"Thank you, That is true."
"He's rather fond of you, isn't he?" the old lady asked with a well-pleased look at her beautiful neighbour.
"Yes. Too much," said Diana, sighing.
"Can't be too much, as I see, if only you are equally fond of him; it is bad to have inequality in that matter. But, my dear, whatever you do, don't turn into marble. There's fire at the heart of the earth, folks say, but it don't do us much good in winter."
With this oracular statement Mrs. Sutphen closed her lecture. She had said enough. Diana spent half that night and all the next day in a quite new set of meditations.
And more days than one. She waked up to see what she had been doing. What business had she to be thinking of Evan, when she was Basil's wife?—what right to, be even only in imagination, spending her life with him? She knew, now that she was called to look at it, that Mrs. Sutphen had spoken true, and that a process had been going on in herself which might well be likened to the process of petrifying. Everything had been losing taste and colour lately; even her baby was not the delight she had been formerly. Her mind had been warped from its healthy condition, and was growing morbid. Conscience roused up now fully, and bade Diana stop short where she was and take another course. But there she was met by a difficulty; one that many a woman has had to meet, and that few have ever overcome. To take another course, meant that she should cease thinking of Evan,—cease thinking of him even at all; for it was one of those things which you cannot do a little. She tried it; and she found it to be impossible. Everything and anything would set her upon the track of thinking of him; everything led to him; everything was bound up with him, either by sympathy or contrast. She found that she must think of Evan, because she loved him. She said that to herself, and pleaded it. Then do not love him! was the instant sharp answer of conscience. And Diana saw a battle set in array.
That day, the day when she got to this point, was one of those which even in summer one may know on the sea-shore. It was grey and cool, and a violent easterly wind was driving the waters in from the Narrows. The moment Diana got a sight of those battle forces opposed to each other in her spiritual nature, she threw on bonnet and shawl and went out. Baby was sleeping, and she left her safely in charge of a good-tempered servant who asked no better.
She went along the shore in the face of the wind, meeting, breasting, overcoming it, though with the exertion of determined strength and energy. The gale was rather fierce. It was a sight to see, the rush of that tide of waters, mighty, sweeping, rolling and tumbling in from the great sea, restless, endless. Diana did not stop to draw comparisons, yet I think she felt them even then; the wild accord of the unchained forces without and the unchained forces within. Who could stay them, the one or the other? "That is Nature," said Diana to herself; "and this is Nature; 'the troubled sea that cannot rest.' But that is spoken of the wicked; am I wicked because I cannot help what I cannot help? As well put out my tiny hand and sweep back that stormy flood of water to the ocean where it comes from!—as hopefully, as practicably. What am I, I—but a chip or a shingle tossed and chased along on the power of the waves? The wicked are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest; that is it, it cannot rest. Look at it, and think of bidding it rest!"
She had walked a long way in the teeth of the storm, and yet, unwilling even to turn her face homewards with her mind still at war, she had crouched down to rest under the lee of an old shed which stood near the edge of the water. Diana drew her shawl closer round her and watched the wild play of the waves, which grew wilder every moment; taking a sort of gloomy comfort in the thought that they were not more irresistible or unopposable than the tempest in her own heart. Then came in the thought—it stole in—"There was One who could bid it be still—and the sea heard him and was quiet. If he could do that, could he not still this other storm? A worse storm, yes; but could not the hand that did one thing do the other?" Diana knew on the instant that it could; but with that came another consciousness—that she wished it could not. She did not want the storm laid. Better the raging forces than the calm that would follow the death of her love for Evan Knowlton. "But it could never die!" was the impatient objection of her heart; and then came the whisper of conscience, "It ought; you know it ought; and the Lord never bade you do a thing he would not help you to do, or do for you if you are willing." And she remembered: "If ye shall say to this mountain, Be thou removed."—Could she be willing? that was all. Would she say it?
The Lord said, there are some sorts of devils that are only cast out by prayer and fasting; and I suppose that means, by very great and determinate laying hold of the offered strength and fullest surrender to all its dispositions.
This was a battle before which Waterloo sinks to a play of fire-crackers and Gravelotte to a great wrestling match. There was struggle on those fields, and bitter determination, and death faced and death met; and yet the combatants there never went to the front with the agony which Diana's fight cost her. And if anybody thinks I am extravagant, I will remind him on what authority we have it, that "he that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city." Let no one suppose the battle in Diana's instance was soon fought and over. It was death to give up Evan; not the death of the body, which lived on and was strong though she grew visibly thin, but the death of the will; and that is a death harder by far than the other. Diana was in the struggle of that fight for many a day, and, as I said, growing thin under it. She was not willing; if she could be delivered from this passion which was like her life, she was not willing to be delivered. Yet duty was plain; conscience was inexorable. Diana struggled and fought till she could fight no longer, and then she dragged herself as it were to the feet of the Stiller of the waves, with the cry of the Syro-Phenician woman on her lips and in her heart: "Lord, help me!" But the help, Diana knew by this time, meant that he should do all the work himself, not come in aid of her efforts, which were like ropes of straw in a flame. Let no one think, either, that the first struggle to have faith was faith itself, or that the first endeavour to submit was surrender. There is a wide difference, and often a wide distance. But there came a time—it was slow in coming, but it came—when like a wearied child Diana ceased from her own efforts, and like a helpless child threw herself upon strength that she knew. And then the work was done.
Let no one say, either, that what I have described is an impossibility. "If ye have faith,"—the Master said,—"nothing shall be impossible to you." And nothing is. "He is a Rock; his work is perfect." And he who overcame all our enemies for us can overcome them in us. They are conquered foes. Only, the Lord will not do the work for those who are trusting in themselves.
BUDS AND BLOSSOMS.
It was the end of September. Nearing a time of storms again in the air and on the sea; but an absolute calm had settled down upon Diana. Not at all the calm of death; for after death, in this warfare, comes not only victory, but new life. It was very strange, even to herself. She had ceased to think of Captain Knowlton; if she thought of him, it was with the recognition that his power over her was gone. She felt like a person delivered from helpless bondage. There was some lameness, there were some bruises yet from the fight gone by; but Diana was every day recovering from these, and elasticity and warmth were coming back to the members that had been but lately rigid and cold. The sun shone again for her, and the sky was blue, and the arch of it grew every day loftier and brighter to her sense. At first coming to Clifton, Diana had perceived the beauties and novelties of her new surroundings; now she began to enjoy them. The salt air was delicious; the light morning mist over the bay, as she saw it when she went to take her morning bath, held a whole day of sunlit promise within its mysterious folds; the soft low hum of the distant city, which she could hear when the waves were still, made the solitude and the freshness and the purity of the island seem doubly rare and sweet. And her baby began to be now to Diana the most wonderful of delights; more than ever it had been at any previous time.
All this while she had had letters from Basil; not very long letters, such as a man can write to a woman whose whole sympathy he knows he has; but good letters, such as a man can write to a woman to whom his own heart and soul have given all they have. Not that he ever spoke of that fact, or alluded to it. Basil was no maudlin, and no fool to ask for a gift which cannot be yielded by an effort of will; and besides, he had never entirely lost hope; so that, though things were dark enough for him certainly, he could write manly, strong, sensible letters, which, in their very lack of all allusion to his own feelings, spoke whole volumes to the woman who knew him and could interpret them. The thought of him grieved her; it was getting to be now the only grief she had. Her own letters to him were brief and rare. Diana had a nervous fear of letting the Clifton postmark be seen on a letter of hers at home, knowing what sort of play sometimes went on in the Pleasant Valley post office; so she never sent a letter except when she had a chance to despatch it from New York. These epistles were very abstract; they spoke of the baby, told of Mrs. Sutphen, gave details of things seen and experienced; but of Diana's inner life, the fight and the victory, not a whit. She could not write about them to Basil; for, glad as he would be of what she could tell him, she could not say enough. In getting deliverance from a love it was wrong to indulge, in becoming able to forget Evan, she had not thereby come nearer to her husband, or in the least fonder of thinking of him; and so Diana shrank from the whole subject when she found herself with pen in hand and paper before her.
When September was gone and October had begun its course, a letter came from Basil in which he desired to know about Diana's plans. There were no hindrances any longer in the way of her coming home, he told her. Diana had known that such a notification would come, must come, and yet it gave her an unwelcome start. Mrs. Sutphen had handed it to her as they came in from their morning dip in the salt water; the coachman had brought it late last evening from the post office, she said. Diana had dressed before reading it; and when she had read it, she sat down upon the threshold of her glass door to think and examine herself.
