DEATH IS DAWN.
"In the pettiest character there are unfathomable depths."
"Only one Judge is just, for only one Knoweth the hearts of men."
Sayeth the book: "There passeth no man's soul Except by God's permission, and the speech Writ in the scroll determining the whole, The times of all men, and the times for each." —KORAN, 3d CHAP.
The Lanhearnes by an old-fashioned standard were a very wealthy family. They were also a large family, though the sons had been scattered by their business exigencies and the eldest daughters by marriage. Only Ada, the youngest child of the house, remained with her father; for the mother had been dead many years, and the preservation of the idea of home was felt by all the Lanhearne children to be in Ada's hands. If she married and went away, who then would keep open the dear old house and give a bright welcome to their yearly visits?
Ada, however, was not inclined to marriage. She was a grave, quiet woman of twenty-two years of age, whose instincts were decidedly spiritual and whose hopes and pleasures had little to do with this world. She was interested in all church duties and in all charitable enterprises. Mission schools and chapels filled her heart, and she paid out of her private purse a good-hearted little missionary to find out for her cases of deserving poverty which it was her delight to relieve.
Roland had never before come in contact with such a woman, and at a distance he gave her a kind of adoration. Young, beautiful, rich, and yet keeping herself unspotted from the world or going into it only to relieve suffering, to dry the tears of childhood, and strengthen the failing hearts of unhappy women. Once while walking with Mr. Lanhearne the old gentleman said: "This is Ada's church. As the door is open let us enter and wait for prayers." So out of the rush and crush of Broadway the old and the young man turned into the peace of the temple. And as they entered Ada rose up from before the altar, and with a pale, rapt face glided into the solitude of her own pew. Neither spoke of the circumstance, but on Roland's mind it made a deep impression. At that hour he realised how beautiful a thing is true religion and how holy a thing is a woman pure of heart, calmly radiant from the very presence of God.
In spite of the unhappy memories of the past, in spite of the worrying thoughts which would intrude concerning Denasia, he was not at this time very happy. Certainly not happy enough to contemplate a long continuance of the life he was leading, but well satisfied to pass the winter in its refined and easy seclusion. He knew that Elizabeth would be in London until June, and he resolved to remain in New York until she left for Switzerland. He would then join her at Paris and spend the summer and autumn in her company; beyond that he did not much trouble himself.
He had, indeed, a vague dream of then quietly visiting Denasia and determining whether it would be worth while to educate her for grand opera. For the idea had taken such deep root in his mind that he could not teach himself to regard the future without it, and now that Elizabeth had full control of her riches, he did not contemplate any difficulty about money matters. He still believed in Denasia's voice, and he had seen that her dramatic talents were above the average; so even in the charmed atmosphere of the Lanhearne home, he could still think with pleasure of being the husband of a famous prima donna.
He was sure that Denasia had returned to St. Penfer. He knew that ever since they came to America she had written at intervals to her parents, and though it was indeed a labour of love for either John or Joan to write a letter, Denasia had had several communications from them. Evidently, then, she had been forgiven, and he had no doubt that for the sake of her child she hurried homeward as soon as it was possible for her to secure a passage.
Still he allowed three weeks to pass ere he made any inquiries. During those three weeks his own life had settled into very easy and pleasant ways. He breakfasted alone or with Mr. Lanhearne. Then he read the morning papers aloud and attended to the mail. If the weather were favourable, this duty was followed by a stroll or drive in the park. Afterward he was very much at leisure until dinner-time, and at nine o'clock Mr. Lanhearne's retirement to his own room gave him those evening hours which most young men consider the desirable ones. Roland generally went to some theatre or musical entertainment. There was always the vague expectation of seeing and hearing Denasia, and he scarcely knew whether his disappointment was a pleasure or an annoyance.
At the end of the third week he ventured to the Second Avenue house. The room they had occupied was dark. He watched it until midnight. If Denasia had been singing anywhere, she would certainly have returned to her child before that hour. The next night he sent a messenger to inquire for her address, and the boy said, "It was not known. Mrs. Tresham had left two weeks before. She had spoken of England, but it was not positively known that she had gone there."
"She is likely in St. Penfer by this time," mentally commented Roland, and the thought gave him comfort. He did want Denasia and the baby to be taken care of, and he knew they would want no necessary thing in John Penelles' cottage. But it was this very certainty of Denasia's return to England which really detained Roland in America. He had no desire to meet John Penelles until time had healed the wound he had given John's daughter. John would be sure to seek him out in London, and there might be no end of trouble; but John would not come to America, nor would he be likely in the summer season to leave the fishing and seek him either in Paris or Switzerland. As for Elizabeth, she knew from her brother's letters that he had deceived and left his wife, and she had, of course, thought it proper to offer a feeble remonstrance, but Roland knew right well she would never betray his hiding-place.
So Roland lived on week after week in luxurious thoughtlessness. Mr. Lanhearne grew very fond of him, and Ada, in spite of her numerous objects of charitable interest, found it singularly pleasant to discuss with so handsome and intelligent a companion religious topics on which their opinions were widely apart. Indeed, she honestly accepted the evident duty of leading him back to the safe and narrow road of creditable dogmas. And with such a fair, earnest teacher it was easy, it was natural for Roland to affect an interest in the subject he did not really feel.
Dangerous ground for both, but especially so for the lovely young woman whose sincerity and singleness of purpose led her to believe that a very natural and womanly instinct was the prompting of a spiritual concern for an immortal soul wandering from the right path. Roland as a hypocrite, affecting a piety he despised, would not have been either so captivating or so dangerous as Roland honestly ignorant and doubtful, yet willing to be taught and convinced.
Dangerous ground for both, for both constantly assured themselves there was no danger. Ada Lanhearne was not a woman that any man could approach with laughter or half-concealed flirtation. And Roland had no desire to overstep the boundary her noble presence inspired. Also, Denasia held him by the mysterious strength of the marriage tie. Apart from her and relieved of the petty cares which degraded their love, he forgot her shortcomings and thought more and more frequently of her affectionate, forgiving heart. The radiance of her youthful beauty was still in his memory, and the haunting charm of her voice called him at all kinds of incongruous hours. He awoke at night with the silvery cry of "Caller Herrin'" in his ears. At the dinner-table he heard her light musical laugh ring through the decorous, quiet room, and often when discussing an old Roman coin with Mr. Lanhearne he felt her hand upon his shoulder, and feared to turn lest her face should confront him.
Ada's beaming eyes, and soft voice, and mystical rapture of holy enthusiasm touched him on quite a different side of his nature. She made him long to be good—he was almost afraid he would become good if he dwelt too much in her presence. And he did not desire to be so—not just yet. But as she talked so earnestly to him of righteousness, and duty and the life to come, it was impossible that he should not in some way respond. And when his handsome eyes were shadowed with feeling and his gay face and manner subdued to the gravity of the subject, it was equally impossible for the young teacher not to be moved by the evidences of her own eloquent persuasion.
After all, much must be left to the imagination; the situation was so full of possibilities, so absolutely free of all wrong conditions, so ready to yield itself to many wrong conditions. Roland's days went by in a placid sameness, which did not become fretting, because he knew he should end its pleasant monotony of his own free will in a very few weeks. And Ada had never before been so happy. Why should she ask herself the reason? To question fate is not a fortunate thing, at any rate; she felt a reluctance to begin a catechism with her feelings or her surroundings.
So the Christmas came and went, and the days lengthened and the cold strengthened, and there was so much misery among the poor that Ada's time and money were taxed to their uttermost use and ability. And the suffering she saw left its shadow on her fair face. She was quieter because her thoughts were deep in her heart and did not therefore readily resolve themselves into words. The mystery of the whole creation suffering together oppressed and solemnized her life, for it was no hearsay of cold, and hunger, and wretchedness that touched Ada. She sat down on the cold hearths with broken-hearted wives and mothers, and held upon her knees the little children ready to perish. Money she gave to the uttermost, but with the money something infinitely more precious—love, like that which made the Christ put His hand upon the leper as well as heal him; womanly sympathy, which listened patiently to tales of intolerable wrongs and to the moans of extreme physical suffering.
In her own home she seldom spoke of these experiences. Mr. Lanhearne did not altogether approve of them. Like the centurion of old, he thought it was sufficient to "speak the word only," that is, to give the money necessary to relieve suffering. And he did not see why his child's life should be shadowed by carrying the griefs of others. So there was very seldom any talk on these matters, unless Ada required assistance. Then she spoke with such clear sincerity and pathos that her father felt it to be a privilege to be her right hand, and for the time being was probably as enthusiastic as herself. But these were rare occasions; Ada was too wise and considerate to stretch a generous or a gentle emotion until it failed.
