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By the Light of the Soul - A Novel
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
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"Well, I have the consolation of thinking that I have done my duty," she said to Mrs. Voorhees.

"Of course you have, dear, and that is worth everything," responded her friend.

"I did all I could to make his home attractive," said Ida, "and he never had to wait for a meal. How pretty he thought those new hangings in the parlor were! Poor Harry had an aesthetic sense, and I did my best to gratify it. It is a consolation."

"Of course," said Mrs. Voorhees.

If Ida had known how Maria regarded those very red silk parlor hangings she would have been incredulous. Maria thought to herself how hard her poor father had worked, and how the other hangings, which had been new at the time of Ida's marriage, could not have been worn out. She wanted to tear down the filmy red things and stuff them into the kitchen stove. When she found out that her father had saved up nearly a thousand dollars for her, which was deposited to her credit in the Edgham savings-bank, her heart nearly broke because of that. She imagined her father going without things to save that little pittance for her, and she hated the money. She said to herself that she would never touch it. And yet she loved her father for saving it for her with a very anguish of love.

Ida was manifestly surprised when Henry's will was read and she learned of Maria's poor little legacy, but she touched her cool red lips to Maria's cheek and told her how glad she was. "It will be a little nest-egg for you," she said, "and it will buy your trousseau. And, of course, you will always feel at perfect liberty to come here whenever you wish to do so. Your room will be kept just as it is."

Maria thanked her, but she detected an odd ring of insincerity in Ida's voice. After she went to bed that night she speculated as to what it meant. Evelyn was not with her. Ida had insisted that she should occupy her own room.

"You will keep each other awake," she said.

Evelyn had grown noticeably thin and pale in a few days. The child had adored her father. Often, at the table, she would look at his vacant place, and push away her plate, and sob. Ida had become mildly severe with her on account of it.

"My dear child," she said, "of course we all feel just as you do, but we control ourselves. It is the duty of those who live to control themselves."

"I want my papa!" sobbed Evelyn convulsively.

"You had better go away from the table, dear," said Ida calmly. "I will have a plate of dinner kept warm for you, and by-and-by when you feel like it, you can go down to the kitchen and Agnes will give it to you."

In fact, poor little Evelyn, who was only a child and needed her food, did steal down to the kitchen about nine o'clock and got her plate of dinner. But she was more satisfied by Agnes bursting into tears and talking about her "blissed father that was gone, and how there was niver a man like him," and actually holding her in her great lap while she ate. It was a meal seasoned with tears, but also sweetened with honest sympathy. Evelyn, when she slipped up the back stairs to her own room after her supper, longed to go into her sister's room and sleep with her, but she did not dare. Her little bed was close to the wall, against which, on the other side, Maria's bed stood, and once Evelyn distinctly heard a sob. She sobbed too, but softly, lest her mother hear. Evelyn felt that she and Maria and Agnes were the only ones who really mourned for her father, although she viewed her mother in her mourning robes with a sort of awe, and a feeling that she must believe in a grief on her part far beyond hers and Maria's. Ida had obtained a very handsome mourning wardrobe for both herself and Evelyn, and had superintended Maria's. Maria paid for her clothes out of her small earnings, however. Ida had her dress-maker's bill made out separately, and gave it to her. Maria calculated that she would have just about enough to pay her fare back to Amity without touching that sacred blood-money in the savings-bank. It had been on that occasion that Ida had made the remark to her about her always considering that house as her home, and had done so with that odd expression which caused Maria to speculate. Maria decided that night, as she lay awake in bed, that Ida had something on her mind which she was keeping a secret for the present. The surmise was quite justified, but Maria had not the least suspicion of what it was until three days before her vacation was to end, when Ida received a letter with the Amity post-mark, directed in Aunt Maria's precise, cramped handwriting. She spoke about it to Maria, who had brought it herself from the office that evening after Evelyn had gone to bed.

"I had a letter from your aunt Maria this morning," she said, with an assumed indifference.

"Yes; I noticed the Amity post-mark and Aunt Maria's writing," said Maria.

Ida looked at her step-daughter, and for the first time in her life she hesitated. "I have something to say to you, Maria," she said, finally, in a nervous voice, so different from her usual one that Maria looked at her in surprise. She waited for her to speak further.

"The Voorhees are going abroad," she said, abruptly.

"Are they?"

"Yes, they sail in three weeks—three weeks from next Saturday."

Maria still waited, and still her step-mother hesitated. At last, however, she spoke out boldly and defiantly.

"Mrs. Voorhees's sister, Miss Angelica Wyatt, is going with them," said she. "Mrs. Voorhees is not going to take Paul; she will leave him with her mother. She says travelling is altogether too hard on children."

"Does she?"

"Yes; and so there are three in the party. Miss Wyatt has her state-room to herself, and—they have asked me to go. The passage will not cost me anything. All the expense I shall have will be my board, and travelling fares abroad."

Maria looked at her step-mother, who visibly shrank before her, then looked at her with defiant eyes.

"Then you are going?" she said.

"Yes. I have made up my mind that it is a chance which Providence has put in my way, and I should be foolish, even wicked, to throw it away, especially now. I am not well. Your dear father's death has shattered my nerves."

Maria looked, with a sarcasm which she could not repress, at her step-mother's blooming face, and her rounded form.

"I have consulted Mrs. Voorhees's physician, in New York," said Ida quickly, for she understood the look. "I consulted him when I went to the city with Mrs. Voorhees last Monday, and he says I am a nervous wreck, and he will not answer for the consequences unless I have a complete change of scene."

"What about Evelyn?" asked Maria, in a dry voice.

"I wrote to your aunt Maria about her. The letter I got this morning was in reply to mine. She writes very brusquely—she is even ill-mannered—but she says she is perfectly willing for Evelyn to go there and board. I will pay four dollars a week—that is a large price for a child—and I knew you would love to have her."

"Yes, I should; I don't turn my back upon my own flesh and blood," Maria said, abruptly. "I guess I shall be glad to have her, poor little thing! with her father dead and her mother forsaking her."

"I think you must be very much like your aunt Maria," said Ida, in a cool, disagreeable voice. "I would fight against it, if I were you, Maria. It is not interesting, such a way as hers. It is especially not interesting to gentlemen. Gentlemen never like girls who speak so quickly and emphatically. They like girls to be gentle."

"I don't care what gentlemen think," said Maria, "but I do care for my poor, forsaken little sister." Maria's voice broke with rage and distress.

"You are exceedingly disagreeable, Maria," said Ida, with the radiant air of one who realizes her own perfect agreeableness.

Maria's lip curled. She said nothing.

"Evelyn's wardrobe is in perfect order for the summer," said Ida. "Of course she can wear her white frocks in warm weather, and she has her black silk frocks and coat. I have plenty of black sash ribbons for her to wear with her white frocks. You will see to it that she always wears a black sash with a white frock, I hope, Maria. I should not like people in Amity to think I was lacking in respect to your father's memory."

"Yes, I will be sure that Evelyn wears a black sash with a white frock," replied Maria, in a bitter voice.

She rose abruptly and left the room. Up in her own chamber she threw herself face downward upon her bed, and wept the tears of one who is oppressed and helpless at the sight of wrong and disloyalty to one beloved. Maria hardly thought of Evelyn in her own personality at all. She thought of her as her dead father's child, whose mother was going away and leaving her within less than three weeks after her father's death. She lost sight of her own happiness in having the child with her, in the bitter reflection over the disloyalty to her father.

"She never cared at all for father," she muttered to herself—"never at all; and now she does not really care because he is gone. She is perfectly delighted to be free, and have money enough to go to Europe, although she tries to hide it."

Maria felt as if she had caught sight of a stone of shame in the place where a wife's and mother's heart should have been. She felt sick with disgust, as if she had seen some monster. It never occurred to her that she was possibly unjust to Ida, who was, after all, as she was made, a being on a very simple and primitive plan, with an acute perception of her own welfare and the means whereby to achieve it. Ida was in reality as innocently self-seeking as a butterfly or a honey-bee. She had never really seen anybody in the world except herself. She had been born humanity blind, and it was possibly no more her fault than if she had been born with a hump.

The next day Ida went to New York with Mrs. Voorhees to complete some preparations for her journey, and to meet Mrs. Voorhees's sister, who was expected to arrive from the South, where she had been spending the winter. That evening the Voorheeses came over and discussed their purchases, and Miss Wyatt, the sister, came with them. She was typically like Mrs. Voorhees, only younger, and with her figure in better restraint. She had so far successfully fought down an hereditary tendency to avoirdupois. She had brilliant yellow hair and a brilliant complexion, like her sister, and she was as well, even better, dressed. Ida had purchased that day a steamer-rug, a close little hat, and a long coat for the voyage, and the women talked over the purchases and their plans for travel with undisguised glee. Once, when Ida met Maria's sarcastic eyes, she colored a little and complained of a headache, which she had been suffering with all day.

"Yes, there is no doubt that you are simply a nervous wreck, and you would break down entirely without the sea-voyage and the change of scene," said Mrs. Voorhees, in her smooth, emotionless voice and with a covert glance at Maria. Ida had confided to her the attitude which she knew Maria took with reference to her going away.

"All I regret—all that mars my perfect delight in the prospect of the trip—is parting with my darling little Paul," Mrs. Voorhees said, with a sigh.

"That is the way I feel with regard to Evelyn," said Ida.

Maria, who was sewing, took another stitch. She did not seem to hear.

The next day but one Maria and Evelyn started for Amity. Ida did not go to the station with them. She was not up when they started. The curtains in her room were down, and she lay in bed, drawing down the corners of her mouth with resolution when Maria and Evelyn entered to bid her good-bye. Maria said good-bye first, and bent her cheek to Ida's lips; then it was Evelyn's turn. The little girl looked at her mother with fixed, solemn eyes, but there were no tears in them.

"Mamma is so sorry she cannot even go to the station with her darling little girl," said Ida, "but she is completely exhausted, and has not slept all night."

Evelyn continued to look at her, and there came into her face an innocent, uncomplaining accusation.

