The Coming of the Tide

XV

Paul wondered at a certain negligence in Uncle Peter’s dress in these days, for the old man was something of a dandy, and vain of his irreproachable clothes. Now day after day his collar was limp, his coat was dusty, and there were wrinkles in his trousers, while his gay and egoistic pessimism was tarnished by persistent sadness. He talked little, but, by garden path or piazza corner, brooded with a frown upon his brow, forgetful of the paper novel protruding from his pocket, forgetful, almost, of the cigar between his teeth. A fixed idea was in his mind, and to that fixed idea everything in nature and in memory contributed: he had been cheated of his inheritance; half-forgotten words out of the past and the half-remembered expressions of certain faces confirmed the conviction, as did the look he imagined in Paul’s eyes. The injury had not pressed upon him so heavily in John Warren’s day: he had stood in awe of John, and even to his butterfly brain it had seemed fitting that so strong a hand should hold the helm; but now it was different. Paul, who had been a baby before his eyes; Paul, who was in knickerbockers but yesterday, had stepped between him and his own. The feeling that the management of the Warren affairs had been given to one much younger and therefore more incompetent than himself was galling to the old man; and the sense of injury that he had felt on hearing his own father’swill read, — had felt,but had forgotten in his busy thoughts and his busy reading of Ouida and the Duchess, — came back with more than its pristine force. Had not great-great-grandfather Warren played fast and loose with other people’s money as well as with his own ? Was it not probable, although no cases were recorded, — of course they would not be recorded, — that there had been in the family history instances oi questionable honesty ? Surely, if his pages of fiction spoke truth, there was nothing so prone to trip the foot of erring man as the golden calf. He had been wronged, and through Paul’s accession the situation had become unendurable; should he not devote his best energies to investigation and to undoing the harm done?

As he wondered where to begin, remembering from his favorite stories moments where the veriest trifles had become, under the working of an acute mind, irresistible proofs of guilt, it occurred to him that old Andrew Lane might be of use. Andrew had served his father, and doubtless skillful questioning would elicit valuable information without betraying the purpose; people of that class were usually dull of intellect, and slow in drawing inferences. He would begin with Andrew.

There was a touch of hauteur in Uncle Peter’s manner as he walked out into the new orchard, where the old gardener was pruning branches and twigs from young pear trees. Andrew Lane was rarely respectful, he confessed to himself, and he resolved that his own manner should strike just the balance between sternness and affability that would elicit the best results. Affability should come first.

“Good-morning, good-morning, Andrew,” said Uncle Peter genially, as he drew near the spot where blue overalls and a torn felt hat betrayed the old man’s presence. The workman nodded, mumbling an inarticulate reply,but he went on cutting.

“Andrew,” said Uncle Peter, standing with his legs slightly apart in lus conception of a manly attitude, “do you remember my father well?”

The question brought the pruningshears to an abrupt standstill, and two shrewd old blue eyes twinkled humorously from under grizzled eyebrows.

“Yes,” he nodded.

“He was a fine man, Andrew,” remarked the visitor with a sigh.

“To be sure,” said the old gardener. “Glad you think so.”

“Did n’t you think so ? ” queried Uncle Peter.

Andrew pushed back his battered hat and went to work again, making little ineffectual periods to the conversation with every snip of his shears.

“He was honest,” said Andrew. “Any man’s a fine man that’s honest, I s’pose.”

“But was n’t he especially kind to you ? ” demanded Uncle Peter, an edge of the sternness that he had planned as a last resort getting into his voice as he saw the old servant shaking with silent laughter.

“Whiles he wuz, and whiles he wuz n’t,” was the answer.

A reproof quivered on Uncle Peter’s lips, but he repressed it. Diplomatists, he reflected, should use the most delicate tact.

“I wonder if you recall anything special about him the winter he died; I was in Florida, you know. Did anything strike you as unusual at that time?”

The old man’s eyes pierced through the wrinkled face with penetration that Mr. Peter Warren failed to see.

“He wuz about as usual, I guess.”

“Quite right in his mind, eh?”

“About as usual,” answered the gardener, grinning.

The baffled questioner made a sudden move that he had not planned; at least he could make this exasperating old man take a serious view of the situation.

“I will confide in you, Andrew,” he said kindly, “that doubts have been for many years stirring in my mind regarding my father’s sanity when he made his will. It was very unusual, you know, very extraordinary. I thought that if you had anything of importance to tell me, I could make it worth your while.”

“I guess that air will wuz all right,”said Andrew Lane, going back to his work, and Uncle Peter strode away in helpless rage.

It was partly his rebuff at the hands of a menial, partly a memory of the fresh interest in Alec Bevanne’s eyes when the money trouble had been suggested to him, that drove Uncle Peter to seek the companionship and the sympathy of his young neighbor frequently during the days that followed. Walking by shore or lane, they often met by accident, and there was a gate near the Bevanne homestead by which the old man sometimes went to stand at sunset. Seeing him there, the young professor would stroll out good-naturedly to meet him, and a long conversation would ensue. It was wonderful, Uncle Peter reflected, how many tastes they had in common, despite the disparity of their ages; he had not supposed that there were any longer in a degenerate world young men as nice as this. The same books, especially books of poetry, seemed to appeal to them both; they shared the same sentiments concerning nature, and were as one man when they talked of Frances Wilmot. Uncle Peter needed no one to tell him how thirstily Alec Bevanne drank in all he had to say of her, and he took delight in repeating what she had said on this day or that while visiting Mrs. Warren,in telling what she had worn. Many of his descriptions were of a high order of antiquated literary merit. When gloomier themes presented themselves, he found in this young man almost the same interested courtesy that he found when speaking of woman, wine, and verse; and the words of encouragement were balm to a wounded heart. This charming neighbor could hardly be more interested in the situation if it were one involving his own interests, Uncle Peter thought warmly. His appreciation was delicate; his sympathy as kindly as it was rare.

Half thoughtlessly the young man drew the old one out. It was great fun to hear him talk: nothing so interesting, so manysided, and, withal, so futile, in the way of personality had presented itself for a long time. Uncle Peter’s very vocabulary had a charm about it, with its quaint polysyllables; and his airy fancies and theories, his way of covering any plain situation or object with a dusky mist of his own morbid thought, presented constantly varying entertainment to the student of books and of human nature. The fixed idea, as it grounded itself more and more strongly in Uncle Peter’s mind, began to suggest to Alec Bevanne something more than mere entertainment. Might there not be truth in the suspicion of wrong-doing somewhere ? The situation was a strange one, and the old man had undoubtedly been deprived of that which, in the usual course of things, would have been his. An unformulated thought that anything meaning misfortune to Paul Warren, who could almost daily see this woman of all the world and hear her speak, would not come amiss, lurked low down in Alec Bevanne’s mind. He encouraged Uncle Peter, clapped him in friendly wise upon the back, and told him to go on and claim his own. It was but justice that he wanted; no one could blame him for demanding that. At least he should consult a lawyer, the very best that could be found. As the old man drank hope and inspiration from the cheery words and smile, his manner grew more and more distant when he spoke to his nephew. If not actually a villain, Paul was apparently the son of a villain, and no one knew better than Uncle Peter the compelling nature of hereditary impulse.

