But Miranda's time was limited, and she wanted to make as much of it as possible.
"Say, I heard you making music this morning. Won't you do it for me? I'd just love to hear you."
Marcia's face lit up with responsive enthusiasm, and she led the way to the darkened parlor and folded back the covers of the precious piano. She played some tender little airs she loved as she would have played them for Mary Ann, and the two young things stood there together, children in thought and feeling, half a generation apart in position, and neither recognized the difference.
"My land!" said the visitor, "'f I could play like that I wouldn't care ef I had freckles and no father and red hair," and looking up Marcia saw tears in the light blue eyes, and knew she had a kindred feeling in her heart for Miranda.
They had been talking a minute or two when the knocker suddenly sounded through the long hall again making both girls start. Miranda boldly tiptoed over to the front window and peeped between the green slats of the Venetian blind to see who was at the door, while Marcia started guiltily and quickly closed the instrument.
"It's David's aunts," announced Miranda in a stage whisper hurriedly. "I might 'a' known they would come this afternoon. Well, I had first try at you anyway, and I like you real well. May I come again and hear you play? You go quick to the door, and I'll slip into the kitchen till they get in, and then I'll go out the kitchen door and round the house out the little gate so Grandma won't see me. I must hurry for I ought to have been back ten minutes ago."
"But you haven't been to the store," said Marcia in a dismayed whisper.
"Oh, well, that don't matter! I'll tell her they didn't have what she sent me for. Good-bye. You better hurry." So saying, she disappeared into the kitchen; and Marcia, startled by such easy morality, stood dazed until the knocker sounded forth again, this time a little more peremptorily, as the elder aunt took her turn at it.
And so at last Marcia was face to face with the Misses Spafford.
They came in, each with her knitting in a black silk bag on her slim arm, and greeted the flushed, perturbed Marcia with gentle, righteous, rigid inspection. She felt with the first glance that she was being tried in the fire, and that it was to be no easy ordeal through which she was to pass. They had come determined to sift her to the depths and know at once the worst of what their beloved nephew had brought upon himself. If they found aught wrong with her they meant to be kindly and loving with her, but they meant to take it out of her. This had been the unspoken understanding between them as they wended their dignified, determined way to David's house that afternoon, and this was what Marcia faced as she opened the door for them.
She gasped a little, as any girl overwhelmed thus might have done. She did not tilt her chin in defiance as Kate would have done. The thought of David came to support her, and she grasped for her own little part and tried to play it creditably. She did not know whether the aunts knew of her true identity or not, but she was not left long in doubt.
"My dear, we have long desired to know you, of whom we have heard so much," recited Miss Amelia, with slightly agitated mien, as she bestowed a cool kiss of duty upon Marcia's warm cheek. It chilled the girl, like the breath from a funeral flower.
"Yes, it is indeed a pleasure to us to at last look upon our dear nephew's wife," said Miss Hortense quite precisely, and laid the sister kiss upon the other cheek. In spite of her there flitted through Marcia's brain the verse, "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Then she was shocked at her own irreverence and tried to put away a hysterical desire to laugh.
The aunts, too, were somewhat taken aback. They had not looked for so girlish a wife. She was not at all what they had pictured. David had tried to describe Kate to them once, and this young, sweet, disarming thing did not in the least fit their preconceived ideas of her. What should they do? How could they carry on a campaign planned against a certain kind of enemy, when lo, as they came upon the field of action the supposed enemy had taken another and more bewildering form than the one for whom they had prepared. They were for the moment silent, gathering their thoughts, and trying to fit their intended tactics to the present situation.
During this operation Marcia helped them to remove their bonnets and silk capes and to lay them neatly on the parlor sofa. She gave them chairs, suggested palm-leaf fans, and looked about, for the moment forgetting that this was not her old home plentifully supplied with those gracious breeze wafters.
They watched her graceful movements, those two angular old ladies, and marvelled over her roundness and suppleness. They saw with appalled hearts what a power youth and beauty might have over a man. Perhaps she might be even worse than they had feared, though if you could have heard them talk about their nephew's coming bride to their neighbors for months beforehand, you would have supposed they knew her to be a model in every required direction. But their stately pride required that of them, an outward loyalty at least. Now that loyalty was to be tried, and Marcia had two old, narrow and well-fortified hearts to conquer ere her way would be entirely smooth.
Well might Madam Schuyler have been proud of her pupil as alone and unaided she faced the trying situation and mastered it in a sweet and unassuming way.
They began their inquisition at once, so soon as they were seated, and the preliminary sentences uttered. The gleaming knitting needles seemed to Marcia like so many swarming, vindictive bees, menacing her peace of mind.
"You look young, child, to have the care of so large a house as this," said Aunt Amelia, looking at Marcia over her spectacles as if she were expected to take the first bite out of her. "It's a great responsibility!" she shut her thin lips tightly and shook her head, as if she had said: "It's a great impossibility."
"Have you ever had the care of a house?" asked Miss Hortense, going in a little deeper. "David likes everything nice, you know, he has always been used to it."
There was something in the tone, and in the set of the bow on Aunt Hortense's purple-trimmed cap that roused the spirit in Marcia.
"I think I rather enjoy housework," she responded coolly. This unexpected statement somewhat mollified the aunts. They had heard to the contrary from some one who had lived in the same town with the Schuylers. Kate's reputation was widely known, as that of a spoiled beauty, who did not care to work, and would do whatever she pleased. The aunts had entertained many forebodings from the few stray hints an old neighbor of Kate's had dared to utter in their hearing.
The talk drifted at once into household matters, as though that were the first division of the examination the young bride was expected to undergo. Marcia took early opportunity to still further mollify her visitors by her warmest praise of the good things with which the pantry and store-closet had been filled. The expression that came upon the two old faces was that of receiving but what is due. If the praise had not been forthcoming they would have marked it down against her, but it counted for very little with them, warm as it was.
"Can you make good bread?"
The question was flung out by Aunt Hortense like a challenge, and the very set of her nostrils gave Marcia warning. But it was in a relieved voice that ended almost in a ripple of laugh that she answered quite assuredly: "Oh, yes, indeed. I can make beautiful bread. I just love to make it, too!"
"But how do you make it?" quickly questioned Aunt Amelia, like a repeating rifle. If the first shot had not struck home, the second was likely to. "Do you use hop yeast? Potatoes? I thought so. Don't know how to make salt-rising, do you? It's just what might have been expected."
"David has always been used to salt-rising bread," said Aunt Hortense with a grim set of her lips as though she were delivering a judgment. "He was raised on it."
"If David does not like my bread," said Marcia with a rising color and a nervous little laugh, "then I shall try to make some that he does like."
There was an assurance about the "if" that did not please the oracle.
"David was raised on salt-rising bread," said Aunt Hortense again as if that settled it. "We can send you down a loaf or two every time we bake until you learn how."
"I'm sure it's very kind of you," said Marcia, not at all pleased, "but I do not think that will be necessary. David has always seemed to like our bread when he visited at home. Indeed he often praised it."
"David would not be impolite," said Aunt Amelia, after a suitable pause in which Marcia felt disapprobation in the air. "It would be best for us to send it. David's health might suffer if he was not suitably nourished."
Marcia's cheeks grew redder. Bread had been one of her stepmother's strong points, well infused into her young pupil. Madam Schuyler had never been able to say enough to sufficiently express her scorn of people who made salt-rising bread.
"My stepmother made beautiful bread," she said quite childishly; "she did not think salt-rising was so healthy as that made from hop yeast. She disliked the odor in the house from salt-rising bread."
Now indeed the aunts exchanged glances of "On to the combat." Four red spots flamed giddily out in their four sallow cheeks, and eight shining knitting needles suddenly became idle. The moment was too momentous to work. It was as they feared, even the worst. For, be it known, salt-rising bread was one of their most tender points, and for it they would fight to the bitter end. They looked at her with four cold, forbidding, steely, spectacled eyes, and Marcia felt that their looks said volumes: "And she so young too! To be so out of the way!" was what they might have expressed to one another. Marcia felt she had been unwise in uttering her honest, indignant sentiments concerning salt-rising bread.
The pause was long and impressive, and the bride felt like a naughty little four-year-old.
At last Aunt Hortense took up her knitting again with the air that all was over and an unrevokable verdict was passed upon the culprit.
"People have never seemed to stay away from our house on that account," she said dryly. "I'm sure I hope it will not be so disagreeable that it will affect your coming to see us sometimes with David."
There was an iciness in her manner that seemed to suggest a long line of offended family portraits of ancestors frowning down upon her.
Marcia's cheeks flamed crimson and her heart fairly stopped beating.
"I beg your pardon," she said quickly, "I did not mean to say anything disagreeable. I am sure I shall be glad to come as often as you will let me." As she said it Marcia wondered if that were quite true. Would she ever be glad to go to the home of those two severe-looking aunts? There were three of them. Perhaps the other one would be even more withered and severe than these two. A slight shudder passed over Marcia, and a sudden realization of a side of married life that had never come into her thoughts before. For a moment she longed with all the intensity of a child for her father's house and the shelter of his loving protection, amply supported by her stepmother's capable, self-sufficient, comforting countenance. Her heart sank with the fear that she would never be able to do justice to the position of David's wife, and David would be disappointed in her and sorry he had accepted her sacrifice. She roused herself to do better, and bit her tongue to remind it that it must make no more blunders. She praised the garden, the house and the furnishings, in voluble, eager, girlish language until the thin lines of lips relaxed and the drawn muscles of the aunts' cheeks took on a less severe aspect. They liked to be appreciated, and they certainly had taken a great deal of pains with the house—for David's sake—not for hers. They did not care to have her deluded by the idea that they had done it for her sake. David was to them a young god, and with this one supreme idea of his supremacy they wished to impress his young wife. It was a foregone conclusion in their minds that no mere pretty young girl was capable of appreciating David, as could they, who had watched him from babyhood, and pampered and petted and been severe with him by turns, until if he had not had the temper of an angel he would surely have been spoiled.
