The Coming of the Tide
“I CERTAINLY am surprised,” said Uncle Peter cheerily one morning, as he ate his oatmeal from a blue Japanese bowl with an old-fashioned silver spoon marked “A;” “I certainly am surprised. I always expected to go first, with my heart weakness. Now, your father had nothing the matter with his heart, had he ? If he had, I never knew it; but then, John kept everything pretty close.”
“Not so far as I know,” answered Paul from behind his newspaper, wondering how soon his mother would come down and break up this tête-à-tête.
“I got it from my great-grandmother Anne,” pursued Uncle Peter, laying his hand upon his heart, “that, and my love of beauty, and this set of silver spoons. That sideboard was hers, too. She gave it to my father and he left it to John, as he did nearly everything. Now John is dead and it is all yours. Well, well, well! And it seems only yesterday that you were in knickerbockers.”
He bestowed a congratulatory smile upon his nephew, who scowled and held the newspaper before his face. Even Uncle Peter should know better than this! It was only a week since John Warren had been laid to rest in the little family cemetery by the sea, and to his son the sense of possession in turf and tree and wide shore line brought keenest hurt.
“Don’t want to talk, eh!” said the older man smilingly, as he sat with his head tipped a little to one side and watched his nephew. “Now, I always do; get that from my grandfather on my mother’s side, Peter Finch. I was named for him, and inherited his sociability; queer nobody else did.”
The young man read on, and Uncle Peter chattered to the coffee pot, while June sunlight streamed in through the rose vines, now in deep red bloom, shading the windows toward the east, and across the dewy grass of the lawn, where elm and pine cast shadows, always longest in early morning. It was a large room, with paneled walls and high ceiling, and all its furnishings were in keeping with its long lines. At one side stood a huge mahogany sideboard, filled with old blue china; an enormous mahogany sofa stretched halfway across one end of the room; the dining-table, of the same dark wood, daintily polished so that it reflected the faces of the two men as they bent over it, was massive and unwieldy, as were the chairs at its side. Even the plates and the tablespoons seemed larger than human use requires; yet the room, with all that it contained, had a certain dignity, and bore witness to the strength of the race, with its love of strong things. Two or three badly painted ancestral portraits in tarnished gilt frames upon the walls reflected, almost in despite of the painter, something of the family character; and Paul Hollis Warren, seen in full light, seemed a not unworthy inheritor of the family traits and possessions. He was a tall man, slender and sinewy, with quiet movements and firm-lipped mouth. Nothing save the sudden flash of the dark gray eyes, or the wistful look that sometimes crept into them, betrayed the drama of an inner life. Generations of Puritan self-control and self-repression had left their stamp upon the fine, thin face, young but worn by the elder experiences of the race, and wearing a melancholy seriousness which was broken now and then by a cynic mirthfulness akin to tears.
It was only Uncle Peter who was out of harmony with the character of things in the great dining-room. Seated in his massive armed chair, he suggested a figure of a man done, with a touch of caricature, in porcelain or in sugar candy.
“Looks like the play doughnut you makes sometimes for the chillen wen you tia’d of makin’ rale doughnuts,” once said Aunt Belinda, the colored cook. “Like’s not that’s what the Lo’d done with the Warrenses wen he got tia’d of makin’ rale Warrens.”
Uncle Peter rose, and, going to the sideboard, produced a tall bottle, from which he poured a quantity of fluid into a glass. This, mixed with a small amount of water, he drank off slowly, with much smacking of his thin lips.
“Indigestion, Paul,” he explained apologetically, “Something I believe you never have. A drop of whiskey does me a world of good; it was born in me, you know; came down from my great-greatgrandfather Warren, your great-greatgreat-grandfather, you know.”
“From all I’ve heard,” said Paul Warren, looking up, “it would be just as well to let my great-great-great-grandfather Warren die out.”
“Impossible!” said Uncle Peter from the sideboard, shaking his finger at his nephew. “You ’ll discover some day that you can’t let your ancestors die out, and wherever you go, you will find they have been there before you. Now great-greatgrandfather Warren led a gay life; I ’ve a streak of that in me; I wish to goodness you had! I wish you would brighten up the old place, now it’s yours, and bring gay young people here, the ‘ sound of revelry by night,’ you know, and all that. Come,boy, you ’re twenty-seven, — or is it twenty-nine?—and if you are ever going to be young you’d better begin. I can’t bear to see you waste your days in that library and on the shore with your gun.”
Study of ancestral traits was the occupation of Uncle Peter’s life. His was not the vulgar pride which plumes itself on family possessions, or even on honorable achievements of a long line of forbears; to Uncle Peter had been given an abiding interest in the transgressions of those gone before him, in their gloomy mood, their wavering between good and ill. None escaped him, from the original Paul Warren, who had tamed the wilderness and had built by the sea the old stone house with long, sloping roof and mullioned windows, down to Mr. Peter’s own father, James Francis Warren, who had erected the great house in which his son survived him so comfortably. There were old yellow records, old letters, old tales, from which his imagination could suck a gentle melancholy. Sure it was that the family successes and honors had induced anything but a joyous temper. Even the luckless ancestor chosen by Uncle Peter to play the part of scapegoat for his own shortcomings, great-great-grandfather Warren, had not been altogether happy in his sins; and James Francis Warren, who had made a thing of beauty of this great estate, that his descendants might dwell there forever, transforming its broad acres into park land and meadow that almost matched in beauty the faroff Devon home; who had died with an air of achievement, gazing up at the high ceiling which he had built, and reflecting that his son John was even at that minute sitting in Congress, had felt secretly conscious of inner lack. In matters of this world they had certainly prospered, had these Warrens, both in the main line and in the minor branches that had settled in the neighboring towns or had moved out to start new colonies in the West. As a general rule, they had reassuring bank accounts, and safes well lined with bonds and mortgages, and yet few of the men who told their descent in direct line from Paul Warren the elder had known content. Their pent - up energy needed a wider scope than it had ever known since those earliest days when the original settler had tamed the wilderness; and the mere care of the estate meant too slight endeavor for the strong-backed, stronglimbed, strong-minded, hardy race. The early struggles over, of fighting for mere existence, an eager force of mind and body began to turn upon itself, eating into its own substance, and intensity of inner life had led to vivid experiences both of good and of ill. There had been saints in the family,and sinners too; even crime had not been unknown among them, and tradition told of one neighbor, said to be a remote ancestor of the Bevannes, shot down in a fit of hot anger whose cause had been long forgotten, but whose effects lived on in smouldering enmity, now and then fanned into live flame. It was possibly a recognition of danger in the blood which had induced among the Warrens, generations ago, a tendency toward seclusion. Solitary, introspective, apart, they lived within themselves, mating for the most part with sweet, weak women, who bent or broke under the stronger wills of their husbands. Melancholia had become a part of the family inheritance, and grandfather, father, and son, shutting themselves away from life, had built up a world of false proportions where great issues sometimes went unnoticed, and trifles bore unusual weight. They grew morbidly sensitive and self-centred, missing the even measure of things held by those who share a larger life than their own; yet most of them were good, if rather silent, servants of church and of state, high-tempered, it may be, but high-minded also, contemptuous of hypocrisy even when shown in polite lies, and of all but simple and honest action.
