He always seemed pleased at her praise, and wrote on while she put away the tea-things with a contented expression as though he had passed a high critic, and need not fear any other. Once he looked up with a quizzical expression and made a jocose remark about "our article," taking her into a sort of partnership with him in it, which set her heart to beating happily, until it seemed as if she were really in some part at least growing into his life.
But after all their companionship was a shy, distant one, more like that of a brother and sister who had been separated all their lives and were just beginning to get acquainted, and ever there was a settled sadness about the lines of David's mouth and eyes. They sat around one table now, the evenings when they were at home, for there were still occasional tea-drinkings at their friends' houses; and there was one night a week held religiously for a formal supper with the aunts, which David kindly acquiesced in—more for the sake of his Aunt Clarinda than the others,—whenever he was not detained by actual business. Then, too, there was the weekly prayer meeting held at "early candle light" in the dim old shadowed church. They always walked down the twilighted streets together, and it seemed to Marcia there was a sweet solemnity about that walk. They never said much to each other on the way. David seemed preoccupied with holy thoughts, and Marcia walked softly beside him as if he had been the minister, looking at him proudly and reverently now and then. David was often called upon to pray in meeting and Marcia loved to listen to his words. He seemed to be more intimate with God than the others, who were mostly old men and prayed with long, rolling, solemn sentences that put the whole community down into the dust and ashes before their Creator.
Marcia rather enjoyed the hour spent in the sombreness of the church, with the flickering candle light making grotesque forms of shadows on the wall and among the tall pews. The old minister reminded her of the one she had left at home, though he was more learned and scholarly, and when he had read the Scripture passages he would take his spectacles off and lay them across the great Bible where the candle light played at glances with the steel bows, and say: "Let us pray!" Then would come that soft stir and hush as the people took the attitude of prayer. Marcia sometimes joined in the prayer in her heart, uttering shy little petitions that were vague and indefinite, and had to do mostly with the days when she was troubled and homesick, and felt that David belonged wholly to Kate. Always her clear voice joined in the slow hymns that quavered out now and again, lined out to the worshippers.
Marcia and David went out from that meeting down the street to their home with the hush upon them that must have been upon the Israelites of old after they had been to the solemn congregation.
But once David had come in earlier than usual and had caught Marcia reading the Scottish Chiefs, and while she started guiltily to be found thus employed he smiled indulgently. After supper he said: "Get your book, child, and sit down. I have some writing to do, and after it is done I will read it to you." So after that, more and more often, it was a book that Marcia held in her hands in the long evenings when they sat together, instead of some useful employment, and so her education progressed. Thus she read Epictetus, Rasselas, The Deserted Village, The Vicar of Wakefield, Paradise Lost, the Mysteries of the Human Heart, Marshall's Life of Columbus, The Spy, The Pioneers, and The Last of the Mohicans.
She had been asked to sing in the village choir. David sang a sweet high tenor there, and Marcia's voice was clear and strong as a blackbird's, with the plaintive sweetness of the wood-robin's.
Hannah Heath was in the choir also, and jealously watched her every move, but of this Marcia was unaware until informed of it by Miranda. With her inherited sweetness of nature she scarcely credited it, until one Sunday, a few weeks after the departure of Harry Temple, Hannah leaned forward from her seat among the altos and whispered quite distinctly, so that those around could hear—it was just before the service—"I've just had a letter from your friend Mr. Temple. I thought you might like to know that his cousin got well and he has gone back to New York. He won't be returning here this year. On some accounts he thought it was better not."
It was all said pointedly, with double emphasis upon the "your friend," and "some accounts." Marcia felt her cheeks glow, much to her vexation, and tried to control her whisper to seem kindly as she answered indifferently enough.
"Oh, indeed! But you must have made a mistake. Mr. Temple is a very slight acquaintance of mine. I have met him only a few times, and I know nothing about his cousin. I was not aware even that he had gone away."
Hannah raised her speaking eyebrows and replied, quite loud now, for the choir leader had stood up already with his tuning-fork in hand, and one could hear it faintly twang:
"Indeed!"—using Marcia's own word—and quite coldly, "I should have thought differently from what Harry himself told me," and there was that in her tone which deepened the color in Marcia's cheeks and caused it to stay there during the entire morning service as she sat puzzling over what Hannah could have meant. It rankled in her mind during the whole day. She longed to ask David about it, but could not get up the courage.
She could not bear to revive the memory of what seemed to be her shame. It was at the minister's donation party that Hannah planted another thorn in her heart,—Hannah, in a green plaid silk with delicate undersleeves of lace, and a tiny black velvet jacket.
She selected a time when Lemuel was near, and when Aunt Amelia and Aunt Hortense, who believed that all the young men in town were hovering about David's wife, sat one on either side of Marcia, as if to guard her for their beloved nephew—who was discussing politics with Mr. Heath—and who never seemed to notice, so blind he was in his trust of her.
So Hannah paused and posed before the three ladies, and with Lemuel smiling just at her elbow, began in her affected way:
"I've had another letter from New York, from your friend Mr. Temple," she said it with the slightest possible glance over her shoulder to get the effect of her words upon the faithful Lemuel, "and he tells me he has met a sister of yours. By the way, she told him that David used to be very fond of her before she was married. I suppose she'll be coming to visit you now she's so near as New York."
Two pairs of suspicious steely eyes flew like stinging insects to gaze upon her, one on either side, and Marcia's heart stood still for just one instant, but she felt that here was her trying time, and if she would help David and do the work for which she had become his wife, she must protect him now from any suspicions or disagreeable tongues. By very force of will she controlled the trembling of her lips.
"My sister will not likely visit us this winter, I think," she replied as coolly as if she had had a letter to that effect that morning, and then she deliberately looked at Lemuel Skinner and asked if he had heard of the offer of prizes of four thousand dollars in cash that the Baltimore and Ohio railroad had just made for the most approved engine delivered for trial before June first, 1831, not to exceed three and a half tons in weight and capable of drawing, day by day, fifteen tons inclusive of weight of wagons, fifteen miles per hour. Lemuel looked at her blankly and said he had not heard of it. He was engaged in thinking over what Hannah had said about a letter from Harry Temple. He cared nothing about railroads.
"The second prize is thirty-five hundred dollars," stated Marcia eagerly, as though it were of the utmost importance to her.
"Are you thinking of trying for one of the prizes?" sneered Hannah, piercing her with her eyes, and now indeed the ready color flowed into Marcia's face. Her ruse had been detected.
"If I were a man and understood machinery I believe I would. What a grand thing it would be to be able to invent a thing like an engine that would be of so much use to the world," she answered bravely.
"They are most dangerous machines," said Aunt Amelia disapprovingly. "No right-minded Christian who wishes to live out the life his Creator has given him would ever ride behind one. I have heard that boilers always explode."
"They are most unnecessary!" said Aunt Hortense severely, as if that settled the question for all time and all railroad corporations.
But Marcia was glad for once of their disapproval and entered most heartily into a discussion of the pros and cons of engines and steam, quoting largely from David's last article for the paper on the subject, until Hannah and Lemuel moved slowly away. The discussion served to keep the aunts from inquiring further that evening about the sister in New York.
Marcia begged them to go with her into the kitchen and see the store of good things that had been brought to the minister's house by his loving parishioners. Bags of flour and meal, pumpkins, corn in the ear, eggs, and nice little pats of butter. A great wooden tub of doughnuts, baskets of apples and quinces, pounds of sugar and tea, barrels of potatoes, whole hams, a side of pork, a quarter of beef, hanks of yarn, and strings of onions. It was a goodly array. Marcia felt that the minister must be beloved by his people. She watched him and his wife as they greeted their people, and wished she knew them better, and might come and see them sometimes, and perhaps eventually feel as much at home with them as with her own dear minister.
She avoided Hannah during the remainder of the evening. When the evening was over and she went upstairs to get her wraps from the high four-poster bedstead, she had almost forgotten Hannah and her ill-natured, prying remarks. But Hannah had not forgotten her. She came forth from behind the bed curtains where she had been searching for a lost glove, and remarked that she should think Marcia would be lonely this first winter away from home and want her sister with her a while.
But the presence of Hannah always seemed a mental stimulus to the spirit of Marcia.
"Oh, I'm not in the least lonely," she laughed merrily. "I have a great many interesting things to do, and I love music and books."
"Oh, yes, I forgot you are very fond of music. Harry Temple told me about it," said Hannah. Again there was that disagreeable hint of something more behind her words, that aggravated Marcia almost beyond control. For an instant a cutting reply was upon her lips and her eyes flashed fire; then it came to her how futile it would be, and she caught the words in time and walked swiftly down the stairs. David watching her come down saw the admiring glances of all who stood in the hall below, and took her under his protection with a measure of pride in her youth and beauty that he did not himself at all realize. All the way home he talked with her about the new theory of railroad construction, quite contented in her companionship, while she, poor child, much perturbed in spirit, wondered how he would feel if he knew what Hannah had said.
David fell into a deep study with a book and his papers about him, after they had reached home. Marcia went up to her quiet, lonely chamber, put her face in the pillow and thought and wept and prayed. When at last she lay down to rest she did not know anything she could do but just to go on living day by day and helping David all she could. At most there was nothing to fear for herself, save a kind of shame that she had not been the first sister chosen, and she found to her surprise that that was growing to be deeper than she had supposed.
