If the woman could have spoken without laughing! That little meaningless trill at the end of everything made Diana nearly wild. She could find no answer to the last speech, and so remained silent.
"Now I have seen you again, I declare I don't wonder at anything. I was inclined to quarrel with him, you know, thinking it was just a boyish foolish fancy that he ought to get over; I was a little out of patience with him; but now I see you, I take it all back. I declare, you're a woman the men might rave about. You mustn't mind if they do."
"There is another question, whether my husband will mind." She said the words with a hard, relentless force upon herself.
"Is he jealous?" laughing.
"He has no reason."
"Reason! O, people are jealous without reason; they don't wait for that. Better without than with. How is Mr. Masters? is he one of that kind? And how came he to marry you?"
"You ought not to wonder at it, with the opinion you have expressed of me."
"O no, I don't wonder at all! But somebody else wanted to marry you too; and somebody else thought he had the best right. I am afraid you flirted with him. Or was it with Mr. Masters you flirted? I didn't think you were a girl to flirt; but I see! You would keep just quietly still, and they would flutter round you, like moths round a candle, and it would be their own fault if they both got burned. Has Mr. Masters got burned? My poor moth has singed his wings badly, I can tell you. I am very sorry for him."
"So am I," Diana said gravely.
"Are you? Are you really? Are you sorry for him? May I tell him you are sorry?"
"You have not said whom you are talking about," Diana answered, with a coldness which she wondered at when she said it.
"O, but you know! There is only one person I could be talking about. There is only one I could care enough about to be talking for him. You cannot help but know. May I tell him you say you are sorry for him? It would be a sort of comfort, and he wants it."
"You must ask Mr. Masters."
"Whether I may tell Evan you are sorry for him?"
"Whether you may tell that to anybody."
"I don't want to tell it to but one," said Mrs. Reverdy, laughing. "What has Mr. Masters to do with it?"
"He is my husband." And calmly as Diana said it, she felt as if she would like to shriek out the words to the birds on the hillside—to the angels, if there were angels in the air. Yet she said it calmly.
"But do you ask your husband about everything you do or say?"
"If I think he would not like it."
"But that is giving him a great deal of power,—too much. Husband's are fallible, as well as wives," said Mrs. Reverdy, laughing.
"Mr. Masters is not fallible. At least, I never saw him fail in anything. If he ever made a mistake, it was when he married me."
"And you?" said Mrs. Reverdy. "Didn't you make a mistake too?"
"In marrying somebody so much too good for me—yes," Diana answered.
The little woman was a good deal baffled.
"Then have you really no kind word for Evan? must I tell him so?"
Diana felt as if her brain would have reeled in another minute. Before she could answer, came the sound of a little wailing cry from the room up-stairs, and she started up. That movement was sudden, but the next were collected and slow. "You will excuse me," she said,—"I hear baby,"—and she passed from the room like a princess. If her manner had been less discouraging, I think Mrs. Reverdy would have still pursued her point, and asked leave to follow her and see the baby; but Diana's slow, languid dignity and gracious composure imposed upon the little woman, and she gave up the game; at least for the present. When Miss Collins, set free, hurried down, Mrs. Reverdy was gone.
HUSBAND AND WIFE.
Had she no kind word for Evan? Diana felt as if her heart would snap some one of its cords, and give over its weary beating at once and for ever. No kind word for Evan? her beloved, her betrayed, her life-treasure once, towards whom still all the wealth of her heart longed to pour itself out; and she might not send him one kind word? And he did not know that she had been true to him; and yet he had remained true to her. Might he not know so much as that, and that her heart was breaking as well as his? Only it would not break. All the pain of death without its cessation of consciousness. Why not let him have one word to know that she loved him still, and would always love him? Truth—truth and duty—loyal faith to her husband, the man whom in her mistake she had married. O, why could not such mistakes be undone! But they never could, never. It was a living death that she was condemned to die.
I cannot say that Diana really wavered at all in her truth; but this was an hour of storm never to be remembered without shuddering. She had her baby in her arms, but the mother's instincts were for the time swallowed up in the stormier passions of the woman. She cared for it and ministered to it, tenderly as ever, yet in a mechanical, automatic sort of way, taking no comfort and finding no relief in her sweet duty. It was the roar of the storm and the howling of temptation which overwhelmed every other voice in her heart. Then there were practical questions to be met. Mrs. Reverdy and her family at Elmfield, who could guarantee that Evan would not get a furlough and come there too? Mrs. Reverdy's words seemed to have some ultimate design, which they had not indeed declared; they had the air of somewhat different from mere aimless rattle or mischievous gossip. Suppose Evan were to come? What then?
The baby went off to sleep, and was laid away in its crib, and the mother stood alone at the window wrestling with her pain. She felt helpless in the grasp of it as almost never before. Danger was looming up and threatening dark in the distance; there might be a whirlwind coming out of that storm quarter, and how was she going to stand in the whirlwind? Beyond the wordless cry which meant "Lord help me!"—Diana could hardly pray at all at this moment; and the feeling grew that she must have human help. "Tell Basil"—a whisper said in her heart. She had shunned that thought always; she had judged it no use; now she was driven to it. He must know the whole. Perhaps then he could tell her what to do.
As soon as Diana's mind through all its tossings and turnings had fixed upon this point, she went immediately from thought to action. It was twilight now, or almost. Basil would not come home in time for a talk before supper; supper must be ready, so as to have no needless delay. She could wait, now she knew what she would do; though there was a fire burning at heart and brain. She went down-stairs and ordered something to be got ready for supper; finished the arrangement of the tea-table, which her husband liked to have very dainty; picked a rose for his plate, though it seemed dreadful mockery; and as soon as she heard his step at the door she made the tea. What an atmosphere of sweet, calm brightness he brought in with him, and always brought. It struck Diana now with the kind of a shiver which a person in a fever feels at the touch of fresh air. Yet she recognised the beauty of it, and it fortified her in her resolve. She would be true to this man, though she died for it! There was nothing but truth in him.
She got through the meal-time as she could; swallowed tea, and even ate bread, without knowing how it tasted, and heard Basil talk without knowing what he said. As soon as she could she went up-stairs to the baby, and waited till her husband should come too. But when he came, he came to her, and did not go to his study.
"Basil I want to speak to you—will you come into the other room?" she said huskily.
"Won't this room do to talk in?"
"No. It is over the kitchen."
"Jemima knows I never quarrel"—said Basil lightly; however, he led the way into the study. He set a chair for Diana and took another himself, but she remained standing.
"Basil—is God good?" she said.
"Yes. Inexpressibly good."
"Then why does he let such things happen?"
"Sit down, Di. You are not strong enough to talk standing. Such things? What things?"
"Why does he let people be tempted above what they can bear?"
"He never does—his children—if that is what you mean. He always provides a way of escape."
"At Christ's feet."
"Basil, how can I get there?" she said with a sob.
"You are there, my darling," he said, putting her gently into the easy-chair she had disregarded. "Those who trust in him, his hand never lets go. They may seem to themselves to lose their standing—they may not feel the ground under their feet—but he knows; and he will not let them fall. If they hold fast to him, Diana."
"Basil, you don't know the whole."
"Do you want to tell me?"
Her voice was abrupt and hoarse; his was calm and cool as the fall of the dew.
"I want to tell you if I can. But I shall hurt you."
"I am very willing, if it eases you. Go on."
"It wont ease me. But you must know it. You ought to know. O, Basil, I made such a mistake when I married you!"—
She did not mean to say anything so bitter as that; she was where she could not measure her words. Perhaps his face paled a little; in the faint light she could not see the change of colour. His voice did not change.
"What new has brought that up?"
"Nothing new. Something old. O Basil—his sister has been here to-day to see me."
"Has she?" His voice did change a little then. "What did she come for?"
"I don't know. And he will be here, perhaps, by and by. O Basil, do you know who it is? And what shall I do?"
Diana had sprung up from her chair and dropped down on the floor by her husband's side, and hid her face in her hands on his knee. His hand passed tenderly, sorrowfully, over the beautiful hair, which lay in disordered, bright, soft masses over head and neck. For a moment he did not speak.
"Basil—do you know who it is?"
"What shall I do?"
"What do you want to do, Diana?"
"Right"—she said, gasping, without looking up.
"I am sure of it!" he said tenderly. "Well, then—the only way is, to go on and do right, Diana."
"But how can I? how shall I? Suppose he comes? O Basil, it was all a mistake; he wrote, and mother kept back the letters, and I never got them; he sent them, and I never got them; and I thought he was not true and it did not matter what I did, and I honoured you above everything, Basil—and so—and so—I did what I did"—
"What cannot be undone."
"No—" she said, shivering.
He passed his hands again over her soft hair, and bent down and kissed it.
"You honour yourself, too, Diana, as well as me."
"Yes—" she said, under breath.
"And you honour our God, who has let all this come upon us both?"
"But, O Basil! how could he? how could he?"
"I don't know."
"And yet you say he is good?"
"And so you say too. The only good; the utterly, perfectly good; who loves his people, and keeps his promises, and who has said that all things shall work together for the good of those that love him."
