WHEN Peter went up the steps of his grandmother’s house, he found Mrs, Grant still on the veranda, and Rose beside her. The girl looked at him eagerly, as if she besought him for whatever message he had, and he answered the glance with one warmed by implied sympathy. Until he saw her, he had not realized that anger made any part in the emotion roused in him by his imperial lady. Now he remembered how this gracious young creature seemed to him, so innocent, so sad. He felt a rising in his throat, as he thought of subjecting her to unfriendly judgment. Rose, in spite of the serious cast of her face and the repose of her figure, wore an ineffable air of youth. She had splendid shoulders and a yielding waist, and her fine hands lay like a separate beauty in the lap of her black dress. She had the profile of a coin touched with finer human graces, a fullness of the upper lip, a slight waving of the soft chestnut hair over the low forehead, and lashes too dark for harmony with the gray eyes. There were defects in her flawlessness. Her mouth was large, in spite of its pout, and on her nose were a few beguiling freckles. At that moment, in her wayward beauty, lighted by the kindled eye of expectation, she seemed to Peter to be made up of every creature’s best. His grandmother smiled at him out of her warm placidity, and though Rose still drew his eyes to her, he was aware that she did not mean to question him.
“Electra has to go in town,” he volunteered. “ She won’t be back. Perhaps not to-night.”
“You must stay here with us, my dear,” said Mrs. Grant. “Peter, have her trunks moved into the west chamber.”
Still the girl’s eyes seemed to interrogate him, and Peter sat down in a chair and twined his long fingers in and out. He felt the drop in temperature ready to chill the voyager who, after the lonely splendor of the sea, returns to the earth as civil life has made it.
“We must remember she had n’t heard of you,” he assured Rose blunderingly, out of his depression.
“No. He had not written.” She made the statement rather as that of a fact they shared together, and he nodded. “I am afraid it is unwelcome to her, the idea of me.”
“She does n’t know you,” he assured her, in the same bungling apology. He expected her to betray some wound to her pride, but she only looked humble and a little crushed.
Grannie had apparently not heard, and she said now, with her lovely gentleness, —
“Don’t you want to go upstairs, my dear, and be by yourself a little while ? You have been traveling so far. We have noon dinner, you know. That wall seem funny to you. Mary is getting it, but Peter will show you a room.”
Peter found her bag in the wide hall, darkened from the sun, and went with her up the stairs. At the head she paused and beckoned him to the window-seat over the front door.
“Set it down there,” she said rapidly, touching the bag with a finger. “Tell me, — how did she receive it ? ”
“You know. The news of me.”
“She was surprised.”
“Naturally. But what else? She was shocked! ”
“It was a shock, of course. In its suddenness, you know. You ’d expect that.”
She sank down in the window-seat and clasped her hands upon her knees, looking at them thoughtfully. Her brows were drawn together.
“Yes,” she said, “yes. It was a shock. I see that. Well! ” She looked up at him in a challenging directness before which he winced, conscious of the little he had to meet it with. “ When am I to see her ? ”
“ I am not sure when she is to be back.”
“Ah! She won’t come to me. Very well. I shall go to her.” She laid her hand upon the bag, and rose, as if the interview were ended. Peter carried the bag in at the open door of her room, and after he had set it down, looked vaguely about him, as if arrangements might be bettered in the still, sweet place. She was smiling at him with an irradiating warmth.
“You’re sorry, aren’t you?” she said, from a comprehension that seemed a proffer of vague sympathy. “It makes you feel inhospitable. You need n’t. You’re a dear. Your grandmother is lovely — lovely.”
Her praise seemed to Peter such a precious fruitage that the only thing, in delicacy, was to turn away and take it with him to enjoy. But she was calling him.
He found her flushed and eagerly expectant, it seemed to him, as if his news had been uplifting to her. She looked at him, at the room, and rapidly from the window where the treetops trembled, all in one comprehensive sweep.
“Peter,” she said, with conviction, “it’s simply lovely here.”
“It’s a nice old place,” responded Peter. He loved it from long use, but he was aware of its comfortable plainness.
“I never saw anything so dear. Those square worn tiles down by the front door, the fireplace, the curtains, — look, Peter, it’s dotted muslin.” She touched a moving fold, and Peter laughed outright.
“I like it,” he said, “but there’s nothing particular about it. If you want style, why, you’ll have to look back at what you’ve left. When it comes to that, what’s the matter with a chateau ? ”
“Yes, yes.” She put the château aside with one of her light movements of the hands. “But here I feel as if I’d come home to something. You see it’s so safe here, Peter. It’s so darling, too, so intimate. I can’t tell what I mean. If Electra would only like me — O Peter, I could be almost happy, as happy as the day is long!” As she said the old phrase, it seemed to her to fit into the scene. She looked not merely as if happiness awaited her, but as if she could almost put her eager finger on it. And there was Electra, not so many rods away, drawbridge up and portcullis down, inquiring, “Is she a grisette?” Afterwards it seemed to Peter as if his sympathy for the distressed lady went to his head a little, for he lifted her hand and kissed it. But he did not speak, save to himself, going down the stairs: —
“It’s a damned shame! ”
When he went out on the veranda, grannie made a smiling comment: —
“What a pretty child! Tom Fulton did well. He was a bad boy, was n’t he, Peter ? ”
“Yes, grannie,” said Peter, from the veranda rail where he sat picking rose leaves, “Tom was about the limit.”
“Well! well! poor girl. Maybe it’s as well he went while she knew only the best of him.”
Peter was not sure she did know only the best, but he inquired, —
“Shall I have time to run down and see Osmond before dinner ? ”
“You’d better. He was here waiting when the carriage came. When he saw her, he slipped away.”
“Rose ? Is that her name ? Now is n’t that pretty! Maybe you’ll find him before you get to the plantation. I should n’t wonder if he’d think it over and come back.”
Peter did meet him in the lane lined with locusts on each side, walking doggedly back to the house. Some things the younger brother had forgotten about him, the beauty of the dark face that looked as if it had been cut out of rock, the extraordinary signs of strength, in spite of that which might have appealed to pity. Osmond had grown rugged with every year. His long arms, ending in the brown, supple hands, looked as if they were compact of sinewy potencies. And on his shoulders, heavier than Christian’s burden, was that pack he must carry to the end of life. He saw his brother coming, and stopped, and Peter, as if to save him the sense of being looked at from afar, even by his own kin, ran to meet him. They did not take hands, but the older brother gave him a slap on the shoulder.
“Well, boy!” said he.
There were tears in Peter’s eyes.
“Look-a-here,” he cried, “I’m sniveling. Coming up to the house ? ”
“No. I’ve been there once this morning. You come back with me.”
They turned about, and walked on tlirough the lane. It led to the plantation; this was the nursery, here were the forcing beds, and all the beneficent growing things that had saved Osmond’s life while he tended them, and also earned his bread for him, and Peter’s bread and paints.
“Well, boy,” said Osmond, “you’ve brought a girl with you. That was why I cut. Who is she?”
“Tom Fulton’s wife,— his widow.”