One bitterly cold night in February Roland returned to Lanhearne House in a particularly unhappy mood. He had been down-town as far as Twenty-third Street, and had been subjected to all the depressing influences of the cold, brown-stony city, swept by that most cruel of winds—the east wind which comes with a thaw. The sullen poor, standing desperate and scornful at the street corners, seemed to cast a malevolent eye upon his handsome, well-clothed person. There had been a terrible accident, followed by a fire, somewhere in the city, and the raw, cutting air was full of its horror. As he passed a group of men, a poor shivering creature said passionately, "Accident indeed! All accidents are crimes!" The friction of the interests and wills encompassing him evolved an atmosphere which he had no strength to antagonise. He simply submitted to its worry and restlessness and unhappy discontent, and so carried the spirit home with him.
It was met on the threshold by influences that drove it back into the desolate street. The warm, light house and the peace and luxury of his own room soothed his mental sense of something wrong. And when he descended to the parlour, he was instantly encompassed by soft warmth, by firelight and gaslight, by all the visible signs and audible sounds of sincere pleasure in his advent. Mr. Lanhearne had a new periodical to discuss, and Ada, though unusually grave, lifted her still face with the smile of welcome on it.
She had, however, an evident anxiety, and Mr. Lanhearne probably divined its origin, for after dinner was over he said: "Ada, I saw your little missionary here, late. Is there anything very wrong?"
"I was just going to tell you, father. Mr. Tresham may listen also, it can do him no harm. Mrs. Dodge came to tell me of a most distressing case. She was visiting an old patient in a large tenement, and the woman told her to call at the room directly above her. As she went away she did so. It was only four o'clock then, but in that place quite dark. When she reached the door she heard a voice praying—heard a voice thanking God amid sobs and tears—oh, father, what for? For the death of her baby! Crying out in a passion of gratitude because it was released from hunger and cold and suffering!"
Mr. Lanhearne covered his face, and Roland looked at Ada with his large eyes troubled and misty. The girl was speechless for a moment or two, and Roland watched her sympathetic face and saw tears drop upon her clasped hands. Then she resumed: "Mrs. Dodge entered softly. The mother was sitting on a chair with her dead baby across her knees. There was no fire, no candle in the room, but the light from an oil-lamp in a near window fell upon the white faces of the mother and her dead child. There is no need to tell you that Mrs. Dodge quickly made a fire, cooked the poor famished creature a meal, and then prepared the dead child for its burial. But she says the mother is distracted because she cannot buy it a grave and a coffin. I have promised to do that; you will help me, father? I know you will."
"To be sure I will, Ada. To be sure, my dear one! I will help gladly. Has the poor, sorrowful woman no husband to comfort her in this extremity?"
"She says he is dead. Her history is a little out of the common. She is an English woman and was a public singer. The name she is known by is Mademoiselle Denasia—but that, of course, is not her real name."
A quick, sharp cry broke from Roland's lips. He was grey as ashes. He trembled visibly and stood up, though his emotion compelled him instantly to reseat himself. He was on the point of losing consciousness. Mr. Lanhearne and Ada looked at him with anxiety, and Mr. Lanhearne went to his side.
"I am better," he said with a heavy sigh. "I knew—I knew this poor woman! I told you I was once on the road with a company. She was in it. Her husband was a brute—a mean, selfish, cowardly brute—he ought to be dead. I should like to help her—to see her—what is the street? the number? Excuse me—I was shocked!"
"I see, Mr. Tresham," answered Ada, kindly. She had some ivory tablets by her side, and she looked at them and said, "It is a very long way—One Hundred and Seventieth Street—here is the address. I shall be glad if you can do anything to help. I am sure she is worthy—she has had good parents and been taught to pray."
"My dear Ada," said Mr. Lanhearne, "sorrow forces men and women down upon their knees; even dumb beasts in their extremity cry unto God, and He heareth them. And as for being worthy of help—if worthiness were the condition, which of us durst pray for consolation in the hour of our trouble? God has a nobler scale. He sends his rain upon the just and the unjust, and He never yet asked a suppliant, 'Whose son art thou?'"
Roland was grateful for this little discussion. It gave him a minute or two in which to summon his soul to face the position. He was able when Mr. Lanhearne ceased speaking to say:
"Mademoiselle Denasia is a Cornish woman. She comes from a village not far from where my father lived. I feel that I ought to stand by her in her sorrow. I shall be glad to do anything Miss Lanhearne thinks it right to do."
The subject was then dropped, but Roland could take up no other subject. With all his faults, he was still a creature full of warm human impulses. There was nothing of the cold, calculating villain about him. He was really shocked at the turn events had taken. Mr. Lanhearne, who knew the world of men which Ada did not know, mentally accused his handsome, sympathetic secretary of some knowledge of the unfortunate singer which it would be best not to investigate; but Ada thought his emotion to be entirely the outcome of an unusually tender and affectionate nature.
The incident affected the evening unhappily. Roland was not able either to talk or read, and Mr. Lanhearne, out of pure sympathy for the miserable young man, retired to his own apartment very early. This was always the signal for Roland's dismissal, and five minutes after it Mr. Lanhearne, looking from his window into the bleak, wind-swept street, saw Roland rapidly descend the steps and then turn northward.
"I was sure of it," he whispered. "There is more in this affair than meets the ear, but I like the young man, and why should I rake among the ashes of the past? Which of us would care for an investigation of that kind?" Then he sat down before his fire and mentally followed Roland to the bare loneliness of that poor home where death and the mother sat together.
For once Roland feared to call, "Denasia!" He hesitated at the foot of the narrow stair and then went softly to the door. All within was still as the grave, but a glimmer of pale light came from under the ill-fitting door. He might be mistaken in the room, but he resolved to try. He turned the handle and there was an instant movement. He went forward and Denasia stood erect, facing him. She made no sound or sign of either anger, or astonishment, or affection. All her being was concentrated on the clay-cold image of humanity lying so strangely still that it filled the whole place with its majesty of silence.
He closed the door softly and said "Denasia! Oh, Denasia!"
She did not answer him, but sinking on her knees by the child, began to sob with a passionate grief that shook her frail form as a tree is shaken by a tempest.
"My dearest! My wife! Forgive me! Forgive me! I thought you were in St. Penfer. As God lives, I believed you were with your mother. I intended to come to you, I did, indeed! Denasia, speak to me. I will never leave you again—never! We will go back to England together. I will make you a home there. I will love and cherish you for ever! Forgive me, dear! I am sorry! I am ashamed of myself! I hate myself! I do not wonder you hate me also."
"No, no! I do not hate you, Roland. I am lost in sorrow. I cannot either love or hate."
"Let me bear the sorrow with you, coward, villain that I am!"
"You did not mean to be either. You were tired of misery—men do tire. I would have tired, too, only for my baby. Oh, Roland! Roland! Roland! my love, my husband!"
Then—ah, then. No one can put into mere common words the great mystery of forgiveness. It is not in words. Heart beat against heart, eyes gazed into eyes, souls met upon clinging lips, and the sweet compact of married love was renewed in the clasping of their long-parted hands. They sat down together and spoke in soft, sad voices of the great mistakes of the past. Until the midnight hour they wept and talked together, and then Denasia said:
"In a short time a poor woman who is nursing at the Gilsey House will be here. She is on duty until twelve o'clock, but as soon as she is released she promised to come and sit with me. So you must leave me now, Roland. It is useless to explain to my neighbours our relationship. They would look at you and me and think evilly. I would not blame them if they did. When all is over I will come to you; until then I will remain alone. It is best so."
Nevertheless Roland lingered and pleaded, and when he finally consented to her wish, he left all the money he had in her hands. She looked at the bills with a sad despair. "All these!" she whispered, "all these for a grave and a coffin! There was nothing at all to help him to live."
"Nothing could have saved him, Denasia. He was born under sentence of death. He has been ill all his poor little life. My darling, believe that it is well with him now."
Yet her words and tears troubled him, and he bade her good-night, and then returned so often that the woman Denasia had spoken of passed him in the narrow entry, and he paused and watched her go to his wife's room. Even then he did not hurry to his own home. He went down the side street, and stood looking at the glimmering lamp in the sorrowful place of death until he became painfully aware of the terribly damp, cold wind searching out and chilling life, even to the very marrow of the bones. Then he remembered that he had come out in his dress boots, consequently his feet were wet and numb, and he had a fierce pain under his shoulder. A sudden, uncontrollable fear went to his heart like a death-doom.
He had to walk a long way before he found any vehicle, and when, after what seemed a never-ending period of torture, he reached his room, he knew that he was seriously ill. But the house had settled for the night; he had a reluctance to awaken the servants; he hoped the warmth would give him ease; he was, in fact, quite unacquainted with the terrible malady which had seized him. In the morning he did not appear, and after a short delay Mr. Lanhearne sent him a message.
Roland was, however, by this time in high fever and delirious. The news caused a momentary hesitation and then a positive decision. The hesitation was a natural one—"Should not the young man be sent to the hospital?" The decision came from the cultivated humanity of a good heart—"No. Roland was 'the stranger within the gates,' he was a countryman, he was more than that, he was a Cornishman." In a few moments Mr. Lanhearne had sent for his own physician and a trained nurse, and he went himself to the side of the sick man until help arrived.
