"There is nothing to remedy," said Winifred, with a tremulous attempt at cheerfulness; "he asked me and I said 'No,' and he said he should never ask me again, and I said I hoped he wouldn't, or something like that, and so the matter ended; and I am always going to live with you and be good to you,—and you won't be sorry for that, will you?"
"I should be very sorry if it came about so. Listen, Winifred. Because you see me a delver in dusty old books, you think perhaps that I don't know what love is; but I tell you as I grow older it comes to fill a larger and larger part of the horizon, to seem perhaps the only reality. I don't mean just the love of a man for a woman, but the great throbbing bond of human affection and sympathy; and of all the kinds of affection, there is none that has the strength and toughness that belong to the love of husband and wife. I wish you to marry, Winifred,—I have always wished it,—only let it be to a true man, my dear,—let it be to a true man!"
"Father, he is a true man," said Winifred, speaking low and with a timidity wholly new to her.
"I think so,—I earnestly believe it. He seems to me to have more ability, more strength, and more tenderness than he has shown yet. Some wrong ideas have twisted themselves persistently among the very fibres of his life and warped it; but it is not yet too late to tear them away."
"Some one else may do it," said Winifred, in exaggerated discouragement, "I let the opportunity slip by. He will never ask me again, and as for me—do you think I will ever go to any man with the offer of my love? Not if my heart broke for him!"
"He said he would never ask you again?"
"Yes, Papa; he said it twice."
"Well, if he said it twice fifty times, it was a lie, or would have been if he had not believed it himself at the time. Never fear but you will have a chance to tell him that you have changed your mind, and without any wound to your pride either."
"Oh, Papa!" cried Winifred, rising and throwing her arms about his neck, "you are such a comfort!"
The old clock on the landing of the stairway struck one.
"There, it is morning already," said her father. "Off to bed with you, else I shall have no one to pour out my cup of coffee to-morrow." As he spoke, he gently unclasped her arms from about his neck, but she would not go quite yet.
"If—if—all this should ever come about, are you quite sure you would be willing to have me leave you?"
"Quite sure, my dear. It is the natural thing, and what is natural must be right. Now, good-night."
Winifred wiped away the tears which had been hanging on the fringe of her eyelashes, and after a parting hug gathered up her wraps and swept away to her room. Her father watched her tenderly till the last trace of her gown had vanished up the stairs; then he closed the door softly, took a miniature from its case in the drawer, laid it on the table, and bowed his head on both arms above it.
"'Father and Mother both.' Yes, that was what I promised, and that is what I must be so far as I can, and may God help me!" he murmured.
A SLUM POST
"Sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal."
Despair fells; suspense tortures. The forty odd hours which lay between the ending of the Grahams' dinner and the promised interview with Winifred Anstice stretched out into an eternity to the impatience of Flint. By turns he tried occupation and diversion; yet his ear caught every tick of the clock, which seemed to his exaggerated fancy to have retarded its movement. He found it so impossible to work at his office that he packed up his papers and started for home.
"What! going so early?" called Brooke from his desk.
"Yes, a man cannot do any work here with this everlasting steam-drill outside."
"You are growing too sensitive for this world, Flint. We shall have to build you a padded room, like Carlyle's, on top of the building."
Flint vouchsafed no answer. He posted out and up Broadway as if he were in mad haste. Then suddenly recollecting that his chief purpose was to kill time, he moderated his stramming gait to a stroll. At a jeweller's on Union Square he paused, and turned in, ostensibly to order some cards; but passing out he stopped surreptitiously before the case of jewels. The rubies interested him most. How well they would look against a certain gray-silk gown! Should he ever dare— He caught a meaning smile on the face of the clerk, and bolted out of the door.
He paused again at a fashionable florist's shop tucked deftly in among the theatres of central Broadway. The men at the counter were busily engaged over curiously incongruous tasks,—one binding up a cross of lilies, another a wreath for a baby's coffin, and a third preparing a beribboned basket, gay with chrysanthemums, for a dinner-table. Heedless, like us all, of every one's experiences but his own, Flint stood by, waiting impatiently for the clerk who was putting the last lily in the cross. From the great heaps of roses which stood about he selected an overflowing boxful of the longest-stemmed and most fragrant. The clerk smiled as he watched his recklessness. "I've seen 'em like that," he said to himself, "and two or three years after they'll come in and ask for carnations, and say it doesn't matter if they were brought in yesterday."
Unconscious of the florist's cynical reflections, Flint tossed him his card, and emerged once more to add one to the moving mass of humanity on the street. At Madison Square he dropped in at the club and looked over the latest numbers of "Life" and "Punch."
Still time hung heavy on his hands. He looked at his watch; it was just five o'clock,—exactly the time when that objectionable Blathwayt was to call in Stuyvesant Square. Still two hours before dinner.
He left the club, crossed over to Broadway, and jumped onto the platform of the moving cable-car at imminent peril to life and limb. He rode on in a sort of daze, till he was roused by a sudden jerk and the conductor's call of: "Central Park—all out here!" Moving with the moving stream of passengers, he stepped out of the car, and refusing a green transfer ticket he crossed the street and entered the park at the Seventh Avenue gate, where the path makes a sudden dip from the level of the street. The sun was near its setting, and the chilly wind had swept the walks clear of tricycles and baby carriages. The gray-coated guardian of the peace blinked at him from his sentry box. Otherwise he had the park to himself, and found an intense pleasure in the solitude, the keen air, and the sharp outlines of the dreary autumn branches against the gorgeous sky.
The west had that peculiar brilliancy which the dwellers on Manhattan would recognize as characteristic of their island in November, if there were not so few who ever get a peep at the sky except perpendicularly at noonday, as they emerge from rows of brownstone houses or overshadowing buildings of fabulous height. Flint was in no mood to sentimentalize over sunsets. The intensely human interests before him drove Nature far away, as a cold abstraction akin to death; yet half unconsciously the scene imprinted itself upon his senses, and long afterward he recalled distinctly the pale grayish-blue of the zenith shading into the rare, cold tint of green, and that again barred over with light gossamer clouds, beneath which lay the glowing bands of orange, red, and violet.
As the sun dropped, the temperature followed it. The wind whistled more keenly through the bare branches. Flint turned up the collar of his overcoat, thrust his hands into his pockets, and quickened his pace.
The relief of rapid motion told upon his overstrained condition. By the time he had rounded the lakes he was calmer. The ascent of the steep, rock-hewn steps of the ramble rested his nerves as much as it taxed his wind, and as he came stramming down the mall, his mind was sufficiently detached from its own hopes and fears to be able to realize that the overhanging elms recalled agreeably the long walk at Oxford, and that the Cathedral spires were fine in the gathering dusk, as one emerged from the Fifth Avenue entrance. The return to the world of men stimulated him, and the long undulating waves of electric lights seemed to beckon to him hopefully as he went on.
The afternoon was gone. That was one comfort, he said, as he reached his own room. It would take half-an-hour to dress for dinner, and that meal might be prolonged to cover another hour; but the evening still stretched onward, seeming interminable to his restless fancy. It was a relief when Brady came in and suggested that they drop in at a meeting of the Salvation Army to be held at a slum post in a region of the city known as Berry Hill.
"Will I go?" he said, echoing the question of his friend, who stood looking out of the window with an appearance of indifference, which deceived no one. "Yes, I will; but I want you to understand that I don't go as you do, out of pure emotional piety, but only to see and hear Nora Costello."