Osmond knew Electra very well. Some phases of her were apparent to him in his secluded life that her lover, under the charm of an epistolary devotion, had never seen.
“Does Electra know it?” he asked.
“I told her.” Peter’s tone added further, “Shut uj), now! ” and Osmond tacitly agreed.
“Coming down to dinner ?” he asked safely.
“No, I must be back. I feel responsible for her— Rose, I brought her over. In fact, I rather urged her coming. Grannie has asked her to stay with us until Electra is — at home.”
“Is her name Rose?”
“Yes, — one of those creamy yellow ones. You must see her. She’s a dear. She’s a beauty, too.”
“Oh, I’ve seen her, — one ear and a section of cheek and some yellow hair. Then I ran.”
“For heaven’s sake, man! what for ?”
“She’s one of those invincible Parisians. I’ve read about them.”
Peter burst out laughing. Osmond’s tone betrayed a terrified admiration.
“Do you eat down here with the men ? ” Peter was asking.
“Sometimes. I go up and eat with grannie once a day while she’s alone. I shan’t now.”
“You’ll be here to keep her company, you and your Parisian. I’ve got to go on being a wild man, Pete. I shan’t save my soul alive if I don’t do that.”
Peter put out a hand and laid it, for an instant, on his brother’s arm.
“I don’t know anything about your soul, old man,” he said, with a moving roughness. “ But if you like this kind of a life, you’re going to have it, that’s all. Who cooks the dinner ? ”
“Pierre. He came just after you went to France. There’s a pot-au-feu to-day. I smelled it when I went by the kitchen. It’s a good life, Pete, — if you don’t want to play the game.” His eyes grew wistful, something like the eyes of the dog that longs for man.
“If you don’t play the game, I don’t know who does.”
“ Well! ” Osmond smiled a little, whimsically. “Maybe I do; but I play with counters.”
Peter was not especially ready, save with a brush in his hand. He wanted to say something to the effect that Osmond was playing the biggest of all games, with the visible universe against him; but he hardly knew how to put it. It seemed, though, as if he might some time paint it into a picture. But Osmond was recognizing the danger of soft implication, and bluffly turned the talk.
“Well, Pete, you’ve done it, have n’t you ? ”
There was no possibility of affecting to misunderstand. Peter knew what he had gone to Paris for, five years ago, and why Osmond had been sending him the steady proceeds of the garden farm. He was to prove himself, take his talent in his hand and mould it and turn it about with a constant will, and shape a cup to hold the drink that makes the gods jealous and men delirious with adulation. Peter was to live at his ease in Paris, sparing nothing that would keep him well and strong of heart, so that he could paint the best portraits in the world. Peter knew he had begun to paint the best portraits in the world, because he had done many good ones and one actual marvel, and suddenly, as it sometimes is in art after we have been patient and discouraged, the whole task seemed to him a light and easy one. In his extraordinary youth he had the freshness of his brain, his quick eye and obedient hand, and he felt, lightly and gayly, that he was rich, — but rich in a world where there was plenty more of whatever he might lose.
“I guess so,” he said, returning to the speech of his youth. “And I can do it twice, old man. I can do it a hundred times.”
Osmond stopped and laid a hand on a boulder at the termination of their way, where the lane opened into ploughed fields. He looked off through the distance as if he saw the courts of the world and all the roads that run to fame. His eyes were burning. The hand trembled upon the rock.
“By George!”he said, “it’s amazing.”
“What is, Osmond?”
“It’s amazing that the world can hold so much for one man. You would n’t think there would be water enough in all the rivers for one man to drink so deep. What does Electra say ? ”
“About the painting? Nothing, yet.”
“Did n’t you speak of it ? Why, you ’re covered with laurel, boy, like Jack-inthe-Green. She could n’t help seeing it.”
Peter, brought back to that amazing interview with the imperial lady, felt shamefaced in his knowledge of it.
“We did n’t get to that,” he said. “ We were talking about Rose. Who do you think she is, Osmond?”
“Tom’s widow. So you said.”
“Yes, but what more? She’s the daughter of Markham MacLeod.”
He was watching Osmond narrowly, to weigh the effect of the name. But Osmond’s face kept its impassive interest.
“You know who he is,” Peter suggested.
“Yes, oh, yes! But that does n’t mean anything to me. Nothing does until I see the man. He works with too big a brush. He is an agitator. He may be Christ or Anti-Christ, but he’s an agitator. That’s all I know. I can’t give a snap judgment of a man that gets whole governments into a huff and knows how to lead a rabble a million strong. So he’s her father ?”
Peter, unreasonably irritated, pitched upon one word for a cause of war.
“Rabble ? What do you mean by that ? Labor?”
Osmond smiled broadly and showed his white teeth.
“I’m labor myself,” he said. “You know that, boy.”
“Then what do you want to talk so for? Rabble!”
“I only meant it in relation to numbers,” said Osmond, again irritatingly, in his indifference to all interests outside his dear boy’s home-coming. “I’ll make it a rabble of kings, if you say so. Folks, Peter, that’s what I mean, folks. He deals with them in the mass. That makes me nervous. I can’t like it.”
“He believes in the equality of man,” Peter announced, as he was conscious, rather swellingly. “ The downfall of kings, the freedom of the individual.”
“There’s the pot-au-feu smoking inside that shack,” said Osmond, indicating a shanty across the field. “ Come and have dinner “with labor.” .
But Peter turned. He shook his head.
“I can’t, Osmond,” he said. “I’ve brought this girl into the house, and I’ve got to see her through. Won’t you come up to-night ? ”
“Not till your Parisian has gone over to Electra’s. You come down here. Come down about dusk and we’ll have another go.”
As Peter hurried back, conscious of being a little late, he could have beaten his head against the locust trees for the stupidity of his home-coming. He had the shattered moment with Electra to remember, and now he had turned the other great meeting of the day into a fractious colloquy. Unformed yet vivid in his mind, for the last year, had been strong, determining anticipations of what would happen when he at last came home. He had known certainly what would happen when he saw Electra. She would still be the loveliest and best, and his would be the privilege of telling her so. And to Osmond, who had dug in the ground that Peter might work under the eye of men, he would return as one who has an account to give, and say, in effect, “You did it.” But, laughably, neither of these things had happened. He forgot that he had in him the beginnings of a great painter in remembering that he had shown the obtuseness of an ass.
He did not see Electra that night. After the noon dinner he left Bose and grannie intimately together, — the girl, with a gentle deprecation, as if she brought gifts not in themselves worth much, talking about Paris, the air young Peter had been breathing, — and betook himself again to Electra’s house. It was all open to the day, but no one answered his knock. He went in and wandered from parlor to library, the dignified rooms that had once seemed to him so typical of her estate as compared to his own: for in those days he had been only a young man of genius with scarcely enough money to live and study on, save as his brother earned it for him. He sauntered in and out for an hour — it seemed as if even the two servants had gone — and then played snatches at the piano, to waken drowsy ears. But the house kept its quiet, and in the late afternoon he wandered home again. That evening he returned, and then there was some one to answer his knock. The maid told him Miss Electra had gone out; but though he waited in a fevered and almost an angry impatience, she did not return. Knowing her austere and literal truth, he could not believe that the denial was the conventional expedient, and in a wave of regret over the day, he longed for her inexpressibly. It seemed to him that no distance would be too great to bring him to her. He felt in events, and in himself also, the rushing of some force to separate them, and swung back, after his blame of her, into the necessity of a more passionate partisanship. When he went home, still without seeing her, he found his grandmother’s house deserted. But the minute his foot sounded, there was a soft rush down the stairs. Rose stood beside him in the hall.
