Out of the Chrysalis
“ MIRY BELL will hev’ considerable, wun’t she ? ”
“ I should say so! Silas Hitchcock must hev’ hed ten thousand dollars — or more! ”
The speakers formed one of the little groups of men waiting before the low old farmhouse. A dry stubble crackled under their feet; over-ripe timothy and scattered Canterbury bells fringed the open space. The great maples at the gate swayed languorously in the soft wind. The hush of midsummer — of the fullness of life — lay on the fields, and in the house was the hush of death.
In the darkened parlor the assembled relatives were seating themselves, carefully leaving vacant the central chair. Just as they were beginning to ask one another, in subdued whispers, where Mirabella could be, she came in, alone, the ruffled silk of her gown rustling with her movement. She held her head high and bit her lip, and her veil did not conceal the feverish red of her cheeks and the brightness of her eyes. She seated herself in the Morris chair that she had bought after teaching one winter in a district school. The whole room spoke of the hampered striving of her tastes. She had painted the floor and woodwork, and sewed the rags for the rug; she had made the white curtains. The walnut whatnot still held a few ornaments dear from her childhood — a shell-covered box, a china vase, her mother’s sandal-wood fan. On the wall hung some crayon sketches that she had done in school.
Flowers were piled on the melodeon, the table, and the long casket : asters and dahlias, sweet-williams and late white lilies. Mirabella smiled faintly at their profusion. She knew the look of satirical amusement her father would have given them, the look that had always accompanied comment on the few flowers she had tried to raise, on all her attempts to have things “ nice.” The simple ceremony went on, but it was only now and then that she heard the minister’s words, and her mind made startled efforts to catch their bearing. She seemed to have no real sense of the moment. She was absorbed in an intense wordless contest with the cynical, grimly-humorous, dominant spirit that she had known as her father’s. The sound of the hymn touched her as the sight of the flowers had done, with an impulse to laughter. To her vivid consciousness of what her father’s mocking indifference would have been, this honoring of his memory with conventional observances seemed incongruous and trivial.
When the undertaker touched her she rose hastily and stood by the head of the casket; but she did not look down. Why should she look at the changed semblance of a face that she had not been able to shut out of her vision for three days — a large, clean-shaven, impassive face that signified to her the thwarting of all that she had ever wanted to do! In the conflict that her spirit was carrying on, that opposing face was still keen and confident of dominance. She felt that she would be giving herself an unfair advantage were she to look down upon the real face as it lay, broken in its defiance, conquered at last. A few hot tears forced themselves from under her lashes. Then her uncle came and led her out to the carriage.
By her own wish she came back alone from the long drive. She went at once to her room and took off the ruffled silk, the long gloves and veil. She was conscious of the physical relief in putting off all this warm enshrouding black, yet it was as if she had laid aside her armor. This was the first silk dress she had ever had, except some old ones of her mother’s. At length she went down to the kitchen where a neighbor had been getting supper, and stood in the doorway looking up into the orchard that covered the hill behind the house. The hired men were crossing the yard with pails of foaming milk. She caught herself thinking that she would never have to wash those pails again. Then she repeated the thought defiantly, with a little catch in her breath. Presently she went in and seated herself at the table. The neighbor, Susan Potwine, poured some tea for her, and she tried to sip a little of it. Suddenly she covered her face with her hands and burst into tears.
“Mercy!” cried Susan, “I didn’t suppose you felt as bad as that.”
“ Oh, Susan,” she moaned, “ I’m crying because I don’t feel bad.”
She rose and made a movement toward clearing the table. She had suddenly felt restless for her usual work, but she stopped as abruptly as she had begun; this yielding to a desire for work was a concession to her opponent in the strange struggle going on within her soul. She went out of doors and round to the front of the house. Far below lay the green valley — a smooth lake islanded by orchards and woodlands, and the village hidden in trees. Rising vapor traced the course of the unseen river, and the mountains were dark against the sunset sky. She looked wearily at it all, thinking how her mother had liked to sit out here to watch the sunset, and how seldom she had been able to finish the evening’s work before dark.