It had come to pass, for places grow in time to wear the expression of the spirits who inhabit them, that a look of sadness and of melancholy settled down over the old Warren place. The low stone wall with its tall gateway; the curving drive, somewhat grass-grown now; the unclipped turf, where long grass waved after it should have been cut; the wide door entering the great hall where the tall clock ticked slowly on the stairs, had a look of isolation. It was so still in this generation, when there was but one child in the house, that it had an air of having been built in primeval quiet, before earth’s noises began. In certain corners the air seemed heavy with the morbid ideas of the dead inhabitants, and Uncle Peter had a fancy, as original as it was convenient, that he knew places in the house where sudden hope would seize you, and others where irresistible passion would tear your soul, driving you out, powerless, to work its will. At least it was true that all who entered the house, either by the marriage altar or by the gates of birth, learned to wear the inward look of the Warrens. Even the dogs caught the family temper, and not Hamlet himself had greater suffering of mind than had Robin Hood, the collie, as he wandered the valley of indecision, where his master had worn a path, with doubting feet.
Yet John Warren had played a not inglorious part in the history of the countryside. After a somewhat wayward youth, he had settled down to the study of the law, and had pursued his work with the ease and calm of a man whose toil is a pastime and not a means of livelihood. He had made no professional use of his knowledge, but, after being admitted to the bar, had played, against his will, a prominent part in local politics, and had reluctantly gone to Washington to represent his district in Congress. No eloquence is recorded of him; the Warrens are a silent race, with speechlessness often more potent than words. One achievement only marked his stay in the capital, — he came home with a bride, a frail, pretty Southern girl, whom he loved with an ardor that puzzled and sometimes terrified her. John Warren should have married before he was thirtytwo, his neighbors said, when they saw the sadness that settled down on the young wife’s face. She was but twenty-four, and unused to problems, and the family expression soon fastened upon her. She missed the broad streets of her native city, the crowded receptions, the gay drives, the soft Southern vowels, and the warm Southern sun. Only Aunt Belinda, whom she had brought with her to her Northern home, could console her when the passion of homesickness came; and she used to steal out to the kitchen at twilight, when the day’s work was done, to hear the rich darky dialect, and to feel the comfort of that presence which seemed to radiate all the physical joyousness of life.
Year after year she watched the winter snowfalls, and the melancholy thawing of the snow; she watched the coming of summer, with its growth of young grass and tender grain, and all her hurt sense of loneliness went down to her son Paul, whom she loved with a passion that was touched with awe. The sea brought her no message of beauty or comfort, and something of the mystery of its dim horizonline had crept into the soul of this boy, whose thoughts were not her thoughts, and whose moods she was not able to divine.
She came late into the breakfast room this morning, a gracious figure with soft gray hair, wearing a black morning gown that fell in ample folds about her feet. There were half tears in her sweet blue eyes, — home of gentle feelings if not of keen thoughts, — as her son rose to draw back her chair and bent to kiss her.
“Letters for you, mother,” said Paul, gathering a sheaf of them from the table.
“Letters?” she echoed, as if startled that any outside thing should intrude upon her now; and she adjusted delicately a pair of gold-bowed eyeglasses, turning the envelopes over and over for inspection. The one that was the least easy to understand, addressed in a fine, old-fashioned feminine handwriting, and bearing a Southern postmark, she opened first:—
“My dear Emily Parkes Warren,” it began; “if by any chance you remember me after these years of silence, there will be no need for me to explain that I am Amy Levine Dearborn, and your fifth cousin, and that we were school-children together in Washington forty years ago. However, it is not of myself that I would write, but of Eleanor Mason’s daughter. Surely you remember Eleanor, — who was going to be another Mrs. Browning, but who married at nineteen and was silent forever after? Eleanor died in May this year, and her only daughter has run away. She is an impetuous girl, but very spirited and bright; her mother’s death has broken her heart, and Frances has gone North, insisting on being alone, and refusing to take even a maid with her. It seems that her mother was once at a little inn on your New England coast, and the girl has fled there to hide her grief in a spot that her mother knew. The name of the place is the same as that of your old home; if you are still there, can you look after her a little ? Forgive me if I am asking too much; it is only for Eleanor Mason’s sake that I venture. Moreover, to know Frances will be reward enough for any trouble. When you are acquainted with her you will discover where the poetry in her mother’s soul has gone.
“ Good-by, my dear Emily. Perhaps some day it will be my good fortune to see you again.
Your affectionate friend,
AMY LEVINE DEARBORN.”
The gold-rimmed glasses dropped from Mrs. Warren’s eyes.
“Paul,” she gasped, “Paul, is n’t this extraordinary ? Of course I want to see Eleanor Mason’s daughter, but where can she be?”