"How can such a thing as this?" she said faintly.
"Suppose you and I cannot see how? Then faith comes in and believes it without seeing. We shall see by and by."
She was silent then, but she shook and trembled and writhed. Her head was still where she had laid it; her face hidden.
"You are going through as great a trial, my poor wife, as almost ever falls to the lot of a mortal. But you will go through it, and come out from it; and then it will be found to have been 'unto praise and honour and glory'—by and by."
"O how can you tell?"
"I trust in God. And I trust you."
"But I think he will come—here to Pleasant Valley, I mean. And if he comes—here, to this house, I mean"—
"What do you want me to do?"
"About seeing him?"
"What you like best to do, Diana."
"Basil—he does not know."
"What does he not know?"
"About the letters or anything. He has never heard—never a word from me."
"There was an understanding between you before he went away?"
Both were silent again for a time; silent and still. Then Diana spoke timidly:
"Do you think it would be wrong for him to know?"
Her husband delayed his answer a little; truly, if Diana had something to suffer, so had he; and I suppose there was somewhat of a struggle in his own mind to be won through; however, the answer when it came was a quiet negative.
"May I write and tell him?"
He bent down and kissed her fingers as he replied—"I will."
"O Basil," said the woman at his feet, "I have wished I could die a thousand times!—and I am well and strong, and I cannot die."
"No," he said gravely; "we must not run away from our work."
"Work!" said Diana, sitting back now and looking up at him;—"what work?"
"The work our Master has given us to do to glorify him. To fight with evil and overcome it; to endure temptation, and baffle it; to carry our banner of salvation through the thick of the smoke and the fire, and never let it fall."
"I am so weak, I cannot fight."
"The fight of faith you can. The only sort of fighting that can prevail. Faith lays hold of Christ's strength, and so comes off more than conqueror. All you can do, is to hold fast to him."
"O Basil! why does he let such things happen? why does he let such things happen? Here is my life broken—and yours; both broken and ruined."
"No," the minister answered quietly,—"not mine, nor yours. Broken, if you will, but not ruined. Neither yours nor mine, Diana. With the love of Christ in our hearts, that can never be. He will not let it be."
"It is all ruined," said Diana; "it is all ruined. I am full of evil thoughts, and no good left. I have wished to die, and I have wanted to run away—I felt as if I must"—
"But instead of dying or running away, you have stood nobly and bravely to your post of suffering. Wait and trust. The Lord means good to us yet."
"What possible good?"
"Perhaps, that being stripped of all else, we may come to know him."
"Is it necessary that people should be stripped of all before they can do that?"
Diana stood still, and again there was silence in the room. The soft June air, heavy with the breath of roses, floated in at the open window, bringing one of those sharp contrasts which make the heart sick with memory and longing; albeit the balsam of promise be there too. People miss that. "Now men see not the bright light that is in the clouds;" and how should they? when the darkness of night seems to have fallen; how can they even remember that behind that screen of darkness there is a flood of glory? There came in sounds at the window too, from the garden and the wood on the hillside; chirruping sounds of insects, mingled with the slight rustle of leaves and the trickle of water from a little brook which made all the noise it could over the stones in its way down the hill. The voices were of tender peace; the roses and the small life of nature all really told of love and care which can as little fail for the Lord's children as for the furniture of their dwelling-place. Yet that very unchangeableness of nature hurts, which should comfort. Diana stood still, desolate, to her own sense seeming a ruin already; and her husband sat in his place, also still, but he was calm. They were quiet long enough to think of many things.
"You are very good, Basil!" Diana said at last.
It was one of those words which hurt unreasonably. Not because they are not true words and heartily meant, but because they are the poor substitute for those we would like to hear, and give us an ugly scale to measure distances and differences by. Basil made no sort of answer. Diana stood still. In her confusion of thoughts she did not miss the answer. Then she began again.
"Evan—I mean, Basil!"—and she started;—"I wish we could get away."
"From Pleasant Valley?"
"My work is here."
Is mine here too? thought Diana, as she slowly went away into the other room. What is mine? To die by this fire that burns in me; or to freeze stiff in the cold that sometimes almost stops my heart's beating? She came up to the side of her baby's crib and stood there looking, dimly conscious of an inner voice that said her work was not death.
A few days later, the minister came home one evening with a message for his wife.
"Good old Mother Bartlett is going home, Diana, and she wants to see you."
"Home? Is she dying, do you mean?"
"She does not mean it. To her, it is entering into life."
"But what's the matter?"
"You know she had that bad cold. I think the treatment was worse than the disease; and under the effects of both, her strength seems to have given way. She is sinking quietly."
"I will go down there in the morning."
So the next day, early, Basil drove his wife down and left her at the cottage. It was somehow to Diana's feeling just such another day as had been that other wonderful one when she had seen Evan first, and he harnessed Prince, and they came together over this very road. Perhaps soon Evan would be riding there again, without her, as she was going now without him. Never together again, never together again! and what was life to either of them apart? Diana went into the cottage walking as one in a dream.
The cottage was in nice order, as usual, though no woman's hand had been about. Joe, rough as he was, could be what his friends called "real handy;" and he had put everything in trim and taken all care for his mother's comfort before he went out. The minister had told him Diana would be there; so after he had done this he went to his work. Mrs. Bartlett was lying on her bed in the inner room. Diana kissed her, with a heart too full at the moment to speak.
"Did the minister bring you?" the old lady asked.
"Yes. Are you all alone?"
"The Lord never leaves his children alone, dear. They leave him sometimes. Won't you open the winders, Diana. Joe forgot that, and I want to see the sun."
Diana rolled up the thick paper shades which hung over the windows, and put up the sashes. Summer air poured in, so full of warmth and brightness and sounds of nature's activity, that it seemed to roll up a tide of life to the very feet of the dying woman. She looked, and drew a deep breath or two.
"That's good!" she said. "The Lord made the sunshine. Now sit down, dear; I want to see you. Sit down there, where I can see you."
"Does Joe leave you here by yourself?"
"He knew you was comin'. Joe's a good boy. But I don't want him nor nobody hangin' round all the time, Diana. There ain't nothin' to do; only he forgot the winders, and I want to look out and see all my riches."
"Your riches, Mother Bartlett?"—And she was not going to live but a few days more. Diana wondered if her senses were wandering. But the old lady smiled; the wise, sweet smile that Diana knew of old.
"Whose be they, then?" she asked.
"You mean, all this pretty summer day?"
"Ain't it pretty? And ain't the sunshine clear gold? And ain't the sky a kind of an elegant canopy? And it's all mine, and all it covers, and he that made it too; and seein' what he makes, puts me in mind of how rich he is and what more he kin do. How's the baby?"
For some little time the baby was talked of, in both present and future relations.
"And you're very happy, Diana?" the old woman asked. "I hain't seen you now for quite a spell—'most all winter."
"I ought to be"—Diana answered, hesitating.
"Some things folks does because they had ought to," remarked the old lady, "but bein' happy ain't one of 'em. The whole world had ought to be happy, if you put it so. The Lord wants 'em to be."
"Not happy"—said Diana hastily.
"Yes. 'Tain't his fault if they ain't."
"How can he want everybody to be happy, when he makes them so unhappy?"
"He?—the Lord? He don't make nobody unhappy, child. How did that git in your head?"
"Well, it comes to the same thing, Mother Bartlett. He lets things happen."
"He hain't chained up Satan yet, if that's what you mean. But Satan can't do no harm to the Lord's children. He's tried, often enough, but the Lord won't let him."
"But, Mother Bartlett, that's only a way of talking. I don't know if it is Satan does it, but every sort of terrible thing comes to them. How can you say it's not evil?"
"'Cause the good Lord turns it to blessing, dear. Or if he don't, it's 'cause they won't let him. O' course it is Satan does it—Satan and his ministers. 'Every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.' How should he be kind to-day and unkind to-morrow?"
Diana could not trust her voice and was silent. The old woman looked at her, and said in a changed tone presently,
"What's come to you, Diana Masters? You had ought to be the happiest woman there is livin'."
Diana could not answer.
"Ain't you, dear?" Mrs. Bartlett added tenderly.
"I didn't mean to speak of myself," Diana said, making a tremendous effort to bring out her words unconcernedly; "but I get utterly puzzled sometimes, Mother Bartlett, when I see such things happen—such things as do happen, and to good people too."
"You ain't the fust one that's been puzzled that way," returned the old woman. "Job was all out in his reckoning once; and David was as stupid as a beast, he says. But when chillen gets into the dark, they're apt to run agin sun'thin' and hurt theirselves. Stay in the light, dear."
"How can one, always?"
"O, child, jes' believe the Lord's word. That'll keep you near him; and there is no darkness where he is."
"What is his word, that I must believe?—about this, I mean."
"That he loves us, dear; loves us tender and true; like you love your little baby, only a deal more; and truer, and tenderer. For a woman may forget her sucking child, but he never will forget. And all things he will make to 'work together for good to them that love him.'"