"Well, she is worth it, isn't she?" Brady responded.
"Worth a trip down-town? Without doubt; but that is not the question that is lying down in the depths of the locality you are pleased to call your heart. Come, now," he added, walking across to the window and throwing his arm over Brady's shoulder with one of his rare exhibitions of affection,—"come; make a clean breast of it, and let us talk the thing out from A to Z. Imprimis, you are in love with Nora Costello."
Brady started and moved away a trifle, but made no effort at denial till after a minute, when he said rather weakly, "What makes you think so?"
"Think so! Why, man, I must be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know it. Do you suppose I believed that a man at your time of life, brought up as you have been, had suddenly gone daft on this Salvation Army business?"
"It's a 'business', as you call it, that does more good than all the churches put together," answered Brady, hotly.
"Hear him!" echoed Flint, mockingly.
"Hear this son of New England actually declaring that there may be a way to heaven which does not lie between church-pews or start from a pulpit!"
"Flint, you are a scoffer."
"What do I scoff at?"
"Pardon me, but I do not."
"Well, theology, anyway."
"Ah, that is a different matter."
"You call yourself an agnostic."
"No, I don't. 'Agnostic' is too long and too pretentious a word. I prefer to translate it and call myself a know-nothing."
"Don't you believe in God and a future life—and—and all that sort of thing?" Brady ended rather disjointedly.
"Don't you believe Mars is inhabited? and that the lines on its surface are canals for irrigation?"
"I don't know," answered Brady, whose mental processes were simple.
"Neither do I," said Flint; "and what is more, neither does any man, any more than he knows about God and a future life; and so why should we go to making up creeds and breaking the heads of people who don't agree with us when we are all just guessers, and probably all of us wrong?"
"Then you would take away faith out of the world?"
"Not I,—at least not unless I could see something to take its place, which at present I don't; and as for these poor devils who are consoling themselves for their hard lot in this world by the expectation of a soft thing in the next, I would not be such a brute as to shake their confidence if I could, and I don't blame them much if in addition to their heaven they set up a hell where, in imagination at least, they can put the folks who have been having a too good time here while they were grunting and sweating under their weary load."
"Then I wonder you have not more sympathy with an organization like the Salvation Army, which is doing its best to lighten the burden of the grunters and sweaters."
"Ah," answered Flint, "I had forgotten the Salvation Army,—it seems so small a branch of a big subject. I am glad you brought me back. But let us go a little further back still, for you know it was not the Army at all that we started to discuss, but only one of its officers, with a slender little figure and a pale face and a big pair of rather mournful dark eyes."
"Oh!" said Brady, taken somewhat off his guard, "but you should see her when she is pleased! They light up just as if a torch had been kindled in them."
"Oh, they do, do they?" said Flint, with genial raillery; "well, you see I never saw her so pleased as that."
"Why, don't you remember on her birthday, when I gave her back the locket?"
"I remember the occasion; but I had precious little chance to see how her eyes looked, for you stood so close to her that nobody else could catch a glimpse. I did see something, though."
"I saw you, and any one more palpably sentimental I never did see."
"Well, what of it? It isn't a crime, I suppose—"
"That depends," Flint answered dryly.
Brady shook off his hand. "What do you mean by that?" he asked angrily.
"I mean," said Flint, folding his arms and looking at his friend steadily, "that you have come to the cross-roads. You cannot go on as you are. You must either give up hanging about Nora Costello, or you must make up your mind to marry her."
"And why not, pray, if I could induce her to accept me?"
"Great Heavens!" cried Flint; "has it gone so far as that?"
"Yes, it has," answered Brady, as defiantly as though Flint had represented his whole family circle; "and if she will marry me I shall be a proud and happy man."
"And your relatives,—the Bradfords and Standishes and all?"
"Plymouth Rock may fall on them for all I care," exclaimed Brady.
"And how about the tambourines and torches?"
Brady colored a little, but he stood his ground manfully.
"I shall never presume to dictate," he answered. "I will go my way and she shall go hers; and if I can lend a helping hand to any of the poor wretches she is trying to save, I shall do it, if I have to take off my kid gloves and get down into the gutter, as many a better man has done before me."
"Well," answered Flint, "if that is the way you take it I have nothing more to say. But if you don't object I would like to be present when you announce the engagement to Miss Standish."
"Miss Standish be hanged!" cried Brady. "It is a question of Miss Costello, I tell you. My only anxiety lies right there. If you had ever been in love you would know how it feels."
"I can imagine," Flint answered, taking up his pipe and looking scrutinizingly into the bowl; "I have read about it in books. But come! if we are going to the rally we must be about it. It is nearly eight by my watch. How long is the confounded thing—excuse me—I mean the gospel gathering?"
"If you are going to make fun of it, Flint, you would better stay at home," said Brady, stiffly.
"No, no, forgive me, Brady! I meant nothing of the kind; it is my accursed habit of joking when I am in earnest, and being so solemn when I try to be funny that I am never in harmony with the occasion. Go on; I will close the door. I ought not to go, for I half expect Brooke of the Magazine. No matter; I will leave word for him."
As they passed the janitor, Flint said, "I shall be back by ten. If any one comes to see me you have the key of my rooms, and let any visitor come in and wait."
"All right, sir!"
"And see that the fire is kept up."
Flint shivered as he passed out of the warm, heavily carpeted halls into the chilly night of late November.
"To-morrow will be Thanksgiving, won't it?" Brady observed.
"Yes, and judging by the number of turkeys on this avenue there will be no family without one. I heard last year of a poor widow who had six sent her by different charitable institutions. That is what I call a pressure of subsistence on population."
Something in Flint's manner jarred upon his companion. It seemed like a determined opposition to any undue influence of sentiment or emotion. Brady could not have defined the attitude of his friend's mind; but he felt it, and resented it to the extent of keeping silence after they had taken their seats in the car of the elevated road.
There were few other passengers, and the car smelled of lamp-oil. All surrounding influences tended to depress Brady's ordinarily buoyant spirits, and he wished he had stayed at home, or at any rate had left Flint behind. Meanwhile his companion, apparently wholly oblivious of the frigidity of his companion's manner, sat with his hat pulled over his eyes, and his face as undecipherable as the riddle of the Sphinx.
As the cars stopped at a station half-way between the up-town residences and the downtown offices, in the slum belt of the city, Brady buttoned up his overcoat and rose, saying shortly, "We get out here."
"He has been here more than once," was Flint's inward comment; but he made no reply, only followed in Brady's footsteps down the iron stairs, and under the shadow of the elevated track for a block or two, when Brady made a sharp wheel to eastward.
"Is this our street?" asked Flint, speaking for the first time.
"Yes, this is our street. Turn to the right—there where you see the red lantern hanging out from the second story."
"Ah, you know the neighborhood well, I see. Lead on, and I will follow. How dark it is down here!"
"Yes, electric lights are reserved for the quarters where you rich people live."
"You rich people!" Flint smiled to himself. "Pretty soon," he thought, "Brady will be classing me among the greedy capitalists who are battening on the sorrows of the poor." He was almost conscious of a feeling of guilt as he recalled the fresh, pure air of the park and contrasted it with this atmosphere. The name of Berry Hill seemed curiously inappropriate for the level streets lined with tumble-down tenements; and its suggestion of the long-ago days when vine-clad uplands swelled between the narrowing rivers, and little children steeped their fingers in nothing more harmful than the blood of berries, lent an added pathos to the gloom of the contrasting present.