“Oh, at some place in the village, probably,” answered her son. “You can find her easily enough. I’ll ask the postmaster.”
“But what does she mean by saying that when I know her I shall see where Eleanor’s poetry has gone ? Perhaps she has brought it with her to read on the rocks.”
Here Uncle Peter’s shaky fist struck the great table with as much force as he could summon.
“By the bones of my ancestors, that’s the girl I saw the other day!”
“Where ?” cried Mrs. Warren eagerly. “What does she look like?”
“She looks,” answered Uncle Peter, who also had his poetic, or at least his Byronic, moments, “ she looks like moonlight and starlight. ‘She — walks — in beauty’ — don’t — you — know — ‘like — the night — of — cloudless — climes — and — starry — skies — and — all — that’s — best — of — dark — and — bright — meet — in — her — aspect — and — her — eyes.’”
It was the first time that Eleanor Mason’s daughter had ever seen a garden which had grown old by the sea. She wandered out into it alone at the noontide of this June day, for Mrs. Warren, who had coaxed the girl to share the solitude of an occasion when her son and Uncle Peter were both absent in the city, was busy giving instructions to Aunt Belinda, and had let her guest go free. It was only yesterday that Mrs. Warren had driven to the Emerson Inn to seek out the daughter of her old friend, and had waited for her in the green - and - gold reception room, wistful, tremulous, her heart beating high with old memories and with present shyness. Frances Wilmot, entering, had paused on the threshold, with a cloud upon her white forehead; the card told her nothing; she knew only that somebody had invaded her solitude. But when the older woman rose and held out her hands impetuously, as the sight of the girl’s face brushed away forty years of her life, saying, “I was a friend of your mother, my dear,” Frances went to her and took her hands, holding her face out to be kissed. To the two it had seemed that they had a long past to talk over; and the young girl’s eyes grew dim at meeting her mother as a little child.
She was strolling bareheaded down the long paths, with her face turned slightly upward that the sunlight might fall there, and she was drinking deep of sea air, mingled with fragrance of sweet peas and of tall yellow lilies. Who had made this enchanted garden, she was wondering, with its high walls of stone that reached to the brown rocks, beyond which the blue sea rolled in ? It was guarded by spruce trees and cedars, of deeper and softer green than those farther inland, breaking the splendor of its color where beds of red or yellow roses lay.
It was the original Paul Warren, who, with memories of his Devonshire home fresh in his mind, had planned to make a garden spot of this great space by the water, though he had died, weary of fighting the wilderness, before anything was planted there. His children and grandchildren had broken the sea - meadow into furrows and had planted golden corn and spreading pumpkin vines where tall reeds had grown and the soft marsh grasses had waved in the wind. Fluffy yellow chickens and small brown peeping turkeys, escaping from yard or coop, had gone pattering up and down the spaces where bobolinks had been wont to sway on long grasses. Blue blossoms of flax spread where scarlet Queen - of - the - Meadow and small red August lilies had grown. It was the wife of the great-greatgreat - grandfather Warren of reckless fame who had found consolation in the long years of her widowhood in reclaiming a part of the space from vegetables and giving it over to flowers. The beds nearest the house, oval or oblong or starshaped, had been planned by her, although the white picket fence that had guarded her treasures was gone.
Of the reign of great-grandmother Anne, who had been a lover of all beautiful things, nothing remained save one ragged, sturdy rose tree climbing over the southern wall of gray-brown stone. James Francis Warren, who had caused the walls to be built, had carefully treasured this relic of the past, training it away from its old wooden trellis to new support. He, with tastes that were, perhaps, a far-off echo of those of the first Paul Warren’s father, the country squire, had extended the garden-space to the edge of the sea, and had planted the old pear trees, broken and knotted, that still wakened now and then to life and put forth blossoms on the May air. In this fruit garden which met the space of flowers, peach trees and plum and cherry stood side by side, with neglected currant and gooseberry bushes not far away. Still a few luscious bits of fruit dropped from the broken and crumbling limbs into the tangled grass below, golden pear, or roseflushed peach, or plum with dim purple bloom.
Generations of Warrens had played there in childhood, climbing the apple trees, making silken doll robes out of scarlet poppy petals, and royal sceptres of sunflower stems; generations of Warrens had paced the walks to the slow beating of the tide on the rocks beyond, dreaming their love dreams; and generations of white-haired men and white-haired women had tottered up and down these paths, at the edge of eternity and of the sea. And still, though half neglected, it was full of all old-fashioned, lovely things: yellow crocus and white in earliest spring, and blood-red tulips later when the grass sprang fresh and green; gorgeous tiger lilies and red poppies, larkspur, and candytuft, all sweeter in perfume, deeper in color, for the breath of the sea air.
The girl who was walking idly through it felt the long story that she did not know. Song sparrows were twittering among the dim blue berries of the cedars; a great bumblebee was humming in a bush of old-fashioned single roses, deep red, with golden stamens; and about it all flowed the melody of the sea. Her feet kept time to the measure and to that of some verses that would not be quiet: —
Set thick with lily and red rose,
Where I would wander if I might
From dewy morn to dewy night,
And have one with me wandering.
And though no pillared house is there,
And though the apple boughs are bare
Of fruit and blossom, would to God
Her feet upon the green grass trod
And I beheld them as before.”
For her grief was ever present, though wind and tide had begun, without her knowledge, to set it to music with all the rest of the world.
Wandering with no aim save to find the spot where the breeze was freshest or the fragrance most sweet, she came suddenly upon an old man who was busily weeding a bed of cinnamon pinks: it was the eldest Andrew Lane. The hair beneath his sun-browned hat was white as snow, as was the beard that touched the dull blue of his shirt. Hearing a footstep he looked up, turning to the girl a face seamed with a thousand wrinkles, and greeted her with a good-morning.
“It is a very beautiful garden,” said Frances Wilmot tentatively; this old man looked as if he might have most interesting things to say.