Diana shook and trembled with the effort to command herself and not burst into a storm of weeping, which would have betrayed what she did not choose to betray. She sat by the bedpost, clasping it, and with the same clasp as it were holding herself. For a moment she had "forgotten her sucking child,"—the words came home; and it was only by that convulsive hold of herself that she could keep from crying out. With her face turned away from the sick woman, she waited till the convulsion had passed; and then said in measured, deliberate accents,
"It is hard to see how some things can turn out for good—some things I have known."
"Well, you ain't infinite, be you?" said Mrs. Bartlett. "You can't see into the futur'; and what's more, you can't see into the present. You don't know what's goin' on in your own heart—not as he knows it. No more you ain't almighty to change things. If I was you, I would jest trust him that is all-wise, and knows everything, and almighty and kin do what he likes."
"Then why don't he make people good?"
"I said, he kin do what he likes. He don't like to do people's own work for 'em. He doos make 'em good, as soon as they're willin' and ask him. But the man sick with the palsy had to rise and take up his bed and walk; and what's more, he had to believe fust he could do it. I know the Lord gave the power, but the man had his part, you see."
"Mother Bartlett," said Diana, rousing herself, "you must not talk so much."
"Don't do me no harm, Diana."
"But you have talked enough. Now let me give you your broth."
"Then you must talk. I hain't so many opportunities o' social converse that I kin afford to let one of 'em slip. You must talk while I'm eatin'."
But Diana seemed to have nothing to say. She watched the spoonfuls of broth in attentive silence.
"What's new, Diana? there allays is sun'thin'."
"Nothing new. Only"—said Diana, correcting herself, "the Knowltons are coming back to Elmfield. Mrs. Reverdy is come."
"Be the hull o' them comin'?"
"I believe so."
"I don't know. To enjoy the summer, I suppose."
"That's their sort," said the old woman slowly. "Jest to get pleasure. I used for to see 'em flyin' past here in all the colours o' the rainbow—last time they was in Pleasant Valley."
"But God made the colours of the rainbow," said Diana.
"So he did," the old lady answered, laughing a little. "So he did; and the colours of the flowers, which is the same colours, to be sure; but what then, Diana?"
"I was thinking, Mother Bartlett—it cannot displease him that we should like them too."
"No, child, it don't; nor it don't displease him to have us wear 'em, nother,—if we could only wear 'em as innercently as the flowers doos. If you kin, Diana, you may be as scarlet as a tulip or as bright as a marigold, for all I care."
"But people are not any better for putting on dark colours," said Diana.
"They're some modester, though."
"They ain't expectin' that folks'll be lookin' at 'em."
"Mr. Masters likes me to wear bright dresses."
"Then do it, child. It's considerable of a pleasure to have his eyes pleased. Do you know what a husband you've got, Diana?"
"He's 'most like one o' them flowers himself. He's so full o' the sweetness the Lord has put into him, and he's jest as unconscious that he's spreadin' it wherever he goes."
Diana was silent. She would have liked again to burst into tears; she controlled herself as before.
"That ain't the way with those Knowlton girls; nor it ain't the way they wear their fine colours, neither. Can't you get a little sense into their heads, Diana?"
"I? They think nothing of me, Mother Bartlett."
"Maybe not, two years ago, but they will now. You're the minister's wife, Diana. They allays sot a great deal by him."
Diana was chewing the cud of this, when Mrs. Bartlett asked again,
"Who's sick in the place?"
"Quite a number. There's Mrs. Wilson at the tavern; she's sinking at last; my husband sees her every day. Then old Josh Lightfoot—he's down with I don't know what; very sick. Mrs. Saddler has a child that has been hurt; he was pitched off a load of hay and fell upon a fork; his mother is distracted about him, and it is all Mr. Masters can do to quiet her. And Lizzie Satterthwaite is going slowly, you know, in consumption, and she expects to see him every day. And that isn't all; for over in the village of Bromble there is sickness—I suppose there always is in that miserable place."
"And the minister goes there too, I'll be bound?"
"O yes. He goes everywhere, if people want him. It takes twenty miles of riding a day, he told me, just to visit all these people that he must see."
"Ay, ay," said the old woman contentedly; "enjoyment ain't the end of life, but to do the will of God; and he's doin' it. And enjoyment comes that way, too; ay, ay! 'an hundred-fold now, in this world, and in the world to come eternal life.' I hain't ever been able to do much, Diana; but it has been sweet—his service—all along the way; and now I'm goin' where it'll be nothin' but sweetness for ever."
A little tired, perhaps, with talking, for she had talked with a good deal of energy, the old lady dozed off into a nap; and Diana sat alone with the summer stillness, and thought over and over some of the words that had been said. It was the hush of the summer stillness, and also the full pulse of the summer life that she felt as she sat there; not soothing to inaction, but stirring up the loving doing. A warm breath of vital energy, an odorous witness-bearing of life fruitfulness, a hum and a murmur of harmonious forces in action, a depth of colour in the light and in the shadow, which told of the richness and fullness of the natural world. Nothing idle, nothing unfruitful, nothing out of harmony, nothing in vain. How about Diana Masters, and her work and her part in the great plan? Again the gentle summer air which stole in, laden with such scents and sweets, rich and bountiful out of the infinite treasury, spoke of love at the heart of creation. But there were cold winds, too, sometimes; icy storms; desolations of tempests; they had been here not long ago. True, but yet it was not those, but this which carried on the life of the world; this was the "Yes," and those others the "No," of creation; and an affirmative is stronger than a negative any day, by universal acknowledgment. Moreover, that "No" was in order to this "Yes;" gave way before it, yielded to it; and life reigned in spite of death. Vaguely Diana's mind felt and carried on the analogy, and the reasoning from analogy, and drew a chill, far-off hope from it. For it was the time of storm and desolation with her now, and the summer sun had not come yet. She sat musing while the old lady slumbered.
"Hullo, Diany! here you be!" exclaimed the voice of Joe Bartlett, suddenly breaking in. "Here's your good man outside, waitin' for you, I guess; his horse is a leetle skittish. What ails your mother?"
"Yes. Josh says—you see, I've bin down to mill to git some rye ground, and he was there; and what's more, he had the start of me, and I had to wait for him, or I wouldn't ha' stood there chatterin' while the sun was shinin' like it is to-day; that ain't my way. But Josh says she's goin' round groanin' at sun'thin'—and that ain't her way, nother. Mind you, it ain't when anybody's by; I warrant you, she don't give no sign then that anythin's botherin' her; Josh says it's when she's alone. I didn't ask him how he come to know so much, and so little; but I wisht I had," Joe finished his speech laughing.
Diana took her hat, kissed the old woman, and went out to her husband, who was waiting for her. And some miles of the drive were made in silence. Then as the old brown house came in sight, with the weeping elms over the gate, Diana asked her husband to stop for a minute or two. He reined up under the elm trees and helped Diana out, letting her, however, go in alone.
Diana was not often here, naturally; between her and her mother, who never in the best of times had stood near together or shared each other's deeper sympathies, a gulf had opened. Besides, the place was painful to Diana on other accounts. It was full of memories and associations; she always seemed to herself when there as a dead person might on revisiting the place where once he had lived; she felt dead to all but pain, and the impression came back with sharp torture that once she used to be alive. So as the shadow of the elm branches fell over her now, it hurt her inexpressibly. She was alive when she had dwelt under them; yes, she and Evan too. She hurried her steps and went in at the lean-to door.
It was now long past mid-day. The noon meal was over, apparently, and every sign of it cleared away. The kitchen was in spotless order; but beside the table sat Mrs. Starling, doing nothing; an unheard-of state of affairs. Diana came farther in.
"Well, Diana,"—said Mrs. Starling, looking up. "What's brought you now?"
"I've been down to see Mrs. Bartlett—she sent for me—and I thought I would stop in as I went by. Mr. Masters is outside."
"Well, I've no objection," said Mrs. Starling ambiguously.
"How do you do?"
"Is all getting on well with the farm and the dairy?"
"I don't let it be no other way."
Diana saw that something was wrong, but knew also that if she were to find it out it would be by indirect ways.
"May I go into the pantry and get some milk? I've been a good while from home, and I'm hungry."
"Go along," said her mother ungraciously. "I should think likely, if you are hungry, your baby is too. That's a new way of doing things. 'Twarn't ever my way. A woman that's got a baby ought to attend to it. An' if she don't, her husband ought to make her."
"I've not been gone so long as all that comes to," said Diana; and she went into the pantry, her old domain. The pans of milk looked friendly at her; the sweet clean smell of cream carried her back—it seemed ages—to a time when she was as sweet and clean. "Yet it is not my fault,"—she said to herself,—"it is her's—all her's." She snatched a piece of bread and a glass of milk, and swallowed it hastily. Then, as she came out, she saw that one of her mother's hands lay bandaged up in her lap under the table.
"Mother, what's the matter with your hand?"
"O, not much."
"But what? It's all tied up. Have you burned it?"
"What then? Cut yourself?"
"I should like to know how I should go to work to cut my right hand! Don't make a fuss about nothing, Diana. It's only scalded."