As the days went on, the old man grew more and more restless, smoked less, and lingered longer at the sideboard; and the name of great-great-grandfather Warren was oftener than ever on his lips. Then came a morning when he did not appear at breakfast, and news was brought that he could not be found. His bed had not been used; various toilet articles and pieces of clothing had been taken from the room; and in the deep dust of the road prints of foolish, pointed-toed shoes led away in the direction of the railway station. Had anything of the kind ever occurred before, Paul asked his mother, as he ate a hasty breakfast, conscious that steps must be taken at once to bring the fugitive back, but sorely at a loss to know the wisest way of beginning. Once or twice, Mrs. Warren answered, he had disappeared without warning, but it had always made Paul’s father uneasy. NowUncle Peter was too old to be trusted alone; he had probably gone to Boston, and Paul must follow as soon as possible.

The day after the disappearance, while Paul Warren was searching hotel registers and watching on street corners, Alec Bevanne drove gayly up to the Warren homestead with Uncle Peter beside him in the light carriage. He came in to make a call on Mrs. Warren, while Uncle Peter removed the dust of travel upstairs.

“We happened to meet,” he said confidentially to his hostess. ”I was not sure that Mr. Warren could make his way among the crowds, so I kept an eye on him, and he fell in gladly with my suggestion that we should come home together.”

“That young Mr. Bevanne is a person of most delicate courtesy, Paul,” said Mrs. Warren, when her son, hot, tired, and vexed, returned in answer to her telegram. “He could not have been more considerate.”

Paul added his thanks to his mother’s when an opportunity came, wondering, meanwhile, how he could be base enough to suspect that the obliging young neighbor had had something to do with the departure as well as with the return, yet irresistibly drawn to that conclusion by the old man’s dark hints. Uncle Peter had come back from his escapade with an exasperating air of having accomplished something, and he went about cheerfully humming bits of song; as he himself expressed it, the ancestor-poetess was uppermost in him now. He vouchsafed no real explanation of his absence, merely remarking that he had had business in the city, and he dwelt much upon the attractions of his friend, Alec Bevanne, who had been of real service to him.

It was half in good nature, half in malice, that this young man spread abroad his knowledge of Uncle Peter and of the revelations that had come through him. Alec liked to share good things with appreciative listeners, and his mother and Alice were entertained, sometimes against their will, with portions of the Warren family history. Even the loungers about the post office at Wahonet heard bits of gossip that had a relish for their ears, for the Warrens were no great favorites with the idlers at open doors.

“Mas’r Paul,” said Aunt Belinda one morning as she brought in a plate of hot waffles to set before her young master, “what’s all this I yer Mas’r Alec Bevanne tellin’ ’bout you-all?”

Paul looked up in wonder.

“Dat low nigger dat works down to de Sunny Beach House tole me suffin’ ’bout it,” said Aunt Belinda with a sniff. “Says dey’s all so’ts of things happen in de fam’ly dat you-all is ’shamed of. Now I say, Mas’r Paul, dat dey all wrong. Like ’nough yo’ paw and yo’ grandpaw done lots ob things to be ’shamed ob, but dey wa’n’t ’shamed of dem! Dat’s what I tole dat low nigger.”

XVI

It was a bit of lovely pasture land beside the sea. Low headlands jutted out into the water, with soft hollows lying between, and the bare look of lichen-covered gray stone and shorn green grass where the herd was grazing brought to Frances Wilmot a sudden sense of the unseen beauty of the shores of Greece. So must the dun-colored cows have stood out against a sky of cloudless blue in the old great days, and even as now must the salt, sweet breeze blowing across the hollow have brought courage to hearts long turned to dust. The still blue water wore the changeless look that it bears on quiet days to those who cannot see the ceaseless stir along the beach, and swift passing beauty seemed fixed in an immortal moment. There was no sound save that of the soft step of hoofs upon the turf, and of the cropping of grass. Noiselessly one little fishing craft, with sunlight on its white sail, its hull dark in shadow, crept down along the shore. The girl closed her eyes to feel the full enchantment of loneliness, of silence, and of the sea, opening them to find all still the same.

A sharp little bark broke the stillness: looking up, she saw Robin Hood, pausing near her with lifted head and the old puzzled look in his eyes. What was to be done with this intruder who was so near his cows? he seemed to ask. She did not call him to her where she sat on a great gray rock in a hollow, with clustered low green fern at her feet, but watched as, with a low growl, he subsided, seating himself not far away with his back toward her and gazing into distance or into the past. If some dim thought was in his mind that he must protect this friend of the house he served, he was apparently resolved to ignore the relationship, lest she presume. As they waited, the light across the sea and in the hollows grew more golden, and the shadow of hillock and fern-bordered rock crept farther across the grass. The sunset light falling on the one white sail, and turning water and shore to deeper and tenderer color, made her realize that she had spent the livelong afternoon sitting with the sunshine on her face, bookless, and with no occupation save the opening and the shutting of her eyes.

When Robin Hood’s master strolled over the hill she felt, no surprise; she knew that this was Warren pasture land, and that these great-eyed Jersey cattle belonged to the Warren herd. Moreover, at odd moments in the shifting of her dreams, she had been thinking of this man. That the result of her analysis of his character was not entirely satisfactory, was seen in the seriousness that sat upon her brow. At first he did not see her; the quick swing of his step grew slower as he reached the top of the headland and looked across the sea. What fresh sense was in his mind of the encompassing beauty and worth of the world she did not dream, but he paused, glad of the sudden feeling that the old charmed moments which had come to him at rare intervals through the past years of his life were hurrying fast upon one another now. A sense as of joy coming in like the tide across thirsty sand was in his soul, and the ripple and swish of the soft waves on the beach below seemed to be something taking place inside him. He clenched his hands for gladness at the pain of being born into the world of beauty and the world of love. Ah, it was good, with its sting, its possibilities of hurt, its certainties of knowing! Then, across his sudden vision of life glad and free as on the golden hills, yet fine and conscience-guarded, floated a memory of his mother’s face, and with it a train of faces shadowed and sad, making him aware of increased sensitiveness to pain. The walls of his being had grown thinner, and every touch from outside meant the vibrating of the soul within to the sorrow, the hurt, the joy of the world. Full of a new conviction that it was good, the groping, the stumbling, the finding of the way, he turned and saw before him in reality, as she had been in vision, the woman whose face was but his old dream come true.

They easily resumed discussion as he greeted her, for they had fallen into a way of taking up without preamble the topic they had been considering the last time when interruption had come, and the remarks of Monday were often only the completion of sentences left unfinished on Saturday.

“They were going to read aloud at the Inn,” she explained presently, “and I could not stand it, so I ran away.”