"We did our best to make the house just as David would have wished to have it," said Aunt Amelia at last, a self-satisfied shadow of what answered for a smile with her, passing over her face for a moment.
"We did not at all approve of this big house, nor indeed of David's setting up in a separate establishment for himself," said Aunt Hortense, taking up her knitting again. "We thought it utterly unnecessary and uneconomical, when he might have brought his wife home to us, but he seemed to think you would want a house to yourself, so we did the best we could."
There was a martyr-like air in Aunt Hortense's words that made Marcia feel herself again a criminal, albeit she knew she was suffering vicariously. But in her heart she felt a sudden thankfulness that she was spared the trial of living daily under the scrutiny of these two, and she blest David for his thoughtfulness, even though it had not been meant for her. She went into pleased ecstasies once more over the house, and its furnishings, and ended by her pleasure over the piano.
There was grim stillness when she touched upon that subject. The aunts did not approve of that musical instrument, that was plain. Marcia wondered if they always paused so long before speaking when they disapproved, in order to show their displeasure. In fact, did they always disapprove of everything?
"You will want to be very careful of it," said Aunt Amelia, looking at the disputed article over her glasses, "it cost a good deal of money. It was the most foolish thing I ever knew David to do, buying that."
"Yes," said Aunt Hortense, "you will not want to use it much, it might get scratched. It has a fine polish. I'd keep it closed up only when I had company. You ought to be very proud to have a husband who could buy a thing like that. There's not many has them. When I was a girl my grandfather had a spinet, the only one for miles around, and it was taken great care of. The case hadn't a scratch on it."
Marcia had started toward the piano intending to open it and play for her new relatives, but she halted midway in the room and came back to her seat after that speech, feeling that she must just sit and hold her hands until it was time to get supper, while these dreadful aunts picked her to pieces, body, soul and spirit.
It was with great relief at last that she heard David's step and knew she might leave the room and put the tea things upon the table.
They got through the supper without any trouble, and the aunts went home in the early twilight, each with her bonnet strings tied precisely, her lace mitts drawn smoothly over her bony hands, and her little knitting bag over her right arm. They walked decorously up the shaded, elm-domed street, each mindful of her aristocratic instep, and trying to walk erect as in the days when they were gazed upon with admiration, knowing that still an air of former greatness hovered about them wherever they went.
They had brightened considerably at the supper table, under the genial influence of David's presence. They came as near to worshiping David as one can possibly come to worshiping a human being. David, desirous above all things of blinding their keen, sure-to-say-"I-told-you-so" old eyes, roused to be his former gay self with them, and pleased them so that they did not notice how little lover-like reference he made to his bride, who was decidedly in the background for the time, the aunts, perhaps purposely, desiring to show her a wife's true place,—at least the true place of a wife of a David.
They had allowed her to bring their things and help them on with capes and bonnets, and, when they were ready to leave, Aunt Amelia put out a lifeless hand, that felt in its silk mitt like a dead fish in a net, and said to Marcia:
"Our sister Clarinda is desirous of seeing David's wife. She wished us most particularly to give you her love and say to you that she wishes you to come to her at the earliest possible moment. You know she is lame and cannot easily get about."
"Young folks should always be ready to wait upon their elders," said Aunt Hortense, grimly. "Come as soon as you can,—that is, if you think you can stand the smell of salt-rising."
Marcia's face flushed painfully, and she glanced quickly at David to see if he had noticed what his aunt had said, but David was already anticipating the moment when he would be free to lay aside his mask and bury his face in his hands and his thoughts in sadness.
Marcia's heart sank as she went about clearing off the supper things. Was life always to be thus? Would she be forever under the espionage of those two grim spectres of women, who seemed, to her girlish imagination, to have nothing about them warm or loving or woman-like?
She seemed to herself to be standing outside of a married life and looking on at it as one might gaze on a panorama. It was all new and painful, and she was one of the central figures expected to act on through all the pictures, taking another's place, yet doing it as if it were her own. She glanced over at David's pale, grave face, set in its sadness, and a sharp pain went through her heart. Would he ever get over it? Would life never be more cheerful than it now was?
He spoke to her occasionally, in a pleasant abstracted way, as to one who understood him and was kind not to trouble his sadness, and he lighted a candle for her when the work was done and said he hoped she would rest well, that she must still be weary from the long journey. And so she went up to her room again.
She did not go to bed at once, but sat down by the window looking out on the moonlit street. There had been some sort of a meeting at the church across the way, and the people were filing out and taking their various ways home, calling pleasant good nights, and speaking cheerily of the morrow. The moon, though beginning to wane, was bright and cast sharp shadows. Marcia longed to get out into the night. If she could have got downstairs without being heard she would have slipped out into the garden. But downstairs she could hear David pacing back and forth like some hurt, caged thing. Steadily, dully, he walked from the front hall back into the kitchen and back again. There was no possibility of escaping his notice. Marcia felt as if she might breathe freer in the open air, so she leaned far out of her window and looked up and down the street, and thought. Finally,—her heart swelled to bursting, as young hearts with their first little troubles will do,—she leaned down her dark head upon the window seat and wept and wept, alone.
It was the next morning at breakfast that David told her of the festivities that were planned in honor of their home coming. He spoke as if they were a great trial through which they both must pass in order to have any peace, and expressed his gratitude once more that she had been willing to come here with him and pass through it. Marcia had the impression, after he was done speaking and had gone away to the office, that he felt that she had come here merely for these few days of ceremony and after they were passed she was dismissed, her duty done, and she might go home. A great lump arose in her throat and she suddenly wished very much indeed that it were so. For if it were, how much, how very much she would enjoy queening it for a few days—except for David's sadness. But already, there had begun to be an element to her in that sadness which in spite of herself she resented. It was a heavy burden which she began dimly to see would be harder and harder to bear as the days went by. She had not yet begun to think of the time before her in years.
They were to go to the aunts' to tea that evening, and after tea a company of David's old friends—or rather the old friends of David's aunts—were coming in to meet them. This the aunts had planned: but it seemed they had not counted her worthy to be told of the plans, and had only divulged them to David. Marcia had not thought that a little thing could annoy her so much, but she found it vexed her more and more as she thought upon it going about her work.
There was not so much to be done in the house that morning after the breakfast things were cleared away. Dinners and suppers would not be much of a problem for some days to come, for the house was well stocked with good things.
The beds done and the rooms left in dainty order with the sweet summer breeze blowing the green tassels on the window shades, Marcia went softly down like some half guilty creature to the piano. She opened it and was forthwith lost in delight of the sounds her own fingers brought forth.
She had been playing perhaps half an hour when she became conscious of another presence in the room. She looked up with a start, feeling that some one had been there for some time, she could not tell just how long. Peering into the shadowy room lighted only from the window behind her, she made out a head looking in at the door, the face almost hidden by a capacious sunbonnet. She was not long in recognizing her visitor of the day before. It was like a sudden dropping from a lofty mountain height down into a valley of annoyance to hear Miranda's sharp metallic voice:
"Morning!" she courtesied, coming in as soon as she perceived that she was seen. "At it again? I ben listening sometime. It's as pretty as Silas Drew's harmonicker when he comes home evenings behind the cows."
Marcia drew her hands sharply from the keys as if she had been struck. Somehow Miranda and music were inharmonious. She scarcely knew what to say. She felt as if her morning were spoiled. But Miranda was too full of her own errand to notice the clouded face and cool welcome. "Say, you can't guess how I got over here. I'll tell you. You're going over to the Spafford house to-night, ain't you? and there's going to be a lot of folks there. Of course we all know all about it. It's been planned for months. And my cousin Hannah Heath has an invite. You can't think how fond Miss Amelia and Miss Hortense are of her. They tried their level best to make David pay attention to her, but it didn't work. Well, she was talking about what she'd wear. She's had three new frocks made last week, all frilled and fancy. You see she don't want to let folks think she is down in the mouth the least bit about David. She'll likely make up to you, to your face, a whole lot, and pretend she's the best friend you've got in the world. But I've just got this to say, don't you be too sure of her friendship. She's smooth as butter, but she can give you a slap in the face if you don't serve her purpose. I don't mind telling you for she's given me many a one," and the pale eyes snapped in unison with the color of her hair. "Well, you see I heard her talking to Grandma, and she said she'd give anything to know what you were going to wear to-night."
"How curious!" said Marcia surprised. "I'm sure I do not see why she should care!" There was the coolness born of utter indifference in her reply which filled the younger girl with admiration. Perhaps too there was the least mite of haughtiness in her manner, born of the knowledge that she belonged to an old and honored family, and that she had in her possession a trunk full of clothes that could vie with any that Hannah Heath could display. Miranda wished silently that she could convey that cool manner and that wide-eyed indifference to the sight of her cousin Hannah.
"H'm!" giggled Miranda. "Well, she does! If you were going to wear blue you'd see she'd put on her green. She's got one that'll kill any blue that's in the same room with it, no matter if it's on the other side. Its just sick'ning to see them together. And she looks real well in it too. So when she said she wanted to know so bad, Grandma said she'd send me over to know if you'd accept a jar of her fresh pickle-lily, and mebbe I could find out about your clothes. The pickle-lily's on the kitchen table. I left it when I came through. It's good, but there ain't any love in it." And Miranda laughed a hard mirthless laugh, and then settled down to her subject again.