"Mamma cannot tell you how much she feels leaving her precious little daughter," whispered Ida, drawing the little figure, which resisted rigidly, towards her. "She would not do it if she were not afraid of losing her health completely." Evelyn remained in her attitude of constrained affection, bending over her mother. "Mamma will write you very often," continued Ida. "Think how nice it will be for you to get letters! And she will bring you some beautiful things when she comes back." Then Ida's voice broke, and she found her handkerchief under her pillow and put it to her eyes.

Evelyn, released from her mother's arm, regarded her with that curiosity and unconscious accusation which was more pitiful than grief. The child was getting her first sense, not of loss, for one cannot lose that which one has never had, but of non-possession of something which was her birthright.

When at last they were on the train, Evelyn surprised her sister by weeping violently. Maria tried to hush her, but she could not. Evelyn wept convulsively at intervals all the way to New York. When they were in the cab, crossing the city, Maria put her arm around her sister and tried to comfort her.

"What is it, precious?" she whispered. "Do you feel so badly about leaving your mother?"

"No," sobbed the little girl. "I feel so badly because I don't feel badly."

Maria understood. She began talking to her of her future home in Amity, and the people whom she would see. All at once Maria reflected how Lily would be married to George Ramsey when she returned, that she should see George's wife going in and out the door that might have been the door of her own home, and she also had a keen pang of regret for the lack of regret. She no longer loved George Ramsey. It was nothing to her that he was married to Lily; but, nevertheless, her emotional nature, the best part of her, had undergone a mutilation. Love can be eradicated, but there remains a void and a scar, and sometimes through their whole lives such scars of some people burn.



Chapter XXVIII

Evelyn was happier in Amity, with Maria and her aunt, than she had ever been. It took a little while for her to grow accustomed to the lack of luxury with which she had always been surrounded; then she did not mind it in the least. Everybody petted her, and she acquired a sense of importance which was not offensive, because she had also a sense of the importance of everybody else. She loved everybody. Love seemed the key-note of her whole nature. It was babyish love as yet, but there were dangerous possibilities which nobody foresaw, except Henry Stillman.

"I don't know what will become of that child when she grows up if she can't have the man she falls in love with," he told Eunice one night, after Maria and Evelyn, who had been in for a few moments, had gone home.

Eunice, who was not subtle, looked at him wonderingly, and her husband replied to her unspoken question.

"That child's going to take everything hard," he said.

"I don't see what makes you think so."

"She is like a harp that's overstrung," said Henry.

"How queer you talk!"

"Well, she is; and if she is now, what is she going to be when she's older? Well, I hope the Lord will deal gently with her. He's given her too many feelings, and I hope He will see to it that they ain't tried too hard." Henry said this last with the half-bitter melancholy which was growing upon him.

"I guess she will get along all right," said Eunice, comfortably. "She's a pretty little girl, and her mother has looked out for her clothes, if she did scoot off and leave her. I wonder how long she's going to stay in foreign parts?"

Henry shook his head. "Do you want to know how long?" he said.

"Yes. What do you mean, Henry?"

"She's going to stay just as long as she has a good time there. If she has a good time there she'll stay if it's years."

"You don't mean you think she would go off and leave that darling little girl a whole year?"

"I said years," replied Henry.

"Land! I don't believe it. You're dreadful hard on women, Henry."

"Wait and see," said Henry.

Time proved that Henry, with his bitter knowledge of the weakness of human nature, was right. Ida remained abroad. After a year's stay she wrote Maria, from London, that an eminent physician there said that he would not answer for her life if she returned to the scene wherein she had suffered so much. She expressed a great deal of misery at leaving her precious Evelyn so long, but she did not feel that it was right for her to throw her life away. In a postscript to this letter she informed Maria, as if it were an afterthought, that she had let the house in Edgham furnished. She said it injured a house to remain unoccupied so long, and she felt that she ought to keep the place up for her poor father's sake, he had thought so much of it. She added that the people who rented it had no children except a grown-up daughter, so that everything would be well cared for. When Maria read the letter to her aunt the elder woman sniffed.

"H'm," said she. "I ain't surprised, not a mite."

"It keeps us here quartered on you," said Maria.

"So far as that goes, I am tickled to death she has rented the house," replied Aunt Maria. "I had made up my mind that you would feel as if you would want to go to Edgham for your summer vacation, anyway, and I thought I would go with you and keep house, though I can't say that I hankered after it. The older I grow the more I feel as if I was best off in my own home, but I would have gone. So far as I am concerned I am glad she has let the house, but I must say I ain't surprised. You mark my words, Maria Edgham, and you see if what I say won't come true."

"What is it?"

"Ida Slome will stay over there, if she has a good time. She's got money enough with poor Harry's life insurance, and now she will have her house rent. It don't cost her much to keep Evelyn here, and she's got enough. I don't mean she's got enough to traipse round with duchesses and earls and that sort, but she's got enough. Those folks she went with have settled down there, haven't they?"

"Yes, I believe so," said Maria. "Mr. Voorhees was an Englishman, and I believe he is in some business in London."

"Well, Ida Slome is going to stay there. I shouldn't be surprised if Evelyn was grown up before she saw her mother again."

"I can't quite believe that," Maria said.

"When you get to be as old as I am you will believe more," said her aunt Maria. "You will see that folks' selfishness hides the whole world besides. Ida Slome is that kind."

"I think she is selfish myself," said Maria, "but I don't believe she can leave Evelyn as long as that."

"Wait and see," said Aunt Maria, in much the same tone that her brother had used towards his wife.

Maria Stillman was right. Evelyn remained in Amity. She outgrew Maria's school, and attended the Normal School in Westbridge. Maria herself outgrew her little Amity school, and obtained a position as teacher in one of the departments of the Normal School, and still Ida had not returned. She wrote often, and in nearly every letter spoke of the probability of her speedy return, and in the same breath of her precarious health. She could not, however, avoid telling of her social triumphs in London. Ida was evidently having an aftermath of youth in her splendid maturity. She was evidently flattered and petted, and was thoroughly enjoying herself. Aunt Maria said she guessed she would marry again.

"She's too old," said Maria.

"Wait till you're old yourself and you won't be so ready to judge," said her aunt. "I ain't so sure she won't."

Evelyn was a young lady, and was to graduate the next year, and still her mother had not returned. She was the sweetest young creature in the world at that time. She was such a beauty that people used to turn and stare after her. Evelyn never seemed to notice it, but she was quite conscious, in a happy, childlike fashion, of her beauty. She resembled her mother to a certain extent, but she had nothing of Ida's hardness. Where her mother froze, she flamed. Two-thirds of the boys in the Normal School were madly in love with her, but Evelyn, in spite of her temperament, was slow in development as to her emotions. She was very childish, although she was full of enthusiasms and nervous energy. Maria had long learned that when Evelyn told her she was in love, as she frequently did, it did not in the least mean that she was, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. Evelyn was very imaginative. She loved her dreams, and she often raised, as it were, a radiance of rainbows about some boy of her acquaintance, but the brightness vanished the instant the boy made advances. She had an almost fierce virginity of spirit in spite of her loving heart. She did not wish to touch her butterflies of life. She used to walk between her aunt and Maria when they were coming out of church, so that no boy would ask leave to go home with her. She clung to the girls in her class for protection when she went to any entertainment. Consequently her beautiful face, about which clustered her dark, fine hair like mist, aroused no envy. The other girls said that Evelyn Edgham was such a beauty and she did not know it. But Evelyn did know it perfectly, only at that time it filled her with a sort of timidity and shame. It was as if she held some splendid, heavy sword of victory which she had not the courage to wield. She loved her sister better than anybody else. She had no very intimate friend of her own sex with whom she fell in love, after the fashion of most young girls. That might have happened had it not been for her sister, whom Evelyn thought of always as excelling everybody else in beauty and goodness and general brilliancy. Maria, when nearing thirty, was, in fact, as handsome as she had ever been. Her self-control had kept lines from her face. She was naturally healthy, and she, as well as Evelyn, had by nature a disposition to make the most of herself and a liking for adornment. Aunt Maria often told Eunice that Maria was full as good-looking as Evelyn, if she was older, but that was not quite true. Maria had never had Evelyn's actual beauty, her perfection as of a perfect flower; still she was charming, and she had admirers, whom she always checked, although her aunt became more and more distressed that she did so. Always at the bottom of Maria's heart lay her secret. It was not a guilty secret. It was savored more of the absurd of tragedy than anything else. Sometimes Maria herself fairly laughed at the idea that she was married. All this time she wondered about Wollaston Lee. She thought, with a sick terror, of the possibility of his falling in love, and wishing to marry, and trying to secure a divorce, and the horrible publicity, and what people would say and do. She knew that a divorce would be necessary, although the marriage was not in reality a marriage at all. She had made herself sufficiently acquainted with the law to be sure that a divorce would be absolutely necessary in order for either herself or Wollaston Lee to marry again. For herself, she did not wish to marry, but she did wonder uneasily with regard to him. She was not in the least jealous; all her old, childish fancy for him had been killed by that strenuous marriage ceremony, but she dreaded the newspapers and the notoriety which would inevitably follow any attempt on either side to obtain a divorce. She dreamed about it often, and woke in terror, having still before her eyes the great, black letters on the first pages of city papers. She had never seen Wollaston Lee since she had lived in Amity. She had never even heard anything about him except once, when somebody had mentioned his name and spoken of seeing him at a reception, and that he was a professor in one of the minor colleges. She did not wish ever to repeat that experience. Her heart had seemed to stand still, and she had grown so white that a lady beside her asked her hurriedly if she were faint. Maria had thrown off the faintness by a sheer effort of will, and the color had returned to her face, and she had laughingly replied with a denial. Sometimes she thought uneasily of Gladys Mann. The clergyman who, in his excess of youthful zeal, had performed the ceremony was dead. She had seen his obituary notice in a New York paper with a horrible relief. He had died quite suddenly in one of the pneumonia winters. But Gladys Mann and her possession of the secret troubled her. Gladys Mann, as she remembered her, had been such a slight, almost abortive character. She asked herself if she could keep such a secret, if she would have sense enough to do so. Gladys had married, too, a man of her own sort, who worked fitfully, and spent most of his money in carousing with John Dorsey and her father. Gladys had had a baby a few months after her marriage, and she had had two more since. The last time Maria had been in Amity was soon after Gladys's first baby was born. Maria had met her one day carrying the little thing swathed in an old shawl, with a pitiful attempt of finery in a white lace bonnet cocked sidewise on its little head, which waggled over Gladys's thin shoulder. Gladys, when she saw Maria, had colored and nodded, and almost run past her without a word.