“I’ve seen wuss,” he answered, weeding again. “But this don’t hev no care now. I’m gittin’ pretty old.”
“You ought to have somebody to help you.”
“I don’t want nobody to help me,” he said shrilly, “till I’m planted myself. Belindy, she helps about weedin’, and we let the rest go.”
“Have you worked here long?” asked the girl, drawing nearer.
“Sence them walls was built,” said the old gardener, “and that’s sixty year ago. I’ve took care of the place ever sence, havin’ help, of course. Lord, in James Francis Warren’s day it was a garden: not an extry leaf on anything, and every bush and tree trimmed like a pinted beard.”
“I like it a great deal better this way,” said the girl confidingly, “just half running wild.”
“Do you, now?” said old Andrew Lane. “That’s cur’us; what fur?”
“Oh,” she answered lightly, “it looks as if things had happened, and as if it were full of meanings. There’s an air of mystery or something about it.”
The toothless smile of the old man’s face vanished, and a shrewd look crept into the pale blue eyes under the sunken eyebrows.
“I don’t know nothin’ about no myst’ry,” he said sullenly, going back to his weeding with vigor; nor could she win any further conversation from him, nor from his small great-grandchild, Andy, who toddled after the old man in tiny overalls of yellow.
In the afternoon she went with Mrs. Warren about the great house, which, after the fashion of earlier days, faced, not the sea, but the highway. Outside, the young summer had touched its age to freshness: wistaria, still fragrant with clusters of late blossoms, climbed the tall white pillars, and the long festoons of woodbine wore new, flushed leaves and tendrils. Pale purple lilacs were in bloom by the white southern wall, and the faded blue-green blinds of the parlor windows made a most lovely background for the climbing white roses that had crept over them and had fastened them permanently open.
“It is just like home, is n’t it?” said the Southern girl.
“It has never seemed so to me,” answered the elder lady, puzzled, for home to her had meant the gay life that had gone on in it.
The dimly lighted interior showed little trace of springtime; old furniture, old hangings, suggested only the past. They paused for a time in the library, whose worn leather chairs bespoke long use, and whose great bookshelves were filled with volumes that revealed solid tastes and thoughtful minds.
“My son spends much of his time here. He — he writes,” said Mrs. Warren apologetically, for she was filled with a new sense of the difference between Paul and the gallant young heroes of the South. He could do much if he only would to enliven the stay of this charming girl in the North, but he cared little for women, and less for young ones, and his mother sighed softly.
“Please come into the garden again,” pleaded Frances. “I cannot bear to be away from it.”
Mrs. Warren looked at her in wonder, but said nothing, for in later years she had learned more and more to stay silent until she understood. As she paced the old paths with this girl at her side, it seemed to her that the whole expression of the place changed. Tree, flower, and vine took on softer and brighter colors; the eerie sounds that had haunted her ears grew almost joyous, and the oldfashioned sailing boat, the Sea Gull, riding the waves in the sheltered cove by the house, seemed to tug at its moorings as with desire to be free and to dance.
“Ought n’t you to have your hat on, to keep from spoiling your complexion ?” she asked, with a sudden sense of responsibility.
The girl’s laugh rang out sweetly. “Young women nowadays never think of their complexions,” she answered, and Mrs. Warren frowned a puzzled little frown. Fewer and fewer people thought her thoughts or spoke her language, as she grew older.
“This place must have been the greatest joy to you,” said Frances suddenly.
“It has been rather an anxiety,” said Mrs. Warren. “The gardener has grown so old that he can work only a little and on sunshiny days, and it all needs clipping and trimming. Paul does not understand, and says he likes it this way.”
“ It looks like a garden in a fairy story, the one where Beauty met the Beast” —
“I never read fairy stories,” murmured Mrs. Warren.
“Or the gardens of Hesperides, where the golden apples grew.”
“We have very few apples now, and only red ones, though of course I know that is not what you mean,” observed the hostess regretfully.
The conversation drifted over to Paul Warren, who had come home by the four o’clock train, and who was pacing his favorite garden path, hidden, close by the north wall, by an arbor vitæ hedge. If the truth must be known, he had taken refuge there to avoid his mother’s guest. The girl’s voice startled him: melodious and full, it sounded like hidden music along his nerves. There were ripples of laughter in it, and soft little murmurs of sadness; and it played upon him as fingers play upon keys. The fact that it belonged to a woman did not interest him; it was as if he had discovered a new art.
He waited until the sound of familiar hoof-beats assured him that the guest was being driven home in the old-fashioned family carriage, and then came out of his retreat, self-reproachful when he heard his mother’s laments that he had not come home in time to meet the child of her old friend.
The lowest ebb of the tide came in the early afternoon, and the curving sand beach that lay just beyond the Warren homestead, like a sickle of pale gold cutting the blue water from green grassy meadow, stretched parched and dry in the glare of the summer sun. Bird songs were hushed, but the low hum of insects was on the hot air, and from far, with an ironic sound as of cool water retreating from thirsty need, came the ripple of withdrawing waves. Paul Warren, restlessly active in the languid air, was walking up and down the veranda, keeping pace with grief, for step by step beside him he seemed to hear the echo of the footfall that had so often sounded with his own. Suddenly a soft nose was thrust into his hand with a long, mournful whimper, and two great golden - brown eyes were lifted to his in passionate entreaty: Robin Hood was still hunting for his master.
“Poor old fellow!” said Paul, patting the upturned head, “I would give him back to you if I could.”
The old dog sniffed anxiously at the young man’s coat and hands, then drew away and gazed with eyes in which the look of entreaty was changing to one of deep reproach.
“It is something I do not understand any better than you do, Robin, and yet I know you don’t believe me. You are saying to yourself: ‘Whose fault is it, then, if not yours, and where have you hidden him away?’”
Robin, as if assenting, walked away with a low growl, and his young master, ever quick of sympathy with dumb beasts, looked after him with eyes that matched his own in depth of puzzled sorrow.
