But of the divorce now pending she said never a word.
"Have they any children?" questioned Pocahontas steadily.
And was told that there was one—a little son, to whom the father was attached, and the mother indifferent. It was a strange case.
Again Pocahontas assented. Her voice was cold and even; its tones low and slightly wearied. To herself it appeared as though she spoke from a great distance, and was compelled to use exertion to make herself heard. She was conscious of two distinct personalities—one prostrate in the dust, humiliated, rent and bleeding, and another which held a screen pitifully before the broken thing, and shielded it from observation. When Norma bid her good-night she responded quietly, and rising accompanied her guest to her room to see that every arrangement was perfect for her comfort.
Far into the night she sat beside her dying fire trying to collect her faculties, and realize the extent of the calamity which had befallen her. The first, and, for the time, dominant emotion was a stinging sense of shame, an agony of rage and humiliation which tingled hotly through her, and caused her cheek to flame, and her body to writhe as from the lash of a whip. She had been degraded; an insult had been put upon her. Her eyes blazed, and her hands clinched. Oh, for strength to hurl the insult back—for a man's arm and a man's power to avenge the foul affront! He—a married man—to come, concealing his bonds, and playing the part of a lover free to woo—free to approach a woman and to win her heart! The proud head bent to meet the hands upraised to cover the pale, drawn face. She loved him and he was unworthy. He had deceived and lied to her, if not in words, then in actions; knowing himself bound to another woman, he had deliberately sought her out and made her love him. It was cruel, cruel! All along she had played virgin gold against base metal, and now she was bankrupt.
When the burning, maddening sense of outrage had passed, and pride stood with lowered crest and listless hands, love lifted its head and tried to speak. He was not without excuse, love pleaded; his life had been miserable; his lot hard and unendurable; he had been given a stone for bread, and for wine, the waters of Marah. Until the night of the ball he had retained mastery over himself—had held his love in check. Then memory roused herself and entered testimony—words, looks, tender, graceful attentions thronged back upon her, and pride caught love by the throat and cried out that there was no excuse.
Perhaps, she pondered heavily, he, too, writhed beneath this avalanche of pain; perhaps remorse and the consciousness of the anguish he had entailed upon them both tore and lacerated him. He had gone away at last, out of her life, back to the home and the ties that were hateful to him. He had gone away to take up his share of their joint burden, and he would be merciful, and never cross her path again.
But would he? The girl quivered, her hand sought the pocket of her dress, and her eyes glanced forlornly around the room like the eyes of a hunted creature. She recalled something that the morning's post had brought her—something that had seemed sweet and fair, something that had caused her pulses to thrill, all day, with exultant happiness.
Only a New Year card; a graceful white-fringed thing, showing a handful of blue forget-me-nots, thrown carelessly beside an old anchor on a bit of golden sand. Pocahontas laid it on her lap and gazed at it with strained, tearless eyes, and read anew its sweet message of remembrance and hope. She had been startled by Thorne's sudden departure, but had quietly accepted the message of explanation and farewell sent her by Blanche; she trusted him too implicitly to doubt that what he did was best and wisest, and was happy in the knowledge that he would return.
How long ago it appeared to her already, since this pretty card had come; she looked at it strangely, with eyes in which there was longing, renunciation, and a wild hopelessness of love. She must not keep it; it was not hers; it belonged of right to that other—the woman who was his wife. No, she must not keep it—the beautiful, tender thing. With steady hand, but blanched, quivering lips, she reached over and made a little grave among the dying embers, in which a sullen spark glowed like baleful eye. Quietly, with the feeling that she was burying all of youth and hope and joy her life would ever know, she kissed the card with dumb, clinging, passionate kisses, and then with a low, dry sob, covered it from sight.
As she raised herself up, her eyes fell on the little box lying on her desk in which she had placed the fragments of the cup they had broken between them—the cup that her old play-fellow had used on that last evening. With the impulse of habit and association, her mind turned wearily to Jim. He was so true; he had never failed her. Had he suffered as she was suffering? Poor Jim! Was this ceaseless, gnawing agony that had usurped her life no stranger to his? If so—God pity him!—and her!
On the way up from Virginia, Nesbit Thorne ran over in his mind the possibilities opened by this new move of his wife's, and, on the whole, he was satisfied. The divorce had become as much an object with him as with her, and if she had remained quiescent in the matter, he must have moved. He was glad to have been spared this—very glad that the initial steps had been of her taking. It put him in a good position with himself. The manes of his mother's scruples would be satisfied, and would never cause him discomfort since the fault did not rest with him. And then the boy—never could his son cast word or thought of blame to the father who had behaved so well; who had given every chance, foregone every advantage; acted not only the part of a gentleman, but of a generous, long-suffering man. Thorne felt a glow of satisfaction in the knowledge that in years to come his son would think well of him.
But this supposition of Norma's in regard to a second marriage put the whole matter in a new light in regard to the child. If such a change should be in contemplation, other arrangements must be made about the boy; he could no longer remain in the custody of his mother. His son could not remain under the roof of his wife's second husband during his own lifetime. The line must be drawn somewhere. It did not occur to Thorne that his wife, with equal justice, might raise similar objections.
He determined to see Ethel at once and discover whether or not there was truth in the reports that had reached him anent Cecil Cumberland. If there should be, he would bring such pressure as lay in his power to bear on her, in order to obtain immediate possession of the boy. The child was still so young that the law gave the mother rights which could only be set aside at the expense of a disagreeable suit; but Thorne thought he could manage Ethel in such a way as to make her voluntarily surrender her rights. He knew that her affection for the child was neither deep nor strong.
He ascended the steps of his own house and rang the bell sharply. It was answered by a strange servant who regarded him with interest; evidently a gentleman caller at that hour of the morning was unusual. Was Mrs. Thorne at home? The man would inquire. Would the gentleman walk in. What name should he say? Mr. Thorne—and his business was pressing; he must see her at once.
The man opened the door of the back parlor and stood aside to let Mr. Thorne pass; then he closed it noiselessly and proceeded up-stairs to inform his mistress.