“You rebel daughter of a rebel South!” he answered. “Such opportunities for improvement may never come again!”

“I know it!” she admitted, and their laughter rang out through the sea hollows, startling the wee sandpipers at the edge of the waves.

“What makes you look so sad ?” asked Frances Wilmot, for, even as their mirth echoed back to them from the rocks, the shadow of the old days had fallen across the man’s face, and that new sense of assured good that had so lately filled him with peace vanished in her presence, before his knowledge of his own unworthiness, and the certainty that she could never care. She was quick to note the look in his deep eyes, and the sudden, sensitive quiver of the lip.

“Nothing but destiny,” he answered lightly.

“Please don’t knock the heads off those ferns,” said the girl, reaching to take his cane from him. “And do not talk to me of destiny! There is n’t any such thing; there is nothing but the human will!” She shook her wind-blown hair from her face, looking, in her joyous energy, like the incarnation of the will of which she spoke.

“You are in a heroic mood to-day.”

She nodded. “The souls of the heroes of Greece have been flitting past me in this hollow, and they have left their courage in my soul.”

“There were heroic Greek women, too,” he said idly, thinking that, with this stern beauty of rock and shorn grass about her, and with the touch of severity upon her brow, she might, save for her modern dress, be a bit of the olden time. Surely none could have had greater courage at the hands of fate, and he watched her, marveling. It seemed to him that, within the shelter of her soul she sat weaving pain and loss and joy into a web of marvelous beauty and strength.

“Why do you go?” asked the girl.

“I can hardly claim a place among your heroic dreams.”

“Don’t disappear, Ghost! Do you know, I have been thinking about you.”

“ Why do you call me that ? ” he asked, with a shade of annoyance in his voice. For some reason the old jest was beginning to jar.

“Because you are,” said Frances Wilmot firmly, audacious courage dancing in her eyes.

“May I ask once for all what you mean ?”

He sat down on a granite rock near by and looked at her.

“I do not know that I can tell you now; you look like a piece of your New England granite.”

“Go on!” he commanded; and she obeyed.

“Because you have dropped out of your place in the marching ranks; you don’t belong! You stand aside and let it all go on without you; I mean the political life of the country, and all the actual fighting with common things. You are the ghost of old New England, and you go off into the corner and associate with yourself because you do not like the kind of people you are thrown with if you try to keep your hold on the actual. Ghosts never get their fingers soiled dealing with practical affairs: they have n’t any fingers! They lead an untroubled life apart among the shades.”

“Do not stop!” said Paul serenely. “Your eloquence makes me think that you have thought the matter out rather thoroughly.”

Meanwhile, in the heart of the man, sang Love, in its undreamed strength; —

“I can do all things: act, endure, achieve.”

“Who has your father’s seat in the legislature?” she demanded, her cheeks flaming with sudden red.

“An Irishman from County Down,” answered the young man, “a very interesting personage, who, from the possession of a cow, and two shock-headed little barefooted girls, has risen in an incredibly short space of time to be owner of a feudal castle on the rocks, and two elegant daughters in a finishing school. You would not check the march of progress in our country, would you, or blame me if my intellectual powers are not so much to the taste of my countrymen as are those of the gentleman from County Down?”

“You arc only making fun,” said the girl, “and I am in deadly earnest.”

“ I had not credited you with such fiery patriotism,” he remarked. “Your gift had seemed rather poetic than practical.”

“But it seems to me that, every human being, man or woman, should have a sense of duty about matters of every day.”

“I recall some sentiments of the kind myself, I think, from the copybook.”

“Perhaps it is only to the very great that the platitudes of life are not platitudes,” she flashed back, and he forgot his rising indignation in pleasure at the quickness of her retort. Again their laughter echoed between the hills, and her exhortation took a merrier tone.

“Oh, I’ve watched you, and other civilized men who are like you. The tide of life has left you stranded high and dry on your ideals; it is an ideal that has n’t any hold on the real. You stay ghosts because you are too scrupulous to live, and you associate in dim corners with the spirits of Winthrop and Endicott, Sumner and Phillips, ignoring the common people who need you. It is the very depth and strength of your nature which is keeping you from being of use.”

“You must remember,” he said lightly, “that the making of the Great Refusal has grown to be a family habit.”

“But that is past,” sang Love silently, “past and forgotten forever.”

“It does n’t do any good to talk to you!” said the girl, smiling. “I pierce you through with winged words and you part like a fog, meeting on the other side. There is n’t any weapon that can wound a — mist!”

“Would you mind suggesting some of the details of your plan for me ?”

“I have n’t made any plan,” she confessed. “You certainly ought not to give up writing, but I think you need a grip on actual life and difficulties. I should like to see you wrest your father’s place from the Irishman from County Down; I should like to hear your name associated with some great thing to be done, and to see you fighting, fighting, fighting like Achilles.”

“I am quite ready,” he said smiling, “even to be dragged by the hair round the walls of Washington, but there are practical difficulties in the way, of which, apparently, you are not aware. I confess that I have scruples, for instance about buying votes, which are not shared by the gentleman from County Down.”

Frances Wilmot looked at him with a swiftly changing face.

“I shall say nothing more,” she declared. “ I was trying to make you angry, and you sit there and look at me as a St. Bernard dog looks at a fox terrier puppy that is playing with his paws!”

As he looked at her his face was a mask hiding the tumult of his soul. With her shyness and her daring, her lofty sureness of the goal and her airy ignoring of the path by which to reach it, was she not a very woman? His leader one minute, she lingered the next for his guiding hand, and he watched her flushed face and dimmed dark eyes, pondering on the difference between his old dull pain of brooding thought and this new joyous pain of being alive.

“Grant deeper hurt,” pleaded Love in his inmost heart, “ and keener sting, for in it comes the very life of life.”

A long call sounded from the brow of the hill; it was the voice of Andrew Lane, who had come to bring home the cows. At his yodel they lifted their heads, one after another, gazed meekly at him, then went back to the soft, sweet grass, grazing as if they had heard nothing. The cry had roused Robin Hood, and he made one brave dash after the herd, with all his old spirit come back to him for a moment.

“After ’em, Robin! Bring ’em up! Fetch ’em in!” cried Andrew, who stood now at the top of the hill, silhouetted in blue overalls and yellow straw hat against the flushing sunset sky.

Robin started to round in the herd in his old, skillful, collie way, then stopped, wagging his tail uncertainly, as it in doubt of his exact duty. Andrew gave again a sharp word of command, and the old dog sprang forward with a joyous bark to the very centre of the herd, scattering the cattle this way and that, and then stood quivering, unsure of his own purpose. One dun-colored cow lowered her horns, and a yearling heifer kicked out gayly at him, but he did not flinch, only waited with wistful eyes and pleading tail for a word of command that he could believe.

The two who watched from the rocks in the hollow glanced at each other with one of those looks of complete understanding that lie somewhere below speech.