"Now, you needn't be a mite afraid to tell me about it. I won't tell it straight, you know. I'd just like to see what you are going to wear so I could keep her out of her tricks for once. Is your frock blue?"
Now it is true that the trunk upstairs contained a goodly amount of the color blue, for Kate Schuyler had been her bonniest in blue, and the particular frock which had been made with reference to this very first significant gathering was blue. Marcia had accepted the fact as unalterable. The garment was made for a purpose, and its mission must be fulfilled however much she might wish to wear something else, but suddenly as Miranda spoke there came to her mind the thought of rebellion. Why should she be bound down to do exactly as Kate would do in her place? If she had accepted the sacrifice of living Kate's life for her, she might at least have the privilege of living it in the pleasantest possible way, and surely the matter of dress was one she might be allowed to settle for herself if she was old enough at all to be trusted away from home. Among the pretty things that Kate had made was a sweet rose-pink silk tissue. Madam Schuyler had frowned upon it as frivolous, and besides she did not think it becoming to Kate. She had a fixed theory that people with blue eyes and gold hair should never wear pink or red, but Kate as usual had her own way, and with her wild rose complexion had succeeded in looking like the wild rose itself in spite of blue eyes and golden hair. Marcia knew in her heart, in fact she had known from the minute the lovely pink thing had come into the house, that it was the very thing to set her off. Her dark eyes and hair made a charming contrast with the rose, and her complexion was even fresher than Kate's. Her heart grew suddenly eager to don this dainty, frilley thing and outshine Hannah Heath beyond any chance of further trying. There were other frocks, too, in the trunk. Why should she be confined to the stately blue one that had been marked out for this occasion? Marcia, with sudden inspiration, answered calmly, just as though all these tumultuous possibilities of clothes had not been whirling through her brain in that half second's hesitation:
"I have not quite decided what I shall wear. It is not an important matter, I'm sure. Let us go and see the piccalilli. I'm very much obliged to your grandmother, I'm sure. It was kind of her."
Somewhat awed, Miranda followed her hostess into the kitchen. She could not reconcile this girl's face with the stately little airs that she wore, but she liked her and forthwith she told her so.
"I like you," she said fervently. "You remind me of one of Grandma's sturtions, bright and independent and lively, with a spice and a color to 'em, and Hannah makes you think of one of them tall spikes of gladiolus all fixed up without any smell."
Marcia tried to smile over the doubtful compliment. Somehow there was something about Miranda that reminded her of Mary Ann. Poor Mary Ann! Dear Mary Ann! For suddenly she realized that everything that reminded her of the precious life of her childhood, left behind forever, was dear. If she could see Mary Ann at this moment she would throw her arms about her neck and call her "Dear Mary Ann," and say, "I love you," to her. Perhaps this feeling made her more gentle with the annoying Miranda than she might have been.
When Miranda was gone the precious play hour was gone too. Marcia had only time to steal hurriedly into the parlor, close the instrument, and then fly about getting her dinner ready. But as she worked she had other thoughts to occupy her mind. She was becoming adjusted to her new environment and she found many unexpected things to make it hard. Here, for instance, was Hannah Heath. Why did there have to be a Hannah Heath? And what was Hannah Heath to her? Kate might feel jealous, indeed, but not she, not the unloved, unreal, wife of David. She should rather pity Hannah that David had not loved her instead of Kate, or pity David that he had not. But somehow she did not, somehow she could not. Somehow Hannah Heath had become a living, breathing enemy to be met and conquered. Marcia felt her fighting blood rising, felt the Schuyler in her coming to the front. However little there was in her wifehood, its name at least was hers. The tale that Miranda had told was enough, if it were true, to put any woman, however young she might be, into battle array. Marcia was puzzling her mind over the question that has been more or less of a weary burden to every woman since the fatal day that Eve made her great mistake.
David was silent and abstracted at the dinner table, and Marcia absorbed in her own problems did not feel cut by it. She was trying to determine whether to blossom out in pink, or to be crushed and set aside into insignificance in blue, or to choose a happy medium and wear neither. She ventured a timid little question before David went away again: Did he, would he,—that is, was there any thing,—any word he would like to say to her? Would she have to do anything to-night?
David looked at her in surprise. Why, no! He knew of nothing. Just go and speak pleasantly to every one. He was sure she knew what to do. He had always thought her very well behaved. She had manners like any woman. She need not feel shy. No one knew of her peculiar position, and he felt reasonably sure that the story would not soon get around. Her position would be thoroughly established before it did, at least. She need not feel uncomfortable. He looked down at her thinking he had said all that could be expected of him, but somehow he felt the trouble in the girl's eyes and asked her gently if there was anything more.
"No," she said slowly, "unless, perhaps—I don't suppose you know what it would be proper for me to wear."
"Oh, that does not matter in the least," he replied promptly. "Anything. You always look nice. Why, I'll tell you, wear the frock you had on the night I came." Then he suddenly remembered the reason why that was a pleasant memory to him, and that it was not for her sake at all, but for the sake of one who was lost to him forever. His face contracted with sudden pain, and Marcia, cut to the heart, read the meaning, and felt sick and sore too.
"Oh, I could not wear that," she said sadly, "it is only chintz. It would not be nice enough, but thank you. I shall be all right. Don't trouble about me," and she forced a weak smile to light him from the house, and shut from his pained eyes the knowledge of how he had hurt her, for with those words of his had come the vision of herself that happy night as she stood at the gate in the stillness and moonlight looking from the portal of her maidenhood into the vista of her womanhood, which had seemed then so far away and bright, and was now upon her in sad reality. Oh, if she could but have caught that sentence of his about her little chintz frock to her heart with the joy of possession, and known that he said it because he too had a happy memory about her in it, as she had always felt the coming, misty, dream-expected lover would do!
She spread the available frocks out upon the bed after the other things were put neatly away in closet and drawer, and sat down to decide the matter. David's suggestion while impossible had given her an idea, and she proceeded to carry it out. There was a soft sheer white muslin, whereon Kate had expended her daintiest embroidering, edged with the finest of little lace frills. It was quaint and simple and girlish, the sweetest, most simple affair in all of Kate's elaborate wardrobe, and yet, perhaps, from an artistic point of view, the most elegant. Marcia soon made up her mind.
She dressed herself early, for David had said he would be home by four o'clock and they would start as soon after as he could get ready. His aunts wished to show her the old garden before dark.
When she came to the arrangement of her hair she paused. Somehow her soul rebelled at the style of Kate. It did not suit her face. It did not accord with her feeling. It made her seem unlike herself, or unlike the self she would ever wish to be. It suited Kate well, but not her. With sudden determination she pulled it all down again from the top of her head and loosened its rich waves about her face, then loosely twisted it behind, low on her neck, falling over her delicate ears, until her head looked like that of an old Greek statue. It was not fashion, it was pure instinct the child was following out, and there was enough conformity to one of the fashionable modes of the day to keep her from looking odd. It was lovely. Marcia could not help seeing herself that it was much more becoming than the way she had arranged it for her marriage, though then she had had the wedding veil to soften the tightly drawn outlines of her head. She put on the sheer white embroidered frock then, and as a last touch pinned the bit of black velvet about her throat with a single pearl that had been her mother's. It was the bit of black velvet she had worn the night David came. It gave her pleasure to think that in so far she was conforming to his suggestion.
She had just completed her toilet when she heard David's step coming up the walk.
David, coming in out of the sunshine and beholding this beautiful girl in the coolness and shadow of the hall awaiting him shyly, almost started back as he rubbed his eyes and looked at her again. She was beautiful. He had to admit it to himself, even in the midst of his sadness, and he smiled at her, and felt another pang of condemnation that he had taken this beauty from some other man's lot perhaps, and appropriated it to shield himself from the world's exclamation about his own lonely life.
"You have done it admirably. I do not see that there is anything left to be desired," he said in his pleasant voice that used to make her girl-heart flutter with pride that her new brother-to-be was pleased with her. It fluttered now, but there was a wider sweep to its wings, and a longer flight ahead of the thought.
Quite demurely the young wife accepted her compliment, and then she meekly folded her little white muslin cape with its dainty frills about her pretty shoulders, drew on the new lace mitts, and tied beneath her chin the white strings of a shirred gauze bonnet with tiny rosebuds nestling in the ruching of tulle about the face.
Once more the bride walked down the world the observed of all observers, the gazed at of the town, only this time it was brick pavement not oaken stairs she trod, and most of the eyes that looked upon her were sheltered behind green jalousies. None the less, however, was she conscious of them as she made her way to the house of solemn feasting with David by her side. Her eyes rested upon the ground, or glanced quietly at things in the distance, when they were not lifted for a moment in wifely humility to her husband's face at some word of his. Just as she imagined a hundred times in her girlish thoughts that her sister Kate would do, so did she, and after what seemed to her an interminable walk, though in reality it was but four village blocks, they arrived at the house of Spafford.
"This is your Aunt Clarinda!"
There was challenge in the severely spoken pronoun Aunt Hortense used. It seemed to Marcia that she wished to remind her that all her old life and relations were passed away, and she had nothing now but David's, especially David's relatives. She shrank from lifting her eyes, expecting to find the third aunt, who was older, as much sourer and sharper in proportion to the other two, but she controlled herself and lifted her flower face to meet a gentle, meek, old face set in soft white frills of a cap, with white ribbons flying, and though the old lady leaned upon a crutch she managed to give the impression that she had fairly flown in her gladness to welcome her new niece. There was the lighting of a repressed nature let free in her kind old face as she looked with true pleasure upon the lovely young one, and Marcia felt herself folded in truly loving arms in an embrace which her own passionate, much repressed, loving nature returned with heartiness. At last she had found a friend!
