Maria went to the railroad station. She was just in time for a train. She got on the rear car and sat in the last seat. She looked about and did not see anybody whom she knew. She recalled how she had run away before, and how Wollaston had brought her back. She knew that it would not happen so again. She was on a through train which did not stop at the station where he had found her. When the train slowed up a little in passing that station, she saw the bench on the platform where she had sat, and a curious sensation came over her. She was like one who has made the leap and realizes that there is nothing more to dread, and who gets even a certain abnormal pleasure from the sensation. When the conductor came through the car she purchased her ticket for New York, and asked when the train was due in the city. When she learned that it was due at an hour so late that it would be impossible for her to go, as she had planned, to Edgham that night, she did not, even then, for the time being, feel in the least dismayed. She had plenty of money. Her last quarter's salary was in her little satchel. The train was made up of Pullmans only, and it was by a good chance that she had secured a seat. She gazed out of the large window at the flying landscape, and again that sense of pleasure in the midst of pain was over her. The motion itself was exhilarating. She seemed to be speeding past herself and her own anxieties, which suddenly appeared as petty and evanescent as the flying telegraph-poles along the track. "It has to be over some time," she reflected. "Nothing matters." She felt comforted by a realization of immensity and the continuance of motion. She comprehended her own atomic nature in the great scheme of things. She had never done so before. Her own interests had always loomed up before her like a beam in the eye of God. Now she saw that they were infinitesimal, and the knowledge soothed her. She leaned her head back and dozed a little. She was awakened by the porter thrusting a menu into her hands. She ordered something. It was not served promptly, and she had no appetite. There was some tea which tasted of soap.
There were very few people in this car, for the reason that there had recently been a terrible rear-end collision on the road, and people had flocked into the forward cars. There were three young girls who filled the car with chatter, and irritated Maria unreasonably. They were very pretty and well dressed, and with no reserve. They were as inconsequently confidential about their own affairs as so many sparrows, but more intelligible. One by one the men left and went into the smoker, before this onslaught of harsh trebles shrieking above the roar of the train, obtruding their little, bird-like affairs, their miniature hoppings upon the stage of life, upon all in the car.
Finally, there were none left in the car except Maria, these young girls, an old lady, who accosted the conductors whenever they entered and asked when the train was due in New York (a tremulous, vibratory old lady in antiquated frills and an agitatedly sidewise bonnet, and loose black silk gloves), and across the aisle a tiny, deformed woman, a dwarf, in fact, with her maid. This little woman was richly dressed, and she had a fine face. She was old enough to be Maria's mother. Her eyes were dark and keen, her forehead domelike, and her square, resigned chin was sunken in the laces at her throat. Her maid was older than she, and waited upon her with a faithful solicitude. The little woman had some tea, which the maid produced from a small silver caddy in a travelling-bag, and the porter, with an obsequious air, brought boiling water in two squat, plated tea-pots. It was the tea which served to introduce Maria. She had just pushed aside, with an air half of indifference, half of disgust, her own luke-warm concoction flavored with soap, when the maid, at her mistress's order, touched the bell. When the porter appeared, Maria heard the dwarf ask for another pot of boiling water, and presently the maid stood beside her with a cup of fragrant tea.
"Miss Blair wishes me to ask if you will not drink this instead of the other, which she fears is not quite satisfactory," the maid said, in an odd, acquired tone and manner of ladyism, as if she were repeating a lesson, yet there seemed nothing artificial about it. She regarded Maria with a respectful air. Maria looked across at the dwarf woman, who was looking at her with kindly eyes which yet seemed aloof, and a half-sardonic, half-pleasant smile.
Maria thanked her and took the tea, which was excellent, and refreshed her. The maid returned to her seat, facing her mistress. They had finished their luncheon. She leaned back in her chair with a blank expression of face. The dwarf looked out of the window, and that same half-pleasant, half-sardonic smile remained upon her face. It was as if she regarded all nature with amused acquiescence and sarcasm, at its inability to harm her, although it had made the endeavor.