"I shall never be able to tell that, to the end of my days," said Mrs. Starling. "If pots and kettles and that could be possessed, I should know what to think. I was makin' strawberry preserve—and the kettle was a'most full, and it was first rate preserve, and boiling, and almost done, and I had just set it down on the hearth; and then, I don't know how to this day, I stumbled—I don't know over what—and my arm soused right in."
"Boiling sweetmeat!" cried Diana. "Mother, let me see. It must be dreadfully burned."
"It's all done up," said Mrs. Starling coldly. "I was real put out about my preserves."
"Have you had dinner?"
"I never found I could live 'thout eating."
"Who got dinner for you, and cleared away?"
"Nobody. I did it myself."
"For the men and all!"
"Well, they don't count to live without eatin', no mor'n I do," said Mrs. Starling with a short laugh.
"And you did it with one hand!"
"Did you ever know me to stop in anything I had to do, for want of a hand?" said Mrs. Starling scornfully.
No, thought Diana to herself; nor for want of anything else, even though it were right or conscience. Aloud she only said,
"I must go home to baby"—
"You had better, I should think," her mother broke in.
"Can I do anything for you first?"
"You can see for yourself, there is nothing to do."
"Shall I come back and stay with you to-night?"
"You had better ask the Dominie."
"Mother, he never wants me to do anything but just what is right," Diana said seriously. Mrs. Starling lifted up her head and gave a curious searching look into her daughter's face. What was she trying to find?
"That's one turtle dove," she said. "And are you another, and always bob your head when he bobs his'n?"
Diana wondered at this speech; it seemed to her, her mother was losing ground even in the matter of language. No thought of irritation crossed her; she was beyond trifles now. She made no answer; she merely bade her mother good-bye, and hurried out. And for a long while the drive was again in silence. Then, when the grey horse was walking up a hill, Diana spoke in a meditative sort of way.
"Basil—you said enjoyment was not the end of life"—
"Did I?" he answered gravely.
"If you didn't, it was Mother Bartlett. You do say so, I suppose?"
"Yes. It is not the end of life."
"What is, then?"
"To do the will of God. And by and by, if not sooner, enjoyment comes that way too, Diana. And when it comes that way, it stays, and lasts."
"For ever and ever!"
Diana waited a few minutes and then spoke again.
"Basil—I want to consult you."
"Well, do it."
"Ought I to leave my mother to live alone, as she is? She is not young now."
"What would you do?"
"If I knew, Basil, I would like it to do what I ought to do."
"Would you take her to live with you?"
"If you would?—and she would."
Basil put his arm round his wife and bent down and kissed her. He would not have done it if he could have guessed how she shrank.
"If you will take life on those terms," he said, "then it will be true for you, that 'sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.'"
It will be the morning of the resurrection, then, thought Diana; but she only replied,
"What 'terms,' Basil, do you mean?"
"Doing the Lord's will. His will is always good, Diana, and brings sweet fruit; only you must wait till the fruit is ripe, my child."
"Then what about mother?"
"I do not believe she would come to us."
"Nor I. Suppose she would let us come to her?"
"Then I would go,—if you wished it."
"I don't wish it, Basil. I was thinking, if I could bear it? But the thought will not out of my head, that she ought not to be alone."
"Then do what is in thine heart," the minister said cheerfully.
A JUNE DAY.
Mrs. Starling hesitated, when Diana proposed her plan; she would think of it, she said. But when she began to think of it, the attractions were found irresistible. To have her grandchild in the house beside her, perhaps with a vague thought of making up to her daughter in some unexplained way for the wrong she had done; at any rate, to have voices and life in the house again, instead of the bare silence; voices of people that belonged to her own blood; Mrs. Starling found that she could not give up the idea, once it got into her head. Then she objected that the house was too small.
The minister said he would put up an addition of a couple of rooms for himself and Diana, and Diana's old room could serve as a nursery.
Who wants a nursery? Mrs. Starling demanded. Her idea of a nursery was the whole house and all out of doors. The minister laughed and said that was not his idea; and Mrs. Starling was fain to let it pass. She was human, though she was not a good woman; and Diana's proposal to come back to her had, though she would never allow it even to herself, touched both her heart and her conscience. Somewhere very deep down and out of sight, nevertheless it was true; and it was true that she had been very lonely; and she let the minister have his own way, undisputed, about the building.
The carpenters were set to work at once, and at home Diana quietly made preparations for a removal in the course of a few months. She buried herself in business as much as ever she could, to still thought and keep her nerves quiet; for constantly, daily and nightly now, the image of Evan was before her, and the possibility that he might any day present himself in very flesh and blood. No precautions were of any avail; if he chose to seek her out, Diana could not escape him unless by leaving Pleasant Valley; and that was not possible. Would he come? She looked at that question from every possible point of the compass, and from every one the view that presented itself was that he would come. Nay, he ought not; it would be worse than of no use for them to see each other; and yet, something in Diana's recollections of him, or, it might be, something in the consciousness of her own nature, made her say to herself that he would come. How should she bear it? She almost wished that Basil would forbid it, and take measures to make it impossible; but the minister went his way unmoved and quiet as usual; there was neither fear nor doubt on his broad fair brow. Diana respected him immensely; and at times felt a great pang of grief that his face should wear such a shade of gravity as was habitual to it now. Knowing him so well as she did by this time, she could guess that though the gravity never degenerated into gloom, the reason was to be found solely and alone in the fact that Basil's inner life was fed by springs which were beyond the reach of earthly impoverishing or disturbing. How much better she thought him than herself!—as she looked at the calm, stedfast beauty of his countenance, which matched his daily life and walk. No private sorrow touched that. Never thinking of himself nor seeking his own, he was busy from morning till night with the needs of others; going from house to house, carrying help, showing light, bringing comfort, guiding into the way, pointing out the wrong; and at home,—Diana knew with what glad resort he went to his Bible and prayer for his own help and wisdom, and wrought out the lessons that were to be given openly in the little hillside church. Diana knew, too, what flowers of blessings were springing up along his path; what fruits of good. "The angel of the church" in Pleasant Valley he was, in a sense most true and lovely, although that be not the original bearing of the phrase in the Revelation, where Alford thinks, and I think, no human angels are intended. Nevertheless, that was Basil here; and his wife, who did not love him, honoured him to the bottom of her heart.
And in her self-reproach and her humility, Diana wrote bitterer things against herself than there was any need. For she, too, was doing her daily work with a lovely truth of aim and simpleness of purpose. With all the joys of life crushed out, she was walking the way which had become so weary with a steady foot, and with hands ready and diligent to do all they found to do. In another sort from her husband, the fair, calm, grave woman was the angel of her household. I can never tell you how beautiful Diana was now. If the careless light glance of the girl was gone, there was now, instead, the deeper beauty of a nature that has loved and suffered; that ripening process of humanity, without which it never comes to its full bloom and fruitage; though that be a very material image for the matter in hand. And there was besides in Diana the dignity of bearing of one who is lifted above all small considerations of every kind; that is, not above small duties, but above petty interests. Therefore, in this woman, who had never seen and scarcely imagined courts, even in the minister's house in Pleasant Valley, there was the calm poise and grace which we associate in our speech and thoughts with the highest advantages of social relations. So extremes sometimes meet. In Diana it was due to her inborn nobility of nature and the sharp discipline of sorrow; in aid of which practically came also her perfection of physical health and form. It must be remembered, too, that she had been now for a good while in the close companionship of a man of great refinement and culture, and that both study and conversation had lifted her by this time far out of the intellectual sphere in which the beginning of our story found her.
The carpenters were going on vigorously with their work on the new rooms adding to Mrs. Starling's house; and Diana was making, as she could from time to time, her little preparations for the removal, which, however, could not take place yet for some time. It was in the beginning of July. Diana was up-stairs one day, looking over the contents of a trunk, and cutting up pieces for patchwork. Windows were open, of course, and the scent of new hay came in with the warm air. Haymaking was going on all over Pleasant Valley. By and by Miss Collins put her head in.
"Be you fixed to see folks?"
"Who wants me?"
"Well, there's somebody comin'; and I reckon it's one or other o' them fly-aways from Elmfield."
"Here?" said Diana, starting up and trembling.
"Wall, there's one of 'em comin', I guess—I see the carriage—and I thought maybe you warn't ready to see no one. When one gets into a trunk it's hard to get out again. So I thought I'd jes' come and tell ye. There she is comin' up the walk. Hurry, now."
Down went Miss Collins to let the visitor in, and Diana did hurry and changed her dress. What can she be come for? she questioned with herself meanwhile; for it was Mrs. Reverdy, she had seen. No good! no good! But nobody would have guessed that Diana had ever been in a hurry, that saw her entrance the next minute upon her visitor. That little lady felt a sort of imposing effect, and did not quite know how to do what she had come for.
"I always think there has come some witchery over my eyes," she said with her invariable little laugh of ingratiation, "when I see you. I always feel a kind of new surprise. Is it the minister that has changed you so? What's he done?"
"Changed me?" Diana repeated.