She felt it every time she spoke, more and more. They walked out into the garden almost immediately, and Aunt Clarinda insisted upon hobbling along by Marcia's side, though her sisters both protested that it would be too hard for her that warm afternoon. Every time that Marcia spoke she felt the kind old eyes upon her, and she knew that at least one of the aunts was satisfied with her as a wife for David, for her eyes would travel from David to Marcia and back again to David, and when they met Marcia's there was not a shade of disparagement in them.
It was rather a tiresome walk through a tiresome old garden, laid out in the ways of the past generation, and bordered with much funereal box. The sisters, Amelia and Hortense, took the new member of the family, conscientiously, through every path, and faithfully told how each spot was associated with some happening in the family history. Occasionally there was a solemn pause for the purpose of properly impressing the new member of the house, and Amelia wiped her eyes with her carefully folded handkerchief. Marcia felt extremely like laughing. She was sure that if Kate had been obliged to pass through this ordeal she would have giggled out at once and said some shockingly funny thing that would have horrified the aunts beyond forgiveness. The thought of this nerved her to keep a sober face. She wondered what David thought of it all, but when she looked at him she wondered no longer, for David stood as one waiting for a certain ceremony to be over, a ceremony which he knew to be inevitable, but which was wholly and familiarly uninteresting. He did not even see how it must strike the girl who was going through it all for him, for David's thoughts were out on the flood-tide of sorrow, drifting against the rocks of the might-have-been.
They went in to tea presently, just when the garden was growing loveliest with a tinge of the setting sun, and Marcia longed to run up and down the little paths like a child and call to them all to catch her if they could. The house was dark and stately and gloomy.
"You are coming up to my room for a few minutes after supper," whispered Aunt Clarinda encouragingly as they passed into the dark hall. The supper table was alight with a fine old silver candelabra whose many wavering lights cast a solemn, grotesque shadow on the different faces.
Beside her plate the young bride saw an ostentatious plate of puffy soda biscuits, and involuntarily her eyes searched the table for the bread plate.
Aunt Clarinda almost immediately pounced upon the bread plate and passed it with a smile to Marcia, and as Marcia with an answering smile took a generous slice she heard the other two aunts exclaim in chorus, "Oh, don't pass her the bread, Clarinda; take it away sister, quick! She does not like salt-rising! It is unpleasant to her!"
Then with blazing cheeks the girl protested that she wished to keep the bread, that they were mistaken, she had not said it was obnoxious to her, but had merely given them her stepmother's opinion when they asked. They must excuse her for her seeming rudeness, for she had not intended to hurt them. She presumed salt-rising bread was very nice; it looked beautiful. This was a long speech for shy Marcia to make before so many strangers, but David's wondering, troubled eyes were upon her, questioning what it all might mean, and she felt she could do anything to save David from more suffering or annoyance of any kind.
David said little. He seemed to perceive that there had been an unpleasant prelude to this, and perhaps knew from former experience that the best way to do was to change the subject. He launched into a detailed account of their wedding journey. Marcia on her part was grateful to him, for when she took the first brave bite into the very puffy, very white slice of bread she had taken, she perceived that it was much worse than that which had been baked for their homecoming, and not only justified all her stepmother's execrations, but in addition it was sour. For an instant, perceiving down the horoscope of time whole calendars full of such suppers with the aunts, and this bread, her soul shuddered and shrank. Could she ever learn to like it? Impossible! Could she ever tolerate it? Could she? She doubted. Then she swallowed bravely and perceived that the impossible had been accomplished once. It could be again, but she must go slowly else she might have to eat two slices instead of one. David was kind. He had roused himself to help his helper. Perhaps something in her girlish beauty and helplessness, helpless here for his sake, appealed to him. At least his eyes sought hers often with a tender interest to see if she were comfortable, and once, when Aunt Amelia asked if they stopped nowhere for rest on their journey, his eyes sought Marcia's with a twinkling reminder of their roadside nap, and he answered, "Once, Aunt Amelia. No, it was not a regular inn. It was quieter than that. Not many people stopping there."
Marcia's merry laugh almost bubbled forth, but she suppressed it just in time, horrified to think what Aunt Hortense would say, but somehow after David had said that her heart felt a trifle lighter and she took a big bite from the salt-rising and smiled as she swallowed it. There were worse things in the world, after all, than salt-rising, and, when one could smother it in Aunt Amelia's peach preserves, it was quite bearable.
Aunt Clarinda slipped her off to her own room after supper, and left the other two sisters with their beloved idol, David. In their stately parlor lighted with many candles in honor of the occasion, they sat and talked in low tones with him, their voices suggesting condolence with his misfortune of having married out of the family, and disapproval with the married state in general. Poor souls! How their hard, loving hearts would have been wrung could they but have known the true state of the case! And, strange anomaly, how much deeper would have been their antagonism toward poor, self-sacrificing, loving Marcia! Just because she had dared to think herself fit for David, belonging as she did to her renegade sister Kate. But they did not know, and for this fact David was profoundly thankful. Those were not the days of rapid transit, of telegraph and telephone, nor even of much letter writing, else the story would probably have reached the aunts even before the bride and bridegroom arrived at home. As it was, David had some hope of keeping the tragedy of his life from the ears of his aunts forever. Patiently he answered their questions concerning the wedding, questions that were intended to bring out facts showing whether David had received his due amount of respect, and whether the family he had so greatly honored felt the burden of that honor sufficiently.
Upstairs in a quaint old-fashioned room Aunt Clarinda was taking Marcia's face in her two wrinkled hands and looking lovingly into her eyes; then she kissed her on each rosy cheek and said:
"Dear child! You look just as I did when I was young. You wouldn't think it from me now, would you? But it's true. I might not have grown to be such a dried-up old thing if I had had somebody like David. I'm so glad you've got David. He'll take good care of you. He's a dear boy. He's always been good to me. But you mustn't let the others crush those roses out of your cheeks. They crushed mine out. They wouldn't let me have my life the way I wanted it, and the pink in my cheeks all went back into my heart and burst it a good many years ago. But they can't spoil your life, for you've got David and that's worth everything."
Then she kissed her on the lips and cheeks and eyes and let her go. But that one moment had given Marcia a glimpse into another life-story and put her in touch forever with Aunt Clarinda, setting athrob the chord of loving sympathy.
When they came into the parlor the other two aunts looked up with a quick, suspicious glance from one to the other and then fastened disapproving eyes upon Marcia. They rather resented it that she was so pretty. Hannah had been their favorite, and Hannah was beautiful in their eyes. They wanted no other to outshine her. Albeit they would be proud enough before their neighbors to have it said that their nephew's wife was beautiful.
After a chilling pause in which David was wondering anew at Marcia's beauty, Aunt Hortense asked, as though it were an omission from the former examination, "Did you ever make a shirt?"
"Oh, plenty of them!" said Marcia, with a merry laugh, so relieved that she fairly bubbled. "I think I could make a shirt with my eyes shut."
Aunt Clarinda beamed on her with delight. A shirt was something she had never succeeded in making right. It was one of the things which her sisters had against her that she could not make good shirts. Any one who could not make a shirt was deficient. Clarinda was deficient. She could not make a shirt. Meekly had she tried year after year. Humbly had she ripped out gusset and seam and band, having put them on upside down or inside out. Never could she learn the ins and outs of a shirt. But her old heart trembled with delight that the new girl, who was going to take the place in her heart of her old dead self and live out all the beautiful things which had been lost to her, had mastered this one great accomplishment in which she had failed so supremely.
But Aunt Hortense was not pleased. True, it was one of the seven virtues in her mind which a young wife should possess, and she had carefully instructed Hannah Heath for a number of years back, while Hannah bungled out a couple for her father occasionally, but Aunt Hortense had been sure that if Hannah ever became David's wife she might still have the honor of making most of David's shirts. That had been her happy task ever since David had worn a shirt, and she hoped to hold the position of shirt-maker to David until she left this mortal clay. Therefore Aunt Hortense was not pleased, even though David's wife was not lacking, and, too, even though she foreheard herself telling her neighbors next day how many shirts David's wife had made.
"Well, David will not need any for some time," she said grimly. "I made him a dozen just before he was married."
Marcia reflected that it seemed to be impossible to make any headway into the good graces of either Aunt Hortense or Aunt Amelia. Aunt Amelia then took her turn at a question.
"Hortense," said she, and there was an ominous inflection in the word as if the question were portentous, "have you asked our new niece by what name she desires us to call her?"
"I have not," said Miss Hortense solemnly, "but I intend to do so immediately," and then both pairs of steely eyes were leveled at the girl. Marcia suddenly was face to face with a question she had not considered, and David started upright from his position on the hair-cloth sofa. But if a thunderbolt had fallen from heaven and rendered him utterly unconscious David would not have been more helpless than he was for the time being. Marcia saw the mingled pain and perplexity in David's face, and her own courage gathered itself to brave it out in some way. The color flew to her cheeks, and rose slowly in David's, through heavy veins that swelled in his neck till he could feel their pulsation against his stock, but his smooth shaven lips were white. He felt that a moment had come which he could not bear to face.
Then with a hesitation that was but pardonable, and with a shy sweet look, Marcia answered; and though her voice trembled just the least bit, her true, dear eyes looked into the battalion of steel ones bravely.
"I would like you to call me Marcia, if you please."
"Marcia!" Miss Hortense snipped the word out as if with scissors of surprise.
But there was a distinct relaxation about Miss Amelia's mouth. She heaved a relieved sigh. Marcia was so much better than Kate, so much more classical, so much more to be compared with Hannah, for instance.