“Did you see her ?” she asked breathlessly.
He strove to make his laugh an evidence of the reasonableness of what he had to answer.
“No. She was obliged to be away.”
“Is n’t she at home now?” asked the girl insistently. “She is there, and you refuse to hurt me. She won’t see me!”
“She is not there,” said Peter, in relief at some small truth to tell. “I have n’t seen her since morning.”
The girl stood there in the faint radiance of the hall lamp, her eyes downcast, thinking. She had dressed for dinner, though there was only high tea in the oldfashioned house, and delighted grannie beyond words. The old lady said it was as good as a play to her who never went out, to see a lovely dress trailing about the rooms. Peter, looking at the girl, felt his heart admonish him that here was beauty demanding large return of kindly treatment from the world. Not only must justice be done her, but it must be done lavishly. This was for all their sakes, Electra could not be allowed to lose anything so precious, nor could he lose it either, his small share of tribute. She was speaking, still with that air of pondering: —
“I must do it myself. I must n’t let you risk anything.” Then she turned her full glance on him, and frankly smiled. “Good-night,” she said, giving him her hand. “ Don’t speak of me to her. Don’t think of me. I must do it all myself.”
Next morning it was a different Rose he saw, quite cosy and cheerful at the breakfast-table, with no sign of tragedy on her brow. The day was fair, and the mood of the world seemed to him, for no reason, to have lightened. It was not credible that Electra, of all gracious beings, should sulk outside the general harmony. After breakfast, when Rose had, with a sweet air of service, given grannie her arm to the veranda chair, she returned to Peter, waiting, perhaps for a word with her, in the hall. Ilis hat swung from his hand, and seeing that, she spoke in a low, quick tone.
“You are going over there. Don’t do it.”
“I must. I want to see her.”
“I know. But not yet. Let me see her first. If you talk about me, it will make trouble between you, — not real trouble, perhaps, but something unfortunate, something -wrong. I am going myself, now.” She pointed out her hat and gloves where she had them ready, and without waiting for him to speak, began pinning on the hat. While she drew on the gloves she looked at him again with her charming smile. “ Don’t you see,” she said, “we can get along better alone—twTo women ? Which house is it ?”
He followed her out and down the steps.
“I’ll go part of the way with you.”
She waved a gay farewell to grannie, busy already at her knitting, and they went down the path. But at the gate she paused.
“Now,” she said, “which way ? Which house ?”
“The next one.”
“I see. Among the trees. Now don’t come. Whatever happens, don’t come. If I am not here to dinner, — if I am never here. You simply must not appear in this. Good-by.” She gave her parasol a little reassuring fling, as if it were a weapon that proved her amply armed, and took her swift way along the shaded road.
Peter stood for a moment watching her. She went straight on, and the resolution of her gait bore sufficient witness to her purpose. He turned about then and went rather disconsolately the other way, which would bring him out at the path to Osmond’s plantation.
Rose, going up the garden path, came upon Electra herself, again dressed in white and among the flowerbeds. Whether she hoped her lover would come, and was awaiting him, her face did not tell; but she met Rose with the same calm expectancy. There was ample time for her to walk away, to avoid the interview, but Electra was not the woman to do that. False things, paltering things were as abhorrent to her in her own conduct as in that of another. So she stood there, her hands at her sides in what she would have called perfect poise, as Rose, very graceful yet flushed and apparently conscious of her task, came on. A pace or two away, she stopped and regarded the other woman with a charming and deprecatory grace.
“Do guess who I am!” she said, in a delightful appeal. “Peter Grant told you.”
“Won’t you come in ?” returned Electra, with composure. “Mr. Grant did speak of you.”
Rose felt unreasonably chilled. However little she expected, this was less, in the just civility that was yet a repudiation. They went into the library where the sun was bright on rows of books, and Electra indicated a seat.
“Mr. Grant told me a very interesting thing about you,” she volunteered, with the same air of establishing a desirable atmosphere.
“Yes,” said Rose, rather eagerly. She leaned forward a little, her hands clasped on her parasol top. “Yes. I forbade him to say any more. 1 wanted to tell you myself.”
Electra’s brows quivered perceptibly at the hint of familiar consultation with Peter, but she answered with a responsive grace,—
“He told me the interesting fact. It is very interesting indeed. We have all followed your father’s career with such attention. There is nothing like it.”
“My father!” There was unconsidered wonder in her gaze.
Electra smiled agreeingly.
“He means just as much to us over here as he does to you in France — or England. Has n’t he been there speaking within the month?”
“He is in England now,” said Rose still wonderingly, still seeking to finish that phase and escape to her own requirements.
“Mr. Grant said you speak, at times.”
“I am sorry he said that,” Rose declared, recovering herself to an unshaded candor. “I shall never do it again.”
Electra was smiling very winningly.
“ Not over here ? ” she suggested. “ Not before one or two clubs, all women, you know, all thoughtful, all earnest?”
Rose answered coldly.
“I am not in sympathy with the ideas my father talks about.”
“Not with the Brotherhood!”
“Not as my father talks about it.” She grew restive. Under Electra’s impenetrable courtesy she was committing herself to declarations that had been, heretofore, sealed in her secret thought. “I want to talk to you,” she said desperately, with the winning pathos of a child denied, “not about my father,— about other things.”
“This is always the way,” said Electra pleasantly, with her immutable determination behind the words. “He is your father, and your familiarity makes you indifferent to him. There are a million things I should like to know about Markham MacLeod, — what he eats and wears, almost. Could n’t you tell me what induced him — what sudden, vital thing, I mean — to stop his essay-writing and found the Brotherhood ? ”
Rose answered coldly, and as if from irresistible impulse.
“My father’s books never paid.”
Electra gazed at her, with wide-eyed reproach.
“You don’t give that as a reason!”
Rose had recovered herself and remembered again the things she meant to leave untouched.
“No,” she said, “1 don’t give it as a reason. I only give it.”
Electra was looking at her, rebuffed and puzzled; then a ray shot through her fog.
“Ah,” she said, “would n’t it be one of the inconceivable things if we who have followed his work and studied him at a distance knew him better than you who have had the privilege of knowing him at first hand?”
In spite of herself, Rose answered dryly, —
“It wrould be strange.”
But Electra had not heard. There was the sound of wheels on the drive, and she looked out, to see Madam Fulton alighting.
“Excuse me, one moment,” she said. “Mv grandmother has come home from town.”