"Why, yes; you are changed. You are not like what you were two years ago—three years ago—how long is it."
"It is three years ago," said Diana, trying to smile. "I am three years older."
"O, it isn't that. I'm three years older. I suppose I didn't see enough of you then to find you out. It was my fault. But if you had married somebody belonging to me, I can tell you, I should have been very proud of my sister-in-law."
She laughed at the compliment she was making, laughed lightly; while Diana inwardly shook, like a person who has received a sudden sharp blow, and staggers in danger of losing his footing. Did she waver visibly before her adversary's eyes, she wondered? She was sure her colour did not change. She found nothing to say, in any case; and after a moment her vision cleared and she had possession of herself again.
"I am saucy," said Mrs. Reverdy, smiling, "but nobody thinks of minding anything I say. That's the good of being little and insignificant, as I am."
Diana was inclined to wish her visitor would not presume upon her harmlessness.
"I should as soon think of being rude to a duchess," Mrs. Reverdy went on; "or to a princess. I don't see how Evan ever made up his mind to go away and leave you."
"Is it worse to be rude to a duchess than to other people?" Diana asked, seizing the first part of this speech as a means to get over the last.
"I never tried," said Mrs. Reverdy; "I never had the opportunity, you know. I might have danced with the Prince of Wales, perhaps, when he was here. I know a lady who did, and she said she wasn't afraid of him. If you had been there, I am sure she would not have got the chance."
"You forget, I am not a dancer."
"O, not now, of course—but then you wouldn't have been a minister's wife."
"Why should not a minister's wife dance as well as other people?"
"O, I don't know!" said Mrs. Reverdy lightly; "but they never do, you know. They are obliged to set an example."
"Of everything that is proper, I suppose. Don't you feel that everybody's eyes are upon you, always, watching everything you do?"
A good reminder! But Diana answered simply that she never thought about it.
"Don't you! Isn't the minister always reminding you of what people will think?"
"No. It isn't his way."
"Doesn't he? Why, without being a minister, that is what my husband used always to be doing to me. I was a little giddy, you know," said Mrs. Reverdy, laughing; "I was very young; and I used to have plenty of admonitions."
"I believe Mr. Masters thinks we should only care about God's eyes," Diana said quietly.
Mrs. Reverdy startled a little at that, and for a moment looked grave. From Diana she had not expected this turn.
"I never think about anything!" she said then with a laugh, that looked as if it were meant to be one of childlike, ingenuousness. "Don't think me very bad. Everybody can't be good and discreet like you and Mr. Masters."
"Very few people are like Mr. Masters," Diana assented.
"We all know that. And in the daily beholding of his superiority, have you quite forgotten everything else?—your old lover and all?"
"Whom do you mean?" Diana asked, with a calm coldness at which she wondered herself.
"I mean Evan, to be sure. You know he was your old lover. He wants to see you. He has not forgotten you, at any rate. Have you entirely forgotten him? Poor fellow! he has had a hard time of it."
"I have not forgotten Mr. Knowlton at all," Diana said with difficulty, for it seemed to her that her throat was suddenly paralyzed.
"You have not forgotten him? I may tell him that? Do you know, he raves about you?—I wish you could hear him once. He is Captain Knowlton now, you must understand; he has got his advancement early; but one or two people died, and somebody else was removed out of his way; and so he stepped into his captaincy. Lucky fellow! he always has been lucky; except just in one thing; and he thinks that spoils all. May he come and see you, Diana? He has given me no peace until I would come and ask you, and he will never have any peace, that I can see, if you refuse him. Poor fellow! there he is out there all this time, champing the bit worse than the horses."
And the woman said it all with her little civil smile and laugh, as if she were talking about sugar plums!
"Is he here?" cried Diana.
"With the horses—waiting to know the success of my mission; and I have been afraid to ask you, for fear you should say no; and I cannot carry back such an answer to him. May I tell him to come in?"
"Why should not he come to see me, as well as any other friend?" said Diana. But the quiver in her voice gave the answer to her own question.
"Of course!" said Mrs. Reverdy, rising with a satisfied face. "There is no reason in the world why he should not, if you have kindness enough left for him to let him come. Then I'll go out and tell him to come in; for the poor fellow is sitting on sword's points all this while." And laughing at her supposed happy professional allusion, the lady withdrew.
Diana flew up the stairs to her own room. She did not debate much the question whether she ought to see Evan; it came to her rather as a thing that she must do; there was no question in the case. However, perhaps the question only lay very deep down in her consciousness, for the justification presented itself, that to refuse to see him, would be to confess both to his sister and himself that there was danger in it. Diana never could confess that, whatever the fact. So, answering dumbly the doubt that was as wordless, without stopping a moment she caught up her sleeping baby out of its cradle, and drawing the cradle after her went into her husband's study. Basil was there, she knew, at work. He looked up as she came in. Diana drew the cradle near to him, and carefully laid the still sleeping, fair and fat little bundle from her arms down in it again; this was done gently and deliberately enough; no hurry and no perturbation. Then she stood upright.
"Basil, will you take care of her? He is come."
The minister looked up into his wife's face; he knew what she meant. And he felt as he looked at her, how far she was from him. There was no smile on Diana's lips, indeed; on the contrary, an intensity of feelings that were not pleasurable; and yet, and yet, he who has looked for the light of love in an eye and missed it long, knows it when he sees it, even though it be not for him. The four eyes met each other steadily.
"Shall I see him?" Diana asked.
Basil stretched out his hand to her. "I can trust you, Diana."
She put her cold hand in his for a minute and hurried away. Then, as she reached the other room, she heard in the hall below a step, the step she had not heard for years; and her heart made one spring back over the interval. In the urgency of action, Diana's colour had hardly changed until now; now she turned deadly white, and for one instant sank on her knees by her bedside with her heart full of a mute, unformed prayer for help. It was fearful to go on, but she must go on now; she must see Evan; he was there; questions were done; and as she went down-stairs, while her face was white, and pain almost confused her senses, there was a stir of keen joy at her heart—fierce, like that of a wild beast which has been robbed of its prey but has got it again. She tried for self-command, and as one mean towards it forced herself to go deliberately. No hasty steps should be heard on the stairs or in the floor. Even so, the way was short; a moment, and she had entered the room, and she and Evan were face to face once more.
Face to face, and yet, neither dared look at the other. He was standing, waiting for her; she came a few paces into the room and stood still opposite him; they did not touch each other's hands; they made no show of greeting. How should they? in each other's presence indeed they were, with but a small space of transparent air between, to the sense; and yet, a barrier mountains high, of impassible ice, to the mind's apprehension. You could have heard a pin drop in the room; the two stood there, a few yards apart, not even looking at each other, yet intensely conscious each all the while of the familiar outlines and traits so long unseen, so well known by heart. Breathing the air of the same room again, and nevertheless miles and miles apart; that was what they were feeling. The miles could not be bridged over; what use to try to bridge over the yards? Diana was growing whiter, if whiter could be; Evan's head sank lower. At last the man succumbed; sat down; buried his head in his hands, and groaned aloud. Diana stood like a statue, but looking at him now.
What is it in little things which has such power over us? As Diana stood there looking, it was little things which stabbed her as if each were a sharp sword. The set of Evan's shoulders, the waves of his hair, the very gold shoulder-straps on the well-remembered blue uniform undress; his cap which lay on her table, with its service symbols. Is it that the sameness of these material trifles seems to assert that nothing is changed, and so makes the change more incredible and dreadful? I cannot describe the woful pain which the sight of these things gave Diana. With them came the fresh remembrance of all the manly beauty and grace of Evan in which she had once sunned herself, and the contrast of her husband. Not that Basil's personal appearance was ever to be despised, any more than himself; his figure was good, and his face had a beauty of its own, possibly a higher kind of beauty; but it was not the type of a hero of romance; and Evan's, to Diana's fancy, was; and it had been her romance. She stood still, motionless, breathless. If anybody spoke, it must be he. But at last she trembled too much to stand, and she sat down too.
"How has it happened, Diana?" Evan asked without looking up.
"I don't know,"—she said just above her breath.
"How could you do so?"
Well, it suited him well to reproach her! What matter? Things could not be more bitter than they were. She did not try to answer.
"You have ruined both our lives. Mine is ruined; I am ruined. I shall never be worth anything now. I don't care what becomes of me."
As she still did not answer, he looked up, and their eyes met. Once meeting, they could not quit each other. Diana's gaze was sad enough, but eager with the eagerness of long hunger. His was sharp with pain at first, keen with unreasonable anger; one of the mind's resorts from unbearable torment. Then as he looked it changed and grew soft; and finally, springing up, he went over to where she sat, dropped on his knees before her, and seizing her hands kissed them one after the other till tears began to mingle with the kisses. She was passive; she could not drive him off; she felt that she and he must have this one moment to bury their past in; it was only when her hands were growing wet with his tears that she roused herself to an effort.
"Evan—Evan—listen to me! You mustn't—remember, I am a man's wife."
"How could you?"
"I did not know what I was doing."
"Have you given up loving me?"
"What is the use of talking of it, Evan? I am another man's wife."