"Well, I'm glad!" she allowed herself to remark. "David has been calling you 'Kate' till it made me sick, such a frivolous name and no sense in it either. Marcia sounds quite sensible. I suppose Katharine is your middle name. Do you spell it with a K or a C?"
But the knocker sounded on the street door and Marcia was spared the torture of a reply. She dared not look at David's face, for she knew there must be pain and mortification mingling there, and she hoped that the trying subject would not come up again for discussion.
The guests began to arrive. Old Mrs. Heath and her daughter-in-law and grand-daughter came first.
Hannah's features were handsome and she knew exactly how to manage her shapely hands with their long white fingers. The soft delicate undersleeves fell away from arms white and well moulded, and she carried her height gracefully. Her hair was elaborately stowed upon the top of her head in many puffs, ending in little ringlets carelessly and coquettishly straying over temple, or ears, or gracefully curved neck. She wore a frock of green, and its color sent a pang through the bride's heart to realize that perhaps it had been worn with an unkindly purpose. Nevertheless Hannah Heath was beautiful and fascinated Marcia. She resolved to try to think the best of her, and to make her a friend if possible. Why, after all, should she be to blame for wanting David? Was he not a man to be admired and desired? It was unwomanly, of course, that she had let it be known, but perhaps her relatives were more to blame than herself. At least Marcia made up her mind to try and like her.
Hannah's frock was of silk, not a common material in those days, soft and shimmery and green enough to take away the heart from anything blue that was ever made, but Hannah was stately and her skin as white as the lily she resembled, in her bright leaf green.
Hannah chose to be effusive and condescending to the bride, giving the impression that she and David had been like brother and sister all their lives and that she might have been his choice if she had chosen, but as she had not chosen, she was glad that David had found some one wherewith to console himself. She did not say all this in so many words, but Marcia found that impression left after the evening was over.
With sweet dignity Marcia received her introductions, given in Miss Amelia's most commanding tone, "Our niece, Marcia!"
"Marshy! Marshy!" the bride heard old Mrs. Heath murmur to Miss Spafford. "Why, I thought 'twas to be Kate!"
"Her name is Marcia," said Miss Amelia in a most satisfied tone; "you must have misunderstood."
Marcia caught a look in Miss Heath's eyes, alert, keen, questioning, which flashed all over her like something searching and bright but not friendly.
She felt a painful shyness stealing over her and wished that David were by her side. She looked across the room at him. His face had recovered its usual calmness, though he looked pale. He was talking on his favorite theme with old Mr. Heath: the newly invented steam engine and its possibilities. He had forgotten everything else for the time, and his face lighted with animation as he tried to answer William Heath's arguments against it.
"Have you read what the Boston Courier said, David? 'Long in June it was I think," Marcia heard Mr. Heath ask. Indeed his voice was so large that it filled the room, and for the moment Marcia had been left to herself while some new people were being ushered in. "It says, David, that 'the project of a railroad from Bawston to Albany is impracticable as everybody knows who knows the simplest rule of arithmetic, and the expense would be little less than the market value of the whole territory of Massachusetts; and which, if practicable, every person of common sense knows would be as useless as a railroad from Bawston to the moon.' There, David, what do ye think o' that?" and William Heath slapped David on the knee with his broad, fat fist and laughed heartily, as though he had him in a tight corner.
Marcia would have given a good deal to slip in beside David on the sofa and listen to the discussion. She wanted with all her heart to know how he would answer this man who could be so insufferably wise, but there was other work for her, and her attention was brought back to her own uncomfortable part by Hannah Heath's voice:
"Come right ovah heah, Mistah Skinnah, if you want to meet the bride. You must speak verra nice to me or I sha'n't introduce you at all."
A tall lanky man with stiff sandy hair and a rubicund complexion was making his way around the room. He had a small mouth puckered a little as if he might be going to whistle, and his chin had the look of having been pushed back out of the way, a stiff fuzz of sandy whiskers made a hedge down either cheek, and but for that he was clean shaven. The skin over his high cheek bones was stretched smooth and tight as if it were a trifle too close a fit for the genial cushion beneath. He did not look brilliant, and he certainly was not handsome, but there was an inoffensive desire to please about him. He was introduced as Mr. Lemuel Skinner. He bowed low over Marcia's hand, said a few embarrassed, stiff sentences and turned to Hannah Heath with relief. It was evident that Hannah was in his eyes a great and shining light, to which he fluttered as naturally as does the moth to the candle. But Hannah did not scruple to singe his wings whenever she chose. Perhaps she knew, no matter how badly he was burned he would only flutter back again whenever she scintillated. She had turned her back upon him now, and left him to Marcia's tender mercies. Hannah was engaged in talking to a younger man. "Harry Temple, from New York," Lemuel explained to Marcia.
The young man, Harry Temple, had large lazy eyes and heavy dark hair. There was a discontented look in his face, and a looseness about the set of his lips that Marcia did not like, although she had to admit that he was handsome. Something about him reminded her of Captain Leavenworth, and she instinctively shrank from him. But Harry Temple had no mind to talk to any one but Marcia that evening, and he presently so managed it that he and she were ensconced in a corner of the room away from others. Marcia felt perturbed. She did not feel flattered by the man's attentions, and she wanted to be at the other end of the room listening to the conversation.
She listened as intently as she might between sentences, and her keen ears could catch a word or two of what David was saying. After all, it was not so much the new railroad project that she cared about, though that was strange and interesting enough, but she wanted to watch and listen to David.
Harry Temple said a great many pretty things to Marcia. She did not half hear some of them at first, but after a time she began to realize that she must have made a good impression, and the pretty flush in her cheeks grew deeper. She did little talking. Mr. Temple did it all. He told her of New York. He asked if she were not dreadfully bored with this little town and its doings, and bewailed her lot when he learned that she had not had much experience there. Then he asked if she had ever been to New York and began to tell of some of its attractions. Among other things he mentioned some concerts, and immediately Marcia was all attention. Her dark eyes glowed and her speaking face gave eager response to his words. Seeing he had interested her at last, he kept on, for he was possessor of a glib tongue, and what he did not know he could fabricate without the slightest compunction. He had been about the world and gathered up superficial knowledge enough to help him do this admirably, therefore he was able to use a few musical terms, and to bring before Marcia's vivid imagination the scene of the performance of Handel's great "Creation" given in Boston, and of certain musical events that were to be attempted soon in New York. He admitted that he could play a little upon the harpsichord, and, when he learned that Marcia could play also and that she was the possessor of a piano, one of the latest improved makes, he managed to invite himself to play upon it. Marcia found to her dismay that she actually seemed to have invited him to come some afternoon when her husband was away. She had only said politely that she would like to hear him play sometime, and expressed her great delight in music, and he had done the rest, but in her inexperience somehow it had happened and she did not know what to do.
It troubled her a good deal, and she turned again toward the other end of the room, where the attention of most of the company was riveted upon the group who were discussing the railroad, its pros and cons. David was the centre of that group.
"Let us go over and hear what they are saying," she said, turning to her companion eagerly.
"Oh, it is all stupid politics and arguments about that ridiculous fairy-tale of a railroad scheme. You would not enjoy it," answered the young man disappointedly. He saw in Marcia a beautiful young soul, the only one who had really attracted him since he had left New York, and he wished to become intimate enough with her to enjoy himself.
It mattered not to him that she was married to another man. He felt secure in his own attractions. He had ever been able to while away the time with whom he chose, why should a simple village maiden resist him? And this was an unusual one, the contour of her head was like a Greek statue.
Nevertheless he was obliged to stroll after her. Once she had spoken. She had suddenly become aware that they had been in their corner together a long time, and that Aunt Amelia's cold eyes were fastened upon her in disapproval.
"The farmers would be ruined, man alive!" Mr. Heath was saying. "Why, all the horses would have to be killed, because they would be wholly useless if this new fandango came in, and then where would be a market for the wheat and oats?"
"Yes, an' I've heard some say the hens wouldn't lay, on account of the noise," ventured Lemuel Skinner in his high voice. "And think of the fires from the sparks of the engine. I tell you it would be dangerous." He looked over at Hannah triumphantly, but Hannah was endeavoring to signal Harry Temple to her side and did not see nor hear.
"I tell you," put in Mr. Heath's heavy voice again, "I tell you, Dave, it can't be done. It's impractical. Why, no car could advance against the wind."
"They told Columbus he couldn't sail around the earth, but he did it!"
There was sudden stillness in the room, for it was Marcia's clear, grave voice that had answered Mr. Heath's excited tones, and she had not known she was going to speak aloud. It came before she realized it. She had been used to speak her mind sometimes with her father, but seldom when there were others by, and now she was covered with confusion to think what she had done. The aunts, Amelia and Hortense, were shocked. It was so unladylike. A woman should not speak on such subjects. She should be silent and leave such topics to her husband.
"Deah me, she's strong minded, isn't she?" giggled Hannah Heath to Lemuel, who had taken the signals to himself and come to her side.
"Quite so, quite so!" murmured Lemuel, his lips looking puffier and more cherry-fied than ever and his chin flattened itself back till he looked like a frustrated old hen who did not understand the perplexities of life and was clucking to find out, after having been startled half out of its senses.
But Marcia was not wholly without consolation, for David had flashed a look of approval at her and had made room for her to sit down by his side on the sofa. It was almost like belonging to him for a minute or two. Marcia felt her heart glow with something new and pleasant.