Thorne glanced around the room curiously; it was two years since he had seen it. On the marble hearth burned a bright wood-fire, and the dancing flames reflected themselves in the burnished brasses. The tiles around the fireplace were souvenirs of his wedding, hand-painted by the bevy of bridesmaids to please a fancy of Ethel's. Norma's was in the center—the place of honor. It was a strange thing that Norma had selected to paint; heavy sprays of mingled nightshade and monkshood on a ground the color of a fading leaf; but, strange as it was, it was the most beautiful of them all. There were flowers in the room and the perfume of heliotrope and roses filled the air. The piano was open and on it one of the popular songs of the day; a loud, garish thing. Ethel liked what she called "bright music;" on the keys lay a tumbled lace handkerchief, and on the floor, close to the pedal of the instrument, was a man's driving glove.
Over the piano hung the portrait of a lady with soft, gray hair, and the expression of purity and love which medieval painters gave to their saints. It was a picture of Thorne's mother and it hurt him to see it there. He determined to have it removed as soon as possible.
The door opened and Mrs. Thorne entered, feeling herself terribly ill-used and persecuted, in that her husband had elected to come to her in person, instead of availing himself of the simpler and more agreeable mode of communication through their lawyers. It was quite possible that he would make himself disagreeable. Mrs. Thorne shrank from any thing disagreeable, and had no tolerance for sarcasms addressed to herself. She would have refused the interview had she dared, but in her heart she was dimly afraid of her husband.
Thorne bowed coldly, and then placed a chair for her on the hearth-rug. "Sit down," he said, "I want to talk to you," and then he seated himself opposite her.
For awhile he did not speak; somehow the words he had come to say stuck in his throat; it was so cold-blooded for them, husband and wife, to sit there beside their own hearth and discuss their final separation. A log, which had burned in half, fell and rolled forward on the marble hearth, sending little puffs of gray smoke into the room. He reached past her for the tongs and laid the log back in its place, and the little action seemed to seal his lips more closely. The tiny clock on the carved oak mantle chimed the hour in soft, low tones; he counted the strokes as they fell, one, two, and so on up to twelve. The winter sunshine streamed in between the parting of the curtains and made a glory of his wife's golden hair.
Ethel was the first to speak. "You got my letter?" she questioned, keeping her eyes fixed on the fire.
"Yes; that is the reason I'm here."
The broken log was blazing again quite merrily, the two ends far apart.
"Why not have written instead of coming?" she demanded, as one who protested against some grievous injury; "it would have been far pleasanter for both. There's no sense in our harassing ourselves with personal interviews."
"I preferred a personal interview."
Ethel lapsed into silence; the man was a hopeless brute, and it was useless to expect courtesy from him. She tapped her foot against the fender, and a look of obstinacy and temper disfigured the soft outlines of her face. The silence might remain unbroken until the crack of doom for any further effort she would make.
Thorne broke it himself. He was determined to carry his point, and in order to do so strove to establish ascendency over his wife from the start.
"What's the meaning of this new move, Ethel?" he demanded, authoritatively. "I want to understand the matter thoroughly. Why do you want a divorce?"
Mrs. Thorne turned her face toward him defiantly.
"Because I'm tired of my present life, and I want to change it. I'm sick of being pointed at, and whispered about, as a deserted wife—a woman whose husband never comes near her."
"Whose fault is that?" he retorted sharply; "this separation is none of my doing, and you know it. Bad as things had become, I was willing to worry along for the sake of respectability and the child; but you wouldn't have it so. You insisted on my leaving you—said the very sight of me made your chains more intolerable. Had I been a viper, you could scarcely have signified your desire for my absence in more unmeasured terms."
"I know I desired the separation," Mrs. Thorne replied calmly, "I desire it still. My life with you was miserable, and my wish to live apart has only increased in intensity. You never understood me."
Thorne might have retorted that the misunderstanding had been mutual, and also that all the wretchedness had not fallen to her share; but he would not stoop to reproaches and vituperation. It was a natural peculiarity of her shallow nature to demand exhaustive comprehension for quite commonplace emotions.
"It's useless debating the past, Ethel. We've both been too much to blame to afford the luxury of stone-throwing. What we must consider now is the future. Is your mind quite made up? Are you determined on the divorce?"
"Quite determined. I've given the matter careful consideration, and am convinced that entire separation, legal as well as nominal, is absolutely necessary to my happiness."
"And your reasons?"
"Haven't I told you, Nesbit?" using his name, for the first time, in her anger. "Why do you insist on my repeating the same thing over and over, eternally? I'm sick of my life, and want to change it."
"But how?" he persisted. "Your life will be the same as now, and your position not so assured. The alimony allowed by law won't any thing like cover your present expenditures, and you can hardly expect me to be more generous than the law compels. The divorce can make little difference, save to diminish your income and deprive you of the protection of my name. You will not care to marry again, and the divorce will be a restricted one." Thorne was forcing his adversary's hand.
"Why will it be restricted?" she demanded, her color and her temper rising. "It shall not be restricted, or hampered in any way, I tell you, Nesbit Thorne! Am I to be fettered, and bound, and trammeled by you forever? I will not be. The divorce shall give me unlimited power to do what I please with my life. It shall make me as free as air—as free as I was before I married you."
"You would not wish to marry again?" he repeated.
"Why not?" rising to her feet and confronting him in angry excitement.
"Because, in that case, you would lose your child. I neither could nor would permit my son to be brought up in the house of a man who stood to him in the relationship you propose."
"You cannot take him from me," Mrs. Thorne retorted in defiant contradiction; her ideas of the power of men and lawyers hopelessly vague and bewildered. "No court on earth would take so small a child from his mother."
"Ah! you propose having the case come into court then? I misunderstood you. I thought you wished the affair managed quietly, to avoid publicity and comment. Of course, if the case comes into court, I shall contest it, and try to obtain possession of the boy, even for the time the law allows the mother, on the ground of being better able to support and educate him."
"I do not want the case to come into court here, Nesbit, and you know that I do not! Why do you delight in tormenting me?"