Her mother had been a village girl, unaccustomed to the work of a farm; she had spent her life in a passionate service of cleanliness, the one form of æsthetic gratification possible to her. Hard work and privations (not of the body so much as of the spirit) had had their share in her early death, and the realization of this had awakened a bitter resentment in her daughter. The girl herself had had to work often beyond her strength; and she had had almost none of the simple pleasures that her cousins in the village enjoyed. She had had two or three terms in the Elm Valley Academy, and had earned a little money by teaching; but these opportunities had been granted so reluctantly, with such ironical mockery of her ambitions, that she could feel no gratitude. Her father had never been positively unkind, but he had worked hard himself and he expected his wife and daughter to work as his mother had done. From his point of view his house and wray of living were needlessly finer than the log house and pioneer ways of his youth. He felt contempt for the femininity that preferred fresh paint, new carpets, and flowers, to a growing balance in the bank or a new meadow.
In his last illness he had fought grimly, and his daughter had fought with him, revealing an inheritance of his stubborn spirit, though it had always been thought that she was wholly like her mother, timid and yielding. For a few hours after his death she lay in a stupor of physical exhaustion and baffled effort, of pity that seemed grief. Then slowly repressed nature asserted itself, and with increasing firmness, before that clear image of her father’s face, sarcastic and derisive, refusing assent to her dawning intention, refusing even belief that she knew what she wanted.
It is indeed true that she did not know in any wide or deep sense. Her sharpest need was to be herself; but this she felt only in terms of her thwarted desires. The full definition of the good toward which her spirit blindly yearned has taxed philosophical systems and the vocabularies of poets. She wanted the ideal; she wanted beauty in her life. But, with all, the reaching out toward this vision must satisfy itself with symbols, and Mirabella knew precisely the symbols that would satisfy her aspirations. She wanted to live in the village, in a neat house with a wide porch, sheer frilled curtains at the windows, a smooth lawn and scarlet geraniums in front. She would like to belong to a woman’s club, to paint china, to entertain her friends, seating them at little tables spread with fine linen that she would embroider on winter evenings by a pink-shaded lamp. She believed that her father could have given her some of these things, but she was not sure now that he had left his property to her. Perhaps he had been unwilling to trust her with the farm. But she would be free; she could at least earn her own living. It was to this point in her meditations that she had come when she rose in the vibrant darkness of the August night and went into the house.
In her first consultation with Squire Thurston, her father’s lawyer, she learned that she would have all of her father’s property, which comprised the farm, money in the bank, a few mortgages, and some outlying pieces of land. The total seemed to her fabulous and unlimited; but she was bewildered, and her thought could not go beyond her long-cherished wishes. She was looking for a house in the village when her cousin Nettie French made a startling suggestion. Nettie taught school in Hartsviile, the nearest large town. She was secretary of the Hartsville Travel Club; she had a portfolio of photogravures of the world’s twelve greatest paintings, and on her walls were framed prints of the Angelus, Beatrice Cenci, and some modern German madonnas. One day in the fall she proposed to Mirabella that they should take a trip abroad the next summer. Mirabella looked at her in astonishment. No one in Elm Valley had ever gone to Europe, and she was not even sure that she would like to go. Gradually, however, her imagination kindled. What if she should go! Life seemed to be opening out so rapidly that she caught her breath; courage almost failed her. But as she grew accustomed to the idea, her hesitation passed into eager anticipation. She decided not to buy a house for the present, and came into the village to stay at her uncle’s.
The winter passed quickly in preparations. She and Nettie studied diligently directions for foreign travel in newspapers and women’s journals. They made long lists, and planned to do their shopping in New York. Then came evenings over circulars from steamship companies. Mirabella selected lines and boats with what seemed to Nettie a reckless disregard of expense.
“ We ought to go right,” Mirabella protested. The furthest possible departure from her father’s habits of expenditure alone seemed to satisfy her. And then there was always her wish to do as people did who lived “nicely.” “I’ll tell you,” she cried: “ I will pay part of your expenses.”
“ Well, you will not,” Nettie answered promptly.