When Rose was alone in the room, she put her hand to her throat to soothe its aching. There were tears in her eyes. She seemed to have attempted an impossible task. But presently Electra was entering again, half supporting by the arm a fragile-looking old lady who walked inflexibly, as if she resented that aid. Madam Fulton was always scrupulous in the appointments of her person; but this morning, with the slightly fagged look about her eyes and her careful bonnet a trifle awry, she disclosed the fact that she had dressed in haste for a train. But she seemed very much alive, with the alert responsiveness of those to whom interesting things have happened.
“I want my grandmother to be as surprised as I am,” Electra “was saying, -with her air of social ease. “Grandmother, who do you think this is ? The daughter of Markham MacLeod! ” She announced it as if it were great news from a quarter unexplored and wonderful. Rose was on her feet, her pathetic eyes fixed upon the old lady’s face. Madam Fulton was regarding her with a frank interest it consoled her to see. It wras not, at least, so disproportioned.
“Dear me!” said the old lady. “ Well, your father is a remarkable man. Electra here has all his theories by heart.”
“I wish I had,” breathed Electra, with a fervency calculated perhaps to distract the talk from other issues.
“How long have you been in America?” asked the old lady civilly, though not sitting down. She had to realize that she was tired, that it would be the part of prudence to escape to her own room.
“I have just come,” said Rose, in a low, eloquent voice, its tones vibrating with her sense of the unfriendliness that had awaited her.
“And where are you staying? How did you drift down here?”
“At Mrs. Grant’s—for the present.” What might have been indignation warmed the words.
“Grandmother, you must be tired,” said Electra affectionately. “ Let me go to your room with you, and see you settled.”
“Nonsense!” said the old lady briskly. “Nonsense! I’m going, but I don’t need any help. Good-by, Miss MacLeod. I shall want to see you again when I have a head on my shoulders.”
She had gone, and still Electra made no sign of bidding her guest sit down again. Instead, she turned to Rose with an engaging courtesy.
“You will excuse me, won’t you? I ought to go to grandmother. She is far from strong.”
Rose answered quickly.
“Forgive me! I will go. But” —she had reached the door, and paused there entreatingly. “When may I see you again ?”
“ Grandmother’s coming will keep me rather busy,” said Electra, in her brilliant manner. “ But I shall take great pleasure in returning your visit. Goodby.”
Rose, walking fast, was out upon the road again, blind to everything save anger, against herself, against the world. She had come to America upon an impulse, a daring one, sure that here were friendliness and safety such as she had never known. She had found a hostile camp, and every fibre in her thrilled in savage misery. Half way along the distance home Peter came eagerly forward to her from the roadside where he had been kicking his heels and fuming. The visit to Osmond had not been made. At the plantation gate he had turned back, unable to curb his desire to know what had gone on between these two. At once he read the signs of her distress, the angry red in her cheeks, the dilated eye. Even her nostrils seemed to breathe defiance or hurt pride. She spoke with unconsidered bitterness.
“I ought never to have come.”
“What wras it? Tell me.”
“It was nothing. I was received as an ordinary caller. That was all.”
“Who received you?”
“I was presented to her grandmother as my father’s daughter, not as her brother’s — wife.” She was breathless upon the word. All the color went out of her face. She looked faint and wan.
“But it could n’t be,” he was repeating. “Did n’t you speak of Tom at all ?” “No.”
“Did n’t she ?”
He essayed a bald and unreasonable comfort.
“There, you see! You didn’t mention him, and Electra hardly brings herself to do it to any one. lie never ceased being a trial to her. You must let me say that.”
“Ah, that wasn’t it! Every time I might have spoken, a hand, a clever, skillful hand and cold as ice, pushed me away. I can never speak of it. She won’t let me.”
He was with her, every impulse of his eager heart; but a tardy conscience pulled him up, bidding him remember that other loyalty.
“Give her time,” he pleaded. “It’s a shock to her. Perhaps it ought not to be; but it is. Everything about Tom has always been a shock.”
She, as well as he, remembered now that they spoke of Electra, whose highbred virtues he had extolled to her in those still evenings on their voyage, when her courage failed her and he had opened to her the book of Electra’s truth and justice.
“Do you think,” she said wistfully, “I might stay at your grandmother’s a few days more ? ”
“You are to stay forever. Grannie dotes upon you.”
“No! no! But I shall have to think. I shall have to make my plans.”
Again Peter felt yesterday’s brand of anger against his imperial lady, or, he told himself immediately, the unfortunate circumstances of this misunderstanding. “You run on,” he said. “Grannie’s where you left her. If you don’t feel like talking you can skip in at that little gate and the side door up to your room. I’m going back to see Electra.”
“You must n’t talk about me!”
“ No! ” He smiled at her in a specious reassurance, and went striding on over the path by which she had come.
Electra, in the fulfillment of her intention, had gone scrupulously to her grandmother’s door, to ask if she needed anything, and then, when she had been denied, returned to the library, where she stood when Peter appeared on the threshold, as if she had been expecting him. He did not allow his good impulse to cool, but hurried forward to her with an abounding interest and a certainty of finding it fulfilled. As at first, when he had come to her in the garden the day before, he uttered her name eloquently, and broke out upon the heels of it, —
“I did n’t see you all yesterday, after that first minute.”
Electra looked at him seriously, and his heart sank. Peter had been thinking straight thoughts and swearing by crude values in these five years when he had lived with men and women who said what they meant, things often foolish and outrageous, but usually honest, and his mind had got a trick of asserting itself. None of the judgments it had been called upon to make seemed to matter vitally; but this one disconcertingly did, and to his horror he found himself wondering if Electra could possibly mean to be so hateful. Electra meant nothing of the kind. She had a pure desire toward the truth, and she assumed that Peter’s desire tallied with her own. She felt very strongly on the point in question, and she saw no reason why he should not offer the greatest hospitality toward her convictions.
“Peter,” she said at once, “you must not talk to me about that woman.”
“So she said,” Peter was on the point of irresistibly retorting, but he contented himself with the weak makeshift that at least gains time: —
“Markham MacLeod’s daughter.”
“Tom’s wife? Tom’s widow?”
Electra looked at him in definite reproof.
“You must not do that, Peter,” she warned him. “You must not speak of her in that way.”
“For God’s sake, why not, Electra?”
“That is not her title. You must not give it to her.”
He stared at her for a number of seconds, while she met his gaze inflexibly. Then his face broke up, as if a hand had struck it. Light and color came into it, and his mouth trembled.
“Electra,” he said, “what do you want me to understand?”
“You do understand it, Peter,” she said quietly. “I can hardly think you will force me to state it explicitly.”
“You can’t mean it! no, you can’t. You must n’t imply things, Electra. You imply she was not married to him.”
Still Electra was looking at him with that high demeanor which, he felt with exasperation, seemed to make great demands upon him of a sort that implied assumptions he must despise.
“This is very difficult for me,” she was saying, and Peter at once possessed himself of one passive hand.
“Of course it is difficult,” he cried warmly. “I told her so. I told her everything connected with Tom always was difficult. She knows that as well as we do.”
“Have you talked him over with her ? ” The tone was neutral, yet it chilled him.