"Listen to me, Ethel. I've no wish to torment you. I simply wished to show you that I would abide by my rights, and that I have some power—all the power which money can give—on my side. Our marriage has been a miserable mistake from the first; we rushed into it without knowledge of each other's characters and dispositions, and, like most couples who take matrimony like a five-barred gate, we've come horribly to grief. I shall not stand in your way; if you wish to go, I shall not hinder you. This is what I propose: I'll help you in the matter, will take all the trouble, make the arrangements, bear all the expense. It will be necessary for one of us to go to Illinois, and see these lawyers, if the divorce is to be gotten there. It may be necessary to undergo a short residence in the state in order to simulate citizenship, and make the divorce legal. I'll find out about this, and if it's necessary I will do it. After the divorce, I'll allow you the use of this house, and a sufficient income to support it; and also the custody of our son as long as you remain unmarried. In return, you must waive all right to the boy for the years you can legally claim him, and must bind yourself to surrender him to me, or any person I appoint, at least a month before any such marriage, and never, by word or act, to interfere in his future life, or any disposition I may think best to make of him. I should also strongly object to any future marriage taking place from my house, and should expect legal notice in ample time to make arrangements about the boy."
"Would you allow me to see the child whenever I wished?"
"Certainly. I'm no brute, and you are his mother. I shall only stipulate that the meetings take place in some other house than yours. You are at liberty to visit him as often as you like, so long as you are faithful to our agreement and leave his mind unbiased. I will never mention you unkindly to him, and shall expect the same consideration from you. When he is old enough to judge between us, he will decide as he thinks right."
"Suppose you marry again, yourself. What about the child then? You are very hard and uncompromising in your dictation to me, Nesbit, but I can have feelings and scruples as well as you."
Thorne was startled. He considered that he was behaving well to his wife. He wanted to behave well to her; to let the past go generously, so that no shadow of reproach from it might fall upon the future. Her tart suggestion set the affair in a new light. It was an unpleasant light, and he turned his back on it, thinking that by so doing he disposed of it. There was the distance of the two poles between Pocahontas Mason and Cecil Cumberland. He surely was the best judge of what would conduce to the welfare of his son.
"We were discussing the probability of your re-marriage, not mine," he responded coldly; "the reports in circulation have reached even me at last."
"What reports?" with defiant inquiry.
"That you are seeking freedom from your allegiance to one man, in order to swear fealty to another. That your vows to me are irksome because they prevent your taking other vows to Cecil Cumberland. I pass over the moral aspect of the affair; that must rest with your own conscience," (it is astonishing how exemplary Thorne felt in administering the rebuke); "that rests with your conscience," he repeated, "and with that I've nothing to do. The existence of such reports—which lays your conduct as a married woman open to censure—gives me the right to dictate the terms of our legal separation. I'm obliged to speak plainly, Ethel. You brought about the issue, and must abide by the consequences. I've stated my terms and it's for you to accept or decline them."
Thorne leaned back in his chair and watched the flames eat into the heart of the hickory logs. He had no doubt of her decision, but he awaited it courteously. The broken log had burned completely away, and a little heap of whity-gray ashes lay on each side of the hearth.
Ethel sat and pondered, weighing at full value all the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal and deciding that the former outweighed the latter. The object on which she was bent—the thing which appeared the greatest earthly good, was the divorce. At any cost, she would obtain that, and obtain it as quickly and quietly as possible; no talk, no exposure, no disagreeable comments. This was the main point, and to carry it, Ethel Thorne felt herself capable of more than the surrender of one small child. The separation at worst would only be partial; she could see the boy every day if she wished—even after her marriage with Cecil Cumberland. Nesbit had promised, and in all her experience of him she had never known him break his word. Then she could retain the little fellow until all these troublesome affairs should be settled, which would disarm criticism and save appearances, and appearances must be preserved on account of the Cumberlands.
That a divorced daughter-in-law would be none too welcome in that stately, old-fashioned family, Mrs. Thorne was well aware. Perhaps it would be as well to be unhampered by such a forcible reminder of her former state as the child, while she was winning the Cumberland heart and softening the Cumberland prejudice. Cecil, she knew already, regarded the baby with scant favor, and would be unfeignedly rejoiced to be quit of him. On the whole, Nesbit was behaving well to her. She had expected far more difficulty, infinitely more bitterness, for, like the world, she gave her husband credit for the scruples of his father's faith. Her heart softened toward him a little for the first time in years—or would have softened, but for the blow he had dealt her egregious self-love in letting her go so easily.
She signified her acceptance of his proposal in a few brusque, ungracious words, for she considered it due to her dignity to be disagreeable, in that she was acceding to terms, not dictating them.
Thorne rose from his chair with a deep breath of relief. The interview had been intolerable to him, and although he had carried his point and acquitted himself well, his prominent feeling was one of unqualified disgust. What a lie his married life had been! What a sepulcher filled with dead, dry bones! For the moment all womanhood was lowered in his eyes because of his wife's heartless selfishness. Had she shown any feeling about the boy—any ruth, or mother-love, Thorne knew that he would not have driven so hard a bargain; felt that he might even have let his compassion rule his judgment. But she had shown none; all her thought and care had been for herself, and herself alone. And for her, and such as her, men wrecked their lives. A flood of anger at his past folly, of resentful bitterness at the price he had been forced to pay for it, passed over Thorne. He could scarcely constrain himself to the formal bow which courtesy required.
As he left the room, the sound of a child's wailing came down to him, mingled with the sound of a woman's voice soothing it. He glanced back at his wife; she had moved nearer the fire, her fair head with its golden glory of hair was thrown back against the dark velvet of the chair; she was smiling and the sound of the child's grief fell on heedless ears.
Thorne had even less difficulty with his legal arrangements than he had anticipated. He had, hitherto, relegated the subject of divorce to the limbo of things as little thought and spoken of as possible by well-bred people. He knew nothing of the modus operandi, and was surprised at the ease and celerity with which the legal machine moved.
"I'll have to prove my identity, and the truth of my statements to the men out there, I suppose," he remarked to the lawyer, from whom he obtained all necessary information.