Toward night Roland became very restless, and with a distressing effort constantly murmured the word "Denasia." Mr. Lanhearne thought he understood the position exactly, and he had a very pardonable hesitation in granting the half-made request. But the monotonous imploring became full of anguish, and he finally took his daughter into his councils and asked what ought to be done.
"Denasia ought to be here," answered Ada. "I have her address. Let Davis go for her."
"But, my dear! you do not understand that she may—that she is, perhaps, not what we should call a good woman."
"Dear father, who among us all is good? Even Christ said, 'Why callest thou Me good? There is none good save one, that is God.' We know nothing wrong of her with certainty. Why not give her the benefit of the doubt? Are we not compelled to be thus generous with all our acquaintances?"
So Denasia was sent for. She was sitting alone in her comfortless room. The baby was gone away for ever. Thinking of the lonely darkness of the cemetery, with the cold earth piled high above the little coffin, she felt a kind of satisfaction in her own shivering solitude and silence. She was as far as possible keeping with the little form a dreary companionship. Yet she had been expecting Roland and was greatly pained at his apparent neglect.
When Davis knocked at the door she said drearily, "Come in." She thought it was her husband at last.
"Are you Mademoiselle Denasia?" inquired a strange voice.
A quick sense of trouble came to her; she stood up and answered "Yes."
"There is a gentleman at our house, Mr. Tresham; he is very ill indeed. He asks for you constantly. Mr. Lanhearne thinks you ought to come to him at once."
"I am ready."
She spoke with a dreary patience and instantly put on her cloak and hat. Not another word was said. She asked no questions. She had reached that point where women arrest all their feelings and wait. The splendid house, the light, the warmth, all the evidences of a luxurious life about, moved her no more than if she was in a dream. A great sorrow had put her far above these things. She followed the servant who met her at the door without conscious volition. A woman going to execution could hardly have felt more indifference to the mere accidentals of the way of sorrow. And when a door was swung softly open, she saw no one in the room but Roland. Roland helpless, unconscious. Roland even then crying out "Denasia! Denasia!"
The physician, Mr. Lanhearne, and his daughter stood by the fireside, and when Denasia entered Ada went rapidly to her side.
"We are glad you have come," she said kindly. "You see how ill Mr. Tresham is. You are his countrywoman—his friend, I think?"
She said the words with a pathetic pride, and Ada wondered why they hurt her so terribly. Like four swords they pierced her heart and cut away from it hope and happiness. She went back to her father's side, and leaned her head on his shoulder, and felt like one holding despair at bay. And oh, how grateful to her was the secret silence of the night! Then she wept as a little child weeps who has lost its way. By her anguish and her sense of loss for ever she was taught that Roland had become nearer and dearer than she had ever suspected. And the knowledge was a revelation of sorrow. Her delicate conscience shivered in the shadow of a possible wrong and the bitterness of the might-have-been she was to fight without ceasing.
She felt no anger toward Denasia, however. Denasia was only the hidden rock on which her frail, unknown love-bark had struck and gone down. And she was constrained to admit that, so far as she herself was concerned, Roland was innocent. She had, indeed, often felt hurt at his restraint and want of response. In her pure, simple heart she had called it pride, shyness, indifference; but she understood now that this poor, weak soul had at least not lacked honour.
So that there was in this apparently peaceful, comfortable home two vital conflicts going on: the struggle of a noble soul to slay love, the struggle of unpitying death to slay life. About the ninth day Roland, though weak, had some favourable symptoms, and there were good hopes of his recovery. He talked with Denasia at intervals, and assured of her forgiveness and love, slept peacefully with his hand in his wife's hand.
A few days later, however, he appeared to be much depressed. His dark, sunken eyes gazed wistfully at Mr. Lanhearne, and he asked to be alone with him for a little while. "I am going to die," he said, with a face full of vague, melancholy fear. The look was so childlike, so like that of an infant soul afraid of some perilous path, that Mr. Lanhearne could not avoid weeping, though he answered:
"No, my dear Roland. The doctor says that the worst is over."
Roland smiled with pleasure at the fatherly dropping of the formal "Mr.," but he reiterated the assertion with a more decided manner. "I am going to die. Will you see that my wife goes back to England to her father and mother?"
"I will. Is there anything else?"
"No. She knows all that is to be done. Comfort her a little when I am dead."
"My dear Roland, we are going to Florida as soon as you are able."
"I am going to a country much farther off. I will tell you how I know. All my life long a figure formless, veiled, and like a shadow has come to me at any crisis. When I was striving for honours at my college it whispered, 'you will not succeed.' When I went to my first business desk it brought me the same message. The night before I sailed for America it stood at my bedside, and I heard the one word, 'failure.' This afternoon it told me, 'you have come to the end of your life.' Then my soul said, 'Oh, my enemy, who art thou?' And there grew out of the dimness the likeness of a face."
For a few moments there was a silence painful and profound. Roland closed his eyes, and from under their lids stole two large tears—the last he would ever shed. And Mr. Lanhearne was so awed and troubled he could scarcely say:
"A face! Whose face, then, Roland?"
"My own! My own!" and he spoke with that patience of accepted doom which, while it carries the warrant of death, has also death's resignation and dignity.
After this revelation there was a decided relapse, and after a few more days of suffering, of hope, and despair had passed, the end came peacefully from utter exhaustion. Mr. Lanhearne was present, but it was into Denasia's eyes that Roland gazed until this sad earth was lost to vision, and the dark, tearless orbs, once so full of light and love, were fixed and dull for evermore.
"It is all past! It is all over!" cried Denasia, "all over, all over! Oh, Roland! Roland! My dear, dear love!" and Mr. Lanhearne led her fainting with sorrow from the place of death.
And in another room, in a little sanctuary of holy dreams and loving purposes, Ada knelt in a transport of divine supplication, praying for the dying, praying for the living, consecrating her own wounded heart to the service of all women wearing for any reason the crown of sorrow, or drinking of the cup of Gethsemane, or treading alone the painful road which leads from Calvary to paradise. For herself asking only with a sublime submission—
"Nearer, my God, to Thee; E'en though it be a cross That raiseth me!"
SORROW BRINGS US ALL HOME.
"Look in my face. My name is Might-have-been: I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell."
"Was that the landmark?
. . . . . . . . . .
"But lo! the path is missed; I must go back And thirst to drink when next I reach the spring Which once I stained ... Yet though no light be left, nor bird now sing As here I turn, I'll thank God, hastening, That the same goal is still on the same track." —ROSETTI.
Roland Tresham was buried beside his son, and the friends and the places that had known him knew him no more. There were only strangers to lay him in the grave. His wife was too worn out with watching and grief to leave her bed; his sister was far away. Mr. Lanhearne and two or three gentlemen whose acquaintance Roland had made at the club of which Mr. Lanhearne was a member paid the last pitiful rites, and then left him alone for ever.
Ada sat with the sorrowful widow. Her innocent heart was greatly troubled lest her interest in Roland, though known only to herself, had been an unintentional wrong. In every possible way she strove to atone for Roland's happiness in her home and her own happiness in Roland's presence. When she mentally contrasted these conditions with the miserable conditions of the deserted wife and dying child, she felt as if it would be impossible to balance the unkind and unmerited difference. That she was not specially drawn to Denasia only forced from her a more generous concern for the unhappy woman. And when death or sorrow tears from life the mask of daily custom, then, without regard to the accidents of birth, we behold ourselves, all alike sad seekers among the shadows after light and peace.
And undoubtedly sympathy is like mercy; it blesses those who give it as well as those who receive. As Ada and Denas talked of the great mysteries of life and death, their souls felt the thrill of comradeship. Denas was usually reticent about her own life, yet she opened her heart to Ada, and as the two women sat together the day after the funeral, the poor widow spent many hours in excusing the dead and in blaming herself.
She spoke honestly of her vanity, of her desire to get the better of Elizabeth by taking her brother from her, of the satisfaction she felt in mortifying the pride of the Burrells and the Treshams—even of her impatience and ill-temper with Roland because he was not able to conquer the weaknesses which were as natural to him as the blood in his body or the thought in his brain; because he could not alter the adverse circumstances which, as soon as they touched American soil, began to close around them.
"And my great grief is this," she cried, wringing her long, wasted hands: "he has died before his time and he has gone so far away that he neither sees my repentance nor hears my words of remorseful sorrow."
"Would you desire the dead to see your sorrow, Mrs. Tresham?" said Ada. "Sorrow is for the living, not for the dead."
"Oh, it is not enough to be seen by the living! I want the dead to know that I grieve! When I have wept on my mother's breast and knelt at my father's feet, I shall still long for poor Roland to know that I am sorry for the cross looks and cross words and all the petty discomforts which drove him from me—drove him to death before his time; that is the cruellest thing of all."