“My difficulty is plainly like Robin’s,” said Paul, with the old, ironic smile, “a paralyzing consciousness of undiscoverable duty. He is waiting for the right voice, my father’s, and it never comes.”

Here the dog made another sudden dash, barking at the heads of the bewildered animals, and, in confusion, they stampeded, running this way and that over gray rock and tangled blackberry vines, and ferns that gave out a pungent odor as they were broken and trodden under foot.

“No, it is I who am like Robin,” said the girl, a sad mischievousness coming into her eyes. “That is just the way I dash at things, womanlike, without knowing anything about them. I regret, Mr. Warren, that I have been trying to teach you out of the depth of my ignorance, and I freely confess that I have been — pardon me— barking at your head!”

So she turned and left him, and he watched her as she climbed the rocky headland, stood outlined a minute against the gold flush of the sky and the answering flush of the sea, then wandered the way of the moorland road that curled, grass - grown and beautiful, along the heights. Robin Hood came back and stood near his master, trying with dumb, eloquent eyes to explain, and permitting a single caress.

“You and I are rather badly off, old fellow,” said Paul Warren. “You have lost your guiding voice forever, and I have found mine only to realize that I may not have it.”

Musing, he paced the high, tangled cliff road that the girl had followed. She was a thing of fire and flame, with beauty of face and of soul flashing out opal-wise through constant change. He might see it, as he saw the glory of sunset, but he could not keep it; and would not the inevitable swift - coming gray be all the more dreary because of the vanished gold ? But, as he swung on his homeward way in the cool air, the encompassing rhythm of the sea got into his long stride, and across the discords of his life he seemed to hear, as he would hear forever after she was gone, the melody of hers, where some sweet spirit played, touching all the strings to music.

XVII

It was the woman who began it. Down the garden paths and over the narrow space of rock and of sand that separated the flowers from the sea, she fled precipitately with wind-blown hair and skirts in which the breeze fluttered in joy of the chase. On the tiny beach within the cove she waited expectantly by the dory which was pulled up on the sand, and she looked out wistfully to the Sea Gull, which was rocking gently up and down upon the waves. The man who followed her tacitly did her bidding, though not a word was spoken as the dory was launched and rowed out over the water to the little sailing vessel. With white sail set they glided noiselessly out to the wide sea, the woman at the helm, the man whistling as he ran up the jibs.

“ You are running away,” said Frances Wilmot suddenly, as the spray from a wave met aslant glistened on forehead and cheek.

“I am glad,” returned Paul Warren gently, “to place my one talent at your service.”

“Your talent for sailing a boat? I have often admired it.”

“The one talent which you attribute to me, that for running away.”

“Do you think it really matters if we go?” asked the woman, changing the subject.

“This is the game of ‘follow my leader;’ I am doing your bidding,” answered Paul, shaking out the reef as he spread the last inch of sail in the dash for the open sea.

“ I did not know the visitors,” mused Frances Wilmot.

“And yet you knew enough to escape! ”

“ I did not stop to think,” she said penitently.

“That, I believe, is your ideal course of action, and the one that you constantly recommend to me!”

“Let’s go back,” pleaded the girl, half letting go the tiller so that the vessel luffed and was struck by an oncoming wave.

“Look out! ” called the captain. “The man at the helm must be sure of his own mind, and must abide the consequences of his actions! No, mother will have made my excuses by this time, and it will only complicate matters if we go back. Besides, I promised to do an errand for her at Tern Island this afternoon, and we must head for that place now. Port your helm!”

They sailed on in silence, over the dancing water, with the sweet, fresh wind in their faces, and the girl crooned her song of the tide, while new measures got into it as the green, surging waves mounted to meet them, parting gently with loveliest color and sound when the Sea Gull cut them through. This beauty, escaping through myriad fullness, how could she grasp, how endure it? Unconsciously it had become to her the clearest symbol of that quick changefulness which lends life significance, — infinite permanence running through infinite change.

“‘The heart of the great tides,’” Paul Warren repeated to himself, watching the rhythmic color in her cheek and listening to her song; and, wind and wave lending their own courage to his sold, as he took charge of tiller and sheet, he laughed inwardly, as he had often done of late, at his passing mood of causeless melancholy, for the old ghosts waged a losing fight against the strength of the sea. Why should he stand apart or dream that his lot should be less than that of other men? Nay, when the right moment came, he would venture all and try his fate, abiding gain or loss; and the man’s eyes smiled gravely as love touched the will and quickened it to faith and action.

Frances Wilmot, singing to herself and swaying slightly to and fro with the motion of the boat, failed to read the expression of the face whose reserve was a protecting mask. The motion of the man’s arms, his skill, his masterful way of meeting difficulty, gave her to-day, as always, a thrill of delight. Look and action showed him to her triumphantly as a leader of men, if the opportunity for leadership could but come, if some great force would but push him into the heart of life.

Then the face of Alice Bevanne floated before her, and in fancy she saw it as she had often seen it with her eyes, — against the blue of sky and of sea, with its protecting cloud of palest gold hair, — full of delicate strength and austerity and power to endure. Frances Wilmot’s breath came quickly, with a thought that had often struck her before: was not the hidden fire of this girl’s nature all that was needed to bring the touch of flame to the man’s, who was so near akin to her in soul ? Her shyness and her unwillingness to speak of him had long ago betrayed to Frances something that she was ashamed to know: Alice loved Paul Warren, loved him to the depths of her heart, and had betrayed herself in this, that her look of renunciation was never quite so beautiful or so strong as when her eyes rested on the face of this man.

If this might be, so Frances prayed wind and wave, it would mean to Paul Warren the sting of love that is salvation; and to Alice, happiness. The throb of the girl’s heart as she thought of this was half the hope of joy for her friend, half something else. As for herself, — there would be left wide skies and the world of beauty, the gold of sunrise over the free sea, and the sweep of the tides.

“I wish that we could have brought Miss Bevanne; she is a great sailor, said Paul suddenly, and the girl started as if he had divined her thought.

“I wish we had,” she answered, cunningly adding: “I admire her more and more. It has been worth my pilgrimage to the North to find a woman like that.”

“She is certainly a remarkable girl,”assented Paul cordially.

Watching him through keen, halfclosed eyes, Frances Wilmot sighed; the power of these New Englanders in concealing desirable information was indeed wonderful! In silence they sailed on for half an hour more, gradually nearing a little island whose gray rocks and stunted pines rose out of the sea with an expression of primeval silence and loneliness. Running into a little cove on a sheltered side of the island they landed at a tiny broken wharf, and Paul Warren turned toward a gray, weather-beaten cottage near at hand.

“Will you come with me?” he asked.

“No,” said the girl, “I will climb the rocks.”

