"I do not mean it—I did not mean it," said Lois, drying her eyes. "It is ungrateful of me; for we have so much to be thankful for. I am so glad for grandmother!"—Yet somehow the tears went on falling.
"Glad?"—repeated Mrs. Barclay doubtfully. "You mean, because she is out of her suffering."
"She did not suffer much. It is not that. I am so glad to think she has got home!"
"I suppose," said Mrs. Barclay in a constrained voice, "to such a person as your grandmother, death has no fear. Yet life seems to me more desirable."
"She has entered into life!" said Lois. "She is where she wanted to be, and with what she loved best. And I am very, very glad! even though I do cry."
"How can you speak with such certain'ty, Lois? I know, in such a case as that of your grandmother, there could be no fear; and yet I do not see how you can speak as if you knew where she is, and with whom."
"Only because the Bible tells us," said Lois, smiling even through wet eyes. "Not the place; it does not tell us the place; but with Christ. That they are; and that is all we want to know.
'Beyond the sighing and the weeping.'
—It makes me gladder than ever I can tell you, to think of it."
"Then what are those tears for, my dear?"
"It's the turning over a leaf," said Lois sadly, "and that is always sorrowful. And I have lost—uncle Tim says," she broke off suddenly, "he says,—can it be?—he says you say you must go from us in the spring?"
"That is turning over another leaf," said Mrs. Barclay.
"But is it true?"
"Absolutely true. Circumstances make it imperative. It is not my wish. I would like to stay here with you all my life."
"I wish you could. I half hoped you would," said Lois wistfully.
"But I cannot, my dear. I cannot."
"Then that is another thing over," said Lois. "What a good time it has been, this year and a half you have been with us! how much worth to Madge and me! But won't you come back again?"
"I fear not. You will not miss me so much; you will all keep house together, Mr. Hotchkiss tells me."
"I shall not be here," said Lois.
"Where will you be?" Mrs. Barclay started.
"I don't know; but it will be best for me to do something to help along. I think I shall take a school somewhere. I think I can get one."
"A school, my dear? Why should you do such a thing?"
"To help along," said Lois. "You know, we have not much to live on here at home. I should make one less here, and I should be earning a little besides."
"Very little, Lois!"
"Very little will do."
"But you do a great deal now towards the family support. What will become of your garden?"
"Uncle Tim can take care of that. Besides, Mrs. Barclay, even if I could stay at home, I think I ought not. I ought to be doing something—be of some use in the world. I am not needed here, now dear grandmother is gone; and there must be some other place where I am needed."
"My dear, somebody will want you to keep house for him, some of these days."
Lois shook her head. "I do not think of it," she said. "I do not think it is very likely; that is, anybody I should want. But if it were true," she added, looking up and smiling, "that has nothing to do with present duty."
"My dear, I cannot bear to think of your going into such drudgery!"
"Drudgery?" said Lois. "I do not know,—perhaps I should not find it so. But I may as well do it as somebody else."
"You are fit for something better."
"There is nothing better, and there is nothing happier," said Lois, rising, "than to do what God gives us to do. I should not be unhappy, Mrs. Barclay. It wouldn't be just like these days we have passed together, I suppose;—these days have been a garden of flowers."
And what have they all amounted to? thought Mrs. Barclay when she was left alone. Have I done any good—or only harm—by acceding to that mad proposition of Philip's? Some good, surely; these two girls have grown and changed, mentally, at a great rate of progress; they are educated, cultivated, informed, refined, to a degree that I would never have thought a year and a half could do. Even so! have I done them good? They are lifted quite out of the level of their surroundings; and to be lifted so, means sometimes a barren living alone. Yet I will not think that; it is better to rise in the scale of being, if ever one can, whatever comes of it; what one is in oneself is of more importance than one's relations to the world around. But Philip?—I have helped him nourish this fancy—and it is not a fancy now—it is the man's whole life. Heigh ho! I begin to think he was right, and that it is very difficult to know what is doing good and what isn't. I must write to Philip—
So she did, at once. She told him of the contemplated changes in the family arrangements; of Lois's plan for teaching a district school; and declared that she herself must now leave Shampuashuh. She had done what she came for, whether for good or for ill. It was done; and she could no longer continue living there on Mr. Dillwyn's bounty. Now it would be mere bounty, if she stayed where she was; until now she might say she had been doing his work. His work was done now, her part of it; the rest he must finish for himself. Mrs. Barclay would leave Shampuashuh in April.
This letter would bring matters to a point, she thought, if anything could; she much expected to see Mr. Dillwyn himself appear again before March was over. He did not come, however; he wrote a short answer to Mrs. Barclay, saying that he was sorry for her resolve, and would combat it if he could; but felt that he had not the power. She must satisfy her fastidious notions of independence, and he could only thank her to the last day of his life for what she had already done for him; service which thanks could never repay. He sent this letter, but said nothing of coming; and he did not come.
Later, Mrs. Barclay wrote again. The household changes were just about to be made; she herself had but a week or two more in Shampuashuh; and Lois, against all expectation, had found opportunity immediately to try her vocation for teaching. The lady placed over a school in a remote little village had suddenly died; and the trustees of the school had considered favourably Lois's application. She was going in a day or two to undertake the charge of a score or two of boys and girls, of all ages, in a wild and rough part of the country; where even the accommodations for her own personal comfort, Mrs. Barclay feared, would be of the plainest.
To this letter also she received an answer, though after a little interval. Mr. Dillwyn wrote, he regretted Lois's determination; regretted that she thought it necessary; but appreciated the straightforward, unflinching sense of duty which never consulted with ease or selfishness. He himself was going, he added, on business, for a time, to the north; that is, not Massachusetts, but Canada. He would therefore not see Mrs. Barclay until after a considerable interval.
Mrs. Barclay did not know what to make of this letter. Had Philip given up his fancy? It was not like him. Men are fickle, it is true; but fickle in his friendships she had never known Mr. Dillwyn to be. Yet this letter said nothing of love, or hope, or fear; it was cool, friendly, business-like. Mrs. Barclay nevertheless did not know how to believe in the business. He have business! What business? She had always known him as an easy, graceful, pleasure-taker; finding his pleasure in no evil ways, indeed; kept from that by early associations, or by his own refined tastes and sense of honour; but never living to anything but pleasure. His property was ample and unencumbered; even the care of that was not difficult, and did not require much of his time. And now, just when he ought to put in his claim for Lois, if he was ever going to make it; just when she was set loose from her old ties and marking out a new and hard way of life for herself, he ought to come; and he was going on business to Canada! Mrs. Barclay was excessively disgusted and disappointed. She had not, indeed, all along seen how Philip's wooing could issue successfully, if it ever came to the point of wooing; the elements were too discordant, and principles too obstinate; and yet she had worked on in hope, vague and doubtful, but still hope, thinking highly herself of Mr. Dillwyn's pretensions and powers of persuasion, and knowing that in human nature at large all principle and all discordance are apt to come to a signal defeat when Love takes the field. But now there seemed to be no question of wooing; Love was not on hand, where his power was wanted; the friends were all scattered one from another—Lois going to the drudgery of teaching rough boys and girls, she herself to the seclusion of some quiet seaside retreat, and Mr. Dillwyn—to hunt bears?—in Canada.
So they were all scattered. But the moving and communicating wires of human society seem as often as any way to run underground; quite out of sight, at least; then specially strong, when to an outsider they appear to be broken and parted for ever.
Into the history of the summer it is impossible to go minutely. What Mr. Dillwyn did in Canada, and how Lois fought with ignorance and rudeness and prejudice in her new situation, Mrs. Barclay learned but very imperfectly from the letters she received; so imperfectly, that she felt she knew nothing. Mr. Dillwyn never mentioned Miss Lothrop. Could it be that he had prematurely brought things to a decision, and so got them decided wrong? But in that case Mrs. Barclay felt sure some sign would have escaped Lois; and she gave none.
The summer passed, and two-thirds of the autumn.
One evening in the end of October, Mrs. Wishart was sitting alone in her back drawing-room. She was suffering from a cold, and coddling herself over the fire. Her major-domo brought her Mr. Dillwyn's name and request for admission, which was joyfully granted. Mrs. Wishart was denied to ordinary visitors; and Philip's arrival was like a benediction.
"Where have you been all summer?" she asked him, when they had talked awhile of some things nearer home.
"In the backwoods of Canada."
"The backwoods of Canada!"
"I assure you it is a very enjoyable region."
"What could you find to do there?"
"More than enough. I spent my time between hunting—fishing—and studying."
"Studying what, pray? Not backwoods farming, I suppose?"
"Well, no, not exactly. Backwoods farming is not precisely in my line."
"What is in your line that you could study there?"
"It is not a bad place to study anything;—if you except, perhaps, art and antiquity."
"I did not know you studied anything but art."
"It is hardly a sufficient object to fill a man's life worthily; do you think so?"
