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Title: The Open Question: A Tale of Two Temperaments

Author: Elizabeth Robins

Release date: October 23, 2011 [eBook #37827]
Most recently updated: March 2, 2024

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Suzanne Shell, Martin Pettit and the Online
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Transcriber's Note:

A Table of Contents has been added.


A Tale of Two Temperaments
(C. E. Raimond)






Copyright, 1898, by Harper & Brothers.
All rights reserved.




[Pg 1]



It is not always easy to trace the origin of an American family, even when the immediate progenitor did not begin life as a boot-black or a prospector, without so much as a "grub stake." The Ganos had been people of some education and some means—clergymen, merchants going to and from the West Indies, or home-keeping planters in the South—for the little space of a hundred years before the Civil War. Further back than that—darkness.

Whether the name was of Huguenot, Flemish, Italian, or other origin, the Ganos themselves, like thousands of families of consequence in America, never pretended to know. Only one of the race ever evinced the least disposition to care.

In the family mind, to be born a Gano was of itself so shining an achievement as almost to constitute an unfair advantage over the rest of mankind. The name (which was rigidly accented on the final syllable) was held to confer a distinction peculiar and sufficient, difficult as it may be for the inhabitants of a larger world to realize on what the illusion lived. The Ganos had never been enormously rich; they had never done anything of national or even of municipal importance, unless founding a religious paper and endowing a theological seminary to spread a faith which they themselves speedily abandoned—unless these modest [Pg 2]achievements might be construed as taking some sort of interest in public concerns. They held themselves aloof from politics, and religiously minded their own affairs. The oddest thing, perhaps, about their naïve veneration for the house of Gano was that so many of their neighbors shared it. Generation after generation, it imposed itself upon the community they lived in. To be able to say of a vexed question, "Gano agrees with me," was to turn the scale at once in the speaker's favor. A stranger would be told, "Smith married a Gano, you see," as though that single phrase established Smith's claims on your consideration.

The usual American fashion of that time of giving double or treble names was not followed in the christening of the daughters of Gano, so that after marriage each girl might retain her patronymic, writing it after her Christian name and before her husband's. The eldest son of every daughter was called Gano, and Gano was given to each succeeding child for a middle name. This had been going on for some time, and yet neither Maryland nor any more favored spot was populous with Ganos. They had not been a prolific race, and but a single mésalliance was set down to their discredit. A Gano had once married a New England school-mistress with a turn for preaching. This unpopular lady's offspring, John Gano—the only son of an only son—died eleven years before the Civil War, leaving a widow, two sons, and a daughter. These three survivors in the direct line of male descent, Ethan, John, and Valeria, were unmistakably delicate children. The neighbors had doubts if their mother would rear them.

The widow, "one of the Calverts of Baltimore," held to be a very retiring and religious person, soon discovered a force of character and an energy not too common among women of her class in the slave-holding South. She managed her husband's estate and the education of her children with ability and judgment, albeit arbitrarily enough, save in matters of religion.

Was it a breath wafted across the years of that old passion for [Pg 3]religious liberty that had carried her ancestors over perilous seas—an echo of the Eve of St. Bartholomew, or of some Lollard wrong—that made so strangely tolerant this autocratic woman, turned Baptist in her strenuous youth, inclining now, through throes of spirit incommunicable, to the Episcopacy her dead husband had abandoned?

The element of the grotesque in this battering in succession at the different doors of heaven is more apparent to those never storm-tossed souls that venture not from the haven, so content with being spiritually becalmed that striving after truth and faring far in pursuit of it seem childish and ignoble. Such people smile at Newman, and think themselves magnanimous if they accept his "Apology." Mrs. Gano had gone unflinchingly through those seasons of spiritual stress, common enough among the thoughtful of that time, and so difficult for some of us to-day even to imagine. In spite of her strong self-control and her great practical common-sense, her passionately religious nature had hurried her headlong through one doctrinal crisis after another. Her youth and early maturity had been one wide spiritual battle-field. Not that a moment of unbelief in revealed religion ever troubled her, but questions of the true interpretation, questions of dogma and of form, that might as well have been questions of life and death. And all the while, up and down the highway of her youth, raged the ancient dragons, renamed Election and Reprobation.

Whether as a result of enlightenment, brought her by her own honest seeking, or a tradition in the blood, compelling her to give as well as to demand perfect liberty of conscience in the affairs of faith, this imperious mother let her tyrannously tended young brood wander whither they would along the by-ways of religious experience. To look back a moment upon the infantine struggles of these young crusaders in the Holy War is to realize afresh how far the race has travelled since that day. These mere children, with their fear of hell and of damnation, their "changes of heart," conversions, and pathetic joy at [Pg 4]being "saved," had for their vividest remembrance of their father the abiding vision of his kneeling down with them in the great dim parlor at Ashlands, praying, with hands uplifted and with tears, that these "little ones" might not be lost forever.

No one ever knew how much hold these religions ecstasies had taken upon Ethan. But John was violently wrought upon; and most impressed of all was the small but preternaturally precocious Valeria. At a time when she should have been romping in the open air or reading fairy-tales in a corner she was living through days of agonized doubt on the subject of her soul's salvation, and crying softly in the night to think of that outer darkness into which unbelievers were certain to be cast—a darkness lit only by lurid flames from "the lake that burneth forever and ever."

Little John had gone through a varied and, on the whole, triumphant spiritual experience by the time he was ten. At that ripe age he was baptized by immersion on public confession of faith. His mother, having now maturer views on the subject, was not among the group at the river-side; but she made no effort to divert the boy's enthusiasm from a form of belief that for her was losing its significance. She would sit on the long white veranda in those first months of her widowhood re-reading D'Aubigné and Bishop Spalding's History of the Protestant Reformation, sandwiching Wesley with patristic writings, balancing Arian against Socinian, and drawing conclusions of her own, while her eldest boy was writing hymns to Apollo instead of construing his Cæsar, and John, the centre of an admiring crowd down by the river, was being dipped instead of being sprinkled, which it presently appeared was the only true and orthodox way.

If some of the Ganos had of late been mightily earnest in their religious experiences, they had long been "musical" in a pottering kind of way. They would have assured you more than half seriously that music was a "pottering" pursuit—a pastime for boating-parties on the Potomac or[Pg 5] rainy evenings at home, not for a moment to be regarded as a profession, except for long-haired foreigners. Mrs. John, or, as she now called herself, "Mrs. Sarah C. Gano," accepted this point of view cheerfully enough, as she had not a note of music in her. Her children's passion for singing and playing came early under the head of "noise," and under the ban of her displeasure.

Therefore, when it was discovered that the eldest boy had done badly in his third year at Dr. Baylis's Academy for Young Gentlemen, and that Dr. Baylis accounted for his pet pupil's falling off by saying the boy played the piano, and even wrote music, when he should have been doing mathematics, great was the mother's disappointment in her son, and renewed objection to the Art Divine. Ethan came home for his holidays in disgrace. It was significant of the mastery Mrs. Gano had obtained over her not unspirited children that, without being formally forbidden to play at home, Ethan never dared touch the piano the whole vacation through. It was this privation, he used to say later on, that drove him into the Church. He had got beyond the banjo and singing with the blacks down in the negro quarter. He longed for the coming of that day in the week when he might hear the sound of the organ, and even such a choir as they had at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Catawbaville, where, the Baptist phase having been painfully passed, the entire family now went to church twice every Sunday, rain or shine. Ethan made friends with the rector, and whether out of gratitude for the Rev. Mr. Searle's permission to practise in the church, or from the reflection that Holy Orders presented a means of combining a livelihood with an organ, the upshot was that Ethan presently became a student of Divinity.

At the beginning of his last year at the Theological School at Baltimore, he fell in love with a pretty Boston girl who had come South on a visit to a school friend. For the first time in his life flatly disobeying his mother's wishes, he married the little lady forthwith. Under conditions of great privation, they took up life in Baltimore[Pg 6] till Ethan should be ordained. Ten months afterwards a son opened his eyes upon the world, and the girl-wife closed hers forever.

The passive horror that falls on passionate young life laid desolate by death, the hush that seems to lie shroud-like on the world, was rent and blown to the four winds of heaven by the clarion note of war. In his bewilderment and helplessness after his wife's death, Ethan had allowed his mother-in-law, Mrs. Aaron Tallmadge, to take the baby home with her for a visit to Boston. A few weeks before his appointed ordination, young Gano joined the Southern army. About the time he was to have taken the vows that should make him a man of peace and a priest, Ethan Gano was rushing blindly with Kirby Smith's brigade across the fields from Manassas Station, among the first to break and rout the Union ranks and give his life for a Southern victory in the battle of Bull Run.

It was said in Catawbaville that none of the disasters other Southerners were fearing could add much to Mrs. Gano's grief after the loss of her eldest son. She had been a striking, although fragile-looking, woman, tall, arrow-straight, and auburn-haired, just entering on middle life, when she went to her own room and closed the door behind her that day the despatch came after Bull Run. A few weeks later, when she came forth again, it seemed to her awe-struck household that it was an old woman who appeared among them, with stern, blanched face, bowed shoulders, and abundant hair whitening at the temples. But what her altered looks called forth of sympathy, her reticent manner either held at bay or ruthlessly rebuffed. She went nowhere, received no one. Months afterwards a neighbor, seeing her by chance, offered some conventional but kindly meant condolence. The look of cold surprise that any one should venture to come near her grief sealed up the fountain of neighborly sympathy. The rumor going forth that Mrs. Gano was more unapproachable than ever since Ethan's death, her friends left her to the solitude she was rightly understood to demand. But vain for[Pg 7] her to shut and double-lock the great white gates of Ashlands—the tide of war swept on and in, and overwhelmed the house.

It is no part of the purpose of this account to tell in detail the old story of Southern losses, scenes of impotent indignation at the quartering of Northern soldiers in Confederate houses, wanton violence to property, and greater violence still to the old-fashioned Southern sense of personal dignity. These were the commonplaces of the war. Almost equally common were the lamentations in the negro quarters when the word went forth that the slaves were free, that they were to turn their backs on the patriarchal life and get them out into the world to taste the bitter and the sweet of independence.

When Mrs. Gano found that her belated private proclamation through her overseer, months after that of the President, had the inadequate effect of relieving her of but one negro, she assembled her household servants and plantation folk round the long veranda, and told them they were free. Uncle Charlie, as the accepted mouth-piece of the Gano niggers, stepped forward and pulled off his dilapidated hat.

"We done yeah somethin' 'bout dis 'mancyperation befo', but we don' gib no 'count to it, Mis' G'no."

"But I tell you it's true, and you must go. I'll have a fair division made of what's left in the quarter—of clothes and tools and food, and—"

"Law, ma'am, don' go fur t' do dat," said Cæsar, the gardener, grinning cheerfully, "we ain't gwine t' leab yo'."

"Yes, it is best you should," said the mistress.

"Bress yo' soul, ma'am"—old Charlie pulled his woolly white forelock and bowed low—"de G'nos hab stood by us a po'ful long time, an' now we gwine to stan' by de G'nos in dis yer trouble. We ain't gwine t' leab yo' t' de mussy o' dem Yankees."

"No, no, nebber w'ile de blessed Lawd sabes po' sinners," Mississippi Maria lifted up her voice and eyes and hands.

[Pg 8]

"The Yankees have given you your freedom," said Mrs. Gano, with wasted scorn.

"I don' gib' no 'count t' what de po' white trash says dey'll do fur me," said Uncle Charlie, loftily; "I b'longs t' de G'nos."

"Yah, yah, we b'longs t' de G'nos," the murmur went through the crowd.

"Of course you do, by rights," said the mistress, with a flash of fire. "But we can't keep our rights, it seems. So just make the best of this liberty, now you've got it; make the best of it, as young Jerry did."

She waved her hand, dismissing them. Sensation in the crowd, and some whispering. Jerry senior created a diversion by pulling himself together and venturing up one of the long, low steps of the veranda. He held out two coal-black hands with pallid palms.

"Don' git mad, Mis' G'no, 'count o' Jerry. Jerry been a po' sort o' chile eber since de Lawd made him," urged his earthly father, with a comfortable sense of having no responsibility in the matter. "Jerry been jes' dyin' fo' 'bout a year fur t' see dat yaller gal, Liza, yo' sen' to yo' sister down Kentucky way. Dat's wha' he's a-gwine. Yo' won't catch no G'no nigger gwine near de Yankees."

"If he's been dying to go so long, why didn't he set off in January?"

"In Janoowerry? Yo' only sent us word yes'day mawnin'."

"Hadn't Jerry heard of Lincoln's precious Proclamation at the New-Year?"

"Oh ye-es, ma'am, he done yeah."

There was a moment's pause, and then the father pulled his shambling figure up.

"Jerry ain't much 'count, but he ain't clean gone crazy. He know it all bery well fo' de Yankee Pres'dent fo' to say he wus free. But Jerry know he jes' better hold his hosses till he yeah what Mis' G'no got t' say 'bout dat. Jerry been waitin' roun' since Janoowerry t' yeah wot yo' got t' say."

[Pg 9]

"Well, I've told you."

Uncle Charlie stepped forward, pulled old Jerry off the step without ceremony, and said, severely: "Yo' got a heap o' gab, but yo' better tote yo'self down to de gyarden an' do yo' chores." Then, looking up at the mistress: "An' 'tain't no use, ma'am, fo' yo' t' stan' up dah on de po'ch an' tell us we all 'mancyperated, and yo' don' care nuthin' no mo' 'bout us. Dar's a heap o' cotton got t' be picked, and we got t' pick it." He turned away to his companions: "Come 'long, yo' lazy black niggers, jes' stir yo' stumps!"

"No, Charlie, no; the cotton must rot in the fields." Blank astonishment swept over the dusky crowd.

"Golly!" said one or two under their breath, while the others stood speechless, with mouths open and round eyes fixed and staring.

"Ef yo' thinkin' 'bout us bein' 'mancyperated an' 'spectin' to be paid," began Jerry, while a ripple of contempt at the notion passed over the bewildered throng, "well, we ain't 'spectin'."

"You are expecting to be fed," said Mrs. Gano, more gently than they were accustomed to hear their mistress speak, "and that's more than I can do for so many any longer."

The newly emancipated lifted up their voices and wept.

"For Law's sake, don' sen' us away, Mis' G'no!"

"I reckon yo' can't git 'long widout me and Tom nohow."

"We don' want nuthin' to eat," said Mississippi Maria, sobbing, while she cuffed the only completely happy person present—a youth of four or five, who clung to her skirt with one hand, while with the other he clutched a section of green melon. "Put dat down, yo' greedy gump!"—his grandmother clouted him over the head till he, too, joined in the general lamentation—"stuffin' yo'self wid watermillion fo' ladies."

"We gwine to wuk hard dis time, Mis' G'no," said another voice from out the general clamor, "and we don't[Pg 10] need no bacon. Corn-pone and 'lasses is 'nough fo' any nigger."

"I'm sorry for you, but the Northerners have not only freed you, they have crippled us. We can't afford to have you here any longer. You must all go, except Jerusha and her children."

There was a lull of incredulity, and then a steadily rising storm of dismal howling.

"'Tain't fair!" shrieked old Chloe. "I done come yer fust—long befo' Jerusha. Missis! Missis! I done come to G'nos fo' yo' did yo'self."

"I dassent leab yo'," Jerry persisted. "Massa 'd 'mos' 'a' killed me ef he'd ebber thought I'd leab yo' and little missy to dem debbils o' Yankees. 'Tain't safe, ma'am—'tain't safe."

It was not Mrs. Gano's way to show emotion. She turned abruptly, and disappeared in the house. She had the well-earned reputation of being no easy mistress. But she had treated her slaves justly, according to her lights, and this hour of enforced setting them adrift was bitter on other than political and economic grounds.

[Pg 11]


At the close of the war the Ganos were ruined. The rambling, verandaed house was sold for a song to the Gano-Lees, and the question was, where could John with his delicate health, his interrupted and insufficient schooling, make a livelihood? Where could Mrs. Gano live most inexpensively, and with least annoyance to sensibilities so outraged by the issue of the war? Certainly not in Virginia—not anywhere in the despoiled, prostrate South. Certainly not in the hated North. But the West—

Far off in the wilds of one of the Middle States, Mrs. Gano's father, William Calvert, had once held property, and in her early youth she had been taken from Baltimore in a stage-coach over the Alleghany Mountains to visit him during one of his long absences from home on business in connection with these Western lands. He had bought a queer, grim house in a little town on a river among the Mioto Hills, and made himself there a temporary home or headquarters for these yearly Western pilgrimages. The State where he had his interests was the first one carved out of the great Northwestern Territory, and though later on a much farther West robbed this mid-America of its early century associations of adventure and of danger, it was far remoter from the Atlantic seaboard then than the Pacific is to-day.

The house that Mrs. Gano inherited from her father had been built in times of Indian warfare for a fortress and ammunition centre. With the retreat of the Indians to the Western Reservation, the settlement's need of a fort was less than the need of a school. The solid and spacious rectangular building of stone on the height above the river[Pg 12] was turned into an academy for boys. A rival school sapped its prosperity in time; it declined into bankruptcy, and came upon the market. William Calvert bought it, made it into a dwelling-house, ultimately adding a wooden L, and establishing his partner's family there. This house in the small but growing town of New Plymouth was all that was left to his eldest daughter when his shrunken estate was divided at his death. Through former acquaintances of William Calvert, the position of teller in the principal bank of the town was obtained for John Gano; and hither at the close of the war came Mrs. Gano with her son of twenty and her daughter, Valeria, nineteen.

New Plymouth was not looked upon by its inhabitants as at all beyond the pale of a most advanced civilization. Founded by stout New-Englanders, it was one of the oldest settlements in this part of the world. It had its churches, its court-house, its excellent academy for boys and its unparalleled seminary for young ladies, when the present capital of the State was a wild unpeopled plain, crossed by winding cow-paths.

Mrs. Gano soon discovered that her own view of her exile among a ruder people, and to a narrower and more primitive life, was not likely to be shared by her neighbors, proud of their New England origin, and secure in their honest self-esteem. This difference of view was a matter quite unimportant to the new-comer, except that it made it easier to carry out her plan of refraining from any share in the active life of the bustling little community.

"I am an invalid," she gave out; "I neither pay nor receive visits."

She did not even go often to church. The Rev. Mr. Collins was "a person of no education," she decided, "and spoke with a vile Western accent." But she rented a pew, and with rigid regularity sent the children to sit in it. Her children! As she called them, so she treated them—John, six feet two, doing a man's work in the world, with a man's spirit, and the tall, grave Valeria.

The girl was an enigmatic creature, silent, self-absorbed[Pg 13], shrinking from the give-and-take of social life. It was not the cross to her that it was to her more genial brother that their mother's craving for solitude, and not too Christian contempt for her well-meaning neighbors, precluded asking people to the house. But the young man, after the young man's fashion, escaped to some extent the tyranny of home conditions. He had come forth from his juvenile predilection for pious observances. He had developed a passion for natural science, and yet was content to work hard all day in the bank, and to spend his free evenings in a rapidly acquired circle of new friends. In summer there were moonlight drives and walks; there was boating on the Mioto, and singing songs and discreet love-making on the "stoops" of the houses of the prettiest girls. In the mild weather, too, sometimes combining a picnic with the pursuit of knowledge, he would make up a party to go to Black Hand or Cedar Rock, where the hills were rich in fossils, and sometimes he would go farther afield to find specimens in the coal seams of the region. In winter there were church sociables, "taffy-pulls," sleigh-rides, and skating-parties. He was, in short, living an active and healthy life under conditions not intrinsically inspiring, perhaps, except to the inner vision of ardent youth.

His mother offered no objection to his amusing himself in New Plymouth's somewhat crude society, but took quick alarm at a piece of chance gossip repeated by the privileged factotum, Aunt Jerusha.

"Massa John done got a reel truly-truly sweetheart dis time. He'll be marryin' her berry soon, by all 'counts."

It came out that the lady in question was Miss Hattie Fox. Who was Miss Hattie Fox? Valeria had seen her at church. She was very pretty, and her father was senior warden at St. Thomas's on Sundays, and attorney-at-law at 114 Main Street on week-days. To Mrs. Gano's evident annoyance, nothing obviously objectionable could be urged against the girl. The next Sunday, Mrs. Gano went to church. Coming out, the impulsive John went forward, and had a precious whispered word with the lady in [Pg 14]question. As the young people reached the bottom of the church steps, his mother touched him on the shoulder.

"Introduce Miss Fox to me," she said.

John performed the ceremony with the air of one who lights a powder-train, and against all canons of prudence stands waiting to see the explosion. But, behold! his mother was most gracious.

"Your family have been very hospitable to my son," she said. "I am an invalid, and do not entertain, but if you will come to supper some evening, my daughter and I will be glad to see you. Could you come to-night?"

"Oh yes; do come," urged the smiling and unwary John.

She came. She was certainly a beautiful and amiable creature, but nevertheless John found himself fighting valiantly against the sudden temptation to judge her by a brand-new standard. His mother's soft Southern voice made Hattie's Western burr sound curiously common, and the manners he had thought delightfully vivacious seemed boisterous on a sudden. As he listened through his mother's ears, it dawned upon him for the first time that the girl laughed too loudly and too constantly. He set his acute discomfort down to his humiliating lack of discernment in the past, and too easy conquest by mere good looks. He did not realize that Hattie's gaucheries were intensified by her nervous awe of Mrs. Gano. She had never known any one in the least like her hostess, and so far from failing in respect, she was so deeply impressed that in her wonder and veneration she was driven to adopt the juvenile device for the working off of oppressive emotion—pretending to be extravagantly at her ease.

One or two things in that evening of disillusionment stood out with painful distinctness in John Gano's memory for years. Naturally, Hattie answered "Yes" and "No" to John's mother, not as Southern youths said to their elders: "Yes, ma'am," and "No, ma'am," or "Sir." But she also sat down to the piano without being invited, and sang a song which it was plain Mrs. Gano thought [Pg 15]unrefined. Even John realized now that it wasn't quite the song he had imagined.

At supper, when Mrs. Gano's covert but unsparing inspection of the girl announced to her children, plain as words, that their visitor was overloaded with jewelry, John thought to mitigate the enormity of the huge frying-pan locket Hattie wore on her innocent breast by observing:

"Haven't I heard your sister say you have a daguerrotype of your father in the locket you're wearing?"

"Right you are!" she said. "I never go without it." Then to Mrs. Gano: "My! I'm awful fawnd of my paw. P'raps you'd like to see him."

Miss Fox obligingly unfastened the frying-pan, and shied it, quoit-like, down the table to her hostess.

There was a pause, a hideous silence.

"Pass me the crackers, Venus," Mrs. Gano said, presently, to Aunt Jerusha's daughter. As she took the plate she, without touching it, indicated the big bold locket. "Take that to Miss Fox," she said.

And while the maid was conveying the visitor's property back to her in the middle of a large tray, Mrs. Gano had turned to Valeria and was speaking of the morning's sermon.

Poor Miss Hattie put the finishing touch to her visit by departing without taking leave of her hostess.

"Won't you come to the parlor a moment and say good-bye to my mother?" said John, when Valeria brought their guest down-stairs into the hall, hatted and gloved, and ready to go home.

"Gracious Peter! say good-bye?" The guest drew back in genuine alarm. "You may just bet I won't say 'beans' before her from now till Gabriel blows his trumpet in the morning. Did you hear the last thing she said to me? My!"

"No; I was playing 'Dixie Land.'"

"Yes; and all through it she kept looking at the clock, and when you got to the loud part she leaned over and[Pg 16] asked me whether I expected my father or a servant to come for me? My gracious!"

"Oh, but I—I—" stammered John.

"You—you? Not a bit of it. She said Jerusha should see me to my door. The old hag's out at the gate now waiting for me. Oh my!"

And Miss Fox fled the premises.

No word ever passed between mother and son about the young lady. It was wholly unnecessary to discuss her. John had been made to see, in a ruthless light, the unseemliness of asking this raw little Westerner to be his mother's successor in the house of Gano, even in these degenerate days.

John's disappointment had no tragic issue, yet, in spite of the consolation of other friends, in spite of the joys of experimental science in the freedom of the woodshed, he was grievously unhappy for a time, especially on Saturday evenings, which he had been used to spend at the Foxes'. Partly in order to have an excuse for breaking through that custom, and partly for a belated doctrinal reason, he occupied his Saturday evenings in taking Hebrew lessons from the Principal of the Boys' Academy. Young Gano had the inquirer's temper, and if he had not had his bread to win, he would probably have been a traveller along many of the roads of learning.

And Valeria—she had not been as successful as her brother in shaking off the paralyzing fears and lulling hopes of the old religious view. But a new passion had found its way into her secluded life, altering, shaping, imperiously governing it. It was no sudden love for the hero of a girlish dream, no dedication of dawning woman-life to the worship of some man, made saint or savior by imagination's magic, no fairy prince's coming, no Romeo calling under her balcony in the night, that wakened this grave-eyed dreamer of dreams to a thrilling sense of life and service. It was that most blessed or accursed summons to rise and join the ranks of those who follow Art. Here in the Western wilds, among conditions grotesquely [Pg 17]unpropitious, barren beyond the telling, sordid, if you like, this keen young vision, searching the horizon of a pent-up life, had seen the signal from afar, shining and beckoning her on.

Valeria at nineteen was lamely, impotently following that Will-o'-the-wisp which, under fairest conditions, may "lead to bewilder and dazzle to blind," and of which you shall say in vain, "He lights you to the swamps of death." The happy followers know the swamps of death are waiting all, but many there be who travel thither without the kind-deceiving light.

Valeria, in common with some other members of her family, had written little verses, chiefly religious; but that was nothing. It had been said long ago in Maryland that the Ganos were born with a pen in their hands. Like the others, she had given some of her time to music, when her mother was out of ear-shot. She had a smattering of French, a modicum of German, and a few lessons in painting. In the home in New Plymouth there were specimens here and there about the house of work done before she left Maryland: a Melanchthon with a coppery face and a glimpse of hair-shirt, two copies of the portrait of Raphael done by himself, a "Beatrice Cenci," and a "Holy Family." But from the days of inarticulate childhood, with no more than a handful of her native soil and a watering-pot, or a precious lump of putty from the plantation carpenter, she had tasted the tyrannous joy of the creator, fashioning beasts and men.

And now, grown up, exiled to the West, living in poverty, and isolated from all art save that in books, she said to herself that she had been sent into the world to model beautiful forms, and express her restless spirit in enduring marble.

In vain she prayed to be allowed to go away and study—not to Paris, not to Rome: only to New York. She had a small legacy left her by an aunt. The interest was so little, why not spend the capital in studying sculpture? Her mother, amazed at the proposal, left Valeria no moment in doubt of her determination to crush it.

[Pg 18]

Valeria's Aunt Paget was with them on a visit when the matter was under discussion. Mrs. Paget was seldom admitted to family counsels, and felt herself something of a stranger in her sister's house. She was the worldly, the frivolous member of her family, who "dressed in the mode" and "cultivated society." She was surprised when on this occasion the topic proved too much of the "burning" order to be smuggled out of sight.

"Study sculpture! Such a thing is unheard of!" ejaculated Mrs. Paget, making wide blue eyes at her elder sister and her niece.

"So I tell Valeria," said Mrs. Gano. "She couldn't go to New York alone, she couldn't live there without a chaperon."

"And even if she could afford it, you need her here. You are always ill nowadays."

"It isn't that," said Mrs. Gano. "I'm thinking of Valeria herself."

"Of course; so am I. She ought to marry."

"I shall never marry!"

Aunt Paget smiled.

"Well, at all events, it won't help you to be chiselling marble."

"Help me to what?"

"To a suitable marriage, of course."

Valeria's dark eyes flashed, but before she could speak her mother said:

"I am not one of those women who are anxious for their children to marry. I shall be more than content if Valeria remains single."

"Well, Sarah, forgive me, but I think it's a mistake. I said so before we left Maryland, when she refused young Middleton. Every one of us was married before we were Valeria's age, and none of us ever dreamed of wanting to go away from our home and study sculpture, or do anything in the least unladylike."

Valeria gathered up her sewing as if to leave the room.

"You must admit," Aunt Paget went on, "there's[Pg 19] something unfeminine about sculpture. I'm not sure it isn't even a little irreligious."

"You don't know anything about it, Maria. You never had the least taste yourself for anything but dress and going out."

"Well, you see, that's what makes it so surprising," said the younger sister, in an apologetic tone. "You have always thought me so frivolous, and yet I wouldn't think—no, not in my wildest moments—of being a sculptor."

As Valeria left the room, Mrs. Gano looked with pride after the tall, willowy figure.

"You must remember," she said, speaking unusually gently, "the Ganos are more artistic than we Calverts. Valeria has great talents."

But having talent altered little. Valeria beat her wings against the walls of the old Indian fortress all in vain. But she studied books, she got clay for modelling, and tools, and in secret wrought rude images that mocked her dreams. By-and-by she flung the tools aside, and the plastic clay that she had meant to fashion into forms of beauty hardened uncouthly into an unmeaning mass. An interim of aimlessness and despair of life was followed by a gradual healing of the spirit and restored activity of mind, through nothing more nor less than the power of poetry. Saturated with Keats and Shelley, she took up again her old childish habit of verse-making, but very seriously now, thinking of herself as a poet. Some hint of the way she passed her time, some whisper, through servants or others, of the reams of paper she engrossed with verse, got abroad in the town. She was asked to contribute to the Mioto Gazette, and was stopped on her way from church, by people she scarcely knew, to hear that her fellow-townsmen were full of curiosity and pride at having a poet among them. She was embarrassed, but not altogether displeased. Not so Mrs. Gano, whose favorite remark about the good people of New Plymouth was that they didn't know a B from a bull's foot. Of course they were impressed that any one in this benighted place should write verse!

[Pg 20]

"Just tell them the next time they bother you that the Ganos do it by the yard."

It was very difficult to impress this mother of hers, who took so much for granted.

"I think," said Valeria, with dignity, laying down a volume of Aurora Leigh—"I think I shall seriously devote myself to literature."

"Ah! then in that case be careful you don't adopt New Plymouth standards."

"I am not likely to."

"I don't know. Nothing is more difficult than to avoid measuring yourself by the people you live among. John is an ignoramus compared to his father, but he tells me he is considered here a highly educated person."

"I think, mother," the girl said, gravely, "that you'll protect me from having too good an opinion of my work."

But the conversation had set her thoughts in a new groove. There was truth in this. She must guard against an ignorant satisfaction in her poems. She must have better standards of style; she must know what the masters taught and practised. She must learn to be more critical than even her critical mother. "The great teachers of the world shall be my teachers," she said to herself, and there sprang up within her a new and fiery curiosity about the classics.

She asked her mother to let the Roman Catholic priest teach her Latin, and the request was granted with but slight demur, as an alternative to the pursuit of art away from home. Quietly and doggedly Valeria went on with her studies, teaching herself Greek, and lying long mornings on the floor in the Blue Room, getting by heart the wit and wisdom of men to whom the existence of a creature like Valeria Gano, in such a world as America, would have been harder to grasp than she, unaided, had found the niceties of the historical tense, or tolerance for her masters' morals.

While the girl up-stairs was patiently learning letters of the pagans, in the room below the mother conned Church[Pg 21] History and Biblical Criticism, searching the Creeds and her own unquiet heart for justification and for peace. And all the while about these two absorbed, self-centred women surged the turbulent life of the little town. Gossip was busy with Mrs. Gano from the first, albeit her face was unknown to most of her towns-people—to nearly all who had not seen her in her rare pilgrimages to St. Thomas's. They speculated, too, about the young girl who dressed so severely, and whom one couldn't fancy at a party or a picnic—who, though an irreproachable Episcopalian, learned Latin of Father O'Brien, wrote verses about heathen gods and goddesses, if report spoke true, and yet sat in church on Sunday with the rapt look of a medieval saint.

It was universally agreed by the neighbors that John Gano was the flower of the flock. He, at least, was an addition to New Plymouth society, being a very rising as well as agreeable person.

There was more than one sore young heart in the town when, in the following year, John Gano came back from a visit to his childhood's home in the South, engaged to marry his cousin Virginia Gano-Lee, just sixteen at the time. His mother, who had never ceased to fear that, despite her vigilance, he might be beguiled into marrying some one of these "ill-mannered Western girls," hailed the idea of further alliance with the Gano-Lees. However, much too big as her house was for her own use, she did not welcome John's natural proposal to bring his wife there to live.

"No; wait till you can make a home of your own," his mother had said.

So it behoved the young man to better his worldly position as speedily as possible. An opening in a bank in New York, with a little larger salary, and prospect of a partnership, took him away from New Plymouth the following year, and left his mother and sister alone in the old house.

[Pg 22]


Naturally so clannish a woman as Mrs. Gano had not let the years go by without much solicitude on behalf of her orphan grandchild. After the death of her eldest son, Mrs. Gano wrote to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Tallmadge, asking her to send the little orphan to his father's people, or else appoint a time when Mrs. Gano might come to Boston and bring her grandson home. The reply came from Mr. Tallmadge, showing how deeply he and his wife had resented Mrs. Gano's behavior on the marriage of her son. Mr. Tallmadge wrote that his daughter on her death-bed had committed the infant to the care of her own mother, and that Ethan Gano himself had sent his son North under the protection of Mrs. Tallmadge. He had broken with his own family, and held no communication with them. It was plain what his wishes were with reference to his son. And the Tallmadges might be depended upon to make good their right to the custody of the child. Several spirited letters were exchanged, and then silence till the close of the war and the news of Mrs. Tallmadge's death. Mrs. Gano then made another attempt to get possession of the boy, but finding his grandfather as resolute as ever to keep him in Boston, she proposed a journey thither. This apparent prompting of natural affection could not decently be thwarted, although Mr. Tallmadge understood perfectly the suspicion and anxiety as to the way the orphan was being brought up, that secured the Tallmadges the honor of a visit from Mrs. Gano.

She declined to make the house in Ashburton Place her headquarters, "having already," she wrote, "engaged an[Pg 23] apartment at the Tremont House." Mr. Tallmadge smiled, understanding perfectly.

But if he contemplated with serenity the descent of Mrs. Gano upon Ashburton Place, not so his unmarried daughter and house-keeper, Hannah Tallmadge. With nervous misgiving she looked forward to the coming of this hereditary foe, who, moreover, had the blackest designs upon her darling Ethan. Still, Hannah Tallmadge was a most Christian soul. Short of giving up Ethan, she would do all in her power to exhibit a hospitable and forgiving spirit in the approaching trial. She would do what she could to curb her father's uncompromising bluntness of speech, and would keep him off dangerous topics. It occurred to her that the mere sight of Uncle Tom's Cabin on the parlor table might rouse angry passions. She was in the act of putting that work into the bookcase, when her father, observing her suspiciously, asked:

"What are you doing?"

"Just putting this away."

"Leave it on the table. It is the only work of fiction I have ever been able to read. Leave it on the table."

Nevertheless, next day, in a moment of nervousness induced by the news that a strange lady was getting out of a carriage at their door, Miss Hannah dropped Uncle Tom behind the horse-hair sofa-cushion.

"Where is Ethan?" said her father, turning suddenly from the window.

"I'll go and bring him," replied Miss Hannah, and she left the room with haste.

A few moments, and the door opened again. Mrs. Gano came in with an air that seemed to Aaron Tallmadge suspiciously gracious. She paused for just that decisive but infinitesimal moment of first impression, as she took the measure of the spare figure standing on guard in the middle of his prim New England parlor.

"Mr. Tallmadge?" inquired Mrs. Gano, suavely.

"Mrs. Gano?"

He offered his hand, and then pushed a straight-backed[Pg 24] horse-hair chair a little nearer the fire. In the mere speaking of her name his twang made instant attack upon the Southerner's nerves. It passed through the man's mind presently that Mrs. Gano's voice was disagreeably reminiscent of a runaway slave he had once befriended.

"I have just seen my grandson's face at an upper window." She looked round eagerly. "Ah!"

The door had opened very slowly. One eye and half a little dark head were put doubtfully in.

"Come here, Ethan!" said his grandfather.

The child disappeared altogether.

Mr. Tallmadge went out into the hall, and presently reappeared leading Ethan in. He hung back, dropping his curly head, and shooting an occasional look at the newcomer; but since she did not fly at him in the objectionable way of visitors, he allowed himself to be brought by degrees up to the strange lady's chair.

She did not even say "How do you do?" She stooped and kissed him silently. He stared at her with great melancholy eyes, backed away, and stood by his grandfather's side.

"I am afraid he is not strong," said Mrs. Gano, a little huskily.

"He has been singularly free from childish ailments—an occasional cold—"

"Of course, in this trying climate."

"Oh, we find our climate does very well."

"No doubt, in the case of those to the manner born. This child is singularly like his father."

"He reminds us constantly of his mother."

"Is it possible? I assure you I feel, as I look at him, that I have dreamed these twenty years, and that my son is standing there before me."

"You don't say!" remarked the child's grandfather, unmoved. "Everybody here considers him so like the Tallmadges."

Mrs. Gano, with unflattering eyes on the head of the house, gave an incredulous cough. She seemed on the[Pg 25] point of expressing more indubitably some further thought, looked at the boy, softened suddenly, and smiled at the grave little face.

"You know who I am?"

He shook his brown curls. A shadow crossed the woman's face.

"Is he never told anything of his father or his father's people?"

"He is very young yet to take an interest in folks he hasn't seen."

"He is nearly six."

"What say?"

"I should have thought an intelligent child of six might have been told that his grandmother—"

"Not six yet, madam. Of course, when he is older—"

He made a gesture indicating a liberal policy.

"When he is older you will have no objection, I suppose, to his making a visit to his father's people?"

"No objection whatever to a visit, madam."

"How soon should you consider such a move expedient?"

"Ah, that depends," replied the wary gentleman—"depends so much on circumstances."

"What kind of circumstances?" she inquired, stiffly.

His look and tone said unmistakably, "Depends on your behavior, madam." "Depends on the child's health and— Run away and play, Ethan," he said.

As the little boy closed the door: "Then you do admit he is delicate?"

Mrs. Gano spoke more coldly than when Ethan had been there to hear.

"I admit the need to consider the health of all children, and secondary only to that, their education."

"What are your views as to Ethan's schooling?"

"I shall expect him to go through the regular mill, as I did: a good primary school, then the preparatory at Andover, then Harvard."

The woman felt a certain fainting of purpose at the cut-and-dried programme presented in that dry manner by the[Pg 26] dry old man. It was a "regular mill," and who could tell if the sensitive, fragile little Gano was the stuff to stand these machine-made processes?

"I don't believe, myself," said Mr. Tallmadge, with decision, "in haphazard, shilly-shally ways of raising children, and leaving it to them to see what they'll take to."

"I have little experience of shilly-shally methods," replied his visitor.

"If you leave it to boys to decide, what they take to is mischief nine times out of ten."

"I think you may make your mind easy about my grandson."

Mr. Tallmadge looked at her in silence for a moment; then suddenly: "Yes, yes; he'll turn out all right." He nodded, as if to say, "Trust me to see to that!" "My experience is, if you want a boy to do a particular thing, set that aim before him at the start. That's the way I was raised; that's the way I propose to raise my grandson."

There was a slight pause.

"And in what form of religious faith?"

"We are all members of the Presbyterian Church." It was said as though it had been in obedience to an edict of the Everlasting from the foundation of the world. "You will appreciate the necessity of having my grandson raised under my own eye when I tell you it is my intention that, after he gets through Harvard, he shall succeed to the editorship of my paper."

"My grandson edit an Abolitionist paper?"

Mr. Tallmadge blinked in a slightly nervous fashion, but answered, steadfastly:

"Abolition is abolished, madam; it has served its end. Ethan will naturally fall heir to my property and my profession."

"Ethan is his father's heir first of all—heir to a man who gave his life at Bull Run for our rights, not for the abolition of them."

"Abolition was right, and is law, by the sanction of the God of battles."

[Pg 27]

Mrs. Gano rose from her chair; the door opened, and in came Miss Hannah. Whether it was chance, or whether she had been waiting outside for the psychological moment, certainly her entrance was opportune. She went through her greeting with a flustered civility that, by its own extreme nervousness, made the situation she had broken in upon seem calm to the point of commonplace. Mrs. Gano found herself trying to put Miss Hannah at her ease.

The tall, thin spinster, with her smooth gray hair and anxious manner, must have been more than double the age of Ethan's mother.

Supper would be ready in twenty minutes.

"Of course," she said, "you will stay? Ethan has just been asking if he mayn't sit up a little later to-night."

"Ethan!" Potent conjuration! Mrs. Gano had not come all this way to look after her grandson's welfare and be turned back by a fanatical outbreak on the part of a bigoted Abolitionist. No, and if plain speaking was to be the order of the day, Mr. Tallmadge should not do it all. He had it his own way, however, in the long grace with which he prefaced supper, a performance that sounded in Mrs. Gano's ears aggressively Presbyterian. It appeared at that meal that Miss Hannah was disposed to be indulgent to her little nephew, and that he was devoted to her. He talked very little, and what he had to say he confided in a whisper to his aunt. But as he ate, he stared unceasingly with great gloomy eyes at his grandmother. She saw with deep misgiving that he was permitted to make the same meal as his elders. He declined to share his aunt's decoction of "shells," as she quaintly called cocoa, and joined his grandparents in a large cup of coffee. He bolted down quantities of that moist and leaden Boston brown bread which Mrs. Gano regarded with amazement and alarm, and he seemed to share the New England taste for beans and bacon, a fare which, in the visitor's mind, ranked with the "hog and hominy" of the hard-working plantation blacks; but to place such food before a little delicate child!

[Pg 28]

After supper his aunt took him on her lap, and, while Mr. Tallmadge and his guest skirted dangerous topics with stately politeness, Miss Tallmadge, in the corner by the fire, was softly repeating nursery rhymes to the little Ethan. Others might have been struck by the picture of the gaunt, childless woman and her ready assumption of the mother rôle; Mrs. Gano was vaguely conscious of a kind of remissness in herself in having omitted to tell her own children a word about little Nannie Etticott or Cock Robin. In all her life of maternal solicitude she had never once mentioned "Hey-diddle-diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle," or even hinted at the existence of "the Little Man who had a little gun." Presently, in the midst of Mr. Tallmadge's remarks upon the beauties of Boston Common, Mrs. Gano caught the child's more and more insistent demand for some joy which Miss Tallmadge was minded to withhold. In spite of "Sh! sh!" more and more shrill came the iteration:

"Nwingy Tat! Nwingy Tat!"

In his fervor Ethan had dragged the stern, unyielding horse-hair cushion off the end of the sofa, revealing two volumes hidden behind it.

Mrs. Gano seemed not to regret this diversion. Helping the child to restore the sofa-cushion, she took up the books. As she read the title her look darkened. She put the work down as if it burned her fingers.

"A great, bad book," she said.

"What is that?" asked Mr. Tallmadge.

Mrs. Gano jerked her head without answering.

"What say?" persisted the old man, with his hand to his ear.

"Uncle Tom's Cabin," said Miss Tallmadge, trying to speak lightly.

"A very uncommon woman, Mrs. Stowe," said Mr. Tallmadge, firmly; "very uncommon, indeed."

"Let us hope so," ejaculated Mrs. Gano, half to herself.

"Eh?" inquired Mr. Tallmadge, with gruff suspicion. "What say?"

[Pg 29]

"I was granting her uncommonness, and hoping it wouldn't get commoner."

"H'm! It could hardly be expected, I suppose, that you should think well of—"

"No; I can't be expected to think well of a woman who is not content with getting a whole nation by the ears, but she must interfere between husband and wife, and—"

"What say?" inquired Mr. Tallmadge, with corrugated brows and hand to his deaf ear. "I'm talking about Harriet Beecher Stowe."

"So am I," said Mrs. Gano. "I only hope she'll be content with the mischief she's done already, and not rush into print with her espousal of Lady Byron's wrongs."

"I haven't heard that Mrs. Beecher Stowe had any such intention. As a friend of the family, from Lyman down—"

"As a friend of the family, you ought to warn them in time to curb her propensity for attending to other people's affairs. Uncommon! Yes, an uncommon busybody."

"I think, madam, you are misinformed," said Mr. Tallmadge, with dignity.

"I know more about Harriet Beecher Stowe than most people—though she never has set foot in the South—and I know she's a busybody. I also know she has less excuse than some women. The spring I spent with my sister, Mrs. Paget, in Covington, before I met the Stowes, I used to look out and see a man trudging about the hills in front of my windows with a basket on his arm. 'Who is that?' I asked. 'That's Professor Stowe,' they said; and we all wondered what he had in the basket. I said he was botanizing; Mrs. Paget said the basket was too big for that: he must be looking for kail, or dock, or dandelion greens for dinner. By-and-by we heard he had twins in the basket, and was taking them about for an airing. The Stowes were very poor, too, and what with that and twins, Harriet B. ought to have found enough to do at home."

"Nwingy Tat! Nwingy Tat!"

[Pg 30]

"Sh!" said his aunt.

"Mus' sing it," answered Ethan, in the only distinct words his grandmother had heard from his lips.

"What is it?" she asked, more interested in Ethan's infant tastes than even in Mrs. Stowe's enormities.

"It's that foolish little rhyme, 'The New England Cat,'" replied Miss Hannah.

"I don't know it," said Mrs. Gano.

"Ethan likes it for some unknown reason. When he had scarlet-fever last year—"

She stopped, seeing the sudden change in Mrs. Gano's face.

"We had an epidemic of it," said Mr. Tallmadge, as though that fact lessened the danger. "Ethan came out of it famously—didn't you, my little man?"

"Nwingy Tat!" said Ethan.

"Oh yes, he came out all right," said Miss Hannah; "but before the crisis I sat up with him at night, and I sang 'The New England Cat' to him till I nearly died of it. Through sheer exhaustion my voice would get weaker and weaker, till it seemed to die too natural a death for him to notice. But the moment I stopped he would start up and say feverishly, 'Nwingy Tat!' It was the only thing that quieted him."

Mrs. Gano might have been supposed to regard this passion for New England cats as a depraved taste on the part of a Gano, but she said, graciously:

"Let me add my petition to Ethan's. I would like to hear his favorite song."

Perhaps in the dim recesses of her mind she had some formless idea of learning this lyric.

"It's not a song," said Miss Hannah, hurriedly. "Come, child, it's time you went to bed."

"Nwingy Tat, first," said Ethan, firmly.

"Oh, hum it for the child!" said Mr. Tallmadge, impatiently.

Miss Hannah's face took on a dull-red hue, but obediently she began in a thin, sweet little voice:

[Pg 31]
"'There was an old New England cat,
New England cat, New England cat—
There was an old New England cat went out to seek her prey.
"'She chased a mouse from house to house,
From house to house, from house to house—
She chased a mouse from house to house upon the Sabbath day.
"'The parson so astonished was,
Astonished was, astonished was—
The parson so astonished was to see—the cat profanes!
"'He took his book and threw it down,
And threw it down, and threw it down—
He took his book and threw it down, and bound the cat in chains.'"

Mrs. Gano was as "astonished" at this performance as "the parson." Ethan nodded a grave encore.

"Nwingy Tat!"

Whereat they all laughed with the best humor in the world, and Ethan was carried off to bed.

Mrs. Gano, under plea of weariness from travel, made her "good-nights" at the same time, arranging to return to Ashburton Place the next day.

She wakened early the following morning. Reviewing the events of the evening before, and having now dispassionate regard to the object of her visit, she registered a vow that no provocation upon earth should induce her another time to touch upon any vexed question. The opinions of these Tallmadges were not apparently to be altered any more than her own were. If she were going to wring any concession out of them with reference to Ethan, she must walk warily, she must appeal more to their sense of justice and family feeling. She was in their power. It was theirs to dictate terms. A new situation for Sarah C. Gano, but she would make the best of it.

When she arrived at Ashburton Place before ten o'clock, Miss Hannah was just leaving the house.

"Oh!" she said, as nervous people will, as though you had pinched them.

[Pg 32]

"Good-morning!" Mrs. Gano bowed urbanely.

"Good-morning! We understood you couldn't go out before the afternoon."

"Yes, I can never count on being fit for much in the morning; but to-day I am abroad early. Shall I find the child?"

She made a motion towards the house.

"Ethan has just gone to school. Pa took him to-day."

"Oh! And you are going to walk?"

"No—y-yes—a little way."

Miss Tallmadge's embarrassment seemed to rouse in Mrs. Gano's breast a sentiment to which it was commonly a stranger. She was curious. Ought she not to know something about this woman who stood in the relation of mother to Ethan? What was her life like? What were her interests?

"I have always heard," the visitor said, as they walked along Somerset, and through Beacon to Tremont Street—"always heard what admirable house-keepers the New England women are. Do you do your own marketing?"

"Yes; but always earlier."

"This is a good time for shopping, before the crowded mid-day. I must look for a shawl of some kind."

"I would be glad to show you the best place for such things, but to-day I—I have a most important engagement."

She paused near a stationer's. On the right a staircase led from the street to the floor above. Several ladies bustled past, nodding good-morning to Miss Tallmadge, and disappearing up these stairs. Mrs. Gano's keen eyes explored the precincts. A small placard in the entry stated in white letters on lacquered tin: "Ladies' Domestic Philanthropic Society (Colored Registry Office)."

"H'm!" she said, not seeming to see the nervous hand seeking farewell. "Colored! What color?"

"I suppose you would say black."

Miss Tallmadge had drawn herself up.

"I should probably say negro. But I've heard they like[Pg 33] to call themselves colored. Seems a curious taste. Always suggests variegated to me."

"That is not how we mean it," said Miss Tallmadge solemnly, making way for more ladies who swarmed up the staircase. "We are a little group of people working on purely humanitarian principles, finding succor and employment for the destitute, thrown out of work by—"

"Yes; we know by whom." Then, with a misleading geniality: "This idea of restitution seems to me very right and proper."

Miss Tallmadge's face betrayed perplexity. A shivering little quadroon girl crept up the stairs behind a coal-black old man.

"It is too difficult, perhaps, to make plain our point of view," said Miss Hannah, with quiet dignity, "otherwise I should feel it my duty while you are in Boston to show you—"

"Have you the right," interrupted her visitor, "to bring a stranger to these colored meetings?"

"I have frequently brought a friend. Perhaps—" Miss Hannah's good face brightened. "We don't discuss politics, and perhaps if you could see something of the pains we take to befriend and find homes for these poor creatures—"

"I am ready to attend the meeting," announced Mrs. Gano, tightening her bonnet-strings. "It sounds like a sensible institution. We had the best cooks, the only well-trained servants in America. They must be a godsend here in the North."

She remembered, as she mounted the stairs behind Miss Hannah, that her hostess had not provided 16 Ashburton Place with any of these "colored" joys, and she reflected that she had not yet seen a darky since her arrival except the old man and little girl on in front of them.

A clock struck ten as Miss Tallmadge hurriedly led the way up the second flight to the registry-office. When she caught up to the old negro, the domestic philanthropist applied her handkerchief to her nose.

[Pg 34]

The society's room was unexpectedly spacious, furnished with a desk fronting a goodly assemblage of ladies seated in rows upon rows of cane chairs. On the right a space was railed off, and set close with empty wooden benches. Miss Tallmadge explained in a whisper that "the candidates" were kept in an adjoining room till a later stage in the proceedings. As for the domestic philanthropists, there were so many of them that there was some difficulty in finding Mrs. Gano a seat. As the late-comers settled themselves, a thin, hard-featured lady with a dogged manner took her place at the desk. This action moved the D. P.'s to a faint flutter of applause. The President laid down some papers, drew off her gloves, folded her hands, and invoked a blessing.

"And now, ladies, we will proceed to business."

She read a report. At the end she characterized it as highly satisfactory, considering the wellnigh superhuman difficulties in the way of the object of the society. She gave an unflattering account of the extravagance, filth, and idleness cultivated in servants by the Southern régime. She told of thrifty New England housewives' experience with highly recommended Southern cooks—stories that moved the domestic philanthropists to open expressions of horror. No one denied colored women knew how to cook, but they were lazy and dirty beyond measure, and required the markets of the whole world to supply their inordinate wants. As for what they threw away, it would feed a cityful! To Miss Hannah's evident relief, Mrs. Gano nodded and whispered:

"True as Gospel—that much of it."

"Still," the President pointed out, "philanthropy must bear with these evils; philanthropy must find these outcasts homes. What can be expected of poor down-trodden slaves? called on to suffer every ignominy, torn from their children, quivering under the lash, bought and sold like dumb-driven cattle! Out of compassion for these fellow-creatures who are, like ourselves, children of God—His latter-day martyrs—we have met here this morning[Pg 35] to bring succor and to offer service. Daughter, call in the candidates."

A young lady rose, wiped away a sympathetic tear, crossed behind the wooden bar, and opened a door. The President meanwhile opened a reticule, took out a bottle of lavender-water, and poured a few drops on her handkerchief. Through the open door presently appeared the old negro, the little quadroon girl (evidently ill), and a great strapping mulatto woman. Mrs. Gano kept looking for the rest, while the trio huddled together like sheep in the farthest corner, until "daughter" indicated that benches were to be sat upon.

"Do they come in threes?" Mrs. Gano whispered to Miss Tallmadge.

"This is all there are this time."

The President opened a large ledger, dipped and poised a pen, and nodded to "daughter." Daughter bent down and spoke to the old man. He got up trembling, and followed the young lady out behind the bar to the little open space in front of the desk. The look on his face was not the look negroes commonly wore when mounting the block in Southern slave-markets. It was more like the look that would come into their faces when they were knocked down to some notoriously hard master.

"What is your name?"

"Jake, mehm."

"Jake what?"

"Jes' Jake, mehm. F'om Henderson's."

"Oh, I have a letter about you." She looked about among her papers. "Yes, here; I will tabulate this and see what we can do for you. You may come to the next meeting."

"Yes, mehm."

He hobbled a step or two away in a dazed fashion, when a piercing shriek rang across the room. He started as if a lash had been laid across his back. The little quadroon girl was standing up, holding out two shaking arms to him. The old man blinked.

[Pg 36]

"I swar I ain't leabin' yo', Till. I gwine t' wait by de do'."

But the little girl flew forward, climbing benches and creeping under the bar. She had nearly reached the old man when the President, leaning forward, said:

"Are you not the girl I sent to Mrs. Parsons's as general servant?"

"Yes, mehm," said the candidate, taking tight hold of the old man's coat.

"I have a very bad account of you."

"Yes, mehm."

"Mrs. Tilson says you are idle and good for nothing."

"Yes, mehm."

The old man took her hand.

"She ain't berry well, mehm, sence we come t' Bosting. Mebbe she'll be better able by'm-by t' go where dere ain't eleben chillen and so much snow ter shubbel."

"You look anything but strong," said the President. "I'll try to find you an easier place. They all want easier places," she said, over her shoulder, to the domestic philanthropists.

"Hush! Hush! I'll tell de lady, honey, ef yer don' take an' cry."

But the President was motioning the other candidate forward. The old man stood hesitating, and then began shakily:

"It 'ud be mighty kin', mehm, ef yo' could get Till an' me de same place."

"The same place!" echoed the President, sharply.

"Y—yes, mehm," faltered the old man, backing timidly; "or anyways places close togedder, mehm, please, mehm."

"That's seldom possible."

The little quadroon wept audibly. The old man patted her arm feebly.

"I—I disremember it myself, but Till, yere, she says I tol' 'er down Georgy dat up yere in Bosting dey didn't nebber make de chilluns go one way an' de ole folks anudder."

[Pg 37]

"We'll do what we can."

"Thank yo', mehm."

And they went out.

The President made an entry in the ledger.

"The old grandfather is said to be an invaluable hand at polishing plate," she said, with a sardonic look at her fellow philanthropists. "Any one who wishes may see his credentials after the meeting. Daughter, I called the next candidate."

"I have told her, ma."

"Come forward!" commanded the President.

The big mulatto woman wriggled about, and then got up, frightfully embarrassed, and by dint of kindly urging from "daughter" and the President, she was finally landed in front of the desk.

"Now," said the President, fixing the woman through her spectacles, "where have you resided?"

This question was repeated three times and in three forms.

"Oh, w'ere I libs? Up Corn Alley."

"But before you lived in Corn Alley, where did you come from?"

"F'om Jacksing's."

"Where did the Jacksons live?"

"On de hill."

"What hill?"

She thought deeply, and then looked up, grinning and silent.

"What State?" asked the President, with a haggard air.


"Yes, Georgia or Alabama?"

"No, mehm. It was Keziah wus f'om Alabammy."

"What is your name?"

"Yellah Sal."

She squirmed with an elephantine coquetry.

"Your last name?"


[Pg 38]

"Are you married?"

"Huh! Yes, mehm," she chuckled.

"What was your husband's name?"

"W'ich husbin?"

"Have you been married more than once?"

"Huh! Yes, mehm." She bridled and twisted. "Six or seben times."

"As Vice-President," said a white-haired woman, standing up suddenly near the desk, "I suggest that it would be a more practical investment of our time if we confine ourselves to finding out what the candidates could do."

"Do you wish me to register this woman as Yellow Sal?" inquired the President, severely.

"Put her down as Sarah Yellow," advised the Vice-President, and resumed her seat.

This passage seemed to unhinge the candidate. The question of what she could do found her relapsed into speechlessness. Even its repetition elicited only twistings and spasmodic grins.

"Come, come," said the President, wearily. "You are a strong, able-bodied woman; you at least can do a good day's work at something. Now, the question is, what?"

Yellow Sal only moved her massive shoulders with an air of conscious power.

"Did you cook?"

"Cook? No, mehm."

She smiled in a superior fashion.

"What then?"

She twisted a piece of her calico gown.

"Were you the laundress?"

"Me? No, mehm. Bet an' Sabina done de washin'."

"Well, and you? Were you nurse?"

The down-trodden one shook her head.

"Nebber could abide chillen."

"Well, what did you do?"

The President leaned in a threatening attitude over the desk.

"Huh! Me, mehm? Me—w'y," speaking soothingly,[Pg 39] "Lor bress yo' soul, mehm, I done kep' de flies off'n ole missis."


Miss Hannah's hope of the possible good effects of the meeting upon her guest was more than justified. Mrs. Gano returned to Ashburton Place in a distinctly cheerful frame of mind.

Whether Mr. Tallmadge, too, had begun the day with vows of peace, he certainly bore himself towards his unwelcome visitor with no little consideration and courtesy. Mrs. Gano was forced to admit to herself a growing respect, an unwilling admiration even, for her old enemy. The only outward and visible sign of this change of heart was made manifest after the departure of the one other visitor that evening brought to Ashburton Place. Mr. Tallmadge had not only prevented Mr. Garrison from speaking of the war, but he had headed the conversation off every time it approached any topic of the day that bore upon the South. When the door closed behind him Mrs. Gano turned to her host and said, formally:

"I appreciate your desire not to have these questions raised in my presence; but I see that in one regard you misapprehend me. I agree with your visitor as to the undesirability of slavery."

"You, madam?"

She bowed.

"My objection is almost solely on the score of its evil effects on the superior race. Still, slavery was an institution we had inherited, and in which our social and industrial life was rooted. One part of a free country had no right to dictate to another part. The South would have freed her slaves herself in due time."

Mr. Tallmadge was unable to repress an incredulous smile.

"Slaves were once held in the North," his guest reminded him, drawing herself up. "If the African had been able to live in this terrible climate, New England would not so soon have seen the iniquity of slavery. The[Pg 40] South, on wider grounds, was coming to the same conclusion. The war only precipitated with bloodshed and disaster that which, if left to right itself, would have been done without such awful squandering of blood and gold."

Mr. Tallmadge shook his head.

"I cannot agree with you, madam. Violent uprooting is the only way to clear the ground of certain noxious growths."

"Ah, you think you've cleared the ground—by inflicting the duties of citizenship all in an instant upon a barbarian horde? You are more of an optimist even than your friends."

"What friends are you quoting?"

"Your Harriet Beecher Stowe, for instance. Even in the full tide of her romantic enthusiasm she can find no better use for the idealized ex-slave than to ship him to Liberia. This, too, after educating him—sending him for four years to a French university." She smiled. "But since you and I may not meet again, all I wish to point out before I go is that you need not count me as an advocate of slavery."

She rose.

"Before you go?" he began, hesitating.

"I am needed at home," she said. "I shall not remain in Boston longer than is necessary to secure your agreement to Ethan's coming to us for a visit."

"I have already said, madam—"

"I should not feel the object of my journey attained unless the date were fixed."

They stood looking at each other.

It will never be known how much Mr. Tallmadge's readiness to restore Mrs. Gano to the bosom of her family influenced his views at this juncture. He turned away and considered, with one foot on the fender and chin-whisker in hand.

"This next summer," he said, "I have promised to take Ethan to my brother's place in the White Mountains."

"Then the summer after this."

[Pg 41]

"Yes; the summer after he could come, if he were well."

"If he were ill, I would come to see him."


"When does his vacation begin?"

"About the middle of June."

"If he is well, you will send him to us the third week?"


They shook hands solemnly.

[Pg 42]


It was when Ethan was seven years old that he was permitted to go to New Plymouth to spend his summer holidays. He was brought by his uncle Elijah Tallmadge, who, on his way to Cincinnati, satisfied his sense of duty, if not his civility, by dropping the little boy on the platform of the New Plymouth station, and watching from the window of the receding train how a tall, grave girl in an old-fashioned bonnet, and with a turbaned negress in her wake, went up to the little traveller and greeted him.

"Are you Ethan Gano?" said the lady, gently.

"Yes," answered the child.

She kissed him. "I am your aunt Valeria," she said, and took his trunk check out of his hand and gave it to the negro hackman, who departed to claim the child's belongings.

When the boy had said he was Ethan Gano, he was startled by an exclamation of uncouth joy from the negress who stood behind his aunt. Jerusha showed her strong teeth in a smile of wide beneficence, and rolled her great bulging eyes till Ethan quaked.

"Tooby sho'," she broke out; "didn't I tell yo' he'd got de Gano look in his lubly face? He's jes' de spi't en image ob his paw;" and she held out her motherly arms to embrace him.

Ethan fled, shuddering, not from fear alone, but from that sense, so much stronger in the Northern bred than in the Southern, of physical shrinking from the black. Ethan held himself to have escaped a dire indignity, as he overtook his aunt at the edge of the platform, close to a dilapidated carriage. He looked back, fearing the black woman[Pg 43] was following, and might be coming with them. But no, there she was, shuffling down a side street with her heavy see-saw hip-motion. Ethan's little trunk was put on the box, and he and his aunt got into the dilapidated vehicle and drove off with a rattling and jingling of loose windows and ancient brass-mounted harness. Presently they passed Jerusha, who smiled in at them broadly, seeming to bear no trace of a grudge. But Ethan colored and looked away.

His aunt did not seem to be a talkative person. She sat looking out of the window almost as if she were alone. She did, however, point out the Court-house, and when they rumbled and clattered over the great wooden bridge, "Now we are crossing the Mioto," she said; "we live on the other side. It's much nicer to live on the other side."

"Oh yes," said Ethan, as though he appreciated the advantage keenly.

His aunt had delicate aquiline features, and a singularly beautiful pale skin. He did not know it, but the two occupants of the carriage were curiously alike, even to the look of melancholy lurking in the eyes of each. Ethan noticed that the ungloved hand that lay listless in her lap was very long, and whiter than any hand he had ever seen.

They suddenly turned off the main street leading from the bridge.

"This is Washington Street," said his aunt. "If you lean out you'll see our house." But the trees were too thick for one who didn't know where to look to distinguish the glimpses of the gray-stone building. In a moment the vehicle stopped. "Here we are," said Aunt Valeria.

Ethan looked up at the massive gray front above him on a terrace only a little back from the street. Ampelopsis trailed over, but did not yet hide the great blocks of hand-hewn stone that in those old days had been set up for defence between the pale-face and the Indian.

Aunt Valeria opened the gate, and Ethan followed her up the half-dozen stone steps and along the brick-paved path to the porch. There in the doorway, between the big Doric columns, stood a tall, slim woman, dressed in[Pg 44] black, with masses of silvered hair nearly covered by a white veil. Her face was furrowed, but she wore a look of welcome and a light of unquenched youth in her smiling eyes that made the child smile too, feeling himself no stranger, but as one who had come home. She set her hands on either side his face and kissed him.

"But where is Mr. Tallmadge?" Mrs. Gano asked her daughter when they were in the hall.

"Gone on to Cincinnati. He didn't get out of the train."

"What? He never left this child to the chance of—"

Ethan had never seen any one look so angry. The eyes that had been smiling flashed a steely blue fire. He shrank away to the neighborhood of the more friendly umbrellas in the hat-rack.

"Oh, he knew we would be sure to meet him," said Aunt Valeria, apologetically.

"One can never be sure of anything of the kind! Suppose either you or I had been very ill! To drop a little child like that on a strange platform, as you would a sack of corn—"

Ethan felt covered with shame at the conduct of his uncle. He had heard Mrs. Gano herself criticised in Boston, but he felt now that her standards, after all, seemed higher, and her eyes were certainly more terrifying than any in the house of Tallmadge.

The hackman was struggling up-stairs with the trunk, Mrs. Gano bidding him have a care of the paper and the balustrade.

Ethan noticed there was a big open door at the end of the hall and a vision through of a veranda and green trees. In the hall was an oaken hat-rack, with umbrella-stand and two carved oaken chairs on either side, with high fleur-de-lis backs. While his grandmother was paying the hackman, the child discovered that the seats of these chairs lifted up in a miraculous manner. Unnoticed, he raised one a little and inserted his hand—something prickly, even porcupiney! He withdrew precipitately. Was it a beast[Pg 45] in there, or only a brush? He resolved upon cautious exploration at a more convenient season.

The hackman was going now, and Aunt Valeria was taking the boy up-stairs to be washed.

"Don't be long," said his grandmother, smiling over the banister as he went up; "supper is ready."

What a comfort that she seemed to have forgotten Uncle Tallmadge's disgraceful conduct!

The one jarring note during that first meal under his grandmother's roof was the apparition of the negress who had dared to offer to kiss him. To be sure, when she appeared this time, it was with a plate of smoking squares of Johnny-cake; but Ethan couldn't meet her eye, and shrank under his blue serge jacket when she came behind his chair to offer him that delectable staple of a Southern supper-table. He did not notice that the meal was very plain, it was all so good, and the silver on the table was much prettier than that Miss Tallmadge presided over in Boston.

While his Aunt Valeria and his grandmother talked, he ate steadily, and regarded with awe the immensely tall coffee-pot and other things that were covered all over with trees and little pagoda-like buildings in repoussé. Seeing Mrs. Gano behind this service gave him an impression of her wealth and magnificence that no after series of meagre meals and authentic knowledge of her poverty was ever able quite to efface. Observing the child craning his neck to see the inscription on the sugar-bowl, she turned it towards him.

"It is your own name," she said: "Ethan Gano. It will belong to you some day."

"Oh!" said Ethan, feeling his prospects to be princely.

"Now you may come and walk about a little," she said, rising. "But fold your napkin and put it in your ring."

He noticed the ring was marked "E. G.," and laid it down with a sense of ownership. It wasn't like visiting in a strange place when you found your own name on the things at supper.

[Pg 46]

Valeria brought her mother a shawl, and disappeared. Ethan put his hand in Mrs. Gano's, and with great care moderating his child's pace to one sedate and slow, he passed out on to the veranda at the back with his grandmother on that first tour of inspection. There were heavy wooden settees on the veranda against the wall.

"Oh, I shall sit here when I do my lessons," said Ethan, coming out of his shyness.

"No; you must bring out a chair," said his grandmother; "these benches are so black."

"What makes them black?"

"The soot. We burn bituminous coal here. You'll have to wash your hands oftener than you do in Boston."

"Doesn't anybody ever sit on these benches?"

"Never. Why do you do lessons in holiday time?"

"Grandfather expects me to."

"Humph!" said Mrs. Gano.

They had come down off the veranda towards the terraces that sloped on this side down below the level of the street at the bottom of the property, which occupied an angle between Washington Street and Mioto Avenue. They went down the first flight of stone steps, but stopped at the top of the second.

"We won't go down there," said Mrs. Gano. "It is a perfect wilderness."

"Really?" said Ethan, making great eyes of wonder. "What's down there?"

"What you see. Huge sunflowers, and reeds, and grasses—it's very damp in the middle—and briers and wild roses, blackberries, great weeds and bushes, dock and tall mullein, and up on that side where the ground rises a little towards the lower terrace, there used to be a garden—where you see the asparagus gone to seed."

"But it's a real wilderness?" asked the boy, radiant.

"I should say so."

"Snakes, too?"

"I shouldn't wonder."

His heart beat hard. This was a wonderful place to[Pg 47] come to for a visit. It was almost a pity one didn't live here.

"Are those apple-trees along the bottom of the terrace?"

"No, quince. And that one big tree in the middle of the lower plateau is a choke-pear."

"Isn't there a vine climbing up?"

"Yes. There are grapes down there in the autumn."

"How long do you think I can stay?"

"We'll see," she said, in a somewhat defiant tone, as they turned to go up the terrace.

There were still some "snowballs" on the great guelder rose-bushes, and the waxberries on the little one's gleamed like pearls.

"I like this place," said the child, suddenly.

"That's right, my dear."

They were up on the level of the house now, past the long veranda with the banned black benches. It was growing dusk, a time that under all conditions of this child's life made rude test of cheer. He drew nearer to the tall, bent figure. She dropped his hand, and stooped over the edge of clovered grass.

"What is it?" he asked, as she stood upright with something in her hand.

"A four-leaved clover—the third I've found to-day."

"Oh, do you think there are any more?"

He knelt down and examined the clump.

"You may have this," she said, presently, "and we'll come and look to-morrow, when we have a better light."

"Oh, thank you."

He held the clover carefully, thinking of the fairy-tale.

Now they were passing the great, perfectly straight tulip-tree, that went up and up like a ship's mast before the far-away boughs soared out into the dim depths of evening air. A light breeze had risen. A bird high up in the proudly waving branches twittered faintly. Except for that, a hush was over the world; but in the child's heart there was a mysterious sense of tumult, one of those periodic waves of excitement that rush over sensitive young [Pg 48]creatures, along with the vague consciousness of the wonder of this strange thing, life, that is opening out before their thrilling senses.

Ethan stood looking up till a kind of delicious dizziness seized him, and he leaned his head lightly against his grandmother's arm. She smiled down into his eyes, saying never a word, but when they went in-doors there was understanding between them.

A large octagon-shaped lamp of debased Moorish design hung in the hall, and the light came through the eight panes of parti-colored glass with a cheerful, even festive, effect. The parlor on the left of the front-door was dark. The great room opposite, which ran the whole length of that end of the house, and had two windows at either extremity, was Mrs. Gano's sitting-room in summer, and, by an arrangement of screens, her bedroom as well in winter. There was a single lamp burning on one of the pair of heavy old card-tables on either side the fireplace. Opposite, along the wall separating the room from the hall, stretched a great old-fashioned buffet, consisting of two mahogany cupboards, with drawers above, and pillared porches below, and an arched and carved back bridging them, and forming below a well-polished surface, whereon stood empty cut-glass decanters and tall celery vases. The long drawer of this middle part of the buffet, as well as those on the top of the cupboards on either side, was opened by a big brass ring held in a lion's mouth. The fireplace opposite was screened by an extensive landscape in oils, framed in ornate and tarnished gilt. All the space on each side of the mantel-piece right and left as far as the windows was filled with bookcases and mineralogical cabinets built into the wall. Between the front windows was an old-fashioned escritoire, reaching high up, nearly to the ceiling, always locked, and equally always wearing the air of a keeper of things secret and important. An engraving, grown brown with age, hung in a faded gilt frame above the fireplace. It was the great scene from "Measure for Measure," and above the buffet hung another from "The[Pg 49] Tempest," with "What is't? A spirit?" written underneath. On the mantel-piece were two tall blue china vases, that had been old, Mrs. Gano said, when she was young. She sat down by the lamp in a chair that no one ever saw the like of before. Very big and very crimson, it was rounded out in semicircular fashion on each side at the top, forming well-padded cushions against which to rest the head; but no one ever saw Mrs. Gano making such a use of them. The chair had arms and a foot-rest, and was mounted upon short, strong rockers—altogether a structure of unique device, that no one up to that time, except its proper owner, ever dared dream of inhabiting for a moment.

Mrs. Gano handed Ethan a book.

"I suppose you know that by heart?"

"Moral Tales? No; I've only heard about 'em."

"Is it possible? What do you read, then?"

"You see, I have to study a good deal."

"But when you aren't studying?"

"Well, then, you see, I read only the things I like."

"To be sure. But what kind of things?"

"Well"—he colored faintly—"I read Hans Christian Andersen mostly. But I like 'Horatius at the Bridge,'" he added, as though anxious to redeem his character, "and Henry of Navarre, and Paul Revere."

"Well, now you may read Moral Tales. It was your father's book, and you may have it if you'll take care of it. I'll cover it for you to-morrow."

"Oh, thank you," said the boy.

She opened her own volume where a worked marker kept the place, and began to read. But Ethan was too excited to follow suit. He sat looking at her, and about the room. The pressed four-leaved clover presently fell out of her book on to the footstool. He picked it up carefully and handed it to her.

"Ah!" she ejaculated, smiling, and turning back to the beginning of the volume, where she replaced the leaf. But Ethan had watched the discreet turning of yellowed pages.

[Pg 50]

"Why, your Bible is full of clovers," he said.

"This is not the Bible, it is Lockhart's Scott," she answered. "And as for the four-leaved clovers, I find them as I walk about in the evenings."

"I suppose you look for them because they're so lucky?"

"Nonsense! of course not. They just look up at me from the grass."

Ethan felt dashed a little, but he noticed how the long, slim fingers held the book so that no more clovers should fall out. She must think a good deal of them, he concluded.

Many an older person under the circumstances would have felt it incumbent upon her to entertain the child; but while no doubt some young people might have been made happier by being noticed more, there are those, especially the shy and sensitive ones, who are all the better for a little wholesome letting alone. It is evident that the officious attempts of many well-meaning adults to amuse, even if it involve making mountebanks of themselves, are ofttimes destined to humiliation. We have all seen children solemnly regarding grown-up capers with the air of philosophers looking down with scorn upon an antic world.

There was something in his grandmother's calm pursuit of her usual routine that set the child at ease. If she had gone obviously out of her way to make herself agreeable to him, he, with the perversity of his type, would have been more on his guard against her blandishments.

His Boston relatives were evidently quite wrong in every respect about his grandmother. His grandfather Tallmadge had sympathized with him deeply at having to pay this duty visit. Even Aunt Hannah had evident misgivings, and had put a seed-cake in his trunk. He felt a sudden resentment against those estimable persons for their distrust and thinly veiled dislike of his grandmother Gano. Already he saw himself her champion and faithful knight, ready to do battle, if need be, for his sovereign lady. It was not altogether strange that the conquest of the child was so speedy, for the heart of the woman was full of a[Pg 51] passionate tenderness for this little Ethan come back again, so like the one she had lost that he seemed to bring with him her youth and all the sunny circumstance of those far-off Maryland days. She softened wondrously to the child, yet it was so little her way to be demonstrative that she neither alarmed nor bored the boy, but simply took hold on his imagination. He, quick of spirit and keen of sense, responded as the natural child will, to the reassuring spectacle of beautiful and august age. What children suffer from sheer ugliness in their elders is not to be written down. Partly in that many mercifully forget, and partly in that others remember certain martyrdoms too vividly to set them down without a blush. One is inclined to think, looking back, that life has taught us nothing more successfully than tolerance of these departures from a possible comeliness; for it is not irregularity of feature or deepening furrows or whitening hair that appall the child, but the unnecessary ugliness of dress and eccentricity of demeanor, and, above all, the avoidable and indecent display of the ravages of time.

With every desire to think nobly of women, it must be admitted that it is chiefly they who offend against the canon childhood unconsciously sets up, that old age shall not with impunity offend or affright the young.

Mrs. Gano would have repelled indignantly the idea that her grandson's affection had anything to do with her spotless neatness; the sober distinction of her plain silk gowns, made before the war; her white lawn kerchiefs, rolling up from her V-shaped bodice, fold on fold, voluminous and soft about her neck; her full lawn undersleeves, that came so daintily out from the silk, and fastened with a silver shell button at the wrist, flowing out again in a fine ruffle, and falling over her hands. As to that most distinctive touch of all, the veil of plain white net that covered, and yet did not conceal, the thick silver hair massed about the high shell comb, one cannot help thinking that if she had quite realized its effectiveness, she would have considered it her duty to discard it. She always said she disliked[Pg 52] caps as "would-be ornamental," and besides, she had "too much hair;" she "would be top-heavy in a cap." So she had adopted the white net veil, fastened just behind the heavy rings of hair on the temples with a pair of pearl and silver pins of curious old design, and the veil fell down to the shoulders behind, concealing the neck, masking a little the droop of the bowed back, and falling softly down each side of the strong old face, and dropping into her lap.

The child sat with the open book in his hand, but with big eyes roving, reading as well as he could the more obscure but not less interesting story incarnate in the great red chair, getting the details by heart in the observant way of children.

"What time do you usually go to bed?" she asked, presently, turning a page.

"When I feel sleepy."

"H'm! I think eight o'clock is a good time."

"It's pretty early," he said, wistfully.

"Your father, when he was your age, always went to bed at eight."


"Aunt Jerusha will come presently and take you up-stairs."

"Aunt Jerusha!"

He dropped the Moral Tales on the floor. The terrifying black woman was his aunt!

"Oh, oh! that's not the way to treat books. The Ganos are always very careful of their books."

Ethan recovered the volume hurriedly, a prey to conflicting agitations.

"Where's Aunt Valeria?" he said, presently.

"Up in the blue room"—Mrs. Gano glanced overhead, and then looked out severely into space over her gold spectacles, adding, meditatively, "making herself ill with writing."

"Oh, if she's writing letters, I s'pose I mustn't 'sturb her."

"H'm! she's not writing letters."

[Pg 53]

"What is she writing?"

"Verses, most probably."

"Poetry verses?"

"Well, verses, at any rate," she said, a little grimly. It was noticed that during Valeria's lifetime Mrs. Gano never spoke of her daughter's work except as "verses;" after her death it was all "poetry." "It's high time she was interrupted. Go up-stairs, child," she said, turning to Ethan, "and knock at the door next your own, and say I sent you."

It was a possible escape from that other most awful "aunt." He laid the Moral Tales down as if they were made of glass, and departed with alacrity.

Twice he had to knock upon the blue room door before a voice said:

"Who's there?"

"It's me, Aunt Valeria."

"Oh, run away, dear."

"But, please, I'm sent."

A little pause and the door was opened. A spacious bedchamber, where everything—walls, curtains, carpet, and bedfurnishing—was a soft faded blue, almost gray in this light. The floor was strewn with papers, books and papers lay on the chairs, on the sofa, even on the preternaturally high and massive bedstead, that looked quite inaccessible to all save the athletic without the aid of a ladder.

"Did my mother send you?" asked Aunt Valeria.

"Yes, and—oh, are you awful busy?"

His voice faltered a little.

"Why?" she said, taking the child by the hand and leading him in.

The action of kindliness wrought upon the perturbed little spirit. His eyes filled with tears.

"You see," he said, "I thought she was a servant."

"Who was a servant?"

"My other aunt."

"Miss Tallmadge?"

"No, the other one here. But I like you best. Won't[Pg 54] you take me up to bed? Of course I do everything for myself; it won't be a great trouble; it's only just so my other aunt needn't come even as far as the door."

"What other?"

"Aunt J—J—Jerusha," he said, with an excited sob.

Valeria began to laugh, a thing she seldom did.

"My poor little boy!" she said, "Jerusha's the cook, and a very good friend to all of us. People in the South call a good old servant like that 'aunt' when they like her as much as we do Jerusha. She used to be a slave; we brought her from Maryland."

"And she's not my really truly aunt at all?"

"Of course not, you foolish little boy! Didn't you see she was a negress?"

"Oh yes, I saw that."

He shuddered.

"And didn't you see she waited on us at the table?"

"Yes, but so does Aunt Hannah in Boston on Sundays."

"Does she?" Then seeing the child's anxiety was not quite dissipated: "Didn't you notice when she'd finished waiting at supper Jerusha went back to the kitchen? Now, if she'd been a real aunt—"

"Well, you see, I did think of that, but I thought perhaps aunts didn't come and sit in the parlor here, and I remembered how she—she"—he looked down and grew scarlet—"tried to kiss me at the station."

"Oh yes, she might do that. You see, she was very fond of your father."

"But my father didn't use to kiss her."

"Oh, I dare say—"

"No, Aunt Valeria; I should think he never did."

"Perhaps not, then," she said, humoring him.

"Do you think," he began, in a half-whisper—"do you think when she takes me up to bed she'll—she'll—"

"I don't know, but I'll take you myself, if you'd like that better."

"Oh, I would, Aunt Valeria."

[Pg 55]

"Very well, then. Come, we'll go down-stairs and say good-night."

He slipped his hand in hers.

"Of course, I didn't really think she was my aunt," he said, with the easy mendacity of childhood.

[Pg 56]


Although this visit was the only one Ethan was destined to pay to New Plymouth before he came to man's estate, he carried back with him to Boston at the holiday's end something more than an intimate understanding with his father's people, and a vivid picture of the outer aspect of life in the house of his grandmother.

Out of his fear of Aunt Jerusha that first evening grew the habit of Valeria's visiting his room ten minutes or so after he had said good-night. During those first evenings, when he was allowed a candle to go to bed by, this small attention on his aunt's part was for the ostensible purpose of putting out the light and opening his windows. Later on she went for no better reason than that the child would be expecting her. Absent-minded dreamer as she was, after the second evening of Ethan's stay she never forgot what became her kindly custom.

On this particular evening, as she sat among the litter in the blue room, her acute ears caught a faint sound of sobbing. She hurried into the adjoining chamber, and found all dark and silent, Ethan breathing regularly, apparently asleep. She bent over in the faint moonlight to kiss him, and found his face wet with tears.

"My dear! Then it was you?"

"Me?" he inquired, in a steady voice.

"Yes. Why were you crying?"

After a pause:

"I thought the walls were so awful thick," he said, as if answering her question with all circumstance.

"Shall I light the candle again?"

[Pg 57]

"No, thank you," he said, sedately; "I can see the moon through the locust-tree."

She went to the window, and leaning her folded arms on the wide seat, she repeated softly, as she looked out:

"'And, like a dying lady, lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapt in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky east
A white and shapeless mass.'"

"Is that what you've been writing, Aunt Valeria?"

"No." She came back and sat down on the side of his bed. "No; Shelley wrote it. What shall I do for you?" she said, wondering how women that were used to children would meet the exigency, for the little voice was plaintive in spite of itself.

"I don't want anything," Ethan said, stoutly, and there was another pause. Then, by way of a delicate hint: "Grandmamma has been telling me a story."

"Has she?"

"Yes; about when she was young. Tell me about when you were young, Aunt Valeria."

The innocent petition jarred. Valeria was the youngest of her family, and had never yet been asked to think of herself as one who had left youth behind.

"There's nothing to tell about me," she said.

"Didn't you ever cross the Alleghanies in a stage-coach?"

"No; all that was before my time."

"Didn't you ever go to visit your grandfather Calvert in the mountains of Virginia?"

"No; he died before I was born."

"Then, you never got homesick?" His voice wavered a little, and then, quite firmly, he added: "Grandmamma did, and she used to go off by herself to meet the postman, who came only once a week, and she'd walk and walk till she heard him wind his horn. How do you 'spose he wound it?"

[Pg 58]

"He just blew a long blast."

"Did that make it wind? Well, anyhow, when he wound it, that used to make grandmamma homesicker than ever. It used to echo all about among her grandfather's mountains, and when she heard that she used to stop running, and sit down on a rock and cry and cry. You see, she was so afraid the postman wasn't bringing the letter to say Aunt Cadwallader was coming to take her home."

"Did my mother tell you that story to-night?" inquired Aunt Valeria, without enthusiasm.

"No; it was this morning, when I said I wasn't a bit homesick like Aunt Hannah said I'd be. Grandmamma seemed to think it didn't matter if I was homesick. The Ganos nearly always are, but in the end they're always glad they came."

This obscure saying seemed not to rivet Aunt Valeria's attention; she moved as if she were going. Ethan sat up in bed and asked, a little feverishly:

"Did you know about Aunt Cadwallader bein' in the war?"

"No; I never heard she was in the war."

"Well, she was. She was about four years old, and the British were firing on Fort McHenry, and all the doors and windows in Baltimore were shut, and nobody went out, and everybody was living in the cellar, so's not to get shot, and bombs were exploding in the garden, and the fambly missed Aunt Cadwallader—"

"Oh yes," said Aunt Valeria; "she was out in the garden, wasn't she, picking up the bullets?"

"Yes; they were raining all about, and she was putting them in a little egg-basket she carried on her arm." Ethan finished, a shade crestfallen to find his scheme to entertain and, above all, to detain his aunt had been forestalled. "I thought perhaps if I told you you'd remember something that happened to you—when you were young, you know."

"I'm sorry I don't know any stories."

"Don't you know the one about the poor man over your fireplace?"

[Pg 59]

"What poor man?" she repeated, bewildered.

"The man without his clo'es on, tied to the wild horse."

"Oh, you mean the Mazeppa on the iron fire frame."

"Yes"—Ethan sat up again, with dilated eyes—"wolfs comin' after him, wif mouths wide open."

"Oh, well, they don't eat him up; he gets away, and lives happy ever after."

"I am glad!"

He lay down, and she covered him up.

"I'd sing to you, but I'm afraid it would disturb my mother."

"Then, couldn't you say some more poetry or something?"

"I don't believe I know anything you'd like."

"Oh, I'd like anything—except the 'May Queen.'"

She sat silent a moment, and then began:

"'Once upon a midnight dreary—'

"H'm!"—and she stopped.

"Can't you remember any more?" inquired the boy, eagerly.

"Well—a—perhaps something else;" and she made a fresh start:

"'Ah, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
"'Ah, what can—'

No, no; I must think of something a little less—"

Another pause, and then:

"'Raise the light, my page, that I may see her:
Thou hast come at last, then, haughty queen.'"

On and on the low voice chanted, whispered, verse after verse and page on page, until the child slept sound. In this wise was the habit formed of Aunt Valeria's [Pg 60]prolonging her nightly ministrations till Ethan was safe beyond the touch of homesickness, beyond the need of a doubtful cheer. From most of her selections, it must be confessed, he derived only the vague comfort of listening to the rhythmic rise and fall of a friendly, sleep-wooing voice, that sent him softly to oblivion. But as the days went on he developed tyrannous preferences, and would call for "The Neckan" as regularly as he had been used in infancy to demand "The New England Cat." He managed to keep awake longer as time went on, and it took "The Ancient Mariner," or the solemn and somnolent-burdened rhyme of the "Duchess May" to send him to the land of Nod. He came to know these favorites by heart, and would prompt Valeria if she ventured to skip or hesitated at a line. In after years he used to feel it odd to realize how much English verse he knew by heart that he had never seen upon the printed page. But Aunt Valeria's patience was sometimes sorely taxed by his wide-eyed attention to the story. Then it was she would unkindly lapse into German, against which no young wakefulness is proof.

"Now go to sleep," she would admonish, "or I'll say 'Kennst du das Land.'" Notwithstanding it was a very dull poem, she would say it over and over, and Ethan, vanquished utterly, would fall asleep with the refrain, "Dahin, Dahin, Möcht ich mit Dir O mein Geliebter ziehn," sounding in his ears. He had his own view of what it was all about, and classed it with such ditties as "Annabel Lee." "Dahin" he was satisfied was the heroine, and he determined on his return to Boston to bestow the name upon the least attractive of three terrier puppies, fresh arrivals in his absence.

There was no one to play with, apparently, here in New Plymouth, but few children could have felt the lack so little as Ethan. Nobody interfered with him, nobody seemed to want him to study. The spectre of Grandfather Tallmadge was still potent enough to make him carry about a French grammar in the shallow jacket-pocket, that was always ejecting it upon an indifferent world. Ethan, on its[Pg 61] every mal à propos appearance, would hurry the book out of sight with an uneasy conscience, and betake himself into the wilderness, where he owned an oasis under a barberry-bush; or he would seek diversion from linguistic cares in the sooty attic. Nobody seemed to mind, if only he were washed when he appeared on the surface again. That same attic, however, was a place of peril. You gained access to it by means of a ladder in a closet on the upper landing, and you went up through a trap-door into a dim and stifling atmosphere; not but what there were windows, but they seemed to admit only heat and soot. There was an army of disabled or disused pots, pitchers, vases, and so on, standing in the middle of the rough wooden floor, and above them stretched a long table like a counter, on which were ranged queer lamps and candlesticks, brackets, door-knobs, pewter vessels and great platters, candlesnuffers and trays, and all manner of household goods and gear that had then been long out of fashion, and had not yet come back again. With grimy fingers Ethan poked about, taking great care not to step off the middle aisle of flooring on to the lath and plaster between the mighty hand-hewn beams. Sometimes, in more daring moods, he would venture farther afield, balancing cautiously on a beam to some remote cobwebby corner to examine nearer an object that had lured him long with its air of the unattainable. In this way he made acquaintance with certain pictures turned disobligingly to the wall, and a great horse-hair trunk, into which he peeped with palpitating heart; for all the world knew that such trunks were the abode of skeleton ladies. But here were only dusty papers. The far corner he never ventured into: it was there the great elk antlers shone, and the skull and white teeth grinned and threatened. One had just to pretend it was chained there, and strained impotently to get at little boys. Turning over a lot of ancient rubbish in a box one day, he came across a heavy old brass door-knocker with "E. Gano" on it. Down-stairs he rushed, all black and beaming.

Mrs. Gano was sitting, as usual, very upright in the[Pg 62] great red chair, with Dean Stanley's History of the Eastern Church open on her knees.

"My child, you're like a blackamoor!"

"But just look what I've found!"

"Ah, yes! I had that taken off the front-door the last thing before I left Maryland."

"Why didn't you put it on the front-door here?"

"You see, it's 'E. Gano.' There was no 'E. Gano' then," she said, with shadowed face.

"But there is now—I'm here."

"To be sure," she answered, smiling. "As your grandfather said, 'It's necessary to have an Ethan in every generation to avoid re-marking things.' We'll have the knocker put up, if you like. Venie will polish it."

"Shall I ask her please to come to you as soon as she's done her work?" he said, hesitatingly, for an interview with these black women was not yet lightly to be faced.

"Tell her I want her at once," said his grandmother, a little brusquely.

He was struck with her peremptoriness.

"Sha'n't I say 'please'?" he inquired.

"Certainly not. It's not as my servants please, but as I please. Tell her to come."

Ethan knew now that his manner to Aunt Jerusha and her daughter must have appeared abject according to Gano standards. He secretly determined to adopt a loftier demeanor. Vain ambition! Never once in his life did he find the accent, let alone the conviction, of the superior, except with persons of his own station. Of servants he asked service unwillingly, and, to the end of his days, with an uneasy sense that somebody was being abased—he inclined to think it was himself. The wages question never in his estimation touched the heart of the obligation. Any underlining of the relation of master and servant was as irksome to him as if he had come of generations of communists, instead of a race of tyrannous slave-holders.

Venie brightened up the knocker till it shone like gold, and Aunt Jerusha, who could do anything on earth, [Pg 63]apparently, promised to come round and screw it firmly in its place at exactly the angle it had taken on the great white door "down South."

It was over this business of the knocker that Ethan made friends with Aunt Jerusha. He was still mortally afraid of her, but he had come to that point where he was able to snatch a fearful joy in passing quite near her without flinching, as though she had been any ordinary white person, whose eyes didn't roll, and whose plaited wool didn't escape in little horns from under a flaming bandanna. He had insisted on carrying the tool-box and the hammer and the big screw-driver from the kitchen round to the front porch. It was so that his intention to be lofty and aloof had ended. At the front-door stood his grandmother.

"You've got a lazy man's load," she said.

And, as if on purpose to justify her, down dropped the screw-driver on the gravel, and out jumped the French grammar on the grass. He recovered the book, and as he reached after the screw-driver away slid the hammer off the tool-box.

"Put down your book. Don't try to do so many things at once. That's how your great-uncle Rezin put out his eyes at Harper's Ferry, and Shelley lost his life trying to read and sail a boat at the same time."

Who was this Shelley who was always being quoted, and where did he come into the family saga? Byron, too, and others he hadn't heard mentioned in Boston. The appearance of Aunt Jerusha see-sawing round the corner was a welcome diversion, and soon the glittering knocker was screwed firmly into place. It was a triumph. Aunt Valeria was called down to see, and admitted it was resplendent!

"Isn't it delicious having our very own Maryland knocker on the door again!" remarked the young gentleman, with as heartfelt satisfaction as though he had watched the decline and fall of the old house in the South, and now saw the family fortunes to be mending.

His grandmother patted his shoulder.

[Pg 64]

"We say 'delicious' of good things to eat, not of door-knockers, even when they come from Maryland."

"Oh, you wouldn't limit such a word as delicious to things we eat," remonstrated Aunt Valeria. "That's a point where I've always differed from Byron."

"Then I'm surprised to hear it, for it's one of the few things he got right."

The younger woman withdrew into her shell, making no rejoinder, but pausing at the bottom of the stairs on her way back to her work, with an air of perfunctory deference, to hear her mother out. Ethan watched the two with interest, feeling that he and his aunt were in the same boat.

"We can't be too jealous of guarding the purity and honesty of language," Mrs. Gano said, firmly. "Any one who has the smallest pretence to caring for letters or for accuracy, or for truth, must do what he can to oppose the debasing of the current coin of speech. If you use words loosely, you'll begin to think loosely, and in the end you'll find you've lost your sense of values, and one word means no more than another. You'll be like Ethan here, who tells me 'bonny clabber' is perfectly splendid, and that he 'loves' Jerusha's Johnny-cake. After that, he mustn't say he loves you and me. It would be like kissing us after the cat."

"It's a kitten," said Ethan, feeling froward and very bold.

His grandmother laughed delightedly.

"Oh, very well, we'll be accurate, if it's only about a kitten that I haven't so much as seen."

The child flashed out to the veranda and returned with a small basket, in which lay a diminutive coal-black object.

"You said you didn't like animals," he observed, reproachfully.

"I don't—not in the house."

"This one's very little to stay out o' doors."

"Yes, it's too little to stay here at all."

"Oh no, it isn't so little as that."

He pulled out its tail that it might look as long as [Pg 65]possible, but it would curl under. He lifted the creature up, clawing and feebly wailing.

"Why, Ethan," said Aunt Valeria over the banisters, "it hasn't got its eyes open."

"Not just yet."

"Can it walk?"

"Well, not much," said Ethan, guardedly; "but nobody walks as young as this. The Otways' cat brought it over in her mouth. They're nice to the Otways' cat in the kitchen."