Above, the ragged pine trees cut the blue; beside the path dull green juniper lay warm and fragrant in the sun, and all was silence save for the cry of the whitewinged gulls circling overhead. Slowly she climbed over lichen-grown rock and pebble, stepping noiselessly, and at the summit started back, almost losing her balance, for there, lying flat on the short grass, was Alec Bevanne, his arms flung above his head, his eyes closed as if in sleep. She tiptoed softly away over moss and lichen, wondering, from the troubled look upon his face, if anything were wrong, but the breaking of a dried hemlock twig under her feet betrayed her presence, and he opened his eyes, was dazed for a moment as if unable to distinguish between the sleeping and the waking dream, then sprang to his feet, hastily brushing bits of moss and twig from coat and hair.

“ It is odd that we should meet here,” he said, with a poor attempt at his usual gay smile.

”I am helping Mr. Warren do an errand for his mother,” she said quietly, noticing in her companion an agitation that showed itself in nervous action of hand and of foot. At his invitation she seated herself on a great rock, and together they watched the green waves below rushing home to their island caves, rippling, receding, with white foam at the edge. Over the young man’s face flushed sudden color that went as quickly, leaving pallor behind; the woman saw too late.

“I cannot help it,” the words came bursting forth as if it were beyond his power to stay them; “I must speak, for I was thinking of you,—I think of nothing but you, — and then I opened my eyes, and you stood before me as if you had come in answer to my call.”

She raised a warning hand, and, as she did so, noticed that his bloodshot eyes suggested sleepless nights.

“Don’t!” she begged softly.

“I must,” he cried. “I love you; I know that there can be but little hope for me, but I love you. You must have seen it, and have known, for I have betrayed it a thousand ways.”

“I did not know,” she said, her heart full of pity for one whose manhood seemed shaken by the force of a passion that raged within.

“I know that I may seem an insignificant person in your eyes,” he went on hotly, “but I will work, I will distinguish myself, I can, if you will only help me, and then” —

She shook her head, and said only the same word: “Don’t.”

A little sandpiper ran near them on nimble feet, watching with bright, eager eyes, and the measure of their silence was the measure of her fearlessness as she crept toward them. Then the sandpiper ran fluttering away, and the sea gulls paused for an instant on outstretched wings as a storm of words came from the mouth of the man on the cliff. The two had risen to their feet and stood startled, defiant, as the woman’s answer came: —

“Stop! What right have you to speak that way?”

Hoarse as the call of the gulls, and with their note of homelessness, the man’s cry rang back: —

“I tell you, I cannot live without you, I cannot, I cannot. It is the first time I have ever cared, and if there is no hope, I will throw myself from the cliff into the water.”

Was it the gulls or the waves or the woman’s voice that murmured “Coward?”

Shame came into the young man’s face, and quiet to his voice.

“No, do not go away,” he begged. “ I will do nothing, and I much regret that I have frightened you.”

When Paul Warren, startled by the far echo of Alec Bevanne’s voice, joined them, he found the two chattering about matters of no consequence, but the strained look in his young neighbor’s face did not escape him, nor did the aimless movements of his nervous hands. Paul glanced anxiously toward Frances, divining the agitation of mood, but the girl had risen and was standing with her back to him, studying a sail on the horizon. With the elaborate politeness which characterized all his dealings with his neighbor, he entered into a discussion regarding the management of small craft; but his concealed indignation waxed hotter and more hot as he realized that some great shock had come to Frances Wilmot, who still stood shading her eyes with her hand and gazing out to sea.

Half an hour later, as the Sea Gull cut through the waves toward the sunset and toward home, Paul Warren kept a watch on the white sail ahead that dipped and rose lightly again where Alec Bevanne’s knockabout, the Rocket, danced homeward.

“That is good speed,”he remarked, “but Bevanne’s a reckless sailor. He crowds her as if he did not care whether he goes under or not.”

Frances looked at Paul with a sigh of deep relief. It was good to rest, after that outburst upon the island, in the strength and the impersonality of this man; and good to know, with the memory of that emotional fury in her mind, of the reserve power and self - control of which manhood was capable, — though of course Paul did not care like that, would never care at all. She shivered as the memory of Alec Bevanne’s face came back to her, marveling at the difference between the children of one house, — the silent strength of love in the woman, the weakness of love in the man. And oh, the pity of it! How could music be made of this world, after all, if even the great tides sometimes went astray ?

Sunset glowed behind the pine trees in the west as they neared home; it dyed the waves with a glory of color, crimson here and gold beyond; it fell on Frances Wilmot’s hair and face, hiding the trouble in her eyes from him who gazed upon it. The moment which had marred for her the melody in things brought to him stronger and stronger sense of the encompassing rhythm of life; and more and more this woman seemed a part of it, and a part of the great sea, with its inexplicable longing, its life, its irresistible advance.

XVIII

“Try it again,” suggested the friendly voice of Alec Bevanne.

“ I did try,” answered Uncle Peter dejectedly, “and the lawyer, as you know, would n’t listen to me; said it was a bootless scheme.”

“Go to somebody here; there’s Marvin over in the village.”

The shadow deepened on the old man’s face. “ He knows too much about it,” was his answer. “Marvin was my father’s lawyer and John’s.”

“Then he’s just the man!” cried Alec, slapping Uncle Peter’s shoulder. “ Face him and get the truth out of him.”

There was a somewhat pathetic hilarity in Alec Bevanne’s manner, and the flickering glance of his restless eye showed eager search for amusement. The two were strolling up and down a grass-grown, neglected lane behind the Bevanne house, the elder man with difficulty keeping the pace of his companion’s long, nervous strides. The half-suppressed excitement of the latter’s manner showed most clearly in the savage attacks of his light cane on the milkweed pods, whose down he sent floating hither and yon in the still summer air.

“ Go in for your rights,” pursued Alec vehemently, after waiting in vain for an answer. “If John Warren took your inheritance" —

“Hush,” whispered Uncle Peter with a sudden clutch upon his companion’s arm: “there’s Paul!”

Yes, there was Paul, striding through an adjacent field with Robin at his heels, a look of fine contempt upon his face. Uncle Peter wondered, with a thrill of something akin to fear, how much he had heard, but Alec Bevanne only smiled. This unexpected encounter made matters all the more interesting at a moment when he was sorely in need of amusement, and a little surface annoyance to the son of his father’s old enemy would do no harm. From all that could be found out concerning the long family quarrel, the Bevannes were greatly in arrears in the matter of paying old grudges; and already Alec half divined that in his thwarted love another injury had been added to the list.

Paul said no word, but walked on as if he had neither seen nor heard the speakers. His smiling indifference toward Alec Bevanne was broken through at last, had been broken for some time, he realized, in the hot indignation that the careless words just overheard had roused. In muscle and clenched fist lingered a sensememory of how it had felt, to knock Alec Bevanne down when they were boys, and at this moment it seemed to him as if no experience quite so satisfactory had come to him since. His teeth were set closely together in wrath, wrath at this young man for his lack of chivalry toward a helpless old one. Gray hairs and foolishness combined should command at least pity, and Alec Bevanne well knew that in Uncle Peter’s mind, where nothing was really wrong, nothing had ever been quite right.