She wished as she fell asleep that her girl-dreams might have been left to develop and bloom like other girls', and that she might have had a real lover,—like David in every way, yet of course not David because he was Kate's. But a real lover who would meet her as David had done that night when he thought she was Kate, and speak to her tenderly.
One afternoon David, being wearied with an unusual round of taxing cares, came home to rest and study up some question in his library.
Finding the front door fastened, and remembering that he had left his key in his other pocket, he came around to the back door, and much preoccupied with thought went through the kitchen and nearly to the hall before the unusual sounds of melody penetrated to his ears. He stopped for an instant amazed, forgetting the piano, then comprehending he wondered who was playing. Perhaps some visitor was in the parlor. He would listen and find out. He was weary and dusty with the soil of the office upon his hands and clothes. He did not care to meet a visitor, so under cover of the music he slipped into the door of his library across the hall from the parlor and dropped into his great arm-chair.
Softly and tenderly stole the music through the open door, all about him, like the gentle dropping of some tender psalms or comforting chapter in the Bible to an aching heart. It touched his brow like a soft soothing hand, and seemed to know and recognize all the agonies his heart had been passing through, and all the weariness his body felt.
He put his head back and let it float over him and rest him. Tinkling brooks and gentle zephyrs, waving of forest trees, and twitterings of birds, calm lazy clouds floating by, a sweetness in the atmosphere, bells far away, lowing herds, music of the angels high in heaven, the soothing strain from each extracted and brought to heal his broken heart. It fell like dew upon his spirit. Then, like a fresh breeze with zest and life borne on, came a new strain, grand and fine and high, calling him to better things. He did not know it was a strain of Handel's music grown immortal, but his spirit recognized the higher call, commanding him to follow, and straightway he felt strengthened to go onward in the course he had been pursuing. Old troubles seemed to grow less, anguish fell away from him. He took new lease of life. Nothing seemed impossible.
Then she played by ear one or two of the old tunes they sang in church, touching the notes tenderly and almost making them speak the words. It seemed a benediction. Suddenly the playing ceased and Marcia remembered it was nearly supper time.
He met her in the doorway with a new look in his eyes, a look of high purpose and exultation. He smiled upon her and said: "That was good, child. I did not know you could do it. You must give it to us often." Marcia felt a glow of pleasure in his kindliness, albeit she felt that the look in his eyes set him apart and above her, and made her feel the child she was. She hurried out to get the supper between pleasure and a nameless unrest. She was glad of this much, but she wanted more, a something to meet her soul and satisfy.
The world had not gone well with Mistress Kate Leavenworth, and she was ill-pleased. She had not succeeded in turning her father's heart toward herself as she had confidently expected to do when she ran away with her sea captain. She had written a gay letter home, taking for granted, in a pretty way, the forgiveness she did not think it necessary to ask, but there had come in return a brief harsh statement from her father that she was no longer his daughter and must cease from further communication with the family in any way; that she should never enter his house again and not a penny of his money should ever pass to her. He also informed her plainly that the trousseau made for her had been given to her sister who was now the wife of the man she had not seen fit to marry.
Over this letter Mistress Kate at first stormed, then wept, and finally sat down to frame epistle after epistle in petulant, penitent language. These epistles following each other by daily mail coaches still brought nothing further from her irate parent, and my lady was at last forced to face the fact that she must bear the penalty of her own misdeeds; a lesson she should have learned much earlier in life.
The young captain, who had always made it appear that he had plenty of money, had spent his salary, and most of his mother's fortune, which had been left in his keeping as administrator of his father's estate; so he had really very little to offer the spoiled and petted beauty, who simply would not settle down to the inevitable and accept the fate she had brought upon herself and others. Day after day she fretted and blamed her husband until he heartily wished her back from whence he had taken her; wished her back with her straitlaced lover from whom he had stolen her; wished her anywhere save where she was. Her brightness and beauty seemed all gone: she was a sulky child insisting upon the moon or nothing. She waited to go to New York and be established in a fine house with plenty of servants and a carriage and horses, and the young captain had not the wherewithal to furnish these accessories to an elegant and luxurious life.
He had loved her so far as his shallow nature could love, and perhaps she had returned it in the beginning. He wanted to spend his furlough in quiet places where he might have a honeymoon of his ideal, bantering Kate's sparkling sentences, looking into her beautiful eyes, touching her rosy lips with his own as often as he chose. But Mistress Kate had lost her sparkle. She would not be kissed until she had gained her point, her lovely eyes were full of disfiguring tears and angry flashes, and her speech scintillated with cutting sarcasms, which were none the less hard to bear that they pressed home some disagreeable truths to the easy, careless spendthrift. The rose had lost its dew and was making its thorns felt.
And so they quarreled through their honeymoon, and Captain Leavenworth was not sorry when a hasty and unexpected end came to his furlough and he was ordered off with his ship for an indefinite length of time.
Even then Kate thought to get her will before he left, and held on her sullen ways and her angry, blameful talk until the last minute, so that he hurried away without even one good-bye kiss, and with her angry sentences sounding in his ears.
True, he repented somewhat on board the ship and sent her back more money than she could reasonably have expected under the circumstances, but he sent it without one word of gentleness, and Kate's heart was hard toward her husband.
Then with bitterness and anguish,—that was new and fairly astonishing that it had come to her who had always had her way,—she sat down to think of the man she had jilted. He would have been kind to her. He would have given her all she asked and more. He would even have moved his business to New York to please her, she felt sure. Why had she been so foolish! And then, like many another sinner who is made at last to see the error of his ways, she cast hard thoughts at a Fate which had allowed her to make so great a mistake, and pitied her poor little self out of all recognition of the character she had formed.
But she took her money and went to New York, for she felt that there only could she be at all happy, and have some little taste of the delights of true living.
She took up her abode with an ancient relative of her own mother's, who lived in a quiet respectable part of the city, and who was glad to piece out her small annuity with the modest sum that Kate agreed to pay for her board.
It was not long before Mistress Kate, with her beautiful face, and the pretty clothes which she took care to provide at once for herself, spending lavishly out of the diminishing sum her husband had sent her, and thinking not of the morrow, nor the day when the board bills would be due, became well known. The musty little parlor of the ancient relative was daily filled with visitors, and every evening Kate held court, with the old aunt nodding in her chair by the fireside.
Neither did the poor old lady have a very easy time of it, in spite of the promise of weekly pay. Kate laughed at the old furniture and the old ways. She demanded new things, and got them, too, until the old lady saw little hope of any help from the board money when Kate was constantly saying: "I saw this in a shop down town, auntie, and as I knew you needed it I just bought it. My board this week will just pay for it." As always, Kate ruled. The little parlor took on an air of brightness, and Kate became popular. A few women of fashion took her up, and Kate launched herself upon a gay life, her one object to have as good a time as possible, regardless of what her husband or any one else might think.
When Kate had been in New York about two months it happened one day that she went out to drive with one of her new acquaintances, a young married woman of about her own age, who had been given all in a worldly way that had been denied to Kate.
They made some calls in Brooklyn, and returned on the ferry-boat, carriage and all, just as the sun was setting.
The view was marvellous. The water a flood of pink and green and gold; the sails of the vessels along the shore lit up resplendently; the buildings of the city beyond sent back occasional flashes of reflected light from window glass or church spire. It was a picture worth looking upon, and Kate's companion was absorbed in it.
Not so Kate. She loved display above all things. She sat up statelily, aware that she looked well in her new frock with the fine lace collar she had extravagantly purchased the day before, and her leghorn bonnet with its real ostrich feather, which was becoming in the extreme. She enjoyed sitting back of the colored coachman, her elegant friend by her side, and being admired by the two ladies and the little girl who sat in the ladies' cabin and occasionally peeped curiously at her from the window. She drew herself up haughtily and let her soul "delight itself in fatness"—borrowed fatness, perhaps, but still, the long desired. She told herself she had a right to it, for was she not a Schuyler? That name was respected everywhere.
She bore a grudge at a man and woman who stood by the railing absorbed in watching the sunset haze that lay over the river showing the white sails in gleams like flashes of white birds here and there.
A young man well set up, and fashionably attired, sauntered up to the carriage. He spoke to Kate's friend, and was introduced. Kate felt in her heart it was because of her presence there he came. His bold black eyes told her as much and she was flattered.
They fell to talking.
"You say you spent the summer near Albany, Mr. Temple," said Kate presently, "I wonder if you happen to know any of my friends. Did you meet a Mr. Spafford? David Spafford?"
"Of course I did, knew him well," said the young man with guarded tone. But a quick flash of dislike, and perhaps fear had crossed his face at the name. Kate was keen. She analyzed that look. She parted her charming red lips and showed her sharp little teeth like the treacherous pearls in a white kitten's pink mouth.
"He was once a lover of mine," said Kate carelessly, wrinkling her piquant little nose as if the idea were comical, and laughing out a sweet ripple of mirth that would have cut David to the heart.
"Indeed!" said the ever ready Harry, "and I do not wonder. Is not every one that at once they see you, Madam Leavenworth? How kind of your husband to stay away at sea for so long a time and give us other poor fellows a chance to say pleasant things."
Then Kate pouted her pretty lips in a way she had and tapped the delighted Harry with her carriage parasol across the fingers of his hand that had taken familiar hold of the carriage beside her arm.
"Oh, you naughty man!" she exclaimed prettily. "How dare you! Yes, David Spafford and I were quite good friends. I almost gave in at one time and became Mrs. Spafford, but he was too good for me!"