Maria glanced at her very rich black attire, and a great pearl cross which gleamed at her throat, and she wondered a little about her. Then she turned again to the flying landscape, and again that sense of unnatural peace came over her. She did not think of Evelyn and Wollaston, or her aunts and uncle, whom she was leaving, except with the merest glance of thought. It was as if she were already in another world.
The train sped on, and the girls continued their chatter, and their high-shrieking trebles arose triumphant above all the clatter. It was American girlhood rampant on the shield of their native land. Still there was something about the foolish young faces and the inane chatter and laughter which was sweet and even appealing. They became attractive from their audaciousness and their ignorance that they were troublesome. Their confidence in the admiration of all who saw and heard almost compelled it. Their postures, their crossing their feet with lavish displays of lingerie and dainty feet and hose, was possibly the very boldness of innocence, although Maria now and then glanced at them and thought of Evelyn, and was thankful that she was not like them.
The little dwarf also glanced now and then at them with her pleasant and sardonic smile and with an unruffled patience. She seemed either to look up from the depths of, or down from the heights of, her deformity upon them, and to hardly sense them at all. None of the men returned until a large city was reached, where some of them were to get off. Then they lounged into the car, were brushed, took their satchels, and when the train reached the station swung out, with the unfailing trebles still in their ears.
Before the train reached New York, all the many appurtenances had vanished from the car. The chattering girls also had alighted at a station, with a renewed din like a flock of birds, and there were then left in the rear car only Maria, the dwarf woman, and her maid.
It was not until the train was lighted, and she could no longer see anything from the window except signal-lights and lighted windows of towns through which they whirled, that Maria's unnatural mood disappeared. Suddenly she glanced around the lighted car, and terror seized her. She was no longer a very young girl; she had much strength of character, but she was unused to the world. For the first time she seemed to feel the cold waters of it touch her very heart. She thought of the great and terrible city into which she was to launch herself late at night. She considered that she knew absolutely nothing about the hotels. She even remembered, vaguely, having heard that no unattended woman was admitted to one, and then she had no baggage except her little satchel. She glanced at herself in the little glass beside her seat, and her pretty face all at once occurred to her as being a great danger rather than an advantage. Now she wished for her aunt Maria's face instead of her own. She imagined that Aunt Maria might have no difficulty even under the same adverse circumstances. She looked years younger than she was. She thought for a moment of going into the lavatory and rearranging her hair, with a view to making herself look plain and old, as she had done before, but she recalled the enormous change it had made in her appearance, and she was afraid to do that lest it should seem a suspicious circumstance to the conductors and her fellow-passengers. She glanced across the aisle at the dwarf woman, and their eyes met, and suddenly a curious sort of feeling of kinship came over the girl. Here was another woman outside the pale of ordinary life by physical conditions, as she herself was by spiritual ones. The dwarf's eyes looked fairly angelic and heavenly to her. She saw her speak in a whisper to her maid, and the woman immediately arose and came to her.
"Miss Blair wishes me to ask if you will be so kind as to go and speak to her; she has something which she wishes to say to you," she said, in the same parrot-like fashion.
Maria arose at once, and crossed the aisle and seated herself in the chair which the maid vacated. The maid took Maria's at a nod from her mistress.
The little woman looked at Maria for a moment with her keen, kind eyes and her peculiar smile deepened. Then she spoke. "What is the matter?" she asked.
The dwarf looked across at her maid. "She will not understand anything you say," she remarked. "She is well trained. She can hear without hearing—that is her great accomplishment."
Still Maria said nothing.
"You got on at Amity," said the dwarf. "Is that where you live?"
"What is your name?"
Maria closed her mouth firmly.
The dwarf laughed. "Oh, very well," said she. "If you do not choose to tell it, I can. Your name is Ackley—Elizabeth Ackley. I am glad to meet you, Miss Ackley."
Maria paled a little, but she said nothing to disapprove this extraordinary statement.
"My name is Blair—Miss Rosa Blair," said the dwarf. "I am a rose, but I happened to bloom outside the pale." She laughed gayly, but Maria's eyes upon her were pitiful. "You are also outside the pale in some way," said Miss Blair. "I always know such people when I meet them. There is an affinity between them and myself. The moment I saw you I said to myself: she also is outside the pale, she also has escaped from the garden of life. Well, never mind, child; it is not so very bad outside when one becomes accustomed to it. I am. Perhaps you have not had time; but you will have. What is the matter?"