"But there are such things as divorces."
"Hush! Do not speak of such a thing."
"I must speak of it. Whom do you love? tell me that first."
"No one has a right to ask me such a question."
"I have a right," cried the young man; "for I have been deceived, cheated, robbed of my own; and I have a right to get back my own. Diana, speak! do you love me less than you used to do? Tell me that."
"I do not change, Evan."
"Then you have no business to be anybody's wife but mine. Nothing can hinder that, Diana."
"Stop! You are not to speak so. I will not hear it."
"You are mine, Diana."
"I was yours, Evan!" she said tenderly, bending her head over him till her lips touched his hair. "We have been parted, and it is over—over for this world. You must go your way, and I must go mine. And you must not say, I am ruined."
"Do not you say it?"
"I must not."
"It is the truth for me, if I do not have you with me."
"It is not the truth," she said with infinite tenderness in her manner. "Not ruined, Evan. We can go our way and do our work, even if we are not happy. That is another thing."
"Then you are not happy?" he said eagerly.
Diana did not reply.
"Why should we not be happy?" he went on passionately, looking up now into her face. "You are mine, Diana—you belonged to me first, you have been mine all along; only I have been robbed of you;—pure robbery; nothing else. And has not a man a right to his own, wherever and whenever he finds it? You had given yourself first to me. That is irrevocable."
"No"—she said with the same gentleness, in every tone of which lurked an unutterable sorrow; it would have broken her husband's heart to hear her; and yet she was quiet, so quiet that she awed the young officer a little. "No—I had promised to give myself to you; that is all."
"You gave me your heart, Di?"
She was silent, for at the moment she could not speak
"That is enough. That is all."
"It is not all. Since then I have"—
"How could you do it, Diana? how could you do it, after your heart was mine? while your heart was mine!"
"I was dead," she said in the same low, slow, impressive way. "I thought I was dead,—and that it did not matter any more what I did, one way or another. I thought I was dead; and when I found out that there was life in me yet, it was too late." A slight shudder ran over her shoulders, which Evan, however, did not see.
"And you doubted me!" said he.
"I heard nothing"—
"Of course!—and that was enough to make you think I was nothing but a featherhead!"—
"I thought I was not good enough for you," she said softly.
"Not good enough!" cried Evan. "When you are just a pearl of perfection—a diamond of loveliness—more than all I knew you would be—like a queen rather than like a common mortal. And I could have given you a place fit for you; and here you are"—
"Hush!" she said softly, but it stopped him.
"Why did you never hear from me? I wrote, and wrote, and O, Diana, how I looked for something from you! I walked miles on the way to meet the waggon that brought our mails; I could hardly do my duty, or eat, or sleep, at last. I would ride then to meet the post-carrier, though it did not help me, for I could not open the bags till they were brought into the post; and then I used to go and gallop thirty miles to ride away from myself. Why did you never write one word?"
"I did not know your address," she said faintly.
"I gave it you, over and over."
"You forget,—I never got the letters."
"What became of them?"
"I don't know."
"What was her motive?"
"I suppose—I don't know."
"What do you suppose?"
"What is the use of talking about it, Evan?"
"My poor darling!" said he, looking up in her face again "it has been hard on you too. Oh Di, my Di! I cannot lose you!"—
He was still kneeling before her, and she put her two hands on his head, smoothing or rather pushing back the short locks from his temples on either side, looking as one looks one's last on what one loves. Her eyes were dry, and large with pain which did not allow the eyelids their usual droop; her mouth was in the saddest lines a woman's lips can take, but they did not tremble.
"Hush," she said again softly. "I am lost to you. That is over. Now go and do a man's work in the world, and if I hear of you, let me hear good."
"Haven't you got one kiss for me?"
She bent lower down, and kissed his brow. She kissed it twice; but the manner of the woman was of such high and pure dignity that the young officer, who would else have had no scruple, did not dare presume upon it. He took no more than she gave; bent his head again when she took her hands away, and covered his face, as at first. They were both still awhile.
"Evan—you must go," she whispered.
"When may I come again?"
She did not answer.
"I am coming very soon again, Di. I must see you often—I must see you very often, while I am here. I cannot live if I do not see you. I do not see how I can live any way!"
"Don't speak so."
"How do you expect to bear it?" he asked jealously.
"I don't know. We shall find as the days come."
"Life looks so long!"—
"Yes. But we have got something to do in it."
"I have not. Not now."
"Every one has. And a brave man, or a brave woman, will do what he has to do, Evan."
"I am not brave, except in the way every man is brave. When may I come, Diana? To-morrow?"
"Why not? Then when?"
"Not this week."
"But this is Tuesday."
"Yes. And Mrs. Reverdy is waiting for you all this while."
"I have been waiting all these years. She don't know what waiting means. Mayn't I come again before Monday?"
"Certainly not. You must wait till then, and longer."
"I am not going to wait longer. Then Monday, Diana?"
He stretched out his hand to her, and she laid hers within it. The first time that day; the first time since so many days. Hands lingered, were slow to unclasp, loath to leave the touch which was such exquisite pain and pleasure at once. Then, without looking again, slowly, deliberately, as all her movements had been made, Diana withdrew from the room; not bearing, perhaps, to stay and have him leave her, or doubting of her power to make him go, or unable to endure anything more for this time. She left him standing there, and slowly went up the stairs. But the moment she got to her room she stopped, and stood with her hands pressed upon her heart, listening; every particle of colour vanishing from her face, and her eyes taking a strained look of despair; listening to the footsteps that, also slowly, now went through the hall. When they went out and had quitted the house, she flew to the window. She watched to see the stately figure go along the little walk and out at the gate; she had hardly dared to look at him down-stairs. Now her eye sought out every well-known line and trait with an eagerness like the madness of thirst. Yes, he had grown broader in the shoulders; his frame was developed; he had become more manly, and so even finer in appearance than ever. Without meaning it, Diana drew comparisons. How well he walked! what a firm, sure, graceful gait! How beloved of old time was the officer's undress coat, and the little cap which reminded Diana so inevitably of the time when it was at home on her table or lying on a chair near! Only for a minute or two she tasted the bitter-sweet pang of associations; and then cap and wearer were passed from her sight.
WIND AND TIDE.
How that night went by it would be useless to try to tell. Some things cannot be described. A loosing of all the bands of law and order in the material world we call chaos; and once in a while the mental nature of some poor mortal falls for a time into a like condition. No hold of anything, not even of herself; no clear sense of anything, except of the disorder and pain; no hope at the moment that could fasten on either world, the present or the future; no will to lay hold of the unruly forces within her and reduce them to obedience. An awful night for Diana, such as she never had spent, nor in its full measure would ever spend again. Nevertheless, through all the confusion, under all the tumult, there was one fixed point; indeed, it was the point round which all the confusion worked, and which Diana was dimly conscious of all the while; one point of action. At the time she could not steady herself to look at it; but when the dawn came up in the sky, with its ineffable promise of victory by and by,—and when the rays of the sun broke over the hills with their golden performance of conquest begun, strength seemed to come into her heart. Certainly light has no fellowship with darkness; and the spiritual and the material are more closely allied, perhaps, than we wot of. Diana washed herself and dressed, and felt that she had done with yesterday.
It was a worn and haggard face that was opposite Basil at the breakfast table; but she sat there, and poured out his tea with not less care than usual. Except for cups of tea, the meal was not much more than a pretence. After it was done, Diana followed her husband to his study.
"Basil," she said, "I must go away."
Mr. Masters started, and asked what she meant.
"I mean just that," said Diana. "I must go away Basil, help me!"
"Help you, my child?" said he; "I will help you all I can. But sit down, Diana; you are not able to stand. Why do you want to go away?"
"Where do you wish to go?"
"I do not know. I do not care. Anywhere."
"You have no plan?"
"No; only to get away."
"Why, Diana?" he said very tenderly. "Is it necessary?"
"Yes, Basil. I must go."
"Do you know that it would be extremely difficult for me to leave home just at present? There are so many people wanting me."
"I know that. I have thought of all that. You cannot go. Let me go, and baby."
"Where, my dear?
"I don't know," she said with almost a sob. "You must know. You must help me, Basil."
Basil looked at her, and took several turns up and down the room, in sorrow and perplexity.
"What is your reason, Di?" he asked gently. "If I understood your thought better, I should know better how to meet it."
"I must be away," said Diana vaguely. "I must not be here. I musn't be where I can see—anybody. Nobody must know where I am, Basil—do you understand? You must send me away, and you must not tell anybody."
The minister walked up and down, thinking. He let go entirely the thought of arguing with Diana. She had the look at moments of a creature driven to bay; and when not so, the haggard, eager, appealing face filled his inmost heart with grief and pity. Nobody better than Basil could manage the unreasonable and bring the disorderly to obedience; he had a magical way with him; but now he only meditated how Diana's wish was to be met. It was not just easy, for he had few family connections in the world, and she had none.
"I can think of nobody to whom I should like to send you," he said. "Unless"—
He waited, and Diana waited; then he finished his sentence.