Mr. Lanhearne entered the room as she spoke, and he sat down and answered her: "To die before one's time, before one has seen and heard, and enjoyed and suffered the full measure of life, may seem hard, Mrs. Tresham, but there is something in this respect much harder. I have just been with a man who has lived after his time. The grave has swallowed up all his loves and all his joys, and he alone is left of his family and friends. Over such lingering lives thick, dark shadows fall, I can assure you. They have the loneliness of the grave without its quiet sleep and its freedom from unkindness and suffering. Let me advise you, as soon as you can bear the journey, to go to your own people. It was your husband's desire."
"I know it was, sir. I have fought hunger and sorrow and death like a cat. But there is no need to continue the fight. I will go to the good father and mother that God gave me. I will weep no more rebellious tears. I will surrender myself and wait for His comfort. I am but a poor, suffering woman, but I know the hand that has smitten me."
And Ada bowed her head and repeated softly:
"They are most high who humblest at God's knees Lie loving God, and trusting though He smite."
Then they spoke of the sea-journey, and Denas wished to go away as soon as possible. "I shall get some money as soon as I arrive in London," she said. "Lend me sufficient to pay my passage there."
"You have no occasion to borrow money, Mrs. Tresham," said Mr. Lanhearne. "There is a sum due your husband which will be quite sufficient to meet all your expenses home. I will send a man to secure you a good berth. Shall it be for Saturday next?"
"I can go to-morrow very well."
"No, you cannot go to-morrow, Mrs. Tresham," answered Ada. "You must have proper clothing to travel in. If you will permit me, I will attend to this matter for you at once."
And though the proper clothing was a very prosaic comfort, it was a tangible one to Denas. She was grateful to find herself clothed in that modest, sombre decency which her condition claimed; to have all the small proprieties of the season and the circumstances, all the toilet necessities which are part of the expression of a refined nature. For the poor lady who pitifully lamented the calamity which had "reduced her to elegance" indicated no slight deprivation; proper clothing for the occasions of life being both to men and women one of those great decencies demanded by an austere and suitable self-respect.
Faithfully did this good father and daughter fulfil to the last tittle the demands of their almost super-sensitive hearts and consciences, and if they sighed with relief when the duty was over, the sigh only proved the duty to have been beyond the line of self-satisfaction and a real sacrifice to the claims of a common humanity. Mr. Lanhearne then turned his thoughts gladly toward Florida. He felt that the invasion of so much strange sorrow into his home had altered its atmosphere, and that he was human enough to be a little weary in well-doing. Ada was also glad to escape the precincts haunted by the form and the voice which it pained her conscience to remember and pained her heart to forget. So in a few more days the large brown house was closed and dark, and "the tender grace of a day that was dead" was gone for evermore. The land of sunshine was before them, and many of their friends were already there to give them welcome; yet Ada's soul kept repeating, with a ceaseless, uncontrollable monotony, one sad lament—
"Ah, but alas! for the smile that never but one face wore! Ah, for the voice that has flown away like a bird to an unknown shore! Ah, for the face—the flower of flowers—that blossoms on earth no more!"
She tried to hush this inner voice, to reason it into silence, to dull its aching echo with song or speech or notes of loftier tones; but it would not be quieted. And when she was left alone, when there was no one near to comfort or strengthen, a great silence fell upon her. For she indulged no stormy sorrow; her grief was a still rain that fertilised and made fragrant her higher self. In her maiden heart she had had a dream of being crowned with bride-flowers, and lo! it was rue, and thyme gone to seed, and dead primroses that garlanded her sad, unspoken love. But she wore them with a sweet, brave submission, not affecting to disbelieve that time would surely heal love's aching pain. For she knew that goodness was omnipotent to save and to comfort.
In the mean time, as the Lanhearnes sailed southward Denas sailed eastward, and in less than a couple of weeks half the circumference of the world was between the lives so strangely and sorrowfully brought together. Denas landed in Liverpool early in the morning, and without delay went to London. She had business with Elizabeth, and she felt constrained and restless until it should be accomplished. She hesitated about going to the house in which she had spent with Roland so many happy and sorrowful days, but when she entered the cab the direction to it sprang naturally from her lips.
And there was already in her heart that tender fear that she might forget, the fear that all who have loved and lost have trembled to recognise, the fact that her sorrow might have an end, that she might learn to dispense with what was once her life, that a little vulgar existence with its stated meals and regular duties and petty pleasures would ever fill the void in her love and life made by Roland's death.
So she tried, in the very place of her sweet bride memories, to bring back the first passion of her widowed grief. She tried to fill the empty chair with Roland's familiar form and the silent space with his happy voice. Alas! other thoughts would intrude; considerations about Elizabeth's attitude, about her home, about her future. For she knew that this part of her life was finished; that nothing could ever bring back its conditions. They had been absolutely barren conditions. Her duties as a wife and a mother were over. Her career as a singer was over. No single claim of friendship or interest from its past bound her. When she had seen Elizabeth these last years of her being and doing would be a shut book. Nothing but her change of name and, perhaps, a little money would remain to testify that Denas Penelles had ever been Denasia Tresham.
Do as she would, she could not keep these thoughts apart from her memories of her lover and her husband. She arrested her mind continually and bade herself remember the days of her gay bridal, or else those two lonely graves far beyond the western sea; and then, ere she was aware, her memories of the past had become speculations about the future. And she was abashed by this arid, incurable egotism in the most secret place of her soul. She felt it making itself known continually in her hard determination to make the best of things; she knew that it was this feeling which was determined to close the death chamber, to deny all torturing memories; which said, in effect, "what is finished is finished, and the dead are dead."
But the conflict wearied her almost to insensibility. She was also physically exhausted by travel, and the next day she slept profoundly until nearly the noon hour. It had been her intention to see Elizabeth in the morning, and she was provoked at her own remissness, for what she feared in reality happened—Elizabeth was out driving when she reached her residence. The porter thought it would be six o'clock ere she could receive any visitor, "business or no business."
Denas said she would call at six o'clock, and charged the man to tell his mistress so.
But the visit and the engagement passed from the servant's mind. In fact, he had, as he claimed, a very genteel mind. Callers who came in a common cab did not find an entry into it. Elizabeth returned in due season from her drive, drank a cup of tea, and then made her evening toilet. For Lord Sudleigh was to dine with her, and Lord Sudleigh was the most important person in Elizabeth's life. It was her intention, as soon as she had paid the last tittle of mint, anise, and cummin to Mr. Burrell's memory, to become Lady Sudleigh. Everyone said it was a most proper alliance, the proposed bride having money and beauty and the bridegroom-elect birth, political influence, and quite as much love as was necessary to such a matrimonial contract.
Elizabeth, however, in spite of her pleasant prospect for the evening, was in a bad temper. The bishop's wife had snubbed her in the drive, and her dressmaker had disappointed her in a new costume. The March wind also had reddened her face, and perhaps she had a premonition of trouble, which she did not care to investigate. When informed that there was a lady waiting to see her on important business, she simply elected to let her wait until her toilet was finished. She had a conviction that it was some officious patroness on a charity mission—someone who wanted money for the good of other people. And as there are times when we all feel the claims of charity to be an unwarrantable imposition, so Elizabeth, blown-about, sun-browned, snubbed, disappointed, and anxious about her lover, was not, on this particular occasion, more to blame for want of courtesy than many others have been.
Finally she descended to the drawing-room and was ready to receive her visitor. There was a very large mirror in the room, and pending her entrance Elizabeth stood before it noticing the set and flow of her black lace dress, its heliotrope ribbons, and the sparkle of the hidden jets upon the bodice. Some heliotrope blossoms were in her breast, and her hands were covered with gloves of the same delicate colour. Denas saw her thus; saw her reflection in the glass before she turned to confront her.
For a moment Elizabeth was puzzled. The white face amid its sombre, heavy draperies had a familiarity she strove to name, but could not. But as Denasia came forward, some trick of head-carriage or of walking revealed her personality, and Elizabeth cried out in a kind of angry amazement:
"Denas! You here?"
"I am no more Denas to you than you are Elizabeth to me."
"Well, then, Mrs. Tresham! And pray where is my brother?"
"Dead? dead? Impossible! And if so, it is your fault, I know it is! I had a letter from him—the last letter—he said he was coming to me."
She was frightfully pale; she staggered to a sofa, sat down, and covered her face with her gloved hands. Denasia stood by a table watching her emotion and half-doubting its genuineness. A silence followed, so deep and long that Elizabeth could not endure it. She stood up and looked at Denasia, reproach and accusation in every tone and attitude. "Where did he die?" she asked.
"In New York."
"Of what did he die?"
"It was your fault, I am sure of it. Your fault in some way. My poor Roland! He had left you, I know that; and I hoped everything for his future."
