"Well, as I was about to say, Nora Costello came up to London; and there she found her brother, a brown and bearded man in command of a schooner, 'The Mary Ann,' plying between New York and Nova Scotia. He had been looking forward joyfully to his homecoming; but when he learned of his father's death, he was all broken up, and talked about its being a judgment of God on himself."
"Rather severe on his father," grumbled Flint; but no one heeded him, and the Doctor continued:—
"Costello felt so awfully cut up, that one night he came near drowning himself; and after that his sister did not dare leave him alone, but went about everywhere with him; and one night they came upon a Salvation Army meeting, with drums and torches and things, in the streets of the East End. General Booth was there; and, my soul! to hear that girl talk, you would think he was the archangel Gabriel, with the sword of the Lord in his hand."
"It was Michael who carried the sword," came from Flint's corner, exasperating even Brady beyond endurance.
"Come, Flint, you're too bad. Hold your tongue, can't you, and let the rest of us hear the story! That girl is a trump."
"You 're right, sir," echoed the Doctor, cordially, "a trump she was, and her brother too, for that matter. General Booth preached that day, as it happened, about remnants, and argued how a man might make the most of the remnants of a life, as well as of a meal, even if the best part was gone. Well, the talk sort of heartened up Angus Costello; and, after the meeting, he and his sister went up to the General, and Nora asked to be taken into the Army. She went in as a private; and when Angus came back to Nova Scotia, Nora came with him, and was assigned to duty, first in Montreal, and then in New York. She has risen already to be an officer, and, I judge, a valuable one. She was off this month on sick-leave for her brother's ship, taking a vacation from overwork, I suspect."
"What is her work?" asked Brady, leaning forward with his square chin propped on his hands, which, in their turn, were supported by his knees,—an attitude to which he was prone when self-forgetful.
"Her work? Oh, I don't know! Everything I suppose. Taking care of sick people in tenements, talking, and singing, and selling copies of the 'War Cry,' in offices and liquor-saloons."
Brady frowned. "I don't like it," he said. "She's too pretty, with those little curly rings of hair round her pale face, and with those big blue eyes. Why don't they send some old maid on such errands?"
"Because they want to sell their papers," answered Miss Standish, dryly.
The talk around the fire had gone on so eagerly that the attention of the group was utterly absorbed; and every one started as if an apparition had appeared in their midst, when a slim figure in a dark dress, against which her face looked doubly white, glided noiselessly into the room. With eyes fixed in almost trance-like far-sightedness, she moved towards Brady, and laid her hand upon his sleeve.
"My brother," she said, "it is you have risked your life to save mine. God gave you back both. What will you be doing with your share?"
"I—I—I'm awfully sorry, don't you know!" stammered Brady, terribly embarrassed; "but it wasn't I who did it."
"Here is the man, Miss Costello, to whom you owe your life," said the Doctor, who dearly loved a "situation," turning as he spoke, with a little flourish, to the place where Flint had stood; but that gentleman had taken advantage of the mistake to bolt into the bed-room behind him. He would have bolted into the pond, rather than submit to be thanked publicly in this fashion.
"He's gone!" exclaimed Dr. Cricket, in disappointment.
"Ah!" said Nora Costello, with a quick, sympathetic smile, "it's verra natural. He did not wish to be thanked. Perhaps he is right. After all, it is to the good God himsel' that our thanks are owing."
She knelt on the rug, as simply as she would have taken an offered chair, and spoke to some invisible presence, as naturally as she would have spoken to any of those in the room. Brady was shocked at first, at the conversational tone. It was so realistic that he opened his eyes, half expecting to see the Someone—the Something—so evidently apparent to the girl herself.
Having once opened his eyes, he forgot to close them again. The actual so pursued him, that he ceased to seek the spiritual presence. The firelight, playing over the girl's face, threw strange lights, and shadows half unearthly. She seemed a spirit, of whom no ordinary restraints of the familiar social life were to be expected.
When her prayer was finished, she rose as simply as she had knelt, though now two large tears stood on the long fringe of her eyes.
"Good-night, friends!" she said with a confiding glance around. "I think I shall be able to get the sleep now. God bless you all!"
When she was gone, the hush was unbroken for several minutes. At last Winifred spoke.
"I don't know how the rest of you feel, but somehow I have a sensation of being a lay figure in the shop-window of life, and having all of a sudden seen a real woman go by."
"Jove! what eyes she has!" said Brady, continuing thoughts of his own, rather than answering Winifred's speech.
"Really," said Ben Bradford, "it wasn't unpleasant at all."
"Unpleasant!" exclaimed his aunt. "Well, I should say not, unless heaven is unpleasant, and angels, and the Judgment Day, which I daresay it will be for you, Ben Bradford, unless you mend your ways. Good-night! I'm going up to see that the child has a hot-water bag to her feet, and a mustard plaster on her chest. The Salvation Army needs an efficient ambulance corps."
"Hm!" said Dr. Cricket, as Miss Standish disappeared. "Mary may have chosen the better part; but I pity the household that's all Marys. Give me a Martha in mine every time!
"That reminds me," he added briskly, "that I must look after my patient, and not let him pitch himself into that bed, which has not been aired for a week; and nobody in this house knows the difference between damp sheets and dry ones. Do you know, Mr. Brady," he continued, as he rose from his chair with a little rheumatic hitch, "I have taken a great shine to that queer friend of yours. I don't know how it is, but I suspect it is because he is such a contrast to most folks. It's a comfort to meet a man who keeps his best foot back."
"Oh, Flint is a brick!" said Brady, with enthusiasm. "I have known him to do the nicest things. There was a fellow once in college—he was rather pushing socially, and nobody liked him—but he was 'a dig,'" and he got sick from studying too much. None of the rest of us ever fell ill of that trouble; but he did, and he was so poor he didn't want to let any one know about it, for fear he would be obliged to send for a doctor. It was found out though; and one day a doctor and nurse turned up at the fellow's room,—said they'd been asked not to say who sent them; but they stayed and pulled him through. He never knew who his benefactor was; but I did, and you may judge of my surprise, when the fellow got about, to see Flint cut him on the street.
"'What in thunder did you do that for?' I asked, for I was dumfounded to see him do it.
"'Because the fellow is a cad, and would be taking all sorts of advantages. Better ignore the acquaintance at the start.'
"'Then why did you do what you did for him?'
"'I don't know, I'm sure!' Flint answered.
"That's just the sort of fellow Flint is. He may seem crusty, but in any emergency he is a man to tie to."
"If life were a series of emergencies," said Winifred, reflectively, "Mr. Flint would be invaluable; but in every-day existence, one does not quite know what to do with him."
"I can put up with a great deal," said Ben Bradford, "from a chap like that, who shows real sand and pluck when a crisis comes. I mean to tell Mr. Flint to-morrow that I think he's a daisy, and go down on my marrow bones for the things I have thought and said about him before."
"I wouldn't, if I were you, Ben," observed Winifred, with an amused smile; "for I doubt if Mr. Flint has ever had the dimmest idea that you have not been thinking well of him all along."
"We'll maybe return to Lochaber no more."
Far up the pond, at no great distance from the spot where "The Aquidneck" had met her untimely and ignominious end, Flying Point thrust out its tongue of land into the rippling water, which stole in and out between its tiny coves so gently that scarcely a murmur could be heard, except when a northeaster lashed the pond into a mimic sea; and then the teapot tempest was so outdone by the giant waves outside the bar, that it passed unnoticed, like the fury of a child beside the rage of a grown man.
The Point took its name from the flights of ducks which passed over it in vast numbers in the spring and autumn, their dark, irregular squadrons black against the intense blue of sea and sky. Its low bluff of gleaming sand was crowned by a grove of tall pines, through which purled a tiny brook perpetually prattling to the sea of its little inland life. Below the bank, stretched out a rod or more of level beach where fires might be lighted and cloths spread by those who wished to return to the gypsy habits of their forebears and sit down as Nature's guests, to simple fare of their own cooking and serving.
A midsummer pilgrimage to Flying Point was a regular feature of the season with the dwellers at the White-House; and it was a point of honor for the old-timers to declare that last year's expedition was in every way more successful than that of the present season. Newcomers endured this superiority in silence, consoled by the prospect of enjoying the same triumph themselves next summer.
Several times the date of this year's expedition had been set, and as often changed. The last date had been fixed for the eighth of July; but the excitement of the wreck, and the reaction of lassitude which followed that catastrophe, put to flight, for a time, all thoughts of amusement, and a fortnight elapsed without an apparent ripple on the calm of existence at Nepaug.
On the second day after the wreck, Angus Costello and his sister took their departure for New York,—he to collect the insurance on the ill-fated "Mary Ann," she to report again for duty in the Army. With the going of the Costellos, quiet settled down once more; but the dwellers on the Point found themselves impatient of the very repose for which they had sought Nepaug. Rest had turned to inanimation, quiet to dulness, peace to stagnation.
Flint, usually unaffected by environment, found himself incapable of any intellectual or physical exertion. He could not work. He could not even loaf alone. Brady was an indifferent companion, subject to fits of absence of mind,—more unsocial than absence of body.
There was only one resource left; the young men betook themselves to the White-House. Life there could not be wholly dull, while a perpetual sparring match was going on between Miss Standish and Dr. Cricket, while Professor Anstice smoked his pipe serenely on the corner of the piazza, and Ben Bradford openly adored Winifred, heedless of outside observation or amusement.
Ben himself was an endless source of entertainment to Flint, so vividly did his demeanor recall the rapidly receding days of his own youth, when he too had felt the constraint which is born of the assurance that all the world is fixing its gaze upon us and our actions.
Ben never dreamed that he could be taken humorously. He regarded himself with a deep seriousness, and planned innocent little hypocrisies with a view to their effect on the public. He was anxious to be supposed to handle a large correspondence, and took pains to sort his mail in public, fingering a number of letters in his leather case with a reflective air, as if he were considering what replies they demanded, although their worn envelopes revealed them to the most casual observation as at least a fortnight old.