"I am running away," replied Maria then.
"Running away! From what?"
"It is better for me to be away," said Maria, evading the question. "It would be better if I were dead."
"But you are not," said the dwarf, with a quick movement almost of alarm.
"No," said Maria; "and I see no reason why I shall not live to be an old woman."
"I don't either," said Miss Blair. "You look healthy. You say, better if you were dead—better for whom, yourself or others?"
"Oh!" said Miss Blair. She remained quietly regardful of Maria for a little while, then she spoke again. "Where are you going when you reach New York?" she asked.
"I was going out to Edgham, but I shall miss the last train, and I shall have to go to a hotel," replied Maria, and she looked at the dwarf with an expression of almost childish terror.
"Don't you know that it may be difficult for a young girl alone? Have you any baggage?"
Maria looked at her little satchel, which she had left beside her former chair.
"Is that all?" asked Miss Blair.
"You must certainly not think of trying to go to a hotel at this time of night," said the dwarf. "You must go home with me. I am entirely safe. Even your mother would trust you with me, if you have one."
"I have not, nor father, either," replied Maria. "But I am not afraid to trust you for myself."
A pleased expression transfigured Miss Blair's face. "You do not distrust me and you do not shrink from me?" she said.
"No," replied Maria, looking at her with indescribable gratitude.
"Then it is settled," said the dwarf. "You will come home with me. I expect my carriage when we arrive at the station. You will be entirely safe. You need not look as frightened as you did a few moments ago again. Come home with me to-night; then we will see what can be done."
Miss Blair turned her face towards the window. Her big chair almost swallowed her tiny figure, the sardonic expression had entirely left her face, which appeared at once noble and loving. Maria gazed at her as she sat so, with an odd, inverted admiration. It seemed extraordinary to her she should actually admire any one like this deformed little creature, but admire her she did. It was as if she suddenly had become possessed of a sixth sense for an enormity of beauty beyond the usual standards.
Miss Blair glanced at her and saw the look in her eyes, and a look of triumph came into her own. She bent forward towards Maria.
"You are sheltering me as well as I am sheltering you," she said, in a low voice.
Maria did not know what to say. Miss Blair leaned back again and closed her eyes, and a look of perfect peace and content was on her face.
It was not long before the train rolled into the New York tunnel. Miss Blair's maid rose and took down her mistress's travelling cloak of black silk, which she brushed with a little, ivory brush taken from her travelling-bag.
"This young lady is going home with us, Adelaide," said Miss Blair.
"Yes, ma'am," replied the maid, without the slightest surprise.
She took Maria's coat from the hook where it swung, and brushed it also, and assisted her to put it on before the porter entered the car.
Maria felt again in a daze, but a great sense of security was over her. She had not the slightest doubt of this strange little creature who was befriending her. She felt like one who finds a ledge of safety on a precipice where he had feared a sheer descent. She was content to rest awhile on the safe footing, even if it were only transient.
When they alighted from the train at the station a man in livery met them and assisted Miss Blair down the steps with obsequiousness.
"How do you do, James?" said Miss Blair, then went on to ask the man what horses were in the carriage.
"The bays, Miss Blair," replied the man, respectfully.
"I am glad of that," said his mistress, as she went along the platform. "I was afraid Alexander might make a mistake and put in those new grays. I don't like to drive with them at night very well." Then she said to Maria: "I am very nervous about horses, Miss Ackley. You may wonder at it. You may think I have reached the worst and ought to fear nothing, but there are worsts beyond worsts."
"Yes," Maria replied, vaguely. She kept close to Miss Blair. She realized what an agony of fear she should have felt in that murky station with the lights burning dimly through the smoke and the strange sights and outcries all around her.
Miss Blair's carriage was waiting, and Maria saw, half-comprehendingly, that it was very luxurious indeed. She entered with Miss Blair and her maid, then after a little wait for baggage they drove away.