Half an hour later the mischievous advice of the young professor had taken effect, and by the shore path over headland and sandy beach, in the clear August weather, strode Uncle Peter, an Uncle Peter no longer smiling, chattering, debonair, but militant, a man of purpose and of action, the fixed idea in his mind not now a subject of brooding thought, but the nerve and soul of the most eventful resolve in the man’s whole life. Outside help had failed. Old Andrew Lane was worse than useless in giving evidence that might lead to legitimate disputing of wills; Alec Bevanne, with all the moral encouragement he had given, was not in a position to afford practical assistance: to Uncle Peter it seemed that the moment had come for his inner self to rise to heroic action; man nor circumstance could help him, — he would help himself.

He was taking the long path by the shore to Wahonet in order to have time to calm himself; solitude and the fresh sea breeze, he instinctively felt, would help nerve him to action. He walked with a long, slow stride, his slender frame tense with the tremulous energy of the man of dreams when summoned to unaccustomed deed. He must be firm, the shaking hand kept reminding the bamboo cane which trembled in sympathy; he must be firm.

There was cold perspiration on his brow under the protecting brim of the Panama hat when at last he walked into Wahonet, pausing by an old-fashioned brick house whose white wooden doorway bore the sign: “Abel Marvin, Attorney at Law.”Uncle Peter’s final summoning of all his resolution lent new wavering motions to his legs as he mounted the stone steps and rang the doorbell. He was ushered into a room bright with red ingrain carpet, silk patchwork cushions, and chromos; and here he found a little, bent, old man, whose snow-white hair and colorless face lent added fire and expression to a pair of still brilliant dark eyes.

“Take a chair,” said Abel Marvin, without rising. “Business, eh ? Come to make your will ?”

Uncle Peter shook his head, slowly, portentously.

“No, " he answered, and, for almost the first time in his life, did not know what to say next.

“Take your time,” said the old lawyer, after a pause.

“Mr. Marvin,” said Uncle Peter, with a great leap of moral courage, “you did my father’s business for him the better part of his life, did n’t you?”

“I believe I helped transact the law business of James Francis Warren for over thirty years,” was the answer.

“And you drew up his will?”

The sharp, deep - set eyes looked out quizzically from under the shaggy white brows.

“I believe I did.”

“ Did it strike you at the time that there was anything curious about it?”

“I don’t recall that it did,” answered the old man. “I presume I was more taken up in those days with getting things done than with thinking about their being strange.”

Uncle Peter was seated now in an armchair upholstered in stamped red velvet, and he leaned his chin upon his cane, which he held between his knees. Thus supported he continued his attack, with a touch of pathos in his voice.

“ My father left the bulk of his property to my brother John.”

“James Francis Warren certainly bequeathed the major part of his effects to John Warren,” said Abel Marvin.

“Yet I was the older, and it was certainly unfair.”

“Some people,” drawled the old lawyer, “have an aggravating way of considering their own property their own. I s’pose that’s the way it was in this case.”

“It was unjust, and you know it,” said Uncle Peter, with a sudden access of fiery courage; but Abel Marvin merely shrugged his shoulders.

“There has been something strange in the whole history; I realize it more and more clearly as I grow older,” sternly pursued Uncle Peter, feeling that this officer of the law was quailing before him. “Unless I am mistaken, you are the man whom I remember as being with my father in his library on one of the occasions that now come back to me as proofs of my suspicion. I refer to the time when my brother John was born.”

The old lawyer started, and the eyebrows hung lower over the gleaming dark eyes.

“Well?”

“If you recall the time,” said Uncle Peter, the bamboo cane bending under the sudden demands upon it for moral support, “can you remember whether I was the person alluded to when a remark was made about the arrangement being bad for some one?”

“I recall the circumstance perfectly, and I believe you were,” said the lawyer dryly.

“My father’s will was made that day ?”

“It was.”

“And never changed ?”

“And never changed.”

The two men eyed each other across the marble-topped table for a few seconds’ space.

“I feel it my duty to tell you,” said Uncle Peter, clearing his throat, “that I am about to dispute that will.”

The dark old eyes were all attention, but the lawyer was silent.

“I — I have resolved to make an attempt to recover my rightful property,” asserted the visitor tremulously, his pale blue eyes attempting to give back bravely the stare of the black ones.

“You’ll be a fool if you do,” snapped the lawyer.

The dignity of Uncle Peter’s grand manner was the only response. He waited long until his companion spoke again.

“Mr. Warren, is it your purpose to carry out this ridiculous project?”

“It is,” answered Uncle Peter majestically.

“Then,” said Abel Marvin, “if you will stop a minute, I will tell you something which I should have been glad to keep from you, but which it seems my duty to let you know.”

“Tell on,” glowered Uncle Peter.

“ I regret that you have made it necessary,” said the old lawyer, speaking painfully, “but I have always had a great regard for the Warren family, and am sorry to see annoyance coming upon it. Of course you could accomplish nothing, and, for your own sake — for your own sake, Mr. Warren, I make a last appeal: give up your foolish plan.”

“I will not!” cried Uncle Peter triumphantly. “ I always knew that something was wrong, that there was a secret somewhere. Now I shall find it out at last.”

“There was a secret,” admitted Abel Marvin, “concerning you. I am especially sorry to tell it to you, for you are the one person who will not be able to keep it. However, I shall tell it to no one else, and if it becomes known it will be through no fault of mine. Mr. Peter Warren, you are no more the son of James Francis Warren than I am.”

“What!” stammered Uncle Peter.

“ You are no Warren: you are an adopted child, taken into the family when you were four months old.”

The bamboo cane had lost all strength of purpose and was quivering pitiably.

“ It’s a lie! ” cried Uncle Peter, angrily shaking the cane that had deserted him in his hour of need.

The lawyer shook his head, and the very accent of truth was in the motion.

“What motive could there have been for such an absurd action?” the other asked with a scornful laugh.

“Fear of having no heir,” said Abel Marvin. “Mr. James Francis Warren was an ambitious man, and his one desire was to build up a great estate and leave it to his son. He had been married eight years, and had no child when he adopted you; you were brought here with your parents from Vermont one spring when the family came back from the city, where you were supposed to have been born. So far as I know, no human being has ever suspected the secret, and Mr. Warren was fairly content to hand down his name to you, when John Warren suddenly surprised everybody by making his appearance in the world.”

“ It is a story that you are making up to frighten me out of my just purpose,” blustered Uncle Peter. “You have no proofs; whose son am I, according to your fairy tale?”

“You are the oldest son of Andrew Lane,” said the old lawyer. “Proofs enough exist; your father has them in his possession. I naturally have none here, though I have a clear memory of all that happened on that day when Mr. Warren took me into his confidence, the day you have alluded to, when you were perhaps five years old and matters had to be readjusted because of John Warren’s birth.”

“Andrew Lane!” shouted Uncle Peter. “I don’t believe a word of it.”