“ Yes, I will.” And she prevailed.
She drew some money from the bank, sold a piece of land, and in April they set forth. They spent a week in Jersey City with a former Elm Valley girl. Every morning they crossed the river, and Mirabella would stand by the rail looking down the sparkling path of waves into the sunlit mists of the bay, exhilarated by the salt air and the sight of the moving craft. Once or twice she saw an ocean liner moving slowly out: in a week, a day, she too would be gliding out to sea toward the unknown wonders of a new world.
One morning they went to the park, then in its first green. Through Mirabella’s admiration of the great lawns, the lakes and swans, there flashed a recollection of the valley and the mountains before her own door. There the meadows and the nearer hills were turning green, and the new-ploughed fields would have lilac lights in their deepbrown furrows. At night white fogs crept up from the river till the valley was a shining lake in the moonlight; by day the woods wore the changing colors of flower tassels and opening leaves, and the old orchard was flecked with gray-green. Her memory was tenacious of these details, but she felt no beauty in them, and the sameness of the recurring season wearied her even in thought. Yet she had a curious feeling of knowing herself only as a part of that scene, — of not being at home in these places that she liked better.
Their hostess led them first to Fifth Avenue, expecting, however, that the actual purchases would be made on the parallel avenues. But Mirabella willed otherwise. She had always had to take the poorer things; now, whatever she bought should be of the best. Once Nettie protested against some purchase of ivory brushes or pig-skin cases.
“ We must have things that are suitable,” Mirabella answered.
“ But we can go without such expensive things.”
Mirabella could only be firm without reply. Her motive lay too deep for explanation. Her action was a sort of justification of herself against all that had seemed mean and coarse in her environment. There was another feeling than mere pride of life in the subtle delight with which she touched the delicate wellmade articles of her equipment; but deeper still lay the sense that only by completeness of revolt could she make her protest effectual. That vivid image of her father’s opposing, mocking face seldom came to her now, but she still felt that at the slightest yielding on her part she would slip back into the old submission.
They sailed the last of April, left the boat at Boulogne, and went directly to Paris, for Nettie’s great desire was to put in practice a few French lessons she had taken. They arrived in Paris after dark, and went with some of their fellow travelers to a small hotel near the Madeleine.
The next morning, in the soft May sunshine, they came out upon the rue de Rivoli, opposite the Tuileries and the great spaces of the Place de la Concorde. The fountains were playing, and clumps of rhododendrons glowed in the cool depths of the Champs-Elysées. The dome of the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower rose out of the distant mist. The young women swayed towards each other, clinging together, two slim black figures. They both had natural good taste in dress, but a too diligent study of fashion-plates, a too hurried survey of New York shops and women, had misled them, and slight exaggerations of the prevailing modes betrayed their provinciality. Their hats were a little too wide, their veils too floating, their skirts too long, and all was too new. With it all, a little stiffness of neatness and precision prevailed.
Carriages and automobiles rolled noiselessly by, checking each start they made to cross the street. “ How shall we ever get there! ” despaired Mirabella.
“ Well, this lady is an American, I know, and I am going to ask her.”
Nettie advanced resolutely toward a middle-aged woman, well dressed in gray.
“ Will you please tell us how to get to the Bon Marché ? ” she asked breathlessly.
The lady stopped and smiled. She had a square fresh face and keen dark eyes.
“ You must cross by the Pont Royal and go up by the rue du Bac — do you know where the rue du Bac is ? ”
“ We don’t know where anything is! ”
“ Ah, you are frank! ” this with just the right degree of friendly intonation. “ Have n’t you your Baedekers ? ”
The cousins looked at each other blankly. Baedeker was scarcely even a name to them.
Mrs. Upton Rawles was quick both in observation and inference. “ You must have a cab,” she said decisively. She hesitated; then, “ I am going to the Bon Marché.” This was one of the ways of presenting a truth that Mrs. Rawles permitted herself. Her intention was a birth of the moment. “ If you are not afraid to trust yourselves to me we can go together,” she continued.