The slum post was a forlorn wooden building which had quite forgotten, if it had ever owned, a coat of paint. The windows of the lower story were guarded by a wire netting, behind which reposed the treasures of the poor under the temporary guardianship of the pawnbroker. On one side lay bits of finery, tawdry rings of plate and silver set with sham diamonds and pearls, which if the product of nature, would have bankrupted a Rothschild. In among them were infants' rattles and spoons marked for life with the impress of baby teeth. Behind the smaller articles hung a row of musical instruments, fifes and fiddles sadly silent, and hinting of moody, mirth-robbed homes. Behind these again, by the dim light within, Flint caught a glimpse of miscellaneous piles of household articles wrung from the reluctant owners who had already parted with vanity and mirth, and now must banish comfort too.
The door on one side of the window stood open, and a rather dim light within showed a bare hall-way with a worn shabby staircase leading to the room above. Flint and Brady toiled up two flights. "The path to heaven is not to be made too easy, is it?" said Flint, pausing to take breath.
"No; did you expect elevators?" his friend asked with some asperity.
Flint's good humor was not to be shaken, however.
"To heaven? Why, yes. Angels' wings I've always understood were to be at our service. Here it seems not."
At the door Brady stopped to drop a quarter into the basket labelled "Silver contribution," held by a buxom and not unpleasing young woman in the Army uniform.
"They understand the first principles of the church, I see," Flint whispered. "They have dropped the communion, but they keep the contribution-box."
Brady did not attend to him. As the two men entered, several turned to look at them. Clearly they were not of the class expected. Brady, however, nodded to one or two, and he and his friend sat down on a bench near the door, in the corner of the hall. Flint wished it were in order to keep his hat on to shield his eyes from the unshaded gas, which struck him full in the face. But he resigned himself to that, as well as to the heat and the odor, and charged it off to the account of a new experience.
The interior was bare and cheerless, colorless save for the torn red shades above the high dormer windows, and the crudely painted mottoes over the platform and around the wall. "Berry Hill for God!" sprawled along one side, flanked by "Remember Your Mother's Prayers!" and in front the sinner's trembling gaze was met by the depressing suggestion, "What if you Was to Die To-night?"
The ceiling was low, and the air already over-heated and over-breathed. Flint was an epicure in the matter of air. He looked longingly at the door, which offered the only method of escape. But he had come for the evening, and he made up his mind to endure to the end.
A Hindoo was speaking as they came in, shaking his white turban with much vehemence, and waving his small delicate hands in the air as he told of "The General's" work in India, and how he had been drawn by the gospel (which he pronounced go-spell) to give up his rank in the Brahmin caste, to wander over the world as an evangel.
"Queer," muttered Flint, "that every converted Hindoo was a Brahmin. Booth seems to have had great luck with the aristocracy."
For a few moments the strangeness of the Hindoo's speech amused Flint; then he grew bored, and finally irritated. He took out his watch, looked at it conspicuously, then closed it with an audible click. If there is a depressing sound on earth it is the click of a watch to the ear of an orator. The speaker felt it, and looked round deprecatingly, reflecting perhaps that however superior in morals, Occidentals have something to learn of the Orientals in manners.
When the high-caste Hindoo sat down, there was much clapping of hands and shaking of tambourines, and then to the tune of Daisy Bell rose a chorus of,—
"Sinner, Sinner, give me your answer, do!"
Flint felt a convulsive twitching at the corner of his mouth, but he had sworn to himself that he would betray no levity. Brady looked so uncomfortable that his friend pitied him. There is much which disturbs us, chiefly through the sensibility of others. At the end of the singing, a man rose to tell of what the Army had done for him in rescuing him from the gutter; but his legs were so unsteady and his speech so frequently interrupted by hiccoughs that an audible titter ran around the room, and there was great propriety in the song following his remarks.
"If at first you don't succeed, Try, try again."
The room grew hotter, the lights more trying, the bench harder. The humor of the situation began to die out in Flint's mind, and gave way to a wave of repulsion and of pity for his friend who was about to condemn himself to these associations for life. His mind, which had wandered from the scene around him, was recalled by the sound of a voice, so different from the preceeding ones that it fell like angelic tones upon a world far beneath.
"My friends," said the voice, which was of course Nora Costello's, "you have listened this night to stories of sin and suffering, of struggle, of victory, and sometimes of defeat."
"Like the tipsy gent's," a man called out with a coarse laugh.
"Yes, like his. Would you jeer and gibe if you saw a man sinking in the waves time after time in spite o' rafts and life-preservers thrown out to him from the ship?"
A shamed silence showed that the question had struck; but the speaker was not satisfied with silence. She went on driving the shaft home. "Would you laugh if you saw a man trying to climb out of a burning building and beaten back time after time by the flames?"
(Cries of "No, no.")
"Then why should you laugh over a poor wretch who is struggling with worse flames and in danger of being dragged down to more terrible fires of endless punishment?"
"Fire! Fire!" cried some one in the hall. For a moment Flint took this to be like the "No, no" of a moment before,—only a running comment on the speaker's words,—but at the same instant his eye caught the curling of a thin blue line of smoke in the corner, and he remembered the furniture and flimsy flummery stored on the lower floor. He measured the distance to the door. There was no one between him and it. He would have little difficulty in escaping if he started on the instant—but these others!
"The place will go up like a rocket," he said to Brady, "but a panic is worse. Hold the door with me!"
"Take me, meester; I'm stronger nor him!" said a broad-shouldered coal-heaver, who had overheard their whisper.
With this the three men made a bolt for the door, and formed in line in front of it, with their stout walking-sticks in hand.
"Keep your seats. We will knock down the first man who moves. There's no danger!" Flint shouted. For an instant the crowd wavered. It would have taken only one more impulse to turn it into a mob. Nora Costello saw the danger, and seizing her tambourine she began on a ringing Army chorus. The audience fell in with such energy that it drowned the rattle of the fire engines.
"Don't be alarmed," said a fireman, sticking his head in at the door, "the fire is out, and the danger over. Five minutes more, though," he added in an undertone to Flint, "would have done the business, and then, I reckon, we might have spent a week looking for bodies in the ashes."
"Come, Brady, let us go; I want some fresh air," said Flint, when the excitement had subsided and another convert had begun his sing-song confession and adjuration.
"Go, then," answered his friend; "I shall wait to the end. I am going to walk home with Miss Costello. Yes," he went on, in response to his friend's questioning glance, "it's to-night or never."
"Then I won't wait," said Flint; "only come in to-morrow and tell me how you fared."
It was with a feeling of exultation that Flint found himself again on the street. "How grewsome it would have been," he thought, "to be carried off in a job lot like that! I can imagine nothing worse, except perhaps to be killed in a crush at a bargain-counter."
"C'est toujours l'imprevu qui arrive."
The ruling thought in Flint's mind as he emerged from the crowded room and made his way down the shaky stairs to the outer door, was of the physical delight of inhaling fresh air. He drew in two or three deep, lung-filling breaths, then he opened his coat and shook it to the air as he had seen doctors do after coming out of a sick-room.