When the carriage stopped, the footman assisted Maria out after Miss Blair, and she followed her conductress's tiny figure toiling rather painfully on the arm of her maid up the steps. She entered the house, and stood for a second fairly bewildered.
Maria had seen many interiors of moderate luxury, but never anything like this. For a second her attention was distracted from everything except the wonderful bizarre splendor in which she found herself. It was not Western magnificence, but Oriental; hangings of the richest Eastern stuffs, rugs, and dark gleams of bronzes and dull lights of brass, and the sheen of silken embroideries.
When Maria at last recovered herself and turned to Miss Blair, to her astonishment she no longer seemed as deformed as she had been on the train. She fitted into this dark, rich, Eastern splendor as a misformed bronze idol might have done. Miss Blair gave a little, shrewd laugh at Maria's gaze, then she spoke to another maid who had appeared when the door opened.
"This is my friend Miss Ackley, Louise," she said. "Take her to the west room, and call down and have a supper tray sent to her." Then she said to Maria that she must be tired, and would prefer going at once to her room. "I am tired myself," said Miss Blair. "Such persons as I do not move about the face of the earth with impunity. There is a wear and tear of the soul and the body when the body is so small that it scarcely holds the soul. You will have your supper sent up, and your breakfast in the morning. At ten o'clock I will send Adelaide to bring you to my room." She bade Maria good-night, and the girl followed the maid, stepping into an elevator on one side of the vestibule. She had a vision of Miss Blair's tiny figure with Adelaide moving slowly upward on the other side.
Maria reflected that she was glad that she had her toilet articles and her night-dress at least in her satchel. She felt the maid looking at her, although her manner was very much like Adelaide's. She wondered what she would have thought if she had not at least had her simple necessaries for the night when she followed her into a room which seemed to her fairly wonderful. It was a white room. The walls were hung with paper covered with sheafs of white lilies; white fur rugs—wolf-skins and skins of polar bears—were strewn over the polished white floor. All the toilet articles were ivory and the furniture white, with decorations of white lilies and silver. In one corner stood a bed of silver with white draperies. Beyond, Maria had a glimpse of a bath in white and silver, and a tiny dressing-room which looked like frost-work. When the maid left her for a moment Maria stood and gazed breathless. She realized a sort of delight in externals which she had never had before. The externals seemed to be farther-reaching. There was something about this white, virgin room which made it seem to her after her terror on the train like heaven. A sense of absolute safety possessed her. It was something to have that, although she was doing something so tremendous to her self-consciousness that she felt like a criminal, and the ache in her heart for those whom she had left never ceased. The maid brought in a tray covered with dainty dishes of white and silver and a little flask of white wine. Then, after Maria had refused further assistance, she left her. Maria ate her supper. She was in reality half famished. Then she went to bed. Nestling in her white bed, looking out of a lace-curtained window opposite through which came the glimpse of a long line of city lights, Maria felt more than ever as if she were in another world. She felt as if she were gazing at her past, at even her loves of life, through the wrong end of a telescope.
The night was very warm but the room was deliciously cool. A breath of sweet coolness came from one of the walls. Maria, contrary to her wont, fell asleep almost immediately. She was exhausted, and an unusual peace seemed to soothe her very soul. She felt as if she had really died and gotten safe to Heaven. She said her prayers, then she was asleep. She awoke rather late the next morning, and took her bath, and then her breakfast was brought. When that was finished and she was dressed, it was ten o'clock, and the maid Adelaide came to take her to her hostess. Maria went down one elevator and up another, the one in which she had seen Miss Blair ascend the night before. Then she entered a strange room, in the midst of which sat Miss Blair. To Maria's utter amazement, she no longer seemed in the least deformed, she no longer seemed a dwarf. She was in perfect harmony with the room, which was low-ceiled, full of strange curves and low furniture with curved backs. It was all Eastern, as was the first floor of the house. Maria understood with a sort of intuition that this was necessary. The walls were covered with Eastern hangings, tables of lacquer stood about filled with squat bronzes and gemlike ivory carvings. The hangings were all embroidered in short curve effects. Maria realized that her hostess, in this room, made more of a harmony than she herself. She felt herself large, coarse, and common where she should have been tiny, bizarre, and, according to the usual standard, misformed. Miss Blair had planned for herself a room wherein everything was misformed, and in which she herself was in keeping. It had been partly the case on the first floor of the house. Here it was wholly. Maria sat down in one of the squat, curved-back chairs, and Miss Blair, who was opposite, looked at her, then laughed with the open delight of a child.