Abel Marvin looked calmly out of the window.

“There’s my son,” he announced, “just home. If you like, he can drive us down to Andrew’s, and you can see for yourself.”

“Does he know?”

“Nobody knows,” repeated Abel Marvin; “John Warren always supposed you to be his brother, for James Francis wanted to carry out his original intention as nearly as possible.”

The cool drive down the long country road brought to Uncle Peter only a sickening of the heart. It was a drooping figure that bent over the bamboo cane on the back seat of the light carriage, very different from the heroic one that had walked bravely along the shore an hour ago.

Old Andrew Lane was alone, sunning himself on the little front porch of the house where he lived with his son and his son’s wife. Hollyhock and sunflower grew by the prim path that led to the green door of the old stone house, and the stamp of homely comfort lay on threshold and window.

“What’s up?” asked Andrew as the two old men came toward him.

“It’s all up,” said the lawyer. “To protect the Warren family from annoyance I’ve been obliged to tell Mr. Peter here a tale that he does n’t believe. You have the documents, I believe. I should like to have him see them.”

With his clay pipe still in his mouth, old Andrew hobbled into an inner room, reappearing presently with a padlocked tin box, and with a worn family Bible.

“There you be,” he said, putting the open Bible before Uncle Peter, and proceeding to open the box.

Uncle Peter’s eyes did him bad service, but he managed to read on the stained yellow page the record of the birth of a child named Peter, on his very birthday, to Andrew and Cynthia Lane, and without a word he turned to the paper which the gardener handed him. It was a certificate of adoption of a four months’ old child, called Peter Lane, by James Francis Warren, who bound himself, not only to provide for said child for life, but to support the parents, — who had moved to Wahonet, — in return for any service which they might care to give, the support to cease at any moment if the secret were not scrupulously kept.

“Oh!” moaned Uncle Peter, convinced at last. “It is hard; it is too hard.”

“So your ma thought,” said old Andrew Lane, “’til Andy was born; that comforted her consid’able.”

“Good-by, Mr. Warren,” said the lawyer, holding out his hand. “Keep the secret if you can, and as for this afternoon’s business, — well, perhaps you’d better quit reading so many paper-covered novels.”

Old Andrew Lane went to put away the tin box, saying as he did so, with the slightest quiver in the gruff voice,—

“I cal’late you won’t want to come to live with your folks, but if you should need to, some time, mebbe, I guess we can find room.”

Uncle Peter, tottering out to the porch, utterly unable to rise to the occasion, sat down on an unpainted wooden bench, with sunflower and hollyhock swimming before his eyes, and wept piteously for great-grandmother Anne, and the ancestor-poetess, and even, in a cruel, belated sense of orphanhood, for great-greatgrandfather Warren and all his sins.

XIX

The charm of the road was that it seemed to lead nowhere, only wandered incidentally whither it would, now panting up a little hill, now running down to rest in a hollow, now hiding in the woodland under nodding branch and windstirred leaf, now peering out to get a glimpse of the sea, a whimsical, irresponsible, mystical road, taking its own way to the unknown. The girl who wandered lazily along it, in the beaten track or on the small, worn footpath through the grass, was keeping time in her imagination with all the free feet that had ever wandered that way. Here and there she passed a small house. At one an old man was digging in the garden; at another a little girl was playing with her doll on the doorstep; in a bit of pasture near another a calf was frisking with joyous tail; at the next an old woman, calico-clad, was hanging clothes upon a line. Frances Wilmot wanted to stop with them all, to do what they were doing, and then go on and on. None save the calf seemed to share her mood, and she pitied them that they could not follow her upon the open road.

After a quick run around a sharp curve the irresponsible road suddenly came to a crossing, and was brought face to face with the problem of choosing its way. A signpost stood there, turned all askew, “9 m. to Brentford” staring out from a strip of board where a finger pointed heavenward; ”4 m. to Valley Cove,”on a strip pointing to earth; and “6 m. to Ransom’s Point,” on a strip that pointed straight to a mossy stone fence. The road seemed to evade any choice, and the three ways that led onward fled in different directions from the one by which she had come; and sunlight lay on them all, grass grew green at the edge, aster and goldenrod blossomed impartially by the crumbling stone fences. What need to choose ? She started along the road at the left; each led somewhere, and the guiding sea was close at hand.

The road led merrily off past meadowland and into a green forest, and suddenly joined company with a brook, hurrying as if glad of new music, and as if bent on seeing whether dust and clod could not keep pace with running water. Guarded bv rock and stone, and overhung by sunlit leaves, the stream glided on, falling here in little silvery cascades, and gathering there into a quiet pool. The air, soft with the coolness of living branches on which the sun is beating, was still with the murmuring quiet of the woods. As the girl followed, stepping with the brook, she thought only of the touch of autumn in the new, sweet freshness of the air on face and wrist and throat; then, emerging from the woodland, she realized that her landmarks were gone, the village spire that had often guided her steps was no longer in sight, and the bold outline of the Emerson Inn on its headland had disappeared. What matter, while along this unknown way vine and blossom lured her feet to wander farther, and her hands to gather spoils?

It was the time of the glory of goldenrod: tall, starry clusters nodded over the stone fences; sword-shaped stalks burned with their rich color along the highway; and short, sunburned heads turned the pasture lands to fields of gold, dim and beautiful as the dream fields of the Islands of the Blest. The girl filled her arms with it ; long clusters nodded over her shoulders, and a great mass glowed against the white of her gown, and against her sunburned cheek. So great a burden was she carrying that she grew weary, and, wondering where she could stop to rest, she found herself near a little old deserted house, whose worn doorstep invited her to pause. By the open door grew old rose bushes where in June ragged pink roses still blossomed upon ragged stems; through the casements, from which the windows had disappeared, curled and twined woodbine and clematis. Some woman who had lived here long ago had loved sweet things at her window, and had set flowers to bloom by the paths which her feet must pass. Grass covered the little garden plot, and old lilac bushes grew apace by the broken picket fence and the posts of the vanished gate. Empty and open to sun and rain were the bare rooms where woodwork and floors were mouldering. Swallows had builded upon the cornices of the doors, and on the mantel in the old parlor a wren had made her nest.

Life and thought have gone away
Side by side,
Leaving doors and windows wide. —
Careless tenants they.

Sitting on the step with her head leaning against the white doorpost, Frances Wilmot half slept, while the warm sunshine of late afternoon shone on her face; and she almost heard, through the murmur of live things from the long grass near by, the tread of the vanished feet of father, mother, and child that had worn the threshold thin. Close by, a cricket chirped; yellow butterflies, glad of the golden-rod in her lap, fluttered about her, lighting on hair and eyelids of the girl who sat so still; and home-coming swallows circled anxiously near and far again, troubled by this motionless disturber of their domain.