"Decidedly," he said to himself, "slumming is not my vocation. If I were drafted into the Salvation Army, I should plead to be permitted to join the open-air brigade. My sympathy with the poor in general, and drunkards in particular, is in inverse proportion to the nearness. Poor Brady! I wonder how he will endure being unequally yoked together with a believer. Suppose Nora Costello refuses him. No, he is safe enough, if it is being safe to have her return his love. I saw her look up as we came in, and though she never glanced in our direction again till the cry of 'Fire!' came, I saw her look of appeal then, and his response. Oh, there is no doubt about her accepting him; but the question is, not how does she feel now, but how will she feel a year or two years from now? As I grow older, I grow more conservative on these things. There is such an amount of wear and tear in the ordinary strain of married life that I hate to see cruel and unusual ones added. If Winifred Anstice should ever or could ever— There, I will not allow myself even to think about it, for it would be so much harder to give it up afterward if I am compelled to, and, after all, what chance is there that a girl like Winifred would be willing to spend her whole life with a man whose nature and character are so different from hers!"
Flint had been walking rapidly, and his musings had so filled his mind that he saw with surprise that he had reached the corner where the Sixth Avenue elevated and surface cars curve together for their straight-away race to the Park at the end of the course. He was conscious of a certain added rush of spirits at finding himself once more on the edge of a familiar world,—a world where the sin was at least conventionalized and the misery went about well dressed. Already the scene at the slum post had taken on in his mind a distance which enabled him to regard it humorously, and he amused himself in rehearsing the scene as he would set it forth to Brooke when he reached "The Chancellor."
As he turned a corner, he noticed just in front of him in the side street leading toward Fifth Avenue a young woman carrying a paper parcel, and looking up a little nervously at one number after another. She wore a Canada seal jacket, and a wide felt hat topped with nodding plumes which made a large effect for the investment. Over the jacket hung a gilt chain holding a coin purse, the latest fad of the fashionable world.
As Flint's footsteps quickened behind her, she turned her head a little timorously. At last she stopped, and as he caught up with her she began, "Could you tell me—" Then she stopped short.
"Miss Marsden!" exclaimed Flint, in amazement. "What in the world brings you here?"
"To see New York," the girl began a little flippantly, but ended more tremulously, "and to see you."
"But where are you staying?"
"Nowhere—that is, I came down on the train this afternoon, and I thought I'd go to a hotel, and then I meant to write you a note to-morrow and ask you to come and see me; but a lady I met on the cars, she was real kind, and she said she guessed I'd find it cost more 'n I reckoned on to go to a hotel, and so she gave me this address where a friend of hers lived. She said she was a perfect lady, and would take good care of me. Not that I need anybody to do that!"
This last with that curious mixture of innocence, ignorance, and sophistication, incredible outside America, where the self-dependent girl so early becomes sufficient for herself and too much for every one else.
Flint took the address from her hand, and studied it for a minute. "That will not do at all," he said quietly, as he threw the bit of paper into the gutter. Then he took out his watch. "Half-past nine. You have just time to catch the night train for South East."
The girl's face fell. "I'm not going to South East," she said sullenly. "I wrote Pa that I was going off for Thanksgiving, with a friend from Boxbury."
"Then why not go back to Boxbury? That's still an easier trip, and I can let you have the money."
Flint's tone, which was always low, had dropped still deeper; but the earnestness of his manner made itself felt, and a casual passer-by, catching the word "money," slowed up his walk, and turned his head for an instant's inspection of the couple. Flint raged inwardly at the vulgarity of the situation thus thrust upon him. To his companion, however, the glance of the passer-by conveyed nothing more than a recognition of her good looks, to which she was not averse. She stood still a moment, rubbing her ringed and ungloved hand back and forward over the sanded iron imitation brownstone fence by which she had paused. Then, as Flint, feeling the conspicuousness of their stationary attitude, made a movement to walk on, she broke out with a note of genuine feeling,—
"It's no question of money. I came away because I couldn't stand it any longer. I wanted so to see you and to tell you what a lot I cared about you, and I thought perhaps—"
"Don't go on!" said Flint, a trifle sternly. "You are a silly little fool; but you ought to know better than to say things like that to a man who never did and never could care anything for you."
"Then you despise me and my love!" said Tilly, with passion half real, half premeditated for effect. She had rehearsed this scene many times in her own mind.
"Despise you? Not I," Flint answered; "and as for your love, a real, genuine affection is about the last thing in the world to be despised. Whether it is returned or not, it does not matter; and besides," here Flint paused a minute and then went on, "in that I have much sympathy with you, for I too love some one who has refused to marry me."
It was with a sense of inward surprise that Flint heard himself revealing the secrets of his inmost heart to this tawdry young girl; but Brady's words were ringing in his ears: "I think I would try to help save a soul, if I had to take off my kid gloves or even go down in the gutter to do it."
Tilly Marsden had not enough nobleness of nature to take in the spirit of his confidence. To her his words implied some hope for herself.
"Perhaps," she said brokenly, "if you couldn't get her you might take me." As she looked up at him pleadingly, with real tears standing on her long eyelashes and the flush of a genuine emotion on her cheeks, Flint was conscious that she was very, very pretty.
Her prettiness would not at any time have held any temptation for him. The inherited austerity of his blood and a fastidiousness of temperament beyond the appeal of this chromo beauty would have prevented it in any case, but just now he was under the spell of an exaltation which lifted him above even the possibility of such danger. He had stood on the Mount of Transfiguration and looked into the eyes of spiritual love. Its light still shone above and around him, and shed its influence over the whole world. All dark thoughts, all basilar instincts shrank back abashed before that white light. The old monogamous instinct of the Anglo-Saxon race, which has kept it sound at the core in spite of a thousand vices, held this man as true to the woman whom he wished to marry as if she were indeed his wife.
Tempted he was not, but most wofully disturbed in mind he certainly was. Having destroyed the dubious address, he felt himself to have assumed in a measure a responsibility for this foolish girl's future, her immediate future at least. His mind traversed rapidly all the possible courses open to him. He must take her somewhere. Hotels and boarding-houses were alike impossible. He thought of Nora Costello; but he could not bring himself to ask her to share the narrow limits of her one room with this be-furbelowed young person, and then it would involve so many awkward explanations. There was only one person who would understand. By a process of exclusion, his thoughts were driven more and more insistently toward seeking aid from Winifred Anstice.
He felt to the full the delicacy and difficulty, not to say the absurdity, of his position, in seeking to place the woman who loved him under the protection of the woman he loved, but it was the only course which seemed even possible.
"Come," he said suddenly to Tilly, with an authority which the girl's will was powerless to resist. "Since you will not go home, you must be cared for here. I will take you to a friend of mine, and you must do as she tells you."
"And what if I won't go?" said the girl, with a feeble effort at self-assertion.
"Then I will leave you here. Only never hold me responsible for the ruin that lies before you clear as Hell."
The girl quailed before the energy of his words.
"Cab, sir?" called the driver of a hansom the lights of which had twinkled from a judicious distance for some time past.
Flint raised his finger in acquiescence, and the hansom rattled up to the curbstone. Flint handed Tilly Marsden into it with his habitual deference, gave a street and number to the driver, and, jumping in himself, slammed to the half doors with a clang which echoed along the silent street. The driver cracked his whip over the horse's head as if he were about to drive him at a desperate pace; but the animal, familiar with the noisy demonstration and recognizing it as intended for the encouragement of the passengers within the vehicle and not conveying any special warning to himself, set off at his customary jog-trot.
A man who had been standing in the shadow of a house moved out and stood a moment under the quivering nimbus of the electric light. His brow darkened as he looked after the retreating cab.
"Curse him!" he muttered.