Mr. William Heath drew his heavy grey brows together and looked at her grimly over his spectacles, poking his bristly under-lip out in astonishment, bewildered that he should have been answered by a gentle, pretty woman, all frills and sparkle like his own daughter. He had been wont to look upon a woman as something like a kitten,—that is, a young woman,—and suddenly the kitten had lifted a velvet paw and struck him squarely in the face. He had felt there were claws in the blow, too, for there had been a truth behind her words that set the room a mocking him.
"Well, Dave, you've got your wife well trained already!" he laughed, concluding it was best to put a smiling front upon the defeat. "She knows just when to come in and help when your side's getting weak!"
They served cake and raspberry vinegar then, and a little while after everybody went home. It was later than the hours usually kept in the village, and the lights in most of the houses were out, or burning dimly in upper stories. The voices of the guests sounded subdued in the misty waning moonlight air. Marcia could hear Hannah Heath's voice ahead giggling affectedly to Harry Temple and Lemuel Skinner, as they walked one on either side of her, while her father and mother and grandmother came more slowly.
David drew Marcia's hand within his arm and walked with her quietly down the street, making their steps hushed instinctively that they might so seem more removed from the others. They were both tired with the unusual excitement and the strain they had been through, and each was glad of the silence of the other.
But when they reached their own doorstep David said: "You spoke well, child. You must have thought about these things."
Marcia felt a sob rising in a tide of joy into her throat. Then he was not angry with her, and he did not disapprove as the two aunts had done. Aunt Clarinda had kissed her good-night and murmured, "You are a bright little girl, Marcia, and you will make a good wife for David. You will come soon to see me, won't you?" and that had made her glad, but these words of David's were so good and so unexpected that Marcia could hardly hide her happy tears.
"I was afraid I had been forward," murmured Marcia in the shadow of the front stoop.
"Not at all, child, I like to hear a woman speak her mind,—that is, allowing she has any mind to speak. That can't be said of all women. There's Hannah Heath, for instance. I don't believe she would know a railroad project from an essay on ancient art."
After that the house seemed a pleasant place aglow as they entered it, and Marcia went up to her rest with a lighter heart.
But the child knew not that she had made a great impression that night upon all who saw her as being beautiful and wise.
The aunts would not express it even to each other,—for they felt in duty bound to discountenance her boldness in speaking out before the men and making herself so prominent, joining in their discussions,—but each in spite of her convictions felt a deep satisfaction that their neighbors had seen what a beautiful and bright wife David had selected. They even felt triumphant over their favorite Hannah, and thought secretly that Marcia compared well with her in every way, but they would not have told this even to themselves, no, not for worlds.
So the kindly gossipy town slept, and the young bride became a part of its daily life.
Life began to take on a more familiar and interesting aspect to Marcia after that. She had her daily round of pleasant household duties and she enjoyed them.
There were many other gatherings in honor of the bride and groom, tea-drinkings and evening calls, and a few called in to a neighbor's house to meet them. It was very pleasant to Marcia as she became better acquainted with the people and grew to like some of them, only there was the constant drawback of feeling that it was all a pain and weariness to David.
But Marcia was young, and it was only natural that she should enjoy her sudden promotion to the privileges of a matron, and the marked attention that was paid her. It was a mercy that her head was not turned, living as she did to herself, and with no one in whom she could confide. For David had shrunk within himself to such an extent that she did not like to trouble him with anything.
It was only two days after the evening at the old Spafford house that David came home to tea with ashen face, haggard eyes and white lips. He scarcely tasted his supper and said he would go and lie down, that his head ached. Marcia heard him sigh deeply as he went upstairs. It was that afternoon that the post had brought him Kate's letter.
Sadly Marcia put away the tea things, for she could not eat anything either, though it was an unusually inviting meal she had prepared. Slowly she went up to her room and sat looking out into the quiet, darkening summer night, wondering what additional sorrow had come to David.
David's face looked like death the next morning when he came down. He drank a cup of coffee feverishly, then took his hat as if he would go to the office, but paused at the door and came back saying he would not go if Marcia would not mind taking a message for him. His head felt badly. She need only tell the man to go on with things as they had planned and say he was detained. Marcia was ready at once to do his bidding with quiet sympathy in her manner.
She delivered her message with the frank straightforward look of a school girl, mingled with a touch of matronly dignity she was trying to assume, which added to her charm; and she smiled her open smile of comradeship, such as she would have dispensed about the old red school house at home, upon boys and girls alike, leaving the clerk and type-setters in a most subjected state, and ready to do anything in the service of their master's wife. It is to be feared that they almost envied David. They watched her as she moved gracefully down the street, and their eyes had a reverent look as they turned away from the window to their work, as though they had been looking upon something sacred.
Harry Temple watched her come out of the office.
She impressed him again as something fresh and different from the common run of maidens in the village. He lazily stepped from the store where he had been lounging and walked down the street to intercept her as she crossed and turned the corner.
"Good morning, Mrs. Spafford," he said, with a courtly grace that was certainly captivating, "are you going to your home? Then our ways lie together. May I walk beside you?"
Marcia smiled and tried to seem gracious, though she would rather have been alone just then, for she wanted to enjoy the day and not be bothered with talking.
Harry Temple mentioned having a letter from a friend in Boston who had lately heard a great chorus rendered. He could not be quite sure of the name of the composer because he had read the letter hurriedly and his friend was a blind-writer, but that made no difference to Harry. He could fill in facts enough about the grandeur of the music from his own imagination to make up for the lack of a little matter like the name of a composer. He was keen enough to see that Marcia was more interested in music than in anything he said, therefore he racked his brains for all the music talk he had ever heard, and made up what he did not know, which was not hard to do, for Marcia was very ignorant on the subject.
At the door they paused. Marcia was eager to get in. She began to wonder how David felt, and she longed to do something for him. Harry Temple looked at her admiringly, noted the dainty set of chin, the clear curve of cheek, the lovely sweep of eyelashes, and resolved to get better acquainted with this woman, so young and so lovely.
"I have not forgotten my promise to play for you," he said lightly, watching to see if the flush of rose would steal into her cheek, and that deep light into her expressive eyes. "How about this afternoon? Shall you be at home and disengaged?"
But welcome did not flash into Marcia's face as he had hoped. Instead a troubled look came into her eyes.
"I am afraid it will not be possible this afternoon," said Marcia, the trouble in her eyes creeping into her voice. "That is—I expect to be at home, but—I am not sure of being disengaged."
"Ah! I see!" he raised his eyebrows archly, looking her meanwhile straight in the eyes; "some one else more fortunate than I. Some one else coming?"
Although Marcia did not in the least understand his insinuation, the color flowed into her cheeks in a hurry now, for she instinctively felt that there was something unpleasant in his tone, something below her standard of morals or culture, she did not quite know what. But she felt she must protect herself at any cost. She drew up a little mantle of dignity.
"Oh, no," she said quickly, "I'm not expecting any one at all, but Mr. Spafford had a severe headache this morning, and I am not sure but the sound of the piano would make it worse. I think it would be better for you to come another time, although he may be better by that time."
"Oh, I see! Your husband's at home!" said the young man with relief. His manner implied that he had a perfect understanding of something that Marcia did not mean nor comprehend.
"I understand perfectly," he said, with another meaning smile as though he and she had a secret together; "I'll come some other time," and he took himself very quickly away, much to Marcia's relief. But the trouble did not go out of her eyes as she saw him turn the corner. Instead she went in and stood at the dining room window a long time looking out on the Heaths' hollyhocks beaming in the sun behind the picket fence, and wondered what he could have meant, and why he smiled in that hateful way. She decided she did not like him, and she hoped he would never come. She did not think she would care to hear him play. There was something about him that reminded her of Captain Leavenworth, and now that she saw it in him she would dislike to have him about.
With a sigh she turned to the getting of a dinner which she feared would not be eaten. Nevertheless, she put more dainty thought in it than usual, and when it was done and steaming upon the table she went gently up and tapped on David's door. A voice hoarse with emotion and weariness answered. Marcia scarcely heard the first time.
"Dinner is ready. Isn't your head any better,—David?" There was caressing in his name. It wrung David's heart. Oh, if it were but Kate, his Kate, his little bride that were calling him, how his heart would leap with joy! How his headache would disappear and he would be with her in an instant.
For Kate's letter had had its desired effect. All her wrongdoings, her crowning outrage of his noble intentions, had been forgotten in the one little plaintive appeal she had managed to breathe in a minor wail throughout that treacherous letter, treacherous alike to her husband and to her lover. Just as Kate had always been able to do with every one about her, she had blinded him to her faults, and managed to put herself in the light of an abused, troubled maiden, who was in a predicament through no fault of her own, and sat in sorrow and a baby-innocence that was bewilderingly sweet.
There had been times when David's anger had been hot enough to waft away this filmy mist of fancies that Kate had woven about herself and let him see the true Kate as she really was. At such times David would confess that she must be wholly heartless. That bright as she was it was impossible for her to have been so easily persuaded into running away with a man she did not love. He had never found it so easy to persuade her against her will. Did she love him? Had she truly loved him, and was she suffering now? His very soul writhed in agony to think of his bride the wife of another against her will. If he might but go and rescue her. If he might but kill that other man! Then his soul would be confronted with the thought of murder. Never before had he felt hate, such hate, for a human being. Then again his heart would soften toward him as he felt how the other must have loved her, Kate, his little wild rose! and there was a fellow feeling between them too, for had she not let him see that she did not half care aright for that other one? Then his mind would stop in a whirl of mingled feeling and he would pause, and pray for steadiness to think and know what was right.
Around and around through this maze of arguing he had gone through the long hours of the morning, always coming sharp against the thought that there was nothing he could possibly do in the matter but bear it, and that Kate, after all, the Kate he loved with his whole soul, had done it and must therefore be to blame. Then he would read her letter over, burning every word of it upon his brain, until the piteous minor appeal would torture him once more and he would begin again to try to get hold of some thread of thought that would unravel this snarl and bring peace.