"What would fill it worthily?" the lady asked, with a kind of dreary abstractedness. And if Philip had surprised her a moment before, he was surprised in his turn. As he did not answer immediately, Mrs. Wishart went on.
"A man's life, or a woman's life? What would fill it worthily? Do you know? Sometimes it seems to me that we are all living for nothing."
"I am ready to confess that has been the case with me,—to my shame be it said."
"I mean, that there is nothing really worth living for."
"That cannot be true, however."
"Well, I suppose I say so at the times when I am unable to enjoy anything in my life. And yet, if you stop to think, what does anybody's life amount to? Nobody's missed, after he is gone; or only for a minute; and for himself—There is not a year of my life that I can remember, that I would be willing to live over again."
"Apparently, then, to enjoy is not the chief end of existence. I mean, of this existence."
"What do we know of any other? And if we do not enjoy ourselves, pray what in the world should we live for?"
"I have seen people that I thought enjoyed themselves," Philip said slowly.
"Have you? Who were they? I do not know them."
"You know some of them. Do you recollect a friend of mine, for whom you negotiated lodgings at a far-off country village?"
"Yes, I remember. They took her, didn't they?"
"They took her. And I had the pleasure once or twice of visiting her there."
"Did she like it?"
"Very much. She could not help liking it. And I thought those people seemed to enjoy life. Not relatively, but positively."
"The Lothrops!" cried Mrs. Wishart. "I can not conceive it. Why, they are very poor."
"That made no hindrance, in their case."
"Poor people, I am afraid they have not been enjoying themselves this year."
"I heard of Mrs. Armadale's death."
"Yes. O, she was old; she could not be expected to live long. But they are all broken up."
"How am I to understand that?"
"Well, you know they have very little to live upon. I suppose it was for that reason Lois went off to a distance from home to teach a district school. You know,—or do you know?—what country schools are, in some places; this was one of the places. Pretty rough; and hard living. And then a railroad was opened in the neighbourhood—the place became sickly—a fever broke out among Lois's scholars and the families they came from; and Lois spent her vacation in nursing. Then got sick herself with the fever, and is only just now getting well."
"I heard something of this before from Mrs. Barclay."
"Then Madge went to take care of Lois, and they were both there. That is weeks and weeks ago,—months, I should think."
"But the sick one is well again?"
"She is better. But one does not get up from those fevers so soon. One's strength is gone. I have sent for them to come and make me a visit and recruit."
"They are coming, I hope?"
"I expect them here to-morrow."
Mr. Dillwyn had nearly been betrayed into an exclamation. He remembered himself in time, and replied with proper self-possession that he was very glad to hear it.
"Yes, I told them to come here and rest. They must want it, poor girls, both of them."
"Then they are coming to-morrow?"
"By what train?"
"I believe, it is the New Haven train that gets in about five o'clock. Or six. I do not know exactly."
"I know. Now, Mrs. Wishart, you are not well yourself, and must not go out. I will meet the train and bring them safe to you."
"You? O, that's delightful. I have been puzzling my brain to know how I should manage; for I am not fit to go out yet, and servants are so unsatisfactory. Will you really? That's good of you!"
"Not at all. It is the least I can do. The family received me most kindly on more than one occasion; and I would gladly do them a greater service than this."
At two o'clock next day the waiting-room of the New Haven station held, among others, two very handsome young girls; who kept close together, waiting for their summons to the train. One of them was very pale and thin and feeble-looking, and indeed sat so that she leaned part of her weight upon her sister. Madge was pale too, and looked somewhat anxious. Both pairs of eyes watched languidly the moving, various groups of travellers clustered about in the room.
"Madge, it's like a dream!" murmured the one girl to the other.
"What? If you mean this crowd, my dreams have more order in them."
"I mean, being away from Esterbrooke, and off a sick-bed, and moving, and especially going to—where we are going. It's a dream!"
"Too good to be true. I had thought, do you know, I never should make a visit there again."
"Why not, Lois?"
"I thought it would be best not. But now the way seems clear, and I can take the fun of it. It is clearly right to go."
"Of course! It is always right to go wherever you are asked."
"O no, Madge!"
"Well,—wherever the invitation is honest, I mean."
"O, that isn't enough."
"What else? supposing you have the means to go. I am not sure that we have that condition in the present instance. But if you have, what else is to be waited for?"
"Duty—" Lois whispered.
"O, bother duty! Here have you gone and almost killed yourself for duty."
"Well,—supposing one does kill oneself?—one must do what is duty."
"That isn't duty."
"O, it may be."
"Not to kill yourself. You have almost killed yourself, Lois."
"I couldn't help it."
"Yes, you could. You make duty a kind of iron thing."
"Not iron," said Lois; she spoke slowly and faintly, but now she smiled. "It is golden!"
"That don't help. Chains of gold may be as hard to break as chains of iron."
"Who wants them broken?" said Lois, in the same slow, contented way. "Duty? Why Madge, it's the King's orders!"
"Do you mean that you were ordered to go to that place, and then to nurse those children through the fever?"
"Yes, I think so."
"I should be terribly afraid of duty, if I thought it came in such shapes. There's the train!—Now if you can get downstairs—"
That was accomplished, though with tottering steps, and Lois was safely seated in one of the cars, and her head pillowed upon the back of the seat. There was no more talking then for some time. Only when Haarlem bridge was past and New York close at hand, Lois spoke.
"Madge, suppose Mrs. Wishart should not be here to meet us? You must think what you would do."
"Why, the train don't go any further, does it?"
"No!—but it goes back. I mean, it will not stand still for you. It moves away out of the station-house as soon as it is empty."
"There will be carriages waiting, I suppose. But I am sure I hope she will meet us. I wrote in plenty of time. Don't worry, dear! we'll manage."
"I am not worrying," said Lois. "I am a great deal too happy to worry."
However, that was not Madge's case, and she felt very fidgety. With Lois so feeble, and in a place so unknown to her, and with baggage checks to dispose of, and so little time to do anything, and no doubt a crowd of doubtful characters lounging about, as she had always heard they did in New York; Madge did wish very anxiously for a pilot and a protector. As the train slowly moved into the Grand Central, she eagerly looked to see some friend appear. But none appeared.
"We must go out, Madge," said Lois. "Maybe we shall find Mrs. Wishart—I dare say we shall—she could not come into the cars—"
The two made their way accordingly, slowly, at the end of the procession filing out of the car, till Madge got out upon the platform. There she uttered an exclamation of joy.
"O Lois!—there's Mr. Dillwyn?"
"But we are looking for Mrs. Wishart," said Lois.
The next thing she knew, however, somebody was carefully helping her down to the landing; and then, her hand was on a stronger arm than that of Mrs. Wishart, and she was slowly following the stream of people to the front of the station-house. Lois was too exhausted by this time to ask any questions; suffered herself to be put in a carriage passively, where Madge took her place also, while Mr. Dillwyn went to give the checks of their baggage in charge to an expressman. Lois then broke out again with,
"O Madge, it's like a dream!"
"Isn't it?" said Madge. "I have been in a regular fidget for two hours past, for fear Mrs. Wishart would not be here."
"I didn't fidget," said Lois, "but I did not know how I was going to get from the cars to the carriage. I feel in a kind of exhausted Elysium!"
"It's convenient to have a man belonging to one," said Madge.
"Hush, pray!" said Lois, closing her eyes. And she hardly opened them again until the carriage arrived at Mrs. Wishart's, which was something of a drive. Madge and Mr. Dillwyn kept up a lively conversation, about the journey and Lois's condition, and her summer; and how he happened to be at the Grand Central. He went to meet some friends, he said coolly, whom he expected to see by that train.
"Then we must have been in your way," exclaimed Madge regretfully.
"Not at all," he said.
"But we hindered you from taking care of your friends?"
"No," he said indifferently; "by no means. They are taken care of."
And both Madge and Lois were too simple to know what he meant.
At Mrs. Wishart's, Lois was again helped carefully out and carefully in, and half carried up-stairs to her own room, whither it was decided she had better go at once. And there, after being furnished with a bowl of soup, she was left, while the others went down to tea. So Madge found her an hour afterwards, sunk in the depths of a great, soft easy-chair, gazing at the fanciful flames of a kennel coal fire.
"O Madge, it's a dream!" Lois said again languidly, though with plenty of expression. "I can't believe in the change from Esterbrooke here."
"It's a change from Shampuashuh," Madge returned. "Lois, I didn't know things could be so pretty. And we have had the most delightful tea, and something—cakes—Mrs. Wishart calls wigs, the best things you ever saw in your life; but Mr. Dillwyn wouldn't let us send some up to you."
"Yes, he said they were not good for you. He has been just as pleasant as he could be. I never saw anybody so pleasant. I like Mr. Dillwyn very much."
"Don't!" said Lois languidly.
"You had better not."
"But why not? You are ungrateful, it seems to me, if you don't like him."