They were not afraid, they instantly and sincerely affirmed. There was indeed everything in her appearance to inspire confidence, even to the caution of their inexperience; and even far more discerning eyes than theirs would have recognized in her a lady.
Mrs. Rawles called a fiacre and told the driver to go to the Place du Carrousel and descend the quay to the Pont St. Michel. “ Their first hour in Paris, so to speak, and they were going straight to the Bon Marché! ” was her inward comment. She could not scrutinize them openly, — they were at least as conscious of her as of the objects to which she was calling their attention, — but her swift glances confirmed her first impression. They were so fresh and dainty, so stiffly overdressed! They must be of New England stock, but not from New England; presumably from some small town nearer the Middle West. The taller one had a certain prettiness of form in spite of her angularity, and a distinction in the lines of neck and shoulders. Nettie French, talking primly of Notre Dame and the Boulevard St. Michel, interested her less. Both seemed to be at once eager and disappointed, and the taller girl was evidently too sincere to deceive herself into an admiration she did not feel. Goodnature prompted her to help them find something of what they had come to see.
To Mirabella, Nettie’s understanding of these strange names and places indicated an unsuspected fund of knowledge. She herself was pleased with the arcades of the rue de Rivoli and the Tuileries gardens; but she could not admire, as their new acquaintance seemed to think they should, the low dull walls of the Louvre or the façade of Notre Dame, and she thought the streets across the river dirty and uninteresting.
The cousins had selected the Bon Marché for their morning’s expedition chiefly because it was the place of which they had the least vague idea. But once within the great bazaar, Mirabella again found delight in unstinted buying. She bought generously for her cousin, and could hardly keep her gratitude from overflowing into gifts for Mrs. Rawles. For herself she chose without regard to utility. She knew that she might never wear these pieces of rose point, but she felt that she would be a different woman in them — that the narrow ways she had hated could never wholly claim her if she could see, even if she never wore, these webs fine as the stuff of dreams. She lingered long over the laces; her soul expanded over them as the soul of another over poetry or music. It was the poetry that appealed to her habit of mind, and her emotion was genuine and pure. She won the approval of Mrs. Rawles by her choice, and perhaps misled that lady a little by her disregard of prices. The morning past, their kindly guide put them into a fiacre and promised to look them up very soon.
First and last they did most of their Paris sight-seeing under her guidance. If she was not with them, they followed her directions. Her kindness was a perpetual point of comment with them.
“ It must be just kindness,” said Nettie. " I can’t see that she makes anything out of us; she’s awfully particular about paying her part of expenses.”
“ She is n’t the kind of a woman who would want to make anything out of us,” Mirabella indignantly replied.
“ Well, she probably likes to manage,” decided Nettie.
It was indeed true of Mrs. Rawles that her executive ability, denied exercise in a large field, sought satisfaction in the protection of her friends. She lived abroad because she liked it, and it was — or had been — cheaper. She liked Paris best, but she was beginning to fear that she could no longer afford to live there. Since meeting Mirabella Hitchcock she had sometimes wondered if they could not be useful to each other. The cousins’ confidence in her was not misplaced; she was a woman to whom you could safely trust your purse, your honor, your open letters even. She had no intention of exploiting Mirabella. She would, she thought, give more than she would receive.
Always afterwards it was a satisfaction to Mirabella to remember that she, and not Mrs. Rawles, had proposed the trip to Touraine. She never realized how delicately the attractiveness of this tour was brought out in comparison with others suggested by Nettie. Mrs. Rawles had never been in Touraine, — a fact so unemphasized that it escaped the notice of her protégées — but her preparation in the literature of the region was more than adequate. And just when the younger women were yielding to the charm of her descriptions of the châteaux, she sent them off alone on a melancholy two-days’ expedition to Rouen. The lingering impression of that journey gave Mirabella the courage to express her regret that their friend was not going with them to Tours.
“ Oh, my dear,” was the reply, “ I can’t afford it.”
