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His Sombre Rivals
by E. P. Roe
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"Oh, no," in a husky voice.

"You are taking cold."

"I believe I am."

"I'm a brute to keep you up in this style. As I live, I believe there is the tinge of dawn in the east."

"May every dawn bring a happy day to you, Warren," was said so gently and earnestly that Hilland rested his arm on his friend's shoulder as he replied, "You've a queer heart, Alford, but such as it is I would not exchange it for that of any man living." Then abruptly, "Do you hold to our old views that this life ends all?"

A thrill of something like exultation shot through Graham's frame as he replied, "Certainly."

Hilland sprang up and paced the walk a moment, then said, "Well, I don't know. A woman like Grace St. John shakes my faith in our old belief. It seems profanation to assert that she is mere clay."

The lurid gleam of light which the thought of ceasing to exist and to suffer had brought to Graham faded. It did seem like profanation. At any rate, at that moment it was a hideous truth that such a creature might by the chance of any accident resolve into mere dust. And yet it seemed a truth which must apply to her as well as to the grossest of her sisterhood. He could only falter, "She is very highly organized."

They both felt that it was a lame and impotent conclusion.

But the spring of happiness was in Hilland's heart. The present was too rich for him to permit such dreary speculations, and he remarked cordially and laughingly, "Well, Graham, we have made amends for our long separation and silence. We have talked all the summer night. I am rich, indeed, in such a friend and such a sweetheart; and the latter must truly approach perfection when my dear old philosopher of the stoic school could think it safe and wise to marry her, were all the conditions favorable. You don't wish that I was at the bottom of one of my mines, do you, Alford?"

Graham felt that the interview must end at once, so he rose and said, "No, I do not. My reason approves of your choice. If you wish more, my 'queer heart, such as it is,' approves of it also. If I had the power to change everything this moment I would not do so. You have fairly won your love, and may all the forces of nature conspire to prosper you both. But come," he added in a lighter vein, "Miss St. John may be watching and waiting for your return, and even imagining that I, with my purely intellectual bent, may regard you as a disturbing element in the problem, and so be led to eliminate you in a quiet, scientific manner."

"Well, then, good night, or morning, rather. Forgive a lover's garrulousness."

"I was more garrulous than you, without half your excuse. No, I'll see you safely home. I wish to walk a little to get up a circulation. With your divine flame burning so brightly, I suppose you could sit through a zero night; but you must remember that such a modicum of philosophy as I possess will not keep me warm. There, good-by, old fellow. Sleep the sleep of the just, and, what is better in this chance-medley world, of the happy. Don't be imagining that you have any occasion to worry about me."

Hilland went to his room in a complacent mood, and more in love than ever. Had not his keen-eyed, analytical friend, after weeks of careful observation, testified to the exceeding worth of the girl of his heart? He had been in love, and he had ever heard that love is blind. It seemed to him that his friend could never love as he understood the word; and yet the peerless maiden had so satisfied the exactions of Graham's taste and reason, and had proved herself so generally admirable, that he felt it would be wise and advantageous to marry her.

"It's a queer way of looking at these things," he concluded, with a shrug, "but then it is Graham's way."

Soon he was smiling in his repose, for the great joy of his waking hours threw its light far down into the obscurity of sleep.

Graham turned slowly away, and walked with downcast face to the rustic seat. He stood by it a moment, and then sank into it like a man who has reached the final limit of human endurance. He uttered no sound, but at brief intervals a shiver ran through his frame. His head sank into his hands, and he looked and felt like one utterly crushed by a fate from which there was no escape. His ever-recurring thought was, "I have but one life, and it's lost, worse than lost. Why should I stagger on beneath the burden of an intolerable existence, which will only grow heavier as the forces of life fail?"

At last in his agony he uttered the words aloud. A hand was laid upon his shoulder, and a husky, broken voice said, "Here is one reason."

He started up, and saw that his aunt stood beside him.

The dawn was gray, but the face of the aged woman was grayer and more pallid. She did not entreat—her feeling seemed too deep for words— but with clasped hands she lifted her tear-dimmed eyes to his. Her withered bosom rose and fell in short, convulsive sobs, and it was evident that she could scarcely stand.

His eyes sank, and a sudden sense of guilt and shame at his forgetfulness of her overcame him. Then yielding to an impulse, all the stronger because mastering one who had few impulses, he took her in his arms, kissed her repeatedly, and supported her tenderly to the cottage. When at last they reached the quaint little parlor he placed her tenderly in her chair, and, taking her hand, he kissed it, and said solemnly, "No, aunty, I will not die. I will live out my days for your sake, and do my best."

"Thank God!" she murmured—"thank God!" and for a moment she leaned her head upon his breast as he knelt beside her. Suddenly she lifted herself, with a return of her old energy; and he rose and stood beside her. She looked at him intently as if she would read his thoughts, and then shook her finger impressively as she said, "Mark my words, Alford, mark my words: good will come of that promise."

"It has come already," he gently replied, "in that you, my best friend, are comforted. Now go and rest and sleep. Have no fear, for your touch of love has broken all evil spells."

Graham went to his room, calmed by an inflexible resolution. It was no longer a question of happiness or unhappiness, or even of despair; it was simply a question of honor, of keeping his word. He sat down and read once more the paragraph in the marked copy of Emerson, "No man ever forgot—" He gave the words a long, wistful look, and then closed the volume as if he were closing a chapter of his life.

"Well," he sighed, "I did my best last night not to dispel their enchantment, for of course Hilland will tell her the substance of our talk. Now, it must be my task for a brief time to maintain and deepen the impression that I have made."

Having no desire for sleep, he softly paced his room, but it was not in nervous excitement. His pulse was quiet and regular, and his mind reverted easily to a plan of extended travel upon which he had been dwelling while in the woods. At last he threw himself upon his couch, and slept for an hour or two. On awaking he found that it was past the usual breakfast hour, and after a hasty toilet he went in search of his aunt, but was informed that she was still sleeping.

"Do not disturb her," he said to the servant. "Let her sleep as long as she will."

He then wrote a note, saying that he had decided to go to town to attend to some business which had been neglected in his absence, and was soon on his way to the train.



CHAPTER XIV

NOBLE DECEPTION

In the course of the forenoon Hilland called on his friend, and was informed that Graham had gone to the city on business, but would return in the evening. He also learned that Mrs. Mayburn was indisposed, and had not yet risen. At these tidings Grace ran over to see her old friend, hoping to do something for her comfort, and the young girl was almost shocked when she saw Mrs. Mayburn's pinched and pallid face upon her pillow. She seemed to have aged in a night.

"You are seriously ill!" she exclaimed, "and you did not let me know. Mr. Graham should not have left you."

"He did not know," said the old lady, sharply, for the slightest imputation against Graham touched her keenly. "He is kindness itself to me. He only heard this morning that I was sleeping, and he left word that I should not be disturbed. He also wrote a note explaining the business which had been neglected in his absence. Oh, I assure you, no one could be more considerate."

"Dear, loyal Mrs. Mayburn, you won't hear a word against those you love. I think Mr. Graham wonderfully considerate for a man. You know we should not expect much of men. I have to manage two, and it keeps me busy, but never so busy that I cannot do all in my power for my dear old friend. I'll get your breakfast myself, and bring it to you with my own hands, and force it upon you with the inexorable firmness of Sairy Gamp;" and she vanished to the kitchen.

The old lady turned her face to the wall and moaned, "Oh, if it could only have been! Why is it that we so often set our hearts on that which is denied? After a long, dull sleep of years it seemed as if my heart had wakened in my old age only to find how poor and lonely I am. Alford cannot stay with me—I could not expect it—neither can Grace; and so I must go on alone to the end. I'm punished, punished that years ago I did not make some one love me; but I was self-sufficient then."

Her regret was deepened when Grace returned with a dainty breakfast, and waited on her with a daughter's gentleness and tenderness, making her smile in spite of herself at her funny speeches, and beguiling her into enjoyment of the present moment with a witchery that none could resist.

Presently Mrs. May burn sighed, "It's a fearfully hot day for Alford to be in town."

"For a student," cried Grace, "he is the most indefatigable man I ever heard of. Warren told me that they sat out there under the apple-tree and poured out their hearts till dawn. Talk about schoolgirls babbling all night. My comment on Warren's folly was a dose of quinine. It's astonishing how these savants, these intellectual giants, need taking care of like babies. Woman's mission will never cease as long as there are learned men in the world. They will sit in a draught and discuss some obscure law concerning the moons of Jupiter; but when the law resulting in influenza manifests itself, then they learn our worth."

"Oh, dear!" groaned Mrs. Mayburn, "I didn't give Alford any quinine. You were more provident than I."

"How could you, when you were asleep?"

"Ah, true!" was the confused reply. "But then I should have been awake. I should have remembered that he did not come in when I did last night."