It was just before the beginning of Evelyn's last year at school when Maria received a letter from Gladys's mother. It was a curious composition. Mrs. Mann had never possessed any receptivity for education. The very chirography gave evidence of a rude, almost uncivilized mind. Maria got it one night during the last of August. She had gone to the post-office for the last mail, and all the time there had been over her a premonition of something unwonted of much import to her. The very dusty flowers and weeds by the way-side seemed to cry out to her as she passed them. They seemed no longer mere flowers and weeds, but hieroglyphics concerning her future, which she could almost interpret.

"I wonder what is going to happen?" she thought. "Something is going to happen." She was glad that Evelyn was not with her, as usual, but had gone for a drive with a young friend who had a pony-carriage. She felt that she could not have borne her sister's curious glances at the letter which she was sure would be in the post-office box. It was there when she entered the dirty little place. She saw one letter slanted across the dusty glass of the box. It was not a lock box, and she had to ask the postmaster for the letter.

"Number twenty-four, please," she said.

The postmaster was both bungling and curious. He was a long time finding the box, then in giving her the letter. Maria felt dizzy. When at last he handed it to her with an inquisitive glance, she almost ran out of the office. When she was out-doors she glanced at the post-mark and saw it was Edgham. When she came to a lonely place in the road, when she was walking between stone-walls overgrown with poison-ivy, and meadowsweet, and hardhack, and golden-rod, she opened the letter. Just as she opened it she heard the sweet call of a robin in the field on her left, and the low of a cow looking anxiously over her bars.

The letter was written on soiled paper smelling strongly of tobacco, and it enclosed another smaller, sealed envelop. Maria read:

"Deer Miss,—I now tak my pen in hand to let you no that Gladys she is ded. She had a little boy bon, and he and she both died. Gladys she had been coffin for some time befoar, and jest befor she was took sick, she give me this letter, and sed for me to send it to you if ennything happened to her.

"Excuse hast and a bad pen. Mrs. Mann."

Maria trembled so that she could hardly stand. She looked hastily around; there was no one in sight. She sank down on a large stone which had fallen from the stone wall on the left. Then she opened the little, sealed letter. It was very short. It contained only one word, one word of the vulgar slang to which poor Gladys had become habituated through her miserable life, and yet this one word of slang had a meaning of faithfulness and honor which dignified it. Maria read, "Nit." and she knew that Gladys had died and had not told.



Chapter XXIX

It is frequently a chain of sequences whose beginnings are lost in obscurity which lead to events. The principal of the Normal School in Westbridge, which Evelyn attended and in which Maria taught, had been a certain Professor Lane. If he had not gone to Boston one morning when the weather was unusually sultry for the season, and if an east wind had not come up, causing him, being thinly clad, to take cold, which cold meant the beginning of a rapid consumption which hurried him off to Colorado, and a year later to death; if these east winds had not made it impossible for Wollaston Lee's mother, now widowed, to live with him in the college town where he had been stationed, a great deal which happened might not have come to pass at all. It was "the wind which bloweth where it listeth, and no man knoweth whence it cometh and whither it goeth," which precipitated the small tragedy of a human life.

The Saturday before the fall term commenced, Evelyn came home from Westbridge, where she had been for some shopping, and she had a piece of news. She did not wait to remove her hat, but stood before Maria and her aunt, who were sewing in the sitting-room, with the roses nestling against the soft flying tendrils of her black hair. It was still so warm that she wore her summer hat.

"What do you think!" said she. "I have such a piece of news!"

"What is it, dear?" asked Maria. Aunt Maria looked up curiously.

"Why, Professor Lane has had to give up. He starts for Colorado Monday. He kept hoping he could stay here, but he went to a specialist, who told him he could not live six months in this climate, so he is starting right off. And we are to have a new principal."

"Who is he?" asked Maria. She felt herself trembling, for no reason that she could define.

"Addie Hemingway says he is a handsome young man. He has been a professor in some college, but his mother lives with him, and the climate didn't agree with her, and so he had resigned and was out of a position, and they have sent right away for him, and he is coming. In fact, Addie says she thinks he has come, and that he and his mother are at Mrs. Land's boarding-house; but they are going to keep house. Addie says she has heard he is a young man and very handsome."

"What is his name?" asked Maria, faintly.

Evelyn looked at her and laughed. "The funniest thing about it all is," said she, "that he comes originally from Edgham, and you must have known him, Maria. I don't remember him at all, but I guess you must. His name is Lee, and his first name—I can't remember his first name. Did you know a young man about your age in Edgham named Lee?"

"Wollaston?" asked Maria. She hardly knew her own voice.

"Yes; that is it—Wollaston. It is an odd name. How queer it will seem to have a handsome young man for principal instead of poor old Professor Lane. I am sorry, for my part; I liked Professor Lane. I went to the book-store in Westbridge and bought a book for him to read on the journey, and left it at the door. I sent in my remembrances, and told the girl how sorry I was that Professor Lane was not well."

"That was a good girl," said Maria. "I am glad you did." She was as white as death, but she continued sewing steadily.

Evelyn went to the looking-glass and removed her hat, and readjusted her flying hair around her glowing face. She did not notice her sister's pallor and expression of shock, almost of horror, but Aunt Maria did. Finally she spoke.

"What on earth ails you, Maria Edgham?" she said, harshly. When Aunt Maria was anxious, she was always harsh, and seemed to regard the object of her solicitude as a culprit.

Evelyn turned abruptly and saw her sister's face, then she ran to her and threw her arms around her neck and pulled her head against her shoulder. "What is it? What is it?" she cried, in her sobbing, emotional voice, which any stress aroused.

Maria raised her head and pushed Evelyn gently away. "Nothing whatever is the matter, dear," she said, firmly, and took up her work again.

"Folks don't turn as white as sheets if nothing is the matter," said Aunt Maria, still in her harsh, accusing voice. "I want to know what is the matter. Did your dinner hurt you? You ate that lemon-pie."

"I feel perfectly well, Aunt Maria," replied Maria, making one of her tremendous efforts of will, which actually sent the color back to her face. She smiled as she spoke.

"You do look better," said Aunt Maria doubtfully.

"Yes, you do," said Evelyn.

"Maybe it was the light," said Aunt Maria in a reassured tone.

"There isn't much light to see to sew by, I know that," Maria said in an off-hand tone. "I believe I will take a little run down to the post-office for the night mail. Evelyn, you can help Aunt Maria get supper, can't you, dear?"

"Of course I can," said Evelyn. "But are you sure you are well enough to go alone?"

"Nonsense!" said Maria, rising and folding her work.

"Do you think anything is the matter with sister?" Evelyn asked Aunt Maria after Maria had gone.

"Don't ask me," replied Aunt Maria curtly.

"Aunt Maria!"

"Well?"

"Professor Lane isn't married. You don't suppose sister—"

"What a little goose you are, Evelyn Edgham!" cried Aunt Maria, almost fiercely turning upon her. "Do you suppose if Maria Edgham had wanted any man she couldn't have got him?"

"I suppose she could," said Evelyn meekly. "And I know Professor Lane is so much older, but he always seemed to like sister, and I didn't know but she felt badly because he was so ill."

"Stuff!" said Aunt Maria. "Come, you had better set the table. I have got to make some biscuits for supper. They won't be any more than done by the time Maria gets back."

"Did you think she looked so very pale?" asked Evelyn, following her aunt out of the room.

"No, I didn't think she looked pale at all when I came to look at her," said Aunt Maria, sharply. "She looked just as she always does. It was the light."

Aunt Maria unhesitatingly lied. She knew that her niece had been pale, and she believed that it was on account of Professor Lane. She thought to herself what fools girls were. There Maria had thrown away such a chance as George Ramsey, and was very likely breaking her heart in secret over this consumptive, old enough to be her father.

Evelyn also believed, in her heart of hearts, that her sister was in love with Professor Lane, but she took a more sentimental view of the matter. She was of the firm opinion that love has no age, and then Professor Lane had never seemed exactly old to her, and he was a very handsome man. She thought of poor Maria with the tenderest pity and sympathy. It almost seemed to her that she herself was in love with Professor Lane, and that his going so far away to recover his health was a cruel blow to her. She thought of poor Maria walking to the post-office and brooding over her trouble, and her tender heart ached so hard that it might have been Maria's own.

But Maria, walking to the post-office, realized not so much an ache in her heart as utter horror and terror. She asked herself how could she possibly continue teaching in that school if Wollaston Lee were principal; how could she endure the daily contact with him which would be inevitable. She wondered if he could possibly have known that she was teaching in that school when he accepted the position. Such a deadly fear was over her that her class-room and the great pile of school buildings seemed to her fancy as horrible as a cage of wild beasts. She felt such a loathing of the man who was legally, although not really, her husband, that the loathing itself filled her with shame and disgust at herself. She told herself that it was horrible, horrible, that she could not endure it, that it was impossible. She was in a fairly desperate mood. She had a sudden impulse to run away and leave everybody and everything, even Evelyn and her aunt, whom she loved so well. She felt pitiless towards everybody except herself. She took out her pocket-book and counted the money which it contained. There were fifteen dollars and some loose change. The railroad station was on a road parallel to the one on which she was walking. An express train flashed by as she stood there. Suddenly Maria became possessed of one of those impulses which come to everybody, but to which comparatively few yield in lifetimes. The girl gathered up her skirts and broke into a run for the railroad station. She knew that there was an accommodation train due soon after the express. She reached the dusty platform, in fact, just as the train came in. There were no other passengers from Amity except a woman whom she did not know, dragging a stout child by the arm. The child was enveloped in clothing to such an extent that it could scarcely walk. It stumbled over its voluminous white coat. Nobody could have told its sex. It cast a look of stupid discomfort at Maria, then its rasped little face opened for a wail. "Shet up!" said the mother, and she dragged more forcibly at the podgy little arm, and the child broke into a lop-sided run towards the cars.