"I like him," said Lois slowly; "but he belongs to a different world from ours. The worlds can't come together; so it is best not to like him too much."
"How do you mean, a different world?"
"O, he's different, Madge! All his thoughts and ways and associations are unlike ours—a great way off from ours; and must be. It is best as I said. I guess it is best not to like anybody too much."
With which oracular and superhumanly wise utterance Lois closed her eyes softly again. Madge, provoked, was about to carry on the discussion, when, noticing how pale the cheek was which lay against the crimson chair cushion, and how very delicate the lines of the face, she thought better of it and was silent. A while later, however, when she had brought Lois a cup of gruel and biscuit, she broke out on a new theme.
"What a thing it is, that some people should have so much silver, and other people so little!"
"What silver are you thinking of?"
"Why, Mrs. Wishart's, to be sure. Who's else? I never saw anything like it, out of Aladdin's cave. Great urns, and salvers, and cream-jugs, and sugar-bowls, and cake-baskets, and pitchers, and salt-cellars. The salt-cellars were lined with something yellow, or washed, to hinder the staining, I suppose."
"Gold," said Lois.
"Yes. Plated with gold."
"Well I never saw anything like the sideboard down-stairs; the sideboard and the tea-table. It is funny, Lois, as I said, why some should have so much, and others so little."
"We, you mean? What should we do with a load of silver?"
"I wish I had it, and then you'd see! You should have a silk dress, to begin with, and so should I."
"Never mind," said Lois, letting her eyelids fall again with an expression of supreme content, having finished her gruel. "There are compensations, Madge."
"Compensations! What compensations? We are hardly respectably dressed, you and I, for this place."
"Never mind!" said Lois again. "If you had been sick as I was, and in that place, and among those people, you would know something."
"What should I know?"
"How delightful this chair is;—and how good that gruel, out of a china cup;—and how delicious all this luxury! Mrs. Wishart isn't as rich as I am to-night."
"The difference is, she can keep it, and you cannot, you poor child!"
"O yes, I can keep it," said Lois, in the slow, happy accent with which she said everything to-night;—"I can keep the remembrance of it, and the good of it. When I get back to my work, I shall not want it."
"Your work!" said Madge.
"Yes, if they want me."
"You are never going back to that place!" exclaimed Madge energetically. "Never! not with my good leave. Bury yourself in that wild country, and kill yourself with hard work! Not if I know it."
"If that is the work given me," said Lois, in the same calm voice. "They want somebody there, badly; and I have made a beginning."
"A nice beginning!—almost killed yourself. Now, Lois, don't think about anything! Do you know, Mrs. Wishart says you are the handsomest girl she ever saw!"
"That's a mistake. I know several much handsomer."
"She tried to make Mr. Dillwyn say so too; and he wouldn't."
"It was funny to hear them; she tried to drive him up to the point, and he wouldn't be driven; he said one clever thing after another, but always managed to give her no answer; till at last she pinned him with a point-blank question."
"What did he do then?"
"Said what you said; that he had seen women who would be called handsomer."
The conversation dropped here, for Lois made no reply, and Madge recollected she had talked enough.
It was days before Lois went down-stairs. She seemed indeed to be in no hurry. Her room was luxuriously comfortable; Madge tended her there, and Mrs. Wishart visited her; and Lois sat in her great easy-chair, and rested, and devoured the delicate meals that were brought her; and the colour began gently to come back to her face, in the imperceptible fashion in which a white Van Thol tulip takes on its hues of crimson. She began to read a little; but she did not care to go down-stairs. Madge told her everything that went on; who came, and what was said by one and another. Mr. Dillwyn's name was of very frequent occurrence.
"He's a real nice man!" said Madge enthusiastically.
"Madge, Madge, Madge!—you mustn't speak so," said Lois. "You must not say 'real nice.'"
"I don't, down-stairs," said Madge, laughing. "It was only to you. It is more expressive, Lois, sometimes, to speak wrong than to speak right."
"Do not speak so expressively, then."
"But I must, when I am speaking of Mr. Dillwyn. I never saw anybody so nice. He is teaching me to play chess, Lois, and it is such fun."
"It seems to me he comes here very often."
"He does; he is an old friend of Mrs. Wishart's, and she is as glad to see him as I am."
"Don't be too glad, Madge. I do not like to hear you speak so."
"It was one of the reasons why I did not want to accept Mrs. Barclay's invitation last winter, that I knew he would be visiting her constantly. I did not expect to see him here much." Lois looked grave.
"What harm in seeing him, Lois? why shouldn't one have the pleasure? For it is a pleasure; his talk is so bright, and his manner is so very kind and graceful; and he is so kind. He is going to take me to drive again."
"You go to drive with Mrs. Wishart. Isn't that enough?"
"It isn't a quarter so pleasant," Madge said, laughing again. "Mr. Dillwyn talks, something one likes to hear talked. Mrs. Wishart tells me about old families, and where they used to live, and where they live now; what do I care about old New York families! And Mr. Dillwyn lets me talk. I never have anything whatever to say to Mrs. Wishart; she does it all."
"I would rather have you go driving with her, though."
"Why, Lois? That's ridiculous. I like to go with Mr. Dillwyn."
"Don't like it too well."
"How can I like it too well?"
"So much that you would miss it, when you do not have it any longer."
"Miss it!" said Madge, half angrily. "I might miss it, as I might miss any pleasant thing; but I could stand that. I'm not a chicken just out of the egg. I have missed things before now, and it hasn't killed me."
"Don't think I am foolish, Madge. It isn't a question of how much you can stand. But the men like—like this one—are so pleasant with their graceful, smooth ways, that country girls like you and me might easily be drawn on, without knowing it, further than they want to go."
"He does not want to draw anybody on!" said Madge indignantly.
"That's the very thing. You might think—or I might think—that pleasant manner means something; and it don't mean anything."
"I don't want it to 'mean anything,' as you say; but what has our being country girls to do with it?"
"We are not accustomed to that sort of society, and so it makes, I suppose, more impression. And what might mean something to others, would not to us. From such men, I mean."
"What do you mean by 'such men'?" asked Madge, who was getting rather excited.
"Rich—fashionable—belonging to the great world, and having the ways of it. You know what Mr. Dillwyn is like. It is not what we have in Shainpuashuh."
"But, Lois!—what are you talking about? I don't care a red cent for all this, but I want to understand. You said such a manner would mean nothing to us."
"Why not to us, as well as anybody else?"
"Because we are nobodies, Madge."
"What do you mean?" said the other hotly.
"Just that. It is quite true. You are nobody, and I am nobody. You see, if we were somebody, it would be different."
"If you think—I'll tell you what, Lois! I think you are fit to be the wife of the best man that lives and breathes."
"I think so myself," Lois returned quietly.
"And I am."
"I think you are, Madge. But that makes no difference. My dear, we are nobody."
"How?"—impatiently. "Isn't our family as respectable as anybody's? Haven't we had governors and governors, of Massachusetts and Connecticut both; and judges and ministers, ever so many, among our ancestors? And didn't a half-dozen of 'em, or more, come over in the 'Mayflower'?"
"Yes, Madge; all true; and I am as glad of it as you are."
"Then you talk nonsense!"
"No, I don't," said Lois, sighing a little. "I have seen a little more of the world than you have, you know, dear Madge; not very much, but a little more than you; and I know what I am talking about. We are unknown, we are not rich, we have none of what they call 'connections.' So you see I do not want you to like too much a person who, beyond civility, and kindness perhaps, would never think of liking you."
"I don't want him to, that's one thing," said Madge. "But if all that is true, he is meaner than I think him; that's what I've got to say. And it is a mean state of society where all that can be true."
"I suppose it is human nature," said Lois.
"It's awfully mean human nature!"
"I guess there is not much true nobleness but where the religion of Christ comes in. If you have got that, Madge, be content and thankful."
"But nobody likes to be unjustly depreciated."
"Isn't that pride?"
"One must have some pride. I can't make religion everything, Lois. I was a woman before I was a Christian."
"If you want to be a happy woman, you will let religion be everything."
"But, Lois!—wouldn't you like to be rich, and have pretty things about you?"
"Don't ask me," said Lois, smiling. "I am a woman too, and dearly fond of pretty things. But, Madge, there is something else I love better," she added, with a sudden sweet gravity; "and that is, the will of my God. I would rather have what he chooses to give me. Really and truly; I would rather have that."