The faint color that stole into the face that had been so pale gave some surprise to the young girl. When once her mind was directed to a subject her intuitions were exceedingly keen.

From the time the secret of his regard for her had been, surprised from him, Graham had been a puzzle to her. Was he the cool, philosophical lover that he would have her think? Hilland was so frank in nature and so wholly under her influence that it was next to impossible for him not to share with her his every thought. She had, therefore, learned substantially the particulars of last night's interview, and she could not fully accept his belief that Graham's intellect alone had been captivated. She remembered how he had leaned against the tree for support; how pale he had been during the evening that followed; and how his hand had trembled in parting. She remembered his sudden flight to the mountains, his tireless energy there, as if driven on by an aching wound that permitted no rest. True, he had borne himself strongly and well in her presence the evening before; and he had given the friend who knew him so well the impression that it was merely an instance of the quiet weighing of the pros and cons, in which, after much deliberation, the pros had won. There had been much in his course, too, to give color to this view of the case; but her woman's instinct suggested that there was something more—something she did not know about; and she would have been less or more than woman had she not wished to learn the whole truth in a matter of this nature. She hoped that her lover was right, and that Graham's heart, in accordance with his development theory, was so inchoate as to be incapable of much suffering. She was not sure, however. There was something she surmised rather than detected. She felt it now in Mrs. Mayburn's presence, and caught a glimpse of it in the flush that was fading from her cheeks. Had the nephew given his aunt his confidence? or had she with her ripe experience and keen insight discovered the ultimate truth?

It was evident that while Mrs. Mayburn still loved her dearly, and probably was much disappointed that things had turned out as they had, she had given her loyalty to Graham, and would voluntarily neither do nor say anything that would compromise him. The slight flush suggested to Grace that the aunt had awaited the nephew's return in the early dawn, and that they had spoken freely together before separating; but she was the last one in the world to attempt to surprise a secret from another.

Still she wished to know the truth, for she felt a little guilty over her reticence in regard to her relations with Hilland. She, perhaps, had made too much of the luxury of keeping her secret until it could shine forth as the sun of her life; and Graham had been left in an ignorance that had not been fair to him. With a growing perception of his character, now that she had given thought to the subject, she saw that if he had learned to love her at all, it must have been in accordance with his nature, quietly, deliberately, even analytically. He was the last man to fall tumultuously in love. But when he had given it in his own way, could she be sure it was a cool, easily managed preference that he might at his leisure transfer to another who satisfied his reason and taste even more fully than herself? If this were true, her mind would be at rest; and she could like Hilland's friend heartily, as one of the most agreeable human oddities it had been her fortune to meet. She had serious misgivings, however, which Mrs. Mayburn's sudden indisposition, and the marks of suffering upon her face, did not tend to banish.

Whatever the truth might be, she felt that he had shown much thoughtfulness for her in his frankness with Hilland. He had rendered it unnecessary for her to conceal her knowledge of his regard. She need have no secrets, so far as he was concerned. The only question was as to the nature of this regard. If the impression he sought to give her lover was correct, neither of them had cause for much solicitude. If to save them pain he was seeking to hide a deeper wound, it was a noble deception, and dictated by a noble, unselfish nature. If the latter supposition should prove true, she felt that she would discover it without any direct effort. But she also felt that her lover should be left, if possible, under the impression his friend had sought to make, and that Graham should have the solace of thinking he had concealed his feelings from them both.

As the long evening shadows stretched eastward across the sloping lawn in front of the St. John cottage, the family gathered on the piazza to enjoy the welcome respite from the scorching heat of the day.

The old major looked weary and overcome. A July sun was the only fire before which he had ever flinched. Hilland still appeared a little heavy from his long hot afternoon nap, his amends for the vigils of the previous night. Grace was enchanting in her light clinging draperies, which made her lovely form tenfold more beautiful, because clothed in perfect taste. The heat had deepened the flush upon her cheeks, and brought a soft languor into her eyes, and as she stood under an arch of the American woodbine, that mantled the supports of the piazza roof, she might easily have fulfilled an artist's dream of summer. Hilland's eyes kindled as he looked upon her, as she stood with averted face, conscious meanwhile of his admiration, and exulting in it. What sweeter incense is ever offered to a woman?

"Grace," he whispered, "you would create a pulse in a marble statue to-night. You never looked more lovely."

"There is a glamour on your eyes, Warren," she replied; and yet the quick flash of joy that came into her face proved the power of his words, which still had all the exquisite charm of novelty.

"It's the glamour that will last while I do," he responded, earnestly. "Are not this scene and hour perfect? and you are the gem of it all. I don't see how a man could ask or wish for more than I have to-night, except that it might last forever." A shadow passed over his face, and he added, presently, "To think that after a few weeks I must return to those blasted mines! One thing is settled, however. I shall close out my interests there as speedily as possible; and were it not for my obligations to others, I'd never go near them again. I have money enough twice over, and am a fool to miss one hour with you."

"You will be all the happier, Warren, if you close up your interests in the West in a manly, business-like way. I always wish to be as proud of you as I am now. What's more, I don't believe in idle men, no matter how rich they are. I should be worried at once if you had nothing to do but sit around and make fine speeches. You'd soon weary of the sugar-plum business, and so should I. I have read somewhere that the true way to keep a man a lover is to give him plenty of work."

"Will you choose my work for me?"

"No; anything you like, so it is not speculation."

"I think I'll come and be your father's gardener."

"If you do," she replied, with a decisive little nod, "you will have to rake and hoe so many hours a day before you can have any dinner."

"But you, fair Eve, would bring your fancy-work, and sit with me in the shade."

"The idea of a gardener sitting in the shade, with weeds growing on every side."

"But you would, my Eve."

"Possibly, after I had seen that you had earned your bread by the 'perspiration of your brow,' as a very nice maiden lady, a neighbor of ours, always phrases it."

"That shall be my calling as soon as I can get East again. Major, I apply for the situation of gardener as soon as I can sell out my interests in the mines."

"I have nothing to do with it," was the reply. "Grace commands this post, and while here you are under her orders."

"And you'll find out, too, what a martinet I am," she added. "There's no telling how often I'll put you under arrest and mount guard over you myself. So!"

"What numberless breaches of discipline there will be!"

Lovers' converse consists largely in tone and glance, and these cannot be written; and were this possible, it could have but the slenderest interest to the reader.

After a transient pause Hilland remarked: "Think of poor Graham in the fiery furnace of New York to-day. I can imagine what a wilted and dilapidated-looking specimen he will be if he escapes alive—By Jove, there he is!" and the subject of his speech came as briskly up the walk as if the thermometer had been in the seventies instead of the nineties. His dress was quiet and elegant, and his form erect and step elastic.

As he approached the piazza and doffed his hat, Hilland cried: "Graham, you are the coolest fellow I ever saw. I was just commiserating you, and expecting you to look like a cabbage—no, rose- leaf that had been out in the sun; and you appear just as if you had stepped from a refrigerator."

"All a matter of temperament and will, my dear fellow. I decided I would not be hot to-day; and I've been very comfortable."

"Why did you not decide not to be cold last night?"

"I was so occupied with your interminable yarns that I forgot to think about it. Miss Grace, for your sake and on this evening, I might wish that there was a coolness between us, but from your kind greeting I see there is not. Good-evening, major; I have brought with me a slight proof that I do not forget my friends;" and he handed him a large package of newspapers, several of them being finely illustrated foreign prints.

"I promote you on the spot," cried the delighted veteran. "I felt that fate owed me some amends for this long, horrid day. My paper did not come this morning, and I had too much regard for the lives of my household to send any one up the hot streets after one."

"Oh, papa!" cried Grace, "forgive me that I did not discover the fact. I'm sure I saw you reading a paper."

"It was an old one. I read it through again, advertisements and all. Oh, I know you. You'd have turned out the whole garrison at twelve M., had you found it out."

Graham dropped carelessly into an easy-chair, and they all noted the pleasure with which the old gentleman adjusted his glasses, and scanned the pictures of the world's current history. Like many whose sight is failing, and to whom the tastes and memories of childhood are returning, the poor old man found increasing delight in a picture which suggested a great deal, and aided him to imagine more; and he would often beguile his tedium by the hour with the illustrated journals.

"Mr. Graham," said Grace, after a pause in their talk, "have you seen your aunt since your return?"

"No," he replied, turning hastily toward her.

"She is not very well; I've been to see her twice."

He gave her a momentary but searching glance, rose instantly, and said: "Please excuse me, then. I feel guilty that I have delayed a moment, but this piazza was so inviting!" and he hastened away.

"Does he look and act like a man who 'hid a secret sorrow'?" whispered Hilland, confidently. "I never saw him appear so well before."