There was judgment delivered in the phrase.

"Venus must take the thing home," said Mrs. Gano, eying the wailing one with coldness.

"Oh, grandmamma!"

There bade fair to be a duet of lamentation.

"It will die if it's left here."

"No, no; I'll take care of it." He clasped it fondly.

"We don't know what to do for such a young creature."

"Oh yes, we do," interrupted Ethan. He came nearer, notwithstanding Mrs. Gano's edging away from her grimy descendant, and from the small, wailing, trembling, clawing object on his breast. The child took hold of her gown, and said, with ingratiating, upturned, face, "Dear grandmamma, couldn't we buy it a cow?"

The suggestion apparently pleased his unaccountable grandmother too well for her to persist in banishing the kitten. So "Duchess May," as Ethan insisted on calling her, became an acknowledged member of the sooty circle in the kitchen, and was well and safely brought up without the immediate superintendence of a cow.

Mrs. Gano's refusal to admit the Duchess to other parts of the house resulted in Ethan's spending a good deal of his time, too, in Aunt Jerusha's society. She turned out to be a most interesting and accomplished person. No wonder his father had thought well of her, but as to—no, he never, never could have kissed her!

Aunt Jerusha sang the most wonderful songs.

The words were not very intelligible for the most part,[Pg 66] but that didn't matter: the effect was all the more exciting and mysterious. There was one monotonous chant she used solemnly to give forth when she was polishing the dining-room table—something about

"... de body ob de Lawd.
An' dat was wot He meant
W'en He said He'd brought a sword,
An' no mo' peace on de earf!"

Then a string of undistinguishable words, ending with something like—

"Oh, mighty keerful
All roun' de body ob de Lawd,
We done been a wrappin'
A w'ite linen napkin
All round de body ob de Lawd.
He said He'd bring a sword,
An' no mo' peace on de earf!"

There was a wild melancholy in the air that made the child's heart tremble in his breast. Particularly on wet days, when he couldn't go down into the wilderness, he used to stand in the doorway with the Duchess in his arms, listening with all his ears.

"An' Jerusha," he said, one morning during a thunderstorm, when she polished the oak in persistent silence, "why don't you sing? Grandmamma can't hear."

"No, Massa Efan, not to-day."

"Why not? This is just the day to, when the rain's makin' such a noise you can sing as loud as you like."

"Yo' won't nebber ketch dis nigger raisin' no chunes on de twenty-firs' ob July."

"Why not?"

"Don' you know, little massa, dis de day yo' fader died?"

"Oh-h, is it?" A silence of some moments, broken only by the dash of summer rain against the window-pane. "Did you know my father when he was quite little?"

"Law, yes, littler'n you—so little, he couldn't walk by[Pg 67] hisself. De firs' time I done lef' him, jes' fur a minute, standin' in de big arm-cheer by de winder, he turn roun' w'en he see I wusn't holdin' on t' him, an' he yelled like forty—" She chuckled proudly, stopped suddenly, and held out timid arms and made a baby face. "'Ow! ow! Efan fall—Efan bake!'" She relaxed into smiles again. "Break he meant, yo' see. He'd seen pitchers and china dolls and sich like fallin' and smashin' ter bits, and he wus 'feared dat's wot would happen t' him."

She went on chuckling a moment, and then fell unaccountably to weeping. The thunder crashed and the wind blew loud. It lashed the great tulip-tree with fury. Ethan laid his face against the velvet back of the Duchess. Aunt Jerusha wept audibly. Ethan felt rather low in his mind himself.

"Where does this door out here lead to?" he said, feeling the need of a diversion.

"Unner dem front stehs."

"Oh, does it go under the stairs?"

"Yes; but don' yo' go dah, honey."

"Why not?"

"It ain't a berry cheerin' kin' ob a place."


"Spec's so."

"I've noticed Venie always runs past that door. It can't be 'cause it's dirty."

"No, honey; no."

"An' Jerusha, Venie told me yesterday when grandmamma first came here she couldn't get any servants to sleep in this house, and that was why she had to send for Venie."

"Don' yo' min' Venus; she's misleadin'."

"Well, but I asked Mr. Hall while he was cutting the grass, and he said he wouldn't like to live here, and he looked at the house in such a funny kind o' way."

"Huh! yo' mus'n't listen to po' w'ite trash."

"Then you'd better tell me, or I'll ask everybody."

"No, no, honey. Yo' grandma would be hoppin' mad ef yo' should git dem iggorant pussens t' gabbin' agin."

[Pg 68]

"Then you'd just better tell me, and it'll be a secret, please, An' Jerusha."

"Well, dey do say, Massa Efan, dis yer house am hanted."

"Hanted? What's that?"

Aunt Jerusha rolled her eyes cautiously over her shoulder and lowered her voice.

"Got ghos'es."

"Under the front stairs?" whispered Ethan, quickly withdrawing from that proximity.

Aunt Jerusha nodded.

"Did you ever see one?"

"Law, yes; oncet or twicet."

"What was it like?"

"Like de debbil in a night-gown. Hark! Yo' heah dat?"

"Yes; oh, what was it?" Ethan was nearer Aunt Jerusha in his alarm than he had ever ventured before.

"Dat's de bad ghos' under de stehs. De fust fall we come heah he done groan and gro-o-an like dat all de time. He been mighty still now fur a spell. Hark! yo' heah dat?"

Ethan was horribly conscious of a hideous noise somewhere in front of the dining-room.

"I think he's in the parlor," he whispered, when he could command his emotions sufficiently for speech.

"No, no; I used t' 'spect he was dah, but dat's jus' his being so cute, he didn' want nobody to know he was unner de front stehs. Come into de kitchen, Massa Efan, and I'll gib yo' a cinnamon roll."

It is useless to pretend that Ethan was a stout-hearted young gentleman. From infancy he had been a prey to a thousand unseen terrors having for the most part quite respectable Christian name and origin, such as the "worm that dieth not," "the thief in the night," the "great red dragon" of the Revelation, and "the beast with seven heads." But there are some terrors that need no inculcating. It occurred to him now that the ghost under the stairs[Pg 69] was called Yaffti. Why "Yaffti" he could not have told, or what suggested the name to him; but Yaffti was angry when people, especially little boys, walked over his head without saying:

"Yaffti Makafti, here I am, you see;
I'll be good to you, if you'll be good to me."

His worst form of nightmare was forgetting to use this formula, and daring in his purblind sleep to stamp on the stairs directly over Yaffti's head. He realized by-and-by that the restless spirit underneath was soothed when the stairs were not used, and his young friend made the descent astride the banisters. This pleased all parties, except Mrs. Gano. Next best, from the Yaffti point of view, was walking on the narrow green border of the stair carpet, instead of in the fawn-colored centre. Little by little Yaffti enlarged his jurisdiction, and ruled the porches with a despotism as secret as it was potent, permitting no child to walk on the cracks between the boards. Yaffti was pleased, too, if in going about the town you steered clear of the cracks between the flag-stones. But all this attempt at a friendly understanding was at bottom a mere daylight truce, and with the coming on of night the hollow mockery stood exposed. Ethan, like many another, went through his childish terrors with a silent endurance that would have earned him the name of hero had he been a man, and had Yaffti boasted another name, though not necessarily a more demonstrable existence.

Nevertheless, these were wonderful and beautiful days, having in them a rapture of freedom from human interference incompatible with life under the same roof with Aunt Hannah and Grandfather Tallmadge, who seemed to have nothing better to do than to look after Ethan and spoil his fun from morning till night.

[Pg 70]


In spite of Ethan's somewhat heathen faith in the power of Yaffti, and the efficacy of rites and spells, he was a true Gano, in that he early developed a deep concern about Christianity. During the stately strolls after supper with his grandmother, he propounded many a question which so taxed that practised theologian that she was fain to turn the conversation by quoting a question-begging beatitude, or saying loftily the subject was beyond little boys. But if, like Dr. Johnson on the immortality of the soul, she sometimes left the matter in obscurity, she had a Bible quotation ready for every conceivable emergency in life. Her ingenuity in wresting from the stern old Scripture humane and cheerful counsel, fit for the infant mind of a conscience-plagued Gano, discovered how true was her comprehension of his fears, and how much wiser her teaching all unconsciously was than that of the creed she would have died for. Her own spiritual development had never for a moment been arrested. She had travelled farther than she was quite aware, since the days when she had allowed her young children to be tormented by the fears of a fiery hereafter. She soon discovered that the Presbyterian Tallmadges had done their best to plant the Calvinistic evil in the sensitive mind of her grandson, and, without misgiving, she proceeded to root it out.

"I don't see how anybody can feel sure they're going to be saved," the child said, with deep anxiety, one Sunday evening.

"Such thoughts are a temptation of the Evil One. 'O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?'"

"But how do I know I'm not one of those He meant[Pg 71] when He said, 'Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?'"

"Because our Saviour distinctly says it of that generation—centuries ago—of rebellious and unbelieving Jews."

"Oh-h!" He was only half reassured.

She paused on the gravel walk and looked down at him. His little grave face was upturned in the twilight, his great eyes darkened by a world of care, but he looked so very fragile withal, such a tender little baby, that she felt her lips twitching at his anxiety lest he should be the viper of the Lord's denunciation. In another moment her unaccustomed eyes were strangely wet, and she walked on with averted face.

"I can't help wondering often," the child pursued, with evident heaviness of spirit, "how I shall manage to be a profitabubble servant."

"A what?"

"Well, not like the unprofitabubble servant that had to be cast into outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing—"

"Nonsense! all that has nothing to do with you! He said, 'Suffer little children to come unto Me.'"

"You think, if I died now, I'd go to heaven?"

"Of course you would. All little children go to heaven."

"All children who aren't too wicked," corrected Ethan, gravely, with misgiving.

"There is no such thing as a wicked child," interrupted his mentor, impatiently; then, catching herself up—"They may be foolish and wayward"—she looked down on him sternly—"and they may have to be severely punished on this earth, but they don't know enough to be wicked, not enough to deserve being shut out of heaven."

"I've heard Grandfather Tallmadge say somebody—I think it was some saint—had seen"—he lowered his voice—"had seen an infant in hell, a span long." He shuddered.

"Nonsense!" retorted Mrs. Gano, angrily. "No saint ever saw anything of the sort—nor no sane creature. It was that John Calvin."

[Pg 72]

"Oh! and you think perhaps he—"

"He didn't know what he was talking about. He had a black, despairing mind, and is the only human creature who ever had any valid excuse for being a Calvinist."


"I suppose they've not neglected in Boston to tell you there is such a thing as 'the unpardonable sin'?"

The ironic intonation was lost on Ethan.

"Oh no," he said, with the animation of one who recognizes an old friend; "Grandfather Ta—"

"Now, never forget that the only unpardonable sin is to doubt the mercy of God."

"Then you think that when the end of the world comes—"

"I think," she interrupted, with a lyrical swell in her voice as she remembered the prophet's vision—"I know, that 'the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joys upon their head; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.' And now we've had enough of that for to-night," she ended, with an abrupt change of voice and style.

Oddly enough, she was not so likely to close the subject in this summary fashion if the evening talk fell upon Ulysses, or Peter the Great, or General Lee. It was sometimes Aunt Valeria who had to remind them of Ethan's bedtime, if the topic had chanced to be the Civil War, or any one of the legion of family stories of Calverts or Ganos and their doings in the South. There was Ephraim Calvert, who had fought for the King in 1774, and when he died had left his curse and his red coat for "a sign" to his rebellious sons, who had fought for independence. There was that cousin Ethan Gano, who had lost his right hand, and yet was such a famous shot and swordsman with his left that no man dared stand up against him. He had made a fortune in the India trade, by chance, as it were, for he never really cared for anything but sword and pistol practice, and would be always talking of feats of arms,[Pg 73] even to parsons and Quakers. "Just as that other boaster, Byron," Mrs. Gano would wind up, "was forever telling how, like Leander, he had swum the Hellespont, and took more credit to himself for being able to snuff out a candle with a pistol-shot at twenty paces than for being able to write Childe Harold. But that was not only because he was a poet," she would add meditatively over Ethan's head: "it was the direct result of inordinate vanity and a club-foot. Just as Ethan Gano would never have been a crack swordsman if he hadn't been one-armed as well as worldly."

Among the minor advantages of life in New Plymouth was that a boy didn't come in for a scolding here if he went without his cap. In common with many children, Ethan hated head-gear of all kinds, and yet fully expected to be scolded, on strict Boston principles, the first time he was discovered hatless out-of-doors. Valeria, wearing a wide shade-hat, and Mrs. Gano, with a green-lined umbrella, came unexpectedly upon him one hot noon-day as he sat reading bareheaded in the scorching sun on the terrace steps.

"How like his father that child is!" said Mrs. Gano, stopping and looking at him as though she saw, not him at all, but another boy.

"Don't you want your hat?" asked Aunt Valeria.

"No," said Ethan, gathering courage. "I—I like the hot sun."

"Isn't that like Shelley?" said Aunt Valeria in the same way that Mrs. Gano had remarked on the likeness to Ethan's father. "If his curly hair wasn't cropped so close, his little round head would be exactly like—"

"What are you reading?" interrupted his grandmother.

"I'm studying," answered Ethan, self-righteously, and he held up his French grammar.

"Don't you do enough of that in school?" said Mrs. Gano, with what seemed strange lack of appreciation in a grandmother.

"They expect me to do some work in the holidays."

[Pg 74]

"Oh, they do, do they?"

She turned away indifferently, as if to continue her walk, glancing sharply down in that familiar way of hers at the clover fringing the path.

"Do you think I needn't study?" The child had jumped up and joined them as they walked round the house. "You see, I hate doing it most awfully."

"Not 'awfully.'"

"Yes, really, especially être and avoir; but grandfather says—"

"I notice you use that word 'awfully' a great deal. Do you know what it means?"

Ethan preserved an embarrassed silence.

"Awful means that which inspires awe. Now, your feeling about French grammar does not inspire awe. French is all very well, but it's a good thing sometimes to consider your English. You couldn't have a better task than that in the holidays."

"Shall I carry your coat?" said the child, willing to change the topic, and laying his hand on the thin wrap she had on her arm.

"This," said his grandmother, with the Tallmadge insistence on French still rankling, apparently—"this is not a 'cut,' as you call it; and that person approaching is not walking in the 'rud.' You are losing some of your twang, but thy speech still bewrayeth thee. Perhaps learning to talk like a Gano, since you are one, would be a fitting task for the holidays here. Say 'co-o-at.'" He repeated the word in a shamefaced way. "Now 'road.' Yes, that's right." She drew back suddenly and faced about. "Some one's coming in!" she whispered, hurriedly, as who should say "An enemy is at the gate."

She stalked behind the house with Ethan at her side, while Aunt Valeria went forward and greeted the visitor.

"Why, it's the same gentleman who has been here twice before," Ethan observed, looking back.

"Are you sure?" said Mrs. Gano, stopping short. "Was that Tom Rockingham again?"

[Pg 75]

"I don't know his name," answered Ethan, wondering what awful sin Tom Rockingham could have committed.

"Little, insignificant-looking man?" demanded his grandmother.

"He wasn't very big," admitted the child. "It's the one that walked home from church, as far as the corner, with Aunt Valeria and me last Sunday."

"Upon my word!" she ejaculated. "Has Tom Rockingham begun that?"

"I didn't hear his name."

"A man"—she made a gesture of contempt—"very careless about his linen?"

"I didn't notice."

"—without gloves? Hands rather grimy—"

"Aunt Valeria said he was a great scholar."

"A great fiddlestick! Of course it's Tom Rockingham."

This was evidently a most exciting character, and in any case it was pleasant to have a visitor who didn't merely leave cards and go away, as all the others did.

"Aren't we going in to see him?"

"No, certainly not, unless he stays too long."

She threw back her head in that way of hers. They walked up and down the back veranda in silence, Ethan as well aware as if she had poured forth torrents that his grandmother's ire was growing with every moment. Presently she dropped his hand, and going to the door, she called, in an unmistakable tone:


"Yes, mother, in a moment," came from the direction of the parlor.

Mrs. Gano waited for some seconds with sparkling eyes, then:

"Valeria, I have called you!"

Ethan was hot and cold with excitement.

"Run away and play," said his grandmother, her gleaming eyes falling on a sudden upon the child. She turned sharply and went in-doors, leaving Ethan to wonder which she was going to kill—Tom Rockingham or Aunt Valeria.[Pg 76] He stood quite still, waiting for developments. At last, unable to bear the combined suspense and solitude any longer, he pulled the Duchess out from the cool shade under the veranda, and sat down with her on the step.

Presently Aunt Valeria came out of the parlor and went up-stairs. He didn't see her face.

With a vague, frightened feeling, he got up with the Duchess in his arms and walked away.

Mr. Rockingham never came again, and the only reference ever made to him was weeks afterwards, when the summer was waning, and he passed by the house one evening without a word, without a pause, taking off his hat to the ladies who sat in the dusk on the front porch.

"Who is that?" Mrs. Gano asked her daughter.

"Mr. Rockingham."

"Humph!" remarked Mrs. Gano.

Aunt Valeria said nothing.

Ethan laid his cheek against her slim, white hand. But she didn't seem to him to know or to care for a little boy's sympathy. It was natural, he thought, that he should care so much more for these relations than they did for him. The holidays were ended—so Grandfather Tallmadge had written—and a French boy, a kind of cousin, had come to live at Ashburton Place and go to school with Ethan. "So now he would have a playmate," Aunt Hannah had added, as a postscript. Ethan didn't want a playmate, and he was horribly shy of a boy who knew French by a superior instinct. But to-morrow he was to go back to Boston. No help for it.

Many letters on this subject had been written; it was all no use. He had to go, and his grandmother's eyes were angry when the subject was mentioned, and his own heart heavy and sore in his breast. Aunt Valeria had never said anything, but she was even kinder to him after the decision, especially at dusk, when one felt dreary. Mrs. Gano would seldom allow even the hall lamp to be lighted in the summer evenings, probably from motives of economy; but this reason was never given for any mandate [Pg 77]except under great pressure. The ostensible end served by sitting in the dusk and groping one's way up-stairs, or being beholden to the moon for acting as the domestic candle, was that if darkness reigned mosquitoes and miller-moths were not attracted into the house; neither were those great winged things with horns, that one never saw in Boston, which fact would have compensated Ethan for endurance of the dark if anything could. In the moments preceding bedtime, the firefly had been a distinct consolation. That very morning he had hid Aunt Valeria's empty cut-glass camphor-bottle under the syringa-bush, and now was the time to try the experiment of bottling a few fireflies and seeing how they lightened their captivity. He sallied forth into the scented dusk, whistling softly. His plan worked wondrous well. With each new victim his spirits mounted higher, he thinking—poor deluded soul!—that he should never again feel downhearted in the dusk. He had caught and imprisoned over a dozen of these winged lamps, when Aunt Valeria came through the bushes, calling softly:

"Ethan! Ethan!"

"Yes; here I am."

He concealed her camphor-bottle as well as he could under his jacket, but the bottle was big and the jacket was small.

"Bedtime," called the voice.

"Just a few more fire—I mean minutes."

"No; your grandmother says it is past the time."

"Oh, dear! then I s'pose it is." He came out of his covert, and on a sudden impulse added, hurriedly: "Aunt Valeria, do you care about your camphor-bottle?"

"Care about it?"

"Yes; do you mind if there's fireflies in it instead of camphor?"

He held it up, and the captives lit their pale lamps and fluttered despairingly.

"Oh, my dear! they'll die."

"No; they like it. It's such a beautiful bottle."

[Pg 78]

"But you've got the glass stopper in; they can't breathe."

In spite of his entreating, she took out the stopper, and put the end of her lace scarf over the opening.

"You won't take it away from me?"

"No, no," she said, gently leading him back to the front porch, repeating as she went:

"'The shooting stars attend thee,
And the elves also,
Whose little eyes glow
Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.'"

"It isn't their little eyes that glow; it's their little tails," said Ethan, with his nose flattened against the camphor-bottle.

When they got near the porch, the prudent young gentleman took off his coat, and wrapped the bottle from the too inquiring gaze of his grandmother. Aunt Valeria was in a kind of dream, and didn't seem to notice.

"What a perfect evening!" she half whispered, looking up through the trees.

"Good-night," said Ethan to his grandmother, trying to get through the ceremony and hold his coat round the bottle on Aunt Valeria's arm at the same time.

"Forty-eight years to-day," she went on to her mother, "since Shelley's body was burned on the sands at Viareggio."

"Ah, yes," returned the other, speaking very gently. "Good-night, child."

"What! Is he dead?" said Ethan, feeling a double shock.

"Yes, dear; he's dead."

And he and Aunt Valeria went up-stairs in the dark.

"You never told me," said the child, when they had passed Yaffti in safety. "I s'pose Byron's all right," he added, remembering allusions to that person's physical prowess.

"Byron's dead, too," said Aunt Valeria, sadly, "and Keats—poor Keats!"

[Pg 79]

"All dead!"

They had been referred to as if they lived in the next street. If it had been Shelley who had come to make them a visit, it would have seemed as natural—more natural than the apparition of Tom Rockingham or the objectionable Uncle Elijah.

"I'll get a piece of net to put over the bottle while you undress," said Aunt Valeria.

When she came back Ethan was in bed.

"What relation was Shelley to me?" he asked, welcoming the camphor-bottle to his arms.

"Relation? None."


These things were obscure. The Tallmadges, for instance, weren't related to Grandmamma Gano, so she had said with emphasis.

"Then what relation was Shelley to you?"

"No relation at all, dear. He was an English poet."

"You mean he wasn't even born in America?"

Ethan sat up straight in his bed.

"He was born far away in England," said Aunt Valeria, dreamily.

"An' dead an' burnt?"


"And never was no relation to any of us?"



He lay back on his pillow, conscious of a new loneliness—of being bereft of something he had counted his. Yes; it was just as if some one belonging to him had died.

After Aunt Valeria had told him why they had burned Shelley's body, and even after she had repeated all his favorite poems, a sense of loss remained.

She thought he was asleep when she kissed him good-night. But he stirred and gave a little sigh.

"Well, I'm glad I've got my fireflies, anyhow," he murmured.

[Pg 80]

His leave-taking next morning was extremely harrowing to his own feelings, however austerely the rest took it. He wept freely after breakfast down under the barberry-bush, but he promised himself he would get it all done down there in the blessed privacy of the wilderness, and not cry another tear after he got back to the house. He had made a tour the moment he was dressed, saying good-bye to everything. Now there was nothing left but An' Jerusha and the family. Uncle Elijah might come any minute. He dried his eyes, and crept back through the rank undergrowth to the terrace, went heavily up the two flights of stone steps, saying good-bye again to the flag lilies and the crooked catalpa and the tulip-tree, and so on sedately round the house to the kitchen. On his appearance, An' Jerusha rushed towards him with wide-spread, motherly arms, but observing his involuntary recoil, she stood still, looking at him with unlessened affection.

"Good-bye, An' Jerusha," he said, holding her hand tight in both his own.

"Good-bye, honey. Be suah you come agin soon."

"Yes, I mean to; and thank you for all the songs and the cinnamon rolls."

"Law, honey! jes' listen to de chile."

She turned away to Venie with an attempt at a chuckle, but the tears had started down her cheeks.


Ethan shook hands with the smiling Venus.

"Maw and me done put yo' in a Johnny-cake," she said, an outsider might have thought enigmatically.

"Thank you," said Ethan, tremulously—"thank you both, awfully."

"Dat's de do'-bell, an' Massa Efan's knocker," said Aunt Jerusha, sniffing violently. "You go, Venus; I ain't 'spectabel."

"Oh, it's my uncle," said Ethan, rather relieved at the interruption; and he hurried after Venus, feeling, however, deeply dissatisfied with his leave-taking of An' Jerusha.

[Pg 81]

She had been so awfully kind—it was useless to pretend there was any other way of putting it—and she had cared so much for his father. Ought he to have kissed her? It was plain she had expected it. It was all very uncomfortable and heart-achy.

Now he was in the hall, and Uncle Elijah was there, and so was grandmamma, being very stiff to poor Uncle Elijah. Aunt Valeria came down-stairs, and the good-byes were said. Uncle Elijah's hack was at the door, and Ethan's trunk was being carried out.

Suddenly, at the very last, "Come here a moment," said his grandmother, retreating into her own long room.

Ethan followed, quaking. Had he been doing something wrong? And yet she had just kissed him good-bye so kindly. As she turned and faced him, he saw her eyes were full of tears. He could hardly believe his senses, but he began to cry, too.

"I do wish I was going to stay with you," he said, breaking down and forgetting his fears.

"You will come back to me," she said; and she put her arms round him, and held him close to her for a moment, while he cried silently against her white veil, thinking the while she wouldn't like it when she discovered it was wet.

"Don't you think," he faltered, as she released him—"couldn't this be my home?"

"Of course, it is your home. Isn't your name on the front door?"

"Oh yes," he said, smiling through his tears; "I forgot that," and the remembrance seemed to give him confidence in the future.

Mrs. Gano was looking hastily about for some excuse for bringing him into the room.

"Here is a book that belonged to your great-grandfather, called Plutarch's Lives. You will read it when you are older, and remember it was my parting present after your first visit."

"Oh, thank you," he said, brushing his sleeve across his eyes; and they went out, and Ethan got into the carriage.[Pg 82] "Oh, dear me, my fireflies!" he shouted, suddenly, as the driver was closing the door. "I shall need them so awfully—I mean so pertickly—in Boston"; and he scrambled out and rushed up to his bedroom.

"What does the child mean?" asked Mrs. Gano.

"It's all right," said Aunt Valeria; "something I gave him. I'll tell you afterwards."

Ethan came tumbling down-stairs in the buff middle of the carpet—anywhere, indifferent for once to Yaffti and his possible revenge.

"Good-bye," he called back from the carriage-window. "Thank you, ma'am, for Plutarch."

"Keep him covered," was Mrs. Gano's unemotional rejoinder as they drove away.

Ethan sank back breathless, clutching the camphor-bottle under his coat.

"Tired?" asked Uncle Elijah, looking at the flushed little face. Ethan nodded "Yes, sir."

"You needn't have hurried so; there's oceans of time. But I thought we could wait just as well at the station."

They were not going the way Ethan had been driven that day of his arrival, so long, long ago, at the beginning of the summer. He leaned forward excitedly.

"Why, he's taking us round by the Wilderness!"

"The what?" Uncle Elijah looked out. "Moses! they do let things run wild here."

Ethan's quick eye had sought out the spot where, hidden in that tangle, was a little clearing and a "heavenly secret-house," with a barberry-bush for a roof. But no hint of such a matter to the profane passer-by!

What was that? His heart gave a great jump. Why, it was An' Jerusha on the lower terrace watching to see them go by! She stood there alone, and now she was putting her apron up to her eyes. Nobody else was looking after the carriage from this side. It was plain, for all his grandmother's momentary melting, it was An' Jerusha who had felt the parting most, and he had refused to kiss her!

[Pg 83]

"Uncle Elijah," said the child, hurriedly, "do you mind, if we've got such a lot of time, I'd like to get a barberry leaf for my fire-flies. Please stop!" he called out of the window to the coachman.

And while Uncle Elijah was saying, "What—what?—barberry leaves, fire-flies? What nonsense is this you've been learning?" Ethan had jumped out of the slowing vehicle, made a frantic sign to An' Jerusha, run up to the fence, pushed aside a loose picket of his acquaintance, and dashed into the wilderness. There was nothing for Uncle Elijah to do but to wait. The child had vanished without a trace; by the time Mr. Tallmadge had adjusted his spectacles on his nose he couldn't even find the place where his nephew had disappeared. The eminent Bostonian sat fuming while Ethan was feverishly making his way to An' Jerusha.

"Come down!" he called, when he got near the bottom of the terrace. "Come towards the barberry-bush, An' Jerusha—quick, quick!"

Her eyes rolling wildly with amazement and concern, Jerusha penetrated a few paces into the jungle.

"Wha is yo', honey? Wot's de matter? Air yo' hurt, my honey? Jes' wait; An' Jerusha's comin'."

"Oh, here I am," gasped the child, and he precipitated himself into her arms. "I forgot to kiss you good-bye, An' Jerusha, and I had to come back."

He shut his eyes and held his breath while she kissed him, muttering prayers and blessings.

"Good-bye, An' Jerusha," he said. "I sha'n't ever forget you;" and he tore his way back through the rank grasses, the mulleins and sunflowers, catching his feet in the briers, and saying to himself: "Oh, I'm quite sure my father never, never did. But for me it's different; I'm glad I went back."

He stripped a handful of leaves and coral berries off the barberry-bush as he passed, pushed back the loose picket, and reappeared all over burrs and pollen before Uncle Elijahs' astonished and unapproving eyes.

[Pg 84]

"I've got plenty of leaves for my fire-flies," was his greeting, as he clambered into the hack, "but I must get some water for them at the station. How many years should you say a fire-fly would live, Uncle Elijah, with plenty to eat and drink?"

[Pg 85]


Ethan was not allowed to repeat his visit, and life went on for several years without incident at the old Fort. Yet, since "it is in the soul that things happen," these were stirring times. One shrinks from inquiring too closely into what the years held for the two eager-hearted women shut up there with those perilous companions, thwarted hope, stunted ambition, and pent-up energy. Well had it been for Valeria had she not possessed that small, cramped competency. If the girl had had to earn her living, she might have found peace, if not great gladness, in wholesome grappling with the material things of life. But in saying so one forgets that all this was thirty years ago, when a penniless Southern woman who had a brother, or even some distant relation, to support her, no more dreamed of getting her own bread than she does to-day of going before the mast.

Meantime, with John Gano things for a while went better. At the end of four years of uninterrupted toil, such years of all work and no play as only an American will put up with, he was able to offer his cousin the kind of home he had set his heart on. They were married in the South, and after a brief visit to Mrs. Gano, John took his bride to New York. Ten months' happiness, followed by the birth of a daughter, whom they named Valeria, and called Val; then protracted ill-health and a yearly baby for the young mother, money troubles and killing work for John Gano.

The distance between New York and New Plymouth was too great to admit of much visiting back and forth on trivial grounds for people of limited means. But young Mrs. Gano was not expected to live after the birth of her fourth[Pg 86] child, and her "aunt-mother-in-law" was sent for. The elder Mrs. Gano stayed till the danger was past, and, as she wrote home to her daughter, "to relieve Virginia a little of the pressure of existence," she had made up her mind to bring back Emmeline with her to the Fort. Emmeline was the younger of the two little girls, and that was the reason given for her having been chosen instead of Val, since, with a new baby in the house, a child of fourteen months was more of a charge on its mother's mind even than an enterprising young person of four. But it was presently revealed that Emmeline was by far the more attractive child, gentle, charming, and very beautiful to look upon; rather like her cousin Ethan, whose loss was still mourned silently at the old Fort. There was no further visiting between the two houses until the following winter, when Valeria's health broke down. Mrs. Gano would not hear it said that her daughter was dying of consumption.

"I've had a cough myself for half a century. Consumption? Nonsense! Valeria had undermined her constitution by too much study and a too sedentary life. What was to be expected when one remembered the hours she kept! But there! no Gano could ever do anything with moderation."

However, the jealous mother was alarmed at last, and admitted that what Valeria needed was a change.

"No," said the old-young woman; "I have reached the end."

A journey to the Adirondacks was proposed. Valeria refused to fall in with the plan.

"You wouldn't let me go away when it would have been some use," she said; "leave me in peace now."

A horrible fear clutched at the resolute heart of the mother as she took fresh and sudden note of the wasted frame, the languid, long, transparent hands, the far-away vision of the eyes.

"No, I wouldn't let you go alone and unprotected. But now that John and his wife are settled in New York it's a different story altogether. You can stay with them, and[Pg 87]—and study sculpture for a while," she added, with a visible effort.

Valeria shook her head. But there was a new light in the hollow eyes. Little by little she was seen to be in reality feverishly bent on availing herself of her mother's late concession. Mrs. Gano was as good as her word. She put no further obstacle in the way, and, though it was the depth of winter, took the long journey with her daughter, arriving at her son's house much exhausted, to find Mrs. John ill in bed, a mutiny among the servants, and a scene of inexpressible confusion and disorder, in the midst of which stood Val, turbulent and triumphant. Nor did she budge upon the usually subduing apparition of Mrs. Gano. Dirty and neglected, an impudent little face with bold gray eyes looking out from a wild swirl of tawny hair, there she stood in the middle of the untidy dining-room, aided and abetted in some unspeakable enormity by the mere presence of her faithful ally, a huge St. Bernard dog.

"My patience!" exclaimed Mrs. Gano, surveying the scene.

"Why, it's my dear little namesake," said Aunt Valeria, with a kind of gentle incredulity, as she moved forward.

Her dear little namesake retreated, dragging the great dog back with her by the collar.

"That my granddaughter!"

Mrs. Gano spoke with mixed emotion, and hurriedly put on her spectacles.

"My darling," said Aunt Valeria, watching the dog with the tail of her eye, "come and kiss me."

The child stared solemnly without moving a muscle.

"Come, my dear, and speak to your grandmother."

Mrs. Gano advanced with majesty till she was arrested by a low growl from the St. Bernard.

"Don't be afraid of us," urged Aunt Valeria, somewhat superfluously. "I've brought you a pretty toy in my trunk. Come, darling."

The child kept a suspicious eye on the ingratiating stranger.

[Pg 88]

"She has very pretty hair," pursued Aunt Valeria, amiably.

"She hasn't pretty manners," retorted Mrs. Gano.

"Oh, she's shy. Don't be afraid of us"—she ventured a step nearer. "Come here, my sweet little one."

Never taking her eyes off her gentle aunt, the sweet little one said, with a charming childish lisp:

"Ef yer don't be thtil, I'll thick my dawg on yer."

The two ladies fell back appalled.

"Turn that great animal out of doors," said Mrs. Gano, in awful tones, to the cook. But Katie O'Flynn shrank visibly from availing herself of this kind permission.

"Sure, mum, he'd have the heart out of me; and that's just what Miss Val would like, be the Howly Mother!"

"This is beyond everything," said Mrs. Gano, more nonplussed than she had often found herself. "The child must be out of her senses. We will go up to your mistress," she said to Katie O'Flynn. "If you were my daughter," she added, solemnly, looking back at the immovable one, "I should know how to deal with you. As it is, I'll leave you to your father."

But leaving Val to her father proved a less drastic measure than Mrs. Gano anticipated. Whether because of his sentiment about the first-born—offspring of that only year of happiness and hope—or merely because her wildness was a distraction in his brief moments of respite from crushing cares, at all events, he looked upon the child with a lenient eye. He had her much about him when he was at home, smiled at recitals of her escapades, and called her his amiable firebrand, never in the least realizing that the overflow of animal spirits, which in rare hours of ease were his diversion and delight, might be to others a chronic bewilderment, and a not infrequent torment.

"Her mother," said the elder Mrs. Gano, not thoroughly understanding the situation—"her mother has utterly spoiled the child."

"No, no," said John Gano, smiling. "Val was born like that. I've never known anybody with such high spirits."

[Pg 89]

"'Spirits?' Nonsense! Fever. And you, every one of you help to aggravate her unnatural activity of mind and body. Meanwhile, my advice to you is: Don't make an idol of your eldest daughter. It's bad enough in the case of a boy, but no girl survives it."

Mrs. Gano returned home with little loss of time. Her daughter-in-law's higgledy-piggledy house-keeping, the "slackness" that was not all ill-health, coupled with the ubiquitous and unquiet presence of Val, made the elder lady long for her peaceful home in the West. Her going left behind a memory of awe and a vivid sense of relief.

Valeria the elder, with improved health, or else strung up to a semblance of it by the potent ghost of a dear ambition, began her studies in art. She took out a course of lessons in modelling at the Cooper Institute.

The story of those months may not be written here. We will not dog her through her days of disillusionment, her shrinking from the curiosity of the students, her amazement at their facility, her heart-sinking at their youth. As the weeks went on the teacher, an Italian of fine and gentle countenance, looked at her far more often than he looked at her work; and yet it was observed by the merciless young crew in the studio that her blundering attempts were inspected with an interest and frequency not bestowed on their more creditable efforts.

Signor Conti leaned over her one day, speaking kindly phrases in broken English about the new attempt she was making.

"Don't! don't, please!" she said, on a sudden impulse. "Understand that at least I know it's bad."

"Oh, it will be better," he answered, gently.

"No," she said, very low, "it will never be much better. I've waited too long."

"You must not feel discouraged." He leaned lower and spoke under his breath. "You may yet find great happiness by means of your art."

She shook her head, and when she could steady her voice said:

[Pg 90]

"I'm going home."

The man's face changed.

"You will not do that!"


"It would be another mistake, I think."


"Yes. The first was for one of your temperament to come to a great noisy class like this. You cannot do your best work here. This is not the place for you."

"What could I have done?"

"You can work under some artist alone, some one who can give you more time. I tell you, you have talent, a bello ingegno, signorina."

She looked up with a gleam of hope shining through tears.

"You—you are too busy. I'm afraid you don't receive pupils at your own studio," she said, timidly.

"No, I do not receive pupils as a rule; but I will receive you, signorina."

That was the end of lessons at the Cooper Institute, and the beginning of the brief, but best, happiness Valeria's life was to know.

Some indiscreet allusion to the change in a letter Valeria or her brother had written to their mother brought Mrs. Gano in hot haste to New York again. She found Valeria a different being—but she also found Signor Conti and a lonely studio in a side street, where her daughter worked alone with this foreigner, modelling "the members of the human body," while the sculptor worked on his "Lady at the Bath." It was all unspeakably objectionable and un-American. This was no fit milieu for a Gano. It wasn't a seemly place for any lady. Valeria must come home. She told her so the same night. No, Valeria could not do that.

"Why? Are you so attached, then, to this Italian image-maker?"

Valeria went home to the West the next day. The following winter she died.

[Pg 91]

Little Val was nearly seven when she woke up one morning and was told that the baby had died in the night. Then it was true, this thing she had heard about people dying. Her excitement and curiosity were infinitely greater than her sorrow. Had he gone to heaven yet? No, he was in the cold, uninhabited "best" room, where nobody but strangers—guests and grandmothers—had ever slept. She made Nanna hurry through the bath and dressing. The nurse was crying. Val observed her critically.

"Isn't heaven a nice place?" the child asked; and a vague uneasiness seized her with regard to this much-vaunted reward of merit.

"Av coorse, av coorse—the most beautiful place ye can think av. The streets are all gowld," said the woman, with quivering face.

"I must go and see mamma," the child said.

But she had to pass the "best" room door. She couldn't get by, but stood there rooted before it. She listened, advancing her small ear nearer and nearer. No sound. Then she put her eye to the key-hole. But the key-hole did not command the bed. She glanced over her shoulder—nobody near; the house silent. She turned the knob softly and went in, shutting the door behind her; then quickly reopening it, and leaving it prudently ajar. She tiptoed to the bed. Behold, the coverlid lay smooth, and no little dead child there at all. Then he was gone to heaven. If she'd got up a little earlier she might have seen the angel flying off with him. He hadn't left the window open; the very blind wasn't drawn up. What was that on the table? Something white, laid over something strange, and—two little sandalled feet stuck stiffly out!

On the table! It couldn't be the baby lying on the hard marble slab! The cruelty of the idea made her cold. Slowly she came nearer. She circled, fascinated, round to the other side. Yes, a gleam of the baby's yellow hair. The white cloth over him was a little awry, but it covered the body and hid the face. Horrible to have the air shut out; she felt stifled at the thought. He was lying on a[Pg 92] pillow, she could see. But there was something inhuman in leaving a baby like this. And they had been so irritatingly careful of him before, never left him alone a moment; neglected her on his account; wouldn't even let her hold him—oh, so carefully; and now—this! Nothing, perhaps, in all the strange circumstance—not even the subsequent burial—impressed the child so painfully as this fact of the baby being laid unguarded on a table, as though he had been no more than a book. This it was that by one stroke seemed to cut him off from fellowship, that suddenly degraded him from his high estate of life and lordly consideration. This "death" was evidently a far stranger thing than going to heaven.

A feeling of intense commiseration for the little brother swept over her. She came nearer, crying. "Poor! poor!" she whispered. Why had they shut out the air? She lifted her hand and turned the linen down from the waxen face. Her tears dried on her cheeks as she stood staring. He might be only asleep. How had they come to be so sure, and lay him unguarded on a table, when he might wake and— She saw in a flash how she would earn the gratitude of the family. She would wake him, and she, who hadn't been allowed to hold him, would carry him to her mother. And how glad they'd all be! And it would be her doing.

"Baby," she said; "baby, wake up!" She put her hand on the body, and withdrew it quickly. He felt so strangely unlike life and tender babyhood. An evil dread took hold on her. She strove some moments, battling with new suspicions and vague fears. "Poor little baby! poor little baby!" she whispered, tiptoed up, and kissed his cheek. Violently she started back. Who that ever, as a child, has felt that first chill contact with the mysterious enemy—who does not remember the formless horror it conjures up in the unprepared young mind? This, then, was death. She walked backward to the door, staring at the dead face, feeling that cold touch on her lips spread like a frost through her body. She must go quickly and get into her[Pg 93] mother's lap. With her hand on the door, "Poor! poor!" she repeated with a sob, still looking back at the face. "You can't come and get warm in mother's lap any more; you've got to go to heaven." Had they any idea how cold the baby was? Should she go and get his quilted travelling-coat? Was it any use? A faint dawning of the hopelessness of any earthly service to the dead made her resolution waver, and, with that, a horrible weight descended on her heart. She drew a hard breath, ran back to the table, and knelt down before it with folded hands and trembling lips. "Forgive me, baby," she whispered, "'bout the yellow ball. If I'd known this I wouldn't have taken it away." She scrambled to her feet and ran out as fast as she could, leaving the door ajar.

She was going up to bed that same evening, full of excitement and speculation, when her father called to Nanna over the banisters to come and help to find the smelling-salts—her mistress had fainted.

"Go to your room; I'll come presently," said the woman; and they shut her mother's door.

They hadn't let her go in since morning. Her mother was ill, they said, but that was a pretence; she was always ill. The reason Val was shut out to-day was because her grandmother had arrived that morning, and her grandmother was her enemy. She was in there now.

On every-day occasions Val would have contested the matter; but, grandmothers apart, there was a great deal to think about and consider just now.

She sat down on the stairs. She had seen her father crying that day, and the very foundations of all stabilities seemed tottering. Men could cry, it seemed—cry like little children. It was very strange; she had supposed it a thing to be outgrown. For her own part, she had nearly overcome the childish habit. The baby, of course, had cried a great deal; but one's father!

Somebody was coming up-stairs behind the servant—a strange man. What was he carrying? Something big,[Pg 94] and as shiny as the new musical-box. She hugged the banisters as the two passed.

"What's that?" she said to Matilda.

The servant didn't answer. She and the strange man went by. As Val was in the act of following, her grandmother appeared. She looked at Val a moment, and then called the nurse in a whisper: "Put that child to bed."

To-morrow was the funeral. She should go, she had said.

"No, certainly not," said her grandmother; and Val set her firm little mouth.

After breakfast the next morning, her father went into the room where the baby was, and stayed a long time. The doctor was with her mother. The doctor was a rude man, with a long yellow-white beard; he had spoken as sternly as if he'd been one's grandmother when Val had said she would see her mother. She lingered now by the "best" room door. Would she hear her father crying again? She hoped she would. There was something so horribly exciting in it; it made her feel as if she should die, and yet she listened eagerly to find out if he were doing it again.

No sound. He came out after a long, long while, and kissed her; his face was wet.

"Run to your nurse, my dear," he said.

She didn't tell him Nanna had been sent out. He smoothed her hair, and then went into her mother's room.

She was thinking a great deal about the baby. Nanna had been telling her more about heaven. The nurse hadn't liked it when the child had asked leading questions about the grave. But Nanna herself had said dozens of times before, "I've buried me husband and three childer." What a curious idea to put people in the dirty, black ground! And the baby! It must be very bad for his pretty white clothes. How awful to have earth on one's face, all over the ears and mouth! She choked a little. But one wouldn't feel it, of course; the real baby was in heaven. He would have everything there. "Yellow balls, too?" she had asked Nanna.

[Pg 95]

"He won't want the likes of that," the nurse had said. Nanna was very stupid; as if the baby had ever wanted anything in his life so much as that yellow ball! Conscience pricked cruelly. She had been selfish and horrid to the poor baby. She fell a-crying. Very likely they didn't have yellow balls in heaven, and wouldn't know how much the baby loved them, and he mightn't like to ask; besides, the poor baby talked such a queer language, strangers never understood him. A sudden inspiration. It was rather confusing about the real baby in heaven, and the real baby in the "best" room. Wouldn't it be better to be on the safe side? Anyhow, there was that business about Gabriel and the Last Trump and the Resurrection. They had talked about that in church, and Nanna and mother had said it was true. The dead would surely rise; the baby in the "best" room there would one day come alive. It looked as if there'd be two real babies in the end; but never mind. She flew up-stairs, rummaged the cupboard in the nursery, and came flying down with something wrapped in her apron. The doctor was in the lower hall talking to her father; she peeped at them through the balusters, then softly on to the "best" room.

She shut the door this time, though more frightened than the day before. She stopped short in the middle of the room. Too late! the baby had gone. But there was something she'd never seen before. She went close. How pretty and shiny it was; it smelt like the piano. Why, this was what the strange man had brought up-stairs behind Matilda last night. It was bigger than the musical-box—much bigger. What was in this beautiful, shiny, new thing? She dragged a chair to the table, climbed on it, and looked down into the coffin.

She stood some time motionless; then, hearing a noise in the hall, hurriedly lifted a corner of the baby's frock and pushed a yellow ball down against the padded white satin side.


In spite of the continued "riling" presence of a [Pg 96]grandmother in the house, Val made up her mind to be very good now the baby was gone, and be a comfort to her mother. No more fights with Nanna, even over the hair-combing; no defiant refusals to say her prayers. Standing by the cot in her nightgown the evening of the funeral, "I shall say three prayers," she announced, sternly; "and you mustn't interrupt, Nanna."

"Three!" said the nurse, suspicious of such overwhelming piety.

"Yes; I shall say, 'Our Father,' and 'Nower Lamy,' and then one of my own—one I can understand as well as God. Now! Sh!" She knelt down and recited the two accustomed petitions, and then, still kneeling there, poured forth some stringent directions to the Lord which horrified the good Christian woman not a little.

After that, Val insisted on going to church, rain or shine. She read her Bible with vigor and astonishment, belaboring Nanna with difficult questions. Nanna was so ill-inspired as sometimes to appeal in her perplexity to the elder Mrs. Gano. But this lady found to her cost that the course so successfully pursued with little Ethan was doomed to failure here. When she thought to curb the excessive Gano concern about Biblical interpretation by saying, "It is not a book for children," she was met with:

"My Bible says, 'Suffer little children,' and people 'mustn't despise the little ones.'"

Her father began to laugh; she felt encouraged to proceed:

"And says, 'Search ye the Scriptures,' too; nothin' 'bout waitin' till you're old."

"You are too young to understand, even if I should try to explain."

"Why, I understand it nearly every bit," she answered, indignantly, "all except the mizz—I can't find where it says about the mizz."

"The mizz?" repeated Mrs. Gano.

"The mizz?" her father echoed, uneasily. "I haven't read about that myself."

[Pg 97]

"Well, you've heard about it in church. Didn't you go to church when you were young?"

"Yes," said her parent, meekly, feeling the full force of her implied criticism. "But I don't recall the—what is it?"

"The mizz. Mr. Weston says every Sunday in the Commandments: 'The sea and all that in the mizz.'"

The elder Mrs. Gano could have put up with these crude evidences of a share in the family bias, but not with her granddaughter's growing unsubmissiveness, her chronic mutiny against the smallest restraint. The child had been taught early to look upon herself as a very potent factor in the family life. She observed that arrangements that failed to meet with her approval were often altered. Her mother's sternest form of discipline had been to argue with her. More than one servant had been dismissed in obedience to Miss Val's demands. There was the case of the lady house-keeper from Boston, who, in addition to regular duties, undertook also to teach Val—a learned maiden lady with shaky nerves and a passion for history. It was supposed she left so suddenly because of illness in her family, until Val admitted that she had threatened the lady with the carving-knife after dinner one day.

"What on earth made you do that?" said the child's father, horrified.

"She talked too much about the British," replied Val, calmly.


"I said the Americans were just as brave. I could see she didn't think so, so I got the carvin'-knife and—well, you know, she just caught the three-o'clock train."

The June of that year was intensely hot, but young Mrs. Gano was too ill to be carried out of the stifling city. Val was sent into the country to some cousins "for a change"—for whose change was not insisted upon. She was not brought back till the day after her mother's funeral. It was a strange and terrible time. For once she was passive and subdued. If the servants had not already remarked[Pg 98] on her hard-heartedness, she would have cried herself ill. But she was full of a dull resentment as well as pain. At the time she was sent away she had gathered, as a quick-witted child does—Heaven knows how!—that her mother was dangerously ill. During that time in the country she had prayed for her recovery as she never prayed before or after, as none but the passionate-hearted ever pray. Night after night, when the light had been put out, and the others had gone to sleep, Val would get out of bed and kneel down at the side beseeching God to save her mother's life, and making solemn compacts with the Lord of Hosts. She would be so good, and build a church, too, in memory of this answer to prayer; she would be a nun, and serve God all her days, if He would spare her mother. She pointed out how easy it was for the All-Powerful to do this little thing. She wasn't waiting till it would require a Lazarus miracle, she was asking Him in good time. He had only to let the doctors know what would cure her. But she, Val Gano, would recognize in the recovery a direct answer to prayer, and she would keep her vows. She remembered a sermon she had heard on mountain-moving faith. Hers should be perfect and unfaltering. She knew God would answer this one prayer; she saw herself already in her nun's black habit, and began to say her last farewell to the world, to the prince that she knew was coming later on, to all her children—she called them by their names, "five brave sons and five beauteous daughters." She turned her back on them all, cut her long hair, and heard the convent gates clang to—all this was an accomplished destiny in her mind, when the telegram came to say her mother was dead. Her father was ill, too, now; there was nothing but sickness and death in the world, and the child was to stay where she was. The telegram was from her grandmother to cousin Nathaniel. Four days later, when she was permitted to go home, the funeral was over, and her grandmother was in charge of her mother's house. It was very awful. What did God mean by it?

The following week John Gano returned to his post at[Pg 99] the bank. As he was leaving the counting-room, that first and last day after the death of his wife, he was seized with a violent hemorrhage, and was carried home, it was thought, to die.

Mrs. Gano nursed her son back to something faintly resembling health, and urged him to come home with her. No; he would stay where he was, till—

"Nonsense! you must rouse yourself for your children's sake. Here is Val, left to servants, and running wild. She must go to school. None better than the New Plymouth Seminary for Young Ladies."

"Oh, time enough for that. I can't let the child go just yet."

"There isn't time. That child is going to wreck and ruin. And you don't suppose I'm going to leave you here alone? You must come and get well and strong."

"It's no use," the invalid said, adding, half under his breath: "I'm done for."

"Hush!" she interrupted, frowning. "Anybody is done for who has made up his mind that he is."

John Gano shook his head.

"You know we all go like this. It's not a matter of imagination."

"Nearly everything's a matter of imagination," she said.

The gaunt man put his handkerchief to his lips.

"This is imagination, too, I suppose," he said, as he turned the bright spot in and out of sight—"a case of seeing red."

"That small stain means very little in itself," she retorted, seeming scarcely moved; "its effect on your mind is the only thing to be afraid of."

"You speak as though I hadn't inherited the blessed business."

"Oh, inherited—inherited! I'm sick of that white feather showing all along the line. Look at me!"

He did look at her. She seemed suddenly taller and thinner and grayer and more defiant than any being he had ever beheld.

[Pg 100]

"Look at me!" she repeated. "I have been given up by the doctors half a dozen times. My mother was told when I was sixteen that I had only a piece of a lung left—that it might last me through the winter. It has served my purpose for half a century since. But I didn't worry about the color of my handkerchiefs, and I didn't admit for a moment that I could possibly be induced to die—that is, of course"—she put on a sudden aspect of resignation that was almost funny—"unless it was the Lord's will."

[Pg 101]


Nothing seemed to matter now that her mother was dead. It was plain Val would never be happy again. Leaving her home, to which she was devotedly attached, was hardly a misfortune, any more than going to live with her grandmother. What did anything matter? God hadn't heard her prayers; He had mocked her faith, and she was motherless. She hadn't enough interest in life even to be "owdacious," as her grandmother called it. She was passive, almost "good."

Her father, observing her settled depression on the journey West, gathered her into his arms, and whispered:

"We have each other, you know."

And she lay with her face hidden, and cried a long time, so quietly that her grandmother thought she was asleep.

It was the reunion with her little sister that first roused her out of her unchildlike apathy. Not the genial warmth of family affection, not the diversion of having a playmate, but the tonic of a vigorous antagonism, as unexpected as it seemed unnatural.

"Where is my room?" Val had asked, on the evening of their arrival at the Old Fort.

"You are to sleep with Emmeline," said her grandmother.

"But, grandma, I've never slept with any one."

"Haven't you, my dear?"

"No, and I've always—"

"That will do now. Go up-stairs and wash your face and hands. Emmeline will show you the way."

Val went off quietly enough, but it might have staggered[Pg 102] Mrs. Gano could she have known the rage and rebellion that seethed in that small female heart.

It was dusk up in the little girls' room.

"Why haven't they lit the gas?" asked Val.

"We don't have gas here."

"Lamps, then."

"Gamma thinks lamps are too esplosive."

"Do you live in the dark?"

"No; we have candles, but it ain't dark enough yet. I'll show you where everything is."

"I'll find 'em myself."

Val had espied the candles on the bureau. She lit them.

"Oh, we never have more'n one," admonished Emmie, gently.

Val went on calmly with her toilet. Presently Mrs. Gano looked in.

"Come to supper, little girls, as soon as you're ready."

She was going away without more words, when Emmie called out excitedly:

"Just look, gamma—two candles a-burnin', 'and no ship at sea!'"

Mrs. Gano smiled.

"Yes, my dear; one is enough."

She put the extinguisher over the nearest, and went down-stairs.

"Skinflint!" observed Val.

The supper was on this occasion a late and hurriedly prepared meal. There were soft-boiled eggs. Val helped herself to two, and broke them into a tumbler; then mixed in salt, and pepper, and butter, and bits of bread.

"Just look at what Val's doing!" said Emmie, with innocent excitement, while her elder and more accomplished sister stirred the agreeable compound round and round.

"Never do that again," said Mrs. Gano, suddenly aware of the enormity. "I don't like people to make puddings in their tumblers at my table."

"T'ain't puddin'," said Val.

[Pg 103]

"That will do." Mrs. Gano ended the matter according to her usual formula. "Will you have some corn bread?"

"No, thank you; I don't like it."

"It is enough to answer, 'No, thank you.' Never say you don't like anything you see on my table."

Val wished her father had not been too tired to come to supper. She had observed that she was never so much corrected in his presence.

The full moon was shining in the gloaming as they passed the open veranda door coming from their belated meal.

"Let's go out a minute," said Val to Emmie, in a whisper.

"No; it's too late. I'd catch cold."

"Oh, nonsense! Come along."

And she dragged her little sister off. But they stayed out only a few minutes.

Emmie came in crying.

"Gamma, she made me fall down on the g'avel."

Val, without explanation or apology, flushed angrily and ran up-stairs. She knocked at her father's door.

"Come in," he said, and she went over in the dim candlelight and stood by his bed.

"How you feel, father?"

"Little tired," he answered. "Are you come to say good-night?"

"I 'spose I mustn't stay?"

"Oh, a minute or two."

She perched on the side of his bed. She had come in with the express intention of making complaints. Some vague notion of sparing him because he was ill kept her tongue-tied.

"Isn't this a nice old house?" he said, presently.

"Y—yes," she answered.

"In the daytime you'll see what capital places there are for you and Emmie to play in."

"Is it true I mustn't swing on the gate?"

[Pg 104]

"Well, I dare say—"

"Emmie says so. Is it true I mustn't roll down the terraces?"


"Emmie says so. What are terraces for, anyhow? I thought," she added, with a sigh—"I thought it was going to be like the country."

"Oh, wait till you see it by daylight. It's a great deal more like the country than New York."

"She doesn't keep a horse?"


"Nor a cow?"

"No; there's no stable, you see."

"There isn't any pig, father!"

"Oh no; she wouldn't like a pig."

"But there isn't a single smallest kind of a dog here. There isn't," she wound up, tremulously—"there isn't even a chicken."

"You just wait till to-morrow, and I'll show you heaps of nice things. There isn't a finer tulipifera rhododendron in the world than the one out by the back veranda. And there's a beautiful old crooked catalpa on the terrace you can make a house in."

"Emmie says she only lets cousin Ethan climb trees."

"Oh-a, well—a—I dare say there are plenty of other things. Aren't the peaches nearly ripe?"

"I don't know."

"Have you seen my Indian arrowheads and stone hatchets down-stairs in the cabinet?"

Val shook her head despairingly.

"They're in her room."

Her father seemed not to notice.

"And to-morrow I must show you the great slab of stone at the back door. The oldest inhabitant of this place told me when I first came to New Plymouth that he remembered cracking nuts there at recess in 1800, when he went to school here. There aren't many little girls who have such a wonderful old house to live in."

[Pg 105]

"N—no. I liked the little trees and houses in the silver at supper."

"You'll like lots of things. I've got an old fiddle somewhere about—"

"Have you? Oh, that'll be fun!"


She crept up under his arm and nestled down against him.

It is no part of the office of this plain chronicle to attempt to justify any person in it. Mrs. Gano herself was too little touched by other people's opinions for one who sets about reporting her to dare belittle her robust errors, or omit the defects of her qualities. Few things would have bothered her so much as "being universally beloved," as the phrase goes; and yet, or perhaps because of this, her family affections struck such deep root that plucking them up was like tearing asunder the very fibres of her life. Even now, even to her son, she could not speak of Valeria. Her long hands shook when she touched the dead woman's books. When chance would bring to light a scrap of the familiar writing, she would look away hurriedly, that she might not break down utterly and lose herself in that ocean of agonized regret that had threatened to sweep her, too, out of the world after Valeria's death. It could never have occurred to her as possible that she should set about winning anybody's affections. She would probably have regarded it as a slavish and far from upright procedure. Affection was not a thing to set snares for. It was the duty of children to love their parents (she would probably have said to "honor" them); it was the duty of parents to train the children in the way they should go. That was "the law and the prophets." She could never have quite realized the impression she made on the young or guilty-minded, but she would not have denied that she belonged to a generation disposed to treat healthy children on more or less Spartan principles. She had from time to time obtained a sufficiently all-round view of the spoiling process that had, to her thinking, wellnigh ruined Val Gano.

[Pg 106]

She had come quickly to the conclusion that she would say nothing more to the child's nervous and ailing father, but was quite definitely minded to set to work quietly and vigorously to correct in Val's upbringing the pernicious mixture of sentimentality and neglect that had made the child a révoltée and a household terror. Already in New York there had been a battle royal on the subject of the proper bedtime for a little girl. Val had announced herself in no uncertain note as mortally opposed to retiring at eight, or even nine. If there was one thing more than another that she objected to utterly it was this going to bed at all. Her mother had been helpless to prevent her from ranging the house till remorseless sleep struck her down in the midst of her delights. If she could manage to keep her eyes open, or to wake up after a brief oblivion, she had made no bones about descending during the evening in her night-gown, entirely prepared for the rapturous reception she knew awaited her from her father. Val had early, then, come to associate her grandmother with tyrannical designs on the liberty of the free-born child after the hour of eight. She also had cause to know her repulsive opinions on the value of a milk and cereal diet for the young. These, and a general sense of radically opposed interests, not unmixed with astonishment at, and fear of, the alarming old lady, made up the sum of Val's dismay when she came calmly to consider what life was going to be like here at the Fort.

She woke up on the morning after her arrival with a vague sense of a duty to perform. She rubbed her eyes and kicked Emmie. Ah, yes, that was it—her grandmother had not understood. She had condemned Val, who was accustomed to her own room, with all her "things" about her, just as she liked them, and no one to interfere—she had put Val in "another person's room," with a single big bed in it, and condemned her to sleep with Emmie. Her grandmother must be brought to a better understanding.

The child made no further announcement of her frame[Pg 107] of mind till she sat down to a barren breakfast with the despised Emmie. There was no coffee. There was tea going up to her father, as usual. The silent Emmie quaffed her mug of milk serenely. For a year now Val had demanded and been given her morning cup of coffee.

"Ask for some for me, please," she said, after making inquiries of Venie.

"Gamma says cawfee will make you an old woman before you're a young one," said Emmie, showing her milk-white teeth in a pleased smile. "You can't have any cawfee."

"Tell the cook, please," said Val, in a loud voice, "that I'm waitin' for my coffee."

An' Jerusha put in a turbaned head.

"Lordy, missy! don' yer yell like dat, an' I'll make yo' some cambric tea."

"I won't drink cambric tea. I'm the oldest of the famerly, and my father always let me have coffee."

"Yo' father ve'y ill, missy. Yo' mustn't worrit yo' father."

"I never worry my father—I settle everything for myself. Are you going to get my coffee?"

"Can't do dat, missy, widout leab."

"Isn't grandma coming to breakfast?"

"No; she always habs it in her own room since Miss Valery died."

The child pushed back her chair and marched out. The two women called remonstrance after her, but a mighty indignation swept her on. She halted before her grandmother's room, knocked loudly, and opened the door without further waiting.

Midway in her valiant advance upon the enemy she stood still. Mrs. Gano was sitting propped with huge feather pillows in an ancient four-poster. She wore a small shrunken cotton nightcap awry on her wonderful thick hair, which tumbled out in a tangle of silver and lay dishevelled over the white flannel jacket that was buttoned crooked over her night-gown, the sleeves hanging loose and[Pg 108] armless. In her long taper fingers she held an open letter. Envelopes, notes, the Baltimore Sun, and other papers were strewn thick over the silk patchwork quilt. A breakfast tray stood on a table by the bedside. It wasn't her attire, it wasn't even the shrunken, rakish nightcap (self-conscious and uneasy at its obvious shortcomings), that made the old lady's aspect so arresting. She had not said a word at the child's irruption, but she lowered her chin and looked over her heavy gold-rimmed spectacles with a strange cold stare, singularly disconcerting, even slightly paralyzing. But Val's was a bold heart. And she realized that a blow must be struck for liberty.

"They haven't given me any coffee for my breakfast," she announced, with equal directness and warmth.

The piercing eyes bored into her, but the stern mouth uttered no word. The child began to wish she'd waited till her grandmother were properly dressed and looked more human.

"I'm in my eighth year," she went on with dignity, "and I'm accustomed—"

"'Good-morning!' is the custom in this house," said the old lady.

"Oh! Good-morning!" Slight pause. "The servant says you told her I wasn't to have coffee."


"I always have it at home."

"You're not at home now."

"But I can't eat breakfast without—"

"There's no need for you to eat breakfast if you're not hungry."

"Why can't I have coffee?"

"Because I think it injurious"—the keen old eyes caught the swift disdain of the child's glance at the half-empty cup on the tray—"very injurious for children," she added.

"My mother didn't think so," Val said, feeling her throat swell.

"But I am your grandmother, you see."

[Pg 109]

She had lowered her chin again; her eyes were shooting out over her spectacles, her eyebrows terrifically high. This grandmother of hers could move her eyebrows about as easily as other people moved their arms and legs. It was a fearsome accomplishment.

"In my house," she went on, after the awful pause, "the thing to be considered is what I think. Among other matters I consider your way of entering a room might be improved. Now, you may see how quietly you can go out."

Seldom has a child been more surprised at an unexpected turn in affairs than was this one when she found herself on the outside of the door. She stood irresolute a moment. Why had she obeyed? She gritted her little white teeth in self-contempt. Should she go back? There were loads of things she had forgot to say. The idea of being sent out like that! She went slowly up-stairs and angrily tumbled some of her clothes out of her trunk. There were three cookies, a cruller, and some chocolates in a box near the bottom. Oh, wise precaution of provident childhood! Still, her present lot was a most unhappy one.

"No breakfast! How angry my poor sainted mother would be!" She shed two tears. "No mother, no coffee, nothing but a cruel grandmother."

She revelled gloomily in the tragic picture till she heard Emmie coming up-stairs. She hid the "remainder biscuit" and hurriedly dried her eyes. There had long been a theory in the family—even her mother had shared it—that Val never cried, and hadn't any heart to speak of. She was intensely proud of this reputation for stoicism, and wouldn't for worlds have undeceived any one. She brushed past Emmie now with lofty looks and ran down-stairs and out-of-doors. She ranged about the grounds, finding that her father was right—there were great possibilities of enjoyment in these neglected haunts. She was not long in discovering the grape-vine climbing the pear-tree in the wilderness, and satisfying herself that "peaches[Pg 110] were ripe." The osage orange-trees that grew along the fence behind the drying-ground had dropped their rugged globes on the grass, and one could play ball with these oranges till their tough fibres grew soft and yielded grudgingly, like rubber. Presently one that she had sent flying over the trees into the adjoining grounds came mysteriously back. Val parted the fringe of lower undergrowth and peered between the fence rails, but could see no one. She shied another orange, and this time she saw a boy dart out from behind a tree and send the orange swiftly through the sunshine over her head. Val leaped up, and by a fluke caught it firmly in her hands.

"Hooray!" came involuntarily from the next-door neighbor; and they went on playing ball in ambush till curiosity prevailed over shyness.

When the next-door neighbor drew near the osage barrier, he revealed himself as a boy about Val's age, with a freckled face and a queer little knob of a nose.

"Wot's your name?" he inquired.

"Val Gano. What's yours?"

"Jerry—I mean, Jerningham Otway."

"That your house?"

She climbed upon the fence and distinguished glimpses through the bushes of an imposing place beyond.

"Yes," he answered; "and we got a bank over the river."

This eliciting nothing, he went on, genially:

"You can fire a ball 'bout as well as a boy!"

"I should hope so."

"My sister can't, and she's a year older 'n me. Most girls can't, and they're all awful mad they wasn't born boys."

"That so?"

"Yes. I know a girl over the river—awfully jolly girl—she's got a monkey—nicest girl I ever knew!—and Geerusalem! don't she want to be a boy!"

"She must be a ninny," observed his next-door neighbor.


[Pg 111]

"Can't think why any girl in her senses should want to be a boy!" as who should say: the least of created things.

Jerry widened saucer eyes.

"If a girl likes," his neighbor continued, "she can do all the jolly things a boy does without the bother of being a boy."

"Ho! ho! Don't find it much bother."

"Well, but it's a little dull, ain't it?"


"Not now exactly, but don't you ever think about the future?"

Jerry looked vaguely alarmed for a single instant, and then strutted off with his hands in his pockets, whistling defiantly all across the lawn. He stopped at the barn door, and whistled his way back, in time to catch a friendly ball.

The feminine wile that eventually won the young gentleman's heart, and "did for" the girl with the pet monkey, was Val's gift for turning the most surprisingly rapid somersaults all across the drying-ground. A small contorting ball, she rolled head over heels, without stopping, from one side to the other, and came up smiling, in spite of a crack on her crown against the pump.

"Gee-rusalem!" observed Jerry, when he saw she was laughing. "I say," he added, with a child's fine disregard for preface or preliminary—"I say, come over to Bentley's Pond and let's be pirates."

It seems highly probable that Val would have closed with the offer if Emmie had not made a timely appearance.

"What you doin'?" she asked, Jerry being invisible.

"None o' your business," said her polite sister.

"Oh-h," purred Emmie. "Gamma don't let us—"

She paused.

"Don't let us what?"

"What you're doin'."

"What am I doin'?"

It was difficult to say. She seemed to be just sauntering about, occasionally kicking an osage orange. But Emmie,[Pg 112] not without reason, had got it into her law-abiding head that whatever this sister of hers might be engaged in it was pretty sure to be something taboo, and Emmie, as an older inhabitant here, and one who never made these mistakes, was bound to keep the new-comer from transgression. Her sister had gone back to the house now. Emmie followed her up-stairs to their room. Val found her trunk gone from the upper hall, and its contents disposed in drawers and wardrobe with Emmie's belongings.

Who had done this thing?

"Venie," said Emmie.

The new-comer anathematized the officious servants of the Fort. Emmie stood looking on with growing consternation, as Val flung forth from the wardrobe to the middle of the room a shower of pinafores and petticoats, books and toys. They lay on the floor in an indiscriminate mass. What was this daring person about? Emmie stood shyly by the door, her face flushing with excitement.

"I won't have my things mixed up with other peoples'!" Val announced, severely. Then, after a moment: "What are you standing there for?"

"I—I don't know," responded Emmie.

"Haven't you got any place of your own, where you belong?"

Emmie looked bewildered, as well she might.

"I've got a little rocking-chair down in gamma's room—used to be cousin Efan's."

"Humph! rocking-chair's just the thing for you! Why don't you go and sit in it?"

Val was clearing out the bureau now at the other end of the room. It was Emmie's things this time that were being flung out with disdain. Val's harsh question, coupled with the moving spectacle of Emmie's best hat on the floor, brought ready tears to the soft brown eyes.

"What you got in this?" demanded Val, shaking the rattling contents of a well tied-up box.

"B'longs to cousin Efan. Gamma don't let us open it."

Val untied the cord and revealed the forbidden spoil[Pg 113]—marbles, a jack-knife, a broken whistle, and at the bottom a little drawing-book and a French grammar.

"I'll take care of the marbles and the knife for cousin Ethan," said Val, "but you can have the other things," and she flung the treasured box to the opposite side of the room. The vandalism widened Emmie's trouble-clouded eyes. "Now my clothes are going in the bureau."

Val was sorting and folding away her own belongings with a deftness characteristic of her thin little hands. Emmie watched the process tearfully.

"And my books and things like that go on this side," she went on, busily bringing order out of chaos. "Now, do you understand?" she said, sternly. "This half o' the room is mine. You can't ever come here."

The little girl at the door nodded, speechless.

"Perhaps I'll help you afterwards to put your things away in the cupboard. First go down into the hall and bring me a piece of chalk out of the lift-up chair where they keep the brushes."

"Chalk!" What was she going to do?

"Yes, chalk, goosie gander! Chalk! chalk!"

Emmie fled. She had serious thoughts of never returning, but curiosity and the memory of her best hat sitting on the floor got the better of her fears.

"That's right," said Val, on Emmie's reappearance. "Don't come over here!" she shouted. "Stop, I tell you!" She stamped violently as the child advanced, bewildered, holding out a piece of yellow crayon. "Didn't I just say this part of the room is mine?"


"Well, it is, just as much as if it had doors, which it ought to have, and locks and bolts. Don't ever come here till you get my permission. Understand?"

"I—I—" Emmie dropped the crayon, and retreated slowly. "I was only going to say we oughtn't to use that chalk. It belongs to Aunt Valeria's painting things."

"Look here!" Val waived such puny scruples aside. "See this seam in the carpet?"

[Pg 114]

"Yes," answered a small, scared voice.

"Well, I'll make it plainer, so's there's no mistake." She stooped and drew a yellow line down the seam from wall to wall. "Now," she said, getting up and striking a threatening attitude, "you're younger than me, but I give you all that side for your room. This side is mine. If you ever cross that line without my leave, I'll kill you—yes, I'll kill you dead with cousin Ethan's knife!"

She turned her head and beheld her grandmother standing in the doorway.

[Pg 115]


This was the beginning of the Four Years' War.

But although Val was worsted in this encounter, the race was sometimes to the swift and the battle to the ingenious. For instance, that very night in bed she discovered a way of reducing Emmie to submission without resorting to physical violence. Val began to tell out loud a terrible and harrowing tale, which nearly threw the younger child into fits. Emmie would do anything for her dear, dear sister if only darling Val would say the black figure wasn't a ghost. Darling Val complied, after a thorough understanding that whenever Emmie was too unbearable that black figure, which was a ghost only on certain nights—that black figure should be introduced into their nocturnal amenities. Val was not always as good as her word. She did once or twice in the comfortable daytime make the sinister threat, "If you do that again I'll tell you a scary story when we're in bed to-night"; but in the morning the night is almost as far away as being grown up or dying—at all events too far off to seem very real or important. Experience proved that Val would forget the menace by the time it was dark, or else would be too sleepy to live up to it—so sleepy, in fact, that she could do nothing but kick Emmie in a desultory way, or lie like a log in the middle of the bed, leaving the younger child to find her half on the outer edge of both sides; whereupon Emmie's long-suffering patience would suddenly break down, and she would go crying to her grandmother's door, and stand there wailing till she was taken in. After some weeks' trial the plan of making the two sisters share the same[Pg 116] room was abandoned, and Emmie had a cot at the foot of her grandmother's four-poster.

Val was made to realize that now she had crossed the Rubicon. Up to that hour she had been on probation, but this change once effected, she was "beyond the pale." Not that she was harassed, nagged, scolded; that she would have understood and known how to meet; she was ignored, not spoken to, not even seen. For days she might have been thin air, so little did her grandmother seem able to realize her corporal presence. There had been no doubt in Val's mind from the first but what Emmie was the favourite here. The very servants, she saw, were under the spell of Emmie's pretty ways, and in any time of trouble took it for granted that the imperious Val had been the aggressor. Natural and inevitable as was this attitude of the entire household (for Mr. Gano was spared all details, and did not count), it was not calculated to make the sisters better friends, or win Val to a more amenable mind.

Nobody, from Val's point of view, could care much about what Jerusha and Venie thought, but her grandmother's good opinion was somehow, even at this stage, a secretly coveted honor. Yet there was no blinking the fact Emmie was her pet. This form of putting the hard underlying fact was the more satisfactory in that one could as soon imagine Mrs. Gano dancing the Highland fling as having a pet. Gran'ma! who wouldn't let a dog or even a bird into the house, and whom no one could fancy nursing or caressing anything on earth! There was a suggestion of the ludicrous, a faint ironic aroma, in the phrase, which aroused angry passions. It fitted in, too, with all manner of exigencies. In any event it was apposite to remark, "Of course Emmie's the pet." This could be said with such effect of scorn that Emmie found no refuge save in tears.

"What's the matter?" inquired Mrs. Gano.

She had happened on the twain as they were loitering in the hall before going off to church.

Emmie wept on. Val set her little red mouth doggedly. Her grandmother glared.

[Pg 117]

"Now what have you been doing to this poor child?" she demanded.

Gran'ma's eyes were very strange when she was angry, as Val had frequently confided to the cobwebs in the wood-shed—unlike anybody's on earth—piercing, glittery; made you cold down your back. Servants shook and scuttled when she looked at them like that. Val herself was always reminded of

"Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,"

and braced herself by saying, internally: "I ain't 'fraid o' tigers and I ain't 'fraid o' gran'ma"—this, too, with a fine sense of climax.

"What is it, Emmie? Stop crying. I can't have this noise."

"V—Val says I'm your p—pet."

"Nonsense! I have no pets. You are not to worry Emmeline. Never say that again. Understand?"

Val was silent.

Gran'ma's eyes were awful.

"Are you going to promise, or do you prefer to spend the day alone?"

That had been tried, and proved a great waste of time and opportunity.

"Yes, I promise."

"Very well; now go to church; Venie is waiting."

"Aha!" said the victorious Emmie when they were out of earshot. "Now you see what you get for teasing me."

And she crowed over her comrade with restored vivacity, till Val said, with suspicious geniality:

"Oh, well, I s'pose I was mistaken. I knew you were either her pet or else—"


Emmie fixed her beautiful soft eyes expectantly on her sister.

Val turned on her with suppressed fury:

"Or else a creepin', crawlin' little woo—er—er—m."

[Pg 118]

Floods of tears, and Venus to the rescue.

The Four Years' War did not always rage round Emmie, although it was the innocent little sister who was the means of forcing upon Val the conviction that her grandmother was not, and never could be, her friend. It is true she cherished a dream at first of earning her gratitude and admiration by some splendid heroic deed that should cover her grandmother with shame at the memory of the way she had misunderstood and undervalued her descendant. The house would be on fire some day, and Val would "save all their lives"; or a robber would get in in the night, and by a series of thrilling adventures Val would entrap and lock him up in the closet under the stairs, where that silly old Jerusha said there was a ghost; or the ancient nag that sometimes came from the livery-stable to take her father and grandmother out for an airing—this steed would unexpectedly run away some fine day. Val saw herself dashing out of the bushes at the road-side, seizing the bit, and hanging on to it till she brought the frantic animal to a stand-still. Then her grandmother would say: "Dear, brave child, we owe you our lives," etc. "How I've misunderstood you!" etc. Val would be magnanimous, and forgive everything. She had a fixed intention of saying in reply: "Gran'ma, let the dead past bury its dead." Her grandmother would feel that. But until that day came, how was she to endure all this injustice and oppression? Emmie was her grandmother's—well, she took Emmie's word about everything, and Emmie counted on that. She didn't play fair, and she was an awful cry-baby; couldn't climb trees, or even run hard without falling down and hurting herself and saying it was Val's fault. Then for the rest of the day her grandmother would treat Val like an outcast, and dock her of Jerry's society. How sickening it was to be told Emmie was the littlest, and delicate! Val herself had at one time been "only six," but she hadn't been a sniveller; she had always played fair and never cried. Ask anybody. They'd all say Val Gano never cried. Whereupon she would steal away to the wood-shed, or climb[Pg 119] up high in the catalpa-tree, remind herself she had no mother, shed a private tear or two, and tell herself a story.

After all, the only serious blemishes in the scheme of creation were grandmothers and Sundays. Now that Val had renounced religion, she could not but look on the day of rest as an interruption and a time of bondage, when grandmothers and grandmothers' views pervaded creation to creation's cost.

On the third Sunday after the arrival at New Plymouth she announced that she was not going to church.

"I don't want to, either," whispered Emmie. "Let's pertend we're very ill."

"No; let's just say we won't go."

"Better not," admonished the cautious Emmie. "I think my throat is going to be sore."

So Emmie was duly cosseted by Aunt Jerusha, and given delicious black-currant jelly.

Mrs. Gano, hearing rumors of rebellion, had sent for Val. She was dressed and sitting in the big arm-chair before the fire with a book on her knees. It was quite warm, but she couldn't apparently do without a fire and a shawl. She was seldom seen about the house in these days without a shawl. She must have had hundreds—white and black and gray, striped and dotted; silk, cashmere, canton-crêpe. Her gowns all seemed to be made of rusty black silk. They were so exactly alike that Val thought for long she had but one. There was always, too, the inevitable and spotless lawn at the throat; no frivolous ruffle or after-thought of tie—nothing set on, extraneous, but smooth white folds that seemed to grow up out of the dress—an integral part of the plain and changeless uniform that was the outward and visible sign of one's grandmother's severe, uncompromising spirit.

"What's this I hear? Why are you not dressing for church?"

"I—I don't feel like going to-day."

"Are you not well?"

[Pg 120]

"Ho yes"—very contemptuous. "I never get ill."

"Then you must go to church. It's the custom in this house."

"Venie says you go only twice a year. I'll go when you do."

The old lady's eyes blazed behind her gold spectacles.

"You'll go when you are told." Awful pause. "When you are my age you may suit yourself."

"Father hasn't had to wait all that time; he doesn't go now."

"Your father is very ill."

"Didn't go when he was well; that is, hardly ever," added the explicit young person.

"He went regularly as a boy, before he had a house of his own. But I'm not accustomed to arguing with children. Go and get dressed."

Val wavered a moment, then faced about gravely. She planted herself before the old lady, with the wide-apart legs and tense look of one who braces herself to bear the crack of doom.

"I'm sorry to hurt your feelings," she said; "but I'm a infidel."


"Yes; father and I are both infidels."

"Hush! you don't know what you're saying."

"Oh yes, I do. He says, 'Damn it!' when you're not there."

"How dare you!"

"I don't, but father does, so you see—"

"I see that you talk wildly and ignorantly, as well as too much. Go and dress for church."

She had half risen, her eyebrows had risen wholly. She looked singularly alarming. Val retreated backwards to the door, and Mrs. Gano resumed her seat.

"I ain't so igorunt as you think," the child persisted. "The reason I stopped going to church was because my conscience wouldn't let me join in."

Mrs. Gano turned and looked at the child over the back[Pg 121] of her arm-chair. There was a gleam of amused tolerance in the steely eyes. Val was quick to detect it.

"You see, it's not worth while to waste the whole morning nearly when the only thing you can join in is a piece they don't do every Sunday."

"Which is that?" asked Mrs. Gano, in an odd voice.

She had turned away again, and Val couldn't see her face now.

"That long piece about the weather."

"The weather?"

"Yes—lightnings, and whales, and things. Don't you know that one? It's like this." She put her hands behind her, and shrilly intoned: "'O ye green things, angels and fowls of the air, praise Him and magnify Him for-r-rever. O ye—'"

"That will do," interrupted Mrs. Gano, in a stifled voice.

Val felt snubbed; there was a lot more that, with encouragement, she would have endeavored to do justice to. She felt for the door-handle, but paused again on the threshold.

"Mayn't I go and sit with father?"

"Certainly not; you are to go to church."

"Gran'ma." There was a renewal of courage in the clear little voice. With a bound she planted herself in front of the old lady's chair. "I oughtn't to go. It's pertending; it's wicked. For I can't say the 'I b'lieve' any more."

Mrs. Gano rose in her wrath and towered. Val stood to her guns, looking up with determined, excited face.

"I used to join in when I was younger: I used to bow, just like mother. Father never bowed. I don't any more, neither."

Mrs. Gano seized her by the shoulder and propelled her to the door. Wild thoughts of dungeons and burned martyrs flew through the child's mind. Still clutching the infidel, Mrs. Gano opened the door. In an awful voice she called:

"Jerusha! Venus!"

[Pg 122]

Venus appeared with perturbed countenance, out of which all genial companionableness had fled. Yes, that was the kind of face an executioner might wear.

"Take Miss Val up-stairs and get her ready for church."

Venus took hold of the child none too gently, and pulled her, wriggling vainly, up the long staircase. It was no use to cling feverishly to the banisters; it only hurt her hands. Half-way up Venus stopped for breath. Val looked back to see if her grandmother was still there. Yes; leaning exhausted against the frame of the door, with her handkerchief to her lips. Now Venus was dragging her on again. In a fresh access of rage the child put her chin over the banisters and screamed:

"All the time they're doing the 'I b'lieve,' I shall go like this." She shook her head with such passionate dissent that her shock of wild hair swirled madly back and forth in a cloudy circle, completely hiding the mutinous, flushed face of the infidel.

Very soon after the formal removal of Emmie and her effects to her grandmother's bedroom, Val gave up the last lingering shred of hope that she might ever, while these misunderstood days of childhood lasted, propitiate the powers that be. She was always feeding her imagination in secret with stories of the ultimate love and adoration, not only of the suitors and heroes who should line her path later on, but of her family, too. They and the entire community should adore her one day for something wonderful and noble that she was going to be and to do in that fair future when she should be grown up and great and good.

Meanwhile there were moments when this sense of present outlawry brought with it a fierce and splendid joy. It endowed even a down-trodden child with a superhuman courage. Such a one might even go and plump herself down in the great red chair of state, and rock violently back and forth in a wild abandonment of wickedness, while Emmie stood transfixed and gran'ma's awful eyes made lightning. An outlaw so brave, she could narrate unmoved that she had taken a ride in the milkman's cart.[Pg 123] And he had been "so perlite as to ask me how was Grandmother Gano." This horrible insult on the part of the milkman was duly punished, but Val had a momentary sense of having "got even." In the South—in any civilized community, Mrs. Gano would have told you—you did not call people "old"; it had foolishly enough come to be a term of reproach, or at least of scant respect, fit only for "any old thing" of no account. Therefore, let alone the "owdacious" familiarity of asking after a lady as "Grandmother" So-and-so, you couldn't even with decency distinguish the elder lady from her daughter-in-law by asking after old Mrs. So-and-so. In the South, where manners were still understood, you said "senior" and "junior," or, among the better class, you called the son's wife "Mrs." So-and-so, and you called the head of the family "Madam."

"Grandmother Gano, indeed! I'll grandmother him!"

It was a great score, too, when Julia Otway, Jerry's nearly two years older sister, assured Val that that common term of reproach "Grannie," was a corruption of the ancient and honorable title Gran'ma. Inseparably associating the word with the drunken rag-picker, "Ole Granny Gill," and the scathing juvenile satire, "Teach your granny to suck eggs," etc., Val determined on the next provocation to introduce the subject at home. She found occasion to dilate on the virtues of Julia Otway's grandmother. This was a shrunken and timid old lady, who sat unnoticed in the corner, clicking her knitting-needles, and usually saying nothing. When she did speak it was found her speech was odd, and the children laughed.

"Nearly everybody else's gran'ma knits stockens," Val observed one day, with critical eyes on the eternal book open on Mrs. Gano's knees.

"You know very few grandmothers," said the lady.

"I know Julia's. She's so nice. I don't wonder Julia and Jerry like her."

This elicited nothing.

"She's the kindest person. She keeps a little chest o' drawers chock-full o' doughnuts and winter-green candy."

[Pg 124]

"Very strange use for a chest of drawers. Is the lady right in her head?"

Val, very indignant: "Goodness gracious! mercy me! I should think so!"

"I've told you not to use those exclamations."

"No, you didn't say—"

"Do I understand you to be contradicting me?"

"You said I wasn't to say 'Oh, Lord!' nor 'Gee-rusa-lem!' nor 'Dear me suz!' nor 'Holy Moses!' I don't see what there's left to say."

"I said let your speech be 'Yea, yea,' and 'Nay, nay.' You are not to bring sacred names into common talk. The Jews of old had a proper instinct for these things. They never uttered the name of Jehovah even in prayer. No Jew would step upon a piece of parchment, for fear it might be inscribed with the name of God. It is impious to call upon the mercy of the Most High on trivial occasions."

"I don't call on Him—never."

"Yes, you do, when you use those expressions. God is 'gracious'; He alone is 'goodness.'"

Silence; then Val, recovering and returning to the attack:

"Jerry's grandmother—"

"Jerningham Otway's grandmother knows as well as I do that this is a turbulent and stiff-necked generation, without fear of God or reverence for authority. Her remedy seems to be effacement for herself and bribes for her young barbarians. But"—she had risen, and was towering—"I'd have you know, my lady, I'm not a doughnut grandmother."

Val thought it time to depart. She moved briskly to the door, sending over her shoulder a Parthian shot:

"Julia calls her gran'ma "Granny," and so do lots o' people. It seems it's the reg'lar name."

Thereupon she took to her heels, for even outlaws know limits.

At a safe distance she would speculate darkly: "I [Pg 125]wonder if she knows I hate her. Oh yes; it would be a waste of breath to mention it. She knows, and she doesn't care—she's that hardened."

It was clear at such times that this Ishmaelite's hand must be against every man, and every man's hand against her. All consideration of decent restraint had been flung to the winds. She had turned her back on the hallowed customs of society, and joined the iconoclasts of earth. She would even at times plant her elbows on the dinner-table before everybody, with a wild, despairing sense that nothing mattered forever any more. Nobody loved her. Even her father didn't want her about him since his relapse. He said she came in like a whirlwind on the rare occasions when she was admitted to his room. She should never forget that day when he said: "Why can't you be quiet and good like Emmie?" Like Emmie! Val fled to the wilderness, and in the neighborhood of the barberry-bush flung out her arms and apostrophized the heavens. She talked a great deal to herself in those days—arraigned society, and used long words with vague meaning, but studied accent and overwhelming effect. However, in spite of the difficulty of life, Val found it an exhaustless mine of interest. Being naughty alone was full of palpitating excitement. Besides, she was much better than her family realized; that of itself was curious, and at times sufficient. At any rate, she was not, as she frequently observed to the scarlet barberries—she was not a sniveller. Fortunately, it did not occur to her that the circumstance might be less creditable to her than she fondly imagined.

Her quarrel with domestic conditions lent a fine tragic interest, in her own mind, to a life that was deep-rooted in joy. It was impossible not to be happy, such a splendid world as it was—a world with skipping-ropes and a stolen jack-knife in it; a world where an awful jolly boy lived on the other side the osage-trees, and liked you better than that favorite of fortune who had a pet monkey; a world with wild tracts below its terraces where grandmothers ceased from troubling, and hard-pressed heroines could[Pg 126] hide and talk out loud. A new house building in the next lot, with ceilings open to the sky, and instead of common floors, great beams where a child who "never was 'fraid" could walk up and down with its heart in its mouth; blocks to be picked up, and a kind workman to talk to when it was cold and gran'ma wasn't patrolling the north side of the Fort. Even for rainy afternoons there were the beloved Scottish Chiefs; there were jack-stones, and a family next door who owned a barn. Oh, a splendid world, where you got twelve winter-green drops for a cent, and could play on your father's fiddle in the back hall! Hooray! it was a good plan this being born.

[Pg 127]


One peculiarity of life at the Fort was that although visitors in general were in high disfavor, everybody, from Mrs. Gano down to Jerusha—especially Jerusha—was always hoping for a visit from cousin Ethan. And he never came. The last vacation before Val's arrival Emmie said he had had to go with the Tallmadges to Bar Harbor. This June he couldn't come, because his aunt Hannah had died, and his grandfather was alone; but he thought he might come "later on." Now that the maples were scarlet and gold, he wrote regretfully, saying that, after all, he had to go back to Harvard without any holiday. He sent his love to his cousins, and the annual photograph—which she had commanded to be taken each year—to his grandmother. She had a row of them on the mantel-piece in her room. When the new one came like a falling leaf each autumn, she spent anxious days deciding which of the old ones should go in a drawer to make room for the latest. There were three that never yielded to any new-comer, however beguiling. Ethan's cousins, it must be admitted, who were ardent admirers of the more recent pictures, thought little enough of Mrs. Gano's favorite three.

The first was of a child about three years old in his night-gown—a dreamy little face framed in a halo of curling hair. Yes; it was more like an angel than a flesh-and-blood boy, but it was yellowed and faded, and not taken at an interesting age, so his two cousins thought.

The next was a very solemn little chap with a tiny pail in his hand, dressed in a kilt, and wearing a wide white collar, seeming to labor hopelessly with a wooden spade in a world of unmitigated woe.

[Pg 128]

The third had been taken in Paris with his school friend Henri de Poincy, and he had on "funny French clothes," but he held his slender figure very easily erect, and without seeming to remember he was having his photograph taken. He had written from Neuilly to his grandmother:

"I always think of my summer at the Fort when I go to have your picture done."

If that were the case, this time the remembrance must have been a gracious one, for his dark little face was lit, expectant, beautiful.

"Why did he go to France?" Val had asked.

"Oh, some nonsense about accent, as if the only accent to be considered was the French." Mrs. Gano threw back her head. "And then a cousin of the Tallmadges married a Frenchman, a man called De Poincy. The mother died, and left a boy—"

"That awful little ape in the pho— I mean Henri?"

"Yes; Henri, a very nice boy."

Mrs. Gano would not have prolonged the conversation, but Emmie said:

"I'm sure he's nice. Cousin Ethan's letters always say beautiful things about Henri. Do go on."

"I've told you scores of times."

As if that were not the flimsiest reason for not repeating a stock tale, half of whose charm is its familiarity.

"Didn't cousin Ethan find Henri at the Tallmadges' when he got back?"

"Yes, after that summer he spent here." The old eyes were mild. "And although Henri was a couple of years older, the two boys set up a sort of David and Jonathan league. And when Henri's father sent for him to come back to France—they said—humph!"

The mildness vanished in a sudden blaze.

"What did they say?"

Again Mrs. Gano threw back her head.

"Ethan had been coming here. We had his room all ready for him, and Valeria had bought pink wax-candles for his dressing-table—a most unnecessary extravagance[Pg 129] for a boy, as I told her. And as for Jerusha, she wasted half her mornings brightening up Ethan's knocker on the front door, and the rest of the time she was making cinnamon rolls. And, after all—humph!" she said, with something rather near to a snort.

"Then those Tallmadges wrote, didn't they?" said Emmie, gently applying the spur.

"Ho, yes, the Tallmadges wrote. The children were heart-broken at the idea of separating, and so they had to let Ethan go to Neuilly with the De Poincy boy."

"To improve his accent!" added Emmie, with borrowed scorn.

"Oh yes; I admitted in my reply that Ethan's accent was no doubt again in need of improvement, but it had not been necessary to send him so far afield as France."

"How long did he stay?" asked Val.

"Three years. He came back the summer you were born. He was nearly ten."

"Well, it's a good thing he came back. He does look a gump in those French clo's—I mean"—Val caught herself up hurriedly, seeing how unpopular the observation was—"I mean, I like him best in proper American things. This last picture's scrumptious!"

After this, it was not only gran'ma and An' Jerusha who held the Fort in readiness for Ethan's coming, eager to capitulate at the first blow on the door; but two little girls as well, in their different ways, set their faces towards the day when E. Gano's big brass knocker should be lifted by E. Gano's own hand.

School had been postponed, partly because Mrs. Gano was too anxious about her son's health, and too absorbed in the task of convincing him indirectly that life was worth living, to take the necessary steps for entering her granddaughter in the Primary Department of the Plymouth Seminary for Young Ladies. But, besides this preoccupation, it was recognized that the fall term was already far advanced, and it might be as well—it was certainly more economical—to wait till after Christmas. However, the[Pg 130] growing discomfort and complication of having so objectionable a child about hastened the beginning of Val's school days.

With great misgiving, and full of suspicion, Val took her place at a little hacked and initialed desk in the down-stairs school one fine day towards the middle of November.

But we are forever being disappointed of our direst fears, as well as of our dearest hopes. She found that she soon got the "hang" of the lessons; that her next-door neighbor, Julia Otway, was the nicest girl in school, and very soon her "best friend"; that Val herself could run faster than anybody in the games at recess; and that she had fallen blissfully under the spell of pretty Miss Matson, the primary teacher, who, strange to say, seemed to like Val.

The bustling life at the Plymouth Seminary for Young Ladies, full, varied, delightful, would perhaps be considered by the professional biographer of vital importance in moulding a young person's character; for was this not the time and the place of her education? One is inclined, in Val's case, at any rate, to say no. She learned by rote, at that excellent institution, certain more or less useful things, and, more important still, she made two or three dear friends, who taught her much of value about the human heart; but for the most part she was educated at home. There, and not at school, she, in common with many young people, found the influences that made her what she ultimately became.

Her father, if he understood the matter so, naturally did not so express himself. Perhaps he thought this child of his had too little of the Gano love of books, and was over-fond of running breathless races, and playing ball with the neighbor's boy.

"You came here to go to school, you know. You've played all your life up to this. Now you must begin to work. This is a very important time in your life."

"Is it?"

Val sat up very straight, with shining eyes and an air of pleased responsibility.