It was October, yet still and mild as June. Haze lay lingering about the horizon, softened the shore of Long Island, hid with a thick curtain the place of the busy city, the roar of which Diana could plainly enough hear in the stillness, a strange, indistinct, mysterious, significant murmur of distant unrest. All before and around her was rest; the flowing waters were too quiet to-day to suggest anything disquieting; only life, without which rest is nought. The air was inexpressibly sweet and fresh; the young light of the day dancing as it were upon every cloud edge and sail edge, in jocund triumph beginning the work which the day would see done. Diana sat down and looked out into it all, and tried to hold communion with herself. She was sorry to leave this place. Yes, why not? She was sorry to exchange her present life for the old one. Quiet and solitary it had been, this life at Clifton, for Mrs. Sutphen scarcely made her feel less alone with her than without her; and she had held herself back from society. Quiet and solitary, and lately healing; and Pleasant Valley was full of painful memories and associations, her mother, and—her husband. Diana felt as if she could have welcomed everything else, if only Basil had not been there. The sight of the lovely bay with its misty shores and its springing light hurt her at last, because she must leave it; she sank her face in her hands and began to call herself to account. Duty was waiting before her; was she not willing to take it up? She had surrendered her will utterly to God in the matter of her love to Evan, and she had been delivered from the torture and the bondage of it; quite delivered; she could bear to live without Evan now, she could bear to live without thinking of him; he would always be in a certain sense dear, but the spell of passion was broken for ever. That did not make her love her husband. No; but would not the same strength that had freed her from temptation on the one hand, help her to go forward and do her duty on the other? And in love and gratitude for the deliverance vouchsafed her, should she not do it? "I will do it, if I die!" was her inward conclusion. "And I shall not die, but by the Lord's help I shall do it."
So she wrote to her husband that she was ready, and he came to fetch her.
The Pleasant Valley maples were flaunting in orange and crimson when the home journey was made. The fairest month of the year was in the prime of its beauty; the air had that wonderful clearness and calm which bids the spirit of the beholder be still and be glad, saying that there is peace and victory somewhere, and rest, when the harvest of life is gathered. Diana felt the speech, but thought nevertheless that for her, peace and victory were a good way off. She believed they would come, when life was done; the present thing was to live, and carry the burden and do the work. The great elms hung still green and sheltering over the lean-to door. The house was enlarged and improved; and greatly beautified with a coat of paint. Diana saw it all; and she saw the marvellous beauty of the meadows and their bordering hills; she felt as if she were coming to her prison and place of hard labour.
"How do you like the looks of things?" her husband asked.
"Nice as can be."
"You like it?"
"Very much. I am glad you did not make the house white."
"I remembered you said it ought to be brown."
"But would you have liked it white?"
"I would have liked it no way but your way," he said with a slight smile and look at her, which Diana could not answer, and which cut her sharply. She had noticed, she thought, that Basil was more sober than he used to be. She thought she knew why; and she wanted to tell him part of what had gone on in her mind of late, and how free she was of the feelings he supposed were troubling her; but a great shyness of the subject had seized Diana. She was afraid to broach it at all, lest going on from one thing to another, Basil might ask a question she could not answer. She was very sorry for him, so much that she almost forgot to be sorry for herself, as she went into the house.
Mrs. Flandin was sitting with Mrs. Starling in the lean-to kitchen.
"So you made up your mind to come home," was her mother's greeting. "I almost wonder you did."
"If you knew how good the salt water was to me, you might wonder," Diana answered cheerfully.
"Well, I never could see what there was in salt water!" said Mrs. Flandin, "that folks should be so crazy to go into it! If I was drownin', 'seems to me I'd rather have my mouth full o' sun'thin' sweet."
"But I was not drowning," said Diana.
"Well, I want to know what you've got by stayin' away from your place all summer"—her mother went on.
"Her place was there," said the minister, who followed Diana in.
"Now, dominie," said Mrs. Flandin, "you say that jes' 'cause she's your wife. Hain't her place been empty all these months? Where is a wife's place? I should like to hear you say."
"Don't you think it is where her husband wants her to be?"
"And you wanted her to be away from you down there? Do you mean that?"
"If he had not, I should not have gone, Mrs. Flandin," Diana said, and with a smile.
"Well now, du tell! what good did salt water do ye? The minister said you was gone to salt water somewheres."
"It did me more good than I could ever make you understand."
"I don't believe it!" said Mrs. Starling harshly. "You mean, it was a clever thing to play lady and sit with your hands before you all summer. It was good there was somebody at home to do the work."
"Not your work, Di," said her husband good humouredly; "nor my work. I did that. Come along and see what I have done."
He drew her off, into the little front hall or entry; from there, through a side door into the new part of the building. There was a roomy, cool, bright room, lined with the minister's books; curtained and furnished, not expensively, indeed, yet with a thorough air of comfort. Taking the baby from her arms, Basil led the way from this room, up a short stairway, to chambers above which were charmingly neat, light, and cheerful, all in order; everything was done, everything was there that ought to be there. He laid the sleeping child down in its crib, and turned to his wife with a serious face.
"How will you stand it, Diana?"
"Basil, I was just thinking, how will you?"
"We can do what ought to be done," said he, looking into her face.
"I know you can. I think I can too—in this. And I think it is right to take care of mother. I am sure it is."
"Diana, by the Lord's help we can do right in everything."
"Yes, Basil; I know it!" she said, meeting his eyes with a steady look.
He turned away, very grave, but with a deep ejaculation of thankfulness. Diana's eyes filled; but she, too, turned away. She could add no more. It was not words, but living, that must speak for her now.
And it did—even that same evening. Mrs. Flandin would not go away; it was too good an opportunity of gathering information about various points on which the "town" had been curious and divided. She kept her place till after supper. But all she could see was a fair, quiet demeanour; an unruffled, beautiful face; and an unconscious dignity of carriage which was somewhat provokingly imposing. She saw that Diana was at home, and likely to be mistress in her own sphere; held in too much honour by her husband, and holding him in too much honour, for that a pin's point of malicious curiosity might find an entering place between them. She reported afterwards that the minister was a fool and his wife another, and so they fitted. Mrs. Starling was inclined to be of the same opinion.
The two most nearly concerned knew better. Fit they did not, though they were the only ones of all the world that knew it. While Diana had been away at Clifton, the minister had managed to make one of the company at Elmfield rather often, moved by various reasons. One effect, however, of this plan of action had been unfavourable to his own peace of mind. He saw Evan and came to know him; he would know him, though the young man would much rather have kept aloof from contact with Diana's husband. Basil's simplicity of manner and straightforwardness were too much for him. And while an unwilling and enormous respect for the minister grew up in Captain Knowlton's mind, the minister on his part saw and felt, and perhaps exaggerated, the attractiveness of the young army officer. Basil was not at all given to self-depreciation; in fact, he did not think of himself enough for such a mischievous mental transaction; however, he perceived the grace of figure and bearing, the air of command and the beauty of feature, which he thought might well take a woman's eye. "My poor Diana!" he said to himself; "her fancy has caught the stamp of all this—and will hold it. Naturally. She is not a woman to like and unlike. What chance for me!"
Which meditations, unwholesome as they were, did not prevent Basil's attaching himself to Captain Knowlton's society, and making a friend of him, in spite of both their selves, as it were. The captain's mental nature, he suspected and found, was by no means in order to correspond with his physical; and if a friend could help him, he would be that friend. And Basil did not see that the young officer's evident respect for himself, and succumbing to his friendly advances, were a very significant tribute to his own personal and other qualities. It was a little matter to him, indeed, such tribute, if he could not have it from his wife.
He had everything else in her that a man's heart could desire! He saw that, soon after her return from Clifton. Diana's demeanour had been gracious and sweet before, always, although with a shadow upon it. Now the shadow was gone, or changed; he could not tell which. She was not gay-spirited, as he had once known her; but she went about her house with a gentle grace which never failed. Mrs. Starling was at times exceedingly trying and irritating. Diana met and received it all as blandly as she would give her face to the west wind; at the same time, no rough wind could move her from the way of her duty. Mrs. Starling was able neither to provoke her nor prevail with her. She was the sweetest of ruling spirits within her house; without it, she was the most indefatigable and tender of fellow-workers to her husband. Tender, not to him, that is, but to all those for whom he and she ministered. A nurse to the sick, a provider to the very poor, a counsellor to the vexed,—for such would come to her, especially among the younger women,—a comforter to those in trouble. Such a comforter! "Lips of healing," her husband said of her once; "wise, rare; sweet as honey, but with the savour of the wind blowing over wild thyme." If a little of that sweetness could have come to him! But while her life was full of observance for him, gentle and submissive as a child to every expressed wish of his, and watchful to meet his unexpressed wish, it was the grief of Diana's life that she did not love this man. In the reserve of her New England nature, I think what she felt for him was hidden even from herself.