Grace smiled, but kept her thoughts to herself. To her also Graham had never appeared so well. There was decision in his step and slightest movement. The old easy saunter of leisure was gone; the old half- dreamy and slightly cynical eyes of the student showed a purpose which was neither slight nor indefinite; and that brief, searching glance— what else could it be than a query as to the confidences his aunt may have bestowed during the day? Moreover, why did he avoid looking at her unless there was distinct occasion for his glance?

She would have known too well had she heard poor Graham mutter: "My will must be made of Bessemer steel if I can see her often as she looked to-night and live."

In the evening Hilland walked over to call on his friend and make inquiries. Through the parlor windows he saw Graham reading to his aunt, who reclined on a lounge; and he stole away again without disturbing them.

The next few days passed uneventfully away, and Graham's armor was almost proof against even the penetration of Grace. He did not assume any mask of gayety. He seemed to be merely his old self, with a subtle difference, and a very unobtrusive air of decision in all his movements. He was with his friend a great deal; and she heard them talking over their old life with much apparent zest. He was as good company for the major as ever, and when a whist played so good a game as to show that he was giving it careful attention. There was a gentleness toward his aunt that rather belied his character of stoic philosopher. Indeed, he seemed to have dropped this phase also, and was simply a well-bred man of the world, avoiding reference to himself, and his past or present views, as far as possible.

To a question of Hilland's one day he replied: "No; I shall not go back to my studies at present. As I told you the other night, my excursion into the world has shown me the advantage of studying it more fully. While I shall never be a Croesus like yourself, I am modestly independent; and I mean to see the world we live in, and then shall know better what I am studying about."

When Hilland told Grace of this purpose, she felt it was in keeping with all the rest. It might mean what was on the surface; it might mean more. It might be a part of the possible impulse that had driven him into the Vermont woods, or the natural and rational step he would have taken had he never seen her. At any rate, she felt that he was daily growing more remote, and that by a nice gradation of effort he was consciously withdrawing himself. And yet she could scarcely dwell on a single word or act, and say: "This proves it." His manner toward her was most cordial. When they conversed he looked at her steadily and directly, and would respond in kind to her mirthful words and Hilland's broad raillery; but she never detected one of the furtive, lingering glances that she now remembered with compunction were once frequent. It was quite proper that this should be so, but it was unnatural. If hitherto she had only pleased his taste and satisfied his reason, it would be a safe and harmless pastime for him to linger near her still in thought and reality. If he was struggling with a passion that had struck its root deep, then there was good reason for that steady withdrawal from her society which he managed so naturally that no one observed it but herself. Hilland had no misgivings, and she suggested none; but whenever she was in the presence of Graham or Mrs. Mayburn, although their courtesy and kind manner were unexceptionable, she felt there was "something in the air."



CHAPTER XV

"I WISH HE HAD KNOWN"

The heat continued so oppressive that the major gave signs of prostration, and Grace decided to take him to his old haunt by the seashore. The seclusion of their cottage was, of course, more agreeable to Hilland and herself under the circumstances; but Grace never hesitated when her father was concerned. Shortly after the decision was reached, Hilland met his friend, and promptly urged that he and Mrs. Mayburn should accompany them.

"Certainly," was the quiet reply, "if my aunt wishes to go."

But for some cause, if not for the reasons given, the old lady was inexorable that evening, even though the major with much gallantry urged her compliance. She did not like the seashore. It did not agree with her; and, what was worse, she detested hotels. She was better in her own quiet nook, etc. Alford might go, if he chose.

But Graham when appealed to said it was both his duty and his pleasure to remain with his aunt, especially as he was going abroad as soon as he could arrange his affairs. "Don't put on that injured air," he added, laughingly, to Hilland. "As if you needed me at present! You two are sufficient for yourselves; and why should I tramp after you like the multitude I should be?

"What do you know about our being sufficient for our-selves, I'd like to ask?" was the bantering response.

"I have the best authority for saying what I do—written authority, and that of a sage, too. Here it is, heavily under-scored by a hand that I imagine is as heavy as your own. Ah! Miss Grace's conscious looks prove that I am right," he added, as he laid the open volume of Emerson, which he had returned, before her. "I remember reading that paragraph the first evening I came to my aunt's house; and I thought it a very curious statement. It made me feel as if I were a sort of polyp or mollusk, instead of a man."

"Let me see the book," cried Hilland. "Oh, yes," he continued, laughing; "I remember it all well—the hopes, the misgivings with which I sent the volume eastward on its mission—the hopes and fears that rose when the book was acknowledged with no chidings or coldness, and also with no allusions to the marked passage—the endless surmises as to what this gentle reader would think of the sentiments within these black lines. Ha! ha! Graham. No doubt but this is Sanscrit; and all the professors of all the universities could not interpret it to you."

"That's what I said in substance on the evening referred to—that Emerson never learned this at a university. I confess that it's an experience that is and ever will be beyond me. But it's surely good authority for remaining here with my aunt, who needs me more than you do."

"How is it, then, Mr. Graham, that you can leave your aunt for months of travel?" Grace asked.

"Why, Grace," spoke up Mrs. Mayburn, quickly, "you cannot expect Alford to transform himself into an old lady's life-long attendant. He will enjoy his travel and come back to me."

The young girl made no answer, but thought: "Their defensive alliance is a strong one."

"Besides," continued the old lady, after a moment, "I think it's very kind of him to remain with me, instead of going to the beach for his own pleasure and the marring of yours."

"Now, that's putting it much too strong," cried Hilland. "Graham never marred our pleasure."

"And I hope he never will," was the low, earnest response. To Grace's ear it sounded more like a vow or the expression of a controlling purpose than like a mere friendly remark.

The next day the St. John cottage was alive with the bustle of preparation for departure. Graham made no officious offers of assistance, which, of course, would be futile, but quietly devoted himself to the major. Whenever Grace appeared from the upper regions, she found her father amused or interested, and she smiled her gratitude. In the evening she found a chance to say in a low aside: "Mr. Graham, you are keeping your word to be my friend. If the sea- breezes prove as beneficial to papa as your society to-day, I shall be glad indeed. You don't know how much you have aided me by entertaining him so kindly."

Both her tone and glance were very gentle as she spoke these words, and for a moment his silence and manner perplexed her. Then he replied lightly: "You are mistaken, Miss Grace. Your father has been entertaining me."

They were interrupted at this point, and Graham seemed to grow more remote than ever.

Hilland was parting from his friend with evident and sincere regret. He had made himself very useful in packing, strapping trunks, and in a general eagerness to save his betrothed from all fatigue; but whenever occasion offered he would sally forth upon Graham, who, with the major, followed the shade on the piazza. Some jocular speech usually accompanied his appearance, and he always received the same in kind with such liberal interest that he remarked to Grace more than once, "You are the only being in the world for whom I'd leave Graham during his brief stay in this land."

"Oh, return to him by all means," she had said archly upon one occasion." We did very well alone last year before we were aware of your existence."

"YOU may not care," was his merry response, "but it is written in one of the oldest books of the world, 'It is not good for MAN to be alone.' Oh, Grace, what an infinite difference there is between love for a woman like you and the strongest friendship between man and man! Graham just suits me as a friend. After a separation of years I find him just the same even-pulsed, half-cynical, yet genial good fellow he always was. It's hard to get within his shell; but when you do, you find the kernel sweet and sound to the core, even if it is rather dry. From the time we struck hands as boys there has never been an unpleasant jar in our relations. We supplement each other marvellously; but how infinitely more and beyond all this is your love! How it absorbs and swallows up every other consideration, so that one hour with you is more to me than an age with all the men of wit and wisdom that ever lived! No; I'm not a false friend when I say that I am more than content to go and remain with you; and if Graham had a hundredth part as much heart as brains he would understand me. Indeed, his very intellect serves in the place of a heart after a fashion; for he took Emerson on trust so intelligently as to comprehend that I should not be inconsolable."

"Mr. Graham puzzles me," Grace had remarked, as she absently inspected the buttons on one of her father's vests. "I never met just such a man before."

"And probably never will again. He has been isolated and peculiar from childhood. I know him well, and he has changed but little in essentials since I left him over two years ago."

"I wish I had your complacent belief about him," was her mental conclusion. "I sometimes think you are right, and again I feel as if some one in almost mortal pain is near me, and that I am to blame in part."

Whist was dispensed with the last night they were together, for the evening was close, and all were weary. Grace thought Graham looked positively haggard; but, whether by design or chance, he kept in the shadows of the piazza most of the time. Still she had to admit that he was the life of the party. Mrs. Mayburn was apparently so overcome by the heat as to be comparatively silent; and Hilland openly admitted that the July day and his exertions had used him up. Therefore the last gathering at the St. Johns' cottage came to a speedy end; and Graham not only said good-night, but also good-by; for, as he explained, business called him to town early the following morning. He parted fraternally with Hilland, giving a promise to spend a day with him before he sailed for Europe. Then he broke away, giving Grace as a farewell only a strong, warm pressure of the hand, and hastened after his aunt, who had walked on slowly before. The major, after many friendly expressions, had retired quite early in the evening.