She uttered this truth in a mocking tone, and Harry saw her lead and hastened to follow. Here was a possible chance for revenge. He was ready for any. He studied the lady before him keenly. Of what did that face remind him? Had he ever seen her before?
"I should judge him a little straitlaced for your merry ways," he responded gallantly, "but he's like all the rest, fickle, you know. He's married. Have you heard?"
Kate's face darkened with something hard and cruel, but her voice was soft as a cat's purr:
"Yes," she sighed, "I know. He married my sister. Poor child! I am sorry for her. I think he did it out of revenge, and she was too young to know her own mind. But they, poor things, will have to bear the consequences of what they have done. Isn't it a pity that that has to be, Mr. Temple? It is dreadful to have the innocent suffer. I have been greatly anxious about my sister." She lifted her large eyes swimming in tears, and he did not perceive the insincerity in her purring voice just then. He was thanking his lucky stars that he had been saved from any remarks about young Mrs. Spafford, whom her sister seemed to love so deeply. It had been on the tip of his tongue to suggest that she might be able to lead her husband a gay little dance if she chose. How lucky he had not spoken! He tried to say some pleasant comforting nothings, and found it delightful to see her face clear into smiles and her blue eyes look into his so confidingly. By the time the boat touched the New York side the two felt well acquainted, and Harry Temple had promised to call soon, which promise he lost no time in keeping.
Kate's heart had grown bitter against the young sister who had dared to take her place, and against the lover who had so easily solaced himself. She could not understand it.
She resolved to learn all that Mr. Temple knew about David, and to find out if possible whether he were happy. It was Kate's nature not to be able to give up anything even though she did not want it. She desired the life-long devotion of every man who came near her, and have it she would or punish him.
Harry Temple, meanwhile, was reflecting upon his chance meeting that afternoon and wondering if in some way he might not yet have revenge upon the man who had humbled him. Possibly this woman could help him.
After some thought he sat down and penned a letter to Hannah Heath, begemming it here and there with devoted sentences which caused that young woman's eyes to sparkle and a smile of anticipation to wreathe her lips. When she heard of the handsome sister in New York, and of her former relations with David Spafford, her eyes narrowed speculatively, and her fair brow drew into puzzled frowns. Harry Temple had drawn a word picture of Mrs. Leavenworth. Harry should have been a novelist. If he had not been too lazy he would have been a success. Gold hair! Ah! Hannah had heard of gold hair before, and in connection with David's promised wife. Here was a mystery and Hannah resolved to look into it. It would at least be interesting to note the effect of her knowledge upon the young bride next door. She would try it.
Meantime, the acquaintance of Harry Temple and Kate Leavenworth had progressed rapidly. The second sight of the lady proved more interesting than the first, for now her beautiful gold hair added to the charm of her handsome face. Harry ever delighted in beauty of whatever type, and a blonde was more fascinating to him than a brunette. Kate had dressed herself bewitchingly, and her manner was charming. She knew how to assume pretty child-like airs, but she was not afraid to look him boldly in the eyes, and the light in her own seemed to challenge him. Here was a delightful new study. A woman fresh from the country, having all the charm of innocence, almost as child-like as her sister, yet with none of her prudishness. Kate's eyes held latent wickedness in them, or he was much mistaken. She did not droop her lids and blush when he looked boldly and admiringly into her face, but stared him back, smilingly, merrily, daringly, as though she would go quite as far as he would. Moreover, with her he was sure he need feel none of the compunctions he might have felt with her younger sister who was so obviously innocent, for whether Kate's boldness was from lack of knowledge, or from lack of innocence, she was quite able to protect herself, that was plain.
So Harry settled into his chair with a smile of pleasant anticipation upon his face. He not only had the prospect before him of a possible ally in revenge against David Spafford, but he had the promise of a most unusually delightful flirtation with a woman who was worthy of his best efforts in that line.
Almost at once it began, with pleasant banter, adorned with personal compliments.
"Lovelier than I thought, my lady," said Harry, bowing low over the hand she gave him, in a courtly manner he had acquired, perhaps from the old-world novels he had read, and he brushed her pink finger tips with his lips in a way that signified he was her abject slave.
Kate blushed and smiled, greatly pleased, for though she had held her own little court in the village where she was brought up, and queened it over the young men who had flocked about her willingly, she had not been used to the fulsome flattery that breathed from Harry Temple in every word and glance.
He looked at her keenly as he stood back a moment, to see if she were in any wise offended with his salutation, and saw as he expected that she was pleased and flattered. Her cheeks had grown rosier, and her eyes sparkled with pleasure as she responded with a pretty, gracious speech.
Then they sat down and faced one another. A good woman would have called his look impudent—insulting. Kate returned it with a look that did not shrink, nor waver, but fearlessly, recklessly accepted the challenge. Playing with fire, were these two, and with no care for the fearful results which might follow. Both knew it was dangerous, and liked it the better for that. There was a long silence. The game was opening on a wider scale than either had ever played before.
"Do you believe in affinities?" asked the devil, through the man's voice.
The woman colored and showed she understood his deeper meaning. Her eyes drooped for just the shade of an instant, and then she looked up and faced him saucily, provokingly:
He admired her with his gaze, and waited, lazily watching the color play in her cheeks.
"Do you need to ask why?" he said at last, looking at her significantly. "I knew that you were my affinity the moment I laid my eyes upon you, and I hoped you felt the same. But perhaps I was mistaken." He searched her face.
She kept her eyes upon his, returning their full gaze, as if to hold it from going too deep into her soul.
"I did not say you were mistaken, did I?" said the rosy lips coquettishly, and Kate drooped her long lashes till they fell in becoming sweeps over her burning cheeks.
Something in the curve of cheek and chin, and sweep of dark lash over velvet skin, reminded him of her sister. It was so she had sat, though utterly unconscious, while he had been singing, when there had come over him that overwhelming desire to kiss her. If he should kiss this fair lady would she slap him in the face and run into the garden? He thought not. Still, she was brought up by the same father and mother in all likelihood, and it was well to go slow. He reached forward, drawing his chair a little nearer to her, and then boldly took one of her small unresisting hands, gently, that he might not frighten her, and smoothed it thoughtfully between his own. He held it in a close grasp and looked into her face again, she meanwhile watching her hand amusedly, as though it were something apart from herself, a sort of distant possession, for which she was in no wise responsible.
"I feel that you belong to me," he said boldly looking into her eyes with a languishing gaze. "I have known it from the first moment."
Kate let her hand lie in his as if she liked it, but she said:
"And what makes you think that, most audacious sir? Did you not know that I am married?" Then she swept her gaze up provokingly at him again and smiled, showing her dainty, treacherous, little teeth. She was so bewitchingly pretty and tempting then that he had a mind to kiss her on the spot, but a thought came to him that he would rather lead her further first. He was succeeding well. She had no mind to be afraid. She did her part admirably.
"That makes no difference," said he smiling. "That another man has secured you first, and has the right to provide for you, and be near you, is my misfortune of course, but it makes no difference, you are mine? By all the power of love you are mine. Can any other man keep my soul from yours, can he keep my eyes from looking into yours, or my thoughts from hovering over you, or—" he hesitated and looked at her keenly, while she furtively watched him, holding her breath and half inviting him—"or my lips from drinking life from yours?" He stooped quickly and pressed his lips upon hers.
Kate gave a quick little gasp like a sob and drew back. The aunt nodding over her Bible in the next room had not heard,—she was very deaf,—but for an instant the young woman felt that all the shades of her worthy patriarchal ancestors were hurrying around and away from her in horror. She had come of too good Puritan stock not to know that she was treading in the path of unrighteousness. Nevertheless it was a broad path, and easy. It tempted her. It was exciting. It lured her with promise of satisfying some of her untamed longings and impulses.
She did not look offended. She only drew back to get breath and consider. The wild beating of her heart, the tumult of her cheeks and eyes were all a part of a new emotion. Her vanity was excited, and she thrilled with a wild pleasure. As a duck will take to swimming so she took to the new game, with wonderful facility.
"But I didn't say you might," she cried with a bewildering smile.
"I beg your pardon, fair lady, may I have another?"
His bold, bad face was near her own, so that she did not see the evil triumph that lurked there. She had come to the turning of another way in her life, and just here she might have drawn back if she would. Half she knew this, yet she toyed with the opportunity, and it was gone. The new way seemed so alluring.
"You will first have to prove your right!" she said decidedly, with that pretty commanding air that had conquered so many times.
And in like manner on they went through the evening, frittering the time away at playing with edged tools.
A friendship so begun—if so unworthy an intimacy may be called by that sweet name—boded no good to either of the two, and that evening marked a decided turn for the worse in Kate Leavenworth's career.
David had found it necessary to take a journey which might keep him away for several weeks.
He told Marcia in the evening when he came home from the office. He told her as he would have told his clerk. It meant nothing to him but an annoyance that he had to start out in the early winter, leave his business in other's hands for an indefinite period, and go among strangers. He did not see the whitening of Marcia's lips, nor the quick little movement of her hand to her heart. Even Marcia herself did not realize all that it meant to her. She felt as if a sudden shock had almost knocked her off her feet. This quiet life in the big house, with only David at intervals to watch and speak to occasionally, and no one to open her true heart to, had been lonely; and many a time when she was alone at night she had wept bitter tears upon her pillow,—why she did not quite know. But now when she knew that it was to cease, and David was going away from her for a long time, perhaps weeks, her heart suddenly tightened and she knew how sweet it had been growing. Almost the tears came to her eyes, but she made a quick errand to the hearth for the teapot, busying herself there till they were under control again. When she returned to her place at the table she was able to ask David some commonplace question about the journey which kept her true feeling quite hidden from him.