[Pg 131]

"Oh, very important, indeed. For now you have still time to decide what kind of a woman you're going to make of Val Gano."

"Oh, have I?"

He nodded.

"You can make up your mind you won't be a dull, ignorant person, all your life bound in shallows and in miseries."

"No, indeed," she said, with vigor.

"It's in your power now to take the necessary steps towards some better fate. By-and-by it will be too late: you'll be like the crooked catalpa in the terrace, grown awry and too old to straighten out."

"No, I shall be like the tulipifera rhododendron."

He laughed.

"You are ambitious, my dear"; and then he sighed. "Few come up to tulipifera. Now, I am far enough from being a rich man, and I can't give my daughters a fortune; but I can give them something far more valuable."


"Yes, I've begun giving it. I mean an education."


This was a blow.

"See that you make the most of it. It will put a key in your hands that can unlock a hundred doors to happiness. I am doing with you—only a little more helpfully perhaps—what the Swedish peasant did with his eldest son."

"What did he do?"

"He took the boy up to the top of the highest hill in the country, and said, 'You are young, my son, but I am about to give you your inheritance. Look abroad'—and he stretched out his arms—'behold, I give you the world! Go forth and take what portion you will.'"

Val drew a quick breath.

"Ha! I know what I want."

"What do you think you want, little girl?"

"I want to be loved—oh, but tremendously! And I want to do some one thing awfully, awfully well."

[Pg 132]

It was the most old-fashioned, unchildlike speech of which Val had ever delivered herself.

"Well, my dear," her father spoke, dreamily, "to be greatly loved, and to do well some one piece of work, isn't a bad destiny. Older heads than yours would be at a loss to better it."

Even to her father, even in that moment of great outgoing, she had not liked to particularize what it was she wanted to do so "awfully, awfully well." But there was no doubt in her own mind that she was going to be a dancer. She practised every rainy day, and sometimes when it didn't rain, down in the dark parlor, where it smelt so solemn and musty. There was a huge oil-painting on the north wall, of Daniel Boone and his dogs and other friends "Discovering Kentucky." Although their eyes were turned ever towards "the dark and bloody ground," they were Val's audience. To the burly hunter and his raccoon-capped and shaggy companions she bowed and pirouetted, waved her arms and tossed her heels. She did not dare touch the old rosewood piano after one or two rapturous attacks upon the yellow keys had brought swift retribution out of her grandmother's chamber; but dancing was not only a glorious and heady excitement, but, unlike most of this young person's pastimes, it was noiseless; it could be carried on by the hour without rousing any one's suspicions, unless perchance a vague uneasiness as to "what keeps that child so quiet." When discovered, she was usually found to be breathlessly examining the gilt-edged annuals and gift-books on the centre table, or else staring into the "stereopticon," though what view was visible in that dim light remained a marvel.

Perhaps the most memorable crisis of her childhood had found her in the twilight of that musty parlor. It was a pale-gray, teeming spring morning, after a night of rain—Saturday, and yet she had been forbidden to go and see her friends next door.

"When I was a little girl I didn't live at the neighbors'."

[Pg 133]

Val had been learning lessons, perched in the high window-seat of her own room, looking out now and then with a glad sense of coming summer to the early red of maple blossoms, and off to the blue Mioto Hills, that rose on the other side the river, shutting in her world. Presently, down below the rain-soaked terraces, in Mioto Avenue, a street-organ began to play.

She dropped her book and leaned farther out. A watery gleam of sunshine fell on the warm, dripping world. The smell of earth came up fresh, and full of a mysterious promise. The "grind-organ," as the children called it, sang and clanged. Val beat the swift time with her fist on the stone sill, and her dangling feet moved staccato to the tune. She half closed her eyes. Ah! now she could see better. She was gliding through a brilliant scene at a ball. She was just sixteen, and dressed in blue and silver, and there was a throng about her—all lovers! There were no women, save those that looked enviously on from a far background of flower-festooned wall. The faces near the blue-and-silver maiden were chiefly strange, but all noble and beautiful. All these the generous future would provide, but one or two she recognized as having followed her out of the present. There was cousin Ethan as he looked in the last picture, Jerry—and, well in the foreground, Jerry's handsome elder brother, and certain other less-known young townsmen not to be spared from the gay group of gallants; but they were destined, every man Jack of them, to break their faithful hearts. She smiled and waved her geography—her fan, of course—and each young gentleman took courage. But wait! In a minute she would be carried off by the tall, dark, fierce-eyed hero, who lived somewhere—somewhere—not in ballrooms, except as the eagle may swoop into the valley—not in cities, but in some mountain fastness in the kingdom at the end of the world.

Many a time she had wondered how they were to meet, how he was ever to know that she lived with a cruel grandmother in New Plymouth. Ha! now it was plain. The[Pg 134] organ had ground out the truth. She would run away by-and-by. He would see her somewhere dancing, and he would say "Eureka!" "Ah!" she would say, "but I'm half engaged to my next-door neighbor, or to the Duke of Daffy-down-dilly." "What does that matter to me?" Whiff! he would carry her off, and say she should love him, whether she liked it or not. Oh, it was wonderful!—it was palpitating to lie in the dark, or in the pale spring sunshine, with shut eyes, and think about this king of men, who would not be denied. Val couldn't remember a time when she had not told herself stories with this fruitful theme for inspiration. The proud, dark figure had come dimly out of the fairy world, and had grown more human and distinct day by day. He began by being a prince, and for some years he wore a gold-embroidered velvet robe. By degrees he adopted a less and less striking attire, which, however, had never yet degenerated into mere modern evening dress. The noble gentleman could not be expected to put off his romantic melancholy along with his royal robes, for a large part of the excitement of this game of the imagination lay in the lady's proud rejection of his suit, and flight from the fortress where he thought to hide her—his hot pursuit—his being baffled, disappointed, and reduced to wild despair before his ultimate victory. And this final triumph (oh, strong survival of the savage in the female breast!) was invariably a triumph of arms. Not even to a hero who was handsome, and tall, and strong as a giant; not even to a hero half bandit, half blameless knight, that every other girl in the world pined for, that every man envied and must needs honor—not even to such a one will the untutored dreamer yield herself a willing bride. A willing bride! The very phrase offends some ancient canon fixed against self-abandonment in the very blood and bone of womankind.

Can it be that in the ages unrecorded, before men going hence left behind them laws on stone, or testament on papyrus, the women of that far-off time had inscribed a legend on the hearts of all their sex, graved it so deep and[Pg 135] plain that a little girl of the nineteenth century (casting about for stories to send herself to sleep) may read it in the dark after all those æons have gone by? Can it be that, reading and understanding this language, which being dead yet speaketh, knowing the ancient mother-tongue better even than her father's own, she takes the legend for a text, obeys it as a natural law, and thrills to it as did her old ancestress of the cave and tent, smiling covertly, and deliciously afraid?

The fresh wind blew the child's wild hair across her face; the sun shone down more golden; the organ jangled through its tunes. Now, with a jerk of restlessness, it abandoned "Il Trovatore" and struck into a waltz. Ha! the window-seat was too cramped. She slid down and began to dance. Gran'ma's voice. The little girl stopped suddenly, opened the door, and went sedately down-stairs, with her lesson books conspicuously in evidence. At the bottom she stopped and listened. Cautiously she opened the parlor door and closed it behind her. She flung her books down and coursed wildly round the centre table, as one sees a dog just let out of the kennel celebrate his liberty. Suddenly she stopped and bowed solemnly to Daniel Boone, saying under her breath:

"Now I'm the greatest dancer on the earth. Now they're all applauding. Now I make three courtesies. They clap and clap till I begin again. This is the most wonderful dance of all."

She started afresh, curving her arms above her head, fantasticating steps, some graceful, some grotesque, whirling faster and faster to the rhythm that was beating in her brain. Suddenly a dark face looked out of the throng in that theatre of her imagination, and she knew it was the face of her fate. There was the Duke of Daffy-down-dilly, too, leaning out of a box and applauding as hard as he could. The dark man sat quite still, but his eyes gleamed.

After the last great dance, which was called "The Filigree Finale" (all the dances had beautiful names), the Duke threw her a bouquet of roses, and held out his arms.

[Pg 136]

"I spurn the flowers." She kicked out a scornful foot. "I turn my back. Oh, it's deafening the way they're applauding!"

Suddenly, in the heartless process of dancing away from plaudits and a duke, she stopped short as if she had been shot. The color fled out of her face, and her thin hands dropped limp at her side. There was a kind of terror in her eyes as presently she moved forward, dragging her wings, so to speak, to the opposite end of the room, where, over a marble-top table, an old-fashioned mirror reflected Daniel Boone. The child peered into the glass, but it was dark, and the marble-top table held her at arm's-length. She could only see dimly the top of her head. She dropped down in a miserable little heap between the claw feet of the table. Perhaps she alone of all the heroines of earth was not, never could be, beautiful! It had never occurred to her before. A thousand recollections seemed to rush at her at once to fasten the fear in her heart, to make it hideous certainty. If she had been going to be beautiful, would not some one have mentioned it? Emmie had heard a thousand times how pretty she was. Cousin Ethan was known to be the most beautiful of boys. As to Val's looks, why, she was so little a credit to a handsome race that nobody could be got to own her. Hadn't her mother said, "Emmie is like me; but Val—I suppose she's more like you"? and her father had hurriedly disclaimed the faintest resemblance between his eldest daughter and himself. Her grandmother had said: "You are not like my side of the house, and I don't see a trace of the Gano in you. I'm sure I don't know where you came from." Ah, it was clear she had not referred to mere wickedness. She was repudiating her descendant's plainness. The child put her hands over her face. But it was incredible that this blow at the root of joy was meant for her. She dropped her hands, taking heart of grace. Katie O'Flynn, the cook in New York, had said, in some interval of truce, that Val had "rale Oirish oyes," and she had said it with no accent of condolence. If only she hadn't added,[Pg 137] "They're put in wid smutty fingers, me darlint!" Even at the time Val had felt the last remark tactless, and had changed the subject, but now—

"Oirish oyes!" It was meant well, but it had a horribly common sound. It was another way of saying, "You look like the cook." And yet—and yet no one had ever cared so much about being beautiful before. She would have submitted gladly to letting those "rale Oirish oyes" be torn out and the poor quivering little body be hacked in pieces if only it might be put together in a truer harmony. But there were ugly people in the world, who began ugly, and went on being ugly to the bitter end. How had she come to take it so for granted that beauty belonged to her as a right? There was Miss Tibbs, who lived near by in Mioto Avenue. Think of being like that! with taily hair, and little, little eyes, and teeth that— No! no! no! She struggled to her feet, storming up into the high window-seat, and straining till she opened the near window, and could force back the heavy shutter, letting in a flood of light. But it was not the sudden glory of the day that made the child blink and draw back so suddenly. Miss Tibbs was passing the gate.

"Good-morning," said that lady, looking more appalling than ever.

"It's like that—like that I'll be," thought the child, tumbling to the ground.

Feverishly she swept the card-basket and the books off the table. Then, drawing up a chair, she climbed up on it, clinching her teeth and setting her jaws to bear the shock that perhaps awaited her. And still there was hope in her heart as she leaned forward on the marble top and looked into the mottled glass with imploring eyes. Slowly the tears gathered. In mute agony she turned away, climbed off the table, and hung limp over the back of the chair.

"Oh, God, I'm ugly!" she said, and clung there with shut, hot eyes. The moments passed. "I can't bear it, God. Let me die!"

[Pg 138]

The strained voice was muffled in her clinched little jaws, and with her fists she beat helplessly on the back of the old-fashioned chair. Presently she slipped down to the floor, and wandered aimless about the room. When she came near the glass again she glanced with a sharp conviction of intolerable shame at the top of a shaggy head, which was all that she could see. Even that was too much. She flew to the window and drew the shutters to, feeling she should never be able to bear the light again.

"What did You make me for?" she cried, arrested an angry instant, facing sharply about, as though confronting an enemy. "I didn't want to come if I had to be ugly!" She slid down off the window-seat, and walked quickly to and fro with rising anger. "It would have been so easy, too, for You. Just think what it means to me!" She stopped and looked heavenward. The "Oirish oyes" were blazing. "I should think You'd prefer things pretty for yourself. But if You don't, why do You go and spoil it all for me?" And so on, in frantic young fashion, she beat her wings against the old prison-house. For between the origin of evil and the origin of ugliness there is no great gulf fixed in the female mind.

Looking back long afterwards on this hour of anguish, she could not laugh, as philosophic grown-up folk are pleased to do, at the sorrows of childhood. She knew that that morning in the musty parlor was one of the bitterest experiences life had brought her, simply because it had come to her as a child, for whom beauty was as yet a conventional physical perfection, and not the high soul of things.

After the one-o'clock dinner, she had shaken Emmie off, and gone out to walk up and down in the warm wind behind the house. She had come out bareheaded, and her shock of wild hair was blown about almost as if some one were saying the "I b'lieve," and the Windgeist, or some other "der stets verneint," had borrowed Val's form of dissent.

She was a thin slip of a girl, and no one seeing her would[Pg 139] have much wondered that this young worshipper of obvious red-cheeked, dimpled, yellow-haired, picture-book beauty, had been bitterly disappointed with the thin little face, its irregular lines and faint coloring, the good-sized mouth in lieu of the heroine's puckered rosebud, the tawny no color, all colors, hair, that merely waved distractingly instead of curling; the black eyebrows and lashes, too well defined—yes, "smutty"; the long, deep-set gray eyes, that no wishing could make blue before the glass, but that sometimes, out in the sunshine, changed to turquoise, and sometimes in the dusk or lamplight were limpid, gleaming black.

"Hello!" said Jerry, through the osage-trees.


"What's the matter?"


"Been getting it?"

"Don't be an idiot!"

"Come and fish!"


"Does Mrs. Gano make you stay here?"

"She can't make me do anything."

"Then come. I'm going to Bentley's Pond."

Val wavered. She might fish even if she was ugly. In fact, as she came to think of it, it was one of the few things left to do—that and disobeying gran'ma.

"All right; wait a minute."

She went in-doors for her hat. A sense of returning life came warmly over her. She could still fish. Fishing alone was a career. She had a panoramic glimpse of herself through the future years—fishing morning, noon, and night; in all weathers and in every clime; as a young lady, fishing; fishing as a woman; as an old bent crone, still fishing—fishing forever and forever, her head tied up in a veil. She planted a Tam o' Shanter on her wind-blown hair, thinking: "I won't begin with a veil to-day. I don't mind Jerry—he's ugly, too."

[Pg 140]


Close as was her relationship with her father, there was more than one thing she never told him. She never spoke of her grandmother's brutality. She sympathized with him silently for having such a mother, and felt that they were fellow-sufferers under her iron rule. Did she not make him, too, do things he didn't want to do—make him go out and walk when he preferred to sit still, reprove him for trying his eyes by the waning light, and even at times pass severe strictures on his clothes and his opinions? He was much better and stronger after a couple of quiet years at the Fort; but it was cruel of her grandmother to speak in that way about his "yielding to lassitude and inertia," and hint that he was "quite as well now as many of the men who were carrying on the work of the world."

"Health," she would say, "is a comparative term. No one is perfectly healthy, any more than any one is perfectly good."

But this innocent-sounding platitude was evidently annoying to John Gano. It was after one of these painful talks about his rousing himself (of which Val heard only the concluding phrases) that he had tried to get back into the bank. It wasn't his fault that Mr. Otway couldn't make an opening for him. John Gano had even been urged into making visits to Cincinnati and New York to see if he could find something. He came back from these quests depressed and ill, not mentioning in Val's hearing having found anything but an unusually fine specimen of the Ardea herodias, or something of the sort, on the far Atlantic coast. But for long after these expeditions he would talk vehemently to his mother of the fierce [Pg 141]competition of the great cities, of the growing costliness and cruelty of civilization, and speak darkly of the coming social revolution, when the poor should learn their power. But Val realized, and felt miserably certain her father realized, that Mrs. Gano did not much concern herself with the large historic outlook, that she would have preferred knowing her son had secured a clerkship, even under some bloated bondholder, rather than hear that the doom of capital was nigh, and that Henry George was revolutionizing opinion about the land-tax.

But this particular difference of view was a delicate matter, not seemly for a daughter to mention. Her father, being a kind of hero, of course never complained; neither would Val. His sense of loyalty even led him to excuse his mother when only her own misdeeds arraigned her, as when, after Emmie began to go to school, she was allowed to stay at home whenever she cried, whenever it rained, whenever she liked—and Val never on any pretext whatsoever.

"She thinks Emmie has a delicate chest, you see," her father had explained. "You are such a hard little nut—no danger of your cracking."

However, her grandmother, who seemed, oddly enough, to have some faint glimmering of justice, appreciated Val's superiority in some things. If she lost her spectacles, she would say to Emmie, hunting about with big blind eyes:

"You are good only at losing things, my dear. Call Val."

Or if a parcel was to be tied up, or something carefully lifted down from a height, she would trust Val rather than anybody in the house. This recognition of deft-handedness, small claim on consideration as it might seem, was still a balm to the child. She was wicked, she was hideous, she was unloved, but she never broke things as did the adored Emmie. No, Val was at least clever and quick in her movements; it might not be much out of the wreck of a heroine, but it was something. One other quality was admitted as time went on. If something questionable happened in the[Pg 142] house, something that had to be inquired into, it came in time to be Val's privilege to be called in to give a faithful and veracious account of it. Emmie was no keen observer, and she was prone to spare other people's feelings if her own were not too much engaged. Besides, Emmie had a high character to sustain; Val, having none, could brace herself and tell the horrid truth, even about herself. One proud day there was a great difference of opinion as to the exact circumstances attending the breaking of one of the coffee-mugs of great-grandfather Calvert's wonderful and priceless service of thin white china with the broad gold key. It lived in the mahogany buffet, and was washed once a year—used, never! Val was called in before the assembled household to give her version, the summons being solemnly prefaced by "I've never known you to tell me a lie." That was what made it so proud a moment, in spite of the uneasy sense that the tribute was not deserved. When Miss Brown had required the girls in her class to go over the arithmetic lesson four times, no matter if they were sure they had got the sums right at first, Val had instructed the entire Preparatory Department to lay their books down on the ground and hop across them. This might next morning be reported as "going over" the sums as many times as Miss Brown liked.

"You are superficial," Professor Dawson said, detaining Val one day after the Latin lesson; "your oral translations are too often mere happy guesses instead of accurate knowledge. You must spend three-quarters of an hour at least on your Latin alone."

After the first fifteen minutes' application in the evening at home, Val would place her grammar and her little square red-edged Cæsar on the chair, and, sitting uneasily on them for the remainder of the prescribed time, she would look at the pictures in Don Quixote, and read bits here and there. But she might not have reported this as having "spent a whole hour on Cæsar," had she known that she was building up a reputation with her grandmother for incorruptible truth. The commendation quickened conscience.

[Pg 143]

As time went on, it became apparent, too, that if Mrs. Gano loved her more beautiful and amiable granddaughter the best, she took more interest in the school-work of the elder child. She looked over the lessons with what Val considered surprising understanding, helping her more and more as time went on, and revealing unexpected possibilities in topics hitherto barren. She scanned the reports with eagle eye, and gave special attention the following week to the study that had had the least satisfactory marks before. John Gano took only a broad general interest in the result, but it came to seem that there was one person, at any rate, to whom it mattered step by step if one did well or ill. She never forgot to inquire on Monday afternoon, "Have you the medal?" although the usual "Yes, ma'am"—it must have been an easy honor—elicited no further word.

There was no surprise in Val's mind at overhearing a certain colloquy between her grandmother and the Principal of the Seminary. A state visit was made to the Fort once a term, and Miss Appleby was one of the few people Mrs. Gano conceived it her duty to see.

The Principal, as Val, playing "jack-stones" in the entry could faintly hear, was complimenting Mrs. Gano rather fulsomely on the extreme and wonderful cleverness of her grandchildren. Val could feel through the wall how bored her grandmother was becoming.

"I had to ask at the end of the last term," Miss Appleby's mincing little voice went on, "if there was only one girl in the Preparatory Department, since I seemed always to be giving the medal to Valeria Gano. Ah, how proud—how very proud you must be of your clever grandchildren!"

"No," said Mrs. Gano, "we expect these things of our children. If they did not do them, then we might give the matter some thought."

But Val wagged her head wisely and tossed the jack-stones in the air. Even Emmie, with her weak chest, when she did go to school, was expected to come home wearing, on a narrow pink ribbon, the Primary medal—a golden[Pg 144] shield, with "No Pains, no Gains," graven on its face. Val, being "Preparatory," now wore the one inscribed "Perseverantia omnia vincit" on a ribbon of pale blue, that most adorable of shades. Emmie loved green, but also bore with red; Val would have nothing of her "very best," if she could help it, that was not blue. It was not that she had quite recovered the shock of that discovery in the parlor mirror, although she had made up her mind, not having read Jane Eyre, that biographers rightly suppressed the fact that many a heroine had been in childhood not only wicked, but ugly, too; it was not that she realized then that blue was "her color," as the ladies say; but something in her responded to the hue. It made her happy just to open the drawer where her blue sash was kept. In visions of the future, she had never in her life seen herself clothed in anything but pale blue. Sometimes the satin was broidered with silver wheat, sometimes with pearls, but the blueness of it never faded or lost favor.

It was the rule of the house not to discuss the price of things. Money was not mentioned, except in a wide impersonal way. It was difficult to believe for a long time, but it came out by implication, that they were poor; otherwise Emmie would never have begged in vain for the charming green hat with plumes in Mrs. Crumbaker's millinery window. The "not suitable for a little girl" was too thin an excuse; besides, unsuitability could not be the ground of gran'ma's displeasure at the purchase of a new microscope, after the shock of seeing what the amount of her son's book bill was at the New Year. Very little was said on these occasions, but Val was angrily conscious that her father was made to feel uncomfortable. A grown man, and a hero to boot! It was strangely short-sighted of him to let his mother keep his money for him—as apparently he did—for he evidently didn't much relish asking for it, and he might have learned from Val's experience that she didn't like you to spend your pocket-money, except at long intervals, in miserable driblets. There was only one occasion when her father seemed more unwilling to open his[Pg 145] purse than his mother did. It was when the doctor's bill of two years' standing was left at the door. It was addressed to John Gano, Esq., and when he opened it he said, "Damnation!"

Val, who was doing lessons in a far corner, nearly dropped her slate. Mrs. Gano, instead of reproving her son roundly, looked over his shoulder and said, quietly:

"Very moderate indeed;" and she tried to take the paper out of his hand.

But he got up hastily, and paced the long room with knitted brows.

"I don't see how it's to be met," he said, presently.

"No trouble about that," she answered, calmly; "I've written Mr. Otway I wish to realize on some Baltima' and Ohio bonds."

He turned sharply in his restless walk, and looked at her with curious emotion. Then, quite low:

"This is about the last of them, isn't it?"

"Oh, there is my share of Valeria's still left."

He turned away, and continued his walk. His mother watched him covertly.

"The waste of it, the futility," he muttered, "bolstering up a wreck, instead of launching new ships. The very savages are wiser. They don't stint the young to feed the useless, the dying."

"Don't talk nonsense."

She looked very angry.

"It's the rotten place in civilization," he went on, with some excitement—"skin-deep sentimentality, and a careless cruelty reaching down to the core of things. Devices of every kind to keep the unfit here, while the young and strong starve in the streets. Hospitals for the hopeless, not even bread for the ambitious—"

"Where is Emmeline?" interrupted Mrs. Gano, looking down the long room towards Val.

"I don't know."

"Go and find her, and don't make her cry. I'll call you both when I want you."

[Pg 146]

The next time that Emmie wept because she couldn't have something she saw in a store window, Val realized it was time that she should be taken into her confidence. When they were alone:

"Now, can you keep a famerly secret?"


"Cross your heart, and hope you may die if you ever tell."

Emmie complied with these requirements.

"Well, we're pore, all of us—gran'ma, too—awful, awful pore, and you mustn't hurt their feelin's askin' for green hats and things."

"'Tain't so. Gamma ain't pore."

"I tell you she is."

"Why"—Emmie laughed her silvery little laugh, and showed her small white teeth bewitchingly—"she's got a ole hair-trunk full o' money."


"Yes, she has. I found a dusty ten-dollar bill in the fat blue china vase, and I 'minded her of it when she said she couldn't get me the red cloak at Alexander's, you know."

"Yes, yes, yes; what'd she say?"

"Said the little trunk in the pack-room was full of bills like that, but all the same, I couldn't have the red cloak at Alexander's; that's why I always cry when I see it"—Emmie wound up with the air of one who takes a lawful pride in accomplishing a mission—"'cause with a trunk full o' money there's no excuse."

Here was news. Was she a miser, then? The very thought was enough to make one spin with excitement, and the growing belief that it was so kept Val "going," so to speak, for many a cheerful week.

There came a day when, after taking oaths of the most binding and blasphemous character, Julia Otway was let into the "famerly secret."

She was obviously disappointed that all this preparation led up to so little.

[Pg 147]

"Why, every human bein' in Noo Plymouth knows your gran'ma's a miser. My father says she was awful cute, sellin' out her negroes in the nick o' time, and she came here with heaps o' money; but she don't trust much of it to the bank, and she lives so close and never spends a cent, so o' course she's got a hoard som'ers."

Val was not pleased at the tone of this corroboration. The joy of having a real live miser in the "famerly" was clouded. She determined not to let her father be the only inhabitant of the town who was still in the dark on a subject touching his comfort so closely. The next time they were alone together she told him how much he was deceived as to the "famerly's" finances.

He laughed till the tears came into his eyes, and he fell to coughing, and then his mother appeared with the inevitable bottle of tolu, capsicum and paregoric, and compelled him, between his paroxysms of amusement and choking, to swallow an extra large dose.

When he told her the news, she laughed too, but a trifle grimly, and turned on Val with:

"I am surprised to hear that you discuss family affairs with the neighbors. It's not a Gano habit."

And she went back to her own room without vouchsafing the smallest defence or explanation. But Val's father took her in his lap, and told her a long consoling story, beginning, "In the year 18—" This communication, bristling, as usual, with dates, was to the effect that the "hidden hoard" was composed of worthless Confederate notes, and it was just because they had that trunk full of money that they were poor.

Nobody ever heard of a bill going unpaid or having to be presented twice at Mrs. Gano's door; but Val was very conscious as time went on that her "frocks," as her grandmother called dresses, were old and ugly and out of fashion. They had been lengthened, and turned, and dyed, and when they simply refused to hold together any longer, instead of getting a new one like Julia Otway's, as she had dreamed, Val had the humiliation year by year of wearing her way, [Pg 148]moth-like, through her aunt Valeria's entire antiquated wardrobe. There were all kinds of objections to drawing on this family reserve. The things in themselves, to Val's eyes, were hideous, hideous—barèges unpleasant to the touch and sight, ugly reps, ancient bayadere silks and flowered organdies that tore if you looked at them hard; and the inhabitants of New Plymouth looked at them very hard indeed, and sometimes rubbed their eyes. Then, as if their being so out of fashion were not cross enough, these fabrics were fabulously precious to her grandmother's heart, and had to be worn, so to speak, with fasting and prayer. Woe to Val if she spilt milk, or dropped maple syrup, on Aunt Valeria's things, for these objectionable garments never to the bitter end became Val's own. The dead woman seemed to stretch a hand out of the grave to keep her hold on them, never for a moment remitting her claim. Spoiling your own pretty blue sash, that your mother had bought in New York, was naughty, but hurting anything of Aunt Valeria's was a crime of darker hue. Each time a new garment was required, Mrs. Gano, with set face and faltering hands, would open Aunt Valeria's trunk, and, with the air of one dealing out purple and fine linen, or like a monarch conferring orders of the Garter and the Cross, she would say to the dark-browed child:

"There! you shall have that!"

And Val would perforce disguise as well as she could her loathing of the gift.

The child's passionate hatred of the ugly and uncouth was an unending pain to her. She would shut her eyes tight as she passed old Mr. Thompson, with his great wen, conscious of the same sensation of sickness that would come over her at the malodorous neighborhood of a dead cat. She would jerk her head away in the street as if she had been struck when she met the idiot boy "Jake," more shaken and afraid than if she had seen a ghost. She would grit her teeth morning after morning with unabated rage and detestation as she put on a certain green poplin of Aunt Valeria's, with its pattern of yellow ochre palms.[Pg 149] There was something about the sad and faded green of this frock, something about the fat and filthy-colored palms, that made the wearer long to smash everything within her reach. Some of Val's wildest misdeeds could have been traced to that green poplin. While the abhorred garment held together, even her pretty, slim bronze boots were powerless to cheer a heart so deep bowed down.

Emmie's clothes seemed never to wear out; it was part of her almost invariable advantage over Val. Mrs. Gano more than once pointed out that Val succeeded in working her toes through three pairs of boots while Emmie was carefully wearing one.

"Emmie isn't the captain at prisoner's base," the accused would say, in self-defence, "and she doesn't walk miles and miles with father on Sunday afternoons."

Val was very proud of these same walks, even if the conversation did usually begin with:

"Now that you are learning history, no doubt you can tell me what was happening in Paris 273 years ago to-day?" or, "This is the anniversary of a battle that settled the fate of an empire; of course you remember," etc.; or that less easily eluded form: "Whose birthday is this?" And while the child, innocent of a notion, seemed to be diving down into profound deeps of information after the required fragment, he would help her on with a hint—"One of the real benefactors of the race; did more for the good of humanity by his discovery than all the saints in the calendar. I recollect speaking of him just a year ago, later in the day than this, about five o'clock, as we stood with Professor Black by the pyrus japonica."

"Oh yes," Val would cry out with delight at having a "glimmer," though not of what he asked; "I remember perfectly, and I asked you if the pyrus was the kind of burning bush Moses saw."


And the best feeling prevailed, it not occurring to John Gano that even now his daughter had not the dimmest[Pg 150] notion who the great man was who thus unseasonably intruded on their Sunday tête-à-tête.

She was very sensitive to his disapproval, and suffered acutely when he showed how he despised a person who forgot the difference between a sycamore and a balsam poplar.

"What's the use of your having eyes if you don't use them?"

And she silently determined to be more observant, and win back her father's respect.

"You should greet these good friends by name when you walk abroad," he would say. "You wouldn't pass a woman every day in the street, as beautiful as that silver birch, or a man as magnificent as the Otways' copper beech, without asking his name; and you wouldn't be content with knowing his intimates called him 'John.' 'What family does he belong to?' you'd say. 'What is his history?' Now, here have I taken the pains to introduce you to these desirable acquaintances, and yet you—"

"I shall know 'em next time," she would protest, humbly.

By-and-by her father didn't need to interrupt the main thread of his discourse more than to pause with pointed walking-stick for a second, while his little companion would interpolate briskly: "Ulmus Americana," or "Tilia." And if, instead of his instantly resuming story or homily, he still stood pointing, she would proceed: "Also commonly called bass, lime, or linden; bark used for matting and ropes; wood for sounding-boards; sap for sugar, and its charcoal for gunpowder."

He would nod and walk on, finishing his broken sentence as though nothing had intervened between subject and predicate. Although he was severe with her constitutional forgetfulness of dates, her father, at least, did not obtrude upon her the disgrace of extreme youth. He talked the gravest matters to her with an air of conferring with an equal. They discussed religion with no little openness, and, by dint of diligent inquiry, she heard, amazed, the extent of his unbelief. He had at first meant to be reticent, but as she got older and yet more inquiring, he had said:

[Pg 151]

"One thing, at least, a child has a right to expect from its parents, and that is truth. I am bound, as I see the matter, to give my child as faithful an account of the world as I am able. I am the traveller coming home, of whom the young one setting forth asks the way. Shall I advise him to go in the wrong direction because the old sign-posts misled me?" He would shake his head gloomily, and go on as if communing with his own soul: "Not consciously to mislead, that is the basic human obligation." Then he would look down on a sudden at the little school-girl trotting solemnly along by his side, and resume with a kind of severity: "I don't owe my child money"—he used to revert to this as if it were a sore point—"I don't owe my child worldly position or honors, or houses or lands, but I owe him honesty. I shall never consciously deceive him."

And so Sunday by Sunday she heard the Gospel preached at St. Thomas's in the morning, and in the later day the new tidings of science, and a sort of sublimated socialism, preached among the lanes and hills. She heard the story of the making of the world (not according to Genesis), and was invited to observe in "Nature's Workshop," as her father called the hills, how the making and transforming still went on.

"In these high places," he would say, with enthusiasm, "you may detect Nature in the very act."

Val was shown how busy the little brooks were, and the wide river as well, ever making "sedimentary deposits," still carving out its channel, wearing down the fire-born rock as surely as the chalk cliffs in its "ancient ineradicable inclination to the sea."

She saw for herself how the wind and the weather worked away day and night disintegrating, tearing down, until even to a child it was clear that one day the proud upstanding hills would be brought low, and lay their heads in the plain. There was a tragic element in the story and its ocular proof. It made the solid earth waver under the feet as in an earthquake. Her father had pointed out how[Pg 152] even the old Fort that had so stoutly withstood the fierce Red Man could not hold out against this subtler foe. He had shown her where even the great corner-stones were exfoliating; with his finger-tip he could flake off the loosened bits, but regretfully, and only as an object-lesson. No child must lift a finger to help this insidious enemy; and yet, rightly comprehended, Nature and Nature's laws were our best friends, Val was given to understand. It was the theologian who had spoiled man's legitimate satisfaction in the world. Christianity had been the greatest curse of Time (this came as a lightning-flash); Christianity had killed art, discouraged learning, and set back the clock of Progress 2000 years; had turned man's thoughts and energies from the righteous task of making a heaven on earth; had filled him with foreboding, and forbidden him natural joys.

John Gano had no need to tell his daughter not to convey to her grandmother any inkling of this indictment of the holy faith. It was a thrilling secret. To be a sharer in it was a proud distinction which led to Val's being permitted to remain in the room when Professor Black, a contributor to her father's favorite periodical, the Popular Science Monthly, came on flying visits, and they sat and talked of these real dark ages of the world—Pliocene, Eocene, and the rest.

Mrs. Gano did not shrink from reading Darwin, and Spencer, and other books her son left about. As time went on she came to entertain the clearest views as to science being the handmaid of religion. In these later days of her own development, she had no quarrel with those "orthodox scientists," who regarded the Mosaic story with respect as "symbolical"—symbolical of what was not inquired. The vaster age of the world, the true story of the rocks, gave Mrs. Gano only a fresh and more passionate sense of the wonder and majesty of the ways of God. She corroborated and supported her new friends among modern historians and men of science as vehemently as of old she had upheld a favorite preacher, poet, or Biblical [Pg 153]commentator. She objected vigorously to much she found in Buckle and Lecky, and to certain Germans whose names she disdained to utter, and bestowed her unqualified approval upon some of the lesser lights whose Theism was sound.

After Professor Black was gone, or that other wise man from the East, the handsome and distinguished-looking editor of the Engineering and Mining Journal, Mrs. Gano would agitate the great red rocking-chair into an abortive rock, and lifting her chin with an air of disdain: "Humph!" she would say, "a mighty superior person!" Then, seeing her son would not respond to this obvious irony: "Who is he, to quarrel with the Bridgewater Treatises!"

"Black is too accurate a thinker to accept the theory of design carried to the highest perfection." And, hoping to stem the tide of further objurgation of his friend, he would demolish the Treatise on the Human Eye. "So far from its being the nicest adaptation of means to an end, the eye of man is a clumsy and pitiful production."

This was the kind of irreligion that in these days excited Mrs. Gano's ire more than any other. So hot would the argument grow, that sometimes her son would utterly lose sight of his determination never to disturb his mother's faith. He would turn upon her with all the enthusiasm of the passionate amateur.

"One glance through the magnifying-glass at the infinitely superior eye of the common house-fly is enough to—"

"Enough to make any Christian thankful, I should say, that his eyes are what Providence made them."

"The fly's eye is a far finer instrument."

"Humph! A pretty sight we'd be with protruding goggles bigger than all the rest of the face!"

"I assure you the fly has a beautiful eye! And then the way it is placed! Magnificent! A group of powerful lenses mounted on rods, controlled by delicate muscles that turn the eye about so that without moving his body he can see all round him. There was an invention if you like!"

"I shouldn't have liked it in the least."

[Pg 154]

"Ah, that's because you don't realize that to examine certain insects through the magnifying-glass is to dispose at once and forever of the notion than an omnipotent Providence did His level best by man. As a mechanical contrivance the human eye is merely an intricate failure." Then, perhaps perceiving that these intricate failures in his mother's head were shooting lightnings, he would shield his audacities behind a foreign authority. "Helmholtz says he would be ashamed of any novice in his laboratory who should design so poor an optical appliance."

"Just like his German impudence! A nation of boors and atheists!"

John Gano would always end by pulling himself up, and accepting these strictures on his authorities and his friends (and by implication on himself) with a silent tolerance.

Val felt a fine superiority in thinking that she understood. The grandmother, who was such an autocrat, and thought so highly of her own judgment, was in reality very bigoted and lamentably behind the age. But Val and her father bore with her, not even exchanging covert glances when, with shining eyes and sibylline aspect, she would burst into Old Testament denunciation and prophecy. Her father was really a miracle of forbearance. His behavior to his mother, in spite of her shortcomings, was beautiful. He would sit and read Ruskin aloud to her by the hour, and would give her his arm of an evening and slowly pace the gravel paths, instead of going any more interesting and inspiring tramps with his brisker companion along river or over hill.

On the occasions when Val tagged after the pair, she was firmly convinced that the tone of her grandmother's conversation was adjusted to young ears. It made her long to shout out: "Oh, he tells me a great deal more than ever he tells you!"

Mrs. Gano would sometimes interrupt her son with scant ceremony and say, glancing back at the child: "Great is the mystery of godliness. There is a point at which the finite mind must stop," and so on.

[Pg 155]

Val's contempt for this was profound; she felt it was not in alignment with what they had been saying before she came up with them. She would slip her hand into her father's, and squeeze it gently, to restore the sense of secret understanding. They would often, when she was there, talk about the stars, perhaps as being "safe ground," if one may so speak of the plains of heaven.

Did John Gano say, dreamily, "The Polar star is dim to-night," she would as likely as not answer with significance: "Is it dim, or our eyes?"

"No fault of our eyes this time, for we can see Mars well enough. He's in a warlike mood to-night, flaming angrily."

Mrs. Gano would pause, and half to herself repeat:

"'The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.'"

"Can you find the Scorpion, little girl?" her father would say.

And if she wasn't quick with eye and answer, her grandmother would stop, lifting her shawled arm with curious unmodern largeness of movement, and point the constellation out, half chanting:

"'By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens; His hand hath formed the crooked serpent.'"

As if gently to divert her attention, the son would perhaps face about, and, walking slowly back with her to the house, would do a little quoting on his own account:

"'Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.'

Ah! the music—the sheer music in that man!"

"There was music before his day. And Tennyson is one of them that hath ears to hear, as well as tongue to speak. Small doubt but from his ivied casement in the West he heard the voice of the Lord from out the chambers of the South. 'Canst thou bind the secret influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring[Pg 156] forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his suns?'"

"I can see Cassiopeia," Val would observe, just to show that she was not quite out of it.

And she would grasp her father's hand tighter, to remind him of their agreement that the straggling W stood for "We"—Val and her father. Then he would find Lyra and the Little Bear, and tell how the Milky Way, instead of being, as Hiawatha and Val had thought, "pathway of the ghosts and shadows," was really star-dust, the scattered nebulæ of other suns and systems.

Mrs. Gano would look back before going in-doors, and say, with solemn upward gaze:

"Yes, yes! 'An undevout astronomer is mad.'"

Then they would go in silently to bed.

[Pg 157]


A letter by the late post from cousin Ethan! It would be the last before he himself would appear. Emmie watched, with luminous eyes, her grandmother's opening of the envelope. Val, in banishment, waited impatiently outside in the dusk on the stairs to hear the news; but the face of the reader in the long room darkened as she read. She dropped the letter in her lap at the close, speechless.

"Oh! what is it, gran'ma?" quivered the sympathetic Emmie.

The old lady merely turned away her head.

"Gran'ma, he isn't dead?"

"No, not exactly dead," she said, very low.

"He is very ill?"

"No. He is gone again to France."

"But I thought he was coming here for sure this time?"

"So did I; not so Aaron Tallmadge!"

The name swept out like a sudden gust, scattering to the winds her unnatural calm.

"But you said he was nearly of age, when he would be his own master."

"Aaron Tallmadge remembered that." Her lips trembled with anger, and the big chair seemed to share her agitation. She held on to the red padded arms, as though she rocked on the high seas in a gale. "When Ethan comes of age he'll be five thousand miles away."

"But can't you stop him? Let Venie take a telegwaf."

"No, no!" The high wind, in which the great chair rocked, died down, the angry animation faded out of the old face, leaving it older still and very weary. "No, no; these things are not to be forced. It's natural. He has[Pg 158] been with Aaron Tallmadge all his days; he is his heir. He lives in a world where men think much of the bond of money, and little of the bond of blood. I shall not write again."

She folded up the letter and put it in its envelope. Her head drooped over the task.

"I thought cousin Ethan loved being here?"

"A long time ago. He was very little."

"But he never forgot?"

"It used to seem so."

Lower the old head sank, till the folds of white veil, falling on either side, met like two drawn curtains across her face.

"But you could see in his letters he was terribly sad and sorry to have put off coming—just to please his grandfather."

"Ah, well! it was a long time ago, and he was very little."

Mrs. Gano lifted her head—and, behold, her face was wet with tears. She found her pocket-handkerchief, and wiped them away angrily, as if she resented the salt-water drops more than her grandson's defection.

"Natural enough, I suppose," she said, with an assumption of half-scornful indifference. "Ethan's a man now, with wide means and the world before him. Why should he come to this dull, smoky town, when he can 'improve his accent' under brighter skies? There's no fortune here for him to inherit, and nothing new for him to see."

"He hasn't ever seen me," said Emmie, "nor Val."

Her grandmother drew her close and held the beautiful little face in her hands, looking down with unaccustomed tenderness, while again the tears gathered. A sudden movement of "This will never do." She cleared her voice and rose hurriedly.

"Good-night, child; go to bed. I must tell your father we needn't look for Ethan after this."

Emmie kept on going to bed at half-past eight, even[Pg 159] when she was old enough to have struck for another hour's freedom. But Emmie had not so much to get into her day; in fact, she was constantly going about saying she had nothing to do, and begging her grandmother to find her some way of getting through the hours. This frame of mind was, like godliness, one of the mysteries to Val. How anybody found the day long enough, and what being "bored" meant, were matters equally impenetrable. Her father was right. The world was a beautiful and absorbing place to one whose pleasure in it was unjaundiced. Val reflected with pride that her capacity for enjoyment was not blighted by too great early piety. It was no doubt because she was so singularly enlightened and advanced that, to her, just being alive, was so rapturous a joy. There was Emmie, now. With all her advantages, she wasn't happy; and she was as religious as her grandmother, if not more so. The inference was plain. People who were worried about their souls could not be expected to relish the selfish joy of being first in the games at recess. They probably didn't even eat their meals with the immense relish of the unregenerate. They didn't feel their hearts swell up with unaccountable gladness, at mere waking in the morning, to receive a broadside from the sun straight between the eyes. But it was just the same if the wind blew, or the rain fell. For no discoverable reason beyond lack of piety, Val would feel herself filled from crown to toe with tingling delight at this mere "being alive." There were, alas! other times when, for reasons partly patent, partly obscure, she was sore oppressed; but never did any hour find her so bowed down that the wild tumult of a storm would not stimulate her like strong wine. She would run about the house with flying hair and wide, excited eyes, when she couldn't manage to escape out-doors, and feel the rapturous buffet of the winds and dash of the rain in her face.

"She is like an electrical eel when there's a thunder-gust," she once overheard her grandmother say.

"Some affinity between the child and the elements," her father had replied, half seriously. "She came into the[Pg 160] world during the wildest and most destructive storm that ever swept over the State."

After hearing that, Val felt no apology was needed for her desire to go out and romp with the winds. It was all very well for other people to shut doors and windows and sit in the middle of non-conducting feather-beds (as her mother had done), but how should Val be afraid of thunder and lightning? They had come forth in their splendor and their might to welcome her into the wonderful world. Dangerous to others? Oh, very likely. They were friends and allies of Val Gano.

But not only through these more or less usual avenues did gladness reach her, but through some of the thorny by-ways before which men had set up the warning signal, "Pain!"

There was that affair of the hornet's sting. How lustily she had howled when, stepping into the ash-gray nest down by the choke-pear-tree, she found herself surrounded by an army of angry enemies, darting little poisoned knives! How frantically she had run back to the house, rending the air with shrieks, and yet queerly conscious, after the first shock of surprise, that this was a curious experience and a great discovery, not alone of the power of hornets, but a discovery, too, of the power of pain in herself! Before she reached the house, and leaving a lusty yell only half finished in her throat, she had stopped to notice, with an excitement akin to pride, how the back of her hand and arm had puffed up to an enormous size, and was stinging still, as if a thousand knives were being turned about in the flesh. Here was something quite new. While it agonized her, it kept her sense of curiosity in a tumult of painful pleasure. She stood still, watching the hand swell, while the tears poured down her flushed cheeks, absorbed in noting the action of the poison, wondering how much more the uncanny power of the sting could swell her poor little distorted hand. Was there any pain more horrible than this? Was it possible human beings could endure anything worse? And if so, what? She shut her wet eyes, dizzy with [Pg 161]suffering, and yet in the dim background of her mind almost avid of that intenser pang, if any such there were in the arsenal of Nature's weapons against man.

Later came the memorable attack of diphtheritic sore throat, that made them all so kind. That was one of the most diverting things that had ever happened to her, not merely because her father sat by her nearly all the time, when her grandmother was or wasn't there; not only because her unwary elders fell into discussions that, no matter where else they led, could not terminate in Val's being ejected from the room, just as they got to the interesting crisis; not because of the thrilling tales of her grandmother's old acquaintance, Betsy Patterson, of Baltima', her marriage with Jerome Bonaparte, and her journey, alone and friendless, half across the world, to meet her mortal enemy and brother-in-law, the great Napoleon. Not in these obvious delights alone lay the whole advantage of the diphtheria incident, but in the discovery that there was a sensation, in or under the actual pain itself, that was new, exciting, almost agreeable. It was touching experience at a fresh point, and was far from being altogether regrettable. This sharp pain when one tried to swallow was only a keener way of feeling alive, a new accomplishment of the alert, responsive body. As if with foreknowledge that her experience in this direction was going to be limited, or as though she had heard Sir Thomas Brown say, "There is some sapor in all ailments," Val showed every inclination to make the most of this one.

"Now, you've got to behave, Emmie," she would say, if her sister seemed likely to forget that here at last her customary privileges must for the nonce give way. "You've only got a weak chest, but I've got a diphtheritic throat!"

It was during the agreeable time of convalescence that her grandmother showed her the faded samplers that she and her sisters and Aunt Valeria had worked as children. She got out the little boxes of old trinkets, too, and told the "story" of each and every one. There were volumes in these simple rings and mourning brooches, watch-chains[Pg 162] of hair, badly-painted miniatures, enamelled hearts and charms. She seemed to have literally dozens of gold and silver pencils. One was to be Val's and one Emmie's, when they were "old enough to take great care of them." But all the best ones seemed to belong to cousin Ethan. And there was that priceless and magnificent possession (that was also to be Ethan's), Grandfather Calvert's gold snuffbox, presented by the Burns Club, of "Baltima'," and inscribed with a verse of good-fellowship. This was the ancestor that Val took most interest in, even before the revelation of the snuffbox. He had been a merry gentleman, who amused himself so well in the "Baltima'" of his day, that he had to be sent when only nineteen as "supercargo," whatever that meant, to the West Indies. It was evident paternal punishments in those times were slight, for he had loved "supercargoing." He came home with a store of stories and a fortune, and—as it presently leaked out, to Val's and Emmie's delight—he ran away with his wife when he was only twenty-one and the little lady barely fifteen. Mrs. Gano had been betrayed into admitting that she was born before her mother had reached her sixteenth birthday.

"Why, then, our great-grandmother had a daughter when she was fifteen!"

"No, no; she was very nearly sixteen—one may say she was sixteen."

But Val and Emmie preferred the other form. A baby of your own to play with when you are only fifteen! Ha, that was the way to begin life! People in these times shilly-shallied so wastefully. This great-grandmother hadn't missed anything by her promptitude in marrying. After she was a wife and a mother, she used to call her girl friends into the high-walled garden, and stationing a slave on the gate-post, to keep watch and give warning when the husband could be seen coming home from his counting-house, this real, proper kind of a great-grandmother would tuck up her long skirts and have a rousing game of hide-and-seek, stopping breathless in the middle when Sambo[Pg 163] cried from his watch-tower, "Massa comin'!" She would let down her gown and pin up her curls and go demurely to the gate to meet her lord, and tell him the baby and she had had a good day. Ah, it was plain they had been a frivolous pair! Theirs were the mahogany tables with slender, twisted legs and baize-lined folding tops, that in these serious days never caught sight of a card. Instead of reading Blair's "Sermons" and Baxter's "Rest," this agreeable ancestor had accumulated all those French romances down-stairs, and even when he left gay youth behind, he had sat in his counting-house, not like the King of Hearts, counting out his money, but revelling in the novels of the Wizard of the North. And when it was noised about at home among his growing daughters that he had nearly finished the latest one, and would bring it back that evening, the three girls would start fair and even from the bottom step, at his coming-home hour, and race to meet him. The lucky one who reached him first got the new Waverley.

To the adaptable eye of youth "all things are possible," with parents as with God. It never occurred to Val and Emmie as a subject for surprise or inquiry how such a person as their grandmother had come to find herself dans cette galère. Mrs. Gano would usually wind up her Calvert stories with a half-humorous, half-reverent smile.

"Your great-grandmother"—she never said "my father" or "mother," but with a detached, impartial air—"your great-grandmother was the best woman I ever knew; and your great-grandfather lived a useful life, and died, after receiving extreme unction, in all the odor of sanctity."

"He wasn't a Pisspocalian, like us?" Emmie asked.

"No; Roman Catholic. We had all gone different ways by that time, but he would say, 'Ah! wait till you're as old as I: you'll all come back into the bosom of Mother Church.'" She would smile at this. "He was not a thinker—he had lived all his best years in the active world of work and pleasure, and when he saw his end in sight, he looked about[Pg 164] him for a priest." She would smile again—less tenderly, more ironically. "This was priests' business; best leave it in their hands."

It was interesting to the children to observe that not even for the benefit of the young was family history falsified.

"Oh, he was consistent enough. Even before he embraced Roman Catholicism, he never spoke of religion except with the greatest reverence." She would glance sharply at the children's father, if he were present when she reached this point in that or any similar narrative, seeming for the moment to lose sight of the younger generation in her desire to point the moral for the benefit of her son. "I never heard of a Calvert who questioned revealed religion; and as for the Ganos, any one who has a mind to look, may read in the family record that they were all eminent for piety in their day and generation."

"Does that little record go further back than 1760?" her son once asked, meditatively.

"No: but that's quite far enough to show what's expected."

During this illness in particular, there were times when Val was drawn unaccountably to the strange old woman. If the child had had more encouragement, she could have loved her well and openly, renouncing for her sake domestic heresy and schism. The secret passion for loving and being loved had grown in the girl with every year. It was not only the strongest current that swept through her being—that is true of many—but even in this young and sheltered life it rose betimes to freshet and to flood, hungry, devouring, unappeased. The girl led three lives—the gay, triumphant surface one at school, the checkered existence at home, and that deep heart life apart in the sunlit valley of imagination, whither, when the wind of destiny blew bleak on the uplands of domestic life, she would retreat with all the honors of war—rally and "captain her army of shining and generous dreams."

The intensity of the craving for approbation, the love-hunger in the child's heart, would be called morbid by[Pg 165] those who find that epithet a ready one to apply to heights and depths from which they themselves are debarred by a niggard nature. It was true (even if, like many another fact about this young creature, it is not to be approved) that she had had an affair of the heart in New York—princes apart—when she had attained the ripe age of seven. It had been a kind of infidelity to the dark-browed hero of dream, for the gentleman in question was not a nobleman, not even a Nimrod, and he had red hair. But, nevertheless, he was a peril to the peace of mind of a diminutive maid, and all unconsciously to himself "brought her acquainted with" a more thrilling joy and a more poignant pain than some women can look back upon from the height of fifty years. Oh, these strange stirrings of the too eager heart!—the sharp rapture and the sharper pain, the whimsical, bitter pathos of them read by the light of later "exultations, agonies!" Who that has had this window opened for him into the virginal chamber of awakening woman-life can look through it without tears? But this particular window is not for our eyes. After that premature romance had come to an untimely end, or, rather, when its hopelessness was comforted and covered by the quick-growing ivy of new affections, there was peace for a time in the camp of love, or only border skirmishing. Not, of course, for any lack of enterprise, or any dearth of heroes, for almost any passer in the street will serve for a peg to drape the gossamer of a dream upon. He is perhaps the unrequited lover—he is some one in disguise; not Mr. Ernest Halliwell, the son of the local doctor, but heir to an earldom over the sea. You are sorry you can never love him; he must break his heart in vain. It is almost too sad, for his hair curls prettily over his ears, and his smile is gentle and haunting. But high above all these little "foot-notes," as it were, to the great main text of the romance, ran the radiant "continued story" of that one who cometh—he with swift, unfaltering feet, he with the sheltering arms—bearing the great gift in his bosom, and his face, still for a little space—still hidden.

[Pg 166]

Meanwhile, eager friendships at school, and devotion to her father at home, and to Jerry's handsome brother in the promised land beyond the osage hedge—not all these and hope besides could fill the foolish, hungry heart. Nobody else in the world but a few novel-writers and herself seemed in the least concerned about the chief business of life, which was plainly loving and being loved. It did not appear to be a subject of conversation with grown persons. Not only at the Fort, with a grandmother who plainly could know nothing of such matters, and a father who, besides his children, loved only rocks and trees, but in the homes of the other girls as well, the supreme topic was neglected, ignored, except when considered covertly among the young, as conspirators whisper treason. It was very queer. Evidently her absorption in the subject was part and parcel of her perverted nature, her "low curiosity." It was, at all events, a weakness to be hid except from that very best of all her "best friends," Julia Otway. Not that Julia even was told of the Great Romance, but the two girls wondered and surmised together, bringing day by day to their common store every new scrap of knowledge or conjecture that came their way. Val was the more adventurous, the less fastidious. She it was who would speculate most boldly, sketching out certain chapters, certain scenes even, in that great coming drama, that are currently supposed not to enter the imagining of maidens. Yes, yes; it was all wrong perhaps to think about these things; but why, then, were they so interesting? It wasn't her fault. But at last one day, when the more modest-minded Julia said, "I want awfully to hear, but I don't think we'll tell these stories any more. I don't feel somehow as if it was quite right," then Val knew that indeed she was "low-minded," and was as humiliated as the sternest moralist could desire.

She admired Julia more than ever for her rigid asceticism. Ah yes! there was no blinking the fact. That was the kind of strength of mind it was fine to have, but the richly merited rebuke of herself made her wince with shame.[Pg 167] The very memory of the moment was like a dagger-thrust for years.

And still there was a buoyancy in her that was always lifting her mountains high after these deep descents into the pit. One potent device for the recovery of self-respect was to name a day from the dawn of which she should start a new life, absolutely different from the past, which was by this act cut off and dropped into oblivion. Monday mornings began not alone a new week, but a new era. Her great fresh start of the year was taken annually at Christmas, or if one made a slip—one always did—the New Year was the time, or else Easter, or, after all, one's birthday was a fitting moment for such regeneration. The girl who had been only eleven was inevitably a poor creature, but the person of twelve! Ah, when the clock struck that complete and significant number a new and quite perfect existence was inaugurated! The next year, to be about to enter one's teens, was discovered to be, after all, the psychological moment for starting a new life. Then fourteen! Ah, that was the true age of understanding, besides being twice the sacred number seven! If she was much happier than other people for the most part—as she knew she was—she had also moments of being much nearer despair. There were all the times when people hurt her feelings, and when her only consolation was the old one of pretending she hadn't any feelings to hurt. If life ministered to her more than it did to most, it bruised her too from crown to sole.

There were those hours of reaction, after long expectation of some birthday-party, or the Fourth of July fireworks, or the school Commencement, when a blank wretchedness fell upon her. It hadn't been what she had hoped. How or where it had failed was partly a mystery, but there was a strange bitterness left behind. She refused vehemently in her own mind to accept for truth the rumor abroad in the world, "Nothing ever comes up to expectation." Oh yes, things would by-and-by come up to and exceed anticipation. It was only now, and through some[Pg 168] fault in her, that they fell short of perfection. As she grew older she developed a pitiless self-criticism—of her speech, her manners, her looks, her attainments. This creature, among certain girls that were awkward, and certain others that put on airs and graces, this profoundly egotistical little person, was actually commended for being "perfectly un-selfconscious"; the fact being that she was far too "aware" of herself, saw herself far too vividly in her mind's eye, to go on making the current mistakes of affectation or of clumsiness. She knew unerringly when she giggled with embarrassment, when she had been "making eyes," when she was in danger of seeming superior, or what her grandmother called "toploftical." She was keenly, quiveringly self-conscious, and conscious too of other people; feeling their moods as an Æolian harp feels the light wind, brightening under their unspoken, their merely looked approval, and shrinking beneath her careless exterior at their unuttered blame, wearing her reputation for hardness like an inversion of the magic suit of mail, seeming stout armor, and yet letting every arrow through. Still, it served its purpose, since no one dared say, "See! that struck home!"

[Pg 169]


After several years' supremacy as "the greatest dancer on the earth," that brilliant career was suddenly abandoned. It was evident that a mistake had been made. Val's true destiny was to be Queen of Song. It was difficult to illustrate the fact in your unmusical grandmother's house, but you could do a good deal in that direction at the New Plymouth Seminary for Young Ladies. You could roar down several hundred girls in the morning hymn, and you could even have occasional surreptitious performances in the gymnasium, or at home in the kitchen, where whole cycles of impromptu operas were given in a season. For the rest, you sang to yourself in lonely places and exulted. Sometimes you trembled, shaken to the verge of tears by the beauty and pathos of your own voice.

There had been a brief interval when the sum of achievements in the drawing-class seemed, in Val's mind, to point to her becoming a second Rosa Bonheur. It was certain that her copy of Landseer's "Rabbits" was a work of extreme merit. Even her grandmother, who usually said "Hum!" when she looked at Val's original designs for wall-paper or carpet, remarked on beholding the rabbits: "I'll have them framed."

If that were not distinction, where shall it be found?

But it was grasping to set more than one snare for greatness—let Emmie be Rosa Bonheur, Val would be the great singer of her time.

"Let me have music lessons," she prayed. "I'll practise at school and at Julia's."

"It is out of the question," said her grandmother.

[Pg 170]

Val knew "out of the question" meant it was a question of being out of pocket.

"I'll give up drawing."

"Drawing is much less expensive; and even so, you and Emmie must give it up after this term."

"Then, what on earth are we going to learn besides common lessons?"

"I'll teach you botany and gardening," said her father.

"I don't care about botany," said Val, hotly, "and"—unmasking the hypocrisy of years—"and as for gardening, there isn't anything I hate so much."


Her father couldn't believe his ears.

"Yes. I'm sorry. It's very kind of you to offer so often to teach me; but I really quite hate flowers."

Her father looked at her with a severity she had seldom seen in his face.

"Then, in that case"—he spoke as though originating a punishment fit for a new unnatural crime—"in that case you should learn cooking."

After such a blow, there was nothing for it but to remember that for weeks Jerusha had wanted her to take some household sewing to poor old Miss Kirby up on Plymouth Hill. Val would run all the way to the Dug Road and there, in the deep cut in the hill-side, or in the even more lonely ravine above, she would sit with the bundle of sewing on her knees, raging solemnly over it at fate, and devising spirited revenges. In a wood on the farther side there was a place deep hidden in bush and brier, where a wild grape-vine made a swing between two old forest trees. It was a distinct source of comfort to Val that she didn't know the names of these trees. She would shut her eyes tight, and swing high out in the free air, with a sense that she was flying from two calling voices, afraid the accents should reach her clearly, afraid lest by an unwary peep something in bark or leaf should press back upon her impatient memory "their ugly names," cheered and strengthened after each escape by finding her ignorance intact.

[Pg 171]

Out, far out, on the wild grape-vine, swinging till she forgot the importunate trees, forgot all threatened ignominy, forgot everything but the ecstasy of living and swinging and singing, and looking forward—looking out past home perplexities and wild wood tangles, out, far out, towards the secure beauty and the certain wonder of the coming years.

Emmie came home from school earlier than usual one memorable day, and told Mrs. Gano with frightened eyes that Val had done something awful. She couldn't make out what, for all the Academic and Collegiate girls whispered about it secretly at recess. But Val was locked up in the Principal's room, and it was considered doubtful if she'd ever be let out, so angry was Miss Appleby. But even the Principal's wrath was less than the wrath of her niece, Miss Beach, the new teacher of the primary school and of gymnastics.

Emmie had naturally felt humiliated at her sister's disgrace. She thought she could never, never go back to school again. By the time the miscreant got home, Mrs. Gano was properly worked up to receive her.

Val saw at a glance from Emmie's cloudy eyes and her grandmother's, cold and gleaming, how her story had been forestalled. She held up her head, and said, carelessly:

"Well, I've got myself into a scrape."

Her grandmother fixed her silently for an instant, and then said:

"'Scrape' is not the word. You've heard that expression from Jerningham Otway. We don't get into scrapes."

Emmie seemed to Val's overheated imagination to sit and plume herself.

"All the members of your family have been well-mannered and well-conducted people. We leave 'scrapes' to others."

Val fell a sudden prey to the old loneliness in the midst of so much family rectitude.

"I am waiting to hear what has happened."

[Pg 172]

Mrs. Gano folded her blue-veined hands across the open book on her knee.

"Well, I think they mean to expel me."

"Expel you!"

She shut the book with a snap.

"Oh, Miss Appleby's coming to see you," said Val, with overacted indifference. "She'll tell you everything that Emmie hasn't told you already."

"I don't choose to ask Miss Appleby for details that I ought to hear from you."

Val looked at Emmie's curiosity-lighted face and kept silence. Her grandmother understood.

"Run out and play, child; you sit too much in the house," she said to the younger child.

"I've got nobody to play with," came from Emmie, not budging.

"Then go and get me some jonquils and narcissuses."

"I've hurt my finger."

"Then take a book and sit in the porch."

"I've read all the books on the juvenile shelf."

"Leave the room!"

Val's heart swelled up in gratitude. It was considerate of her judge not to hold the court of inquiry before Emmie.

"Well," said Val, plunging into the unhappy business the moment the door was closed, "you know how we hate and despise—I mean how we don't like Miss Beach."

"Humph! I dare say Miss Beach doesn't like all her pupils."

"I should think she didn't! She hates us!"

"I don't want to hear such strong expressions. I've nothing to do with the other girls; but it's a bad lookout for you if you haven't earned the respect of an estimable woman like Miss Beach."

"You wouldn't call her that if she gave you unfair marks, and said and looked spiteful things at you."

"Looked! What nonsense are you talking?"

"Well, she"—Val dropped her eyes and crimsoned[Pg 173]—"she laughed at my new gymnastic dress." There was a pause. "It is unlike the others."

"Beyond a doubt. Far too good for the purpose. That broché came from Baltima'. Your aunt Valeria never wore it but once. It was as good as new."

"Well, all the other girls wear blue serge, but they never laughed. Miss Beach did. Perhaps she didn't mean me to see, but I did."

"Humph! Well?"

"Well, she invents new marches—in-and-out figures, you know—and she only does them once very quickly, and makes me lead off afterwards, and blames me if there's the least mistake. So I—I—just thought the next time she invented something new I'd see if I—I—couldn't make her do it slower. So—well, I collected parlor-matches for a week."

Mrs. Gano's quick movement said, "That's where the matches have gone."

"And I cut off their heads, and I gave some to—three of my friends, and I had a lot myself; and as we marched we threw 'em little by little under Miss Beach's ugly fat—I mean under her feet."

"I'm amazed at you—simply amazed!"

Mrs. Gano's eyebrows had shot up to the middle of her forehead. Val studied for the hundredth time the hairless bony arches above the piercing eyes, and the strange look of the patches of eyebrow sitting up on her forehead in that amazed fashion.

"Well, she did do that new march very slow, stopping and looking round surprised when the matches exploded, and at last she gave up marching altogether, and kind of exploded herself. She was angry, and red too—purple, all over her ugly podgy—over her face."

"I don't wonder she blushed for you. I am very much ashamed of you myself. It was the action of a ruffianly street-boy."

"She wasn't ashamed. She was just mad—I mean angry. She asked who had done it, and nobody said—"

[Pg 174]

"I'm not surprised you wanted to hide it."

"Then she said she should get her aunt to suspend the whole class; so I had to tell her it was me, and they shut me up in Miss Appleby's room."

"Quite right," said Mrs. Gano, backing up the authorities as usual.

"Oh yes," said Val, bitterly, "that's what Miss Beach thought too; she said it was the only thing to do with a wild beast."

"She didn't use those words!"

The eyebrows suddenly shot up again.

"Yes'm, she did. Ask Julia Otway. Miss Beach'd say anything. Why, she was educated at a mixed school."

"You don't mean blacks and whites together?"


Mrs. Gano had some ado to recover her rigid attitude of respect for those in authority over her grandchild; but she relaxed the upward tension of her eyebrows and was studying Val straight through her spectacles.

"You can learn manners at home. Miss Beach is quite competent to teach Emmie spelling and you dancing and calisthenics, and her manners are not your business. It is only the young people who are quite perfect themselves who can waste time criticising their elders."

"Yes'm," answered Val, meekly. She was surprised that her crowning misdeed and public disgrace were taken so calmly. "Please, who's going to tell my father I'm expelled?"

"Nobody is to tell him anything of the sort!" she fired up. "Now that things have come to this pass I must try to make you understand. We can't go on like this. What you have done to-day would disgrace a street urchin; and yet you are old enough to be a comfort to your father."

Val fidgeted miserably.

"You have given us more trouble than all the other children of the family put together; and yet I have discovered there is a kind of reasonableness in you when it's deliberately appealed to."

[Pg 175]

Val looked up quickly. She felt there was a new note in these remarks.

"I should be very sorry to go to your father with this miserable story; he has enough to trouble him, and he is ill; he does not get better." She had laid convulsive hold on the red-padded arms of the great rocking-chair, and the purple veins started up on the long hands. "I sometimes think—I sometimes think he gets worse." Her voice had sunk very low. There was a look in the waxen features that made the girl's heart grow chill. "I have noticed your impulse to be considerate towards your father, to spare him the knowledge of your antics. I have been glad you had this instinct. You will be glad when you are older—when you are alone."

There was a long silence. Neither looked at the other. Presently, with lowered eyes, Val came closer, and on a sudden impulse, kneeling, she laid her cheek on the long left hand that still clutched the chair-arm.

"You'll see," she said, fighting down her tears—"you'll see I shall be better."

She felt the other hand laid softly on her head, and neither of the two spoke or moved for a long time.

A sharp ring broke the spell, and the quick following clatter of "E. Gano's" knocker sent all gentle influences flying.

"Miss Appleby!" Val sprang up. Yes. They could hear her voice. Before Venus had time to come and say she was in the parlor, Mrs. Gano had opened her own door and closed it behind her. Val stood looking out of the window, trembling with anxiety, registering vows that if she were let off this time, if by some miracle she were not expelled, she would be such an honor to the family, such a comfort to her father, that he would be encouraged to live practically forever.

Emmie presently opened the door very softly, and crept in.

"She's just goin', I think," whispered the little sister, who seldom bore a grudge. "Oh, she has been getting it!"

[Pg 176]

"Not gran'ma?"

Emmie squirmed with suppressed merriment at this notion.

"I should think not! Miss Appleby's been getting it. Gran'ma said they were making a mounting out of a molehill—and expelling people did the school no good. Said you'd tell Miss Beach you were sorry, and that was a good deal, 'cause you didn't like beggin' pardings."

"Did she say that?"

"Yes. An' Miss Appleby said she was very grieved, but she had promised her niece not to take you back this term."

"Her niece! Her sneaking Black and White Oberlin woer-r-r-rm!"

"Gran'ma didn't call her that," whispered Emmie, with an air of gentle reproof. "She just said, 'Unless your niece is very foolish'" (Emmie could mimic astonishingly well), "'and unfit for her post, she will be glad to reconsider.' Miss Appleby got mad at that, and seemed to be going away, so I ran into the dining-room. When I got back gran'ma was saying, if they expelled you, I should be taken away too."


"And they were both awful mad then, an' gran'ma said, Oh, she'd just as soon take us away, and she wouldn't hesitate to say why. 'We don't send our daughters to school to be called wild beasts by young women from Oberlin.'"

"Hooray! hooray!" Val spun about the room, waving her arms victoriously. "We've got a oner for a grandmother after all!"

The room door opened and the hall door banged.

"What are you doing?" said Mrs. Gano, stopping short.

"Oh, nothing," replied Val, composing herself expeditiously; "only I do love you, gran'ma," and she held up her face to be kissed.

"If you love me, keep my commandments," said the lady, without enthusiasm, and equally without sense of irreverence. "That will do. Now go."

She was turning away, when some sudden thought[Pg 177] occurred to her. She gleamed at Val through her glasses in an enigmatic way, and said:

"Is this true about the trouble you've given your preceptors over the Bible verse every morning?"

"I don't give trouble every morning; but it's so tiresome, gran'ma, to begin exercises every day the same way."

"I should think so, if several hundred girls will go on repeating exactly the same texts year in and year out."

"Well, when they scolded us for never learning new ones, I tried to oblige them—I did, indeed."

"Hum! Miss Appleby tells me you appeared next day with 'Jesus wept.'"

Val grinned, and then grew grave.

"They are very hard to please. They want something we hadn't all said a thousand times, and something longer than—"


"You can't think how furious they are now if we happen on the same thing. I do my best to oblige them. I suppose a—Miss Appleby—"

Val tried to find out from the non-committal face whether the principal had entered upon this. If not, so much confessing all in one day was perhaps overdoing it.

"Well," said her grandmother, "Miss Appleby tells me—I can hardly credit it—that you stood up in your place yesterday morning and recited, 'Comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.'"

"Well, it wasn't me that laughed; and I told Miss Appleby it was in the Bible right enough."

"Yes. Well, I'll pick out your texts for you in future." She spoke with charming geniality, and a glint through her glasses. "Now go and get your lessons for to-morrow."

After the failure of Miss Beach to have Val disgraced and expelled, the girl felt that though her grandmother might herself abuse her, she would not permit any one else to do so. The early years of warfare merged by degrees, and in spite of lapses, into a less lawless scheme of life.

The reason of it was not in any great measure regard for[Pg 178] her father. He lived too much apart from the din of daily events for their remote effect on him to be much present to the preoccupied mind of youth. The change came about through a growing, albeit unwilling, admiration and sense of friendship for her grandmother. She was entertaining, this old lady, in spite of her terrible faults. One was never dull with her. She told delightful stories, and she laughed at yours when they were good. Indeed, no matter how abandoned had been your conduct, if you could make her laugh you were saved. It was not in child-nature not to lay traps for that pardoning gleam of the fierce eye, that involuntary twitching of the judicial mouth. An exchange of anecdotes tends inevitably to a good understanding. But more than by any other means, perhaps, the perverse school-girl and the autocratic old woman were brought together by a mutual recognition of a common regard for justice. When Val found out that her grandmother was not as arbitrary as she had supposed, the battle was half over. Mrs. Gano had been overheard advising her son, "Don't try to coerce Val. If you can convince that child's reason you can do what you like with her, but you can't drive her an inch." The girl felt that she was being understood. Perhaps the truth was they were both changing, both developing, the old no less than the young.

Certain it is they became better and better friends, and had surprisingly much in common. Still, Val had struggled so long against owning to herself that any good could come out of this Nazareth, that it was some time before a belated sense of fairness led her to avow guardedly to her old fellow-sufferer her new view of the autocrat. She must try, little by little, to convince her father that, contrary to appearance, and despite many sore experiences, his mother had her good points.

"Gran'ma's been real kind to me and Julia to-day."

"Has she?"

"Julia thinks she's awfully nice."

This rather in the tone of "there's no accounting for tastes."

[Pg 179]

"Yes," said her father, not seeming enough impressed.

"She says I may read The H—— Family and all the Frederika Bremer books now that I've finished the Waverleys."

"H'm! I never looked at them myself."

"But do you know why she was so nice about The H—— Family?" It was one thing to do justice to her good deeds, but it was no use setting up a false ideal and pretending she was better than she was. "You see, we'd read all the horrid silly little Harry and Lucys and Sandford and Mertons and Moral Tales and things, and I'd begun Bohn's Wilhelm Meister."

"Oh, ho!"

"I put down the book while I tied my shoe, and when I looked up she was putting it into the fire."

He laughed.

"But it wasn't her book at all; I got it out of your room underneath the big Brande and Taylor's Chemistry. It had your name in it."

"Yes"—reflectively—"I bought it on April 9, 1870."

"Well, it's burnt now."

He was still smiling and stroking his ragged beard.

"I hope she isn't going to keep the big bookcases locked up forever," sighed Val.

"She will never like to see Valeria's books knocking about."

"Gracious, no! She refused to lend Mrs. Otway Helen Whitman's Poems, because she said it had Poe's notes in it; but I knew it wasn't a bit on account of Poe. It had some of Aunt Valeria's notes in it, and that was why she wouldn't let it go out o' the house. I was awfully ashamed, and Mrs. Otway looked so snubbed."

And still he only smiled.

"She isn't a bit like other people, but sometimes I'm not sorry."

"Never be sorry, my child. Never be so dull as not to realize that the woman who stands at the head of our line gives us our best title to honor—and to hope."

[Pg 180]

Val opened astonished eyes. Her father was indeed forgiving—fantastically generous. He was gazing off into space now, and his look was strangely lighted.

"She belongs to the heroic age," he said, with a kind of worship in his face. "She was born before we began to split hairs, and have nerves instead of nerve."

Val couldn't stand it. Her father was worth fifty grandmothers.

"I should imagine she thought she was a pretty fine sort of person."

"She hasn't a notion how utterly she stands alone. I've gone up and down the world for over forty years, and never seen her equal. Her equal?"

He laughed derisively, and began to talk of her as he might have talked of Semiramis or Boadicea, only more vividly. It was very annoying. He had come to care about her too, "only more so." But the real blow fell when it came out that he had felt like this all along. Appreciation, fairness were all very well, but this besotted heroine-worship was a little pitiable. All these years that Val had been so sure he was silently nursing his injuries and modestly contemplating his own superiority, he had been on the side of the oppressor.

"H'm!" mused Val. "I s'pose she was different, then, to her own children."

"Ah yes; I've often observed the softening of late years."

"The what?"

"The growing tolerance, the forbearance with my children, that she never showed Valeria and me."

Val's imagination reeled at the thought of what her grandmother could have been like when she was more intolerant than she was to-day. And it was all forgotten and forgiven! Here he was now leaving glittering generalities, and telling story after story of his mother's courage and her wisdom. She did seem to have been a useful kind of parent, and it appeared she had been more generous in money matters than Val had thought.

[Pg 181]

"And what she did that time she has always done. She never failed anybody who depended on her. I always think of her when I read the lines:

"'Oh iron nerve to true occasion true,
... that tower of strength
Which stood four-square to all the winds that blew!'

Try to understand your grandmother, my child," he wound up; "she is the Pallas Athene of our line."

Val did not know that an American is never so happy as when he is vaunting his womenkind. But in her estimation Pallas does better over your chamber door than in an arm-chair looking at you—through you—with a grandmother's spectacles. You forget what a heroine she is when she criticises the way you sit—"A lady never crosses her legs;" and the way you walk—"I used to swing my arms too—very bad habit; you should study repose." And when wrought upon by your too generous-judging father, or by some private discovery of her worth, you burst out: "Oh, I do love you!" it chills you to get for all response: "You don't love me, or you'd behave differently. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.'"

It was no better later on, when, with growing freedom of speech and warmth of feeling, you would ask in an engaging way: "Why don't you love me?" and get for answer: "It's a mistake to think your relations owe you love; you have to earn it from them as you do in the world outside." Worst of all, and most humiliating to the eager spirit, was it to be "warded off" if you came to kiss her oftener than good-morning and good-night. "We are not a kissing family," she would say; and you cringed under the blow.

No; Pallas Athene was not an unqualified success—as a grandmother.

There were times, indeed, when her shortcomings nearly drove her granddaughter into considering an elopement with Harry Wilbur, the eighteen-year-old son of Judge Wilbur. With mental apologies to her ideal hero, Val had kept up a vigorous correspondence with Harry,[Pg 182] pending the time when the superior suitor should carry her off, and save her the trouble and ungraciousness of breaking the pleasant chains that bade fair, as the days went on, to bind her to her gallant young Hercules. Harry Wilbur was captain of the base-ball team, and the darling hero of the entire New Plymouth Seminary. Most of these studious young ladies thought more of manly strength and of that particular grace that is born of bodily vigor than they did of the qualities of the mind. It was as if, all untutored, they had the improvement of the physique of the race at heart. Julia Otway, for instance, would descant almost daily upon Harry Wilbur's "splendid figure," and how he held his shoulders; how he walked from the hip, and how easily he played the hottest game. She would give as adequate reason for despising some more wealthy or more intellectual citizen, that she hated men who did uninteresting things for a living or did nothing at all. Val shared this spirit of Julia's to an extent that gave her a pleasant sense of victory when young Wilbur showed her more attention at dances and archery tournaments than he showed the other girls. Besides, this open devotion made Ernest Halliwell sad, and Jerry Otway "mad," and that was highly agreeable. But Harry didn't "care a fip," as Jerusha said, about music, and music was the supreme affair of life until—until—


Every year saw the resources of the Ganos lessening, the problem of life more difficult to solve.

"You see," Val would say, radiant, "it just shows the need for me to study singing and make money."

"You? Ridiculous and most improper! No woman of your family has ever dreamed of taking money for anything she has done."

The following summer—or "on June 18," as he would have said, taking care to add the year, and even the hour—John Gano received a shock. A kindly letter had come to him from his old flame, Mrs. Otway, to say that, although he seemed to have forgotten her, still, for old friendship's[Pg 183] sake, and out of affection for Val, she felt it a neighborly duty to tell him in confidence that his eldest daughter was making preparations to run away and be a chorus-girl in New York. Mrs. Otway's own daughter had been so oppressed by the enormity of the secret, that she had told her mother. Julia had broken open her bank and given all her savings to "the cause." It was understood, too, that Val had other sources of revenue not revealed. However, merely to deprive her of the money might not be sufficient to head her off, as she had been heard to say she was going to New York, if she had to walk there.

John Gano did not break the awful news to his mother. He betrayed nothing unusual in his aspect, as he said to his daughter:

"It's a glorious afternoon! Shall we go for a walk?"

Val was not as enthusiastic as she had been wont to be, but after the fraction of a moment's preoccupied hesitation she answered, brightly:

"I should love it!"

"Come, then."

He caught up his blackthorn stick, and they set off. Val chatted about the school Commencement, about the new archery club, and how "horrid much" the bows and arrows cost.

"I dare say I could make you a set," said her father. "I always made my own cross-bows as a boy."

"I know. And when you were only eight you cut and carved and glued together a perfect model of a stage-coach. You are wonderful about making things; but these big bows have to be of orange-wood, tough and limber, you know."

"Hickory would do."

"No; they have to be all alike. That's what parents never realize. Gran'ma was just so about my gymnasium dress. But Jerry Otway's going to bring a piece of orange-wood back. He traded with another boy at the Military Institute, swopped an old racket for it. He's going to see if he can't do a home-made bow, so's you can't tell the difference, varnish and all."

[Pg 184]

"When does Jerry get back?"

"A week from to-morrow, in time for Julie's birthday-party."

They had gone a mile or so along the old turnpike road. The sun was still very hot and the dust ankle-deep. Mr. Gano stopped meditatively, and struck his blackthorn into the gray "MacAdam" powder.

"Yet, in spite of all this to occupy and amuse you, you want to turn your back on it all."


"I understand you are thinking of running away."

Val gave a little gasp, and prayed the dusty road might gape and swallow her.


"Don't be frightened, and don't be sorry that I know," he said, gently. "I think you ought to have told me before."

She ventured to lift a pair of very anxious eyes.

"I don't blame you. You are an unfortunate child."

"Child? I am in my sixteenth year," she interposed, with dignity.

"You are an unfortunate child," he repeated, firmly, "with a great deal of surplus energy. It must go somewhere. It's a law of nature; only I hadn't quite realized how it was with you. You never seemed at a loss."

"You knew I was just dying for want of proper music-lessons."

She could not keep the excited tears out of her eyes.

"Well, well!" her father muttered, leaning with both hands on his stick and scrutinizing the dust. "I wonder if a few music-lessons couldn't be managed."

"A few? I don't want a few: I want months and years! I want to act and sing in grand opera, and—be famous," she said, to herself, but aloud—"make heaps of money."

Her father turned to walk back to the town, saying, calmly:

"Oh, as to acting and singing, that of course—"

[Pg 185]

She opened her eyes wide. Did he understand? Was he going to relent?

"A young person's wanting to go on the stage and astonish the world with her genius—that's natural enough."

Val began to shrink. She hadn't mentioned genius.

"It's a very usual sentiment, I believe, among young people," he went on, in the same calm voice. "It's a ferment natural to their time of life—not very serious, any more than first love or measles."

Val grew stiffer and more dignified with each word he uttered.

"Anybody would think from what you say, father"—she was holding herself down with difficulty—"that people all gave up music when they arrived at years of discretion. There is such a person as Patti after all, and there may be somebody somewhere better than Patti, just"—her voice began to shake—"just waiting for a little help."

"Ah, better than Patti!"

He smiled. The look of tender amusement fell like a lash upon the spirit of his child.

"Oh yes, it's all very well to laugh, father. You don't care. Nothing matters any more to you. I dare say, even when you were young, you didn't know what it was like to feel that you'd be chopped up into little fine pieces rather than go on in the old dull way that most people do."

A quick, dim look, like the ghost of an ancient pain, flitted over the worn face of the man; but he walked on, saying nothing.

"You don't know what it's like to look over there for years and years"—she flung out a hand to the horizon—"and say to yourself, day in and day out, 'Beyond that blue line is the world! Oh, when shall I be seeing the world?'" She stopped, and so did her father, turning now to look at the excited face. "Some people never do," she said, with a kind of incredulous horror. "I can't sleep sometimes for thinking of how, here in New Plymouth, there are all these people, with all their senses (so far as you can see), and arms, and legs, and money, and yet here[Pg 186] they sit, just where they happened to be dumped—sit and wait till they die! Oh, it's like a nightmare, thinking of them! I feel if I don't run away quick while I'm awake and able to move, I shall freeze fast in my hole, too, and never be able to reach all the beautiful things that are waiting—out there!" She nodded over to the encircling hills. "Think of it!" and the bright tears tumbled out of her shining eyes.

"I don't want my little girl to miss any good thing," he said, presently, as they were nearing the town.

"Then help me, father. Be kind to me."

She came closer, and touched his sleeve.

"But the things waiting for those who venture out there"—he turned a look full of foreboding on the blue horizon—"they aren't all, or even most of them, good things."

"No, no. I've heard that; but I'll make the best of them."

He shook his head.

"You haven't a notion what a hard world it is for women—and for men, my dear. I want to save my little girl from—"

"What does it matter if I do have a hard time? I expect a hard time. Nobody could invent a time so hard that I couldn't bear it, and come out of it! Oh, you'll see—"

"Perhaps, when you are older—"

"Older!" Her face flashed quick alarm. "I'm dreadfully old already. I ought to have begun when I was twelve. There's little enough time to learn all I have to. If I don't run away quick—father, I feel it in my bones—something will happen; I shall never go, I shall stick here like the rest, till—till the end."

He glanced sideways at her. She met his eyes with a look he had never seen in them before.

"Val—" he cleared his throat as they neared the Fort.

"Father!" she interrupted quickly. "Don't ask me to say I won't run away. I couldn't keep such a promise."

[Pg 187]

"That was not what I was going to suggest," he answered, completing a sudden mental readjustment. "I have nothing more to say against your plan, only I think it must be rather dull to run away alone. Suppose we run away together?"

"Together, father?"

"Yes; I—I think I'm on the track of a valuable discovery, and I must follow it up."


"Well, you needn't speak of it to—a—to any one, just yet."

"No, no, father." She was strung up to the great romantic revelation.

"Well, I believe—indeed, I am sure—that all the hot gas and blinding electric light in use in most houses are very injurious to eyesight."

She stopped and stared at him. Was he going mad? Had she heard aright? The great romantic revelation that wasn't to be spoken of to any one—

He struck his blackthorn energetically on the ground and went on:

"The increase of eye troubles is appalling. What the world wants"—he looked up suddenly with enthusiasm, and Val took heart—"what the world wants is—is a safe and soft-burning reading-lamp at a moderate price. A whole family shouldn't depend on one or two; every man his own lamp. I'm inventing it. I shall take out a patent next winter, and—well, it might make a fortune."

"How nice!" said his daughter, slowly.

John Gano seemed to hear no hint of disillusionment in the tone. He straightened himself up.

"I'm giving Black a share in it," he said, with a magnanimous air, "for a mere nominal sum, which I am spending in inspecting all the new burners and contrivances; they're all failures, not worth house-room. I've promised to see Black in New York next November, and he and I are going on to Washington for the patent. All anybody need know is that I'm taking you East with me on a little visit, and you can look over the field."

[Pg 188]

"Father! Father!" she felt for his hand. As they went up the tumble-down steps to the porch, two pairs of eyes were bent on the blue horizon.


What helped a little to reconcile Val to waiting till November was not only the simplification of the money question, but also the fact that it gave her time to carry out a daring scheme that had been suggested by the contents of the last foreign mail. No letters; but addressed in cousin Ethan's hand, a French magazine with a queer mystical kind of a story in it, marked, and a London Pall Mall Gazette with a poem signed "E. G." It was not the first time Mrs. Gano had received matters of this sort in lieu of a letter, and when she did she was always angrier, Val thought, than if she had got nothing at all.

But the poem in the Pall Mall set Val thinking. It was no part of her scheme of life to have a pleasure trip to New York and return with a mere "look over the field." She must lay her plans carefully and not trust to luck. No stone should be left unturned in her endeavor to make the most of this glorious opportunity. Cousin Ethan! Could he, perhaps, be turned to account? If there were any influence or advice he could offer, of course he would be most happy. Val would be intensely grateful to him; but all the same, it would be the crowning pride of his life that he had helped to launch his cousin on the tide of fame.

She sat down and wrote to him surreptitiously, made a score of drafts, and finally evolved this copy:

"The Fort, June 20.

"My dear Cousin Ethan,—I have never written to you but once since I was a child. I have never told you anything except that I wished you 'A Merry Christmas,' or was glad you were coming—which you know you never did. I don't think you ever will, and, besides, I can't wait for you. It may seem funny that, not knowing you any better, I should write you now about a matter of the deepest importance, but you are my cousin, and, after my father, you are my nearest kinsman, and I am in need of help. I want to be a singer—not a mere parlor warbler, but a Great Singer. I have a tremendous voice.[Pg 189] I am obliged to tell you this, since you can't hear it. I practise every day by myself, though I can't use the piano much on account of grandma. I have always led the singing at school; all the rest, nearly three hundred girls, follow. But I have never been able properly to study music. I was going to run away and be a chorus girl till I could earn enough to study for grand opera, but my father has induced me to wait—just a little. He is going to take me East in the fall, and says I may 'Look over the field.' He says, too, it will give me an opportunity of seeing how difficult it is to do what I mean to do. But I don't think it's a good plan to take all that trouble (his cough is very bad) just to show me the thing is difficult. What I want to be shown is the way—no matter how hard—that it may be done. The trouble is, that my dear father, who knows many great scientists, and a few politicians, doesn't know any famous singers, and nobody about here does, and nobody seems to know any one who ever did know an opera-singer, much less a manager. My grandmother has often told me that you have artistic tastes, and now comes the Pall Mall of London with your 'Song for Sylvia.' I've made up five tunes to it, and I think you would like them, since, unlike my family, you are artistic. I've been thinking a person like you must have great opportunities. You probably know singers, managers, musicians, and all sorts of delightful people. I wonder if you would help me to find out how a girl with a very exceptional voice can get it heard and get it trained? I know there are people who do these things, and when they discover a great voice they make their fortunes; so it is not a favor in the end on the part of the manager. But if you showed me the way, and could lend me five hundred dollars, it would always be a favor from you, and I would be grateful to you for ever and ever. If you will send me a letter of introduction to a manager, I think that would be best—that and five hundred dollars—and perhaps you would be so very kind as to send me the lives of Jenny Lind and Patti. It would help me to know what steps they took. I don't mind any hardship or any labor—I mind nothing but not getting my chance. Don't be afraid of encouraging me to do something the family has not been accustomed to—my father is on my side; and, anyhow, they would have to kill me before they could keep me back now. So you will not feel any responsibility. I would rather be helped by you because you are my relation, but if you won't, I must find somebody else. I remain, your affectionate cousin,

"Val Gano.

"P.S.—I am a good deal over fifteen; strangers all think I am twenty.

"P.S. No. 2.—Of course I will pay back the five hundred dollars, principal and interest. I will send you a promissory note, like the arithmetic says."

[Pg 190]

This document was conveyed to the mail with secrecy and despatch. The days went by like malicious snails; she had never known time drag before. The slow weeks gathered into monotonous months, and still no answer. Never mind, she would do everything just the same—better—without his help. Her future triumphs took on more the aspect of a judgment on cousin Ethan than a mere reward to Val. She made up scenes of the coming encounters, when, from the vantage-ground of being "better than Patti," she would overwhelm her cousin with scorn. She would meet him as a perfect stranger, declare her surprise at his claiming her for his cousin. He would find his chief distinction in this kinship. He would lay his millions at her feet. She would spurn them. "I have my own millions now. Had it been earlier, cousin, it had been kind."

September was drawing to a close. Everything was merging now in the excitement of the Eastern trip, fixed for the end of November.

Idling in the autumn sunshine at the front door after breakfast one morning, Val and Emmie had a friendly scuffle as to who should take the mail from the postman. The little heap of letters and papers was soon sown broadcast in the fray, and still no sign of either yielding, till Val was arrested on catching sight of the addressed side of one of the envelopes—"Mrs. Sarah C. Gano," in cousin Ethan's hand. But the real significance lay in the stamp. Not this time the scantily-clad gentleman and lady, clasping hands over a mauve world, of the République Française; no goggle-eyed, mustachioed Umberto, in blue, with his hair on end, and Poste Italiane Centesimi Venticinque round him in an oval frame; it was not even the twopenny-half-penny indigo head of Queen Victoria; but their own rosy two-cent Washington, risking his health in a low-neck coat, but saving his dignity by the queue. This was the first letter from Ethan in five years that did not bear a foreign postmark. While Val stood staring, Emmie had whipped up the letters and carried them in to her grandmother.

[Pg 191]

Val, in an agony of suspense, remained in the hall. Presently Emmie came flying out, clapping her hands. Mrs. Gano followed briskly with the open letter.

"All those old Tallmadges are dead!" cried Emmie, jumping up and down behind her grandmother. "He's been back in America over two months, and he's coming here next week."

Mrs. Gano was hurrying up-stairs to tell her son the great news.

[Pg 192]


Despite the distractions of a host of wandering fancies, Ethan Gano had been kept fairly closely at his studies till he had passed his twentieth birthday. To be sure, there had been a threatened interruption the spring before, when he seemed suddenly to lose interest in his work, and went about with vacant looks and airs of profound preoccupation. Old Mr. Tallmadge, observing him narrowly, decided that his grandson had got into debt, and that he was nervous about confessing. Ethan had never shown a proper regard for money. This was one of the many un-Tallmadge-like qualities developed by the years. It was a matter of paramount importance to counteract this flaw in Aaron Tallmadge's sole surviving heir, since of late years the old man's affairs had prospered more than ever. About the time of his brother Elijah's death, he had financed a manufacturing enterprise which, starting on a modest scale, had turned out fabulously successful. He was one of the "moneyed men" of the State. In addition to this piece of shrewd speculation, he found the income from his newspaper doubled in the last few years. Ah, yes! nothing was of so much importance now as Ethan's fitness to gather in and husband the golden harvest. If he had been further exemplifying his unthrifty proclivities, if he needed to be told that borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry—Mr. Tallmadge, not trusting to any unperceived facilities for impromptu speech, rehearsed mentally the lecture he would administer. Ethan mustn't run away with the idea that the Tallmadge accumulations were only waiting for a lavish hand to redistribute. The first lesson a young man with his prospects must be made to learn was the value of a [Pg 193]dollar. But Ethan wore a gracious kind of reticence wrapped like a mantle round his young life. His grandfather knew very little about him, but the old man had himself belonged to the inarticulate ones of earth, and he never realized that, to this quiet, non-committal grandson of his expression of some sort was a master passion. How should Aaron Tallmadge have suspected such a thing? Some time before this Ethan quietly, alone, without making a sign, had gone through a religious crisis not uncommon to his age and era. "No use to upset the family," he said to himself when he found he had come out on the other side of Tallmadge-Presbyterianism; and he went regularly to church with his grandfather without comment and without misgiving. There were still grave problems to be faced—too grave, in fact, for him to be beguiled into fancying this was one.

Now, in the midst of a perturbation not greater, but less easily disguised, he held his peace as a matter of course. Some early developed quality of aloofness in him held inquiry at bay. Then suddenly the clouds lifted. He was radiant and full of covert smiling.

Mr. Tallmadge resented this phase more than the former gloom.

"He's paying heavy interest, the young fool! and can't realize that that way damnation lies."

But all the old man's clumsy efforts to bring about an explanation were unavailing. Ethan declared with some surprise that he was not in need of funds. Mr. Tallmadge began to scrutinize the letters that came. Three mornings in succession a business-like envelope addressed in the same clerkly hand! Alone, before the fire in the dining-room, waiting for breakfast that third morning, the old man solemnly deliberated, glanced at the clock, and grumbled to himself that Ethan would certainly be ten minutes late as usual these days. "Perhaps he doesn't sleep." He examined the suspicious envelope. The flap was not securely gummed down. Mr. Tallmadge glanced again at the clock. He had not the least doubt as to his right—"duty" he would[Pg 194] have said—to open the letter of this unconfiding minor, who was his ward and grandson—an unpractical youth, moreover, of absolutely no business capacity whatever. Still, although Mr. Tallmadge would never have admitted it, he was a little in awe of this grandson, with so little "Tallmadge" in him. It was essential to open the letter—no doubt about that; but it would be well to have the business over before Ethan appeared. Mr. Tallmadge's desire not to be interrupted in the act might have enlightened him as to its defensibility; but he was no casuist. He took up the letter, adjusted his spectacles, and walked to the window. Inserting a long finger-nail, he easily pried up the flap.