That is, I mean, as days and months went on. At Diana's first coming home from Clifton, no doubt her opinion of her own feelings, and Basil's opinion of them, was correct. If a change came, it came so imperceptibly that nobody knew it.
Diana's beauty at this time had taken a new phasis. It had lost the marble rigidity and calm impassiveness which had characterized it during all the time of her married life hitherto; and it had not regained the careless lightness of the days before she knew Evan. It was something lovelier than either; so lovely that Basil wondered, and Mrs. Starling sometimes stared, and every lip "in town" came to have nothing but utterances of respect, more often utterances of devotion, for the minister's wife,—I am afraid I cannot give you a just impression of it. For Diana's face had come curiously near the expression on the face of her own little child. Innocent, tender, pure,—something like that. Grave, but with no clouds at all; strong and purposeful, yet with an utter absence of self-will or self-consciousness. It had always been, to a certain degree, innocent and pure, but that was negative; and this was positive,—the refined gold that had been through the fire. And no baby's face is sweeter than Diana's was now, all blossoming as it were with love and humility. If her husband had loved her before, the feeling of longing and despair that came over him when he looked at this rarefied beauty would be hard to tell. He had ruined her life, he reproached himself; and she was lost to him for ever. Yet, as I said, though Diana's face was grave, it was a gravity wholly without clouds; the gravity of the summer dawn, when the stars are shining and the light in the East tells of the coming day.
But mental changes work slowly and insensibly ofttimes; and day after day and week after week went by, each with its fulness of business and cares; and no one in the little family knew exactly what forces were silently busy. So a year rolled round, and another year began its course, and ran it; and June came for the second time since Diana had returned from the seaside. Elmfield in all this time had not been revisited by its owners.
June had come again. Windows were open, and the breath of roses filled the minister's study; for Diana had developed lately a passion for flowers and for gardening, and her husband had given her with full hands all she wanted, and much more. Mrs. Starling had grumbled and been very sarcastic about it. However, Basil had ordered in plants and seeds and tools and books of instruction; he had become instructor himself; and the result was, the parsonage, as people began to call it, was encompassed with a little wilderness of floral beauty which was growing to be the wonder of Pleasant Valley. "It will do them good!" the minister said, when Diana called his attention to the fact that the country farmers passing by were falling into the habit of reining in their horses and stopping for a good long look. For instead of the patch of marigolds and hollyhocks in front of the house, all the wing inhabited by the minister and his family was surrounded with flowers. Roses bloomed in the beds and out of the grass, and climbed up on the walls of the house; white Annunciation lilies shone like stars here and there; whole beds of heliotrope were preparing their perfume; geraniums held up their elegant heads of every colour; verbenas and mignonette and honeysuckle and red lilies and yellow lilies and hardy gladiolus were either just beginning or in full beauty; with many more, too many to tell; and the old-fashioned guelder rose had shaken out its white balls of snow, and one or two laburnums were hung thick with their clusters of "dropping gold." The garden was growing large, and, as I said, become a wilderness of beauty. Nevertheless the roses kept their own, and this afternoon the breath of them, rising above all the other sweet breaths that were abroad, came in and filled the minister's study. Diana was there alone sitting by one of the open windows, busy with some work; not so busy but that she smelt the roses, and felt the glory of light and colour that was outside, and heard the hum of bees and the twitter of birds and the soft indistinguishable chirrup of insects, which filled the air. Diana sewed on, till another slight sound mingled with those—the tread of a foot on the gravel walk down below; then she lifted her head suddenly, and with that her hands and her work fell into her lap. It was long past mid-afternoon, and the lovely slant light striking over the roses and coming through the crown of a young elm, fell upon Basil, who was slowly sauntering along the garden walk with his little girl in his arms. Very slowly, and often standing still to exchange love passages and indulge mutual admiration with her. They were partly talking of the flowers, Diana could see; but her own eyes had no vision but for those two, the baby and the baby's father. One little fair fat arm was round Basil's neck, the other tiny hand was sometimes stretched out towards the lilies or the laburnums in critical or delighted notice-taking, the word accompaniment to which Diana could not hear but could well guess; at other times it was brought round ecstatically to join its companion round her father's neck, or lifted to his face with fingers of caressing, or thrust in among the locks of his hair, which last seemed to be a favourite pleasure. Basil would stand still at such times and talk to her, or wait, Diana knew with just what a smile in his eyes, to take the soft touches and return them. Diana's work was forgotten, and her eyes were riveted; why did the scene in the garden give her such pain? She would have said, if she had been asked, that it was self-reproach and sorrow for the inevitable. How came it that she held not as near a place to Basil as her child did? She ought, but it was not so. She thought, she wished she loved him! She ought to be as free to put her hand on the soft curls of Basil's hair as her baby was, but they stood too far apart from each other, and she would as soon have dared anything. And Basil never looked at her so now-a-days; he had found out how she felt, and knew she did not care for his looks; and kind, and gentle, and unselfish as he was, yes, and strong in self-command and self renunciation, he had resigned his life-hope and left her to her life-sorrow. Yet Diana knew, with every smile and kiss to the little one, what a cry of Basil's heart went out towards the child's mother. Only, he would never give that cry utterance again. "What can I do?" thought Diana. "I cannot bear it. And he thinks I am a great deal more unhappy than I am. Unhappy?—I am not unhappy—if only he were not unhappy."
She could not explain her feelings to herself, she had no notion that she was jealous of her own child; but the pain bit her, and she could not endure to sit up there at the window and look on. Rising hastily, she dropped her work out of her hand, and was about to go down into the garden to join them, when another glance showed her that Basil had turned and was coming back into the house. Diana listened to them as they mounted the stairs, Basil's feet and the baby's voice sounding together, with a curious unrest at her heart, and her eyes met the pair eagerly as they entered the room. From what impulse she could not have told, she advanced to meet them, and stretched out her hands to take the child, which, however, with a little confident cry of delight, turned from her and clasped both little arms again round her father's neck. Basil smiled; Diana tried to follow suit.
"She would rather be with you than with me," she remarked, however.
"I wonder at her bad taste!" said Basil. But he turned his face to the baby, and laid it gently against her soft cheek.
"It is because you are stronger," Diana went in.
"That is one thing. You may notice children always like strong arms."
"Her mother's arms are not weak."
"No—but I am not so strong as you, Basil, bodily or mentally. And I think that is more yet—mental strength, I mean. Children recognise that, and love to rest on it."
"You do not think such discrimination is confined to children?" said Basil, with a dry, quiet humourousness at which Diana could not help smiling, though she felt quite as much like a very different demonstration. She watched the two, as Basil walked on to his study-table and sat down, with the child on his knee; she saw the upturned eye of love with which the little one regarded him as he did this, and then how, with a long breath of satisfaction, she settled herself in her place, smoothed down her frock, and laid the little hands contentedly together in her lap. Basil drew his portfolio towards him and began to write a letter. Diana went to her work again in the window, feeling restless. She felt she must say something more, and in a different key, and as she worked she watched the two at the table. This was not the way things ought to be. Her husband must be told at least something of the change that had taken place in her; he ought to know that she was no longer miserable; he would be glad to know that. Diana thought he might have seen it without her telling; but if he did not, then she must speak. He had a right to so much comfort as she could give him, and he ought to be told that she was not now wishing to be in another presence and society than his. If she could tell him without his thinking too much—she watched till the letter was written and he was folding it up. And then Diana's tongue hesitated unaccountably.
"Basil," she began, obliging herself to speak,—"I can smell the roses again."
He looked up instantly with keen eyes.
"You know—there was a long while—a long while—in which I could not feel that anything was sweet."
"Now I can. I knew you ought to know. You would be glad. I am like a person who has been in a brain fever—or dead—and awaked to life and soundness again. You cannot think what it is to me to see the sky." Diana's eyes filled.
"What did you use to see?"
"The vault of my prison. What signified whether it were blue or brazen? But now"—
"I can see through."
Perhaps this was not very intelligible, for manifestly it was not easy for Diana to explain herself; but Basil this time did not speak, and she presently began again.