Flint and his companion drove on unwitting of the vengeance-breeding wrath behind them. For a time they kept silence, each absorbed in his own thoughts. Flint was unpleasantly conscious that the girl was crying behind her veil, but realizing that he had no consolation to offer, he wisely let her alone, and before many minutes the novelty of her surroundings began to tell upon Tilly's grief.
"Whose house is that?" she asked in a broken voice, as they passed a brilliantly lighted hotel. She had read so much of the palaces of the millionnaires that a fourteen-story private dwelling did not strike her as at all unexpected.
"She will recover," Flint murmured cynically to himself. His mind was working rapidly now. Like many contemplative men, once roused to definite action he was capable of great energy and direct executive ability. He planned every detail of the coming interview, met every emergency, was prepared for every event.
As the cab drew up before the Anstice door, he noted with relief that the lights above were bright and those on the parlor floor subdued. "No company, thank Heaven! and the family upstairs," was his comment. What he most dreaded now was Winifred's being out. He wondered if in that event he should have courage to ask for Miss Standish, and had almost persuaded himself that he would, when McGregor, to the comfort of his soul, admitted that Miss Anstice was at home and without visitors. Flint felt a little cut by McGregor's glance of suspicion at his companion. It seemed to connote the opinion of the world, and to make his position more difficult than ever. He determined, however, to carry things with a high hand.
"Show this young woman into the dining-room, McGregor, and close the doors. Then take this card to Miss Anstice, and ask if I may see her for a moment on important business."
The old butler stumbled upstairs, murmuring, "Well, it's a queer business, and I can't make it out; but he's the right sort, he is."
As Flint waited in the drawing-room, he was dimly conscious of the perfume from the roses in the jar on the piano, conscious too that he was standing on the very spot where he had kissed Winifred's hand yesterday. Was it really only yesterday? It seemed an age ago.
The spell was broken by the sound of a light step on the stair, and the appearance of Winifred herself in the doorway,—Winifred in her gown of soft gray silk, with a bunch of his roses at her belt,—Winifred as he had never seen her before, with the gladness of unrestrained welcome in her eyes, with shy words of love almost trembling on her lips.
Flint started forward, then thought of the girl behind the closed door, and hesitated. Surely they could postpone happiness for a time to bind up the bruises of that foolish wayfarer who was none the less to be pitied that her wounds were self-inflicted.
Winifred's quick perception took in at once the agitation of his face and manner.
"You are in trouble!" she said, coming close to him with swift sympathy.
"Yes, in trouble and in perplexity. I have come to you for help."
"I am glad you have come to me," the girl said simply, and stood with uplifted eyes waiting for him to go on.
"Don't look at me like that," Flint cried out; "when you do I can think of nothing but you, and to-night we must both think about some one else."
"Who is it? What is it? Tell me from the beginning."
Flint was profoundly moved by the instant putting aside of all thoughts of self in the desire to be of service.
"How dared I ask her to marry me?" he thought. Aloud he said: "Listen, Winifred, and know that I am trying to tell you the white truth without reserve or evasion. I come to you because you are the only person who will need no explanation of the past, to unravel the evil of the present. I went with Brady this evening to a meeting of the Salvation Army at a slum post down on Berry Hill, where Nora Costello was to speak—"
"Oh, why didn't you let me go too?"
"You shall go if you like sometime; but I am glad you were not there to-night, for there was a fire, and something near a panic—"
Winifred turned white and moved nearer to him.
"Don't be alarmed!" he said; "nothing happened. The fire was soon put out, and people settled back in their seats. But I grew restless, and concluded not to wait for Brady; so I started to walk up alone—"
"Alone?" echoed Winifred, "through that quarter! Why, Nora says it is as bad as Whitechapel."
"Perhaps," said Flint, with a nervous laugh; "but my walk was entirely uneventful till I reached our own highly respectable part of the city. As I was turning into Fifth Avenue, out of one of the side streets above Washington Square, I saw a girl looking up at the houses. As I came along she stopped to speak to me, and to my amazement I found it was Tilly Marsden."
"Yes, she had come down to spend Thanksgiving here in the city. She had been expecting, it seems, to go to a hotel; but a woman on the train gave her the address of some friend, and she was looking up this unknown landlady when I came along."
"Little fool!" said Winifred, with finely feminine exasperation.
"She is—beyond a doubt she is; but still—"
"But still," said Winifred, with a vanishing smile, "you naturally have more sympathy with her folly than I have." (At this moment Winifred had forgotten the charge of lack of sympathy which she had brought against the man before her three months ago.) "The question is, of course, what is to be done with her?"
Flint felt an immense sense of relief at Winifred's practical words, which seemed to remove the situation from the element of tragedy to rather sordid commonplace.
"That's it exactly," he said helplessly. "I thought of taking her to Nora Costello."
"That would not do at all," said Winifred, positively. "I am disappointed in you. If you had trusted to my proffer of friendship yesterday, you would have brought her to me."
"I—I did," hesitated Flint; "she is in the rear room there. But the more I think of it, the more I feel as if I could not have her here near you. She is—"
"You need not tell me what Tilly Marsden is," Winifred interrupted. "I know her of old. She is silly and pert, and cheaply sensational; but she is not vicious, and if she were, our duty would be the same. You may leave her with Miss Standish and me. We will take care of her, and try to make something of her."
"I suppose I ought to say 'Good-by' to her?"
"By no means. Go, and leave her to me."
"Have you no word for me at parting?"
"No, not now,—all that can wait."
"Good-night, then, since you will let me say nothing more."
Winifred answered with a farewell glance, full of confidence and of love. Then the door closed after Flint, and Winifred threw open the folding-doors into the dining-room.
"How do you do, Miss Marsden?" she said, taking Tilly's hand.
The girl looked at her, stupidly bewildered.
"You do not recognize me, I see, but I remember you from seeing you with Leonard Davitt down at Nepaug."
Tilly blushed painfully, but Winifred took no notice of her embarrassment.
"Mr. Flint said you were belated in your trip to the city, so he brought you to us for the night," Winifred continued, as if it were the most natural episode in the world.
"And did he tell you—"
"He told me nothing else. He was in a hurry, I suppose."
"Then he is gone?"
"Yes, he is gone, and I am glad, because it is time you went to bed after you have had such a tiresome journey. Come upstairs. I am going to give you the little room next Miss Standish's. You remember her perhaps—she was at Nepaug too. To-morrow we will talk over anything you wish to tell me. Come!"
"God's puppets best and worst are we, There is no last or first."
The breakfast-hour in the Anstice household was regularly irregular. A movable fast, Professor Anstice called it. On the morning of Thanksgiving Day the hand of the old Dutch clock pointed to nine when Winifred Anstice entered the dining-room.
A freshly lighted fire blazed on the hearth. The lamp beneath the silver urn blazed on the table. Toasted muffins and delicate dishes of honey and marmalade stood upon the buffet.
"Will you wait for Mr. Anstice?" McGregor asked as she entered.
"No, McGregor, I am like time and tide, and wait for no man or woman either; but you need not hurry, for I will look over my mail while the eggs are boiling,—just four minutes, remember. I don't want them bullets, nor yet those odious slimy trickling things which seem only held together by the shell."
McGregor smiled,—a smile it had cost him twenty years of service in the best families to acquire,—a smile which expressed respectful appreciation of the facetiousness intended without any personal share in it. He never allowed himself to be more amused than a butler should be.