"My Darling Ethan,—Your last poem is the most beautiful thing I ever read in my life. It is far more wonderful than anything Shelley ever did. I shall be in the Beech Walk at five.

"Your wife, Almira."

Aaron Tallmadge clutched the red damask curtains, with a stifled groan. The breakfast-bell clanged loudly. Its echoes had not time to die before Ethan appeared, with shining morning face.

"Good-morning," he said, lightly, looking down at his plate. "No letters?"

"Yes, sir." Mr. Tallmadge turned his ashen countenance round. "There is a letter."

Ethan stared at him and ran forward.

"What's the matter? Are you ill?"

Mr. Tallmadge warded him off with a shaking hand.

"You scoundrel!"

Ethan drew himself up arrow-straight, and his warm brown eyes grew cold.

"I knew there was some devilry afoot. I never dreamed it was as bad as this."

The old man flung the open letter down on the nearest chair.

Ethan colored, catching sight of the hand.

"So you've been reading my letters?"

[Pg 195]

"Yes; I only wish to the Lord I had exercised that right before. I might have saved you from this ruin!"

"You couldn't have saved me, sir, if that's any satisfaction."

"It's no use to think what might have been—" The old man sat down, almost fell into the chair by the window where he had thrown the letter. "Was she a decent woman?"

"Was she a—" Ethan repeated, bewildered.

"Who is she?" thundered old Tallmadge, with renewed rage.

"Almira Marlowe."

"Marlowe! Any relation to—"

"Daughter of the new Professor of Physics."

"Ha! might be worse, I suppose. But—Marlowe? Marlowe? He's the new man, isn't he?"


"Marlowe? Why, it isn't a month since he was installed."

"Six weeks."

"And all this happened in six weeks?"


Mr. Tallmadge's lean face worked, speechless; then, finding a fury-choked voice:

"Tell me the circumstances, and let me see if anything can be done."

"Nothing can be done. It's irrevocable."

"But it isn't legal. You haven't a penny. You're under age."

"We can wait."

"Just what you couldn't do, apparently. You—you—"

After he had worked off his fit of incoherency, he resumed:

"Well, you've succeeded in wrecking your life pretty thoroughly. And only nineteen! How old is the girl?"


"I see," muttered the old man. "Well, I suppose now that it's 'irrevocable,' as you say, you'd better take me into your confidence."

[Pg 196]

"I don't see that you've left me much choice."

"Where is she living now?"

"In Cambridge," said Ethan, with some surprise.

"With her father still?"


"You saw her there?"



Ethan grew scarlet, and then, frowning doggedly:

"I saw her first in her garden one morning as I was going to Hall."


"I've answered your question."

"No, you haven't. I must know the facts of the case before I can— You made acquaintance with her that first day?"

"I didn't speak to her."

The old man stared with mystified little eyes at his grandson's flushed face.

"She was there every day when you passed by?"


"H'm! Of course she would be there. When did you speak to her?"

"Not for three weeks."

He half turned away.

"Good Lord! Barely a fortnight ago!"

Ethan didn't deny it.

"How did you come to know her?"

The young face grew dark. He was writhing under the catechism.

"Charlie Hammond showed her a poem I had written for the Harvard Oracle. She sent me a message about it."


"Then I went to call with Hammond."


"Then—then I met her in the Beech Walk."

"Ah! The Beech Walk."

"Yes; twice."

[Pg 197]

"And then?"

"That's all."

"Don't tell me lies, sir!"

Ethan stood before him cold and rigid on a sudden. No flush now on the clear-cut features.

"You've no right to speak to me as you're doing, not if you were fifty grandfathers."

"Where did these other meetings take place, sir? Did old Marlowe countenance them?"

"There were no other meetings."

Ethan turned away.

"Now, look here!"—the old man arraigned him with a shaking hand—"you can't undo the bitter disappointment you are to me, but you can and you owe it to me to tell me fairly and squarely the details of this wretched business. I can't proceed in the matter if I'm in the dark."

"You proceed in the matter?"

Ethan wheeled about and faced him.

"It's quite plain that you were merely a yielding fool in the matter—girl older, and you—"


"—and you easy to convince that you ought to make reparation."

Ethan seemed to have ears only for the first part of this accusation. He spoke through Mr. Tallmadge's last words with a passionate shake in his voice.

"It's quite plain, at all events, grandfather, that I love her, and that nothing in heaven or on earth can part us."

"Of course—of course. A fortnight—a girl you barely knew by sight!"

"I know her absolutely. There isn't another like her on this earth."

"And you want me to believe you've spoken to her only three or four times in your life?"

"I don't specially want you to believe it, but it's true."

"Who could you find to marry you?"

"Who could I—to marry me?" He looked as if he had[Pg 198] begun to doubt the old man's sanity. "Why, I've never asked anybody but Almira."

"Yes, yes, yes. Who could you find to overlook the age question? Who performed the ceremony?"


"Oh, ho! Registry-office performance, eh? and perjury! Monstrous irreligion! My grandson!"

"What do you mean?" But a light was beginning to dawn.

"Who were your witnesses?"

Ethan laughed and flushed, and then grew serious again.

"Of course, it's exactly the same as if we were married, exactly the same." He flashed a broadside of defiance out of shining eyes. "But we know we can't well be married while I'm a minor, and—"

"You aren't married?"

"Oh no. But—"

"Then, what in the name of Jehoshaphat is all this damned—what's all this disturbance about?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

Mr. Tallmadge mopped his brow, and looked about distractedly, like one who has lost his thread in a labyrinth.

"However, it's exactly the same as if we were—"

"Exactly tomfool!"

The old man got up and walked a few shaky paces back and forth. Turning, he caught sight of the letter he'd been sitting upon.

"Wife!" he exclaimed. "What the d—— What does she mean by calling herself your—" and he stopped suddenly with a look of contemptuous comprehension.

"Does she?"

Ethan, with a start forward, had clutched the letter greedily. He couldn't, perhaps he didn't even try to keep the great gladness out of his face as he read. Mr. Tallmadge watched him with equivocal eyes. Then, dryly:

"If I were in your shoes that signature would alarm me."

"I think it very beautiful of her," said Ethan, softly.

[Pg 199]

"And not alarming?"

"Alarming?" He knitted puzzled brows. "I begged her to think of me as—like this."

There was a pause.

"It's not her doing," he resumed, hastily, striking out at some indistinct enemy lurking behind the old man's looks. "No ceremony could make us surer of each other. That's why we're not unhappy. It's exactly the same as if we were married."

"Exactly?" He eyed the young face shrewdly, and then, a little baffled by its mixture of sensitive shrinking and frank defiance: "You will oblige me by not keeping this appointment"—he motioned to the letter.

"I'm sorry I can't oblige you, sir."

"Reflect a moment."

"I can't even reflect about it. She's going away to-morrow to spend several months with her sister. After that she goes back to Vassar. I may not see her again till next summer."

"You don't mean she's going back to school this fall?"

"Yes. She lost a year. They couldn't afford— But now she's going to finish her course."

"Good Lord!"

"I beg your pardon."

"There's no reason why she shouldn't go back to school?"

"Reason why—? No."

A light broke, or rather a darkness spread, over the young man's face, wiping out the grace, stamping it fiercely with detestation of him who had dared think insulting thoughts of Almira. But the old man was smiling and rubbing his parchment hands.

"Tempest in a teacup! Come and have breakfast," he said, walking to the table; "everything's getting cold."

But Ethan put the letter of the clerkly hand into his breast-pocket, and went towering out of the room.

Aaron Tallmadge chuckled genially as he rang for hot buckwheat cakes.

[Pg 200]

"Romantic! absurd! Great baby!" he muttered, and opened the morning paper—his paper—Ethan's by-and-by.

Ethan had not needed his grandfather's recommendation to abstain from mentioning in any letter to Mrs. Gano that her more and more irregular correspondent had been ill that last severe winter before he came of age, or that he considered himself engaged to be married to a girl older than himself and penniless. Mr. Tallmadge persistently affected to put this last achievement aside as sheer youthful nonsense. But those letters in the misleading hand came to Ashburton Place with irritating regularity. He began secretly to await with no small anxiety Ethan's view of the moral as well as legal liberty conferred by the distinction of being twenty-one. Before that moment arrived, the doctors were agreeing that the young man must not, till his health should be established, spend another Christmas in New England.

"At the end of the Indian summer away with him."

"By all means," said Mr. Tallmadge. "Why wait even for the summer? All he needs is a thorough change."

The old man was thinking—thinking not alone of the health, but ambitiously of the future, of his grandson.

"Where shall I send him?" asked Mr. Tallmadge.

"It doesn't much matter where he is in the summer," the doctors agreed; "but get him south of Mason and Dixon's line next winter."

These insensate medicos had no bowels of political compassion. They must have known well enough that the region indicated was not a part of the world lightly to be recommended to Aaron Tallmadge.

"I'll go and visit my Gano relations," Ethan had said, promptly.

"You'll do nothing of the kind," returned his grandfather. "It's no reason, because you feel the cold here, that I should send you where you'd catch yellow fever and malaria."

From the Tallmadge point of view, Mason and Dixon's line did no less than divide habitable from uninhabitable[Pg 201] America. Voluntarily to cross the kindly boundary was contrary to reason. There was no difficulty in deciding that Italy or the South of France would be more advantageous for the young man's conversance with modern languages, as well as farther away from Almira Marlowe, and more tolerable to his grandfather and guardian than Virginia or Florida.

Mr. Tallmadge's capable junior partner was able to relieve his chief of all active concern in the conduct of business till Ethan should be ready to assume command. To this latter end, a few years' foreign travel, and a thorough re-establishment of the young man's health, were next in order. The plan worked well on the health score. A summer in England and a winter on the Riviera seemed to have set Ethan free from the family infirmity, but also to have whetted his appetite for foreign life, and increased his indifference to the proud post of chief proprietor of the greatest Republican organ in New England. But this might be merely the first effects of Miss Almira's having thrown over her first love and married a lawyer in Poughkeepsie, New York.

After all, Mr. Tallmadge reflected, his grandson was still very young, and intimate knowledge of life in other lands might not come amiss. So the energetic old man went to and fro, joining Ethan, now in Paris, now in London, travelling about with him during the summer, and returning alone to "the great Republican organ" in the autumn, leaving his grandson to new friends, new pursuits, and warmer winter haunts.

The young man was not all this time merely seeing life, he was recording it in desultory fashion. Some of his verses appearing in English periodicals raised a little dust of praise among a set in London calling itself critical. But it was the French point of view that most appealed to him.

He was under that spell which France knows so well how to cast round the young man of artistic instinct. Her tongue was the peerless language of letters. Through no medium less supple, less subtle, could the complexities of[Pg 202] modern life and thought hope for adequate literary expression.

And so the pleasant facile days went by in idly roving, idly writing, meeting interrogatively his predestinate experience and setting the more presentable answers down. Where answer there was none, he aped the older men, whom he called "Masters," and made shift with more or less cynical guesses. It was these last that brought him his little meed of precocious success. He had not originality enough to see that the cynicism was not his own. He was not, and seemingly was not to be, of the stature that can wear simple sincerity in the grand manner. That writer, young or old, must have something of true greatness in him who can hold out long in these days against the flattering temptation of hinting that he is laughing in his sleeve at all solemn persons. And yet no doubt seriousness was the dominant note in the young American's character, a seriousness that still looked askance at itself, and smiled oftener at its own gravity than at any other wrinkle in the tragi-comic mask of humanity.

He had seen something of what people in London and Paris called "society," had been very well amused, but not enamoured of it. When men who made letters a profession—perhaps one should say trade—admonished him: "Never refuse a swagger invitation. Your opportunities, considering you're a foreigner, are simply unheard of. Go everywhere, see everything. You must know life before you can write about it," Ethan would say, half impatiently: "As if you could escape from life! As if art kept her treasures in the jewel-cases of the aristocracy, and never displayed them except at social functions!"

Even in indulgent Paris he was a good deal chaffed about his success with the fair. It is a thing other men reconcile themselves to with difficulty. Some one said once to Ethan's old school friend, De Poincy:

"No one but a woman has any business to be as good-looking as that fellow Gano. I couldn't trust a man with a face like that."

[Pg 203]

"Oh, you may trust him right enough," De Poincy answered. "And as to his face—look at that jaw of his."

"Anything the matter with his jaw?"

"There's 'man' enough in that to relieve your mind. Oh, he's a stubborn brute, Gano is; but you can trust him." And people did trust him.

But not only did he tire presently of the gay and flaunting aspect of social life, his fastidiousness by-and-by turned aside as well from those less presentable experiences that dog the rich and idle youth of capitals.

At first with a dull old tutor, and presently without him, he had for headquarters a tiny appartement in Paris. It was there, or with the De Poincys in Nice, that he felt most at home. Something over two years had gone by in this agreeable fashion when his grandfather addressed to him a temperate but very serious letter inviting him to return, either to complete his interrupted studies "on American lines," or to enter at once on his initiation into the practical duties of editorship. Ethan at first temporized, and then, being pressed, declined to pursue either course. He "liked living abroad." This fact, thus stated, greatly irritated old Tallmadge. He ordered his grandson home. Ethan wrote, still very politely, but quite definitely, refusing to come just then. Mr. Tallmadge, angrier than ever, cabled, "Is it on account of health? Are you afraid of climate?" Ethan cabled back: "Perfectly well. Prefer Paris."

This lack of patriotism on the part of a grandson of his seemed to Aaron Tallmadge nothing short of revolutionary. It was no use Ethan's quoting to him, Tout homme a deux pays, le sien et puis la France. The more Mr. Tallmadge pondered the matter, the more he felt convinced that this incredible preference for Paris was the shameful mask of some other preference. "Some woman's got hold of him again," he decided. "I'll soon settle that." Whereupon he wired: "Come right home, or I stop allowance."

Then was his grandson most unreasonably angry. He sent back, in a blank sheet of writing-paper, the recently[Pg 204] received check for the next quarter, which he had neglected to cash, and he looked about for employment. Henri de Poincy, who had recently passed into the diplomatic service, was now in Russia; but young Gano started out on his quest of a living with no foreboding. He went to see various men of affairs, firm friends of his, he felt convinced, and stated the case; in fact, a cooler head than Ethan's might have suspected he overstated it. It was true he had received a "final" letter, which he thought most insulting, full of a crudely expressed conviction that Ethan was in the toils of some foreign woman, and saying that unless he returned instantly his grandfather would know this suspicion was well founded, in which case the young man had nothing to expect from him in the future.

Those persons of influence whom young Gano had consulted in his dilemma all promised to keep him in mind and see what they could do, and most of them thereafter forgot even to invite him to dinner. He began to realize that being a young American of leisure, with no axe to grind, with an absurdly large income for a man of his years, and known to be sole heir to one of the big fortunes "in the States," was an altogether different matter from being a person suddenly bereft of these advantages. He gave up his charming appartement in the Champs-Elysées, and presently found that he couldn't keep even the single room he had taken in the Rue de Miroménil. He moved to the Rue de Provence.

He was in low water—very low water, indeed—before he got the post of Parisian correspondent on a London paper. With this diminutive buoy he managed to keep afloat; but his former position as an independent young gentleman with large expectations was blown upon, and no one more hypersensitive than he to the outward and visible signs of people's appreciation of his altered circumstances. He withdrew more and more from the swim. Smart Parisian society and the rich American colony knew him no more. After a while his English editor complained that his news was becoming too exclusively "literary and artistic; we [Pg 205]expected something about the races last week. Give us more society."

To this the Parisian correspondent replied: "I never yet wrote about society unless indirectly, and I do not propose to begin."

"There was formerly," persisted the editor, who knew quite well what he wanted, "a flavor of the fashionable world about your Parisian notes, which our readers miss. French art and Bohemia are overdone."

Gano sold some valuable books, and went over to London with the proceeds to have it out with the editor. The upshot of the interview was that he declined to furnish any more "Notes." The editor seemed perfectly resigned. However, after the struggle in Paris, Gano was convinced that London was the likelier place for him to find a footing. In the background of his mind he had already, when he sold his books, foreseen and accepted the result of the further discussion of his "Notes." He would at all events be on the spot in London, and would quickly find some opening. Talent was not the drug in the market here, he told himself, that it was in France.

[Pg 206]


And day after day, week after week, while he sought an opening, he very nearly starved. In a couple of months he had arrived at the conclusion that the fight in London was more sordid and more dispiriting than the direst poverty in Paris. About this time he came in for a distasteful piece of hack journalism, that brought him a disproportionate loathing and an inadequate reward of five pounds. He was strongly tempted to invest a part of this sole capital in returning to France. A couple of days later a letter arrived through the London branch of the Paris bankers from Henri de Poincy, back in the South of France on a holiday. He asked for Ethan's private address, and said if he did not hear something satisfactory by return he would conclude the beastly English climate had made him ill; in which case he was straightway coming over to look Ethan up, and persuade him to return to his friends in Nice. If he did not hear by wire or letter in three days, De Poincy would come to London and see what was the matter. They were all anxious at his silence.

This determined the matter. Gano was not going to have his old friend find him in his present plight. Besides, he already owed him money, and had sworn to himself that he would not meet De Poincy again till he could go to him with the sum in his hands. Henri was far from well off, and, since his father's death the year before, had helped to support his sisters. Ethan wired: "Leaving London; quite well; remembrance to all; writing," and took the night-boat to Dieppe. He delayed further communication till he knew Henri would be back in Petersburg, and by that time he was able, by living on next to[Pg 207] nothing, to return a part of the loan, and to represent himself as intensely glad to be in his old haunts again. These haunts were in reality very new, albeit in Paris; but he did not enter into details further than to say he was rediscovering the fact that he could write French much more easily and much better than he could English, and was doing some book-reviewing for the Lendemain.

He might have added, but did not, that he was getting at first-hand a very considerable knowledge of the darker side of life, but had no impulse to make artistic use of it. It did not stimulate, it did not even interest—it paralyzed him. "If I'd had the makings of a genuine poet in me," he admitted to Henri de Poincy afterwards, "those years might have buffeted some good work out of me. But my muse was a miserable time-server, like the rest of my fine acquaintance. She left me when I wanted bread. The fact was, I was feeling life too keenly to write about it. Poetizing in the face of such suffering as I saw and shared seemed a drivelling impertinence. Life was more terrible, more tremendous than anything any poet had said about it, or could say."

Gano was unconsciously making of himself an obscure example of the fact that a man's temperament will find him out upon the removal of the artificial ballast. This removal so seldom takes place that the vaguest notions abound as to any given person's specific gravity. We go through life unconsciously floated, balanced, by family, by inherited friends, inherited pursuits, inherited opinions, inherited money—by a thousand conditions not made by ourselves, but found ready-made to our hands, an expression of other people's energy, supporting or neutralizing our own. Gano's inclinations, not being volcanic or epoch-making, had been, up to the time of the break with his grandfather, dutifully filtered through environing circumstance. Even so, Mr. Tallmadge had had occasion to condemn his grandson's "queer tastes," his "visionary notions," his girlish compassion for suffering, his hypersensitiveness to blame, his even greater shrinking from[Pg 208] hurting the feelings of others. The tough old New Englander's contempt for "sensitiveness" had at least done Ethan the service of giving him an exterior self-control, which seemed so far to deny the feelings it only masked, that he was able to pass comfortably in the crowd as a person more impassive, if anything, than the majority. But as soon as he was left to himself, and followed no longer by critical eyes, his natural bias announced itself. He felt less and less drawn to the insouciant artist life of the town; the happy-go-lucky ways lost their first fresh savor; the suppers, the orgies, the endless comment, quite as eager as any of the work and often more brilliant; the short, merry life of the happy little flies that buzz so busily about the flower-garden of art, and that vanish with the vanishing of day—they all ended by striking some note of discord in him, and making him feel out of place there. "Was he getting too old for this kind of thing?" he asked himself, with modern youth's morbid consciousness of the value certain people set upon one time of life to the exclusion of any other, forgetting that "to travel deliberately through one's ages is to get the heart out of a liberal education," and the heart out of enlightened satisfaction as well.

But Gano was, perhaps, only following the unwritten law that rules such haunts and their frequenters, for these gay Bohemians are all young—and very young indeed. No one knows where they go when their short hour is done. Their laughter lags a little behind the rest one day, and the next they are not there. A new face is in the old place, a younger voice is screaming theories and outlaughing the laughers who are left.

Gano knew whither one of these superannuated revellers of twenty-five or so had retired. This was a great good-looking Irishman, with an unaccountable French tongue in his rough, tawny head, the hardest worker, deepest drinker, and wildest theorist in the particular little circle that Gano had of late frequented. Dick Driscoll and he had got into the habit of coming away together from the modest café where the circle met. Now and then the[Pg 209] older man would drag Gano off on some wild adventure, or they would scour Paris with no definite end in view, arguing, disputing, catching effects, till midnight met the dawn. From living in the same quarter they came by-and-by to live under the same roof, as a direct result of the Irishman's being as ready to discuss theories of life in general, or even Gano's work in particular, as he had been to harangue "the painter fellows" about brushwork and values.

He pronounced those early poems "most awfully good, you know," and prophesied great things for the future. But for all this, deeper and deeper the conviction cut into Gano that he was not of the stuff that "makes its way in the world." This without any of the feeling that usually accompanies it—of contempt for those who were differently constituted. He sometimes soothed his harassed spirit, and consoled himself for his failures, by an odd inversion of common hopes. He bade himself realize that success would not bring him happiness, so why join the thoughtless chorus condemning poverty, obscurity, and hard work? These last were not the heads of his indictment against life. At other times he would shut his eyes to this revelation of himself to himself. "Skin-deep! skin-deep, like yours!" he burst out at Driscoll's observation on his friend's growing dissatisfaction with the scheme of things.

The Irishman was rather proud of his Schopenhauerism. It represented to him a mere mental gymnastic. This, too, although hard work, hard living, and hard drinking had injured his health, and the fact was more and more apparent. However, it is something behind experience that determines whether a man shall be an optimist or not. Gano shrank from an imputation of pessimism, as people do in whom the tendency is inborn and inveterate. "I tell you, Driscoll, if we weren't sharing it, we would think there was some good served by the ugliness and pain in the world, just as our betters do. If we took our place again in the holiday-making class, we should be as diverted as the rest, with all the games and make-believes. We, too,[Pg 210] should forget the essential cruelty of things." But behind the boast was a heart-sinking, and a sense that it was a lie.

He would try again: "Because life has treated me cavalierly I think I have little zest for it. If I weren't bruised from crown to toe, I'd think the world a bed of roses." And then he would remember that that was far from being the account he would ever have given of his consciousness of things.

Before he betook himself to Bohemia, Gano had spent no small portion of his time in the brilliant circle Madame Astier's grace and wit had gathered round her. The young American not only cherished an enthusiasm for his middle-aged hostess, but he discovered a deep admiration as well for the lady's husband, a distinguished advocate, whom she obviously adored. Gano's sensibilities did, it is true, shrink at first before the man's pitiless cynicism, which spared few persons and fewer ideals. But although merely dazzled at the beginning by his brilliancy, Gano came in time to be proud of his friendship, and to recognize in his point of view a wholesome, bitter tonic, a corrective to certain ills that young flesh is heir to. This man of fifty-four, who would have shrugged derisively at the notion of "teaching" anybody anything, was still in many young eyes the very type of the modern philosopher: believing blandly in the scientific point of view, unmoved by sentimentalities, unblinded by enthusiasms, keen-witted, farsighted, practising with eminent success, in the most highly civilized society in the world, the most difficult of the arts—the art of living.

Gano was very much shaken by the terrible story of the double suicide of this brilliant pair, whose marriage had been so romantic, whose life together had seemed the one ideal of the old kind that they admitted into their smiling existence.

M. Astier, as all the world was being told, had returned home as usual on this particular afternoon from the Palais de Justice. His wife had been holding a reception. One lady remained after the other visitors had gone. When at[Pg 211] last the door closed upon her, too, Madame Astier went to her husband's library and told him that the last visitor had outstayed the others to say that her husband was going to fight a duel on her account the next day with M. Astier, with whom she (the visitor) had an intrigue of three years' standing. She had come to Madame Astier to prevent the men's meeting.

A violent scene between husband and wife.

"The end has come!'" exclaims Astier.

"Yes, yes; we can't go on living after this!" cries the distracted wife.

She flies to her dressing-room and attempts to swallow poison. Astier's secretary rushes after her. While he is wrenching the poison away, the report of fire-arms. Both rush back to the library, where they find M. Astier bathed in blood, dying. The wife, before she can be hindered, puts the smoking pistol to her head, fires another fatal shot, and the tragedy is done.

Gano had talked to Driscoll from time to time of the Astiers, of Clémenceau, and the other habitués of those delightful soirées, and of the regret he sometimes felt that he had not told his friends frankly of the change in his fortunes, and the reason he did not any longer frequent the Faubourg St. Honoré.

"But I couldn't, somehow, talk to them of a thing we couldn't either laugh at or satirize. Still, they'd be among the first people that I'd go to if I had a stroke of luck."

And now, out of that atmosphere of gayety and blague, this! No sky apparently so cloudless but from its blue a bolt may fall. Ethan had rushed out and bought the Justice. He read Clémenceau's article aloud, translating hurriedly as he went on for a compatriot of Driscoll's, who had happened to drop in for a pipe and a crack:

"'This pitiless scoffer, Astier, this despairing sceptic, who spoke so slightingly of women and love, is now discovered to have been a man of soft and sentimental nature, without any reserve of appliances against woman's wiles or[Pg 212] surging passion. The so-called libertine, cauterized by Paris against Paris, was upset by an event which could have been easily foreseen. In a situation of the most commonplace kind, he so thoroughly lost all self-control that he could hit upon no other remedy than self-destruction.' How contemptuously he writes of his old friend's 'losing self-control' and the rest of it," said Gano, angrily, "as if the double death was the real tragedy!"

"What then?"

"Why, the moment when that nice woman discovered that the husband she had married so romantically, and who had been so devoted to her all those years, had turned round and betrayed her in the last chapter. I agree with them both: it wasn't much use to go on living after that."

"Oh, as to going on living," observed Driscoll, shortly, "it would puzzle most people to tell why they think that much use."

"But these people—" began Gano.

"More like the rest of the world than they pretended, that's all," the visitor summed up, as he knocked the ashes out of his pipe. "I've once or twice come near to some tragedy, as Gano has to this. It does feel a bit odd to realize we're all living our peaceful lives on the edge of a volcano. But, bless you!"—he clapped on his hat with a rakish air—"we get so used to it we forget all about it till our turn comes."

"Meanwhile, we're all in the conspiracy to pretend that tragedy is dead and buried in the works of the great dramatists," said Driscoll.

"Good job, too," commented the departing visitor, nodding to the two friends as he went off.

"Your cheerful compatriot is right," said Ethan, shaken suddenly out of his rôle as Nature's apologist. "Life simply doesn't bear being thought about."

Whereupon they proceeded to talk about it for hours on end. They uttered a deal of raw philosophy in those days, often with passion, sometimes with hope. Driscoll, for all[Pg 213] his profession of pessimism, had moments of splendid confidence that he had stumbled upon the Perfect Way. Gano would shake his head, repeating:

"'Myself, when young, did eagerly frequent
Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went.
"'... Their words to scorn
Are scattered, and their mouths are stopped with dust.'"

Through a young painter from Basle, these two were among the first outside of the German circle to have some realization of the magnitude of Friedrich Nietzsche as a force to be reckoned with. But Gano shrank from the sound and fury of the iconoclast as much as from his more coherently expressed doctrines. It was as abhorrent to his new doubts as it was to his old faiths to hear that Nietzsche had said (speaking of Germany), "Nowhere else has there been so vicious a misuse of the two great European narcotics—alcohol and Christianity." Driscoll, knowing a good deal more about the first than he did about the last, professed his withers to be unwrung. What was there in the utterance that Gano should gibe at?

Almost from the beginning they wore their rue with a difference. Driscoll raged at concrete mistakes and injustices in the scheme of things as presented to Richard Driscoll. The other, seeming to think he had fewer personal wrongs to complain of, capable of too keen a self-criticism to imagine himself a genius to whom the world owed special privileges, was coming rapidly to a more serious indictment of life on the basis of "the dread irrationality of the whole affair."

It is not a happy subject for contemplation, perhaps, but it is possible to ignore too absolutely that this is the attitude of mind of a vast number of the young people of the time. No one with his classics in his mind, no one even who has not forgotten Montaigne and Shakespeare, thinks[Pg 214] that this desperate guessing at "the riddle of the painful earth" is an exercise peculiar to our day. What is perhaps new is the commonness of the interrogation among young men, rich and poor, industrious and idle, who have not genius wherewith to clothe and deck their failure to produce the answer. Such men have not the distractions and rewards of genius to take their minds off the fact of failure.

What does it matter if you, in common with all the laboring earth, are feeling in every fibre the force of the Duke's bitter exhortation to Claudio? what does it matter if you can turn life's discords into music such as this? Even a less lofty strain is reward sufficient for the singer, reason enough to reconcile the monstrous egoism of genius to the presence in the world of great sorrows that can be transmuted into little songs. But to those whose music is shut up within them all their days, what shall help them bear the deafening discord of the jangling on and on of things that hurries them towards silence? There is an answer to this question, but it is not found among those usually given, which are for the most part variations of the philosophy of the ostrich.

Gano used to tell, laughing, of the way a great English lady met her son's shrinking confession of some deep, intellectual difficulty: "Do rouse yourself, St. John. Low spirits are such bad form."

"What was cultivated society?" Gano demanded of the Irishman. "A device for preventing people from serious thinking. Acceptance of this view was implicit in the very roots of language. You had to 'divert,' to 'distract' a man from the peril of looking facts in the face before you could expect him to be moderately happy. Games for grown-up children, the puerilities of country-house parties, what are they? Sage devices for preventing people from thinking, traps to snare and cage the intelligence—civilization's harmless anæsthetics. Oh yes, no mistake about our diversions being more wisely chosen in these 'scientific' times than in the days when the one escape was into[Pg 215] the wine-cup's cul-de-sac. What were they all—drinking, opium-eating, and the rest—but simply forms of that protest most thinking creatures find themselves making at some stage of their too-conscious life?"

Driscoll accepted this view of his excesses with equanimity, reminding Ethan in turn that there are in all ages bystanders at the board while the cup goes round—old ladies of both sexes ready to ask, "What pleasure can men take in making beasts of themselves?" and there is not always a philosopher at the objector's elbow to answer, "He, madam, who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." The great moralist knew from personal experience what he was talking about. He had the sincerity to admit that his own long-abandoned drinking had not at any time been from love of good-fellowship. Away with the genial lie, "I drank to be rid of myself!"

But Gano's point was that these old childish ways of hiding the head under the bedclothes to keep out of the dark no longer comfort so many of the grown-up children of the world. "They are afraid," he said, "not only of the night, but, with a surer wisdom, of the morning. It is not so easy to keep to-morrow at bay. Men need less and less the warning of the taverner's wife: 'They one and all regret it in the morning.'"

Said Gano to himself, summing up his survey: "We should not depend on, but keep in reserve, some draught with no such menace in the dregs. What one surer than that which brings a good-night and no morrow at all forever any more?"

Not, he felt, as a result of his own hard knocks, but out of unbiassed observation of the common lot, again and again, without personal resentment and without passion, he found himself reverting to the thought of the unlivableness of life, unless a man should carry about a conviction of freedom in his soul—a freedom that should be not a phrase but a potent fact, conferring sovereignty over life and death, and so lifting men above the meaner tricks of chance.

[Pg 216]

If solving the riddle in "high Roman fashion" did not "make Death proud to take us," which he felt to be beside the mark, the more intimate realization that escape is possible seemed to rob life of her more intolerable menace. It was not food for fear or brooding, but for exultation, this recognition that, should other remedies fail, one might still do

"That thing that ends all other deeds,
That shackles accidents, and bolts up change."

If the sovereign remedy had not been discovered in the past, the Nineteenth Century would have invented it. Never before had life been so hard for the many, never before had its value been so impugned. It might be true that every one should make a good fight. It could not be recommended to any but the craven that he should accept a degrading captivity in addition to defeat. Yet those were the terms upon which more than half the world lived. As for himself, it grew plainer and plainer that he should bear as many buffets as he could take like a man, but no one had a right to ask him to accept the disgraceful terms on which many of the excellent of earth were given their dole of bitter bread. As for the women, the power of human endurance was in them not glorified, as the foolish had thought, but debased, brutalized, a thing for scorn and pointing. It was this side of the subject that ultimately roused him out of the apathy that had threatened him. He had the sense of being secretly a lantern-bearer, of carrying under his coat a wonderful sort of Aladdin's lamp, and feeling it a selfish monopoly not to cry out his discovery in the streets. For this light, that had been so gallantly upborne, so well honored, of old, had been put out in the more effeminate times, and fallen to utter discredit in these new "dark ages." It was degraded to the uses of the vile, instead of shining beacon-like upon the hill of honor, a guide less to the fallen than to those who would keep from falling. Men had so many new inventions to make, they had clean forgotten this. It was one[Pg 217] of the lost arts, and had need of rediscovery and new proclaiming with the accent of our time. A strange ardor of proselytism fell upon him as he looked upon those about him in whom he traced his own old fear of life: delicate women toiling in terror and incommunicable agony of spirit, or those others, more horrible still, accepting dully, or in the devil-may-care French fashion, an existence incredibly vile. Why were they not told

"Ye have no friend,
But resolution and the briefest end."

It would be absurd to say not one would listen. He couldn't take up a paper without seeing that some desperate soul had made the discovery alone, unprompted, and with all the weight of Society, Law, the Church, and ignorant human shrinking against the anarchy of the act. It should be made less horribly hard, more admittedly honorable. Illogically enough, perhaps, these were not thoughts he felt it possible to share with a man in Driscoll's state of rapidly failing health. Gano would drop any questions in their later discussions that tended too much that way, and the conversation showed in this a curious alacrity. If Driscoll pursued the matter, Gano would even go the length of cutting the interview short. The intellectual barrier thus raised was the first check to the deepening friendship. For himself, from the day that Gano realized that life was voluntary, it became sweet. He found himself growing more light-hearted than he had thought it lay in him to be. He worked with a new zest. Poverty, hunger, they couldn't cow him now. He had the whip-hand of them. "I haven't forgotten," he said to himself, "what it's like to be well housed, and fed, and friended, and to listen without misgiving to the world's fairy-tales; but, remembering the gladdest day the old life had to give, I know it never brought me such a surging, God-like joy as the burst of that revelation, We are free! If we endure the worst evils in this life, it is because we are willing to. Even the meanest of mankind are not[Pg 218] caught like vermin in a trap. Man's best boast and inalienable patent of nobility is that he holds in his hand a key to all the prisons of the earth. He may open the door of escape for himself. How curious to feel anew the solace of the old Roman boast: In this the gods are less to be envied than the beggar or the slave; the high gods must live on, but man may die if he will. Oh, glad tidings of great joy! oh, the sweet, fresh air of liberty, the sense of power, the exaltation of the crushed and stifled spirit!" In his bare, ill-lighted room the man who had so long been the spoiled favorite of material good fortune, now with empty pockets, dinnerless, nearly friendless, would, nevertheless, lift up hopeful young hands in a defiant gladness, whispering to himself: "They taught me many things in many schools for many years, but no man ever whispered I was free! I had to find that out for myself."


In these latter days, when he went up-stairs to sit with Driscoll, he sometimes found a woman moving quietly about the room. When she had gone, there was always something there for the invalid's supper, and Gano would suppress the fact that he had brought a double provision in his pocket for an impromptu meal.

The woman wore one of those feature-destroying veils that made it impossible to judge much of her appearance, but Gano had a vague impression of slim middle age and unimpressive looks, soft ways, and a sort of "mother-tenderness" about her. But she was so colorless, so much more an influence than a person, that he did not realize he had never heard, or at least never noticed, her voice, till one evening she said Bong soir in an amazing accent.

"English!" commented Ethan, involuntarily, as the door closed.

"Australian," corrected the sick man.

"She's rather neglected you lately," remarked Gano, as a kind of apology for the unmistakable bulginess of his pockets.

He unloaded on the rickety table.

[Pg 219]

"I say, why do you bring all that truck in here?" Driscoll demanded, ungraciously.

"You keep quiet! You've got to have somebody to do your marketing for you, I suppose. I thought your Australian friend had thrown up the post."

"So she had," grumbled the invalid. "Women are damned selfish."

"Well, they repent sometimes; there's that in their favor."

Gano set about making coffee.

"She didn't repent," mumbled Driscoll.

"Oh, is this the last of her?"

"No; I only meant I had to send for her." And then they talked of other things.

The next time Gano saw the woman was after Driscoll got worse. He went up one night, and found him pallid, speechless, wrestling with one of his worst attacks of pain. The woman was bending over him.

"Please go and get that filled." She held out an empty bottle, hardly looking at Gano.

He hurried obediently down-stairs. Behind his anxiety for the man he had come to feel so much liking for, was a sense of surprise that the Australian was not so middle aged as he had thought. "She's not thirty-five," he speculated in between his wondering how Driscoll could get on without a night-nurse; "and she's not bad looking." He was back again, two steps at a time, with the medicine. Driscoll was quieter. The woman motioned the bottle away. She was taking his temperature.

"Hospital nurse," was Gano's mental comment upon the air of usage and competence. He sat there awhile, and then whispered:

"I'm in the room on the left at the bottom of the first flight, if you want me."

She nodded, and he went down to his work.

When he looked up from his writing it was a quarter to one. Had the woman gone and he not heard her pass? How was Driscoll? It was awfully quiet overhead. With[Pg 220] a tightening of the nerves he took his lamp and hurried up-stairs. He knocked softly. No answer. Noiselessly, so that the invalid should not be wakened, if indeed he were not ... he opened the door. Driscoll was asleep, and breathing audibly. The woman was asleep too, sitting on the floor, her head leaning against the side of the bed, Driscoll's hand in one of hers. She looked still younger in the peace of sleep, though obviously older than Driscoll, softened out of her customary wooden immobility. Gano felt that he was seeing her real face for the first time: the mask had fallen. She could never have been pretty, but there was something in her face of nobility that prevented a man from coming to an easy conclusion about her. Her black hair was sharply silhouetted against the white sheet. The hand that held Driscoll's wore a plain gold marriage-ring. She seemed to feel the light or the scrutiny of a strange glance, for she stirred and opened her gray eyes. Gano was momentarily embarrassed—she not in the least. She turned quickly to look at the sleeper.

"Wait!" she whispered, as Gano seemed to be turning away.

She put her finger on the sick man's pulse, and, still kneeling there, counted the beats with absorbed, unselfconscious face. Gano was struck again with the "mother" quality in the woman. It gave all she did a definite modesty. She was getting up.

"Can you spare the light?" she whispered. "I forgot to bring—"

"Of course," interrupted Gano.

He set the lamp down, and turned to the door.

"Wait a moment."

She hung the Figaro over the back of the chair between the sleeper and the light, then, quietly and without haste, she took her brown cape and hat off the peg and put them on. She leaned a moment over the sleeper, and then, "Come!" she signed rather then said, and they went softly out. At the foot of the stairs she stopped.

[Pg 221]

"Can you get a candle and a piece of paper?"

"Yes; this is my room," said Gano, opening his door.

The moonlight came palely in at the single window. Without hesitation she had followed him. He lit the candle by his bed.

"I want to leave you my address," she said. "I think he'll be all right now, but if he should be worse don't leave him; send some one to this address—send a fiacre."

She scribbled on the piece of paper, and laid it by the candle.

"Do you think I ought to sit up with him?" Gano asked, watching her intently.

"No need to sit up; you can sleep on the sofa, can't you, or—"

"Or on the floor?" he asked, smiling a little at her matter-of-factness.

"Or on the floor," she repeated quietly. "Good-night."

She went out.

"Sha'n't I get you a cab?"

"No; I shall walk. Good-night;" and she was gone.

On the paper was written:

"Mrs. Mary Burne,
 21 Rue Blanche."

[Pg 222]


Driscoll was better next morning, and able to eat breakfast. Gano had got into the habit of making coffee in the invalid's room in the morning as well as at night. Driscoll had waked with an appetite.

"Ha! cream! Did Mary bring that?"


"Yes; Mrs. Burne."

"No; I got it. I thought we deserved cream to-day."

"How long was Mary here?"

"Oh, pretty late, I should say."

"H'm! That woman's had a damned hard time," Driscoll said, ruminating between his sips of coffee; "does those colored things for the Semaine Illustrée. She's drawn ever since she was a baby. Never had a lesson in her life till two years ago. I met her at Julien's. She was working like the devil."

"Making up for lost time?"

"Yes, poor girl! Married a brute of a Melbourne ship-builder when she was seventeen. Stood him till three years ago, and then—Lord! the audacity of these women—came to Paris to study art, if you please. Thirty, and never had a lesson in her life!"

He laughed, and held out his coffee-cup.

"Ship-builder dead?" asked Gano, filling it up.

"Dead! No! alive and kicking, or I'd have made her marry me."

"Lord! the audacity of these men," laughed his friend.

When Driscoll got definitely worse, Mrs. Burne stayed with him through the day, and Gano sat up with him at night.

[Pg 223]

"If you can do it, it's best so," she said, simply.

"Of course—of course," agreed Gano, hastily, his Puritan mind involuntarily considering the proprieties, even in these haunts.

"You see, while you sleep I can look after him, and do my work too if I have daylight. You can write by lamplight."

And the practical sense of the arrangement shamed his first interpretation of her plan. He found himself during their brief meetings, morning and evening, watching the woman with a deepened interest.

"Am I in love with her, too?" he wondered, as he caught himself following with something like envy her ministering to his friend.

But all she did was strangely lacking in any hint of the supposed relation between Driscoll and herself. There was infinite gentleness in her, but no happy confusion. Gano never saw in her quiet eyes that look he was always dreading to surprise.

"She doesn't care about him in the way he thinks, poor devil!" he said, at last, to himself.

The only time he ever ventured to speak of her goodness to the sick man, "Oh, Mr. Driscoll has been kind to me," she said. "He got me my place on the Semaine Illustrée."

Why, it was a sheer case of extravagant gratitude! Gano was conscious this explanation pleased him.


"How's the club getting on?" Driscoll asked her one evening, as she was leaving.

Gano was spreading out his writing materials on the rickety table.

"Oh, all right," she said, pinning her brown hat firmly on her coil of black hair.

"You haven't had the honor of being admitted to the club," said Driscoll, laughing and nodding over at Gano. "You aren't considered worthy."

"You weren't considered worthy," said Mrs. Burne, smiling faintly, "but you would come."

[Pg 224]

"And if I adopted the same tactics," suggested Gano.

"No, no," she said, hastily; "it's really only for women."

She hunted about for her gloves. It was the first time Gano had ever seen a look of embarrassment on the calm face.

"What kind of a club?" he asked.

"A—debating club," she answered. "Good-night."

"Ha, ha, ha! I like that."

But she was gone with a look of pleading cast on Driscoll as she went—a look that was like a prayer.

Gano felt absurdly piqued to know more, not of the foolish club, but of this fellow-being.

"You say you've been?"

He fitted a new pen in the holder.

"Oh yes; but they didn't do anything very remarkable the night I was there. They meet in Mary's lodging. There were only three then. She says there are sixteen now, two or three of 'em men, in spite of it's being 'only for women.' Can't think where she puts 'em."

"What did they debate?"

"Oh, some rot about social duties. They really go to sit by a fire and get a cup of hot tea. But it's a very good thing," he added, with a sudden rush of loyalty. "It's grown out of Mary's keeping one or two women from going the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire."

His desire to "guy" the club seemed to have gone out with the founder's going. The same thing had happened before.

"Lots of English and Americans let loose here, you know, without a notion—"

He made an expressive movement of his big hands.

"I see. The club's a rescue party."

"Something of the sort. She doesn't say much about it."

"Funny place, Paris."

"Yes; all kinds here."


Gano knew to the hour when the tide of his ill-luck and apathy had changed. His new interest in Mary Burne did[Pg 225] not blind him to the fact that life had suddenly grown endurable, even attractive, decent in his eyes, from the moment he had fully realized and fully accepted the fact that he was under no nightmare of obligation to go on with it. It was as if the noisome prison-house of his soul were flung open once and forever to the blessed life-giving air. No more misgiving, no more shrinking from the deep insecurity of things. He began to write with a new vigor and resiliency. There came into his work not only buoyancy, but a fine temper it had lacked before. The love of literature took hold on him again as it had done in those first years of awakening abroad. He came to care again about his own little performances, and by degrees did more and more work for the paper. The editor had several times complimented him warmly. Presently he was offered a regular position on the staff. He paid back Henri de Poincy in full, and would have moved into better quarters but for—but for—Driscoll, he would have said. Driscoll was still very ill—worse, indeed, than ever.

"Never could do anything well in a hurry," he repeated his dreary old quip. "Have patience, and I'll make a thorough job of this."

Gano felt more and more that whatever had been their relation in the past, Mary Burne was absorbed now, not by Driscoll, but by Driscoll's illness and dire need of her ministry. If she had not exactly encouraged, she certainly had not repelled, Gano's growing devotion. Her demeanor was perfect, he said to himself. How could she give her new lover a sign by the death-bed of the man who had adored her for years, who had befriended her, and who was in such need himself of befriending? Gano schooled himself to keep the growing assurance and victory out of his face and manner. He would follow Mary's lead, and when in the gray unpromising life of the sick-room they found some dumb way of communicating, some unasked aid to give, some slight unnoticed contact in the common service rendered, Gano would school his thrilling nerves to keep the secret of his gladness as calmly as Mary Burne kept hers.

[Pg 226]

As he grew worse, Driscoll grew more exacting, and more variable in temper. He had less and less compassion on his friends, and demanded Herculean labors of wakefulness—watching, reading aloud, etc. No invalid had ever a more comfortable confidence in the boundless strength and amiability of those who are well. Gano tried with scant success to save Mary from bearing the brunt of the sick man's exactions.

He hurried up-stairs to relieve the watch a little earlier than usual one evening.

"Once more I appeal to you," he heard Driscoll saying, with raised voice, before the door was opened. The turning of the knob had either drowned or prevented the reply. Driscoll lay breathing heavily, and Mary, with impassive face, was drawing on her gloves. She looked up and nodded to Gano.

"Good-bye," she said, after a moment. But on the threshold she stopped. "Dick," she said, without turning to face Driscoll, "I think I won't come to-morrow."

"Yes, you will," he shouted. She turned and looked at him.

"Good-bye," was all she said.

"Damned selfish women are!" Driscoll growled as the sound of her steps died.

"I shouldn't call her exactly a case in point," observed his friend.

"Well, she is. She sees how hopeless this is, and how damnably I'm suffering, and she won't help me to get out of this cursed hole. You won't either," he added, defiantly, and yet with a gleam of hope, almost lunatic in its cunning and its greed.

"I won't what?" said Gano.

"Get me some morphine, or fetch me a pistol, or light some charcoal."

"Lord, no! You'll be better yet, old man."

"Rot! and you know it; and so does she. But she pretends to care, and yet she won't help me. Damned selfish—damned selfish!" He turned over in bed, and went on cursing under the bedclothes.

[Pg 227]

Gano wondered how long the idea had been in his head, and how long Driscoll had worn a beard, and whether there was a razor in the dressing-case. He shuddered as he glanced surreptitiously about. Wasn't it a little odd that he should find the notion so ghastly? Ah yes, the ugly violence of it! When the sick man got to sleep his friend rummaged his room from end to end, finding nothing to confiscate; and, after all, Driscoll had a fair night. The morning was gray. A fine drizzle shot spitefully down out of a leaden sky. Mary did not appear at the usual hour. Towards noon Gano went down to his own room, worn out, and flung himself on his bed without undressing. He was waked by the noise of a dull fall overhead. He sprang up in a horror of apprehension, broad awake on the instant. He rushed up-stairs and burst in on Driscoll, to find him angrily pushing books off the table on to the floor, as a summons to his friend below.

"You sleep like the dead," was his greeting. "Where's Mary?"

"Great Cæsar! I don't know."

"My watch has run down," Driscoll went on, querulously.

Gano set it by his. It was five o'clock.

"Don't go to sleep again; let's have some coffee."

"All right," answered Gano, yawning. "I believe I'm hungry. I'll go and forage."

When he came back with the provisions he brought up some letters and papers. He tumbled everything down on the table. There was nothing for him but some proof from the office, and two letters from America, sent on by Monroe & Co.

"Birthday greetings from New Plymouth," he said to himself, as he recognized the familiar old-fashioned hand, the violet ink, and the brown five-cent stamp that had grown to seem foreign to him. He hadn't the curiosity to read birthday commonplaces till the impromptu meal was finished, and Driscoll had become a bore, asking him to look out and see if Mary wasn't coming, the only variation being, "Hark! isn't she on the stairs?"

[Pg 228]

It was only then that, turning the letters over, it occurred to him to doubt if the second was a cousinly salutation.

"No, by Jove! Boston postmark!"

He tore it open. A brief note from the legal firm of Bostwick & Allen, announcing the death of their client, Aaron Tallmadge, and the bare fact that his entire estate was left to his sole surviving heir and grandson, whose instructions they awaited. The letter had been to Nice and back. It was nearly two weeks old.

"By Jove!" Gano dropped the letter on the table among the coffee-cups and bits of brioche.

"What! is she here?" Driscoll sat up in bed.

"No, no; I don't know. Listen to this." He read the letter aloud.

"That's all right! Mille félicitations! Look out, like a good fellow, and see if she isn't coming across the court."

Gano went over to the window and looked out with an ironic consciousness that, even in the face of such news, he was scarcely less concerned than Driscoll for the coming of that enigmatic woman across the lamplit, reeking court. The drizzle had turned into long gray rods of rain; they streaked the gaslight and pricked the shallow pools unceasingly. And he had all that money! and it was just as he had always known it would be. The essentials of existence were unchanged. Was she never coming? It's the child surviving somewhere in most men, he argued with himself, that gives a woman like that a charm beyond beauty. But she's beautiful, too, he protested silently. Aloud he said:

"No, I don't see her."

"Look here, Gano; do me a favor, old man! Go and fetch her."

"Oh, I hardly think—"

"I tell you I must see her! Only for five minutes. Tell her that. If I don't see her, I'll have a hell of a night. I'd do as much for you, Gano."

"Oh, all right." He turned on his heel.

"Hold on! you don't know where she lives."

[Pg 229]

Gano knew perfectly, but he said, "Oh-h."

"Going off like that without—you're full of your millions! Small blame—small blame!" Driscoll wrote down the address and handed it to his friend. "Bring her back with you, if you can; but it'll do if she's here by ten."

Outside the court Gano hailed a fiacre and drove barely five minutes before he was set down at a door in a tenement not conspicuously different from his own. A shabby man with long hair, wearing a velveteen jacket, had just stopped, closed his dripping umbrella, and rung.

When the door opened he passed in without question.

"Madame Burne?" asked Gano.

"Au quatrième. Encore de la boue dans mon escalier!" muttered the concierge. "Faudra qu'elle s'en aille à la fin."

Gano ran up two flights, passing three girls in the dim light, who were coming down. He almost overtook the shabby man, who seemed in feverish haste. Gano slackened his pace at the foot of the third flight. The shabby man hurried up without looking back, fled round the passage to the left, and knocked at a door facing the banisters. Without pausing for permission, he turned the knob and went in, letting out a gush of light and the confused sound of voices. Gano was conscious of a glow of comfort in the assurance of his heart that the room entered by such a creature, with ceremony so scant, was certainly not Mary Burne's. The shabby fellow had flung the door to, but the worn-out fastening didn't catch. The door rebounded and stood partly open. Two-thirds of the way up this last flight Gano turned his head in the direction of the voices, and saw through the banisters and the open door Mary Burne shaking hands with the man who had just entered. Gano stopped dead. He didn't hear anything she said; he wasn't conscious of trying to do so. He stood staring, incredulous. Presently she passed out of his range of vision. He could see some of the others now, and caught here and there a single unenlightening word. He wondered vaguely at hearing a room full of persons speaking English again. Should[Pg 230] he go in, or should he go back? He felt an indescribable shrinking from meeting Mary among that shady lot. Men, too—more than one! What was a woman like Mary Burne doing with such disreputable-looking— He had lately been killing time for Driscoll by reading aloud that original story, Beggars All. It came to him like a form of nightmare that their Madonna Mary was a confidence woman. This gathering was a grim kind of thieves' tea-party, but they had left the door open! As he gave up straining to catch a glimpse of Mary, and looked closer at those nearest the door, he saw there were one or two women he would not have thought suspicious under other circumstances. Then one of these moved away, and revealed a creature with raddled cheeks and pencilled eyes, wearing her dingy finery with a clumsiness not French, and speaking now to Mary Burne, who had come to her side—speaking with a cockney tongue, and eying her hostess with mixed suspicion and curiosity. A man, as obviously American, looking like a broken-down billiard-marker, stood behind, and sitting by the door was a well-dressed gray-haired woman, with frightened, shifty eyes. Obvious tramps and beggars would have fitted better into any preconceived scheme of benevolence. But these were people of some former decency, some present alertness of intelligence, like the dregs of the foreigner class in any land, lower than the outcast born, because these aliens had once ambition, had initiative enough to venture forth to better their estate, and had not fallen so low without desperate clutching at foul means to keep afloat. On each face that undefinable stamp of failure. What is it? Where is it? Not always in the eyes or on the lips, not always expressed in dress or even bearing—in no one thing that one may lay a finger on and say, "I know him by this mark!" There is no name for that elusive, eloquent, yet indelible sign life sets upon the faces of the lost. Yet all men know it when they see it, and instinctively turn away their eyes.

In the group that closed about Mary, some one was protesting about something.

[Pg 231]

"Perhaps Jean Latreille was right," said a man Gano couldn't see.

"Of course he was. You need not to blame him."

Some one was speaking with a strong French accent.

"Well, well," said the woman with the gray hair. "I don't feel sure it ought to be encouraged openly."

"Zen, ought you not to belong to zis club?"

The woman turned up an anxious face.

"I've sent the girls away, Mrs. Pitman," said Mary, gently. "I think those of us that are left here, even the new members, have borne so much that they are able to bear the truth." There was a rustle and a noise of sitting down. "M. Pernet is right, I think, although I'm sorry Jean should have deserted his wife and child. It would have been manlier not to buy his liberty at the price of others' suffering."

"That's what I say."

The gray-haired woman nodded at some one out of sight.

"But who can decide the problems of another soul?" Mary Burne's white face grew weary. "We have enough with our own."


"You may be sure," she went on, nodding gravely at her dingy audience, "a young man in vigorous health doesn't wrench himself out of the world without good cause. It's grown too common to be any longer a distinction"—she smiled bitterly—"and yet it's not common enough to be any easier, or any less reviled." Her eyes travelled from one forlorn face to the other with a kindling compassion. "But let us take courage, friends; we who have done without bread can do without approval—except of one kind." She paused an instant; a look of fanaticism leaped into the white face. "No matter what we have done in the past, we will not live, from this time on, without self-respect. Two or three of us have talked a good deal here about our duties to each other. Let us think to-night of the ultimate duty we owe ourselves. You know already how some of us cannot find courage to live till we[Pg 232] have first assured ourselves of courage to die, if need be. I've told you, one or two of you, that it was like that with me; that when hideous things drove me away from home, things I'd borne for years, and should never have borne a moment"—she flung up her head with swelling nostrils—"when my awakening came, I said to myself, 'I'll go away and work; I'll go to Paris; and if I can't live there decently, I shall die there.' All through the long voyage I kept thinking that I was probably going, as fast as the ship could carry me, towards my grave. When one has lived days like that, life doesn't daunt one any more, nor death either."

"No, no!" murmured a voice behind the door.

"How shall any of us justify the desperate clinging to life for the mere sake of living?" She asked the question as if she were addressing a drawing-room full of prosperous people who had the merest speculative interest in the inquiry. "How many instances do we see of men and women who have outlived not only their usefulness, but their satisfactions? And yet they drag along their gray existence, a dreary penance to themselves, and a menace to those who still can hope. There are those who cling to the pleasant fiction that every one is of some good use in the world. If that is so, it is equally true that every one does some ill, stands in somebody's light, and bars his way to progress. But it is not with the real or imaginary 'helpers' we have to deal, but with those who through misfortune have lost their grip on circumstance, and whose whole remaining energy is absorbed in an animal-like clinging to existence. Many of the world's sick and wounded are capable of feeling the attraction of the idea of suicide, and are held back from freedom by two superstitions. One was made current by the people who lacked the courage to 'go and do likewise,' and who, therefore, have branded all suicides 'lunatics' or 'cowards.' The other superstition was given the world by the priests, who would have been less zealous and less astute than history shows them if they'd not barred this escape with mighty threats and penalties."

"Bah!" "Priests!" "Oh yes!"

[Pg 233]

A little undercurrent from the crowd crept through her words.

"Many a gentle soul in the past," she went on, "has endured years of needless agony rather than buy release at the price of public execration—being denied decent burial, and flung into a ditch at the cross-ways with a stake driven through the body. We don't treat these refugees quite that way now, but in being less violent we are not less cruel. When we hear of a suicide, the first insult we offer him is to ask, 'Were his accounts right?' Next, 'Was he a victim to bad habits?'"

"Exactly!" cried the voice, in broken English. "What Babin said of Jean—"

"Sh! sh!"

"If it is found the dead man was a defaulter or an opium-eater, the most aimless cumberer of the earth experiences a certain sense of justification. If a man is a villain, he must want to get out of the world; but for honest folk life cannot be too long. Consequently, to support existence (or let some one else do it) seems in some way a tribute to a man's personal worth or mental poise. If it is found that the suicide had the audacity to leave the world without the urging of some vulgar misdeed to account for his unpleasant independence, then up goes the universal cry, 'He was insane!' Without doubt! The world is good enough for his betters, why not for him? 'Oh, the fellow was crazy!' And that settles it. As a proof we are mentally sound, we will live on at any cost, be it our own souls or our brothers'. No, no. I tell you this thirst for life cannot be proved so worthy an instinct as some have hoped to show. It is the instinct that makes the brute world one vast slaughter-house. 'One must live' would be the motto of the shark, if he had one. 'One must live' is in the roar of the Bengal tiger, and the jackal's cry. I do not see but the greed of life is the strongest survival in man of primitive animal instinct. But it is not the noblest of our legacies. Over many an unworthy page of human history is that legend, 'One must live.'" She stretched out her[Pg 234] hands, crying, "It is not true! One must live worthily, or one can die! I feel a passionate sense of the wrong and ruin wrought by the general view. I feel it"—she dropped her eyes—"when I hear that a man steals to keep from starving, when"—her voice was heavy with shame—"when I see wide thoroughfares full at night of young girls and brazen women 'who must live.' 'Why don't they see there is an escape?' I think." She threw back her head with a quick movement, and just as suddenly the look of courage dimmed. "Then I realize that some of them, even if they could rise above the animal instinct to prolong life at any price, would remember priestly warnings, and fancy their chances in the hereafter brighter if they lived on—vile scavengers on the highways of the world!—than if they were brave enough to disdain an evil heritage, and wise enough not to fear death. Those who are so lustful of life"—far beyond the little company she gazed, as one gathering in a survey all the peoples of the earth—"they are like beggars at a feast. They glut themselves indiscriminately, afraid to let a single dish go by. They sit stupid and gorged, still mechanically taking of everything passed them, with dulled taste and jaded appetite, eating and drinking, with sense left to think only, 'Who knows? we may never be at such a feast again.' I tell you"—she was back now with her dingy guests—"it is the beast in us that clings so fiercely to life. In the case of the unfortunate, the hard-pressed, the ancient instinct often outlives hope, principle, innocence—all that's best in humanity."

"But there are a good many—" interrupted the gray-haired woman, feebly.

"Yes, yes, thank Heaven!" Mary Burne agreed, in the old gentle voice. "For those happy ones who have found, or think they have found, a chance of doing some service, or to those who for any reason find the world or themselves an interesting and compensating study, there are only congratulations, and a plea for fairer judgment of less fortunate, maybe not less sane or noble, men."

[Pg 235]

"Like ze poor Jean Latreille," lamented the Frenchman behind the door. "No work; only me for friend."

"Yes, yes," assented Mary Burne, as if she knew the story, and others to cap it. "No one who is in sympathetic touch with his kind can honestly affirm that every man and woman has something worth living for, and can, if he and she choose, make an honest livelihood. It is frankly untrue! Life is becoming more and more difficult to the majority; worldly success is more and more bought at the price of personal dignity. Mere existence for the million is secured only by a warfare in which he who does not slay is slain. But it is idle to enlarge upon the results of our civilization; every one with eyes sees how the conflict rages, and how the weak and often finer-natured go to the wall. It is not for me to urge that it is sad, or wasteful, but only that it is. My plea, as some of you know, is that more should realize there is honorable retreat this side moral overthrow."

The gray-haired woman moved uneasily. The speaker, glancing at her, seemed to answer an unuttered protest:

"Let no one say God would have a man yield bit by bit his faith and charity, accepting any terms, so that he may be allowed to draw his coward breath a little span the more. There is a kind of spiritual cannibalism among us, more appalling than the simpler sort we shudder to think is practised in Darkest Africa, or the islands of the South Sea. It flourishes on our fairest hopes, and fills its witch's caldron with the consciences of men and the honor of our women. 'We must live!' the victims cry, and give up all that makes life worth the living. Maimed, stripped of grace and dignity, they wander forth into the world, to deaden the public sense of moral decency by the spectacle of their shame. The people who are shocked that one should think of suicide permit themselves a mild enthusiasm that long ago a blind King of Bohemia could care so much for his cause that he gathered a sheaf of his enemies' spears in his breast rather than face defeat. We are told there was once a Brutus, too, and many another in the brave old time, who[Pg 236] showed there was a refuge this side dishonor. But the world has forgotten, and ancient valor is renamed modern cowardice."

Her scorn-filled eyes dropped an instant on the gray-haired woman's fingers fumbling feebly under her mantle. Below it the end of a rosary could be seen twitching against her gown. Mary Burne lifted quiet eyes from the dangling crucifix.

"Looking at the question from the religious standpoint," she said, "it is impious to suppose we can take the Creator by surprise or defeat His ends. If He sent us into the world, He knew just what weapons He put into our hands, where the weak spots in our armor were, and what foes would meet us. In the case of the suicide, He knew just how many hard blows he could meet like a soldier and a man, as well as He knew there would some day come a stroke that would cut him down. Does God sleep while the battle rages?" she cried, with swelling but uneven cadence—"while the wounded man drags himself away from the dying, pursued by visions of captivity and the loss of all he fought for?" She shook her head with slow, pitying solemnity. "Believers must think the eye of God is on this child of His, as he creeps wearily out of the strife and turns into a dark by-way, groping along to the little gate at the end. The fugitive looks back an instant"—into her own clear eyes came a curious filminess—"he is too calm to seem heroic, and the pain is fading out of his face. 'Good-bye, my enemies'"—she made the faintest little gesture of farewell to some world without her walls—"'good-bye, my friends'"—she nodded to the dingy crew within, and lifted haggard eyes above their heads—"'temptations, ghosts of failure and of grief, good-bye!' Silently turning, he passes out through the little gate and shuts it fast behind him. Wherever he goes, no believer can suppose he has defeated God, or strayed outside the limits of His mercy."

As she ended she came forward. Gano, forgetting the dusk of the staircase, and thinking on the spur of the [Pg 237]moment that she had caught sight of him, turned and made his way noiselessly down the three flights. He reached the street before he realized that Mary's motion forward had been to the gray-haired woman with the crucifix. But why had he been so afraid she should speak to him? He leaned against the lintel of the open door watching the rain. What strange thing had befallen his tender interest in this woman? It was gone. Simply wiped out. In its place a shrinking of his very soul. He had thought her so "womanly," full of protecting tenderness and steadfast cheer; and, behold! this abyss of hopelessness, this dark, iron resolution, this unshrinking acceptance of the tragedy of life.

The opinions she had given out, to be sure he shared them more or less; but it hurt him to think women shared them, above all the woman he— A woman without hope—better she were without heart! Away, away with this unfeminine acceptance of the worst. It made the underlying horror of things more real, more unescapable! Away with such views, except for the occasional philosophic mood of man. Who wanted to have them daily, hourly brought to mind? He knew he should never see Mary Burne again without seeing that dingy circle of the lost, and the look of unshrinking despair that hardened and whitened in her face.

Her old sheltering mother-gentleness, where was it? His old tenderness for the tenderness in her, where was that? Gone, gone, and in its place this staggering dislike! He tried to think that, unselfconscious as she had been in manner, she had been theatrical in thought; he recalled some of her sentences—she was a phrase-maker! She liked standing up there, even before such an audience, listening to the sound of her own voice, and airing views that she no doubt thought original and bold. He did not for a moment realize that just because he in the main agreed with her "beyond refuge," he shrank from hearing himself echoed back to himself from the imagined haven of a woman's heart. It was a situation meet for wry,[Pg 238] ironic laughter that the woman he had been drawn to for her supposed embodiment of man's soothing ultra-feminine ideal should be caught playing the part of a dingy nineteenth-century Joan of Arc, urging men to battle and to death.

[Pg 239]


The concierge appeared, angry and shivery, and bade him either come in or go out. He was in the act of doing the latter when he remembered Driscoll. He turned back and faced the angry woman.

"Go up to Madame Burne," he said, giving the woman a franc, "and tell her—wait!" He searched his pockets, and finally drew the envelope off Mrs. Gano's birthday letter, and wrote on the back:

"Driscoll unable to sleep without some word from you. Please send down a message for him."

"Give her that and bring me the answer."

The woman shuffled up-stairs. He stood there in the dingy passage, waiting, cogitating. Suppose Mary were to send word that after all she would come when that infernal club broke up, what should he do? He would certainly have to protect poor old Driscoll against her pitiless fanaticism. That much was clear. It took her a long time to scribble a line. He paced back and forth from the foot of the mud-tracked stair to the open door, where the rain fell ceaselessly. With a sudden elation he thought of the change in his fortunes, and how soon he should have turned his back upon all this squalor. A millionaire! Yes, it had a good ring. It took the sound of Mary Burne's voice out of his tortured ears.

Suddenly he paused, hearing with relief the shambling footsteps of the returning concierge, a relief rudely dashed with fear of the message she might be bringing.

A quicker figure slipped before the square, slow-moving[Pg 240] woman; it was Mary Burne, running down the stairs, dressed to go out.

"I am sorry to have kept you," she said. If she noticed Gano's changed manner, she put it down to anxiety for his friend. "Come, I've brought an umbrella," she said, almost sharply, as Gano stood an instant looking out for a fiacre; "it's nearly as quick to walk, and I—I—"

He took the umbrella from her silently, and they hurried on side by side in the rain. Gano, with growing agitation, searched for some way of letting her know that he was in possession of the situation, and meant to remain in possession.

As they turned into the Rue de Provence she stopped, breathless.

"Are you quite sure he wants to see me only for a minute?"

"So he says."

"He understands that just at present I can't sit up with him any more?"

"He doesn't expect you to stay to-night, at any rate," Gano answered, in a determined voice. He began to walk on.

"Mr. Gano." She laid an arresting hand on his arm. He looked down coldly at the white face. "You've shown too plainly in these last weeks to what lengths your friendship for Dick can go. I don't pretend to apologize for asking if you can spare the time to take him away for a few weeks as soon as he gets a little better."

The man hesitated. She misunderstood.

"I've just got some money from the Semaine," she went on, "and I can anticipate my next payment. I've told you how I owe it to Mr. Driscoll that I have the money at all. It's his in a sense, anyhow."

"You want to get him out of Paris?"

"Yes, anywhere for a change."

"I might do that if he can be moved."

"Oh, thank you, thank you. Dick can't say he hasn't got friends. You are good about it." They splashed on[Pg 241] a few steps in the downpour, and she slackened her pace again. "But since you are going away alone with him—and, anyhow, I ought to tell you. He's developing a kind of monomania. He doesn't want to live—wants—" Her voice choked.

"I know," said Gano.

"You know! He's ventured to say it to you?"


"Then, you see, it's serious." She was clinging to him again. Gano nodded. Before he could help himself he was trying her.

"You see, he'll never get well."

"How can you say that? and say it so—so—"

Indignant tears stood in her upturned eyes, and she took her hands off his arm.

"Surely you know it's true."

"I only know that he's still alive, and that I love him."

They walked on—they were nearly at the door.

"You know how he suffers," began Gano.

"Everybody suffers," she interrupted. "He knows nothing about the worst pain. And he has his art; he has you to care about him, and—he has me. Oh, Mr. Gano"—she turned on him suddenly—"help me to take care of him—help me, for God's sake—help me to keep him in the world!"

"Yes, yes; I give you my word."

A great weight was lifted off them both. They went up-stairs together, but Gano left Mary at Driscoll's door. He wrote some letters in his own room, then he went softly up-stairs, heard the low, pleasant sound of voices, and came down without interrupting them. He went to bed, and slept soundly till the morning.

"I shall cable Bostwick & Allen first thing after breakfast," he said to himself.

When he was dressed, he went up-stairs as usual to Driscoll, knocked lightly, and, without waiting, went in. Mary Burne was still there, kneeling by the bedside. It flashed over Gano that it had been something like this very picture[Pg 242] that had first set him thinking about Mary Burne. But the spell had lost its potency; something had happened; some chord of sympathy had snapped. He could think of his friend whole-heartedly now, without a woman's thrusting her face between them. Driscoll was asleep this morning, just as he had been that other time when Gano had found Mary Burne worn out with watching by the bedside; but his face was hidden. Mary stirred and turned round. Gano started. No sleep weighed down her eyelids; her eyes were wide and quick-glancing, but seemed unseeing; the agonized face was pinched and gray-white, like chalk.

"What is it? What—"

Gano sprang forward to the bed. Driscoll's face was no longer in the shadow now.

"He's gone," said Mary.

"Not dead?"

"Yes, dead."

She got up slowly, staggering a little. Her cloak was round her. She went unsteadily to the opposite side of the room and picked up her hat. She seemed to forget to put it on, and stood with it aimlessly in her hands, those strained, bright-glancing eyes moving uncannily in the drawn white mask of a face. Gano had flung himself down by the bed. He laid his hand over Driscoll's. It was cold.

"When did it happen?" Gano asked; and as the word "happen" left his lips, he started up and stared at the woman.

"About four o'clock," she said, going in that blind way to the table.

He had the impulse to rush forward and seize her by the shoulders. He would force those restless eyes to meet his steadily for once, and give up their secret; but she was counting some gold pieces out of her purse, doing it by the instinct of touch, while her roving, animal-like glance seemed to dash itself against window, wall, and door, seeking an escape.

"How did it come?" Gano demanded.

[Pg 243]

"Quite quietly; no pain—no pain at the last."

Her muffled voice seemed to reach him from far off.

"Why didn't you call me?"

"No good," she said, tonelessly; "and besides, he held fast to my hand. I am leaving some money here." She motioned to the little pile of ten and twenty franc pieces on the table, and moved towards the door. "You'll see to what's necessary." And, without waiting for his assurance, "I've enough to pay for everything," she said, and went out.

Gano found his first impressions weakened by Mary Burne's clear and convincing official account of the death. The doctor accepted it without misgiving. Why should a layman have a doubt?

Driscoll was buried, and his few effects were bought in by Mary Burne at the sale. When Gano went to say good-bye to her the next day he was told she had given up her old lodging, and left no address behind.


Gano's original reluctance to return home had not been so very serious. Had his grandfather been a little forbearing, he could have had the young man back in Boston in six months; but now, too much had been sacrificed on the altar of an impetuous resolve for Gano to consider kindly going to America at once. There was plenty of time for that. He had sent instructions to Messrs. Bostwick & Allen, and he allowed the "great political organ" to remain in the experienced hands that had done so well by it in Aaron Tallmadge's declining years.

He went to Nice, and brought the De Poincys back with him to Paris, where he had taken a house. Henri de Poincy, even when little by little he learned something of those years of struggle, could not see that his friend was essentially changed by their rough lessoning. Ethan had never, even in the ignorant and care-free days, been either very outgoing or very light of heart. De Poincy, as the elder, had long ago recognized his friend as one of those unexpected, but not uncommon, products of luxurious modern[Pg 244] life—a young man whose vivid perception of the underlying tragedy of the common lot had seemed out of all proportion to his possible experience. If any difference appeared in him now, it was that his old easy faith in concrete human nature, as opposed to his deep mistrust of life in the abstract, had been somewhat corrected—and that was well, Henri de Poincy thought. The young diplomat did not discover that, of all the faith-destroying spectacles his friend had looked upon, not the least, to just his cast of mind, was the hot haste made, in that same city where he had walked wanting bread, to court and fête the new millionaire. But Gano had left this phase of life so far behind him, he had got so out of touch with it, that he was obliged to learn over and over again that inevitable lesson taught affluent young America by the sage Old World—that money-bags are less easily and quickly filled in Europe, and the man who carries one that overflows will lack little that the craftier civilization can lay at his feet. Gano's particular kind of self-love revolted at some of his experiences at the hands of certain elegant and well-born adventurers, male and female, who, the American had fancied, liked him and sought him for himself. He was very young in many ways, for all his hardships and his twenty-six years. Still, he was not so much of a fool but that in time he learned his lesson. His fault lay in taking it too seriously. So it was that, despite his renewed literary activities and successes, and the need impressed on him of studying les mœurs, he yielded more and more to his fondness for camping out, for fishing, and for cruising about the Mediterranean with Henri de Poincy.

"I never knew a fellow," that amiable young Frenchman would say—"never knew a fellow so much at his ease in the world, who seemed so anxious to be rid of people as you are."

"I'm not at my ease in the world."

"Ah, I should have said in drawing-rooms."

"Another matter. The drawing-room is the best place I know to avoid knowing people. I should like to spend[Pg 245] all my days that aren't spent with a rod on a river-bank, or lying in a boat with you, in drawing-rooms. I'd like"—he stared up into the high-piled clouds sailing across the intense blue—"I'd like the big Engine-driver up yonder to look down through the white steam-puffs, and say: 'My boy, I give you my word of honor that I'll never run you into any closer quarters with life than you are in now.'"

"I see," laughed De Poincy, "lovely woman has pursued you till you fight shy. But don't lay it all to your looks and your winning ways, my friend; you're known to have dollars."

"Yes." His dark face flushed under some quick wave of feeling. "The most surprising thing I've found in Europe is the dominance of the money motive, that quality that they had told me distinguished the American."

He laughed a little bitterly.

"Well," said De Poincy, "you know you do hear more in America about money than you do anywhere."

"Exactly. Money's talked about with childlike and damnable iteration; but, by all the gods! if decent people with us want it, they work for it; they don't cringe and angle for it; they offer labor in exchange, not themselves. They don't, as a nation, make it the basis of friendship, of marriage."

"If you don't, it's because American women are too self-willed to hear prudence."

"Yes, thank God! And yet we have the intelligent foreigner saying the climate makes our women sexless." He stopped and laughed. "I admit les Américaines don't so universally look on love and marriage as a profession, their only means of settlement in life. But I'll tell you what it is, my friend: the American, with all his outward frankness and naïveté, cares more, like men of other nations, for the thing he doesn't talk about than for things he's always flinging in your face. With people on this side, it's money which is too sacred to be mentioned except on solemn occasions"—he made the slightest possible grimace—"but which is the supreme consideration. With us, the thing[Pg 246] we don't talk about, and yet care for the more, is the relation between the sexes, the ideal of a chivalry that the elder world has lost, or, more truly, never had, I think."

"The truth is, you've been long enough away from America to begin to idealize it. By the way, I thought you were of the élite asked to the Château d'Avranchéville this autumn."

"This is better than Normandy," he said, shortly.

"Ah, but think of the dear creatures gathered there?"

"I'd rather think about 'em."

"Mademoiselle Lucie this time, hein?"

"Oh no—only that I don't love my kind."

De Poincy shook his head.

"That you don't love that kind shows you're getting blasé."

Gano sat up, and fixed his dark eyes on his friend's face.

"You know you're talking nonsense. You'll allow I met her under peculiar circumstances."

"After helping you to fish her out of an Italian lake, I will allow the circumstances were romantic."

"I thought she—"

"Of course, love at first sight. Just the thing to fetch you."

"I thought she liked me as a girl at home might have liked me, who hadn't heard that my grandfather—"

He thumped out an oath as he thrust his hands deep down in his yachtman's jacket.

De Poincy smiled.

"She's so young," Gano went on—"probably less sophisticated, I thought, than our American girls."

"To be sure, a ravishing ingénue."

"And here she was, ready to throw over poor Parthenay like that"—he tossed his cigarette overboard—"caring for him all the time, as Parthenay showed me. Then this ingénue, after turning the Tallmadge dollars into francs in her pretty baby head, was calmly arranging to help me to spend them here in France. How the devil they knew on such[Pg 247] short acquaintance—before the settlement question came up—"

"Oh, her brother asked me that first day."


De Poincy nodded.

"And when I thought they didn't so much as know that I was American!" He laughed with that excessive bitterness of youth perturbed, and pretended to speak apologetically. "You see, I've plumed myself on my French since I was seven, and my name tells nothing."

"Your French is all right, but you don't imagine people like that would put themselves out for the premier venu as they did for you from the start."

Gano shrugged.

"My mistake was that, even without my banker's reference, I didn't look upon myself as the premier venu."

"I must say I admired the charming way they conveyed the idea to you that Mademoiselle Lucie—"

"Shut up."

"My dear fellow, you would never have dreamed of Mademoiselle Lucie, enchanting as she is, if it hadn't been for their tact in pointing out that—"

"And you looked on!"

"To be sure, and envied you your damned good luck. She's an adorable creature, and would spend your money with distinction."

"Thanks. I needn't have come so far to find a woman who could manage that."

"I'm in the enemy's camp," De Poincy went on. "I want you to settle in France."

"And I—I want—"

Gano looked out over the dancing waves, face to face on a sudden with something so new and unexpected as to be almost incredible.

"What do you want?" asked De Poincy.

"I want to go back to America by the first boat."

"You're joking."

"I'm in dead earnest. It sounds sudden, but it isn't.[Pg 248] Something's been the matter with me for a deuce of a long time. I haven't known what it was. I do now. I'm homesick."

"Doesn't it strike you you've postponed it a bit?"

"Dare say. We're offered every inducement to postpone it. We Americans are as pleased with Europe as children at a fair. We run up and down your marts with our purses out, delighted, astonished at your wares, at your ways; we want a souvenir from every booth, we want a peep at every side-show, we think it impossible ever to tire of the merry-go-round." His voice dropped. "When the night comes we're ready to go home."

"Night? Niaiserie!"

Gano jumped up and paced the deck.

"I say, Henri, do you mind going back to Marseilles? If you do, mind, I must—"

"Of course I don't mind. It'll give you time to recover on the way."

He laughed good-naturedly.

His companion paced silently up and down in the fading light.

"I've known other fellows," De Poincy went on, after a long silence—"plenty of others, get rather feverish about the U. S. A., but I didn't expect it of you."

"Oh, I'm just like the rest."

"Hadn't observed the likeness before."

"I've found the Old World life a good enough game to play at; I've got no reason to complain."

"Thanks, I'm sure, in the name of France, not to mention England and Italy."

"Oh, you understand me well enough. It's wonderfully attractive, this charming Old World, but from our point of view it isn't life."

"Pretty good imitation."

"That's just it," he laughed. "It's pretty and it's good, but it's imitation. It copies, with Chinese fidelity, old originals that were once, long ago, alive and quick; but to-day—"

[Pg 249]

"You're taking a leaf out of your old governor's book," said De Poincy, with smiling malice. "I hear cousin Aaron now." And he caricatured him mercilessly. "'To an American, sir, Europe is either a museum or a scene out of a comic opera.' Now, if one said anything like that of America you'd declare war by return of post. But we"—he lit his cigarette and threw away the match with a flourish—"we are amused; we give you exactly the license you demand—that of the child at a fair."

"Well, look here, old man"—Gano laid his hand on De Poincy's shoulder—"this child wants to catch the first boat home."

[Pg 250]


He was really coming this time; in less than an hour he would be at the Fort. They were all sitting in the parlor, waiting, in festal array. Late as it was in the year, the clear autumn afternoon was steeped in warm sunshine. An occasional golden dogwood leaf fluttered past the open windows, like a lazy yellow bird.

"It reminds me of October in Maryland," said Mrs. Gano, looking up from the book she was not reading. It was, at all events, mild enough to afford Emmie the extreme satisfaction of wearing her white Confirmation dress in honor of the momentous occasion. Emmie called the new frock her "Confirmation dress," although she had not been confirmed in it, and was not expecting to be till next spring. When it had been decided before Julia Otway's party that Emmie must have a new frock, she had not needed to be told that, by a system of tucks and turnings in, it would have to serve for high days and holidays for a long time. It was characteristic of the child that, looking into the future, the day of her Confirmation should loom so large.

Her dark curls were tied to-day with apple-green ribbon, and a green-and-white sash lent an air of festivity to the simple frock, and a snow-drop look to the pale little girl.

There was nothing new in Mrs. Gano's appearance as she sat in state between Daniel Boone and the centre table, nothing save the light in her eyes. Her veil, her lawn sleeves, and kerchief could not be whiter, even in Ethan's honor, and her rusty black silk wore resolutely its air of changeless age. But An' Jerusha, very rheumatic and [Pg 251]tottery, went brave as an autumn sunset. She was peeping in at the parlor door now, her head done up deftly in a purple and orange bandanna.

"I jes' think I'll go, mehm, en wawtch fur Marse Efan f'om de terrus."

"You are sure everything's ready?"

"Yes, mehm. It wus po'ful short notice, en I kin tell you it's been nip and tuck. No onery niggers could 'a' done it; but me and Venie, we done it." And Jerusha carried her splendid turban off down the terrace with the air of an aged generalissimo.

Even John Gano had made his toilet with care to-day. He joined the others in the parlor a few minutes before setting off to the station to meet his nephew. Mrs. Gano's sharp eyes travelled over him for once without protest.

"You do look nice, father," said Val.

John Gano was prematurely old. His untrimmed beard, his bent head with its leonine mane of iron-gray hair, lent him an almost patriarchal look. And yet this man was still in the forties. Such forestalling of old age is no unfamiliar phenomenon in America. He stood by the window drawing on the well-worn left-hand glove; the right, carefully folded, and good almost as new, had been much carried, but never worn.

"I must thin out these maples and dogwoods," he said, with critical eyes on the abundant gold and scarlet foliage in front of the house.

"No, no," protested his mother; "I like something before my windows. Your pruning is too ruthless."

"I can't have the symmetry of the maples interfered with," he said, with great decision.

"Don't be too late to meet Ethan."

"... grown astonishingly!" he ejaculated with pride, as he went off; "and only planted in the fall of '81!"

Val had put her hair up. But there was too much of it; it overweighted the small head. The shifting lights in the unruly waves, and the blue of the eyes, were brought out by the particular shade of navy cloth that she wore—so[Pg 252] plainly made that it had the effect of a cunning artifice to show off the lithe figure.

But it was less art than necessity and scarcity of cloth that governed the design. Aunt Valeria had worn it, remodelled to the flamboyant fashion of her day, but it was the identical blue travelling-habit of family legend in which Mrs. Gano, as a girl, made that journey across the Alleghanies in a stage-coach. It was the first time Val had worn it. She was saving it up for New York. The tiny silver disks down the front of the bodice found themselves again, after half a century, buttoning up an eager young body, panting, impatient to cross the mountains from this side, with back to the westering sun, and with bright silver buttons, like bosses on a shield, ready to receive the first dart from out the east.

The party in the parlor were weary enough waiting before An' Jerusha hobbled into the front hall with a negro lad in tow, who brought the news that:

"Dey's bin a accidunt on de line; nobuddy hurt, but the train'll be seberal hours late. Mr. Gano reckons he'll stay ober at de station till it gits yere."

"Isn't it just like cousin Ethan!" Emmie burst out, when the two blacks had gone. "I don't believe he'll ever come—I don't believe we've got a cousin Ethan!" she wound up, with exasperation.

Partly to reassure herself, partly to kill time, she went into her grandmother's room and brought back her cousin's latest photograph.

"Don't you sometimes think this is the crossest-looking of any?" she whispered to Val.

"I don't think it's cross—just grave. I hate grinning men."

"I don't want him to grin; but his mouth looks—looks—— Still, I do like his mustache brushed that way, so you can see his lips a little. And his eyes!—oh! his eyes are beautiful!"

They studied the picture for some moments held between them.

[Pg 253]

"Do you quite like his chin?" pursued Emmie.

"I like that best of all except his nose," said Val, firmly.

"Oh, what makes you like his nose?"

"Because it isn't too little, and because it's rather bony, and because it's got a bridge."

"Oh, well, I think I'd prefer it quite straight instead of aquiline. But he's very handsome. It's nice having him look like that."

Emmie held the photograph off, and tilted her head from side to side.

"Grandma says cousin Ethan and me used to be rather alike as children." She smiled contentedly. "I hope he'll go to church."

She took the picture back presently, but before she replaced it on the mantel-piece she looked round over her shoulder. Reassured, she kissed the pasteboard fervently, and put it down with shamefaced, fluttering haste.

The sun set and the light faded. Still no Ethan. A brief interval for supper at six, and the three returned to the parlor. Mrs. Gano manifested a hitherto unsuspected leaning towards illumination. The branch candlesticks, for the first time within the memory of man, held each its triple flame, and a shaded lamp shed a crimson glow over the centre table. She made an excursion into the hall, and complained that the Moorish lamp burned faint and insufficiently. She came back, saying:

"It will seem cold after France," and with her own hands she lit the ready-laid fire in the grate. Later, she went to the front door and objected to the absence of the moon.

"It's really dangerous coming up those steps in the pitch-dark, especially since the second stone was broken."

At half-past eight she shut her book suddenly.

"Val, couldn't you get your father's new-fangled lantern—that patent incandescent contrivance—and set it lighted at the top of the steps?"

[Pg 254]

"Y-yes, ma'am, if you think it won't look funny. It's like the head-light of an engine."

"Funny? Not at all. There's nothing your cousin Ethan dislikes so much as the dark—unless he's greatly altered."

So Val got the lantern, and set it where the wide diverging rays flared out across the street, as a fan of zodiacal light opens gaudily across the Milky Way on arctic nights, leaving travellers on the ways of this world but little illumined, for all the glory of heaven.

So with the patent incandescent lantern. It picked out the whitewashed hitching-post with an ostentation of good-will, flooded the farther side of the street, and fell with a kind of fierce satisfaction upon the ugly new wooden tenements opposite. But this side, gutter, and gate, and little flight of worn and broken steps, were left in denser darkness.

Val came in, complaining for the first time at the delay.

"I hope poor father isn't waiting all these hours for his supper."

"Oh, he'll go to the hotel, you may be sure."

Mrs. Gano did not speak as if the thought brought her particular satisfaction.

"It's getting cold; I just wish he'd come home. I don't believe there's the least use expecting cousin Ethan before to-morrow."

But when Emmie, half an hour later, asked for serious advice:

"Now, do you think I'd have time to eat another apple before he comes?"

"I wouldn't risk it," said Val; "we'll tell fortunes with the seeds you've got already."

The two girls sat on the moth-eaten velvet sofa. Emmie had spread her apple-seeds out on last evening's Mioto Gazette, and rubbed her fruity fingers on a diminutive pocket-handkerchief.

"Now I've named them," she said, in a whisper.

Val pointed at random:

[Pg 255]
"One I love, two I love, three I love, I say;
Four I love with all my heart, five I cast away;
Six he loves, seven she loves, eight they both love;
Nine he comes, ten he tarries,
Eleven he courts—"

"Oh," sighed Emmie, "only one more needed."

She rumpled up the paper, and with a glance towards her grandmother she thrust it behind the sofa.

"Pig!" remonstrated Val, under her breath, for once on the side of law and order.

"Ain't a pig. I shall see what my new shoe-buttons say," Emmie whispered. "Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief, doctor, lawyer, merchant. Ha! going to be a chieftess. Now what shall I wear? Silk, satin, calico, cotton," and on till she was able to announce, with dark eyes glancing and full of glee: "Satin!"

"You cheated. You haven't any right to count the one that's off."

"Course I have. They're brand-new shoes, and the buttons haven't any right to come off first time. And it's goin' to be satin—green satin, bright, beautiful grass-green satin. Now I'll tell your fortune," she added, amiably.

But Val sprang up, crying:

"He's come."

There was the rattle of wheels, at all events, in the quiet side street. The two girls rushed to the door and down to the gate. A carriage stopped. Their father got out with his usual air of weary haste. He was saying something disparaging of that Europe he had never seen, applauding his nephew's return to his native land. Val, her grandmother's warning fresh in mind, caught up the lantern and held it high above her head, slanted slightly, so as to catch within the radius of light the tall, slight figure that followed her father so lightly up the broken steps.

"Your own country has need of you," John Gano was winding up; "she is waiting for just such a man."

He paused under the red-bud tree.

[Pg 256]

Val still stood with the lantern conscientiously held up, lost for that first moment in her own absorbing impressions. Young Gano looked at her with quick realization of the eager, buoyant attitude, the uplifted face on which the strong light streamed, the wide, earnest outlook of eyes with so much more in them of question than of welcome, they might have been accustomed to sweeping far horizons from the watch-towers of the world.

An infinitesimal pause, and then:

"How do you do, America?" he said, smiling, and took his cousin's hand.

Val felt instantly he was laughing at her for a kind of travesty of Liberty Enlightening the World. She drew back quickly, lowering the lantern.

"I am Val," she said, "and this is Emmie."

The younger girl held up her pretty face, and her cousin kissed her.

"Where's grandmamma?" he said, eagerly, as he looked up.

She stood at the door. In the cross lights of lantern in front and Moorish lamp behind, she seemed to be in all the animate world the thing least changed since she had stood there to receive the boy nineteen summers before. Only a little frailer, a little whiter haired, subtly fined down by the years. With an impetuosity that made Val tremble for the fragile watcher at the door, Ethan sprang forward and up the two steps of the porch. He stopped before her with a curious reverence, and took her gently in his arms. Her head drooped on his shoulder. Val saw she had drawn the veil across her face. His arm still round her, Ethan turned with her into the hall.

"What!" he said, seeing the parlor lit, "am I company this time?"

"Tell Jerusha to serve supper," said Mrs. Gano, tremulously, to Val.

"Jerusha! Fancy her being still alive! But no supper, thank you; there was a dining-car on my miserable train."

[Pg 257]

The others went into the parlor, while Val took the lantern and the message to the kitchen, and then hurried back.

Emmie was beaming beside her cousin, sitting as close to him as she could get on the old velvet sofa. Opposite sat Mrs. Gano, animated, smiling. John Gano stood with parted coat-tails in front of the fire.

"And how does life abroad compare on the whole with life in America?" he was asking.

"Well, outwardly it is very different, of course."

"Different! I should think so," said Val, impulsively.

"Outwardly different," repeated John Gano. "I should think the spirit as well—the point of view utterly alien from ours."

"I believe I'd like Europe," said the sympathetic Emmie, "but Val's been wondering a great deal how you could bear it so long, especially after your grandfather was dead, and you could do as you liked."

Mrs. Gano sat very straight, not joining in the conversation at this point, but succeeding to admiration in conveying her opinions.

"I dare say," explained John Gano; "there has been some not altogether unnatural fear that the Old World might infect even you, as it has done other good Americans."

"How is that?"

John Gano shook his lion locks ominously. Ethan looked at his grandmother. Her slow head-shake set the white veil waving. Evidently, whatever the danger might be, it was something too hideous for words. He looked at Val. She turned away her eyes. The infected one began to smile involuntarily. His youngest cousin alone of that patriotic company looked at him with no shadow of misgiving.

"There's a young man belongs to this town," she said, beginning in gentle explanatory tones, but waxing indignant as she went on, "and his name's Jimmie Battle—used to be quite a nice young man. Grandma knew his father's father—"

[Pg 258]

"Certainly, I knew all about the Battle family, from A to Izzard."

"Let me tell, grandma. Well, Jimmie Battle went to Paris for a week, and when he got back to America he called himself James Battelle. Everybody loathes and despises—I mean, doesn't like Jimmie any more."

The tension gave way at this point, and they joined in Ethan's laughter.

"I'm afraid, like the abhorred Mr. Battelle, I didn't object to the French variant of my name; but I did mind the English persistence in calling me Eth-an Gáy-no."

"Quite ridiculous," said his grandmother.

"But did they go on speaking of you in that horrid way?" asked Val, incredulously.

Ethan nodded.

"I wouldn't have stayed with such people a minute," she said—"at least, only long enough to see how ridiculous they were, and then come straight home."

"Miss Hills, she's my Sunday-school teacher," remarked Emmie, "she's been abroad, and she says all English people call cake cyke."

"Ah, let us hope Miss Hills is more conversant with the manners and customs of the ancient Hebrews."

"We thought you'd be standing up for Europe," said Val, with a commiserating smile. "Perhaps you'll say all the English don't say militree for military."

Ethan only laughed, and began to talk of Paris. Val found herself listening, not to the words, but to the tones of her cousin's voice, with a sense of rising excitement. Of all kinds of beauty, and of all forms of fascination, that which found the girl most defenceless was harmony in sound. It is doubtful if any eloquence could have reached her through a cracked or raucous voice. But this one, with its vibrant, searching resonance, that yet held no effect of harshness, its pliancy, its command of half-tones, its haunting timbre—this was a voice that, no matter what it said, made music and uttered charms. No one in New Plymouth, no one Val had ever heard before,[Pg 259] spoke like this. Yet the accent was frankly Northern, and the diction free from any obtrusive elegance or trace of pedantry. It was the voice that gave the words their quality.

Before to-night Val had judged of speech and matter critically enough, being an even uncomfortably observant young person; but this sound went thrilling along her nerves, setting up so strange a tumult as to shut out sense. After all, he was only talking about France. What did France matter? It might as well be Mars. The important fact was that in the grave, dark face, great wonderful eyes were shining, deeper, gloomier than Emmie's. But his smile made generous amends. It made the heart beat to look at the mobile mouth. And Emmie had dared to kiss him! Something caught in Val's breast as she thought of such boldness. But speaking of boldness, it was to this person she had written for help to get her into opera. How had she dared? Did he have the letter in his pocket? Would he take it out presently, and bring her to confusion before the family?

"This room's exactly the same," he said, suddenly, breaking away from the discussion as to whether Republicanism suited the volatile, spectacle-loving Gaul. "My old friend Daniel Boone's still at his post, I see; and, why, the very silver paper on the walls is the same!"