"I mean,—there is no prison vault, nor any prison any more; the walls that seemed to shut me in are dissolved, and I am free again."
"And you can see through?"—Basil repeated.
"Yes. Where my eyes were met by something harder than fate,—it is all broken up, and light, and clear, and I can see through."
"I never used to think you were a fanciful woman," said the minister, eyeing her intently, "but this time I do not quite follow you, Di. I am afraid to take your words for all they may mean."
"But you may."
"What may I?"
"They mean all I say."
"I am sure of that," said he, smiling, though he looked anxious; "but, you see, there is the very point of my difficulty."
"I mean, Basil, that I am out of my bondage,—which I thought never could be broken in this world."
"Out of what bondage, my love?"
"When I went down to Clifton, to Mrs. Sutphen's, do you know, I could think of nothing but—Evan Knowlton?"
Diana's colour stirred, but she looked her husband steadily in the face.
"I suspected it."
"For a long time I could not, Basil. Night and day I could think of nothing else. Wasn't that bondage?"
"Depends on how you take it," said the minister.
"But it was wrong, Basil."
"I found excuses for you, Diana."
"Did you?" she said humbly. "I daresay you did. It is like you. But it was wrong, and I knew it was wrong, and I could not help it. Is not that bondage of the worst sort? O, you don't know, Basil! you never knew such a fight between wrong and right; between your wish and your will. But for a long time I did not see that it was wrong; I thought it was of necessity."
"How came your view to change?"
"I don't know. All of a sudden. Something Mrs. Sutphen said one morning started my thoughts, and I saw at once that I was doing very wrong. Still it seemed as if I could not help it."
"How did you help it?"
"I didn't, Basil. I fought and fought—O, what a fight! It seemed like death, and worse, to give up Evan; and to stop thinking of him meant, to give him up. I could not gain the victory. But don't you remember telling me often that Christ would do everything for me if I would trust him?"
"Basil, he did. It wasn't I. At last I got utterly desperate, and I threw myself at his feet and claimed the promise. I was as helpless as I could be. And then Basil, presently,—I cannot tell how,—the work was done. The battle was fought and the victory was won, and I was free. And ever since I have been singing songs in my heart."
Basil did not flush with pleasure. Diana thought he grew pale, rather; but he bowed his head upon the head of the little one on his lap with a deep low utterance of thanksgiving. She thought he would have shown his pleasure differently. She did not know how to go on.
"It was not I, Basil"—she said after a pause.
"It never is I or you," answered the minister without looking up. "It is always Christ if anything is done."
"Since then, you see, I have felt like a freedwoman."
"Which you are."
"And then you cannot think what it was to me, and what it is, to smell the roses again. There were not many roses about Clifton at that time in September; but it was the bay, and the shores, and the vessels, and the sky. I seemed to have got new eyes, and everything was so beautiful."
Basil repeated his ejaculation of thanksgiving, but he said nothing more, and Diana felt somehow disappointed. Did he not understand that she was free? He bowed his head close down upon the head of his little daughter, and was silent.
"I knew you ought to know"—Diana repeated.
"Thank you," he said.
"And yet I couldn't tell you—though I knew you would be so glad for me and with me."
"I am unutterably glad for you."
And not with me? she said to herself. Why not? Isn't it enough, if I don't love anybody else? if I give him all I have to give? even though that be not what he gives to me. I wish Basil would be reasonable.
It was certainly the first time it had ever occurred to her to make him the subject of such a wish. But Diana did not speak out her thought, and of course her husband did not answer it.
DAIRY AND PARISH WORK.
According to her custom, Diana was up early the next morning, and down in her dairy while yet the sun was only just getting above the horizon. The dairy window stood open night and day; and the cool dewy freshness which was upon the roses and lilies outside was in there too among the pans of cream; the fragrance of those mingled with the different but very pure sweetness of these. Diana was skimming pan after pan; the thick yellow cream wrinkled up in rich folds under her skimmer; the skimming-shelf was just before the window, and outside of the window were the roses and honeysuckles. Diana's sleeves were rolled up above her elbows; her hands were disposing of their business with quick skill; yet now and then, even with a pan under her hand, she paused, leaned on the window sill, and looked out into the garden. She felt glad about something, and yet an unsatisfied query was in her heart; she was glad that she had at last told her husband how the spell was broken that had bound her to Evan and kept her apart from himself. "But he did not seem so glad as I expected!" Then she recalled the deep tone of his thanksgiving for her, and Diana's eyes took a yearning look which certainly saw no roses. "It was all for me; it was not for his own share; he did not think he had any share in it. He has a notion that I hate him; and I do not; I never did." It occurred to her here dimly that she had once felt a horror of him; and who would not rather have hatred than horror? She went on skimming her cream. What should she do? "I cannot speak about it again," she said to herself; "I cannot say any more to him. I cannot say—I don't know what I ought to say! but I wish he knew that I do not dislike him. He is keen enough; surely he will find it out."
Pan after pan was set aside; the churn was filled; and Diana began to churn. Presently in came Mrs. Starling.
"Hain't Josh brought the milk yet?"
"It's time he did. That fellow's got a lazy streak in him somewhere."
"It's only just half-past five, mother."
"The butter ought to be come by now, I should think."—Mrs. Starling was passing in and out, setting the table in the lean-to kitchen. She would have no "help" in her dominions, so it was only in Diana's part of the house that the little servant officiated, whom Basil insisted upon keeping for his wife's ease and comfort and leisure. Diana herself attended as of old to her particular sphere, the dairy. "How do you know it's just half-past five?" her mother went on presently.
"Watches!" exclaimed Mrs. Starling with much disgust. "Your husband is ridiculous about you."
But Diana could bear that.
"In your dairy is a queer place to wear a watch."
"Why, mother, it's for use, not for show."
"Make me believe that! There's a good deal of show about it, anyhow, with such a chain hanging to it."
"My husband gave it to me, you know, chain and all; I must wear it," Diana said with a face as sweet as the roses.
"Oh yes! your husband!" Mrs. Starling answered insultingly. "That will do to say to other people. Much you care what your husband does!"
Diana got up here, left her churn, came up to her mother, and put a hand upon her arm. The action and air of the woman were so commanding, that even Mrs. Starling stood still with a certain involuntary deference. Diana's face and voice, however, were as clear and calm as they were commanding.
"Mother,"—she said,—"you are mistaken. I care with all there is of me; heart and soul and life."
Mrs. Starling's eye shrank away. "Since when?" she asked incredulously.
"It does not matter since when. Whatever I have ever felt for other people, there is only one person in the world that I care for now; and that is, my husband."
"You'd better tell him so," sneered Mrs. Starling. "When do you expect your butter is going to come, if you stand there?"
"The butter is come," said Diana gently. She knew the sneer was meant to cover uneasy feeling; and if it had not, still she would not have resented it. She never resented anything now that was done to herself. In came Josh with the foaming pails. Diana's hands were in the butter, and her mother came to strain the milk.
"There had ought to be three quarts more, that ain't here," she grumbled.
"They ain't nowheres else, then," answered her factotum.
"Josh, you don't strip the cows clean."
"Who doos, then?" said Josh, grinning. "If 'tain't me, I don' know who 'tis. That 'ere red heifer is losin' on her milk, though, Mis' Starlin'. She had ought to be fed sun'thin'."
"Well, feed her, then," cried the mistress. "You know enough for that. You must keep up the milk this month, Josh; the grass is first-rate."
Diana escaped away.
A while later the family was assembled at breakfast.
"Where's the child?" inquired Mrs. Starling.
"I believe she is out in the garden, mother."
"She oughtn't to be out before she has had her breakfast. 'Tain't good for her."
"O, she has had her breakfast," said Diana. This was nothing new. Diana as well as her husband was glad to keep the little one from Mrs. Starling's table, where, unless they wanted her to be fed on pork and pickles and the like, it was difficult to have a harmonious meal. It was often difficult at any rate!
"Who's with her?" Mrs. Starling went on.
"Her father was with her. Now Prudence is looking after her."
"Prudence! You want to keep a girl about as much as I want to keep a boat. You have no use for her."
"She is useful just now," put in the Dominie.
"Why can't Diana take care of her own child, and feed her when she takes her own meals?—as I used to do, and as everybody else does."
"You think that is a convenient arrangement for all parties?" said the minister.