Here Uncle Peter strolled out upon the veranda, fresh and smiling, with a cigarette between his teeth, and under his arm a paper-covered novel drawn from a large and varied store which he had been accumulating for more than forty years. With a swift movement Paul slipped into the library in time to escape, and drew a sigh of relief at the sight of the shelves where his beloved, silent friends awaited him, and where sense and spirit could rest in the mellow coloring of old leather chairs and worn volumes. As he loved for their solitude certain lonely parts of the shore where his own best thoughts seemed always to await him, he loved the quiet of this spot; and now, without opening a book, he touched one after another with his finger tips, — Spinoza, Kant, Sir Thomas Browne, the thinkers great and small whose minds had kindled his own, almost fancying that he felt a responsive pressure from the leatherbound volumes. The old black-letter romances and the illuminated missal in the cabinet by the fireplace must surely share his sense of loss, so great had been his father’s pride in them; and the worn copies of Spencer and Huxley must miss the hands that were gone. The cover of Darwin’s Descent of Man was torn where Robin had chewed it as John Warren went to sleep in his chair one day, and Paul touched it with gentle fingers, remembering. So they had passed on, generation by generation, he mused, leaving here upon the library shelves a record of their tastes and of their callings, like driftwood cast up by the sea. The set of antique sermons had belonged to the ministerial ancestor; the old dramas to one who had a liking for written plays; the Spectators and Ramblers to his grandfather, James Francis Warren; and here was he, Paul, with his huge volumes of German philosophy, his row of French essayists in their yellow paper covers, and his abiding sense of the world’s lack of need of him. Softened light came into the great room through the half-closed shutters; a golden bumblebee wandered in on a ray of sunlight and had difficulty in finding his way out; warm fragrance of all things blossoming in the garden stole in on the breeze. The young man dropped into a great leather-covered chair, flung his arms down upon the table, over some sheets of his own manuscript where the ink had dried ten days ago, and buried his face in them to rest. Here, and here only, the awful sense of difference was gone, and the quick and the dead were alike. Then, in the silence, his mind began to travel the old ways of question: what was it all for, the bootless search, the suffering, the long thinking, and the pain ? Surely there was but small return for the great demands that life made upon one’s power to endure!
Slowly the shadowed days of all his life came back to him; the boyhood spent in the gloomy house, where the long silences, his mother’s unspoken sadness, and Uncle Peter’s morbid fancies regarding the past, had cast a spell upon him; and then the years of study when he had grown from child to man, coming home at each vacation to find the old house absolutely unchanged. Through the dull color of it all a sense of his father’s pride and interest in his son had run like a thread of gold. It was he who had guided the child’s reading, giving him books unknown to most boys of ten and of twelve; it was he who sat quietly chuckling at his son’s comments on men and on things; for an insight into the ironies of life had come to the lad too easily and too soon, and the words of his tongue were as the fine pricking of a delicately pointed weapon; it was he who had fostered the boy’s gift for writing, coaxing the dark-haired youngster, who had always an elusive look in his eyes, to sit upon his knee and repeat the verses he had written. Paul did it shyly, the color deepening in his cheeks; and even now he could remember the thrill of joy that came when his father patted him on the head and praised him, for words of praise and caresses had been few and far between. Sometimes the inherited mood of sadness had been broken by charmed moments when sudden enchantment visited him, and, surrendering to the unconscious spell of warm sunshine on fragrant flowers, or of the beat of a summer shower on the window-pane, he dreamed rare dreams of happiness and of great achievement.
Always Paul had loved the old house, whose expression had settled early upon his childish face. He liked its dark corners and mysterious doorways, especially the awful one leading to the garret which he used to pass at twilight, just to see if he dared, glorying in the cold shivers that crept up and down his back. He loved the ancestral pictures in the parlor and above the winding stairs, where they hung with the corner of each gilt frame touching the one next higher. The faces that smiled and were sweet appealed to him less than did certain portraits wearing a melancholy and sin - stricken look. One, which hung just above the landing by the old clock, always terrified him: it was his wicked great-great-great-grandfather Warren, looking out from the canvas with a dare-devil expression. Alone, in the dark, Paul sometimes felt that scowl close behind him, quite disembodied, and the sharp hairs of the eyebrows seemed to prick his neck as the phantom ancestor stealthily pursued; for the grotesque theories of Uncle Peter had peopled passageway and chamber with a terrible race, all the more real because invisible, forever lying in wait. Under his conjuring tongue old mood and old transgression became again alive and potent to harm, and that which was to him a species of intellectual entertainment, as his imaginative power met the challenge of the child’s deep eyes, and fabled further, became the very warp and woof of the boy’s thoughts by day, and of his dreams by night.
In time the sheer fascination of story began to mingle with a questioning of good and of ill, and he knew a different fear: that this sensual mouth, that cruel eye, among the painted features, might come to be his own. In one dim face on the library wall supreme terror lay for him in the bulge of the lip and the lines about the eyes; and, dreaming for himself especial cause for stern self-discipline, he grew into a tall lad of morbid fancies, who had early begun to think of himself as cursed by destiny to stand apart.
To stand apart! That had been the keynote of Paul Warren’s life, through his school years, through college, through his law study. He had made his mark as a man of wide reading and of literary power, shown chiefly in a fine keenness of judgment, but his strength of mind and of character had brought him little comfort for the unexplained grief of being; and melancholy, which knows no logic, had early gained a deep hold upon him. Forming for himself an impossibly high ideal of blameless conduct, he lashed himself mercilessly for failure to reach the superhuman, the man’s self-criticism being imperceptibly tinged by the boy’s belief in awful hereditary impulse that might at any time undo him unaware. Remote ancestral sins and uncommitted sins of his own became, in his long brooding, inextricably confused, and so long had he walked with shadows that the distinction between mist and headland was no longer clear. Only this seemed plain, that the great stream of human life was not for him; birth he had shared with the rest of the race; death he must share; but love and marriage and dreams of happiness were not his portion. Half in fear, half in shyness, he shunned women; and few ventured beyond an interested scrutiny of the dark face with the gleam of fire in the eyes, and the occasional sensitive quiver of the lip. Driven back upon a world of his own creating, he lived with his books and his pen, the old ironic sense of things constantly deepening, as smothered passion and imaginative power struggled vainly for expression.