Winifred Anstice dropped into the chair which he held for her, and took up, one by one, the letters which lay on the silver tray by her side. They proved a strange medley, as the morning mail of a New York woman always is,—a dozen "At Home" cards, Receptions, Teas, "days" in December, all put aside after a passing glance for future sorting; an appeal for aid, by a widow who had done washing for the family twenty years ago, and was sure for the sake of old times Miss Anstice would lend her a small sum, to tide over the cruel winter when her son could get no work; a note from Mrs. De Lancey Jones, stating that a few excellent seats for a performance to be given for the benefit of the "Manhattan Appendicitis Hospital" could be had from her; there was a great rush for the tickets, but she wanted if possible to keep a few for her friends, and would Miss Anstice kindly let her know at once if she desired any?
Miss Anstice smiled a sceptical smile, which deepened into a laugh when she picked up the next note, which stated that Mrs. Brown-Livingston was also holding back a number of the same much-sought tickets for her friends, but would part with a few to Miss Anstice if informed at once.
"What frauds these mortals be!" exclaimed Winifred, laying both requests aside to amuse her father later.
At the next envelope she colored hotly, for she recognized the handwriting instantly. Indeed it was an easily recognizable superscription and of very distinct individuality,—a back-hand which at first glance gave the impression that it must be held up to the mirror to be read, but on closer scrutiny looked plainer than the upright round hand of the copy-books. It did not need the "F" upon the seal to tell Winifred Anstice from whom it came. She opened it, as she opened all sealed documents, with a hairpin, though two paper-cutters of silver and ivory lay at her hand on the tray.
The note was brief. It was dated "University Club, Midnight," and had no beginning, as if the writer could think of none befitting his feeling.
"I am distracted," it began abruptly, "with the contest of fears and hopes, regret and satisfaction. If I seem to have unloaded upon you a burden of responsibility which was justly mine, I beg you to believe that I did it only because I could see no other way, and even then I meant only to ask you to share it. In place of this, with characteristic generosity you insisted upon assuming the whole. This must not be. Pray name some hour when I may come to you, and let it be to-morrow. You don't know how far off that seems."
Only that, and then the signature. It was a strange note from a lover; but to Winifred Anstice it was full of the assurance that the man to whom she had given her heart (for she admitted it to herself now) was of a nature large enough to put himself and his own feelings aside and to believe that she too was capable of the larger vision, the renunciation of present happiness for pressing duty. The highest plane upon which those who love can meet is this of united work and united self-sacrifice.
Winifred's eyes glistened as she read, and when she had finished, she slipped the note into her pocket for a second reading. As she did so, Miss Standish entered.
"I declare, Winifred, you get more morning mail than a Congressman."
"Yes," said Winifred, "and my constituents make larger demands."
"It seems to me," said Miss Standish, "that you engage in too many projects. You do not give yourself time to attend to your own needs at all."
"Oh, never fear for that!" answered Winifred. "One's own needs pound at the door; the needs of others only tap. How did you sleep last night?"
"Finely. I was so tired after that picture exhibition that I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was glad enough to creep off to bed by nine o'clock; but do you know I had a confused dream of voices in the room next mine,—the little one with the green and white hangings. I thought I heard your voice, and then a stranger's, and I seemed to catch the word 'Nepaug.' Isn't it curious how dreams come without any reason whatever?"
"H'm! Sometimes it is, as you say, very curious; but in this particular instance there was nothing very miraculous about it, since you did hear voices and you very likely caught the word 'Nepaug,' for it was certainly mentioned."
"How's that?" questioned Miss Standish, sharply. She did not relish the idea of having missed any unusual happenings.
Winifred was a little vexed by the note of curiosity in her voice, and she answered without undue haste, "Yes, it was I and Tilly Marsden; you remember her, perhaps,—the daughter of the inn-keeper."
There were two things most exasperating to Miss Standish,—one to be supposed to know what she did not and thereby to be cheated of acquiring the information, the other to be suspected of not knowing what she remembered perfectly.
"Not know Tilly Marsden! Well, you must think I am losing my faculties. I wish you would not waste your time in telling things I know as well as you do; but what I would like to hear is how she came to be in this house."
"Mr. Flint brought her," answered Winifred, with unkind brevity.
"Ah!" commented Miss Standish, with an upward inflection, "and did he explain how it happened that she was under his protection?"
"I did not insult him by inquiring," flashed Winifred, "and I will not have him insulted in my presence."
Miss Standish looked at the girl over her glasses, as if she suspected her of having lost her wits. We are all of us surprised by a response which seems to us vehement beyond the proximate cause of the present occasion; we fail to allow for the slow-gathering irritation, the unseen sources of excitement which collect in the caverns of the mind like fire-damp ready to explode at the naked flame of one flickering candle. Winifred had the grace to be instantly ashamed of her impulsive irritability. She had already set before herself the standard of self-control which she saw and reverenced in Flint.
"Excuse me," she said. "I was awake almost all night, and am tired and nervous. Mr. Flint met Tilly Marsden by accident in the street. She did not know where to go, and so he brought her here. My father approved," she added a little haughtily.
"But why did she appeal to Mr. Flint?" pursued Miss Standish, who clung to her inquiries like a burr.
"Because she was in love with him," blurted out Winifred, irritated beyond the power of silence. "Can't you see! This was why I asked him to leave Nepaug last summer."
"Tilly Marsden in love with Mr. Flint!" echoed Miss Standish, amazed beyond the desire to appear to have suspected it all along. "I can't understand it."
"I can," said Winifred; "I can understand it perfectly. Poor girl! I am heartily sorry for her."
"Well, you needn't be," responded Miss Standish, with an asperity born of impatience at her own lack of astuteness. "For my part, I have no doubt she has enjoyed the situation thoroughly from beginning to end. No, don't talk to me. I know those hysterical people. All they care about is making a sensation and being the centre of attention. It is my opinion that she has made fools of you and Mr. Flint too. As for her being in love with him, nonsense! She would have fallen in love with a wax figure at the Eden Musee, if it wore better clothes than she was accustomed to. It tickles her vanity to fancy herself in love with a gentleman. It is the next best thing to having him in love with her."
"Don't you think you're a little hard on her?" asked Winifred, whose feelings were unusually expansive this morning.
"I think you are entirely too soft about her," Miss Standish answered. "It is sickly sentimentalism like yours which is filling the hospitals with hysterical patients. Let 'em alone and they'll come round fast enough."
"How do you account for my sickly sentimentalism when I have no heart, as you told me the other day?" commented Winifred demurely, with downcast eyes.
"Most natural thing in the world," said Miss Standish, rising to an argument like an old war-horse to the sound of a trumpet. "Tenderheartedness is touched by the sufferings of others. Sentimentality is touched by your feeling for them, which is the most enjoyable form of sadness."
At this point McGregor, who with admirable discretion had retreated to the pantry, reappeared, served Miss Standish with coffee and eggs, and again vanished, closing the door behind him.
"Really," cried Winifred, half laughing, half vexed, "you're as bad as Mr. Flint, with your fine-spun differences."
"There, Winifred, you've said enough. Whatever the provocation, you could not have hit back harder,—to say I am like Mr. Flint."
"It was rather more than the truth warrants," answered Winifred, with a little spot of color flaming up in her cheeks like a danger-signal.
"I hope so," Miss Standish continued, oblivious of the red flag. "I must say, Winifred, I think you let him come here too much."
"You don't like him?"
"No, I confess I don't."
"Then you needn't like me, either, for I like him so much that I am going to marry him."
Miss Standish laid down her egg-spoon, and sat staring at Winifred.
"Well!" she exclaimed at length, "this does beat all."