"I hate to have danglers about!" said Mrs. Starling. "If there's anything I abominate, it's shiftlessness. I always found my ten fingers was servants enough for me; and what they couldn't do I could go without. And I don't like to see a daughter o' mine sit with her hands before her and livin' off other people's strength!"
Diana laughed, a low, sweet laugh, that was enough to smooth away the wrinkles out of anybody's mood.
"She has to do as she's told," said the minister sententiously.
"That's because she's a fool."
"Do you think so?" Basil answered with unchanged good humour.
"I never took my lessons from anybody."
"Perhaps it would have been better if you had."
"And you are spoiling her," Mrs. Starling added inconsistently.
"I wonder you haven't."
Mrs. Starling paused to consider what the minister meant. Before she came to speech again, he rose from the table.
"Will you come to my study, Diana, after breakfast?"
"Who's goin' to make my cake, then?" cried the mistress of the house. "Society's to meet here again this afternoon."
"I'll make it, mother—a mountain cake, if you like," said Diana, also rising. "Basil won't want me all the morning." But she was eager to hear what he had to say to her, and hurried after him. He had seemed to her more than usually preoccupied.
"I do think," she remarked as she reached the study, "the Society eat more cake than—their work is worth."
"Heresy," said Basil, smiling.
"They don't do much sewing, Basil."
"They do something else. Never mind; let them come and have a good time. It won't hurt anybody much."
Diana looked at him and smiled, and then waited anxiously. She longed for some words from Basil different from those he had spoken last night. Could he not see, that if her passion for Evan was broken, there was nothing left for him to look grave about? And ought he not to be jubilant over the confession she had just made to her mother? Diana was jubilant over it herself; she had set that matter clear at last. It is true, Basil had not heard the confession, but ought he not to divine it, when it was the truth? "If I do not just love him," said Diana to herself, "at least he is the only one I care for in all the world. That would have made him glad once. And he don't look glad. Does he expect me to speak out and tell him all that?"
Basil did not look as if he expected her to do any such thing. He was rather graver than usual, and did not at once say anything. Through the open window came the air, still damp with dew, laden with the scent of honeysuckle and roses, jocund with the shouts of birds; and for one instant Diana's thoughts swept back away to years ago, with a wondering recognition of the change in herself since those June days. Then her husband began to speak.
"I have had a call, Diana."
"A call? You have a good many of them always, Basil. What was this?"
"Of a different sort. A call for me—not a call upon me."
"Well, there have always been calls for you too, in plenty, ever since I have known you. What do you mean?"
"This is a call to me to leave Pleasant Valley," said Basil, watching her, yet without seeming to do so. Diana looked bewildered.
"To leave Pleasant Valley? Why? And where would you go, Basil?"
"I am called, because the people want somebody and have pitched upon me. The place is a manufacturing town, not very far from Boston."
"Are you going?"
"That is the point upon which I desire to have your opinion."
"But, Basil, the people here want you too."
"Then what does it signify, whether other people want you?"
"Insomuch as the 'other people' are more in numbers and far more needy in condition."
"Want you more"—said Diana wistfully.
"That is the plain English of it."
"And will you go?"
"What do you counsel?"
"I do not know the people"—said Diana, breathless.
"Nor I, as yet. The church that calls me is itself a rich little church, which has been accustomed, I am afraid, for some time, to a dead level in religion."
"They must want you then, badly," said Diana. "That was how Pleasant Valley was five years ago."
"But round the church lies on every hand the mill population, for whom hardly any one cares. They need not one man, but many. Nothing is done for them. They are almost heathen, in the midst of a land called Christian."
"Then you will go?" said Diana, looking at Mr. Masters, and wishing that he would speak to her with a different expression of face. It was calm, sweet, and high, as always; but she knew he thought his wife was lost to him for ever. "And yet, I told him, last night!" she said to herself. Really, she was thinking more of that than of this other subject Basil had unfolded to her.
"I do not know," he answered. "How would you like to run over there with me and take a look at the place? I have a very friendly invitation to come and bring you,—for the very purpose."
"Run over? Why, it must be more than one day's journey?"
"One runs by railway," said Basil simply. "What do you think? Will you go?"
"O yes, indeed! if you will let me. And Rosy?"
"We will go nowhere without Rosy."
Diana made her cake like one in a dream.
The journey to Mainbridge, the manufacturing town in question, took place within a few days. With eager cordiality the minister and his family were welcomed in the house of one of the chief men of the church and of the place, and made very much at home. It was a phasis of social life which Diana had hardly touched ever before. Wealth was abounding and superabounding; the house was large, the luxury of furnishing and fitting, of service and equipage, was on a scale she had never seen. Basil was amused to observe that she did not seem to see it now; she took it as a matter of course, and fitted in these new surroundings as though her life had been lived in them. The dress of the minister's wife was very plain, certainly; her muslins were not costly, and they were simply made; yet nobody in the room looked so much dressed as she. It was the dignity of her beauty that so attired her; it was beauty of mind and body both; and both made the grace of her movements and the grace of her quiet so exquisite as it was. Basil smiled—and sighed.
But there was no doubt Diana saw the mill people. The minister and his wife were taken to see the mills, of course, divers and various—silk mills, cotton mills, iron mills. The machinery, and the work done by it, were fascinating to Diana and delightful; the mill people, men, women, and children, were more fascinating by far, though in a far different way. She watched them in the mills, she watched them when she met them in the street, going to or from work.
"Do they go to church?" she asked once of Mr. Brandt, their entertainer. He shook his head.
"They are tired with their week's work when Saturday night comes, and want to rest. Sunday was given for rest," he said, looking into Diana's face, which was a study to him.
"Don't you think," she said, "rest of body is a poor thing without rest of mind?"
"My mind cannot rest unless my body does," he answered, laughing.
"Take it the other way—don't you know what it is to have rest of mind make you forget weariness of body?"
"No—nor you either," said he.
"Then I am sorry for you; and I wish I could get at the mill people."
"To tell them what I know about it."
"But you could not get at them, Mrs. Masters. They are in the mills from seven till seven—or eight, and come out tired and dirty; and Sunday, as I told you, they like to stay at home and rest and perhaps clean up."
"If there is no help for that," said Diana, "there ought to be no mills."
"And no manufacturers?"
"What are silk and iron, to the bodies and souls of men? Basil, does that passage in the Revelation mean that?"
"What passage?" said Mr. Brandt. "Here is a Bible, Mrs. Masters; perhaps you will be so good as to find the place. I am afraid from your expression, it is not a flattering passage for us millowners. What are the words you refer to?"
I think he wanted to draw out Diana much more than the meaning of Scripture. She took the Bible a little doubtfully and glanced at Basil. He was smiling at her in a reassuring way, but did not at all offer to help. Diana's thoughts wandered somewhat, and she turned the leaves of the Bible unsuccessfully. "Where is it, Basil?"
"You are thinking of the account of the destruction of Babylon. It is in the eighteenth chapter."
"But Babylon!" said the host. "We have nothing to do with Babylon. That means Rome, doesn't it?"
"Here's the chapter," said Diana. "No, it cannot mean Rome, Mr. Brandt; though Dean Stanley seems to assume that it does, in spite of the fact which he naively points out, that the description don't fit."
"Basil, won't you explain?"
"It is merely an assumption of old Testament imagery," said Basil. "At a time when lineal Israel stood for the church of God upon earth, Babylon represented the head and culmination of the world-power, the church's deadly opponent and foe. Babylon in the Apocalypse but means that of which Nebuchadnezzar's old Babylon was the type."
"And what is that?"
"The power of this world, of which Satan is said to be the prince."
"But what do you mean by the world, Mr. Masters? We cannot get out of the world—it is a pretty good world, too, I think, take it for all in all. People talk of being worldly and not worldly;—but they do not know what they are talking about."
"Why not?" Diana asked.
"Well, now, ask my wife," Mr. Brandt answered, laughing. "She thinks it is 'worldly' to have a cockade on your coachman's hat; it is not worldly to have the coachman, or the carriage, and she don't object to a coat with buttons. Then it is not worldly to give a party,—but it is worldly to dance; it is very worldly to play cards. There's hair-splitting somewhere, and my eyes are not sharp enough to see the lines."
Diana sat with her book in her hand, looking up at the speaker; a look so fair and clear and grave that Mr. Brandt was again moved by curiosity, and tempted to try to make her speak.
"Can you make it out?" he said, smiling.
"Why, yes!" said Diana; "but there is no hair-splitting. It is very simple. There are just two kingdoms in the world, Mr. Brandt; and whatever does not belong to the one, belongs to the other. Whatever is not for God, is for the world."