Here Paul Warren found her as he was sauntering home after a ten-mile walk, and he stopped, frowning; was she safe in this lonely spot ? As he looked, however, he forgot to frown, — so fair a picture she made leaning there with her long lashes dark upon her cheek, in her bower of palest yellow and deep Etruscan gold: there was no doubt any longer of Paul Warren’s sense of the beauty of color. So soft were his footsteps in the rank grass outside the ruined picket fence that she did not hear him, and he stood long watching her. Presently she opened her eyes and smiled.

“I was n’t asleep,” she said sleepily.

“May I come in?” he asked, from the lilac bush by the gatepost.

“I don’t know what place could be fitter for a ghost than a ruined house,” said the girl merrily. “Come in and flit with the other shades; I’ve heard them whispering about me.”

“It seems to me,” he remarked, as he came slowly up the grass-grown walk, “that you rather resemble some of the angels of the early Italian painters, with their shaded golden wings.”

She looked reproachfully at him.

“The one thing that I have liked about you,” she said severely, “has been that you were different from other men, and did not pay foolish compliments.”

“I was not complimenting you; perhaps I was complimenting the angels, for there is something in your face that is not in theirs,” he said, looking gravely down at her.

She rose, shaking her head. “You forget that they all had golden hair; only witches and lady demons had black locks like mine. Do you dare go in ?”

He pushed the sagging green door farther open, and they entered the old hall, with footsteps muffled by the dust which lay thick upon the floor. In the kitchen a tin mug lay upon a broken stool; in the parlor a chromo of “Hope,” white-robed and staring wildly, hung upon the wall, and a child’s top lay upon the floor. Vines were already growing with fresh green tendrils over the crumbling boards, and in one place, where the floor was broken, a great thistle had thrust its way up and burst into purple bloom.

“Now,” said Paul Warren softly, “you look like the spirit of life itself, going with golden torches through the house of death.”

Frances Wilmot turned and faced him with light words that belied the shadowy depths of her eyes.

“Mr. Warren, if you are n’t careful, you will turn into a poet, and that would be a most undeserved fate for a philosopher!”

The man’s face quivered in the moted sunbeams that stole in through the open windows toward the west.

“I have turned into a lover,” he said slowly; “that is, perhaps, the same thing.”

For an instant all that moved in the room was the dust which the sunlight turned to a golden cloud as it rose; it could not hide the doubt and question and wonder in the girl’s eyes.

“Yes, of course I mean you,” said Paul Warren. “Who else is there—in all the world?”

The tense, white lips and tightly clenched hands betrayed how great had been his pain in speaking as he had spoken.

“You knew that I loved you; you must have known,” he said.

“I never dreamed it,” said the girl,with a little gasp. “ You ?”

“Why not I?” he asked sternly. “You have thought of me as an abstraction; it is odd that I should be compelled to tell you that I am a man! I’m a thing of brawn and muscle and of a beating heart, which I think is capable of taking hold as far down as the heart can take on human joy and human pain. Your jest of the ghost has been a merry one, but it is over now.”

The girl’s head was bent in awe among her flowers.

“I’m sorry,”she murmured. “Ishould not have been so saucy if I had known.”

Her wit and her eloquence had deserted her; she was as the most speechless and embarrassed maiden who ever stood dumb in love’s presence.

“Perhaps there are different kinds of gray webs to wear across the eyes,” he said, smiling.

“You — you never betrayed it, by the quiver of a muscle,” she stammered. “I should have known.”

“You know the ordinary signs very well, I presume,” he answered. “I never meant to show it, or to let you know.”

“Why?” she asked. The dusky eyes she raised to him were hard for the man to read. Outside, the cricket chirped loudly across the silence; a swallow, entering through the open window, took fright at the two motionless figures standing there, and skimmed away.

“What would you think,” he asked, breathing with difficulty, “of the task set for a man who was in a great mental tangle, from which he could not escape, and who heard a voice calling, a voice that knew the way of his soul, and still had to turn and go away from it?”

The girl looked on in wonder, watching through the dust-flecked sunshine, and he reached both hands out toward her, then drew them back.

“How can I let the shadows of my life fall on your face?” he asked, passionately.

“The shadows of your life!” she said with reproach. “There are n’t any. You make them up to please your Puritan ancestors.”

“Then — will you come ?”

She stepped lightly across the dusty floor to the doorway, looking back from the threshold to the man who sadly followed.

“This means that you will not help me build again the ruined house of life?”

“I am afraid,” said Frances Wilmot.

“You who believe so deeply in life, and whose courage has so often put me to shame ?”

“Life, yes,” she answered, “but love, — that is too great for me, too terrible, and — I am afraid.”

“Ah,” he cried, “it is the first thing in life that has made me unafraid.”

“You are a man,” said the girl simply.

“It shows the fundamental strength of you from Adam’s time on; I am only a woman.”

“Thank Heaven!” he said.

“ I can prattle about life, but then I faint and fail when the supreme test comes. I cannot let it come!” and she put out her hands to ward off love. “I am content with the beauty of the world, and the happiness that lies behind, and the sorrow whose meaning I have n’t half spelled out.”

“Child,” said Paul Warren, watching the hands from which the blossoms fell in a golden shower on the worn doorstep and the green grass, “don’t you see that you are half confessing that you care?”

“I have n’t confessed it to myself,” she answered with brave lips.

“Sit down for a minute; you are tired,” he commanded, and she did his bidding.

“You must come, Enchantress,” he said, from the step at her feet. “There are so many doors for you to open, and none other has the key. You must come to unwind for me the gray webs of many lives.”

“That was just nonsense,” she murmured. “You remember it?”

“I remember every word that you have spoken, every look that I have seen upon your face. Take me through one of your open doors, and we will go by wood and stream and mountain till we find your tree of life, and will nibble its leaves together.”

“I did n’t mean anything,” said the girl. “ I was just teasing you because you studied so much.”

Before them the sun was going down in deep August light behind a row of dull green cedars that let the glory through; from a distant wood, thrushes sang, and the dampness of oncoming night crept to them over the grass. The woman’s voice was broken when she spoke.

“Are you sure that it is I?”

“I am sure,” he made answer, “that you are the bit of my heart that was lost when it was broken, ages before I was born; now that I have found you again, it will be whole once more.”

“I cannot,” she said, whispering, “I cannot.”

When he saw the suffering in her face, as the rich nature faced the challenge to keener joy and keener pain, he spared her. Stooping, he gathered from the grass the flowers that had fallen there, then side by side they walked home in the fragrant dusk, with the clustered flowers shining out as a light upon their way. Silence enfolded them, save for the sweet notes of nesting birds, the murmur of the wind-stirred leaves, and the ripple of a tiny brook over its rocky wayside bed. Before them in the west the slender crescent of the new moon hung in the quivering sunset light of the sky.

“Like a world of gold to walk into,” said the man, for his soul was glad within him. It was true that this woman had said him nay, but in his heart of hearts he knew better.

(To be continued.)

  1. Copyright, 1905, by MARGARET SHERWOOD.