“Good Lord, yes ! We’ve done nothing but talk him over from an outside [joint of view. When she was deciding whether to come here, whether to write you or just present herself as she has, — of course Tom’s name came into it. She was Tom’s wife, was n’t she ? Tom’s widow ? ”
“No! no!” said Electra, in a low and vehement denial. “She was not.” Peter blazed so that he seemed to tower like a long thin guidepost showing the way to anger. “ I said the same thing yesterday.”
“That was before you saw her. It means more now, infinitely more.”
“I hope it does.”
“Think what you’re saying, Electra,” he said violently, so that she lifted her hand slightly, as if to reprove him. “ You refuse to receive her —”
“ I have received her, — as her father’s daughter. I may even do so again.”
“But not as your sister?”
“That would be impossible. You must see it is impossible, feeling as I do.”
“But how, how? You imply things that dizzy me, and then, when it comes to the pinch, I can’t get a sane word out of you.” That seemed to him, as to her, an astonishing form of address to an imperial lady, and he added at once, “Forgive me!” But he continued irrepressibly, “Electra, you can’t mean you doubt her integrity.”
She had her counter question.
“Did you see them married?”
“No, no, heavens, no! Why, I did n’t come on Tom in Paris until his illness. Tom never had any use for me. You know that. Meantime he’d been there a couple of years, into the mire and out again, and he’d had time to be married to Itose, and she’d had time to leave him.”
“Ah, she left him! Why?”
“Why did you leave him, Electra, before he went over there ? Why did you give up living in town, and simply retreat down here ? You could n’t stand it. Nobody could. Tom was a bad egg, Electra. I don’t need to tell you that.”
“It is certainly painful for me to hear it.”
“ But why, why, Electra ? I can’t stultify myself to prove this poor girl an adventuress. I can’t canonize Tom Fulton, not even if you ask me.”
“There are things we need not recur to. My brother is dead,” said Electra, with dignity.
“Yes. That’s precisely why I am asking you to provide for his widow.”
“Suppose then this were true. Suppose she is what you say, — don’t you feel she forfeited anything by leaving him ? ”
“ Ah, but she went back, poor girl! She went back to him when he was pretty well spent with sickness and sheer fright. Tom did n’t die like a hero, Electra. Get that out of your mind.”
She put up both hands in an unconsidered protest.
“ Oh, what is the use!” she cried; and his heart smote him.
“None at all,” he answered. “But I mean to show you that this girl did n’t walk back to any dead easy job when she undertook Tom.”
“Why did she do it?”
“Why? From humanity, justice, honor, I suppose, the things that influence women when they stick to their bad bargains.”
“Where had she been meantime?”
“With her father, in lodgings. That was where I met her.”
“Was she known by my brother’s name ? ”
“No,” he hesitated, “not then, I knew her as Miss MacLeod.”
“ I can see why,” Peter declared, with an eager emphasis. “I never thought of it before, but can’t you see? I should think a woman could, at least. The whole situation was probably so distasteful to her that she threw off even his name.”
“And assumed it after his death!”
“No! no! She was called Madame Fulton at his apartment. I distinctly remember that.”
They had been immovably facing each other, but now Electra turned away and walked back to the library table, where she stood resting one hand and waiting, pale and tired, yet unchanged. This seemed to her one of the times that try men’s souls, but wherein a New England conscience must abide by its traditions.
“How long does she propose remaining?” she asked, out of her desire to put some limit to the distasteful situation, though she had forbidden herself to enter it with even that human interest.
“Why, as long as we ask her to stay, — you, or, if she is not to expect anything from you, I. She has nothing of her own, poor girl.”
“Has her father repudiated her ? That ought to tell something.”
Peter was silent for a moment. Then he Said in an engaging honesty, bound as it was to hurt his own cause, —
“I don’t know. I don’t understand their relation altogether. Hose gives no opinions, but I fancy she is not in sympathy with him.”
“Yes, I fancied so.”
“But we must n’t fancy so. We must n’t get up an atmosphere and look through it till we see distorted facts.”
“Those are what I want, Peter, facts. If Miss MacLeod — ”
“Do you mean you won’t even give her your brother’s name ? ”
“Even, Peter ! What could be more decisive ? ”
“Do you expect me to introduce her as Miss MacLeod ? Do you expect me to call her so ? ”
“I fancied you called her Rose.”
“I did. I do. 1 began it in those unspeakable days when Tom went out of his head with fright and fever and we held him down in bed. Electra!”
She was listening.
“Was that grandmother calling?” she asked, though grandmother never yet had summoned her for companionship or service. But Electra felt her high decorum failing her. She was tired with the impact of emotion, and it was a part of her creed never to confess to weakness. She had snatched at the slight subterfuge as if it were a sustaining draught. “I am afraid I must go.”
“Electra!” He placed himself before her with outstretched hands. Very simple emotions were talking in him. They told him that this was the second day of his return, that he was her lover, and he had not kissed her. And they told him also, to his sheer fright and bewilderment, that he did not want to kiss her. All he could ineffectually do was to reiterate, “ We can’t go on like this. Nothing in the world is worth it.” Yet while he said it, he knew there was one thing at least infinitely worth while: to right the wrongs of a beautiful and misjudged lady. Only, it was necessary, apparently, for the present, to keep the lady out of the question.
Electra was listening.
“It is grandmother,” she said recklessly. “I must go.”
There was a rustle up the staircase, and he was alone in the library, to take himself home as he might.
After a week Electra had made no sign toward acceptance of the unbidden guest. She received Peter sweetly and kindly whenever he went to see her, but, he felt, they were very far apart. Something had been destroyed; the bubble of pleasure was broken and, as it seemed, for good and all. He strove to find his way back into their lost dream and take her with him; but there was no visible path. Rose spared him questions. She stayed gratefully on, and grannie was delighted with her. Rose had such a way of fitting into circumstance that it seemed an entirely natural thing to have her there, and Peter forgot to wonder even at the pleasure of it. Twice she came in from a walk pale and inexplicably excited, and he knew she had been besieging the scornful lady in the other house. But she kept her counsel. She had never seen Osmond since her coming, though she knew he and Peter had long talks together at the plantation.
One night, a cold, unseasonable one, Osmond was alone in the shack, his room unliglited save by the flaring wood. The cabin had a couch, two chairs, and a big table, this covered with books. There were books on the wall, and the loft above, where he slept when he was not in his neighboring tent, made a balcony, taking half the room. He was in his long chair stretched among the shadows, his face lighted intermittently from the fire. He was thinking deeply, his black brows drawn together, his nervous hands gripped on the elbows of the chair. There was a slight tap at the door. He did not heed it, being used to mice among the logs and birds twittering overhead. Then the door opened, and a lady came in. Osmond half rose from his chair, and leaning forward, looked at her. He knew her, and yet strangely he had no belief that she was real. It wras Rose, a long cloak about her, the hood slipped back from her rich hair. Her face wTas flushed by the buffeting of the wind, and its moist sweetness tingled with health. It wras apparent to him at once that, as he was looking at her in the firelight, she also had fixed his face in the gloom. She Was smiling at him, and her eyes were kind. Then she spoke.