"Then your definition of the 'world' is?"—
"All that is not God's."
"But I am not clear yet. I don't see how you draw the line. Take my mills, for example; they belong to this profane, work-a-day world; yet I must run them. Is that worldly?"
"Yes, if you do not run them for God."
Mr. Brandt stared a little.
"I confess I do not see how that is to be done," he owned.
"The business that you cannot do for God, you had better not do at all," said Diana gently.
"But spinning cotton?"—
"Spinning cotton, or anything else that employs men and makes money."
"You can do it for God, cannot you?" said Diana in the same way. "You can employ the men and make the money for his sake, and in his service."
"But that is coming pretty close," said the millowner. "Suppose I want a little of the money for myself and my family?"
"I am speaking too much!" said Diana, with a lovely flush on her cheek, and looking up to her husband. "I wish you would take the word, Basil."
"I hope Mr. Masters is going to be a little more merciful to the weaknesses of ordinary humanity," said Mr. Brandt, half lightly. "So tremendous a preacher have I never heard yet."
Basil was silent, and Diana looked down at the volume in her hand.
"Won't you go on, Mrs. Masters?" said her host. "What do you find for me there?"
"I was looking for my quotation," said Diana; "I had not got it quite right."
"How is it?"
"Here is a list of the luxuries in which Babylon traded:—'The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, and cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.'"
"Sounds for all the world like an inventory of the things in my house," said Mr. Brandt. "Pray what of all that? Don't you like all those things?"
"'—For in one hour so great riches is come to nought.'"
"But what harm in these things, or most of them, Mrs. Masters?"
Diana glanced up at Basil and did not answer. He answered.
"No harm—so long as business and the fruits of business are kept within the line we were speaking of; so long as all is for God and to God. If it is not for him, it is for the 'world.'"
"O my dear Mrs. Masters!" cried Mrs. Brandt, running in,—"here you are. I was looking for you.—I came to ask—shall I order the landau for five o'clock, to drive to the lake?"
Diana was glad to have the conversation broken up. When the hour for the drive came, and she sank into the luxurious, satiny depths of the landau, her thoughts involuntarily recurred to it. The carriage was so very comfortable! It rolled smoothly along, over good roads, drawn by well-trotting horses; the motion was delightful. Diana's thoughts rolled on too. Suddenly Mr. Brandt leaned over towards her.
"Is this carriage a 'worldly' indulgence, Mrs. Masters?"
Diana started. "I don't know," she said.
"Ah," said the other, laughing at her startled face,—"I am glad to see that even you may have a doubt on that subject. You cannot blame less etherealized persons, like my wife and me, if we go on contentedly, with no doubts."
"But you mistake me,"—said Diana.
"You said, you did not know."
"Because I don't know you."
"What has that to do with it?"
"If I knew you well, Mr. Brandt, I should know whether this carriage is the Lord's or not."
The expression of the gentleman's face upon this was hardly agreeable; he sat back in his seat and looked at the prospect; and so Diana tried to do, but for a time the landscape to her was indistinguishable. Her thoughts went back to the mills and the mill people; pale, apathetic, reserved, sometimes stern, they had struck her painfully as a set of people who did not own kindred with other classes of their fellow-creatures; apart, alone, without instruction, without sympathy; not enjoying this life, nor on the way to enjoy the next. The marks of poverty were on them too, abundantly. Diana's mind was too full of these people to allow her leisure for the beauties of nature; or if she felt these, to let her feel them without a great sense of contrast. Then she did not know whether she had spoken wisely. Alone in her room at night with Basil she began to talk about it. She wished that he would begin; but he did not, so she must.
"Basil,—did I say too much to Mr. Brandt to-day?"
"I guess not."
Diana knew by the tone of these words that her husband was on this subject contented.
"What do you think of the mill people?"
"I am very curious to find out what impression they make on you."
"Basil," said Diana, her voice trembling, "they break my heart!"
"What's to be done in that case?"
"I don't know. Nothing follows upon that. But how do you feel?"
"Very much as if I would like to prove the realizing of that old prophecy—'To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see; and they that have not heard shall understand.'"
"That is just how I feel, Basil. But they do not go to church, people say; how could you get at them?"
"We could look them up at their own homes; we could arrange meetings for them that they would like; we could work ourselves into their affections, by degrees, and then the door would be open for us to bring Christ in. We could give them help too, where help is needed."
"Don't you feel as I do? You said so," he answered with a grave smile.
"O, I do!" said Diana. "I cannot think of anything lovelier than to see those faces change with the knowledge of Christ."
"Then you would be willing to leave our present field of work?"
"It does not seem to want us as this does—not by many fold."
"Would your mother leave Pleasant Valley?"
"How, then, Di, about you?
"The first question is duty, Basil."
"I think mine is to come here."
"Then it must be mine," said Diana, with a sort of disappointment upon her that he should speak in that way.
"And would it be your pleasure too?"
"Why, certainly. Basil, I cannot imagine pleasure to be apart from duty."
"Thank you," he said gently. "And I thank God, who has brought you so far in your lesson-learning as to know that."
Diana said no more. She was ready to cry, with the feeling that her husband thought himself to have so little to do with her pleasure. Tears, however, were not much in her way, and she did not shed any, but she speculated. Had he really to do with her pleasure? It was different certainly once. She had craved to be at a distance from him; she could remember the time well; but the time was past. Was it reasonable to expect him to know that fact? He had thoroughly learned the bitter truth that her heart was not his, and could never be his; what should tell him that the conditions of things were changed. Were they changed? Diana was in great confusion. She began to think she did not know herself. She did not hate Mr. Masters any more; nay, she declared to herself she never had hated him; she always had liked him; only then she had loved Evan Knowlton, and now that was gone. She did not love anybody. There was no reason in the world why Mr. Masters should not be contented. "I think," said Diana to herself, "I give him enough of my heart to content him. I wonder what would content him? I do not care two straws for anybody else in all the world. He would say, if I told him that, he would say it is a negative proposition. Suppose I could go further"—and Diana's cheeks began to burn—"suppose I could, I could not possibly stand up and tell him so. I cannot. He ought to see it for himself. But he does not. He ought to be contented—I think he might be contented—with what I give him, if it isn't just"—
Diana broke off with her thoughts very much disturbed. She thought she did not love her husband, but things were no longer clear; except that Basil's persistent ignorance of the fact that they had changed, chafed and distressed her.
The morning of the next day was spent in still further visits to still more mills. Mr. Brandt was much struck with the direction his guests' attention seemed to take.
"You are very fond of machinery," he remarked to Diana.
"Yes—I don't know much about it," she answered.
"Surely that is not true after these two or three days' work?"
"I knew nothing about it before. Yes, I do enjoy it, Mr. Brandt, with you and Mr. Masters to explain things to me; but it is the people that interest me most."
"The mill hands?" Mrs. Brandt asked.
"Yes; the mill hands."
"What can you find interesting in them? I am half afraid of them, for my part."
"They look as if they wanted friends so much."
"Friends?" repeated Mrs. Brandt. "I suppose they have friends among themselves. Why should not they? Well, it is time you had a change of society, I think. My husband has taken you among the mill people for two days; now to-night I will introduce you to a different set; some of your church people. I want you to take rest this afternoon, my dear Mrs. Masters—now won't you!—so as to be able to enjoy the evening. I am sure Brandt has fatigued you to death. I never can stand going up and down those stairs in the mills, and standing about; it kills me."
"I wonder how they bear standing at the looms or the other machines all day?"
"They? O, they are accustomed to it, I suppose. An hour or two of it breaks me down. Now rest, will you? It's quite a great occasion to-night. One of our greatest men among the millowners, and one of the pillars of the church you and Mr. Masters are coming to take care of, gives an entertainment to his daughter to-night; a bride—married lately—just come home and just going away again. You'll see all our best people. Now please go and rest."
Diana went to her room and rested, outwardly. In her mind thoughts were very busy. And when it was time to dress, they were hardly diverted from their subjects. It was with a sort of unconscious instinct that Diana threw her beautiful hair into the wavy masses and coils which were more graceful than she knew and crowned her so royally; and in the like manner that she put on a dress of soft white muslin. It had no adornment other than the lace which finished it at throat and wrists; she looked most like a bride herself. So Basil thought, when he came to fetch her; though he did not say his thought, fearing lest he might graze something in her mind which would pain her. He often withheld words for such a reason.