"He had come back to me. He loved me better than ever. He died in my arms—died adoring me. His last work on earth was to give me this list of property, which I shall require you either to render back or to buy from me."
Elizabeth knew well what was wanted, and her whole soul was in arms at the demand. Yet it was a perfectly just one. By his father's will Roland had been left certain pieces of valuable personal property: family portraits and plate, two splendid cabinets, old china, Chinese and Japanese carvings, many fine paintings, antique chairs, etc., etc., the whole being property which had either been long in the Tresham family or endeared to it by special causes, and therefore left personally to Roland as the representative of the Treshams. At the break up of the Tresham home after his father's death, Roland had been glad to leave these treasures in Elizabeth's care, nor in his wandering life had the idea of claiming them ever come to him. As for their sale, that would have been an indignity to his ancestors below the contemplation of Roland.
Fortunately Mr. Tresham's lawyer had insisted upon Mrs. Burrell giving Roland a list of the articles left in her charge and an acknowledgment of Roland's right to them. "Life is so queer and has so many queer turns," he said, "that nothing can be left to likelihoods. Mrs. Burrell is not likely to die, but she may do so; and then there may be a new Mrs. Burrell who may make trouble, and I can conceive of many other complications which would render nugatory the intentions of the late Mr. Tresham. The property must, therefore, be set behind the bulwark of the law." Elizabeth herself had acknowledged this danger, and she had done all that was required of her in order to keep the Tresham family treasures within the keeping of the Treshams.
She was now confronted with her own acknowledgment and agreement, or at least with a copy of it, and she was well aware that it would be the greatest folly to deny the claim of Roland's wife. But the idea of robbing her beautiful home for Denasia was very bitter to her. She glanced around the room and imagined the precious cabinets and china, the curious carvings and fine paintings taken away, and then the alternative, the money she would have to pay to Denasia if she retained them, came with equal force and clearness to her intelligence.
"Mrs. Tresham," she said in a conciliating voice, "these objects can be of no value to you."
"Roland told me they were worth at least two thousand pounds, perhaps more. There is a picture of Turner's, which of——"
"What do you know about Turner? And can you really entertain the thought of selling things so precious to our family?"
"Roland wished you to buy them. If you do not value them sufficiently to do so, why should I keep them? In my father's cottage they would be absurd."
"Your father's cottage? You are laughing at me!"
"I am too sorrowful a woman to laugh. A few weeks ago, if I had had only one of these pictures I would have sold it for a mouthful of bread—for a little coal to warm myself; oh, my God! for medicine to save my child's life or to ease his passage to the grave."
"I had forgotten the child. Where is he?"
"By his father's side."
"That is well and best, doubtless."
"It is not well and best. What do you know? You have never been a mother. God never gave you such sorrowful grace."
"We will return to the list, if you please. What do you propose to do?"
"I have spoken to a man in Baker Street who deals in such things. If you wish to buy them and will pay their fair value I will sell them to you, because Roland desired you to have them. If you do not wish to buy them or will not pay a fair price I will remove them to Baker Street. There are others who will know their value."
"I advanced Roland a great deal of money."
"You gave him it. You demanded and accepted his thanks. The sums all told would not pay for the use of the property."
"I shall do right, of course. Bring the man you have spoken of to-morrow afternoon, and I also will have here an expert of the same kind. I will pay you whatever they decide is a proper sum."
"That will satisfy me."
"I am sorry affairs have come to this point between us. I tried to be kind to you. I think you have been very ungrateful."
"You were kind only to yourself. You never were a favourite in St. Penfer. Other ladies did not often call upon you. In me you had a companionship which you could control, you had your sewing done for next to nothing, you had the news of the town brought to you. You played upon my restless disposition, my love of fine clothing, my ambition to be some one greater than Denas Penelles, and as soon as good fortune came to you and you had everything you desired, you found me a bore, a claimant on your sense of justice which you did not like to meet. Understand that the fact of wearing silk and jewelry does not give you the right to take up an immortal soul and play with it or cast it aside as you find it convenient. I owe you the deepest grudge. You made me dissatisfied with my own life, you showed me the pleasant vistas of a different life, and when I hoped to enter with you, I found myself outside and the door shut in my face. You have always tried to make Roland dissatisfied with me. You insinuated, you deplored, in every letter to him. You stabbed while you pretended to kiss me. I found you out long ago. Everyone finds you out. You never had a friend. You never will have one."
She spoke with that pitiless scorn which is the language of suppressed passion. Elizabeth only lifted her eyebrows and turned away from her. And Denasia knew that she had made a mistake, and yet she did not regret it. There are times when it is a relief to be angry, whether we do well to be so or not; when to lose the temper is better than to keep it. Of course there are great and beautiful souls with whom nothing turns to bitterness, but the soul of Denasia was not one of these. It had been born ready to feel and ready to speak, and regarded it as something of a virtue to do so.
She left Elizabeth's house in a very unhappy mood, and at a rapid walk proceeded to her lodging in Bloomsbury. She would have felt the confinement of a cab to be intolerable, but it was a relief to set her personality against the friction of a million of encompassing wills. And in a short time she succumbed to that condition of electricity which they evolve, and permitted herself to be moved by it without considering her steps.
At length she was hungry, and she turned into a place of refreshment and ate with more healthy desire than she had felt for many months, and then the restless, fretting creature within was pacified, and she resolved to walk quietly to her room and sleep before she suffered herself to think any more. But as she was following out this plan she came to a famous theatre, and the name at the entrance attracted her. "I will be my own judge," she said. "I will see, and hear, and be more unmerciful to myself than any other could be."
So she entered the place and sat throughout three scenes. She did not wait for the final act. There was no necessity. She had arrived at her verdict. It was in her eyes and attitude when she left the building, but she gave it no voice until she sat weary and sad before the glimmering fire in her room.
"I could be Queen of England as easily as I could be a prima donna," she said mournfully. "There was perhaps a time—perhaps—perhaps, when youth and beauty and love could have helped me, but that time has gone for ever."
She said the words slowly, and the weight of despair was on each one. For she realised that in her case effort had brought forth no lasting fruit and that endurance had been without avail, and she was exceedingly sorrowful. For there is a singular vitality in the idea of public singing or acting when once it has taken root in any nature, and Denasia had been subject that night to one of its periods of revival. She had told herself that "she would probably have a thousand pounds; that she could go to Italy and pay for the best teachers; that it would please Roland if he knew, if he remembered, for her to do so; that it would annoy Elizabeth in many ways if she became a singer; that she would show the world it was possible to sing and act and yet be in every respect womanly, pure-hearted, and blameless before God and man."
These and many such ideas had filled her mind at intervals all the way across the Atlantic, and her passionate renunciation of the stage, made that miserable day when Roland deserted her, began to lose its reasonableness and therefore its sense of obligation. After her interview with Elizabeth, the question of money to carry out such intentions was practically settled, and she had, therefore, only to arrive at a positive personal conclusion. Once or twice in her public career she had received what her heart told her was a just criticism. It had not been a very flattering one, and Roland had passionately denied its justice. But she felt that the hour had now come when she must have the truth and accept the truth.
So she had tested herself by the natural and acquired abilities of the greatest singer of the day. It was, perhaps, a pitiless standard, but she felt that her safety demanded its extremity. Her comparisons made her burn with shame at her own shortcomings. She wondered how Roland could have been so deceived, how he could have hoped or believed in her at all. She forgot that circumstances had quite altered Roland's first intentions, and that in following out his secondary ones less distinctive talent was sufficient. On their marriage if he had taken her, as he proposed, to Italy; if the three last restless, miserable years had been spent in repose, in a favourable climate under fine instructors, with a happy, satisfied, hopeful affection to stimulate and support her ambition—ah, then all of Roland's hopes might have been fulfilled. But lack of patience as much as lack of money had brought final failure. The blossom had been gathered and worn with but small eclat, and there was now no hope of fruit.
Full of such sombre thoughts, she turned up the lights and looked at herself. Gone was her radiant beauty, her splendid youth; gone also her buoyant spirit and invincible courage. That night as she sat there alone she buried for ever this hope of a life for which she was not destined. Yet it was while sitting on that very hearth together Roland and she had felt the joy of her first triumph at Willis Hall. She could remember every incident of her return home the night of her brilliant debut. How Roland had praised her and loved her. Neither of them then thought the temporary success to be the first downward step from their original grander ideal; the first step toward a miserable failure. Now it was clear enough. Alas! alas! Why cannot joy, as well as sorrow, open the eyes? Why are they only washed clear-seeing with tears?
When the hopeless ceremony was over and she had fully accepted the lot before her, she rose and with tear-filled eyes looked around the place of her renunciation. She felt as if her husband ought to have some consciousness of her disappointment; as if the longing in her heart should bring him to her side. Where was he? Where had he gone to? "Roland! Roland!" she whispered, and the silence beat upon her heart like the blows of a hammer. Was he present? Did he hear her? She felt until she reached the very rim of conscious feeling, and then? Alas! nothing but a mighty mystery looming beyond.