The lawyer laughed; he was a Southerner by birth, and his voice was gentle, his manner courteous.
"Of your identity, Mr. Thorne, these men will take excellent care to inform themselves, and of your responsibility also," he answered. "For the truth of your statements, they are apt to take your word, and the depositions of your witnesses, without troubling themselves about substantiating the facts. The soundness of your evidence is your lookout, not theirs. If the case were to be contested, it would be different, but, in this instance, there is consent of both parties, which simplifies matters. This case is reduced to a matter of mere form and business."
"Apparently, then, my statements may be a tissue of lies from beginning to end, for all the difference it makes," observed Thorne, curious to discover how small a penknife could now cut the bond which once the scythe of death alone was held to be able to sever.
"For your veracity, Mr. Thorne, your appearance is a sufficient voucher," responded the lawyer, with a ready courtesy. "And the looseness on which you comment, recollect, is all in your favor. When a man has an unpleasant piece of business in hand, it's surely an immense advantage to be able to accomplish it speedily and privately."
Thorne walked in the direction of his hotel in a state of preoccupation. He was sore and irritated; he disliked it all intensely; it jarred upon him and offended his taste. Over and over he cursed it all for a damnable business from beginning to end. He was perfectly aware, reasoning from cause to effect, that the situation was, in some sort, his own fault; but that was a poor consolation. That side of the question did not readily present itself; his horizon was occupied by the nearer and more personal view. He loathed it all, and was genuinely sorry for himself and conscious that fate was dealing hardly by him.
As he turned a corner, he ran against a tall, handsome young lady, who put out her hand and caught his arm to steady herself, laughing gayly:
"Take care, Nesbit!" she exclaimed, "you nearly knocked me down. Since when have you taken to emulating Mrs. Wilfer's father, and 'felling' your relatives to the earth?"
"Why, Norma! is it really you?" he questioned, refusing to admit the evidence of sight and touch unfortified by hearing.
He was genuinely delighted to see her, and foresaw that she would be a comfort to him during the days that must elapse before it became possible for him to start for Illinois. He needed sympathy and some one to make much of him. And Norma, with her lustrous eyes aglow with the pleasure of the meeting, appeared to divine it, for she set herself to entertain him with little incidents and adventures of her journey from Virginia, and with scraps of intelligence of the people at home. She did not mention Pocahontas, save in reply to a direct inquiry, and then simply stated that she had spent a night at Lanarth a day or so before coming North, and that the family were all well.
She cheered Thorne wonderfully, for she seemed to bring Virginia and the life of the last few months nearer to him—the peaceful life in which new hopes had budded, in which he had met, and known, and loved Pocahontas. Norma did him good, raised his spirits, and made the future look bright and cheerful; but not in the way she hoped and intended. She had come North with the hope of furthering her own plans, of making herself necessary and agreeable, of keeping the old days fresh in his memory. And she was necessary to him, as a trusted comrade who had never failed him; a clever adviser in whose judgment he had confidence; a charming friend who was fond of him, and who had, but now, come from the enchanted land where his love dwelt. Of her plans he knew nothing, suspected nothing; and the days she brought fresh to his thoughts were days in which she had no part.
In a little while, he went West, and there was a period of uneventful waiting; after which Norma received a Western paper containing a short and unobtrusive notice of the granting of a divorce to Nesbit Thorne from Ethel, his wife.
She bore it away to her room and gloated over it greedily. Then she took her pen and ran it around the notice, marking it heavily; this done, she folded, sealed and directed it in a clear, bold hand—General Percival Smith,—Wintergreen Co., Virginia. It would save elaborate explanations.
Spring opened very late that year in Virginia—slowly and regretfully, as though forced into doing the world a favor against its will, and determined to be as grudging and disagreeable over it as possible. The weather was cold, wet, and unwholesome—sulking and storming alternately, and there was much sickness in the Lanarth and Shirley neighborhood. The Christmas had been a green one—only one small spurt of snow on Christmas eve, which vanished with the morning. The negroes were full of gloomy prognostications in consequence, and shook their heads, and cast abroad, with unction, all sorts of grewsome prophecies anent the fattening of the church-yard.
All through the winter, Mrs. Mason had been ailing, and about the beginning of March she succumbed to climatic influences, backed by hereditary tendency, and took to her bed with a severe attack of inflammatory rheumatism. Pocahontas had her hands full with household care and nursing, and perhaps it was as well, for it drove self into the background of her mind, for a part of the time at least, and filled with anxiety the empty days. Grace, living five miles away and loaded down with family cares and duties of her own, could be of little practical assistance.
The winter had been a hard one for Pocahontas, harder, perhaps, for the gallant nature which forbade her to bewail herself. She suffered deeply and dumbly through all the weary nights and days. Pride and womanly reserve precluded all beating of the breast, and forced principle and nature to the ceaseless fight. Right gallantly she bore herself. The mortification, the anguish, the love, must be met, hand to hand, eye to eye, foot to foot. She endeavored to keep cheerful—to take the same interest in life as formerly, and in the main she succeeded; but there would come times when the struggle would seem greater than she could bear, and being a woman, with a woman's heart, and a woman's nerves, she would be irritable and difficult. But these moods were never of long duration, any more than the more desperate ones, when she would lock herself in her chamber and cast herself on the floor and lie there prone and quivering—heart and conscience utterly at variance—heart crying out with mad insistence that the struggle was in vain; for love was strengthened by repression; and conscience sternly replying that it should not be; the struggle should continue until the last vestige of love should be expunged from heart and life. It was no wonder, as time went on, that the girl's cheek paled and that a dumb pleading came into the pure gray eyes.
Sometimes the thought of Jim would come and place itself in contrast to the thought of the other man, for, unconsciously to her, her old friend was her standard in many things. Her recognition of the nobility of Jim's love would force, in some sort, recognition of the selfishness of Thorne's love. She put such thoughts from her fiercely, and girded at Jim in her aching, unreasonable heart, because his love was grander and truer than the love she craved. Once, when old Sholto—the great red setter—came and laid his head lovingly upon her lap, she frowned and pushed him roughly away, because he looked up at her with eyes whose honest faithfulness reminded her of Jim.