He had the sensitiveness of youth, and spent much useless effort in the endeavor to discover what people meant by their words and deeds; when, nine times out of ten, they meant nothing at all, but were only striving to fill up the gaps of life with idle observations or diversions. He himself was fond of side remarks, intended to be satirical, but falling rather flat, if dragged out into the prosaic light of general conversation, as sometimes happened when Miss Standish caught a word or two and exclaimed aloud: "What was that, Ben? Won't you give us all the benefit of that last observation?"
Ben loved his aunt; but he did not like her.
She interfered sadly with his pose as a man of the world, by relating anecdotes of his infancy, and stating the precise number of years which had elapsed since the occurrence.
On the occasion of one of the daily visits of Flint and Brady, they were made aware of unmistakable signs of a domestic unpleasantness. They were no sooner seated, than Ben picked up again the grievance which their arrival had compelled him to drop.
"You have told that story four times already this summer, Aunt Susan," he remarked truculently; "and I don't think it is of great interest to the public at any time to know that I took a bite out of each one of the Thanksgiving pies when I was five years old."
"I have not told it before, and you were six when it happened, which was fourteen years ago next November," Miss Standish answered.
Winifred Anstice, foreseeing a battle, made haste to the rescue. She called out from her hammock:—
"When are we going to Flying Point? I think we all need change of air for our—ahem!—nerves."
Woe to the person who undertakes to divert the lightning from meeting thunder-clouds; unless he be well insulated, he is sure to fall victim to his own well meant efforts.
"Winifred, my dear," sniffed Miss Standish, "you may remember that it was only this morning when I asked when we were going to Flying Point that you answered, 'Never, I hope—I detest picnics.'"
"Did I?" laughed Winifred; "well, it's true, and I cannot deny it."
"I must agree with you there," said Ben. "A picnic is an occasion when all the food is picked and all the china nicked."
"A picnic," said Winifred, "is a place where you can accumulate an indigestion without incurring an obligation. In this, it is an advance upon a tea-party."
"Picnicking with people you know is a bore, Picnicking with people you don't know is a feat of endurance," echoed Flint.
"Professionally, I am in favor of them," threw in Dr. Cricket. "I often feel like saying, with the old Roman, 'This day's work shall breed prescriptions.'"
"Oh, come now!" said Brady, "you're all trying to be clever. This is only talk. I think a picnic is great fun, especially a tea-picnic, where you boil coffee, and light a camp-fire, and perch about on the rocks over the water. You would appreciate that last privilege, if you lived out on the prairies, where there is no water, and the rocks are all imported."
"Bully for you!" shouted Jimmy Anstice, who had been sitting by with his hands clasped over the knees of his stockings to conceal the holes from his sister's observant eye, but none the less eagerly following the conversation. "You're a peach; and why can't we go to-night?"
"That boy is all right," said Brady, smiling. "He knows enough to take the current when it serves. Off with you, Jim, while the tide is out, and dig your basket of clams! Come on, Flint, and we will join them at the Point! How will you go, and when?"
"I think we'd better go up in the Whites' sail-boat. There'll be room for one of you," said Miss Standish, looking meaningly at her nephew, for she had not yet forgiven Flint's indifference.
"That's good," Flint said cheerfully. "You take Brady. He's better ballast; and I'll row up in my dory."
"A good excuse for coming late and leaving early," said Winifred, mockingly.
Flint bowed and smiled imperturbably, without troubling himself to offer a contradiction.
Miss Standish swept past him with her Plymouth Rock manner. "I will go and look after the supper," she remarked, and added, as she reached the door, "however much people may sniff, there's nobody, so far as I know, who is superior to food."
Nepaug picnic suppers had been reduced to scientific principles under Miss Standish's rule. There was a picnic coffee-pot and a picnic-dipper, a set of wooden plates and a pile of Japanese paper napkins. All these went into one basket, together with cups and glasses and knives and forks. Another, still more capacious, held the sandwiches and biscuit, the cake and coffee, the pepper and salt, beside the jar of orange marmalade, and the pies surreptitiously borrowed from the pantry, where they were reposing upon the larder shelf, tranquilly awaiting the morrow's dessert. Everything was neatly stowed away,—no crowding, no crumbling. Miss Standish was willing to take any amount of trouble; all she asked was to be appreciated.
Flint certainly did not appreciate her. Her particularity he found "fussiness," her energy annoyed him, and her well-meant interest in others appeared to him insufferable busy-bodyism. More than once that afternoon he remembered her with a sense of irritation. "A confounded old maid," he called her to himself as he pushed off his dory from the beach below the inn.
But no matter how irritable the frame of mind in which he started, he could not help being soothed by the tranquillity of the scene around him as he went on. The west was one sheet of orange. The brilliancy of the sunset had faded to a tenderer tone. The spikes of the pointed firs on the mainland stood dark against it. Over in the east, the moon was rising, pale and spectral, with all her ribs showing like a skeleton leaf. Jupiter shone out more clearly as the darkness deepened and the shadows fell more heavily along the strip of shore.
"The gray sea and the long black land; And the yellow half-moon, large and low,"
Flint quoted to himself. "What is it that comes next? Something about
"'A mile of warm sea-scented beach.'
Must have been curiously like this. Where is Flying Point anyhow? Oh, yes; there's the camp-fire."
"Here comes Flint," cried Brady, as he heard the grating of the prow of the dory on the gravel.
"I should think it was time," grumbled Miss Standish, who had been making great sacrifices to keep the coffee hot. For some inscrutable reason, all the people with whom Flint came in contact felt impelled to do their best for him, let their opinion of him be what it would.
"Well, we thought you must be lost!" called Brady from the height of the rocks. "We have all had supper; but we have kept some for you."
"Thanks," answered Flint, from below, "I am sorry you had the trouble, for I took mine at the tavern before I started."
This was more than the descendant of Miles Standish could bear. With a bang, she emptied the coffee-pot and knocked out the grounds, as her ancestor had shaken the arrows out of the snake-skin to replace them with bullets. Henceforth, she was implacable; and yet Flint never dreamed that he had given offence. Imperfect sympathies again!
Winifred Anstice, whose misfortune it was to be peculiarly sensitive to disturbances in the atmosphere, jumped up from under the pine where she had been sitting with Brady. "Come," she said, "let's all sit down around the fire. I want Leonard to recite for us. Will you, Leon?"
Flattered, yet embarrassed, the young fisherman rose from his occupation of tying up the baskets, and drew nearer. As he stood in front of the fire, Flint looked at him with a thrill of aesthetic admiration. His red shirt, open at the throat, showed a splendid chest and a neck on which his head was firmly and strongly poised. His hair, curling tightly, revealed the well-shaped outline of the skull, and the profile was classic in its regularity. "And that little fool doesn't know enough to fall in love with him!" thought Flint.
"What'll you have, Miss Fred?" asked Leonard.
"Whatever you like."
"Wal, then, ef you'd jes ez lief, I'll say 'Marmion.' I was learned it at school." Throwing off his cap and striking a dramatic pose, he began:—
"The Douglas round him drew his cloak."
It is marvellous, the power of strong feeling to communicate itself through all barriers. True emotion is the X-ray which can penetrate all matter,—yes, and all spirit too.
The hackneyed words burned again with the freshness of their primal enthusiasm. Again Douglas spurned, and Marmion flung him back scorn for scorn. It was not acting. Leonard Davitt could never have thrown fire into a role which did not appeal to him; but this lived. He put his soul into it, and he drew out the soul from his audience.
"I must go now," he said, when he had finished, having ducked his head shyly in response to the applause, and picked up his cap. "I'm goin' off at sunrise."
"Where are you going, Leon?" queried Winifred Anstice, coming up to him where he stood not far off from the spot where Flint, in dead shadow, leaned against the trunk of a giant pine.
"Goin' off bars-fishin' for a week with the men from the Pint," Leonard answered, and then added in a lower tone, "you won't forget your promise, Miss Fred."
"No, I will not forget; but you must try not to cherish hard feeling."
"Oh, I don't say it's his fault. Mebbe it's hers."
"Perhaps it's nobody's, and perhaps there's no harm done after all,—at any rate, none that can't be undone."
"Yes, there is," Leonard answered gloomily. "The past can't never come back, and things won't never be the same."
"Oh, cheer up!" Winifred answered more hopefully. "Your going away is the best thing under the circumstances, and I'll do what I can for you; but I wish it were anything else."
"Thank you, marm, and good-bye!" With another shy duck, Leonard let himself down over the rocks and sculled out into the strip of rippling moonlight which stretched across the bay.
The moonlight fell also upon Winifred Anstice's face as she stood looking after him, and showed a pathetic little quiver about the mouth. An instant later, she dashed the back of her hand across her eyes, and exclaimed, half aloud, "It's too bad; I've no patience with him."
"What a clear night it is!" said Flint, stepping out from the shadows.
Winifred started a little. "I thought you were sitting by the fire," she said rather abruptly.
"Indeed," Flint answered. It was one of his peculiarities never to be drawn on to the explanations to which most people are driven by the mere necessity of saying something. After all, he had as good a right to the place where he was as Miss Anstice herself. Miss Anstice perhaps was thinking the same thought, for she made no response, only stood twisting and untwisting a bit of lawn handkerchief which bade fair to be worn out before it reached home. At length, with the air of one nerving herself to a difficult task, she turned about and faced Flint. Lifting her clear gray eyes full to his, she began hesitatingly:—
"Yes, Miss Anstice."
"Will you do me a favor?"
"No, not an 'assuredly' favor, but a real favor."
"If I can."
"Will you do it blindly?"
"No, I will do it with my eyes open."
The girl shifted her eyes from his face to the path of moon beams in which Leonard's boat floated far off like a dark speck against the ripples of light. When she went on, it was in a lower tone, with a note in her voice which Flint had never heard there before,—the note of appeal.
"I am going to ask you a very strange thing," she said; "I would not ask it if I could see any other way."
"Surely, Miss Anstice, you cannot doubt my willingness to oblige you in any way. You have only to command me."
"But it is not to oblige me. It is—oh, dear! I can't explain, but I want you to go away."
Flint rose instantly.
"No, no, not away from this spot, but from Nepaug. That's it," she went on insistently; "I want you to leave Nepaug."