The conversation therewith was at an end. In the evening of that same day Lois left her seclusion and came down-stairs for the first time. She was languid enough yet to be obliged to move slowly, and her cheeks had not got back their full colour, and were thinner than they used to be; otherwise she looked well, and Mrs. Wishart contemplated her with great satisfaction. Somewhat to Lois's vexation, or she thought so, they found Mr. DilIwyn down-stairs also. Lois had the invalid's place of honour, in a corner of the sofa, with a little table drawn up for her separate tea; and Madge and Mr. Dillwyn made toast for her at the fire. The fire gave its warm light, the lamps glittered with a more brilliant illumination; ruddy hues of tapestry and white gleams from silver and glass filled the room, with lights and shadows everywhere, that contented the eye and the imagination too, with suggestions of luxury and plenty and sheltered comfort. Lois felt the shelter and the comfort and the pleasure, with that enhanced intensity which belongs to one's sensations in a state of convalescence, and in her case was heightened by previous experiences. Nestled among cushions in her corner, she watched everything and took the effect of every detail; tasted every flavour of the situation; but all with a thoughtful, wordless gravity; she hardly spoke at all.
After tea, Mr. Dillwyn and Madge sat down to the chess-board. And then Lois's attention fastened upon them. Madge had drawn the little table that held the chessmen into very close proximity to the sofa, so that she was just at Lois's hand; but then her whole mind was bent upon the game, and Lois could study her as she pleased. She did study Madge. She admired her sister's great beauty; the glossy black hair, the delicate skin, the excellent features, the pretty figure. Madge was very handsome, there was no doubt; Mr. Dillwyn would not have far to look, Lois thought, to find one handsomer than herself was. There was a frank, fine expression of face, too; and manners thoroughly good. They lacked some of the quietness of long usage, Lois thought; a quick look or movement now and then, or her eager eyes, or an abrupt tone of voice, did in some measure betray the country girl, to whom everything was novel and interesting; and distinguished her from the half blase, wholly indifferent air of other people. She will learn that quietness soon enough, thought Lois; and then, nothing could be left to desire in Madge. The quietness had always been a characteristic of Lois herself; partly difference of temperament, partly the sweeter poise of Lois's mind, had made this difference between the sisters; and now of course Lois had had more experience of people and the world. But it was not in her the result of experience, this fair, unshaken balance of mind and manner which was always a charm in her. However, this by the way; the girl herself was drawing no comparisons, except so far as to judge her sister handsomer than herself.
From Madge her eye strayed to Mr. Dillwyn, and studied him. She was lying back a little in shadow, and could do it safely. He was teaching Madge the game; and Lois could not but acknowledge and admire in him the finished manner she missed in her sister. Yes, she could not help admiring it. The gentle, graceful, easy way, in which he directed her, gave reproofs and suggestions about the game, and at the same time kept up a running conversation with Mrs. Wishart; letting not one thing interfere with another, nor failing for a moment to attend to both ladies. There was a quiet perfection about the whole home picture; it remained in Lois's memory for ever. Mrs. Wishart sat on an opposite sofa knitting; not a long blue stocking, like her dear grandmother, but a web of wonderful hues, thick and soft, and various as the feathers on a peacock's neck. It harmonized with all the rest of the room, where warmth and colour and a certain fulness of detail gave the impression of long-established easy living. The contrast was very strong with Lois's own life surroundings; she compared and contrasted, and was not quite sure how much of this sort of thing might be good for her. However, for the present here she was, and she enjoyed it. Then she queried if Mr. Dillwyn were enjoying it. She noticed the hand which he had run through the locks of his hair, resting his head on the hand. It was well formed, well kept; in that nothing remarkable; but there was a certain character of energy in the fingers which did not look like the hand of a lazy man. How could he spend his life so in doing nothing? She did not fancy that he cared much about the game, or much about the talk; what was he there for, so often? Did he, possibly, care about Madge? Lois's thoughts came back to the conversation.
"Mrs. Wishart, what is to be done with the poor of our city?" Mr. Dillwyn was saying.
"I don't know! I wish something could be done with them, to keep them from coming to the house. My cook turns away a dozen a day, some days."
"Those are not the poor I mean."
"They are poor enough."
"They are to a large extent pretenders. I mean the masses of solid poverty which fill certain parts of the city—and not small parts either. It is no pretence there."
"I thought there were societies enough to look after them. I know I pay my share to keep up the societies. What are they doing?"
"Something, I suppose. As if a man should carry a watering-pot to Vesuvius."
"What in the world has turned your attention that way? I pay my subscriptions, and then I discharge the matter from my mind. It is the business of the societies. What has set you to thinking about it?"
"Something I have seen, and something I have heard."
"What have you heard? Are you studying political economy? I did not know you studied anything but art criticism."
"What do you do with your poor at Shampuashuh, Miss Madge?"
"We do not have any poor. That is, hardly any. There is nobody in the poorhouse. A few—perhaps half a dozen—people, cannot quite support themselves. Check to your queen, Mr. Dillwyn."
"What do you do with them?"
"O, take care of them. It's very simple. They understand that whenever they are in absolute need of it, they can go to the store and get what they want."
"At whose expense?"
"O, there is a fund there for them. Some of the better-off people take care of that."
"I should think that would be quite too simple," said Mrs. Wishart, "and extremely liable to abuse."
"It is never abused, though. Some of the people, those poor ones, will come as near as possible to starving before they will apply for anything."
Mrs. Wishart remarked that Shampuashuh was altogether unlike all other places she ever had heard of.
"Things at Shampuashuh are as they ought to be," Mr. Dillwyn said.
"Now, Mr. Dillwyn," cried Madge, "I will forgive you for taking my queen, if you will answer a question for me. What is 'art criticism'?"
"Why, Madge, you know!" said Lois from her sofa corner.
"I do not admire ignorance so much as to pretend to it," Madge rejoined. "What is art criticism, Mr. Dillwyn?"
"What is art?"
"That is what I do not know!" said Madge, laughing. "I understand criticism. It is the art that bothers me. I only know that it is something as far from nature as possible."
"O Madge, Madge!" said Lois again; and Mr. Dillwyn laughed a little.
"On the contrary, Miss Madge. Your learning must be unlearnt. Art is really so near to nature—Check!—that it consists in giving again the facts and effects of nature in human language."
"Human language? That is, letters and words?"
"Those are the symbols of one language."
"What other is there?"
"Music—painting—architecture—— I am afraid, Miss Madge, that is check-mate?"
"You said you had seen and heard something, Mr. Dillwyn," Mrs. Wishart now began. "Do tell us what. I have neither seen nor heard anything in an age."
Mr. Dillwyn was setting the chessmen again.
"What I saw," he said, "was a silk necktie—or scarf—such as we wear. What I heard, was the price paid for making it."
"Was there anything remarkable about the scarf?"
"Nothing whatever; except the aforesaid price."
"What was the price paid for making it?"
"Who told you?"
"A friend of mine, who took me in on purpose that I might see and hear, what I have reported."
"Two cents, did you say? But that's no price!"
"So I thought."
"How many could a woman make in a day, Madge, of those silk scarfs?"
"I don't know—I suppose, a dozen."
"A dozen, I was told, is a fair day's work," Mr. Dillwyn said. "They do more, but it is by working on into the night."
"Good patience! Twenty-five cents for a hard day's work!" said Mrs. Wishart. "A dollar and a half a week! Where is bread to come from, to keep them alive to do it?"
"Better die at once, I should say," echoed Madge.
"Many a one would be glad of that alternative, I doubt not," Mr. Dillwyn went on. "But there is perhaps an old mother to be taken care of, or a child or two to feed and bring up."
"Don't talk about it!" said Mrs. Wishart. "It makes me feel blue."
"I must risk that. I want you to think about it. Where is help to come from? These are the people I was thinking of, when I asked you what was to be done with our poor."
"I don't know why you ask me. I can do nothing. It is not my business."
"Will it do to assume that as quite certain?"
"Why yes. What can I do with a set of master tailors?"
"You can cry down the cheap shops; and say why."
"Are the dear shops any better?"
Mr. Dillwyn laughed. "Presumably! But talking—even your talking—will not do all. I want you to think about it."
"I don't want to think about it," answered the lady. "It's beyond me. Poverty is people's own fault. Industrious and honest people can always get along."
"If sickness does not set in, or some father, or husband, or son does not take to bad ways."
"How can I help all that?" asked the lady somewhat pettishly. "I never knew you were in the benevolent and reformatory line before, Mr. Dillwyn. What has put all this in your head?"
"Those scarfs, for one thing. Another thing was a visit I had lately occasion to make. It was near midday. I found a room as bare as a room could be, of all that we call comfort; in the floor a small pine table set with three plates, bread, cold herrings, and cheese. That was the dinner for a little boy, whom I found setting the table, and his father and mother. The parents work in a factory hard by, from early to late; they have had sickness in the family this autumn, and are too poor to afford a fire to eat their dinner by, or to make it warm, so the other child, a little girl, has been sent away for the winter. It was frostily cold the day I was there. The boy goes to school in the afternoon, and comes home in time to light up a fire for his father and mother to warm themselves by at evening. And the mother has all her housework to do after she comes home."
"That's better than the other case," said Mrs. Wishart.
"But what could be done, Mr. Dillwyn?" said Lois from her corner. "It seems as if something was wrong. But how could it be mended?"