He was to start the next evening if possible. It appeared that there was something important about railroading coming up in Congress. It was necessary that he should be present to hear the debate, and also that he should see and interview influential men. It meant much to the success of the great new enterprises that were just in their infancy that he should go and find out all about them and write them up as only he whose heart was in it could do. He was pleased to have been selected for this; he was lifted for the time above himself and his life troubles, and given to feel that he had a work in the world that was worth while, a high calling, a chance to give a push to the unrolling of the secret possibilities of the universe and help them on their way.
Marcia understood it all, and was proud and glad for him, but her own heart which beat in such perfect sympathy with the work felt lonely and left out. If only she could have helped too!
There was no time for David to take Marcia to her home to stay during his absence. He spoke of it regretfully just as he was about to leave, and asked if she would like him to get some one to escort her by coach to her father's house until he could come for her; but she held back the tears by main force and shook her head. She had canvassed that question in the still hours of the night. She had met in imagination the home village with its kindly and unkindly curiosity, she had seen their hands lifted in suspicion; heard their covert whispers as to why her husband did not come with her; why he had left her so soon after the honeymoon; why—a hundred things. She had even thought of Aunt Polly and her acrid tongue and made up her mind that whatever happened she did not want to go home to stay.
The only other alternative was to go to the aunts. David expected it, and the aunts spoke of it as if nothing else were possible. Marcia would have preferred to remain alone in her own house, with her beloved piano, but David would not consent, and the aunts were scandalized at the suggestion. So to the aunts went Marcia, and they took her in with a hope in their hearts that she might get the same good from the visit that the sluggard in the Bible is bidden to find.
"We must do our duty by her for David's sake," said Aunt Hortense, with pursed lips and capable, folded hands that seemed fairly to ache to get at the work of reconstructing the new niece.
"Yes, it is our opportunity," said Aunt Amelia with a snap as though she thoroughly enjoyed the prospect. "Poor David!" and so they sat and laid out their plans for their sweet young victim, who all unknowingly was coming to one of those tests in her life whereby we are tried for greater things and made perfect in patience and sweetness.
It began with the first breakfast—the night before she had been company, at supper—but when the morning came they felt she must be counted one of the family. They examined her thoroughly on what she had been taught with regard to housekeeping. They made her tell her recipes for pickling and preserving. They put her through a catechism of culinary lore, and always after her most animated account of the careful way in which she had been trained in this or that housewifely art she looked up with wistful eyes that longed to please, only to be met by the hard set lips and steely glances of the two mentors who regretted that she should not have been taught their way which was so much better.
Aunt Hortense even went so far once as to suggest that Marcia write to her stepmother and tell her how much better it was to salt the water in which potatoes were to be boiled before putting them in, and was much offended by the clear girlish laugh that bubbled up involuntarily at the thought of teaching her stepmother anything about cooking.
"Excuse me," she said, instantly sobering as she saw the grim look of the aunt, and felt frightened at what she had done. "I did not mean to laugh, indeed I did not; but it seemed so funny to think of my telling mother how to do anything."
"People are never too old to learn," remarked Aunt Hortense with offended mien, "and one ought never to be too proud when there is a better way."
"But mother thinks there is no better way I am sure. She says that it makes potatoes soggy to boil them in salt. All that grows below the ground should be salted after it is cooked and all that grows above the ground should be cooked in salted water, is her rule."
"I am surprised that your stepmother should uphold any such superstitious ideas," said Aunt Amelia with a self-satisfied expression.
"One should never be too proud to learn something better," Aunt Hortense said grimly, and Marcia retreated in dire consternation at the thought of what might follow if these three notable housekeeping gentlewomen should come together. Somehow she felt a wicked little triumph in the thought that it would be hard to down her stepmother.
Marcia was given a few light duties ostensibly to "make her feel at home," but in reality, she knew, because the aunts felt she needed their instruction. She was asked if she would like to wash the china and glass; and regularly after each meal a small wooden tub and a mop were brought in with hot water and soap, and she was expected to handle the costly heirlooms under the careful scrutiny of their worshipping owners, who evidently watched each process with strained nerves lest any bit of treasured pottery should be cracked or broken. It was a trying ordeal.
The girl would have been no girl if she had not chafed under this treatment. To hold her temper steady and sweet under it was almost more than she could bear.
There were long afternoons when it was decreed that they should knit.
Marcia had been used to take long walks at home, over the smooth crust of the snow, going to her beloved woods, where she delighted to wander among the bare and creaking trees; fancying them whispering sadly to one another of the summer that was gone and the leaves they had borne now dead. But it would be a dreadful thing in the aunts' opinion for a woman, and especially a young one, to take a long walk in the woods alone, in winter too, and with no object whatever in view but a walk! What a waste of time!
There were two places of refuge for Marcia during the weeks that followed. There was home. How sweet that word sounded to her! How she longed to go back there, with David coming home to his quiet meals three times a day, and with her own time to herself to do as she pleased. With housewifely zeal that was commendable in the eyes of the aunts, Marcia insisted upon going down to her own house every morning to see that all was right, guiltily knowing that in her heart she meant to hurry to her beloved books and piano. To be sure it was cold and cheerless in the empty house. She dared not make up fires and leave them, and she dared not stay too long lest the aunts would feel hurt at her absence, but she longed with an inexpressible longing to be back there by herself, away from that terrible supervision and able to live her own glad little life and think her own thoughts untrammeled by primness.
Sometimes she would curl up in David's big arm-chair and have a good cry, after which she would take a book and read until the creeping chills down her spine warned her she must stop. Even then she would run up and down the hall or take a broom and sweep vigorously to warm herself and then go to the cold keys and play a sad little tune. All her tunes seemed sad like a wail while David was gone.
The other place of refuge was Aunt Clarinda's room. Thither she would betake herself after supper, to the delight of the old lady. Then the other two occupants of the house were left to themselves and might unbend from their rigid surveillance for a little while. Marcia often wondered if they ever did unbend.
There was a large padded rocking chair in Aunt Clarinda's room and Marcia would laughingly take the little old lady in her arms and place her comfortably in it, after a pleasant struggle on Miss Clarinda's part to put her guest into it. They had this same little play every evening, and it seemed to please the old lady mightily. Then when she was conquered she always sat meekly laughing, a fine pink color in her soft peachy cheek, the candle light from the high shelf making flickering sparkles in her old eyes that always seemed young; and she would say: "That's just as David used to do."
Then Marcia drew up the little mahogany stool covered with the worsted dog which Aunt Clarinda had worked when she was ten years old, and snuggling down at the old lady's feet exclaimed delightedly: "Tell me about it!" and they settled down to solid comfort.
There came a letter from David after he had been gone a little over a week. Marcia had not expected to hear from him. He had said nothing about writing, and their relations were scarcely such as to make it necessary. Letters were an expensive luxury in those days. But when the letter was handed to her, Marcia's heart went pounding against her breast, the color flew into her cheeks, and she sped away home on feet swift as the wings of a bird. The postmaster's daughter looked after her, and remarked to her father: "My, but don't she think a lot of him!"
Straight to the cold, lonely house she flew, and sitting down in his big chair read it.
It was a pleasant letter, beginning formally: "My dear Marcia," and asking after her health. It brought back a little of the unacquaintedness she had felt when he was at home, and which had been swept away in part by her knowledge of his childhood. But it went on quite happily telling all about his journey and describing minutely the places he had passed through and the people he had met on the way; detailing every little incident as only a born writer and observer could do, until she felt as if he were talking to her. He told her of the men whom he had met who were interested in the new project. He told of new plans and described minutely his visit to the foundry at West Point and the machinery he had seen. Marcia read it all breathlessly, in search of something, she knew not what, that was not there. When she had finished and found it not, there was a sense of aloofness, a sad little disappointment which welled up in her throat. She sat back to think about it. He was having a good time, and he was not lonely. He had no longing to be back in the house and everything running as before he had gone. He was out in the big glorious world having to do with progress, and coming in contact with men who were making history. Of course he did not dream how lonely she was here, and how she longed, if for nothing else, just to be back here alone and do as she pleased, and not to be watched over. If only she might steal Aunt Clarinda and bring her back to live here with her while David was away! But that was not to be thought of, of course. By and by she mustered courage to be glad of her letter, and to read it over once more.
That night she read the letter to Aunt Clarinda and together they discussed the great inventions, and the changes that were coming to pass in the land. Aunt Clarinda was just a little beyond her depth in such a conversation, but Marcia did most of the talking, and the dear old lady made an excellent listener, with a pat here, and a "Dearie me! Now you don't say so!" there, and a "Bless the boy! What great things he does expect. And I hope he won't be disappointed."
That letter lasted them for many a day until another came, this time from Washington, with many descriptions of public men and public doings, and a word picture of the place which made it appear much like any other place after all if it was the capitol of the country. And once there was a sentence which Marcia treasured. It was, "I wish you could be here and see everything. You would enjoy it I know."
There came another letter later beginning, "My dear little girl." There was nothing else in it to make Marcia's heart throb, it was all about his work, but Marcia carried it many days in her bosom. It gave her a thrill of delight to think of those words at the beginning. Of course it meant no more than that he thought of her as a girl, his little sister that was to have been, but there was a kind of ownership in the words that was sweet to Marcia's lonely heart. It had come to her that she was always looking for something that would make her feel that she belonged to David.