Maria had no time to get a ticket. She only had time for that one glance at the helpless, miserable child, before she climbed up the steep car-steps. She found an empty seat, and shrugged close to the window. She did not think very much of what she was doing. She thought more of the absurdly uncomfortable child, over-swathed in clothing, and over-disciplined with mother-love, she could not have told why. She wondered what it would be like to have an ugly, uninteresting, viciously expostulating little one dragging at her hand. The mother, although stout and mature-looking, was not much older than she. It seemed to her that the being fond of such a child, and being happy under such circumstances, would involve as much of a vital change in herself as death itself. And yet she wondered if such a change were possible with all women, herself included. She gazed absently at the pale landscape past which the train was flying. The conductor had to touch her arm before he could arouse her attention, when he asked for her ticket. Then she looked at him vacantly, and he had to repeat his "Ticket, please."

Maria opened her pocket-book and said, mechanically, the name of the first station which came into her head, "Ridgewood." Ridgewood was a small city about fifteen miles distant. She had sometimes been there shopping. She gave the conductor a five-dollar bill, and he went away, murmuring something about the change. When he returned with the rebate-slip and the change, he had to touch her shoulder again to arrest her attention.

"Change, miss," said the conductor, and "you can get ten cents back on this at the station."

Maria took the change and the slip and put them in her pocket-book, and the conductor passed on with a quick, almost imperceptible backward glance at her. Maria sat very still. The child who had got on at Amity began to wail again, and its outcries filled the whole car. To Maria it seemed like the natural outburst of an atmosphere overcharged with woe, and the impotent rage and regret of the whole race, as a cloud is charged with electricity. She felt that she herself would like to burst into a wild wail, and struggle and wrestle against fate with futile members, as the child fought against its mother with its fat legs in shoes too large, and its bemittened hands. However, she began to get a certain comfort from the rapid motion. She continued to stare out of the window at the landscape, which fast disappeared under the gathering shadows. The car lamps were lit. Maria still looked, however, out of the window; the lights in the house windows, and red and green signal-lights, gave her a childish interest. She forgot entirely about herself. She turned her back upon herself and her complex situation of life with infinite relief. She did not wonder what she would do when she reached Ridgewood. She did not think any more of herself. It was as if she had come into a room of life without any looking-glasses, and she was no longer visible to her own consciousness. She did not look at the other passengers. All that was evident to her of the existence of any in the car besides herself was the unceasing wail of the child, and its mother's half-soothing, half-scolding voice. She did not see the passengers who boarded the train at the next station beyond Amity, and that Wollaston Lee was one of them. Indeed, she might not at once have recognized him, although the man retained in a marked degree the features of the boy. Wollaston had grown both tall and broad-shouldered, and had a mustache. He was a handsome fellow, well dressed, and with an easy carriage, and he had an expression of intelligent good-humor which made more than one woman in the car look at him. Although Maria did not see him, he saw her at once, and recognized her, and his handsome face paled. The ridiculous complexity of his position towards her had not tended to make him very happy. He had kept the secret as well as Maria; for him, as for her, a secret was a heavy burden, almost amounting to guilt. He continued to glance furtively at her from time to time. He thought that she was very pretty, and also that there was something amiss with her. He, as well as the girl, had entirely gotten over his boyish romance, but the impulse to honorable dealing and duty towards her had not in the least weakened.

When the train stopped at Ridgewood he rose. Maria did not stir. Wollaston stopped, and saw the conductor touch Maria, and heard him say, "This is your station, lady."

Maria rose mechanically and followed the conductor through the car. When she had descended the steps Wollaston, who had gotten off just in advance, stood aside and waited. He felt uneasy without just knowing why. It seemed to him that there was something strange about the girl's bearing. He thought so the more when she stood motionless on the platform and remained there a moment or more after the train had moved out; then she went towards a bench outside the station and sat down. Wollaston made up his mind that there was something strange, and that he must speak to her.

He approached her, and he could hear his heart beat. He stood in front of her, and raised his hat. Maria did not look up. Her eyes seemed fixed on a fringe of wood across the track in which some katydids were calling, late as it was. That wood, with its persistent voices of unseen things, served to turn her thought from herself, just as the cry of the child had done.

"Miss Edgham," said Wollaston, in a strained voice. It suddenly occurred to him that that was not the girl's name at all, that she was in reality Mrs. Lee, not Miss Edgham.

Maria did not seem to see him until he had repeated her name again. Then she gave a sudden start and looked up. An electric light on the platform made his face quite plain. She knew him at once. She did not make a sound, but rose with a sudden stealthy motion like that of a wild, hunted thing who leaves its covert for farther flight. But Wollaston laid his hand on her shoulder and forced her gently back to her seat. There was no one besides themselves on the platform. They were quite alone.

"Don't be afraid," he said. But Maria, looking up at him, fairly chattered with terror. Her lips were open, she made inarticulate noises like a frightened little monkey. Her eyes dilated. This seemed to her incredibly monstrous, that in fleeing she should have come to that from which she fled. All at once the species of mental coma in which she had been cleared away, and she saw herself and the horrible situation in which her flight had placed her. The man looked down at her with the utmost kindness, concern, and pity.

"Don't be afraid," he said again; but Maria continued to look at him with that cowering, hunted look.

"Where are you going?" asked Wollaston, and suddenly his voice became masterful. He realized that there was something strange, undoubtedly, about all this.

"I don't know," Maria said, dully.

"You don't know?"

"No, I don't."

Maria raised her head and looked down the track. "I am going on the train," said she, with another wild impulse.

"What train?"

"The next train."

"The next train to where?"

"The next train to Springfield," said Maria, mentioning the first city which came into her mind.

"What are you going to Springfield for so late? Have you friends there?"

"No," said Maria, in a hopeless voice.

Wollaston sat down beside her. He took one of her little, cold hands, and held it in spite of a feeble struggle on her part to draw it away. "Now, see here, Maria," he said, "I know there is something wrong. What is it?"

His tone was compelling. Maria looked straight ahead at the gloomy fringe of woods, and answered, in a lifeless voice, "I heard you were coming."

"And that is the reason you were going away?"

"Yes."

"See here, Maria," said Wollaston, eagerly, "upon my honor I did not know myself until this very afternoon that you were one of the teachers in the Westbridge Academy. If I had known I would have refused the position, although my mother was very anxious for me to accept it. I would refuse it now if it were not too late, but I promise you to resign very soon if you wish it."

"I don't care," said Maria, still in the same lifeless tone. "I am going away."

"Going where?"

"To Springfield. I don't know. Anywhere."

Wollaston leaned over her and spoke in a whisper. "Maria, do you want me to take steps to have it annulled?" he asked. "It could be very easily done. There was, after all, no marriage. It is simply a question of legality. No moral question is involved."

A burning blush spread over Maria's face. She snatched her hand away from his. "Do you think I could bear it?" she whispered back, fiercely.

"Bear what?" asked the young man, in a puzzled tone.

"The publicity, the—newspapers. Nobody has known, not one of my relatives. Do you think I could bear it?"

"I will keep the secret as long as you desire," said Wollaston. "I only wish to act honorably and for your happiness."

"There is only one reason which could induce me to give my consent to the terrible publicity," said Maria.

"What is that?"

"If—you wished to marry anybody else."

"I do not," said Wollaston, with a half-bitter laugh. "You can have your mind easy on that score. I have not thought of such a thing as possible for me."

Maria cast a look of quick interest at him. Suddenly she saw his possible view of the matter, that it might be hard for him to forego the happiness which other young men had.

"I would not shrink at all," she said, gently, "if at any time you saw anybody whom you wished to marry. You need not hesitate. I am not so selfish as that. I do not wish your life spoiled."

Wollaston laughed pleasantly. "My life is not to be spoiled because of any such reason as that," he said, "and I have not seen anybody whom I wished to marry. You know I have mother to look out for, and she makes a pleasant home for me. You need not worry about me, but sometimes I have worried a little about you, poor child."

"You need not, so far as that is concerned," cried Maria, almost angrily. A sense of shame and humiliation was over her. She did not love Wollaston Lee. She felt the same old terror and disgust at him, but it mortified her to have him think that she might wish to marry anybody else.

"Well, I am glad of that," said Wollaston. "I suppose you like your work."

"Yes."

"After all, work is the main thing," said Wollaston.

"Yes," assented Maria, eagerly.

Wollaston returned suddenly to the original topic. "Were you actually running away because you heard I was coming?" he said.

"Yes, I suppose I was," Maria replied, in a hopeless, defiant sort of fashion.

"Do you actually know anybody in Springfield?"

"No."

"Have you much money with you?"

"I had fifteen dollars and a few cents before I paid my fare here."

"Good God!" cried Wollaston. Then he added, after a pause of dismay, almost of terror, during which he looked at the pale little figure beside him, "Do you realize what might have happened to you?"

"I don't think I realized much of anything except to get away," replied Maria.

Wollaston took her hand again and held it firmly. "Now listen to me, Maria," he said. "On Monday I shall have to begin teaching in the Westbridge Academy. I don't see how I can do anything else. But now listen. I give you my word of honor, I will not show by word or deed that you are anything to me except a young lady who used to live in the same village with me. I shall have to admit that."

"I am not anything else to you," Maria flashed out.

"Of course not," Wollaston responded, quietly. "But I give you my word of honor that I will make no claim upon you, that I will resign my position when you say the word, that I will keep the wretched, absurd secret until you yourself tell me that you wish for—an annulment of the fictitious tie between us."

Maria sat still.

"You will not think of running away now, will you?" Wollaston said, and there was a caressing tone in his voice, as if he were addressing a child.

Maria did not reply at once.

"Tell me, Maria," said Wollaston. "You will not think of doing such a desperate thing, which might ruin your whole life, when I have promised you that there is no reason?"

"No, I will not," Maria said.