"I want Mrs. Wishart to consider of that."
"I can't consider it!" said the lady. "I suppose it is intended that there should be poor people always, to give us something to do."
"Then let us do it."
"I am not certain; but I make a suggestion. Suppose all the ladies of this city devoted their diamonds to this purpose. Then any number of dwelling-houses could be put up; separate, but so arranged as to be warmed by steam from a general centre, at a merely nominal cost for each one; well ventilated and comfortable; so putting an end to the enormity of tenement houses. Then a commission might be established to look after the rights of the poor; to see that they got proper wages, were not cheated, and that all should have work who wanted it. So much might be done."
"With no end of money."
"I proposed to take the diamonds of the city, you know."
"And why just the diamonds?" inquired Mrs. Wishart. "Why don't you speak of some of the indulgences of the men? Take the horses—or the wines—"
"I am speaking to a lady," said Dillwyn, smiling. "When I have a man to apply to, I will make my application accordingly."
"Ask him for his tobacco?" said Mrs. Wishart.
"Certainly for his tobacco. There is as much money spent in this city for tobacco as there is for bread."
Madge exclaimed in incredulous astonishment; and Lois asked if the diamonds of the city would amount to very much.
"Yes, Miss Lois. American ladies are very fond of diamonds; and it is a common thing for one of them to have from ten thousand to twenty thousand or thirty thousand dollars' worth of them as part of the adornment of her pretty person at one time."
"Twenty thousand dollars' worth of diamonds on at once!" cried Madge. "I call that wicked!"
"Why?" asked Mr. Dillwyn, smiling.
"There's no wickedness in it," said Mrs. Wishart. "How should it be wicked? You put on a flower; and another, who can afford it, puts on a diamond. What's the difference?"
"My flower does not cost anybody anything," said Madge.
"What do my diamonds cost anybody?" returned Mrs. Wishart.
Madge was silent, though not because she had nothing to say; and at this precise moment the door opened, and visitors were ushered in.
There entered upon the scene, that is, a little lady of very gay and airy manner; whose airiness, however, was thoroughly well bred. She was accompanied by a tall, pleasant-looking man, of somewhat dreamy aspect; and they were named to Lois and Madge as Mrs. and Mr. Burrage. To Mr. Dillwyn they were not named; and the greet ing in that quarter was familiar; the lady giving him a nod, and the gentleman an easy "Good evening." The lady's attention came round to him again as soon as she was seated.
"Why, Philip, I did not expect to find you. What are you doing here?"
"I was making toast a little while ago."
"I did not know that was one of your accomplishments."
"They said I did it well. I have picked up a good deal of cooking in the course of my travels."
"In what part of the world did you learn to make toast?" asked the lady, while a pair of lively eyes seemed to take note rapidly of all that was in the room; rapidly but carefully, Lois thought. She was glad she herself was hidden in the shadowy sofa corner.
"I believe that is always learned in a cold country, where people have fire," Mr. Dillwyn answered the question.
"These people who travel all over get to be insufferable!" the little lady went on, turning to Mrs. Wishart; "they think they know everything; and they are not a bit wiser than the rest of us. You were not at the De Large's luncheon,—what a pity! I know; your cold shut you up. You must take care of that cold. Well, you lost something. This is the seventh entertainment that has been given to that English party; and every one of them has exceeded the others. There is nothing left for the eighth. Nobody will dare give an eighth. One is fairly tired with the struggle of magnificence. It's the battle of the giants over again, with a difference."
"It is not a battle with attempt to destroy," said her husband.
"Yes, it is—to destroy competition. I have been at every one of the seven but one—and I am absolutely tired with splendour. But there is really nothing left for any one else to do. I don't see how one is to go any further—without the lamp of Aladdin."
"A return to simplicity would be grateful," remarked Mrs. Wishart. "And as new as anything else could be."
"Simplicity! O, my dear Mrs. Wishart!—don't talk of simplicity. We don't want simplicity. We have got past that. Simplicity is the dream of children and country folks; and it means, eating your meat with your fingers."
"It's the sweetest way of all," said Dillwyn.
"Where did you discover that? It must have been among savages. Children—country folks—and savages, I ought to have said."
"Orientals are not savages. On the contrary, very far exceeding in politeness any western nation I know of."
"You would set a table, then, with napkins and fingers! Or are the napkins not essential?"
"C'est selon," said Dillwyn. "In a strawberry bed, or under a cherry tree, I should vote them a nuisance. At an Asiatic grandee's table you would have them embroidered and perfumed; and one for your lap and another for your lips."
"Evidently they are long past the stage of simplicity. Talking of napkins we had them embroidered—and exquisitely—Japanese work; at the De Larges'. Mine had a peacock in one corner; or I don't know if it was a peacock; it was a gay-feathered bird—"
"A peacock has a tail," suggested Mr. Dillwyn.
"Well, I don't know whether it had a tail, but it was most exquisite; in blue and red and gold; I never saw anything prettier. And at every plate were such exquisite gifts! really elegant, you know. Flowers are all very well; but when it comes to jewellery, I think it is a little beyond good taste. Everybody can't do it, you know; and it is rather embarrassing to nous autres."
"Simplicity has its advantages," observed Mr. Dillwyn.
"Nonsense, Philip! You are as artificial a man as any one I know."
"In what sense?" asked Mr. Dillwyn calmly. "You are bound to explain, for the sake of my character, that I do not wear false heels to my boots."
"Don't be ridiculous! You have no need to wear false heels. Art need not be false, need it?"
"True art never is," said Mr. Dillwyn, amid some laughter.
"Well, artifice, then?"
"Artifice, I am afraid, is of another family, and not allied to truth."
"Well, everybody that knows you knows you are true; but they know, too, that if ever there was a fastidious man, it is you; and a man that wants everything at its last pitch of refinement."
"Which desirable stage I should say the luncheon you were describing had not reached."
"You don't know. I had not told you the half. Fancy!—the ice floated in our glasses in the form of pond lilies; as pretty as possible, with broad leaves and buds."
"How did they get it in such shapes?" asked Madge, with her eyes a trifle wider open than was usual with them.
"O, froze it in moulds, of course. But you might have fancied the fairies had carved it. Then, Mrs. Wishart, there was an arrangement of glasses over the gas burners, which produced the most silver sounds of music you ever heard; no chime, you know, of course; but a most peculiar, sweet, mysterious succession of musical breathings. Add to that, by means of some invisible vaporizers, the whole air was filled with sweetness; now it was orange flowers, and now it was roses, and then again it would be heliotrope or violets; I never saw anything so refined and so exquisite in my life. Waves of sweetness, rising and falling, coming and going, and changing; it was perfect."
The little lady delivered herself of this description with much animation, accompanying the latter part of it with a soft waving of her hand; which altogether overcame Philip's gravity, and he burst into a laugh, in which Mr. Burrage presently joined him; and Lois and Madge found it impossible not to follow.
"What's the matter, Philip?" the lady asked.
"I am reminded of an old gentleman I once saw at Gratz; he was copying the Madonna della Seggia in a mosaic made with the different-coloured wax heads of matches."
"He must have been out of his head."
"That was the conclusion I came to."
"Pray what brought him to your remembrance just then?"
"I was thinking of the different ways people take in the search after happiness."
"And one worth as much as another, I suppose you mean? That is a matter of taste. Mrs. Wishart, I see your happiness is cared for, in having such charming friends with you. O, by the way!—talking of seeing,—have you seen Dulles & Grant's new Persian rugs and carpets?"
"I have been hardly anywhere. I wanted to take Madge to see Brett's Collection of Paintings; but I have been unequal to any exertion."
"Well, the first time you go anywhere, go to Dulles & Grant's. Take her to see those. Pictures are common; but these Turkish rugs and things are not. They are the most exquisite, the most odd, the most delicious things you ever saw. I have been wanting to ruin myself with them ever since I saw them. It's high art, really. Those Orientals are wonderful people! There is one rug—it is as large as this floor, nearly,—well, it is covered with medallions in old gold, set in a wild, irregular design of all sorts of Cashmere shawl colours—thrown about anyhow; and yet the effect is rich beyond description; simple, too. Another,—O, that is very rare; it is a rare Keelum carpet; let me see if I can describe it. The ground is a full bright red. Over this run palm leaves and little bits of ruby and maroon and gold mosaic; and between the palm leaves come great ovals of olive mixed with black, blue, and yellow; shading off into them. I never saw anything I wanted so much."
"O, they are all prices. The Keelum carpet is only fifteen hundred—but my husband says it is too much. Then another Persian carpet has a centre of red and white. Round this a border of palm leaves. Round these another border of deliciously mixed up warm colours; warm and rich. Then another border of palms; and then the rest of the carpet is in blended shades of dark dull red and pink, with olive flowers thrown over it. O, I can't tell you the half. You must go and see. They have immensely wide borders, all of them; and great thick, soft piles."