Flint stared at her for a moment, as if in doubt whether to question her sanity or her seriousness. The latter he could not doubt, as he looked at her eager attitude, her hands tightly interlaced, her head bent a little forward, and a spot of deep red sharply outlined on either cheek. Suddenly the meaning of her conversation with Leonard flashed across his mind; but it brought only further puzzlement. He motioned Winifred to sit down upon the great tree which lay its length on the earth, overthrown by the last storm, and with stones and upturned dirt still clinging to its branching roots.
"Are you sure," he said gravely, as he took a seat beside her,—"are you sure that you are doing right to keep me in the dark?"
"I think so; I hope so."
"Of course I know you would not ask such a thing if there were not something serious back of it all; and since it so nearly concerns me, it seems to me I have a right to know it."
Dead silence reigned for some minutes. Then Winifred said, speaking low and hurriedly:
"Yes, you are right; I ought to tell you,—I know I ought; but it is so hard. Why isn't it Mr. Brady! He would understand."
"Perhaps if you would explain," Flint began with unusual patience.
"Well, then, it is about Tilly Marsden, who has been engaged these two years to Leonard Davitt; and now she refuses to marry him, and he thinks it is because she is in love with someone else. Surely you understand now."
"No, upon my soul, I don't. You can't mean that the little shop-girl—the maid-of-all-work at the inn—is—thinks she is in love with—"
"With you; exactly."
"But I have hardly spoken to her."
The silence which followed implied that the situation was none the less likely on that account. The implication tinged Flint's manner with irritation.
"I suppose I am very dull; but I confess I don't understand these people."
"Have you ever tried to understand them?" returned Winifred, with a sudden outburst of the indignation which had long been gathering in her heart against the man before her.
"Haven't you always thought of them only as they ministered to your comfort, like the other farm animals? Is it really anything to you that this narrow-minded girl has conceived a very silly, but none the less unhappy, sentiment for you?"
"I—" began Flint, but the flood would have its way.
"Oh, yes, it annoys you, I dare say. You feel your dignity a little touched by it; but does it move your pity, your chivalry? If it does—Oh, go away!"
Flint would have given much to feel a fever heat of anger, to flame out against the audacity of the girl with an indignation overtopping her own; but he only felt himself growing more cold and rigid. He told himself that she had misunderstood him hopelessly, utterly. There was a certain aggrieved satisfaction in the thought. He had risen, and stood leaning against a tree. Winifred wondered at her own courage, as she saw him standing there stiff and haughty.
"I shall go, of course," he said at length. "My absence seems to be the only sure method of producing universal content. But let me ask you one question before I go. Do you consider me to blame in this unlucky business?"
Winifred parried the question by another.
"Why should I tell you, when you don't care in the least what I think?"
"If I did not, I should not ask you, and I think I have a right to demand an answer."
"I can hardly answer you fairly. Is ice to blame for being ice and not sun? We cannot say. We only know that we are chilled. I always have the feeling that with those you consider your equals, you might be genial and responsive; but the joys and sorrows of the great world of uninteresting, commonplace people about you have no power to touch your sympathies. Of course, in a way, it is not your fault that you never noticed Tilly Marsden's manner—"
"I am not a cad who goes about investigating the sentiments of—of women like that. But you have your impressions of my character fully formed, and I shall not be guilty of the folly of trying to change them. To-morrow, I shall relieve Nepaug of my objectionable presence, and, I hope, you will cease to fear me as a disturbing element when I am far away at my office-desk."
"You are going back to New York?" echoed Winifred, uncertainly, realizing all of a sudden what it was that she was sending him away from, and to what she was consigning him.
"Yes, of course," Flint answered a little impatiently.
"I am sorry," the girl began lamely. It was just dawning upon her that it was not so easy to control the destinies of other people, as she had fancied.
"Oh, that is all right!" her companion responded more cheerfully; "New York in summer is not half so bad as you people who never stay there probably imagine."
"I don't know," said Winifred; "to me it seems dreadful to be shut up inside brick walls, or walking on hot paving-stones, when one might be sitting under green trees, or by rolling waves, breathing in the fresh country air. But I suppose I feel so because while I was growing up I never lived in a large city."
"Indeed! How was that? I should think your father's profession would have kept him in the city."
"Oh, it does now, of course; but for years after my mother's death he was so broken down that he could not bear to mix with people at all, and he chose to bury himself out on a Western ranch, and there I grew up with no more training than the little Indian girls who used to come to the house with beads and things to sell. It was a queer life for a girl; but it was great sport."
Winifred had almost forgotten her companion for the moment in her thoughts of the past; but as he rubbed his hand across his forehead in the effort to recall something, she mistook the gesture for a sign of weariness, and reproached herself for her egotistical garrulity.
"I do wish," she said hastily, "that there were some way out of this unlucky matter,—some way which would not send you back so unseasonably."
"Never mind that," Flint answered; "my vacation was almost at an end, anyway. I am really needed now at the office of the 'Trans-Continental.'"
"The 'Trans-Continental'?" echoed Winifred. "Do you work on that magazine?"
"Yes, I do a little writing for it occasionally."
"Then perhaps you know the editor—the chief editor, I mean."
"Yes, he is a friend of mine."
"I envy you the privilege of calling such a man your friend. Oh, you may smile if you choose, but perhaps, after all, you do not know him as well as I do. I have never seen him, I don't even know his name, and yet I have a clear picture of him in my mind. And he has been so kind—so good to me. His letters have helped me more than he will ever know." Here a sudden thought seemed to strike the girl, and she lifted beseeching eyes to his face.
"You won't try to make him dislike me, will you? I know you never did like me. I saw it the first time we met, when I was driving that wretched colt, and we ran over your fishing-rod, and then, the next day on the pond, and ever since, things have steadily kept going wrong between us. So, of course, it would be quite natural for you to talk about it all to him; and then he would never like me any more, and I do want him to."
For an instant Flint felt a mad desire to keep up the illusion; but he himself was too much shaken to have played his part if he would.
"Miss Anstice," he said, "I am the editor of the 'Trans-Continental.'"
Without another word, he swung himself down by the pine-bough to the gravelly beach, and, pushing off the dory, slipped out over the same moonlit course which Leonard had travelled. Winifred watched him till his boat had rounded the Point; then she turned back to the camp-fire in a daze. Do what she would, she could not shake off the spell of those last words: "I am the editor of the 'Trans-Continental.'"
THE POINT OF VIEW
Extract from the Journal of Miss Susan Standish. Nepaug, August First.
[From which it will appear that contemporary journals are not always trustworthy.]
This August weather is really unbearable. Nobody but flies can be happy in it, and they are part of the general misery. I sleep with a handkerchief over my face to keep off the pests; but I invariably wake to find one perching on every unprotected spot, and the others buzzing about my ears, and making such a noise that I can't sleep a wink after five o'clock.
It is a very long time between five o'clock and breakfast. It would be a sufficient incentive to a blameless life, to know beforehand that you were to be condemned to think over your past for three mortal hours every morning.
This is what I do; and though I suppose I have been as respectable as most people, I find cold shivers running down my back when I remember some things, and the blushes of a girl of sixteen mounting to my wrinkled forehead, when I think of others. On the whole, the silly things are the worst. I think at the Judgment Day I would rather answer up to my sins than my sillinesses—especially if my relatives were waiting round. The only way I can turn my thoughts out of the uncomfortable reminiscent channel which they make for themselves at five o'clock in the morning, is to think as hard as I can about somebody else. Lately, I don't find this so difficult; for our household here at Nepaug includes some interesting people, and, moreover, some very queer things have happened lately, I thank Heaven, I have none of Dr. Cricket's curiosity; but I should be ashamed if I were so indifferent to those about me as not to take an interest in their concerns. This interest has led me of late to ponder on recent events, and speculate as to their causes.
When I asked some very simple and natural questions of Winifred Anstice, she snapped at me like a snapping-turtle; but I did not discontinue my investigation on that account. On the contrary, I resolved to be all the more watchful; and when it comes to putting two and two together, there are few who have a more mathematical mind than Susan Standish.
On Friday evening, we had a picnic supper at Eagle Rock.
Mr. Flint (superior as usual) preferred to go in the only society which interests him, and therefore set off alone in his dory. His absence did not have any visibly depressing effect on the party in the sail-boat. Winifred was at her very best; and Philip Brady seemed to appreciate her. If I were a matchmaker, I should have tried to throw them together, for they do seem just cut out for each other; in spite of all my efforts to give them opportunities of making each other's acquaintance on intimate terms, they never appeared to take advantage of them. But on Friday it was different. In the first place, anything more warm-blooded than an oyster must have fallen in love with Winifred at first sight on that evening. She wore a white flannel yachting-dress, and a red-felt hat cocked up on one side, and as she stood against the sail in the sunset, she was—Well, I'm too old to be silly; but really that girl is something worth looking at when she is nice. To-day, she looked like a frump, and talked like a fury.
The wind on Friday died out soon after we started; and at one time I was afraid Mr. Flint would have the satisfaction of getting to the Point before us; but, providentially, it sprang up again and, indeed, I need not have worried, for it seemed he was afraid of being bored, and did not start till six o'clock. Brady says he was always like that, even in college; that when they were invited anywhere, Flint would always put off the start, and would say, "Your coming away depends on your hostess; but your going depends upon yourself."
"If it had been my house," said I, "his staying away would have depended on his hostess. I have no patience with a rude man."
"Flint rude?" said Philip.
"Most decidedly rude, I should say."
"Oh, but he is not rude. He is only indifferent."
"Indifference is rudeness."
"Then I'm afraid, Miss Standish," broke in Winifred, "we must all be rude to most of the world. That is, unless we belong to the Salvation Army, like Nora Costello, and take an interest in everybody or rather every soul."
"Very remarkable girl, that Nora Costello," said Philip. "I don't quite know what it was that made her so interesting."
"I know," answered Winifred, with a little laugh; "it was her looks."
"Or her manner," suggested Philip.
"Oh, her manner without her looks would not have carried at all. Manners are only thunder. It is looks that strike."