"Will it do?" said Diana, seeing him look at her.
"Too good for the occasion!" said Basil, shaking his head.
"Too much dressed?" said Diana. "I thought I must dress as much as I could. Is it too much, Basil?"
"Nobody else will think so," said the minister with a queer smile.
"Do you think so?"
"You are just as you ought to be. All the same, it is beyond the company. Never mind. Come!"
Downstairs another sort of criticism.
"My dear Mrs. Masters! Not a bit of colour! You will be taken for the bride yourself. All in white, except your beautiful hair! Wait, that won't do; let me try if I can't improve things a little—do you mind?—Just let me see how this will look." Diana submitted patiently, and Mrs. Brandt officiously fastened a knot of blue ribband in her bright hair. She was greatly pleased with the effect, which Diana could not see. However, when they had reached the house they were going to, and leaving the dressing-room Diana took her husband's arm to go down to the company, he detained her to let Mr. and Mrs. Brandt pass on before, and then with a quick and quiet touch of his fingers removed the blue bow and put it in his pocket.
"Basil!" said Diana, smiling,—"she will miss it."
"So shall I. It commonized the whole thing."
There was nothing common left, as every one instantly recognised who saw Diana that evening. A presence of such dignified grace, a face of such lofty and yet innocent beauty, so sweet a movement and manner, nobody there knew anything like it in Mainbridge. On the other hand, it was Diana's first experience of a party beyond the style and degree of Pleasant Valley parties. She found immediately that she was by much the plainest dressed woman in the company; but she forgot to think of the dresses, the people struck her with so much surprise.
Of course everybody was introduced to her; and everybody said the same things.
They hoped she liked Mainbridge; they hoped she was coming to live among them; Mr. Masters was coming to the church, wasn't he? and how did he like the looks of the place?
"You see the best part of the church here to-night," remarked one stout elderly lady in a black silk and with flowers in her cap; a very well-to-do, puffy old lady;—"you see just the best of them, and all the best!"
"What do you call the best part of a church?" Diana asked, looking round the room.
"Well, you see them before you. There is Mr. Waters standing by the piano—he's the wealthiest man in Mainbridge; a very wealthy man. The one with his head a little bald, speaking just now to Mrs. Brandt, is one of our elders; he's pretty comfortable too; a beautiful place he has—have you seen it? No? You ought to have gone there to see his flowers; the grounds are beautiful, laid out with so much taste. But if you are fond of flowers, you should go to see Mr. Tillery's greenhouses. That is Mr. Tillery in the corner, between the two young ladies in white. Mr. Tillery's greenhouses extend half a mile, or would, if they were set in a line, you know."
"Are there any poor people in the church?"
"Poor people?" The article called for seemed to be rare. "Poor people? There are a few, I believe. Not many; the poor people go to the mission chapel. O, we support a mission; that's down in the mill quarter, where the hands live, I mean"—
"And O, Mrs. Masters," a young lady struck in here, "you are coming, aren't you? I have fallen in love with you, and I want you to come. And O, I want you to tell me one thing—is Mr. Masters very strict?"
"About what?" said Diana, smiling.
"Yes; he is very strict about telling the truth."
"O, of course; but I mean about other things; what one may do or mayn't do. Is he strict?"
"Not any stricter than his Master."
"His master? who's that? But I mean,—does he make a fuss about dancing?"
"I never saw Mr. Masters make a fuss about anything."
"O, delightful! then he don't mind? You know, Mrs. Masters, the Bible says David danced."
"The Bible tells why he danced, too," said Diana, wholly unable to keep her gravity.
"Does it? I don't recollect. And O, Mrs. Masters, I want to know another thing; does Mr. Masters use the Episcopal form in marrying people?"
"You are concerned in the question?"
"O yes. I might be, you know, one of these days; and I always think the Episcopal form is so dignified and graceful; the ring and all that; the Presbyterian form is so tucky and ugly. O, Mrs. Masters, don't you like a form for everything?"
Before Diana could return an answer to this somewhat comprehensive question, a slight sound caused her to forget both question and speaker and the place where she was, as utterly as if they all had been swept from the sphere of the actual. It belonged to the sweet poise and calm of her heart and life that she was able to keep still as she was and make no movement and give no sign. The sound she had heard was a little running laugh; she thought it came from the next room; yet she did not turn her head to look that way, though it could have been uttered, she knew, from no throat but one. The young lady friend reiterated the question in which she was interested, and Diana answered; I do not know how, nor did she; while she was at the same time collecting her forces and reviewing them for the coming skirmish with circumstances. Evan Knowlton was here at Mainbridge. How could it possibly be? And even as the thought went through her, came that laugh again.
Diana's mind began to be in a great state of confusion, which presently concentred itself upon the one point of keeping a calm and unmoved exterior. And to her surprise, this became easy. The confusion subsided, like the vibrations of harp-strings which have been brushed by a harsh hand; only her heart beat a little, waiting for the coming encounter.
"Shall I take you in to see the bride?" Mr. Brandt here presented himself, offering his services. And Diana rose without hesitation and put her arm in his. She was glad, however, that their progress through the company was slow; she hoped Evan would see before he had to speak to her. She herself felt ready for anything.
It was with a strange feeling, nevertheless, that she went through the introduction to the pale lady of fashion who was Evan's second choice. Beyond white silk and diamonds and a rather delicate appearance, Diana could in that moment discern nothing. Her senses did not seem to serve her well. The lady was very much in request besides, amid her old friends and acquaintances, and there was no chance to talk to her. Then followed the introduction to the bridegroom. He was going to content himself with a bow, but Diana stretched out her hand and gave his a warm grasp. "I have seen Captain Knowlton before,"—she said simply. She was perfectly quiet now, but she saw that he was not; and that he was willing to take refuge with other claimants upon his attention to escape any particular words with her. She stepped back, and gradually got behind people, where the sight of her could not distress him. It had distressed him, she had seen that. Was it on her account? or on his own? Gradually, watching her chances, she was able to work her way back into the other room, which was comparatively empty; and there she sat down at a table covered with photographs. She would go away, she thought, as soon as it could gracefully be done. And yet, she would have liked to speak a few words with Evan, this last time they might ever be together. What made him embarrassed in meeting her? With his bride just beside him, that ought not to be, she thought.
The company had almost all crowded into the other room about the bride, and were fully occupied with her; and Diana was alone. She turned over the photographs and reviewed the kings and queens of Europe, with no sort of intelligence as to their families or nationalities, mechanically, just to cover her abstraction, and to seem to be doing something. Then suddenly she knew that Evan was beside her. He had come round and entered by the door from the hall; and now they both stood together for a moment, shielded by a corner of the partition wall between the rooms. Diana had risen.
"This is a very painful meeting"—Captain Knowlton said, after a silence which would have been longer if he had dared to let it be so.
"No"—said Diana, looking at him with as clear and fair a brow as if she had been the moon goddess whose name she bore; and her voice was very sweet. "Not painful, Evan; why should it be? I am glad to see you again."
"I didn't know you were here"—he went on hurriedly, in evident great perturbation.
"And we did not know you were here. I had no notion of it—till I heard your voice in the next room. I knew it instantly."
"I would have spared you this, if I could have foreseen it."
"Spared me what?"
"All this,—this pain,—I know it must be pain to you.—I did not anticipate it."
"Why should it be pain to me?" inquired Diana steadily.
"I know your feeling—I would not have brought Clara into your presence"—
"I am very glad to have seen her," said Diana in the same quiet way, looking at Evan fixedly. "I should have been glad to see more of her, and learn to know her. I could scarcely speak to her for the crowd around."
"Yes, she is a great favourite, and everybody is eager to see her before she goes."
"You are going away soon?"
"O yes!—to my post."
"I hope she will make you happy, Evan," Diana said gently and cordially.
"You are very good, I am sure. I don't want you to think, Diana, that I—that I, in fact, have forgotten anything"—
"You cannot forget too soon," she answered, smiling, "everything that Clara would not wish you to remember."
"A fellow is so awfully lonely out there on the frontiers"—he said, mumbling his words through his moustache in a peculiar way.
"You will not be lonely now, I hope."
"You see, Di, you were lost to me. If I could only think of you as happy"—
"Happy?" he repeated, looking at her. He had avoided her eyes until now.
"Then you have forgotten?"
"One does not forget," said Diana, with again a grave smile. "But I have ceased to look back sorrowfully."
"But—you are married"—
Then light flushed into Diana's face. She understood Evan's allusion.