Weary and exhausted with emotion, she lay down and slept, and in the morning the courage born of a resolved mind was with her. When she had finished her business with Elizabeth, then there was her father and her mother and her real life again. She must go back and take it up just where she had thrown it down. And this humiliating duty was all that her own way had brought her. Never again would she take her destiny out of the keeping of the good God who orders all things well. On this resolution she stayed her heart, and somehow in her sleep there had come to her a conviction that the time of smiles would surely come back to her once more. For God giveth His children in their sleep, and the sorrowful wake up comforted, and the weak strong, because some angel has visited them and "they knew it not."
Elizabeth was quite prepared for her visitor. She was, indeed, anxious to get the affair settled and to dismiss Denasia from her life for ever. Her lawyer and appraiser were busy when Denasia arrived, and without ceremony each article specified in Roland's list was examined and valued. Elizabeth offered her sister-in-law no courtesy; she barely bowed in response to her greeting, and there was a final very severe struggle as to values. Mrs. Burrell had certainly hoped to satisfy Denasia with a thousand pounds, but the official adjustment was sixteen hundred pounds, and for this sum Roland's widow, who was irritated by her sister-in-law's evident scorn and dislike, stubbornly stood firm.
It is probable that Elizabeth would also have turned stubborn and have suffered the articles to go to the auction-room had not her personal pride and interests demanded the sacrifice. But she had already introduced Lord Sudleigh to these family treasures, and she could not endure to go to Sudleigh Castle and take with her no heirlooms to be surety for her respectability. So that, after all, Denasia won her rights easily, because a man whom she had never seen and never even heard of pleaded her case for her. But she had no exceptional favour. It is the people whom we do not know that are often our helpers. It is the people who seem to have no possible connection with us that are often the tools used by fate for our fortune.
When the transaction was fully over and Denasia had Elizabeth's cheque in her pocket the day was nearly over. The business agents left hurriedly and Denasia was going with them, when Elizabeth said: "Return a moment, if you please, Mrs. Tresham. I have heard nothing from you about my brother. I think it is your duty to give me some information. I am very miserable," and she sat down and covered her face. Her sobs, hardly restrained, touched Denasia. She was sorry for the weeping woman, for she knew that if Elizabeth had loved any human creature truly and unselfishly, it was her brother Roland.
"What can I tell you?" she asked.
"Something to comfort me, if you are not utterly heartless. Had he doctors? help? comforts of any kind?"
"He had everything that money and love could procure. He died in Mr. Lanhearne's house. I was at his side. Whatever could be done by human skill to save his life was done."
"Did he name me often?"
"And you never said a word—never would have done—you were going away without telling me. How could you be so cruel?"
"It was wrong. I should have told you. He spoke often about you. In his delirium he believed himself with you. He called your name three times just before he died; it was only a whisper then, he was so weak."
Elizabeth wept bitterly, and Denasia, moved by many memories, could not watch her unmoved. After a wretched pause she said:
"Good-bye! You are Roland's sister and he loved you. So then I cannot really hate you. I forgive you all."
But Elizabeth did not answer. The loss of her brother, the loss of her money—she was feeling that this woman had been the cause of all her sorrows. Grief and anger swelled within her heart; she felt it to be an intolerable wrong to be forgiven. She was silent until Denasia was closing the door, then she rose hastily and followed her.
"Go!" she cried, "and never cross my path again. You have brought me nothing but misery."
"It is quite just that I should bring you misery. Remember, now, that if you do a wrong you will have to pay the price of it."
Trembling with anger and emotion, she clasped her purse tightly and called a cab to take her to her lodging. The money was money, at any rate. A poor exchange for love, certainly, but still Roland's last gift to her. It proved that in his dying hours he loved her best of all. He had put his family pride beneath her feet. He had put his sister's interest second to her interest. She felt that every pound represented to her so much of Roland's consideration and affection. It was, too, a large sum of money. It made her in her own station a very rich woman. If she put it in the St. Penfer bank it would insure her a great deal of respect. That was one side of the question. The other was less satisfactory. People would speculate as to how she had become possessed of such a sum. Many would not scruple to say, "It was sinful money, won in the devil's service." All who wished to be unkind to her could find in it an occasion for hard sayings. In small communities everything but prosperity is forgiven; that is never really forgiven to anyone; and though Denasia did not find words for this feeling, she was aware of it, because she was desirous to avoid unnecessary ill-will.
She sat with the cheque in her hand a long time, considering what to do with it. Her natural vanity and pride, her sense of superior intelligence, education, travel, and experience urged her to take whatever good it might bring her. And she went to sleep resolving to do so. But she awoke in the midnight with a strange sense of humiliation. In that time of questions she was troubled by soul-inquiries that came one upon another close as the blows of a lash. She was then shocked at the intentions with which she had fallen asleep. The little vanities, and condescensions, and generosities which she had planned for her own glory—how contemptible they appeared! And in the darkness she could see their certain end—envy and hatred for herself and dissatisfaction and loss of friends for her father and mother. Had she not already given them sorrow enough?
Her right course was then clear as a band of light. She would deposit the money at interest in a London bank. She would say nothing at all about its possession. Before leaving for St. Penfer she would buy a couple of printed gowns, such as would not be incongruous with her surroundings. She would go back to her home and village as empty-handed as she left them—a beggar, even, for a little love and sympathy, for toleration for her wanderings, for forgiveness for those deeds by which she had wounded the consciences and self-respect of her own people and her own caste.
This determination awoke with her in the morning, and she followed it out literally. The presents she had resolved to buy in order to get herself a little favour were put out of consideration. She purchased only a few plain garments for her own every-day wearing. She left her money with strangers who attached no importance to it; and, with one small American trunk holding easily all her possessions, she turned her face once more to the little fishing village of St. Penfer by the Sea.
"Stay at home, my heart, and rest, Home-keeping hearts are happiest; For those that wander they know not where Are full of trouble and full of care— To stay at home is best." —SONG.
"... Those first affections, Those shadowy recollections, Which be they what they may, Are yet the fountain-light of all our day; Are yet a master-sight of all our seeing." —WORDSWORTH.
Only those who have experienced the sensation can tell how strange and sad is the feeling with which the soul turns away from a destiny accomplished. When Denas had deposited her money in the Clydesdale Bank and made the few purchases she thought proper and prudent, she felt that one room of the house of life was barred for ever against her return to it.
For a few years her experiences had been strangely interwoven with those of the Treshams. To what purpose? Why had they been so? As far as this existence was concerned, it seemed a relationship that might well have been omitted. But who can tell what circumstances went before it or what were to follow? For all human beings leave behind them as they go through life a train of events which are due either to impulses originating in a previous existence or are the seeds of events which are to be perfected in a future one; what we sow, that we shall surely reap.
Leaving London, such thoughts of something final, at least as far as this probation was concerned, greatly depressed Denas. "Never more, never more," was the monotonous refrain that sprang from her soul to her lips. But it is a wise provision of the Merciful One that the past, in a healthy mind, very soon loses its charm, and the things that are present take the first place.
"I cannot bring anything back. I do not think I would bring anything back if I could. I have been very unhappy and restless in the past. Every pleasure I had was tithed by sorrow. Roland loved me, but I brought him only disappointment. I loved Roland, and yet all my efforts to make him happy were failures. Roland has been taken from me. Our child has been taken away from me. Elizabeth I have put away—death could not sever us more effectually. I am going back to my own people and my own life, and I pray God to give me a contented heart in it."
These were the colour of her reflections as the train bore her swiftly to the fortune of her future years. She had no enthusiasm about them. She thought she knew all the possibilities they kept. She looked for no extraordinary thing, for no special favour to brighten their uniform occupations and simple pleasures. She had taken the first train she could, without considering the time of its arrival in St. Penfer. She told herself that there would be a certain amount of gossip about her return, and that it could not be avoided by either a public or private arrival. Still, she was glad when the sun set and the shadows of the night were stretched out—glad that the moon was too young to give much light, and that it was quite nine o'clock when the St. Penfer station was reached.
A few people were on the platform, but none of them were thinking of Mrs. Tresham, and the woman so simply dressed and veiled in black made no impression on anyone. She left her trunk in the baggage-room and went by the familiar road down the cliff-breast. It had been raining, of course, and the ground was heavy and wet; but the sky was clear, and the half-moon made a half-twilight among the bare branches and shed a faint bar of light across the ocean.
At the last reach she stood still a moment and looked at the clustered cottages and the boats swaying softly on the incoming tide. A great peace was over the place. The very houses seemed to be resting. There was fire or candle light in every glimmering square of their windows; but not a man, or a woman, or a child in sight. As she drew near to her father's cottage, she saw that it was very brightly lighted; and then she remembered that it was Friday night, and that very likely the weekly religious meeting was being held there. That would account for the diffused quiet of the whole village.