“I came to see you, Mr. Osmond Grant.”
Osmond wras now upon his feet. lie drew a chair into the circle of light.
“Let me take your cloak,” he said. It seemed to him that no such exciting thing had ever happened.
“No, no. It is n’t wot.” She tossed it on the bench by the door, and having put both hands to her hair with the reassuring touch that is pretty in women, she turned to him, a radiant creature smiling out of her black drapery. “But I’ll sit down,” she said.
The next moment, he hardly knew how it was, they were there by the fire, and he had accepted her. She was beautiful and wonderful, a thing to be worshiped, and he lost not a minute in telling himself he worshiped her, and that he was going to do it while he was man and she was woman, or after his clay had lost its spirit. Osmond had very little time to think of his soul, because he worked all day in the open and slept hard at night; but it always seemed to him reasonable that he had one. Nowr it throbbed up, invincible, and he looked at the lady and wondered again at her. The lady was smiling at him.
“I wanted to meet you,” she said, in her soft, persuasive voice. “You don’t come to the house any more.”
He answered her simply and calmly, with no token of his inward turmoil.
“I have n’t been there for some days.”
“Is it because I am there?”
“Grannie lias n’t needed me.”
“Is it because I am there?”
Then he smiled at her, with a gleam of white teeth and lighted eyes.
“I’ve been a little afraid of you,” he owned.
“Well, you’re not now?”
“No, I’m not now.”
“That’s what I came here for.” She settled more snugly into the chair, and folded her hands on her knee. He looked at them curiously, their slender whiteness, and noted, with interest, that she had no wedding ring. She continued, “I got breathless in the house. Grandmother was tired and went to bed. Peter has gone to see his cruel lady.”
“Why do you call her cruel?”
“She won’t hold out her hand to me.”
That simple and audacious candor overwhelmed him. He had never known anything so facile yet direct. It made life incredibly picturesque and full of color, He laughed from light-heartedness, and it came into his head that, in her company, it would be easy to believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” But she was continuing: —
“Don’t you find her cruel?”
“Electra? We haven’t exchanged a dozen words in a year.”
“I’m not a notability. It’s not remarkable to raise seeds for sale.”
“But is n’t she cruel?”
He thought a moment, and then answered gravely, —
“She is very opionated. But she has high ideals. She would be unyielding. Has she been unyielding to you?”
“Has n’t Peter told you ?”
“Not a word.”
“I came here expecting her to accept me as her brother’s wife. She won’t do it.”
“Won’t do it? Does she say so?”
“She says nothing. But she ignores me.” Her cheek took on a deeper flush. She did not look at him, and he followed her gaze into the coals.
“You are too proud to give her proofs ? ” he hesitated.
She stirred uneasily in her chair.
“Proud!” she said bitterly. “If I had been proud, I should never have come here at all. But I am here, and she must recognize me.” Some dauntless lines had come into the delicate face and made it older. “It is absurd,” she continued, “worse. Here am I living in your house — ”
“No! no!” he corrected her. “Not that it matters. It would be yours just the same. But it’s grannie’s house.”
“Taking her hospitality, — oh, it’s a shame! a shame!”
“Peter must make it right with Electra,” he ventured.
“Peter! He has tried. He has tried too much. Things are not right between them any more. I know that.”
Osmond, almost with no conscious will, went back to what he had been thinking when she came in.
Peter belongs to your Brotherhood — ”
“Don’t say mine. It is my father’s.” She spoke with an unguarded warmth.
“But you belong to it, too.”
“I used to. I used to do everything my father told me to, •—but not now — not now!” She looked like a beautiful rebel, the color deepened in her cheeks, her eyes darkening.
Osmond could not question her, but he went back to his own puzzle.
“The trouble is — about Peter — his painting has taken a back seat. He talks about the Brotherhood — little else.”
She nodded, looking at the fire.
“I know. I know.”
“I’ve no objection to his believing in the brotherhood of man; but can’t the brotherhood of man be preserved if we paint our pictures, and mind our own business generally ? ”
“Not while my father leads the procession. He will have no other gods before him.”
“Tell me about your father.”
She turned on him a face suddenly irradiated by fun. An unexpected dimple came to light, and Osmond’s pulse responded to it.
“Electra,” she said, “found time to propose that I should give a little talk on my father. Last night I lay awake rehearsing it. Do you want to hear it ? Markham MacLeod is the chief of spoilers. He preaches the brotherhood of man, and he gets large perquisites. lie deals with enormous issues. Kingdoms and principalities are under his foot because the masses are his servitors. Money is always flowing through his hands. He does not divert it, but it has, with the cheerful consent of his followers, to take him from place to place, to shed his influence, to pay his hotel bills, — and he must live well, mind you. For he has to speak. He has to lead. He is a vessel of the Lord.” She had talked on unhesitatingly, straight into the fire. Now, when she paused, Osmond commented involuntarily.
“How well you speak.” Then as quickly, “Does your father know you think these things?”
“No,” she answered. “I have not had occasion to tell him. Not yet! But about Peter.” She faced round at him. “Peter is hypnotized by my father, as they all are in the beginning. He won’t paint any more portraits while the spell lasts.”
“Then he won’t get Electra.”
“He won’t get her anyway, — not if he champions me. That’s my impression.”
“But what does your father want him to do ?”
“Nothing, that I know. It is n’t that he chokes people otf from other channels. It’s just that his yoke is heavy, for one thing, and that they can’t do too much for him. Peter has taken him literally, He will sell all he has and give to the poor, and live on a crust. lie’ll think the chief, too, is doing it; but he’ll be mistaken. The chief never denied himself so much as an oyster in his life.”
They sat staring at each other, in the surprise of such full speech. Osmond had a sense of communion he had never known. Peter and he had talked freely of many things in the last week, but here was a strange yet a familiar being to whom the wells of life were at once unlocked. The girl’s face broke up into laughter.
“Is n’t it funny?” she interjected, “our talking like this ?”
“Yes. Why are we doing it?” He waited, with a curious excitement, for her answer. But she had gone, darting at a tangent on what, he was to find, were her graceful escapes when it was simpler to go that way.
“It’s very mysterious here,” she said, glancing about the cabin, “very dark and strange.”
“Shall I throw on more wood?”
“If you like. I am not cold.”
But he did not do it.
“You don’t speak like a Frenchwoman,” he ventured.
“I am not. You know that. I am an American.”
“Yes; but you have lived in France.”
“Always, since I was twelve. But I have known plenty of English,—Americans, too. Shall I speak to you in French ? ”
He deprecated it, with hands outspread.
“No, no. I read it, by myself. I could n’t understand it, spoken.”
She was smiling at him radiantly, and with the innocent purpose, even he, in his ecstasy, felt, of making herself more beautiful and more kind.