Mirabella never knew how she brought herself to propose to pay Mrs. Rawles’s expenses. It came about, however, naturally enough. Mrs. Rawles received the offer, or rather request, with evident pleasure; but she must think it over, she said, adding, “ Of course, I want to go.” The next day she said that she would go for a month or six weeks. Perhaps they could venture as far as Carcassonne. “I hope we shall meet my cousin Philip,” was her next remark. “ He is in the south of France or in Spain, painting impossible pictures. He would be an ideal guide.”
Mirabella, for her part, hoped that chance would keep Mr. Philip Armitage out of their path; she was having quite enough to do to assimilate a little of the information she was now receiving. She was alarmed even by the thought of meeting so learned and fastidious a person as this Mr. Armitage would seem to be.
In the retrospect of any experience all impressions will radiate from the luminous point of the one most vivid. In Mirabella’s memory the valley of the Loire wore the aspect of a lovely formal garden, touched with a faint silvery light of romance, mystery, and splendor — her interpretation of the historical references she constantly heard from her companions, all concretely associated for her with the charming name of a certain beautiful lady, Diane de Poitiers, at whose word the graceful arches of Chenonceaux had sprung so lightly across the clear-flowing Cher. Nettie learned a great deal of history, filled her trunk with postcard pictures of royal personages, and enlarged her stock of French phrases.
At the end of a month Mirabella cabled to Squire Thurston to sell a certain valuable piece of woodland and send her the money. When the order came, she timidly discussed her new plan — that they should all go to Italy at her expense. She overruled Nettie’s objections. “ Miss Brown can teach in your place another month. Write to her,” she said, with the imperious directness of one who has learned the commanding power of money.
It was at Lake Como that the question of Mirabella’s staying over for the winter was first seriously discussed. It seemed to her that she could not go back now: she was just beginning to understand,— to know how to see. But she could not propose herself to Mrs. Rawles as a companion for so long a time. The suggestion came finally from the latter. “ But,” she added regretfully, “ you could not live in my bandbox of an apartment.” The rooms so designated had seemed luxurious to Mirabella, but she merely thought that Mrs. Rawles considered them too small for two; it did not occur to her that there was a false impression to be corrected.
The next morning Mrs. Rawles was at breakfast on the terrace when the two young women joined her. “ Some friends of mine,” she said, referring to an open letter beside her plate, “ are going to Egypt and want to rent their apartment. That would be an opportunity for you, Mirabella, if you could induce Miss Nettie to stay.”
“ I can’t stay; that’s settled,” Nettie laughed. “ I can’t lose my place.”
“ I admire your independence,” said Mrs. Rawles.
Nettie stared, but Mrs. Rawles’s attention was fixed on Mirabella, who seemed both eager to speak and hesitating.
“If you could only stay with me, Mrs. Rawles,” she said at last, hastily.
“ You ought to take an apartment if you stay,” was the reply; “you would like it much better than a hotel or a pension. But I must finish some letters for the morning post.” And she rose and went in.
Mirabella returned to the subject later; and when she found that her friend was willing to be her guest for the winter, she urged her to telegraph to the Rittenhams to secure the apartment. Mrs. Rawles suggested that it would be well to wait — Mirabella might find something that she would like better. But before night they had telegraphed for the rooms.
October found them established in Paris, near the Arc de l’Étoile. At last it seemed to Mirabella that her vague vision had defined itself — scarcely yet had it become reality. As in a dream she moved over shining floors and soft-hued rugs, through lofty rooms where everything seemed beautiful to her — always waited upon by low-voiced attentive servants. At times her natural activity disliked this constant service; but the physical weariness of years yielded to the luxury of rest.
Every morning she weakened to lie warm under the crimson satin duvet, looking at the tinted clouds and flowers on the ceiling, till the maid brought in her chocolate in a Sèvres cup on a silver tray. While Célie lighted the wood fire and poured out the water for the bath, Mirabella would think of winter mornings at home — when she could see her breath, and her fingers were blue as she dressed, and her father and the hired man would come in to breakfast with muddy boots and coats smelling of the barn. The usual result of recalling these past discomforts was concern for the servants in their cold rooms, and she astonished and perplexed them by presents of warm bathrobes and American oilstoves.