And the mother watched her child silently; conscious, through the divination of unselfish mother-love, that her daughter suffered, yet powerless to help her, save by increased affection and the intangible yet perceptible comfort of a delicate respect. She could trust her child and would not force her confidence; if spoken sympathy were needed, Pocahontas knew that her mother's heart was open to her, and if to her silence should seem best, she should have her will. From long experience Mrs. Mason knew that some sorrows must be left quietly to time.
When at length the news of Thorne's divorce reached them, she warded off with tender consideration all remark or comment likely to hurt the girl, and gave straight-forward, hot-tempered Berkeley a hint which effectually silenced him. In sooth, the honest fellow had small liking for the subject. He bitterly resented what he considered Thorne's culpable concealment of the fact of his marriage. He remembered the night of the ball at Shirley, and the memory rankled. It did not occur to him that the matter having remained a secret might have been the natural result of an unfortunate combination of circumstances, and in no sort the consequence of calculation or dishonor on Thorne's part. Neither did it occur to him, large-minded man though he was, to try to put himself in Thorne's place and so gain a larger insight into the affair, and the possibility of arriving at a fairer judgment. Berkeley's interest in the matter was too personal to admit of dispassionate analysis, or any impulse toward mercy, or even justice. His anger burned hotly against Thorne, and when the thought of him rose in his mind it was accompanied by other thoughts which it is best not to put into words.
During Mrs. Mason's illness, little Blanche was unremitting in her attentions, coming over daily with delicacies of her own concoction, and striving to help her friends with a sweet, unobtrusive kindness which won hearty response from both ladies, and caused them to view Berkeley's increasing attentions to the little maid with pleasure. They even aided the small idyl by every lawful means, having the girl with them as often as they could and praising her judiciously.
With her winsome, childish ways and impulsiveness, Blanche formed a marked contrast to grave, reserved Berkeley Mason, and was perhaps better suited to him on that account. When their engagement was announced, there was no lack of congratulation and satisfaction in both families. The general, as he gave his hearty approbation to her choice, pinched her ears and asked what had become of her objections to Virginia; and Percival tormented her unceasingly, twitting her with her former wails of lamentation. Blanche did not care. She took their teasing in good part, and retorted with merry words and smiles and blushes. She had made her journey to the unknown, and returned with treasure.
Mrs. Smith, in her chamber, smiled softly, and thought on muslin and lace and wedding favors.
The weeks rolled by, and gradually Mrs. Mason grew convalescent. She was still confined to her room, but the worst of the pain was over, and she could lie on the sofa by the fireside and have Berkeley read aloud to her in the evenings. Blanche, if she happened to be there, would sit on a low chair beside the sofa, busy with some delicate bit of fancy work, and later in the evening Berke would take her home. Sometimes Pocahontas would bring her work and listen, or pretend to listen, with the rest, but oftener she would go into the parlor and play dreamily to herself for hours. She had taken up her music industriously and practiced hard in her spare moments.
She had been playing a long time one evening in April, and had left the piano for a low chair beside the open fire. She was tired. Although spring had come, the evenings were chill and the room was large. Her hands were cold and she spread them out to the blaze. The heavy curtains billowed and sank and billowed again, as intrusive puffs of wind crept officiously through the crevices of the old casements. Blanche and Berkeley were with her mother, and they were reading "Lorna Doone." She had read the book a week ago, and did not care to hear it over.
The front door opened quietly—it was always on the latch—and footsteps came along the hall; quick, eager footsteps, straight to the parlor door; the knob turned. No need to turn her head, no need to question of her heart whose step, whose hand that was, to guess whose presence filled the room.
Thorne came across the room, and stood opposite, a great light of joy in his eyes, his hands outstretched for hers. Benumbed with many emotions, Pocahontas half-rose, an inarticulate murmur dying on her lips. Thorne put her gently back into her chair, and drew one for himself up to the hearth-rug near her; he was willing to keep silence for a little space, to give her time to recover herself; he was satisfied for the moment with the sense of her nearness, and his heart was filled with the joy of seeing her once more. The lamps were lit, but burning dimly. Thorne rose and turned both to their fullest brilliancy; he must have light to see his love.
"I want to look at you, Princess," he said gently, seeking her eyes, with a look in his not to be misunderstood; "it has been so long—so cruelly long, my darling, since I have looked on your sweet face. You must not call the others. For this first meeting I want but you—you only, my love! my queen!" His voice lingered over the terms of endearment with exquisite tenderness.
Pocahontas was silent—for her life she could not have spoken then. Her gray eyes had an appealing, terrified look as they met his; her trembling hands clasped and unclasped in her lap.
"How frightened you look, my darling," Thorne murmured, speaking softly and keeping a tight rein over himself. "Your eyes are like a startled fawn's. Have I been too abrupt—too thoughtless and inconsiderate? You would forgive me, love, if you knew how I have longed for you; have yearned for this meeting as Dives yearned for water—as the condemned yearn for reprieve. Have you no smile for me, sweetheart?—no word of welcome for the man whose heaven is your love? You knew I would come. You knew I loved you, Princess."
"Yes;"—the word was breathed, rather than uttered, but he heard it, and made a half movement forward, the light in his eyes glowing more passionately. Still, he held himself in check; he would give her time.
"You knew I loved you, Princess," he repeated. "Yes, you must have known. Love like mine could not be concealed; it must burn its way through all obstacles from my heart to yours, melting and fusing them into one. Don't try to speak yet, love, there is no need to answer unless you wish. I can wait—for I am near you."
Pocahontas rallied her forces resolutely, called up her pride, her womanhood, her sense of the wrong he had done her. If she should give way an instant—if she should yield a hair's breadth, she would be lost. The look in his eyes, the tenderness of his voice, appeared to sap the foundations of her resolution and to turn her heart to wax within her.
"Why have you come?" she wailed, her tone one of passionate reproach. "Had you not done harm enough? Why have you come?"
Thorne started slightly, but commanded himself. It was the former marriage; the divorce; she felt it keenly—every woman must; some cursed meddler had told her.