“Now,” she was saying, “since we have met, you ’ll come to the house ? You won’t let me stand in the way ? ”
His tongue was dry in his mouth. He felt the beauty of her, the pang of seeing anything so sweet and having only the memory of it. Great instincts surged up in him with longings that were only pain. They seemed to embrace all things, the primal founts of life, the loyalties, devotions, hopes, and tragedies. At last he understood, not with his pulses only but his soul. And all the time he had not answered her. She was still looking at him, smiling kindly now, and, he believed, not cognizant of the terror in his heart, not advertising her beauty as at first he had supposed. She seemed a friend home from long absence. He was speaking, and his voice, in his effort, sounded to him reassuringly gentle.
“You will come?”
“Good-night.” She wrapped her cloak about her and was gone.
He followed her to the door only, and heard her feet upon the spongy turf. With his impulse to follow farther walked the sane certainty that he ought not to let her find her way alone, even along that friendly road. But he could not do it. The rain had ceased, and there was a moist wind blowing in little temperate gusts, as if it ran over the land and gave it something, and then took brooding interval for another breath. He looked up to heaven, and in the nebulous cloud reaches found a star. So seemed the creature who had dawned in his dark room and lighted it: inaccessible, unchangingly bright, and, if one rashly approached her, armed with a destroying fire.
He went out and sat down upon the bench at his door, turning to lean his forehead against the rough casing. What had happened to him ? He did not even own it was the thing that happens to all, the unassuageable longing, the reaching hand for a mate. He had felt safe in his garden ground, where no blossoms opened but innocent velvet ones, temperately, to ripen and then die. But now the portals of the world were wide. He saw beauty, and it roused him to a rage of worship. As the night went on, he grew calmer. Sweet beliefs, a holier certainty stole into that ecstasy of meeting. She seemed again, as she had in one moment of her stay, a dear friend happily returned. The sense of her familiarity was as convincing as if he had known her all his life. It was not recognition alone: it was reunion.
Osmond tried to cease thinking of the beautiful lady until his mind should be more at ease, and to consider Peter, who was acting like a changeling. It seemed possible that he might have to meet his boy bravely, even sharply, with denial and admonition. Peter, he knew, had deliberately put his wonderful gift in his pocket, and under some glamour of new desire, was forgetting pictures and playing at the love of man. Playing at it ? Osmond did not know; but everything seemed play to him in the divergences of a man who had a gift and stinted using it. If Osmond had had any gift at all, he knew how different it would have made his life. A tragedy of the flesh would have been slighter to a man who felt the surge of fancy in the brain. He had nothing, at the outset, but a faltering will and a deep distaste for any task within his reach. He remembered well the day when he first found Peter had that aptitude for painting, and realized, with the clarity of great revealings, what it meant to them both. All through his boyhood Peter had been drawing with a facile hand, caricatures, fleeting hints of homely life, but always likenesses. One day he came home from the post-office in a gust of rapture. A series of random sketches had been accepted by a journal. From that time the steps had led always upward, and Osmond climbed them with him. But the day itself, — Osmond remembered the June fervor of it when, after a word or two to the boy, surprising to Peter in its coldness, be went away alone and threw himself under an apple tree, his face in the grass, to realize what had come. His own life up to this time had seemed to him so poor that the hint of riches dazzled him. He saw the golden gleam, not of money, but of the wealth of being. Peter had the gift, but they would both foster it. Peter should sleep softly and live well. He should have every luxurious aid, and to that end Osmond would learn to wring out money from the ground. That was his only possibility, since he must have an outdoor life. Then he began his market-gardening. Grandmother was with him always. She even sold a piece of land for present money to put into men and tools, and the boy began. At first there were only vegetables to be carried to the market; then the scheme broadened into plants and seeds, He was working passionately, and so on honor, and his works were wanted. To his grandmother even he made no real confidence, but she still walked with him like a spirit of the earth itself. He knew, as he grew older, how she had drained herself for him, how she had tended him and lived the hardiest life with him because he needed it. There were six months of several years when she took him to the deep woods, and they camped, and she did tasks his heart bled to think of, as he grew up, and looked at her workworn hands; but those things which bound them indissolubly were never spoken of between them, His infirmity was never mentioned save once when, a boy, and then delicate, he came in from the knoll where he had been watching the woodsmen felling trees. His face was terrible to her, but she went on getting their dinner and did not speak.
“Grannie,” he said at last, “what am I going to do ? ”
She paused over her fire, and turned her face to him, flushed with heat and warm with mother love.
“Sonny,” she said, “we will do the will of God.”
“Did He do this to me?” the boy asked inflexibly.
She looked at the mountain beyond the lake, whence, she knew, her strength came hourly.
“The world is His,” she said. “He does everything. We can’t find out why. We must help Him. We must ask Him to help us do His will.”
Then they sat down to dinner, and the boy, strengthening his own savage will, forced himself to eat.
He did not think so much about the ways of God as shrewdly, when he grew older, of toughening muscles and hardening flesh. Peter’s talents, Peter’s triumphs, became a kind of possession with him. Osmond had perhaps his first taste of happiness when Peter went abroad, and Osmond knew who had sent him and who, if the market-garden throve, had sworn to keep him there. The allowance he provided Peter thereafter gave him as much pleasure in the making as it did the boy in the using of it. Peter was like one running an easy race, not climbing the difficult steps that lead to greatness. It looked, at times, as if it were the richness of his gift that made his work seem play, — not Osmond’s fostering. But now, coming home to more triumphs, Peter seemed to have forgotten the goal.
He found Osmond one morning resting under the apple tree, his chosen shade. Peter strode up to the spot moodily, angrily even, his picturesque youth well set off by the ease of his clothes. Osmond watched him coming and approved of him without condition, because he saw in him so many kinds of mastery. Peter gave him a nod, and threw himself and Ins hat on the grass, at wide interval. He quoted some Latin to the effect that Osmond was enjoying the ease of his dignified state.
“I’ve been up and at it since light,” said Osmond, smiling at him. You don’t know when sun-up is.”
Peter rolled over and studied the grass.
“ Are you coming up to see Rose ? he asked presently.
Osmond could not tell him Rose had been to see him.
“I might,” he said, remembering her requisition.
“Come soon. Maybe you could put an oar in. She needs help, poor girl!
“Help to Electra’s favor?”
Peter nodded into the grass.
“You could do it better than I. You can do everything better. You must n’t forget, Pete, that you’re the Fortunate Youth.”
There was something wistful in his tone. It stirred in Peter old loyalties, old responses, and he immediately wondered what Osmond wanted of him that was not expressed. Osmond had made no emotional demands upon him, as to his profession, but Peter always had a sense that his brother was sitting by, watching the boiling of the pot. This was a cheerful companionship when the pot was active; not now, as it cooled. He threw out a commonplace at random, from his uneasy consciousness.
“Art is n’t the biggest thing, old boy.”
“ What is ?”
Now Peter rolled over again, and regarded him with glowing eyes. To Osmond, who was beginning to know his temperament better than he had known it in all the years of the lad’s journey upon an upward track, that glance told of remembered phrases and a dominating personality that had made the phrases stick.
“It’s to give one man who works with his hands fresher air to breathe, fewer hours’ work, a better bed.”
“You’re an artist, Pete. Don’t forget that.”
“I don’t. But it is n’t the biggest thing.”