Winifred opened her lips to reply, when her attention was called to the maid who came hurrying into the room with her cheesecloth duster in one hand and a folded piece of paper in the other.
"The young woman, mum, as you said I was to call at nine,—well, she isn't in her room, and the bed doesn't look as if it had been slept in at all, and I found this on the bureau."
Winifred caught at the paper and read it breathlessly. It was addressed to herself.
"Good-by," it said, "and thank you for taking me in. I suppose I ought to be very grateful. I came here because I could not help it, and I am going away without taking a meal, or sleeping in your bed. I don't like being taken on charity. If it had not been for you, Mr. Flint might have cared for me, same as the hero did in 'The Unequal Marriage.' I saw last night it was you he was talking about when he said there was somebody he wanted to marry who wouldn't have him. My heart is broken; but I mean to have some enjoyment, which I couldn't, if I stayed here with you and that poky Miss Standish. I think it was real mean of Mr. Flint to bring me here anyhow."
Yours truly, "MATILDA MARSDEN"
She tossed the letter across the table to Miss Standish, and touched the bell under her foot.
"McGregor," she said, as the man appeared, "did you hear any one go out of the house this morning?"
"I thought I did, Miss Winifred, about six o'clock, before light,—that is, I was justly sure I heard the front door shut; but when I got there it was all right, except the outer door was unlocked, and that often happens when your father is at the Club. He do forget now and then."
"Three hours' start!" said Winifred to herself, then aloud: "McGregor, go at once to 'The Chancellor' and leave word for Mr. Flint to come here. Wait—I will send a note. Oh dear! why didn't I foresee this possibility?"
"Come!" said Miss Standish, who, even in her excitement, could swallow the last of her cup of hot coffee,—"come, let us go upstairs and see if the foolish girl has not left some clew!"
As Winifred and Miss Standish passed out at the parlor door, Master Jimmy entered from the hall, sleek and smiling in his holiday attire. "Great Scott!" he ejaculated. "What started Miss Standish off like that? Our stairs make the old lady puff when she takes 'em on the slow, and at this rate Fred will have to carry her half-way. Something's up, that's evident. Never mind, I'm not in it. McGregor," he called, "bring on those griddle-cakes; I smell 'em cooking. Quick now, while there's no one here to count how many I eat! Hurrah for Thanksgiving!"
McGregor failed to appear at Master Jimmy's call, and when Maria came, she said he had been sent out on an errand.
"What's up?" asked Jimmy, between mouthfuls.
"Oh, nothing—nothing—I wonder will they have the police?"
"Cops!" cried Jimmy, waking up for the first time to a genuine interest in the family excitement. "Has any one gone off with the spoons? It would be just my luck to have had a burglar in the house last night and me never got a pop at him with my air-gun loaded and close by the bed."
"It's no burglar," said the maid, with mystery in her tones.
"Not McGregor drunk!" shouted Jimmy, with a scream of delight. "That would be too good a joke."
"McGregor drunk, indeed!" sniffed Maria, indignantly. "If every one as came to this house was as good as McGregor, it would be a fine thing; but when it comes to takin' in all sorts and making a Harbor of Refuge out of a respectable home—I'm not surprised whatever may happen."
"Oh, hold your tongue, Maria. Don't be a fool! Get me some more cakes, while I go up and ask Fred what's the matter. It won't take her half an hour to get it out, I'll bet."
With this cheerful observation Jimmy vanished, and Maria disappeared down the kitchen stairs, declaring that that boy was "a perfect gintleman."
When Flint entered the Anstices' drawing-room a little later, Winifred was standing by the window, and though she turned away quickly, it was evident that she had been watching for him.
The thought thrilled him.
"What shall we do? Oh, what shall we do?" she broke out, as he came up to her.
He took her hands; they were burning hot.
"First of all, I will tell you what not to do," Flint answered. "You are not to work yourself into a fever of distress over this unfortunate business. The responsibility is not yours but mine, and the burden of anxiety is to be mine and not yours."
"Oh, never mind me! What about Tilly Marsden? It is dreadful to think of her wandering about this great city entirely alone—and she such a simpleton. Of course, it's hopeless to try to find her. Papa says so."
"Not so hopeless as you think," said Flint, with a trifle more assurance than he felt in his inmost heart. "New York stands for two things to a girl like her,—the shops and the theatres,—her ideas of the 'amusement' she speaks of in the note you sent me would be limited to one of these. Now, as this is a holiday, none of the shops would be open, and that limits it to the theatres. I shall have detectives at the door of every theatre this afternoon."
"How clever you are," murmured Winifred, "how clever and how sympathetic! You have such feeling for everybody in trouble."
This was too much for even Flint's sense of humor, which had suffered somewhat, as every one's does, from the process of falling in love. His lips twitched.
"Then I am not more obtuse than any one you ever saw, when the sufferings of others are involved?"
"Don't, pray, don't bring up the things I said that night!" cried Winifred, blushing rosy red.
"This is no time for jesting, dear, I know," Flint answered, coming close to her as she stood against the filmy lace curtain. "No time either for jesting or hoping; only your words did give me a gleam of encouragement to think that perhaps a girl who changed her mind so much in a few weeks might have wavered a little in a few days. Is it possible—Winifred, before I go away, as I must at once—could you find it in your heart to say 'I love you'?"
Winifred made him no answer, at least in words; but she came close to him, and laid both hands on his arm with a touching gesture of trustful affection.
So absorbed were they in one another that they did not notice how near they stood to the window, or that the curtain was too diaphanous quite to conceal them from view. Suddenly into their world of ecstatic oblivion came a crash, a sound of falling glass, a dull thud against the wall opposite to the window.
"Great Heavens!" cried Flint, looking anxiously at Winifred. "What was that? Are you sure you're not hurt, my darling?"
Even as he spoke, another report was heard outside, and, throwing open the curtains, they saw a man on the other side of the street stagger and fall. Flint rushed to the door, down the steps and across the sidewalk. A crowd had already collected.
"He is dead,—stone dead," said one, kneeling with his hand over his heart.
"Queer, isn't it—on Thanksgiving Day too?" said another.
"Who is he?—a countryman by his looks," said a third. "Fine-looking chap, too, with that crop of curly hair and these broad shoulders."
"Faith!" murmured an old woman, "it's some mother's heart 'ull bleed this day." And pulling out her beads, she knelt on the sidewalk to say a prayer over the parting soul.
The prostrate form lying along the pavement had a certain tragic dignity, almost majesty, in its attitude. One arm was pressed to the heart, the other thrown out in a gesture of abandonment to despair. The revolver, which had dropped from the nerveless hand, lay still smoking beside the still figure. From a wound in the left temple under the dark curls the blood trickled in a red stream. Death was in his look. The lips were turning blue, and the eyes glazing rapidly.
Flint came close to the dying man, and then shrank back with an involuntary start of horror. "Leonard Davitt!" he murmured below his breath. In an instant the whole situation was clear to him. By one of those flashlights which the mind sometimes sheds on a scene before it, making the hidden places clear and turning darkness to daylight, he grasped the truth. He knew that by some unlucky chance Leonard had come to New York, had seen him and Tilly Marsden in conversation, had seen them come here together, had fancied that he was wronged. Then this morning again he must have seen him with Winifred at the window,—Winifred mistaken for the girl he loved,—and then jealousy quite mastered the brooding brain, and the end was this.