That feeling of the profound irony of existence was strong upon him at this moment, as he thought of the quiet companionship with his father by the open fire on winter evenings, or on the veranda under the summer stars, and remembered the mound of earth in the green cemetery, with the knowledge that there was nobody now who could keep silence and understand. Then, vainly brooding over the why and the wherefore of human love and of loss, he grew dimly aware of something tugging at pulse and nerve: an overmastering desire to grasp this profound sense of greatness which he felt throbbing at the heart of pain. Stung to new life by the poignant hurt of grief in a soul woven in grays out of other people’s sorrows and misfortunes, he quivered with a sudden intuition of what it might mean to know and share all the common lot.
His restlessness drew him forth from the library to pace the graveled drive; there drooping leaf and grass blade, and the far murmur of the waves, chimed with his sense of life withdrawn. From the gateway his eyes wandered over the wide sweep of country, and he saw the curling road that led past the gray stone tower of his mother’s church, St. Mark’s, and the grove of scraggly locusts that marked the home of the Bevannes. The thought of the name startled him, recalling the words of deep hatred that his father had uttered in the solemn moment of dying, and he searched his memory for some incident in the long family quarrel which could explain them. Grave misdeed had there been in the remote past, and tradition told of constant trouble between this impetuous race of the Bevannes, with their strain of French blood, and his own solid English forbears. He was aware that the latter, who were both reticent and proud, had a way of treating offenses up to a certain point as not worth noticing, and beyond that as past forgiveness, but he could remember nothing that could account for so great intensity of present feeling. As he wondered, swift changes of expression flitted across his face: shocked, deep pity for the father in whom primitive passion, flaming up at that great hour, had consumed all else; deepened love where he failed to understand; and a humorous compassion for himself as failing to share the elemental feelings of the race, were all written there. What should he do with this heritage ? he asked himself whimsically, he who had no quarrel with any man, who did not know the cause of his father’s deadly anger, and who, perhaps, did not care strongly enough to hate.
He strolled back in the warm air to the house and out into the garden paths, full once more of the old weary feeling that he had little use for the world and its puzzles.
“I have a fundamental prejudice against all conundrums,” he murmured to himself; then suddenly, and without warning, he walked into a world entirely new.
There, by the tall white summer lilies, whose fragrance made sweet the summer air, stood a tall, white girl with a branch of spiræa in her hand, her dark hair bare in the sunlight, and her dark eyes full of dreams. When she heard his step, she looked up but did not move. Paul Hollis Warren swiftly removed his hat and introduced himself: when brought to bay, he was a young man of complete selfpossession and fine courtesy.
“You are my mother’s friend, Miss Wilmot,” he said, holding out his hand. “May I present myself as my mother’s son ?”
The girl took his offered hand, but did not speak.
“If it is not impertinent,” said Paul, “I should like to ask why you look so surprised.”
“Because,” answered the stranger,half seriously, “I had not the slightest idea that you were real.”
“I’m not, altogether,” confessed the host. “None of us are, I presume. But what did you think me?”
“I thought that you were part of this enchanted garden, and of the past.”
“I thought that you belonged with Mr. Peter’s phantom ancestors, the wicked one, and great - grandmother Anne. I thought that the ghosts about this spot needed a jeune premier, and that you had been invented for the purpose and named Mr. Paul Hollis Warren.”
“But my mother” —
“I thought that you were just a Delusion of a Son that the dear lady had fashioned out of dreams for her comfort. You will admit that you have the property of being invisible?”
“I admit that I have it at times,” answered Paul, with a smile of unwonted gayety. “Do you believe in nothing but what you see?”
“But I have been here so many times, and you have not deigned to put on flesh and blood.”
“I have been very busy,” explained Paul quietly.
The gravity in the girl’s face broke, her dimple quivered, and her eyes danced.
“If I may give you a suggestion, you do not manage your exits and your entrances as well as they did in the Arabian Nights. There is just a minute at the transformation when you are visible. Once it was at the end of the garden walk that the change came; once it was in the library, and you left so hastily that the door was still in motion. A genuine ghost goes through the keyhole!”
“I find the door a very comfortable means of exit, thank you.”
“It may all be comfortable for you,” said the girl severely, “but it is very uncomfortable for me. Mrs. Warren insists that she finds comfort in my presence, and that she likes to have me with her. But it is not quite pleasant to think that I have driven the master of the house to play the part of castle spectre.”
“I assure you that I have been absorbed in other things. It would grieve me deeply, Miss Wilmot, if you should take back one minute of the time that you might give my mother.”
“Will you make a compact with me?” asked Frances Wilmot, noting the softened look that came into the young man’s face as he spoke of his mother. “I should be very sorry to deprive Mrs. Warren of anything that may give her the slightest pleasure. If you will stay in your accustomed places, so that Mrs. Warren may still realize that she has a son, I will promise to treat you as if you were invisible. I will pretend that you are n’t there, and will never see you!”
“I am not quite ready to agree to that,” said Paul, laughing outright, and looking at her curiously.
“Then I shall stay away.”
“ Oh, I will promise, if you are serious,” he said hastily.
His mind was full of a bit of old story which he had read on some serious page, — his knowledge of myth was strictly confined to footnotes, —of a maiden who had come beckoning out of the world beyond the edge of things with a spray of white blossoms in her hand, and had witched a mortal man away with her to live forever and a day in fairyland. She must have looked like this girl before him, and, when she stepped into the world of every-day, must have wrought some such change on grass and tree and flower.