Wollaston rose and went nearer the electric light and looked at his watch. Then he came back. "Now, Maria, listen to me again," he said. "I have some business in Ridgewood. I would not attend to it to-night but I have made an appointment with a man and I don't see my way out of breaking it. It is about a house which I want to rent. Mother doesn't like the boarding-house at Westbridge, and in fact our furniture is on the road and I have no place to store it, and I am afraid there are other parties who want to rent this house, that I shall lose it if I do not keep the appointment. But I have only a little way to go, and it will not keep me long. I can be back easily inside of half an hour. The next train to Amity stops here in about thirty-seven minutes. Now I want you to go into the waiting-room, and sit there until I come back. Can I trust you?"

"Yes," said Maria, with a curious docility. She rose.

"You had better buy your ticket back to Amity, and when I come into the station, I think it is better that I should only bow to you, especially if others should happen to be there. Can I trust you to stay there and not get on board any train but the one which goes to Amity?"

"Yes, you can," said Maria, with the same docility which was born of utter weariness and the subjection to a stronger will.

She went into the waiting-room and bought her ticket, then sat down on a settee in the dusty, desolate place and waited. There were two women there besides herself, and they conversed very audibly about their family affairs. Maria listened absently to astonishing disclosures. The man in the ticket-office was busy at the telegraph, whose important tick made an accompaniment to the chatter of the women, both middle-aged, and both stout, and both with grievances which they aired with a certain delight. One had bought a damaged dress-pattern in Ridgewood, and had gone that afternoon to obtain satisfaction. "I set there in Yates & Upham's four mortal hours," said she, in a triumphant tone, "and they kep' comin' and askin' me things, and sayin' would I do this and that, but I jest stuck to what I said I would do in the first place, and finally they give in."

"What did you want?" asked the other woman.

"Well, I wanted my money back that I had paid for the dress, and I wanted the dressmaker paid for cuttin' it—it was all cut an' fitted—and I wanted my fares back and forth paid, too."

"You don't mean to say they did all that?" said the other woman, in a tone of admiration.

"Yes, sir, they did. Finally Mr. Upham himself came and talked with me, and he said he would allow me what I asked. I tell you I marched out of that store, when I'd got my money back, feelin' pretty well set up."

"I should think you would have," said the other woman, in an admiring tone. "You do beat the Dutch!"

Then the women fell to talking about the niece of one of them who had been jilted by her lover. "He treated her as mean as pusley," one woman said. "There he'd been keepin' company with poor Aggie three mortal years, comin' regular every Wednesday and Sunday night, and settin' up with her, and keepin' off other fellers."

"I think he treated her awful mean," assented the other woman. "I don't know what I would have said if it had been my Mamie."

Maria detected a covert tone of delight in this woman's voice. She realized instinctively that the woman had been jealous that her companion's niece had been preferred to her daughter, and was secretly glad that she was jilted. "How does she take it?" she asked.

"She just cries her eyes out, poor child," her friend answered. "She sets and cries all day, and I guess she don't sleep much. Her mother is thinkin' of sendin' her to visit her married sister Lizzie down in Hartford, and see if that won't divert her mind a little."

"I should think that would be a very good idea," said the other woman. Maria, listening listlessly, whirled about herself in the current of her own affairs, thought what a cat that woman was, and how she did not in the least care if she was a cat.

Wollaston Lee was not gone very long. He bowed and said good-evening to Maria, then seated himself at a little distance. The two women looked at him with sharp curiosity. "It would be the best thing for poor Aggie if she could get her mind set on another young man," said the woman whose niece had been jilted.

"That is so," assented the other woman.

"There's as good fish in the sea as has ever been caught, as I told her," said the first woman, with speculative eyes upon Wollaston Lee.

It was not long before the train for Amity arrived. Wollaston, with an almost imperceptible gesture, looked at Maria, who immediately arose. Wollaston sat behind her on the train. Just before they reached Amity he came forward and spoke to her in a low voice. "I have to go on to Westbridge," he said. "Will there be a carriage at the station?"

"There always is," Maria replied.

"Don't think of walking up at this hour. It is too late. What—" Wollaston hesitated a second, then he continued, in a whisper, "What are you going to tell your aunt?" he said.

"Nothing," replied Maria.

"Can you?"

"I must. I don't see any other way, unless I tell lies."

Wollaston lifted his hat, with an audible remark about the beauty of the evening, and passed through into the next car, which was a smoker. The two women of the station were seated a little in the rear across the aisle from Maria. She heard one of them say to the other, "I wonder who that girl was he spoke to?" and the other's muttered answer that she didn't know.

Contrary to her expectations, Maria did not find a carriage at the Amity station, and she walked home. It was late, and the village houses were dark. The electric lights still burned at wide intervals, lighting up golden boughs of maples until they looked like veritable branches of precious metal. Maria hurried along. She had a half-mile to walk. She did not feel afraid; a sense of confusion and relief was over her, with another dawning sense which she did not acknowledge to herself. An enormous load had been lifted from her mind; there was no doubt about that. A feeling of gratitude and confidence in the young man who had just left her warmed her through and through. When she reached her aunt's house she saw a light in the sitting-room windows, and immediately she turned into the path the door opened and her aunt stood there.

"Maria Edgham, where have you been?" asked Aunt Maria.

"I have been to walk," replied Maria.

"Been to walk! Do you know what time it is? It is 'most midnight. I've been 'most crazy. I was just goin' in to get Henry up and have him hunt for you."

"I am glad you didn't," said Maria, entering and removing her hat. She smiled at her aunt, who continued to gaze at her with the sharpest curiosity.

"Where have you been to walk this time of night?" she demanded.

Maria looked at her aunt, and said, quite gravely, "Aunt Maria, you trust me, don't you?"

"Of course I do; but I want to know. I have a right to know."

"Yes, you have," said Maria, "but I shall never tell you as long as I live where I have been to-night."

"What?"

"I shall never tell you were I have been, only you can rest assured that there is no harm—that there has been no harm."

"You don't mean to ever tell?"

"No." Maria took a lamp from the sitting-room table, lighted it, and went up-stairs.

"You are just like your mother—just as set," Aunt Maria called after her, in subdued tones. "Here I've been watchin' till I was 'most crazy."

"I am real sorry," Maria called back. "Good-night, Aunt Maria. Such a thing will never happen again."

Directly Maria was in her own room she pulled down her window-shades. She did not see a man, who had followed at a long distance all the way from the station, moving rapidly up the street. It was Wollaston Lee. He had seen, from the window of the smoker, that there was no carriage waiting, had jumped off the train, entered the station, then stolen out and followed Maria until he saw her safely in her home. Then the last trolley had gone, and he walked the rest of the way to Westbridge.



Chapter XXX

The next morning, which was Sunday, Maria could not go to church. An utter weariness and lassitude, to which she was a stranger, was over her. Evelyn remained at home with her. Evelyn still had the idea firmly fixed in her mind that Maria was grieving over Professor Lane. It was also firmly fixed in Aunt Maria's mind. Aunt Maria, who had both suspicion and imagination, had conceived a reason for Maria's mysterious absence the night before. She knew that Professor Lane was to take a night train from Westbridge. She jumped at the conclusion that Maria had gone to Westbridge to see him off, and had missed the trolley connection. There were two trolley-lines between Amity and Westbridge, and that accounted for her walking to the house. Aunt Maria was mortified and angry. She would have been mortified to have her niece so disturbed over any man who had not proposed marriage to her, but when she reflected upon Professor Lane, his sunken chest, his skinny throat, and his sparse gray hair, although he was yet a handsome man for his years, she experienced a positive nausea. She was glad when Evelyn came down in the morning and said that Maria had called to her, and said she did not want any breakfast and did not feel able to go to church.

"Do you think sister is going to be sick, Aunt Maria?" Evelyn said, anxiously. Then her sweet eyes met her aunt's, and both the young and the old maid blushed at the thought which they simultaneously had.

"Sick? No," replied Aunt Maria, crossly.

"I guess I will stay home with her, anyway," Evelyn said, timidly.

"Well, you can do jest as you are a mind to," said Aunt Maria. "I'm goin' to meetin'. If folks want to act like fools, I ain't goin' to stay at home and coddle them."

"Oh, Aunt Maria, I don't think sister acts like a fool," Evelyn said, in her sweet, distressed voice. "She looks real pale and acts all tired out."

"I guess she'll survive it," said Aunt Maria, pouring the coffee.

"Don't you think I had better make some toast and a cup of tea for her, if she does say she doesn't want any breakfast?"

"Maria Edgham is old enough to know her own mind, and if she says she don't want any breakfast I'd let her go without till she was hungry," said Aunt Maria. She adored Maria above any living thing, and just in proportion to the adoration she felt angry with her. It was a great relief to her not to see her.

"Aren't you going up-stairs and see if you think sister is sick?" Evelyn asked, as Aunt Maria was tying her bonnet-strings.

"No, I ain't," replied Aunt Maria. "It's all I can do to walk to church. I ain't goin' to climb the stairs for nothin'. I ain't worried a mite about her."

After Aunt Maria was gone Evelyn made a slice of toast, placed it on a pretty plate, and made also some tea, which she poured into a very dainty cup. Then she carried the toast and tea on a little tray up to Maria's room.

"Please sit up and drink this tea and eat this toast, sister," she said, pleadingly.

"Thank you, dear," said Maria, "but I don't feel as if I could eat anything."

"It's real nice," said Evelyn, looking with a childish wistfulness from her sister to the toast. Maria could not withstand the look. She raised herself in bed and let Evelyn place the tray on her knees. Then she forced herself to drink the tea and eat the toast. Evelyn all the time watched her with that sweet wistfulness of expression which was one of her chief charms. Evelyn, when she looked that way, was irresistible. There was so much anxious love in her tender face that it made it fairly angelic. Evelyn's dark hair was tumbling about her face like a child's, in a way which she often wore it when at home when there was no company. It was tied with a white ribbon bow. She wore a black skirt and a little red breakfast-jacket faced with white. As her sister gradually despatched the tea and toast, the look of wistfulness on her face changed to one of radiant delight. She clapped her hands.

"There," she said, "I knew you would eat your breakfast if I brought it to you. Wasn't that toast nice?"

"Delicious."