Mrs. Rawles arranged for Mirabella’s attendance at several courses of lectures, and engaged a French teacher. They visited the museums faithfully, and went often to the theatre. The hospitality of Mrs.Rawles (few seemed to remember the slender diffident woman somewhat in the background) became one of the winter’s attractions for many of their compatriots. Mirabella usually poured the tea; she liked this combined activity and partial effacement. She watched the people from the shelter of the samovar, and pondered over scraps of conversation that floated to her.
One day her attention was particularly held by a man talking to some one near her table. He had gray hair, parted in the middle and falling over his ears, a gray moustache and pointed beard. He wore a baggy coat and wide trousers of corduroy, and a big black tie with floating ends. She heard him say, “ The atmosphere of France did not make Corot. It is the artists — nous autres artistes — that make the country people see and love.” Then they drifted away, but presently she started in dismay. Mrs. Rawles was bringing the man back toward the tea-table, to present him to her, she knew. She was afraid he would talk to her and she would not know how to reply. She felt reassured when he gave her a kindly clasp of the hand and she found herself looking up into a pair of honest boyish blue eyes.
She was quite unprepared for the name Mrs. Rawles gave. This, then, was Philip Armitage. He asked what kind of tea she used, and if she thought the cup she was filling was old Meissen.
“ Please don’t destroy her faith in everything in the room,” interposed Mrs. Rawles. “ He is my cousin, you know,” to Mirabella, “ You have n’t seen him before because he will not visit such a barbarian as I more than once a year.”
He waved her away, and seating himself asked Mirabella if she did not find the Bois beautiful.
“ Now, in winter! ” she exclaimed.
“ In winter, if ever.”
She wondered what sort of man this was who went south in the heat of summer and liked the leafless trees and fogs of winter. “ I’ll take you over to Longchamps some white frosty morning and you will see what it is,” he said. He stayed a few minutes longer, making droll comments on the people and things in the room. Suddenly he rose, put his heels together and made a low bow. “ I am delighted to have met you, mademoiselle,” and he was gone.
His cousin talked of him at dinner. He had just come back from Algiers, it seemed. “ He is always painting, though he never sells any pictures.”
“ Won’t he sell them ? ”
“ Oh, he would sell, but no one will buy. Poor fellow, I suppose he will become famous after he dies.”
“ Are his pictures good, then ? ”
Mrs. Rawles hesitated: but her hesitation was not prolonged enough to affect the frankness of her reply. “ No,” she said, “ I am afraid they are rather bad.”
“ Oh, I’m sorry,” was the response, and Mrs. Rawles felt that she had said the right thing.
“ He loves his art,” she went on, “ but I am afraid that his technique is n’t equal to his imagination and appreciation. He is a landscape painter, and he is always hunting for unusual effects of light and color. Perhaps it is because his effects are so unusual that he does n’t sell his pictures. He is very faithful to his convictions.” After a moment she added, “ He poses, but at heart he is just a single-minded, honest American gentleman.”
The next week Armitage came to dinner, and after that often — dropping in unexpectedly for lunch or a cup of tea. He made Mirabella walk in the Bois with him, and fulfilled his promise of making her see a beauty in mists and gray skies, soft tones and feathering tree-tops. She began also to look more tolerantly on his costume. In answer to questions that he asked, at first in kindness, she found herself describing her home to him — the old orchard, the river winding through the meadows, the wooded mountain. It became a picture for her.
One morning in March they walked to the grande cascade. There had been rain, and the air was soft and moist. Vapor floated like incense among the straight-stemmed pines, over the fresh green lawns, and gathered onyx-toned in the distant sunlight. On her return Mirabella went directly to her room, her eyes shining, a heightened pink in her cheeks, Mrs. Rawles saw her and turned away to hide a little smile.
There was a letter lying on Mirabella’s dressing-table. She opened it, read it through once with increasing haste, then again slowly as if she had not understood it. Suddenly, crumpling the letter in her hand, she hurried to find Mrs. Rawles, who sat at her desk in the salon.
Mirabella stood beside her, stiff and straight. “ Mrs. Rawles,” she said, “ I must go home.”
