchanging.” Again Miss Boscath paused. “Influences were put in motion, however; there were undulatory effects of the emotional atmosphere. In Latin countries when such affairs are well and properly done, they are tremendously involved. But one day it seemed to the girl as if all his family waited upon her family, and Count Onofrio, by proxy, laid his heart and hand at her feet. It was all very effective, very Italian — full of color, harmony, action.”
Smallwood changed his position. “Love is equality,” he said coldly.
Miss Boscath turned and faced him fully. “Precisely; ' self-judged, like Freedom, does it go to meet its doom;’ but that conception does not exist, I fancy, among the Latin races. Oh, there are abysmal differences of consciousness between races, as between individuals! However, the girl took the heart and hand; I don’t know why, unless it seemed the — proper thing to do, because not to do it would have been an anti-climax, awkward and ugly. Acceptance fitted; refusal did n’t.” Miss Boscath sat a moment musing. “It is n’t always the first step that counts,” she pursued presently. “ The girl’s father was the least exacting of mortals, yet he somehow always made himself felt. One divined that he penetrated, and was seldom deceived. The girl’s stepmother adored her as only one woman can adore another. Well, it was the girl’s father who first dropped a tiny ruffling pebble into her little artificial Italian lake of romance. A day or two after the engagement he said, with whimsical gravity, ‘It’s not really the child who wants the moon, you know, but the father who always wants the moon for his child. I thought your particular moon, however, would have been a different kind of cheese. I thought you would have demanded more of life, would have shot more than three arrows.’
“ ‘ More than three arrows ? ’ she asked.
“‘Youth, beauty, and a fifteenth century name. He’s a very pretty fellow as they go, and good, according to their notion; but he’ll never set an Anglo-Saxon wife afire. If you really care for him, though, it’s all right. He’s nice; he has a tremendous sense of responsibility to his family, and he does exactly as they desire. That’s the conception of being well brought up — and good — over here. I’m not sure that he’s not still in the fifteenth century, but you can spend the rest of your life in finding out. You’re mine and your mother’s child, though, not a changeling; we had our wondertime and, from little things about you, I thought you would have required yours. It’s our birthright. But we can’t get out of life what we don’t put into it!
Miss Boscath drew a deep breath. “Count Onofrio was charming, but his ideas were as fixed as the days of the week, the hours of the day. He was intensely punctual, minute, regulated. He was a walking museum of set beliefs, traditions, conventions. Of course there is no human being but has in him one drop at least of the unexpected; but in Count Onofrio the drop had undergone the thousandth dilution.” She laughed softly. “He was perfectly devoted to his family, and absurdly persuaded of its importance. It was a religion, — this belief in his family, — and he expected the girl at once to be converted; it was like being assured of one’s historic and social salvation. And the count and the family desired so much: a dowry for his sister; a commission in the Papal Guards for his brother; the old Palazzo to be bought back and fitted up, and his father and mother and an old great-uncle to be installed there, — the Count was as naïvely frank as he was solicitous. The girl could hardly help feeling that she was a means to an end. We all have our little vanities, perhaps, but it was n’t exactly that. It was n’t so much a lack, as that the whole thing was unreal, like the painting of a fire — everything but the warmth. Not that the girl was ignored, there was a good deal for her, too; but fifteenth century Italy did n’t understand nineteenth century America, and the girl could not live backward. So she finally drew back. It was terribly difficult; things had gone so far; and Count Onofrio and his family simply could n’t see that anything was lacking, especially when he said — and believed — that he worshiped the ground she walked on. She could n’t say to him: ‘You think it nature’s law that a woman shall be nothing but an adjunct; very well, then, it counts tremendously for whom she must forego her life,’ Her father helped wonderfully; but the Onofrios never could understand.” Miss Boscath paused a moment, then spoke more quickly. “We pay for mistakes, however. The girl was left slow of heart to believe — what the poets have written. Somehow a talisman was put into her hand by which to detect — hollowness. She, too, I believe, must have grown up on the instant.”
Her voice died down into silence. The somewhat green log softly heezed and bubbled, and Mrs. Taskerville’s slow needles began to click again.
“If that young girl had loved him, she would not have known, she would not have minded,” said the old lady gently.
Smallwood sat looking into the fire. “Love is life for life; she was bound to know,” he said sternly.
At the moment Crecy, who had been hovering in the background, now ventured into the light. “Miss Amelia,” she said softly, in that tone of plaintive persuasion common to the race, — “cyan’t you mek up your mind to go upstairs now? I been awaitin’ an’ anoddin’ for mos’ two hours. ’T is gone ’leven.”
Mrs. Taskerville turned to the accustomed voice, and then there was a little stir of preparation. The old lady on Crecy’s arm went first, and Miss Boscath followed. As she reached the landing, on a suddenimpulse she looked back. Smallwood stood on the hearth, and his intense gaze seemed to be dragged captive-wise after her. But beneath the proud resistance of that look there breathed, as it were, an exquisite entreaty. As Helen caught his eyes, and felt the significance of their beautiful, expressive gaze, the answering color in her face so burnt that she instinctively lifted her hands to hide the crimson. It was over in a flash. Smallwood stood transfixed, while she turned and went swiftly upstairs.