"I was going to say, unless a certain old grandaunt of mine. Perhaps she would do."
"I do not care where or who it is," said Diana.
"I care, though."
"Where does she live?"
"On Staten Island."
"Staten Island?" repeated Diana.
"Yes. It is near New York; about an hour from the city, down the bay."
"The bay of New York?"
"May I go there?" said Diana. "That would do."
"How soon do you wish to go?"
"To-day, if I could!" she said with a half-caught breath. "Can I, Basil? To-day is best."
Mr. Masters considered again.
"Will you be ready to go by the seven o'clock train this evening?"
"Yes. O yes!"
"Very well. We will take that."
"We?" Diana repeated. "Must I take you, Basil, away from your work? Cannot I go alone?"
He looked up at her with a very sweet grave smile as he answered, "Not possibly."
"I am a great deal of trouble"—she said with a woful expression.
"Go and make your preparations," he said cheerfully; "and I will tell you about Aunt Sutphen when we are off."
There was no bustle in the house that day, there was no undue stir of making arrangements; but at the time appointed Diana was ready. She had managed to keep Miss Collins in the dark down to the very last minute, and answered her questions then with, "I can't tell you. You must ask Mr. Masters." And Diana knew anybody might as well get the Great Pyramid to disclose its secrets.
That night's train took them to Boston. The next morning they went on their way towards New York; and so far Mr. Masters had found no good time for his proposed explanations. Diana was busied with the baby, and contrived to keep herself away from him or from communication with him. He saw that she was engrossed, preoccupied, suffering, and that she shunned him; and he fell back and waited. In New York, he established Diana in a hotel and left her, to go himself alone to the Island and have an interview with his aunt.
Diana alone in a Broadway hotel, felt a little like a person shipwrecked in mid-ocean. What was all this bustling, restless, driving multitude around her like, but the waves of the sea, to which Scripture likens them? and the roar of their tumult almost bewildered her senses. Proverbially there is no situation more lonely to the feeling than the midst of a strange crowd; and Diana, sitting at her window and looking down into the busy street, felt alone and cast adrift as she never had felt in her life before. Her life seemed done, finished, as far as regarded hope or joy; nothing left but weary and dragging existence; and the eager hurrying hither and thither of the city crowd struck on her view as aimless and fruitless, and so very drear to look at? What was it all for?—seeing life was such a thing as she had found it. The wrench of coming away from Pleasant Valley had left her with a reaction of dull, stunned, and strained nerves; she was glad she had come away, glad she was no longer there; and that was the only thing she was glad of in the wide, wide world.
Some degree of rest came with the quiet of those hours alone in the hotel. Basil was gone until the evening, and Diana had time to recover a little from the fatigue of the journey, and in the perfect solitude also from the overstrain of the nerves. She began to remember Basil's part in all this, and to be sensible how true and faithful and kind he was; how very unselfish, how patient with her and with pain. Diana could have wept her heart out over it, if that would have done any good; and indeed supposing that she could have shed tears at all, which she could not just then. She only felt sore and sorry for her husband; and then she took some pains with her toilet, and refreshed herself so as to look pleasant to his eyes when he came home.
He came home only to a late supper. He looked somewhat weary, but his eye brightened when he saw Diana, and he came up and kissed her.
"Diana—God is good," he said to her.
"Yes," she answered, looking up drearily, "I believe it."
"But you do not feel it yet. Well, remember, it is true, and you will feel it some day. It is all right with Aunt Sutphen."
"She will let me come?"
"She is glad to have you come. The old lady is very much alone. And she does me the honour to say that she expects my wife will know how to behave herself."
"What does she mean by that?" said Diana, a little startled.
"I don't know! Aunt Sutphen has her own notions respecting behaviour. I did not inquire, Diana; knowing that, whatever her meaning might be, it was the same thing so far as you are concerned."
"Basil—you are very good!" Diana said after a pause and with a trembling lip.
"I can take compliments from Aunt Sutphen," he said with a bit of his old dry humorous manner, "but from you I don't know what to do with them. Come to supper, Di; we must take the first boat for Clifton to-morrow morning, if we can, to let me get back on my way to Pleasant Valley."
The first boat was very early. The city, however, had long begun its accustomed roar, so that the change was noticeable and pleasant as soon as the breadth of a few furlongs was put between the boat and the wharf. Stillness fell, only excepting the noise made by the dash of the paddle-wheels and the breathing and groaning of the engine; and that seemed quietness to Diana, in contrast with the restless hum and roar of the living multitude. The bay and its shores sparkled in the early sunlight; the sultry, heated atmosphere of the city was most refreshingly replaced by the cool air from the salt sea. Diana breathed it in, filling her lungs with it.
"How good this is!" she said. "Basil, I should think it was dreadful to live in such a place as that."
"Makes less difference than you would think, when you once get accustomed to it."
"O, do you think so! It seems to me there is nothing pleasant there to see or to hear."
"Ay, you are a true wood-thrush," said her husband. "But there is plenty to do in a city, Diana; and that is the main thing."
"So there is in the country."
"I sometimes think I might do more,—reach more people, I mean,—if I were somewhere else. But yes, Di, I grant you, apart from that one consideration, there is no comparison. Green hills are a great deal better company than hot brick walls."
"And how wonderful, how beautiful, this water is!"
"The water is a new feature to you. Well, you will have plenty of it. Aunt Sutphen lives just on the edge of the shore. I am very sorry I cannot stay to see you domesticated. Do you mind it much, beginning here alone?"
Diana did not mind that or anything else, in her content at having reached a safe harbour, a place where she would be both secure and free. Lesser things were of no account; and alas! the presence of her husband just now with her was no pleasure. Diana felt at this time, that if she were to live and keep her reason she must have breathing space. Above all things, she desired to be quite alone; to have leisure to think and pray, and review her ground and set up her defences. Basil could not help her; he was better out of sight. So, when he had put her into the little carriage that was in waiting at the landing, and with a last gesture of greeting turned back to the boat, while Diana's eyes filled with tears, she was, nevertheless, nothing but glad at heart. She gathered her baby closer in her arms, and sat back in the carriage and waited.
It was only a short drive, and along the edge of the bay the whole distance. The smell of the salt water was strange and delicious. The morning was still cool. Now that she had left the boat behind her, or rather the boat had left her, the stillness began to be like that of Pleasant Valley; for the light wheels rolled softly over a smooth road. Then they stopped before a low, plain-looking cottage.
It was low and plain, yet it was light and pleasant. Windows opening like doors upon the piazza, and the piazza running all round the house, and the pillars of the piazza wreathed thick with honeysuckles, some of them, and some with climbing roses. The breath of the salt air was smothered in perfumes. Through one of the open window-doors Diana went into a matted room, where everything gave her the instant impression of neatness and coolness and quiet, and a certain sweet summer freshness, which suited her exactly. There was no attempt at richness of furnishing. Yet the old lady who stood there waiting to receive her was a stately lady enough, in a spotless morning dress of white, dainty and ruffled, and a little close embroidered cap above her clustering grey curls. The two looked at each other.
"So you're his wife!" said the elder lady. "I declare, you're handsomer than he is. Come in here, my dear; if you are as good as he is, you are welcome." She opened an inner door and led the way into a bedchamber adjoining, opening like the other room by window-doors upon the piazza, matted and cool and furnished in white. All this Diana took in with the first step into the room. But she answered Mrs. Sutphen's peculiar welcome.
"Did you ever know anybody so good as he is, ma'am?"
"Breakfast will be on table as soon as you are ready," Mrs. Sutphen went on without heeding her words. "It is half-past seven, and I always have it at seven. I waited for you, and now I want my cup of tea. How soon will you be ready?"
"What will you do with the baby?"
"I will lay her down. She is asleep."
"You'll have to have somebody to look after her. Well, come then, my dear."
Diana followed the old lady, who was half imperative and half impatient. She never forgot that hour in all her life, everything was so new and strange. The windows open towards the water, the fresh salt air coming in, the India matting under her feet, made her feel as if she had got into a new world. The dishes were also in part strange to her, and her only companion fully strange. The good cup of tea she received was almost the only familiar thing, for the very bread was like no bread she had ever seen before. Diana sipped her tea gratefully; all this novelty was the most welcome thing in the world to her overstrained nerves. She sipped her tea as in a dream; the old lady studied her with eyes wide awake and practical.
"Where did Basil pick you up, my dear?"
Diana started a little, looked up, and flushed.
"Where did you come from?"
"From the place where Mr. Masters has been settled these three or four years."
"In the mountains! What sort of people have you got there? More of your sort?"
"They are all of my sort," said Diana somewhat wonderingly.
"Do you know what your sort is, my dear?"
"I do not understand"—
"I thought you did not. I'll change my question. What sort of work is Basil doing there?"
"You know his profession?"—Diana said, not knowing much better either how to take this question.