"Have you been to Brett's Collection?"
"What is there?"
"The usual thing. O, but I haven't told you what I have come here for to-night."
"I thought it was, to see me."
"Yes, but not for pleasure, this time," said the lively lady, laughing. "I had business—I really do have business sometimes. I came this evening, because I wanted to see you when I could have a chance to explain myself. Mrs. Wishart, I want you to take my place. They have made me first directress of the Forlorn Children's Home."
"Does the epithet apply to the place? or to the children?" Mr. Dillwyn asked.
"Now I cannot undertake the office," Mrs. Burrage went on without heeding him. "My hands are as full as they can hold, and my head fuller. You must take it, Mrs. Wishart. You are just the person."
"I?" said Mrs. Wishart, with no delighted expression. "What are the duties?"
"O, just oversight, you know; keeping things straight. Everybody needs to be kept up to the mark. I cannot, for our Reading Club meets just at the time when I ought to be up at the Home."
The ladies went into a closer discussion of the subject in its various bearings; and Mr. Dillwyn and Madge returned to their chess play. Lois lay watching and thinking. Mr. Burrage looked on at the chess-board, and made remarks on the game languidly. By and by the talk of the two ladies ceased, and the head of Mrs. Burrage came round, and she also studied the chess-players. Her face was observant and critical, Lois thought; oddly observant and thoughtful.
"Where did you get such charming friends to stay with you, Mrs. Wishart? You are to be envied."
Mrs. Wishart explained, how Lois had been ill, and had come to get well under her care.
"You must bring them to see me. Will you? Are they fond of music? Bring them to my next musical evening."
And then she rose; but before taking leave she tripped across to Lois's couch and came and stood quite close to her, looking at her for a moment in what seemed to the girl rather an odd silence.
"You aren't equal to playing chess yet?" was her equally odd abrupt question. Lois's smile showed some amusement.
"My brother is such an idle fellow, he has got nothing better to do than to amuse sick people. It's charity to employ him. And when you are able to come out, if you'll come to me, you shall hear some good music. Good-bye!"
Her brother! thought Lois as she went off. Mr. Dillwyn, her brother! I don't believe she likes Madge and me to know him.
Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey Burrage drove away in silence for a few minutes; then the lady broke out.
"There's mischief there, Chauncey!"
"What mischief?" the gentleman asked innocently.
"Very handsome girls. At least the one that was visible."
"The other's worse. I saw her. The one you saw is handsome; but the other is peculiar. She is rare. Maybe not just so handsome, but more refined; and peculiar. I don't know just what it is in her; but she fascinated me. Masses of auburn hair—not just auburn—more of a golden tint than brown—with a gold reflet, you know, that is so lovely; and a face—"
"Well, what sort of a face?" asked Mr. Burrage, as his spouse paused.
"Something between a baby and an angel, and yet with a sort of sybil look of wisdom. I believe she put one of Domenichino's sybils into my head; there's that kind of complexion—"
"My dear," said the gentleman, laughing, "you could not tell what complexion she was of. She was in a shady corner."
"I was quite near her. Now that sort of thing might just catch Philip."
"Well," said the gentleman, "you cannot help that."
"I don't know if I can or no!"
"Why should you want to help it, after all?"
"Why? I don't want Philip to make a mis-match."
"Why should it be a mis-match?"
"Philip has got too much money to marry a girl with nothing."
Mr. Burrage laughed. His wife demanded to know what he was laughing at? and he said "the logic of her arithmetic."
"You men have no more logic in action, than we women have in speculation. I am logical the other way."
"That is too involved for me to follow. But it occurs to me to ask, Why should there be any match in the case here?"
"That's so like a man! Why shouldn't there? Take a man like my brother, who don't know what to do with himself; a man whose eye and ear are refined till he judges everything according to a standard of beauty;—and give him a girl like that to look at! I said she reminded me of one of Domenichino's sybils—but it isn't that. I'll tell you what it is. She is like one of Fra Angelico's angels. Fancy Philip set down opposite to one of Fra Angelico's angels in flesh and blood!"
"Can a man do better than marry an angel?"
"Yes! so long as he is not an angel himself, and don't live in Paradise."
"They do not marry in Paradise," said Mr. Burrage dryly. "But why a fellow may not get as near a paradisaical condition as he can, with the drawback of marriage, and in this mundane sphere,—I do not see."
"Men never see anything till afterwards. I don't know anything about this girl, Chauncey, except her face. But it is just the way with men, to fall in love with a face. I do not know what she is, only she is nobody; and Philip ought to marry somebody. I know where they are from. She has no money, and she has no family; she has of course no breeding; she has probably no education, to fit her for being his wife. Philip ought to have the very reverse of all that. Or else he ought not to marry at all, and let his money come to little Phil Chauncey."
"What are you going to do about it?" asked the gentleman, seeming amused.
But Mrs. Burrage made no answer, and the rest of the drive, long as it was, was rather stupid.
The next day Mr. Dillwyn came to take Madge to see Brett's Collection of Paintings. Mrs. Wishart declared herself not yet up to it. Madge came home in a great state of delight.
"It was so nice!" she explained to her sister; "just as nice as it could be. Mr. Dillwyn was so pleasant; and told me everything and about everything; about the pictures, and the masters; I shouldn't have known what anything meant, but he explained it all. And it was such fun to see the people."
"The people!" said Lois.
"Yes. There were a great many people; almost a crowd; and it did amuse me to watch them."
"I thought you went to see the paintings."
"Well, I saw the paintings; and I heard more about them than I can ever remember."
"What was there?"
"O, I can't tell you. Landscapes and landscapes; and then Holy Families; and saints in misery, of one sort or another; and battle-pieces, but those were such confusion that all I could make out was horses on their hind-legs; and portraits. I think it is nonsense for people to try to paint battles; they can't do it; and, besides, as far as the fighting goes, one fight is just like another. Mr. Dillwyn told me of a travelling showman, in Germany, who travelled about with the panorama of a battle; and every year he gave it a new name, the name of the last battle that was in men's mouths; and all he had to do was to change the uniforms, he said. He had a pot of green paint for the Prussians, and red for the English, and blue, I believe, for the French, and so on; and it did just as well."
"What did you see that you liked best?"
"I'll tell you. It was a little picture of kittens, in and out of a basket. Mr. Dillwyn didn't care about it; but I thought it was the prettiest thing there. Mrs. Burrage was there."
"And Mr. Dillwyn does know more than ever anybody else in the world, I think. O, he was so nice, Lois! so nice and kind. I wouldn't have given a pin to be there, if it hadn't been for him. He wouldn't let me get tired; and he made everything amusing; and O, I could have sat there till now and watched the people."
"The people! If the pictures were good, I don't see how you could have eyes for the people."
"'The proper study of mankind is man,' my dear; and I like them alive better than painted. It was fun to see the dresses; and then the ways. How some people tried to be interested—"
"What do you mean? I was interested; and some talked and flirted, and some stared. I watched every new set that came in. Mr. DilIwyn says he will come and take us to the Philarmonic, as soon as the performances begin."
"Madge, it is better for us to go with Mrs. Wishart."
"She may go too, if she likes."
"And it is better for us not to go with Mr. DilIwyn, more than we can help."
"I won't," said Madge. "I can't help going with him whenever he asks me, and I am not going any other time."
"What did Mrs. Burrage say to you?"
"Hm!— Not much. I caught her looking at me more than once. She said she would have a musical party next week, and we must come; and she asked if you would be well enough."
"I hope I shall not."
"That's nonsense. Mr. Dillwyn wants us to go, I know."
"That is not a reason for going."
"I think it is. He is just as good as he can be, and I like him more than anybody else I ever saw in my life. I'd like to see the thing he'd ask me, that I wouldn't do."
"Hush, Lois; that's nonsense."
"Madge you trouble me very much."
"And that's nonsense too."
Madge was beginning to get over the first sense of novelty and strangeness in all about her; and, as she overcame that, a feeling of delight replaced it, and grew and grew. Madge was revelling in enjoyment. She went out with Mrs. Wishart, for drives in the Park and for shopping expeditions in the city, and once or twice to make visits. She went out with Mr. Dillwyn, too, as we have seen, who took her to drive, and conducted her to galleries of pictures and museums of curiosities; and finally, and with Mrs. Wishart, to a Philharmonic rehearsal. Madge came home in a great state of exultation; though Lois was almost indignant to find that the place and the people had rivalled the performance in producing it. Lois herself was almost well enough to go, though delicate enough still to allow her the choice of staying at home. She was looking like herself again; yet a little paler in colour and more deliberate in action than her old wont; both the tokens of a want of strength which continued to be very manifest. One day Madge came home from going with Mrs. Wishart to Dulles & Grant's. I may remark that the evening at Mrs. Burrage's had not yet come off, owing to a great storm the night of the music party; but another was looming up in the distance.