Awaking at the first hint of dawn amid the twitter of birds and the more distant sound of animal life, Miss Boscath rose at once. Surely the place and she were under a spell. She was fain to recover herself, to resume her ordinary interests, to retake her habitual easy self-possession. Sleep had not been deep, dark, still enough. She had felt motion, but not direction, and had been conscious of a denuding light which made her tremble. She pushed open the heavy window-shutter and looked out. Her side of the house lay in moist, dewy shadow, and the dusk of dawn, so like that of the previous evening, thrilled her. The spell seemed actually to rise up to enfold her and compel. She buried her face in her hands and waited; surely the normal would come again; but meanwhile all life seemed charged with a curious expectancy. Is it exactly remembrance, she wondered, to have one’s whole consciousness flooded with a sense of another’s personality ? She lifted her head with a feeling of suffocation, and was startled to see how light, like a tide, had risen. And there are other powers in life besides light, she thought, that rise like the tides. What was it that was now swelling up within herself, sweeping over old impressions, blotting out customary feelings and thoughts, affording something immeasurable and mighty to her inmost vision, and changing the whole face of her inner landscape? Surely it was like a great tidal wave, terrible as beautiful. She instinctively flung out her hands with the swimmer’s gesture, and sprang to her feet in order to feel solidity beneath them. At that moment she heard a distant sound of one of those heavy shutters slam sharply back against the house. The sound seemed to run round the wall like an electric spark and to touch her. She started violently; then stood sentiently still. Some one else was wakeful, watchful. Some one else was on the flood which, however illimitable and far-reaching, if it ever comes at all, never comes but once, and never bears but two. With the sound of the shutter she could fairly see the gesture of the strong hand which must have thrust it back. And before long she heard a house-door open and some one go out; some one who had a man’s blessed privilege of doing as well as of being, of dispelling by homely toil all mirages of heart and brain — if mirages they were. Then it was that Miss Boscath began quickly to dress. This finished, she went to the window again, and watched light array itself with color, and saw what was at first vague illumination assume form and place. The flowers of a morning-glory which had taken possession of a dead tree rose like delicate tongues of flame, pink, crimson, purple, against the first touch of level sunlight. She instinctively wished that her own little life had some particular place, meaning, and purpose; but perhaps such was the ineffable promise of that strange inward tide.
When Helen went down to breakfast she found, early as it was, Mrs. Taskerville as well as Smallwood in the diningroom. In spite of her host’s smile and quick greeting, he looked older than he had done the night before, graver, more powerful. He suggested something sheathed and apart. Resolution was expressed in both look and bearing, and Helen saw that he had braced himself to that keen test of strength — the flat return of life to everyday commonplace. He has pride and courage, thought she, two good swords which every gentleman ought to carry. She, too, looked somewhat pale and worn, and her beauty was dimmer — lovelier, perhaps, but less complete — than it had at first appeared. As their eyes met, Smallwood drew a deep breath, and then neither looked at the other again.
“Miles, why did you go out so early? I heard you stirring just at daybreak,” said Mrs. Taskerville.
Smallwood’s lips tightened. “I was up, so thought I might as well go out.”
The remembered sound of that shutter was distinct enough to make Miss Boscath color.
“ I hope you slept well, my dear ? ” continued the old lady.
“Very well, thank you.”
“And did n’t wake early, of course?” Smallwood spoke involuntarily, wistfully.
Helen felt that truth compels truth. “I heard a shutter slam, and some one go out,” she answered. Then she felt the most probing look that had ever rested on her face.
“I wonder what the difference is between courage and audacity,” he said slowly.
She rested her eyes on him. “I’m no oracle; but I begin to see that one gets nothing out of life without audacity for some occasions, and courage for all.”
“Are you fond of poetry?” he asked abruptly.
“Are you?” she parried.
“I must be, since my love has survived the obligation to teach it to those academy girls.” Her smile answered his, yet he was regarding her wistfully.
“If one could only live one’s poetry instead of reading it” —
“What would you call living one’s poetry?” she interposed hastily.
His hand on the table clinched until the veins stood out.
“Oh,” he said under his breath, “for the courage of one’s feelings as well as of one’s opinions!”
“Do you mean,” said Miss Boscath slowly, “that the same power in us which makes for audacity makes for poetry as well ?” She had to make herself meet his eyes.
“I meant” — he stopped short, then added desperately — “the inmost truth of things, the essential self in man or woman behind all circumstances, all conventions.”
“ You, certainly, could furnish a brief for the poets.”
“And not you ?”
“I might” — she began, and then could go no further; his face stopped her.
Breakfast over, the farewells were hurried, and Miss Boscath was soon in the carriage on her way to the station. Smallwood drove, with Uncle Ben beside him, and the distance, which the evening before had seemed long, seemed now unusually short.
Once at the station conversation was difficult; ordinary commonplaces would not serve, yet anything more seemed aggressive. Almost in silence therefore, Helen and Smallwood side by side paced the long old platform. Presently the locomotive whistled in the distance. Miles turned suddenly. “You did n’t answer my question last evening as to who are the bravest, the most terribly rash.”
“Nor you mine, as to what is the greatest of touchstones.”
“I could have answered yours.”
“And I could have answered yours.”
Each paused; the train was close at hand.
“Miss Boscath, do you remember what Virgil said of Augustus, — that either he never should have lived, or never should have died ? You are a woman who should either never come into a man’s life, or else should never go out of it.” Smallwood spoke with desperate determination. “Not that I regret the vision — if it’s to be but that; yet I hold the man a fool who does not try to make good the vision.”
There was but a moment, for the train was halting. “You said you had been made slow of heart to believe all that the poets have written; you might still give yourself — and me — a chance: you might find some poetry in letting me live mine.”
Helen gathered her courage with a determination which matched his. “Come to Garnock,” she breathed. “This is magnificent, but it is not — prose.”
“Life’s not all prose, even yet, thank God!” returned Smallwood unsteadily.
The conductor stepped off to see the one passenger on, and gave her ample time to get comfortably in before signaling to the engineer. The train puffed away. Miles stood rooted to the platform; but Helen had the rose from his buttonhole held tight in her hand.