"You should know," Philip said quite low. Just at this moment Jimmy Anstice, with that exasperatingly inopportune way of his, called out:—
"Look, Fred! Did you see that fish jump? Gracious! He must have gone up two feet! What makes a fish jump? Papa, Papa, do you hear me? What makes a fish jump?"
"I don't know, my dear; I suppose to get food, or because he wants air."
"Then why doesn't he jump oftener?"
It has always been one of Professor Anstice's pet theories that a child's mental development is promoted by the stimulation of intellectual curiosity. As a result, Jimmy has been encouraged to ask questions to an extent which the world at large finds somewhat tiresome. For my part, I think one of the most useful accomplishments connected with the tongue is the art of holding it; and I believe in its early acquirement by the young.
After Jimmy's curiosity in regard to the habits of fish had expended itself, there was no more tete-a-tete. Everybody was shouting this way and that; and then the boat brought up at the rocks, and those of us who could jump, jumped out, and those who couldn't, clambered out; and Jimmy Anstice flopped into the water above his knees, as usual, and had to sit by the fire getting dry, when he should have been running errands and making himself useful. Small boys, being neither ornamental nor interesting, should be either useful or absent.
Winifred and Brady started off after driftwood. I invited Ben to help me with the coffee; but he said, "Presently," and made off after the other two. Really, that boy may come to something if he selects his profession with care. He can't see when he's not wanted, which may make him a success in the ministry.
Well, at last, we got our two fires started, and the tablecloth spread; and the coffee tasted so good I just hoped Mr. Flint would come to have some, because he made some disagreeable remarks in the morning on the subject of picnics. Some people are never satisfied unless they can spoil the enjoyment of others.
While we were eating, everybody was jolly and all went well, except that Philip would tell stories,—Western stories about "commercial gents" and "drummer hotels" and such things. He tells a story very well; but he also tells it very long. With the tact upon which I justly pride myself, I tried to shut him up or draw him off; but each time Winifred would bring him right back, with "What was it you were just going to tell, Mr. Brady?" or "As you were saying when Miss Standish began," I was a good deal annoyed, for I couldn't quite make out whether she was really interested, or whether she was making fun of us both. Now I have a very keen sense of humor; but I don't like a joke at my expense. At last Philip offered to give us a comic poem from the "Bison Spike;" but that I couldn't stand; and I pretended that the coffee was boiling over, and Winifred jumped up to attend to it. Philip, of course, went to her assistance, and afterward, as he stood before the fire with Winifred beside him, I could not help thinking what a fine looking couple they would make. His golf suit brought out the fine proportions of his stalwart figure. The firelight played over his firm chin, his broad, square forehead, and his frank, kind eyes. He would make a good husband for any girl; and a judicious wife could soon break him of his habit of telling stories.
I dare say they would have had an interesting talk, if Ben Bradford had not come up with his hands full of stone chips, which he calls arrowheads. That ridiculous boy walks the furrows of old Marsden's potato-fields for hours together, with the sun blistering the back of his neck, quite contented if he brings home a dirty bit of stone, which his imagination fits out with points and grooves. At Flying Point, he had apparently reaped a rich harvest of these treasures. His companions inspected them with civil but languid curiosity. While they were turning them this way and that, and striving hard to be convinced that the bulkiest had undoubtedly been employed by the Indians as a pestle for corn-grinding, we heard the grating of a boat on the beach. Of course it was Mr. Flint.
Ben called out to him to hurry up and have some coffee before it was cold; to which he coolly answered that he had had supper before he started; and there I had put off ours half an hour for him, and then kept the coffee boiling another half hour! I would have liked to shake him.
Winifred saw that I was justly indignant; and though she can be as peppery as anybody over her own quarrels, she is always bent on smoothing down other people; so she called out:—
"Well, fortunately, Mr. Flint, you are not too late for 'the feast of reason and the flow of soul;' and I am sure you did not get that all alone there at the inn." I wondered if he appreciated that rather neat little stab. Winifred does those things well, with a demure manner which leaves people in doubt whether her remarks are vicious or simply blundering. "Come, Leon," she added, turning to young Davitt, "you know you promised to recite something for us."
Leonard stood up like a boy at school, and recited the speech from "Marmion" where he and Douglas give it to each other like Dr. Cricket and a hom[oe]opathic physician. Then he bobbed his head, just like a schoolboy again, and said he must go. Winifred followed him, and spoke to him, almost in a whisper. What they were talking about I could not catch; but I heard her say, "I will do it for you, Leon; but I wish to goodness it were anything else." Then Leonard answered, just as if she had given him some great thing: "Oh, thank you, thank you!" and then he disappeared. At the same moment Mr. Flint took his place by her side.
Instead of joining us all, and making a jolly party, what does he do but stand in the shadow of the three big pines talking to Winifred in that insultingly low voice which seems to imply that people are listening. I did, however, catch one or two things. I distinctly heard Winifred say: "Oh, do go away!" and I heard him say: "I hope you will cease to fear me when—" There I lost it again; but what could it mean? Winifred fear him!—fear him! She, who never feared the face of clay! There is only one explanation, and yet that is too wildly improbable!
I never saw any one more unlikely to inspire an affection. Flint by name and Flint by nature,—cold and hard as rock itself; and for a girl like Winifred! It never could be!—and yet, I confess, I don't know what to think.
After they had talked together for some time, he swung himself down the bank, pushed off the dory, and we saw him pulling rapidly into the middle of the bay.
"Well, if that doesn't beat the Dutch!" said Dr. Cricket.
"Hi, there!" cried Ben; and Brady, standing up, waved his hat, and hallooed through his hand with a volume of voice that could be heard all the way to Nepaug. But though Flint hallooed in return, he never changed his course, nor slackened his speed.
When Winifred came back to us, a color like flame burned in her cheeks, and her eyes were bright with unshed tears. No one but me noticed it. Every one fell upon her with questions.
"What's the matter?"
"Why did he leave so suddenly?"
"Why did he come at all?"
"What did he have to say for himself?"
"Was this rude, or only indifferent?"
"Don't bury me under such an avalanche of inquiry," said Winifred, with a little artificial laugh. "There really is nothing very mysterious about Mr. Flint's departure. He is not a flying Dutchman. I don't think he wanted to come at all; but he was afraid we might think something had happened if he failed to appear. Ben, the fire needs another log. Mr. Brady, did you bring your banjo, as you promised?"
This was a master-stroke,—divert and conquer,—presto, Ben was off after wood, and Philip tuning up for alleged "melodies;" but I was not so easily put off the track.
"It took him some time to make his excuses," I said to her aside. She looked up quickly.
"You are too shrewd to be put off like the others, Miss Standish; but don't say anything more,—I'm so awfully tired."
The poor girl did look used up, and I knew she was longing to get home, so I coughed violently, and asked Dr. Cricket for my shawl.
"You are taking cold," said he.
"Oh, don't mention it," I answered.
"But I will mention it," persisted the dear old goose. "You mustn't stay out in this damp air."
"Don't let me break up the party."
"The party is all ready to break up, and it's time it did."
"Oh, yes," added Winifred in a tone of relief. "Do let us be going."
So that was the end of our Flying Point expedition. I might have forgotten the episode in the shadow of the three pines, or at any rate have come to the conclusion that I had failed to catch the true meaning of the words I heard; but for the sequel.
The next morning Mr. Flint appeared on the porch as usual, but instead of the cap and flannel shirt, the knickerbockers and canvas shoes which formed his familiar Nepaug costume, he was attired in ordinary citizen's dress. I must admit that the straw hat, linen collar, and close-fitting blue suit were decidedly becoming; and, bitter as I felt against him on Winifred's account (she came down to breakfast confessing that she had not slept a wink), I was forced to admit that Mr. Flint was a gentleman,—even a gentleman with a certain distinction.
"Yes," he answered to the chorus of questions which met him, "I am going back to town to-day. Yes, as you say, Mr. Anstice, quite unexpected; but business men can't expect the vacations that fall to the lot of college professors. Dr. Cricket, I believe you said you were going on to New York to-night. I shall be glad if you will drop in and have breakfast with me to-morrow morning at 'The Chancellor.' That will give me the latest budget of news from Nepaug. Have you any commissions, Miss Standish? What, none? I assure you, my eye for matching silks is quite trustworthy. Now you, Jim, have more confidence in me,—what can I send you from town?"
Flint and Winifred Anstice turned and looked at each other. What it meant, I don't know; but I saw her color up to her hair. The others had turned away for a moment to watch a schooner which had just come in sight round the Point. Flint went up close to Winifred and said: "And you—what will you have?"
"That you cannot have, for you don't need it. Will you take my thanks instead?"
"You are too generous."
"With thanks?—that is easy. They are 'the exchequer of the poor.'"
"I trust, Mr. Flint," said Professor Anstice, who, having withdrawn his attention from the schooner, could now bring it to bear nearer home,—"I trust we may not altogether lose sight of you after these pleasant days together, I shall be glad—"
"Yes, my dear, I know you should be included. My daughter and I will be glad to see you at our house on Stuyvesant Square." With this he pulled out a card, but, discovering in time that it contained the address of his typewriter, he returned it to his pocket and substituted his own.
"I thank you," said Flint, with more of human heartiness in his voice than I had ever heard before,—"I thank you, and I shall not fail to avail myself of the privilege. Here comes the carryall! Good-bye!"
A moment later he was gone. Dr. Cricket goes by the night boat this evening, and Philip Brady leaves on Monday. How dull we shall be!
The train for New York came along duly, and Flint clambered into it as quickly as the impediment of his luggage permitted. He stowed away his belongings in the car-rack,—his bag, umbrella, and the overcoat which seemed a sarcasm upon the torrid heat of the car. A flat, square package which formed part of his luggage he treated with more respectful courtesy, giving it the window-seat, and watching with care lest it slip from the position in which he had propped it.
When the engine ceased to puff, and the bell to ring, when the wheels began to revolve and the landscape to move slowly out of sight, Flint leaned out of the window for one more glance at the dull little cluster of houses, beautiful only for what it connoted; then he drew in his head, and settled himself against the cushions of wool plush to which railroad companies treat their passengers in August.