When David had been in New York about three weeks, he happened one day to pass the house where Kate Leavenworth was living.
Kate was standing listlessly by the window looking into the street. She was cross and felt a great depression settling over her. The flirtation with Harry Temple had begun to pall upon her. She wanted new worlds to conquer. She was restless and feverish. There was not excitement enough in the life she was living. She would like to meet more people, senators and statesmen—and to have plenty of money to dress as became her beauty, and be admired publicly. She half wished for the return of her husband, and meditated making up with him for the sake of going to Washington to have a good time in society there. What was the use of running away with a naval officer if one could not have the benefit of it? She had been a fool. Here she was almost to the last penny, and so many things she wanted. No word had come from her husband since he sent her the money at sailing. She felt a bitter resentment toward him for urging her to marry him. If she had only gone on and married David she would be living a life of ease now—plenty of money—nothing to do but what she pleased and no anxiety whatever, for David would have done just what she wanted.
Then suddenly she looked up and David passed before her!
He was walking with a tall splendid-looking man, with whom he was engaged in most earnest conversation, and his look was grave and deeply absorbed. He did not know of Kate's presence in New York, and passed the house in utter unconsciousness of the eyes watching him.
Kate's lips grew white, and her limbs seemed suddenly weak, but she strained her face against the window to watch the retreating figure of the man who had almost been her husband. How well she knew the familiar outline. How fine and handsome he appeared now! Why had she not thought so before? Were her eyes blind, or had she been under some strange enchantment? Why had she not known that her happiness lay in the way that had been marked out for her? Well, at least she knew it now.
She sat all day by that window and watched. She professed to have no appetite when pressed to come to the table, though she permitted herself to languidly consume the bountiful tray of good things that was brought her, but her eyes were on the street. She was watching to see if David would pass that way again. But though she watched until the sun went down and dusk sifted through the streets, she saw no sign nor heard the sound of his footsteps. Then she hastened up to her room, which faced upon the street also, and there, wrapped in blankets she sat in the cold frosty air, waiting and listening. And while she watched she was thinking bitter feverish thoughts. She heard Harry Temple knock and knew that he was told that she was not feeling well and had retired early. She watched him pause on the stoop thoughtfully as if considering what to do with the time thus unexpectedly thrown upon his hands, then saw him saunter up the street unconcernedly, and she wondered idly where he would go, and what he would do.
It grew late, even for New York. One by one the lights in the houses along the street went out, and all was quiet. She drew back from the window at last, weary with excitement and thinking, and lay down on the bed, but she could not sleep. The window was open and her ears were on the alert, and by and by there came the distant echo of feet ringing on the pavement. Some one was coming. She sprang up. She felt sure he was coming. Yes, there were two men. They were coming back together. She could hear their voices. She fancied she heard David's long before it was possible to distinguish any words. She leaned far out of her upper window till she could discern dim forms under the starlight, and then just as they were under the window she distinctly heard David say:
"There is no doubt but we shall win. The right is on our side, and it is the march of progress. Some of the best men in Congress are with us, and now that we are to have your influence I do not feel afraid of the issue."
They had passed by rapidly, like men who had been on a long day's jaunt of some kind and were hastening home to rest. There was little in the sentence that Kate could understand. She had no more idea whether the subject of their discourse was railroads or the last hay crop. The sentence meant to her but one thing. It showed that David companioned with the great men of the land, and his position would have given her a standing that would have been above the one she now occupied. Tears of defeat ran down her cheeks. She had made a bad mistake and she saw no way to rectify it. If her husband should die,—and it might be, for the sea was often treacherous—of course there were all sorts of possibilities,—but even then there was Marcia! She set her sharp little teeth into her red lips till the blood came. She could not get over her anger at Marcia. It would not have been so bad if David had remained her lone lorn lover, ready to fly to her if others failed. Her self-love was wounded sorely, and she, poor silly soul, mistook it for love of David. She began to fancy that after all she had loved him, and that Fate had somehow played her a mad trick and tied her to a husband she had not wanted.
Then out of the watchings of the day and the fancies of the night, there grew a thought—and the thought widened into a plan. She thought of her intimacy with Harry and her new found power. Might she perhaps exercise it over others as well as Harry Temple? Might she possibly lead back this man who had once been her lover, to bow at her feet again and worship her? If that might be she could bear all the rest. She began to long with intense craving to see David grovel at her feet, to hear him plead for a kiss from her, and tell her once more how beautiful she was, and how she fulfilled all his soul's ideals. She sat by the open window yet with the icy air of the night blowing upon her, but her cheeks burned red in the darkness, and her eyes glowed like coals of fire from the tawny framing of her fallen hair. The blankets slipped away from her throat and still she heeded not the cold, but sat with hot clenched hands planning with the devil's own strategy her shameless scheme.
By and by she lighted a candle and drew her writing materials toward her to write, but it was long she sat and thought before she finally wrote the hastily scrawled note, signed and sealed it, and blowing out her candle lay down to sleep.
The letter was addressed to David, and it ran thus:
"I have just heard that you are in New York. I am in great distress and do not know where to turn for help. For the sake of what we have been to each other in the past will you come to me?
"Hastily, your loving KATE."
She did not know where David was but she felt reasonably sure she could find out his address in the morning. There was a small boy living next door who was capable of ferreting out almost anything for money. Kate had employed him more than once as an amateur detective in cases of minor importance. So, with a bit of silver and her letter she made her way to his familiar haunts and explained most carefully that the letter was to be delivered to no one but the man to whom it was addressed, naming several stopping places where he might be likely to be found, and hinting that there was more silver to be forthcoming when he should bring her an answer to the note. With a minute description of David the keen-eyed urchin set out, while Kate betook herself to her room to dress for David's coming. She felt sure he would be found, and confident that he would come at once.
The icy wind of the night before blowing on her exposed throat and chest had given her a severe cold, but she paid no heed to that. Her eyes and cheeks were shining with fever. She knew she was entering upon a dangerous and unholy way. The excitement of it stimulated her. She felt she did not care for anything, right or wrong, sin or sorrow, only to win. She wanted to see David at her feet again. It was the only thing that would satisfy this insatiable longing in her, this wounded pride of self.
When she was dressed she stood before the mirror and surveyed herself. She knew she was beautiful, and she defied the glass to tell her anything else. She raised her chin in haughty challenge to the unseen David to resist her charms. She would bring him low before her. She would make him forget Marcia, and his home and his staid Puritan notions, and all else he held dear but herself. He should bend and kiss her hand as Harry had done, only more warmly, for instinctively she felt that his had been the purer life and therefore his surrender would mean more. He should do whatever she chose. And her eyes glowed with an unhallowed light.
She had chosen to array herself regally, in velvet, but in black, without a touch of color or of white. From her rich frock her slender throat rose daintily, like a stem upon which nodded the tempting flower of her face. No enameled complexion could have been more striking in its vivid reds and whites, and her mass of gold hair made her seem more lovely than she really was, for in her face was love of self, alluring, but heartless and cruel.
The boy found David, as Kate had thought he would, in one of the quieter hostelries where men of letters were wont to stop when in New York, and David read the letter and came at once. She had known that he would do that, too. His heart beat wildly, to the exclusion of all other thoughts save that she was in trouble, his love, his dear one. He forgot Marcia, and the young naval officer, and everything but her trouble, and before he had reached her house the sorrow had grown in his imagination into some great danger to protect her from which he was hastening.
She received him alone in the room where Harry Temple had first called, and a moment later Harry himself came to knock and enquire for the health of Mistress Leavenworth, and was told she was very much engaged at present with a gentleman and could not see any one, whereupon Harry scowled, and set himself at a suitable distance from the house to watch who should come out.
David's face was white as death as he entered, his eyes shining like dark jewels blazing at her as if he would absorb the vision for the lonely future. She stood and posed,—not by any means the picture of broken sorrow he had expected to find from her note,—and let the sense of her beauty reach him. There she stood with the look on her face he had pictured to himself many a time when he had thought of her as his wife. It was a look of love unutterable, bewildering, alluring, compelling. It was so he had thought she would meet him when he came home to her from his daily business cares. And now she was there, looking that way, and he stood here, so near her, and yet a great gulf fixed! It was heaven and hell met together, and he had no power to change either.
He did not come over to her and bow low to kiss the white hand as Harry had done,—as she had thought she could compel him to do. He only stood and looked at her with the pain of an anguish beyond her comprehension, until the look would have burned through to her heart—if she had had a heart.
"You are in trouble," he spoke hoarsely, as if murmuring an excuse for having come.
She melted at once into the loveliest sorrow, her mobile features taking on a wan cast only enlivened by the glow of her cheeks.
"Sit down," she said, "you were so good to come to me, and so soon—" and her voice was like lily-bells in a quiet church-yard among the head-stones. She placed him a chair.
"Yes, I am in trouble. But that is a slight thing compared to my unhappiness. I think I am the most miserable creature that breathes upon this earth."
And with that she dropped into a low chair and hid her glowing face in a dainty, lace bordered kerchief that suppressed a well-timed sob.