Grace saw the dark outline of Graham's form disappear like a shadow, and every day thereafter he grew more shadowy to her. To a degree she did not imagine possible he had baffled her scrutiny and left her in doubt. Either he had quietly and philosophically accepted the situation, or he wished her to think so. In either case there was nothing to be done. Once away with father and lover she had HER world with her; and life grew richer and more full of content every day.

Lassitude and almost desperate weariness were in Graham's step as he came up the path the following evening, for there was no further reason to keep up the part he was acting. When he greeted his aunt he tried to appear cheerful, but she said gently, "Put on no mask before me, Alford. Make no further effort. You have baffled even Grace, and thoroughly satisfied your friend that all is well. Let the strain cease now; and let my home be a refuge while you remain. Your wound is one that time only can heal. You have made an heroic struggle not to mar their happiness, and I am proud of you for it. But don't try to deceive me or put the spur any longer to your jaded spirit. Reaction into new hopes and a new life will come all the sooner if you give way for the present to your mood."

The wise old woman would have been right in dealing with most natures. But Graham would not give way to his bitter disappointment, and for him there would come no reaction. He quietly read to her the evening papers, and after she had retired stole out and gazed for hours on the St. John cottage, the casket that had contained for him the jewel of the world. Then, compressing his lips, he returned to his room with the final decision, "I will be her friend for life; but it must be an absent friend. I think my will is strong; but half the width of the world must be between us."

For the next two weeks he sought to prepare his aunt for a long separation. He did not hide his feeling; indeed, he spoke of it with a calmness which, while it surprised, also convinced her that it would dominate his life. She was made to see clearly the necessity of his departure, if he would keep his promise to live and do his best. He promised to be a faithful and voluminous correspondent, and she knew she would live upon his letters. After the lapse of three weeks he had arranged his affairs so as to permit a long absence, and then parted with his aunt as if he had been her son.

"Alford," she said, "all that I have is yours, as you will find in my will."

"Dear aunty," was his reply, "in giving me your love you have given me all that I crave. I have more than enough for my wants. Forgive me that I cannot stay; but I cannot. I have learned the limit of my power of endurance. I know that I cannot escape myself or my memories, but new scenes divert my thoughts. Here, I believe, I should go mad, or else do something wild and desperate. Forgive me, and do not judge me harshly because I leave you. Perhaps some day this fever of unrest will pass away, When it does, rest assured you shall see me again."

He then went to the seaside resort where Hilland with the major and his daughter was sojourning, and never had they seen a man who appeared so far removed from the lackadaisical, disconsolate lover. His dress was elegant, although very quiet, his step firm and prompt, and his manner that of a man who is thoroughly master of the situation. The major was ill from an indiscretion at the table during the preceding day, and Grace could not leave him very long. He sent to his favorite companion and antagonist at whist many feeling messages and sincere good wishes, and they lost nothing in hearty warmth as they came from Grace's lips; and for some reason, which she could scarcely explain to herself, tears came into her eyes as she gave him her hand in parting.

He had been laughing and jesting vivaciously a moment before; but as he looked into her face, so full of kindly feeling which she could not wholly repress, his own seemed to grow rigid, and the hand she held was so cold and tense as to remind her of a steel gauntlet. In the supreme effort of his spiritual nature he belied his creed. His physical being was powerless in the grasp of the dominant soul. No martyr at the stake ever suffered more than he at that moment, but he merely said with quiet emphasis, "Good-by, Grace St. John. I shall not forget my promise, nor can there come a day on which I shall not wish you all the happiness you deserve."

He then bowed gravely and turned away. She hastily sought her room, and then burst into an irrepressible passion of tears. "It's all in vain," she sobbed. "I felt it. I know it. He suffers as I should suffer, and his iron will cannot disguise the truth."

The friends strolled away up the beach for their final talk, and at length Hilland came back in a somewhat pensive but very complacent mood. Grace looked at him anxiously, but his first sentences reassured her.

"Well," he exclaimed, "if Graham is odd, he's certainly the best and most sensible fellow that ever lived, and the most steadfast of friends. Here we've been separated for years, and yet, for any change in his attitude toward me, we might have parted overnight at the university. He was as badly smitten by the girl I love as a man of his temperament could be; but on learning the facts he recognizes the situation with a quiet good taste which leaves nothing to be desired. He made it perfectly clear to me that travel for the present was only a broader and more effective way of continuing his career as a student, and that when tired of wandering he can go back to books with a larger knowledge of how to use them. One thing he has made clearer still—if we do not see each other for ten years, he will come back the same stanch friend."

"I think you are right, Warren. He certainly has won my entire respect."

"I'm glad he didn't win anything more, sweetheart."

"That ceased to be possible long before he came, but I—I wish he had known it," was her hesitating response, as she pushed Hilland's hair back from his heated brow.

"Nonsense, you romantic little woman! You imagine he has gone away with a great gaping wound in his heart. Graham is the last man in the world for that kind of thing, and no one would smile more broadly than he, did he know of your gentle solicitude."

Grace was silent a moment, and then stole away to her father's side.

The next tidings they had of Graham was a letter dated among the fiords and mountains of Norway.

At times no snowy peak in that wintry land seemed more shadowy or remote to Grace than he. Again, while passing to and fro between their own and Mrs. Mayburn's cottage in the autumn, she would see him, with almost the vividness of life, deathly pale as when he leaned against the apple-tree at their well-remembered interview.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CLOUD IN THE SOUTH

The summer heat passed speedily, and the major returned to his cottage invigorated and very complacent over his daughter's prospects. Hilland had proved himself as manly and devoted a lover as he had been an ardent and eventually patient suitor. The bubbling, overflowing stream of happiness in Grace's heart deepened into a wide current, bearing her on from day to day toward a future that promised to satisfy every longing of her woman's heart. There was, of course, natural regret that Hilland was constrained to spend several months in the West in order to settle up his large interests with a due regard to the rights of others, and yet she would not have it otherwise. She was happy in his almost unbounded devotion; she would have been less happy had this devotion kept him at her side when his man's part in the world required his presence elsewhere. Therefore she bade him farewell with a heart that was not so very heavy, even though tears gemmed her eyes.

The autumn and early winter months lapsed quietly and uneventfully, and the inmates of the two cottages ever remembered that period of their lives as the era of letters—Graham's from over the sea abounding in vivid descriptions of scenes that to Mrs. Mayburn's interested eyes were like glimpses of another world, and Hilland's, even more voluminous and infinitely more interesting to one fair reader, to whom they were sacred except as she doled out occasional paragraphs which related sufficiently to the general order of things to be read aloud.

Graham's letters, however, had a deep interest to Grace, who sought to trace in them the working of his mind in regard to herself. She found it difficult, for his letters were exceedingly impersonal, while the men and things he saw often stood out upon his page with vivid realism. It seemed to her that he grew more shadowy, and that he was wandering rather than travelling, drifting whithersoever his fancy or circumstances pointed the way. It was certain he avoided the beaten paths, and freely indulged his taste for regions remote and comparatively unknown. His excuse was that life was far more picturesque and unhackneyed, with a chance for an occasional adventure, in lands where one was not jostled by people with guide- books—that he saw men and women as the influences of the ages had been fashioning them, and not conventionalized by the mode of the hour. "Chief of all," he concluded, jestingly, "I can send to my dear aunt descriptions of people and scenery that she will not find better set forth in half a dozen books within her reach."

After a month in Norway, he crossed the mountains into Sweden, and as winter approached drifted rapidly to the south and east. One of his letters was dated at the entrance of the Himalayas in India, and expressed his purpose to explore one of the grandest mountain systems in the world.

Mrs. Mayburn gloated over the letters, and Grace laughingly told her she had learned more about geography since her nephew had gone abroad than in all her life before. The major, also, was deeply interested in them, especially as Graham took pains in his behalf to give some account of the military organizations with which he came in contact. They had little of the nature of a scientific report. The soldier, his life and weapons, were sketched with a free hand merely, and so became even to the ladies a picturesque figure rather than a military abstraction. From time to time a letter appeared in Mrs. Mayburn's favorite journal signed by the initials of the traveller; and these epistles she cut out and pasted most carefully in a book which Grace jestingly called her "family Bible."

But as time passed, Graham occupied less and less space in the thoughts of all except his aunt. The major's newspaper became more absorbing than ever, for the clouds gathering in the political skies threatened evils that seemed to him without remedy. Strongly Southern and conservative in feeling, he was deeply incensed at what he termed "Northern fanaticism." Only less hateful to him was a class in the South known in the parlance of the times as "fire-eaters."