"I made it my own self. Aunt Maria was cross. Don't you think it is odd that any one who loves anybody should ever be cross?"

"It often happens," said Maria, laying back on her pillows.

"Of course, Aunt Maria loves us both, but she loves you especially; but she is often cross with you. I don't understand it."

"She doesn't love me any better than she does you, dear," said Maria.

"Oh yes, she does; but I am not jealous. I am very glad I am not, for I could be terribly jealous."

"Nonsense, precious!"

"Yes, I could. Sometimes I imagine how jealous I could be, and it frightens me."

"You must not imagine such things, dear."

"I have always imagined things," said Evelyn. Her face took on a very serious, almost weird and tragic expression. Maria had as she had often had before, a glimpse of dangerous depths of emotion in her sister's character.

"That is no reason why you should always imagine," she said, with a little, weary sigh.

Directly the look of loving solicitude appeared on Evelyn's face. She went close to her sister, and laid her soft, glowing cheek against hers.

"I am so sorry, dearest," she said. "Sorry for whatever troubles you."

"What makes you think anything troubles me?"

"You seem to me as if something troubled you."

"Nothing does," said Maria. She pushed Evelyn gently away and sat up. "I was only tired out," she said, firmly. "The breakfast has made me feel better. I will get up now and write some letters."

"Wouldn't you rather lie still and let me read to you?"

"No, dear, thank you. I will get up now."

Evelyn remained in the room while her sister brushed her hair and dressed. "I wonder what kind of a man the new principal will be?" she said, looking dreamily out of the window. She had, in fact, already had her dreams about him. As yet she had admitted men to her dreams only, but she had her dreams. She did not notice her sister's change of color. She continued to gaze absently out of the window at the autumn landscape. A golden maple branch swung past the window in a crisp breeze, now and then a leaf flew away like a yellow bird and became a part of the golden carpet on the ground. "Addie Hemingway says he is very handsome," she said, meditatively. "Do you remember him, sister—that is, do you remember how he looked when he was a boy?"

"As I remember him he was a very good-looking boy," Maria said.

"I wonder if he is engaged?" Evelyn said.

Suddenly her soft cheeks flamed.

"I don't see what that matters to you," Maria retorted, in a tone which she almost never used towards Evelyn—"to you or any of the other girls. Mr. Lee is coming to teach you, not to become engaged to his pupils."

"Of course I know he is," Evelyn said, humbly. "I didn't mean to be silly, sister. I was only wondering."

"The less a young girl wonders about a man the better," Maria said.

"Well, I won't wonder, only it does seem rather natural to wonder. Didn't you use to wonder when you were a young girl, sister?"

"It does not make it right if I did."

"I don't think you could do anything wrong, sister," Evelyn returned, with one of her glances of love and admiration. Suddenly Maria wondered herself what a man would do if he were to receive one of those glances.

Evelyn continued her little chatter. "Of course none of us girls ever wondered about Professor Lane, because he was so old," she said. Then she caught herself with an anxious glance at her sister. "But he was very handsome, too," she added, "and I don't know why we shouldn't have thought about him, and he wasn't so very old. I think Colorado will cure him."

"I hope so," Maria said, absently. She had no more conception of what was in Evelyn's mind with regard to herself and Professor Lane than she had of the thought of an inhabitant of Mars. Ineffable distances of surmise and imagination separated the two in the same room.

Evelyn continued: "Mr. Lee isn't married, anyway," she said. "Addie said so. His mother keeps house for him. Wasn't that a dreadful thing in the paper last night, sister?"

"What?" asked Maria.

"About that girl's getting another woman's husband to fall in love with her, and get a divorce, and then marrying him. I don't see how she could. I would rather die than marry a man who had been divorced. I would think of the other wife all the time. Don't you think it was dreadful, sister?"

"Why do you read such things?" asked Maria, and there was a hard ring in her voice. It seemed to her that she was stretched on a very rack of innocence and ignorance.

"It was all there was in the paper to read," replied Evelyn, "except advertisements. There were pictures of the girl, and the wife, and the man, and the two little children. Of course it was worse because there were children, but it was dreadful anyway. I would never speak to that girl again, not if she had been my dearest friend."

"You had better read a library book, if there is nothing better than that to read in a paper," said Maria.

"There wasn't, except a prize-fight, and I don't care anything about prize-fights, and I believe there were races, too, but I don't know anything about races."

"I don't see that you know very much about marriage and divorce," Maria said, adjusting her collar.

"Are you angry with me, sister? Don't you want me to fasten your collar?"

"No, I can fasten it myself, thank you, dear. No, I am not angry with you, only I do wish you wouldn't read such stuff. Put the paper away, and get a book instead."

"I will if you want me to, sister," replied Evelyn.



Chapter XXXI

The Monday when the fall term of the academy at Westbridge opened was a very beautiful day. The air was as soft as summer, but with a strange, pungent quality which the summer had lacked. There was a slightly smoky scent which exhilarated. It was a scent of death coming from bonfires of dead leaves and drying vegetation, and yet it seemed to presage life. When Maria and Evelyn went out to take the trolley for Westbridge, Maria wore a cluster of white chrysanthemums pinned to her blouse. The blouse itself was a very pretty one, worn with a black plaited skirt. It was a soft silk of an old-rose shade, and it was trimmed with creamy lace. Maria had left off her mourning. Evelyn looked with a little surprise at Maria's blouse.

"Why, you've got on your pink blouse, sister," she said.

Maria colored softly, for no ostensible reason. "Yes," she said.

"You don't generally wear it to school."

"I thought as long as it was the first day," Maria said, in a slightly faltering tone. She bent her head until her rose-wreathed hat almost concealed her face. The sisters stood in front of the house waiting for their car. Evelyn made a sudden little run back into the yard.

"You hold the car!" she cried.

"I don't know that they will wait; you must not stop," Maria called out. But the car had just stopped when Evelyn returned, and she had a little cluster of snowberries pinned in the front of her red gown. She looked bewitchingly over them at Maria when they were seated side by side in the car.

"I guess I was going to wear flowers as well as some other folks," she whispered with a soft, dark glance at her sister from under her long lashes. Maria smiled.

"You don't need to wear flowers," she said.

"Why not as well as you?"

"Oh, you are a flower yourself," Maria said, looking fondly at her.

Indeed, the young girl looked like nothing so much as a rose, with her tenderly curved pink cheeks, the sweet arch of her lips, and her glowing radiance of smiles. Maria looked at her critically, then bade her turn that she might fasten a hook on her collar which had become unfastened.

"Now you are all right," she said.

Evelyn smiled. "Don't you think these snowberries are pretty with this red dress?" she asked.

"Lovely."

"I wonder what the new principal will be like," Evelyn said, musingly, after riding awhile in silence.

"I presume he will be very much like other young men. The main thing to consider is, if he is a good teacher," Maria said.

"What makes you cross, sister?" Evelyn whispered plaintively.

"I am not cross, only I don't want you to be silly."

"I am not silly. All the girls are wondering, too. I am only like other girls. You can't expect me to be just like you, Maria. Of course you are older, and you don't wonder, and then, too, you knew him when he was a boy. Is he light or dark?"

"Light," Maria replied, looking out of the window.

"Sometimes light children grow dark as they grow older," said Evelyn. "I hope he hasn't. I like light men better than dark, don't you, Maria?"

"I don't like one more than another," said Maria shortly.

"Of course I know you don't in one way. Don't be so cross," Evelyn said in a hurt way. "But almost everybody has an opinion about light and dark men."

Maria looked out of the window, and Evelyn said no more, but she felt a sorrowful surprise at her sister. Evelyn was so used to being petted and admired that the slightest rebuff, especially a rebuff from Maria, made her incredulous. It really seemed to her that Maria must be ill to speak so shortly to her. Then she remembered poor Professor Lane, and how in all probability Maria was thinking about him this morning, and that made her irritable, and how she, Evelyn, ought to be very patient. Evelyn was in reality very patient and very slow to take offence. So she snuggled gently up to her sister, until her slender, red-clad shoulder touched Maria's, and looked pleasantly around through the car, and again wondered privately about the new principal.

They had a short walk after leaving the car to the academy. As they turned into the academy grounds, which were quite beautiful with trees and shrubs, a young man was mounting the broad flight of granite steps which led to the main entrance. Evelyn touched Maria agitatedly on the arm. "Oh, Maria," said she.

"What?"

"Is that—he?"

"I think so. I saw only his back, but I should think so. I don't see what other young man could be going into the building. It was certainly not the janitor, nor Mr. Hughes" (Mr. Hughes was the music-teacher) replied Maria calmly, although she was pale.

"Oh, if that was he, I think he is splendid," whispered Evelyn.

Maria said nothing as the two proceeded along the fine gravel walk between hydrangeas, and inverted beech-trees, and symmetrically trimmed firs.

"He is light," Evelyn said, meditatively. "I am glad of that." As she spoke she put her hand to her head and adjusted her hair, then her hat. She threw back her shoulders. She preened herself, innocently and unconsciously, like a little bird. Maria did not notice it. She had her own thoughts, and she was using all her power of self-control to conceal her agitation. It seemed to her as she entered the building as if her secret was written upon her face, as if everybody must read as they ran. But she removed her coat and hat, and took her place with the other assistants upon the platform in the chapel of the academy where the morning exercises were held. She spoke to the other teachers, and took her usual seat. Wollaston was not yet there. The pupils were flocking into the room, which was picturesque with a dome-shaped ceiling, and really fine frescoed panels on the walls. Directly opposite the platform was a large oriel-window of stained glass, the gift of the founder. Rays of gold and green and blue and crimson light filtered through, over the assembling school. Maria saw Evelyn with her face turned towards the platform eagerly watching. She was not looking at Maria, but was evidently expecting the advent of the new principal. It did not at that time occur to Maria to attribute any serious meaning to the girl's attitude. She merely felt a sort of impatience with her, concerning her attitude, when she herself knew what she knew.