Kate had wisely calculated how she could reach David's heart. If she had looked up then and seen his white, drawn look, and the tense grasp of his hands that only the greatest self-control kept quiet on his knee, perhaps even her mercilessness would have been softened. But she did not look, and she felt her part was well taken. She sobbed quietly, and waited, and his hoarse voice asked once more, as gently as a woman's through his pain:
"Will you tell me what it is and how I can help you?" He longed to take her in his arms like a little child and comfort her, but he might not. She was another's. And perhaps that other had been cruel to her! His clenched fists showed how terrible was the thought. But still the bowed figure in its piteous black sobbed and did not reply anything except, "Oh, I am so unhappy! I cannot bear it any longer."
"Is—your—your—husband unkind to you?" The words tore themselves from his tense lips as though they were beyond his control.
"Oh, no,—not exactly unkind—that is—he was not very nice before he went away," wailed out a sad voice from behind the linen cambric and lace, "and he went away without a kind word, and left me hardly any money—and he hasn't sent me any word since—and fa-father won't have anything to do with me any more—but—but—it's not that I mind, David. I don't think about those things at all. I'm so unhappy about you. I feel you do not forgive me, and I cannot stand it any longer. I have made a fearful mistake, and you are angry with me—I think about it at night"—the voice was growing lower now, and the sentences broken by sobs that told better than words what distress the sufferer would convey.
"I have been so wicked—and you were so good and kind—and now you will never forgive me—I think it will kill me to keep on thinking about it—" her voice trailed off in tears again.
David white with anguish sprang to his feet.
"Oh, Kate," he cried, "my darling! Don't talk that way. You know I forgive you. Look up and tell me you know I forgive you."
Almost she smiled her triumph beneath her sobs in the little lace border, but she looked up with real tears on her face. Even her tears obeyed her will. She was a good actress, also she knew her power over David.
"Oh, David," she cried, standing up and clasping her hands beseechingly, "can it be true? Do you really forgive me? Tell me again."
She came and stood temptingly near to the stern, suffering man wild with the tumult that raged within him. Her golden head was near his shoulder where it had rested more than once in time gone by. He looked down at her from his suffering height his arms folded tightly and said, as though taking oath before a court of justice:
She looked up with her pleading blue eyes, like two jewels of light now, questioning whether she might yet go one step further. Her breath came quick and soft, he fancied it touched his cheek, though she was not tall enough for that. She lifted her tear-wet face like a flower after a storm, and pleaded with her eyes once more, saying in a whisper very soft and sweet:
"If you really forgive me, then kiss me, just once, so I may remember it always."
It was more than he could bear. He caught her to himself and pressed his lips upon hers in one frenzied kiss of torture. It was as if wrung from him against his will. Then suddenly it came upon him what he had done, as he held her in his arms, and he put her from him gently, as a mother might put away the precious child she was sacrificing tenderly, agonizingly, but finally. He put her from him thus and stood a moment looking at her, while she almost sparkled her pleasure at him through the tears. She felt that she had won.
But gradually the silence grew ominous. She perceived he was not smiling. His mien was like one who looks into an open grave, and gazes for the last time at all that remains of one who is dear. He did not seem like one who had yielded a moral point and was ready now to serve her as she would. She grew uneasy under his gaze. She moved forward and put out her hands inviting, yielding, as only such a woman could do, and the spell which bound him seemed to be broken. He fumbled for a moment in his waistcoat pocket and brought out a large roll of bills which he laid upon the table, and taking up his hat turned toward the door. A cold wave of weakness seemed to pass over her, stung here and there by mortal pride that was in fear of being wounded beyond recovery.
"Where are you going?" she asked weakly, and her voice sounded to her from miles away, and strange.
He turned and looked at her again and she knew the look meant farewell. He did not speak. Her whole being rose for one more mighty effort.
"You are not going to leave me—now?" There was angelic sweetness in the voice, pleading, reproachful, piteous.
"I must!" he said, and his voice sounded harsh. "I have just done that for which, were I your husband, I would feel like killing any other man. I must protect you against yourself,—against myself. You must be kept pure before God if it kills us both. I would gladly die if that could help you, but I am not even free to do that, for I belong to another."
Then he turned and was gone.
Kate's hands fell to her sides, and seemed stiff and lifeless. The bright color faded from her cheeks, and a cold frenzy of horror took possession of her. "Pure before God!" She shuddered at the name, and crimson shame rolled over forehead and cheek. She sank in a little heap on the floor with her face buried in the chair beside which she had been standing, and the waters of humiliation rolled wave on wave above her. She had failed, and for one brief moment she was seeing her own sinful heart as it was.
But the devil was there also. He whispered to her now the last sentence that David had spoken: "I belong to another!"
Up to that moment Marcia had been a very negative factor in the affair to Kate's mind. She had been annoyed and angry at her as one whose ignorance and impertinence had brought her into an affair where she did not belong, but now she suddenly faced the fact that Marcia must be reckoned with. Marcia the child, who had for years been her slave and done her bidding, had arisen in her way, and she hated her with a sudden vindictive hate that would have killed without flinching if the opportunity had presented at that moment. Kate had no idea how utterly uncontrolled was her whole nature. She was at the mercy of any passing passion. Hate and revenge took possession of her now. With flashing eyes she rose to her feet, brushing her tumbled hair back and wiping away angry tears. She was too much agitated to notice that some one had knocked at the front door and been admitted, and when Harry Temple walked into the room he found her standing so with hands clenched together, and tears flowing down her cheeks unchecked.
Now a woman in tears, when the tears were not caused by his own actions, was Harry's opportunity. He had ways of comforting which were as unscrupulous as they generally proved effective, and so with affectionate tenderness he took Kate's hand and held it impressively, calling her "dear." He spoke soothing words, smoothed her hair, and kissed her flushed cheeks and eyes. It was all very pleasant to Kate's hurt pride. She let Harry comfort her, and pet her a while, and at last he said:
"Now tell me all about it, dear. I saw Lord Spafford trail dejectedly away from here looking like death, and I come here and find my lady in a fine fury. What has happened? If I mistake not the insufferable cad has got badly hurt, but it seems to have ruffled the lady also."
This helped. It was something to feel that David was suffering. She wanted him to suffer. He had brought shame and humiliation upon her. She never realized that the thing that shamed her was that he thought her better than she was.
"He is offensively good. I hate him!" she remarked as a kitten might who had got hurt at playing with a mouse in a trap.
The man's face grew bland with satisfaction.
"Not so good, my lady, but that he has been making love to you, if I mistake not, and he with a wife at home." The words were said quietly, but there was more of a question in them than the tone conveyed. The man wished to have evidence against his enemy.
Kate colored uneasily and drooped her lashes.
Harry studied her face keenly, and then went on cautiously:
"If his wife were not your sister I should say that one might punish him well through her."
Kate cast him a hard, scrutinizing look.
"You have some score against him yourself," she said with conviction.
"Perhaps I have, my lady. Perhaps I too hate him. He is offensively good, you know."
There was silence in the room for a full minute while the devil worked in both hearts.
"What did you mean by saying one might punish him through his wife? He does not love his wife."
"Are you sure?"
"Perhaps he loves some one else, my lady."
"He does." She said it proudly.
"Perhaps he loves you, my lady." He said it softly like the suggestion from another world. The lady was silent, but he needed no other answer.
"Then indeed, the way would be even clearer,—were not his wife your sister."
Kate looked at him, a half knowledge of his meaning beginning to dawn in her eyes.
"How?" she asked laconically.
"In case his wife should leave him do you think my lord would hold his head so high?"
Kate still looked puzzled.
"If some one else should win her affection, and should persuade her to leave a husband who did not love her, and who was bestowing his heart"—he hesitated an instant and his eye traveled significantly to the roll of bills still lying where David had left them—"and his gifts," he hazarded, "upon another woman——"
Kate grasped the thought at once and an evil glint of eagerness showed in her eyes. She could see what an advantage it would be to herself to have Marcia removed from the situation. It would break one more cord of honor that bound David to a code which was hateful to her now, because its existence shamed her. Nevertheless, unscrupulous as she was she could not see how this was a possibility.
"But she is offensively good too," she said as if answering her own thoughts.
"All goodness has its weak spot," sneered the man. "If I mistake not you have found my lord's. It is possible I might find his wife's."
The two pairs of eyes met then, filled with evil light. It was as if for an instant they were permitted to look into the pit, and see the possibilities of wickedness, and exult in it. The lurid glare of their thoughts played in their faces. All the passion of hate and revenge rushed upon Kate in a frenzy. With all her heart she wished this might be. She looked her co-operation in the plan even before her hard voice answered:
"You need not stop because she is my sister."
He felt he had her permission, and he permitted himself a glance of admiration for the depths to which she could go without being daunted. Here was evil courage worthy of his teaching. She seemed to him beautiful enough and daring enough for Satan himself to admire.
"And may I have the pleasure of knowing that I would by so doing serve my lady in some wise?"
She drooped her shameless eyes and murmured guardedly, "Perhaps." Then she swept him a coquettish glance that meant they understood one another.
"Then I shall feel well rewarded," he said gallantly, and bowing with more than his ordinary flattery of look bade her good day and went out.
David stumbled blindly out the door and down the street. His one thought was to get to his room at the tavern and shut the door. He had an important appointment that morning, but it passed completely from his mind. He met one or two men whom he knew, but he did not see them, and passed them swiftly without a glance of recognition. They said one to another, "How absorbed he is in the great themes of the world!" but David passed on in his pain and misery and humiliation and never knew they were near him.