"What a pity I cannot make the whole earth over to suit me," she said, "instead of only this one room! Now I look entirely perfect to you, do I not?"
"Yes," Maria replied, looking at her with wonder.
"It is my vanity room," said Miss Blair, and she laughed as if she were laughing at herself. Then she added, with a little pathos, "You yourself, if you had been in my place, would have wanted one little corner in which you could be perfect."
"Yes, I should," said Maria. As she spoke she settled herself down lower in her chair.
"Yes, you do look entirely too tall and straight in here," said Miss Blair, and laughed again, with genuine glee. "Beauty is only a matter of comparison, you know," said she. "If one is ugly and misshapen, all she has to do is to surround herself with things ugly and misshapen, and she gets the effect of perfect harmony, which is the highest beauty in the world. Here I am in harmony after I have been out of tune. It is a comfort. But, after all, being out of tune is not the worst thing in the world. It might be worse. I would not make the world over to suit me, but myself to suit the world, if I could. After all, the world is right and I am wrong, but in here I seem to be right. Now, child, tell me about yourself."
Maria told her. She left nothing untold. She told her about her father and mother, her step-mother, and Evelyn, and her marriage, and how she had planned to go to Edgham, get the little sum which her father had deposited in the savings-bank for her, and then vanish.
"How?" asked Miss Blair.
Maria confessed that she did not know.
"Of course your mere disappearance is not going to right things, you know," said Miss Blair. "That matrimonial tangle can only be straightened by your death, or the appearance of it. I do not suppose you meditate the stereotyped hat on the bank, and that sort of thing."
"I don't know exactly what to do," said Maria.
"You are quite right in avoiding a divorce," said Miss Blair, "especially when your own sister is concerned. People would never believe the whole truth, but only part of it. The young man would be ruined, too. The only way is to have your death-notice appear in the paper."
"Everything is easy, if one has money," said Miss Blair, "and I have really a good deal." She looked thoughtfully at Maria. "Did you really care for that young man?" she asked.
Maria paled. "I thought so," she said.
"Then you did."
"It does not make any difference if I did," said Maria, with a little indignation. She felt as if she were being probed to her heart-strings.
"No, of course it does not," Miss Blair agreed directly. "If he and your sister have fallen in love, as you say, you have done obviously the only thing to do. We will have the notice in the papers. I don't know quite how I shall arrange it; but I have a fertile brain."
Maria looked hesitatingly at her. "But it will not be telling the truth," she said.
"But what did you plan to do, if you told the truth when you came away?" asked Miss Blair with a little impatience.
"I did not really plan anything," replied Maria helplessly. "I only thought I would go."
"You are inconsequential," said Miss Blair. "You cannot start upon a train of sequences in this world unless you go on to the bitter end. Besides, after all, why do you object to lying? I suppose you were brought up to tell the truth, and so was I, and I really think I venerate the truth more than anything else, but sometimes a lie is the highest truth. See here. You are willing to bear all the punishment, even fire and brimstone, and so on, if your sister and this man whom you love, are happy, aren't you?"
"Of course," replied Maria.
"Well, if you tell a lie which can hurt only yourself, and bless others, and are willing to bear the punishment for it, you are telling the truth like the angels. Don't you worry, my dear. But you must not go to Edgham for that money. I have enough for us both."
"I have nearly all my last term's salary, except the sum I paid for my fare here," Maria said, proudly.
"Well, dear, you shall spend it, and then you shall have some of mine."
"I don't want any money, except what I earn," Maria said.
"You may read to me, and earn it," Miss Blair said easily. "Don't fret about such a petty thing. Now, will you please touch that bell, dear. I must go and arrange about our passage."