"No, no," protested Mrs. Gano. "This is new. It hasn't been up more than"—she reflected.

"Nine years ago, this coming May," said John Gano.

"Oh, really!" Ethan passed his slim, brown finger-tips lightly over the wall behind the sofa. "It's just as nice as the old kind was," he said, smiling; "it comes off on your fingers, shiny and metallic."

"Yes," said Val; "just like the dust off a butterfly's wings."

"So it is." He nodded across the room at her. "I remember what fun I used to think it to rub it off—just a little, grandmamma."

"If you remember that," said Mrs. Gano, indulgently, "you remember I always reproved you for it."

[Pg 260]

"No, no." He jumped up, and stood very tall and smiling in front of her, with his hands behind his back, like a guilty urchin. "You've forgotten. When you caught me with silvery fingers, I used to be awfully alarmed. I always tried to disarm you by saying 'I was afraid you'd scold.' Then you would say, 'I never scold. I point out your defects—it's what I'm here for.'"

They all laughed, the two girls with some misgiving.

This repartee still did service on occasion.

"Oh, but those were good times!" Yet even as he said the words the gay look faded out of his face. "It was a long while ago."

"It's nineteen years," said John Gano, who was wrestling with a fit of coughing. These attacks were such a commonplace in the family life that the rest were aware of this one only when Ethan said:

"What a frightful cough you've got, Uncle John."

"No—nothing unusual. It begins like this when the cold weather comes on."

"Oh, father, you don't call to-day cold!" said Emmie.

"Your uncle is much better than he used to be," said Mrs. Gano, rising with her habitual every-day decision, and glancing at the clock. "You must be tired, Ethan?"

"Do you think you're too tired—" Val began, and hesitated, seized again with an unaccustomed shyness.

"I'm as fresh as possible."

He turned and looked inquiringly at her.

"I was just thinking how excited An' Jerusha's been about your coming, and—"

"Why, of course; I'll go out and see her a moment."

"May I come, too?" asked Emmie.

"Yes, do." He glanced towards Val, but she turned away an indifferent face. "Come."

He went off with Emmie, leaving Val behind, consumed with longing to go, but feeling as if she were chained to her chair.

"I don't like to see him looking delicate," said John Gano.

[Pg 261]

"Delicate! What an idea!" remonstrated his mother.

"He is young to have that slight inclination to stoop."

"Mere habit. You see, he is so tall. A man of six feet can afford to stoop just a little. It's hardly perceptible."

John Gano shook his head.

"Thinner than he ought to be."

"My patience, but you're hard to please! As if a fat man weren't an abhorrence."

"I didn't say I wanted to see him porpoisical."

"A man of Ethan's age ought not to have an ounce of superfluous flesh."

"Well, I should say he hadn't."

"All of us have invariably been thin."

"Exactly what I have in mind. Ethan has all the physical characteristics of our family."

Out in the kitchen An' Jerusha was expressing similar sentiments.

"Law sakes! I's tickled t' death you's come home. Jes' de same as ebber; spit en image ob yo' father. I monstus glad t' see yo', Mars Efan. Been ve'y jubous 'bout yo' gitten back fo' I done kick de bucket," and she laughed to keep from crying outright.

Emmie brought him back in triumph to the parlor, and they all said good-night.

When Val got into bed and began the inevitable story where she left off the night before, behold, the hero's face was the face of her cousin, and the hero's voice was the voice of Ethan Gano.


Val woke next day with a flashing sense of something wonderful having happened. She sat up in bed. Ah, yes! A bound, and she was out on the floor, pushing wider open the heavy shutter.

Ah! how good the air smelled, a little frosty, and yet golden, with something in it aromatic, tingling. She raced through her toilet, but after it was finished she stood a long while in front of the glass. Suddenly she threw back her[Pg 262] head and snapped her fingers in the air. Then she ran down-stairs. Going out by the veranda, she saw her cousin standing at the farther end, where the wisteria hung down in festoons. He was looking out through the loops and tangles. He turned, hearing the suddenly arrested step.

"Good-morning, America," he said, coming forward with that easy swinging gait of his.

"Good-morning," said Val, half laughing, half offended.

She stood a little awkwardly, seeming not to see his hand. He only smiled, and leaned his tall figure in the fawn-colored clothes against the pillar.

"Tell me, America, do you have much weather as fine as this?"

"We have Indian summer in this country, if that's what you mean."

He looked so well against the pillar. Val longed to take up some nonchalant attitude by the one nearest her, but she remembered it was black with the all-pervading coal-dust, and forbore being picturesque at the price.

"Of course," Ethan assented. "I'd forgotten you had a fifth season in your calendar. Naturally, the old regulation four wouldn't content you."

"I can't think why you talk as if you weren't an American yourself. You might be some poor foreigner—"

"Just what I am, I'm afraid."


He nodded.

"That's the worst of living abroad a lot," he said: "you are always a foreigner there. But it's only when you come home, and find that you are more of a foreigner than ever, that you begin to mind."

"You don't look as if you minded much."

"Ah, that's the good face I put on."

("Horrid, sneering French ways," she commented to herself, not really thinking so, but feeling it a duty and a kind of instinctive defence to pretend she did. Something rueful in his laugh was not lost upon her.)

"Still, I do appreciate your Indian summer," he added.

[Pg 263]

"I should think so." She threw back her head and drew in the sweet, sun-laden air. "It's the very best time of all the year." He didn't answer. "Don't you think so?"

"I think it a little melancholy, for all it's so beautiful."

"How curious! It's the time that makes me happiest."

"Is it?"

"Perhaps you prefer spring?" She spoke as one condescending to childishness. "A good many people seem to."

"Yes, all the old, and all—"

"All what?"

"All foreigners."

The breakfast-bell rang.

No trays went up-stairs that morning. Everybody appeared, and the two girls couldn't remember when so gay a party had assembled in the dingy dining-room. But the pleasantry was of that strictly family character whose special savor is withheld from the outsider.

As Ethan was taking his place by Mrs. Gano, he stopped suddenly, catching sight of the preternaturally tall silver coffee-pot, and made obeisance.

"Sir or madam," he said, "I've travelled far since we parted, but I've never seen your equal."

Mrs. Gano laughed with the rest.

"That means the Mioto air has made you readier for your morning cup than you've been since you were here before. Or perhaps you agree with Frederika Bremer's old woman, 'When I see a coffee-pot, it's the same to me as if I saw an angel from heaven.'"

"She must have meant this one."

"Emmie has another name for it," said John Gano, also unbending.

"Father!" remonstrated his little daughter, blushing, "it's a great many years since I called it anything but coffee-pot."

"But before that?" persisted cousin Ethan.


And everybody but Emmie laughed as if it were the finest jest in the world.

[Pg 264]

After breakfast they all walked about the grounds in a body, John Gano pointing out the superiority of his trees, and Ethan indicating his best-beloved old haunts, the two girls exchanging looks of amazement that he should know their playground so intimately. Ethan was much struck by the general dilapidation. If Uncle Elijah—peace to his ashes!—had found cause to remark nearly twenty years before that the place was going to ruin, there was good ground for the assertion to-day.

Ethan remembered the wilderness as being inexorably confined to that vast region (pitifully shrunken to the older eye) below the second flight of stone steps. But "Mr." Hall, who had mowed and clipped and gardened the upper region, having joined the ghosts, for whom he had felt so little fellowship here on earth, the wilderness had risen in his absence and howled, mounting terrace after terrace, and was now laying open siege to the very Fort itself. To be sure, there were garden borders under the front windows, where John Gano lingered with a tender solicitude, lamenting for the Eschscholtzia's sake the lack of sun. But the flourishing and carefully tended pansy border marked only the more definitely the surrounding desolation.

"There's a strange dog!" said Mrs. Gano. "Some one has left the gate open."

"He may have got in down there where there's a picket missing in the fence," said Ethan.

"Oh, that picket hasn't been there for ages," Val answered; "but the old hundred-leaved rose-bushes are so thick in that corner, and so thorny, nothing can get past."

As she ran forward to eject the strange dog, she caught her foot in the dry, tangled grass, and, but for Ethan's quick hand, would have fallen.

"Oh!" she said, flushing and looking confused; then, without any proper acknowledgment, she darted off after the dog.

"If I did that, father, you'd say I was clumsy," said Emmie, smiling up into his face in the prettiest way in the world.

[Pg 265]

"The grass is very long," said John Gano—"long and matted."

"It grows with great rapidity," said his mother. "It seems only yesterday we had a man here cutting it."

"It was the 29th of June."

"Oh, you must be mistaken."

John Gano shook his head.

"I remember quite well. It was the anniversary of Clay's death."

Val joined them again, breathless from the chase. Ethan had paused absent-mindedly near the corner of the wooden L, where the weather-boarding was hanging loose. It wasn't in the best taste, Val felt, that he should stare so at that strip of rotten wood, that refused any longer to hold the rusty nails. She longed to touch his arm, to rouse him.

"All this needs renewing," admitted John Gano, as though in answer to a verbal observation.

"A—yes," said Ethan, and they went on.

It was odd how the unsparing sunshine and a new pair of eyes in the party revealed the wide-spread dilapidation of the place to its old inhabitants. Val had hardly noticed it before.

John Gano picked up a blackened, weather-worn shingle off the grass.

"The equinox brought down a fresh crop of these," he said, tossing the old shingle into the wood-shed.

"Comes off the L, I suppose," said Ethan.

"No, the main roof."

"Doesn't it leak, then?"

"A little," answered his uncle, cheerfully.

"That must be bad for the house."

"We shall be roofed with slate next time," said Mrs. Gano; "it lasts longer."

"Oh, we can't complain of the way a shingle roof has lasted, that's done duty more than a quarter of a century," returned her son.

"Whenever it rains we have such fun," said Emmie.[Pg 266] "We carry up an army of buckets and basins and washtubs to catch the rain in the attic. Last week it came through into father's room in the night, and Val—"

"Emmeline," said Mrs. Gano, "walk on; the path is narrow here."

As they passed the kitchen-window Ethan glanced in.

"Good-morning, Aunt Jerusha! Morning, Venus!"


"Mawnin', Marse Efan!"

The old woman hobbled delightedly to the window, avoiding a broken place in the flooring.

"I see you don't neglect my knocker—shines like gold."

"Go long, Marse Efan!" Her rich chuckling bubbled over. "Tooby suah I ain't disremember dat ar knocker o' yourn—not oncet in twenty yeah."

"Why do you have those little squares of zinc nailed all over your kitchen floor, Aunt Jerusha?"

"Law sakes alive!"—she rolled and shook—"dey's a despit lot o' rats down sullar, an' I can't b'ar 'em up yere nohow."

Ethan was the only one of the party outside to join her cheerful laughter. But the ruinous state of the property was too obvious for him to realize that he could possibly be expected to overlook it.

When they went in-doors Ethan followed his grandmother to her own room, where he had sat with her that first evening so long ago and heard that Jerusha was his aunt. They had a long and eminently satisfactory talk until, towards its end, Ethan straightforwardly introduced the subject of the evident need of repairs, and the pleasure it would give him to—

He was "quite mistaken," she interrupted, drawing herself up, and, to his amazement, receiving the suggestion at the point of the sword. There was nothing wrong with the place. He had his head full of châteaus and palaces. Of course, this was quite an ordinary—

"No, no, it's not the least ordinary. It's picturesque[Pg 267] and beautiful; but it—you must see for yourself it's falling to decay."

"Like ourselves, it doesn't get younger; but it naturally suits us better than it can hope to suit you."

He gave up his point for the time being, finding a sudden flaw in his own taste, that could so soon after his arrival suggest that anything here could be changed for the better.

"Come to the upper hall," he said to Val after the mid-day dinner; "help me to unpack, and see if anything I've picked up in my travels will do for a present to Aunt Jerusha."

Val followed him up-stairs, into the seventh heaven. She knew she ought to call Emmie; but why spoil it?

"You never answered my last letter," she said with lowered voice as they reached the landing.

"Didn't I? I'm so sorry. I thought I had. But it's so long ago."

"Not so very."

"About three years. You've rather neglected me of late." He smiled down into her lifted eyes.

"Perhaps I didn't know your new address."

"'Monroe et Cie, 7, Rue Scribe, Paris,' always finds me."

"I thought you told grandma to write direct to the Rue de Provence."

"Ah yes, at one time. I left there a long while ago."

He was unlocking his trunk. Should she tell him about the letter that had evidently got lost? It somehow wouldn't be so easy as she supposed. And what was the use? Anyhow, here was Emmie trailing up-stairs with a rather downcast face, saying:

"Grandma thought I might come too and see Aunt Jerusha's—"

"Of course; and why not, I'd like to know?" said Ethan, with a welcoming look, as he tumbled his clothes out on the floor. It was awfully interesting—embarrassing, too. What a lot of things he had, for a man!

"I hope he isn't a dandy," thought Val, with a moment's[Pg 268] misgiving. As a top-heavy pile of linen and flannel fell against her arm, she was conscious of an odd sense of pleasure, under her shrinking from the contact. It was as if he himself had touched her. Emmie knelt down and gathered up the things, and folded them with her characteristic clumsy helpfulness. These mechanical offices were as far from her limited range of dexterity as the wish to be of service was ever present in her amiable soul.

"Now, this was what I thought might do." He opened a box and took out an Indian silver necklace.

"Just the thing!" cried Val; "how she'll love the dangles!"

"And these for Venus, eh?" He laid down two bangles.

"Yes, yes."

"Think of Venus havin' 'em both," murmured Emmie, hanging over them, fascinated.

Val saw there were more silver ornaments in the little box, but Ethan was diving into the trunk again.

"This is what I've brought you," he said, still on one knee over the trunk. He turned and handed them each a little morocco case. A murmur of surprised thanks, a click of opening clasps, and before each girl's eyes gleamed a tiny watch, round which lay coiled a fine little chain.

"Oh, oh, oh!" Emmie dropped a pile of shirts on the floor and danced about. "My initials on the back in pink coral!"

"Mine in turquoise! Oh, how did you know blue was my color?" But Emmie had precipitated herself upon Ethan's bosom and was hugging him wildly.

He was laughing, and crying "Help! help!" And when Emmie desisted, "Help me to throw those clothes back."

They put everything away in wild disorder, except one small package, which he had pocketed.

"Let's go and show our watches to grandma," said Emmie; and they all went down to the long room.

Ethan had his hand on the door-knob.

"Oh, we always knock," said Emmie, not too excited[Pg 269] even by a gold and coral watch but what she could supply so alarming an omission.

"Come in."

Ethan paused a moment on the threshold while his cousins rushed in. He was thinking how that particular "Come in," aided perhaps by the preliminary formality of a discreet knock (how could he have forgotten!); the unchanged aspect of the big room and its occupant in the queer red chair—how it all gave him back his childhood; gave him back, too, in some indefinable way, his old feeling of being "in the Presence." All the adulation of which he himself had been the object at home and abroad had not changed this. In Paris he was a personage; in the press of two continents he was a respectfully mentioned millionaire; in the select circles of half a dozen capitals he was courted and fawned upon as a great parti; but in the long room he was a vassal, if not still a child. It amused him to think that he humored the notion. Mrs. Gano had received the deputation smiling, and had put on her spectacles. But as she examined the watches, while the girls chorused, and Ethan walked about, hands in pockets, looking at the browned engravings, the old woman grew grave.

"These watches are very handsome," she said; "too handsome for little girls."

"Oh no!"

"I'm not a little girl," said Val; "I'm—"

"They won't be in keeping, but they are very beautiful."

She was shrivelling up in some unaccountable way.

"I couldn't think," said Ethan, coming forward, "what souvenir I should bring you of France." He drew the package out of his pocket and opened it. "Do you remember how I used to ask you about the French Revolution when I was a child, and all the stories you used to tell me, and how sorry we were for Louis and poor Marie Antoinette? You remember telling me how, when she heard the people were dying for want of bread, she asked, 'Why don't they eat cake?'"

He had opened a box and taken out an enamelled [Pg 270]crucifix, from which hung a long chain of small but exquisitely chosen pearls fastened with a jewelled clasp.

"This is something Marie Antoinette wore. I thought you'd like to have it."

"Oh no!" drawing back quickly.

He stared at her. She added, almost nervously:

"I—I never wear jewelry."

"But—but this!" he protested, not a little dashed.

"Why, grandma, you're wearing pearl pins in your veil this very moment," said Val.

"They—oh, they are little old seed-pearls; they are nothing. I couldn't think of wearing a costly thing like this." She waved her long fingers towards the chain with an air of distaste. "Such things are not suitable here."

"But why—why not?" exclaimed Ethan.

"You have only to look about," she said, gravely. "That is a beautiful and costly toy, my dear. Keep it for your wife."

"Let's go and give Jerusha her necklace," suggested Emmie, by way of carrying off a trying situation.

"Ah yes," said Mrs. Gano, with an air of relief; "I'm glad you've remembered Jerusha," and she gave the silver collar praise unstinted.

[Pg 271]


The next afternoon Mrs. Gano and her son took Ethan out driving in state. Val and Emmie watched them off with eyes of envy. Ethan looked back at the young people with something of the same expression. The hack was old and fusty, and was drawn by a single sorrowful beast, but there was an air of ceremony about the whole proceeding not lost on Ethan. His uncle pointed out the sights, and, in the intervals of bouts of coughing, discussed town and national politics. Mrs. Gano, in excellent spirits, planned a series of drives to points of interest, in every direction, as long as the fine weather should last. Ethan began to quail inwardly at the prospect, and yet these odd relations interested him infinitely more than he had expected. And as soon as that cough of his uncle's became intolerable he would have urgent business in Boston. Meanwhile, apropos of these drives, he realized that he would never dare to offer to pay for the carriage hire. He turned the problem over in his mind, and after they came home he went out and had a conversation with the liveryman. A telegram was despatched to a Columbus carriage manufactory, and an appointment made with the liveryman to go next day to a neighboring farm and inspect some horseflesh.

Before the week was out, a brougham and a well-conditioned pair of grays stood daily before the Fort, when the weather was clement. Mrs. Gano, less enthusiastic over this new arrival than any one else, nevertheless drove about day after day in the lovely mild weather, with the top off "Ethan's newfangled coach," and a look of extreme satisfaction upon her face. But her son decided that, mild as was the autumn air, it came to him in too great draughts[Pg 272] behind the flying grays. After that first august apparition of the three elder Ganos in Ethan's equipage, John Gano declined to sustain his part in the daily triumphal progress through the streets of the appreciative town. Naturally, in a place of that size, Mrs. Gano's millionaire grandson was the talk of the hour, and Val and Emmie sunned themselves in his reflected glory. Such is the callousness of youth, that it was a moment of scarcely clouded rapture to the younger generation when John Gano decided to stay at home and prune the dogwoods.

Val and Emmie accepted the proffered places on the front seat with an excitement not to be conveyed to those souls deadened by the luxury of "keeping a carriage" all their lives.

Ethan had tried to insist that one of his cousins should sit by Mrs. Gano.

"Nonsense!" said that lady; "children always sit in front."

Aunt Jerusha and Venus peeped discreetly round the corner of the house, as usual, to see them start.

"My! Miss Emmie's growin' beautifler and beautifler," Venus had said, as the younger girl smiled and blushed her soft "Thank you, cousin Ethan," for his helping hand.

Val, who had already hopped in, turned and waved excitedly to the servants.

"My dear!" remonstrated her grandmother, while old Jerusha nodded her bright turban and whispered: "Yah! Miss Emmie's awful handsome, but she ain't wavin'; dose chillens tickled to death. Why, Miss Val's face is like a lamp."

As the grays leaped forward, and the two young hearts leaped responsive, Emmie had a flashing realization of what Elijah felt like, going to heaven in his chariot of fire.

To Val the rapturous excitement of the thing was just another proof of the infinite possibilities life afforded for being ecstatically happy. She would not have admitted there was even a heavenly comparison wherewith to match this blissful flying along with cousin Ethan opposite, he[Pg 273] talking mostly to grandmamma, of course, but sometimes meeting his cousin's eyes, and smiling in a way that made the breath catch in the breast.

Julia was coming out of her gate that very first day that the four drove by. Val sat up very straight, and made her a sign, subsiding quickly upon a look from Mrs. Gano. But Ethan turned round and looked back.

"What a pretty girl! Who is she?"

"My best friend," said Val. "You know, I've shown you her house."

"Ah yes—Julia—"

"Otway. Such lovely people, all the Otways."

"A most estimable family," admitted Mrs. Gano; "rather free-and-easy in their ways. As Emmie said when she was five or six, 'They's the kind of people that sits on beds.'"

Emmie smiled a pleased smile at this recollection of infant perspicacity.

"That was when the Otway children were too little to know any better," Val said. "You wait, cousin Ethan, till you know Julia. You just ought to hear her play the piano! She's coming to supper to-morrow, and, oh! she wants to know if you like tennis."

"Yes. Has she got a court?"

"A splendid one. Haven't you noticed? Just behind the osage-trees."

"Oh, we'll go and play some morning."

"There! you see, grandma, he doesn't think he's too old or too busy to play games. But I can't go in the mornings. I have lessons with grandma, you know, till one o'clock, and Julia's at school till half-past two, except on Saturdays."

"So am I," said Emmie, sadly. "I wish I were going East, and needn't begin a term that I couldn't finish."

Val was conscious of something like a qualm at not having thought about the East, or even the opera, for days. But wait! she would find an opportunity of taking cousin Ethan into her confidence. Then the great scheme would resume its former gigantic proportions. Hitherto, [Pg 274]whenever she had been alone with her cousin, she had been seized with a strange shyness, an excitement that put everything else out of her head except that here was she, and here was he. It was very queer and very disconcerting, but it was a heavenly feeling, all the same.

"Here's Miss Tibbs coming," said Emmie, wishing to acquaint their guest with all the leading characteristics of the place. "She's quite the most hideous—ahem!—well, she's a very plain lady. And oh! do you see that man going into the red-brick house?"

"That's Jimmie Battle," said Mrs. Gano.

"Yes. Val, show us how he talks when he tries to be English, and then forgets."

"Oh yes," said Val, nothing loath. "He was telling something funny that happened: 'I laahfed and I laahfed, and, oh golly! how I laffed!'"

"Val, I'm amazed at your language!"

"It's Jimmie's language—of course, we're all amazed."

"Look, Val, there goes Harry Wilbur," said Emmie.

Yes, it was Harry, pretending not to see them. Val had not answered his last letters, and since he had not called all these days, he must be "mad."

"Who is Harry Wilbur?" Ethan asked, perceiving the interest taken in this citizen.

"Son of our old friend, Judge Wilbur," said Mrs. Gano.

"We used to say he was the handsomest man in New Plymouth," said Emmie, looking reflectively at Ethan.

"And he's the best bat in the West," added Val, loyally; but, oh! how insignificant blond men were in comparison with—

They passed Miss Appleby taking a posse of her young lady boarders out for a walk.

"They all know you, cousin Ethan, and they're just dying to turn and look back. We talked about you all recess."

"Did you?" he laughed.

"Girls chatter too much," said Mrs. Gano; "they were more discreet in my day."

[Pg 275]

But Emmie knew this was a time of privilege.

"The girls at the Seminary are nearly every one Presbyterians. They don't like being Presbyterians at all."

"Why not?"

"'Cause they can't come to our church on Sunday."

Now they were going up the hill. The young people must get out and walk. Delicious moment of being helped to dismount. The unskilful Emmie, for all cousin Ethan's hand, had stumbled and twisted her foot. She was lifted back, to a sympathetic chorus. Ethan had taken off a glove to try the catch on the carriage door, which did not work easily. He held the glove in his hand as Val and he trudged up the cinder road. Why, that was like her father! And now that Val thought of it, cousin Ethan had several little ways that recalled her father. Both indulged in fits of gloomy, absolute silence "all about nothing," when they might be discoursing pleasantly to their fellows. She glanced at her cousin sideways. Certainly he and John Gano were very different, too, in a sense. The elder man seemed hewn out of wood, Ethan was cut in ivory. Why did he say nothing? He began to draw on his glove, absently, with a preoccupied air.

He was thinking to-day of Mary Burne. Where was she? Had she solved the enigma? He tried to shake her out of his thoughts, but she came back and back.

Val snatched a mullein leaf from the hill-side as she passed.

"Don't you love these velvety things?" she said. "Just feel before you put on your glove."

"N-no"—he looked suspiciously at the silver-gray leaf—"no, thank you."

"Why not?"

"I don't like touching things like that."

"But why?"

"Oh, just an absurd notion of mine."

"But is it a notion, or is it a real feeling?"

He laughed.

"Now I know what reality is to my cousin Val."

[Pg 276]

"But this isn't prickly. It's soft as velvet."

"I know—too much like velvet."

"Do you hate soft things?"

"No, but I hate things that catch my nails." He gave a little comic shiver.

"Is that why you won't take a peach in your fingers?"

"You've noticed?"

He turned his head and glanced down at her. She looked away.

"I wonder what makes you like that?" she said.

"Can't imagine."

"It must make you shiver inside just to look at our velveteen jackets."

"I don't so much mind looking at them."

"But you'd hate to touch them?"

He laughed.

"Yes, fair catechist, I would; and if the murder must out, it's because of Emmie's velvet jacket that Emmie's ankle's hurt. She wouldn't have fallen if I had lifted her down instead of giving her my hand."

"Well, you are funny! I don't think much of velveteen myself, but I like real velvet. And all of us girls simply love the feel of mullein, and when we want to have nice pink cheeks," she said, in a burst of confidence, "we do like this."

She rubbed the leaf hard first on one cheek and then on the other, till each one flew a scarlet flag.

"Most effective," said Ethan, with deliberate eyes on the girl; "but for my part, I'd rather my cheeks were white, or even pea-green, than have that thing touch me."

Val threw the mullein away.

"I'm afraid I haven't any fine feelings," she said. "I like everything."

"I don't believe it."

She couldn't bear that compelling look of his.

"It takes so long like this," she said; "I'm going to run to the top," and she raced on before him. But even so he reached her again before the slow-moving carriage, going the long way round.

[Pg 277]

When he, too, got to the top, he saw her standing some little distance from the road on the brow of the hill, looking down upon river and town; her dress blown well back from the firmly set feet, the old velveteen jacket following—more from long habit than from excellence of cut—the slim young outlines, the shabby little hat held down upon the wind-roughened hair with one hand, the other hand thrust in a side-pocket. It was an unkempt picture of no great prettiness, and no thought of prettiness, but it gave a curious impression of eager life; a kind of dauntlessness and good faith that hit upon the heart.

"Well, America, what do you think of the prospect?" said his voice behind her.

She turned round with a bright look.

"Much more than I'm going to tell you, to be laughed at for my pains."

"Oh, well, I can see it for myself—a smoky valley, a muddy river with many bridges, some stormy-looking clouds—"

"Oh, that's not what I see."

"What then?"

"Well—" Her eyes sparkled, and then she pursed her mouth as one determined not to let out secrets before the fulness of time.


"I hadn't noticed the smoke in the valley, or the mud in the river, and certainly wasn't thinking about the scenery at all. I never do."

"What's your objection to scenery?"

"So horrid dull. Not just this—all scenery."

"You think so?"

"Oh, dreadful! And it's just the same with birds and trees, and all the things the poets make such a time about. I can't be bothered."

"Really!" Ethan was laughing at her harassed, overdone look.

"Oh, do forgive me! I quite forgot you were a poet, too."

[Pg 278]

"I'll forgive you on condition you tell me what you'd write about if you were a poet."

"Why, people, of course. People are the only things that matter. I always skip the scenery. Everybody does, only they don't tell." She had lowered her voice, as if the very faded grasses and the sunburnt golden-rod might gossip of the heresy. "It's been rather hard on me that my father, who is so interesting and wonderful to talk to about everything else, should waste so much time on trees and things. I've thought more than once that some day, when he's in better health, I'll just tell him." She nodded portentously.

"H'm! How will you put it?"

"Oh, I should tell him just honestly the beauties of Nature make me sick."

A pause of satisfaction at finally unburdening her soul, and then a little start. She studied Ethan's face with some anxiety.

"I'm forgetting again that you— Do you mind if I don't care much about—" She made a vindictive gesture towards a small, wry-growing oak-tree clinging desperately to the side of the hill below them. "Do you mind?"

"I don't know that I do."

"Why should you? I don't mind that you hate my jacket—at least, not much. I tell you what, we'll make a compact. I'll never wear velvet or mullein leaves while you're here, and you will never mention the scenery."

"Very well; it's a bargain."

They shook hands. A sudden impulse made him loath to loosen his grasp. As he did so:

"Now tell me," he said, "what were you looking at with such a rapture of expectation. What interests you in that dirty little town?"

"It's only dirty because it's so enterprising," she said, apologetically. "You can't stop to trouble about your looks if you've got a lot to do."

"Quite true, America. But still, what is there besides enterprise in that dirty little town that makes you—"

[Pg 279]

"Little! Why, my father says there are 35,000 inhabitants."

"Ah, there's safety in numbers. I fancied from your expression you had forgotten 34,999 of them."

"There's the carriage," said Val, not looking in his face.

"How long is he going to stay, grandma?" asked Emmie, as the two figures came towards them.

"I don't know, my dear."

"I think he means to be here a long while."

"What makes you think so?"

"Well, he said something to Val about hating Christmas, 'cause it always made him miserable. Val said: 'Stay here with us and you won't be miserable.' He said: 'No, I don't think it would be easy to be miserable with you.' And he looked so pleased. Let's ask him to stay."

Mrs. Gano watched the advancing pair with grave eyes. It was rare to see Val with such a heightened color.


It rained the next day, and there was no driving. But Val, in any case, had an old engagement of much importance. Jessie Hornsey, a cousin of Harry Wilbur's, was giving a "tea-fight." Miss Hornsey had "graduated" that June, and was, in spite of her great age, a particular friend of Val's, who had been much honored by her condescension in the past, and by the special mark of favor in the present invitation. At the last moment came little pink note No. 2, to say that Miss Hornsey had heard that Miss Gano had a cousin staying with her: would she bring him? Val, already dressed and ready to go, precipitated herself down-stairs to find her cousin. He was stretched out comfortably before the parlor fire reading an old battered book.

"Here, read this instead." She spread the blushing sheet triumphantly over the yellow page.

He looked up, smothering a yawn behind his even white teeth, stirred lazily in the depths of his arm-chair, and then dropped his eyes upon Miss Hornsey's note.

[Pg 280]

"Well?" asked Val, impatiently.


"What you think?"

"That this is a very handsome proposition."

"Will you come?"

"Ah, that's another matter."

"But do."

"What for?"

"She's awfully nice—she's Harry's cousin—and all the older girls and boys will be there. You'll like it. I should think there'd be hardly anybody else as young as I am."

"Won't you feel your inferiority?"

"I think it's very nice of Jessie Hornsey to ask me."

He could see she had been proud of the distinction.

"Well, you go and tell them I—I've got rheumatism, and have to sit in an arm-chair."

"Oh, do come!"

"Just look at the rain!"

"We can take the horse-cars."

"Ugh!" he shuddered.

"What's the matter?" she said, suspiciously; "you too grand for horse-cars?"

"Not too grand, too cold."

"Put on an overcoat."

"Don't you think it's very comfortable here?"

"Yes, but Jessie Hornsey—"

"Do you know"—he laid the old book on the floor by his chair and stretched out his shapely hands to the blaze—"do you know, I think this is much nicer than tea-fighting at Jessie Hornsey's."

"What if I don't go, either?" said Val, with a sudden inspiration.

"Why should you?" returned Ethan, smiling.

She whipped off her hat and jacket and flung them on the sofa.

"And you're all alone," she said, in extenuation of her sudden change of front.

[Pg 281]


"Do you know, you are not at all what I expected?"

"I'm very sorry."

"I used to imagine what you were like, and it wasn't at all like this."

He sat up with a look of amusement.

"How do I fall short?"

"You don't; this is much better." She was staring into the fire with great gravity.

"You don't give me a flattering idea of your anticipations," he said.

She ignored the opportunity to reassure him.

"I used to wonder so if we were never going to meet; I was so tired waiting," she said.

"Oh, then you thought on the whole you'd like to know me?"

"Well, it's a very queer feeling—the feeling I mean. I have it about Patti, too."

"Oh, Patti, too."

"You've heard her sing?"


"Of course, you've heard everything!" she sighed.

"What's the 'queer feeling'?"

"Well, if I've heard and thought a great deal about some one, and if they sing wonderfully, or if they write beautiful songs, and travel and do interesting things, I feel—not so much that I want to meet them as that it would be nice for them to meet me. No, you aren't taking it the way I mean. It's that I know I should appreciate them, and it must be rather nice to be awfully appreciated, even if it's Patti or you. Of course you go about meeting all kinds of people, but there aren't many among them that take such an interest as I do, that know all about you when you were little, how you blacked yourself all over in the attic and brought down the door-knocker; about the Tallmadges and Henri de Poincy, and all your photographs and letters to grandma. Naturally, nobody could take such an interest in you as your own cousin,[Pg 282] and it used to seem such a waste that you shouldn't know us."

"I quite agree; it would have been losing a golden opportunity."

"Oh, here she is!" said Emmie, putting in her head. "I told grandma you'd gone to the party."

"No, I'm not going. It's cold; shut the door."

Emmie was proceeding to perform this operation on the inside when Mrs. Gano called "Val." With a gesture of impatience the girl got up and went out. Mrs. Gano was standing on the threshold of the long room.

"You'll be very late for the party."

"I'm not going."

"Why not?"

"It's raining so."

"Well, I never in all my days heard you make that excuse before!"

Val traced an invisible design on the back of the hall-chair.

"Cousin Ethan was asked, too. It strikes him as being a very bad day."

"Ethan? Preposterous! Why should he bother with the Hornseys?"

There was a pause. Suddenly she asked:

"Was there not an Archery Club meeting yesterday?"

"Yes, but I—I thought I wouldn't go when we had company."

"My dear child, the company need not be so much on your mind. Your father and I are quite capable of entertaining Ethan."

"Oh yes, of course."

"You are a mere child in the eyes of a man of the world, don't forget that."

Val went on making patterns. It did not escape Mrs. Gano that this was only the second time in all her days that Val had not furiously contested the injustice of looking upon her from so mean a point of view. The girl stood quite meek and reflective.

[Pg 283]

"Don't miss your party because of Ethan," added the old woman, more gently. "You have not understood. Your cousin has a great deal to occupy him in a world we do not belong to. It's of no use for us to disarrange our lives for a person who pays us a visit once in twenty years—here to-day, gone to-morrow."

"Of course not," said Val.

"There is one thing in particular that we must all be careful about." Mrs. Gano sank her voice, although the heavy parlor-door was shut. "Emmie has just told me that Ethan has some plan of giving you children a dog-cart. Now, I can't have that."

"I thought you would object. I said so."

"You were perfectly right. Of course Ethan doesn't realize; he offers these things out of sheer amiability and carelessness. It's a bagatelle to him. To us"—she laid her hand on Val's arm—"it is a question of the principle. We must guard against nothing so carefully as a habit of accepting things from a rich relation. It is a situation full of peril to personal dignity, to continuance of esteem."

Thank Heaven, thought Val, that shameless letter asking for money had the sense to go and lose itself! What a disgrace to have brought upon her family! She felt a spasm of nervous relief go down her spine at the thought of that guilty secret having escaped detection.

Mrs. Gano had gone and opened the front door.

"Make haste, and you won't be so very late."

Val went with lagging steps to the parlor, and came hurrying out with her things. Ethan had not even looked round. He was laughing at something Emmie was saying.

"We haven't seen Harry Wilbur lately; ask him if he can't come in to-night," said Mrs. Gano, as she saw Val off.

Oh yes, a great deal of water had flowed under the bridge since her own daughter was young.


It was plain that Ethan was a great success in New Plymouth. Not that any of the neighbors knew him as yet, not that he had gone anywhere except to St. Thomas's[Pg 284] that first Sunday; but such glimpses as the inhabitants had of him, whether at his rather absent-minded devotions or driving about with Mrs. Gano, had roused a fever of interest. The fact of his great wealth, combined with his somewhat glowering good looks, his slow transforming smile, ran away with hearts by the score, and made the tumble-down Fort a centre of seething gossip and excitement. Harry Wilbur was known to look upon the new-comer with open suspicion.

"Can't say I've much use for an American who isn't an American," said the florid Westerner to Julia Otway at the Hornsey "tea-fight."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, look at him."


Her unblushing excitement seemed further to annoy the usually equable Wilbur.

"I don't mean he's here. But you've seen him, haven't you?"

"Oh yes, but only at a distance. Have you?"

"Quite near enough. He's like a Spaniard, or some kind of foreigner, and goes about looking as if he owned the earth."

"Well, he does own a good slice of it, and as to his looks, he's very much like all the rest of the Ganos except Val."

Julia had put great pressure upon herself not to rush over at once and make the new-comer's acquaintance. But there was a general feeling that, however much one naturally yearned to meet the attractive stranger, Mrs. Gano's house was not the place that one could run in and out of without invitation. Julia's patience was rewarded by the bidding to supper, to which she had responded by the suggestion of tennis.

Her presence made a great difference in the family evening at the Fort.

John Gano's form of contribution to the entertainment of his guest was to play chess with him after supper, or[Pg 285] else engage him in conversation on the subject of State Rights versus Centralization. Several nights of such frivolity had satisfied Ethan.

"I hear that you play," he said to Julia Otway, as they came out from supper.

She, nothing loath, and seeming magnetized into forgetfulness of her usual restraint in Mrs. Gano's presence, followed him to the piano.

"Locked. Where's the key?" Ethan asked.

"In my dressing-case," said Mrs. Gano, nodding to Val.

As the girl came back into the parlor with the key, she caught sight of the expression of demure coquetry with which Julia, seated on the piano-stool, was looking up into Ethan's face. He was leaning against the piano, talking and laughing. Why, he hadn't looked as amused as that since he came! What could Julia have said? With a sudden chill upon her spirit Val came forward and handed Ethan the key.

"Ah, here we are!"

He opened the piano, and Julia began to play. Ethan went over to the window and watched her.

Val sat by her father. Julia was distressingly pretty; there was no disguising the fact. Evidently cousin Ethan thought so. How absorbed he was! He was quite angry at the clatter some one was making at the front door. He knitted his dark brows impatiently. The interrupter must be Harry Wilbur; nobody else approached door-knockers in so athletic a spirit. Yes, it was Harry.

"How do you do? I'm so glad to see you," said Val, with an overflowing cordiality that surprised her visitor quite as much as it gratified him.

He went and spoke in an undertone to Mrs. Gano, and then came back and sat on the other side of Val.

"You haven't told me yet why you were so late at the Hornseys to-day," he whispered.

"It just happened; everybody's late sometimes."

"Why didn't you come to the archery party yesterday?"

"Had something else to do."

[Pg 286]

"Had to go driving with cousin Crœsus, eh?"

"If you saw me, why didn't you bow?"

"Why have you got your hair up? In honor of cousin Crœsus? Don't look at me like that or I shall cry." His frank face wore a broad smile. "I like your hair up; you look scrumptious."

"Hush! and listen to the exquisite playing."

"I ain't musical like cousin Crœsus. Your singing's the only music I care about."

"You don't care about it; you only pretend."

"I assure you, on my honor—"

"Sh! cousin Ethan's looking at us."

"What if he is? Great Cæsar's ghost! Not that I blame him for looking at you. Specially lately, you—"

"Hush! and don't talk nonsense."

But cousin Ethan had lifted his head impatiently, and was making her a little sign for silence.

She shrank together as if at a blow. Ethan went back to the piano when Julia finished, and bent over her, speaking thanks and praises. He was asking for something of Brahms'. Julia began again. This was another success. Cousin Ethan was really impressed; no doubt about it. Emmie went over to the piano in the midst of the general conversation, and said in her clear treble:

"Me and Val can sing 'Maid of Athens.'"

He seemed not to hear; he was talking so earnestly to Julia. She heard plainly enough. She was only pretending to be oblivious. But Emmie was not to be done out of a share of the festivity.

"Cousin Ethan, do you know 'Maid of Athens?'"

"Eh? What? 'Maid of Athens?' Yes."

"So do Val and me. Let's sing it."

"Very well. Will you accompany?" he asked Julia.

She nodded, and began the prelude.

Val didn't budge.

Emmie beckoned. Val studied the long, narrow, heelless silk shoes on her grandmother's feet, and made no sign.

"Come, Val," said Ethan, in an off-hand way.

[Pg 287]

"Go and sing when cousin Crœsus calls," murmured Harry Wilbur.

"I don't care about 'Maid of Athens,'" said Val, out loud.

"Oh yes; come," Ethan urged, good-humoredly.

"Go and sing when our guests ask you," said Mrs. Gano, in a reproving undertone; and then, as Val got up to obey, she said, in her usual clear accents: "Not too loud. You know I don't like boisterous singing in a parlor."

Val began with the others, in a voice quite depressed enough to please Mrs. Gano. Even Emmie's faint fluting came out more effectively, and Val could easier have wept than gone on singing. Emmie sang two more songs, Julia laughing and coquetting with Ethan over prelude and interlude; and then Julia played a nocturne.

Harry Wilbur made a despairing grimace at this last performance. He rose presently with a determined manner, and quietly bade Mrs. Gano and her son good-night. Val went with him to the front door. They stood talking about her approaching departure, and how Wilbur, too, hoped to get something to do "in the East," so that he might be a witness of Val's triumphs. The conversation pleased her, but her grandmother would be "making eyebrows" if she stayed so long.

"Good-night, then. Look here, Val"—he took her hand warmly in both his own—"I've been awfully cut up lately. I was beginning to be afraid"—he nodded his yellow head towards the parlor—"afraid you might be—"

"Don't be a great silly;" and she ran back to the family circle.

After Julia finished, she got up while Ethan was still talking to her, and made her good-nights all round very prettily.

"But it's quite early," Ethan had said.

"They always send for me at nine."

"Send! Don't you live next door?"

"Not exactly. I have to walk half round the block to get to our gate. We aren't allowed to climb the fence,"[Pg 288] she added, in a confidential undertone, with a sly look back at Mrs. Gano as she gave Ethan her hand. "Good-night."

"Sha'n't I see you to your gate?" he said, coming out into the hall. "My uncle ought not—"

"No, thank you. I think by the time I get my things on some one will be here for me."

He had refused to go to the Hornseys with Val, but he was quite ready to face the elements in order to take Julia home!

Critical eyes marked the unusual haste of the guest's hat-pinning and jacket-donning.

"Mrs. Gano always sends for Val," Julia said to Ethan, accounting for the origin of the repulsive custom.

He held her jacket for her.

"You haven't told me yet," he said, "how you learned to play like this?"

Julia laughed, too much pleased to venture on words.

"She has taken lessons," said Val, "ever since she was seven."

"You were sent away to study?"

"No," said Julia, tying her scarf with an effective air.

"But she's had private lessons," Val explained, "besides the music classes at the Sem."

"You really mean"—he was ignoring Val and looking down upon the happy Julia—"do you mean you've learned to play like this in New Plymouth?"

"Yes; of course I practise a good deal."

"As much as ever she likes, and nobody to say 'Not so boisterous,' and then go and lock the piano."

"Well, I must say I think it a very creditable result—with only provincial masters."

As he reached for his hat, he caught sight of Val's face.

"America, thou wear'st a threatening aspect. Mustn't I say provincial?"

At that moment a knock resounded loudly on the door. Julia carried off her disappointment discreetly enough, departing with the servant.

[Pg 289]

The young people went back to the parlor, but a gloom seemed to have fallen on the party. Mrs. Gano was closing the piano with her son's help.

"Emmie tells me," she was saying, "that Miss Julia complains my piano is out of tune. I wonder, that being the case, she is so fond of playing on it."

"It is out of tune," said Val; "but I suppose she thinks it better than nothing. Isn't she pretty?" Val asked her cousin, in a dogged tone.

"Extremely—most charming little person."

"She usually has rather nice, retiring manners," remarked Mrs. Gano.

And then they said good-night.

Ethan looked inquiringly into his cousin's face. "It isn't late; come out on the veranda while I smoke a cigarette."

"I thought you objected to going out such weather as this."

"But we won't get wet on the veranda."

"No, not on the veranda"—but seeing Julia home was a different matter.

"It's your bedtime, Val," interposed Mrs. Gano—"and long past yours, Emmie. Ethan, you must not demoralize the children."

He laughed, and went out by himself.

"Ethan forgets himself," said Mrs. Gano, with low-voiced indignation. "Imagine his asking a French girl, or a young Boston lady, to come out at this hour—while he smoked!" If it had been while he did a little murdering, she could not have looked more horrified. "He must not think manners are superfluous here!"

Val undressed by the open window, where she could smell the ascending smoke, and then she cried under the bedclothes for what seemed to her a long, long time.

[Pg 290]


Val's unwonted silence and aloofness the evening before had not been lost upon her cousin. He recalled these unaccustomed manifestations the next morning, smiling to himself, and promising his jealous little relative amends. The day, scarce well begun, beheld him on the way to a discovery that he kept on making for years: while you were occupied in realizing that Val Gano was hurt or disappointed, she was apparently getting over it with such despatch that, as you approached with suitable looks of sympathy, lo! she would advance to meet your condolence with banners flying and trumpets blaring, so to speak, obliging you hurriedly to readjust your expression, in order fitly to greet a person so entirely pleased with the course of affairs.

But to think Val miraculously expeditious in "getting over things" was hardly to go to the root of the matter. She did not get over disappointments; she remodelled them in her imagination till they were strokes of luck in disguise, or, at the very least, stepping-stones to some dazzling victory. As she lay in bed in the early morning, she redressed the unequal balance of the night before. After all, Julia wasn't going to have the world-resounding triumphs that awaited Val. Poor Julia! let her enjoy her little hour of drawing-room success; and Val sailed away into a realm of glory, carrying cousin Ethan in her train, and making her toilet to the sound of cymbals and hosannas.

As the breakfast-bell rang, she burst open her bedroom door and went flying down-stairs three steps at a time.

"What's happened?" said Ethan, as he came down behind her, reminded suddenly of his old friend Yaffti, the[Pg 291] patron demon of the stair. All that had "happened" apparently was that Ethan had grown decrepit, else why not go toboganning down the banisters to breakfast, or turn a few somersaults along the hall by way of beginning the day? "In honor of what saint is that?" he called after her, as Val cleared the last three steps with a leap and a bound.

"In honor of St. Sunshiny Morning," answered the girl, turning a radiant face over her shoulder, and waiting for Ethan to overtake her.

"Thought you told me yesterday you didn't take any interest in the weather. Oh dear, no! never noticed it at all."

"I don't care a bit whether the old sun shines or not; can't think what people mean, to go bleating about the bad weather as they do. As if it mattered?"

"And yet it's 'Hurrah!' and three steps at a time for a sunshiny morning."

"Only said that for an excuse—not to tell you the real name of my patron saint."

"But do. Tell me what's your pet superstition, and I'll tell you mine."

"Honest Injun?"


"Well, my pet superstition—only it's not a superstition—is, that I was born lucky."

"Oh! what's the sign?"

"Sign? Nothing outward and visible, just an inward and spiritual grace. You needn't jeer; it's quite true. I'm sure I'm lucky. Now I've told you my great article of faith, what's yours?"

But Emmie appeared at that juncture, and Val was secretly pleased that Ethan postponed his answer. Breakfast was already late, and still they waited some time before any one else came down.

Presently Aunt Jerusha appeared with a coffee-pot and a smoking plate piled high with something brown and golden.

[Pg 292]

The girls received her with a round of wild applause.

"Hi! flannel-cakes—flannel-cakes!" and they executed a war-dance round the popular favorite, who "took her call," so to speak, as pleased as any star-actor at having brought off some noble appeal to the great warm heart of the populace, which ever beats true, etc.

"Law sakes! de way dey goes on!" The black woman stood laden and smiling like some ebon effigy typifying plenty and good cheer. Evidently loath to stop the popular demonstrations in her honor, she still urged feebly: "Shucks! go 'long, Miss Emmie, wid yo' teeterin' up and down! Law sakes! look de way Miss Val kin jump Jim Crow. Yo' gran'ma 'ud be hoppin' mad if she cotch yo' doin' dat ar 'fore folks. He! he! Sakes alive, chillen! stop dem monkey-shines, and eat up dis yer firs' batch fo' dey spile."

"Yes, yes." Val cut "Jim Crow" suddenly short.

With a lightning change, taking the place at the head of the table, and adopting a dignified and official air, she poured out the piping hot coffee.

"Nobody waits for anybody on flannel-cake days," said Emmie, drawing in her chair with a chastened satisfaction.

"Did they give you flannel-cakes in 'Gay Paree'?" asked Val, as she passed Ethan his coffee.

"No, they didn't."

"I suppose," she said, incredulously—"I suppose it's much gayer in Paris than it is here?"

"It's not gayer than this so early in the morning."

He looked at the confident, shadowless face, and instead of comparing it with Mademoiselle Lucie's ingénue countenance or any beauty of the salon or the stage, memory unfairly conjured up Mary Burne and her despair-whitened features as she harangued her dingy followers. "Not so early in the morning!" Even when the lamps were lit there were places in Paris not so gay as this.

To speak by the card, there were people everywhere, rich and poor, a good deal less pleased with the world than Val Gano. Ah yes! this was why she specially interested[Pg 293] him. It was a satisfaction to have stumbled on the explanation, for she was surprisingly much in his thoughts, this untutored child, with her bland belief in the world and in Val Gano. She was a kind of pleasant anodyne to a mind over-full of misgiving, overcharged with fear of life's panther-like capacity for quick-leaping revenge.

It was the first morning since Ethan's arrival that his uncle did not appear.

No, he had not had a very good night, Mrs. Gano said, when at last she came in. She changed the conversation abruptly, and went up-stairs when the letters were brought, having scarcely tasted breakfast. French postmark! A letter from De Poincy; not very long, and not much news. He wrote chiefly to ask when Ethan was coming "home" to France.

"I am wondering if you had the courage to carry out your bold design of hunting up your poor relations in the West. If you did, I'm sorry for you. I see it all from here. The provincial setting which all your democracy won't prevent from getting on your nerves, the fervor of the poor relation's devotion, the bottomless pit of his need, the unblushing designs on every single woman's part to marry you, will, I fear and trust, send you back to us with a chastened spirit and a decent regret for your folly in taking exception to Mademoiselle Lucie's charming way of playing the universal game. She, by-the-way, is lost to you forever, having just married a wealthy English brewer. But there are other Lucies over here, ready to hold out their pretty hands in welcome as soon as you weary of the crudities of the New World."

Ethan looked up with a smile at his poor relations, thinking how badly they played their parts.

"What conspiracy are you two hatching?" he said.

The two sisters, who seemed not, as a rule, to have much in common, were whispering with great animation.

"Let's tell him," said Emmie.

"No," said Val, getting red.

"Yes, tell me."

"No," repeated Val.

"Why not?" urged Emmie. "He'll never tell."

[Pg 294]


"Well, we're talking about the Comet," confessed Emmie. "You don't know about it, do you?"


"Of course he doesn't, silly. I'll be very angry if you tell."

"Isn't a comet a difficult thing to keep quite to yourselves?"

"Not ours. It's a paper."


"Well, he knows now. It's an awfully nice kind of magazine. Val and me write it. It's our secret."

"Pretty kind of secret now!" said Val. "But I don't care; I'm going away. I said I wouldn't do another."

"But finish this one. Oh, do it, just a single solitary last time, dear Val."

"Do, dear Val," echoed Ethan, smiling.

The quick blood flew into the girl's face. "Dear" on his lips seemed not only a new word in the language; it called into being something that the wide world lacked before. It struck Val into silence. She sat and looked in her plate.

"We do the printing in father's room when he's well enough to be out digging and fussing with flowers," said Emmie.

"It's a thing we started ages ago, when we were young," Val explained. "It amuses Emmie."

"But there's no reason to give it up now," urged the younger girl. "We thought we'd have to once for lack of paper," she said to Ethan. "Grandma gave us only half-sheets. Then Val discovered great-grandfather Calvert's old counting-house books."

"How did you do that?"

"They were in the closet under the stairs," said Val.

"An' Jerusha and Venie and most everybody thought there was a ghost there," added Emmie, with a certain reverence in her voice. "Val said she was goin' to see, and that was how we found all that jolly paper for the Comet."

[Pg 295]

"Emmie writes most of the poetry and all of the stories; I do the illustrations," said Val.

"And the conundrums and the 'Advice to Parents' column. Oh, Val, what would happen to you if grandma ever saw—"

She began to laugh.

"Miss Val," said Jerusha, putting her head in at the door, "yo' kin run so fas', honey, an' Miss G'no say de doctor's kerridge is a stan'in' at de Tibbses do'; will yo' say de doctor's wanted yer fur Massa John." Val was off like an arrow from a bow before the old woman had finished.


Dr. Wharton was some time up-stairs. Mrs. Gano and Ethan were both in the sick-room. The verdict was that Mr. Gano was not, after all, dangerously ill, but ought to go South before it was too cold for him to travel, and that, at all events, the idea of going to New York in November was absolutely out of the question—"sheer madness."

The first keen edge of Val's anxiety wore off in an hour or so. Her father sent for her. He wasn't really even so ill as the doctor made out. Still, it was very sadly, and with a misgiving foreign to her experience, that she agreed to put off their joint expedition till the spring.

"And meanwhile," said her father, "since you are ambitious to be of use, it would be well if you took a more active part in the care of the house. Jerusha is very, very old, and—"

"I do take care of my own room."

"Ah yes, but there are other things—"

"Before cousin Ethan came I used to help Venus on Saturdays with the parlor."

"Before Ethan came?"

"Yes; I can't do it while he's here."

"Why not?"

"Oh, it looks so odd. None of the other girls do. Head in a dust-cap, and horrid black hands! Grandma wouldn't like it at all, not while we have company."

[Pg 296]

Val seized the opportunity afforded by her father's fit of coughing to consider her audience at an end.

When she came down-stairs from this interview, she found Emmie wandering about disconsolately. Ethan closeted with grandma. No lessons this morning.

"Come," said Val to Emmie, clutching for diversion at their one common interest, "we'll do the magazine."

Emmie got the red and black ink, the fine and the broad nibbed pens, a pile of paper oddments tied with string, and a gigantic ledger, with one of its massive calf-skin covers torn off, revealing the pages, blank at this end, coarse like drawing-paper, and tough, like nothing one sees in these flimsy times—a fabric that, besides never wearing out, had been found to take kindly to the refinements of ornamental printing.

The girls established themselves in the dining-room. After executing the title of Emmie's story in florid Old English lettering, Val did a pen-and-ink sketch of the hero. That gallant individual had started out rather like Harry Wilbur. In this final issue he appeared with Ethan Gano's marked and clear-cut profile, having borrowed from that gentleman not only his tall elegance, but the slight droop of the shoulders and the even more elusive characteristic by means of which, despite the occasional droop, he never lost the air of carrying himself well in some indefinable way.

"Now," said Val, bestowing a finishing touch.

Whereupon, with much gusto, Emmie began to read the last instalment of "The Brown House on the Hill," Val printing at dictation in a rapid, clear italic. The minutes flew. Venus would be coming in presently to set the dinner-table. The clock, chiming the hour, masked the sound of footsteps approaching from the opposite direction. Emmie raised her voice to be heard by the printer above the dozen strokes of noon:


"What nonsense is that you are reading?" said Mrs. Gano, in the sudden silence.

[Pg 297]

The two girls started like criminals. Not only was their grandmother standing at the door, but cousin Ethan was looking in at their discomfiture over her shoulder.

Val obscured the Comet with the blotter. Emmie, grown very pink, had thrust Editha and Archibald Abalone under the table.

"What is it you have there, Emmeline?"

"Just a—just a thing I was reading Val."

"Let me see it."

"No, grandma, please."

"Let me see it."

She came towering into the room.

"Grandma," said Val, turning at bay, "it isn't meant for you."

"Emmeline, hand me that paper."

Trembling, the younger girl brought up the manuscript.

"It isn't honorable to read things that aren't meant for you," said Val, starting up and displacing the blotter.

"Read it!"

Mrs. Gano caught "The Brown House" out of the child's hands with strange excitement, and tore it across and across.

"Oh, oh!" wailed Emmie, with fast-flowing tears, while Val and Ethan stood transfixed.

There was "the magazine" in full sight, flaunting on its cover a splashing red comet with a fiery tail. Mrs. Gano blazed back at it through her glasses as she threw down the fragments of "The Brown House."

"Whose is this?" she said, opening the stitched and folded sheets of her father's ledger.

"Mine," said Val, laying determined hands on the folio.

"I perceive part of it to be unmistakably yours," said Mrs. Gano, with a cutting inflection: "'Vale, a ballad sung at the Grand Opera House by the world-renowned diva, Signorita Val Gano.'"

Val's hands had dropped from the paper as if paralyzed.

"Now, this verse-stringing is one of the things I will[Pg 298] not have," said the old woman, with a curious tragic intensity. "I've seen enough of young girls ruining their figures, and their eyesight, and their prospects, bending over stuff like this, till it becomes a craze, and they're fit for nothing better."

She took the Comet in her hands and tried to tear it up. The ancient paper would have held out well against less fragile fingers, but Ethan did not realize the toughness of the Calvert ledger. He hurried forward.

"Oh, don't tear it. Really, really, a little scribbling isn't so fatal."

"I don't expect you to think so, my dear Ethan, when you do it yourself in two languages, having nothing better to do in either. But if I'm any judge, we've had enough of it in this family." She turned upon the hushed, awed Emmie. "Go out and play," she commanded, but with an air of saying, "Off with your head! So much for Buckingham." "As for you"—she flashed back a look at Val as she went towards the fireplace—"never let me find you wasting your youth in this pernicious fashion again as long as you live under my roof."

She put the Comet in the fire, and with the poker she pushed it down among the red-hot coals. She waited grimly while it burned, then, without another word or look, she went back to the long room. Ethan had been perilously near laughing at the total rout of the two malefactors. No sooner had the guardian of the family virtue disappeared, and it was possible openly to relieve one's feelings, than Val began striding back and forth with clinched hands and a look of concentrated rage.

He was rather startled at the transformation in the sunny face. It was convulsed, ugly with passion.

"I won't stand it; no, I wouldn't stand it from the Angel Gabriel!" She took a turn up and down the room and burst out afresh: "She, Pallas Athene! She, patron of the arts! It's this sort of thing"—she stopped before her cousin with tragic eyes—"it's this sort of thing that has embittered my youth!"

[Pg 299]

"What!" he said, holding fast to his gravity. "Has she done this before?"

Val shook her head, and then, in a stifled voice:

"The Comet has been kept dark, but there are other things—things I really care about."

"Is there something you care about more than about writing?"

"Writing?" she echoed, with limitless scorn. "I don't care that about writing. It just does to fill in. But the way she behaves about the Comet is just a sample. I really thought she was getting to be more liberal-minded. It's a long time since we've had a terrible scene like this; but it just shows you." She turned away and strode up and down. "The only thing she ever let me do was to take drawing lessons; and the only thing she ever took my part about was in defending me from learning cooking. But do you think I ever had piano lessons? No! Do you think I've ever had a private singing lesson in my life? No! Do you know what that means to me? No—because the piano's kept locked, or else I'm made to sing as if I were ashamed of myself, and you haven't a notion that I've got a voice that would make a singer's fortune. Now, have you?"


"Course not. How should you?"

"I suppose," he said, "they naturally don't want you to face the hardships of—"

"As if we didn't face hardships at home. Have you any notion how poor we are? I don't mean holes in the kitchen and rain through the roof—who cares about that? We're so poor"—she advanced upon him step by step—"that we can't have proper clothes, we can't have proper fires, and, except when you're here, we don't have proper food. And me with a voice of gold!—so people say. What's the good of a voice of gold with a grandmother like that?" She pointed a shaking finger of scorn in the direction of the long room. A black face was put shyly in at the opposite door. "Here's Venus to set the table."

[Pg 300]

Val tumbled down from her climax and stalked miserably out. Ethan followed her.

"Come to the drawing-room," he whispered, in the passage.

"Parlor, I suppose you mean."

"Yes, parlor."

"What for?"

"We can talk there."

They pushed open the door.

"She's left the key!" cried Val, springing towards the piano.

"So she has," he admitted, with less enthusiasm.

"That's for your sake. Cousin Ethan, you could try my voice if you liked."

"Of course," he said, with misgiving.

How was he to let her down from the dizzy height of her illusion without hurting her cruelly or stultifying himself? The voice that had joined in "Maid of Athens" had been so unremarkable, he could not recall anything about it save that, unwillingly, she had sung. She opened the piano. He saw with pitying amusement how her fingers shook upon the ancient rosewood.

"I am a mezzo-soprano," she said. "I'll show you my range first."

And she proceeded to do so, her voice as shaky at the beginning as her hands, but steadying itself on the second note, rising slowly, with a kind of conscious pride, swelling audaciously rich, mounting higher and clearer, leaping at the top notes like some spirit of delight sounding silver trumpets to the sun.

Ethan stood staring when she finished.

"Either something's wrong with my ears, or else you have got a wonderful voice!"

"Oh, cousin Ethan, cousin Ethan!"

She caught his hands, and pressed them in an ecstasy of relief and gladness. He was moved himself when he saw her happy eyes were wet.

"I didn't hear one of those notes last night. What did you do with your voice then?"

[Pg 301]

"Grandma—she'd put down her foot—soft pedal—she's done that all my life."

"Sing something—I'll play for you."

He swept her off the piano-stool.

"I don't know much but ballads."

She pulled the yellowed sheets out of the stand, wondering as she turned them over which, if any, of these songs he had heard sung by great artists. She was on the point of asking him, when, "Oh," she said, jumping up, "here's this from 'Trovatore,'" and she set the music before him with the firm intention of rivalling that Patti people made such a fuss about. She sang the English words, "Ah, I've sighed to rest me," and not without a certain largeness of effect intensely satisfying to herself.

"There's no doubt," he said, at the end, "that you have a voice. You, naturally, don't in the least know how to use it; but it's there."

This was not what she had expected—in fact, it was a blow; for, in spite of her old desire to be taught, she looked towards a singing-master chiefly as a personal influence to help her into the operatic field. She felt it a grievance against her family that she had had no early advantages, and yet she had thought it more than probable that genius could do without them. But what if cousin Ethan was right? All the more need not to lose time.

"The question is," she said, "What's to be done?"



It flashed over her in the pause that he might think she was hinting that he should defray the expense of her training, and this suddenly seemed as repulsive to reason and to dignity as if five months before she had not calmly suggested it herself. It was Heaven's own mercy that letter had got lost! She must have been crazy when she wrote it.

"Of course," she said, "my family can't do much, and"—looking at him half apologetically, and feeling the necessity to forestall him—"I couldn't allow any one else to do more[Pg 302] than give me advice and letters of introduction. I have my plans all laid—but now my father's ill."

"What plans?"

"I was going to New York with my father next month to look over the field"—at his look of incredulity, she added: "operatic field. As I haven't any money, and can't possibly borrow, I must find a way to be a chorus-girl first."

"What an idea!"

He got up from the piano, and walked the length of the room and back.

"A very good idea."

"My dear Val—"

He stopped.

"No, cousin Ethan"—she motioned away his imaginary offer—"the Ganos don't borrow money, they do without."

He smiled a little.

"Did grandmamma approve of this chorus-girl plan?"

"Of course she wouldn't. It's only father who knows."

"Does he approve?"

"Well, not to say approve, but he knows it's no use objecting."

"Do you know, I don't approve of it either."

She sat down on the piano-stool, looking at him doubtfully. Was this an offer of a million in disguise? or could it be—

"You don't mean," she said, "that you won't give me any letters of introduction?"

"I mean, little cousin, that I'll do all in my power to keep you from the hardships and the hurts of public life."

He put a hand on her shoulder, and was looking down upon her. She opened her lips, but no sound came.

"There won't be any lack in your life of beautiful and worth-while things; don't spoil it all—don't spoil yourself by being too eager."

"Y—you don't understand," she faltered, with a suffocating sense of throbbing in her throat.

"Oh yes, I do. I understand a lot. Promise me you won't take any steps about this without letting me know."

[Pg 303]

She shook her head, and tried to draw from under the thrilling touch of his hand.

"I shall not let you go till you promise."

The other hand had fallen on her other shoulder. It was as if chains were being hung upon her. But why wasn't she struggling? Why—why was bondage so sweet?

"I'm waiting. Promise!" said the masterful voice.


The tumult in her heart made the clang of the dinner-bell sound as if it were ringing in some far-off place.

"What—what was it I promised?" she asked herself again and again.

[Pg 304]


It struck Mrs. Gano the next day, as they were out driving, that Val was unusually subdued. She seemed to see nothing that they passed, hear nothing that was said. But it could not be said she looked unhappy. And Ethan was in excellent spirits. Emmie was bowing right and left, bowing with that air she had rapidly acquired, and was sedulously cultivating, a royal-condescension-to-the-crowd kind of bow.

"Who is that?" asked Mrs. Gano, seeing Emmie's pantomime, and seeing, too, that Val had made no sign.

"Mr. Peter Hall."

"What! Not the young Pete Hall that I recommended to Blakistons?"

"Yes'm," said Emmie, meekly.

"Why do you bow to him?"

"Oh, I know him."

"We all know him, but that's no reason you should recognize him out of the store."

"I don't see why—" began Emmie.

"I've told you before, you do not know such persons except in their capacity of salesmen."

"He bowed to me, grandma."

"Impertinence! Teach him a lesson next time. Don't notice him."

Mrs. Gano's point of view not only seemed to Val quite natural, but this very same conversation, with some immaterial variation, had taken place too often to merit notice. Cousin Ethan, however, was looking from one to the other in frank amazement.

"'Tisn't as if Peter Hall was a servant," said Emmie,[Pg 305] appealingly. "I've given up bowing to the Otways' coachman."

"Isn't all this very undemocratic?" Ethan asked.

"It's a most essential consideration in a democracy."

"But do you realize that it shows a degree of class prejudice that doesn't exist in the older, the monarchical countries?"

"Quite possible. Where the differences are broadly and indelibly stamped, there's no need to remind anybody that they exist."

"Three months ago," said Ethan, meditatively, "I should have called such considerations absolutely un-American. However, a season at Newport, not to speak of glimpses of life in the Boston clubs and on Beacon Hill, have helped to readjust my views. Still, I didn't think I should find out here in the West"—some quick look in Mrs. Gano's face made him modify—"out here in the Great Middle States—"

"You forget your father's family are Southerners, root and branch. But as to that, you will leave distinctions behind when you reach heaven, not before. And even there we are told one star differeth from another star in glory."

"Well," said Ethan, smiling, "I only wish I'd brought Drouet."

"A friend of yours?"

"Well, yes, if I may be so bold. A more necessary friend than most. I rather missed him at first. Drouet is my valet."

"There would have been accommodation for him."

"You see, I didn't know. I thought you would have been scandalized."

"I don't see why you should think that. My father never travelled without his body-servant. You must have had the Tallmadges in mind. They, you know, thought themselves wiser than the prophets. There was no need of hewers of wood and drawers of water. Every one would be free and equal once black slavery was abolished. [Pg 306]Childishness! Three-fourths of the human race is in bondage to the other fourth. Whether your servant is a Frenchman and white, or an African and black, the root of the matter is the same. We exact menial services of our inferiors, being of the dominant race."

The carriage drew up before the ruinous Fort, and "the dominant race" got out, while two black faces and a colored turban went scuttling back to the rear. John Gano, in a shabby old coat with a tear in the sleeve, was standing on a step-ladder, lopping off twigs with a huge pair of garden shears.

"John—John! What a mad proceeding! You will take your death!" cried his mother from the carriage window.

The gentleman so addressed climbed carefully down the step-ladder, while Emmie tumbled out of the carriage and ran to meet him.

"What do you think, father?" she said, confidingly. "Cousin Ethan's got a valet."

"A what?"

"A valet," whispered Emmie.

"Valet! What does he want a valet for?"

In vain Emmie squeezed his arm. He spoke in a loud, astonished tone.

"Ah ha! I felt it wouldn't do to produce Drouet in New Plymouth," said Ethan, who was conducting Mrs. Gano to the porch.

"Well," answered his uncle, dryly, "if you were too old or too ill to wait on yourself, I should understand it."

"Do come in out of the draughts, John, and don't stand talking nonsense. Your father had his body-servant before he was either old or ill, and so did my father."

"That was in the antebellum days, before men realized they couldn't oppress their fellows with impunity."

"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Gano, turning sharply on her son.

"I mean that if our forefathers had realized what an awful inheritance they were laying up for their children in[Pg 307] the negro problem, they would have gone without their valets and left the negro in his native wilds."

"Oh, if you only mean that the initial mistake was in having the shiftless creatures here at all, I agree. The negro enslaved was a care and a drag on the South; the negro free is a menace to all America."

She opened the door of the long room and rang for Venus to take off her shoes.

"Yes, the Color Question," said John Gano, sitting down heavily on one of the fleur-de-lis chairs—"the Color Question is just one of the forms of ferociously usurious interest one generation has to pay on the debts incurred by another. The world learns its lessons with infinite pains. The same thing happens over and over again, and no one raises a finger."

He sat gazing at some impending peril with prophetic gloom.

"What is happening over again?" asked Ethan, divesting himself of his outer coat.

"The importation of ignorant debased foreigners to do the work that the American born not only won't do himself, but won't, in his haste to get rich, allow to remain undone. Why do the offscourings of the earth flock to America? Not because it's any longer the New World. They don't go to Australia or South Africa in the same numbers. They come here because the American born is more of an arrant fool and snob than any creature God permits to breathe. Hardly any one so poor but he will pay the highest wages for the worst alien service."

"Father!" Val, half-way up-stairs, came running back to her country's rescue. "Cousin Ethan won't understand you are just arguing. Father doesn't really think Americans are snobs."

"Yes, snobs of the worst kind! What respect have we for the laboring man? What do we know or practise of healthy German industry, of the thrift of the French?"

"I thought our industries were our strong point."

"Industries, yes—not our industry. We can establish[Pg 308] mills and manufactories, and then get ship-loads of Teutons and of Irish to come over and work them."

"If they'd only be content with that," said Ethan, "but they end by working our municipalities too and running our country."

"They always do," said John Gano, shaking his forefinger in the air. "They always have!" With that he brought his clinched fist down on his knee. "If you can't hoe your row yourself, don't call in a man to help you. He'll end by helping himself. You'll have saved the hoeing and lost the row. But the average American won't do anything himself that he can get another man to do for him."

No wonder, thought Ethan, that the foreign visitor to these shores has such difficulty in classifying American opinion. Here, under the same roof, within the bonds of the closet kinship, were to be heard the old views of "the dominant race" from Mrs. Gano, and here was her own son railing.

"Nobody is content any more to work his own land or learn a trade; everybody must scramble for the big money prizes, the privilege of being an employer of labor."

It was a deed of some daring to interrupt the flow of masculine talk, but Val sat down on the bottom step of the stairs, saying firmly:

"Americans can't help being ambitious. They know there's a great deal to do."

"There is a great deal to be done; but the American has mistaken notions as to what. The American artisan thinks his son must aim at being a boss, if not being President. The farmer thinks he's doing his share when he hires hands and sends his own boys to swell the stream of clerks and town-strugglers. The infection seized on the women about thirty years ago."

"Stick up for us," whispered Val's voice behind Ethan.

"The result is," her father went on, "it's harder to find in America to-day a good cook or chambermaid than to find a woman musician, novelist, linguist, or painter."

[Pg 309]

"Say something," admonished the low voice from the bottom step.

"I imagine," the perfidious Ethan remarked, "that there are accomplished persons on both sides the sea who are ready to excel in any art except the art of being of use."

"Exactly. These people no doubt exist everywhere, but they should be swept off the face of America." Val looked out anxiously past the sheltering form of her cousin. "Farmers', tradesmen's daughter's all over the land are giving up house-work"—Val withdrew her head and sat in obscurity—"giving up field and dairy work. Their foolish fathers buy them pianos, buy them novels; and able-bodied young women idle away their days in rocking-chairs, breeding discontent and disease."

Val appeared to be making preparations to retire.

"You think," asked Ethan, "there is any application in the fact—to—a people of another class?"

"Most assuredly. What the ignorant ignorantly despise, we must elevate. We must show them the bottomless vulgarity of their view." The restive movement on the bottom step augmented his ire. "I assure you the market cries aloud for house-keepers, nurses, laundresses, sempstresses. We are not in need of any more poetesses, department clerks, singers."

He had got up and was glowering unmistakably at the girl who had risen from the bottom step.

"It's too bad, father, your going back on my singing, just because I forgot to mend your coat. I thought you were an invalid in bed. I didn't expect you to climb trees to-day."

"To-day has got nothing to do with it, although I am surprised and disappointed that you want your grandmother to engage some raw Irish girl—"

"Only while we have company."

"Company!" he said, bristling more than ever. "What can 'company' get but profit out of seeing that we think nobly of work; that we're ready to do our part towards[Pg 310] turning domestic and industrial service from an ugly slavery into a beautiful and noble privilege."

"Come, Emmie," said Val, "let's get our things off."

The two girls simultaneously took to their heels. John Gano leaned back in the chair, coughing feebly, all his animation spent.

"She has set her heart on my taking her East to learn singing," he said, in a low, dispirited voice. "I've been feeling to-day I may never go East again."

"You are not strong enough just yet," began Ethan.

"I wish Val would get over this craze about opera, especially if I'm not here. I've been thinking a great deal about it to-day. If she could take up some of the duties here—" He looked round helplessly, as if to find something she might with advantage begin upon.

"Oh, we must get the opera idea out of her head. I am quite of your opinion there."

"Ha, really?" said John Gano, with a relieved, almost incredulous air. "You think there's something in what I say?"

"Indeed I do."

"Most assuredly." He got up with renewed energy. "I'll tell her that the women who take up the despised craft of home-making and home-keeping will be not only the true artists of the future, they'll be the only order of working-women, never in want of a place."

As Ethan went to his room he indulged the cynical suspicion that his uncle had some definite vision of the particular home that Val was to labor for and ornament, and it was not the Fort. Well? He smiled. Pshaw! "Am I growing old, that a little school-girl should get hold of me after all my escapes?" For so much had his social experience warped him that he seldom thought of marriage now, save as of something others plotted and which he must frustrate and elude.

Val! He laughed to himself. Absurd! But his face had little amusement in it, and less irony than he would have credited. "The older men grow," he said to [Pg 311]himself, "the more the fainter-hearted among them shrink from age, the more they worship youth. Now, if I were fifty I might be in danger."

Going down, after writing some letters, an hour or so later, he heard "the little school-girl" coming behind him, and then stopping suddenly.

"That you, Val?" He stood waiting. No answer. She had gone back into her room. He stood stamping his letters under the hall lamp.

Val's head presently peered down from the top of the stair.

"Yes, I'm here," said Ethan, provokingly.

"I'm looking for one of the servants," Val said, descending with dignity.

Ethan looked up, laughing at her over the banisters.

"What makes you look so solemn?" he asked.

"My sister's got a sore throat, and I can't find the stuff for a compress."

"No use telling me you're such a sympathetic sister as you make out. What's the real matter?"

Ethan had come down-stairs, intending to be more discreet than ever in the future. De Poincy was no doubt right—even here it was necessary to be en garde. With this idea dragged well into the foreground again, what demon of perversity made him lift a hand above the banisters and hold the girl's fingers fast to the polished rail? It was the first time he had touched her. He was rather startled at the commotion set up in his own nerves by the trifling action, but it was mainly, he assured himself, the reflex of the evident agitation of the girl. She had dropped her eyes, and he saw her upper lip tremble.

"What's the real matter?" he repeated, letting go her hand, not all of a sudden, but drawing his own across it lingeringly; "I thought you were always happy."

"Happy!" she said, making a gallant effort to recover her usual manner. "Well, it's nobody's fault if I am."

"Now that I come to look at you, I believe you are happy, all the same."

[Pg 312]

"Course I am; but it's only because I was born that way and can't get out o' the habit." She came on down-stairs.

"Your father was quite right, you know, in what he said this afternoon."

"Oh, he didn't really mean it. It was partly just arguing—father does so love arguing—and partly because Emmie told on you. I've been saying she deserved to have a sore throat."

"Told on me?"

The supper-bell rang.

"Yes," said Val, when she could make herself heard; "let out that you had a valet. Emmie's so indiscreet. It was all right to tell grandma, she likes splendor, but Emmie might have known father would shy awfully at a valet. Sh! here he is!"

Ethan went and sat by Emmie a little while after supper that evening. They were great friends, these two; but somehow Ethan's conversation flagged. For no discoverable reason he had fallen into the clutch of one of those fits of gloomy silence that before he came to the Fort had been growing in frequency and in power to cripple and to numb his spirit. He had just given Emmie an old silver pounce-box that had belonged to some dead and gone Tallmadge, and that Ethan for years had carried in his pocket. Emmie was to keep menthol in it, Ethan said, and to sniff the aromatic remedy through the open-work inner lid of gold. Emmie was delighted at this attention on the part of her cousin, but she glanced up now and then from her occupation of crumbling the menthol into the tiny receptacle, keenly conscious of Ethan's black-browed preoccupation.

"Why do you think so much?" she said.

"Heaven forfend! I never think."

"Oh yes, you do—unless Val's here. Grandma has often said," she continued, with her little air of superiority, "no one can think when Val's in the room."

"Ah," said Ethan to himself, "that's at the bottom of my affection for Val."

[Pg 313]

If he was unconscious of any change in her enlivening influence in the days following, it did not escape Mrs. Gano that Val's humor was more capricious than her family had been accustomed to find it. The old on-looker at the game could not, of course, know that alone with Ethan the girl was embarrassed, breathless, almost terrified, and yet deliciously happy. She was no sooner alone with him than she wanted to run away—no sooner had she run away than she wanted to go back. When he was present, she was often in the wildest spirits; when he went out of the room, he seemed to take her soul away with him. She sat silent, helpless, till he came again. She seemed to have lost her hitherto unfailing gusto for games and outings. She saw as little as possible of Julia and of Harry Wilbur. She did her lessons absent-mindedly, and was not much heard from in the general family talks. Val! Who had never found it possible before to realize that young people should be seen and not heard! Mrs. Gano had not lived seventy years in the world for nothing. She saw enough of the state of affairs to feel sore at heart for the poor foolish little girl, who was groping her way through her first great initiation into the mystery of mysteries.

For all Mrs. Gano's pride in, and affection for, Ethan, she felt scant patience at his lingering on at the Fort, amusing himself with Val's oddities and adorations, carelessly absorbing her generous capacity for hero-worship, building himself a shrine in her imagination before turning his back upon the Fort, perhaps for another twenty years. It was plain to Mrs. Gano that Ethan was a person exercising no little fascination upon womankind; equally plain was it that the school-girl worship of his little country cousin was in the nature of a smiling incident that could not arrest him long.

"What an absurd infant you are!" she had heard him exclaim.

"I'm not in the very least like an infant," Val had retorted.

[Pg 314]

"Well, you are quite the youngest person I've ever known," he assured her.

As Val sat at her lessons in the long room of a morning, Mrs. Gano had no need to look out herself to see, or to ask, who was passing under her windows. If, at the morning's end, the door behind them opened, she saw in Val's face if it were Ethan coming in. Old Jerusha was right—the face was like a lamp, and like an open book the young heart underneath its light.

"John," said Mrs. Gano, at the beginning of the next week, "has Ethan told you how long he means to stay?"


"H'm! Well, I think you should talk to him about taking life more seriously. He ought not to idle away his youth as he's doing."

"We can't complain that he's idled much of it away here hitherto."

"Why doesn't he prepare himself for some profession?"

"He's done a good deal of preparing. He tells me he's going into politics."

"Humph! politics. When?"

"Well, I dare say when he goes East again."

"I don't approve of idle men."

"No," said John Gano, with some asperity, "I know you don't."

Body-servants and "splendor" were all very well, but it was not pleasing to Mrs. Gano that her only grandson should be regarded even temporarily in the light of that character, looked at askance even in the old unenterprising South, "the gentleman of leisure." In her heart she thought it undignified that Ethan should spend so many mornings playing tennis; that he should laugh and sing with Julia Otway (another victim, plainly) as though amusement were the end of existence. Harry Wilbur, too, who had begun with a good honest detestation of the visitor at the Fort, was at the end of three weeks one of his most ardent friends.

"The Wilburs want cousin Ethan to go and dine with[Pg 315] them on Sunday," Emmie reported. "They simply love him. I don't wonder. He's going to get Harry Wilbur something to do in Boston."

"Humph!" ejaculated Mrs. Gano; "when is he going to get himself something to do?"

Emmie and her cousin continued the best possible friends. No cloud upon that relation, at all events. He had promised to teach her to ride, but Emmie was not strong enough for violent exercise, her grandmother thought, and Emmie herself thought riding must be "awfully scary." Val, in what her elders took to be some unaccountable mood, had also declined to ride, saying, mendaciously, that she had enough riding on Julia's pony. This resulted in Ethan's going out several times with Julia. She was nearly two years older than Val, and "quite the young lady." People began to smile and speculate, and the Otways took to asking Ethan "over."

"Change your mind, Val, and come out with us this morning," Ethan had said, before going off with Julia for that second ride.

"I can't; I have lessons."

"Not to-day," said Mrs. Gano.

"No, it's Saturday. Come, I'll get you a mount."

"No, thank you, father's better now. We're beginning algebra again to-day."

"Algebra! What on earth do you want with—"

"She must keep up with her classes," said Mrs. Gano, answering for her, as Val went out of the room.

But it was a good hour before the algebra lesson. Val went up to her father's room and climbed into the window-seat. There, with judicious arrangement of blind and the curtain closed in round her, she watched for Ethan to mount and ride away. Julia must have grown impatient waiting. She called for him to-day. How beautiful she looked—beautiful in her new habit! Away they went laughing in the sunshine. Val opened the window; now they were turning into Mioto Avenue at a hard gallop. She drew her cautious head in out of the sweet keen[Pg 316] air and buried her face in the musty old red moreen curtain.

"Why didn't you go, child, if you wanted to so much?" She uncovered startled eyes. Her grandmother was standing there, looking strangely gentle. "Your father would have postponed the algebra for once."

"I haven't got a riding-habit."

"The cashmere skirt you wear when you ride out with Julia does quite well."

The girl shook her head. "Besides, I've only got the skirt."

"What's wrong with your nice velveteen jacket?"


They were silent for a space. Then Val:

"Oh, I don't care, I've got lots to do."

She slid off the window-seat and went down-stairs. Val had her full share of the young heart's passionate instinct to keep its aching to itself. She had no idea that her grandmother had seen her standing outside the parlor door when Ethan was there alone, hesitating, trying to go in, trying to go away, and in the end succeeding only under strong inward compulsion in compassing the latter. It was well she never dreamed how much the old eyes saw. She was sure that the world she was dwelling in was a place no mortal foot had ever trod before. The girl felt herself a solitary way-breaker through a virgin forest; if she should tell the thousandth part of the magic and the mystery of this new world of her discovery, no mortal would believe such travellers' tales.

She listened fascinated the night Ethan said, in answer to his uncle's platitude about "the common experience":

"There's no such thing! Experience is no more reduplicated than faces are."

"Of course, I don't mean down to the smallest detail," John Gano had explained.

"Oh, as to that, we have birth and death in common, if that's all."

[Pg 317]

"There's a wonderful family likeness in the other facts of life," his uncle persisted.

"Yes," said Mrs. Gano; "it is when we are young that we think there could never have been anything to match our experience."

"Then do you think now that your life has been a replica of Mrs. Otway's?"

Mrs. Gano smiled.

"Oh no," said Val, with a pleased confidence, "there was never anybody just like us before."

They all laughed.

"No doubt we are 'the peculiar people," said Mrs. Gano, calmly deserting her first postulate, and seeming quite equal to facing "the comic laugh."

"I mean," said Val, "that if there never was any 'me' in the world before, the world's a different place now there's 'me' in it."

They laughed with less misgiving.

"You have Goethe on your side, my dear," said her father. "Goethe says Nature is always interesting because she's always renewing the observer."

"I like my way of putting it best," the girl maintained—"sounds more interesting."

"I've found out, Val," said Ethan, "that most people who make believe that human nature is everywhere the same, and that we're all as alike as pins in a row, usually except themselves. That shows they're wiser than their theories."

"No one denies," said John Gano, "that a slight difference in the conditions makes some difference in the result. We were speaking broadly of the main outlines of life. They are curiously common to us all."

"I don't see those 'common outlines,'" Ethan answered, "any more than I see the same pattern twice in a kaleidoscope. I see the same boundary walls—birth and death—and all between the two, endlessly different for each."

"Yes, yes; I believe it's like that," said Val.

[Pg 318]

"It would be much pleasanter to agree with you, uncle," Ethan remarked, as he got out the chess-board. "It's more comfortable—more companionable. I think there are few thoughts so overwhelming as what John Morley calls 'the awful loneliness of life'—the loneliness that there's no help for, that no one can reach, no one can ever share. Each one of us"—slowly, absently, he set the chessmen in their places—"each man sits apart, with his own soul and its unique experience forever incommunicable, forever different."

"No; not even incommunicable, if he have genius," returned his uncle. "The odd thing is that in that case what he has to communicate is something we all recognize. We expect him to be different; we are amazed to find him just like ourselves, with the trifling addition of being able to say what the rest of us have only felt."

"You have more faith in the capacity and the veracity of genius than I have. In my opinion, not one of those who have tried to reveal themselves has been able to give us more than shreds and patches of reality. And they've discounted the fragments of truth by romancing, consciously or not—making themselves better, or making themselves worse than they were. The real revelations are the unconscious ones."

"St. Augustine," suggested John Gano.

His nephew laughed and shook his head.

"Well, Rousseau," he amended, looking in the table-drawer for a missing bishop.

"Rousseau, too—exactly a case in my favor. You can't see the forest for the trees, nor the man for his confessions."

John Gano shook his lion's mane.

"If you could project your notion of Rousseau, uncle, and I could do the same by mine, do you suppose they would be alike?"

"Possibly not; we are not in agreement about Rousseau."

"Exactly; and do you think if we could summon him from the shades he would own either your Jean Jacques or[Pg 319] mine? Not he. And he'd be right. There's more bound up in men than they've ever been able to liberate. Even genius can do no more than make signals over the prison wall."

"Shakespeare, of course, never tried."

"No; think of it." Instead of beginning the game, Ethan stretched out his long legs under the table, and leaned back reflectively with his hands in his pockets—"think of it. Shakespeare, with all his knowledge, and his miraculous gift of expression, his vocabulary double that of the Bible, and greater than that of the Bible and Milton put together—even Shakespeare was too wise to try to do more than give a hint here, a little signal there, just as people do in real life." He looked up suddenly and caught Val's eye. She nodded faintly. "Reminds me of a talk I had with a fellow from Bengal who came over on the same Cunarder with me. He was telling me about the murder of the manager of a tea-garden in the Dooab—police a long time utterly at sea, till somebody discovered that, rummaging among his victim's belongings, the murderer had smudged a Bengali atlas with his thumb. This atlas was forwarded to the bureau where the thumb impressions of criminals are kept, and it was discovered that the impression on the atlas corresponded with the thumb recorded of a noted criminal then at large. The man was arrested on this fact alone. Other evidence was brought to light, and when the game was up the murderer confessed."

"Oh yes," said John Gano, quite unimpressed, "it's a good many years now since Galton—"

"Exactly, but when it comes to verifiable differences in our thumb whorls, who shall guess at the hidden differences in our brains and nerve ganglia? No, no; we are not alike. We are terribly and wonderfully and forever different, and it's your first play."


The next afternoon Emmie, warmly tucked up on a sofa by the fire, had fallen asleep while her father read aloud.[Pg 320] Mrs. Gano made her son a sign, and they went up-stairs to his room. Without preface she began to urge him to take the money he had been going to use in his journey to New York and go instead to the far South, as the doctor advised. She could put a little to it—enough to serve. No, no; he wouldn't. Why not? At last he said it was because of Val. He had promised her they would go East in the spring. He doubted if he would ever be strong enough to carry out the plan, but Val must not think he had gone back on his word. If he spent the money this winter, there would be nothing when the warm weather came.

"John," said his mother, "it is partly out of consideration for Val that I urge this."

John opened his eyes.

"I want you to go away for a change, and I don't want you to go alone. I want you to go with Ethan. I've already mentioned it to him. He knows of a place near Savannah."

John Gano seemed to be considering in a bewildered way.

"I must go back," said his mother, uneasily. "Emmie may wake and want—" She seemed oddly nervous. "Pity Emmie should choose this particular time for one of her colds."

"Yes, poor child! she's missing all the festivity."

"Festivity!" echoed his mother. "Hump! Anyhow, it leaves those two young people a great deal alone."

John Gano blinked.

"Ethan and Val?" he said, absent-mindedly.

His mother nodded.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. He might be left to less entertaining people than Val."


They looked at each other in silence for a moment.

"You don't mean—Val? Why, she's a child."

"She is older than my mother was when I was born."

"You don't think that Ethan—"

He was suddenly alert, anxious.

"No, no; I don't think it's his fault. He, too, looks[Pg 321] upon her as a child. But it would be better if he went away."

"Ah! Ah, indeed; I wish I'd realized. We'll get him away as soon as possible."

His air of sudden energy seemed perhaps over-anxious.

"Don't do anything to excite suspicion. He is quite ready to go away with you at the end of the week."

"Where is he now?" demanded her son.

"In the parlor with Val."

They came down-stairs together, Mrs. Gano going back to Emmie. Her son laid his hand on the parlor door with something both anxious and inflexible in his manner. It might appear that the little scene on the other side was easily interrupted by a less extravagant expenditure of energy. So little may we know the people we spend our lives with, that the not unobservant old woman at the opposite door thought there was no more in her son's mind than in her own—a wish to save Val the pain of an unrequited devotion.

The talk with Ethan to which Mrs. Gano had just referred had taken place less than an hour before. Although it had been a most discreet interchange, beginning and ending with John Gano, it had left the young man in a state of acute discomfort and vague rage at fate. Why had he not gone away before? Why should his lingering be punished by this awful infliction of the care of his uncle, or at best his escort hundreds of miles away, and his establishment in Georgia? It was too much. He had been ready to deal generously with these queer relations in the matter of money. But to refuse his help to keep a whole roof over their heads, and then calmly to demand this of him! It made him laugh, but it made him angry too. He cursed his folly and inertia, as he called it, in staying on. Why, he might have been at Tuxedo at this moment! He had wasted enough time here to have gone to the Riviera. But as he thought of the dozens of things he might have done, a sharp realization came to him of the inner dulness of these outwardly glittering ways of killing time. He had[Pg 322] tried them all; he knew them for what they were worth. Whether work or play, they were just so many devices for shortening the spun-out tale of days. He knew of old where such thoughts would lead him. He walked up and down from Daniel Boone to the mirror, glowering out from time to time at the rain. Beast of a day! Where was everybody? Suddenly he opened the door. Val started back.

"Oh—a—oh!" she said, confused. "I was just coming to see if—"

She stopped, obviously at a loss.

"And I was just wondering where you were all this time."

She came in smiling and flushing, and shut the door.

"What an awful day!" he said, drawing up a chair for her to the neglected fire.

"Is it?" she inquired, blandly.

"Is it?"

He walked to the window.

"I hadn't noticed." She looked after him and beyond him, through the blurred window-panes. "Yes, it is rather rainy and blowy."

"Hardly four o'clock, and dark as a wolf's mouth."

"Yes, the sun sets early these days. I love the long evenings."

She poked the low-burned fire till a feeble flame sprang up. He turned and looked at her through the twilight.

"What do you do, little cousin, when you want to kill time?"

She glanced over her shoulder with sudden gravity, shovel in hand.

"Do you know, I think to 'kill time' is the most hideous, murderous phrase in the language. I wish you wouldn't use it."

"What do you propose as a substitute?"

"Just remembering how little time there is for all there is to do with it." (No coal left in the scuttle—she must go and tell Venie.)

"Ah, yes," Ethan said, coming back and sitting down.[Pg 323] "But suppose you haven't got a mission? Suppose nobody and nothing has any particular need of you?"

"Oh, I wasn't thinking of missions and needs. I was just thinking of how much there was to see and—to—to feel—to find out about! Enough to last a million years, and we aren't given (in this life) a hundred." Gloom settled down upon her face. "I think it's simply awful that we're allowed so little time. Even elephants and ravens are better off."

He looked into her woe-begone countenance, and began to shake with laughter.

"Well, well, this is the other side of the shield."

Val was disconcerted at his mirth.

"I'm glad to see you so cheerful about it," she said. "I think it's simply tragic."

"You observe that even such optimism as yours has its dark side too."

"Dark? Yes, coal-black, but never dull." She spoke with great solemnity. "No matter what comes, it can't help being frantically interesting."

"How can you be sure of that? You may be—"

He stopped.

"How can I be sure? Why, just because, don't you see, it will be happening to me. That makes it quite new—makes it tremendous." She studied the dark enigmatic face, and her radiance paled a trifle. "You said so yourself the other night."

"I said so?"

"Don't you remember?—about everybody being different."

"Different? Yes."

"Oh, that made me so happy." She bent towards him, beaming again. "I so love thinking that none of the dull old rules hold for me—that I'm the first one of this sort. What did for other people won't do for me—what happened to them needn't make me afraid. Oh, it's splendid to think it's all new and different because of me!"

She pressed her hands together, and her face, yes, it was like a lamp in the gathering gloom.

[Pg 324]

"I wonder what you'll do with your life?" said the man, with something very tender in the low voice.

"Do with it? I shall love it so, it will have to be good to me. I shall sing, and I shall travel—go everywhere, do everything. I mustn't miss a single thing—oh, dear no! not a single, single thing." Silence a moment, and then, "There's just one thought troubles me," she said.

"Ah yes, there's always one—when there aren't more."

"Less time than a silly old elephant's got—and here my father's had to put off starting till the spring. I hope I shall be able to wait all that time for him; but sometimes I feel as if I shouldn't."

"Ah, but your promise to me!"

"What was it I promised, cousin Ethan?"

Sharply, in the silence, a cry rang out. Ethan leaped to his feet.

"It's only the ghost," said Val, quietly.

"Of course—Yaffti. But what on earth—"


"I heard it as a child, and called it 'Yaffti.' What the devil is it?"

"Only the clumsy old lightning-rod shrieking in its rusty fixtures when the wind blows."

"How do you know?"

"I lay on the rug here and listened, and then walked round and round the house in the wind till I found out what it was made the crying sound."

"Weren't you frightened?"

"Oh yes, dreadfully."

"H'm! So Yaffti turns out to be the spirit of the blast!"

"I was awfully disappointed. I hoped it was a real ghost. Why did you call it Yaffti?"