He was not in an enviable frame of mind. He felt like a fool who had been masquerading as a martyr. He had given up two weeks of vacation, of rest and comfort and health-giving breezes fresh from the uncontaminable ocean, to go back to the noisy pavements, the clanging car-bells, the noisome odors of the city,—and all for what? Simply because a jealous fisherman and a hysterically sympathetic young woman chose to foist it upon him as his duty.
Duty? Why was it his duty? What was duty after all? Did it not include doing to yourself as others would have you do unto them? Decidedly, he had been a fool. As for Tilly Marsden—here a vague and—shall I confess it?—not wholly uncomplacent pang smote him, as he remembered her red eyes, and the trembling of her hand as she set the doughnuts before him this morning. There was one who would for a day or two, at least, genuinely regret his departure. Let that be set off against the aggressive benevolence of Miss Standish's parting, indicating, as it did, unalloyed satisfaction.
From Miss Standish, his thoughts wandered to the other inmates of the White-House. Ben Bradford at this hour would be lounging over the golf field, driver in hand, making himself believe that he was taking exercise. Dr. Cricket, no doubt, was playing chess with Miss Standish (beating her, he hoped); and Winifred Anstice—what was she doing? Leaning back, perhaps, in the hammock, as he had seen her so often lately, with one arm thrown over her head, pillowed against the mass of cardinal cushions. Was she feeling a little remorseful, and bestowing a regretful thought upon the man whom she was driving away from all the coolness and comfort which she was experiencing? If he could be sure of that, he could forgive her; but, as likely as not, she was driving cheerfully about the country behind Marsden's colt, smiling, perhaps, as she recalled the series of misadventures which had marked her acquaintance with the supercilious stranger whose civility she and her colt had put to rout.
Flint's morbid musings had taken more time than he realized, for at this point, to his surprise, the conductor thrust his head in at the door shouting, New London, as if the passengers were likely to mistake it for the older city on the other Thames. Here a boy came aboard the train with a basket laden with oranges, scalloped gingerbread, and papers of popcorn labelled, "Take some home."
The misguided youth tried to insinuate a package into Flint's lap, but was met with an abrupt demand to remove it with haste. His successor, bearing a load of New York afternoon papers, fared better. Flint selected an "Evening Post," and, leaning back in his corner, strove to find oblivion from the wriggling of the small child in front, and the wailing of the infant in the rear of the car.
Hotter and hotter, the blistering sun beat upon the station; and, as though the misery were not already great enough, an engine, panting apparently with the heat, must needs draw up close beside Flint's window.
In vain did he try to concentrate his attention upon the Condition of the Finances, the Great Strike in Pittsburg, or the Latest Dynamite Plot in Russia. Between him and the printed page rose the vision of cool, translucent waves crawling up the long reach of damp sand to break at last upon the little shelf of slippery stones. Could it be that only yesterday he was tumbling about in that surf, and to-day here? He thought vaguely what a good moral the contrast would have pointed to the sixteenthly of one of his great ancestor's sermons; then he fell to wondering if the old gentleman's theology would have stood the strain of an experience like this. Fancy even this carful doomed to an eternal August journey! Ah, the car is moving again! Thank Heaven for that! Purgatory after Hell approaches Paradise.
On and on the train jogs, over flat marshes, past white-spired churches, and factory chimneys belching forth their quota of heat and smoke. The twin rocks, which guard New Haven, loom in view at last; and Flint feels that he is drawing towards home. If it were not for the square, flat package, he would get out and stretch his legs by a walk on the platform. As it is, he picks up the package tenderly, and transports it to the smoking-car. The air here, although filled with smoke, seems more bearable. The leather seats, too, are more tolerable, as his hand falls on them, and, best of all, he can light his pipe here. With the first puff dawns a serenity with which neither faith nor philosophy had been able to endue the journey hitherto.
After all, what are two weeks?—a mere trifle; and he can make it up by a run down to the Virginia Springs in October. This will give a good quiet time too, for the foreign "Review" critiques. The libraries are empty at this time of year, and he can study in peace. Of course there will be a pile of letters waiting for him.
With that reflection, came, irresistibly, the thought of Winifred Anstice, and their curious, mutually deceptive correspondence. In the swiftly thronging events of the last twenty-four hours, he had scarcely had time to let his mind dwell upon that strange clearing up between them last night. He smiled, unconsciously, as he remembered the look of utter bewilderment in those great eyes of hers.
"Candy, sir, peanuts, oranges, and gingerbread! Popcorn in papers! Take some home?" With this the train-boy, quite oblivious that this was the same person who had met his advances so cavalierly in the other car, again held out an olive branch, this time a cornucopia marked "Ridley, best broken candy."
To his own surprise, Flint felt himself fingering in his pocket for a dime, and heard himself say, "That's all right, I don't want the stuff. Take it in to that little chap in a striped suit, in the next car,—dirty little beggar, wriggled like an eel all day. This will probably make him wriggle all night. Never mind, serves him right."
The boy grinned.
A passenger in the next seat turned round.
"It is pleasant," he said with a smile, "to see such kindness of heart survive on a day like this."
"Sir," answered Flint, "don't mistake me for a philanthropist. I make a small, but honest livelihood at a different calling."
The man's smile died out in a little disappointment; and he turned again to his paper. Imperfect sympathies! Flint took up his paper also, and read until the sudden shutting off of light warned him that the train had entered the tunnel. Through the checkered darkness, he made his way back; his flat, square package under his arm, to the other car, where all was in the confusion of preparation for arrival. The pale little mother of the wriggling boy looked up, as he entered.
"Thank you, sir," she began; "it was very kind in you—"
"Not at all, madam; the boy would have been much better without it," Flint answered. The art of being thanked gracefully is a difficult one, and Flint had never acquired it.
The train came to a standstill with a jerk which, but for Flint's hand put out to steady her, would have thrown the pale little woman to the floor. He stopped at the car-steps, lifted her and her bundles, her boy and her bird-cage, to the platform, then, touching his hat hurriedly, as if in nervous fear of being thanked again, he made off at full speed to the outlet, where his ears were greeted with the familiar sounds of—
"Cab, sir? Cab? Cab? Have a cab?" which sounded like the chorus of a Chinese opera. "No, I won't have a cab, unless you intend to treat me to a free ride," Flint remarked, ironically, to the nearest applicant, and then swung himself aboard the yellow car at the corner.
As it made its way downtown, he was struck with the strangeness which the city had assumed, after so short an absence. It did not look like New York at all; and he could not remember noticing before how large a part of the population lived on the street. It reminded him of Naples. He was forced to admit, too, that it had a certain charm of its own,—a charm which deepened as he reached "The Chancellor," the bachelor apartment-house which did duty for a home to a score of unmarried men. He was met by the janitor with a cordiality born of the remembrance of many past gratuities. Yes, his telegram ("wire," the man in uniform called it) had been received, and his rooms were in order. He pulled out his latch-key and turned it in the lock. The door opened on an interior pleasantly familiar, yet piquantly removed from the dulness of every-day acquaintance. The matting was agreeable to his foot. The green bronze Narcissus in the corner beckoned invitingly; above all, the porcelain tub in the bath-room beyond, with its unlimited supply of water, and sybaritic variety of towels, appealed to him irresistibly. Into it he plunged with all despatch, and emerged more cheerful, as well as less begrimed.
An hour later, clad in fresh linen, white vest, and thin summer suit, he sallied forth in search of dinner. He felt that he had earned a good one, and did not intend to scrimp himself. After a moment's deliberation, he turned into Fifth Avenue, and, at Twenty-sixth Street, made his way through the open door of Delmonico's. He saw with pleasure that his favorite table (the second from the corner on the street, not too conspicuous, and yet commanding the avenue) was vacant. He slipped into the chair which the waiter drew out for him, and took up the bill of fare. With the sight of the menu, he felt his flickering appetite revive; but it was still capricious, and would not brook the thought of meat. Little-Neck clams, of course. They seemed to convey a delicate intimation to the waiting stomach of favors to come. Soup? No, too hot for soup. Frogs' legs a la McVickar? Yes, he would have those, though he did not exactly know what "a la McVickar" indicated, and felt that he should lose caste with the waiter by inquiring. When that functionary recommended a bite of broiled tenderloin, prepared with Madeira sauce, and the addition of fresh mushrooms and a small sweetbread, he allowed himself to be persuaded. An English snipe, with chicory salad and some cheese, with coffee, completed his order. Oh, and a pint of Rudesheimer with it!
The waiter departed; and Flint, not hungry enough to be impatient, settled back in his chair with the damp evening paper unopened beside him. The sigh he gave was one of satisfaction, rather than regret. His gastronomic taste was to some extent feminine. He cared as much for the service as for the thing served, and found a carnal gratification in the shining glass and the table linen, smoothed to the verge of slipperiness. Really, he wondered how he could have endured the Nepaug Inn so long.
A hand laid upon his shoulder caused him to turn his head quickly.
"Halloa, Graham! You here?"
"Yes, we sail on the 'Etruria' to-morrow,—only in town over night. Beastly hot, isn't it? My wife is here. Come over, won't you, and let me present you?"
Now Mr. Jonas Harrington Graham, though one of the most fashionable, was by no means the best beloved of Flint's acquaintance; and it was with an inward conviction of perjury that he murmured, "Most happy, I'm sure," and made his way to the table by the centre window which the Grahams had selected. The lady already seated there was sleek and well appointed. Flint noticed that the people at the other tables did her the honor to prolong their casual glance to an instant's critical inspection. The women studied her costume of black with white lace as if wondering whether the confection of a Parisian artist might not be successfully duplicated by a domestic dressmaker (as it never can, ladies). The men's gaze generalized more, but had in it a hint of approbation which Flint found offensive. He did not relish the idea of making one of a restaurant party which challenged observation; but he perceived at once that it was unavoidable. Mrs. Graham was very gracious, and insisted, with much emphasis, that he should take his dinner with them.
"You must come and dine with us at our table. You look so lonely over there," she remarked. "I have some sympathy with bachelors. My husband was one once."
"Yes," answered Flint; "I knew him in those pre-madamite days."