"Our passage?" repeated Maria dully.
"Yes; to-day is Thursday. We can catch a Saturday steamer. We can buy anything which you need ready-made in the way of wearing-apparel, and get the rest on the other side."
Maria gasped. She was very white, and her eyes were dilated. She stared at Miss Rosa Blair, who returned her stare with curious fixedness. Maria seemed to see depths within depths of meaning in her great dark eyes. A dimness swept over her own vision.
"Touch the bell, please, dear," said Miss Blair.
Maria obeyed. She touched the bell. She was swept off her feet. She had encountered a will stronger than any which she had ever known, a will which might have been strengthened by the tininess of the body in which its wings were bent, but always beating for flight. And she had encountered this will at a moment when her own was weakened and her mind dazed by the unprecedented circumstances in which she was placed.
Three days later, when they were on the outward-bound steamer, Miss Rosa Blair crossed the corridor between her state-room, which she occupied with her maid, to Maria's, and stood a moment looking down at the girl lying in her berth. Maria was in that state of liability to illness which keeps one in a berth, although she was not actually sea-sick.
"My dear," said Miss Blair. "I think I may as well tell you now. In the night's paper before we left, I saw the death-notice of a certain Maria Edgham, of Edgham, New Jersey. There were some particulars which served to establish the fact of the death. You will not be interested in the particulars?"
Maria turned her pale face towards the port-hole, against which dashed a green wave topped with foam. "No," said she.
"I thought you would not," said Miss Blair. "Then there is something else."
Maria waited quiescent.
"Your name is on the ship's list of passengers as Miss Elizabeth Blair. You are my adopted daughter."
"Adelaide does not remember that you were called Miss Ackley," said Miss Blair. "She will never remember that you were anything except my adopted daughter. She is a model maid. As for the others, Louise is a model, too, and so is the coachman. The footman is discharged. When we return, nobody in my house will have ever known you except as Elizabeth Blair." Miss Blair went out of the state-room walking easily with the motion of the ship. She was a good sailor.
The next afternoon Maria was able to sit out on deck. She leaned back in her steamer-chair, and wept silently. Miss Blair stood at a little distance near the rail, talking to an elderly gentleman whom she had met years ago. "She is my adopted daughter Elizabeth," said Miss Blair. "She has been a little ill, but she is much better. She is feeling sad over the death of a friend, poor child."
It was a year before Maria and Miss Blair returned to the United States. Maria looked older, although she was fully as handsome as she had ever been. Her features had simply acquired an expression of decision and of finish, which they had not before had. She also looked more sophisticated. It had been on her mind that she might possibly meet her step-mother abroad, but she had not done so; and one day Miss Blair had shown her a London newspaper in which was the notice of Ida's marriage to a Scotchman. "We need not go to Scotland," said Miss Blair.
The day after they landed was very warm. They had gone straight to Miss Blair's New York house; later they were to go to the sea-shore. The next morning Maria went into Miss Blair's vanity room, as she called it, and a strange look was on her face. "I have made up my mind," said she.
"Well?" Miss Blair said, interrogatively.
"I cannot let him commit bigamy. I cannot let my sister marry—my husband. I cannot break the laws in such a fashion, nor allow them to do so."
"You break no moral law."
"I am not so sure. I don't know where the dividing-line between the moral and the legal comes."
"I am going to take the train to Amity this noon."
Miss Blair turned slightly pale, but she regarded Maria unflinchingly. "Very well," said she. "I have always told you that I would not oppose you in any resolution which you might make in the matter."
"It is not because I love him," said Maria. "I do love him; I think I always shall. But it is not because of that."
"I know that. What do you propose doing after you have disclosed yourself?"
"Tell the truth."
"And then what?"
"I shall talk the matter over with Wollaston and Evelyn, and I think they can be made to see that a quiet divorce will straighten it all out."
"Not as far as the man's career is concerned, if he marries your sister, and not so far as your sister is concerned. People are prone to believe the worst, as the sparks fly upward."
"Then they will," Maria said, obstinately. "I have made up my mind I dare not undertake the responsibility."