He went to the room that had been his since he had reached New York, and fastening the door against all intrusion fell upon his knees beside the bed, and let the flood-tide of his sorrow roll over him. Not even when Kate had played him false on his wedding morning had he felt the pain that now cut into his very soul. For now there was mingled with it the agony of consciousness of sin. He had sinned against heaven, against honor and love, and all that was pure and good. He was just like any bad man. He had yielded to sudden temptation and taken another man's wife in his arms and kissed her! That the woman had been his by first right, and that he loved her: that she had invited the kiss, indeed pleaded for it, his sensitive conscience told him in no wise lessened the offense. He had also caused her whom he loved to sin. He was a man and knew the world. He should have shielded her against herself. And yet as he went over and over the whole painful scene through which he had just passed his soul cried out in agony and he felt his weakness more and more. He had failed, failed most miserably. Acted like any coward!
The humiliation of it was unspeakable. Could any sorrow be like unto his? Like a knife flashing through the gloom of his own shame would come the echo of her words as she pleaded with him to kiss her. It was a kiss of forgiveness she had wanted, and she had put her heart into her eyes and begged as for her very life. How could he have refused? Then he would parley with himself for a long time trying to prove to himself that the kiss and the embrace were justified, that he had done no wrong in God's sight. And ever after this round of confused arguing he would end with the terrible conviction that he had sinned.
Sometimes Marcia's sweet face and troubled eyes would appear to him as he wrestled all alone, and seemed to be longing to help him, and again would come the piercing thought that he had harmed this gentle girl also. He had tangled her into his own spoiled web of life, and been disloyal to her. She was pure and true and good. She had given up every thing to help him and he had utterly forgotten her. He had promised to love, cherish, and protect her! That was another sin. He could not love and cherish her when his whole heart was another's. Then he thought of Kate's husband, that treacherous man who had stolen his bride and now gone away and left her sorrowing—left her without money, penniless in a strange city. Why had he not been more calm and questioned her before he came away. Perhaps she was in great need. It comforted him to think he had left her all the money he had with him. There was enough to keep her from want for a while. And yet, perhaps he had been wrong to give it to her. He had no right to give it!
He groaned aloud at the thought of his helplessness to help her helplessness. Was there not some way he could find out and help her without doing wrong?
Over and over he went through the whole dreadful day, until his brain was weary and his heart failed him. The heavens seemed brass and no answer came to his cry,—the appeal of a broken soul. It seemed that he could not get up from his knees, could not go out into the world again and face life. He had been tried and had failed, and yet though he knew his sin he felt an intolerable longing to commit it over again. He was frightened at his own weakness, and with renewed vigor he began to pray for help. It was like the prayer of Jacob of old, the crying out of a soul that would not be denied. All day long the struggle continued, and far into the night. At last a great peace began to settle upon David's soul. Things that had been confused by his passionate longings grew clear as day. Self dropped away, and sin, conquered, slunk out of sight. Right and Wrong were once more clearly defined in his mind. However wrong it might or might not be he was here in this situation. He had married Marcia and promised to be true to her. He was doubly cut off from Kate by her own act and by his. That was his punishment,—and hers. He must not seek to lessen it even for her, for it was God-sent. Henceforth his path and hers must be apart. If she were to be helped in any way from whatsoever trouble was hers, it was not permitted him to be the instrument. He had shown his unfitness for it in his interview that morning, even if in the eyes of the world it could have been at all. It was his duty to cut himself off from her forever. He must not even think of her any more. He must be as true and good to Marcia as was possible. He must do no more wrong. He must grow strong and suffer.
The peace that came with conviction brought sleep to his weary mind and body.
When he awoke it was almost noon. He remembered the missed appointment of the day before, and the journey to Washington which he had planned for that day. With a start of horror he looked at his watch and found he had but a few hours in which to try to make up for the remissness of yesterday before the evening coach left for Philadelphia. It was as if some guardian angel had met his first waking thoughts with business that could not be delayed and so kept him from going over the painful events of the day before. He arose and hastened out into the world once more.
Late in the afternoon he found the man he was to have met the day before, and succeeded in convincing him that he ought to help the new enterprise. He was standing on the corner saying the last few words as the two separated, when Kate drove by in a friend's carriage, surrounded by parcels. She had been on a shopping tour spending the money that David had given her, for silks and laces and jewelry, and now she was returning in high glee with her booty. The carriage passed quite near to David who stood with his back to the street, and she could see his animated face as he smiled at the other man, a fine looking man who looked as if he might be some one of note. The momentary glance did not show the haggard look of David's face nor the lines that his vigil of the night before had traced under his eyes, and Kate was angered to see him so unconcerned and forgetful of his pain of yesterday. Her face darkened with spite, and she resolved to make him suffer yet, and to the utmost, for the sin of forgetting her.
But David was in the way of duty, and he did not see her, for his guardian angel was hovering close at hand.
As the Fall wore on and the winter set in Harry's letters became less frequent and less intimate. Hannah was troubled, and after consultation with her grandmother, to which Miranda listened at the latch hole, duly reporting quotations to her adored Mrs. Spafford, Hannah decided upon an immediate trip to the metropolis.
"Hannah's gone to New York to find out what's become of that nimshi Harry Temple. She thought she had him fast, an' she's been holdin' him over poor Lemuel Skinner's head like thet there sword hangin' by a hair I heard the minister tell about last Sunday, till Lemuel, he don't know but every minute's gone'll be his last. You mark my words, she'll hev to take poor Lem after all, an' be glad she's got him, too,—and she's none too good for him neither. He's ben faithful to her ever since she wore pantalets, an' she's ben keepin' him off'n on an' hopin' an' tryin' fer somebody bigger. It would jes' serve her right ef she'd get that fool of a Harry Temple, but she won't. He's too sharp for that ef he is a fool. He don't want to tie himself up to no woman's aprun strings. He rather dandle about after 'em all an' say pretty things, an' keep his earnin's fer himself."
Hannah reached New York the week after David left for Washington. She wrote beforehand to Harry to let him know she was coming, and made plain that she expected his attentions exclusively while there, and he smiled blandly as he read the letter and read her intentions between the lines. He told Kate a good deal about her that evening when he went to call, told her how he had heard she was an old flame of David's, and Kate's jealousy was immediately aroused. She wished to meet Hannah Heath. There was a sort of triumph in the thought that she had scorned and flung aside the man whom this woman had "set her cap" for, even though another woman was now in the place that neither had. Hannah went to visit a cousin in New York who lived in a quiet part of the city and did not go out much, but for reasons best known to themselves, both Kate Leavenworth and Harry Temple elected to see a good deal of her while she was in the city. Harry was pleasant and attentive, but not more to one woman than to the other. Hannah, watching him jealously, decided that at least Kate was not her rival in his affections, and so Hannah and Kate became quite friendly. Kate had a way of making much of her women friends when she chose, and she happened to choose in this case, for it occurred to her it would be well to have a friend in the town where lived her sister and her former lover. There might be reasons why, sometime. She opened her heart of hearts to Hannah, and Hannah, quite discreetly, and without wasting much of her scanty store of love, entered, and the friendship was sealed. They had not known each other many days before Kate had confided to Hannah the story of her own marriage and her sister's, embellished of course as she chose. Hannah, astonished, puzzled, wondering, curious, at the tragedy that had been enacted at her very home door, became more friendly than ever and hated more cordially than ever the young and innocent wife who had stepped into the vacant place and so made her own hopes and ambitions impossible. She felt that she would like to put down the pert young thing for daring to be there, and to be pretty, and now she felt she had the secret which would help her to do so.
As the visit went on and it became apparent to Hannah Heath that she was not the one woman in all the world to Harry Temple, she hinted to Kate that it was likely she would be married soon. She even went so far as to say that she had come away from home to decide the matter, and that she had but to say the word and the ceremony would come off. Kate questioned eagerly, and seeing her opportunity asked if she might come to the wedding. Hannah, flattered, and seeing a grand opportunity for a wholesale triumph and revenge, assented with pleasure. Afterward as Hannah had hoped and intended, Kate carried the news of the impending decision and probable wedding to the ears of Harry Temple.
But Hannah's hint had no further effect upon the redoubtable Harry. Two days later he appeared, smiling, congratulatory, deploring the fact that she would be lost in a certain sense to his friendship, although he hoped always to be looked upon as a little more than a friend.
Hannah covered her mortification under a calm and condescending exterior. She blushed appropriately, said some sentimental things about hoping their friendship would not be affected by the change, told him how much she had enjoyed their correspondence, but gave him to understand that it had been mere friendship of course from her point of view, and Harry indulgently allowed her to think that he had hoped for more and was grieved but consolable over the outcome.
They waxed a trifle sentimental at the parting, but when Harry was gone, Hannah wrote a most touching letter to Lemuel Skinner which raised him to the seventh heaven of delight, causing him to feel that he was treading upon air as he walked the prosaic streets of his native town where he had been going about during Hannah's absence like a lost spirit without a guiding star.
"DEAR LEMUEL:" she wrote:—
"I am coming home. I wonder if you will be glad?
(Artful Hannah, as if she did not know!)
"It is very delightful in New York and I have been having a gay time since I came, and everybody has been most pleasant, but—
"'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Still, be it ever so humble, there's no place like home. A charm from the skies seems to hallow it there, Which, go through the world, you'll not meet with elsewhere. Home, home, sweet home! There's no place like home.
"That is a new song, Lemuel, that everybody here is singing. It is written by a young American named John Howard Payne who is in London now acting in a great playhouse. Everybody is wild over this song. I'll sing it for you when I come home.