The little gray stone church of St. Mark’s stood well within the hearing of the tide, near a shingly beach where long, gentle breakers were rolling monotonously in on this June morning. Frances Wilmot, reverent and rebellious, sad, and again at peace, as the words of the long service smote now this chord and now that, closed her eyes again and again, only for the pleasure of opening them suddenly to steal a long glance through the window near, where, beyond the encircling green ivy leaves, she could look out across the shining water of palest blue. Word and phrase from old romance drifted back to her, and it seemed as if she too, like the wandering knight, had found a little chapel by the side of the “leaved wood;” and as if across the waves might come the ship that moved without sail or oar, carrying Perceval on his quest of the Holy Grail. Sweet from the sea stole in the breeze to creep about the altar, and the ivy leaves trembled against it as it came. Murmur of water and murmur of organ blended into one soft music; then suddenly out of the low melody sprang splendid power of sound, bringing a swift sense of glory walking on the water.
Her friends from the Inn were all there, and, in the pauses of their own devotions, they stole involuntary glances now and then toward the girl who had become the centre of their thoughts, to see how she was performing hers. But the music won them all, and swept them out from thoughts like these to moods as great as the encircling horizon line, and for a moment the sweep of the sea and of the winds of God was in their souls.
With a sudden beat as of triumph the recessional ceased, and the moment set to melody was over. The members of the congregation of St. Mark’s realized that they were out upon the green in front of the little church, the music to which they had been stepping still keeping rhythm in their feet. Even Paul Warren, who cared more for the harmony of high thoughts than for beaten measures, was conscious that the air about him was more exquisitely attuned than was its wont, and no sooner was he aware of this than there came a sudden breaking of its perfectness. He was waiting while his mother stopped to speak to Miss Wilmot, when a stranger came forward to meet him, a stranger with a face that he knew. It was a man of his own age, slender and supple, with an ingratiating air in his bright blue eyes and about his smiling mouth. There was a touch of hesitancy in the newcomer’s manner as he held out his hand.
“It is a long time since we have met, but you have not forgotten Alec Bevanne, I hope?”
“Of course not,” said Paul Warren, returning the handshake, “ though it must be a matter of fifteen years or so since I’ve seen you.”
“ Odd that we should have missed each other constantly. You’ve been back at the old place now and then?”
“Often, in summer. You were abroad when I heard of you last.”
The young man nodded, smiling.
“Digging, yes. I’ve done a lot of it, Paris mostly. Now it’s my turn to set other youngsters at it.”
As Paul Warren looked at his old playmate, thinking how oddly the new halfserious look sat upon the face which was associated in his mind with prisoner’s base and marbles, and wondering how that headlong nature, given to quick deed and quick repenting, in flashes of emotion or of momentary conviction, could adapt itself to the routine of academic life, there came suddenly into his mind an echo of the words his father had uttered as he lay dying: “Fight, fight Bevanne . . . look out for the young one then . . . young rattlesnakes are as poisonous as old ones.” The memory of John Warren’s expression as he had spoken these words fell like a shadow on the peaceful picture of sunlight shining on women’s faces and on children’s curls, and a sense of more vivid curiosity than he had ever before felt concerning the long mystery that had clung to the relationship of his family with the Bevannes swept over Paul Warren: what had caused that look of frozen anger on his father’s face when chance placed any member of that family in his way ? What had he to do with vendetta directed against this smiling, harmless enemy, whose eager friendliness seemed to have back of it the same puzzled feeling that he had himself ? The moment wrapped him round in a sort of humorous sadness; after all, you were bidden to love your enemy, as well as to obey your parents, and perhaps the former command was the more cogent of the two.
His state of mind was certainly pacific, when, following the glance of Alec Bevanne’s eyes, a flash of illumination came, and he fancied that he understood the sudden cordiality. It was not for the sake of the old days when the two had been playmates that the young man had stopped to speak with him: it was because of this Southern girl who was talking with his mother, and whose soft black gown and drooping black hat were worn with such unwonted grace. Paul Warren involuntarily turned away, refusing the unspoken request, then paused in amusement at his own action and the touch of irritation that had led to it. Understanding his neighbor perfectly at that moment, he was aware that he failed to understand himself and his assumption of protective rights.
“ Won’t you stop to see my sister Alice ?" asked Bevanne, whose quick eyes had divined the other’s action, but still beamed friendliness; there was never in them reproach for any one. “You remember her ? She used to cry because she could not play baseball with us.”
Paul lifted his eyes and saw her. She had grown from a slender child into a slender woman: her pale yellow hair had not darkened by a shade, but her eyes, which were of light hazel with extraordinarily large pupils, had gained a world of meaning and of expression. As he greeted her they were fixed upon him with a gaze so intense that they made him uneasy. She had heard her brother’s remark, but she did not speak nor smile, and it was left to Paul to face the occasion. Meeting one who mastered him in silence was something of a shock, and the polite remark he had intended to make slipped away.
“But you used to be the swiftest at tag,” he said, going back at one bound over many years.
Now a slow smile came like color into the girl’s face, touching eyes and cheeks with added expression, where almost too much had been before.
“That never atoned for the baseball,” said Alice Bevanne.
Mrs. Warren turned suddenly, and her pleasure at seeing her son talking with the children of the family enemy left a flush upon her face. It was she who, after a cordial greeting, presented them to the girl at her side, and she stood beaming over them all with an expression which was the peace of the moment made visible.
“It is very jolly to meet some one from the South, Miss Wilmot,” Alec Bevanne was saying. “I am a Southerner myself now.”
“Do you know Alabama University ?” he asked, stroking his smooth-shaven chin with a gesture which recalled the vanished pointed beard. “I am there — for the present.”
It occurred to Paul Warren as he heard this remark that he was in the presence of a man with whom he should be glad to differ in matters of opinion and of taste, and he smiled with satisfaction as Miss Wilmot carelessly changed the subject, tacitly refusing to discuss the young professor’s career.
One by one the people about them departed, white gown and yellow and blue drifting past against the background of cool green leaf and grass; Paul led his mother to her carriage, while the Southern girl waited for her companions from the Inn. Together they walked home through the fragrant, dust-flecked air, the petals of pink wild roses falling along their path, and, overhead, the leaves of silver poplars trembling in gray-green against the sky.