Like a sound from another world came Marcia's sweet voice, its very sweetness reminding him of that other lost voice, whose tantalizing music floated about his imagination like a string of phantom silver bells that all but sounded and then vanished into silence.
And while all this was going on, this spiritual torture, his living, suffering, physical self was able to summon its thoughts, to answer gently that he did not want any dinner; that his head was no better; that he thanked her for her thought of him; and that he would take the tea she offered if it was not too much trouble.
Gladly, with hurried breath and fingers that almost trembled, Marcia hastened to the kitchen once more and prepared a dainty tray, not even glancing at the dinner table all so fine and ready for its guest, and back again she went to his door, an eager light in her eyes, as if she had obtained audience to a king.
He opened the door this time and took the tray from her with a smile. It was a smile of ashen hue, and fell like a pall upon Marcia's soul. It was as if she had been permitted for a moment to gaze upon a martyred soul upon the rack. Marcia fled from it and went to her own room, where she flung herself on her knees beside her bed and buried her face in the pillows. There she knelt, unmindful of the dinner waiting downstairs, unmindful of the bright day that was droning on its hours. Whether she prayed she knew not, whether she was weeping she could not have told. Her heart was crying out in one great longing to have this cloud of sorrow that had settled upon David lifted.
She might have knelt there until night had there not come the sound of a knock upon the front door. It startled her to her feet in an instant, and she hastily smoothed her rumpled hair, dashed some water on her eyes, and ran down.
It was the clerk from the office with a letter for her. The post chaise had brought it that afternoon, and he had thought perhaps she would like to have it at once as it was postmarked from her home. Would she tell Mr. Spafford when he returned—he seemed to take it for granted that David was out of town for the day—that everything had been going on all right at the office during his absence and the paper was ready to send to press. He took his departure with a series of bows and smiles, and Marcia flew up to her room to read her letter. It was in the round unformed hand of Mary Ann. Marcia tore it open eagerly. Never had Mary Ann's handwriting looked so pleasant as at that moment. A letter in those days was a rarity at all times, and this one to Marcia in her distress of mind seemed little short of a miracle. It began in Mary Ann's abrupt way, and opened up to her the world of home since she had left it. But a few short days had passed, scarcely yet numbering into weeks, since she left, yet it seemed half a lifetime to the girl promoted so suddenly into womanhood without the accompanying joy of love and close companionship that usually makes desolation impossible.
"DEAR MARSH,"—the letter ran:—
"I expect you think queer of me to write you so soon. I ain't much on writing you know, but something happened right after you leaving and has kept right on happening that made me feel I kinder like to tell you. Don't you mind the mistakes I make. I'm thankful to goodness you ain't the school teacher or I'd never write 'slong s' I'm living, but ennyhow I'm going to tell you all about it.
"The night you went away I was standing down by the gate under the old elm. I had on my best things yet from the wedding, and I hated to go in and have the day over and have to begin putting on my old calico to-morrow morning again, and washing dishes just the same. Seemed as if I couldn't bear to have the world just the same now you was gone away. Well, I heard someone coming down the street, and who do you think it was? Why, Hanford Weston. He came right up to the gate and stopped. I don't know's he ever spoke two words to me in my life except that time he stopped the big boys from snow-balling me and told me to run along quick and git in the school-house while he fit 'em. Well, he stopped and spoke, and he looked so sad, seemed like I knew just what he was feeling sad about, and I told him all about you getting married instead of your sister. He looked at me like he couldn't move for a while and his face was as white as that marble man in the cemetery over Squire Hancock's grave. He grabbed the gate real hard and I thought he was going to fall. He couldn't even move his lips for a while. I felt just awful sorry for him. Something came in my throat like a big stone and my eyes got all blurred with the moonlight. He looked real handsome. I just couldn't help thinking you ought to see him. Bimeby he got his voice back again, and we talked a lot about you. He told me how he used to watch you when you was a little girl wearing pantalettes. You used to sit in the church pew across from his father's and he could just see your big eyes over the top of the door. He says he always thought to himself he would marry you when he grew up. Then when you began to go to school and was so bright he tried hard to study and keep up just to have you think him good enough for you. He owned up he was a bad speller and he'd tried his level best to do better but it didn't seem to come natural, and he thought maybe ef he was a good farmer you wouldn't mind about the spelling. He hired out to his father for the summer and he was trying with all his might to get to be the kind of man t'would suit you, and then when he was plowing and planning all what kind of a house with big columns to the front he would build here comes the coach driving by and you in it! He said he thought the sky and fields was all mixed up and his heart was going out of him. He couldn't work any more and he started out after supper to see what it all meant.
"That wasn't just the exact way he told it, Marsh, it was more like poetry, that kind in our reader about "Lord Ullin's daughter"—you know. We used to recite it on examination exhibition. I didn't know Hanford could talk like that. His words were real pretty, kind of sorrowful you know. And it all come over me that you ought to know about it. You're married of course, and can't help it now, but 'taint every girl that has a boy care for her like that from the time she's a baby with a red hood on, and you ought to know 'bout it, fer it wasn't Hanford's fault he didn't have time to tell you. He's just been living fer you fer a number of years, and its kind of hard on him. 'Course you may not care, being you're married and have a fine house and lots of clo'es of your own and a good time, but it does seem hard for him. It seems as if somebody ought to comfort him. I'd like to try if you don't mind. He does seem to like to talk about you to me, and I feel so sorry for him I guess I could comfort him a little, for it seems as if it would be the nicest thing in the world to have some one like you that way for years, just as they do in books, only every time I think about being a comfort to him I think he belongs to you and it ain't right. So Marsh, you just speak out and say if your willing I should try to comfort him a little and make up to him fer what he lost in you, being as you're married and fixed so nice yourself.
"Of course I know I aint pretty like you, nor can't hold my head proud and step high as you always did, even when you was little, but I can feel, and perhaps that's something. Anyhow Hanford's been down three times to talk about you to me, and ef you don't mind I'm going to let him come some more. But if you mind the leastest little bit I want you should say so, for things are mixed in this world and I don't want to get to trampling on any other person's feelings, much less you who have always been my best friend and always will be as long as I live I guess. 'Member how we used to play house on the old flat stone in the orchard, and you give me all the prettiest pieces of china with sprigs on 'em? I aint forgot that, and never will. I shall always say you made the prettiest bride I ever saw, no matter how many more I see, and I hope you won't forget me. It's lonesome here without you. If it wasn't for comforting Hanford I shouldn't care much for anything. I can't think of you a grown up woman. Do you feel any different? I spose you wouldn't climb a fence nor run through the pasture lot for anything now. Have you got a lot of new friends? I wish I could see you. And now Marsh, I want you to write right off and tell me what to do about comforting Hanford, and if you've any message to send to him I think it would be real nice. I hope you've got a good husband and are happy.
"From your devoted and loving school mate,
"MARY ANN FOTHERGILL."
Marcia laid down the letter and buried her face in her hands. To her too had come a thrust which must search her life and change it. So while David wrestled with his sorrow Marcia entered upon the knowledge of her own heart.
There was something in this revelation by Mary Ann of Hanford Weston's feelings toward her that touched her immeasurably. Had it all happened before she left home, had Hanford come to her and told her of his love, she would have turned from him in dismay, almost disgust, and have told him that they were both but children, how could they talk of love. She could never have loved him. She would have felt it instantly, and her mocking laugh might have done a good deal toward saving him from sorrow. But now, with miles between them, with the wall of the solemn marriage vows to separate them forever, with her own youth locked up as she supposed until the day of eternity should perhaps set it free, with no hope of any bright dream of life such as girls have, could she turn from even a school boy's love without a passing tenderness, such as she would never have felt if she had not come away from it all? Told in Mary Ann's blunt way, with her crude attempts at pathos, it reached her as it could not otherwise. With her own new view of life she could sympathize better with another's disappointments. Perhaps her own loneliness gave her pity for another. Whatever it was, Marcia's heart suddenly turned toward Hanford Weston with a great throb of gratitude. She felt that she had been loved, even though it had been impossible for that love to be returned, and that whatever happened she would not go unloved down to the end of her days. Suddenly, out of the midst of the perplexity of her thoughts, there formed a distinct knowledge of what was lacking in her life, a lack she had never felt before, and probably would not have felt now had she not thus suddenly stepped into a place much beyond her years. It seemed to the girl as she sat in the great chintz chair and read and re-read that letter, as if she lived years that afternoon, and all her life was to be changed henceforth. It was not that she was sorry that she could not go back, and live out her girlhood and have it crowned with Hanford Weston's love. Not at all. She knew, as well now as she ever had known, that he could never be anything to her, but she knew also, or thought she knew, that he could have given her something, in his clumsy way, that now she could never have from any man, seeing she was David's and David could not love her that way, of course.
Having come to this conclusion, she arose and wrote a letter giving and bequeathing to Mary Ann Fothergill all right, title, and claim to the affections of Hanford Weston, past, present, and future—sending him a message calculated to smooth his ruffled feelings, with her pretty thanks for his youthful adoration; comfort his sorrow with the thought that it must have been a hallucination, that some day he would find his true ideal which he had only thought he had found in her; and send him on his way rejoicing with her blessings and good wishes for a happy life. As for Mary Ann, for once she received her meed of Marcia's love, for homesick Marcia felt more tenderness for her than she had ever been able to feel before; and Marcia's loving messages set Mary Ann in a flutter of delight, as she laid her plans for comforting Hanford Weston.