"I shall be at home in time for singing school next week, Lemuel. I wonder if you'll come to see me at once and welcome me. You cannot think how glad I shall be to get home again. It seems as though I had been gone a year at least. Hoping to see you soon, I remain
"Always your sincere friend,
And thus did Hannah make smooth her path before her, and very soon after inditing this epistle she bade good-bye to New York and took her way home resolved to waste no further time in chasing will-o-the-wisps.
When Lemuel received that letter he took a good look at himself in the glass. More than seven years had he served for Hannah, and little hope had he had of a final reward. He was older by ten years than she, and already his face began to show it. He examined himself critically, and was pleased to find with that light of hope in his eyes he was not so bad looking as he feared. He betook himself to the village tailor forthwith and ordered a new suit of clothes, though his Sunday best was by no means shiny yet. He realized that if he did not win now he never would, and he resolved to do his best.
On the way home, during all the joltings of the coach over rough roads Hannah Heath was planning two campaigns, one of love with Lemuel, and one of hate with Marcia Spafford. She was possessed of knowledge which she felt would help her in the latter, and often she smiled vindictively as she laid her neat plans for the destruction of the bride's complacency.
That night the fire in the Heath parlor burned high and glowed, and the candles in their silver holders flickered across fair Hannah's face as she dimpled and smiled and coquetted with poor Lemuel. But Lemuel needed no pity. He was not afraid of Hannah. Not for nothing had he served his seven years, and he understood every fancy and foible of her shallow nature. He knew his time had come at last, and he was getting what he had wanted long, for Lemuel had admired and loved Hannah in spite of the dance she had led him, and in spite of the other lovers she had allowed to come between them.
Hannah had not been at home many days before she called upon Marcia.
Marcia had just seated herself at the piano when Hannah appeared to her from the hall, coming in unannounced through the kitchen door according to old neighborly fashion.
Marcia was vexed. She arose from the instrument and led the way to the little morning room which was sunny and cosy, and bare of music or books. She did not like to visit with Hannah in the parlor. Somehow her presence reminded her of the evil face of Harry Temple as he had stooped to kiss her.
"You know how to play, too, don't you?" said Hannah as they sat down. "Your sister plays beautifully. Do you know the new song, 'Home, Sweet Home?' She plays it with so much feeling and sings it so that one would think her heart was breaking for her home. You must have been a united family." Hannah said it with sharp scrutiny in voice and eyes.
"Sit down, Miss Heath," said Marcia coolly, lowering the yellow shades that her visitor's eyes might not be troubled by a broad sunbeam. "Did you have a pleasant time in New York?"
Hannah could not be sure whether or not the question was an evasion. The utterly child-like manner of Marcia disarmed suspicion.
"Oh, delightful, of course. Could any one have anything else in New York?"
Hannah laughed disagreeably. She realized the limitations of life in a town.
"I suppose," said Marcia, her eyes shining with the thought, "that you saw all the wonderful things of the city. I should enjoy being in New York a little while. I have heard of so many new things. Were there any ships in the harbor? I have always wanted to go over a great ship. Did you have opportunity of seeing one?"
"Oh, dear me. No!" said Hannah. "I shouldn't have cared in the least for that. I'm sure I don't know whether there were any ships in or not. I suppose there were. I saw a lot of sails on the water, but I did not ask about them. I'm not interested in dirty boats. I liked visiting the shops best. Your sister took me about everywhere. She is a most charming creature. You must miss her greatly. You were a sly little thing to cut her out."
Marcia's face flamed crimson with anger and amazement. Hannah's dart had hit the mark, and she was watching keenly to see her victim quiver.
"I do not understand you," said Marcia with girlish dignity.
"Oh, now don't pretend to misunderstand. I've heard all about it from headquarters," she said it archly, laughing. "But then I don't blame you. David was worth it." Hannah ended with a sigh. If she had ever cared for any one besides herself that one was David Spafford.
"I do not understand you," said Marcia again, drawing herself up with all the Schuyler haughtiness she could master, till she quite resembled her father.
"Now, Mrs. Spafford," said the visitor, looking straight into her face and watching every expression as a cat would watch a mouse, "you don't mean to tell me your sister was not at one time very intimate with your husband."
"Mr. Spafford has been intimate in our family for a number of years," said Marcia proudly, her fighting fire up, "but as for my having 'cut my sister out' as you call it, you have certainly been misinformed. Excuse me, I think I will close the kitchen door. It seems to blow in here and make a draft."
Marcia left the room with her head up and her fine color well under control, and when she came back her head was still up and a distant expression was in her face. Somehow Hannah felt she had not gained much after all. But Marcia, after Hannah's departure, went up to her cold room and wept bitter tears on her pillow alone.
Copyright by C. Klackner MARCIA PASSED FROM THE OLD STONE CHURCH WITH THE TWO AUNTS.
After that first visit Hannah never found the kitchen door unlocked when she came to make a morning call, but she improved every little opportunity to torment her gentle victim. She had had a letter from Kate and had Marcia heard? How often did Kate write her? Did Marcia know how fond Harry Temple was of Kate? And where was Kate's husband? Would he likely be ordered home soon? These little annoyances were almost unbearable sometimes and Marcia had much ado to keep her sweetness of outward demeanor.
People looked upon Lemuel with new respect. He had finally won where they had considered him a fool for years for hanging on. The added respect brought added self-respect. He took on new manliness. Grandmother Heath felt that he really was not so bad after all, and perhaps Hannah might as well have taken him at first. Altogether the Heath family were well pleased, and preparations began at once for a wedding in the near future.
And still David lingered, held here and there by a call from first one man and then another, and by important doings in Congress. He seemed to be rarely fitted for the work.
Once he was called back to New York for a day or two, and Harry Temple happened to see him as he arrived. That night he wrote to Hannah a friendly letter—Harry was by no means through with Hannah yet—and casually remarked that he saw David Spafford was in New York again. He supposed now that Mrs. Leavenworth's evenings would be fully occupied and society would see little of her while he remained.
The day after Hannah received that letter was Sunday.
The weeks had gone by rapidly since David left his home, and now the spring was coming on. The grass was already green as summer and the willow tree by the graveyard gate was tender and green like a spring-plume. All the foliage was out and fluttering its new leaves in the sunshine as Marcia passed from the old stone church with the two aunts and opened her little green sunshade. Her motion made David's last letter rustle in her bosom. It thrilled her with pleasure that not even the presence of Hannah Heath behind her could cloud.
However prim and fault-finding the two aunts might be in the seclusion of their own home, in public no two could have appeared more adoring than Amelia and Hortense Spafford. They hovered near Marcia and delighted to show how very close and intimate was the relationship between themselves and their new and beautiful niece, of whom in their secret hearts they were prouder than they would have cared to tell. In their best black silks and their fine lace shawls they walked beside her and talked almost eagerly, if those two stately beings could have anything to do with a quality so frivolous as eagerness. They wished it understood that David's wife was worthy of appreciation and they were more conscious than she of the many glances of admiration in her direction.
Hannah Heath encountered some of those admiring glances and saw jealously for whom they were meant. She hastened to lean forward and greet Marcia, her spiteful tongue all ready for a stab.
"Good morning, Mrs. Spafford. Is that husband of yours not home yet? Really! Why, he's quite deserted you. I call that hard for the first year, and your honeymoon scarcely over yet."
"He's been called back to New York again," said Marcia annoyed over the spiteful little sentences. "He says he may be at home soon, but he cannot be sure. His business is rather uncertain."
"New York!" said Hannah, and her voice was annoyingly loud. "What! Not again! There must be some great attraction there," and then with a meaning glance, "I suppose your sister is still there!"
Marcia felt her face crimsoning, and the tears starting from angry eyes. She felt a sudden impulse to slap Hannah. What if she should! What would the aunts say? The thought of the tumult she might make roused her sense of humor and a laugh bubbled up instead of the tears, and Hannah, watching, cat-like, could only see eyes dancing with fun though the cheeks were charmingly red. By Hannah's expression Marcia knew she was baffled, but Marcia could not get away from the disagreeable suggestion that had been made.
Yes, David was in New York, and Kate was there. Not for an instant did she doubt her husband's nobleness. She knew David would be good and true. She knew little of the world's wickedness, and never thought of any blame, as other women might, in such a suggestion. But a great jealousy sprang into being that she never dreamed existed. Kate was there, and he would perhaps see her, and all his old love and disappointment would be brought to mind again. Had she, Marcia, been hoping he would forget it? Had she been claiming something of him in her heart for herself? She could not tell. She did not know what all this tumult of feeling meant. She longed to get away and think it over, but the solemn Sunday must be observed. She must fold away her church things, put on another frock and come down to the oppressive Sunday dinner, hear Deacon Brown's rheumatism discussed, or listen to a long comparison of the morning's sermon with one preached twenty years ago by the minister, now long dead upon the same text. It was all very hard to keep her mind upon, with these other thoughts rushing pell-mell through her brain; and when Aunt Amelia asked her to pass the butter, she handed the sugar-bowl instead. Miss Amelia looked as shocked as if she had broken the great-grandmother's china teapot.
Aunt Clarinda claimed her after dinner and carried her off to her room to talk about David, so that Marcia had no chance to think even then. Miss Clarinda looked into the sweet shadowed eyes and wondered why the girl looked so sad. She thought it was because David stayed away so long, and so she kept her with her all the rest of the day.