The ladies of the Emerson Inn had adopted this girl with no mental reserves; the Warren carriage had waited for her too often at the door to leave any doubt of her desirability as an acquaintance. With not only Respectability but Tradition bending thus obsequiously over her, they whispered to one another that her strange arrival was mere accident: she had come North to visit Mrs. Warren, but had been prevented by Mr. Warren’s sudden illness and death. Moreover, they liked her: it was as if some tropical bird of brilliant plumage and vivid eyes had dropped down among them. There was always about her an air of expectancy, for she was one to whom the kaleidoscopic shifting of things constantly presented new shades of beauty and of significance, and she ever kept an alert eye on the flashing, changing stuff of life. Something of her sense of wonder and romance walking still the paths of everyday began to hover like a rosy cloud about each gray head.
It was not only the guests who were touched by it: every inhabitant of the Inn, from Mr. Phipps to the schoolmistress-maid, felt a touch of indefinable pleasure in the presence of this girl. Yet the schoolmistress sorely disapproved, and was not without a secret share of the hope cherished by the cultured ladies of leading this Southern maiden to a higher life.
“I’m fond of reading, too,” ventured the maid, glancing one day at the pile of books that had to take refuge on the floor in a corner of Miss Wilmot’s room, “but I never read novels. I don’t believe in wasting time, do you?”
She got only a smile for reply, a puzzled, serious smile that finally decided to be merry and broke into little quivering curves at the corners of the lips; and she went away, baffled, with a puzzled face. It was as if she had lost sight of something that had just passed, many-colored and with iridescent wings.
With a purpose as lofty as that of the maid, the guests of the Inn bore Frances Wilmot away in triumph this Sunday afternoon, a maiden sacrifice, to read poetry upon the rocks. They were all in a softened mood, and, before beginning, indulged her in a little random conversation.
“How does it happen that you have never before seen the ocean, my dear?” asked the Lady from Wilmington.
“We had a summer home at Blue Ridge and went there nearly every year,” answered the girl, her heart crying out for the call of the gulls and the sweep of the sea and silence.
It was the little Lady from Boston who sat nearest her on the rocks, claiming a place as friend by virtue of her initial judgment of the young stranger. “One can always tell a lady, I think,” was all she had said by way of reproof; and she had followed her first favors with kindliness that was both simple and sweet.
“Is n’t it charming at the Warren place ?” she asked. “Do you know that it is full, simply full, of treasures ? There are silver platters and punch bowls and beautiful old spoons hidden away in the dark cupboards. Do ask Mrs. Warren to bring them out for you some day.”
“Why?” asked the girl perversely.
“Because you may never have another chance.”
“But I’ve seen that kind of thing all my life. I’m sorry, but I cannot care profoundly about old punch bowls.”
“Mr. Paul Warren looks more distant than ever,” growled the Lady from Cincinnati. “ No man of his age ought to have that brooding expression, and yet his face is distinctly interesting. He resembles some old portrait that one often sees: whose is it, — Sir Thomas More’s, or” —
“It is the Warren house that he resembles,” volunteered Frances Wilmot, in the pause. “He has that look suggesting old experiences not his own.”
“He is very gifted and very eccentric,” interposed the Lady from Boston hastily, lest something still more foolish should be said. “Nobody knows him. So much of his time has been spent abroad, and so much now is spent in study, that I imagine he is out of touch with things.”
“Educated for a lawyer, was n’t he ?” asked the elderly lady who was Somebody from Somewhere.
“I do not know,” said Frances Wilmot patiently. She felt the need of many things more keenly than the need of conversation about Mr. Paul Warren.
“Humph!” said the lady who had asked the question. “It seems to me I have heard his Uncle Peter tell how he finished his study and began practicing in Boston. One day he drove up to the old house here in a station carriage, with his trunks in an express wagon behind him.
“‘Well?’ said old Mr. Warren; they are such a silent family, you know.
“‘I’ve given it up,’ said Mr. Paul. ‘I shall try some profession where I can be an honest man.’
“The father only chuckled, without a word, and Mr. Peter said that it was probably the longest discussion of motive that had ever taken place between them.”
Here the reading began. They had brought with them the most detestable of anthologies, — and to the girl in whose behalf they were exerting themselves all anthologies were detestable, — and they took turns in rendering the verse contained therein. Frances Wilmot profanely recalled scenes of Indian torture where a similar rotation was observed, for false metres truly rendered and true metres falsely rendered smote like blows upon her sensitive ear. They were too tactful to ask her to take her turn: the schools in the South were so poor, and she probably did not read very well! Neither at the reading nor during the discussion that followed, however, did her inner misery break through her fine courtesy. They were very good to her, she kept saying to herself, as she clung to the rock with appealing hands.
“They take life as they take grapenuts,” she thought, “ predigested, and with the substance gone. What meaning can it have for them after it has been so discussed ? Can’t they see that beauty talked about disappears?”
To-day the criticism languished, for, all unknown to the ladies of the Emerson Inn, the intellectuality of their lives was slipping away in the presence of this girl’s keen zest in facing existence. When at last they let her go, they watched her, dreaming, for the charm of her free footsteps had begun to touch the measure of their own, and wherever she was there was a sense as of doors and windows flung open to wide spaces.
Upon a straggling woodland path, soft with pine needles of unnumbered years, she set her feet with a sense of exquisite relief. Delicate leaves of birch and poplar touched her flushed cheek with green coolness; she gathered her hands full of live spruce twigs and crushed them passionately. It was hard for one whose gift was that of crushing from each moment its utmost reach of joy or of pain to understand this sort of mental nibbling at the edges of things, yet she knew that the air was sweeter and her path more free because of her late bondage, and, with a sigh, she let the great silence of beauty infold her.
(To be continued.)
- Copyright, 1905, by MARGARET SHERWOOD.↩