All through the winter and spring of 1860 he had his "daily growl," as Grace termed it; and she assured him it was growing steadily deeper and louder. Yet it was evidently a source of so much comfort to him that she always smiled in secret over his invective—noting, also, that while he deplored much that was said and done by the leaders of the day, the prelude of the great drama interested him so deeply that he half forgot his infirmities. In fact, she had more trouble with Hilland, who had returned, and was urging an early date for their marriage. Her lover was an ardent Republican, and hated slavery with New England enthusiasm. The arrogance and blindness of the South had their counterpart at the North, and Hilland had not escaped the infection. He was much inclined to belittle the resources of the former section, to scoff at its threats, and to demand that the North should peremptorily and imperiously check all further aggressions of slavery. At first it required not a little tact on the part of Grace to preserve political harmony between father and lover; but the latter speedily recognized that the major's age and infirmities, together with his early associations, gave him almost unlimited privilege to think and say what he pleased. Hilland soon came to hear with good- natured nonchalance his Northern allies berated, and considered himself well repaid by one mirthful, grateful glance from Grace.

After all, what was any political squabble compared with the fact that Grace had promised to marry him in June? The settlement of the difference between the North and South was only a question of time, and that, too, in his belief, not far remote.

"Why should I worry about it?" he said to Grace. "When the North gets angry enough to put its foot down, all this bluster about State- rights, and these efforts to foist slavery on a people who are disgusted with it, will cease."

"Take care," she replied, archly. "I'm a Southern girl. Think what might happen if I put my foot down."

"Oh, when it comes to you," was his quick response, "I'm the Democratic party. I will get down on my knees at any time; I'll yield anything and stand everything."

"I hope you will be in just such a frame of mind ten years hence."

It was well that the future was hidden from her.

Hilland wrote to his friend, asking, indeed almost insisting, that he should return in time for the wedding. Graham did not come, and intimated that he was gathering materials which might result in a book. He sent a letter, however, addressed to them both, and full of a spirit of such loyal good-will that Hilland said it was like a brother's grip. "Well, well," he concluded, "if Graham has the book- making fever upon him, we shall have to give him up indefinitely."

Grace was at first inclined to take the same view, feeling that, even if he had been sorely wounded, his present life and the prospects it gave of authorship had gained so great a fascination that he would come back eventually with only a memory of what he had suffered. Her misgivings, however, returned when, on seeing the letter, Mrs. Mayburn's eyes became suddenly dimmed with tears. She turned away abruptly and seemed vexed with herself for having shown the emotion, but only said quietly, "I once thought Alford had no heart; but that letter was not written 'out of his head,' as we used to say when children."

She gave Grace no reason to complain of any lack of affectionate interest in her preparations; and when the wedding day came she assured the blushing girl that "no one had ever looked upon a lovelier bride."

Ever mindful of her father, Grace would take no wedding journey, although her old friend offered to come and care for him. She knew well how essential her voice and hand were to his comfort; and she would not permit him to entertain, even for a moment, the thought that in any sense he had lost her. So they merely returned to his favorite haunt by the sea, and Hilland was loyal to the only condition in their engagement—that she should be permitted to keep her promise to her dying mother, and never leave her father to the care of others, unless under circumstances entirely beyond her control.

Later in the season Mrs. Mayburn joined them at the beach, for she found her life at the cottage too lonely to be endured.

It was a summer of unalloyed happiness to Hilland and his wife, and the major promised to renew his youth in the warm sunlight of his prosperity. The exciting presidential canvass afforded abundant theme for the daily discussions in his favorite corner of the piazza, where, surrounded by some veteran cronies whom he had known in former years, he joined them in predictions and ominous head-shakings over the monstrous evils that would follow the election of Mr. Lincoln. Hilland, sitting in the background with Grace, would listen and stroke his tawny beard as he glanced humorously at his wife, who knew that he was working, quietly out of deference to his father-in-law, but most effectively, in the Republican campaign. Although Southern born she had the sense to grant to men full liberty of personal opinion—a quality that it would be well for many of her sisterhood to imitate. Indeed, she would have despised a man who had not sufficient force to think for himself; and she loved her husband all the more because in some of his views he differed radically with her father and herself.

Meantime the cloud gathering in the South grew darker and more portentous; and after the election of President Lincoln the lightning of hate and passion began to strike from it directly at the nation's life. The old major was both wrong and right in regard to the most prominent leaders of the day. Many whom he deemed the worst fanatics in the land were merely exponents of a public opinion that was rising like an irresistible tide from causes beyond human control—from the God-created conscience illumined by His own truth. In regard to the instigators of the Rebellion, he was right. Instead of representing their people, they deceived and misled them; and, with an astute understanding of the chivalrous, hasty Southern temper, they so wrought upon their pride of section by the false presentation of fancied and prospective wrongs, that loyalty to the old flag, which at heart they loved, was swept away by the madness which precedes destruction. Above all and directing all was the God of nations; and He had decreed that slavery, the gangrene in the body politic, must be cut out, even though it should be with the sword. The surgery was heroic, indeed; but as its result the slave, and especially the master and his posterity, will grow into a large, healthful, and prosperous life; and the evidences of such life are increasing daily.

At the time of which I am writing, however, the future was not dreamed of by the sagacious Lincoln even, or his cabinet, much less was it foreseen by the humbler characters of my story. Hilland after reading his daily journal would sit silent for a long time with contracted brow. The white heat of anger was slowly kindling in his heart and in that of the loyal North; and the cloud in the South began to throw its shadow over the hearth of the happy wife.

Although Hilland hated slavery it incensed him beyond measure that the South could be made to believe that the North would break through or infringe upon the constitutional safeguards thrown around the institution. At the same time he knew, and it seemed to him every intelligent man should understand, that if a sufficient majority should decide to forbid the extension of the slave system to new territory, that should end the question, or else the Constitution was not worth the paper on which it was written. "Law and order," was his motto; and "All changes and reforms under the sanction of law, and at the command of the majority," his political creed.

The major held the Southern view. "Slaves are property," he said; "and the government is bound to permit a man to take his property where he pleases, and protect him in all his rights." The point where the veteran drew the line was in disloyalty to the flag which he had sworn to defend, and for which he had become a cripple for life. As the Secession spirit became more rampant and open in South Carolina, the weight of his invective fell more heavily upon the leaders there than upon the hitherto more detested abolitionists.

When he read the address of Alexander H. Stephens, delivered to the same people on the following evening, wherein that remarkable man said, "My object is not to stir up strife, but to allay it; not to appeal to your passions, but to your reason. Shall the people of the South secede from the Union in consequence of the election of Mr. Lincoln? My countrymen, I tell you frankly, candidly, and earnestly, that I do not think they ought. In my judgment the election of no man, constitutionally chosen, is sufficient cause for any State to separate from the Union. It ought to stand by and aid still in maintaining the Constitution of the country. We are pledged to maintain the Constitution. Many of us are sworn to support it"—when the veteran came to these words, he sprang to his feet without a thought of his crutch, and cried in a tone with which he would order a charge, "There is the man who ought to be President. Read that speech."

Hilland did read it aloud, and then said thoughtfully, "Yes; if the leaders on both sides were of the stamp of Mr. Stephens and would stand firm all questions at issue could be settled amicably under the Constitution. But I fear the passion of the South, fired by the unscrupulous misrepresentations of a few ambitious men, will carry the Cotton States into such violent disloyalty that the North in its indignation will give them a lesson never to be forgotten."

"Well!" shouted the major, "if they ever fire on the old flag, I'll shoulder my crutch and march against them myself—I would, by heaven! though my own brother fired the gun." Grace's merry laugh rang out— for she never lost a chance to throw oil on the troubled waters—and she cried, "Warren, if this thing goes on, you and papa will stand shoulder to shoulder."

But the time for that had not yet come. Indeed, there would ever remain wide differences of opinion between the two men. The major believed that if Congress conceded promptly all that the slave power demanded, "the demagogues of the South would soon be without occupation;" while Hilland asserted that the whole thing originated in bluster to frighten the North into submission, and that the danger was that the unceasing inflammatory talk might so kindle the masses that they would believe the lies, daily iterated, and pass beyond the control of their leaders.

When at last South Carolina seceded, and it became evident that other States would follow, the major often said with bitter emphasis that the North would have to pay dearly for its sentiment in regard to the negro. In Hilland's case strong exultation became a growing element in his anger, for he believed that slavery was destined to receive heavier blows from the mad zeal of its friends than Northern abolitionists could have inflicted in a century.

"If the South casts aside constitutional protection," he reasoned, "she must take the consequences. After a certain point is passed, the North will make sharp, quick work with anything that interferes with her peace and prosperity."

"The work will be sharp enough, young man," replied the major testily; "but don't be sure about its being quick. If the South once gets to fighting, I know her people well enough to assure you that the Republican party can reach its ends only through seas of blood, if they are ever attained."

Hilland made no reply—he never contradicted the old gentleman—but he wrote Graham a rather strong letter intimating that it was time for Americans to come home.