"My darling," he answered, with patient tenderness, "you know why I have come—why it was impossible for me to keep away. I love you, Princess, as a man loves but once in his life. Will you come to me? Will you be my wife?"
The girl shook her head, and moved her hand with a gesture of denial; words she had none.
"I know of what you are thinking, Princess. I know the idea that has taken possession of your mind. You have heard of my former marriage, and you know that the woman who was my wife still lives. Is it not so?" She bent her head in mute assent. Thorne gazed at her pale, resolute face with his brows knit heavily, and then continued:
"Listen to me, Princess. That woman—Ethel Ross—is my wife no longer, even in name; she ceased to be my wife in fact two years ago. Our lives have drifted utterly asunder. It was her will, and I acquiesced in it, for she had never loved me, and I—when my idiotic infatuation for her heartless, diabolical beauty passed, had ceased to love her. At last, even my presence became a trouble to her, which she was at no pains to conceal. The breach between us widened with the years, until nothing remained to us but the galling strain of a useless fetter. Now that is broken, and we are free,"—there was an exultant ring in his voice, as though his freedom were precious to him.
"Were you bound, or free, that night at Shirley?" questioned the girl, slowly and steadily.
A flush crept warmly over Thorne's dark face, and lost itself in the waves of his hair. He realized that he would meet with more opposition here than he had anticipated. No matter; the prize was worth fighting for—worth winning at any cost. His determination increased with the force opposed to it, and so did his desire.
"In heart and thought I was free, but in fact I was bound," he acknowledged. "The words I spoke on the steps that night escaped me unaware. I was tortured by jealousy, and tempted by love. I had no right to speak them then; nothing can excuse or palliate the weakness which allowed me to. I should have waited until I could come to you untrammeled—as now. I attempt no justification of my madness, Princess. I have no excuse but my love, and can only sue for pardon. You will forgive me, sweetheart"—using the old word tenderly—"for the sake of my great love. It's my only plea"—his voice took a pleading tone as he advanced the plea hardest of all for a woman to steel her heart against.
Pocahontas gazed at him in bewilderment, her mind grappling with an idea that appalled her, her face blanching with apprehension, and her form cowering as from an expected blow.
"Must I understand, Mr. Thorne, that love for me suggested the thought of divorcing your wife?" she questioned hoarsely—"that I came between you and caused this horrible thing? It is not—it can not be true. God above! Have I fallen so low?—am I guilty of this terrible sin?"
Thorne's quick brain recognized instantly the danger of allowing this idea to obtain possession of her mind. Fool! he thought furiously, why had not he been more cautious, more circumspect. Dextrously he set himself to remove the idea or weaken its force—to prove her guiltless in her own eyes.
"Princess," he said, meeting the honest, agonized eyes squarely, "I want to tell you the story of my marriage with Ethel Ross, and of my subsequent life with her. I had not intended to harass you with it until later—if at all; but now, I deem it best you should become acquainted with it, and from my lips. It will explain many things."
Then he briefly related all the miserable commonplace story. He glossed over nothing, palliated nothing; bearing hardly now on his wife, and again on himself, but striving to show throughout how opposed to true marriage was this marriage, how far removed from a perfect union was this union. Pocahontas listened with intense, strained interest, following every word, sometimes almost anticipating them. Her heart ached for him—ached wearily. Life had been so hard upon him; he had suffered so. With a woman's involuntary hardness to woman, she raised the blame from Thorne's shoulders and heaped it upon those of his wife. Her love and her sympathy became his advocates and pleaded for him at the bar of her judgment. Her heart yearned over him with infinite compassion.
If Thorne had kept silence, and left the matter there, and waited until she should have adapted herself to the new conditions, should have assimilated the new influences, which crowded thick upon her, it would have been better. But he could not keep silent—he had no patience to wait. He could not realize that the things which were as a thrice-told tale to him, had an overwhelming newness for her. That the influences which had molded his thought, were very far removed from the influences which had made her what she was. He could not understand that, while the world had progressed, this isolated community had remained stationary, and that the principles and rules of conduct among them, still, were those which had governed his world in the beginning of the century.
He saw that her sympathy had been aroused, that she suffered for, and with, him, and he could not forbear from striving to push the advantage. He went on speaking earnestly; he demonstrated that this marriage which had proved so disastrous was in truth no marriage, and that its annulment was just and right, for where there was no love, he argued, there could be no marriage. With all the sophistry; with all the subtle arguments of which he was master—and they were neither weak nor few—he assailed her. Every power of his brilliant intellect, every weapon of his mental armory, all the force of his indomitable will was brought to bear upon her—and brought to bear in vain.
Calm, pale, resolute, she faced him—her clear eyes meeting his, her nervous hands folded tightly together. She would not give way. In their earnestness both had risen, and they stood facing each other on the hearth-rug, their eyes nearly on a level. The man's hand rested on the mantle, and quivered with the intensity of his excitement; the woman's hung straight before her, motionless, but wrung together until the knuckles showed hard through the tense skin. She would NOT give way.
Thorne was startled and perplexed. Opposition he was prepared for, argument he could meet and possibly refute, tears and reproaches he could subdue—but dumb, quiet resistance baffled him. Suddenly he abandoned reason, cast self-control to the winds, and gave the reins to feeling. If he could not convince her through the head, he would try a surer road—the heart. Though proof against argument, would she be proof against love? He knew she loved him; he felt it in every fiber of his being, every pulse of his heart—and he was determined to win her at all hazards; his she must be; his she should be.
"My love!" he murmured, extending his arms with an appealing tenderness of look and gesture. "Come to me. Lay your sweet face on my breast, your dear arms around my neck. I need you, Princess; my heart cries out for you, and will not be denied. I can not live without you. You are mine—mine alone, and I claim your love; claim your life. What is that woman? What is any woman to me, save you, my darling—you only? My love! My love! It is my very life for which I am pleading. Have you no pity? No love for the man whose heart is calling you to come?"