"Lois," Madge delivered herself as she was taking off her wrappings, "it is a great thing to be rich!"
"One needs to be sick to know how true that is," responded Lois. "If you could guess what I would have given last summer and fall for a few crumbs of the comfort with which this house is stacked full—like hay in a barn!"
"But I am not thinking of comfort."
"I am. How I wanted everything for the sick people at Esterbrooke. Think of not being able to change their bed linen properly, nor anything like properly!"
"Of course," said Madge, "poor people do not have plenty of things. But I was not thinking of comfort, when I spoke."
"Comfort is the best thing."
"Don't you like pretty things?"
"Too well, I am afraid."
"You cannot like them too well. Pretty things were meant to be liked. What else were they made for? And of all pretty things—O, those carpets and rugs! Lois, I never saw or dreamed of anything so magnificent. I should like to be rich, for once!"
"To buy a Persian carpet?"
"Yes. That and other things. Why not?"
"Madge, don't you know this was what grandmother was afraid of, when we were learning to know Mr. Dillwyn?"
"What?" said Madge defiantly.
"That we would be bewitched—or dazzled—and lose sight of better things; I think 'bewitched' is the word; all these beautiful things and this luxurious comfort—it is bewitching; and so are the fine manners and the cultivation and the delightful talk. I confess it. I feel it as much as you do; but this is just what dear grandmother wanted to protect us from."
"What did she want to protect us from?" repeated Madge vehemently. "Not Persian carpets, nor luxury; we are not likely to be tempted by either of them in Shampuashuh."
"We might here."
"Be tempted? To what? I shall hardly be likely to go and buy a fifteen-hundred-dollar carpet. And it was cheap at that, Lois! I can live without it, besides. I haven't got so far that I can't stand on the floor, without any carpet at all, if I must. You needn't think it."
"I do not think it. Only, do not be tempted to fancy, darling, that there is any way open to you to get such things; that is all."
"Any way open to me? You mean, I might marry a rich man some day?"
"You might think you might."
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Because, dear Madge, you will not be asked. I told you why. And if you were,—Madge, you would not, you could not, marry a man that was not a Christian? Grandmother made me promise I never would."
"She did not make me promise it. Lois, don't be ridiculous. I don't want to marry anybody at present; but I like Persian carpets, and nothing will make me say I don't. And I like silver and gold; and servants, and silk dresses, and ice-cream, and pictures, and big houses, and big mirrors, and all the rest of it."
"You can find it all in the eighteenth chapter of Revelation, in the description of the city Babylon; which means the world."
"I thought Babylon was Rome."
"Read for yourself."
I think Madge did not read it for herself, however; and the days went on after the accustomed fashion, till the one arrived which was fixed for Mrs. Chauncey Burrage's second musical party. The three ladies were all invited. Mrs. Wishart supposed they were all going; but when the day came Lois begged off. She did not feel like going, she said; it would be far pleasanter to her if she could stay at home quietly; it would be better for her. Mrs. Wishart demurred; the invitation had been very urgent; Mrs. Burrage would be disappointed; and, besides, she was a little proud herself of her handsome young relations, and wanted the glory of producing them together. However, Lois was earnest in her wish to be left at home; quietly earnest, which is the more difficult to deal with; and, knowing her passionate love for music, Mrs. Wishart decided that it must be her lingering weakness and languor which indisposed her for going. Lois was indeed looking well again; but both her friends had noticed that she was not come back to her old lively energy, whether of speaking or doing. Strength comes back so slowly, they said, after one of those fevers. Yet Madge was not satisfied with this reasoning, and pondered, as she and Mrs. Wishart drove away, what else might be the cause of Lois's refusal to go with them.
Meanwhile Lois, having seen them off and heard the house door close upon them, drew up her chair before the fire and sat down. She was in the back drawing-room, the windows of which looked out to the river and the opposite shore; but the shutters were closed and the curtains drawn, and only the interior view to be had now. So, or any way, Lois loved the place. It was large, roomy, old-fashioned, with none of the stiffness of new things about it; elegant, with the many tokens of home life, and of a long habit of culture and comfort. In a big chimney a big wood fire was burning quietly; the room was softly warm; a brilliant lamp behind Lois banished even imaginary gloom, and a faint red shine came from the burning hickory logs. Only this last illumination fell on Lois's face, and in it Lois's face showed grave and troubled. She was more like a sybil at this moment, looking into confused earthly things, than like one of Fra Angelico's angels rejoicing in the clear light of heaven.
Lois pulled her chair nearer to the fire, and bent down, leaning towards it; not for warmth, for she was not in the least cold; but for company, or for counsel. Who has not taken counsel of a fire? And Lois was in perplexity of some sort, and trying to think hard and to examine into herself. She half wished she had gone to the party at Mrs. Burrage's. And why had she not gone? She did not want, she did not think it was best, to meet Mr. Dillwyn there. And why not, seeing that she met him constantly where she was? Well, that she could not help; this would be voluntary; put ting herself in his way, and in his sister's way. Better not, Lois said to herself. But why, better not? It would surely be a pleasant gathering at Mrs. Burrage's, a pleasant party; her parties always were pleasant, Mrs. Wishart said; there would be none but the best sort of people there, good talking and good music; Lois would have liked it. What if Mr. Dillwyn were there too? Must she keep out of sight of him? Why should she keep out of sight of him? Lois put the question sharply to her conscience. And she found that the answer, if given truly, would be that she fancied Mr. Dillwyn liked her sister's society better than her own. But what then? The blood began to rush over Lois's cheeks and brow and to burn in her pulses. Then, it must be that she herself liked his society—liked him—yes, a little too well; else what harm in his preferring Madge? O, could it be? Lois hid her face in her hands for a while, greatly disturbed; she was very much afraid the case was even so.
But suppose it so; still, what of it? What did it signify, whom Mr. Dillwyn liked? to Lois he could never be anything. Only a pleasant acquain'tance. He and she were in two different lines of life, lines that never cross. Her promise was passed to her grandmother; she could never marry a man who was not a Christian. Happily Mr. Dillwyn did not want to marry her; no such question was coming up for decision. Then what was it to her if he liked Madge? Something, because it was not liking that would end in anything; it was impossible a man in his position and circumstances should choose for a wife one in hers. If he could make such a choice, it would be Madge's duty, as much as it would be her own, to refuse him. Would Madge refuse? Lois believed not. Indeed, she thought no one could refuse him, that had not unconquerable reasons of conscience; and Madge, she knew, did not share those which were so strong in her own mind. Ought Madge to share them? Was it indeed an absolute command that justified and necessitated the promise made to her grandmother? or was it a less stringent thing, that might possibly be passed over by one not so bound? Lois's mind was in a turmoil of thoughts most unusual, and most foreign to her nature and habit; thoughts seemed to go round in a whirl. And in the midst of the whirl there would come before her mind's eye, not now Tom Caruthers' face, but the vision of a pair of pleasant grey eyes at once keen and gentle; or of a close head of hair with a white hand roving amid the thick locks of it; or the outlines of a figure manly and lithe; or some little thing done with that ease of manner which was so winning. Sometimes she saw them as in Mrs. Wishart's drawing-room, and sometimes at the table in the dear old house in Shampuashuh, and sometimes under the drip of an umbrella in a pouring rain, and sometimes in the old schoolhouse. Manly and kind, and full of intelligence, filled with knowledge, well-bred, and noble; so Lois thought of him. Yet he was not a Christian, therefore no fit partner for Madge or for any one else who was a Christian. Could that be the absolute fact? Must it be? Was such the inevitable and universal conclusion? On what did the logic of it rest? Some words in the Bible bore the brunt of it, she knew; Lois had read them and talked them over with her grandmother; and now an irresistible desire took possession of her to read them again, and more critically. She jumped up and ran up-stairs for her Bible.
The fire was down in her own room; the gas was not lit; so she went back to the bright drawing-room, which to-night she had all to herself. She laid her book on the table and opened it, and then was suddenly checked by the question—what did all this matter to her, that she should be so fiercely eager about it? Dismay struck her anew. What was any un-Christian man to her, that her heart should beat so at considering possible relations between them? No such relations were desired by any such person; what ailed Lois even to take up the subject? If Mr. Dillwyn liked either of the sisters particularly, it was Madge. Probably his liking, if it existed, was no more than Tom Caruthers', of which Lois thought with great scorn. Still, she argued, did it not concern her to know with certain'ty what Madge ought to do, in the event of Mr. Dillwyn being not precisely like Tom Caruthers?