Graham would not have come, however, had not Grace, who had just returned from Mrs. Mayburn's cottage, caused a postscript to be added, giving the information that his aunt was seriously ill, and that her physician thought it might be a long time before she recovered, even if life was spared.

This decided him at once; and as he thought he might never see his kind old friend again, he bitterly regretted that he had remained away so long. And yet he felt he could scarcely have done otherwise; for in bitter disappointment he found that his passion, so far from being conquered, had, by some uncontrollable law of his nature, simply grown with time and become interwoven with every fibre of his nature. Hitherto he had acted on the principle that he must and would conquer it; but now that duty called him to the presence of the one whose love and kindness formed an indisputable claim upon him, he began to reason that further absence was futile, that he might as well go back, and— as he promised his aunt—"do the best he could."

It must be admitted that Hilland's broad hint, that in the coming emergency Americans should be at home, had little weight with him. From natural bent he had ever been averse to politics. In accordance with his theory of evolution, he believed the negro was better off in his present condition than he could be in any other. He was the last man to cherish an enthusiasm for an inferior race. Indeed, he would have much preferred it should die out altogether and make room for better material. The truth was that his prolonged residence abroad had made the questions of American politics exceedingly vague and inconsequential. He believed them to be ephemeral to the last degree— in the main, mere struggles of parties and partisans for power and spoils; and for their hopes, schemes, and stratagems to gain temporary success, he cared nothing.

He had not been an idler in his prolonged absence. In the first place, he had striven with the whole force of a powerful will to subdue a useless passion, and had striven in vain. He had not, however, yielded for a day to a dreamy melancholy, but, in accordance with his promise "to do his best," had been tireless in mental and physical activity. The tendency to wander somewhat aimlessly had ceased, and he had adopted the plan of studying modern life at the old centres of civilization and power.

Hilland's letter found him in Egypt, and only a few weeks had elapsed after its reception when, with deep anxiety, he rang the bell at his aunt's cottage door. He had not stopped to ask for letters in London, for he had learned that by pushing right on he could catch a fast outgoing steamer and save some days.

The servant who admitted him uttered a cry of joy; and a moment later his aunt rose feebly from the lounge in her sitting-room, and greeted him as her son.



CHAPTER XVII

PREPARATION

Graham learned with deep satisfaction that the dangerous symptoms of his aunt's illness had passed away, and that she was now well advanced in convalescence. They gave to each other an hour or two of unreserved confidence; and the old lady's eyes filled with tears more than once as she saw how vain had been her nephew's struggle. It was equally clear, however, that he had gained strength and a nobler manhood in the effort; and so she told him.

"If supper is ready," he replied, "I'll prove to you that I am in very fair condition."

An hour later he left her, cheerful and comparatively happy, for the St. Johns' cottage. From the piazza he saw through the lighted windows a home-scene that he had once dreamed might bless his life. Hilland, evidently, was reading the evening paper aloud, and his back was toward his friend. The major was nervously drumming on the table with his fingers, and contracting his frosty eyebrows, as if perturbed by the news. But it was on the young wife that Graham's eyes dwelt longest. She sat with some sewing on the further side of the open fire, and her face was toward him. Had she changed? Yes; but for the better. The slight matronly air and fuller form that had come with wifehood became her better than even her girlish grace. As she glanced up to her husband from time to time, Graham saw serene loving trust and content.

"It is all well with them," he thought; "and so may it ever be."

A servant who was passing out opened the door, and thus he was admitted without being announced, for he cautioned the maid to say nothing. Then pushing open the parlor door, which was ajar, he entered, and said quietly: "I've come over for a game of whist."

But the quietness of his greeting was not reciprocated. All rose hastily, even to the major, and stared at him. Then Hilland half crushed the proffered hand, and the major grasped the other, and there came a fire of exclamations and questions that for a moment or two left no space for answer.

Grace cried: "Come, Warren, give Mr. Graham a chance to get his breath and shake hands with me. I propose to count for something in this welcome."

"Give him a kiss, sweetheart," said her delighted husband.

Grace hesitated, and a slight flush suffused her face. Graham quickly bent over her hand, which he now held, and kissed it, saying: "I've been among the Orientals so long that I've learned some of their customs of paying homage. I know that you are queen here as of old, and that Hilland is by this time the meekest of men."

"Indeed, was I so imperious in old times?" she asked, as he threw himself, quite at home, into one of the easy-chairs.

"You are of those who are born to rule. You have a way of your own, however, which some other rulers might imitate to advantage."

"Well, my first command is that you give an account of yourself. So extensive a traveller never sat down at our quiet fireside before. Open your budget of wonders. Only remember we have some slight acquaintance with Baron Munchausen."

"The real wonders of the world are more wonderful than his inventions. Beyond that I hastened home by the shortest possible route after receiving Hilland's letter, I have little to say."

"I thought my letter would stir you up."

"In sincerity, I must say it did not. The postscript did, however."

"Then, in a certain sense, it was I who brought you home, Mr. Graham," said Grace. "I had just returned from a call on Mrs. Mayburn, and I made Warren open the letter and add the postscript. I assure you we were exceedingly anxious about her for weeks."

"And from what she has told me I am almost convinced that she owes her life more to you than to her physician. Drugs go but a little way, especially at her time of life; but the delicacies and nourishing food you saw she was provided with so regularly rallied her strength. Yes; it was your postscript that led to my immediate return, and not Hilland's political blast."

"Why, Graham! Don't you realize what's going on here?"

"Not very seriously."

"You may have to fight, old fellow."

"I've no objections after I have decided which side to take."

"Good heavens, Graham! you will be mobbed if you talk that way here in New England. This comes of a man's living abroad so much that he loses all love for his native land."

"Squabbling politicians are not one's native land. I am not a hater of slavery as you are; and if it produces types of men and women like that Southern lady of whom I told you, it must be an excellent institution."

"Oh, yes," cried Hilland laughing. "By the way, Grace, my cool, cynical friend was once madly in love—at first sight, too—and with a lady old enough to be his mother. I never heard a woman's character sketched more tenderly; and his climax was that your mother must have closely resembled her."

"Mr. Graham is right," said the major impressively. "The South produces the finest women in the world; and when the North comes to meet its men, as I fear it must, it will find they are their mothers' sons."

"Poor Warren!" cried Grace; "here are all three of us against you—all pro-slavery and Southern in our sympathies."

"I admit at once that the South has produced THE finest woman in the world," said Hilland, taking his wife's hand. "But I must add that many of her present productions are not at all to my taste; nor will they be to yours, Graham, after you have been here long enough to understand what is going on—that is, if anything at home can enlist your interest."

"I assure you I am deeply interested. It's exhilarating to breathe American air now, especially so after just coming from regions where everything has been dead for centuries; for the people living there now are scarcely alive. Of course I obtained from the papers in Egypt very vague ideas of what was going on; and after receiving your letter my mind was too preoccupied with my aunt's illness to dwell on much besides. If the flag which gave me protection abroad, and under which I was born, is assailed, I shall certainly fight for it, even though I may not be in sympathy with the causes which led to the quarrel. What I said about being undecided as to which side I would take was a half- jocular way of admitting that I need a great deal of information; and between you and the major I am in a fair way to hear both sides. I cannot believe, however, that a civil war will break out in this land of all others. The very idea seems preposterous, and I am not beyond the belief that the whole thing is political excitement. I have learned this much, that the old teachings of Calhoun have borne their legitimate fruit, and that the Cotton States by some hocus-pocus legislation declare themselves out of the Union. But then the rational, and to my mind inevitable, course will be, that the representative men of both sides will realize at last to what straits their partisanship is bringing them, and so come together and adjust their real or fancied grievances. Meanwhile, the excitement will die out; and a good many will have a dim consciousness that they have made fools of themselves, and go quietly about their own business the rest of their days."

"Graham, you don't know anything about the true state of affairs," said Hilland; and before the evening was over he proved his words true to his friend, who listened attentively to the history of his native land for the past few months. In conclusion, Hilland said, "At one time—not very long ago, either—I held your opinion that it was the old game of bluster and threatening on the part of Southern politicians. But they are going too far; they have already gone too far. In seizing the United States forts and other property, they have practically waged war against the government. My opinions have changed from week to week under the stern logic of events, and I now believe that the leading spirits in the South mean actual and final separation. I've no doubt that they hope to effect their purpose peaceably, and that the whole thing will soon be a matter of diplomacy between two distinct governments. But they are preparing for war, and they will have it, too, to their hearts' content. President Buchanan is a muff. He sits and wrings his hands like an old woman, and declares he can do nothing. But the new administration will soon be in power, and it will voice the demand of the North that this nonsense be stopped; and if no heed is given, it will stop it briefly, decisively."

"My son Warren," said the major, "you told your friend some time since that he knew nothing about this affair. You must permit me to say the same to you. I feat that both sides have gone too far, much too far; and what the end will be, and when it will come, God only knows."