Pocahontas shivered, and bent slightly forward—her face was white as death, her eyes strange and troubled. The strength and fire of his passion drew her toward him as a magnet draws steel. Was she yielding? Would she give way?
Suddenly she started erect again, and drew back a step. All the emotions, prejudices, thoughts of her past life; all the principles, scruples, influences, amid which she had been reared, crowded back on her and asserted their power. She could not do this thing. A chasm black as the grave, hopeless as death, yawned at her feet; a barrier as high as heaven erected itself before her.
"I can not come," she wailed in anguish. "Have you no mercy?—no pity for me? There is a barrier between us that I dare not level; a chasm I can not cross."
"There is no barrier," responded Thorne, vehemently, "and I will acknowledge none. I am a free man; you are a free woman, and there is no law, human or divine, to keep us asunder, save the law of your own will. If there be a chasm—which I do not see; which I swear does not exist—I will cross it. If you can not come to me, I can come to you; and I will. You are mine, and I will hold you—here in my arms, on my breast, in my heart. Have you, and hold you, so help me God!"
With a quick stride he crossed the small space between them, and stood close, but still not touching her.
"Have you no pity?" she moaned.
"None," he answered hoarsely. "Have you any for me?—for us both? I love you—how well, God knows, I was not aware until to-night—and you love me I hope and believe. There is nothing between us save an idle scruple, which even the censorious world does not share. I ask you to commit no sin; to share no disgrace. I ask you to be my wife before the face of day; before the eyes of men; in the sight of heaven!"
Could she be his wife in the sight of heaven? It was all so strange to her, she could not understand. Words, carelessly heard and scarcely heeded, came back to her, and rung their changes in her brain with ceaseless iteration. It was like a knell.
"Nesbit?" she said wearily, using his name unconsciously, "listen and understand me. In the eyes of the law, and of men you are free; but I can not see it so. In my eyes you are still bound."
"I am not bound," denied Thorne, fiercely, bringing his hand down heavily on the mantle; "whoever tells you that I am, lies, and the truth is not in him. I've told you all—and yet not all. Ethel Ross, the woman who was my wife—whom you say is my wife still—is about to marry again. To join her life—as free and separate from mine as though we had never met—to the life of another man. Isn't that enough? Can't you see how completely every tie between us is severed?"
Pocahontas shook her head. "I can not understand you, and you will not understand me," she said mournfully; "her sin will not lessen our sin; nor her unholy marriage make ours pure and righteous."
Thorne stamped his foot. "Do you wish to madden me?" he exclaimed; "there is no sin, I tell you; nor would our marriage be unholy. You are torturing us both for nothing on God's earth but a scruple. I've argued, reasoned, and pleaded with you, and you refuse to weigh the argument, to listen to the reason, to yield to the persuasion. You are hard, and opinionated, and obstinate. You set up your individual judgment against the verdict of the world and deem it infallible. You are hard to yourself, and cruelly hard to me, for, as there is a God in heaven, I believe you love me, even as I love you. Oh, my love! my love!" his voice melted, his arms closed around her. "Why do you try me beyond my strength? Why are you so cruel to us both? See; I hold you safely; your heart beats on mine; your dear face is on my breast. Stay with me, my darling, my own, my wife;" and soft, clinging passionate kisses pressed down on hair, and cheek, and lips; kisses that burned like flame, that thrilled like strong wine.
For a moment Pocahontas lay quietly in his arms, lulled into quiescence. Then she wrenched herself free, and moved away from him. It had been said of her that she could be hard upon occasion; the occasion had arisen, and she was hard.
"Go!" she said, her face wan as ashes, but her voice firm; "it is you who are cruel; you who are blind and obstinate. You will neither see nor understand why this thing may not be. I have showed you my thought, and you will not bend; implored you to have pity, and you are merciless. And yet you talk of love! You love me, and would sacrifice me to your love; love me, and would break down the bulwarks I have been taught to consider righteous, to gratify your love. I do not understand; love seemed to me so different, so noble and unselfish. Leave me; I am tired; I want to think it out alone."
Thorne stood silent, his head bent in thought. "Yes," he said presently; "it will be better so. You are overwrought, and your mind is worn with excitement; you need rest. To-morrow, next week, the week after, this matter will wear a different aspect. I can wait, and I will come again. It will be different then."
"It will never be different," the voice was low; the gray eyes had a hopeless look.
Thorne repeated his assertion in the gentle, persistent tone of one who is patient with the unreasonableness of a frightened child. His determination to win success never faltered, rather it hardened with opposition into adamant; but he was beginning to realize his blunder. He had overwhelmed her; had brought about an upheaval of her world so violent that, in her bewilderment, her dread of chaos, she instinctively laid hold on the old supports and clung to them with desperation. She must have time to think, to familiarize herself with the strange emotions, to adapt herself to the changed conditions. Only one other thing would he say. He held in reserve a card which he knew, ere now, had proved all powerful with conscientious women. To gain his end, he would stop at nothing; he took both her hands in his, and played his card deliberately.
"Think over it well," he said, "weigh every argument, test every scruple. My life is in your hands. I am not a religious man, nor a good man, but you can make me both. Give me the heaven that I crave, the heaven of your love, and I will be by it ennobled into faith in that other heaven, of which it will be the foretaste. But refuse; deny the soul that cries out to you; thrust aside the hands that seek to clasp you, as the truest, noblest, holiest thing they have ever touched, and—on your head be it. I have placed the responsibility in your hands and there it rests."
With a lingering look into her eyes and a fervent pressure of her hands, he turned and slowly left the room.
Back to the mind of the girl, standing motionless where he had left her, came, unwished and unbidden, the memory of a summer night out yonder beside the flowing river. She seemed to see again, the swaying of the branches in the moonlight, and to hear the lulling wash of the water against the shore; to hear also, a quiet, manly voice fighting down its pain, lest the knowledge of it should wound her, saying, simply and bravely: "Don't be unhappy about me, dear. I'll worry through the pain in time, or grow accustomed to it. It's tough just at first, but I'll pull through somehow. It shall not spoil my life either, although it must mar it; a man must be a pitiful fellow who lets himself go to the bad because the woman he loves won't have him. God means every man to hold up his own weight in this world. I'd as soon knock a woman down as throw the blame of a wasted life upon her."