"Oh, well, what would you call it if you didn't call it Yaffti?"

She laughed.

"I'm forgetting you hate the gloaming. I must go and tell Venie to bring the coal, and—"

"Don't go!" he said, suddenly, holding out a hand.

[Pg 325]

She laughed, a little nervously.

"I believe you're afraid of the dark."

"Yes, little cousin, I've always been afraid of the dark."

She moved away towards the door.

"Val!" The voice seemed to fall on her naked heart, and made it shrink deliciously. "Val!"

"Yes," she said, hardly above a whisper.

Was anything else said? She never knew. She remembered nothing but groping blindly two or three steps, and then suddenly realizing that she was going towards him in the dusk with shaking, outstretched hands. For what? "Oh, God! what am I doing?" She wheeled about with a sharp inward twist of mortification. Blessing the kindly dark, she made for the door.

"Don't go!" said the voice.

"Only to get the light," she said, clinging to the door-knob, shaken into trembling from crown to toe.

"It's not dark, little cousin, while you're here."

She did not stir—nor he. The clock ticked loud. The wind had risen and was howling like a beaten hound. How curious, thought the man, vaguely, that the natural sounds of wind, or sea, or falling inland waters, or the voices of night creatures, are all sad or else discordant. Surely, surely the spirit of the world is the spirit of plaint and dole.


"Yes, cousin Ethan."

"You are too far off. Bring the light nearer."

She heard steps creaking down the stair. Or was it only that Yaffti turned and strained in his rusty fetters? The door was hurriedly opened.

"Why are you two sitting in the dark?" said John Gano.

"We've been telling ghost stories," said Ethan, as Val slipped out.

[Pg 326]


Mrs. Gano sat with Emmie that evening in the long room. The little girl had been having restless nights, and had fallen asleep just before supper. Val went alone into the parlor after that meal, and waited for the two men to join her. They were smoking in the dining-room—a thing unprecedented. They stayed a long time. Eight o'clock—nine o'clock—nearly ten. Val lay down on the sofa in the shadow behind the big arm-chair, so worn out with emotion she fell asleep. By-and-by, through the mist of her dreaming, the low sound of voices broke: her father's, with that familiar note of weary cheerfulness, and now another, deep, vibrant, full of mutiny and music. She lay a moment with shut eyes, her half-awakened senses luxuriously steeped in the sound, careless of the meaning. Now her father answered. Ah, how long his insistent staccato kept striking the troubled air. It was plain he was in one of his talking moods, when there was no stopping him, just as for days—sometimes for weeks—there would be no such thing as getting more than "Yes," or "No," or "Thank you," across his tightened lips. She was dropping off to sleep again when suddenly Ethan's voice stabbed her broad awake, saying:

"The world is a cruel place, the world is an evil place, ergo, I hate the world."

"No, no, you're wrong," said John Gano. "You're blind if you don't see the world is beautiful, is rooted in triumphing good."

Val sat up in the dark corner behind the chair, ready to cry "Hear, hear!"

"I admit," her father went on, "that man has defiled it and made it a den of thieves."

[Pg 327]

"Comes to the same thing in the end, although I don't agree—"

"It does not come to the same thing. There's all the difference in what it "comes to" between the curable and the incurable. You and I may not live to see it, but the world will one day be a fit habitation for better men than we."

Val, peering out, saw Ethan shake his head.

"When men are truly brothers, when we have worked the ape and tiger out, when we may be fortunate without blood-guiltiness. Even you," his uncle went on, a swell of enthusiasm lifting up his voice—"even you may live to see men realizing that Science is the great Captain, the true Redeemer. I should envy you your chance of hailing the beginning of that bloodless revolution, except that I am as sure of its coming as my neighbor's children's children will be when they have ocular proof and daily profit of it."

"I wish I were as sure of it as you."

"My boy, you've only to look about you. Mind, I don't say within. No, no"—his voice dragged—"one sees there one's own failures and defeats, and one is blinded to the larger good. I'm no sentimentalist, either." He flared up. "I'm not saying I shall reap any, or even you much, of this harvest. But come!"—he pulled his shambling figure out of the chair and stood before the fire almost erect—"life is nobler than men thought. Some men's share is to see, before they stumble into the dark, the light that other men shall walk by—see it, and tell the shorter-sighted to be of good cheer, for the light is at hand."

"And those who stumbled before the light came near enough?"

"Oh, well, at most they 'fell on sleep.'"


"Such men are no worse off than Plato, and Christ, and Buddha. The great thing was to know there was light."

"I wonder the memory of those old hopes doesn't lessen your faith in the new."

"Why? Progress isn't a passing fashion; it's the life[Pg 328] principle, another name for the power that makes for righteousness, the impulse towards the light, the force that pushes the acorn sprout out of the mould, and goads man night and day towards some ultimate good. As long as there's life, my boy, it will be better and ever better life. It's the law."

As he stood with arm extended, girt about with sudden authority, Ethan had a vision of Moses on Mount Sinai. This was too old an aspect of her father for Val to be much impressed. She watched the effect on her cousin, however, with feverish interest.

"You're an incurable optimist, uncle," he was saying.

"Ah, don't mistake me. I'm not one of those who drug themselves with dreaming." No Hebrew prophet now; it was the keen, practical-minded American who spoke. "The new order won't be brought about by idle optimism any more than by prayers, or politics, or private magnanimities."

"How, then?"

"It will be the direct result of a higher standard of public health."

He spoke briskly, as one making a business proposition.

"Health!" echoed Ethan sharply—"health of the public conscience, I suppose you mean."

"Health of the body first of all," growled the prophet. "Health mental and moral as the natural result. But since the Maker of the world established the physical basis æons before he bothered about the soul, the first thing we have to do is to make strong our foundations, since for ages we've systematically neglected them, when we haven't occupied ourselves in actively undermining them. The halt, the blind, the diseased, are not for this New Jerusalem. Its first condition of citizenship will be mens sana in corpore sano. And the beauty of it is that, to attain this health, no one man's welfare will avail. All men must share it, or all men are menaced. It means a perfect Socialism."

"Ah, Socialism!"

[Pg 329]

"Not the travesty that masquerades with banners and brass bands, and issues pamphlets against property; but the Socialism that is the true science of life, and that will make possible the men I see in the future."

Ethan regarded the rapt look of the seer with a kindly cynicism. The absent eyes of the elder fell upon the critical young face with a gleam of suspicion. Again and again since his arrival something in Ethan's easy, lounging attitudes had not only roused an obscure antagonism in the older man, but had seemed the most irritating expression of his nephew's habit of mind. His nonchalant grace seemed to say with smiling superiority: "What's your hurry? Why should I exert myself? Let the other man walk." John Gano, looking at him now, felt, in addition to the unreasoning rage at Ethan's laissez aller way of taking life, a kind of half-morbid, half-fanatical desire to prick the young man into action, into some likeness to that desperate American strenuousness that had died so hard with John Gano.

"The men I'm thinking of aren't grown in arm-chairs or under glass, any more than they are made in filthy workshops or in thieves' alleys; they are the sons of happy, voluntary toil, and pure air, and honest dealing."

"Ah," said Ethan, "very likely."

"Not very likely—certain. It's one of the few things a man may be dogmatic about. It ought to be the prime article of faith. Now, you're a rich man, and you say you're going into politics—you're going to help prescribe for this sick old world. Very good. You have the more need to mark well how man's oppression of his brother recoils upon himself. It is accounted prosperity—'getting on in the world'—to be able to have a horde of grown-up, hardy men and women about you in your hot-house homes to wait upon you, to prevent you from doing any part of that work which alone will keep you whole. Why, as I think of it"—he tossed back his lion's mane with a fine contempt—"it sounds incredible this should be the rich man's own desire. It's like some cunning artifice practised[Pg 330] by a nimble-witted slave upon an imbecile and cruel master, a slow but certain process of undoing. You not only pay another man to take away your means of health, you usually maltreat him. Think of it from the point of view of economy, you who are going into politics. The precious contrivance spoils two constitutions, not to speak of possible heirs. One man dying for lack of physical exercise, another killing himself by doing two men's—ten men's—share. You don't believe me. You are sitting there hugging some mental reservation."

"No, no," said Ethan, "I was only turning it over."

"I assure you I know whereof I speak. These men who grind the faces of the poor; these railroad magnates, manufacturers, corn kings, bankers, toiling day and night in stuffy offices—oh, I saw them in New York; I lived among them; I see them still"—his eyes blazed—"toiling, oppressing, cheating, to lay up riches. What have they in reality left to their children—a hoard of yellow gold? More than that; more than an inheritance of strained nerves and bending backs. They have left them the means of gratifying their sloth and their gluttony."

He took a turn up and down the room, shaking his head. He stopped suddenly before his nephew with a look of grim pleasure.

"It's poor comfort, but let the beggar in the street know himself revenged. The rich man, who has just refused him a dime to buy a dinner, goes home, and what he overeats and overdrinks, that would feed and revive the beggar, provides your rich man with his gout and fifty fine disorders unknown among the poor. When he refuses to share his dinner with the hungry, your Dives gets not only curses, but diseases of the digestive organs."

Ethan burst out laughing at the vindictive satisfaction of the climax.

"Come, can you deny it?" his uncle urged. "Drugs, kurs, baths—these are needed only to repair the waste of stupid living; they are substitutes for the right kind of[Pg 331] labor and of fare, but they only patch the breach that simpler living would make whole."

"You make me think of James Benton. You know him by reputation?"

"Specialist?—nerves? Yes, very good man."

"Well, he'd been attending a fashionable woman in New York—for about ten years, he told me. She'd paid him enormous fees to run over from Boston and 'keep her going.' He was rather sick of it, and one day he said: 'Oh yes, I can vary the tonic and bolster you up for the season; but I could cure you, you know.' 'Brute!' she screamed, 'then why haven't you in all these years?' 'You won't take my medicine.' 'Which medicine?' 'Six months' service as housemaid in a farm-house in the White Mountains.'"

"Well," said John Gano, with interest, "and the woman?"

"Oh, she only laughed. However, there are a certain number of people, I find over here, who do care about physical culture. Fellows at the universities think a lot more about athletics than they did in my time. Girls' colleges pay tremendous attention to that sort of thing. Haven't you noticed? Our women are finding out it touches the 'beauty question.' That's done more than all the books and doctors in creation. Oddly enough, our society women in particular, as I saw at Newport—"

"Yes, yes," interrupted his uncle. "We're moving in the right direction, but slowly—very slowly. Even health is little more with us as yet than a newly discovered prerogative of the prosperous. They're finding out it's the condition of survival. Oh, give us time, and it'll come all right."

"Perhaps. But even in the Old World, where you'd think they'd had time enough, they've got at only one aspect of the evil. They're alive to the need of mere exercise, especially in England. Oh, the devices!" laughed the young man, "by which the idle well-to-do may, in default, as you would say, of trees to fell or coal to dig and bricks to lay,[Pg 332] develop, notwithstanding, their biceps and their chests! I've seen many a fellow, with a quite ludicrous absence of enjoyment, doing dumb-bell whim-whams, or shouldering his golf-clubs, or going off to play rackets, with the stern resolve to get his quantum of exercise, whether it amuses him or not."

"Yes, yes, yes," John Gano broke in, "mere cultivators of muscle don't interest me much, though they go a step in the right direction. A man must face and overcome hardship, real hardship, before he's good for anything. Man is like the good wheat, he flourishes where it's cold enough to give him a good pinching frost once a year. Your finest-flavored fruits are grown where man contends with Nature, not as in the tropics, where she drops her insipid increase into his idle lap. Those games that men play at while their brothers starve are well enough for those who like 'em, but the great majority of average boys and girls, and even, to some extent, perverted men and women, too, are never so well amused as when they're making something. If every one had some bit of manual labor to do, something he could do with love, studying to bring it to perfection—"

"Ah yes," said Ethan, with a livelier interest, "that might bring men back a sense of beauty."

"At all events," said the elder, sturdily, "it would bring man back to the bed-rock of wholesome endeavor; and while he was strengthening his muscles and his morals, and laying up a fit inheritance for his children, he would be helping to solve the industrial problem of the world. The vulgar stigma would be lifted from the laboring class."

"Ah—h'm—yes," murmured Ethan, with a somewhat lackadaisical air.

John Gano studied his nephew's long, careless, lounging figure with a growing disapproval.

"In the time to come," said John Gano, significantly, "the only idle will be the few, and ever fewer, sick, and the very old. Chronic disease will be looked upon as the only lasting disgrace. The evil will hide their complaints as carefully as to-day they hide their crimes. They will be[Pg 333] more ashamed of an attack of indigestion or of gout than a man is to-day of being seen drunk in public, or caught robbing a till. He who passes a disease down the line will be looked upon as a traitor, the only criminal deserving capital punishment."

Ethan looked up quickly, scrutinizing the grim face for a moment, and then, unaccountably to himself, his own look went down.

Val had lost the sense with which she awoke of overhearing something not intended for her, and of being under the necessity of making her presence known in the first pause. The talk was just an amplification of views to which her father had accustomed her from childhood. She would have gone to sleep again, or come out and said good-night, but for the interest of seeing their effect on Ethan, who had already been wrought upon to the extent of saying that he "hated" the beautiful world. Why was he looking so black-browed and forbidding now? She must pay attention and follow this.

"There'll be fewer hospitals," her father was saying, with staccato emphasis, "and less vapid sentimentalizing over those who suffer from violation of the plain laws of health."

"Well, it strikes me," said Ethan, "that if the poor devil has got his weak digestion, or his gout, or what not, from some unenlightened ancestor—"

"It must strike you that in that case he's in the position of the man whose father died in debt, in disgrace. The loyal son must wipe out the score."

"It's devilish hard on the son. He'll say he has his own debts to pay—an obligation to himself."

"As a man of honor, or"—with a gesture of impatience—"of mere sense, he will know he has no obligation so binding as to end the evil with his life, leaving no offshoot to sow the seeds anew. It is civic duty, it"—the stern voice wavered—"it is fatherly pity. When I see my little girl's eyes bright with fever—with this old fever that's been wasting me these forty years—do you suppose I find much comfort in thinking I had it from my father, and[Pg 334] have by foolish living only augmented a little my inheritance?"

He shook his lion's head fiercely. The break in her father's voice, even more than the words with their dimly comprehended menace, brought back a quick realization to the girl that her father had no notion of her presence. Should she come out now? It would be embarrassing to them all, for he was strangely moved. If she waited a few moments he would get back to generalities, and then she would come out and say good-night. But under this playing at expediency was an eager curiosity to hear more, to understand better.

"What do you mean by 'this old fever'?" Ethan asked.

"Well"—his uncle turned his rough head slowly to the door to assure himself it was shut—"I mean something that my mother and I agreed not to talk about. There is a word that no one ever hears mentioned under this roof. We don't mention the word because"—he sunk his voice to a whisper—"because the thing itself is here."

"What is the word?"


Ethan sat looking at him in silence. Val half rose. She must let them know she was there. But—consumption! She sank down. Was it true that was the ghost that haunted the Fort? Certainly it was true that she had never heard the word on the lips of her elders.

"My father and my wife died of it," John Gano was saying. "My mother has the old lingering form of it. It was 'galloping consumption' that carried my sister Valeria out of the world at thirty. I am dying of it. My children—"

A curious hoarse sound tore its way out of his throat, and he buried his head in his hands. When he looked up his eyes were wild and bright. Val held her breath, and the nails of her clinched hands dug into her palms.

"I have just one hope," her father said, "that my innocent children will go out as painlessly as may be, before the great battle begins."

[Pg 335]

Val drew back, crouching behind the chair-back with blanched face.

"It is too late to hope that," said Ethan.

"No, it's not too late; the enemy is still in ambush."

"The enemy?"

"Yes. The battle won't begin till sex finds them out."

"What then?"

"Then they will have to be told what I was not told in time."

"What would you say?"

"I"—the hoarse voice shook—"I'd tell them how full of holes their armor is."

"Uncle John, you'll never be so cruel."

Val, behind the big chair, lifted her scared face in the shadow, looking on as a woman might at a duel fought for her.

"It is the only kindness. When I thought I shouldn't live to see them old enough to know, I wrote the matter down. Ha!"—he laughed wearily—"in the form of a last will and testament; a legacy from a father who will leave them nothing else except—" He got up and turned away, coughing. He walked up and down the room again, with dragging step and bent head. He stopped suddenly and laid his hand on the young man's shoulder. "I see too plainly the lesson of the past not to hand my knowledge on. It's all I'm good for now. This fair future for the race that I've believed in, that I've foreseen so long—" He was interrupted by the painful cough, but conquered it an instant. "Not only have I always known I could have no personal share in it, not even through my children—"

The cough gripped him again, and he turned away with handkerchief to his lips.

Ethan watched him, unmoved, with a kind of unsympathetic fascination.

"I think," said the young man, before his uncle found his voice again, "you are going on to say something I had to try to disabuse my mind of, years ago, when my own health smashed up before I went to France."

[Pg 336]

John Gano dropped into the rocking-chair by the fire, and lay back a moment with closed eyes and laboring breath.

"I didn't know," he said, faintly, "that you'd had your warning, but I see"—he opened his eyes suddenly—"I see that your New England blood is too thin, too office-stricken, to save you. You've nothing—absolutely nothing to hope for from the Gano side." His voice was strong. It rang like a challenge. "My mother is wrong! Our fathers have eaten sour grapes."

Ethan leaned forward about to speak, but his uncle broke in harshly:

"I tell you you belong to a worn-out race. We are among those who are too remote from the soil—'there is no health in us.'"

"Oh come, Uncle John, don't talk as if we were Aztecs, or an effete monarchy."

"We are effete, and we deserve to die out root and branch."

The little movement over in the dark corner passed unnoticed in Ethan's attempt at protest.

"Or perhaps you think," said John Gano, "because we are not of noble descent, that being an old or rather a long dominant and idle race, doesn't count."

He smiled with a tinge of superior pity.

"How do you know we're so old a family?" demanded his nephew.

"I feel it in my bones; they ache—they ache." He had begun the sentence with a hoarse laugh, and at the end his haggard face settled into lines of pain. "But whether we're an old family in the paltry social sense is beside the mark. Nature doesn't care a continental copper," he went on fiercely, "whether you're a king or a bankrupt cotton-planter, or any other cumberer of the earth. What people don't realize is that a peasant or a rag-picker may come of an idle, worn-out stock, and if so, be sure Nature has marked him down. If purple and fine linen don't deceive her, neither do rags. No sickly sentimentality about her. She'll find her enemy, the unfit, through any and all [Pg 337]disguise. As for your aristocrat, she won't distinguish him even by her revenge. She has nothing to do with that figment of the pompous mind, 'belonging to an old family.' Families are all old. The question is: How closely are you related to—well, to use the ready-made phrase: How near are you to the soil?—to the fountain-head of blood made sweet by denial and swift by strenuous living? Ah, my boy, our fathers sat too long at their ease in houses that the building and the tending of made muscle and brawn for others. We lounged in arm-chairs by our fires of fat Southern pine, but the men who got the vital warmth were the men who hewed the tall trees down. We've blinded our eyes over books, and blunted our humanity in a petty concern about our souls, while our bodies were going to destruction."

There was dead silence for a few minutes.

"And those more fortunate ones," his nephew said, in a dull, resentful voice, "who are they? How is it possible to be sure? How shall your elect be known?"

"As of old, by their fruits. They and their children have broad shoulders; they haven't chests like ours—they haven't hands like mine."

He held his up, and both men (the girl, too, in the far corner) saw the fire glow red behind the thin, transparent fingers. He dropped them with an air of one who throws up a desperate game. Val pushed aside the rug that still partly covered her, and slid to the ground, arrested on the sofa's edge by Ethan's saying more angrily than she had thought that voice could sound:

"I tell you straight, Uncle John, I don't accept this paralyzing doctrine of yours, still less do I think your children will. I tell you frankly I rebel against—"

John Gano's wax-white hand caught him by the shoulder in a grip that made the young man wince.

"So did I rebel, and I've been paying for it these sixteen years. Oh yes, I knew very little, but I rebelled against the little I knew. I did worse—I married. I did worse even than that—I married my first cousin."

[Pg 338]

He drew off, as if the better to watch the effect of his words. Ethan, looking at him darkly, felt there was a devilish ingenuity in his uncle's ignoring the possibility of any further mixing of Gano blood, and yet holding up his own misdeed as a hideous warning to the world in general, a thing of unmitigated evil.

"These matters were not understood in my day," he went on, "but happily the men and women of these times are not left in darkness."

"Oh yes, they are," said Ethan. "The men and the women are new, but the darkness is the old darkness."

"No; science has put it to rout. I had no one when I was young to tell me the things I'm telling you."

Ethan's face was undisguisedly satirical, but his uncle was oblivious.

"The Ganos have all been well-intentioned people, and yet they went on down there in Virginia and Maryland, generation after generation, marrying their own cousins, breeding in and in, till—well, you, for instance, and my children are more like brother and sister than cousins. You are even nearer than some brothers and sisters are. You each have in you the concentrated essence of a single family's strain. As I've told you, when I look at my innocent children, I could curse the eternal law that will not let me pay my debt alone. If we rebel"—he fastened his lean fingers on Ethan's shoulder again, and spoke with growing excitement—"if we rebel against that commandment, we and our wretched children are punished." He released his grip, but with eyes bloodshot, menacing, he stood over the young man still: "If we rebel, instead of dying out calmly and gently, we'll have to be stamped out."

"What do you mean?"

No lounging now; the young man sat arrow-straight and eagle-eyed.

"I mean that certainly in this race the weakest go to the wall. We Ganos can't compete."

"I wouldn't if I were Hercules. I loathe competition."

"Exactly—exactly. It's the very cry of the unfit."

[Pg 339]

"I deny it. It's the cry of the man willing to work without ignoble spurring, who doesn't want his comrades' disaster to sweeten victory, who wants to be fortunate, as you say, without blood-guiltiness."

"When that sentiment comes of strength, my friend, it means one thing; when it comes of weakness, it means another. There's hard fighting ahead, and Hercules will be to the fore. He'll be needed. The Ganos will be occupied in hating competition."

Ethan gave vent to a sound of stifled indignation. Val watched him with suspended breath. His uncle watched him calmly, and then he said:

"A Gano can inherit money. I doubt if he can make it. I doubt if he can even keep it. I doubt if he can lose it like a man."

Ethan winced, recalling the days of the lost allowance, and his impotent railing at destiny while he starved in the streets of Paris.

"There isn't the shadow of a doubt what the end of our family history will be," the hoarse voice ended. "Those of us who aren't ground under the heel of poverty will be snuffed out by disease."

"My God!" Ethan broke out; "and to think I called you an optimist! Why, you're just such another as Job, crying out: 'Let the day perish wherein I was born.' 'Oh, that I had given up the ghost, and no eye seen me'; or the Genevan confessing: 'Ma naissance fut le premier de mes malheurs.'" He would have been ready to swear that he was writhing, not under the sense of an impassible barrier raised between him and some concrete coveted good, but at being confronted, where he least expected it, with a new aspect of the ugliness and pain and helplessness of the human lot. "It doesn't seem to matter which way one turns," he burst out; "the sound loudest in one's ears is the lament of all the generations that have gone up and down hunting happiness, till, as you say, they fell on sleep. Whether I go to the classics or read the new philosophies, whether it's Socrates or Seneca preaching the dignity of[Pg 340] death, or the volcanic Nietzsche trying gloomily to exalt self, and losing himself in madness—whether I wander the Old World, or fly for better things to the New, it's the same thing. You began by telling me life was beautiful and good; you have ended by showing me afresh that it simply doesn't bear being thought about. Why, Val!"

He had risen and caught sight of the white, tear-drowned face looking out behind the chair.

"Val!" echoed her father; "I thought you were in bed!"

"Oh, I wish I had been!" She came out of the corner with her plumage of brave looks crushed and broken, all her young brightness tarnished. "Father," she said, while the tears rained down, "I'm sorry you're so sad about the world, and about all us Ganos, but you needn't try to make cousin Ethan sad too, and me—and me—"

Ethan made a gesture forward, as if to take the girl in his protecting arms. John Gano's angry eyes flashed warning. He tried to hush his daughter's sobbing in his breast.

"You are my wise little girl, and you—"

"Wise! Yes; a great deal too wise to believe all this. I don't know why I'm crying so." She looked up, smiling miserably through her tears. "Why, it's just nothing but arguing. When cousin Ethan's with me he never has such awful, awful notions. He's a little sad sometimes, and has to be cheered up, and you oughtn't to argue with him like this—"

The heaving sobs clutched her voice, stifling the last words.

"Come, come, child; you're over-excited. There—there!"

"When I'm old"—she flung back her head with a poor little travesty of her common gesture—"I'll tell my children—all of them—that it's been a good world to be in, and that they're not to be afraid, and—and not to be any sadder than they can help."

"Come, come; dry your eyes and go to bed."

She turned away with her handkerchief over her face.

[Pg 341]

"Good-night, little cousin," said Ethan, steadying his voice and taking her hand.

"Oh, good-night," she faltered, and with a movement full of exquisite young tenderness she lifted her little handkerchief and brushed it lightly across his misty eyes. "Father was only arguing," she said.

But the tears flowed down her cheeks afresh as she opened the door and went out.

[Pg 342]


Two days later Ethan was on his way South with John Gano.

He stayed with his uncle for a month, and then sent for the despised Drouet, who was an excellent nurse. As he grew weaker, John Gano developed not only a tolerance, but a liking, for the alert, amusing Frenchman, and stayed contentedly in the quarters Ethan had found, until the spring, making a herbarium of the flora of that region. At the beginning of May he was to return home. Early in April, Drouet wired to his master in Boston to say that the doctor was alarmed at the patient's condition. Ethan went South at once, and three days after his arrival his uncle died in his arms.

"Don't drag me back to the North," he had said; "bury me where I fall." And it was done.

Mrs. Gano was too ill to travel, and telegraphed that Ethan was to come back afterwards to the Fort.

It was a very different arrival from the last. The little cousins, dressed in black, looked more than ever like snow flowers on the fringe of winter.

Mrs. Gano was profoundly moved on seeing Ethan entering alone. She motioned the children out of the room, and had one long talk with her grandson about the end. Afterwards, in her fashion when she was suffering most, she shut herself up, and no one except the servants saw her until the following Sunday, which was Easter.

It struck Ethan as curious, and unexpected, that even the girls should put such restraint upon their grief. Emmie, it was true, was often seen in tears, but the most she ever said of her father was, "He knows there's a heaven[Pg 343] now." Val conducted the household in default of her grandmother, and Ethan caught himself smiling surreptitiously at the old-fashioned decorum she imposed upon herself in playing the unaccustomed rôle.

Emmie was to be confirmed this Easter. She was going through a very devout phase, and, when Val was not there, she talked to Ethan about the coming consecration with a curious religious fervor. There was a strain of unconscious mysticism in the girl that struck Ethan oddly, against the bare American background. It was to him more of an anachronism than any manifestation he had yet encountered, even at the Fort, that stronghold of the past.

"I love to talk about these things to you, cousin Ethan," she said; "Val doesn't understand."

Learning something of these confidences, Mrs. Gano took the first opportunity of saying, privately:

"I do not know quite where you stand, my dear Ethan, in matters of religious faith—" and she waited.

"I don't know quite where I stand myself," he had answered.

"You used to have a fine perception for things spiritual."

He smiled.

"I once thought I might find Rome at the end of my wandering."

"Ah!" she said, quite calmly, "my father used to say, 'You will all have to come back to Mother Church.'"

"I do not mean that I felt like that long," Ethan said, hurriedly, realizing that he was sailing under false colors, "or that I think now as I suppose you do. It's probably little more with me than that 'I was born in the wilds of Christianity, and the briers and thorns still hang about me.'"

"You got that from your Uncle John," she said, coldly.

"No; it was said the century before he was born."

"To me, God is the great fact of life. To be without God is to be without hope in the world."

Ethan shaded his lowered eyes with one hand as he answered:

"Yes, I've thought that, too."

[Pg 344]

She looked at him reassured.

"Ah! I have ceased to be troubled at minor differences of creed; but when we are young, we are less—catholic," she smiled, and then grew grave. "I hope you will never say anything to unsettle the faith of the little girls."

"Oh, I shouldn't dream— But Val has not been confirmed, I understand."

"No; I don't believe any longer in pressing these things."

"She would have required pressing?"

"She has not developed any great concern about spiritual matters. And yet, as a child, she was much occupied about religion. Not as you and Emmie were. With Val it was all the wrong way up."

"Wrong way—"

Mrs. Gano nodded, reflectively.

"Her interest in the Bible seemed founded upon the large opportunity it gave her for the exercise of rank unbelief. I was always hoping to overcome the tendency. But"—she shook her head—"if, as a treat, I allowed her to choose what portion of the Scripture should be read aloud, it was always the Revelation."

"Oh, I don't think that so depraved."

"Neither did I, till one Sunday, as I got to the words, 'And I, John, saw,' I was arrested by a movement from the child sitting at my feet. I looked down and saw the small face puckered with the concentrated essence of suspicion. 'Who saw it 'sides John?' she demanded. And that, briefly, has been her attitude ever since. I lament it, but I don't talk to her about it any more. The one Christian tenet that I am satisfied Val holds is the doctrine of the Resurrection. Strange—strange! Now, Emmie is like all the rest of the Ganos."

Ethan nodded. "Yes, Val is a stranger among us. Poor Val!"

Emmie was certainly a vision of innocent loveliness, as she went up to the chancel that Easter morning, to be received into the communion of the faithful. There was something poetic, something not wholly of this world, in[Pg 345] her fragile beauty, her rapt and lighted look. Ethan recognized in the sweet face—never so unclouded as to-day—the subtle ecstasy of the devotee. Something in him stirred painfully, regretfully, answering to it with a sense of unwilling sympathy, of kinship that would not be denied. People in the church that day whispered to each other:

"Emmie Gano and her cousin are more alike than most brothers and sisters are."

Very different was the mutinous face of the elder girl, sitting beside Ethan in her mourning, looking neither at bishop nor white-robed brides of the Church, but with unreconciled, tear-filled eyes at the white cross, in memory of her father, that hung among the Easter decorations in the chancel. The wreath upon the lectern, that all the town knew to be the annual "In memoriam" to that Valeria Gano who had been in her grave these twenty years—for that, only Ethan of the dead woman's kindred had eyes and tender remembering.

"Father's cross looked very beautiful," Emmie said, in a hushed voice, to her grandmother that afternoon.

Mrs. Gano inclined her head.

"I am glad we chose calla lilies; he loved them," murmured Emmie.

"He didn't love to hear them called calla lilies," said Val, without a particle of feeling in her voice.

"Yes," said Emmie, "I mean those great—"

"He would be very angry to hear you call them lilies."

"Angry?" Mrs. Gano looked up.

"Yes, angry," said Val. "Callas are not liliaceæ, they are araceæ, and belong to the Jack-in-the-pulpit family. If he hears us, he'll hate to think we've forgotten so soon." Her defiant eyes suddenly filled up. "He taught us not to be so ignorant as to call them lilies, just as he taught us not to say 'wisteria.'"

"What are you to say, then?" asked Ethan.


"Not really?"

"Yes, it is wistaria, and we must all say wistaria, [Pg 346]because he told us to, and because it's named after General Wistar."

"Why have you put these fine linen doilies on the arms of the chairs?" asked Mrs. Gano.

"Because the arms are covered with velvet," Val answered, without thinking, and then shot a shy look at Ethan.

"Velvet? Of course. What then?"

Val looked in her lap and said, mendaciously:

"I don't like velvet arms. Please let the doilies stay."

Mrs. Gano was satisfied in her own mind that Val was ashamed of the condition of the ancient covering. The difficulty plainly was that it had been velvet. She forbore to pursue the question before her grandson.

The days went on; Ethan refused to count them.

One late afternoon a deluge of rain brought down a part of the ceiling in the old red room that had been John Gano's. Ethan took his courage in both hands, and described to Mrs. Gano, in forcible terms, the extent of the damage and the danger of leaving the roof as it was.

"I don't propose to leave it as it is."

He studied her.

"Do you remember telling me when I was a little chap that this was my home?"

"H'm—did I?"

"I haven't any other now. Let me think of the Fort as my home." He paused, but her aspect was not encouraging, was hardly hospitable. He went on: "Let me look after the roof, and—"

"Certainly not. I have looked after everything for half a century. When I'm dead some one else may do it—not before."

"Ah, you know what I mean. You've lost your only son. Give me some of his privileges." She jerked away her head, as she did when she was moved, and wanted not to betray the fact. "I am tired of being homeless," Ethan said.

"You will make a home of your own, my dear."

[Pg 347]

"I want this for my home."

She turned suddenly, and looked at him with eyes that were keen and intent under their film of tears.

"No," she said, slowly, "this does for us. It is not the kind of home for you."

"It is the kind I want."

He smiled in that sudden, radiant way of his.

"No; the Fort is here to shelter and protect other people. You don't need it."

"But I do; and it's my Fort. Why, you've never even taken my name off the door."

The old woman recalled a glimpse she had had the evening before of Val laying her cheek against the graven name.

"I'm not sure but I shall take it off," she said, half smiling, half threatening.

"You don't want to get me out of the habit of thinking of the Fort as 'home'?"

"You've never really been in the habit—you belong elsewhere."

He studied her in perplexity.

"Do you realize that at this moment the rain is coming in floods into Uncle John's room?"

"The rain won't trouble your uncle John." She had turned away again.

"But there are others here—"

"It is those others I have to consider. Your uncle John's insurance will mend his children's roof."

"And you won't give me the happiness—"

"My dear boy," she said, with some impatience, "your happiness doesn't lie here."

She began to rock back and forth with lowering brow.

"You want to get rid of me."

She stopped rocking, and turned to him with a moved and gentler aspect.

"Personally, I very much want you to stay; but there are many things to think of. I am not alone here. You bring an atmosphere of—of unrest from out the world you[Pg 348] belong to. I see the danger that you may import some of it into our quiet lives."

"How little you realize! The young life here is seething with unrest."

"That is what I am realizing."

"But I found it like that."

She shook her head.

"You must go away, my dear."

She was of the same mind, then, as her son had been. Go away! Go away! That was all the welcome they had here for Ethan Gano. A feeling of bitterness took hold on him, of such loneliness that it was as if, without warning, he had heard pronounced a sentence of perpetual exile. "For that's what it is," he thought: "she will never ask me to come again." And he was right—she never did.


He had got up after a moment or two, and gone out to the veranda, where he walked up and down, with the noise of the rain in his ears.

Presently Emmie looked out.

"Where's Val?" asked Ethan.

"Up-stairs. Ever since supper she's been seeing if the tubs and things are under all the leaks."

"Ask her to come out here when she's finished, will you?"

"Yes," said Emmie reluctantly, and turned away.

Ethan had no eyes for the sudden shadow on the sweet face. He began to stride up and down again, angrily, eagerly, looking out through the tracery of the wistaria as an animal might through the bars of its cage.

"Well, here I am!"

Val stood smiling as he turned.

"Oh, good! Let us sit down."

"On the black benches? Never!"

She gathered her skirts round her with a gesture of comic horror.

"Here, then"—he spread out a large white handkerchief—"sit on this."

[Pg 349]

"And you?"

"Sit down!" he commanded.

She took the place meekly, with hands crossed in mockery, and laughing eyes, but her pale cheeks flushed.

"Now, you are to promise me something," he said, standing before her with folded arms.

"Oh, I've always got to promise you things. What have you ever promised me?"

His moody eyes caressed the upturned face.

"What do you want me to promise?" he said, more gently.

"Will you do it?"


"You see!"

"I only want to know what it is."

She looked away.

"Tell me what you want first," she said.

Instead of answering, her cousin turned and walked to the end of the dripping veranda, where the wind had blown the rain in several feet across the boards. She watched him furtively, biting her upper lip the while, catching it cruelly with her sharp white teeth to still its trembling. She watched him turn slowly, come back a few paces, raising his eyes as he was passing the first of the long room windows, and stop short with a queer, guilty start. He nodded gravely to the watchful eyes within and continued his walk, only more rapidly, muttering to himself, "The old lioness!"

Val had an impulse to go and look through the window nearest her, but something held her where she was. Presently, as Ethan paced back and forth, a pale shine came through the panes, mixing uncertainly with the evening light. Venie must have taken in the big bronze lamp. Yes, one could hear her now letting down the blinds. Val was glad she had resisted the impulse to look in. Ethan had stopped his restless pacing, as soon as the blinds were drawn.

"I have asked her," he said, with a motion of the head[Pg 350] towards the long room, "to let me attend to the roof, and a few little things like that." He paused, and looked sharply at the shrouded windows.

"She says you take a great deal upon yourself," Val smiled.

"Oh, she does! Well, I shall take more. I am going to take the liberty of giving you five hundred dollars, to do what you can here without her knowing; and when's it's gone I shall give you as much again, and you're not to tell anybody. Promise."

"I couldn't do that."

"Why not?"

"Simply, I couldn't. I know so well what she'd say—'It's against all our traditions.' And the money you are offering—"


"You see, it's Tallmadge money!" Val resented a little his whimsical look. She drew herself up. "You can't expect us Ganos—" She broke off as he took a letter out of his pocket and unfolded it. "Oh!" She turned a sudden scarlet and grasped at the incriminating document.

"No, no," he said. "I was defrauded of this letter a long time by an imbecile postal system. But I'll take good care of it now I have got it."

"I—I was very young when I wrote it."

"—a little over a year ago," he completed her sentence, laughing.

"Please don't think I'm wanting you to help me now."

"Well, that's a good thing," he said, with an unexpected hardness, "for I haven't the smallest intention of doing so."

Val's eyes were angry and bright with drops of humiliation.

"I wouldn't take it if you begged me to," she said.

"Don't you see, dear Val"—he leaned nearer, but she averted her face from him—"don't you see that, at all events until Emmie is older, you can't desert the Fort?" No answer. "Don't be angry with me, little cousin.[Pg 351] Don't you feel how much your own people need you?" Still no answer. "Seventy-five!" he went on; "you mayn't have long to wait."

She turned on him sharply.

"As if I grudged—as if I wanted to shorten the time!"

She swallowed a little sob.

"No, no; of course you don't. I understand you quite well."

"The last thing father said to me was, 'Take care of her, she's growing old.'"

He nodded.

"That's all I mean by putting this money into your hands."

"Oh, but I can't take five hund— I understand better than I did when I wrote that stupid letter; she'd half kill me!"

"She's not to know, and I"—he glowered down at her with a laugh—"I'll half kill you if you don't do what I tell you."

She looked in her lap. Her eyelids fluttered.

"You must write me regularly, and tell me all that's happening."

She lifted her head as if she had been stung.

"You—you aren't going away!"


"When are you coming back?"

"I don't know."

The dull rain poured, the defective spouts at the eaves played gray fountains, the great tulipifera rhododendron waved answering arms to the signals of the storm.

In the momentary lull, An' Jerusha in the kitchen could be heard quavering out wild notes, among which Ethan recognized the words:

"No mo' peace on de earf."

"I don't believe you'll go," said Val.

He couldn't see her face so well now in the gray light.

"What makes you believe I won't go?"

[Pg 352]

She clasped her hands and wrung them unconsciously.


"Or, if you go, you'll come back?"

"Don't you know that's what I must not do?"

"No," she said, in a muffled but resolute voice.

They sat silent, motionless, for some time. She turned at last with wide, shining eyes, putting her face close to his in the uncertain light, and saying, with a quick-drawn breath:

"Why, cousin Ethan!"

"What is it?"

"Why do you look like that?"

"Like what?"

"So—so terribly unhappy."

He didn't answer.

"What's the matter?"

He tried to say something, moved his lips faintly, but no sound came.

"Oh, what is it?" she cried; "something new?"

He nodded, echoing: "Something new, and something very, very old."

"And sad?"

"Saddest of all sad things."

"What is?"

"Haven't you ever heard? Love is the saddest of all."

A ray of light fell like a sword between them, and a sharp rap on the window at their backs made them fly to their feet. Turning, they saw Mrs. Gano's face against the pane. She had lifted a corner of the blind, and was beckoning with imperious hand.

"I must go," whispered Val; and she vanished.

Ethan walked up and down till the early bed hour, listening to the rain and to the sound of An' Jerusha's crooning.

[Pg 353]


Emmie had begun to teach a class in the Infant Sunday-school. She would go off soon after breakfast, the others following an hour or so later, and meeting her at morning service.

"I don't think I'll go to-day," said Ethan the subsequent Sunday. "Why don't you take a holiday, too?"

"No," answered Val. "If I stay at home grandma will— But you might walk part way with me, mightn't you?"

"Yes, I don't mind a walk. I'll take a book along and go up on the Hill after I leave you."

As they set off, Mrs. Gano stood at the window looking after them. Ethan made her a little half-mocking bow, whereat she smiled grimly.

Val, glancing back at her, said, "Though you do pretend to be so gloomy, you always put other people into better spirits. I haven't seen her smile since—not since.... She cares more for you than she does for anybody."

"She won't be sorry when I go."

Val flashed a side look at him, and the brightness dimmed in her eyes. But here was Miss Tibbs, hurrying by with a sharp glance and "Good-morning," and other people passing on their way home from Sunday-school. She mustn't cry in public.

"You oughtn't to say that she won't be sorry. You ought to be gratefuller to people for caring so tremendously for you—as she does." Her heart seemed to be beating high up in her throat. "Emmie and I often notice how she lets you do all the forbidden things—pick the myrtle and narcissus, play as loud and as hard as you like on the[Pg 354] piano, have sangaree and julep when you aren't a bit ill"—she was trying to laugh—"even lets you go through the bookcases and take out anything you like."

She glanced down at the book in his hand. He made no rejoinder. A side glance at his face showed him with brows knitted and abstracted eyes.

Suddenly the dark face lit up; he had caught sight of a charming apparition over the way. Julia was crossing the street "just in time to meet Ethan," thought Val, although her friend was coming from her Sunday-school class, at the usual time, and by the usual route.

"Good-morning," Ethan called out with a cheerfulness that made Val's heart drop in an instant, down—down.

"You two pious ones off to church?" asked Julia, as she shook hands with them.

"Not me," answered Ethan; "it's too fine a day to waste in church."

"Just what I think," said Julia, wistfully.

How bewitchingly pretty she looked in her field-flower hat and leaf-green gown! Val felt dowdy and dull in her mourning; it was an insult to the fair summer weather to go about in such clothes. No wonder cousin Ethan had brightened as he looked at Julia.

They were all walking on together now to the Otways' gate. Val breathed a silent prayer of thankfulness that Julia was a Presbyterian.

"What are you going to do, Mr. Gano, if you don't go to church?" asked Miss Otway, leaning across Val, who walked in the middle.

"Find a comfortable place under a tree."

"And read that very un-Biblical-looking book?"

They were at the gate now, which Ethan opened; but Julia lingered, in spite of Val's "Heavens! is that the church-bell?"

"Mightn't it pass for a hymnal?"

He laid the book open on the top of the gate, very willing to prolong the interview, as it seemed, in spite of Val's disingenuous interjection, "I'm afraid I'll be late."

[Pg 355]

"Too cheerful for a hymnal," said Julia, shaking her head and smiling up into his eyes.

"Cheerful only on the outside, I'll be bound," said Val, suspiciously. Then turning to the title-page: "'An Anthology collected by—' What makes you like reading poetry?"

"Why, don't you?" said Ethan to them both.

"Yes, indeed," responded Julia.

"Not a bit," said Val.

"Why not?" laughed Ethan.

"Too sad," said Val, firmly.

Julia looked pensively away from Ethan up to the blue sky, over the line of hills.

"I love sad things," she said, sympathetically.

"Oh yes, you like 'em blubbery. I don't. That's why I hate poetry. It's all sobbing and groaning, and 'Oh!' and 'Alas!' or else the silly scenery."

"Oh, not all," said Ethan.

"Well, most of it is. Now, see! I'll shut the book and open it at random:

"'O star, of which I lost have all the light,
With hertë sore well ought I to bewail,
That ever dark in torment, night by night,
Towards my death with wind in stern I sail.'

That's Mr. Chaucer. Now try again:

"'My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!'

That cheerful gentleman is Lord Byron!"

She shut the book with a vicious snap and opened it again:

"'Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight:
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar,
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more—O, never more!'

[Pg 356]

That's Shelley's account of things. And here's Keats's:

"'The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs.'"

"Oh, but aren't there any ballads and pretty stories?" asked Julia.

"Well, here's the 'Pot of Basil' and 'Waly Waly'"—Val turned the pages vindictively—"and all the rest of the desperate and deserted. Now, the man that made this anthology"—she turned sharply to her cousin—"I suppose he got together all the best things, didn't he?"

"I suppose he thought he did."

"Do you think he succeeded?"

"Very fairly."

"H'm! You see, when they do their best they are bound to be moaning and groaning, these poets. Now, the man that chose these things, was he a jaundiced kind of person, very sad and sorry?"

"Quite the contrary. I should say he's as cheerful as a man may be who isn't a fool."

Val looked at him a moment.

"Then, I say it's a good thing there are women in the world." She had forgotten the third person for the moment, forgotten that Julia, too, professed to like things "blubbery." Even when she remembered, she only clapped the book to and said: "Oh, I shall be so late!"

"I envy you your walk." Julia tilted up her round chin, catching in her loose golden hair the sunlight that filtered through the fresh green maple leaves.

"I'm going up on the Hill; you'd both of you better come."

"Gracious! we'd be killed if we did."

"Yes, indeed," agreed Val, with conviction. It would be too dreadful to have Julia tacked on to them to-day. What was Ethan thinking of?

"I've come back from Sunday-school to take my mother[Pg 357] to church; but there might be time for a little walk afterwards." Julia's air was charmingly wistful.

"Well, come towards Plymouth Hill," said Ethan.

If it was anybody else, thought Val, angrily, it would have to be called flirting. Julia, too, was undoubtedly "making eyes." Oh, it was disgraceful!

"I don't believe, after all, there'll be time before dinner," Miss Otway was saying.

"She knows perfectly well she's going to make time," thought Val, and then—oh, dear! oh, dear! what was becoming of her old affection for her friend?

They had said "Good-bye," and walked on in silence for a few moments. She noticed with a passion of resentment that, since leaving Julia, the cloud had settled again on her cousin's face.

"Since I'm going away so soon, I think I ought to say—" he began presently, and stopped.

"Say what?"

"That Harry Wilbur has taken me into his confidence."

Val turned away her head.

"First-rate fellow, Wilbur." Another pause. "Fact is, he is one in a thousand."

"He's very good, but he isn't interesting."

"I think he is, you know; and so did Uncle John. I believe your father would have liked—"

"Do you like talking like this to me?" Val demanded, darkly, "or"—with a ray of hope—"are you being a martyr?"

"Something of a martyr, perhaps," he said, smiling in spite of himself.

"Oh, well, that's all right, just for once."

"For once?"

"Yes; please don't do it again. I can admire it—once, but I can't be of any help. I suppose it's because of what my father told you that you said that—about—love."

"What did I say?"

"That it was the saddest of all."

"I'm afraid the reason is deeper than any your father gave."

[Pg 358]

She looked up baffled.

"At least, it's because of what my father said that you—that you—began about Harry Wilbur."

"Well, perhaps."

"I'm very much disappointed in you."

"I'm very sorry."

"I thought you were more—understanding. If you had known my father better," she continued, with all-unconscious irony, "you wouldn't have minded him a bit. It was just a theory."

"Ah, my child, it isn't a theory that we're first cousins."

The note of finality in the low voice pierced her through and through.

"But plenty of people—" she burst out; and then one by one her father's arguments and menaces, like curses, came back to roost. "If we rebel against that law, we and our innocent children are punished," she seemed to hear him say.

They walked on some time without speaking. Twice Ethan glanced down at the face beside him. For all its profound trouble, it was not the face of one defeated. He drew a perverse pleasure from the observation. Curiosity had from the first played no small part in the charm his cousin cast about him. What would she do under such and such conditions? And, meanwhile, what new longing, what new pain, that mutinous little face had planted in his heart! "I have never kissed her," he kept thinking as he looked at her mouth. "Has Wilbur ever kissed her?" The idea was revolting. He put it from him. He thought of the people that never have children. Suppose— He looked down at her again. This time he caught her eye, and she flushed hotly. He had no need of speech to assure him they had been thinking along the same lines.

"Of course," said Val, with an obvious effort, "I ought to behave as if I didn't understand what's involved. Any nice girl would pretend she—" Her voice got tangled and lost in a dry little sob; but she burst out again under her breath: "Oh, they aren't like me—the nice girls. [Pg 359]Nobody ever cared so much as I do. Everything's different when you—when you care like this."

His heart contracted sharply. Had this come into his life only to go and leave him stricken in poverty? Under the girl's extravagance of speech was a richness of nature that gave her fierce young words authority. This primitive, unfaltering passion, naked and unashamed, was not only beautiful in his eyes with a kind of pagan splendor, but it soothed and satisfied his weary, doubting spirit. For the moment it carried his questioning down its swift current, making of his fears a mock, and whirling his heavy doubts like straws. And yet he kept a vigilant watch upon himself. With a man's abiding fear of being ridiculous, he was uncomfortably conscious of the little group of belated church-goers turning into St. Thomas's from Market Street, not so hurried but they might notice Val's excited face. To his companion, in her absorption, these acquaintances had been thin air.

"I dare say my father knew that, to many a girl, it wouldn't really matter much whether she married Harry Wilbur, or any other nice convenient person; but to me—"

"Come down this street," Ethan said. "You don't want to get into that mob."

He felt himself to be in one of those positions where to turn left or right, to go forward or go back, is equally to find offence and suffering. "It doesn't matter about me; I must think of her," he said to himself. At all hazards he must not forget that the girl at his side was little more than a child. He could neither explain to her why he was bound in honor to leave her, nor must he leave her with any haunting memory of the pain this going cost him. She had turned obediently when he suggested the side-street.

"Oh, I'm certain of it"—she brought one tight-clinched hand with a quick movement to her breast—"nobody ever cared like this before. Just look at their faces."

She stopped on the corner, eying, with a kind of impersonal disdain, the people that passed up the church-steps.

[Pg 360]

"You can see from their faces they've never cared—like this."

"Come," said Ethan, nervously, "they'll wonder why we are hanging about."

"Most people are only half alive," she said, walking on; "they don't feel, they don't hear, they don't see, they don't even smell."

Ethan began to laugh almost hysterically.

"They can't turn such unexpected corners, anyhow," he said.

His laughter seemed a little to clear the atmosphere.

"You don't believe?" she inquired. "No, I suppose people wouldn't believe. But I've felt quite dizzy with joy at smelling hay after a rain. Heliotrope makes me want to laugh and sing. Violets make me feel meek and wistful; but they all do something to me. You, now, simply dislike the pungent smell of marigolds. I feel it stick into me like a kind of goad. But I oughtn't to tell anybody." She sighed.

"Why not?"

"Even you laughed."

"Forgive me, dear."

For the "dear" sake she smiled up at him, thrilling.

"Oh, I forgive you, though I don't much like the idea of having told you—even that much."

"What nonsense! You must tell me everything."

"Must I?" She moved closer to his side. "Only I should like you to have a good opinion of me—and—well, to care so much about smell, I'm afraid, is very vulgar."

"Oh, I don't think so."

"Novelists do. They are ready to tell you her hearing was 'most sensitive,' and all about his 'eagle eye,' that nothing escaped, but they are too refined to say nothing escaped the heroine's nose. Your friends the poets, too, have a very low opinion of smell. Of course, if I could always remember to call it 'fragrance,' it would be better, but I don't always mean fragrance."

"No, no," he laughed. "I admit that smell used to be[Pg 361] the poor relation of the senses, and was kept decently in the background; but over in France nous avons changé tout cela."

"Oh, well, that's all right, then."

"You aren't going to church?"

"Of course not."

"It's so ugly here. Shall we turn back and go up on the Hill?"

"No. Yes." (They could come down before the Presbyterian Church was out.) "Let's walk very fast."

They talked little on the way, but neither of them noticed the fact. They were approaching that point where nur das reine Zusammensein was interchange enough. From the Dug Road they turned into the ravine. Ethan caught her by the hand, and they scrambled breathless to the top.

"Let's rest here," he said.

Val sat down under the elder-bush that grew in the cleft of the Hill. She looked up at him smiling, and then turned away her conscious eyes. Instead of sitting down, he stood with his hands in his pockets, looking at her with a sense of vague uneasiness behind the tingling in his blood.

"I suppose you know that I ought to have taken you home after your flat refusal to go to church?"

"You aren't my master—yet."

"Yes, I am."

The blood flew to her face obedient to the call.

"Yes," she said, slowly, "you are."

He turned away, cursing his traitor tongue.

"I've imposed upon you," he said, after a moment, flinging himself down on the grass a little distance off—"imposed upon you frightfully, if I've made you believe that. I'm far enough from being even master of myself."

"Too late to try to patch it up now," she said; "the murder's out."

He studied her.

"I suppose you think you know me?"

She smiled confidently.

"You don't. I'm compounded of all the things that are most abhorrent to you."

[Pg 362]

Still she smiled. The unconscious passion in the young eyes warmed his blood like wine. He moved a little nearer to her, and the mere movement broke the spell. The physical obviousness of the action stung him into self-criticism, self-contempt; and then as he turned his face away from his cousin's magnet eyes, he fell to criticising his self-criticism. Why couldn't he take things simply, naturally, as Val did? Vain ambition! He must submit to seeing, always and always, the skeleton under the fair flesh, the end from the beginning.

"You are mistaken about me," he said. "I look out upon a world eternally different from the world you see."

"What's it like?"

"I hope you'll never quite realize."

"Oh, I shall; but I sha'n't mind."

"I might be doing you the best service in my power if I gave you a notion of how much you'd mind."

"I give you leave."

He looked into the tender, happy eyes, and, "I haven't the heart," he said. "After all, it may not be necessary for you to lower your opinion of the world. It will, perhaps, do if you merely modify your opinion of me."

"Don't you see I can't do that?"

"Oh yes, you can." He pulled himself together and sat up. "You're at bottom such a rational creature. You've only to realize I'm a dreadful fraud. I've talked about—you'd be sure to find me out some time, so I may as well make a clean breast of it—"

"It isn't anything you've ever said, that I depend upon."

"Oh, really!"

He threw back his head and laughed.

"It's partly just the look of you, but it's most of all just—just that I'm certain no one in the world is so kind and brave—"

"I brave! You poor child!"

"Yes, and kind, deep down to the core," she said, with beaming eyes. "I know it by your voice, and by the way[Pg 363] you feel everybody else's feeling. That's something like me: I feel, too, but it doesn't make me kind."

"Neither does it me. I'm a mass of deception. I put on a solemn look, and you think I'm sympathizing. I'm not: I'm actively engaged in despising the universe."

"That's because your standards are so high."

He laughed out an ironic "Exactly!"

"You make other people seem about so high." She held an out-stretched hand a few inches above the grass, dropped it, and, leaning forward upon it, said, with a quick-drawn breath: "It's been so exciting for us all here, knowing you. It's been like knowing Robert Bruce or Richard Cœur de Lion—"

"Oh, very like Richard Cœur de Lion especially."

"Just what I say, particularly when you put on that black look and your eyes burn. I know then you'd have the courage for anything!"

The whimsical amusement died out of his face.

"I told you I'd taken you in. I'm a mortal coward!"


He nodded, looking off down the ravine.

"I'm afraid of death. I'm even more afraid of life."

They were only obscure phrases in her ears.

"I know you're afraid of the dark," she said, smiling gently, "but only when I'm not there. You see—I must be there."

"Poor little cousin! Lucky for you that Fate and your father have settled that you can't be 'there.'"

"I settle things for myself," she said, hotly; "and don't call me little cousin."

"Why not?"

"It seems to cut me down to childhood. Besides"—she stood up—"I'm really very tall, and I've heard enough about being a cousin."

"You hardened optimist!" He lay on his back with his hands clasped behind his head, and looked up at the tall, slight figure of the girl. "You're actually ready to pit yourself against the laws of the universe, and expect not to[Pg 364] suffer for it. Do you know that your invincible belief that you, at least, were meant to be happy, is the most pathetic thing I've found in the world?"

"I'm not in the very least pathetic," she said, with deep indignation.

"Shouldn't wonder if it would be always like that with you," he went on, unmoved. "Stark inability to comprehend personal misfortune! Ruin will rattle about your ears—you'll believe blindly it's somehow for the best. How like life's diabolical ingenuity that just the man I am should have come across just the girl you are!"

"Thank you, most particularly. Life and I are both obliged."

"Of course, you've read that last will and testament—the one your father wrote—"

"No; haven't asked for it. Grandma hasn't mentioned it."

"Ah! She probably would if she knew—"

"You may be sure," Val interrupted, "my father doesn't think those hideous black thoughts now."

"Ah, yes, I'm sure enough of that."

"You are?"

"Oh yes—he's done with all that now."

"Then why on earth should we go on—"

"We're not dead, my dear."

"You don't mean—"

She looked at him with horror-filled eyes.

"What's the matter?"

"You—" But she couldn't bring the awful doubt to birth. That any one in her own range of experience should be heard to hint that the dead were done with thinking! Not that a mythical person in a book, but some one she knew, should be found saying calmly that he had abandoned hope of the life to come! "My father," she whispered, coming a trace nearer, "did he ever say he didn't believe in immortality? No! no! he couldn't. But did he ever tell you he wasn't sure?"

"How can any one be sure?"

[Pg 365]

"How can you bear to live if you're not sure?" she cried.

He stared at her in astonishment, forgetting Mrs. Gano's saying, "The one Christian tenet I am satisfied Val holds is the doctrine of the Resurrection."

"I thought you said your father talked quite freely to you."

The girl grasped the slender branches of the elder-bush.

"Then there are people, and I know them, who don't believe in immortality."

The world seemed to swim. As she lifted up her dazed eyes, she saw a green-clad figure lingering disconsolately along the brow of the hill. Another instant Julia and she had recognized each other.

"Not to believe in immortality!" she repeated, as though she had never heard of the idea before. "Then, for such people it's all this life—this life. They can't afford to miss anything here; it's their only chance. Do you hear, cousin Ethan? This life—this life may be all."

On an uncontrollable impulse he seized her hand to draw her down beside him.

"Julia's coming," said Val, hurriedly, and advanced to meet her friend.

"Oh, here you are!" called out the new-comer. "I didn't get to church, after all. And I've a message from my father," she said to Ethan, as he came forward. "He wants you to come to supper to-night to meet Senator Green."


When Val and Ethan got home late for dinner, they were met in the hall by Mrs. Gano.

"Lo! she comes, 'with high looks like the King of Assyria,'" Ethan quoted.

Mrs. Gano levelled an unmistakably cold stare at the culprits.

"Emmeline tells me you were not in church."

"No; we were late," said Ethan. When Val had run up-stairs to take off her things: "You must forgive me[Pg 366] this once," he added, speaking low, "for I'm going away to-morrow."


He had no word alone with his cousin till the next morning. Nothing further had been said about his going, but his trunk was packed and the carriage ordered. He found Val sitting alone in the parlor, in a corner of the sofa by the window.

"What are you doing here?" he said, shutting the door.

"Just thinking."

"Don't do that, such a bad habit."

"Oh, I'm just trying to get accustomed to realizing there are people who believe"—she spread out her hands and let them fall—"this is all."

"Don't bother about such people," he said, sitting down.

Val, usually so ready of tongue, was seized upon by silence. Ethan, too, sat speechless, struggling with the sense of keen-edged wretchedness that pressed knife-like on his heart. How was he to say good-bye? and—with a long look down the road—how was he to live afterwards? She—oh, she would console herself; she was very young. But for him ... the immense dead weight of life pressed intolerably hard. The futility of it extinguished the very sun. Presently, as they sat there so silent, Val bowed her head, hiding her face in her hands. It shot through him that some realization had come to her of the unseen forces that make of us their sport—some vision of the bitter absurdity of the pigmy human lot we make such a pother about.

The sense of a vision shared, of a common pain, merged swiftly into physical yearning. The physical yearning cried aloud for assurance that it, too, was "common." He looked down upon the bowed head and the little white nape of her neck. He noticed how out of the upturned swaths of firm-bound hair the wild love-locks were falling—locks so fine that they looked like faint wavy shadows falling over the ears.

Had she any faintest notion of the hunger in him that would not let him sleep? As he bent over her the white[Pg 367] neck was suffused with rose. Ah, she knew! The traitor blood had signalled him behind her back.

"Kiss me, dear," he whispered. Had she heard? The little ears glowed scarlet. "Dear—" He slipped his hand under her chin, and turned her face to him. The curtaining lids still hid her eyes, but the lashes quivered, and that odd little pulse in her upper lip, that was beating, too, "piteously," he said to himself. "Look at me, dear. Val, open your eyes, I say."

She did.

It was like a shaft of sunshine; the rapture of the look startled him. He would have been prepared for tears, but this cloudless joy—

Ah, she was very young!

"Kiss me, child."

He did not bend towards her. She should come to him for this last greeting that was the first as well.

The radiant face, flushing, paling, came closer. He felt the breath from out her parted lips.

But the sweetness of her nearness could not for him wipe out the fact that before them lay parting and long heartache.

"Good-bye," he said, brokenly.

She drew back before the kiss was more than inhaled.

"Good-bye!" she echoed. "No; I will never kiss you 'good-bye'" She freed herself from his prisoning arms. "Never, never, never!" She sprang up. "To get that kiss from me you must be lying dead."

And she fled out of the room.

A little later he made his farewells to the assembled household in the hall. Having kissed Emmie, he turned to Val.

She grasped his hand as she averted her white face, whispering:

"I will kiss you when you come again."

[Pg 368]


After Ethan had gone, life seemed to stand still for a long, long time. The only real events were his letters, not to Val, although she had written him the very night after he went away. His letters were all addressed to her grandmother, and yet every syllable seemed to the girl's mind to be meant for herself—to be charged with subtle meaning, intelligible to no one else.

At Christmas he wrote the two girls a single perfunctory page of cousinly greeting that arrived with his presents, a couple of Russian silver belts. But this letter was addressed to Val, and she would not open it till she was alone. Inside was an enclosure in a separate envelope:

"Dear Cousin Val,—Forgive me for not answering your letter. It would be nice of you to send me a line, now and then, to tell me how things go on at the Fort, and whether I can do anything for anybody there. I enclose cheque.

"Your affectionate cousin, Ethan Gano."

"'Cousin!' 'cousin!' forever 'cousin!'" ejaculated the girl; and she answered him the same day:

"Dear Ethan,—Thank you for the beautiful belt, but I do not forgive you for not answering my letter. Still, I will do anything in reason that you ask me if you don't ever call me cousin again."

And then followed an account of her surreptitious household expenditures. He answered early in the New Year:

"Dear Val,—I obey your mandate, and will not hereafter own you for a cousin. I believe that by strenuous wishing you could almost think yourself out of the relationship."

"I am very sure I could" [she wrote back] "if you would let me."

[Pg 369]

That letter, and several to follow, elicited nothing. She ate her heart out with humiliation and with longing, and then salved the hurt with dreams. Her best times were when she was quite alone, in the dark of the night or early in the morning. Regularly as she rose up, or lay down to sleep, she kissed the face of the little watch he had given her. Sometimes, under the spell of an old and long-abandoned habit, she would slip to her knees by the bedside. But instead of any prayer, old or new, she would fling wide her arms, crying under her breath: "How long, O Lord—how long?" Never in her blackest hour did she believe there was worse in store for her than waiting.

In a quiet way people came and went at the Fort more than ever before. Julia and Jerry, when he was home for the vacations, Ernest Halliwell, and Harry Wilbur in particular, after he had thrown up the fine position in Boston that Ethan had put in his way—they, and others, trooped in and out, carrying Val off riding, sleighing, dancing, boating. Harry Wilbur proposed to her on an average of six times a year, and took her smiling and affectionate refusal for mere postponement. It was to Val a life of waiting, but not of inaction.

Mrs. Gano, growing feebler and feebler, had allowed her eldest grand-daughter (as a special mark of favor, be it understood, and merely to "teach her how") to take the reins of household management. Yet from the royal elevation of the great four-poster, where she now spent most of her time, did Mrs. Gano rule the house as absolutely as before. Val, however, was not content to do merely the necessary, the expected. To Mrs. Gano's quiet satisfaction, the girl developed a passion for careful household government. Not only were none of Mrs. Gano's directions slighted with Val at the helm, but she bettered her instructions, discreetly not taking credit. Privately she kept expense books, learned cooking—yes, and laughed to think of her old detestation of it. With Venie's help she made cretonne covers for the furniture, and seemed to renew all things by the magic of her industrious hands, for most of[Pg 370] Ethan's money had to lie at the bank out of very fear. She brought down old lamps and ancient household gods from the attic and made "effects" with them. She did not care about gardening, any more than she cared about cooking, but she hated the neglected, weed-grown borders under the windows. So she cleared and made them blossom again, filled the house with flowers, and thought a thousand times: "If he comes to-day he will find it beautiful."

It would not be true to suppose that this quest for beauty in such a barren field was satisfying. It filled in the time. It was part of the endless satisfaction of life that the world was full of so many things to do "by the way." She had her days of fierce anger at the delays, the vagueness of the future, the fear of the new interests that must be filling Ethan's life.

After nearly a year had gone by, he answered one of her letters. She acknowledged the civility in such caustic fashion that he was piqued to reply by return of post. And so started on its uneven course that interchange of letters that was soon the greatest joy of her existence and the permanent stuff of her dreams. It gave her a feeling of having a fresh hold on him. She knew where he was now, and something of what he thought and did. Her own days were lived twice over, that he might share them, only the time she re-lived on paper was more vivid, more significant than the actual hours as they sped. Life took on such an edge in the process of being presented to Ethan that the girl wondered sometimes to find she enjoyed telling about the dance or picnic a thousand-fold more keenly than she had cared about the thing itself. At first she wrote flippantly, touching chiefly on the humors of the New Plymouth life; and when he took to sending her books, she bade him keep all the improving ones to himself. A certain English novel very much in vogue she promptly returned.

"If I want to read political economy, I've got my father's books. I like a story to be about love, and to end happily. If you think of sending me another novel,[Pg 371] remember I like plenty of orange-blossoms, not little bits of brain." But oddly enough, she had no rooted objection to reading aloud to her grandmother any non-religious book, however serious. Val found that many of these dignified tomes were not as dull as you might think; but for long she laid the credit to Mrs. Gano's door. It was an old story that that lady had a way of making things seem interesting. Val was always privately grateful, even touched, at being let off from the religious readings. Once when Mrs. Gano was recovering from an illness, Val, sitting at the bedside, was visited by a fresh sense of her growing comradeship, even her growing dependence upon that alert and sympathetic mind. In a softened mood she fell to thinking how ready her grandmother had always been to put the worked book-marks in her Church histories and doctrinal treatises, and listen to Val read biography and travel aloud, all the while letting the girl feel that she was not only adding to the "common stock of harmless pleasure," but was sparing the older eyes.

"You are very good to me," Val said, leaning her head against the "painted calico" coverlid. It made her happy to feel the long, thin hand upon her hair. She had never got over the old childish sense of its being a proud thing to receive a mark of favor at those hands.

"Shall we read?" said the girl, presently.

"If you like."

In a flush of generous feeling, she reached out and took up Literature and Dogma from the table at the bedside.

"What's that?" asked Mrs. Gano, narrowing her eyes.

Val told her.

"Oh no"—she sat up and looked round—"I sent to the library after Chevalier Bunsen for you and me."

"Let me read you this. You mustn't always think about what I like."

"Nonsense, child; Arnold's book would bore you, and you'd read it so it would bore me. Find Bunsen."

"You let Emmie read you this."

[Pg 372]

"Emmeline's different. Find Bunsen. You'll like Bunsen."

"Why do you suppose I have such a rage for biographies?" Val demanded, a shade anxiously.

"Partly because you're young."

"Emmie's younger still."

Mrs. Gano smiled and shook her head enigmatically.

"Young, and more interested in people, as yet, than in ideas."

"That has a very poor sound—like the personal column of a newspaper."

"Oh, it's natural enough. The walls of your own room tell the same story—all faces."

"Yes, but to hang up in your bedroom, what else is there?"

Mrs. Gano smiled, and then half whimsically:

"I don't say there's any special advantage in it, but I've always had a liking for the 'flower pieces' we painted in our youth, and for landscapes and marine views."

"Oh, those—"

"Exactly!" and the older woman laughed outright.

"Well, I'm sure," said Val, eager to defend herself, "cousin Ethan says that to the American, to the unjaded mind the wide world over, it is the 'life' in any picture or description that interests and fixes itself in the memory. A vast amount is said and written about St. Mark's in Venice. But in how many minds does it stand a beautiful and stately background for flights of pigeons to wheel and circle against, or to settle down before, on friendly terms with the populace? Not the glories of architecture, but the brief and gentle life of doves, makes the picture vital in the mind."

"Ah, and when did Ethan say all that?"

"When—while you were ill I had a letter from him."

"Oh, indeed!" She turned with an indescribable look and settled down among the pillows.

"Shall I get the letter and read it to you?" said Val, to her own surprise and most unwillingly, but acting under a sense of strong coercion.

[Pg 373]

"As you please," said the wily old woman. "Have a look for Bunsen, too."

Val absented herself long enough, looking for Bunsen, to adapt Ethan's letter for a grandmother's ears. It had been no love-letter even in its original form, but it unconsciously paved the way for one and more to follow. Val wrote to her cousin that night:

"I have usually read your letters to the family, and think it would be better to go on doing so. It's not that my grandmother tries to make me. When I offer to, she says, 'As you please, my dear,' but I have a horrid, uncomfortable feeling if I don't. She seems to be looking through me into the back of my spine, to see why I want to keep the letter to myself. It's funny, but when I don't show it to her she makes me think she has divined not only all there was in it that I didn't want to show her, but a great deal more. It's that I resent most. So, if you want to say something you don't want her to see (about the money, you know, and things like that), just put a tiny check opposite the stamp-corner, and I'll know there's an enclosure meant only for me."

It was these "enclosures" that worked the mischief. They were a standing invitation to say things too intimate for other eyes. Brief and discreet at first, and dealing with figures, they expanded as time went on, till they had to be written finely on foreign note, that the discrepancy between the letter's bulk when brought to the front door, and the letter as it appeared in the family circle up-stairs, should not challenge attention. Mrs. Gano's confinement to her room made the matter easy. Only the blind and unobservant Emmie ever saw the letter when it came. If it bore the significant check, it was opened alone; if not, the seal was ostentatiously broken under the vigilant eye. It was sure to be an exciting hour. Great preparations preceded: a propping up of pillows, and mending of the fire, if it were winter, that the reading and inevitable discussion might be uninterrupted; a proper arrangement of light and general careful "setting of the scene." Emmie, with soft eyes shining, sitting demurely by in the little green chair that had been hers—her father's, too, when a child—and Val close to the bedside, reading with beating[Pg 374] heart and a careful emphasis (for she was scolded else) the accounts of Ethan's varied life—accounts punctuated by comment, laughter, and sometimes by scathing disapproval.

"I'd tell him, if I were you," Mrs. Gano would say, sitting up with sudden vigor; and the opinion she would express seemed frequently too provocative and "pat" to be dispensed with. Val would unblushingly annex it, and reap her reward in Ethan's spirited rejoinder, which in turn never failed to "draw" Mrs. Gano. That lady was, perhaps, not a little diverted at playing a part in the game; conscious, too, beyond a doubt, that with a girl like Val to deal with it was probably a question of accepting the correspondence and sharing in its entertainment, or knowing that it went on without her having power to direct or color it. It was so the correspondence (all save the "enclosures") came to be family property, for Val would bring in her reply, that she might be approved for her line of argument, and that she might hear the keen enjoyment of that laugh which, unconsciously, she "played for" as much as any comedian ever did.

"I corresponded with several gentlemen when I was young," Mrs. Gano once said. "I hear the fashion is going out. It is a pity. A good letter is too good a thing for the world to lose."

Val burned with a wild desire to show the "enclosures," for they were the best of all. Her grandmother would rage, but she couldn't help appreciating them, the girl said to herself, with a mixture of terror at the thought, and of longing to make the confidence. It had come to be such a habit to share things, to "try" them against the steel of that wit and judgment, that she was conscious of an incompleteness of enjoyment in keeping any specially good thing to herself. If it were a book—"No," she would say, "I'll save this for our evenings"; and even if in a dull or mediocre page some one phrase or happy word shone out, she would fly up-stairs, and at the foot of that four-posted throne lay down the treasure-trove, getting in return a finer zest and a truer value.

[Pg 375]

If, as the time went on, Ethan had hours of feeling that his continued absence from the Fort was a piece of fantastic self-sacrifice which he would end by boarding the next train, Mrs. Gano no less was minded, more than once, to yield to her hunger for a sight of him. The thought of the little boy Ethan who had begged that the Fort might be his home, even more than the thought of the man, tugged at her heart-strings. Would she die before seeing her only grandson again? If in one of these moments Ethan had himself suggested coming, she would have welcomed him with open arms. Meanwhile she waited for the news that must be on the way—the news of his marriage.

Even in "enclosures" to her cousin, Val's only reference to that "barrier," which she would not admit, was characteristically by way of a gibe.

"We were talking the other day at the Otways'" [she wrote] "about its being rather funny to think my grandmother was my great-aunt and my father was my cousin—my mother, too, and my sister as well, all cousins. Emmie and I gathered that, according to the popular superstition, we ought by rights to have very few wits, or only one arm or a piece of a leg. Emmie and I assured each other on the way home that no reflection can be cast upon our arms and legs, but we agreed that we must take great care that we are not idiots; so you may, after all, send me a few improving books."

It was at the end of a brief visit to Cincinnati that Ethan's strongest temptation assailed him. It came in the commonplace form of a photograph in a forwarded letter from Val. Partly the picture, but, even more, something of the girl's eager spirit that had got between the lines of the letter, something unsaid, yet eloquent, of her unexpected power of holding out, took sudden hold on him, made his nerves tingle as if by a bodily contact. There she was, vivid as she had been for so many yesterdays, to-day triumphant, irresistible. He must go—he must go to her! He had been attempting more than he had strength to carry through. He flung some things into a valise and went down to the station. Train just gone—another in an[Pg 376] hour and ten minutes. He got his ticket and bought papers and magazines. In the Enquirer the report of an address before the Medical Congress caught his eye. The famous Dr. Gage had been haranguing his colleagues upon the supposed deterioration of the American race, because the birth-rate among the well-to-do classes was lamentably low, the reason being that more and more the women of these classes shrank from motherhood. In the course of his address Dr. Gage made a passing reference to his forthcoming work on Consanguineous Marriage.

In the next column, among the hotel arrivals, it appeared that the great doctor was registered at the Burnet House. Ethan took out his watch. "Why not? There's time." He jumped into the nearest carriage and drove to the hotel.

In something over an hour he returned, gave up his New Plymouth ticket, and got one for the afternoon express to New York. Nobody at the Fort ever knew how near Ethan had been to taking them by surprise.


The Otways always went away in the hot weather. The summer that Val was twenty-two, Julia and her family went to the Jersey coast for their holiday. There, at Long Branch, they found Ethan. Both he and Julia mentioned the fact in their letters, and Val tried to think the meetings as casual and unimportant as they looked on paper; but it was the hardest summer she had known.

Besides the fact that Julia was enjoying opportunities of seeing Ethan denied to Val, there was matter in her letters even more disturbing—references to Mr. Gano's constant appearance in the train of a young and wealthy widow who had a house at Long Branch. This lady, Julia wrote, was known to have been one of a party Mr. Gano had taken yachting before coming to Long Branch. Val had heard about that party from her cousin, but no mention of Mrs. Suydam. The lady was much in Val's thoughts. At last, upon an exasperated reference in one of Julia's letters to Mr. Gano's "Circe," Val wrote to him: "Tell me [Pg 377]something about this Mrs. Suydam, whom you have never once mentioned, although you see so much of her."

Ethan answered with a brief biographical sketch of the lady, carefully edited; for, in truth, Adelaide Suydam had led an eventful existence, albeit keeping her hold on society by virtue of her money and her good old Knickerbocker origin. Of other virtue she was held to have no embarrassing amount. But she was a highly accomplished person, handsome, daring, and obviously determined to make life interesting to Ethan Gano.

Her added and special attraction for him lay in his discovery that she had no design to marry him; but he was presently made aware that she meant none the less to absorb him. A little puzzled, and a good deal intrigued by her, he returned from the yachting trip very much under her spell. She had skilfully arranged the Long Branch episode for the crowning victory.

It may have been the mere act of writing about her, however discreetly—seeing her perforce through Val's eyes for a moment—that brought about the recoil. The very discretion he found himself obliged to employ convicted him, and opened wide a window on the future. A glimpse of Val through it—however distant, unattainable—brought the prospect into truer perspective for him. He saw less of the Suydam, and went to the Otways to hear about Val.

"Circe" herself, not understanding the situation, and being far too adroit to underline her temporary defeat by putting questions, believed the handsome Julia Otway was the distracting influence. She arranged an exodus to Mount Desert. A friend had lent her a house there. "Long Branch was getting stupider and vulgarer every year—it was intolerable!" She found to her dismay that Mr. Gano was not inclined to take this view. It was then she realized that she was tired, run down, even a little ill. "Would Mr. Gano take her in his yacht to Bar Harbor? He needn't stay if he really preferred Long Branch, but it would be a charity," etc. Well she knew he was the kind[Pg 378] of man to find just the appeal she made a hard one to withstand. Before he quite realized the full significance of the scheme, he had promised she should go round by sea. By the time he "understood," she had practised her arts with such success that he no longer wanted to alter the course she set. "Circe" saw herself on the point of being the captain's captain.

They were to start the next day, accompanied by Mrs. Suydam's very amenable half-sister. Ethan was going over the yacht to see that all was in readiness. Rummaging through one of the inconveniently full drawers in his cabin, he threw out on the floor a number of superfluous things to be carried away. In impatient haste he tossed out some old novels, caps, a blazer, a roll of moth-eaten bunting. "Wait a minute—isn't that—" He stooped and picked the bunting up. It unrolled—a blue flag, bearing the name "Valeria" in white letters. He stood with the end in his hand, staring at it. It had been in the bottom drawer since the day, four years before, when he had thrust it out of sight after getting that letter from Mrs. Gano: "I do not wish you to call your yacht 'Valeria.' There are plenty of other names without using that of an unmarried girl."

He remembered his old satisfaction in thinking how, under the new paint as well as in the cabin drawer, the boat still bore the forbidden name, faithful to the first allegiance. He had encouraged Val to call the yacht hers in her letters, and the habit had clung to them both. And now to-day, of all days, this blue flag comes out of hiding and goes flaunting along the floor! It was as if Val herself had walked into his cabin, to reassert her right, to keep "her" ship—that she never yet had sailed in, and most likely never would—to keep it, notwithstanding, free from profanation.

He went direct to Mrs. Suydam's. She had gone for a drive. Mrs. Ford, her sister, was also out. Only Mr. Ford was at home. Ethan found that gentleman in the billiard-room, and explained that he had a sudden need to[Pg 379] go to California—was, in point of fact, taking the night train. Mr. Ford was an experienced yachtsman; would he look after the ladies, ask whom he liked? etc. It was all arranged in ten minutes, and Ethan was on his way to the Pacific Coast before Mrs. Suydam had heard of the failure of her plan. Had it been the sudden effect of looking at the little drama through Val's eyes that had made him sicken and shrink from the dénouement? Or was he simply once again (as had happened before in that first year after parting from Val) taking flight from a temptation that would have interposed an evil memory between him and—the marriage that he had determined should never be?


For the first time in her life the New Plymouth gayeties seemed to Val insignificant, even irritating. She rejoiced that Mrs. Gano was so much better that she let Val drive her out almost daily. They were more than ever together, Emmie being absorbed by her church and charity work. One day, driving back into the town, Val was laughing delightfully at her grandmother's caustic remarks upon the "flabby philanthropy" of a certain local society. They passed some soldiers on parade, and a military band playing "Marching Through Georgia." Mrs. Gano's face changed, and, to Val's amazement, she began to weep. Her grandmother! who, since Val was a child, had said at times when other people cried and marvelled that Mrs. Gano sat dry-eyed, "My tears lie very deep, and most of them I shed before you were born!" This sudden gust of sore weeping that shook her to-day stirred the young girl's pulses with a shamed excitement, an obscure gladness. She could feel, too, then, even yet, with passion and unrestraint. But the girl looked away, and presently the shaken voice said:

"The poor old South! Did you see the ragged flag, my dear?"

"Yes, I saw. We must have made a good fight that day."

[Pg 380]

The "we" on the lips of one born after the war, who never had had her foot in the South, forged a new link. Mrs. Gano had put her hand through the girl's arm and leaned lightly against the strong young shoulder.

"One may be proof against a good many things and not be proof against a tattered flag," she said, half apologetically, and she pulled the flapping veil across her face.

The old woman and the young one had drawn together in friendship absolute. Not that Mrs. Gano developed an angelic complaisance, or Val a superstitious reverence for the head of the house. They were not merely the elder and the younger of the same race, but two human beings who, side by side for many years, had struggled with themselves and with each other, striking on the flint of character, each knowing at last exactly when the sparks would fly, and each content to feel that the fire and the flint were there.

But if Val Gano were not the most irrational of her sex, how was it she could live year in, year out, this narrow life, refusing without misgiving the only apparent ways of escape, waiting for an event that even the eye of faith might well have wearied looking for, while summer passed to autumn and winter waned to spring?

The girl believed, or made herself pretend she believed, that the longest conceivable term of her waiting was the term of Mrs. Gano's life. But the truth was even simpler. Val, unfortunately, was one of those persons who do not easily accept whatever Fate chooses to lay at their door. She was rather of those who stand ready to turn away the blind bringer of gifts with the rebuff: "I will have nothing at your hands but the thing I asked."

Vain, apparently, for Harry Wilbur, vain for the dashing new-comer, Mr. Lawrence O'Neil, to think time was working the will of each. Time was doing nothing so sensible.

[Pg 381]


One of the things nobody had been able to get Val to do any more was to sing. This had been at first set down to the death of her father, and a special association of him with music. Even Julia shared that view.

The next spring after the summer the Otways had spent at Long Branch, the three girls—Julia, Emmie, and Val—sat one chill afternoon on the hearth-rug before the fire in the blue room. With very buttery fingers they were eating the last of a great bowl of popcorn. Val, who had presided over the popping, was losing the becoming flush that occupation lent her. The years had taken from the face something of its old look of frankness and love of fun, that had been almost boyish in its simplicity. The subtler woman-look, the faint suggestion of brooding in the eyes, had matured the face and lent it meaning. Emmie was the same pretty creature, a little more fragile than before, whereas Julia was blooming and bourgeoning into a very handsome woman of somewhat majestic proportions. Instead of two, she looked five or six years older than Val's twenty-three years. The brown and choral chiné silk Julia wore this afternoon was turned away at the neck, and a lace fichu carefully drawn down over the fine bust left visible the prettiest throat in the world, as well as a little V-shaped space of fair white neck.

Emmie was tired of the talk of a party to which she was not going. It was on the night of the choir practice, and, besides, she didn't approve of dancing. She wiped her buttery fingers on her handkerchief.

"Let's go down-stairs and try our new hymn," she said, getting up.

[Pg 382]

"All right," agreed Julia.

"You two can, if you like," said Val.

"You must sing us 'Den lieben langen Tag;' I haven't heard it for years."

"Don't care about it any more." Val gathered up and crunched the hard scorched grains that had remained in the bottom of the bowl.

"Why not?"

"It's absurd to try to sing just after eating pop-corn."

"Nonsense!" said Emmie. "Grandma's reading old letters in the pack-room, so she won't hear. If you'll put away the corn popper, I'll get the key of the piano."

"It's a great pity not to keep up your music," said Julia, as Emmie went off with the empty bowl. "You'll get hopelessly rusty."

"I shall never sing a note as long as I live," said Val, "and I wish you wouldn't bother me about it before people."

Julia stared at her.

"You ought to understand without my telling you. It kills me to do it half and half. I'll forget I ever wanted to have music in my life."

"You mean, I must never ask you to sing again?"

"It's the one thing about the whole matter that hurts most. You see," Val said, with an effort to speak in a commonplace tone, "I'm not sulking about it, I'm not angry; I've simply wiped off the score."

"Dear Val, I'm so sorry!" Julia got up and put her arms about her friend. "I didn't realize— Oh, dearie, how hard it's been for you all this time, when you take it like that!"

"Like what?"

"So—so quietly, so splendidly," said Julia, vaguely.

"Oh, you needn't think I'm trying to be a heroine," said Val, a little defiantly; "it's just that I prefer not being a bungler when I know that if I'd had half a chance—" She choked suddenly, and flung herself down before the fire with her face hidden. Julia kneeled beside her, murmuring sympathy.

[Pg 383]

"I think such a lot about my aunt Valeria these days," said Val, sitting up presently and wiping her eyes. "This was her room, you know."

Julia nodded, looking round upon the walls.

"She painted these things, didn't she?"

"Yes," said Val. "Ain't they awful? It would half kill my grandmother to hear anybody say that, and yet it's her fault that they're awful. You know she wouldn't let Aunt Valeria go away and study when she was young. Sh!"

Mrs. Gano's voice was heard outside the door calling Emmie to hunt for a certain portfolio. She came in, looking through her spectacles at some papers in her hand. She was heavily shawled and wore gloves (as she did constantly now), and she had an old white Indian scarf over her head. The broché ends hung down to her knees. She looked up sharply from the yellowed papers as she came in. The two girls jumped to their feet. Mrs. Gano greeted Julia cordially.

"Do you want us to go?" asked Val. "I brought Julia in here because there was a fire."

"Certainly don't go," said Mrs. Gano. "I only came in for Valeria's little desk."

Val helped to take off the carefully made cover that fitted over it. Between the cover and the desk was something lying flat, carefully done up in tissue-paper. Mrs. Gano opened it and smiled, recognizing the scrawl on the square of card-board.

"Ah! Valeria's first attempt at a portrait of her father! She was a mere baby." The old eyes beamed through the gold-bound spectacles, tender with memory. "Her brother Ethan laughed at her, and said it was more like the pear-tree than like their father—you see what he meant." She laughed gently. "But Mr. Gano comforted Valeria, and said, 'It's quite like enough, my dear. I've no desire to have my daughter a limner.'"

"Do you know, I can never get over the idea that 'limner' is something immoral—indecent," said Val.

[Pg 384]

Mrs. Gano smiled reflectively. "Neither could your grandfather. That was the dash of Puritan in him."

"Oh, but I mean the mere word. You told us that story when we were children, and I didn't dare to ask; but I was sure it meant something horrid, like some of the words in the Bible that look quite innocent and yet mustn't be used in general conversation."

"Not at all," said Mrs. Gano, with a dignified air. "Your grandfather was merely agreeing with Dr. Johnson that portrait-painting was an improper employment for a woman. 'Public practice of any art and staring in men's faces is very indelicate in a female,'" she quoted, but she smiled again. "If your grandfather had lived, none of you would ever have had a drawing lesson. I am more liberal about these things."

Val flashed a covert look at Julia. John Gano and others had filled in the dim outlines of Valeria's life, and the things she had left behind were eloquent in a way their creator never dreamed, and would bitterly have resented. Mrs. Gano was lifting up the desk.

"Let me carry it in for you," said Val, preceding her grandmother with the little rosewood box.

As she came back Julia heard Val in the hall dismissing poor Emmie and her piano key with short shrift. She closed the door sharply, and confronted her friend with ominous eyes.

"How my grandmother can bear to be so much in that room!"

"Without a fire on a day like this?"

"Yes; but anyhow, it's horrible in there."

"I thought you used to love it when she let you in."

"Yes, when I was little, and didn't understand. It's full of dilapidated things that belonged to dead people. Ethan's father's fiddle—smashed. My father's patent lamps—none of 'em work. Our grandfather's walking-sticks, very tired-looking, leaning dejected against the wall under a faded dirty picture of the Baptist college he built—it's a Roman Catholic hospital now. And then that thing of[Pg 385] Aunt Valeria's—that's the worst of all!" She came nearer, and crouched down on the rug beside her friend.

"What do you mean?"

"A pile of what used to be modelling clay. It's quite black now, but if you see it in one particular way a face seems to look dimly at you out of the dust, and, oh! it's the sorrowfullest face I ever saw. It's the face of somebody who hadn't a chance."

"What is it like?"

"My opinion is it's Aunt Valeria's face, but sometimes—sometimes it looks like me."

Neither spoke for awhile. Val sat huddled together staring into the blaze.

"She used to lie on the rug here before the fire, too."

The girl threw back her head like one shaking off an evil dream, but her eye was suddenly arrested.

"I wonder what she thought of Mazeppa."

"Mazeppa?" echoed Julia.

"Yes." The other nodded to the iron bas-relief above the grate. "The first time I heard father talk about natural law, about lines of least resistance and all kinds of horrors (ante-natal tendencies and the rest), I used to think of Mazeppa, and feel I was being bound on the wild horse of the Past and left to the wolves. But I always knew I should escape. It troubles me when I remember that Aunt Valeria didn't. And perhaps she sat here with the same faith I have." She gave a little shiver and stood up. "No, no; of course we've been utterly different from the beginning."

"You've changed in the last two years more than anybody I ever knew."

Val turned quickly upon her friend.

"You mean, I'm getting to be like Aunt Valeria?"

"I don't know; I never saw her. But you—you are getting awfully civilized."

She laughed. Val was very grave.

"Do you remember," Julia went on, "your plan of running away to be a chorus-girl?"

[Pg 386]

"Yes"—the answer rang sharply—"and I would have done it too but that grandma needed me—" She stopped, with a face suddenly fear-stricken. "It looks as if I was growing like Aunt Valeria"—she walked up and down the room with her head caught between her two hands—"but I'm not—I'm not."

She stopped before Julia, a prey to the feeling that if she allowed Julia to think so she would be like Aunt Valeria. She had the sense of one lying in a trance: that if he does not make a superhuman effort now and protest effectively he will be buried alive. The girl glanced excitedly round the room, and felt the old presence egging her on. It was here that other Valeria had dreamed and tried to work; it was here she faced defeat—here she died, looking out at dawn to the rampart hills that had hemmed them both in beyond escape.

"Don't think I'm the very least like her. I don't want to be a sculptor or a poet, and that's not like Aunt Valeria. I'm not staying here out of respect for any silly old family traditions, nor even because my grandmother needs me. I've been pretending. I'm really staying for Ethan's sake"—her face grew crimson—"that's not like Aunt Valeria."

"For Ethan's sake!" echoed her friend.

"Yes. He made me promise. It's only for a little while I am giving up my music not because I'm growing civilized, as you imagine, but because I shall get something I want more, and that's not like Aunt Valeria. And it doesn't matter who says 'No' to what I want: I'll have it—yes, I'll have it in spite of all the angels in heaven and all the demons in hell, and that's not like Aunt Valeria!"

Julia, still sitting on the hearth-rug, had leaned forward, and was staring at Val with a curious expression. The crouched-together attitude had caused an envelope the girl had hidden in her bodice to work up to the bit of bare neck revealed by the low-folded fichu. Val fastened sharp eyes upon that part of the familiar gray-blue paper where[Pg 387] in Ethan's unmistakable hand she read as much of Julia's last name as "tway." Val's fixed stare made the other look down. Two guilty hands flew to her breast.

"Will you let me see that letter?" said Val.


"You must. I've told you my secret."

"I didn't ask you to."

Julia got up.

"There's something in it you're ashamed to show," said Val.

"Not at all."

"How long have you been corresponding with Ethan?"

"You've no right to cross-question me. I'm going home."

She moved to the door, and turned as she put her hand on the knob to say good-bye. The word died on her lips as she saw Val's face. Before Julia quite realized what was happening, the other had leaped upon her like a young panther, and was tearing away the fichu at her neck. A short struggle, and the letter was dragged out of its hiding-place. Val tore open the door and fled down-stairs, out across the back and round the wooden L, in at the side-porch, through the kitchen, crying to Jerusha, "Don't tell Julia where I am!" up the back-stairs, and into an unused room opening onto the long hall. She locked herself in, and sat down in the dim light. Every pulse in her body was thumping like a stamp-mill. She slipped onto her knees before the shrouded window, and with quivering hands took out of the crumpled envelope several sheets of thin blue Irish linen-paper closely written.

"Oh, longer than any of mine!" she wailed, in her sore heart.

But, stop! it wasn't all one letter. A little note was to apologize to "Dear Miss Julia" for not answering her two former "charming letters," and to decline with many thanks the Otways' kind invitation to come and visit them.

"The audacity! To visit them indeed!"

His excuse was the pressure of political engagements.

"She had to write two charming letters to get this."

[Pg 388]

But the postmark was the capital of the State. He was less than two hours away! The other—the long communication—lacked the first page, according to the numbering. She turned to the broken sentence at the beginning:

"... realized I was rather too notoriously a 'rich man' to stand much chance of election, but I was at least a man who could afford to be defeated, and yet go on doing his level best to serve his country. I started in, believing that the way to serve her best was by being a Republican and a Sound Money man. It was all very well to say my own private interests lay along that line; I believed the public interest did as well. But I was not satisfied to be 'run' in blinders by an agent or a committee, pledged to see nothing but party advantages, pledged to controvert opposing opinions, however sound or unforeseen. I couldn't help seeing the other side. That's my special curse, by the way, and will stand forever between me and effective action. I have been about among the working-classes and the idle poor. I took nobody's word. I investigated for myself the trades-unions, the various political and industrial organizations. I looked into Pullman patriarchal tyranny and into Carnegie despotism, and recalled the more humane, more democratic, attitude of masters to men in the effete monarchies abroad. Here, in free America, tyranny stalks naked and unashamed. The employment of politics for mere private gain, the abuse of patronage, and in business the war of extermination waged by trusts and combines—everywhere the right of moneyed might, the rich playing into the hands of the rich while pretending to serve the people—all this opened my eyes. I have just come from Ironville. The strike is not going to be settled so easily, although the suffering is appalling. The masters mean to starve the men to death; the men mean to blow the masters to atoms. This is the union I find in my native land—this the new free brotherhood of men. Sharks devouring little fishes!

"What with lawless greed on one side and lawless need on the other, the outlook frowns. The question of the future isn't silver versus gold, it isn't Republican against Democrat, nor North against South, nor East against West, but human dignity and decency against capitalist slave-drivers and despoilers of the poor. You know the spirit of fervor and of patriotism that carried me into the campaign. I tell you I'm sick with disillusionment.

"I am far more afraid of being elected than of facing defeat. I have learned that these measures I proposed in such good faith are half-measures foredoomed to failure. Give me, if you can, some good reason to believe that this great and prosperous America is not like to become the devil's drill-ground. Yours very sincerely,

"Ethan Gano."