This allusion was too occult for Mrs. Graham. She smiled the smile of assent without apprehension, and asked if Flint had been at Bar Harbor this summer. He should have been; it was so pleasant. The young man felt a wild desire to set forth the rival charms of Nepaug, and urge her to try it next season. The thought of her and her husband settled at the inn made him smile as he saw her lift a roll in her delicately ringed fingers, and smooth back the lace of her cuffs. What would happen, he wondered, if she were seated before a Nepaug dinner, with a Nepaug tablecloth and napkin?
"I have not been so far afield as Mount Desert," he answered, with an irrepressible smile at his own thoughts. "I stayed in town till July, and then I went to Nepaug. Perhaps you never heard of that delightful summer resort?"
"Nepaug? Nepaug?" repeated Mrs. Graham, with as near an approach to reflection as she ever permitted herself. "Why, that's where Winifred Anstice was going! Do you know Winifred Anstice?"
"Do you know her?" Flint questioned in his turn, in some surprise.
"Oh, dear, yes; we met her one summer when we were travelling in the West. We were visiting on the same ranch. Mr. Graham quite lost his head over her; didn't you, dear?"
"Well, I was a little touched. She showed up uncommonly well out there,—rode a broncho, and beat all the men firing a pistol."
"Yes," his wife added, "and then so clever—so frightfully clever. Why, I've seen her reading before breakfast, and not a novel either. You and she must have enjoyed each other; for Mr. Graham tells me you are—"
"Frightfully clever, too? Don't believe any such slander, I beg of you, Mrs. Graham! It is not fair to blast a man's reputation like that at the very outset. What chance would there be for me in society, if such a rumor got abroad?"
"Well," responded Mrs. Graham, "there's a great deal of truth in what you say. It's very nice of course to be lively and good company, and all that; but when it comes to right down cleverness, and particularly bookish cleverness, it does stand in a man's way socially. At the smartest houses, they don't want to be talked down, and still less to be written up afterward. I don't feel so myself. I just dote on literary people; but then I am called positively blue."
"What was there to do at Nepaug?" asked Mr. Graham, who had not followed the intricacies of his wife's remarks. "Any good shooting?"
"I'm afraid not, unless you rode a cow and shot at a goat," Flint answered, and was rather relieved to have the conversation drift away on to the comparative merits, as hunting-grounds, of the different sections of the country. The subject was not specially exciting to Flint; but it was at least impersonal, and he felt an unaccountable aversion to hearing any further discussion of Winifred Anstice.
The diners had advanced to the meat course,—Graham having complimented Flint so far as to duplicate his order, with the addition of an ice for Mrs. Graham and Pommery Sec for the party,—when a noise was heard further up the avenue. The sound drew nearer, and the notes of a brass band tooted a lively tune which re-echoed from the walls of the Brunswick, and drew a crowd from the benches of the square. Several people in the restaurant left their places, and came to the window to investigate the commotion. Flint himself rose, napkin in hand, and stood under the blaze of the lights, looking out.
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Graham, raising her lorgnon as the procession came in sight, "it's that horrid Salvation Army!"
"Bless me! so it is," assented her husband, adjusting his eye-glass. "Pretty girl, though, that—in the front row with the tambourine."
Flint's eyes followed his companion's, and saw Nora Costello walking a few paces in advance of her comrades, the electric light from the northern edge of the square falling on her pale face and rings of dark, curling hair.
The tambourines jangled discordantly; the brass instruments were out of tune; the rag-tag crowd surged about, some jeering, some cheering,—everything in the environment was repellent, but in the midst shone that pale face like a star.
Attracted by the brilliant lights within, or perhaps impelled by that curious psychic law which arrests the attention of one closely watched, the girl turned her head as she passed their corner, and her eyes met those of Flint; she smiled gravely, and he bowed.
Graham saw the interchange of glances, and looked at the man beside him, with the raised eyebrows of amused comprehension. Flint could have shot him.
"I don't see," said Mrs. Graham, returning to her venison, "why they let those creatures go about like that, making everybody uncomfortable. They are very annoying."
"Yes, very. So were the early Christians," murmured Flint, as he helped himself to the mushrooms.
"I never studied church history," said Mrs. Graham, a little repressively. She felt that the conversation was bordering on blasphemy, and sought to turn it into safer channels. She begged Flint, whom, she looked upon, in spite of his denials, as alarmingly cultivated, to recommend a course of reading for the steamer, so that she might be "up" on the associations of the English lakes.
"You know," she said, "I just adore Wordsworth. I think 'Lucy Grey' and 'Peter Bell' are too sweet for anything, and the 'Picnic'—no, I mean the 'Excursion' is my favorite of them all. So light and cheerful; I'm glad the dear man did take a day off once in a while."
Flint gravely promised a Life of Wordsworth, to be sent to the "Etruria" to-morrow, and then, bidding his companions adieu, he passed out into the night.
His mood, as he strolled up the avenue, was far from complacent. He felt a contempt for himself, as the sport of every passing impression. It was not enough, it seemed, that he should have cut short a summer vacation, and come hurrying back to the city at Winifred Anstice's behest. He must vibrate to every whim about him. He had found, with inward disgust, that he was raising his elbow to shake hands with the Grahams, instead of holding his hand at the customary, self-respecting angle; and that he might be still further convicted of weak mindedness, he had a sense of being in some inexplicable fashion dominated by the vision of Nora Costello and her comrades. Not that he experienced any sudden drawing to the Salvation Army; he felt, to the core, its crudeness, its limitations, its social dangers. His reason assured him that its methods threatened socialism and anarchy. He could have demolished all General Booth's pet theories by an appeal to the simplest logical processes, but that it seemed absurd to apply logic to so crude a scheme. "Nevertheless," said conscience, "these people are striving, however blunderingly, to better the condition of the forlorn, the wicked, and the wretched. What are you doing about it?" He had almost framed a defence, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was under no accusations, except from his own soul, and such thoughts and impulses as had arisen at sight of Nora Costello, moving in the world outside the social wall behind which he had intrenched himself.
"I suppose," he said to himself, with a shrug, "if I were living in the Massachusetts of a hundred years ago, I should be considered in a hopeful way to conversion. Now, we have learned just how far we may indulge an emotion, without allowing it to eventuate in action."
Yet the passing of Nora Costello, like the passing of Pippa in the poem, had left its light, ineffaceable touch on at least one life that night.
"'T was August, and the fierce sun overhead Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green; And the pale weaver, through his windows seen In Spitalfields, look'd thrice dispirited.
"I met a preacher there I knew, and said: 'Ill and o'erworked, how fare you in this scene?' 'Bravely!' he said; 'for I of late have been Much cheered with thoughts of Christ, the living bread.'"
Nora Costello was even more moved than Flint by their chance meeting, if meeting it could be called, under the white light of the lamps of Madison Square. On leaving Nepaug, she had resolutely shut out of her mental horizon the acquaintances that she had made in her few days there. She felt instinctively that any further continuance of the associations would be fraught with embarrassing complications, if not actual perils. These people belonged to a world to which she was as dead as though she had taken the black veil in a convent.
As the daughter of the manse, in her young girlhood she had come in contact with people of refinement and some wealth; people of keen perceptions if somewhat pronounced limitations; and she realized that in enlisting in the Salvation Army, she had not only shocked their prejudices beyond repair, but had wrenched herself out of their sympathies in a degree which could not have been exceeded by an actual crime on her part.
Time had in some measure healed the sensitiveness which had been sorely wounded by the withdrawal and disapproval of these early friends; but she seemed to feel all reflected and renewed in her brief acquaintance with the strangers at Nepaug, especially in her intercourse with Miss Standish. There is a curious resemblance, which lies deeper than outward circumstances, between New England and Scotland. The same outward environment of frugal poverty, the same inward experience of intense religious exaltation, continued from generation to generation, produced in early New England a type closely allied to the Scotch Covenanters, and many resemblances still linger among their descendants, widely as they may be removed from the primitive conditions which formed their ancestors.
Miss Standish's manner was marked by all the old Covenanters' directness, and in spite of her prepossession in Nora Costello's favor, showed clearly that she looked upon her as an extremist, if not a fanatic.
"What took you into that Salvation Army?" she had asked, as she sat by Nora's bedside in the upper front chamber of the White-House.
"A divine call, I hope," Nora had answered.
"Couldn't you have done just as much good in some of the churches?"
"Very likely, but there's many will be doing that work, and there's no over-crowding among us highway-and-hedgers."
Nora remembered a curious little look on Miss Standish's face, as if she thought the answer savored of sarcasm. This expression had led her on to further explanation:—
"I know just how folk will be feeling about the Army. I know how I felt myself before I signed the Articles of War,—as if it was much like joining a circus-troop, going about so with a brass band."
"Well, isn't it?" asked Miss Standish, bluntly.
Nora colored, but answered amiably: "No, it does not look so to me now,—whiles there's things in the Army work for which I've no liking myself, the noise and a'; but such things are not for you and me. We can get our spiritual aid and comfort somewhere else; but these are like a snare spread for the souls we are hunting, and when you see the rough men come round us like those in the London streets, it's fair wonderfu' how they be taken wi' the drums and torches."
"Humph!" sniffed Miss Standish, "it is as easy to gather converts with a drum as to collect flies round a lump of sugar,—men will always come buzzing about where there is any excitement. The question is, Have you got the fly-paper to make 'em stick?"
At Nepaug Nora had smiled at Miss Standish's blunt questions; but here, in the depression of spirits caused by overwork and the deadened atmosphere, the words came back to her with overwhelming force. When she rose on the morning after seeing Flint standing in the window at Delmonico's, she found more than one importunate question arising in her mind. Was it worth while after all—the sacrifice she was making, the work, the worry, and above all the contact with so much that offended her taste and judgment?