Suddenly a sort of suppressed stir was evident among those of the pupils who were seated. Maria felt a breeze from an open door, and knew that Wollaston had entered. He spoke first to her, calling her by name, and bidding her good-morning, then to the other teachers. The others were either residents of Westbridge, or boarded there, and he had evidently been introduced to them before. Then he took his seat, and waited quietly for the pupils to become seated. It lacked only a few minutes of the time for opening the school. It was not long before the seats were filled, and Maria heard Wollaston's voice reading a selection from the Bible. Then she bent her head, and heard him offering prayer. She felt a sort of incredulity now. It seemed to her inconceivable that the boy whom she had known could be actually conducting the opening exercises of a school with such imperturbability and self-possession. All at once a great pride of possession seized her. She glanced covertly at him between her fingers. The secret which had been her shame suddenly filled her with the possibility of pride. Wollaston Lee, standing there, seemed to her the very grandest man whom she had ever seen. He was undoubtedly handsome, and he had, moreover, power. When he had finished his prayer, and had begun his short address to the scholars, she glanced at him again, and saw what splendid shoulders he had, how proudly he held his head, and yet what a boyish ingenuousness went with it all. Maria did not look at Evelyn at all. Had she done so, she would have been startled. Evelyn was gazing at the new principal with the utmost unreserve, the unreserve of awakened passion which does not know itself because of innocence and ignorance. Evelyn, gazing at the young man, had never been so unconscious of herself, and at the same time she had never been so conscious. She felt a life to which she had been hitherto a stranger tingling through every vein and nerve of her young body, through every emotion of her young soul. She gazed with wide-open eyes like a child, the rose flush deepened on her cheeks, her parted lips became moist and deep crimson, pulses throbbed in her throat. She smiled involuntarily, a smile of purest delight and admiration. Love twofold had awakened within her emotional nature. Love of herself, as she might be seen in another's eyes, and love of another. And yet she did not know it was love, and she felt no shame, and no fright, nothing but rapture. She was in the broad light of the present, under the direct rays of a firmament of life and love. Another girl, Addie Hemingway, who was no older than Evelyn, but shrewd beyond her years, with a taint of coarseness, noticed her, and nudged the girl at her right. "Just look at Evelyn Edgham," she whispered.

The other girl looked.

"I suppose she thinks she'll catch him, she's so awful pretty," whispered Addie maliciously.

"I don't think she is so very pretty," whispered back the other girl, who was pretty herself and disposed to assert her own claims to attention.

"She thinks she is," whispered back Addie. "Just see how bold she looks at him. I should think she would be ashamed of herself."

"So should I," nodded the other girl.

But Evelyn had no more conception of the propriety of shame than nature itself. She was pure nature. Presently Wollaston himself, who had been making his address to his pupils with a vague sense of an upturned expanse of fresh young faces of boys and girls, without any especial face arresting his attention, saw Evelyn with a start which nobody, man or woman, could have helped. She was so beautiful that she could no more be passed unnoticed than a star. Wollaston made an almost imperceptible pause in his discourse, then he continued, fixing his eyes upon the oriel-window opposite. He realized himself as surprised and stirred, but he was not a young man whom a girl's beauty can rouse at once to love. He had, moreover, a strong sense of honor and duty. He realized Maria was his legal wife. He was, although he had gotten over his boyish romance, which had been shocked out of him at the time of his absurd marriage, in an attitude of soul which was ready for love, and love for his wife. He had often said to himself that no other honorable course was possible for either Maria or himself: that it was decidedly best that they should fall in love with each other and make their marriage a reality. At the same time, something more than delicacy and shyness restrained him from making advances. He was convinced that Maria not only disliked but feared him. A great pity for her was in his heart, and also pride, which shrank from exposing itself to rebuffs. Yet he did not underestimate himself. He considered that he had as good a chance as any man of winning her affection and overcoming her present attitude towards him. He saw no reason why he should not. While he was not conceited, he knew perfectly well his advantages as to personal appearance. He also was conscious of the integrity of his purpose as far as she was concerned. He knew that, whenever she should be willing to accept him, he should make her a good husband, and he recognized his readiness and ability to love her should she seem ready to welcome his love. He, however, was very proud even while conscious of his advantages, and consequently easily wounded. He could not forget Maria's look of horror when she had recognized him the Saturday before. A certain resentment towards her because of it was over him in spite of himself. He said to himself that he had not deserved that look, that he had done all that mortal man could do to shield her from a childish tragedy, for which he had not been to blame in any greater degree than she. He said to himself that she might at least have had confidence in his honor and his generosity. However, pity for her and that readiness to do his duty—to love her—were uppermost. The quick glance which he had given Maria that morning had filled him with pleasure. Maria, in her dull-rose blouse, with her cluster of chrysanthemums, with her fair, emotional face held by sheer force of will in a mould of serenity, with her soft yellow coils of hair and her still childish figure, was charming. After that one glance at Evelyn, with her astonishing beauty, he thought no more about her. When his address was finished the usual routine of the school began.

He did not see Maria again all day. She had her own class-room, and at noon she and Evelyn ate their luncheon together there. Evelyn did not say a word about the new principal. She was very quiet. She did not eat as usual.

"Don't you feel well, dear?" asked Maria.

"Yes, sister," replied Evelyn. Then suddenly her lips quivered and a tear rolled down the lovely curve of her cheek.

"Why, Evelyn, precious, what is the matter?" asked Maria.

"Nothing," muttered Evelyn. Then suddenly, to her sister's utter astonishment, the young girl sprang up and ran out of the room.

Maria was sure that she heard a muffled sob. She thought for a second of following her, then she had some work to do before the afternoon session, and she also had a respect for others' desires for secrecy, possibly because of her long carrying about of her own secret. She sat at her table with her forehead frowning uneasily, and wrote, and did not move to follow Evelyn.

Evelyn, when she rushed out of the class-room, took instinctively her way towards a little but dense grove in the rear of the academy. It was a charming little grove of firs and maples, and there were a number of benches under the trees for the convenience of the pupils. It was rather singular that there was nobody there. Usually during the noon-hour many ate their luncheons under the shadow of the trees. However, the wind had changed, and it was cool. Then, too, the reunions among the old pupils were probably going on to better advantage in the academy, and many had their luncheons at a near-by restaurant. However it happened, Evelyn, running with the tears in her eyes, her heart torn with strange, new emotion which as yet she could not determine the nature of, whether it was pain or joy, found the grove quite deserted. The cold sunlight came through the golden maple boughs and lay in patches on the undergrowth of drying golden-rod and asters. Under the firs and pines it was gloomy, and a premonition of winter was in the air. Evelyn sat down on a bench under a pine-tree, and began to weep quite unrestrainedly. She did not know why. She heard the song of the pine over her head, and it seemed to increase her apparently inconsequent grief. In reality she wept the tears of the world, the same which a new-born child sheds. Her sorrow was the mysterious sorrow of existence itself. She wept because of the world, and her life in it, and her going out of it, because of its sorrow, which is sweetened with joy, and its joy embittered with sorrow. But she did not know why she wept. Evelyn was cast on very primitive moulds, and she had been very unrestrained, first by the indifference of her mother, then by the love of her father and sister and aunt. It was enough for Evelyn that she wished to weep that she wept. No other reason seemed in the least necessary to her. In front of where she sat was a large patch of sunlight overspreading a low growth of fuzzy weeds, which shone like silver, and a bent thicket of dry asters which were still blue although withered.

All at once Evelyn became aware that this patch of sunlight was darkened, and she looked up in a sweet confusion. Her big, dark eyes were not in the least reddened by her tears; they only glittered with them. Her lips, slightly swollen, only made her lovelier.

Directly before her stood the new principal, and he was gazing down at her with a sort of consternation, pity, and embarrassment. Wollaston was in reality wishing himself anywhere else. A woman's tears aroused in him pity and irritation. He wished to pass on, but it seemed too impossible to do so and leave this lovely young creature in such distress without a word of inquiry. He therefore paused, and his slightly cold, blue eyes met Evelyn's brilliant, tearful ones with interrogation.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked. "Shall I call any one? Are you ill?"

Evelyn felt hurt and disturbed by his look and tone. New tears welled up in her eyes. She shook her head with a slight pout. Wollaston passed on. Evelyn raised her head and gazed after him with an indescribable motion, the motion of a timid, wild thing of the woods, which pursues, but whose true instinct is to be pursued. Suddenly she rose, and ran after him, and was by his side.

"I am ashamed you should have seen—" she said, brokenly. "I was crying for nothing."

Wollaston looked down at her and smiled. She also was smiling through her tears. "Young ladies should not cry for nothing," he said, with a whimsical, school-master manner.

"It seems to me that nothing is the most terrible thing in the whole world to cry for," replied Evelyn, with unconscious wisdom, but she still smiled. Again her eyes met the young man's, and her innocently admiring gaze was full upon his, and that happened which was inevitable, one of the chain of sequences of life itself. His own eyes responded ardently, and the girl's eyes fell before the man's. At the same time there was no ulterior significance in the man's look, which was merely in evidence of a passing emotion to which he was involuntarily subject. He had not the slightest thought of any love, which his look seemed to express for this little beauty of a girl, whose name he did not even know. But he slackened his pace, and Evelyn walked timidly beside him over the golden net-work of sunlight in the path. Evelyn spoke first.

"You came from Edgham, Mr. Lee," she said.

Wollaston looked at her. "Yes. Do you know anybody there?"

Evelyn laughed. "I came from there myself," she said, "and so did my sister, Maria. Maria is one of the teachers, you know."

Evelyn wondered why Mr. Lee's face changed, not so much color but expression.

"Oh, you are Miss Edgham's sister?" he exclaimed.

"Yes. I am her sister—her half-sister."

"Let me see; you are in the senior class."

"Yes," replied Evelyn. Then she added, "Did you remember my sister?"

"Oh yes," replied Wollaston. "We used to go to school together."

"She cannot have altered," said Evelyn. "She always looks just the same to me, anyway."

"She does to me," said Lee, and there was in inflection in his voice which caused Evelyn to give a startled glance at him. But he continued, quite naturally, "Your sister looks just as I remember her, only, of course, a little taller and more dignified."

"Maria is dignified," said Evelyn, "but of course she has taught school a long time, and a school-teacher has to be dignified."