"Yes," she said,—"to somebody who has my whole heart."
"But—you are married to Mr. Masters?"—he went on incredulously.
"Certainly. And I love my husband with all the strength there is in me to love. I hope your wife will love you as well," she added with another smile, a different one, which was exceedingly aggravating to the young man. No other lips could wreathe so with such a mingling of softness and strength, love, and—yes, happiness. Captain Knowlton had seen smiles like that upon those lips once, long ago; never a brighter or more confident one. He felt unaccountably injured.
"You did not speak so when I saw you last," he remarked.
"No. I was a fool," said Diana, with somewhat unreasonable perverseness. "Or, if I was not a fool, I was weak."
"I see you are strong now," said the young officer bitterly. "I was never strong; and I am weak still. I have not forgotten, Diana."
"You ought to forget, Evan," she said gently.
"It's impossible!" said he, hastily turning over photographs on the table.
Diana would have answered, but the opportunity was gone. Other people came near; the two fell apart from each other, and no more words were interchanged between them.
It grieved but did not astonish Basil to perceive, when he joined Diana in their own room that night, that she had been weeping; and it only grieved him to know that the weeping was renewed in the night. He gave no sign that he knew it, and Diana thought he was asleep through it all. Tears were by no means a favourite indulgence with her; this night the spring of them seemed to be suddenly unsealed, and they flowed fast and free, and were not to be checked. Neither did Diana quite clearly know what moved them. She was very sorry for Evan; yes, but these tears she was shedding were not painful tears. It came home to her, all the sorrowful waiting months and years that Basil had endured on her account; but sympathy was not a spring large enough to supply such a flow. She was glad those months were ended; yet they were not ended, for Basil did not know the facts she had stated with so much clearness to his whilome rival; she had not told himself, and he did not guess them. "He might," said Diana to herself,—"he ought,"—at the same time she knew now there was something for her to do. How she should do it, she did not know.
They returned to Pleasant Valley that day, and Basil was immediately plunged in arrears of business. For the present Diana had to attend to her mother, whose conversation was anything but agreeable after she learned that her son-in-law had accepted the call to Mainbridge.
"Ministers are made of stuff very like common people," she declared. "Every one goes where he can get the most."
"You know Mr. Masters has plenty already, mother; plenty of his own."
"Those that have most already are always the ones that want more. I've seen that a thousand times. If a man's property lies in an onion, he'll likely give you half of it if you want it; if he's got all Pleasant Valley, the odds are he won't give you an onion."
Diana would have turned the conversation, but Mrs. Starling came back to the subject.
"What do you suppose you are going to do with me?"
"Mother, that is for you to choose. You know, where ever we are, there's a home for you if you will have it."
"It's a pleasure to your husband to have me, too, ain't it?"
"It is always a pleasure to him to do what is right."
"Complimentary! You have grown very fond of him, haven't you, all of a sudden?"
But this subject Diana would not touch. Not to her mother Not to any one, till the person most concerned knew the truth; and most certainly after that not to any one else. Evan had been told; there had been a reason; she was glad she had told him.
"What do you suppose I'd do in Mainbridge?" Mrs. Starling went on.
"There is plenty to do, mother. It is because there is so much to do, that we are going."
"Dressing and giving parties. I always knew your husband held himself above our folks. He'll be suited there."
This tried Diana, it was so very far from the truth. She fled the field. It was often the safest way. But she was very sorry for her mother. She went to Basil's study, where now no one was, and sat down by the window that looked into the garden. There Rosy presently caught sight of her; came to her, and climbed up into her lap; and for a good while the two entertained one another; the child going on in wandering sweet prattle, while the mother's thoughts, though she answered her, kept a deeper current of their own all the while. She was pondering as she sat there and smelled the roses in the garden and talked to the small Rose in her lap,—she was pondering what she should do to let her husband know what she now knew about herself. One would say, the simplest way would be to tell him! But Diana, with all her simplicity and sweetness, had a New England nature; and though she could speak frankly enough when spoken to, on this or any other subject, she shrank from volunteering revelations that were not expected of her; revelations that were so intimate, and belonged to her very inner self; and that concerned besides so vitally her relations with another person, even though that person were her husband. At the mere thought of doing it, the colour stirred uneasily in Diana's face. Why could not Basil divine? Looking out into the garden, both mother and child, and talking very busily one of them, thinking very busily the other, neither of them heard Basil come in.
"Where's papa?" Rosy was at the moment asking, in a tone sufficiently indicating that in her view of things he had been gone long enough.
"Not very far off"—was the answer, close behind them. Rosy started and threw herself round towards her father, and Diana also started and looked up; and in her face not less than in the little one there was a flash and a flush of sudden pleasure. Basil stooped to put his lips to Rosy's, and then, reading more than he knew in Diana's eyes, he carried the kiss to her lips also. It was many a day since he had done the like, and Diana's face flushed more and more. But Basil had taken up Rosy into his arms, and was interchanging a whole harvest of caresses with her. Diana turned her looks towards the garden, and felt ready to burst into tears. Could it be that he was proud, and intended to revenge upon her the long avoidance to which in days past she had treated him? Not like what she knew of Mr. Masters, and Diana was aware she was unreasonable; but it was sore and impatient at her heart, and she wanted to be in Rosy's place. And Basil the while was thinking whether by his unwonted caress he had grieved or distressed his wife. He touched her shoulder gently, and said,
"Forgive you what?" said Diana, looking round.
"My taking an indulgence that perhaps I should not have taken."
"You are very much mistaken, Basil," said Diana, rising; and her voice trembled and her lips quivered. She thought he was rather cruel now.
"But I have troubled you?" he said, looking earnestly at her.
Diana hesitated, and the quiver of her lips grew more uncontrollable. "Not in the way you think," she answered.
"How then?" he asked gently. "But I have troubled you. How, Di?"
The last two words were spoken with a very tender, gentle accentuation, and they broke Diana down. She laid one hand on her husband's arm, and the other, with her face in it, on his shoulder, and burst into tears.
I do not know what there is in the telegraphy of touch and look and tone; but something in the grip of Diana's hand, and in her action altogether, wrought a sudden change in Basil, and brought a great revelation. He put his little girl down out of his arms and took his wife in them. And for minutes there was no word spoken; and Rosy was too much astonished at the strange motionless hush they maintained to resent at first her own dispossession and the great slight which had been done her.
There had come a honey-bee into the room by mistake, and not finding there what he expected to find, he was flying about and about, trying in vain to make his way to something more in his line than books; and the soft buzz of the creature was the only sound to be heard, till Rosy began to complain. She did not know what to make of the utter stillness of the two figures beside her, who stood like statues; was furthermore not a little jealous of seeing what she considered her own prerogative usurped by another; and finally began an importunate petitioning to be taken up again. But Rosy's voice, never neglected before, was not heard to-day. Neither of them heard it. The consciousness that was nearest was overpowering, and barred out every other.
"Diana"—said Basil at last in a whisper; and she looked up, all flushed and trembling, and did not meet his eyes. Neither did she take her hand from his shoulder; they had not changed their position.
"Diana,—what are you going to say to me?"
"Haven't I said it?" she answered with a moment's glance and smile; and then between smiles and tears her head sank again.
"Why did you never tell me before?" he said with a breath that was almost a sob, and at the same time had a somewhat imperative accent of demand in it.
"I did not know myself."
"Now?"—repeated Diana, half laughing.
"Yes, now; what have you got to tell me?"
"Do you want me to tell you what you know already?"
"You have told me nothing, and I do not feel that I know anything till you have told me," he said in a lighter tone. "Hallo, Rosy!—what's the matter?"
For Rosy, seeing herself entirely to all appearance supplanted, had now broken out into open lamentations, too heartfelt to be longer disregarded. Diana gently released herself, and stooped down and took the child up, perhaps glad of a diversion; but Rosy instantly stretched out her arms imploringly to go to her father.
"I was jealous of her, a little while ago," Diana remarked as the exchange was made.
But at that word, Basil set the child, scarcely in his arms, out of them again on the floor; and folding Diana in them anew, paid her some of the long arrear of caresses so many a day withheld. Ay, it was the first time he had known he might without distressing her; and no doubt lips can do no more silently to reveal a passion of affection than these did then. If Basil had had a revelation made to him, perhaps so did Diana; but I hardly think Diana was surprised. She knew something of the depths and the contained strength in her husband's character; but it is safe to say, she would never be jealous of Rosy again! Not anything like these demonstrations had ever fallen to Rosy's share.