“If you should paint a picture for that workingman to look at while he says his prayers ? what then ? ”
“You don’t understand, Osmond,” said the boy. “Labor! Labor is the question of the day.”
Osmond looked over at a field of seedlings where five men with bent backs were weeding and where he himself had been bending until now. lie smiled a little.
“I understand work, boy,” he said gently. “Only I can’t make hot distinctions. The workingman is as sacred to me as you are, and you are as sacred-as the workingman.”
Peter was making little nosegays of grass and weeds, and laying them in methodical rows.
“I can’t paint, Osmond,” he said abruptly. “These things are just crowding me.”
Osmond was silent a long time because he had too many things to say, all of them impossible, lie felt hot tears in his eyes from a passion of revolt against the lad’s wastefulness. He felt the shame of such squandering. To him, all the steps in the existence by which his own being had been preserved meant thrift and penury. He had conserved every energy. He had lived wholesomely, not only for months, but unremittingly for years. His only indulgences bad been the brave temperate ones of air and sleep; and with their aid he had built up in himself the strength of the earth. And here was a creature whose clay was shot through with all the tingling fires of life, whose hand carried witchery, whose brain and eye were spiritual satellites, and he talked about painting by and by.
“What a hold that man has on you!” he breathed involuntarily.
Peter swept his little green nosegays into confusion and sat up. His eyes were brilliant.
“Not the man,” lie said. “It’s not the man. It’s the facts behind him.”
Osmond’s thought flew back to one night, and a girl’s reckless picture of her father. It seemed now like a dream, yet it swayed him.
“What can you do for him?” he asked, forcing himself to a healthy ruthlessness. “What have you done?”
‘For Markham MacLeod? Nothing. What could I do for him ? He has done everything for me.”
“Opened rny eyes. Made me realize the brotherhood of man. Why, see here, Osmond! ”
Osmond watched him, fascinated, by the heat of him. Tie seemed possessed by a passion which could never, one would say, have been inspired save by what was noble.
“You know what kind of a fellow I’ve been: all right enough, but I like pleasures, big and little. Well, when I began to listen to MacLeod, I moved into a garret the poorest student would have grumbled at. I turned in my money to the Brotherhood. The money I got for the portrait — maybe I should n’t have asked such a whacking big price if I had n’t wanted that money — I turned that in to the Brotherhood. Would a fellow like me sleep hard and eat crusts for anything but a big thing ? Now I ask you?”
Osmond sat looking at him, and thinking, thinking. This, he understood perfectly, was youth in the divinity of its throes over life, life wherever it was bubbling and glowing. Always it was the fount of life, and where the drops glittered, there the eyes of youth had to follow, and the heart of youth had to go. The exact retort was rising to his lips: “That was my money, the money you gave away. I earned it for you. I dug it out of the ground.” But the retort stayed there. He offered only what seemed a blundering remonstrance: “I can’t help feeling, Pete, that it’s your business to paint pictures. If you can paint ’em and give the money to your Brotherhood, that’s something. Only paint ’em.”
“But you know, I’ve found out I can speak.”
There it was again, the heart of youth on its new track, chasing the glow, whatever it might be, the marsh-lamp or star. Osmond shook his head.
“I don’t know, Pete,” he owned. “I don’t know. I’m out of the world. I read a lot, but that’s not the same thing as having it out with men. But I feel a distinct conviction that it’s every man’s business to mind his own business.”
“You would n’t have us speak ? You would n’t have him, Markham MacLeod ?”
The boy’s impetuousness made denial seem like warfare. Osmond put it aside with his hand.
“Don’t,” he said. “You make me feel like Capital. I’m Labor, lad. I always have been.”
“Is n’t it anything to move a thousand men like one ? To say a word and bring on a strike of ten thousand ? The big chieftains never did so much as that. Alexander was n’t in it. Napoleon was n’t. It’s colossal.”
“I don’t know whether it seems to me very clever to bring on a strike,” said Osmond. “It would seem to me a great triumph to make ten thousand men feel justly. Resistance is n’t the greatest thing to me. I should want to know whether it was noble to resist.”
“Ah, but it is noble! Resistance, — for themselves, their children, their children’s children.”
Osmond was looking away at the horizon, a whimsical smile coming about the corners of his mouth.
“Yes, Pete,” he said, “but you paint your pictures.”
“Now you own I’m right! Isn’t it anything to move ten thousand men to throw down their tools and go on strike ? ”
“Well, by thunder!” Osmond had awakened. “Now you put it that way, I don’t know whether it is or not. That phrase undid you. Lay down their tools ? Show me the man that makes me take up my tools in reverence and sobriety, because good work is good religion. That’s what I’d like.”
“But it means something, — starvation, maybe, death. You don’t recognize it, do you ? You won’t recognize the war that’s on — oh, it is on ! — between Capital and Labor, between the high places and the low. It’s war, and it’s got to be fought out.”
“I do recognize it, lad.” He spoke gently, thinking of his own lot, and the hard way through which he had come to his almost fevered championship of whatever was maimed or hurt. “Only, Pete, do you know what your opposing forces need ? They need grannie.”
“To say it’s the will of God?”
“To be wheeled out in her chair, and sit at the head of your armies and say, ‘Love God. Love one another.’ If they love God, they’ll listen to Him. If they love one another your strikes will end to-morrow, and your rich man will break bread with your poor one, and your poor one will lose hatred for the rich. You need grandmother.”
They sat smiling over it. Peter had amazingly cooled. He rose to his feet.
“ Well,” he said, “ I ’ll paint some pictures. Of course I’ll paint my pictures, — sometime. There’s the Brotherhood again. Don’t I want to turn in shekels ? Don’t I want to have it known that such weight as my name carries is going in there ?”
It was Osmond’s turn to rage. He, too, rose, and they confronted each other. Osmond spoke. His voice trembled, it seemed with emotion that was not anger but a fervor for great things.
“I cannot get it through my head. You can do the thing, and it’s I that value it. You can paint pictures and you’d prostitute the thing for money, — for reputation. If I had it, if I had that gift — ” he paused, and shook his head as if he shook a mane. Peter was looking at him curiously. This was passion such as he had never seen in any man.
“What would you do, old chap?” he asked.
Osmond was ashamed of his display, but he had to answer.
“I would guard it,” he said, “as a man would guard — a woman.”
They stood silent, their eyes not meeting now, hardly knowing how to get away from each other. As if she had been evolved by his mention of precious womanhood, Electra, in her phaëton, drove swiftly by. They took off their hats, glad of the break in the moment’s tension; but she did not turn that way.
“ Could she be going to see her ? ” Peter asked, in haste.
“To see her ?”
“Rose. She mustn’t go now. Rose has gone to the orchard with her book.”
He started straightway across the field, and met Electra, returning. As he was standing in the roadway, hat off, smiling most confidently at her, Electra had no resource but to draw up. Before she fairly knew how it had come about, he was beside her, and they were in a proximity for the most intimate converse. Electra felt irritably as if she could not escape.
(To be continued.)
- Copyright, 1907, by ALICE BROWN.↩