Before many weeks passed Graham shared the same view.

Events crowded upon each other; pages of history were made daily, and often hourly. In every home, as well as in the cottages wherein dwelt the people of my story, the daily journals were snatched and read at the earliest possible moment. Many were stern and exultant like Hilland; more were dazed and perplexed, feeling that something ought to be done to stem the torrent, and at the same time were astonished and troubled to find that perhaps a next-door neighbor sympathized with the rebellion and predicted its entire success. The social atmosphere was thick with doubt, heavy with despondency, and often lurid with anger.

Graham became a curious study to both Grace and his aunt; and sometimes his friend and the major were inclined to get out of patience with him. He grew reticent on the subject concerning which all were talking, but he read with avidity, not only the history of the day, but of the past as it related to the questions at issue.

One of his earliest acts had been the purchase of a horse noted in town as being so powerful, spirited, and even vicious, that few dared to drive or ride him. He had finally brought his ill-repute to a climax by running away, wrecking the carriage, and breaking his owner's ribs. He had since stood fuming in idleness; and when Graham wished him brought to the unused stable behind his aunt's cottage, no one would risk the danger. Then the young man went after the horse himself.

"I've only one man in my employ who dares clean and take care of him," remarked the proprietor of the livery stable where he was kept; "and he declares that he won't risk his life much longer unless the brute is used and tamed down somewhat. There's your property and I'd like to have it removed as soon as possible."

"I'll remove it at once," said Graham, quietly; and paying no heed to the crowd that began to gather when it was bruited that "Firebrand"— for such was the horse's name—was to be brought out, he took a bridle and went into the stall, first speaking gently, then stroking the animal with an assured touch. The horse permitted himself to be bridled and led out; but there was an evil fire in his eye, and he gave more than one ominous snort of defiance. The proprietor, smitten by a sudden compunction, rushed forward and cried, "Look here, sir; you are taking your life in your hand."

"I say, Graham," cried Hilland's voice, "what scrape are you in, that you have drawn such a crowd?"

"No scrape at all," said Graham, looking around and recognizing his friend and Grace mounted and passing homeward from their ride. "I've had the presumption to think that you would permit me to join you occasionally, and so have bought a good horse. Isn't he a beauty?"

"What, Firebrand?"

"That's his present name. I shall re-christen him."

"Oh, come, Graham! if you don't value your neck, others do. You've been imposed upon."

"I've warned him—" began the keeper of the livery stable; but here the horse reared and tried to break from Graham's grasp.

"Clear the way," the young man cried; and as the brute came down he seized his mane and vaulted upon his bare back. The action was so sudden and evidently so unexpected that the horse stood still and quivered for a moment, then gave a few prodigious bounds; but the rider kept his seat so perfectly that he seemed a part of the horse. The beast next began to rear, and at one time it seemed as if he would fall over backward, and his master sprang lightly to the ground. But the horse was scarcely on all fours before Graham was on his back again. The brute had the bit in his teeth, and paid no attention to it. Graham now drew a flexible rawhide from his pocket, and gave his steed a severe cut across the flanks. The result was another bound into the air, such as experts present declared was never seen before; and then the enraged animal sped away at a tremendous pace There was a shout of applause; and Hilland and Grace galloped after, but soon lost sight of Graham. Two hours later he trotted quietly up to their door, his coal-black horse white with foam, quivering in every muscle, but perfectly subdued.

"I merely wished to assure you that my neck was safe, and that I have a horse fit to go to the war that you predict so confidently," he said to Hilland, who with Grace rushed out on the piazza.

"I say, Graham, where did you learn to ride?" asked his friend.

"Oh, the horses were nobler animals than the men in some of the lands where I have been, and I studied them. This creature will be a faithful friend in a short time. You have no idea how much intelligence such a horse as this has if he is treated intelligently. I don't believe he has ever known genuine kindness. I'll guarantee that I can fire a pistol between his ears within two weeks, and that he won't flinch. Good-by. I shall be my own hostler for a short time, and must work an hour over him after the run he's had."

"Well," exclaimed Hilland, as he passed into the house with his wife, "I admit that Graham has changed. He was always great on tramps, but I never knew him to care for a horse before."

Grace felt that he had changed ever since he had leaned for support against the apple-tree by which he was now passing down the frozen walk, but she only said, "I never saw such superb horsemanship."

She had not thought Graham exactly fine-looking in former days; but in his absence his slight figure had filled out, and his every movement was instinct with reserved force. The experiences through which he had passed removed him, as she was conscious, beyond the sphere of ordinary men. Even his marked reticence about himself and his views was stimulating to the imagination. Whether he had conquered his old regard for her she could not tell. He certainly no longer avoided her, and he treated her with the frank courtesy he would naturally extend to his friend's wife. But he spent far more time with his aunt than with them; and it became daily more and more evident that he accepted the major's view, and was preparing for what he believed would be a long and doubtful conflict. Since it must come, he welcomed the inevitable, for in his condition of mind it was essential that he should be intensely occupied. Although his aunt had to admit that he was a little peculiar, his manner was simple and quiet; and when he joined his friends on their drives or at their fireside, he was usually as genial as they could desire, and his tenderness for his aunt daily increased the respect which he had already won from Grace.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE CALL TO ARMS

On the 4th of March, 1861, was inaugurated as President the best friend the South ever had. He would never have deceived or misled her. In all the bloody struggle that followed, although hated, scoffed at, and maligned as the vilest monster of earth, he never by word or act manifested a vindictive spirit toward her. Firm and sagacious, Lincoln would have protected the South in her constitutional rights, though every man at the North had become an abolitionist. Slavery, however, had long been doomed, like other relics of barbarism, by the spirit of the age; and his wisdom and that of men like him, with the logic of events and the irresistible force of the world's opinion, would have found some peaceful, gradual remedy for an evil which wrought even more injury to the master than to the bondman. In his inaugural address he repeated that he had "no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the States where it existed."

An unanswerable argument against disunion, and an earnest appeal to reason and lawful remedy, he followed by a most impressive declaration of peace and good-will: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow- countrymen, and not mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government; while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it."

These were noble words, and to all minds not confused by the turmoil, passion, and prejudices of the hour, they presented the issue squarely. If the leaders of the South desired peaceful negotiation, the way was opened, the opportunity offered; if they were resolved on the destruction of the Union, Lincoln's oath meant countless men and countless treasure to defend it.

Men almost held their breath in suspense. The air became thick with rumors of compromise and peace. Even late in March, Mr. Seward, the President's chief adviser, "believed and argued that the revolution throughout the South had spent its force and was on the wane; and that the evacuation of Sumter and the manifestation of kindness and confidence to the Rebel and Border States would undermine the conspiracy, strengthen the Union sentiment and Union majorities, and restore allegiance and healthy political action without resort to civil war."

To Graham, who, in common with millions in their homes, was studying the problem, this course seemed so rational and so advantageous to all concerned, that he accepted it as the outline of the future. The old major shook his head and growled, "You don't know the South; it's too late; their blood is up."

Hilland added exultantly, "Neither do you know the North, Graham. There will come a tidal wave soon that will carry Mr. Seward and the hesitating President to the boundaries of Mexico."

The President was not hesitating, in the weak sense of the word. Equally removed from Mr. Buchanan's timidity and Mr. Seward's optimistic confidence, he was feeling his way, gathering the reins into his hands, and seeking to comprehend an issue then too obscure and vast for mortal mind to grasp. What is plain to-day was not plain then.

It speedily became evident, however, that all talk of compromise on the part of the Southern leaders was deceptive—that they were relentlessly pursuing the course marked out from the first, hoping, undoubtedly, that the government would be paralyzed by their allies at the North, and that their purposes would be effected by negotiation and foreign intervention.

And so the skies grew darker and the political and social atmosphere so thick with doubt and discordant counsels that the horizon narrowed about even those on the mountain-top of power. All breathed heavily and felt the oppression that precedes some convulsion of nature.

At length, on the morning of the 12th of April, as the darkness which foreruns the dawn was lifting from Charleston Harbor, and Sumter lay like a shadow on the waves, a gun was fired whose echoes repeated themselves around the world. They were heard in every home North and South, and their meaning was unmistakable. The flash of that mortar gun and of the others that followed was as the lightning burning its way across the vault of heaven, revealing everything with intense vividness, and rending and consuming all noxious vapors. The clouds rolled speedily away, and from the North came the sound of "a rushing, mighty wind."

The crisis and the leader came together. The news reached Washington on Saturday. On Sunday Mr. Lincoln drafted his memorable call to arms, and on Monday it was telegraphed throughout the land. The response to that call forms one of the sublimest chapters of history.

In the St. John cottage, as in nearly all other homes, differences of opinion on minor questions melted into nothingness.

Graham read the electric words aloud, and his friend's only excited comment was:

"Graham, you will go."