As Flint stood over the boy's body, a great weight of sadness fell upon him. He felt like one of the figures in a Greek tragedy, innocent in intent, but drawn into a fatal entanglement of evil, and made an instrument of woe to others as innocent as himself. The blue sky above in its azure clearness seemed a type of the indifference of Heaven, the chill of the pavement a symbol of the coldness of earth. These thoughts, chasing each other through his brain with lightning rapidity, still left it clear for action.
"Stand away there, and give the man air!" he cried, clearing a little space. "Go for a doctor, somebody,—quick!"
"Oh, can it be Leonard Davitt!" whispered Winifred under her breath, as pale and trembling with emotion she drew near the edge of the crowd. "Poor boy! What shall we say to his mother?"
"Hush!" Flint answered. "May we carry him into the house?"
"Of course—of course. Oh, do hurry with the doctor. Perhaps he is not dead, after all."
With that ready adaptiveness which in Americans so often supplies the place of training, four of the men stepped forward, and lifting the body gently bore it up the steps and through the open door into the drawing-room, and laid it on the lounge just under the bullet-hole in the wall.
A doctor bustled in, box in hand. He made no effort to open his case, however. One look was sufficient.
"Death must have been instantaneous," he said. "What a queer thing,—a suicide on Thanksgiving Day!"
Extract from the Journal of Miss Susan Standish, Oldburyport, December 1.
It is good to be at home again. I said it over to myself many a time yesterday, as I was helping Mary to take the covers off the family portraits, and sitting in front of the old andirons with the firelight dancing in their great brass balls. I felt it when I sat down at my mahogany table and laid my fingers on the ebony handle of the old silver coffee-pot. Things come to have a distinct individuality, almost a personality, and we unconsciously impute to them a response to our feeling for them. It seemed to me that the old claw-foot sofa was as glad to get me back as the cat herself, and the door swung wide with a squeak of welcome. My desk too stood open with friendly invitation, and on it lay a couple of letters. The first was from Ben Bradford. It was so long since I had heard from the boy that I opened his letter first. I wrote him last month, sending him some news and more good advice. I counselled him to stop thinking about Winifred Anstice or any other girl, and throw himself into his studies, to make a record which should do credit to the Bradford name. He replies that the advice is excellent; only one drawback,—it cannot be done. He has tried throwing himself into his studies, but they closed over him without a trace. Talk about records,—he will be glad enough if he gets through his examinations without a dead flunk. As for not thinking about Winifred, he says I have not helped him to the desired end by what I wrote about Mr. Flint and his attentions. Of course, Ben says, he could not expect that Winifred would wait for him. In these days no man could hope to marry until he was white-headed like that Flint; but as for himself he never did or should see any woman whom he could love except Winifred Anstice.
To try to throw off his depression and discouragement, he had gone around last evening to call on Fanny Winthrop, who was studying at Radcliffe this year and staying on Mount Vernon Street. She sent her love to her "dear Miss Standish," and if I had any message to send in return he would be happy to carry it, as he and she were to act in "The Loan of a Lover," and he was likely to see a good deal of her in the course of the next week or two.
This letter has relieved my mind greatly. It is evident that Ben's heart is built like a modern ship, in compartments, so that though one bulkhead suffers wreck, the vessel may still come safe to a matrimonial haven.
Fanny Winthrop is a plain little girl with a round face and the traditional student spectacles; but a merry pair of dimples twinkling with a fund of cheery humor, and then—a Winthrop! That will please his mother, I am sure. But I am no matchmaker. I never think of such things unless they are forced upon me, as they have been lately.
The other letter on my desk was from Philip Brady. I had missed his call that last evening in New York. He writes, as if it were a surprising piece of information, that he is going to marry Nora Costello, provided she can gain the consent of her superior officers, and he delegates to me the pleasant duty of breaking the news to his family circle. "This," he says, "will be easy for you who have known Nora, and who were the first to discover her charm and the solid merit which goes so much deeper than charm."
Here is a pretty state of things!
What am I to do? I can see Cousin John's face when he hears the words "Salvation Army." He has always scoffed and scolded and sworn at the mere mention of the business, and his opinions are very "sot," as the Oldbury farmers say. He is, in fact, the only obstinate member of our family; but I will let him know that he cannot talk down Susan Standish. I mean to go right over to his house after dinner and have it out with him. I shall tell him that Nora Costello is a daughter-in-law to be proud of (as she is), and that I dare say, if he wishes it, she will leave the Salvation Army (which she never will); that, at any rate, he must send for the girl to come on to visit him; that if he does not, I shall; and that I heartily approve the match.
I call myself a truthful woman, and the proof of it is that when I do start out to tell a lie, it is a good honest one, not a deft little evasion such as runs trippingly from the tongue of practised deceivers.
I suppose the news of Philip's engagement will be spread all over town before night. I feel now as though I should not object to a little of that indifference to the affairs of one's neighbors which I found so depressing when I was in New York. Not that I am any less loyal to Oldburyport; if anything, I have grown more loyal than ever.
I love the deep snow and the trees bare as they are, and the square down the road a piece, and the post-office, and the trolley cars. Our cars go fast, but not too fast,—just fast enough, and they have no dead man's curve. Folks in Oldburyport die a natural death. They are not killed by the cable or run over by bicycles, or, what is quite as bad, hurried and worried to death by the rush of life, as people are in New York. I declare I felt as if I had lived an age in the month I was there; but then, why shouldn't I, with so much happening and such exciting and distressing things too! It seems as if everything went crooked. Now, if my advice had been taken in the beginning—but nobody ever will take advice except in Oldburyport.
It makes me wrathy to think of Winifred Anstice marrying that Mr. Flint, who is so dangerously irreligious, and Philip Brady marrying Nora Costello, who is so injudiciously religious, and then poor Leonard Davitt throwing away his life for that pert, forward, foolish Tilly Marsden, who has gone back to her shop-counter, pleased, for all I know, with all the excitement she raised! If corporal punishment in early youth were strictly adhered to, there would be fewer Tilly Marsdens in the world. In Oldburyport, I am happy to say, we believe in corporal punishment.
Poor Leonard! I have not got over his death yet. It was all so sad and so unnecessary. But I am not sure that he is not better off as he is than he would have been married to that girl. His mother took to her bed when she heard the news, and the doctor thinks she will not live long. So Tilly Marsden will have that death on her conscience, too, or would if she had a conscience to have it on.
There might very easily have been a third, for they said the first bullet which Leonard fired must have come within an inch of Jonathan Flint's head. I should have supposed such an escape must have softened even him. I thought it was a good time to impress the lesson, so I pointed to the bullet buried in the wall.
"Mr. Flint," said I, "can you look at that and not believe in Providence?"
Instead of being convinced, as I thought he would, he only pointed to Leonard's body lying under it and said nothing.
I hate these people who are given to expressive silences. It takes one at a disadvantage. Silence is the only argument to which there is no answer. At the time I could not think of anything to say to him, though, since I got home, I've thought of ever so many. It is easier to think, I find, in Oldburyport.
Except for the last terrible days I had a beautiful time in the city, and as I look over my diary I am quite overwhelmed to see how many things Winifred did for me. She is a dear girl! I have promised to embroider all the table linen for her wedding outfit. I console myself by reflecting that Mr. Flint is a descendant of Jonathan Edwards, and if she wants me to like him, I suppose I must try, though I may confess right here to my diary that for years I have been wanting her to marry Philip Brady. She ought to have done it, but we are all fools where matrimony is concerned.
P. S. I have promised to marry Dr. Cricket.
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