[Pg 389]

"Well, of all the funny letters for a man to write a girl!"

Julia give him a reason! Julia setting herself up as understanding politics! To be sure, she was two years older than Val, and was always seeing her father's political friends; but that didn't account for.... It came over her how little one woman knows the side another woman turns to men. It must be immensely flattering to have a "politician" writing to her on terms of equality. Oh yes, Julia must be enormously uplifted. Val was sure of it by the heaviness that weighed her down. Julia, no doubt, had "studied up" in order to share Ethan's interests on a side that Val and other girls couldn't reach.

As she came out of her hiding-place she was concocting in her mind a letter which the servant should carry over to Julia with the confiscated correspondence.

Her excitement had died down, leaving for the moment a dead weight of wretchedness. Ethan's letters to her had seemed before so full and satisfactory, even her hungry curiosity had felt no want in them that a letter could supply. For even the love he did not put into words seemed not only implicit in every line of each "enclosure," but more subtly delicious being veiled. His letters had filled up the empty spaces in her life, seeming to carry her along step by step through his. But if there was all this besides which he cared to write to Julia, what more might there not be in a life so full and varied as his? How had she been so blind, so easily content? It was years since they had said good-bye. Wasn't nearly every novel in the world a warning against believing that men remembered long the girl who was out of sight? No doubt, what she had dimly feared had happened at Long Branch last summer—Julia had improved the shining hour.

Val went wearily down the long hall, feeling that all the zest had gone out of existence forever. She stopped to lean against the last window at the head of the back-stairs. Looking out, she saw to her surprise that Julia was sitting on the terrace under the crooked catalpa-tree. Ah, she[Pg 390] couldn't go and leave that precious letter behind! Val went down to her with angry-beating heart. The other girl, leaning back against the tree, watched with sullen eyes the slow approach. She had wrapped the torn fichu up close about her throat. Something in Julia's handsome impassivity stirred the other to a rage, more becoming had she not been the arch offender. She dropped the crumpled envelope into Julia's lap.

"I congratulate you on being able to hold up your end of such a weighty correspondence."

"Is that all you have to say after leaping at me like a wild-cat and taking what didn't belong to you?"

"Oh, you're waiting here for me to apologize?"

Julia got up slowly.

"I never thought you would do such a dishonorable thing!"

"It wasn't dishonorable. You and I were 'best friends.' I had just given you my whole confidence. You owed it to me to be as frank with me. I took what belonged to me."

"And I say that if you broke into our house and stole the silver, you couldn't be more of a thief than you are this moment."

Val stared at her speechless, and then:

"I think if you were a man I could kill you. Why do you stay here?" she said, coming a step nearer with ill-controlled fury. "We aren't expecting Ethan to-day. Why do you stay?"

Julia squared her Junoesque shoulders against the crooked tree and stood her ground.

"You can, of course, behave like a wild savage if it suits you, but I'd like to know what you mean to do."

"Do!" Val dropped her arms listless to her sides. "What is there to do?"

"Shall you tell your cousin you stole his letters?"

"No. I shall tell my cousin exactly what happened." She turned to go up to the house.

"I wouldn't, if I were you. Look here, there's no reason,[Pg 391] because our friendship's broken, that we should do more things we shall regret. You've no right because you've got hold of my secret—you've no right to pass it on to Ethan." It was an agony to hear her call him Ethan. "You mustn't tell him that I—that I carry his letters about. And I won't tell him that you—"

"Tell him what you like!"

Val went angrily up the terrace-steps; but all the same, Julia knew perfectly that she had secured herself now against Ethan's hearing what had happened. Val could, most indefensibly, tear her secret out of her keeping in the passion of the moment. But Julia had little fear that in cold blood her old friend would "give her away" to the man they both loved.

[Pg 392]


That night Mrs. Gano was prostrated by a feverish cold. The doctor was sent for, and Val carried out his instructions so faithfully that in twenty-four hours the patient was comfortably mending.

In the intervals of nursing Val had written to Ethan in pencil:

"I've got to see you. It doesn't matter that I can't ask you to the Fort, or that grandma is not to know. You must come and stay a day or two at some small town quite near here. I'll get a day off for a picnic or something, and meet you either in Blake's Woods, or at one of the steamboat landings up the river. Don't hesitate about this. I'm not a child, and I've a right to see you about a matter so important to me."

She closed without a hint as to what the matter was.

He answered by return of post, pointing out that he couldn't possibly come to see her clandestinely, for her own sake.

"For my sake! Not a bit of it. For grandma's sake. He's afraid."

The conclusion was the easier in that she was herself afraid. It was then Val remembered that Mrs. Ball, the former Jessie Hornsey, who now lived in the capital of the State, had several times asked Val to visit her. The girl went out and sent the lady a telegram. "I'm going to stay a few days with Mrs. Austin Ball," she announced with outward calm and much inward trepidation when she came home.

"You are going—" Mrs. Gano sat up in bed and stared.

"Oh, Val," remonstrated Emmie, "and grandma ill in bed!"

[Pg 393]

"That has nothing to do with it," said the invalid, shortly. "But my house is not a Family Hotel for people to come and go as they—" A sneeze spoiled the effect she was making.

"There, you've caught more cold!"

Emmie rushed across the room and brought a shawl. Val wanted to help put it round her. Mrs. Gano waved her off, took the shawl herself, and with some premonition, perhaps, of a coming crisis, said:

"What does this mean?"

"It means that at last I want to accept one of Mrs. Ball's dozen invitations. The doctor says you're better. You could telegraph me if—"

"That's all very well, but in this house it is customary—"

"Yes, yes, dearest; I know it's customary to ask leave, and I do ask it. But you must let me go. I—I never go anywhere, I never do anything; all my life is slipping away, just as Aunt Valeria's did."

The old woman looked into the young face and read the signs there misguidedly enough to say:

"Well, well, we can't very well afford it, but perhaps a little change—"

"I'll make it up, you'll see."

No later than that same afternoon the girl was on her way. She had given Ethan no warning—did not even know if she would find him still at the hotel from which he had written to Julia; but she drove straight to the Wharton House, learned that he was in, and sent up word that a lady wanted to see him.

While she sat there, oblivious of the expensive ugliness of the empty hotel parlor, the thought of seeing Ethan after all these years did not shut out the haunting remembrance of her grandmother. If that scorner of deceptions could see her now! If she ever came to know that Val, whom she trusted, had acted this complicated lie in order, most unmaiden-like, to beg a stolen interview with a man! She cringed at the thought of the old woman's high unsparing scorn. "Why do I always think of her! Other girls[Pg 394] don't take even their fathers and mothers so seriously. They aren't haunted by them." She hunched her shoulders with discomfiture. Why didn't Ethan come? What would her grandmother say? It would be distinctly awful to be despised by her. Should she save her reputation by running away without seeing Ethan? It seemed a sudden blessed way of escape from domestic degradation. She half rose, staring absently at the sofa pattern. Suddenly the perplexed eyes widened; the vague design of the satin damask had wrought itself into her brain. Out of the scrolls and arabesques a face seemed staring at her. With a twist of pain she recognized it—that sorrowfullest of all faces—that face of some one who never had a chance. The poor dim ghost that had been shut up so long in Aunt Valeria's dusty heap of clay, that had appeared to Val like a shadowy face at a prison grating—it had escaped at last: it was here!

As she sank back in the corner, the old tide of revolt rose high within her; but the flood to-day was chill with fear of failure, and bitter with the memory of those others who had been overwhelmed. Val had herself given up all "chances" for this one that she was reaching out for to-day. She was here to put that one to proof, and— Ethan was at the door! In that first instant of his non-recognition her heart turned sick, so cold he looked, and so remote, forbidding even. She got up and came forward.

Ethan cried out in astonishment, throwing down his hat:

"You! No, not really!"


He took both her hands, and looked into her face. Had she really thought him cold? Turning, he glanced about the room, as if to assure himself they were alone. She disengaged her hands.

"Come out and walk; I don't like it here," she said.

He looked at her reflectively, and yet with a kind of smouldering excitement.

"We'll get a victoria, and drive out to the country."[Pg 395] He led the way down-stairs. "But how on earth have you managed it?" he said.

"I didn't manage, I just came."

"Grandmamma is with you?"

"Oh no."

"Who, then?"


"She hasn't let you come alone?"

He stopped.

"Oh, it's all right," she said, a little impatiently. "I've come to visit an old school-friend."

They chose one of the carriages in front of the hotel, and drove rapidly out of town.

She shrank back into her corner, feeling his eyes too keen upon her; but when by chance she encountered them, she would have been less than woman if she had not been reassured by the admiration in their kindling depths.

"I suppose I'm changed too," he said, smiling.

"Y-yes; you're a little more alarming than you used to be."

"Oh, really!" he laughed.

"I suppose the change in me is a different one?"

He nodded.

"You've kept your word."

"My word?"

"Don't you remember telling me that I was rather good-looking at that time, but the difference between us was that you'd improve and that I'd grow repellent and plain if I wasn't very careful?"

"I never said such a—"

"Oh yes. You used to be a wise child. Are you a wise woman?"

"Not enough to hurt," she said, with a little grimace.

He asked about Mrs. Gano and Emmie, and the bedridden An' Jerusha. The year before, Venus had married the mulatto postman, and Val, at Ethan's suggestion, had bought them a cottage, where they all lived very happily. Val told him of the advent of the twins.

[Pg 396]

"What are you doing here?" she inquired, presently.

"Political business."

"I suppose you think I wouldn't understand that."

"I think it would probably bore you."

"Why bore me more than any other girls?"

"I didn't say so. But most young ladies of your age—"

"I'll soon be twenty-three; Julia is only twenty-four."

She could have bit her tongue out for her maladroitness.

"Julia? Ah, how is Julia?"

"This is pretty; let us stop here."

"All right. Driver, just pull up in that shade and wait for us."

They walked across the field, to a clump of trees by the Virginia rail-fence that separated them from the large market-garden on the other side.

"Now that I've come all this way," Val said, leaning against one of the elms, with her hands loosely clasped in front of her, "I want to run home and leave things to chance."

He made no answer. She glanced up to find him looking at her with an intentness that confused her. She turned away, sat down, and took off her hat. Her hair was loose; she pinned it up as well as she could, but her hands felt unskilful, helpless. She could not free herself from the sense of those deep eyes arraigning, caressing, compelling her. She looked up with a fluttering smile.

"Sit down, and don't stare."

He only leaned back against the opposite elm.

"Yes, there's some other change in you besides the growing prettier. What's happened?"

In the hypersensitized state of her nerves the question hurt keenly. That they should not have met for all this time, and he ask that! It was all she could do to keep the tears out of her lowered eyes.

"Come," he urged, "is some of the gilt worn off your particular piece of gingerbread?"

"No," she said, with recovered firmness; "I've not come to complain. I've only come to be helped to understand."

[Pg 397]

"Ah, life has pricked you, I see that—and"—he smiled faintly—"you don't understand."

"Yes," she said—the voice was not quite so steady—"I've got hurt. If I'd sat quiet, I wouldn't have bumped myself against sharp corners. But I shall not sit quiet."

"Oh no, you may be depended on for that."

"But I have sat quiet, you know, for years. That's done with, now."

He shifted his position uneasily.

"I don't want any longer to be always fortunate, always happy. I want to know about life. I want to understand."

Still he said nothing.

"It's a kind of death not to understand," she said.

"And has some of Death's peace to recommend it. But let's come to Hecuba. What do you want to understand?"

"It—is so—hard for me to say."

"Harder than not understanding?"

"No. I—want to know—if you have any objection to releasing me from my promise?"

"What promise?"

She put her hands up, quickly, to hide her convulsed face. He had forgotten!

"If you don't remember, that's release enough," she said, getting up.

He came forward and put his hand on her arm.

"You don't mean that about your going away from home?"

She nodded her averted head.

"Certainly I won't release you from that promise."

"Why not?" She turned swiftly on him. "What is it to you?"

"It's a great deal to me."

"Well, it's more to me. I've come to say I take my promise back."

He bent down to her.

"You didn't come to say that, Val."

Her wet eyes fell before his softened looks.

[Pg 398]

"I—I can't say just what I came to say."

"Why not?"

"You're gone so far from me."

"No, I haven't, dear." The dark face was close to hers. "I've tried, perhaps, but I haven't succeeded. Val—"

He drew her suddenly into his arms. She resisted a moment, and then, with a little cry of self-abandonment, she hid her face on his breast. They stood so till, with an infinitely tender movement, he turned the lithe body over into the hollow of his arm, and kissed the upturned face. She broke away trembling.

"Now I can ask you what I came to ask. Have you been caring about some one else more than you've been caring about me?"

"What in the world put that into your head?"

"You have—you have!" she said, getting white.

"But I have not."

"You like writing to others more than you do to me."

"I don't, indeed. It bores me horribly to write to other people."

"Why do you do it, then?"

"Oh, you're thinking of the letters I write Otway."


"Hezekiah Otway. You see, he's chairman of our—"

She darted forward and seized his hands, laughing and holding them to her breast as she looked up, radiant, into his face.

"Now we'll drive into town, if you please."

They went back to the carriage, and Val talked gayly about the Fort and the people Ethan had known when he was in New Plymouth.

"Where shall we meet to-morrow?" she said, when they were again in the town.

"Where does your Mrs. Ball live?"

"In the Chestnutville suburb. But that's no good."

"No good?"

"No; I've told you she's Miss Jessie Hornsey."

"Is that fatal?"

[Pg 399]

"Well, she'll want to do all the talking. You can come there of course, but it won't be seeing you."

He considered.

"How long shall you stay?"

"Mustn't be more than three or four days."

He crossed swords with his conscience and still considered.

"You must come in the morning and take me boating," she said.

He laughed.

"Oh, adorable directness! How it simplifies all things! Boating be it."

"We must go quickly to the station for my things; the train I'm due by is just in."

After getting her trunks and travelling-bag, they said good-bye, and Val drove alone to West Walnut Street.

Mrs. Ball received the girl warmly, and with apologies at having only just come in and found her message.

"I'm simply delighted to have got you at last. I only hope you won't find it dull. If you'd given me a little longer notice, I would have had some parties planned, and got Harry Wilbur to come. How is my handsome cousin?"

"Oh, he's all right; and dear Mrs. Ball"—the girl sat down on a stool and crossed her arms on her hostess's knee—"the fact is, I've come on some private business. I haven't time for parties. If you want to be an angel to me, just let me go and come as I please, for the two or three days I'm here."

"Days? Make it two or three weeks, my dear. You know you've always been an immense favorite of mine; my husband likes you, too. He said when we visited my mother's last year that you were the most charming girl in New Plymouth. Now it's settled, and I think I heard Austin come in." She kissed Val on both cheeks, and went down-stairs to confide to Mr. Ball that "the most charming girl" was not in New Plymouth, but under his roof, and was evidently up to some mischief, and what ought they to do?

[Pg 400]

"Play dominos!" Mr. Ball's childish old father suggested vacantly.

That favorite pastime meant to him shuffling the dominos aimlessly about the table, and in his more lucid intervals rising to the height of matching them.

"Yes, paw." The good Mrs. Ball emptied the dominos out of the box and set the old man to turning them face downwards. He went to sleep before the task was done.

"Oh!" ejaculated Mrs. Ball, suddenly catching sight of something in the evening paper her husband was unfolding.

"What?" She pointed to a paragraph announcing the meeting of the Sound Money men at the Central Hall. Chairman, Mr. Hezekiah Otway. Debate to be opened by Mr. Ethan Gano, etc.

"That's why she's come."

"Oh, think so?"

"Sure of it." The round good-natured face grew grave. "Husband, I think I ought to put Harry Wilbur on his guard."

"Don't you meddle with outsiders' affairs," said husband.

"My dear, Val Gano's as good as engaged to my cousin. Harry was very confidential with me the last time he was here. This Ethan Gano was at one time the barrier. Such a fascinating creature," she sighed. "Not a marrying man, and most dangerous. He sha'n't come between them again."

"You can't interfere if—"

"I can wire my cousin to come and make us a visit, and I will." She bustled out.

While Val was in her first beauty sleep, Harry Wilbur arrived.

[Pg 401]


The morning was warm and balmy. Val put on her blue muslin gown, thinking rebelliously how Ethan had once said that a serge coat, and skirt, and sailor hat were the proper "togs" for the river.

"Togs" was a proper ugly word for such garments. No stiff tailor-made things for Val! "He said I'd grown prettier," she thought, gayly, as she took a last look in the glass. But it was the thousandth time she had quoted the comfortable assurance to her happy heart.

She met the unexpected Harry at breakfast with such apparent cordiality that Mrs. Ball was slightly perplexed, even slightly disappointed.

"Now, what are we going to do to-day?" asked the hostess, in the middle of the meal. "It's such a comfort, Harry, that you happen along at just this moment. A man is so useful in helping to arrange things; and Austin, of course, is too busy." Austin was already at the office.

"I've just had a note from my cousin, Ethan Gano." Val put her hand on an envelope that lay, address downward, on the cloth. "He's at the Wharton House. He'll be here at ten to take me for a row." It had given her acute discomfort to make the announcement, and the look on the two faces opposite did not restore her equanimity.

After an expressive little silence, Mrs. Ball said:

"Yes, it'll be nice on the river to-day. We can all go. I'll see about a luncheon-basket;" and she rang the bell.

Thereafter the conversation flagged. At ten o'clock Ethan duly appeared, spotless in boating flannels and white shoes. There is no more becoming garb for the modern man. Val forgot her discomfiture a moment, looking at[Pg 402] him. Mrs. Ball compared her cousin's "business suit" unfavorably with the new-comer's elegance, and promptly set down Gano's grace to his clothes.

Val had been afraid her cousin would be uncomfortably restive under the infliction of the extra couple. Before long she was resenting his too amiable acceptance of the addition to the party. They drove down to the river in the Balls' carryall, Harry and Val in front with the basket, Mrs. Ball and Ethan behind. Gano was laughing and talking with an unusually gracious air. Was Val to believe that under that charming exterior he was burning with the dull rage that kept her silent and distraite? His unwonted gayety looked suspiciously like relief.

When they got down to the landing it was found that Ethan had already provided the boat and the hamper. But Val told herself that was not the reason that he, as it were, took command of the little expedition. He would always do that. Other people found it as natural as he did himself. Mrs. Ball was to sit in the stern, "and, Val, you take the tiller." When they had pulled a few yards up-stream Ethan shipped his oars, stood up, and slipped off his white flannel coat and waistcoat.

"Will you keep my watch?"

Val nodded. How warm it felt! She put it in her bosom. No movement of her cousin's was lost upon the girl, though her eyes never rested on him. There had sprung up between them again that old, alert physical consciousness that is like a sixth sense.

That the genial, broad-chested Wilbur should appear to advantage out-of-doors was a matter of course. Val had told him once that he was like a great Newfoundland dog—"too big for the house." But the impression made by Gano's skill in open-air pursuits was partly due to a sense of surprise on the part of the on-lookers that this fine-limbed, small-handed, slender-footed creature should be as strong, apparently, as the obvious athlete.

Mrs. Ball talked incessantly about people in society—about her plan for "going to Europe" when Austin should[Pg 403] have a holiday; about any and every thing she poured out an unfaltering stream.

During luncheon Val, in sheer desperation, began to show some consciousness of Harry Wilbur's existence. Finding that Ethan seemed not to notice, she redoubled her friendliness and gayety. At last, "Let's go for a walk—you and me," she said, jumping up and going towards the dogwood thicket.

Harry, nothing loath, strode after her. Mrs. Ball felt herself a diplomatist, and began to relax under Mr. Gano's unruffled courtesy. The little match-maker did not know that Val's high spirits went down like foam in a champagne-glass as soon as she was beyond the reach of her cousin's eyes. But she came back smiling and trailing great branches of white dogwood over her shoulder and down her sky-blue gown. She felt it must be pretty, but she got no assurance that Ethan caught the effect. Harry's ingenuous compliments only heightened her hidden wretchedness. The day was a dreary disappointment to the girl. Ethan's apparent satisfaction in it was the most disturbing element of all. Only once did she have a word with him alone, and then not by his arrangement. She left Mrs. Ball and Harry repacking their basket, of which almost nothing had been used, and ran down the bank to help Ethan to put the cushions back in the boat.

"I suppose Julia told you her father was coming up to-morrow night?"

"No. What for?"

"He's chairman of our committee."

"Don't say anything about my being here."



"All right. I wish he weren't coming, though."

"Why?" said the girl, preparing to hear her own views set forth.

"Well, you see, the trouble is, old Otway is getting very deaf; he's not really fit for public business any more, and nobody has the courage to tell him. Isn't it appalling the[Pg 404] way people cling to things—to the things, too, that we're all forewarned will be taken from us if we stay here long enough?"

She looked at him with a fresh sense of curiosity and wonderment. What a strange new note he put into life! Yet those others laughed and jested with him, and thought him one of themselves.

He took off his jacket again.

"I'll take care of that." She began to fold it. "What's in the pocket?" She put her hand in with a thrill of joy at her audacity, and brought out an old duodecimo of battered calf-skin. "Why, I remember this: it's one of those little volumes that you brought from Paris."

"Did I have it with me—"

"Yes. Have you gone on carrying it about ever since you first came to the Fort?"

"I hadn't seen it for years till the other day. I can't think how it got among my things."

"You've marked it up frightfully. Grandma would scold you if she saw that."

"The book marked me, why shouldn't I mark the book?"

"What does it say here?"

He shook his head.

"Please tell me."

"I thought you had studied Latin."

"Y—yes; I know what the words mean, but I don't know what the sentences mean. Do translate this little bit."

"Nonsense! I might as well have it in English at once."

"You don't like people to know what you read?"

"I don't like people to read what I mark."

"Why not?"

"It's like leaving your diary open. Why should people—"

"I'm not 'people.' Mayn't I know this tiny bit?—'Meditare utrum commodius sit, vel mortem transire ad nos vel nos ad eam.' What's that?"

Ethan only smiled.

"You never gave me back my watch."

[Pg 405]

"I forgot. No; I can't think why I tell such lies. I didn't forget at all. Oh, here comes Mrs. Ball," she said, with an accent of despair, "and we've not said a word about—"

"Bother Mrs. Ball!" Ethan ejaculated under his breath; and his cousin blessed him.

Val's hostess hurried down the bank, and Ethan handed her into the boat. Harry was left to cope with the basket.

"Now, what are you two arranging for to-morrow?" said the lady, settling herself in the boat.

"We weren't arranging," replied Val; "we were speaking about a book."

She had put the volume back in the pocket of Ethan's jacket.

"There's a dance at the O'Connors' to-morrow night," said Mrs. Ball; "perhaps you'd like to come with us."

She saw herself entering on Mr. Gano's arm.

"Ah, thanks; you're very kind, but I don't go to dances these days."

Mrs. Ball tried to think she was relieved on Val's account, but she couldn't help saying, with an air:

"The O'Connors are among the first people here; they entertain in the most princely way."

"I was suggesting a day's fishing down by the Gray Pool," said Harry, appearing with the basket; "it's that place on the Little Choctaw River."

"Nothing could be better," Ethan agreed.

And then he stopped, having caught Val's unenthusiastic glance. Another day to be lived through, cooped up in a boat, she was thinking; or pursued, at all events, by two superfluous people.

"Yes," said Mrs. Ball, "the scenery on the Little Choctaw is very wild and splendid. A cousin of mine—you know, Harry, cousin Bettie MacFadden—she says it's just like some place abroad—in Scotland, I think."

"Oh, really," said Ethan, in his charming way, "I must see that, but we might go fishing on a dull day. If it's as fine as this to-morrow, why not— Don't I remember"[Pg 406]—he turned to Mrs. Ball—"that you're a very good horsewoman?"


"They were telling me at the hotel you have a ride hereabouts out to some wild park."

"Yes; he means Forest Park Lodge," said Wilbur.

"Let us go there," said Ethan, "and I'll wire them to have luncheon ready."

It was all arranged before they parted, Mrs. Ball salving any prick of conscience by assuring herself it was far better not to seem afraid of this masterful Mr. Gano, with his reputation for being dangerous. It was right, and even politic, not to "leave him out." All that was necessary was that she, Mrs. Ball, should "be there."

"I don't ask you to come back with us to-night," she said, on their return to town. "We have time only to snatch a mouthful before going to a concert."

Mrs. Ball had a sense of playing up with grace and distinction to some imaginary standard of life abroad. "He will find me much more like the ladies he knows in London and Paris than most people about here."


Val had told herself that Ethan had invented the ride so that they should be freer; they would get ahead of the others, or fall behind, and have some time to themselves. But Mrs. Ball started off next morning with Mr. Gano, and ruthlessly rode beside him all the way. Val alternately raged in her heart, and forgot how sore it was, watching one of those two on in front. How well he sat his horse! But so did Harry. What was it in Ethan that distinguished him so from other men, and set him for ever apart? She tried to give it a name while Harry's small-talk trickled vaguely through her brain.

They stopped to lunch, and put up the horses at the Forest Park Lodge.

While they were dismounting, a buggy dashed up with a man and a girl in it. The miserable old mare had been driven to death, and was covered with sweat and foam.

[Pg 407]

"Brute!" said Ethan under his breath, glowering at the man, who threw the reins round the whip, and helped his companion out.

"Pretty sort of girl to let him drive like that," was Val's comment, as the couple went towards the hotel.

"Never saw so much of a beast's ribs before without the trouble of taking off his skin," said Wilbur.

"My goodness!" added Mrs. Ball, "that's not a horse; it's a plate-rack."

"Look here," said Ethan to the man who was leading their horses to the stables, "you're going to rub this other beast down, I suppose, and—"

"Never have no sich orders from Mr. Joicey," said the man. "That's Joicey." He jerked his thumb after the two figures. "Comes here a lot. Mare looks wuss'n she is. D'ye know that there nag is Blue Grass?"

"Not the filly that won—"

"Yes, siree bob; won a pile fur Joicey's father. Goes like hell even yet."

"Give her a rub down and a feed, and say nothing about it," said Gano, transferring something from his pocket to the man's hand. "For the sake of battles long ago," he added to his companions, seeming to apologize.

As they walked up to the hotel Mrs. Ball ran on volubly about the ill-treatment of animals.

"I like to remember some magnificent thoroughbreds I saw the last time I was in Holland," Ethan said in the first pause. "I fell in with their owner afterwards, a certain Monsieur Oscar."

"That the fellow that trains horses?" asked Wilbur.

"Yes, founder of the Continental Cirque. He'd been all over the world, and was giving his last performance while I was at Scheveningen. When I came across him afterwards, he had sold all the animals and properties of his great show. 'All,' he said, 'except my eight favorite horses.' I asked if he was going to keep them. 'No,' he said; 'I shot them after my last performance. I might have sold them well, but I thought perhaps they might[Pg 408] come down in the world, and end by going between shafts. No, I cared about 'em, so I shot 'em.'"

"Oh, how could he have the heart!" Mrs. Ball was shocked.

"You should have seen the fellow's face! He had cared. I couldn't help thinking what a lot of room there was in the world for that kind of caring."

"Gracious no, it's too brutal! He should have given them to people who would appreciate them."

"As Mr. Joicey does Blue Grass? You've heard of General Boulanger's celebrated black charger—he's a cabhorse now in Paris. Marshal Canrobert's splendid animal is in the Pasteur Institute at Garches, where it is used for the production of serum. Saint-Claude, too, the winner of the Grand Steeplechase at Auteuil in '90, he's there being experimented upon. No, dear Mrs. Ball, there seems to be just one safe asylum for horses as for men. Hello, there! did you get my telegram?" he called out briskly to the hotel-keeper. "Gano—luncheon for four."

In a moment he seemed to have the entire staff of the place bustling about him, waiters throwing open the windows at his complaint of closeness, putting fresh flowers on the table laid for the partie carrée, deaf to the appeals of the few other people in the big dining-room, the landlord praying Mr. Gano to remember that he was nearly half an hour before the time.

"Do they know him?" Mrs. Ball whispered to Wilbur.

"Must; or why should they take all this trouble?"

Val smiled to herself, believing it superfluous to dive into her cousin's pocket for the reason; it was there in his face, in his air. It was so, she told herself, that princes walked the world, barriers going down before them, and people vying to do them unasked service. Yes, it was not for nothing she had dreamed about the prince.

The luncheon was a distinct success. It soon became evident that Ethan was making great headway with Mrs. Ball. Her vivacity, and his unwonted responsiveness, had kept the ball rolling merrily. Was he making himself so[Pg 409] agreeable, Val began to wonder, that he might be surer of a welcome in West Walnut Street? "Jessie Ball is bent on impressing Ethan," thought the pitiless young observer. "She's growing quite affected"; and she watched her hostess coldly. It seemed to Val a part of Mrs. Ball's desire to play up to some imagined standard of extra punctilio that led her, towards the end of the meal, to pass her purse to Harry under the table, while Ethan wasn't looking, forming with her lips the words "I'm hostess." Val's sense of embarrassment was acute. Ethan wouldn't like it, after ordering things himself. Val knew, too, that if her cousin had not been a rich man, Mrs. Ball's breeding would have appeared better. She would not have troubled about the bill.

Ethan's later amazement when he called for the account, that there should be a discussion as to who should pay for the repast he had ordered, made Val want to get under the table. By so much was she relieved at his giving way before Mrs. Ball's shrill insistence.

"Oh, very well, if it pleases you better so." He jumped up to cut the discussion short. "Send it out after us. And when will you have the horses—in half an hour?"

Mrs. Ball was uncomfortably conscious that her fine straw-colored hair had come out of curl in the wind, there, under the trees. With the indomitable spirit of woman in pursuit of beauty, she was determined to borrow the chambermaid's tongs, and restore the fuzziness with which she had started forth. It was essential, therefore, that she should take time as well as herself by the forelock. She hurried Val up-stairs.

"What a fascinating man!" she said, with a sigh, as she stood before the glass. "Val, dear, I hope you won't lose your heart to Mr. Gano."

"Oh, I've got past that," said the girl, with a misleading air of frankness.

"Well, I'm relieved to hear you say so. There's something about him very magnetic to my way of thinking—positively irresistible." She sighed again. "But he'd make a shocking bad husband, that's one comfort."

[Pg 410]

"Comfort!" Val laughed a little hysterically.

"Well, now, what have I said?"

But Val was hatted and gloved, and ran down-stairs. Ethan was smoking in the porch.

"Where are those funny friends of yours?" he said.

She was up in arms at once.

"You always say my friends are funny."

"And so they are, dear child."

"They're not a bit funnier than my relations."

"Oh, they don't compare."

"How long before the horses will be ready?" said Val, loftily, as one who chafes at a delay, making meanwhile a rapid calculation as to how long Mrs. Ball's work of restoration might be counted on to keep her up-stairs.

"They'll be here presently," said Ethan, throwing away his cigarette.

"Let's go and see." Val led the way round to the back of the hotel. "My friends are perfectly delightful, but I don't mean to let them monopolize every minute of our time."

He looked at her with an odd expression, and then turned away his face. Her heart gave a great leap. They went on to the stable. Wilbur was there. The buckle on Gano's saddle-girth, he said, had got bent. While it was being taken off Ethan moved about, looking in sheds and open doors.

"What are you hunting for?" Val called after him.

"A place for you to sit down. They'll be some minutes repairing that thing."

"You'd better go back to the house," said Wilbur, who was showing the man how to get the metal straight without breaking the tongue of the buckle.

"No," said Val; "I shall go in there, and up those cobwebby stairs, and sit on the hay by the door that opens into mid-air."

As she walked towards the barn-door it seemed to her that her whole existence depended upon whether Ethan followed her.

[Pg 411]

At the door she turned, and saw him looking after her. Then she went in. Was he coming? oh, was he, was he? She began to mount the stair, but her heart seemed to stay down there on the bottom step. She wouldn't look back again, but there was no sound, no sign. It was not overwhelmingly important to him to see her alone. She felt the hot tears stinging her eyes. Then the sunshine that streamed into the musty place through the open half of the double door—suddenly it was darkened. She knew it was Ethan on the threshold. He came after her up the narrow seed-strewn stair, that had no banister.

"Don't walk so near the edge," he said, and he came on the outside, pushing her a little towards the inner wall.

They went up side by side, the girl quite silenced by the sense of his nearness. She half held her breath, expecting every second he would say something—something that for her would be momentous. When they had reached the loft, and he had not opened his lips, a disappointment swept over her so acute it was almost humiliation. She waded heavily through the hay to the open door, that looked out on the horses and the group below.

"I can't think what I am to say about this visit, when I get home," she said. "It seems as impossible to tell them I've been seeing you as it does not to say so."

"When must you go?"

He accepted it, then. No crying out against her going, but merely "when." She turned away from the open door, where she could see Mrs. Ball just arrived on the scene making her a sign, and she steadied herself an instant with her hand against the wall in the shadow. The close smell of the hay choked her. Was it like this people felt before fainting? "Oh, why did I come?" she heard herself saying. And then, instead of losing consciousness, an electric sense of life and joy spread through all her body. Ethan's fingers had closed about her hand that had hung so limp at her side. There must have been some virtue in him, for at the touch she was whole again.

"Don't be sorry you came," he said.

[Pg 412]

"Mustn't I?"

She tried to subdue her gladness.

"No; even though parting is more than I have courage to face."

She waited an instant for what was to follow, and then, "What? I—I didn't hear what you said."

"But there are some things," he went on, "that we must do without courage."

"Ethan"—she turned and faced him with a kind of fierceness like a creature at bay—"if you find you can do that, it will be because you don't care much."

"Don't care!"—his face came closer, his voice was so shaken out of its even cadences it sounded like a stranger's—"don't care! Do you know that I never in all my life knew what caring meant till I knew you? Do you know that I'd give everything I have on earth, and every other hope of happiness, just to be able to believe there is no barrier between you and me?"

He stopped. Val's heart was too full to speak on the instant. In the silence Wilbur's voice rang out clear at the bottom of the stairs:

"I say, Val, aren't you ever coming?"


Mrs. Ball asked Ethan to come in after their ride and have a cup of tea. He thanked her, and seemed to accept. They all went into the dim parlor, and when Mrs. Ball had drawn up the blinds old Mr. Ball was discovered asleep in the arm-chair. He woke at the noise, and blinked feebly.

"Why, paw," said Mrs. Ball, "how did you get in here?"

The old man grunted.

"You've dropped your knitting," said Val, stooping and picking up a strip of gray wool-work with needles sticking in it.

He took it, and began feebly moving his rheumatic hands, while Mrs. Ball bustled about making the tea and sending the maid-servant in and out. Ethan turned his back, and looked out of the window. Val suddenly felt[Pg 413] the repulsiveness of the old man as she had never felt it before. She saw that Ethan had taken out his watch.

"It isn't possible it's nearly five o'clock!" he said, as though that were an unheard-of hour for tea. "I'm sorry, but I must get back to my hotel," and almost before Mrs. Ball knew where she was, he had shaken hands and was gone.

[Pg 414]


"Grandma is not so well to-day," said Emmie's letter the next morning. "I think you oughtn't to be away long. She is surprised to have only a 'safe arrival' telegram from you and no letter. She says she doesn't count the post-card. But she does, and I think you'd better not send her another."

Val read it out at breakfast.

"Well, you just write and tell them I'm giving a Pink Luncheon for you to-morrow, and that there are two more dances next week. You can't possibly go till a week from Saturday."

"But perhaps, if grandma really isn't so well, I oughtn't to stay quite so long."

"My dear girl, she's been 'not so well' since before I was born."


The Pink Luncheon was a huge success. The fame of its pinkness—of Mrs. Ball's "perfectly fascinating" visitor, and that visitor's perfectly adorable cousin, Mr. Gano—were long discussed among Mrs. Ball's "first people." The ungrateful guest alone was not content.

"Miss White has just asked Will Austin," Harry whispered to her as they were leaving the table, "if I'm the man you're going to marry."

His laughing eyes left her in no doubt as to the audacious answer he had given. She glanced across at Ethan. He was lingering a moment with his neighbor, Baby Whittaker, while they ate a philopena, smiling and talking for all the world as if— But, after all, what did it matter? Since the moment when Ethan had said that about his "caring,"[Pg 415] she had lived in a cloudy rapture. Nothing but a blessed happiness was clearly defined, not even the wish to define. For a time Ethan's confession was all-sufficient. She had borne with his absence and his engagements with Mr. Otway, as she bore now with his polite pretence that Miss Whittaker really existed. Val endured the inconclusive hours with a patience that would have been more surprising had it been patience at all, and not sheer absorption in the unreasoning joy of living over that moment, which she felt had justified her coming, even if it presaged no easy issue. She had determined to stay at least a week longer. A week was a lifetime; a thousand things could happen in a week.

Dimly in the background of her mind she was feeling her way to a conclusion that, if all else failed, should beyond peradventure break down this nightmare barrier. But she did not even subconsciously face the extremity.

They had all been going to ride out to Miss Baby Whittaker's in the afternoon.

Val was no friend to the plan, but too much had been said of Baby Whittaker's conquest of Ethan the day before at the Pink Luncheon for her to venture an objection. When the discreet Saturday brought with it floods of rain, Val's heart went out in gratitude.

During the little lull in the downpour, about two o'clock, Ethan had ridden over, whereupon the Ball household smiled covertly at his eagerness to go to Baby Whittaker's. But it was no use, the roads were already very bad, and down came the torrent again. It was just as well, perhaps, as Mrs. Ball wouldn't, in any case, be able to go. Old father Ball had had a seizure of some sort in the morning, and Mrs. Ball hung over him solicitously, fearing another.

Val's chief concern was lest, when Ethan saw the dropped jaw and leaden eyes, he should turn and flee. "Why did they keep their old and sick in the parlor?" thought the girl, angrily.

Suddenly Mrs. Ball gave a scream. "Harry, help me to take him into his room!"

[Pg 416]

He was struggling. Ethan went forward, and he and Harry carried the old man out.

"Is he dead?" asked the girl, when Ethan came back.

"No, he's not in luck this time, I'm afraid. I've lent Harry my horse to go for the doctor. The doctor!" He gave a little dry laugh.

They stood at the window, looking out.

Surreptitiously she glanced at him.

"Oh, you wouldn't look so grave if you knew what I know," she thought to herself. "I feel it's coming all right for us. It must, it must! But I dare not say so yet;" and with her sense of superior knowledge, of being in the councils of the gods, her spirits rose.

"How can you bear to be in the house with that awful old man?" Ethan was saying.

"Oh, he's not often like this. Isn't it wonderful," she remarked, with recovered cheerfulness, "to think he's nearly ninety?"

"Repulsive. He gave me the horrors the first time I saw him."

"I can't help staring at him. He seems hardly human."

"He's not human. Only the animal survives. To think that we can go on eating and sleeping so long after the heart and the brain have burned themselves out!" He moved away impatiently, saying, half to himself: "How perishable the best things are! How long the lower nature lasts!"

"Twenty-three—ninety"; she did the sum. "Sixty-seven years more, perhaps."

"For you!" He wheeled round and looked at her. "Heaven forbid! Upon my soul, if I thought that you, with all you stand there for—of beauty and gladness—if I thought you'd go on living till you were the feminine counterpart of that old horror, I"—he choked with a half-whimsical fury—"I believe I could kill you with my own hands."

She came closer, smiling.

[Pg 417]

"It would be just like me to go on till I'm a hundred, if I'm not stopped."

"What prompts you to say such things to me?" he said, sharply, and turned again to the window.

"But all the old don't end like Mr. Ball. I shall be a lively old lady, if I'm not stopped."

"Oh, nothing could stop you."

She laughed.

"Don't be so hopeless. You see, I've studied the subject of old age. The reason it isn't more valued is because it's taken too modestly. I suppose it's difficult not to be modest if you're ninety. But no old person should be unselfish or patient. That's fatal. You see the success our own grandmother has made."

Without turning round, Ethan began to laugh, too.

"A woman must be gentle and amiable (if she can manage it) while she's young. It's becoming in the young," she said, piously; then, with a cheerful gleam, "but all old women should be defiant—yes, they should study a dictatorial style, and make the young ones toe the mark. It's the only way. Oh, I'll be an aged Tartar, and, you'll see, they'll all say, 'A person of remarkable character is old Mrs.—' H'm!"

She stopped short, and he turned round smiling and glowering at her, and then back again to the window.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, looking over his shoulder.

"What? That poor devil over there? Yes, I've been watching him."

"I don't see— Oh, yes, the cripple. Ethan, Ethan, what is one to do with you!"

She dropped on the sofa with a face of comic despair.

"Do with me?"

"Yes—if every time you look out of the window you see a 'devil' of some sort."

He laughed, and then:

"But you said 'Oh!' and I thought—"

"I said 'Oh!' because the rain's stopped and the sun's trying to shine. And all you can see is a cripple dragging[Pg 418] his leg through the mud! Come along"—she jumped up—"the rain's ruined the roads, but it hasn't hurt the river, and we'll go for a row. It's going to be beautiful."

She dragged him off without ceremony.

As they passed by the Wharton House, "There's Otway," said Ethan, looking up at a group of men at the entrance.

Mr. Otway came down the steps and shook hands.

"This is a surprise!" he said to Val. "Come in and see Julia. She has no idea you're here."

"Oh, thank you, not this evening. We're going on the river, and it gets dark so soon. I didn't know Julia was coming."

"Neither did I," laughed the indulgent father, "until this morning. Well, come in to-morrow. Good-bye!"

They got a boat, and by half-past four were speeding up-stream to Ethan's steady stroke.

"It'll be a simply glorious evening. We shall have a flaming sunset, you'll see!"

"Yes. The rain has washed the world till it shines."

They talked very little at first.

"I don't think we ought to go beyond the Gray Pool," said Val, regretfully.

"Where's that?"

"About a mile on."

"Oh, we can get farther than that."

"Well, they don't know where I am, you see, after all, and it's nice by the Gray Pool, where the trees bend down. You could rest there."

"Do I look as if I wanted to rest?"

"Can't say you do."

"You've never told me what brought you here all of a sudden."

"I wanted to find out something."

"Well, have you succeeded?"

He smiled at her in that sudden way of his that made her heart contract. She couldn't speak directly, but her[Pg 419] silence seemed to her to say too much. She rushed nervously for the light veil of words.

"I was afraid my life was growing poorer than I had imagined. If you were going out of it, I knew I must go and find something to fill up the empty place."

"Going out of it?" He scrutinized her keenly. "Where should I go?"

"Oh, there are so many people and things beckoning to you. How could I tell? I was afraid you'd gone into some world where I couldn't follow—"

"So you came after me?" he smiled tenderly.

"Some world," she said, getting a little red, "where you didn't want me."

"I always want you—" he stopped short, drew his forward-bending figure up, and pulled hard at the oars. "But as to my world, you'd hate it if you found yourself at close quarters with it. I give you the best side of it in my letters."

"I've told you I don't want only the best."

"What do you want?"


The brave, yet shamefaced look left nothing doubtful; but he affected to think she spoke only of letters.

"If I wrote you 'all,' I'd make a pessimist of you in no time."

"Would it be things about—about other women that would make me—"

"Chiefly about men; most of all, about the things that are stronger than men."

They were silent a moment.

"I don't know how it is," she drew her hand across her eyes; "but you give me again the old feeling that you're somehow a prisoner—"

"A prisoner—yes."

"And that I must set you free."

His dark eyes were misty for a moment. "You couldn't do that without—"


[Pg 420]

He shook his head, turned, and glanced behind him. "Oh, look at the sun!"

It was going down in a crimson flood that dyed the whole country-side a red that was like new-spilt blood. It was one of those atmospheric effects under which the most contradictory colors in nature are subdued to a common hue. One has at such times a sense of looking at the landscape through colored glass. The white and yellow farm-houses flamed a dull orange. Their windows glowed like brass reflecting fire. The very trees and grass were soaked in the strong dye of the sun. Ethan's steady pull took them swiftly on, out of sight of farms, into the wilder country. Still the girl sat with uplifted face. Her love of autumn and of sunsetting had been no sad reflective sentiment, but something more than common—eager, subtly exhilarated, joyous. To-day, stimulated and at the same time balked, she found in the splendor of the hour a sharper sense than ever of the drama in life, the essential poetry in human experience.

"I think I must be growing old," she said, with a happy sigh.

"What are the signs?"

"I'm beginning to notice the scenery. I'm grateful to the sun."

Her eyes fell suddenly on the clean-carved features opposite; the dark head and the pale ivory of the face seemed alone of all things in the responsive world to refuse to wear the livery of light.

"Oh, I forgot," she said, "you don't like sunsets any more than you like autumn. Here's the mooring-place."

He stopped his long, steady stroke, and paddled the boat under the overhanging trees.

"On the contrary," he said, making fast, and looking the while through the branches to the conflagration in the west—"on the contrary, I've changed, too—'growing old,' perhaps, like you." He smiled and sat down, his eyes on the slow-sinking sun. "These, and scenes like them, are the conditions that reconcile me."

[Pg 421]

"Reconcile! They lift me up so high that I am dizzy."

She closed her eyes an instant, and then opened them with a fluttering smile. They seemed to have forgotten there had been any thought of going ashore.

"It is so splendid and yet so calm," he said, in a low voice. "It sets me free from the burden and heat of the day."

"It doesn't set me free—not that I want to be set free. I love the burden and heat of the day. But this—this sets me thrilling. It clutches me at the heart, and makes my breath taste sharp, like steel, against my tongue. This is the wonder-time of day."

"Yes," he said, dreamily—"yes, in a sense, it is the wonder-time. No morning or high noon, anywhere up and down the world, can match this hour."

"But it makes you sad," she said, resentfully, as though he had spoken an ill thing of some one dear.

"No, I'm not sad any more; I'm reconciled. It is the moment when I can most easily forget my own existence, and feel melted into the general life."

She turned away with flashing eyes.

"Why are you so angry?" he said, softly, "or is it the sunset dyes you redder than it did?"

"That you can say such things so calmly, and at such a moment—with all this" (she opened her arms as if passionately to embrace the beauty of the world)—"all this spread out before us, with only you and me to see it, the unconscious world not caring that"—she snapped her quick white fingers in the lazy air. "You sit there saying the eyes that glory in it, the hearts that ache at the wonder of it, they are nothing; they are here to look on a moment, suffer, and die, while the great spectacle goes on and on and on. Why did we come here, then? What's the good of it?"

"I'll never tell you."

"I'd begin to believe some of your libels on life if I thought there wasn't more in it than just—"


"That we are brought here with all this inside us"—she[Pg 422] drew her doubled hand across her breast like one in pain—"all this, and with the destiny of brutes—cheated a little while with gladness while we're children—"

"That's a superstition, too. The happiness of children is more than half an illusion of the old. I remember. Others have forgotten; that's the difference."

"No, no; I remember, too!" The raised voice was half challenge, half appeal. "I was happy, and I'm happy still, except when you—" She broke off near the brink of tears. "And I mean to be happy. Oh, it's a good, good world, and I'm glad I'm here."

"I'm glad you're here."

"But if you were right"—she looked out with a vague fear to the fading west—"if all this keen consciousness existed just to be tortured a little while, and then flung down in the dark—if that is all"—the eager face grew white—"then human life's an outrage."

Silence for a moment, and then in a low voice came the words:

"It is an outrage."

"Don't say so, Ethan; I can't bear it."

"Oh yes, we can all bear it; and by so much we ephemera get back our lost significance, our sovereignty."

She looked up.

"Through this strange fate of ours," he said, "we fulfil the end of the world."

Old doctrinal associations flitted before the phrase, blurring for her his pagan use of it.

"The end, the aim of the universe, seems to be beauty—beauty so varied in spirit and in form that it often gets strange names from men."

"Yes, it is all beautiful, isn't it, Ethan?"

"That you can always see it so, and that even I can see it sometimes, proves we are not the lowest in the scale of life. That power of finding Beauty through her disguises is the best seal civilization sets on men."

"And so even you believe we fulfil the end of the world?"

He nodded.

[Pg 423]

"It's as magnificent, in its way, as a mountain peak, or the going down of the sun, that puny men should accept the outrage of life and the insult of death so nobly, with so little crying out. When one thinks of it"—he laughed harshly—"the old gods and heroes were pygmies compared with modern men. What were their doings and their destinies to the hopeless, silent battle men are waging, without God and without hope in the world? The men of to-day don't go reeling into battle, drunken with the wine of hope, or dazed with the fairy tales of faith. But they fight none the less well, knowing they go out to die, and not even sure for what cause. It is so they fulfil the end of the world. Nothing in it is mightier than the spirit of man calmly confronting his fate."

She drew a quick breath.

"You've put it into words," she said, "but I've felt it."

He looked at her with dull foreboding. He had expected contradiction, not acquiescence.

"Come," he said, rising and catching up the boat-cushion. "It's chilly here in the boat. Why did we come under these wet trees? Let's land, and go and sit in what's left of the sunset there."

"You're not calmly confronting your fate," she said, smiling dimly.

"Come." He held out his hand.

She took it and laid her cheek against it.

"I'll come with you," she said, "into the light or into the dark."

"Child, child, what have I done to you?"

He dropped the cushion in the bottom of the boat. She clung to him. He wavered, the boat rocked violently.

"Be careful, it's deep here," she said, and drew him down on the cushion at her feet.

"Val"—he averted his face—"you must try to understand. The barrier between you and me is a real one. It's not a question of whether your father's views were right or wrong, but that our imaginations have been infected by them. I, at least, would always be fearing, expecting [Pg 424]disaster, and the fear would bring the evil to pass. Or even if it didn't, the fear would—would destroy us."

"No, no!"

"It's true. I have no courage equal to facing either my family inheritance, or my own dread of life—in a little child." He threw off her clinging hand. "Think of any one feeling as I do about life, thrusting it on another—on some one I would love as I would love your—" He dropped his head and covered his eyes with his hand.

"Why do you think always of some possible other person? Why do you never think of me?" she cried.

He made a sudden movement, dropping his hand on the gunwale of the boat, and looking straight into her eyes, with something new in the mobile face, something that inundated, drowned her in one hot flush of passion.

"Oh!" she cried, half closing her eyes, "do you care like that?" and she drooped forward into his open arms.

"Like this and like this," he said, kissing her fiercely. "Oh, my love! my love! why have you infected me? Why have you poured yourself into my very blood?" He had taken her by the shoulders almost roughly, arraigning her with sombre-burning eyes. "You put that face of yours in all my dreams. I go to sleep with it on my pillow; I wake up, it still is there. In the blackest night I see you as I saw you first, standing above the darkness, holding a great light in your hand. But the light is not to light my way. Get you back into your fortress as quickly as you can." He pushed her from him. "I am the enemy."

"'Enemy,' 'coward'—I've another name for you," she said, trembling; "and if I have any light, it surely is for you. Dear Ethan, don't you see? Don't you see?"

"See?" The moody eyes were heavy with passion.

"It's all quite clear." She sat before him in the bottom of the boat, with hands clasped, and a veiled exaltation in her eyes. "We must make a compact. We Ganos are honest people; we'll play fair."

"A compact?"

"Yes. It will seem to other people like the common[Pg 425] one. They'll call it marriage. It may be, we'll live a lifetime together without doing the ill you most dread doing. But if—if the worst comes to the worst, we will have had one perfect year."

"What do you mean, Val?" He seized her wrists.

"It's more than every man and woman gets," she cried.

"And then?"

"Then, according to the compact, we will go out together before—before we've opened the door—to another." With a broken cry she flung herself on his breast.

"Hush, hush, child! this is all—" His eyes were full of tears.

"You'll see it is the only way. No one but ourselves will pay for our being glad a little while."

"Glad! Do you think you could be glad, poor child, with such an end forever before your eyes?"

"Hasn't all the world that end in view? Aren't many of us glad in spite of all?" She smiled up into his face. "But can't you see that I'd rather be sad with you, than be glad with any other?"

He kissed her, and then: "This is nothing but madness—and my work, too," he added, bitterly—"my work."

She put her fingers on his lips.

"You take too much credit. It wasn't you who said, 'All mankind is under a sentence of capital punishment.' It isn't as if we could escape, you know."

The old sense of all the ways being barred, of being a creature trapped, lay heavy on him.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!" he said, with a weary laugh, "we ought to be less rational, or more so. You think you love me, little girl?"

He laid his hands about her throat, and as he looked into the face his senses swam again. She neither spoke nor moved, but the quick, bright scarlet was in her cheek, and all her womanhood was in her eyes.

"This leaping of the importunate blood," he thought, "all this heartache, because of the will to live of that [Pg 426]creature who is never to be born; the spirit of the race, heedless of 'compacts,' clamoring for reincarnation."

"If life's as terrible and strange as you say," Val whispered, drawing a little away, "and if this life's all, why, it's as clear as daylight, we'd be less than rational, we'd be stark mad, to let our little day of happiness go by. You see"—she crept closer to him again in the failing light, half crying—"it concerns only us. We'll live our perfect day, and when the evening comes we'll lie down—"

"In each other's arms," he said, hiding his face in her loosened hair, his tortured mind turning with passion to the image of ultimate peace.

"Yes." Sobbing faintly, she drew away that she might see his face. His voice had sounded strangely. "This is our compact," she said, and she kissed him on the lips.

"Our betrothal," he answered, dreamily, as one who has set his lips to a philter.

"Betrothal? Yes. I didn't know what a strange sound the word had. We must exchange rings. Oh, Fate, be kind to us!" She lifted up her face as she drew off the ring she wore. "You needn't be afraid to be kind. We are honest people. We'll keep faith. Ethan," she whispered, "they can't grudge us so little as we ask."

"The powers that be?"

She nodded.

"You said yourself that what we ask is more than many men and women find. A year with you"—he gathered her up to his breast—"a whole year of beautiful life and beautiful love without fear of the long decline! It's a dream to draw the very gods out of their heaven. Oh, be sure they'll be jealous of you and me."

He kissed her again and again.

"We mustn't let them be jealous. Where's your ring?"

He drew off his signet, and took from her the little old band set with pearls and two small rubies.

"Too little for me," he said, "and too—"

He smiled at the obvious femininity of the old trinket.

"It's not for you to keep. We must make a sacrifice.[Pg 427] I'll give yours to the Spirit of the Air." She threw the signet as far up into the twilight as she could, and they both listened. "Yours is accepted," she said, triumphantly. "You must give mine to the Water."

"Aren't you afraid the Earth will be jealous?"

He held the ring over the side of the boat.

"Oh, no; the Earth is patient; she knows we'll give her more than a ring. Why do you wait? The Water-spirit will be angry."

"You never told me who gave you this."

"It was my grandmother's engagement ring."

"No; was it? If this ring hadn't been given, neither you nor I would be in the world."

He dropped it into the river. They sat quite still, each knowing perfectly what new train had been started in the other's mind, and neither wanting to unpack the heart with words. A couple of boats came up the river, full of boys and girls, laughing and singing. When they got nearly opposite the pool their voices rang out plainly, complaining of the current, and suggesting turning back.

"What a pity you asked me that about the ring!" Val whispered.

"I'm not sure it was a pity, dear."

The passion had gone out of his voice.

"You like her standing here between us?"

"I don't like to forget what must be remembered."

If Ethan were conscious that the mental apparition of the old woman with her silent, but effectual, "I forbid the banns"—if he were quite conscious that her coming brought behind the dash of disillusionment a sense, too, of reprieve, he forbore to say as much. It was enough that the first wearer of the sunken ring had made not only the difference to those two of being summoned out of the infinite, but the difference of holding them back from the infinite as well. The compact they had made was null and void as long as their common ancestress lived. Her character and influence built high an impregnable barrier between her descendants and this thing she would despise, and which[Pg 428] they knew would give her her first taste of the cup of humiliation.

"It cannot be while she is in the world," said Ethan.

With unconscious cruelty the other answered:

"But she is very, very old, and we are young."

A sudden stifled cry rose apparently out of the bushes and tall water-weeds just to their left. Ethan sprang up.

"It's only those boys," said Val, as a chorus of confused exclamations came from beyond the Gray Pool.

"No, it was nearer. Didn't you hear a splash?"

The screams grew more distinct.

"One of 'em's in the water," he said. "Hallo, there!"

He paddled out from the overshadowing tree.

"Ethan!" Val held out her hands in a sudden agony of fear. "It's horribly deep here, and there's a current! It's the most dangerous place on the river!"

"Yes. Bad place for a little chap. Where did he go down?" he shouted.

"It was a lady. Her boat's just behind you."

Ethan turned, and saw dimly, a few yards off, Mr. Otway grasping the side of a row-boat, and looking over into the water in a pitiable paralysis of horror.

"Where? where?" Ethan called, scanning the river on all sides.

Something vague rose up a few yards below the boats, and moved quickly down the current. Ethan was overboard in an instant, striking out in the direction of the dark object.

Val caught up the oars and followed in the boat. It was all over in a few minutes. Ethan had laid hold on the unconscious girl, and swam with her to the bank. Val rowed across, and Ethan and she, between them, dragged Julia into the boat. The boys, who had followed, called back to Mr. Otway that the lady was saved.

When the father got up with them, Julia was reviving.

"You'd better get into their boat," said Ethan to Val; "the old man's not fit to go alone down-stream, you know. You won't mind?"

[Pg 429]

"No," said Val; "but let us keep close together."

"Of course."

"She would come," Mr. Otway kept saying, helplessly. "I told her my river days were over. She would come."

"How did the accident happen?" said Val, keeping eyes and ears intent upon the boat just in front.

Ethan bent to the oar, looking back now and then to see that Val was close. Julia lay motionless, with Ethan's coat over her.

"We must go as fast as we can," he called out. "We'll be able to get some brandy at Leigh's Landing, and a trap."

"How did it happen?" Val repeated.

"Oh, we started only five minutes after you did, and Julia rows so well we could have caught up with you. But she changed her mind or else got tired, and when you got out of sight"—he put on his pince-nez and looked anxiously after the boat in front—"when you got out of sight, she wanted to rest."

"Where was that?"

"Near the Gray Pool. She pulled the boat in among the rushes. I was tired, too. I think I fell asleep. First thing I knew we were out of the rushes, and Julia was leaning out of the far end of the boat."—("I wonder how much she heard?" was the thought that haunted Val.)—"Whether it was my speaking suddenly startled her, or whether she lost her balance, I don't know—I don't know at all." And he droned on about, "She would come. I said my river days were over."

They found, as Ethan prophesied, dry clothes and warming potions at Leigh's Landing, and a farm wagon to take them back to town.

The two men sat talking volubly in front, Ethan driving. The two girls occupied the back seat, in a silence never once broken till they said "Good-night" at the Wharton House.

[Pg 430]


"Well, Val, where have you been?"

"I've been boating, and—"

"Boating, after all! And poor Harry so anxious, riding along those awful roads to the Forest Park Lodge."

"Why should he do that? He might have known—"

"He knew there was a very urgent telegram for you here." Mrs. Ball was deeply reproachful. "We thought it best to open it."

Val snatched it up and read:

"Come home at once.—Sarah C. Gano."

"Oh, she's ill; dying, perhaps! Oh, God! not dying!" She leaned against the wall; her face frightened her hostess.

"My dear, it doesn't say a word about being ill."

"It's what it means; she knew I'd understand."

"Don't take it like that, Val." She put her arm round the girl.

Val threw her off, exclaiming: "Oh, I must go this moment. Can we send Ethan word? Quick, quick!"

"I'll let him know soon enough," returned the other, fastening suspicious eyes on the girl's pitiful face. "I expect Harry back every moment. I'll help you with your packing."

In a dim way Val was relieved on second thoughts that Ethan should not be summoned. He and she had been plotting treason. The poignant fear and grief that swayed her would wear an artificial air in his presence after what had passed.

The packing, Harry's return, the hurried supper, all went[Pg 431] as in a nightmare. Now she was driving to the station, now she was saying good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Ball, and to Harry. No, he was coming with her apparently. Now they were in the train. Now they were rattling and clattering through a tunnel. She sat in a corner with closed eyes, while tears trickled incessantly from under the lids.

"Dear, dear, I love you," she said to herself, and her lover was far away from her thoughts. On the throne of life a bowed old woman seemed to sit alone. "Oh, I'll be better to you after this, only live and give me a chance." She drew her limp figure up suddenly and turned her back on Harry's whispered solicitude. A lightning-like realization came, as she sat there, of what the life of this woman had meant to her. And it was going—going—would be gone, perhaps, before Val got home. She covered up her face. She told herself it was no common relation that she bore to the ancient châtelaine of the Fort. Something deeper than the blood tie, a thing wrought out of sheer personal force, hammered out of antagonisms, welded with fear and with love, and binding, abiding gratitude for a glimpse of the unconquerable mind.

She saw now that if life from the beginning had never worn that cheap and shabby air that it did to many girls without wealth or family distinction; if, from the beginning, and day by day to the end, life had carried itself bravely in the tumble-down old home; if in the leanest years it had never lacked dignity, nor ever lost its faint old-world fragrance; Val knew who it was who had wrought the spell, and who had maintained it against all comers.

And this magical power was threatened; this costly life in danger. It suddenly seemed the one thing in the world best worth preserving. A few hours before she had faced the idea of its loss so willingly—her tears gushed afresh at the memory—even with an obscure, impatient longing she had thought of this thing, that she saw now in its true aspect, as unspeakably terrible and tragic. For it was something irreparable. There was nothing like her in the[Pg 432] world; the things that went to her making had passed away. To think that all that was represented by such a spirit—that a force like this, after enduring and dominating life so long, should go out into Nothingness—why, it was merely incredible. But the presentment of the possibility had shaken the foundations of the world.

It was close on midnight when Val and Wilbur drove up to the gate.

"Harry," said the girl, "you've been so kind, be kinder still: let me go in alone."

"Very well. I'll come back in a quarter of an hour to see if I can do anything."

There was a light in the long room. Val lifted the knocker, and as it fell Emmie opened the door. It seemed to Val that her sister's face said "Death." She pushed past her without greeting, and into the long room. Mrs. Gano was sitting in the great chair. She leaned forward, holding fast by the arms. The veil falling on either side her face did not hide, or even soften, the expression of concentrated contempt with which she said, very low:

"So you've come back."

"Y—yes. I thought—"

"You thought you'd come before it was too late."

"Yes; I was afraid—"

"I'm glad there's something you're afraid of doing, though I can scarce imagine what."

Val put her hand up, bewildered, to her eyes.

"The last thing I would have believed of Valeria Gano was that she would do something underhand."

"Oh, but I didn't—"

"You didn't pretend to me that you were going to visit Mrs. Austin Ball when you were really running after Ethan?"

"I haven't been running after any one."

"Did he write you to come?"


"Did he expect you?"


[Pg 433]

"Some one who went up in the same train with you has had the audacity to bring back the report that you went to the hotel to see Ethan before you went to Mrs. Ball's at all."

Val did not make the expected denial.

"I'm ashamed of you"—the old face worked—"I've never been ashamed before of a woman of this house."

"I am not ashamed," said Val.

"Then all I can say is"—Mrs. Gano extended her shawled arm—"you are without the feelings of a decent woman."

Val had sat down like one dazed.

"Ask Emmeline," said the old voice, shaking as it rose; "the whole town is ringing with the story, how you left your home under false pretences, and pursued this man, who cares nothing for you—"

"He does care for me." Val's nerves quivered under her grandmother's derisive laugh, but it did not escape her that Emmie had caught convulsively at the corner of the great buffet, and was leaning against the pillared cupboard.

"I dare say," observed Mrs. Gano, "that Ethan cares for a good many ladies, if the truth's told, but he doesn't get most of them to run about the country after him; that honor is reserved for you."

"Wait!" Val struggled to her feet with a sense that she was choking. "I'll tell you the honor that's reserved for me: Ethan cares more for me than for any one in the world."

Emmie leaned forward with white face and glittering eyes.

"Indeed," said Mrs. Gano, "and when is the wedding, if one may know?"

Val sank slowly back in the chair, dropping her hands at her sides and her gloves on the floor.

Emmie drew herself up, and the color came back into her face.

"It's only an indefinite engagement as yet, perhaps,"[Pg 434] said the younger girl. Her dark eyes flew to Val's hands. "Did he give you a ring?"

"Yes," said Val, mechanically.

"Why don't you wear it?"

"What is that to you—to any one but Ethan and me?"

"It is something to your family," said Mrs. Gano. "I, too, should like to see the engagement ring."

Val thought of the gossip-loving town, the endless questions, "When is the wedding?" "Why the delay?"

"There is no engagement."

"You said he gave you a ring." Emmie's words were quick and glad under their suspicion.

"I can't show you Ethan's ring."

"Why, where's your own?" Emmie came nearer.

Val got up and faced her sister with angry eyes.

"How dare you cross-question me? Don't you suppose I know it's you that have brought in the town's chatter, and magnified it, and—"

"Your sister has done no more than her duty. She at least cares something for the family dignity. She has felt all this gossip to the quick."

"I've no doubt of it," said Val.

"Where is my ring?"

"Y—your ring?"

"Yes, my engagement ring. There has never been any need to hide that."


"Ah, I see! there, too, you took the initiative. You don't bring back a ring, but you left one behind. He has a pledge to show, if you haven't. But my ring was never meant for that; send and get it back. Give me your arm, Emmeline." They passed Val by. At the threshold the old woman turned. "Send and get it back, I say!"

A soft knock at the front door arrested her.

"Go and see, Emmeline." Mrs. Gano sat down on the chair just inside the door, averting her face from Val. At the sound of Wilbur's voice she half rose. "At this hour!"

[Pg 435]

"Oh, he just wants to see me a moment." Val moved forward.

Mrs. Gano stood up, blazing through her spectacles, and cut off the retreat.

"Emmeline will remind him that you are not now away from your own home. As long as I'm here, life under this roof must be conducted with some decorum."

"Oh, grandmamma, grandmamma!" said Val, hysterically, beginning to laugh and to cry all at once, "don't you see? We thought you were dying, and he's come to see if he can do anything."

"Dying, indeed!" Her tone was that of one resenting some far-fetched impertinence. "Go and tell him that I never felt better in my life, and that he'd better go home."


Mrs. Gano did not appear the next day, nor the next. Val watched her opportunity that second evening, when Emmie was out of the way, to go into her grandmother's room and see for herself how she was.

Mrs. Gano certainly appeared in excellent health. She was up, and she was dressed with all her customary care. Standing by the window in the waning light, she bent her veiled head over a book.

"Good-evening, grandmamma; how are you?"

Mrs. Gano turned and looked over her spectacles.


"I was afraid you were ill."

"You are very determined I shall be ill, it seems to me."

"No, no, but I naturally wanted to come and—" She stopped, feeling too chilled and rebuffed to say more.

"To come and bring me back my ring?"

Val, without answering, walked to the door.

"You did give it to Ethan? Answer me."

"Yes, grandmamma."

"Have you got it back?"

"No, grandmamma."

"But you've heard from him?"

[Pg 436]

"Yes—Emmie must have told you—letters and telegrams."

"Had you written him to send back my ring?"

"No, grandmamma."

"Why not?"

It crossed the girl's mind, "Suppose I tell her, 'Because I saw him throw it away.'" She smiled faintly.

"You will write for it to-night. Go and do so at once."

"No, I'm sorry; I can't do that—I'm sorry;" and she went out.

Val had a glimpse of her the next morning, when Mrs. Gano made her final cold-weather "flitting" from the blue room up-stairs to the long room down-stairs. But it was Emmie and the servants who assisted. The removal was in the act of being finished when Val appeared on the scene. No notice was taken of her. She went out and walked about the garden. Returning to the house a little later, she met Emmie coming down the steps of the porch with a letter.

"Where are you going?"

"To the post-office, and grandma doesn't want to be disturbed."

"Then you'd better go stand guard at the door."

"Oh, she can lock the door."

"I'm going to the post-office; I can take the letter."


"Give it to me, I say."

"I won't!"

"I saw the address; it shall never go."

"Grandma!" Emmie called, with all her might, holding the letter to her breast and backing up the steps. "Grandma!"

"How the old scenes of childhood repeat themselves," thought Val. "I've been 'going for her,' and she's been shouting 'Grandma!' ever since we came here as little girls."

"Grandma!" Emmie was still calling, and the long room door opened.

[Pg 437]

"I want to speak to you," said Val to her grandmother.

"Val won't let me take your letter—"

"Go this instant and do as I told you," said Mrs. Gano to Emmie.

Val barred the front door.

"I must speak to you, grandmamma, before that letter goes out of the house."

"Let me go, I say." Emmie struggled to get by. Val stood firm.

"How dare you—" Mrs. Gano began.

"I dare for a very good reason, and I'll tell you what it is if you'll take the letter and let me speak to you alone."

They stood looking at each other for a moment over Emmie's shoulder. Then Mrs. Gano caught the letter out of Emmie's hand and went back into her room. Val noticed how feebly she walked, followed, and quickly shut and locked the door.

"Open that door," said her grandmother.

"I want to speak to you alone."

"Open my door."

Val did so.

"Open it wide."

She obeyed.

"Emmeline, go away, and don't come back till I call you. Now," she resumed, as Emmie's footsteps died away, "let us understand—Who is mistress in this house?"

"You are."

"Very well, then."

"But you are not my mistress."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean there are some things I must decide for myself."

"I've ceased to trouble myself for the moment about your decisions."

"That letter of yours to Ethan is to take something that concerns me more than anybody here—to take it out of my hands."

"If you can't manage your own concerns with propriety, your family must help you."

[Pg 438]

"No, I won't be helped." They looked at each other. "I must make my own mistakes. It's I who have to live with them; I've a right to choose which they shall be."

"As your natural guardian, it is well within my province to write to my grandson about your unheard-of conduct."


"Oh," she laughed derisively, "then, maybe, you will at least permit me to write and ask that my property be returned to me."

"Your ring?"

"My ring."


But the "please" was drowned in a tide of indignation.

"I've had enough of your preposterous assurance. I'll write what and to whom I choose."

"Ethan won't read your letter. I'll wire that he is not to."

"It's likely he'll obey you!"

"Oh, be very sure he will."

The angry old eyes were wide with wonder. What was the relation between these two?

"Has he asked you to marry him?"

"No;" and she smiled.

"You think he will?"

"Yes, I think he will."

She opened her lips to say "When?" but some astute sense had come to her of how far she could go. She contented herself with a haughty lifting of the head.

"In my young days—"

"Yes, yes, but things aren't always so simple now. Oh, haven't you any faith in me, or in Ethan either?"

"My faith has had a rude shock."

"That was only because I didn't take you into my confidence. But don't you know there are some things it's hard to tell to older people? Oh, don't you remember, grandmamma!" the girl cried.

"H'm!" but the face gradually softened.

"Give us a little time, and it'll all come right. You don't want to get rid of me instantly, do you?"

[Pg 439]

"You know quite well—"

"Yes, yes, you'd like us to be old maids, but I—" she shook her head in the manner of one regretfully declining an impossible request. "May I shut the door?"


She came back, sat down on the crimson footstool at the side of the chair, and laid her head on the arm.

"Please be kind to me," she said; "it's very lonely here at the Fort when you aren't kind." Neither moved for several moments, and then Val felt the touch on her hair. The tears rushed suddenly into her eyes. She took the hand and kissed it. "How beautiful your hands are!" she said, laying her cheek in the palm, and then raising her head to look again. "The inside is the color and the texture of a rose-leaf."

"Is that the kind of thing Ethan has been saying to you?" The inquiry rang a little grimly.

"Oh no," Val laughed. "He couldn't. My hands aren't beautiful." They were quiet awhile. "I haven't much that I can tell you, dear," the girl went on, "but that I'm very happy—oh, the happiest person in the world!" She smiled up into the vigilant old face. "And that in the end I shall have what—what I've wanted since I was sixteen—oh, ever since I was born, I think." She lowered her eyes, and the red came into her cheeks.

"And Ethan?"

"Oh, he's happy, too. But that's not the part I can tell you."

"Where is he? What is he going to do?"

"He's got a great burden of responsibility on him just now, with the elections coming on. He's going to the Chicago Convention, you know."

"H'm! Well, I don't pretend to fathom those newfangled arrangements—but understand one thing—"


"I won't have him here till there's a formal announcement."

"Very well, dear." But the bright face fell.

[Pg 440]


It was a little over a year after this that Mrs. Gano's life was despaired of.

"A complication of troubles, no one of them very serious, but all together, and at her age—"

The doctor completed the sentence with a gesture.

The next day Ethan stood with his cousins at the bedside.

"I did not send for you," was Mrs. Gano's greeting.

"No; Val did," volunteered Emmie, who had not been told the result of the doctor's consultation.

"Val"—the sick woman raised her head—"you take a great deal upon yourself."

She sank back exhausted. Val could not read in Ethan's eyes that he had abandoned hope. But the girl's heart was full of dread. She went softly out of the room.

"Oh, grandma, you've hurt her feelings," said Emmie, gently.


"I saw tears in her eyes. Think of Val crying!"

"It's no great affair that one should cry now and then. Perhaps it's just as well that you've come, after all." She fixed a far from hospitable look upon her grandson. "I was about to write you. Leave us awhile, Emmeline." She closed her eyes as the girl went out, as if to summon strength. "I don't approve of the tone of your last letter to Val."

Ethan stared.

"Oh, she reads me parts still. She reads me a great deal. The tone of the later ones, especially the last—"

She shook her head with a weak, slow movement.

[Pg 441]

"I am sorry you think—"

"We haven't time to waste being sorry; let us be different." With sudden energy she pulled out one page of a letter from under her pillow. "I haven't eyesight to read your shocking writing, my dear—"

"No, no; don't try. I remember what you mean. I won't make fun of the Churchman in politics any more—not in my letters. I apologize to the bishop."

"Oh, that"—she smiled—"that was rather amusing, though not in the best taste. No; what I mean was on the last page. Read from 'whom the gods love.'"

"Do you mean this quotation?"


"'Life, though a good to men on the whole, is a doubtful good to many, and to some not a good at all.' Is that it?"

"Yes. What's the rest?"

"'To my thought it is a source of constant mental distortion to make the denial of this a part of religion—to go on pretending things are better than they are. To me early death takes the aspect of salvation.'"

"Now I ask you, Can you find nothing better than that to say to a girl?"

"It was not I who found it."

"You say it's George Eliot. Well, she had too much sense to present that view to a young girl. She put it in a diary. If you've nothing better to put into yours, so much the worse for you. Don't you know there are two ways of interpreting 'whom the gods love die young'?"

"Yes"—he smiled—"'young' when they die at eighty." And he looked at the living commentary.

"Very well; it's a view to keep in mind. But it's not only occasional things like that that I deprecate in your letters; the letters themselves should cease."

"Really." He drew himself up and returned her direct look, but the wasted face and sunken eyes struck compunction to his heart. "Very well," he said, soothingly.

"It's not very well at all, but very ill, that you should try to waive the subject."

[Pg 442]

"Waive it?"

"Yes. You think I'm dying, and you won't oppose me. I'm not dying, and I mean to see Val through this before I do die."

"Through what?"

"Through her foolish befogment about you. I had a long talk with Harry Wilbur last week. He has behaved well. You—" She paused, as if trying to pluck out the heart of his mystery; then, abandoning the attempt: "I want you to promise me before you leave this room that you'll go away by the next train, and that you won't see Val, or write to her, till one or other of you is safely and suitably married."

He had a moment's temptation to pacify her at all costs, but as he looked into the old face he felt that a degradation would cling to him if he played falsely with a spirit as honest and courageous as this. She wasn't a woman one could lie to comfortably.

"I can't promise you that," he said, after a struggle.

"Why not?"

"Oh, the old reason," he answered, with a look of weary pain.

"What is that?"

She craned her head forward.

"You have to ask?"

"I have to ask."

"I love her."

"And don't you know—" Her loyalty to Val stopped her. "Why don't you tell her?"

"I have."

"Then, why aren't you— What's the trouble?"

"What's the trouble?" he echoed.

"Yes. You surely aren't waiting for me to go?"

"No, no," he said, hastily, feeling his fears for the moment dislodged and feebly flying like a flock of bats and owls before the daylight in the brave old eyes. "No, no; you are not the barrier."

"What then?"

[Pg 443]

"I suppose, primarily, it's Uncle John. He left us a legacy."


A sudden mist of weakness rose before her like a veil.


Ethan turned away, and paced the dim room from the bedside to the fireplace, back and forth. It came over the sick woman that it was just so John had walked and talked about this life he lacked the energy to live. How like him Ethan was growing in air and manner! It was as if John had got up out of his grave to walk the old track in the old restless fashion. What was it he was saying about "the wreck of creeds"?

"—the mere expediency of the conventions right and wrong, and yet man's hopeless struggle to be rid of the phantom Duty. If you pass the churches by, she confronts you in the schools, in the laboratory, follows you in the streets, dogs you day and night, the 'implacable huntress.' We may free ourselves from all superstitions but Duty. She, in one guise or another, is ever at the heels of men."

"You wouldn't be a Gano if you didn't feel so," she said, wondering vaguely if she had dreamed Ethan's coming and John's going.

Which was it, walking the worn and faded track on Valeria's old blue Brussels?

"Exactly. So Uncle John said."

Ah, then it was Ethan!

"What was it John said?"

She drew herself up, and shook off the veil of faintness.

"Several unforgettable things about man's first duty to the race—about not inflicting upon others the burdens Val and I must bear."

"Burdens!" (Ah, she remembered now what they had been talking about.) "What burden, I'd like to know, does Val bear that you can't lift?"

"Her father's."

"Humph! And you?"

[Pg 444]

"She and I are of one blood. We carry a double share."

"And let me tell you"—she sat up straight in the great bed—"a double share of Gano is no bad addition to the world's brew."

"Did you ever say that to Uncle John?"

"Good Heaven! To hear you talk, a body'd think you had invented the law of heredity—you and your uncle John."

"God forbid!"

"Well, God has forbid, and let that content you. He is quite capable of looking after His own world."

Ethan's faint head-shake and his smile seemed to infuriate her.

"My good soul, you take too much responsibility. It doesn't lie with you to refashion the world. God's universe has been good enough for a great many good people."

"That it has been good enough for you doesn't cover the question," he said, brutally, adding in haste, "even if you didn't deceive yourself. It is not, as things are, good enough for all. But Uncle John was right: it would be a better place to live in if people hesitated to perpetuate disease."

"Perpetuate disease! What folly you talk! Don't you see that your improved new modes of living breed new diseases? If you have not the cholera of my youth, you have the Bright's disease and the influenza that we knew nothing of. Disease is part of the plan."

"What an awful doctrine!"

"Not at all. I can't be sure that it wouldn't leave the world poorer if disease were got rid of. I'm not, like you, ready to arraign the Everlasting." (Val opened the door softly, came in, and stood at the foot of the bed.) "To my finite mind, unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out. I only know that they are just, and that I am the work of His hand."

"I envy you your faith."

"No, you don't. You think yourself superior to it, and what's the result? You walk in darkness."

[Pg 445]

"Not altogether in darkness." He looked across at the girl.

"Yes, in darkness and in fear. Not the fear of God—that's tonic—but in the fear of pain. Oh, I've watched this phase of modern life. It's been coming, coming for years. The world to-day is crushed and whining under a load of sentimentality. People presently will be afraid to move, lest they do or receive some hurt."

"All people don't wear your armor."

"There is no armor but God," she said, in a clear voice. "'We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.'"

He bent and kissed her hand. She withdrew it and laid it on his head, smoothing the thick, dark hair.

"You carry one Gano burden that I pity you for: you think too much about life."

"Ah, and it doesn't bear being thought about?"

"But Val will help you there," she went on, ignoring the question. "All she asks is the wages of going on." She reached out a hand to the girl, who came and stood by her cousin. "Val hasn't the letter, but she has the spirit. Remember, you two, when you come in the modern way to pick flaws in the Faith, that if I wore stout armor, as you say, it was not of this world's forging. Remember, that I told you I could not have lived the half—no, nor the quarter part of my long life, if I had not been 'persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God.'" She closed her eyes. "Now go and leave me, you two. I am tired."

Treading softly, Ethan went out of the room. Val watched beside her till the night-nurse came.

The next morning Mrs. Gano sent for the clergyman (through Emmie, saying nothing to the others), and took the Communion.

"It's a habit of mine," she told Ethan afterwards. "I always commune several times a year."

[Pg 446]

"Only at Easter and Christmas," Val told him privately, afterwards. "But she is angry if we seem to notice anything unusual."

About four o'clock Emmie, who did not appreciate the gravity of the situation, came in from visiting a young girl who was very ill—not expected to live.

"Oh, grandma, you should have seen her! so gentle and so resigned; saying good-bye to all her friends." Emmie broke down.

"H'm! I consider that an unnecessary strain on the feelings."

"Oh no," remonstrated Emmie; "it was beautiful! She prayed for us all."

"She might do that without making a scene."

"Oh, grandma, you don't realize what it was like. I never saw any one so ready for the other life as Ada Brown."

"Oh yes, you have. The best 'getting ready' isn't done on death-beds."

"You're so unsympathetic," murmured the girl.

"Yes, I've hated scenes all my life; but death-bed scenes I consider indecent."

"Oh!" Emmie got up and, with deeply injured looks, prepared to withdraw.

"If you haven't done your best, it's too late when you're dying to try to mend things. If you have done your best, there's no more to be said."

And no more was said for several hours. She lay quite peacefully, took the half-hourly restoratives from Val, but was visibly weaker on each occasion. Ethan went out and sent for the doctor. He came back in time to lift the half-unconscious form up in his arms, while Val held a glass to the pale lips.

"Enough," she whispered; "lay me down." And it was done. She opened her eyes and faintly pressed Val's hand. "Good girl," she said.

A slight spasm passed over her face. She turned her head away, clutched the sheet, and, with what seemed a[Pg 447] superhuman effort, drew it over her face. Ethan put out his hand to take it away, but Val arrested him.

"Don't! don't! She would never let any one see when she suffered." The girl fell sobbing at the bedside.

Some time after, Val drew the linen down. The suffering was over, so was the long life.


Venus and the "new" servant had taken turns to sit through the day in the long room, where the body lay. Ethan was to watch through the night, but Val had insisted that she should be there from ten till midnight while Ethan slept, before his watch began. He opposed her plan, but gave way at last and went to lie down—not to sleep. Just before twelve o'clock he came out of his room, down over the head of his old enemy Yaffti, and stopped outside the long room door. Again a remembrance of his childhood's awe, and the queer sense that he ought, in spite of all, to knock to-night before going in. He turned the knob and entered softly.

The long, straight outlines of the coffin set high upon a bier, the candles burning at the head, and in the shadow at the coffin's side a deeper shadow on the floor. As his eyes became accustomed to the light, he saw it was his cousin crouching there on her knees, with bowed head and hands folded straight before her, palm to palm. He went forward and tried to lift her.

"No, let me alone; I—I want to pray."

"To pray, Val?"

She bowed her white face.

"Not to God—I don't know about God—but there's some one else now out in the vague, and I—I have need of her."

Her face drooped out of sight, and the moments passed. The motionless figure with the folded palms might have been a mortuary marble on an ancient tomb, so rigid was it, so uninformed by life. Ethan sat at the coffin's foot and watched the candles flare.

What if this shock and jar were to send Val back to the[Pg 448] faith of her fathers? What was it in its lesser effect upon himself? What was it working in him? He looked at the long, dim outlines. Death! For the girl, too, with her joy of life, her greed of consciousness, and for him, this hour would come, of rigid quiet, and of watchers in the candle-light. He shivered involuntarily, glancing at the kneeling figure. Death! How much he had thought about it, and how little he had seen. Here it was beside him in a narrow box. He turned away his eyes, seized upon afresh by its horror and its fascination. That moment of dissolution, what had it been like? Even the brave old woman had covered up her face. He peered a moment into the pit, realizing for that instant the wrenching away of life's supports, the plunge, the sinking to the bottom. With an effort he reminded himself of the peace, too, awaiting all down there, and its being the only possible solution to the riddle of the world. But the end—the end! Earthquake and avalanche it is, for the one who lies a-dying; fire and flood and shock of battle, the true end of the world. For us the lamp of the sun was lit on the day of our birth, for us the stars will be snuffed out and chaos come again when we lie down to die.

Had it been like that with her—this dead woman at his elbow? He stood up; cautiously he came to the coffin's head, with parted lips, like one about to put an eager question. He laid back the white sheet. At sight of the tranquil features his own tense look relaxed. Ah, no; for that steadfast spirit the end had brought no terror, or if it had, the quiet face kept triumphantly its secret. A movement down in the shadow, and Val lifted her head, but not as high as the coffin.

"Ethan!"—she clutched his hand—"don't you feel how alive she is? Hush! in a moment she will speak. I've asked her for a sign."

They waited—in that silence that wraps the world. Then Val stood up, and gave a cry as she beheld the face for the first time since the "laying out." She caught up the candle, and held up the light before the dead, as she[Pg 449] had held it before the living woman on that evening long ago, when Ethan saw her first.

"Oh, Ethan, Ethan," said the girl, "she's smiling! That's her answer."


They had come back from the burial, and for the first time in their lives Val and Emmie were in the old house without that constant presence that had come to seem as much a part of the Fort as its very walls. Ethan was still there. Mrs. Otway had come to be with them through those first days; but since the dead body had been carried out of the house loneliness was lodged there like a bailiff, violating the sanctity and blessedness of home.

Ethan found Val in the long room the next evening, sitting on the floor crying, with head against the big empty chair.

"Even you can't make the awful loneliness go away," she said. "I must wait awhile before I can think about taking up life."

The next day she said to him: "You must go away now, and you must come back for me."

"You still think it possible?"

"For you to go away?"

"For me to come back."

"Possible? Inevitable!" She smiled up at him with an air of tender mockery. "No escape from me. But never forget"—she was grave enough now—"we may escape paying the penalty—people do."

He studied her a moment. No; she was thinking only of the natural "chance." No idea of trying to control it had come her way. "Nor could she comprehend," he thought, "how, even if I am wrong in my inveterate mistrust, or if science should to-morrow carry us so far that we should be demonstrably beyond the reach of danger—she could not realize that no power on earth or in the heavens could make us fully credit our security, could carry us beyond the reach of fear. Imagination is, by so much, mightier than reason. Trust imagination to keep[Pg 450] the fear alive, to work without ceasing, by day and by night, subtly to destroy the fabric of our lives."

But even when the strong contagion of his fear had reached and mastered her a moment, it was fear with another face.

"I see plainly"—she laid her hands on his shoulders—"you think that it will mend matters if you have the treachery to go the long journey by yourself, and leave me alone in the world. But it would only mean that we should die apart, and now, when we might have died later and together, and—and"—she laid her face against him—"after great joy." He stroked her hair with an unsteady hand. "Look at me!" she cried on a sudden, lifting up her face. "You aren't afraid? Don't you see that I'd keep my word?"

"Yes, you'd keep your word."

In his inmost heart it would have helped him at that moment to have found any softness of shrinking there.

"Then you'll come when I send—you'll come and take me away?"

Was it fancy, or had she lightly stressed the "me"? He thought of how he had come first of all and taken John Gano to the South to die; how he had returned to follow his grandmother to her long home. He had a sudden vision of himself in the guise of Death. "Each time I come," he thought, "I see some one of this house off on his last journey. Soon little Emmie will be left alone."

But Emmie was not left to the last, and Ethan, though he never knew it, was responsible for her, too, turning her back upon the Fort—upon the world.

The effect of Mrs. Gano's death on a clinging and dependent nature like Emmie's was painfully apparent. Val's new-born sense of tender guardianship over her younger sister was certainly not weakened by the younger girl's confession, after he went away, of her passion for Ethan.

"I always thought it might come right for me," she said, "till—till I saw the look on his face when he bade you good-bye. When will you be married, Val?"

[Pg 451]

"I don't know, dear."

"Some time during this year?"

"I should think so."

The younger girl bowed a meek head, and turned to her faith as a refuge, or, as Ethan would have said, an opiate. But the old helps seemed to have lost somewhat of their efficacy. She began to go to mass, and one day sought an interview with the Roman Catholic priest. A few months afterwards she was received into the Roman Church.

Val would not leave her sister while she was going through these phases, and forbade Ethan to come till she should send for him.

But Mrs. Gano had not been in her grave a year when Emmie herself made the final move that broke up the old home. How much religious fervor had to do with it, how much a sense of unfitness for the battle of life, how much a feeling in the gentle heart that she was delaying Val's happiness, no one ever knew. She bade her sister good-bye with many tears, turned her back upon the Fort, and entered the first year of her novitiate at the Convent of the Sacred Heart.

A week later, in early August, Val was married very quietly to her cousin, in the Church of St. Thomas. "But the real marriage was that evening on the river when we propitiated the Fates," she whispered, as they came down the church steps.

[Pg 452]


They went abroad at once. At first, in a rhythm of rapture and of terror, the time went by, now with flying, now with faltering feet. But albeit living on the volcano's brink is possible to men—living there with fear is not. The fire still rages under foot, but the terror must burn out, or else the life.

It had been to Ethan a standing marvel that happiness—forgetfulness—had visited them so persistently even in these first months. In vain he said to himself, "Fool! be sure Nemesis keeps the score!" Of what avail that a man should tell himself Nemesis would exact the uttermost farthing for every care-free hour, when life, in the guise of the woman he loved, was luring him on from one day to the next, and the next, and the next?

April found them at Nice. They had come back to their hotel one night after the play, and Val had gone out on the balcony that opened off their sitting-room, declaring the night too glorious to waste indoors. Ethan followed her, and while the town went to sleep, they sat there in the moonlight, and talked of many things. In a moment of protest against the anodyne of gladness that he felt stealing into his blood, he burst out with something of his wonder at their frequent and utter forgetting of the shadow.

"It's not wonderful at all—it's what all the world does without our good reason." She pressed closer to his side; then, as if feeling the sudden frost that had fallen on his spirit, she drew away, but smiling and unchilled. "Dear lord and master, I give you warning, I've done with fearing. I see that Life means well by us; I sha'n't doubt her any more."

[Pg 453]

"Unberufen"; and he smote the wooden balustrade with his hand.

"I tell you plainly"—she flashed a tender defiance in his face—"the Fates gave me a very small stock of fear to begin with, and I've used it up. It's"—she held up her little hands and flung them out to the right and left—"all gone!"

"Hush; don't jest about it, dear."

"Never was more serious. I'm warning you. Not all the king's horses nor all the king's men—"

"Hush, hush!"

"Not even"—with a disdainful toe she touched the yellow-covered book that lay on the balcony floor—"not even your old Dumas fils can frighten me."

"I never heard him accused of trying."

"Oh yes, and most insidiously, in those lines he wrote to go before Diane de Lys."

"The lines to Rose Chéri?"

"Yes. If I were going to be frightened— Ugh! I did have a black moment."

He drew her into his arms with a sheltering impulse.

"I had forgotten the verses were—"

"Oh, it wasn't the verses, it was the situation. He had loved her—"

"Yes, I remember; and she died."

"Isn't it queer that it should be left to poor Rose Chéri's lover to convince an American, with a very pessimistic lover of her own—left to Dumas to convince me of death? You know when Henri de Poincy came for you this afternoon?"

"I left you to rest and read up La Dame aux Camélias; not meditate on mortality."

"See how you've corrupted me. I was just dropping asleep over the play, when the book slipped, and the leaves turned back to the dedication of Diane. I read it. Quite suddenly"—she sat up, and her face was pale in the moonlight—"I realized Death. Not merely as a thing that might come to one's grandmother, but.... You see, I[Pg 454] had considered it too much to realize it. But there was that dainty Rose Chéri before me. She had been loved—almost as well as I—"

"No, no." He pressed his lips on hers.

"All those kisses didn't keep the red on Rose Chéri's lips. They turned to evil gray ashes. Her jewel-bright eyes, back they sunk to blackness in their sockets. All that beauty and feeling—all that feeling, Ethan—wiped out." The living lovers clung together for a moment. "I suddenly saw," the girl went on, "for the first time in my life, really saw, that death wasn't a strange infrequent happening, but that everybody has the face turned that way. Yet, as I sit and tell you about it, the realization slips away—once more it's only words."

"Yes," he said, "that's part of Nature's colossal imposture."

At the word "imposture" she seemed to try to recapture the revelation of the afternoon.

"Dumas is dead," she murmured, looking across the bay from under knitted brows. "He felt all that, and yet he's dead. The beautiful woman and the strong man, they are now as if they'd never been here. Nothing availed them. His genius, her faith, her beauty, their love—futile, futile—they had to go. Were they alive as I'm alive?" She turned suddenly on her lover, in a kind of panic. "Did they feel life so keen a thing as we?"

"No, no; he hadn't you to love."

"Surely it was not like this, or they could not have died." She lay back in his arms and looked up at the full white moon. Presently she smiled. "As I sit here to-night I simply do not believe one little bit in this rumor of death—not as touching me. Other people—yes—only not me."

As she lifted her head from his shoulder and sat up so straight and sure, the man's nerves shrank under a sense of desertion. In a sudden access of physical pride and joyous sovereignty, she seemed to have cast him off, along with Rose Chéri and the rest of that great "nation that is not."

[Pg 455]

"No one was ever truly alive before," she was saying half to herself, her wide shining eyes turned upward to the stars. "That was why they died. But me—"

"Oh, my darling!" he said, bending towards her, "you are quick in every fibre and in every sense. The wild taste of life has stung your palate, and I sit and wonder how long—how long—" What need to finish, she must understand. But her thoughts were turned another way.

"How long?" She laughed low and joyously. "I've enough life to last as long as the sun has heat to warm the world. I shall go on and on and on." She turned to him with a quick, free movement, and stopped at sight of his face, as though she had been smitten into stone. After a moment she bowed her head down on his knees. They sat motionless. When she raised her head, it was to say: "Never mind, we've come safely so far;" but her face was bright with tears.

"O life," she said softly, looking upward to the stars, "don't let me die!"

"Are you so happy?" he said, hungering to hear it was for what he brought her she would stay.

"Yes, yes," she said, grasping his hand; "and I'm so hungry for this being alive."

He drew his hand away.

"A thousand years," he said, with a kind of anger, "wouldn't quench your curiosity, or weary your quest for joy; but a little sorrow may."

She shook her head dreamily.

"I think my soul must have waited long about the gates of life begging to be let in. I'm so content to be here, so willing to take the rough with the smooth, so grateful for the good—"

"So patient with the wrong," he added, with tender self-reproach, and he gathered her up to his breast.

She laughed, a low laugh, with her face pressed close to his, and he felt forgiven, but the girl was only saying to herself, "To think that I've bothered about—why, it would be grotesque for me to die. There'd be no meaning in it[Pg 456]—a kind of violence against Nature and probability that reason revolts at. Everything matters so to me. It's for my sake the sun shines, it is for me the moonlight is mysterious, and the ways of life so many, and so thickly set with adventure."