"Not yet," was the quiet response "and I sincerely hope you will not."

"How can a man do otherwise?"

"Because he is a man, and not an infuriated animal. I've been very chary in giving my opinion on this subject, as you know. You also know that I have read and thought about it almost constantly since my return. I share fully in Major St. John's views that this affair is not to be settled by a mad rush southward of undisciplined Northern men. I have traced the history of Southern regiments and officers in the Revolution and in our later wars, and I assure you that we are on the eve of a gigantic conflict. In that degree that we believe the government right, we, as rational men, should seek to render it effective service. The government does not need a mob: it needs soldiers, and such are neither you nor I. I have informed myself somewhat on the militia system of the country, and there are plenty of organized regiments of somewhat disciplined men who can go at an hour's notice. If you went now, you—a millionaire—would not count for as much as an Irishman who had spent a few months in a drill-room. The time may come when you can equip a regiment if you choose. Moreover, you have a controlling voice in large business interests; and this struggle is doomed from the start if not sustained financially."

"Mr. Graham is right," said Grace, emphatically. "Even my woman's reason makes so much clear to me."

"Your woman's reason would serve most men better than their own," was his smiling reply. Then, as he looked into her lovely face, pale at the bare thought that her husband was going into danger, he placed his hand on Hilland's shoulder and continued, "Warren, there are other sacred claims besides those of patriotism. The cause should grow desperate indeed before you leave that wife."

"Mr. Graham," Grace began, with an indignant flush mantling the face that had been so pale, "I am a soldier's daughter; and if Warren believed it to be his duty—" Then she faltered, and burst into a passion of tears, as she moaned, "O God! it's—it's true. The bullet that struck him would inflict a deadlier wound on me;" and she hid her face on Hilland's breast and sobbed piteously.

"It is also true," said Graham, in tones that were as grave and solemn as they were gentle, "that your father's spirit—nay, your own—would control you. Under its influence you might not only permit but urge your husband's departure, though your heart broke a thousand times, Therefore, Hilland, I appeal to your manhood. You would be unworthy of yourself and of this true woman were you guided by passion or excitement. As a loyal man you are bound to render your country your best service. To rush to the fray now would be the poorest aid you could give."

"Graham talks sense," said the major, speaking with the authority of a veteran. "If I had to meet the enemy at once, I'd rather have a regiment of canaille, and cowards at that, who could obey orders like a machine, than one of hot-headed millionaires who might not understand the command 'Halt!' Mr. Graham is right again when he says that Grace will not prevent a man from doing his duty any more than her mother did."

"What do you propose to do?" asked Hilland, breathing heavily. It was evident that a tremendous struggle was going on in his breast, for it had been his daily and nightly dream to join the grand onset that should sweep slavery and rebellion out of existence.

"Simply what I advise—watch, wait, and act when I can be of the most service."

"I yield," said Hilland, slowly, "for I suppose you are right. You all know well, and you best of all, sweetheart"—taking his wife's face in his hands and looking down into her tearful eyes—"that here is the treasure of my life. But you also know that in all the past there have come times when a man must give up everything at the need of his country."

"And when that time comes," sobbed his wife, "I—I—will not—" But she could not finish the sentence.

Graham stole away, awed, and yet with a peace in his heart that he had not known for years. He had saved his friend from the first wild melee of the war—the war that promised rest and nothingness to him, even while he kept his promise to "live and do his best."



CHAPTER XIX

THE BLOOD-RED SKY

Days and weeks of intense excitement followed the terrific Union reverses which at one time threatened the loss of the national capital; and the North began to put forth the power of which it was only half conscious, like a giant taken unawares; for to all, except men of Hilland's hopeful confidence, it soon became evident that the opponent was a giant also. It is not my purpose to dwell upon this, however, except as it influenced the actors of my story.

Hilland, having given up his plans, was contentedly carrying out the line of action suggested by his friend. By all the means within his power he was furthering the Union cause, and learned from experience how much more he could accomplish as a business man than by shouldering a musket, or misleading a regiment in his ignorance. He made frequent trips to New York, and occasionally went to Washington. Graham often accompanied him, and also came and went on affairs of his own. Ostensibly he was acting as correspondent for the journal to which he had written when abroad. In reality, he was studying the great drama with an interest that was not wholly patriotic or scientific. He had found an antidote. The war, dreaded so unspeakably by many, was a boon to him; and the fierce excitement of the hour a counter-irritant to the pain at heart which he believed had become his life-long heritage.

He had feared the sorrowful reproaches of his aunt, as he gave himself almost wholly up to its influences, and became an actor in the great struggle. In this he was agreeably mistaken, for the spirited old lady, while averse to politics as such, had become scarcely less belligerent than the major since the fall of Sumter. She cheerfully let him come and go at his will; and in his loving gratitude it must be admitted that his letters to her were more frequent and interesting than those to the journal whose badge was his passport to all parts of our lines. He spent every hour he could with her, also; and she saw with pleasure that his activity did him good. Grace thought he found few opportunities to pass an evening with them. She was exceedingly grateful—first, that he had interpreted her so nobly, but chiefly because it was his influence and reasoning that had led her husband into his present large, useful, happy action; and she could not help showing it.

Graham's position of correspondent gave him far better opportunities for observation than he could have had in any arm of the service. Of late he was following the command of General Patterson, believing from his sanguinary vaporing that in his army would be seen the first real work of the war.[Footnote: Patterson wrote to the Secretary of War: "You have the means; place them at my disposal, and shoot me if I do not use them to advantage."] He soon became convinced, however, that the veteran of the Mexican War, like the renowned King of France, would march his "twenty thousand men" up the hill only to march them down again. Hearing that McDowell proposed to move against the enemy at Manassas, he hastily repaired to Washington, hoping to find a general that dared to come within cannon-range of the foe.

A sultry day late in the month of July was drawing to a close. Hilland and his wife, with Mrs. Mayburn, were seated under the apple-tree, at which point the walk intersected with the main one leading to the street. The young man, with a heavy frown, was reading from an "extra" a lurid outline of General McDowell's overwhelming defeat and the mad panic that ensued. Grace was listening with deep solicitude, her work lying idle in her lap. It had been a long, hard day for her. Of late her father had been deeply excited, and now was sleeping from sheer reaction. Mrs. Mayburn, looking as grim as fate, sat bolt upright and knitted furiously. One felt instinctively that in no emergency of life could she give way to a panic.

"Well," cried Hilland, springing to his feet and dashing the paper to the ground with something like an oath, "one battle has been fought in America at which I thank the immortal gods I was not present. Why did not McDowell drive a flock of sheep against the enemy, and furnish his division commanders with shepherds' crooks? Oh, the burning, indelible disgrace of it all! And yet—and the possibility of it makes me feel that I would destroy myself had it happened—I might have run like the blackest sheep of them all. I once read up a little on the subject of panics; and there's a mysterious, awful contagion about them impossible to comprehend. These men were Americans; they had been fighting bravely; what the devil got into them that they had to destroy themselves and everything in an insane rush for life?"

"Oh, Warren, see the sky!" cried his wife, the deep solicitude of her expression giving place to a look of awe.

They all turned to the west, and saw a sunset that from the excitable condition of their minds seemed to reflect the scenes recently enacted, and to portend those in prospect now for years to come. Lines of light and broken columns of cloud had ranged themselves across the western arch of the sky, and almost from the horizon to the zenith they were blood-red. So deep, uniform, and ensanguined was the crimson, that the sense of beauty was subordinated to the thought of the national tragedy reflected in the heavens. Hilland's face grew stern as he looked, and Grace hid hers on his breast.

After a moment, he said, lightly, "What superstitious fools we are! It's all an accidental effect of light and cloud."

A cry from Mrs. Mayburn caused them to turn hastily, and they saw her rushing down the path to the street entrance. Two men were helping some one from a carriage. As their obscuring forms stood aside, Graham was seen balancing himself on crutches.

Hilland placed his wife hastily but tenderly on the seat, and was at the gateway in almost a single bound.

"You had better let us carry you," Grace heard one of the men say in gruff kindness.

"Nonsense!" was the hearty reply. "I have not retreated thus far so masterfully only to give my aunt the hysterics at last."

"Alford," said his aunt, sternly, "if it's wise for you to be carried, be carried. Any man here is as liable to hysterics as I am."

"Graham, what does this mean?" cried his friend, in deep excitement. "You look as if half cut to pieces."

"It's chiefly my clothes; I am a fitter subject for a tailor than for a surgeon. Come, good people, there is no occasion for melodrama. With aunty's care I shall soon be as sound as ever. Very well, carry me, then. Perhaps I ought not to use my arm yet;" for Hilland, taking in his friend's disabled condition more fully, was about to lift him in his arms without permission or apology. It ended in his making what is termed a "chair" with one of the men, and Graham was borne speedily up the path.

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