The older woman put down her pen and half rose. “ My dear! what is wrong? Have you had bad news ? ”
“Yes — no.” Mirabella’s mind was working rapidly to strange conclusions. “ Only — my money is all gone.”
“ Only! ” Mrs. Rawles was surprised into a bewilderment most unusual for her. “What has happened? A failure; depreciated securities ? One does n’t lose everything in an hour, like that, at once! Surely something must be left.”
“ Oh, yes,” the answer was given with painstaking exactness, “ the house, the twenty-acre meadow, and one hundred and fifty dollars a year interest money.”
“ What do you mean? What has become of your property? ”
“ I have spent it all.” The color crept high in Mirabella’s cheeks; her eyes began to look worried.
“ You have spent all of what? ” Mrs. Rawles asked sternly.
The troubled look in Mirabella’s eyes intensified. ” I have spent all that I had,” she said firmly. “ I suppose that it does not seem very much to you. I had not realized that it would go so soon. It seemed a great deal to me. But I’m not sorry that I spent it. I’m glad.”
Mrs. Rawles gave her a strange upward glance and repressed an exclamation. At that moment she did not know whether to accuse the girl of unfathomable craft or of incredible simplicity. Later she acknowledged that either judgment would have been unjust, but she never divined what Mirabella had meant by saying that she was glad. Nor could Mirabella have explained why she was glad that the money had been poured out unstintingly. She would not have spent it just as she had if she had known more. She seemed to herself to have learned a great deal — certainly her sense of values had changed greatly; but though she might wish that its uses had been other, she could never regret that the money was gone.
She never entirely forgot her feeling of this moment, — that Mrs. Rawles was angry with her — that she had always been nice to her only because of her money. This suspicion had crossed her mind before, but at every point, when she had been tempted to think her friend selfish, she had been overwhelmed by the remembrance of some delicate attention, some little act of thoughtfulness, that put her own clumsy generosities to shame. And now at this critical moment Mrs. Rawles rose, took the younger woman’s hands in hers and held them firmly.
“ It is only on your account that I am sorry,” said Mirabella, her eyes dimming. Instantly she felt that this was a mistake, and bit her lip, but the warm clasp of the other’s hands did not relax.
“ You must not think of me,” was the answer given gently; “ now tell me about it, and we can decide what is best to do.”
Mrs. Rawles’s determination to maintain the philosophic mind was so far successful that she was even ready to laugh at herself the next morning, in her talk with her cousin, whom she had sent for. She had given Mirabella a commission in town.
“ Of course you see,” she said, “ that she has — to be very vulgar — taken me in completely. I knew she was countrybred, that she had absolutely no knowledge of the world, but I guilelessly supposed there was a large fortune. I think I attributed it to lumber. She did not talk of her affairs. I never,” she spread out her hands, deprecating surprise, “ I never saw any one spend money with such an ease, such a delicate detachment. I thought she had been accustomed at least to the idea of having plenty of money all her life. But I do assure you that she never dreamed of deceiving me.”
“ I did n’t suppose that she had,” Armitage replied dryly. He had been walking about the room while his cousin was talking. Now he paused before her, and looked down at her with a quizzical gleam in his eyes. She turned her head away for an instant. His way of looking at her sometimes disconcerted her; but she turned back and faced him with a smile. She vindicated herself by frankly implicating him in the design he tacitly imputed to her.
“ You have escaped,” she said. “ I thought yesterday when she came in that you had spoken.”
He had taken up a piece of carved ivory and was examining it closely. “ What is she going to do ? ” he asked.
“ She wants to go home at once. I am to stay here till the Rittenhams come. You know I intend to go home this summer.”
“ You are not going to let her go home alone ? ”
“ Why not? I seem to have no voice in the matter.”
He exchanged the ivory for a bit of jade. " Can’t you induce her to wait and go with you ? ”
“ Why should I ? ” wonderingly.
“ For one reason, to give me a chance to ask her to marry me,”
“ Philip, are you mad! I have always called you quixotic, but this is going too far. She is nothing but an ignorant country girl. She is practically penniless, and you are penniless.”