"What will you do afterwards, come back to me?" Miss Blair said, wistfully. "You will come back, will you not, dear?"
"If you wish," Maria said, with a quick, loving glance at her.
"If I wish!" repeated Miss Blair. "Well, go if you must."
Maria did not reach Amity until long after dark. Behind her on the train were two women who got on at the station before Amity. She did not know them, and they did not know her, but they presently began talking about her. "I saw Miss Maria Stillman at the Ordination in Westbridge, Wednesday," said one to the other. This woman had a curiously cool, long-reaching breath when she spoke. Maria felt it like a fan on the back of her neck.
The other woman, who was fat, responded with a wheezy voice. "It was queer about that niece of hers, who taught school in Westbridge, running away and dying so dreadful sudden, wasn't it?" said she.
"Dreadful queer. I guess her aunt and sister felt pretty bad about it, and I s'pose they do now; but it's a year ago, and they've left off their mourning."
"Of course," said the other woman. "They would leave it off on account of—"
Maria did not hear what followed, for a thundering freight-train passed them and drowned the words. After the train passed, the fat woman was saying, with her wheezy voice, "Mr. Lee's mother's death was dreadful sudden, wasn't it?"
"I wonder if he likes living in Amity as well as Westbridge?"
"I shouldn't think he would, it isn't as convenient to the academy."
"Well, maybe he will go back to Westbridge after a while," said the other woman, and again her breath fanned Maria's neck.
She wondered what it meant. A surmise came to her, then she dismissed it. She was careful to keep her back turned to the women when the train pulled into Amity. She had no baggage except a suit-case. She got off the train, and disappeared in the familiar darkness. All at once it seemed to her as if she had returned from the unreal to the real, from fairy-land to the actual world. The year past seemed like a dream to her. She could not believe it. It was like that fact which is stranger than fiction, and therefore almost impossible even to write, much less to live. Miss Rosa Blair, and her travellings in Europe, and her house in New York, seemed to her like an Arabian Night's creation. She walked along the street towards her aunt's house, and realized her old self and her old perplexities. When she drew near the house she saw a light in the parlor windows and also in Aunt Maria's bedroom. Aunt Maria had evidently gone to her room for the night. Uncle Henry's side of the house was entirely dark.
Maria stole softly into the yard, and paused in front of the parlor windows. The shades were not drawn. There sat Evelyn at work on some embroidery, while opposite to her sat Wollaston Lee, reading aloud. In Evelyn's lap, evidently hampering her with her work, was a beautiful yellow cat, which she paused now and then to stroke. Maria felt her heart almost stand still. There was something about it which renewed her vague surmise on the train. It was only a very few minutes before Wollaston laid down the paper which he had been reading, and said something to Evelyn, who began to fold her work with the sweet docility which Maria remembered. Wollaston rose and went over to Evelyn and kissed her as she stood up and let the yellow cat leap to the floor. Evelyn looked to Maria more beautiful than she had ever seen her. Maria stood farther back in the shadow. Then she heard the front door opened, and the cat was gently put out. Then she heard the key turn in the lock, and a bolt slide. Maria stood perfectly still. A light from a lamp which was being carried by some one, flitted like a will-o'-the-wisp over the yard, and the parlor windows became dark. Then a broad light shone out from the front chamber windows through the drawn white shade, and lay in a square on the grass of the yard. The cat which had been put out rubbed against Maria's feet. She caught up the little animal and kissed it. Then she put it down gently, and hurried back to the station. She thought of Rosa Blair, and an intense longing came over her. She seemed to suddenly sense the highest quality of love: that which realizes the need of another, rather than one's own. The poor little dwarf seemed the very child of her heart. She looked up at the stars shining through the plumy foliage of the trees, and thought how many of them might owe their glory to the radiance of unknown suns, and it seemed to her that her own soul lighted her path by its reflection of the love of God. She thought that it might be so with all souls which were faced towards God, and that which is above and beyond, and it was worth more than anything else in the whole world.
She questioned no longer the right or wrong of what she had done, as she hurried on and reached the little Amity station in time for the last train.