The thought made her pause. She had no desire to turn her home-coming into a scene. So she walked softly to the back of the little house and entered the curing shed. There was only a slight door—a door very seldom tightly closed—between this shed and the cottage room. She knew all its arrangements. It was called a curing shed, but in reality it had long been appropriated to domestic purposes. Joan kept her milk and provisions in it, and used it as a kind of kitchen. Every shelf and stool, almost every plate and basin, had its place there, and Denas knew them. She went to the milk pitcher and drank a deep draught; and then she took a little three-legged stool, and placing it gently by the door, sat down to listen and to wait.
Her father was talking in that soft, chanting tone used by the fishers of St. Penfer, and the drawling intonations, with the occasional rise of the voice at the end of a sentence, came to the ears of Denas with the pleasant familiarity of an old song.
As he ceased speaking some woman began to sing "The Ninety-and-Nine," and so singing they rose and passed out of the cottage and to their own homes. One by one the echoes of their voices ceased, until, at the last verse, only John and Joan were singing. As they finished, Denas looked into the room. Joan was lifting the big Bible covered with green baize. Between this cover and the binding all the letters Denas had sent them were kept, and the fond mother was touching and straightening them. John, with his pipe in one hand, was lifting the other to the shelf above his head for his tobacco-jar. The last words of the hymn were still on their lips.
Denas opened the door and stood just within the room, looking at them. Both fixed their eyes upon her. They thought they saw a spirit. They were speechless.
"Father! Mother! It is Denas!"
She came forward quickly as she spoke. Joan uttered one piercing cry. John let his pipe fall to pieces on the hearthstone and drew his child within his arms. "It be Denas! It be Denas! her own dear self," he said, and he sat down and took her to his breast, and the poor girl snuggled her head into his big beard, and he kissed away her tears and soothed her as he had done when she was only a baby.
And then poor Joan was on the rug at their feet. She was taking the wet stockings and shoes off of her daughter's feet; she was drying them gently with her apron, fondling and kissing them as she had been used to do when her little Denas came in from the boats or the school wet-footed. And Denas was stooping to her mother and kissing the happy tears off her face, and the conversation was only in those single words that are too sweet to mix with other words; until Joan, with that womanly instinct that never fails in such extremities, began to bring into the excited tone those tender material cares that make love possible and life-like.
"Oh, my darling," she cried, "your little feet be dripping wet, and you be hungry, I know, and we will have a cup of tea. And, Denas, there be such a pie in the cupboard. And a bowl of clotted cream, too. It is just like the good God knew my girl was coming home. And I wonder who put it into my heart to have a mother's welcome for her? And how be your husband, my dear?"
"He is dead, mother."
"God's peace on him!"
"And the little lad, Denas—my little grandson that be called John after me."
"He is dead, too, father."
Then they were speechless, and they kissed her again and mingled their tears with her tears, and John felt a sudden lonely place where he had put this poor little grandson whom he was never to see.
Then Denas began to drink her warm tea and to talk to her parents; but they said no words but kind words of the dead. They listened to the pitiful taking-away of the young man, and before the majesty of death they forgot their anger and their dislike, and left him hopefully to the mercy of the Merciful. For if John and Joan knew anything, they knew that none of us shall enter paradise except God cover us with His mercy.
And not one word of all her trouble did Denas titter. She spoke only of Roland's great love for her; of their trials endured together; of his resignation to death; of her own loneliness and suffering since his burial; and then, clasping her father's and mother's hands, she said:
"So I have come back to you. I have come back to my old life. I shall never act again. I shall sing no more in this world. That life is over. It was not a happy life. Without Roland it would be beyond my power to endure it."
"You be welcome here as the sunshine. Oh, my dear girl, you be light to my eyes and joy to my heart, and there is no trouble can hurt me much now."
Then Joan said: "'Twas this very morning I put clean linen on your bed, Denas. I swept the room, and then made the pie, and clotted the cream, and I never knew who I did it for. Oh, Denas, what a godsend you do be! John, my old dear, our life be turned to sunshine now."
And long after Denas had fallen asleep they sat by their fire and talked of their child's sorrow, and Joan got up frequently and took a candle and, shading it with her hand, went and looked to see if the girl was all right. When Denas was a babe in the cradle, Joan had been used to satisfy her motherly longing in the same way. Her widowed child was still her baby.
In the morning John went from cottage to cottage and told his friends to come and rejoice with him. For really to John "the dead was alive and the lost was found." And it was a great wonderment in the village; men nor women could talk of anything else but the return of Denas Tresham. Many were really glad to see her; and if some visited the poor, stricken woman thinking to add a homily to God's smiting, they were abashed by her evident suffering, by her pallor and her wasted form, and the sombre plainness of her black garments. For some days life was thus kept at a tension beyond its natural strain, and Joan and her daughter had no time to recover the every-day atmosphere. But no excitement outlasts the week's perchances and changes, and after the second Sunday all her acquaintances had seen Denas, and curiosity and interest were at their normal standard.
All her acquaintances but Tris Penrose. Denas wondered that he did not come to see her, and yet she had a shy dislike to make inquiries about him. For the love of Tris Penrose for Denas Penelles had been the village romance ever since they were children together, and she feared that a word from her about him might set the women to smiling and sympathising and to taking her affairs out of her own hands.
As the home-life settled to its usual colour and cares, Denas became conscious of a change in it. She saw that her father went very seldom to sea, that he was depressed and restless, and that her mother, in a great measure, echoed his moods. And she was obliged to confess that she was terribly weary. There was little housework to do, except what fell naturally to Joan's care, and interference with these duties appeared to annoy the methodical old woman. The knitting was far ahead, there were no nets to mend; and when Denas had made herself a couple of dresses, there seemed to be no work for her to do. And she was not specially fond of reading. Culture and study she could understand if their definite end was money; but for the simple love of information or pleasure books were not attractive to her.
So in a month she had come to a place in her experience when it was a consolation to think of that sixteen hundred pounds in London. She might yet find it necessary to her happiness; for without some change she could not much longer endure the idleness and monotony of her life. Fortunately the change came. One morning a woman visited the cottage, and the sole burden of her conversation was the lack of a school in St. Penfer by the Sea to which the fisher-children might go in the morning.
"Here be my six little uns," she cried, "and up the cliff they must hurry all, through any wind or weather, or learn nothing. And then they be that tired when they do get home again, they be no use at all about the bait-boxes or the boats. There be sixty school-going children in the village, and I do say there ought to be a school here for them."
And suddenly it came into the heart of Denas to open a school. Pay or no pay, she was sure she would enjoy the work, and that afternoon she went about it. An empty cottage was secured, a fisher-carpenter agreed to make the benches, and at an outlay of two or three pounds she provided all that was necessary. The affair made a great stir in the hamlet. She had more applications for admission than the cottage would hold, and she selected from these thirty of the youngest of the children.
For the first time in many months Denas was sensible of enthusiasm in her employment. But Joan did not apparently share her hopes or her pleasure. She was silent and depressed and answered Denas with a slight air of injury.
"They have agreed to pay a penny a week for each child," Denas said to her mother.
"Well, Denas, some will pay and some will never pay."
"To be sure. I know that, mother. But it does not much matter."
"Aw, then, it do matter, my girl—it do matter, a great deal." And Joan began to cry a little and to arrange her crockery with far more noise than was necessary.
"Dear mother, what is it? Are you in trouble of any kind?"
"Aw, then, Denas, I be troubled to think you never saw your father's trouble. He be sad and anxious enough, God knows. And no one to say 'here, John,' or 'there, John,' or give him a helping hand in any way."
"Sit down, mother, and tell me all. I have seen that father's ways are changed and that he seldom goes to the fishing. I hoped the reason was that he had no longer any need to go regularly."
"No need? Aw, my dear, he has no boat!"
"No boat! Mother, what do you mean to tell me?"
"I mean, child, that on the same night the steamer Lorne was wrecked your father lost his boat and his nets, and barely got to land with his life—never would have done that but for Tris Penrose, who lost all, too—and both of them at the mercy of the waves when the life-boat reached them. Aw, my dear, a bad night. And bad times ever since for your father. Now and then he do get a night with Trenager, or Penlow, or Adam Oliver; but they be only making a job for him. And when pilchard time comes, 'tis to St. Ives he must go and hire himself out—at his age, too. It makes me ugly, Denas. My old dear hiring himself out after he have sailed his own boat ever since man he was. And then to see you spending pounds and pounds on school-benches and books, and talking of it not mattering if you was paid or not paid; and me weighing every penny-piece, and your father counting the pipefuls in his tobacco-jar. Aw, 'tis cruel hard! Cruel! cruel!"