The sound of the opening door made her start up. She would not have even a servant surprise her so; kneeling on the floor with her face buried in her hands on the table. She started up hurriedly; and then was confounded to see entering—Mr. Dillwyn himself. She had heard no ring of the door-bell; that must have been when she was up-stairs getting her Bible. Lois found her feet, in the midst of a terrible confusion of thoughts; but the very inward confusion admonished her to be outwardly calm. She was not a woman of the world, and she had not had very much experience in the difficult art of hiding her feelings, or acting in any way; nevertheless she was a true woman, and woman's blessed—or cursed?—instinct of self-command came to her aid. She met Mr. Dillwyn with a face and manner perfectly composed; she knew she did; and cried to herself privately some thing very like a sea captain's order to his helmsman—"Steady! keep her so." Mr. Dillwyn saw that her face was flushed; but he saw, too, that he had disturbed her and startled her; that must be the reason. She looked so far from being delighted, that he could draw no other conclusion. So they shook hands. She thought he did not look delighted either. Of course, she thought, Madge was not there. And Mr. Dillwyn, whatever his mood when he came, recognized immediately the decided reserve and coolness of Lois's manner, and, to use another nautical phrase, laid his course accordingly.
"How do you do, this evening?"
"I think, quite well. There is nobody at home but me, Mr. Dillwyn."
"So I have been told. But it is a great deal pleasanter here, even with only one-third of the family, than it is in my solitary rooms at the hotel."
At that Lois sat down, and so did he. She could not seem to bid him go away. However, she said—
"Mrs. Wishart has taken Madge to your sister's. It is the night of her music party."
"Why did not Mrs. Wishart take you?"
"I thought—it was better for me to stay at home," Lois answered, with a little hesitation.
"You are not afraid of an evening alone!"
"No, indeed; how could I be? Indeed, I think in New York it is rather a luxury."
Then she wished she had not said that. Would he think she meant to intimate that he was depriving her of a luxury? Lois was annoyed at herself; and hurried on to say something else, which she did not intend should be so much in the same line as it proved. Indeed, she was shocked the moment she had spoken.
"Don't you go to your sister's music parties, Mr. Dillwyn?"
"I thought you were so fond of music"—Lois said apologetically.
"Yes," he said, smiling. "That keeps me away."
"I thought,"—said Lois,—"I thought they said the music was so good?"
"I have no doubt they say it. And they mean it honestly."
"And it is not?"
"I find it quite too severe a tax on my powers of simulation and dissimulation. Those are powers you never call in play?" he added, with a most pleasant smile and glance at her.
"Simulation and dissimulation?" repeated Lois, who had by no means got her usual balance of mind or manner yet. "Are those powers which ought to be called into play?"
"What are you going to do?"
"When, for instance, you are in the mood for a grand theme of Handel, and somebody gives you a sentimental bit of Rossini. Or when Mendelssohn is played as if 'songs without words' were songs without meaning. Or when a singer simply displays to you a VOICE, and leaves music out of the question altogether."
"That is hard!" said Lois.
"What is one to do then?"
"It is hard," Lois said again. "But I suppose one ought always to be true."
"If I am true, I must say what I think."
"Yes. If you speak at all."
"What will they think then?"
"Yes," said Lois. "But, after all, that is not the first question."
"What is the first question?"
"I think—to do right."
"But what is right? What will people think of me, if I tell them their playing is abominable?"
"You need not say it just with those words," said Lois. "And perhaps, if anybody told them the truth, they would do better. At any rate, what they think is not the question, Mr. Dillwyn."
"What is the question?" he asked, smiling.
"What the Lord will think."
"Miss Lois, do you never use dissimulation?"
Lois could not help colouring, a little distressed.
"I try not," she answered. "I dare say I do, sometimes. I dare not say I do not. It is very difficult for a woman to help it."
"More difficult for a woman than for a man?"
"I do not know. I suppose it is."
"Why should that be?"
"I do not know—unless because she is the weaker, and it may be part of the defensive armour of a weak animal."
Mr. Dillwyn laughed a little.
"But that is dissimulation," said Lois. "One is not bound always to say all one thinks; only never to say what one does not think."
"You would always give a true answer to a question?"
"I would try."
"I believe it. And now, Miss Lois, in that trust, I am going to ask you a question. Do you recollect a certain walk in the rain?"
"Certainly!" she said, looking at him with some anxiety.
"And the conversation we held under the umbrella, without simulation or dissimulation?"
"You tacitly—perhaps more than tacitly—blamed me for having spent so much of my life in idleness; that is uselessly, to all but myself."
"You did. And I have thought about it since. And I quite agree with you that to be idle is to be neither wise nor dignified. But here rises a difficulty. I think I would like to be of some use in the world, if I could. But I do not know what to set about."
Lois waited, with silent attention.
"My question is this: How is a man to find his work in the world?"
Lois's eyes, which had been on his face, went away to the fire. His, which had been on the ground, rose to her face.
"I am in a fog," he said
"I believe every one has his work," Lois remarked.
"I think you said so."
"The Bible says so, at any rate."
"Then how is a man to find his work?" Philip asked, half smiling; at the same time he drew up his chair a little nearer the fire, and began to put the same in order. Evidently he was not going away immediately, and had a mind to talk out the subject. But why with her? And was he not going to his sister's?—
"If each one has, not only his work but his peculiar work, it must be a very important matter to make sure he has found it. A wheel in a machine can do its own work, but it cannot take the part of another wheel. And your words suppose an exact adjustment of parts and powers."
"The Bible words," said Lois.
"Yes. Well, to my question. I do not know what I ought to do, Miss Lois. I do not see the work to my hand. How am I ever to be any wiser?"
"I am the last person you should ask. And besides,—I do not think anybody knows enough to set another his appointed task."
"How is he to find it, then?"
"He must ask the One who does know."
"Ask?—Pray, you mean?"
"Yes, pray. He must ask to be shown what he ought to do, and how to do it. God knows what place he is meant to fill in the world."
"And if he asks, will he be told?"
"Certainly. That is the promise. 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.'"
Lois's eyes came over to her questioner at the last words, as it were, setting a seal to them.
"How will he get the answer? Suppose, for instance, I want wisdom; and I kneel down and pray that I may know my work. I rise from my prayer,—there is no voice, nor writing, nor visible sign; how am I the wiser?"
"You think it will not be given him?" Lois said, with a faint smile.
"I do not say that. I dare not. But how?"
"You must not think that, or the asking will be vain. You must believe the Lord's promise."
Lois was warming out of her reserve, and possibly Mr. Dillwyn had a purpose that she should; though I think he was quite earnest with his question. But certainly he was watching her, as well as listening to her.
"Go on," he said. "How will the answer come to me?"
"There is another condition, too. You must be quite willing to hear the answer."
"Else you will be likely to miss it. You know, Mr. Dillwyn,—you do not know much about housekeeping things,—but I suppose you understand, that if you want to weigh anything truly, your balance must hang even."
"Well, then,—Miss Lois?"
"The answer? It comes different ways. But it is sure to come. I think one way is this,—You see distinctly one thing you ought to do; it is not life-work, but it is one thing. That is enough for one step. You do that; and then you find that that one step has brought you where you can see a little further, and another step is clear. That will do," Lois concluded, smiling; "step by step, you will get where you want to be."
Mr. Dillwyn smiled too, thoughtfully, as it were, to himself.
"Was it so that you went to teach school at that unlucky place?—what do you call it?"
"It was not unlucky. Esterbrooke. Yes, I think I went so."
"Was not that a mistake?"
"No, I think not."
"But your work there was broken up?"
"O, but I expect to go back again."
"Back! There? It is too unhealthy."
"It will not be unhealthy, when the railroad is finished."
"I am afraid it will, for some time. And it is too rough a place for you."
"That is why they want me the more."
"Miss Lois, you are not strong enough."
"I am very strong!" she answered, with a delicious smile.
"But there is such a thing—don't you think so?—as fitness of means to ends. You would not take a silver spade to break ground with?"
"I am not at all a silver spade," said Lois. "But if I were; suppose I had no other?"
"Then surely the breaking ground must be left to a different instrument."
"That won't do," said Lois, shaking her head. "The instrument cannot choose, you know, where it will be employed. It does not know enough for that."
"But it made you ill, that work."
"I am recovering fast."
"You came to a good place for recovering," said Dillwyn, glancing round the room, and willing, perhaps, to leave the subject.
"Almost too good," said Lois. "It spoils one. You cannot imagine the contrast between what I came from—and this. I have been like one in dreamland. And there comes over me now and then a strange feeling of the inequality of things; almost a sense of wrong; the way I am cared for is so very different from the very best and utmost that could be done for the poor people at Esterbrooke. Think of my soups and creams and ices and oranges and grapes!—and there, very often I could not get a bit of fresh beef to make beef-tea; and what could I do without beef-tea? And what would I not have given for an orange sometimes! I do not mean, for myself. I could get hardly anything the sick people really wanted. And here—it is like rain from the clouds."
"Where does the 'sense of wrong' come in?"
"It seems as if things need not be so unequal."
"And what does your silver spade expect to do there?"
"Don't say that! I have no silver spade. But just so far as I could help to introduce better ways and a knowledge of better things, the inequality would be made up—or on the way to be made up."