"Yes, yes. I know his profession; I ought to, for I wanted him to be a lawyer. But don't you know, my dear, there are all sorts of clergymen? There are some make sermons as other men make bricks; and some more like the way children blow soap-bubbles; all they care for is, how big they are, and how high they will fly, and how long they will last. And I have heard people preach," the old lady went on, "who seemed most like as if they were laying out a Chinese puzzle, and you had to look sharp to see where the pieces fitted. And some, again, preach sermons as if they were a magistrate reading the Riot Act, only they don't want the people to disperse by any means. What is Basil's way?"
"He has more ways than all these," said Diana, who could not help smiling.
"These among 'em?"
"I think not."
"Go on, then, and tell me. What's he like in the pulpit?"
Diana considered how she should humour the old lady's wish.
"Sometimes he is like a shepherd leading his flock to pasture," she began. "Sometimes he is like a lifeboat going out to pick up drowning people. Sometimes it is rather a surgeon in a hospital, going round to find out what is the matter with people and make them well. Sometimes he is just the messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all his business is to deliver his message and get people to hear it."
Mrs. Sutphen looked at Diana over the table, and evidently pricked up her ears; but Diana spoke quite simply, rather slowly; she was thinking how Basil had often seemed to her in his ministry, in and out of the pulpit.
"My dear," said the old lady, "if your husband is like that, do you know you are married to quite a remarkable man?"
"I thought as much a great while ago."
"And what sort of a pastor's wife do you make? You are a very handsome woman to be a minister's wife."
"Am I? Why should not a handsome woman be the wife of a minister?"
"Why, she should, if she can make up her mind to it. Well, my dear, if you will have no more breakfast, perhaps you will like to go and rest. Do you enjoy bathing?"
Diana did not take the bearing of the question.
"I go into the water every morning," the old lady explained. "You had better do the same. It will strengthen you."
"Into the water! You mean the salt water?"
"Of course I mean the salt water. There isn't any fresh water to go into, and no good if there was."
"I never tried salt water. I never saw salt water before."
"Do you good," said the old lady. "Well, go and sleep, my dear. Basil says you want rest."
But that way of taking it was not Diana's need, or purpose. She withdrew into her cool green-shaded room, and as the baby still slept, set open the blind doors which made that pleasant green shade, and sat down on the threshold to be quiet, and enjoy the view. The water was within a few rods of her window; nothing but a narrow strip of grass and a little picket fence intervening between the house and the sandy bit of beach. The waves were rolling in from the Narrows, which here were but a short distance to the eastward; and across the broad belt of waters she could see the low shore of Long Island on the other side. Diana put her head out of the door, and there, seven miles away to the west and north, she could see where a low, hovering, light smoke cloud told of the big city to which it owed its origin. Over the bay sails were flitting, not swiftly, for the air was only very gently stirring; but they were many, near and far, of different sizes and forms; and the mighty tide was rushing in with wonderful life and energy in its green waves. Diana's senses were like those of a person enchanted. She drew in the salt, lively air; she looked at the cool lights and shadows of the rushing water, over which here and there still hung bands of morning mist; she heard the lap of the waves upon the shore as they went by; and it was to her as if she had escaped from danger and perplexity into another world, where sorrow might be, indeed, but from which confusion and fear were banished.
The baby slept on, as if she had been broken off her rest by the novelties and inconveniences of travelling, and were making up for lost time; and Diana sat on the threshold of her door and thought. The lull was inexpressibly sweet, after the storm that had tossed her hither. It gave her repose just to remember that Evan could not find her out—and that Basil would leave her alone. Yes, both thoughts came in for a share in the deep-drawn breaths of relief which from time to time wrung themselves from Diana's breast. She knew it; she could not help it; and she soon forgot her husband in thinking of her lover. It seemed to her she might allow herself that indulgence now; now when she had put a gulf between them which he could not bridge over, and she would not; now when she had brought a separation between them which must forever be final. For she would never see him again. Surely now she might think of him, and let fancy taste the sweet bitter drops that memory would distil for her. Diana went back to the old time and lived in it for hours, till the baby awoke and claimed her; and even then she went on with her dream. She dreamed all day.
Next morning early, before she was awake, there came a little imperative tap at her door. Diana sprang up and opened it.
"I am going to take my bath," said her hostess. "Here's a bathing dress—put it on and come along."
"Now?" said Diana doubtfully.
"Why, of course now! Now's the time. Nobody'll see you, child; and if they do, it won't matter. Hundreds would see you if you were at Long Branch or Newport. Come along; you want bracing."
I wonder if I do, thought Diana, as she clothed herself in the loose gown of brown mohair; then slipped out after her hostess. If she did, she immediately confessed to herself, this was the thing to give it. The sun was not yet up; the morning air crisp and fresh and delicious; the water rolling gently in from the Narrows again, in a mighty tide, but with no wind, so sending up only little waves to the beach; however, they looked somewhat formidable to Diana.
"How far do you go in?" she asked.
"As far as I can. I can't swim, child, so I keep to shore. Come after me, here!"—
And she seized Diana's hand and marched in ahead of her, and marched on, till Diana would have stopped, but the old lady's hand pulled her along.
It was never to be forgotten, that first taste of salt water. When they were in the flood up to their necks, her companion made her duck her head under; it filled Diana's mouth and eyes at the first gasp with salt water, but what a new freshness of life seemed at the same time to come into her! How her brain cleared, and her very heart seemed to grow strong, and her eyesight true in that lavatory! She came out of the water for the moment almost gay, and made her toilette with a vigour and energy she had not brought to it in many a day. Breakfast was better to her, and the old lady was contented with what she said about it.
Yet Diana sat and dreamed again all day after that, watching the rolling tide of waters, and letting her thoughts run on in as uninterrupted a flow. She dreamed only about Evan; she went over old times and new, old impressions and new; she recalled words and looks and tones and gestures, of long ago and lately; at Pleasant Valley she had not dared; here she thought it was safe, and she might take the indulgence. She recalled all Evan's looks. How he had improved! More stately, more manly, more confident (could that be?), more graceful; with the air of command replacing a comparative repression of manner (only comparative), even as the full, thick, curly moustache replaced a velvety dark line which Diana well remembered. As he had been then, she had fancied him perfect; as he was now, he was to the eye far finer yet. Basil could not compare with him. Ah, why did fancy torture her by ever bringing forward the comparison! Basil never pretended to wear a moustache, and the features of his face were not so regular, and his eye was not so brilliant, and the indescribable air of authority was not there, nor the regulated grace of movement. True, Basil could sit a horse, and ride him, she knew, as well as anybody; and true, Basil's face had a high grave sweetness which was utterly unknown to the countenance of that other; and it was also true, that if Mr. Masters wore no air of command, he knew what the thing meant, especially command over himself. And there the comparison failed for Evan. In the contrast, Diana, down deep in the bottom of her heart, was not satisfied with him, not pleased, not contented. He might know how to give orders to his company, he had not left off himself being under orders; he might be strong to enforce discipline among his men, but alas! alas! he had left the reins loose upon the neck of his passions. Basil never did that, never. Basil never would in the like circumstances have sought a weak gratification at her expense. That was the word; weak. Evan had been selfishly weak. Basil was always, so far as she had known him, unselfishly strong. And yet, and yet!—she loved the weak one; although it pained her that he should have been weak.
Days went by. Diana lived in dreams.
"What is the matter with you?" her old friend asked her abruptly one evening.
"Nothing, I think," said Diana, looking up from her sewing and answering in some surprise.
"Nothing the matter! Then what did you come here for?"
"I thought"—Diana hesitated in confusion for the moment—"my husband agreed with me in thinking, that it would be good for me to be away from home for awhile."
"Wanted change, eh?" Mrs. Sutphen said dryly.
Diana did not know what to add to her words.
"Change and salt air"—the old lady went on.
"Not salt air particularly," Diana answered, feeling that she must answer. "I did not think of salt air. Though no change could have been so good for me."
"Has it been good for you?"
"I have enjoyed it more than I can tell," Diana said, looking up again.
"Yes, yes; but that isn't the thing. I know you enjoy it. But do you think it is making you fat?"
"I don't need that," said Diana, smiling. "I am fat enough."
"You won't be, if you go on losing as you have done since you came. Now I agree with you that I don't think that is Clifton air. What is it?"
Diana could not reply. She was startled and troubled. She knew the fact was true.
"Basil won't like it if I let this go on; and I don't mean it shall. Is anything the matter between you and him?"
"What do you mean?" Diana asked, to gain time.
"You know what I mean. I spoke plain. Have you and he had any sort of a quarrel or disagreement?"
"Certainly not?—then why aren't you happy?"
"Why do you ask me?" said Diana. "Why should you question my being happy?"
"I've got eyes, child; inconvenient things, for they see. You look and act like a marble woman; only that you are not cold, and that you move about. Now, that isn't your nature. What spell has come over you?"
"You know, Mrs. Sutphen," Diana answered with calmness, "there are many things that come up in the world to try one and trouble one; things one cannot help, and that one must bear."
"I know that, as well as you do. But a woman with the husband you have got, ought never to be petrified by anything that comes to her. In the first place, she has no cause; and in the second place, she has no right."
There was such an instant assent of Diana's inner nature to at least the latter of these assertions, that after a minute or two's pause she said very simply—