"Are you intending to teach school?" asked Lee, and even as he asked the question he felt amused. The idea of this flower-like thing teaching school, or teaching anything, was absurd. She was one of the pupils of life, not one of the expounders.

"No, I think not," said Evelyn. Then she said, "I have never thought about it." Then an incomprehensible little blush flamed upon her cheeks. Evelyn was thinking that she should be married instead of doing anything else, but that the man did not consider. He was singularly unversed in feminine nature.

A bell rang from the academy, and Evelyn turned about with reluctance. "There is the bell," said she. She was secretly proud although somewhat abashed at being seen walking back to the academy with the new principal. Addie Hemingway was looking out of a window, and she said to the other girl, the same whom she had addressed in the chapel:

"See, Evelyn Edgham has got him in tow already."

That night, when Maria and Evelyn arrived home, Aunt Maria asked Evelyn how she liked the new principal. "Oh, he's perfectly splendid," replied Evelyn. Then she blushed vividly. Aunt Maria noticed it and gave a swift glance at Maria, but Maria did not notice it at all. She was so wrapped in her own dreams that she was abstracted. After she went to bed that night she lay awake a long time dreaming, just as she had done when she had been a little girl. Her youth seemed to rush back upon her like a back-flood. She caught herself dreaming of love-scenes in that same little wood where Wollaston and Evelyn had walked that day. She never thought of Evelyn and the possibility of her thinking of Wollaston. But Evelyn, in her little, white, maiden bed, was awake and dreaming too. Outside the wind was blowing and the leaves dropping and the eternal stars shining overhead. It seemed as if so much maiden-dreaming in the house should make it sound with song, but it was silent and dark to the night. Only the reflection of the street-lamp made it evident at all to occasional passers. It is well that the consciousness of human beings is deaf to such emotions, or all individual dreams would cease because of the multiple din.



Chapter XXXII

Evelyn, as the weeks went on, did not talk as much as she had been accustomed to do. She did not pour her confidences into her sister's ears. She never spoke of the new principal. She studied assiduously, and stood exceedingly well in all her classes. She had never taken so much pains with her pretty costumes. When her mother sent her a Christmas present of a Paris gown, she danced with delight. There was to be a Christmas-tree in the academy chapel, and she planned to wear it. Although it was a Paris gown it was simple enough, a pretty, girlish frock of soft white cloth, with touches of red. "I can wear holly in my hair, and it will be perfectly lovely," Evelyn said. But she came down with such a severe cold and sore throat at the very beginning of the holidays that going to Westbridge was out of the question. Evelyn lamented over the necessity of her staying at home like a child. She even cried.

"I wouldn't be such a baby," said Aunt Maria. At times Aunt Maria could not quite forgive Evelyn for being Ida Slome's child, especially when she showed any weakness. She looked severely now at poor Evelyn, in her red house-wrapper, weeping in her damp little handkerchief. "I should think you were about ten," she said.

Evelyn wiped her eyes and sniffed. Her throat was very sore, and her cold was also in her head. Her pretty lips were disfigured with fever-sores. Her eyes were inflamed.

"You wouldn't want to go looking the way you do, anyhow," said Aunt Maria, pitilessly.

After Aunt Maria went out of the room, Maria, who was putting some finishing-touches to the gown which she herself was to wear to the Christmas-tree, went over to her sister and knelt down beside her. "Poor darling," she said. "Don't you want me to stay at home with you?"

Evelyn pushed her away gently, with a fresh outburst of tears. "No," she said. "Don't come so close, Maria, or you will catch it. Everybody says it is contagious. No, I wouldn't have you stay at home for anything. I am not a pig, if I am disappointed. But Aunt Maria need not be so cross."

"Aunt Maria does not mean to be cross, sweetheart," said Maria, stroking her sister's fluffy, dark head. "Are you sure that you do not want me to stay home with you, dear?"

"Perfectly sure," replied Evelyn. "I want you to go so you can tell me about it."

Evelyn had not the slightest idea of jealousy of Maria. While she admired her, it really never occurred to her, so naive she was in her admiration of herself, that anybody could think her more attractive than she was and fall in love with her, to her neglect. She had not the least conception of what this Christmas-tree meant to her older sister: the opportunity of seeing Wollaston Lee, of talking with him, of perhaps some attention on his part. Maria was to return to Amity on the last trolley from Westbridge. It was quite a walk from the academy. She dreamed of Wollaston's escorting her to the trolley-line. She dressed herself with unusual care when the day came. She had a long, trailing gown of a pale-blue cloth and a blue knot for her yellow hair. She also had quite a pretentious blue evening cloak. Christmas afternoon a long box full of pale-yellow roses arrived. There was a card enclosed which Maria caught up quickly and concealed without any one seeing her. Wollaston had sent her the roses. Her heart beat so hard and fast that it seemed the others must hear it. She bent over the roses. "How perfectly lovely!" she said.

Aunt Maria took up the box and lifted the flowers out carefully. "There isn't any card," she said. "I wonder who sent them?" All at once a surmise seized her that Professor Lane, who was said to be regaining his health in Colorado, had sent an order to the Westbridge florist for these flowers. Simultaneously the thought came to Evelyn, but Eunice, who was in the room, looked bewildered. When Maria carried the roses out to put them in water, she turned to her sister-in-law. "Who on earth do you suppose sent them?" she whispered.

Aunt Maria looked at her, and formed Professor Lane's name noiselessly with her lips, giving her at the same time a knowing nod. Eunice looked at Evelyn, who also nodded, although with a somewhat disturbed expression. She still did not feel quite reconciled to the idea of her sister's loving Professor Lane.

"I didn't know," said Eunice.

"Nobody knows; but we sort of surmise," said Aunt Maria.

"Why, he's old enough to be her father," Eunice said.

"What of that, if he only gets cured of his consumption?" said Aunt Maria. She herself felt disgusted, but she had a pleasure in concealing her disgust from her sister-in-law. "Lots of girls would jump at him," said she.

"I wouldn't have when I was a girl," Eunice remarked, in a mildly reminiscent manner.

"You don't know what you would have done if you hadn't got my brother," said Aunt Maria.

"I would never have married anybody," Eunice replied, with a fervent, faithful look. As she spoke, she seemed to see Henry Stillman as he had been, when a young man and courting her, and she felt as if a king had passed her field of memory to the exclusion of all others.

"Maybe you wouldn't have," said her sister-in-law, "but nowadays girls have to take what they can get. Men ain't so anxious to marry. When a man had to have all his shirts and dickeys made he was helpless, to say nothing of his pants, but nowadays he can get everything ready-made, and it doesn't make so much difference to him whether he gets married or not. He can have a good deal more for himself, if he's an old bachelor."

"Maybe you are right," said Eunice, "but I know when I was a girl Maria's age I wouldn't have let an old man like Professor Lane, with the consumption, too, tie my shoes. Do you suppose he really sent her the roses?"

"Who else could have sent them?"

"They must have cost an awful sight of money," said Eunice, in an awed tone. Then she stopped, for Maria re-entered the room with the roses in a tall vase. She wore some of them pinned to the shoulder of her blue gown that evening. She knew who had sent them, and it seemed to her that she did not overestimate the significance of the sending. When she started for Westbridge that evening she was radiant. She had the roses carefully pinned in tissue-paper to protect them from the cold; her long, blue cloak swept about her in graceful folds, she wore a blue hat with a long, blue feather.

"Why didn't you wear a head tie?" asked Aunt Maria. "Ain't you afraid you will spoil that hat if you take it off? The feather will get all mussy."

"I shall put it in a safe place," replied Maria, smiling. She blushed as she spoke. She knew perfectly well herself why she wore that hat, because she thought Wollaston might escort her to the trolley, and she wished to appear at her best in his eyes. Maria no longer disguised from herself the fact that she loved this man who was her husband and not her husband. She knew that she was entirely ready to respond to his advances, should he make any, that she would be happier than she had ever been in her whole life if the secret which had been the horror of her life should be revealed. She wondered if it would not be better to have another wedding. That night she had not much doubt of Wollaston's love for her. When she entered the car, and saw besides herself several young girls prinked in their best, who were also going to the Christmas-tree, she felt a sort of amused pride, that all their prinking and preening was in vain. She assumed that all of them had dressed to attract Wollaston. She could not think of any other man whom any girl could wish to attract. She sat radiant with her long, blue feather sweeping the soft, yellow puff of her hair. She gave an affect of smiling at everybody, at all creation. She really felt for the first time that she could remember a sense of perfect acquiescence with the universal scheme of things, therefore she felt perfect content and happiness. She thought how wonderful it was that poor Gladys Mann, lying in her unmarked grave this Christmas-time, should have been the means, all unwittingly, of bringing such bliss to herself. She thought how wonderful that Evelyn's loss should have been the first link in such a sequence. She thought of Evelyn with a sort of gratitude, as if she had done something incalculable for her. She also thought of her as always with the utmost love and pride and tenderness. She reflected with pleasure on the gift which she herself had hung on the tree for Evelyn, and how pleased the child would be. It was a tiny gold brooch with a pearl in the centre. Evelyn was very fond of ornaments. Maria did not once imagine of the possibility that Evelyn could have any dreams herself with regard to Wollaston. She did not in reality think of Evelyn as old enough to have any dreams at all which need be considered seriously, and least of all about Wollaston Lee. She nodded to a young man, younger than herself, who was in Evelyn's class at the academy, who sat across the aisle, and he returned the nod eagerly. He was well grown, and handsome, and looked as old as Maria herself. Presently as the car began to fill up, he crossed the aisle, and asked if he might sit beside her. Maria made room at once. She smiled at the young fellow with her smile which belonged in reality to another man, and he took it for himself. Perhaps nothing on earth is so misappropriated as smiles and tears. The seat was quite narrow. It was necessary to sit rather close, in any event, but presently Maria felt the boy's broad shoulder press unmistakably against hers. She shrank away with an imperceptible motion. She did not feel so much angry as amused at the thought that this great boy should be making love to her, when all her heart was with some one else, when she could not even give him a pleasant look which belonged wholly to him. Maria leaned against the window, and gazed out at the flying shadows. "I am glad it is so pleasant," she said in a perfectly unconcerned voice.

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