Were not those people behind the curtains, with their purple and fine linen, more nearly right than she? They at least found and gave pleasure for the moment—while she—? Then there swept over her the recollection of the drunkard who had shouted loudest in the hallelujah chorus and reeled home drunk after the meeting, of the penitent girl whom she had seen one night dissolved in tears, the next out on the streets again at her old calling,—"Yes," she admitted sadly, "Miss Standish is right. It is one thing to catch them, but another to keep them." If it had been only the sinners, she would not have minded so much, but there were some things about her fellow-officers— Here she stopped, for her loyalty would not allow her to go on, even in thought. This mood of depression was not an uncommon thing in Nora Costello's life, but she sought the antidote in prayer and work.
After her morning devotions, she spent an hour in setting her room to rights; watering the plants on the window-sill, feeding the bird in the cage, and then, after a breakfast of the most frugal sort, she started on her way to her post. Although it was not yet eight o'clock when she emerged from the door of the tenement-house where she lodged, a haze of heat hung over the city like a pall, the sun was already beating with a sickening glare upon the sidewalk, which still showed signs of having been made a sleeping place by those who found their crowded quarters within too suffocating for endurance. On the doorstep, worn with the feet of the frequent passers, sat a weary woman, nursing her baby. Nora's heart sank as she noticed the deathly pallor of the little thing. She stopped, bent over, and listened to its breathing. Then she lifted the eyelid streaked with blue, and looked into the fast dimming eye.
"That bairn needs a doctor," she said to the mother. "Come with me; there is a dispensary on the next block."
Rising stupidly, with her infant in her arms, the woman in dull obedience followed her down the sun-baked block to the door marked:
"PATIENTS TREATED FREE FROM TEN TO TWELVE O'CLOCK."
Nora looked at the sign in discouragement; instinct told her that two hours of delay would be fatal. The child was evidently nearing a state of collapse. Turning about entirely baffled, Nora's eyes fell upon an elderly man coming down the street at a brisk trot, a travelling bag in one hand and a large white umbrella in the other. He was evidently a gentleman,—which was strange, for gentlemen did not often appear in Bayard Street. What was stranger still, he looked up at the numbers of the houses as if he were seeking a friend, and, strangest of all, at the sight of herself he took off his hat, and her astonished gaze rested upon Dr. Cricket.
"Well, well, Captain," the little Doctor cried, peering at her with his near-sighted frown. "I am in luck. I came down on the night boat, and hurried over here right away; but we were so late I was afraid you might have got off to headquarters to report for duty. I promised Miss Standish when I left Nepaug that I would surely see you on my way through New York. She felt so worried about your coming back so soon to this town, which is like a bake-oven,—or would be if it smelled better."
All this the good Doctor poured forth so rapidly that Nora could not get in a word edgewise. When at length she found space to utter a reply, she cried out, "Oh, Doctor, never mind me, but take pity on this bairn! It's in an awfu' way."
"Pooh, Pooh, nothing of the sort!" answered the Doctor, with professional cheerfulness, before he had fairly glanced at the child. Then aside to Nora: "We must get into the dispensary somehow. Water, hot and cold, are what the child needs. It is near a convulsion."
At this juncture, as eight o'clock was striking, the dispensary clerk arrived, key in hand, and, seeing the emergency, put all the resources of the building at the disposal of Dr. Cricket, who soon brought a better color to the little face, and handing the child, rolled in a blanket, to the mother, bade her keep it cool. The woman looked blankly at the rising wave of heat outside; Dr. Cricket too looked out, and felt the shadow of her hopelessness fall on himself. "Here," he said suddenly, pressing a bill into her hand, "take that; get your baby dressed and onto the Coney Island boat as quick as you can."
The woman took the bill and crumpled it in her fingers; but she turned away without uttering either thanks or protest.
"You must na mind the ongraciousness o' the puir mither," Nora said, as they turned away. "She is too fashed and clear worn out to have any sense o' gratitude left." In her excitement the girl dropped into a nearer approach to dialect than marked her ordinary speech.
"My dear young lady," said the Doctor, "do you suppose I hold you responsible for the manners of Bayard Street? You won't be here to be held responsible for anything long if this heat lasts. I wish to the devil (excuse me!) I could get you out of the hole. We need just such a person as you at our Sanatorium in Germantown. What do you say to coming to try it for two months at least?"
The offer chimed in so with her morning thoughts that it seemed to Nora a direct temptation of the devil, and she thrust it away almost angrily.
"Never be speaking o' such a thing! Do you think I would desert now when the war is raging?"
"I don't know anything about your Salvation Army jargon," answered the Doctor, with equal brusqueness; "if it's the war with sin you're talking about, you needn't be afraid of lack of fighting wherever you go—I'll wager Philadelphia can furnish as lively service as New York."
Nora laughed, showing her white teeth in genuine amusement.
"Well, I'm fearing you're richt, Doctor, and you must na fancy I dinna recognise your kindness in wanting to get me out of 'this hole;' but I'm called to work right here, and I must 'stay by the stuff,' like the men in the Bible."
"Then my taking the trouble to come here without any breakfast goes for nothing," said the Doctor, a little crossly. He liked his own way, and he liked to help people, and this girl was balking him in both desires.
"Good for nothing!" cried Nora. "You must na say so. You dare na say so, when God put it into your hands to save a life! Dinna ye remember the story of Abdallah, and how the golden leaf of his clover, the most precious leaf he found on earth, was the life which it was given to him to save?"
Nora stopped in her words, as in her walk, for they had reached the corner where her division headquarters stood. Dr. Cricket made no answer to her little sermon—only put out his hands in response to hers, and gave her a grip like a freemason's. "Maybe you're right after all," he said, "and I like your pluck, right or wrong. Only remember, if you want help, or think better of my offer, just drop a line to Dr. Alonzo Cricket at the Sanatorium."
When the good-byes were said, Nora stood a moment watching the Doctor's little figure moving jerkily down the street under its white umbrella. "I believe he was sent," she said to herself. "I must try to be to some other puir soul what he has been to me this day."
At her desk at headquarters Nora found a memorandum of four letters to be written,—three to men in the prison at Sing-Sing. These she despatched speedily, with the aid of a typewriter; but the fourth she wrote with her own hand, for it was in answer to one from an orphan girl who was coming to New York in search of work, and who desired to be put in the way of finding a safe boarding-place. Nora's heart was touched by a peculiar sympathy at the thought of the girl's loneliness, so closely allied to her own, and she wanted her to feel that it was a friend, and not merely an officer of the Army, who responded to her appeal, and held out the right hand of fellowship.
It was eleven o'clock when the letters were written, and Nora ran downstairs to vary her industry by cutting out baby-clothes in the workroom. Just as she was taking the shears in hand, however, news was brought in of an accident to a factory-girl who had crushed her foot in the machinery, and had been brought home to her lodgings in the house on the next corner.
To this house Nora went, and found the girl alone, and weeping more from loneliness than suffering. The doctor had left, promising to come again, and to send an ambulance later in the day, to take the sufferer to the hospital. Nora knocked gently at the chamber door.
"Come in!" a voice from within answered wearily.
The visitor, standing in the doorway, was impressed by the dreariness of disorder which reigned inside. Such a room would have been impossible to Nora herself while hands and knees and a scrubbing-brush were left to her. In one sweeping glance she took in the hastily dumped clothing on the floor, the bureau heaped with mussy finery, the fly-specked window-pane, and soiled bed-spread.
"Who are you?" asked the girl, raising her head from the pillow. "Oh, one of those Salvation Army women," she added, as she caught sight of the dark bonnet.
"Yes," answered Nora, "I heard of your accident and that you were all alone. I have come to try to help you."
"You can't. Nobody can help me. I wish I was dead." With this the girl buried her face in the pillow and resumed her half-hysterical weeping.
Nora wisely wasted no words in trying to prove her ability to help, but began quietly to hang up the clothes, to slip the soiled lace and brass chains from the top of the bureau into the drawer, to close the blinds, and fold a towel over a basin on the chair within reach of the sufferer.
"There," she said, "maybe if you could wash you'd feel a bit more comfortable, and I'll run round to my lodgings—they're not far off—and back in no time."
When she reappeared, it was with a snowy white dimity spread taken from her own bed, a pitcher of ice-water, and a large palm-leaf fan. When the bed was re-made, the self-appointed nurse seated herself by the bedside of the sick girl, promising to stay until the coming of the ambulance, and settling down to listen to all the details of the accident, which seemed to give the victim a grewsome satisfaction in rehearsing.
When the ambulance arrived, and the patient departed, the nurse began to realize that it was three o'clock, and that she had had no food since seven. As the Bible-reading was at four, she had time only for a hastily swallowed cup of tea, and a slice of bread and butter, with a bit of cold meat, before the reading, after which she went home, bathed, rested, and supped, before presenting herself again at headquarters for the night duty, which called her to patrol the streets with a companion officer (a dull, rather coarse woman, who "exhorted" and sang through her nose) until after midnight.
Then she went home and to bed, inwardly thanking Heaven for her happy day. She felt, as she would have said, that she had been "awfu' favored."
"Thanks to God, the meanest of his creatures Boasts two soul-sides—one to face the world with, One to show a woman when he loves her."
A man's character is like the body of a child,—it grows unequally and in sections. Certain qualities in Flint had lain throughout these thirty-three years wholly undeveloped and unaffected by the culture of other characteristics. In his case the dormancy of the sympathetic side of his nature was no doubt largely due to the absence of those close family ties which call out in most of us our first sense of the kinship of the race.
Flint had no recollection of either father or mother, and he was an only child. On his mother's death, he was sent to the home of an uncle and aunt in Syracuse. They received him without enthusiasm, and only because it was inevitable that the child should be cared for, and there was no one else to undertake the task. Flint sometimes recalled, with a feeling of bitterness against Fate, those early years of repression, when silence and self-obliteration were the only merits or attractions asked for in the orphan boy.
Those formative years might have proved a much drearier period but for the circumstance that his uncle's house was provided with a library, made up of books of all grades and qualities. To these volumes young Jonathan was at liberty to help himself without let or hindrance, provided he handled them with care.