"Now, then, mother, dry your eyes—and there—let me kiss them dry. Listen: Father shall have the finest fishing-boat that sails out of any Cornish port. Oh, mother, dear! Spend every penny you want to spend, and I will go to the church town this afternoon to buy father tobacco for a whole year."
"Let me cry! Let me cry for joy, Denas! Let me cry for joy! You have rolled a stone off my heart. Be you rich, dear?"
"Not rich, mother, but I have sixteen hundred pounds at interest."
"Sixteen hundred silent pounds, and they might have been busy, happy, working pounds! Aw, Denas, what hours of black care the knowing of them might have saved us. But there, then—I had forgotten. The money be dance money and theatre money, and your father will not touch a penny of it. I do know he will not."
"Mother, when I stopped singing—when I left the theatre for ever I had not in my purse one half-penny. Roland gave me fifty dollars; that came from Elizabeth—that was all I had. When it was gone, Roland was employed by Mr. Lanhearne. I told you about him."
"Yes, dear. How then?"
"Roland's father left him pictures and silver plate and many valuable things belonging to the Treshams, and when Roland died they were mine. Elizabeth bought them from me. They were worth two thousand pounds; she gave me sixteen hundred pounds."
"Why didn't you tell father and me? 'Twas cruel thoughtless of you."
"No, no! I wanted to come back to you as I left you—just Denas—without anything but your love to ask favour from. If I had come swelling myself like a great lady, worth sixteen hundred pounds, how all the people would have hated me! What dreadful things they would have said! Father would have had his hands full and his heart full to make this one and that one keep the insult behind their lips. Oh, 'twould have been a broad defiance to evil of every kind. I did think, too, that father had some money in St. Merryn's Bank."
"To be sure. And so he did. But there—your aunt Helen's husband was drowned last winter, and nothing laid by to bury him, and father had it to do; and then there was a mortgage on the cottage, and that was to lift, or no roof to cover Helen and her children. So with this and that the one hundred pounds went away to forty pounds. That be for our own burying. There be twenty pounds of yours there."
"Mine is yours!" Then rising quickly, she struck her hands sharply together and cried out: "ONE and ALL! ONE and ALL!"
And Joan answered her promptly, letting the towel fall from her grasp to imitate the sharp smiting of the hands as with beaming face she repeated the heart-stirring cry.
"ONE and ALL! ONE and ALL! Denas. Aw, my girl, there was a time when I said in my anger I was sorry I gave you suck. This day I be right glad of it! You be true blood! Cornish clean through, Denas!"
"Yes, I be true Cornish, mother, and the money I have is honest money. Father can take it without a doubt. But I will see Lawyer Tremaine, and he shall put the sum I got in the St. Penfer News, and tell what I got it for, and none can say I did wrong to take my widow right."
"I be so happy, Denas! I be so happy! My old dear will have his own boat! My old dear will have his own boat!"
"Now, mother, neither you nor I can buy a boat. Shall we tell father and let him choose for himself?"
Joan knew this was the most prudent plan, but that love of "surprise pleasures" which is a dominant passion in children and uneducated natures would not let Joan admit at once this solution of the difficulty. How could she forego the delight of all the private consultations; of the bringing home of the boat; of the wonder of the villagers; of John's happy amazement? She could not bear to contemplate the prosaic, commonplace method of sending John to buy his own boat when it was within the power of Denas and herself to be an unseen gracious providence to him. So after a moment's thought she said: "There be Tris Penrose. It will be busy all and happy all for him to be about such a job."
"I have not seen Tris since I came home. He is the only one who has not come to say welcome to me."
"Aw, then, 'twas only yesterday he got home himself. He has been away with Mr. Arundel on his yacht."
"You never told me."
"You never asked. I thought, then, you didn't want Tris to be named."
"But what for shouldn't I name Tris?"
"La! my dear, the love in Tris' heart was a trouble to you. You were saying that often."
"But Tris knows about fishing-boats?"
"Who knows more?"
"And what kind of a boat father would like best?"
"None can tell that as well."
"And Tris is home again?"
"That be true. Ann Trewillow told me, and she be working at the Abbey two days in the week."
"Has Mr. Arundel bought the Abbey?"
"He has done that, and it be made a grand place now. And when Tris lost his boat trying to save your father's life and boat, Mr. Arundel was with the coast-guard and saw him. And he said: 'A fine young man! A fine young man!' So the next thing was, he spoke to Tris and hired him to sail his yacht. And 'tis far off, by the way of Giberaltar, they have been—yet home at last, thank God!"
"Tris will be sure to come here, I suppose?"
"Ann Trewillow told him you were home—a widow, and all; he will be here as soon as he can leave the yacht. It is here he comes first of all as soon as he touches land again."
"Then we will speak to him about the boat."
"To be sure. And I do wish he would hurry all and show himself. New boats be building, but the best may get sold—a day might make a difference."
"And now, mother, you must try and lift the care from father's heart. Let him know, some way, that money troubles are over and that he may carry his head up. You can do it—a little word—a little look from you—he will understand."
"Aw, then, Denas, a smile is enough. I can lift my eyelids, and he'll see the light under them and catch it in his heart. John isn't a woman. Thank God, he can be happy and ask no questions—trusting all. Your father be a good man to trust and hope."
Then the day, that had seemed to stretch itself out so long and wearily, was all too short for Joan and Denas. They talked about the money freely and happily, and Denas could now tell her mother all the circumstances of her visit to Elizabeth. They were full of interest to the simple woman. She enjoyed hearing about the dress Elizabeth wore; about her house, her anger, her disappointment, and hard reluctance to pay money for the treasures she had begun to regard as her own.
So the morning passed quickly away, and in the afternoon Denas went into the village to look after her school-room. It was such a lovely spring day. The sky was so blue, the sea was so blue, the earth was so green and sweet, and the air so fresh and clear that Denas could not but be glad that she was alive to be cheered by them. Not for a very long time had she felt so calmly happy, so hopeful of the future, so resigned to the past.
After her business in the village was over she walked toward the cliff. She had some idea that it would be pleasant to go up to the church town, but just where the trees and underwood came near to the shingle a little bird singing on a May-thorn beguiled her to listen. Then the songster went on and on, as if it called her, and Denas followed its music; until, by and by, she came to where the shingle was but a narrow strip, and the verdure retreated, and the rocks grew larger and higher; and, anon, she was at the promontory between St. Penfer and St. Clair.
It would now be impossible to go up the cliff and back again before tea-time, and she sat down to rest a little before returning home. She sat longer than she intended, for the dreamy, monotonous murmur of the waves and the stillness and solitude predisposed her to that kind of drifting thought which keeps assuring time: "I am going directly."
She was effectually roused at last by the sound of a clear, strong voice whistling a charming melody. She sat quite still. A conviction that it was Tris Penrose came into her heart. She wondered if he would notice—know—speak to her. Tris saw her figure as quickly as it came within his vision, and as quickly as he saw it he knew who was present. He ceased whistling and cried out cheerily:
"Denas? What, Denas?"
She stood up then and held out her hands to him. And she was startled beyond measure by the Tris that met her gaze. Naturally a very handsome man, his beauty was made most attractive by a sailor suit of blue broadcloth. His throat was open to the sea breeze, a blue kerchief tied around it in a sailor's knot. And then her eyes wandered to his sun-browned face, close-curling black hair, and the little blue, gold-trimmed cap set upon the curls. The whole filled her with a pleasant wonder. She made a little time over his splendour, and asked if he was going to the pilchard fishing in such finery. And he took all her hurried, laughing, fluttering remarks with the greatest good-humour. He said, indeed, that he had been told she was home again, and that he wore the dress because he was coming to see her.
Then they sat down, and she told Tris what she desired to do for her father, and Tris entered into the project as enthusiastically as if he was a child. Never before had Tris felt so heart-satisfied. It was such a joy to have Denas beside him; such a joy to know that she was free again; such a joy to share a secret with her. And gradually the effusiveness of their first meeting toned itself down to quiet, restful confidence, and then they rose together and began to walk slowly toward the cottage. For of course Joan was to be consulted, and besides, Tris had a present for her in his pocket.
The westering sun sent level rays of sunshine before them, and they tried involuntarily to step in it as they used to do when they were children. Tris could not help a smile as they did so, and then one of those closely personal conversations began whose initial point is always: "And do you remember?" Tris remembered everything, and especially one Saturday when they ran away together to a little fairy cove and made boats all day long. Yes, every movement of that happy day was in Tris' heart, and he told Denas that the same pebbly shore was still there, and that often he fancied he heard on it the beat of their little pattering, naked feet, and wished that they could have been children upon the shore for ever, and ever, and evermore.
"I do not think that would have been nice at all, Tris," answered Denas. "It is better to be grown up. You were only good to play with then. I could not have asked you to go and buy a boat for father, could I?"
And Tris looked at her sweet, pale face, and noting how the pink colour rushed into her cheeks to answer his looks, thought how right she was, and that it was much better to have Denas a woman to be loved than a child to be played with.