David slowly recovered his poise. Faced by that terrible, impenetrable wall of impossibility he stood helpless, his misery eating in upon his soul, but there still remained the fact that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, which he could possibly do. At times the truth rose to the surface, the wretched truth, that Kate was at fault, that having done the deed she should abide by it, and not try to keep a hold upon him, but it was not often he was able to think in this way. Most of the time he mourned over and for the lovely girl he had lost.
As for Marcia, she came and went unobtrusively, making quiet comfort for David which he scarcely noticed. At times he roused himself to be polite to her, and made a labored effort to do something to amuse her, just as if she had been visiting him as a favor and he felt in duty bound to make the time pass pleasantly, but she troubled him so little with herself, that nearly always he forgot her. Whenever there was any public function to which they were bidden he always told her apologetically, as though it must be as much of a bore to her as to him, and he regretted that it was necessary to go in order to carry out their mutual agreement. Marcia, hailing with delight every chance to go out in search of something which would keep her from thinking the new thoughts which had come to her, demurely covered her pleasure and dressed herself dutifully in the robes made for her sister, hating them secretly the while, and was always ready when he came for her. David had nothing to complain of in his wife, so far as outward duty was concerned, but he was too busy with his own heart's bitterness to even recognize it.
One afternoon, of a day when David had gone out of town not expecting to return until late in the evening, there came a knock at the door.
There was something womanish in the knock, Marcia thought, as she hastened to answer it, and she wondered, hurriedly smoothing her shining hair, if it could be the aunts come to make their fortnightly-afternoon penance visit. She gave a hasty glance into the parlor hoping all was right, and was relieved to make sure she had closed the piano. The aunts would consider it a great breach of housewifely decorum to allow a moment's dust to settle upon its sacred keys.
But it was not the aunts who stood upon the stoop, smiling and bowing with a handsome assurance of his own welcome. It was Harry Temple.
Marcia was not glad to see him. A sudden feeling of unreasoning alarm took possession of her.
"You're all alone this time, sweet lady, aren't you?" he asked with easy nonchalance, as he lounged into the hall without waiting her bidding.
"Sir!" said Marcia, half frightened, half wondering.
But he smiled reassuringly down upon her and took the door knob in his own hands to close the door.
"Your good man is out this time, isn't he?" he smiled again most delightfully. His face was very handsome when he smiled. He knew this fact well.
Marcia did not smile. Why did he speak as if he knew where David was, and seemed to be pleased that he was away?
"My husband is not in at present," she said guardedly, her innocent eyes searching his face, "did you wish to see him?"
She was beautiful as she stood there in the wide hall, with only the light from the high transom over the door, shedding an afternoon glow through its pleated Swiss oval. She looked more sweet and little-girlish than ever, and he felt a strong desire to take her in his arms and tell her so, only he feared, from something he saw in those wide, sweet eyes, that she might take alarm and run away too soon, so he only smiled and said that his business with her husband could wait until another time, and meantime he had called to fulfil his promise to play for her.
She took him into the darkened parlor, gave him the stiffest and stateliest hair-cloth chair; but he walked straight over to the instrument, and with not at all the reverence she liked to treat it, flung back the coverings, threw the lid open, and sat down.
He had white fingers, and he ran them over the keys with an air of being at home among them, light little airs dripping from his touch like dew from a glistening grass blade. Marcia felt there were butterflies in the air, and buzzing bees, and fairy flowers dancing on the slightest of stems, with a sky so blue it seemed to be filled with the sound of lily bells. The music he played was of the nature of what would be styled to-day "popular," for this man was master of nothing but having a good time. Quick music with a jingle he played, that to the puritanic-bred girl suggested nothing but a heart bubbling over with gladness, but he meant it should make her heart flutter and her foot beat time to the tripping measure. In his world feet were attuned to gay music. But Marcia stood with quiet dignity a little away from the instrument, her lips parted, her eyes bright with the pleasure of the melody, her hands clasped, and her breath coming quickly. She was all absorbed with the music. All unknowingly Marcia had placed herself where the light from the window fell full across her face, and every flitting expression as she followed the undulant sounds was visible. The young man gazed, almost as much pleased with the lovely face as Marcia was with the music.
At last he drew a chair quite near his own seat.
"Come and sit down," he said, "and I will sing to you. You did not know I could sing, too, did you? Oh, I can. But you must sit down for I couldn't sing right when you are standing."
He ended with his fascinating smile, and Marcia shyly sat down, though she drew the chair a bit back from where he had placed it and sat up quite straight and stiff with her shoulders erect and her head up. She had forgotten her distrust of the man in what seemed to her his wonderful music. It was all new and strange to her, and she could not know how little there really was to it. She had decided as he played that she liked the kind best that made her think of the birds and the sunny sky, rather than the wild whirlly kind that seemed all a mad scramble. She meant to ask him to play over again what he played at the beginning, but he struck into a Scotch love ballad. The melody intoxicated her fancy, and her face shone with pleasure. She had not noticed the words particularly, save that they were of love, and she thought with pain of David and Kate, and how the pleading tenderness might have been his heart calling to hers not to forget his love for her. But Harry Temple mistook her expression for one of interest in himself. With his eyes still upon hers, as a cat might mesmerize a bird, he changed into a minor wail of heart-broken love, whose sadness brought great tears to Marcia's eyes, and deep color to her already burning cheeks, while the music throbbed out her own half-realized loneliness and sorrow. It was as if the sounds painted for her a picture of what she had missed out of love, and set her sorrow flowing tangibly.
The last note died away in an impressive diminuendo, and the young man turned toward her. His eyes were languishing, his voice gentle, persuasive, as though it had but been the song come a little nearer.
"And that is the way I feel toward you, dear," he said, and reached out his white hands to where hers lay forgotten in her lap.
But his hands had scarcely touched hers, before Marcia sprang back, in her haste knocking over the chair.
Erect, her hands snatched behind her, frightened, alert, she stood a moment bewildered, all her fears to the front.
Ah! but he was used to shy maidens. He was not to be baffled thus. A little coaxing, a little gentle persuasion, a little boldness—that was all he needed. He had conquered hearts before, why should he not this unsophisticated one?
"Don't be afraid, dear; there is no one about. And surely there is no harm in telling you I love you, and letting you comfort my poor broken heart to think that I have found you too late—"
He had arisen and with a passionate gesture put his arms about Marcia and before she could know what was coming had pressed a kiss upon her lips.
But she was aroused now. Every angry force within her was fully awake. Every sense of right and justice inherited and taught came flocking forward. Horror unspeakable filled her, and wrath, that such a dreadful thing should come to her. There was no time to think. She brought her two strong supple hands up and beat him in the face, mouth, cheeks, and eyes, with all her might, until he turned blinded; and then she struggled away crying, "You are a wicked man!" and fled from the room.
Out through the hall she sped to the kitchen, and flinging wide the door before her, the nearest one at hand, she fairly flew down the garden walk, past the nodding dahlias, past the basking pumpkins, past the whispering corn, down through the berry bushes, at the lower end of the lot, and behind the currant bushes. She crouched a moment looking back to see if she were pursued. Then imagining she heard a noise from the open door, she scrambled over the low back fence, the high comb with which her hair was fastened falling out unheeded behind her, and all her dark waves of hair coming about her shoulders in wild disarray.
She was in a field of wheat now, and the tall shocks were like waves all about her, thick and close, kissing her as she passed with their bended stalks. Ahead of her it looked like an endless sea to cross before she could reach another fence, and a bare field, and then another fence and the woods. She knew not that in her wake she left a track as clear as if she had set up signals all along the way. She felt that the kind wheat would flow back like real waves and hide the way she had passed over. She only sped on, to the woods. In all the wide world there seemed no refuge but the woods. The woods were home to her. She loved the tall shadows, the whispering music in the upper branches, the quiet places underneath, the hushed silence like a city of refuge with cool wings whereunder to hide. And to it, as her only friend, she was hastening. She went to the woods as she would have flown to the minister's wife at home, if she only had been near, and buried her face in her lap and sobbed out her horror and shame. Breathless she sped, without looking once behind her, now over the next fence and still another. They were nothing to her. She forgot that she was wearing Kate's special sprigged muslin, and that it might tear on the rough fences. She forgot that she was a matron and must not run wild through strange fields. She forgot that some one might be watching her. She forgot everything save that she must get away and hide her poor shamed face.
At last she reached the shelter of the woods, and, with one wild furtive look behind her to assure herself that she was not pursued, she flung herself into the lap of mother earth, and buried her face in the soft moss at the foot of a tree. There she sobbed out her horror and sorrow and loneliness, sobbed until it seemed to her that her heart had gone out with great shudders. Sobbed and sobbed and sobbed! For a time she could not even think clearly. Her brain was confused with the magnitude of what had come to her. She tried to go over the whole happening that afternoon and see if she might have prevented anything. She blamed herself most unmercifully for listening to the foolish music and, too, after her own suspicions had been aroused, though how could she dream any man in his senses would do a thing like that! Not even Captain Leavenworth would stoop to that, she thought. Poor child! She knew so little of the world, and her world had been kept so sweet and pure and free from contamination. She turned cold at the thought of her father's anger if he should hear about this strange young man. She felt sure he would blame her for allowing it. He had tried to teach his girls that they must exercise judgment and discretion, and surely, surely, she must have failed in both or this would not have happened. Oh, why had not the aunts come that afternoon! Why had they not arrived before this man came! And yet, oh, horror! if they had come after he was there! How disgusting he seemed to her with his smirky smile, and slim white fingers! How utterly unfit beside David did he seem to breathe the same air even. David, her David—no, Kate's David! Oh, pity! What a pain the world was!