“Not quite.” He put down the jade and faced her. “ I think I could make shift to take care of her, at least a little better than it would seem her father did — that is, if she will have me.”
“ Have you! ”
“ Oh, it is by no means such a certainty,” he insisted. “ We need not discuss her. But you have recognized some of the qualities of her attractiveness — ”
“ Oh, thank you,” his cousin murmured.
“ She is much younger than I, and I look older than I am. Moreover, I think she does not like my clothes.”
Mrs. Rawles dismissed this impatiently. “ Tell me, pray,” she questioned, “ where will you live ? You could not afford to live in Paris, and you would be desperately unhappy anywhere else.”
“ I think you said she still had the farmhouse and the orchard ? I imagine the view goes with the front windows. You see I seem to have learned more about her life than you. I think I should like to paint her in the orchard when it is in bloom. And I should like to paint the elms that look like palms rising out of the fog in the green meadows. Oh, yes, I should like it.”
For a moment there was silence, Mrs. Rawles looking at him thoughtfully and somewhat wonderingly. Then she said slowly, in a tone of deepening conviction, “ Yes, I really believe you would like it; I believe you would.”
“ And now ” — he rose — “ when are you going to let me see her ? ”
“ What nonsense! You can see her when you like, as you always have.”
He came back the next morning. At first he tried to urge Mirabella to stay and go home with Mrs. Rawles in June.
“ I cannot,” she said earnestly, " my return ticket expires in April; and there is just enough money here to — to carry on the house for Mrs. Rawles. I did n’t realize what I was doing, and I’m afraid I was thoughtless, too. I have put her in a difficult position, and she has been so kind. I could n’t have stood it if she had n’t consented to let things go on just as they are. But I can’t stay; it would be shamming, now.”
He looked at her intently. " When do you sail?” he asked. “Sunday — from Boulogne ? I should like to see Picardy now. I may as well go on and see you on the boat.”
As he was leaving he turned back. " Oh, you know I am going over to America this summer ? Will you show me the orchard and the river if I come out to Elm Valley ? ”
He left her looking at him in startled wonder. He did not speak of this intention again until he was saying good-by to her on the lighter. “And I am coming to Elm Valley, you know. May I ? ” he insisted.
The crowd pushed them apart, but she had a glimpse of his laughing, kindly eyes. She did not know what he meant, but at least she had not told him not to come.
It was bleak and cold in Elm Valley. Mirabella went valiantly to work, not caring to ask herself why she wanted the house put in such good order. Neighbors far and near, seeing her return to the old house, noting her big trunks and hearing many strange reports of her travels, commented freely upon the swift scattering of Silas Hitchcock’s savings. Often, as she worked, the memory of her father’s face came to her, but it came as a memory only, not as a distinct vision. She knew how grimly he would smile, how he would say that the pass to which she had brought herself was only what might have been expected. But she had nothing of the old sense of contest. She knew that she had conquered and that she could not have bought her freedom at a smaller price. And whatever might happen to her in the future, some answer had been given to her old insistent, unanalyzed wonder whether life had any other meaning than dreariness. Of her future she would not think. She had persuaded herself that Armitage had meant nothing, but it was a pleasure to her to think of his kindness and her faith in his sincerity. And her store of recollections of people, places, pictures, seemed to her an exhaustless resource against any possible monotony.
In May, while the hill behind the house was still swept with the light and color and fragrance of the great flowering apple trees, Armitage came. When he appeared it took a few seconds for Mirabella to assure herself of his identity, so great was the change effected by wellfitting serge and a ruthless sacrifice of hair and beard. He stayed for a month, and came back later in the summer. In September he and Mirabella were married.
When his boxes came, he turned the whole house into a studio, spreading faded rugs and tapestries, old brasses and armor, in every room. Mirabella does her own work, with occasional help from Susan Potwine, and is very contented. Her happiest hours are when her husband, once more in corduroys and an old blue béret, smoking a briar-wood pipe, carries his easel out of doors, and she can sit near him and embroider while he paints.
Once every year they go out into the world, and now and then he carries with him a picture that finds a purchaser.