Mr. Mullett Flint was a collector of books, but not a reader. Elzevirs and Aldines and first editions bound by Riviere pleased him as so much pottery might have pleased him, and he took great pride in relating how the value of his purchases had increased on his hands. His guidance in the paths of literature would not have been of great benefit to his nephew had he been disposed to offer it; but, in fact, he wasted little thought either on the contents of books or on his nephew's mental progress. His tastes, interests, and ambitions lay wholly in the business world, in the making of money, and the handling of mercantile affairs of magnitude. Had Jonathan, as he grew older, shown more sharpness and sagacity, some bond of sympathy, if not attachment, might have formed itself between the two. As it was, they drifted farther and farther apart. The uncle looked with a shrug of his shoulders at the boy curled up in one of the library arm-chairs on a Saturday morning, poring over a volume of the Waverley Novels, when he himself was briskly making ready to betake himself to business.
"I wish that boy had any enterprise. I'd rather see him breaking windows or shooting cats out the back door than dawdling like that," he said once to his wife.
"Yes," answered that worthy lady,—"and he wears out the furniture so!"
Mrs. Mullett Flint was one of those heavy, apathetic women who seem to have a special attraction for brisk, energetic men of Mr. Flint's type. If he ever made the discovery that apathy and amiability are not identical, he never revealed his disappointment to the world,—perhaps for the same reason that he kept silence over the failure of other investments, lest the rumor should injure his reputation for shrewdness as a business-man.
From the beginning Mrs. Mullett Flint had taken one of her apathetic dislikes to the little Jonathan. He was no kindred of hers, and she thought it rather hard at her time of life to have her housekeeping put about by a boy whose feet were always muddy and who had a reprehensible habit of tucking them under him when he sat down, as he did with utter lack of discrimination in the matter of relative values in furniture. Her manner toward the child was not intentionally unkind, but it was wholly devoid of the tenderness which is as necessary to the growth of a child as air and sunshine to a plant. She always called him by his full name, which sounded strangely prim and formal applied to the little kilted figure with its thatch of black hair. He recalled distinctly once going up to the long pier-glass between the two windows and stroking his own hair as he had seen a mother across the street do for her boy at the window opposite, and then saying softly, in imitation of supposed maternal tones, "Johnny! Dear little Johnny!"
Such moods of sentiment were exceedingly rare in Flint's earliest infancy, and grew rarer as he advanced in life. At twelve he was sent to boarding-school, and thence to college, with scarcely an interval of home life. In college he formed several friendships; but in each he was and felt himself the superior, whereby he lost the inestimable privilege of looking up.
There had been a decided difference of opinion between Mr. Mullett Flint and his nephew in regard to the choice of a college. Mr. Flint strongly urged that the family traditions should be preserved, and that Jonathan should pursue his education under the shadow of old Nassau, "where giant Edwards stamped his iron heel." The nephew was as strongly prejudiced against Princeton as the uncle in its favor. He declared that the educative effect of living for four years within sight of his venerated ancestor's grave in President's Row was more than offset by other considerations, and that if the influence of the departed still lingered about the college halls he was as likely to fall under the spell of Aaron Burr as under that of Jonathan Edwards. With all the headstrong will of youth he determined to go to Harvard, and carried his point, though not without a degree of friction, which alienated him still farther from his uncle.
It was, therefore, with immense surprise that, on Mr. Flint's death, which occurred in Jonathan's junior year at college, the young man learned that his uncle had left him his library and a substantial share of his fortune. The terms of the will were not flattering. "To my nephew, Jonathan Edwards Flint," so it ran, "I leave this amount, realizing that the money left him by his father is inadequate for his support, and that he will never have the energy to make a living for himself."
The widow wrote a conventional note of combined self-condolence and congratulation for Jonathan over his inheritance. Between the lines Flint quite easily read that her latent aversion to him was augmented by her husband's bequest.
"I have decided," she wrote, "to go at once to London, where I shall probably reside for some years. I shall therefore strip my house of furniture preparatory to renting. I will pack up the books which now belong to you, and await your instructions as to the address to which you would like them forwarded. Should we not meet again—and I presume you will agree with me that it is hardly worth while to interrupt your studies at Cambridge for a trip to New York before the steamer sails—pray accept my best wishes for your future happiness and prosperous career."
With this cool leave-taking Flint's association with his aunt had come to an end. The books, which were his earliest friends, followed him about from place to place, until at length they had found a home on the walls of his study in "The Chancellor."
The work of his first solitary evening after his return from Nepaug was to pull off the sheets and newspapers with which the caretaker of his room had vainly striven to protect them against the all-pervading dust of summer. He sat in his easy-chair, running over the titles with the endeared eye of long familiarity.
There stood a set of Edwards's treatises, in eight ponderous volumes; their leaves yellow with age, and cut only here and there at irregular intervals. "Freedom of the Will" and "The Nature of Virtue" jostled "Original Sin;" and "The History of Redemption" leaned up against "God's Last End in the Creation of the World."
On the same shelf, as if with sarcastic attempt to mark the logical sequence, Flint had placed a black-clad row of John Stuart Mill's essays, while Hume and Hobbes looked out above and below. It amused Flint, as he sat there alone, to fancy these polemical gentlemen issuing from their bindings and sitting down together around his evening lamp, to talk things over. "Probably," he mused, with that idle pensiveness which is the lazy man's apology to himself for not thinking, "the thing which would surprise them most would be to see how much they held in common. If they could get rid of the cant of theology and the jargon of metaphysics, they would find that they were not so far apart after all. But I don't know that that would gratify them so much,—certainly not the old parson, for he belonged to the Church Militant if ever any one did, and dearly loved to belabor his enemies with the spiritual weapons too heavy for any but him to handle. Well, it was a temptation to let something fly, be it Bible or brickbat, at the head of the average dullard. How was it that some people did not find the average man dull? There was Winifred Anstice, for instance,—she seemed to find something interesting in every one she met. Perhaps because she did not try to approach them on the intellectual side at all, but took them into her sympathies and soothed their troubles, as he remembered that mother across the way from his uncle's house soothing the little son and wiping away his tears."
Perhaps, after all, she was right and he was wrong. It was almost the first time in Flint's life that he had ever definitely formulated a confession that his attitude towards life in general was not what it might be. Once formulated, it began to grow upon him curiously. He found himself reviewing whole courses of conduct, and testing them by new rules and standards.
At first these rules and standards were cold and rigid abstractions; but gradually they took on a faint echo of personality, and he found himself speculating on what Winifred Anstice would have done or said, on occasions when he felt himself to have been harsh and hard. This haunting influence was intensified by the presence of the portrait which he had brought away from Nepaug; the picture of the gray-robed Quakeress, with the soft dark eyes, and the white lace, and the point of flame at her breast.
He had lost all appreciation of its artistic qualities. The mottled softness of the curtained background against the folds of the woollen stuff gave him no pleasure now,—at least, he never thought of it. His whole attention was absorbed in that faint hint of resemblance to Winifred Anstice which lay chiefly in the full eyelids and the subtle, shadowy, evanescent smile which said at once so much and so little.
He could not tell how it fell out, but at last the time came when he admitted the source of its charm. He recalled the time sharply long after, and how he had risen hastily, and paced the floor with his hands thrust deep into his pockets. That it should come to this—he, Jonathan Flint, a man whose gray hairs—here he stepped before the mirror and studied the tuft of prematurely white locks upon his forehead—whose gray hairs ought to have brought with them wisdom, or at least common sense,—that he should fall to sitting for hours in front of a picture like any schoolboy of eighteen! Really, it was too absurd!
He would send off the portrait to the cleaner to-morrow, and then when it was properly framed, it should be sent to Miss Anstice with his compliments, and so an end of the whole matter. He would never see it again.
Nor the original?
This query was so insistent that it seemed to come from outside his consciousness, and to demand an answer. He stopped short in his walk as it struck him. Then, alone as he was, he colored to the temples, and gave a little gasp. Like an overwhelming tidal wave there swept over him the realization that his will was mastered by a power above it, mightier than itself; that his seeing Winifred Anstice again was hardly a question of volition any longer, any more than breathing was a matter of will—that he must see her—that the chief question of his future was whether she cared to see him.
This train of thought did not tend to anything very cheerful. One after another he recalled their interviews, on the road, in the boat, on the beach, and again at Flying Point. Her manner on each of these occasions had been sufficiently pronounced to leave him in no doubt of her opinion; and at the last two meetings her words had been even more explicit. She had called him a man of ice. She had taxed him with the narrow limits of his sympathies. "Well," said Reason, "did you not give her cause for all she said and more? Weren't you an odious, crabbed, supercilious cad?"
Flint took a savage satisfaction in admitting every accusation which he could bring against himself, in recalling the light irony with which Winifred Anstice had witnessed his blunders, and the direct, downright anger with which she had dealt out her judgments there at the Point. Only one drop of comfort could Flint extract from the memory of that interview, and he smiled cynically as he remembered the warmth which marked her description of her friend, the editor of the "Trans-Continental." When the surprises of the sudden enlightenment and the emotion of the moment had passed away, which feeling, he asked himself, would remain in her mind,—the liking for the ideal or the disliking of the experienced? For both there was not room, yet each was intense. It was a curious psychological problem. At a further remove it would have afforded him a keen intellectual pleasure to speculate upon the probable working of a woman's heart under such conditions. As it was, he found himself incapable either of solving the problem or of letting it alone. His mind dwelt upon it continuously. He was almost inclined, like Eugene Aram, to tell his story disguised to strangers, and listen to their idle speculations. Brady was a comfort at this time. He was so responsive in his sympathies and so obtuse in his perceptions. It was possible to talk all round a subject to him with no fear that his imagination would travel a step farther than it was led. It needed no urging, either, for he appeared to have a sentiment of his own for Nepaug and all its associations, and drew towards it as naturally as a moth to a flame or a woman to a mirror.
Indeed, Brady often dwelt spontaneously upon the various episodes of the days at the beach,—the fireworks, the shipwreck, the evening at Flying Point. He was a capital mimic, and loved to imitate Dr. Cricket striding up and down the room, with his hands clasping his elbows behind his back and his chin-whiskers thrust out before as a herald of his approach. Then casting aside all the scruples which should have been raised within him by ties of blood, he would give a burlesque of Miss Standish peering out from beneath her little gray curls at the world, and rapping out her opinion of those around her in good set terms.