"You'll admit," she said aloud, at last making ready to go in, "most people have never suspected how good and wonderful the world is—so, plainly, it must be for me (and one or two besides) that it's so fine and terrible a thing to be a dweller in it. Poor world!"—she stopped on the threshold and looked back at the night—"when men rail at you so dully, no wonder you stop their mouths with dust. But for me, I love you. Even when you hurt me I love you—I love you! You'll not get many to bear so good-humoredly with all your wild moods as I—make the most of me. Let me stay a long, long time." And again she went blithely to face death, after the manner of women.


In London and Paris Val made her husband renew his old friendships, and show her that picturesque and holiday side of life so charming to the American woman. Dressed for Lady Eamont's garden-party one day at the end of June, Val stood radiant in her pretty clothes before the long mirror in the drawing-room of her house in Bruton street, waiting for the carriage.

"I feel like a lady on a Watteau fan," she said, rejoicing frankly in the dainty elegance of her Paris frock. "It's all so airy and so cobwebby. Don't breathe hard," she cried, as Ethan bent over her; "a breath will blow me away."

"Are you as happy as you look?" he asked, smiling.

"Happy! I think nobody was ever so happy before. I believed I knew how beautiful life was, but I didn't."

She looked out of the open window. It was one of those peerless summer days with which England repays her months of gloom. The white silk curtains waved in the soft air, bringing in wafts of mignonette from the window-boxes. Val threw back her head with the old movement,[Pg 457] smiling. "Yes, it's easy to see," said Ethan to himself, "easy to see what she's thinking."

"I'm glad you're so happy. I was afraid you didn't sleep well last night; you were so restless."

"Was I?" She laughed. "Oh, I suppose I grudge the time I waste in sleep. There's the carriage."


As the days wore on he lost his fear of pricking the bright bubble of her gladness. The life they led left little time for meditation, and Val's enjoyment of balls, races, and kindred festivities, gave him an interest in the old round that surprised no one more than himself. He saw it all in a new and tender light, this mask of fair women, leagued in their age-old conspiracy, gliding across ballroom floors, trailing flower-like fabrics over velvet lawns, decorating the tops of coaches, and making of boats up the river floating gardens. There was much art in this determined turning of life into a festival; there might be philosophy, too, in woman's light-hearted begging of the "Question."

If the men tried here and there to wile Val's heart away, why, that was part of the game, and the women certainly did not neglect Val's husband.

"You are so different to most American men," said a certain smart lady who had shown him frank preference.

"Oh," said Gano, "have you known many?"

"Well, several; and you're quite different."

"I am sorry to fall below the standard."

"You don't fall below; you do the opposite."

"You make me wonder about the others."

"Oh, they were all right, but I don't like American men as a rule."

"You must try to keep the awful knowledge from crossing the Atlantic."

"Oh, they know we don't care much for the men."

"I'll tell you what we'll do"—he spoke as one having an inspiration—"we'll kill off all our men if you'll kill off all your women."

[Pg 458]

She laughed good-humoredly.

"We'd spare the Southerners for your sake; besides, the English have always had a weakness for Southerners. You're more like us. You don't make little set speeches, and you are delightfully quiet and grave."

Ethan burst out laughing.

"One has to come to England to be praised for one's blemishes," he said.

"Blemishes! Do you know the most objectionable thing in the American manner is excessive cheerfulness?"

"You surprise me."

"I've already said I didn't mean you."

Whereat Ethan laughed again with more amusement than he often showed.

"Say the most obvious, commonplace thing, and an American will laugh," she said, reproachfully.

"Ah, you see, our national sense of humor—"

"Nonsense; it's just uneasiness and excessive desire to please."

"Ah yes, we are very simple-minded."

"There's nothing so maddening as a constant smile. That girl over there in the pervenche silk, an old school friend of mine, was condoling with me before you came upon having a brother-in-law whose habitual expression is a fixed frown. I said it didn't trouble any of us in the least. Both my sister and I had long ago agreed, if we had to choose between a man with a perpetual laugh or a perpetual scowl, we'd take the scowl and be grateful."

"Ah, I begin to understand your ladyship's tolerance for me."

"Come, now, be honest; don't you realize how much more Americans laugh than other people?"

"If it is so, it's because we're the saddest race under the sun."

Still he smiled.


"Yes; in proof of it our feverish activity, and our [Pg 459]frequent laughter. You remember the boy who whistled in the dark? The American laughs on the same principle."


It was early August, and they were in Scotland. A letter came from Emmie saying that she had been ill, and was a little better; but there was a settled sadness in the few lines that roused Val out of her engrossed delight in her first experience of country-house life.

"I'm so sorry, Ethan—when we're having such a good time, too; but I almost think— Emmie has no one in the world, you know, but me."

They took the next steamer back to America.

The news they found awaiting them at the Fort was in the shape of a letter from the Mother Superior, saying that Emmie was certainly better, but that she refused to see her sister. She was for the moment immovable in her resolve to hold no personal communication with the outside world. This, from the clinging and affectionate Emmie, was a great blow to Val. She shed the first tears since her marriage over the letter. But until Emmie relented, or was quite well, she wanted to be within call.

"You think you'll like staying here?" Ethan looked about the faded room.

"Yes; I love the Fort. I belong here."

"I must have it freshened up for you, then."

"No, I like it as she left it."


The first person to call at the Fort was Harry Wilbur. He appeared to be laboring under a suitable depression, and never addressed Val without Mrs. Gano-ing her. She said, at last:

"You mustn't be politer than I am, and I can't possibly call you anything but 'Harry.'"

He flushed and laughed.

"All right;" and he presently gave himself up to an undisguised satisfaction in Val's return.

It was from Wilbur she heard that Julia Otway was engaged to be married to Mr. Tom Scherer, Judge Wilbur's[Pg 460] new law partner. The late-comer was reputed to be tremendously clever, and to have written a very "modern" and highly successful novel.

"Scherer's great," Harry said, in his good-natured way. "He does and is all the things my father's been bothering so long to make me."

"And do you like him—this Scherer?"

"Course; he's taken a frightful responsibility off me. Besides, he's a capital fellow."

Val and Ethan were going over the river one morning soon after their arrival, when, on the bridge in the narrow footway, they met Julia and Jerry face to face. Val shook hands with them both, and as she talked to Jerry she heard Ethan saying they had expected to see Julia before this—when was she coming to the Fort? Julia made plausible excuses for not having called before, and Ethan laughingly blamed Mr. Scherer.

"Bring him to see us," he said, as they parted.

The next morning, Julia passed by while Ethan was giving some directions to the gardeners. He called out to her, and they talked awhile at the gate. Val, at an upper window, wondered what she could say to her husband that would not betray the ground of that old quarrel, and that yet would relieve her from pretending she had shaken off the effects of it. As she stood there the bell sounded. Julia glanced up and saw her. Ethan, seeing a change in the face, looked up, too, and called out:

"Oh, Val, here's Miss Julia; make her come in and lunch with us."

Val went down and seconded her husband's invitation. Julia declined, but Ethan insisted. In the end she came. Twice in the following week Ethan went over to play tennis at the Otways'. The last time he brought Julia and Mr. Scherer back with him.

Val was sitting on the back veranda with Ernest and Sue Halliwell.

When the Halliwells had gone, and Ethan and Mr. Scherer had strolled off to see how the newly rolled and[Pg 461] sodded croquet-ground was looking, Julia said, with a slight embarrassment:

"Your husband just made us come back with him."

"I'm very glad."

"I told him you didn't want to see me."

Val looked up quickly.

"He must have thought that strange."

"He did. So then I knew you had never told."

"Told what?"

"Oh, about that old school-girl silliness of mine."

"You must have known that I would never—"

"Yes, yes—especially now that I'm engaged."

"I don't see how that affects the situation," said Val, a little haughtily.

Julia was looking after the men.

"You've never forgiven me," she said, "and yet I should think you'd been happy enough to—"

"To what?"

"Not to harbor ill-will."

"I don't see what my being happy has to do with it."

"Why, everything. The one who has got what she wants hasn't much ground for complaint."

"Much ground for complaint?" Val's eyes sparkled. "What do you mean? What have I to complain of?"

"Nothing, of course, really. But I've thought the few times we've met that you—that you didn't particularly like—" She stopped.

"When I don't like things I change them," said Val, privately congratulating them both that Julia's sentence was left hanging in the air. Pride was working strongly upon her. "It's true enough that I've got what I want; but haven't you?" The two men came back round the L, crunching the new gravel under their feet. "The Halliwells said you are to be married next month."

"Other people always know what I'm going to do so much better than I do my myself."

"It's not true, then?"

"It's not settled."

[Pg 462]

The men were within ear-shot.

"You and Mr. Scherer must stay to supper," said Val, with a deliberate cordiality, as the men rejoined them, "mustn't they, Ethan?"

In the evening old Mr. Otway and Jerry came over. Julia played, and her fiancé sang student songs.

Julia noticed that Mr. Gano made no effort to get Val to sing, and she fell to imagining what his feelings had been when he found that he had silenced that wonderful voice. She went home full of secret pain and irritation—irritation at Tom Scherer because—well, because he was not Ethan Gano; pain at finding how the old feeling she had thought dead had sprung up quick, tormenting, under the careless glance of those sombre eyes.

Almost every morning she resolved to go no more to the Fort; almost every evening saw the resolution broken.

If, in the days that followed, Julia's odd footing in the house was not discouraged by Val's proud tolerance, it was maintained by an attitude on Ethan's part, entirely friendly, sometimes even flattering. With Scherer, too, he was on the best of terms. Scherer, immensely pleased at Gano's liking for his society, was ready to smoke and talk politics or literature till two in the morning. He could sit in court all day, play tennis or sing songs in the evening, and again sit up half the night.

"Do men always need outsiders? Is a wife never enough? Still, it isn't Scherer I mind," Val said, honestly enough, to herself, "although he is beginning to echo and imitate Ethan absurdly."

The real trouble was that they went almost nowhere without Julia. It was Julia and Ethan who one day, when Val was confined to her room with a cold, arranged the steamboat excursions up and down the Mioto.

Val, lying in bed in the blue room, heard them laughing down on the back veranda.

Ethan came up-stairs an hour or so later.

"Oh, you're awake!"

"Well, yes; it isn't likely I'd sleep with all that noise."

[Pg 463]

"What noise?"

"Why, Julia and you laughing."

"Oh, I'm sorry. It was stupid of us to leave the door open."

The answer jarred.

"Does Julia know my cold's worse?"

"Yes, she wanted to come up and see you."

"She did!"

"I wouldn't let her disturb you. But she's got a plan—rather an amusing plan. Julia is full of ideas."

"What kind of ideas?"

"Oh, plans for passing the time. This, for instance: going one of these fine days with hampers and some good fiddlers on an absurd flat-bottomed steamboat, that stops every time a passenger comes out of the virgin forest to the water's edge and waves an umbrella to the man at the wheel."

"Going an excursion on the steamboat is an idea that every man, woman, and child in New Plymouth has had for the last century."

Ethan smiled.

"Shall I read to you?"

"You don't want to talk?"

She had some ado not to cry, but she kept saying to herself: "Silly! silly! silly!"

"I don't mind," he answered; but he walked about the room looking at Aunt Valeria's atrocities, and naturally, Val said to herself, growing grave. How he had laughed down on the veranda!

In a couple of days she had shaken off her cold sufficiently to go on the river with Julia's party. Although it was little pleasure to Val, she offered no slightest objection to this excursion or to the second "up river."

But although no one noticed anything amiss, the days were bringing her an acute disquiet. She saw clearly that Julia was not in love with Tom Scherer, and she saw further. A new sense came to her, not altogether depressing, of life's fecund possibility for unhappiness. So many ways[Pg 464] of going wrong, only one of going right! Well, it was very exciting.

"Is this what the story-books mean? Am I what's called jealous?" she asked herself. "Am I secretly afraid of Julia? Was Ethan right? Does even joy like ours change and pass? No, no; it will be all right to-morrow."

Although she called herself a thousand fools, and guilty of vulgar suspicions into the bargain, she presently could not rid herself of the feeling that Ethan was a little cold to her; the mere fancy that this might be so made her shrink from him, lightly evade his caress, first frustrate and then deny his tenderness.

"You are tired of being kissed?" he said, one morning.

As she only smiled and made no answer, he did not for thirty-six hours offer to repeat the offence, and went with lowered looks, silent, impenetrable, when they were alone.

"Is it really so?" she burst out that second evening, after Julia and the rest went home. "Is it only when others are here that you are happy?"

"It's only when others are here that I can forget that there's a rhythm even in such love as ours."

"What do you mean by a rhythm?"

"A rise and a fall. A winter because there has been a summer."

"No, no, Ethan." Her voice rang piteously.

"I'm not blaming you, dear."

"Blaming me? I should think not." She spoke almost cavalierly.

"It's the same with the fortunes of love, I suppose," he went on, "as it is with the fortunes of families, of nations, creeds, crops." He laughed a little ironic laugh. "The very planets have a time of prosperity, a point of ascendancy reached, a time of failing, an ultimate—"

"Ethan, Ethan, what are you saying!" She stopped him as he paced the parlor from Daniel Boone to the mirror. She remembered the evening that her father, in that very room, had "forbidden the banns." "You know I don't let you talk like that of our dear love."

[Pg 465]

"I only say it to myself, child, as a kind of comfort."

"You need comforting, too?"

He nodded, smiling in his grave way.

"I tell myself it's not my darling that is to blame. We've been almost too happy. The old leveller, Nature, is at her eternal work of rotation, turning the big wheel round. By so much as we've been on the top we must go under for a little."

"Ethan, that may be good science, but it's very poor love."

"It's the best apology I can invent for you."

"For me?" Her voice rang along an indignant circumflex.

"It's certainly not I who was tired."

"Oh, Ethan, I was never tired for the smallest little bit of an instant. Kiss me! kiss me!" She clung about his neck. "It was only that I was tired of Julia's high laugh, and—and tired of her altogether!" she burst out.

"Then why do you have her here?" he asked, without a moment's hesitation.

"Oh, only because you like her so much," Val said, with her old childish frankness.

"As to that, I like her well enough. She's provincial, but she's lively and good-tempered. However, if she's got on your nerves, I don't want her about."

"It would be very selfish of me—" Val began, with reluctantly righteous air.

"Nonsense. How long do you want to stay here, anyhow?"

"Do you mean you're ready to go away?" she asked, her lips parting and her white teeth gleaming in a half incredulous smile.

"I do call that ingratitude."

"Of course I know it was for my sake at first—"

"First and last, Mrs. Gano; though what good it does Emmie—"

"Oh-h!" She leaned her head against him with a happy sigh. "You're thinking of Emmie!"

[Pg 466]

"As to Julia," he said, reflectively, "I didn't know enough about women's friendships to be able to tell—"

He looked down at the face on his shoulder considering.

"Yes," she said, smiling, "let me in—tell me the worst."

"You see, Julia"—he hesitated—"it won't be easy to make you understand without hurting you."

Val stood suddenly erect, the smile gone. But very gently he pressed her head down on his shoulder again, and rested his cheek on her hair.

"You see, Julia is like a game of tennis, or a pleasant picture of the anecdotic kind. She doesn't give one cause to think; she is mildly amusing and agreeably irrelevant."

"What is there in that to hurt me?" said the suspicious voice under his chin.

"There is nothing that ought to hurt you. But such a person may at times be a sort of—a sort of—"

"Distraction—refuge; just what I used to be."

"As if any one ever could be what you used to be!"

He held her closer.

"You're saying what I used to be, as if—"

She struggled to get out of his arms, but he kept her prisoner.

"Hush! Listen. It's only this, dear: In sharing my life you have come a little—a little under the shadow. No, you aren't what you used to be—a gay little cousin that one could laugh with, and, as I thought, leave behind. You are something so much nearer that you are a dearer self. You give hope a new gladness"—she looked up with happy eyes—"you give fear fresh poignancy."

"No—no," she said lightly, concerned only to lift him out of his grave mood. "No, Ethan, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I have not found it dull or gloomifying to be with you. You invent sad things to say, but we've had a heavenly time—till just lately."

"Yes, we found happiness if ever two people did!" But he looked at her with so strange a passion of questioning that she kissed his eyelids down.

[Pg 467]


She longed more and more to go abroad again.

"As soon as ever you please," said Ethan.

How good he was to her! How he indulged her! How wonderful it was to be loved by such a man! Soon they'd be off again on their travels, seeing the beautiful Old World. Oh, Life was keeping her promises every one!

Five days after the talk about Julia came a letter from Mother Joachim, saying that Emmie's health was quite restored, but that she was inflexible about not seeing her sister. Mother Joachim herself thought it best that, for a year or so, nothing more should be said of the proposed meeting. Perhaps the girl would be willing to see her friends before taking the black veil.

With a joy, for which Val, thinking of her sister, reproached herself, she and Ethan had begun to lay their plans for a winter in Italy. Suddenly, without reason as it appeared to her, his interest seemed to falter, his good spirits to flicker out.

Although even Val would not have denied that her husband could, if put to it, produce at any moment of the day or night the blackest charges against the order of the world, he had not hitherto proved a depressing person to live with. Like certain other unsanguine souls, he was a pleasanter companion than many an arrant optimist.

This was more certainly the case when politics were a little in the background. Val longed to see the subject banned. It seemed the one thing that took Ethan quite out of her sphere, and kept him in some world of scorn and indignation, at whose borders her smiling jurisdiction stopped.

[Pg 468]

"No more politics!" she said to Tom Scherer when he appeared after breakfast the morning after the letter had come from Mother Joachim. "I've come to the conclusion that it's bad for the digestion to talk bribery and corruption night after night till the small hours."

"Your digestion ought to be all right. You deserted us at eleven o'clock."

"I? Oh yes; but other people—"

"Never know when to go home?"

"It's not the people who go home that I am concerned about, if you'll forgive my saying so. Ethan's in one of his moods this morning."

"What sort of mood?" asked Scherer, looking into the cloudless face of the young wife. "Not very grim, to judge from its effect on yours."

"Oh, very grim indeed." As Ethan came in she waved her hand and made a little mock bow. "You knew him yesterday as His Serene Transparency, to-day Don Inscrutable Furioso of Grim Tartary; smokes like a chimney, and won't say a word."

Ethan laughed and threw his cigarette into the fire.


"Good-morning! I thought before I went to the office I'd come and have a little talk with you about that piece of property out by Ely's Farm."

Val glanced through the window.

"Hi there! Jack and Jill, where you off to? Wait!"

The men looked out, and saw two small chocolate-brown infants precipitate themselves upon Val. She sat down on the grass with the two small creatures in front of her, and soon had them rolling about and squealing with merriment.

"Where on earth did she find those pickaninnies?" asked Scherer.

"Offspring of Venus; little sunburned, that's all."

Val's dog-cart came to the gate, and she called out:

"Ethan, come and mind the twins while I get my hat."

He came out, and the children scuttled at sight of him.

[Pg 469]

"Do smile and reassure them," Val said, reproachfully. "There are ways of looking black that darkies don't mind, but— Oh, forgive me!" She caught up his hand and smiled tenderly at him. "I was only making fun, but it was stupid fun. I don't make light of your political anxieties, but life must go on, you know, and we must smile—just a little." She ran into the house and came out with hat and gloves. "Put the babies into the cart, Ethan. They're coming for a drive."

The black children, preternaturally solemn while Ethan and Scherer lifted them in, grinned and squealed with excitement the moment they were landed by the side of "Miss Val."

"Miss Val" had been in wild spirits since she opened her eyes. The reaction had set in. After those days of vague, jealously hidden pain, she saw at hand a speedy freedom from the burden of Julia's presence.

She drove the fleet little Arab madly about the town "doing errands," she called out to the Halliwells and others, as she clattered by them in the dog-cart, with her grinning little guests breaking into shrieks of laughter at each jolt and every sudden turning of a corner. Val bought them oranges and sticks of candy. One of her "errands" was to call at the bank for Jerry, who, she said, alone understood how to make the perfection of a swing. She must have a swing. She was dying for a swing. It was so silly to give up delightful things just because children found them delightful too. And old Mr. Otway was coaxed to let Jerry come back in the cart.

On the crooked limb of the catalpa-tree they rigged up a splendid swing, and Jerry stayed to luncheon.

"I won't keep you after three," his old playmate said. "Ethan and I are working at Italian from three till four. But come back this evening, and receive the thanks of the assembled community."

After Jerry took himself off, Ethan and she went into the long room and began their reading. Usually this hour over their books was a time that Ethan seemed frankly[Pg 470] to enjoy. To-day, in spite of Val's gay good-humor, he was sometimes languid and sometimes nervously alert. He scolded her a little for forgetting a rule he had told her the day before.

"Yes, I'm stupid; forgive me," she said.

Again, towards the end of the hour, her attention wandered, remembering joyously that she was going abroad again.

"You are thinking of something else," he said, looking at her almost angrily.

"Oh, well, I won't."

"Yes, but you do. You lose half the good of learning a new language if it doesn't teach you to concentrate. Shut out everything else," he said, gravely. "It's the only way."

"Yes, yes, I'll be much better next time. But are you loving me to-day?"

He dropped the book like one whose strength is spent. Then he leaned over the arm of the great red chair and kissed her, holding her close, clinging to her.

"In spite of my sins, are you loving me more than you did yesterday?" she said, smiling.

"Twenty-four hours more," he answered, seeming to fall in with her mood.

"All that much more?"

"All that much."

"What are we going to do to-day after lessons?" She got up and stood before him with her finger in her book.

"Scherer and I are going to ride out to Ely's Farm a little after four, to look at that property. You had better come, too."

"All right. But what makes you look at me so—so—" She dropped her book and perched herself on his knee. "What are you thinking about?"

"I was thinking about this bit of Dante."

"No, no; it's wicked to tell lies. You don't smile to-day except when you make yourself. What—are—you—thinking—about?" she demanded.

But she waited in vain. He seemed to forget her [Pg 471]question—forget her presence. She put one arm about his neck, and lifting her other hand doubled, she knocked at his forehead.

"Let me in—let me in," she said.

His answer was to crush her against him, and hold her so, in a silence that was broken only by the loud, insistent ticking of the tall gilt clock. When Val spoke again it was subdued and dreamily:

"Isn't it odd how much we sit in this huge old chair of hers whenever we're here alone?"

"It's a friendly old chair," he answered, putting out his foot and setting it in motion. "Ever since the far back times when I was rocked to sleep in it, and made to forget Yaffti and all the spectres and the hurts of childhood"—his voice was sweet and lulling—"the old chair has been a haven."

"It was more of a judgment-seat to me," she said, and it crossed her mind that it must be near the anniversary of the day her grandmother had died.

She mustn't forget that date as she did all others; her whole life long she meant to remember that day, to keep it holy with special remembrance and with flowers, and some little deed of the kind she would have liked—done in memoriam. She lifted her head from Ethan's shoulder and looked for the calendar. It always hung on a brass nail beside the fireplace. It had been there three or four days ago, she was sure. She sat thinking this, with her head turned away from her husband, and then, while she speculated as to the calendar's whereabouts, another portion of her brain was thinking idly:

"Why doesn't he draw me back into his arms as he always does, and say, 'Don't be such a restless creature'? He sees I'm looking for something; why doesn't he ask for what?" And then a sudden, formless presentiment seized her. "It must be because he knows. Why should he have guessed just that? Had he taken the calendar away himself? Why should he? What was the date?"

Like a blow between the eyes came the knowledge and[Pg 472] awakening. As if it had actually come in the form of a blow from a fist, she shut her dazed eyes, and saw the blackness sown with stars. But for that closing of the eyes, no muscle had she moved. She had indeed lost track of time. Her ineradicable failing there had made forgetfulness possible; the time of painful preoccupation about Julia had made it easy; the last days of all-absorbing gladness had made it sure. She did the mental sum again and again. Yes, it was September 16. To-morrow was the anniversary of Mrs. Gano's death. Yesterday was the last day of the old life for Val. To-day the bolt had fallen. But had it—had it? Had she not lived through moments like this before? In those first months—yes; but then she had taken Time and Fear by the forelock. To-day she was far behind.

It was strange to herself how all her dreads—physical shrinking and mental anguish—focused in the fear of reading Ethan's consciousness in his face. If blindness could only come upon her, if only she could escape seeing the knowledge in the face she loved, she would, she knew, escape the sharpest pang of all.

What was he thinking now of her long immobility? Why didn't he speak or move? What need? Why should they look each other in the face? She felt his eyes on her back, and a shiver ran between her shoulder-blades. Those eyes of his, how she dreaded them! They pierced through to the brain. They looked into her heart and watched it as it shrank, showing her the while that, whatever she endured, his agony was more.

She bowed her head down over her knees. He gathered her up as if she had been a little child, and rocked her dumbly in his arms. They sat so for a moment, each hiding the face from the other. A loud resounding blow upon the knocker made them start apart.

"The summons!" he thought.

And that morning in the attic came back to him when, as a child, he glowed with excitement and pride to find the old brass knocker bearing his own name.

Val had kept her back turned when she started up, and[Pg 473] was standing now before the window looking into the street. The horses were at the door. Ethan went out. She heard him speaking with Scherer, and Scherer's voice saying:

"Julia will be round in five minutes."

Val fled up-stairs and locked the door. She heard her husband coming up, and listened breathless—Scherer, too! A light knock on her door as they passed, and Ethan's voice:

"Don't be long getting ready, dear."

He never said "dear" to her before people.

"No; I won't be long," she heard herself answer.

She tore off her house-gown and hurried on her habit. She must be down first. If she were not, she felt she couldn't go, and since he was going—

When she got down to the gate the only person in sight was Julia, drawing rein by the new white mounting-block at the gate. Calling to the gardener: "Tell Mr. Gano we've gone on before," Val mounted her horse. "I'll race you to the Maple Grove," she cried, and set off at a gallop, Julia following.

Val reached the goal first, and rode back nearly half a mile to propose a shorter contest. Then another and another, till the men caught them up. They, too, seemed to have a fancy for hard riding, and when they reached Ely's Farm the four horses were in a foam.

They went over Scherer's property while it was light, and had a nondescript meal afterwards at the farm.

On the way home she heard her husband telling Scherer he must come back with them and get a book Ethan had promised him in the morning. They left Julia at her gate. When Ethan lifted Val down from her horse he whispered:

"I may walk back with Scherer after we've had a smoke. Don't wait up for me ... go to sleep, darling."

She clung to him an instant in the dark, and then went in-doors. Her maid was waiting for her up-stairs.

"A bath," said her mistress; "I'm very hot and dusty."

The warm water refreshed and revived her. She put on[Pg 474] her long blue dressing-gown of soft unrustling silk. She saw with the old pleasure how white and shapely her arms showed when she lifted her hands to her hair, the wide open sleeves falling back almost to the shoulder. She uncoiled the long brown braids, and let the hair flow loose.

"Something to read, ma'am, before I go?" asked the prim foreign maid, placing the shaded lamp on the table by the fire and drawing up the arm-chair.

"No; that's all."

Val sat there alone, before the fire, till twelve o'clock; then, lighting a candle, she went to the head of the stair and listened. No sound. He had gone back with Scherer; he must surely come soon. A sudden noise, a sound like the shutting of the gate. She flew back to her room. On an uncontrollable impulse she shut and locked the door, and put out candle and lamp. Had he come that moment she would have feigned sleep. But it was a false alarm. Presently she relit the candle, opened the door, and stood listening. Slowly she went down-stairs, peering over the banisters, trailing her blue draperies from room to room, her hand about the candle-flame and her wide eyes intent.

"Looking for what? God knows. It must be Ethan I'm looking for. Why doesn't he come? I'm to 'sleep'—to sleep!"

She went to the front door and opened it. The night smelt fresh and pungent. The scent of the first falling leaves filled the air.

"Yes," she said to herself, "it's the time of the year when things happen."

The heavy burnished knocker caught the candle gleam, and she laid her hot forehead against the cool brass.

"He came, first, on such a night. And she went away from us two years ago to-morrow—no, it's to-day."

She came in and shut the door, but some one had entered with her. Val stood a moment in the silent hall, quite still. The dead woman seemed to have come back from her grave. The quiet house was full of her. Val stood before the long room door, and almost before she realized[Pg 475] what she was doing, she had lifted her hand and knocked. Smiling faintly, she went in. In that dim light it was all just as it used to be. The only reason she couldn't see the figure in the great crimson chair was that the high back concealed the judge and comforter sitting there.

Val set the candle down, and, for the first time since the blow had fallen, she felt the rush of tears filling her wide strained eyes. They blurred the dim outlines of things, but, with hands out-stretched, she went towards the empty chair like one praying help and succor. At the side she knelt down and laid her cheek on the arm, crying noiselessly, remembering other days and other pains, but never before this stark denial of all comfort. How good it had been, as a child, to feel the light hand on her hair! Ah! the hand was lighter now. "Well, and so will the hearts of her children be, when they're dust," she said to herself, and rose up. She looked into the parlor. Daniel Boone, his hunters and his dogs, and before the big painting a picture etched on the air of a wild little girl with long flying hair, dancing in the dusk, until a fear fell on her that struck the quicksilver out of her veins and hung her limbs with lead. On the other side of the room was the new grand-piano that had come too late.

The Ethan of ten years ago stood in the corner with his hands on a girl's shoulders, saying "Promise!" And the girl sang no more.

She went on from room to room as if still looking for that something she had lost. Up-stairs again—into the room that had been her father's long ago, her husband's now, and full of the impress of his spirit. His pictures, his books—it was the one room in the house wholly, utterly changed, in atmosphere and outward seeming. In the corner of the red damask lounge by the fire, a little old book. She picked it up. Seneca! She hadn't seen it since that day two years ago on the river, when he refused to translate the passage he had marked. She would take it away and spell out for herself those things in the marked book that had marked the soul of the man she[Pg 476] loved. A large empty envelope, folded double, had fallen out. It bore the stamp of the Navy Department, and the Washington postmark. A memorandum in pencil in Ethan's fine handwriting: "Army contracts—fight corruption." On the other side some verses.

Ah! he was beginning to write again. No; there was an unfamiliar name at the end. Still, what was it that he had taken the trouble to copy?

"Be still, my soul, be still; the arms you bear are brittle,
Earth and high heaven are fixt of old and founded strong.
Think, rather—call to thought, if now you grieve a little,
The days when we had rest, oh soul, for they were long.
"Men loved unkindness then, but lightless in the quarry
I slept and saw not; tears fell down, I did not mourn;
Sweat ran, and blood sprang out, and I was never sorry:
Then it was well with me, in days ere I was born.
"Now, and I muse for why, and never find the reason,
I pace the earth, and drink the air, and feel the sun.
Be still, be still, my soul—it is but for a season;
Let us endure an hour and see injustice done.
"Ay, look! high heaven and earth ail from the prime foundation;
All thoughts to writhe the heart are here, and all are vain:
Horror and scorn and hate and fear and indignation—
Oh, why did I awake? When shall I sleep again?"[A]

She looked up and saw her husband standing at the door. With a cry she let fall paper and candle, and fled into his arms.

"My dear, my dear!" he whispered, trying to soothe her. They stood there locked in each other's arms while the minutes went by. At last, "Help me to find the candle," she said, faintly, and as they both went towards the fireless grate, groping and stooping to feel about the floor, "Perhaps we should rather try to get used to the dark," she said; and he, with breaking heart, caught at her, crying hoarsely:

[Pg 477]

"Val! Val! I can't bear it!"

"I'll help you, dear."

"I can't let you die."

"Isn't it strange?—everybody's said that who has loved some one. And where are they all?"

"But you are so young." They had reached the sofa in the dark, and sat there locked together.

"Yes, thank Heaven, we're young." She pressed her face against his wet cheek. "Ah! don't be so terribly unhappy, dear. To die!—why, that's the most wonderful of all."


[A] By permission, from A Shropshire Lad, by A. E. Housman.

[Pg 478]


In her own room—Valeria's old blue room—she stood late the next evening, in her night-gown, before the fireplace.

"Well, Mazeppa, we've had a good run for it; but it's ill-going when one's bound—and when death follows." Only her lips stirred at the opening of the door. "That you, Ethan?"

He came in and shut the door behind him.

"These things I ordered for you in Paris came this morning," he said, speaking very low.

"What are they?" she asked, still staring at the bas-relief.

"A turquoise girdle for your beautiful white body, and a turquoise comb for your hair."

"Oh, beautiful! beautiful!" she said, as he, standing behind her, held the things across her shoulder before her eyes; "but beautiful beyond anything!" She took them in her hands. "It was dear of you—" She stopped as she glanced over her shoulder and saw the look in his eyes. Her own went down before them, and slowly filled, but no tear fell. With an effort she seemed to force the salt-water drops back to their deep well. When she spoke, it was in a tone deliberately quiet, even every-day: "You say I've always counted so serenely on being happy; you don't know how I've dreaded getting to be too old to wear pale blue." She fondled the stones of the girdle and laid the heart-shaped clasp against her cheek.

He watched her woman-joy in jewels with a look of hardness.

"It would take more than mere years to cure you of your passion for turquoise."

[Pg 479]

"That was what I've been afraid of." She was smiling. "I should never have been able to resist pretty blue things."

How young she looked in her straight white gown and loosened hair!

"What a baby you are, after all," he said, thinking that those eyes of hers seemed to have caught, or kept, no reflection of the glare of life. His own were hot and bloodshot, hers seemed always to have looked down on the pale cool blue of turquoises, or up to the blue of heaven.

She had nodded when he accused her of being a baby.

"And it's all very well to be a baby with brown hair and smooth forehead; but a gray-haired, wrinkled baby, dressed in baby-blue! It's just as well to be delivered from that."

"Upon my soul!" He stared at her with his strained, sleepless eyes. "You've no sooner wrenched your mind away from this joy in life, than you fall to setting up a new shrine where you may worship Death, and give him thanks and praise."

"You think I make a god of Death?" she said, very low. "If I do, it's only a new form of 'Thy gods shall be my gods.' If I've thrown away the old idols, it's not because they failed me, but because they failed you. I have more need of you than I have of them; I cannot leave you to go and kneel apart."


"Shall it be here?" she asked.

"Here? No."

"I think I'd rather it were here—where for me it all began."

"No, no; not where she lived."

"You think she'd come back and interfere?"

He studied her face, wondering a little. "She might interfere without coming back, if we stayed here."

"Besides, to stay here would be to waste time. We must go and see countries we have never seen before."

"Yes, and the journey's end must be far away from any place where we are known."

[Pg 480]


"Why should we shock people?"

"But it's bound to shock people."

"No, that's a popular fallacy. If I hear a stranger in the street saying that some one, a stranger to us both, took his life a little while ago in the opposite house, I am slightly disturbed, perhaps, at having the mask men wear pushed away for a moment; but I continue my walk, I eat my dinner as usual."

"How shall it be, then, so that our friends shall continue their walks and eat their dinners?"

"Somewhere a long way from here—"

"Yes, yes; we'll go to the Far East—we'll go to the end of the world."

"Yes, to the end of the world."

"And then it will be quite easy, when we've come to the end, just to step off."

"Quite easy."


Val busied herself unceasingly in the preparations for going the long journey. Ethan looked on at her calmness and activity with growing wonder. His first sense of revolt and horror was little by little merged in mere incredulity, then rank suspicion.

"Is her acquiescence genuine, complete?" he tormented himself with thinking, and then scourged his doubting spirit for foul unfaith.

Still, no self-reproach could rid him quite of his mental attitude of jailer watching, argus-eyed, over a prisoner whose resourcefulness might any day or night find suddenly a way to freedom.

Life during these days of setting her house in order went on with a regularity, an outward tranquillity, that would have made a less sceptical soul than Ethan's pause and wonder. It was not Val who refused to see their few friends.

"Ethan is very busy." "Ethan is writing." "He's so sorry he can't join us to-day; but I'll go with you," etc.[Pg 481] These were the fragments that floated up-stairs from the hall, or through his curtained windows from the gate. So little did Val seem unnerved or pain absorbed, he was sure that she was more friendly to her friends than ever, more mindful of them. He watched with wonder her childish pleasure in making little farewell presents.

"Nobody is forgotten, I think," she said, looking with outward content at a table piled with labelled packages.

Ethan in his heart was saying: "All this looks like a genuine leave-taking, all but her own face, her even, unjarred voice, her unfrightened eyes."

"This is what I'm best pleased about." She took up the long envelope with the papers referring to Venus's cottage, which had been settled on that faithful servant for life, and was afterwards to go to the twins. "Grandma would have been glad about this."

"What are you doing with all her things?" Ethan asked, with restless dark eyes searching her face for weakness or for subterfuge. "Those things you are giving away seem all to be yours."

"Yes, all yours and mine."

"And what of hers?"

She shook her head vaguely.

"You'll have to sell them."

"Never! never!"

His eyes gleamed. Was he on the track?

"Other people will sell them if you don't."

Her face clouded.

"I've already given away a great many household things, to Emmie's poor people, and others Venus has told me about."

"And the rest?"

"I hear Julia."

"She won't come up here."

"She may."

He hastened to secure the door. Val ran out and met Julia at the top of the stair. Ethan listened to the greeting, and heard Julia say:

[Pg 482]

"Why, Val!"

"What is it?"

"It's true, then?"


Val's voice rang quick and anxious.

"You are nicer to me these last few days."

"Oh, do you think so?"

Relief breathed through every syllable.

"Don't you realize that, until just now, you haven't kissed me since—"

"Sh! Let's go down; we mustn't disturb Ethan."


That evening, while Ethan sat smoking and writing letters in his room, Val got up from the sofa where she was lying.

"Where are you going?" he said, without turning round.

"Down-stairs. I'll be back by-and-by."

"Come here."

She stood beside him. He leaned back in his chair looking at her till she put her hand over his eyes.

"Don't! don't!" she whispered, leaning her cheek on his hair.

He put his two hands round the little waist, touching the turquoises in her belt.

"Who is to have this—afterwards?" he said.

She stood up straight.

"You didn't think I would give that away?"

"Well—" His air puzzled her.

"Would you be content," she said, "to think of any one else wearing it?"

"Content! But sometimes it's hard to believe you are facing the thought of laying it aside."

She flushed under his look.

"I don't know that I shall lay it aside."

While he stared she went out of the room, shutting the door.

He sat for a moment, following up first one train and[Pg 483] then the other suggested by her speech, till he had convinced himself finally that the explanation of these last days lay in the fact that she was not facing the compact. She would elude it. He started to his feet. It was as if he had been brought face to face with proof of wifely infidelity.

He found her in the long room kneeling before the open escritoire.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting ready," she said.

He sat down in the great chair and watched her. She carried handfuls of yellowed papers and bundles of letters, and heaped them on the bed of red coal in the grate. She tore the morocco binding off old diaries and burned the manuscript leaves.

"What are you doing?" he reiterated, starting up like one shaking off a dream.

"She always said she'd rather things were burned than pulled about by careless hands, by strangers."

"I remember." He sat down. This did not look like evasion, for Val shared his own strong sentiment for family things. "I remember, too," he said, with dull regret, "she used to tell me 'the whole history of a family is locked up in that escritoire.'"

"It takes a long time to burn."

She stirred the slow-smouldering papers to a blaze.

"It took a hundred years to make," he said; "and many hundred agonies—and joys," he added, watching her dim smile—"yes, and joys."

He helped her with the next load, looking at the writing on the outside of the letter-bundles as he undid them.

"Grandfather Gano," he said, throwing a handful on the fire. "Your father"—another handful. "Aunt Valeria"—another. "Grandm—"

"Don't," cried Val, with quivering face; "you mustn't call their names!" He looked back at her. "It's like calling them to look at the way we treat the things they left us."

[Pg 484]

He went on silently with his task. There was no doubt she felt it keenly; why do it, then? Only out of shrinking from those "stranger" hands. Then she was facing the compact, after all.



"Why do you stay here?"

"Because the time's so short."

"Dear one"—she came and leaned against him—"go and finish your writing; I'll come back in an hour."

"No, I'll stay here till you've done."

"Oh, I sha'n't have done all for several days," she said, pleading.

But she knew that look in his face. No use to urge. She turned away, and scattered the charred paper down on to the hearth among the journal bindings. He made the fire up again for her. Then, one by one, she took from the mantelpiece all the old photographs of her husband, and laid them on the flame—all but the one of the baby Ethan, which she thrust in her dress, keeping her face hidden from her husband. Then she went over to a pile of pictures he had not noticed before, lying by the buffet.

She took a little hammer with a claw handle out of the drawer, and bent over the frames, loosening the nails, taking out the pictures and tearing them up.

"What are those?"

"Aunt Valeria's—"

"Why do you bother with them?"

"I don't want people to be smiling at them. Oh, Ethan," she cried out with the sharpness of intolerable pain, "I—I can't bear it, if you sit there watching me! I can do it alone almost callously, thinking very little of them, thinking about you and me, till all these poor reminders are just old paper; but you—" She hid her face.

"They are just old paper, dear."

He went over to her, and she turned from him, trembling.

"No, no; when you are here, they all come alive in my[Pg 485] hands. Oh-h-h!" She lifted her tear-wet face, and held up clasped hands like one praying pardon. "You were right; they are a hundred agonies, they cry out while I tear and burn them."

"No, dear, no; the dead are done with crying."

"But these people—" She looked up and down the long room with misty eyes, like one dimly descrying a throng. "They aren't dead, Ethan."

A sharp fear seized him that the strain had been too much.

"Come—come away," he said.

But she clung to the great brass ring in the lion's mouth on the buffet drawer. "They won't really die till we have destroyed all their work—and destroyed ourselves."

"That's true in a sense," he murmured.

"Of course it's true. Does anybody think my grandmother died when the breath went out of her body? She won't really die till the last person dies who remembers her. And the others; here they've been all these years, kept tenderly alive, in letters, in wills and certificates, diaries, poor little pictures!" Her voice wavered and recovered itself fiercely. "Shall I tell you what it's like, destroying these things?" She broke into wild weeping. "All these are like hands clinging on to life. I wrench their fingers away; I force them down. The glimpses I have of them—it's like the last look on drowning faces."

"Val," he said, hoarsely, "there's time yet. Suppose we don't shirk our trust. Suppose we hold the Fort for the Ganos as long as ever we can."

She took his handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped away her tears, but they flowed and flowed afresh.

"An understanding like ours," he said, hurriedly, "may be superseded—wiped out by a better understanding." With an eagerness that seemed strange to himself, he tried to soothe and reassure her.

His heart shrank at her unlighted look.

"Do you hear, Val? We are not so primitive that we must make a fetich of our compact."

[Pg 486]

"I'm very primitive, dear; you told me so yourself."

He loosed his hold upon her with a sinking sense of having done something he could never quite undo. Feeling his arms no longer about her, she looked up.

"Poor darling!" she said, framing the dark face in her two hands; "I didn't mean to cry and unnerve you. But it wasn't for me I cried—not even for you. You ought to forgive me that a few tears fell, just this once, over those other graves that nobody will ever remember any more."

He stared down at her, seeing how unmoved his words had left her.

"Haven't you heard what I've been saying to you, dear?"

"What was it?" she said, wearily, putting out her hand to take up another of the faded water-colors. He caught the hand, lifted her in his arms, and carried her to the big chair. He sat, holding her against him, thinking how he should put it to her—this new, this growing sense of his, that the family will to live was stronger than his individual will to die, and that there was justification in this realization for a different compact. He sat weighing the chances of the new life, trying for Val's sake to find loop-holes of escape from the prison he himself had builded, for Val's sake coercing himself to face payment of the long penalty of life and guilty fatherhood; in Val's name even trying to think all might still be well.

He looked down at the face on his breast, and saw that for the moment all was well without his troubling. Val had cried herself to sleep.

Instead of being glad, he was conscious of an absurd irritation. She could sleep, then!


Covertly he watched her the next morning, thinking with surprise:

"Yes, even in the broad daylight and away from the haunted long room, I'm of last night's opinion still. It doesn't matter about me—for her sake I must go on."

"Come and sit on the terrace," he said, when she was leaving the breakfast-room.

[Pg 487]

"Oh, dearest, not now."

"Why not?"

"I—I'm a house-keeper, you know. I have many things to do in the morning."

"I give you ten minutes by my watch to order dinner."

"Ethan, if you never leave me to myself, I—I can't get ready."

He put his arm through hers, and led her out by the veranda down to the second terrace. The servant was spreading a Navajo blanket on the ground, under the catalpa-tree. Val sat down on the barbaric colored rug, and watched Ethan walking to and fro on the edge of the terrace. When they were alone—

"Did you misunderstand me yesterday, that you talk again to-day of getting ready?"

"No, I understood—I understood that because I cried you were ready to let me break the compact if I wanted to."

He had never heard such contempt in her voice. He stopped and looked at her. Her face was strangely hard.

"Not because you cried, but because I see the matter from another—I think better—point of view."

She shook her head.

"You're deceiving yourself because of me."

Her words angered him unaccountably.

"I should have thought it natural that any woman, especially one of your temperament, would have welcomed the suggestion."

"As if I didn't know it!"

"Know what?"

"That you've been looking out hour by hour, minute by minute, to see if I wasn't showing the white flag."

In his sense of being convicted, he was ready to curse her keenness.

"Do you know, it strikes me you have no inkling of the mother-sense?"

"That's part of my luck," she said, doggedly.

"You don't want to keep to the first compact?"

[Pg 488]

"Of course I do; I shall keep to it."

"No," he said, quietly.

She started, clasped and unclasped her hands.

"You are only tempting us," she said. "It may look for a moment like a possible thing—it isn't."

"It is perfectly possible if we are not superstitious. The new claim brings a new insight, a new wisdom."

She shivered.

"Think of founding a new existence on broken faith, on cowardice."

"You know you are talking sheer superstition."

She seemed not to hear.

"Do you realize," he went on, "that many people, enlightened enough to admit we have a right to do as we like with ourselves, would deny we had a right to deprive another—"

"You talk as if you didn't know a girl 'deprives' a whole possible family of life every time she says 'No' to a man who asks her to marry him. No use to talk to me, I'm a hardened criminal."

She made a nervous, mocking motion to get up and cut the colloquy short. Ethan stopped her with a gesture of grave rebuke.

"Do you know that, if you had committed all the crimes in the calendar, a capital sentence could not be executed upon you now."

"Think of it!" she said, with indignant eyes. "They'd not only keep the sword hanging over a poor wretch all that time—they'd let her horror and shrinking stamp itself on an innocent creature. Oh, man's justice is an odd jumble!"

"If public justice falls short, what of mine to you?" He walked a few paces up and down. "I've never seen you like this before, Val."

"I've never before lived through such days," she said, very low.

"You deceived me with your calmness."

"You see how necessary it was—you wouldn't have understood that I didn't want to break my oath."

[Pg 489]

"I understand now." He stopped before her with haggard face. "I come here into a girl's happy life—I take away her content, I snuff out her ambitions, I give her nothing in return. For years I bar the way to marriage—for all time I've shut the door on music. It is my fault you were allowed no outlet for your energies. I force you back on a barren love for a life-interest, and saying, 'There is only this,' I add, 'Accept it at your peril.' I am filled with horror at the thought of the way I've marred and broken a beautiful life."

"Oh, dear one, don't, don't! It's not true, you know. It wasn't really beautiful till you came."

He shook his head.

"Do you want to make it possible for me ever to think of myself without intolerable loathing?"

"Dear, dear!" She held out her hands.

"Promise me to forget the old evil compact."

"Ethan, you'll regret this," she said, dropping her hands; "it's not you who ask it of me—it's all those others." She nodded towards the dark mass of shadow made by the Fort against the gay autumnal background of scarlet maple and golden elm. "It's the Ganos—it's she most of all. I might have known. If you live under her roof, you come under her law."

She knew him too well to imagine she could stand out successfully against his resolution that the compact should be abandoned. What little by little helped to heal her spirit was presently her belief that he not only willed the new course, but desired it. Of that he had fully persuaded her—he had almost persuaded himself.

[Pg 490]


They were still discussing plans of travel, or, rather, as the days went on, plans of avoiding travel.

"Italy is a long way off," Ethan had said; "we'll go there another year."

Val fought hard and long against abandoning her darling scheme of spending the winter abroad, not giving her persistency its right name. To Ethan's "Why?" she would answer, coaxingly, "I am so amused abroad."

"Dear child, you're amused everywhere."

"It's unfair to take advantage of that."

He did not say so, but he dreaded for her the fatigues of protracted travel. Still, he saw it was imperative they should winter in some warm place. Val's series of colds and threatened delicacy were instinctively avoided in their discussion of plans; but these considerations were seldom out of her husband's mind. As he visualized the coming months, Ethan thought, man-like and naturally enough, "Val will have plenty to occupy her, but I—I must find work to help me through the time." He cast about for the saving grace of hard labor. "I will write my Political Confessions," he said to himself; "just my case has never been put." And he set about sifting his books and notes; ordering government and party reports; indulging freely in the beguiling pastime of "collecting material." About this time he was deep in correspondence with a group of young men who had formerly rallied round him in Boston and New York, but whom, as he now saw, he had too much neglected since his marriage. He felt anew that these men, organized, led, supplied with the sinews of war, had it in them to render America a sorely needed service.

[Pg 491]

"Val," he said, one day, "how many people can we put up comfortably here?"

She opened her eyes.



"I thought we were going away ourselves."

"So we are in a fortnight or so, if we can decide where. I should like to have some men here for a few days, if you don't mind."

She turned her head, and looked out of the window.

"Who are the men you want to ask—relations?"

"Relations! No. What made you think— Besides, you know I haven't any but De Poincy."

"Y—yes. Still, I couldn't imagine, just at first, that you'd want a lot of strangers here—now."

"Not if you object, of course. But, since you seemed quite ready to set off to Persia or China at any moment, I couldn't be expected to know you objected to strangers."

"Whom did you want?"

"Oh, it doesn't matter. I was thinking of the two Careys, and Williams and Dunbar."

"The men who are trying to make you get up a Labor paper?"

"The men that I'm trying to make devote their great talents, their lives, to saving the country."

There was reproach in his tone, even a kind of hardness that had come into his manner more than once of late. His usually quick-following fit of remorseful tenderness never quite healed the hurt.

"Of course, ask your friends if you like."

She got up and went out of the room. Back and forth under the big tulip-tree she walked in the crisp October air, commanding her face to a pale incommunicativeness, but clinching and unclinching her hands.

A deep discouragement had been growing upon her at Ethan's feverish eagerness to get to work. "You don't seem to have any time at all for play nowadays," she had said to him, half laughing, more than once. He sat over[Pg 492] his writing-table all day, and he read late into the night. For days and days they had not been alone in the old idle blessed way of lovers, and never had she needed him so much. "How shall I be able to go on," she said to herself, "unless he keeps close beside me?"


It was at a garden-party at Julia's that Val went across the lawn to Ethan at the end of a game of tennis, and said:

"I'd like to give a party at the Fort before we go. What do you think?"

"What kind of a party?"

"A ball. We could light up the grounds and make it look lovely. There's never been a big party at the Fort."

"Well, I don't mind. But you haven't much time now to get it up."

"Let's go and find Julia and Mr. Scherer, and talk it over."

Mrs. Otway told them that Julia had gone into the house for an ice, and they must do likewise. As they passed through the parlor they noticed a group about a portrait of Mrs. Otway, taken in her youth. Some of her neighbors were discussing in discreet undertones whether it was credible that their rotund hostess ever looked like this daughter of the gods.

"I'm sure she did," said Val; "my father has often told me."

"She ought to have died young," said a stranger standing by. "To have looked like that was a great achievement, but the dear lady has cancelled it."

As they moved away Val tried to throw off the impression the speech had made upon her by whispering to Ethan:

"Men seem to forget women have any reason for living except to please the masculine eye." Winning no response, she looked up, laughing. "One comfort of not being a beauty is that people aren't forever remarking how you change."

[Pg 493]

"Oh, we can do wonders in the way of change without being beauties."

They found Julia, and arranged that she and Tom Scherer should come over in the evening and discuss the ball. The rumor of it went abroad, and little else was talked of in New Plymouth for the intervening days.


Val and Julia sat on the veranda at the Fort the evening after, making out lists of invitations. After all, some of Ethan's friends had been telegraphed to, and were coming from a distance. Mrs. Ball was expected, with all her circle. Val was asking even Baby Whittaker, of abhorred memory.

Ethan, with Scherer and Harry Wilbur, was walking up and down the gravel-path, smoking and talking. Ethan suddenly called out:

"You'd better go in-doors, Val."

"Go in! Why?"

"The dew is falling. You'll take cold."

"Oh no."

He urged the point.

"Don't drive me in this heavenly Indian-summer night!" she pleaded.

They all exclaimed against his barbarity, and he went to get her a shawl. There was nothing in the hall. He rang; no one answered. He went up-stairs.

In vain Val called after him: "I've got my scarf."

Scherer was teasing Julia for not being able to think of anything but the ball.

"You're just as bad."

He protested.

"You men were talking about it, I'll be bound," Julia said.

"No, we weren't, feather-brain," replied Scherer, with a patronizing air.

"Something very far removed from balls," Harry Wilbur put in, with a laugh.


[Pg 494]

"Oh, we were cheerfully considering the ethics of suicide," said Scherer, stretching himself comfortably in a long wicker-chair.

Val started, but no one observed her.

"Pleasant topic," said Julia.

"Quite, if looked at rightly," responded Scherer. "Gano was saying how curiously illogical people are. We've all heard Christian people who shudder at the word 'suicide'—tender women, mothers—who hasn't heard them say, looking back to the early death of a child, 'I've come to thank God for taking him unspotted from the world.'"

"Yes," remarked Julia, "I'm sick of hearing the saying that's always trotted out, 'Our loss, but his gain.'"

"Ah, but don't think it's insincere," said Scherer. "Even the simple-minded may appreciate the safety and dignity of death when the deliverer is introduced by cold, or fever, or ghastly accident, by inherited weakness, even by neglect—in any way but by the calm and steadfast will of the one chiefly concerned."

Val sat up and stared. Ethan's very intonation had got into Scherer's voice.

"If a fellow's trapped into death," he went on, "it's a blessing; if he goes voluntarily, a disgrace."

"Disgrace or not, it's on the increase," said Wilbur, "and fellows like you had better be careful how you go about advocating—"

"No; I agree with Gano about that. Even when public opinion is more civilized, natural cowardice will keep the death-rate down. Certain to, if social conditions are improved. But even if the number who go that way should be much greater, are you so certain that a voluntary exit is such a mistake? Isn't it the great question that each man should answer for himself?"

"No!" roared Wilbur, excitedly; "he should satisfy a public functionary that he's paid his debts and provided for those who are dependent on him."

"Accepted!" cried Scherer, delighted, "although we'd be establishing an aristocracy of the dead. But, seriously,[Pg 495] isn't it for social reformers first to make life less of an indecency for the masses before they insist that each man should hold his life as sacred? Society degrades and brutalizes a man, and yet, forsooth, for the sake of society he is to hold his insulted life as sacred."

Val leaned back in her chair, wondering if Julia was annoyed at Scherer's aping of Ethan. Was it conceivable that the others didn't see it—didn't hear it?

"Why, the world is overrun," he was saying, in a travesty of Ethan's manner—"overrun with superfluous myriads who are freely allowed to groan, travail, starve. Only, society insists, they must die slowly, and not shock our sensibilities. Or they may turn over a new leaf, and live prosperously by selling their bodies and their souls—anything rather than reproach us and arraign life by taking themselves off. But cheer up, Wilbur; we can always bring in the usual verdict. Oh, more blessed than Mesopotamia are the words 'temporarily insane'!"

"That's what such people usually are," said Harry, unmoved.

"Of course; don't we read it in every paper?" jeered Scherer—"this woman, that man, starved to death, a paragraph of sentimentality. A suicide gets his column of calumny. The same society that cheerfully permits a man to starve, that supports the system under which he must starve, is outraged if the victim doesn't die with decent slowness. Starvation is 'a sad case,' suicide is 'punishable crime.'"

"I used to hear my father," said Val, in a low voice, "wondering at the great sums devoted to the use of hospitals full of idiots, cripples, incurables, and people who want to die, while the streets of all the cities of the world are full of the young and strong and poverty-stricken who need bread, and are filled only with a passionate desire for life on almost any terms."

Ethan came out with a shawl and a rug. As he was putting the wraps round his wife, he chanced to touch her hand.

[Pg 496]

"You are cold as ice!" he exclaimed.

"No, no; this is lovely!"

"You mustn't stay out another minute." As he saw she was about to protest again, he cut her short. "If you want to argue, come inside and argue. If you don't, I'll have to carry you."


After their friends had gone, Ethan said something half jocular about Scherer and his new political enthusiasms. "But Scherer will rise. You'll see, he will help to accomplish some of the reforms I've only talked about."

"I dare say; still, I think I prefer your theories at first hand."

"What theories?"

"He kindly continued your conversation after you went to hunt for a shawl."

"Damn him!"


He damned him to his face the next morning.

"What!" said poor Scherer, with open mouth, "not a subject for conversation?"

"Certainly not; the world's not ready for it."

"No, no," said Scherer, rapidly reconstructing; "perhaps not. If the theory were widely accepted it would bring about many avoidable disasters."

"How so?" demanded Ethan, ready in a minute to defend his faith against all comers.

"It might," said Scherer—"might sap the energy and courage of people who, but for its teaching, would go on bravely to the end."

"It is itself 'the brave end.'"


Three days before the ball, Val, coming in from a drive with the Otways, found that Ethan had had a Mexican hammock put up between one of the locust-trees and the giant tulip.

"What a good plan! People who are tired dancing will be glad to find this."

[Pg 497]

"I wasn't thinking of the ball, oddly enough. What a horrible racket those men have been making all day putting up the pavilion!"

He leaned his head on his hand. His face looked worn.

"I'm so sorry they disturbed you, but I'm glad the hammock's just for me." She ran out as soon as supper was over to contemplate her new toy. "Ethan!" she called, presently.

He came on to the veranda wearing a hat and carrying a walking-stick.

Her countenance fell.

"Aren't you coming to have a swing?"

He laughed.

"Not for me, thank you!"

"Where are you going?"

"Just for a little walk. It's not good for you to be out after sundown!" he called back as he went off.

She lay in the hammock very still a long while. The frogs far off were iterating their hoarse melancholy. Was it a belated firefly that flickered dejectedly in the chill air? An oppression settled down on her chest, but she never felt it for the greater weight on her heart. She pressed her two hands tight over her face, that the servants might not hear her crying.

"To think that this should be me," she said to herself, in a kind of excitement, "when I meant to be so happy! After all"—she sat up and steadied herself as she swayed—"it's very wonderful to have found life so much better, and so much worse, than anybody ever said. If only Ethan and I could go through the hard places by ourselves, if only there were no one else—oh, God, if only there were no one else!"

She lay back again in the hammock. By-and-by a noise in the house: Ethan putting quick questions, several servants speaking at once, then Ethan's voice, sharp with anxiety, calling:

"Val! Val!"

"Yes, out here."

[Pg 498]

Hastily she dried her face.

He came out.

"You surely have not been out here ever since—"

"Yes; ever since you went away and left me."

But she spoke almost brightly.

"Well, I must say I think you might have remembered—"

"Can't remember but one thing at a time. I was thinking about something else."

"You're not to be trusted," he said, gravely.

"Not a bit," she agreed. "I'm an eye-servant. The minute your back's turned— Oh, I require a great deal of looking after—and"—with a laugh that broke suspiciously—"I don't get it."

She had stood up, holding fast to him, as she freed herself from the hammock and the rug. He drew her hand through his arm and went with her to the house.

"No, no," she said, stopping at the veranda, "I want a little walk, too."

Demurring, he put the rug round her and they went on.

"I've been thinking it would be a good idea to go to California for the winter," he said, presently.

"You've seen California."

"But you haven't."

"No, and I don't want to."

"Is that true?"

"Well, it's true that I want to see other places more—queerer places, farther off, that I can't imagine for myself."

"Don't flatter yourself that you can imagine California. I was thinking I ought to look after my ranch there. And, besides, the place in Oakland is really beautiful. I could make you very comfortable there."

"Could you?" she said, wistfully. "But, after all, 'comfortable' is for ninety."

"It is curious that I should have to remind you we mustn't think now only of ourselves."

How stern the eyes could look—the mouth, how hard! They walked on in silence, down the first terrace, and along the second. No wilderness rioted below, all was[Pg 499] pruned and trimmed and primly smiling. In the middle of what Mrs. Gano had been used to call "the Lower Plateau" stood the dancing pavilion, finished that day, all but the outward trappings of flags and lanterns.

"I believe you'd like the house at Oakland." He spoke more gently than before. "There's a garden and a little orange-grove, and the land slopes down to the sea."

"Do you look out on the Golden Gate?" she asked, quickly, and then added, involuntarily: "But, after all, what do I care about that? I want to see people in other lands, and find out what life looks like to them."

"You can do something of the sort later, if you like."

"Oh, later! later! Everybody's said 'later' to me ever since I was born. Who knows whether I'll ever go at all if I don't go now?"

"Ha!" he said, with a flash, "now we have the real reason."

She lowered her eyes and was dumb.

"Will you tell me why, just lately, when you have greater incentive than you ever had before, you seem to have less hope, a weaker hold on life?"

"All imagination," she said, evasively. "Listen to that woodpecker." Her head drooped, dreamily. How pale she looked in the gray light! "He's tapping the old locust-tree under my window, just as he used to—hundreds of years ago—when I was a little girl."

"Val," he said, "you are not like yourself."

"No," she answered, vaguely.

He took her face between his hands as if to catch and concentrate the wandering spirit.

"Where is the old Val gone? I want her back."

The slow tears filled her eyes. "You mustn't mind, dear; she went away, I think, one of those days—"

"What days?"

"When, with all that pain, everything was made ready."

He dropped his hands, but she caught them. "I wish we could go away, too. But far, very far from here, where everything is new and strange."

[Pg 500]

"Oh, my dearest," he said, brokenly, "surely, surely, with so much at stake, we can readjust ourselves to the changed conditions."

She drew one hand across her eyes. "You call yourself weak," she said, "but it's no surprise to me to find how much stronger you are than I. You can make yourself face about, manfully enough."

"Well, and so can you." He searched the sensitive white face that gave no sign. What strange and unsuspected enemy had that not unvaliant spirit encountered in her path? As he looked at her, something born of their nearness—terrible offspring of true marriage—spoke to him out of the silence, telling him how each time this woman went straying in thought along that way of promise that is wont to smile so benignly upon young expectant wives, each time, before she could taste any of the natural joy and pride in her estate, came crushing back upon her the dead weight of their long fear, the gathered momentum of all their long terror-stricken fleeing.

The sudden change in his face showed her that her secret was no longer her own.

"Oh, what is it like?" she cried out, suddenly. "What is it like to have hoped and longed all these months, instead of dreaded?"

"Hush! hush!" he said, shrinking.

"I, who was so eager to know all that women can know, I shall never know that."

He sank down on the terrace-steps in the twilight, and buried his face in his hands.

"Did I ever tell you"—her voice sounded faint and far above him, like the voice of some disembodied spirit—"did I ever tell you how proud I used to be to know my father once said that I was the symbol of my parents' single year of perfect happiness, the inheritor of the best moments life had brought them? Ethan"—she bent over him, whispering hurriedly and panting a little like one pursued—"the thought clutches at me in the night, it won't let me go—"

"What thought?" said the muffled voice.

[Pg 501]

"That for a child of fear and shrinking there isn't much place in this world."

No answer.

She sat down beside him. Like a frightened child she crouched up against him. "All those times of dread come back, their evil faces frowning. Bad fairies! they wait for—for the new-comer with sinister gifts in their hands."

"Don't think such thoughts." He seized her arm roughly.

"No, no; help me not to," she said, shuddering. "But I wish I knew what it had been like to my mother—that first knowledge."

"You may be sure she was glad."

"Yes, yes; not like that hour in the long room, not as we welcomed our—"

"You shall not talk so! to think of it so is a crime." He leaped to his feet. "Do you hear?—a crime."

She seemed to cower there below him on the step.

"And yet," she whispered, "whenever we look at the child we shall remember that hour. He'll wear my shrinking in his poor little face. Oh, what shall I do? In that hour, it may be, I branded my child!"


He sat beside her all night long while she tossed and dozed, and in her sleep pressed both hands to her breast, moaning faintly now and then. The doctor had been sent for at midnight, and came again in the early morning.

"He's frightened!" said Val, watching the door as he went out after the second visit. "So are you." She smiled. "You're forgetting how hard we Ganos are to kill."

"You'll soon be all right."

She studied him. "You're only frightened on top." He wondered if she were wandering. "Underneath," she went on, "you're thinking this would be a solution."

"Hush, hush!" He put his arms round her. "You must remember me, dear."

She nestled in his arms. "She used to say we Ganos were dreadfully hard to kill. We have to face that."

[Pg 502]

"Don't think of having to face things; forget it all."

She scanned his face eagerly. "Where shall I begin?"


"Yes—to forget."

Did she mean to ask whether she was to forget the old compact, or its new annulment?

"Begin to forget where the pain begins," he said, evasively.

"That would carry us back a long way. But anyhow, I won't do it. Pain or no pain, I don't mean to forget."

"Yes, yes," he said, soothingly.

"But I don't want to."

He looked down at her perplexed.

"I don't mean to forget anything, not even the sad things. I don't want to let anything go."

"Well, well." He smoothed the wild brown hair.

"To forget is to lose a bit of your life," she said, catching at his hand. "What was it you said once? it was a first victory for that spectre Annihilation that dogs us all. I didn't believe in your Annihilation then. Not very sure I do now."

She laid his hand, for comfort, over the ache in her breast.


Worn out towards morning, and yet afraid to undress lest the doctor might have suddenly to be brought, Ethan stretched himself on the sofa under the east window. He was scarcely comfortably relaxed, when Val, who had not spoken for hours, said:

"Why do you stay so far off?"

He was up in a moment.

"Do you want something?"

"Yes; I want you near."

"Oh, very well; I was afraid of waking you."

Heavy with sleep, he threw himself across the foot of the big four-poster. She pushed herself down in the bed till her feet under the covers felt his body through all the clothes, then she lay quite still. Ethan dozed and dreamed.

[Pg 503]

He awoke suddenly with the impression Val had called him. He raised himself on his elbow. She seemed to be asleep. He leaned his tired head against the bedpost, turning his face to the east. The gray dawn was coming in faintly at the window. The things in the room looked spectral.

Dimly through the window he thought he could see the shadow of the encircling hills. As he lay looking out, a little voice, so faint and far it might have come with the dawn from behind the hills:

"It is no superstition that oaths are binding."

He held his breath to listen.

"If we deny them with our lips, our nerves are loyal still."

Then silence. The light grew clearer.

"Our lives were set to the key of our oath," said the little voice. "When we denied it, discord came."

He tried to speak; a kind of paralysis held the muscles of his throat.

"It's like the one lie that calls for a thousand, for a life of lies. We don't lie well, we Ganos."

Another longer silence; then a fluttering sigh as of one eased from a mighty burden.

"Oh, I'm so glad the morning's come! You haven't kissed me, Ethan."

He rose up without a word, kissed her, and went out.


Of course, the ball had been postponed—"only for a week," Val insisted, and Ethan had agreed. Later this same day, he, still sitting there in the blue room, wondering against his will at her recovered spirits, refusing to understand, asked her if the pain was gone. She made the motion "No," moving the brown head from side to side on the pillow.

"You are suffering a great deal?" he faltered, as he bent above her.

She was evidently not thinking of the kind of pain he meant.

"If I were partly paralyzed, as lots of people are," she[Pg 504] said, with something of the old defiance, "it would hurt less, I suppose. When I feel like shrinking, I just remember it's a sign none of me is dead yet, that I can suffer from my head to my feet as horribly as this."

"Val!" He sank down on his knees and buried his head in the coverlet.

"But I'll have all eternity for being free of pain. When I remember that"—she pulled herself up and spoke in a clear, practical tone—"it brings me to my senses."

"What can I do for you, dear—what can I do?"

"Don't go away."

"I won't."

"I'm afraid you will."

"Don't be afraid."

"Not to collect material for 'Confessions'?"

"No," he said, smiling dimly.

"Not even to write to the Saviours of America?"


"I hate those Saviours! America doesn't need 'em."

"She has only to say so," he said, his old sensitive vanity a little stung.

"Oh, America is all right."

"Very well, America."

He drew up the chair again and sat closer to the bedside.

"I shall love being ill, if you don't go away," she said, smiling.

"I sha'n't go away any more, even when you're well."



"You sure you're an honest Injun?"

"Injun of flawless integrity."

"Then I shall be well to-morrow."

And to all appearance she was well two days afterwards. When she came down-stairs she was protesting gayly that she was really quite ill, and must have all an invalid's privileges.

"Is it a bargain?" she stopped half-way down the stair. "If it isn't, I'm going back to bed."

[Pg 505]

"Yes, all the privileges," he agreed.

"And you won't go away and write for the 'Saviours'?"

He laughed, took her down, and established her in the long room.

"I shall be very particular, or else what's the fun of being an invalid? And I know what to expect. I was ill once before. Grandma gave me a delicious glass of sangaree."

"You shall have sangaree." He made it himself. "Now, what else did she do for you?" he demanded, like one put upon his mettle.

Val glanced up at him slyly.

"Grandma used to read suitable selections from the Bible."

He leaned against her chair, looking down into her face, smiling as she hadn't seen him smile for many a day.

"I can give you suitable selections," he said, with shining eyes. "'Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Mount Gilead.' 'Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet—'"

The voice that to her was different from all the voices of earth went thrilling along her nerves as it had done the first night she heard it at the gate, when in ignorant girl-fashion she had known no more than, "I must follow, follow, follow, wherever it may lead."


That night she whispered passionately, "You are loving me more than ever you did."

"Yes," he said, holding her close; "the old Val has come back to me."

"There's another reason," she said in her heart.


Val had at last agreed to go to California.

"Are we sure to be ready to leave the Fort on Thursday?" she asked.

"Why Thursday?"

"Because of the ball."

[Pg 506]

"I should think we would be quite ready; but does it matter?"

"Very much."


"Oh—a—there'll be a kind of lull after the ball, and I'd rather—a—"

"Go out with flags flying? I understand."


She had laid even New York under tribute for her fête. With the help of a chef, a florist, and a decorator, a good deal of money had been spent to astonishingly effective ends, considering the smallness of the space at command. It was hard, even with tons of flowers, to make the old Fort anything but simple and grim; but the more gracious garden, and above all the terraces, lent themselves kindly to flower aisles and arches, and a fairyland scheme of lighting.


The maid was putting the last touch to her mistress's ball-dress.

"That's enough. Now go and ask Mr. Gano to come here a moment."

Val turned a moment later and saw him at the door. The dead black and white of his evening dress gave the fine ivory of his face an added pallor. She looked at him with quickening pulse. No wonder women had found the haunting beauty of that face a troubling memory. As he leaned against the door, fastening a flower in his coat, smiling in at her in the old enigmatic way, she felt suddenly what it would be to her to lose her empire over that restless, homeless spirit. If they were meaning to go on and on, as other people did, how could they hope to escape other people's ending? And she smiled back at him suddenly in a fierce, triumphant fashion. He came forward into the room.

"What is it? Why do you look like that?"

"How do I look?"

"As if—as if—well, I should keep out of your way if I'd done you any wrong."

[Pg 507]

She laughed as she pulled on her long white glove.

"Am I such a gorgon in my new gown?"

His eyes went slowly over her with a kind of worship in them. She trembled slightly. "Not one pretty word for all my pains?"

He knelt down before her, bent the dark head, and kissed her little white shoes.


As they met a moment in the lancers, Val said: "I wish she could have seen the old Fort to-night. She loved splendor, too." She laughed up at him like a delighted child.

"I've been amused," he whispered back, "to hear people saying it's the most beautiful ball that's ever been given in the State."

"Well, of course, I meant it to be"; and she was whirled away.


It was about two o'clock in the morning that Ethan made his way out of the pavilion, with a feeling of unsupportable weariness. He must get away from all those noisy, irrelevant people; above all, he must get away from the sight of Val's unthinking joy. He walked on to the far corner of the osage-orange thicket, and stood there in the deepest part of the shadow. Down below the terraces the music clanged and jarred. The round Japanese lanterns, festooned from tree to tree, were like strings of giant gems, yellow topaz, rose and scarlet coral, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and opal. The late Indian summer night was not cold; every one had been saying, "What wonderful weather!" but to Ethan there was more than a hint of winter in the pungent air. There was that obscure menace, that sense of melancholy lying behind all, and round all, like the sea. Autumn had brought this message to him since his childhood. It was the time when Nature seemed to pause a while in her ceaseless masque of the seasons to whisper her one honest word into the ear of man. "Be warned!" she seemed to say; "be warned!"

[Pg 508]

Then he remembered—without reassurement, rather with displeasure—that Val's pulses beat time to a brisker measure. To her the mysterious message had translated itself into a breathless sense of something new and strange on its way to her, "something wonderful going to happen, that never happened in the world before." Fresh realization of this "difference" that spread through all their life made to his harassed sense a clear line of cleavage down between their souls; and he felt himself alone. He remembered her merry look as he passed her and Wilbur on the way up the terrace, her mocking whisper, "Not one of the 'Saviours' can dance. Oh, poor America!" Even while he smiled at the remembrance, he was saying in his heart, "At this moment she can laugh and jest, and give a ball!" Then he reproached himself. Bah! woman is a grown-up child. How should she realize existence! She has no system of faith or of philosophy. Her life is a string of moods—white pearls and black upon a thread of hazard.

[Pg 509]


It had pleased Val's love of travel by water, and helped her to endure the thought of her long overland journey to the Pacific, that they should go down by river to the great railway centre and junction for the West. Just before noon, on the day after the ball, all was in readiness for the last leave-taking. The heavier trunks had gone down early to the landing below the Fort. Ethan was leaving his agent and several servants to wind up affairs, and the house was still in gala-dress, and overrun with people. Many of the guests from a distance were not leaving till later, and they all went down to the river "to see the Ganos off." More than half the population of the town seemed to Ethan to be bent on the same errand. He got out of the crowd at the landing, looked at his watch, said he had forgotten something, and hurried back, shaking off Scherer and others, by the way, with scant ceremony. When he reached Mioto Avenue, instead of crossing it and continuing on up to the front entrance of the Fort, he walked hurriedly along the avenue skirting the bottom of the old wilderness, now the garden. When he came to the barberry-bush, he stopped, casting a quick look to right and left. With some pains and no little violence to his hands, he wrenched one of the new palings off the fence, and let himself in. Past the garish pavilion, up the first flight of steps, with a glance towards the thicket of the hundred-leaved rose, where An' Jerusha had stood so long ago with apron to her eyes—on, round the deserted house to the front porch. He stared at his name on the door with a sense of its being strange to find it there still. He lifted the knocker and let it fall; no one came. He rang the bell.

[Pg 510]

"The people who used to live here must all be gone away," he said to himself, playing with the idea that it was "many years after."

He went round to the back veranda. The door stood ajar. He looked in, wondering to find the place open, and yet fearing to see a face. All the world was down at the landing. He ran up-stairs three steps at a time. Out of the writing-table drawer in his room he took an old note-book. It had come to light the day before, but there had been no fire in his room, and there was no means now of burning it. But he was glad he had remembered it in time. Down-stairs, as swiftly as of old when Yaffti followed hard; a moment's pause before the long-room door. He opened it, stood looking in a moment at the high red chair, and before passing on, bent his head like one who acknowledges a greeting.

As he hurried down the terrace he started, catching sight of some one crouching down by the rose-bushes. He called out sharply:

"Who is that?"

"Me, sir," said the shamefaced Venus, getting up from her kneeling posture.

"What are you doing there?"

Up and down her gingham apron she was furtively rubbing her knees. Think of Venus losing her youth and acquiring "rheumatics!" How exactly like An' Jerusha she was growing!

"I wus lef' in chawge, sah."

"Well, you've left the veranda door open!"

She stopped rubbing her knees and wiped her eyes.

"Dat do' sutny am open, sah. I wanted—t' see de las' ob yer. Dis w'ere me an' maw done spy out fo' yo' dat firs' time. Ole Mis' G'no—she didn' min' me an' maw bein' yere."

"You saw me come back?"

"Yass, sah." Then, as if to palliate the crime of the open door: "Mebbe a long time fo' I see yo' comin' in agin."

[Pg 511]

"Yes," he said, "it's likely to be a long time," and his slow look went round the place, shying at the pavilion.

Venus seemed to think it incumbent upon her to hold up her end of the conversation.

"Huh! Can't say fo' sho' why I'm carryin' on like dis yere." She mopped her eyes. "Miss Val gone away laffin' fit to kill."

"Yes, she takes it better than we do. Good-bye, Venus."

"Goo'-bye, sah. Trufe is, sah, Miss Val mighty sot on seein' de worl'. Goo'-bye, goo'-bye!"

She waved her apron till he was out of sight.

"They've rung the 'all aboard' bell twice!" Val called excitedly from the deck of the steamer as Ethan appeared at the landing.

He gladly cut his good-byes short, with an eye on the figure up there against the sky, in dull blue tweed, belted in with white wash-leather. She had shown him one morning, nearly a year ago, how neatly that same white leather strip fitted over the old Russian belt that she had clung to until he got her the one of turquoises.

"Of course," she had said that day in Paris, laughing and showing her white teeth, "if I were a clumpy lady now—if I hadn't such a nice little waist, I couldn't wear two belts, and I could never wear white at all! So mind you appreciate me."

It was that day he had gone and ordered the turquoise girdle. Was she wearing it now? Of course. Absurd child! she never dressed without it. He glanced up at her in the midst of the handshaking, seeing neither Wilbur nor Scherer nor Julia, but a wind-blown figure above him on the brow of Plymouth Hill, looking out to the future. And to-day? The same questioning eyes, shoulders well set back, the little head held high—she was still looking the world in the face; it would be defiance but for the smile.

As the paddle churned the water there was a chorus of good-bying and hurrahing. The whistle shrieked—the steamer lumbered fussily down-stream.

[Pg 512]

"Why don't you wave, too?" said Val, excitedly. "Is that old book under your arm what you went back for? Why is your other hand full of leaves?"

"I can't imagine why." He opened his fingers and let the scarlet barberries and the small crisp leaves fall into the river.

The faces in the crowd were growing dim, but still she waved her handkerchief.

"You remember that man you once told me about?" she said.

"What man?" He looked dreamily back at the throng as though expecting to find him there.

"Don't you remember he was at play when the Roman guard came to carry him to his execution? I should like to call back to my friends as he did: 'Bear witness when I am dead that I had the better of the game!'"


Ethan's prophecy proved true. Val loved the place at Oakland, and all the walks and drives about. She delighted in San Francisco, and she ransacked Chinatown with unabated curiosity.

"You've never told me what you think of Yaffti," Ethan said to her some days after their arrival.


"My sailboat."

"Oh, I haven't encountered Yaffti as yet."

He presently realized that she had never been down to the beach since she came. Instinctively he avoided suggesting it again. He would go off for a sail sometimes himself with his man, Sam Cornish, an old sailor who had been with him years before on his yacht. But Val was ingenious in inventing inland outings. Yaffti for the most part was tethered fast in the little cove, and Sam smoked endless pipes on the pier.

But Val made the old sailor's acquaintance nevertheless, and delighted in him. One day, in an encounter down at the stables, Sam made bold to remonstrate with her upon her "fear o' the sea."

[Pg 513]

"'Tain't wot I expected by the look o' yer, mum."

She laughed a little nervously, and went up the drive to meet Ethan.

"What's Sam being saying?" he said, conscious of the faint trace of agitation in her face.

"Sam? Oh, nothing! Sam and I are great friends." Restless under her husband's continued scrutiny, she asked: "How long have you known Sam?"

"Oh, seven or eight years, I should think."

"Well, he likes me best, anyhow," she laughed.

"I dare say," said Ethan, adopting her note; "all ignorant persons do."

"Yes, it's true!" She stopped a moment. "Now, why is that, do you suppose?" she said, with the candid air of a scientific investigator.

"Merely because you have the beau rôle to play," he said, still smiling. "You help them to believe in happiness. I'm apt to verify their worst suspicions."

Ethan left his wife very little alone, and it was strange and pitiful to him—a daily mockery of the human lot—that they should be so often happy, and in spirit closer together in these hours, than they had ever been in their lives. They clung to each other like two lost children, and the days went by in a dream.


They had had three weeks of quite perfect weather. To-day, for the first time since their coming, the sky lowered, the air was heavy. Still, the sun showed his dazzling Californian face at intervals, and Ethan watched the weather signs while he dressed, his heart secretly set upon going off, by-and-by, with Yaffti and Sam for a sail. He must find out discreetly how Val was going to spend the morning.

"What's for to-day?" he said to her at breakfast.

"I've a beautiful plan if the weather behaves," she answered.

They stood at the door of the summer-house after breakfast. Val would leave him every now and then, go to the[Pg 514] lattice-window that looked out to sea, and come back with the latest Signal Service report. Her version was so uniformly favorable that Ethan laughed at last.

"You're like an old night-watchman!"

"I'm not a bit like an old night-watchman."

"Yes, yes," he insisted. "Weren't you told as a child how they used to go crying the hour under the windows in Baltimore, 'Eleven o'clock, and all's well!' 'Midnight, and all's well'?"

"Very nice of them, I'm sure; and if the family watchman says 'All's well' after luncheon, you are to take me to China."

It was so she always spoke of Chinatown. He thought of the narrow, malodorous alleys, the stifling shops, and regretted, with a double pang, the breezy bay and Yaffti. However, he would have a couple of hours' sail before luncheon to sustain him.

"All right," he said out loud, "we'll go to China this afternoon."

As she leaned against him he put his arm about her waist.

"Where's your turquoise gewgaw?" he said.

"Here"—she lifted a hand to her hair.

"No; I meant the other—the—" As he noticed the shade on her face: "You've lost it! Aha! I knew you would if you wore it every day."

"I haven't lost it," she said.

"Tired of it already?"

"No; I didn't put it on this morning."

He looked at her with changed eyes. She dropped her own, went over to the lattice, and stood there facing seaward. When he came in to get the tobacco-pouch he had left on the rustic table, she went out. He thought of that morning in Paris when he had designed the belt and chosen the stones. How he had dwelt in imagination on the moment when he would clasp it round her, see her joy, and be given his reward! Then came back the actual moment of his giving her the gift—came back with an even greater[Pg 515] anguish than he had known in living through the moments by the fire in his wife's room at the Fort. He tasted the intolerable bitter of the contrast between what he had hoped that hour would bring, and what it actually had brought, till he was ready to cry out: "What demon made me mention it? She's right not to wear the accursed thing!"

As soon as Val went in-doors he would go for a sail. For nearly half an hour she had been trailing about the garden in her soft white draperies, now bending down to look at some growing thing, now looking up to the wind-blown cloud masses, to where the strong sunlight poured down between the rifts. He leaned against the door of the summer-house, rolling cigarettes. He suspected rather than heard her talking her foolish "little language" to the bird in the juniper-bush, the spoiled bird that always got crumbs after breakfast. By-and-by she came towards him across the lawn with a little green branch in her hand. He realized that she must be weary, she was dragging her feet. Something curiously unlike Val, something inelastic, shackled, struck him in her gait. His face darkened suddenly; an involuntary shock of repulsion went through him, a resentment keen, impersonal, unconscious of everything save his own inward recoil, until he noticed Val had stopped short and the green branch had fallen at her feet. He went forward to pick it up. As he handed it to her he saw her eyes were full of tears.

"My dear one, what is it?" he said, with sharp remorse.

"Don't—don't look at me! Turn away your eyes."

"Why—why, dear?"

"Your eyes hurt—oh, they hurt me!"

"How can you say such a thing!" he exclaimed, ready to perjure himself. He would have laid his arm about her, but she shrank away. "It's not like you, Val!" he began, almost indignantly.

"No, no," she said, on a wave of her old impetuosity, "it's not a bit like me! I would have loved the great miracle. I would have waited upon it reverently every step of the way, so proud, so happy—"

[Pg 516]

She broke off and went from him into the house.

His painful remorse was checkered by the reflection, "And I was going for a sail! Impossible now."

He stayed all the morning in the house or garden, reading to Val when she would let him, surrounding her with every offering of tenderness his keen self-reproach could invent. But he was too close in spirit to the woman at his side not to divine a little how she shrank from this new considerateness that was own cousin to pity.

As he sat in the library reading aloud before luncheon, he became acutely conscious of a change in her mood. At first he thought the story was interesting her deeply, and began to pay more attention to it himself, glancing up covertly now and then at the face opposite to him. The languid eyes were full of light again, her apathy swallowed up in some unexplained alertness. He was so struck with the change that he bent forward and laid his hand over hers. It trembled sharply under his touch. She rose and walked about the room. He read on till the luncheon-bell rang. She sat at the table scarcely eating, answering his remarks with gentle vagueness, and looking much out of the window.

"No hope of going to China to-day," he said, at last, following her eyes.

"Not at two," she answered. "That was why I didn't dress."

After luncheon they went back to the library.

"What do they mean by shutting the windows?" she exclaimed, and flung them wide.

The papers in the room flew about, and he closed the door. He took up the book again, feeling that neither of them was much in the mood to talk. But the day had grown so overcast that he went and sat in the bay-window, so that he might read the small print more readily. Val moved restlessly about. He refrained from looking at her again until he became conscious that she had stopped suddenly. He glanced up, and saw her standing rooted, with a look of tension on her face, her head slightly tilted, lips parted, breath held.

[Pg 517]

"What is it?" he said, nervously.

"Don't you hear?"



"What nonsense!" he laughed.

"Sh! Listen!"

In the silence he caught the faint far-off growl of thunder.

"You forget," he said, after a moment, speaking as one who tries to cast off some evil spirit, "you forget I've made Yaffti fast in the bay."

"He's coming inland to-day," she said; "he's tired of waiting for us."

Ethan had picked up the book, and read on with a curious under-current of excitement. As he turned the leaves he would throw out a swift glance, almost like one running for his life who keeps an eye on an enemy.

The flying cloud squadrons had rallied. They were drawn up now in serried masses, black and threatening. The sun had fallen back overpowered, vanquished utterly. Such noonday darkness in the lands of sunshine is a commonplace of sub-tropical climate, but to Ethan it came to-day as a portent and a warning.

Val moved from window to window, watching the great red-wood trees swaying and lashing, and taking the wind in her face.

Ethan closed his own window, and suggested that the others be put down.

"No, no," she opposed him, almost sharply.

"What's the matter with you to-day?" he said at last, unable to endure her restlessness any longer. "Can't you follow the story—can't you think when there's a thunderstorm?"

"Oh yes," she said; "I can think best of all then."

As she stood looking up in a kind of ecstasy, suddenly the lightning played about her. Involuntarily Ethan shrank and shut his eyes in that first instant. In the stupendous crash that followed he sprang up. Was the house struck?

[Pg 518]

She stood quite still with exultant eyes, listening for the thunderpeals as if they were answers to some question, waiting for the lightning like one lost in the dark, who sees a torch borne nearer.

He put down the windows in spite of her "Ah no! ah no!" just as the rain-cloud broke over the house.

"I keep thinking it's the big tulip-tree at home," she said, "making that sound like surf on the shore."

The rain dashed in floods against the window-panes, and ran down in sheets like sea-water off the port-holes of a ship.

"One good thing," said Ethan, "it's too violent to last long."

The house groaned and trembled under the bombardment of the storm.

"Listen!" she said again. "Oh, Yaffti is very angry this time. I told you he was tired of waiting so long in the bay."

She opened the library door.

"Where are you going?" he demanded.

She went back and kissed him.

"Only up-stairs. I want to write to Emmie."

Ethan had been right: the storm was too violent to last. When it had spent itself he went down to the pier. Sky still a little overcast, but louder than ever the sea called to him.

He walked up and down, up and down. The salt blew keen in his face. By-and-by he went to the boat-house to consult Sam.

"Well," in Sam's opinion, "they mout be a bigger gale on the way, and then, again, they moutn't."

But after a while the warm wind seemed to blow the clouds low down on the threshold of the ocean. The dome of heaven was swept bare and clean except for a little corner of the west. And louder than ever the sea kept calling. He would go up to the house, he told Sam, and see what Mrs. Gano was doing—if she minded his going out for an hour.

[Pg 519]

She had written to Emmie a simple family letter, full of affection and reminders of the old days. "I hope you've forgiven me for being so horrid to you when we were children. You have the comfort of remembering you were always very gentle and forbearing to everybody. I was a monster. I'm still rather a monster, but I'd like you to go on thinking kindly of me."

She found she had no stamps, and looked in Ethan's room. His travelling letter-case—it was really a portable writing-stand—lay open on the floor of his dressing-room, with his bunch of keys in the lock.

"Careless boy," she said to herself, and went over to close it.

Her eye fell on the old note-book that Ethan had gone back for that day they left the Fort. She opened it idly. He had shown her the first pages himself, with their odds and ends of verse, jottings and subjects, etc. Absently she turned the leaves to the end. The last entry was the longest, the date early in that year:


"Forgetfulness! That is all my prayer. Do I blame the men who drink? No. Opium-eaters? Not I. I wonder we do not all—all who have the taste of suffering on our lips, and the knowledge of the aimless grotesque end—I wonder we do not buy oblivion at any price. How is it we are cajoled to bear this aching at the heart?"

"What date is this?" said the woman aloud, and read again: "Nice—why, he was with me, and we were happy! Nothing had happened then," she said, forgetting all the pain of the old doubt in the greater pain of the new certainty.

She read on:

"Forgetfulness! Dear saints in heaven! it's not a crown, not the white robe and palm I crave—forgetfulness! A little sweet upon the threshold, and then the dark. By sweet I mean the present love of some one dear; or, more honestly set down, I mean the companionship of the one dear soul on that far quest. Story-makers write at the end, 'And they lived happy ever after.' Give me and my dear one the epitaph, 'And they were dead together forever after.' For those myriads who merely skimmed the surface of thought and [Pg 520]feeling—for those who had few fears and fewer heartaches, there may come a Resurrection Morn. The loud trumpet, dear, shall pierce our sleep as well, perhaps, and we will rouse and stir a little in our folded shrouds. I will whisper in your drowsy ear, 'Dear heart, it is the morning. Shall we arise? Shall we take up the round again?' And you will lie closer, with your arms of dust about me, and the dear voice will say in my ear, 'No, no, beloved; it is well with us here in our narrow house.' And I will say, 'Bethink you, this is the day when all men rise and greet their friends.' 'Friend,' you will answer, 'I give you greeting here.' And I, 'The just who rise to-day are given great reward.' But my beloved says, 'You gave me my reward; I have it in my heart of dust.' 'But Life and Light are waiting for you there.' And you will say, 'I know them both; and Death and Darkness are the better part.' Then, as I feel the blessed numbness stealing over this quintessence of the dust, I will rouse me one last moment, remembering how fair and fit for living and for loving my beloved was, and I will say with all the old world-anguish aching anew in every atom of my body's dust, 'Dear, there is much love awaiting you up there—that love you did so hunger for. Rise up. Love calls.' 'Hush, hush! I have found my love,' I seem to hear you saying, low and faint, like one who lingers but a moment on the hither shore of sleep. 'Oh, dear, dear heart, I'll say one word before we sleep. There is no other day of waking. If you stay here now, it is the end. There comes no more a Resurrection Morn.' 'There comes no more a battle or undoing,' I hear you say, so faint, so low, I scarce can part the sound from silence; 'no more retreat, no more defeat, no aching of the brave and hopeless heart.' Then, 'Good-night,' say I. And you, 'Good-night.'"

"No, no!" cried the living woman. "I'm apter at 'good-morning.' I'm not that woman down beside him in the dark."


"Val!" he was calling in the garden; "Val!" he was calling on the stair.

She had closed the book, and slipped it guiltily into her pocket.

She left her letter on the floor and ran out to meet him, catching up hat and gloves as she hurried through her own room.

"I was just coming to ask you—" he began. "Oh, you've changed your dress!"

[Pg 521]

"Yes," she said, not meeting his eyes.

"Well, what shall we do?" They went down together to the door. He thought regretfully of Yaffti and the shining bay. "What do you think you'd like?"

"Let us go down—" She nodded towards the boathouses.

"You don't mean down to the beach?"


He studied her a moment.

"The wind off the bay is fresh after the storm," he hesitated. "You are dressed very lightly."

"No, no—quite warm."

"In that blue cobweb, open at the throat?"

"It's the dress you like best," she said, in a low voice.

He saw now there was something more than common careful, something selected, in the simple toilet—her creamy laces, her favorite jewels.

"Very charming; but you can't deny you're not dressed for rough weather."

"Yes, I am; you'll see. But bring my reefer, too."

While he got the jacket she put on her hat and gloves.

Down on the pier she found the wind stronger than she had expected. She shivered a little, although it was warm, and drew the rough reefer together. She saw Ethan throw back his head, and his nostrils expand slightly as he inhaled the strong sea smell.

"Will ye be goin' out?" Sam asked.

"No, not to-day."

"Why not?" asked Val, quickly.

Ethan turned with a sudden light in his face.

"Do you mean you really don't mind?"

"Not—not if you take me."

He looked into her eyes and then across the bay. It was some time before he spoke:

"Sam to the contrary, I'm not sure but what the worst is to come."

She shook her head.

"'The worst' is over."

[Pg 522]

"Do you see that bank of cloud?"

"It will make a fine sunset," she answered. While Sam was getting the boat ready: "He must stay behind," she said, very low.

Ethan seemed about to give the order, but it stuck in his throat.

"Shall I tell him?" she asked.

Still no answer.

"Sa—" she called.

"We can go alone another day," Ethan interrupted, hurriedly.

She shook her head.

"When that other day comes I may not be able."

"What should prevent you?"

"Something stronger than I—or you." As he looked at her: "I may come to feel too much that sense you said I lacked. Quick, quick! Make him hurry: it's late. It might come to seem too late."

"Late. Do you realize it's not four weeks since the ball? You who wanted to go to China and Persia, and God knows where!"

"Well, I am going—God knows where." She turned away her head.

Sam was waiting to hand her in.

"No, Ethan, you," she whispered. But she looked back when she was in the boat, and smiled at the old sailor.

"You needn't come this time," she said, as he was preparing to follow Ethan. "I can manage the tiller."

Sam's doubtful looks vanished as he observed the lady's air of custom.

"Where shall we go?" said Ethan.

"I think I'll steer for the sunset," she answered, in the same level voice.

He paused with the sheet in his hand.

"That would bring us—" He looked out across the water, far across it, beyond it, till his cloudy eyes found the cloud-hung entrance to the open sea.

"It will bring us out at the Golden Gate," she said.

Yaffti seemed to draw a long, joyous breath; the white sail bellied in the warm wind.

"Good-bye," Val called back across the water.

"Good-bye, ma'am."

Sam Cornish fille his pipe. He watched Yaffti drop down the bay, and sail away into the sunset.

That night the Pacific coast was strewn with wreck. But of the Yaffti no spar was ever found.