Plain words, poorly arranged and simply spoken, for the man who uttered them was not clever; but brave, manly words, for all that. The girl turned from the unwelcome memory with a sharp, impatient sigh that was almost a groan. It pained her.
The next day Thorne quietly returned to New York, without making any attempt to see or communicate with Pocahontas again. He had considered the situation earnestly, and decided that it would be his wisest course. Like a skilled general, he recognized the value of delay. Failing to carry the citadel by assault, he resorted to strategy. In the girl's love for him, he possessed a powerful ally; there was a traitor in the camp of his adversary, and sooner or later it would be betrayed into his hands; of this he was convinced, and the conviction fortified him to trust the result to time. Pride and principle were in arms now, holding love in check, but it would not be so always; soon her woman's heart would speak, would wield an influence more powerful and resistless, from the concentration engendered by repression. Now, too, she was braced by the excitement of personal resistance; she was measuring her will, with his will, her strength with his strength. Let him withdraw for a time, and what would follow? The outside pressure, the immediate need of concentrated effort removed, there would inevitably ensue a state of collapse; purpose and prejudice would sink exhausted, the strain on the will relax, the weapons fall from the nerveless hands. Then the heart would rally its forces, would collect its strength for the field; external conflict suspended, internal strife would commence, fierce, cruel and relentless as internecine struggles ever are. Was there any doubt of the result of the battle? It only needed time. Time, quietude, and earnest thought, free from the disturbing, stimulating power of his presence.
He could wait; every affection of her loving, constant heart, every fiber of her self-sacrificing nature, would fight for him; prejudices, even the most deeply-rooted, must yield, in time, to love. When he should come again it would be to claim his victory.
No thought of abandoning the pursuit crossed his brain; no impulse of ruth stirred his heart. Did she suffer? So did he—keenly, cruelly. Let her end this torture for them both; let her lay aside these senseless scruples, and place her hand in his. His arms were open to her, his heart yearning for her; let her come and anchor in the sure haven of his love.
Pocahontas told her mother, very quietly, of Thorne's visit, his proposal, and her rejection of it; just the bare facts, without comment or elaboration. But Mrs. Mason had a mother's insight and could read between the lines; she did not harass her daughter with many words, even of approval; or with questions; she simply drew the sweet, young face down to her bosom a moment, and held it there with tender kisses. Nor did Berkeley, to whom his mother communicated the fact, volunteer any comment to his sister. After what had passed, Thorne's proposal was not a surprise, and to them the girl's answer was a foregone conclusion. Poor child! the brother thought impatiently, the mother wistfully, how much bitterness would have been spared her could she only have loved Jim Byrd.
During the weeks that followed Thorne's second return north, the two families were thrown together more and more intimately. Blanche's engagement and Warner's increased illness served to break down all restraints. All through the winter the boy had steadily lost ground, and as the spring progressed, instead of rallying as they hoped, his decline became more rapid. The best advice was had, but science could only bear the announcement of bereavement; there was nothing to be done, the doctors said, save to alleviate pain, and let the end come peacefully; it was needless to worry the boy with change, or bootless experiments. Even to the mother's willfully blinded eyes, and falsely-fed hopes, conviction came at last that her son's days were numbered.
Berkeley, Royall and other of the neighboring gentlemen took turns in aiding with the nursing and the night-watches, as is the custom in southern country neighborhoods where professional nurses are unknown.
Of all the kindly friends that watched and tended him through long weeks of illness, the one that Warner learned to love the best was Berkeley Mason. There was a thoughtful strength in the nature of the man who had suffered, the soldier who had endured, which the weaker nature recognized and rested on. To the general, during this time of trouble, the young man became, in very truth, a son; the old debt of kindness was canceled, and a new account opened with a change in the balance.
As is usual in cases of lingering consumption, the end was very sudden—so sudden, in fact, that Norma, still away with her northern friends, received the telegram too late for word or look or farewell kiss. She was traveling with Mrs. Vincent and the message followed her from place to place.
On a still, beautiful May morning, Warner was laid to rest in the Lanarth graveyard beside poor Temple Mason. It was the boy's own request, and his mother felt constrained to comply with it, although she would have preferred interring the remains of her child beside those of her own people at Greenwood. The story of the young life beating itself out against prison bars, had taken strong hold of the lad's imagination, and the fancy grew that he too would sleep more sweetly under the shadow of the old cedars in the land the young soldier had loved so well.
Norma and Pocahontas stood near each other beside the new-made grave, and as they quitted the inclosure, their hands met for an instant coldly. Pocahontas tried not to harbor resentment, but she could not forget whose hand it had been that had struck her the first bitter blow.
After Warner's death, Mrs. Smith appeared to collapse, mentally as well as bodily. She remained day after day shut in his chamber, brooding silently and rejecting with dumb apathy all sympathy and consolation. Her strength and appetite declined, and her interest in life deserted her, leaving a hopeless quiescence that was inexpressibly pitiful. Her husband, in alarm for her life and reason, hurriedly decided to break up the establishment at Shirley, and remove her for a time from surroundings that constantly reminded her of her loss.
In the beginning of June, the move was made, the house closed, the servants dismissed, and the care of the estate turned over to Berkeley. With the dawning of summer, the birds of passage winged their flight northward.
There comes a time in human affairs, whether of nations or individuals, when a dull exhausted calm appears to fall upon them—a period of repose, a lull after the excitement of hurried events, a pause in which to draw breath for the renewal of the story. Grateful are these interludes, and necessary for the preservation of true equipoise, but they are not interesting, and in novels all description of them is carelessly skipped over. In stories we want events, not lingerings.
The summer passed quietly for the family at Lanarth, broken only by the usual social happenings, visits from the "Byrd girls," as they were still called, with their husbands and little ones; a marriage, a christening, letters from Jim and Susie, and measles among the little Garnetts. In August, Pocahontas and her mother went for a month to Piedmont, Virginia, to try the medicinal waters for the latter's rheumatism, and after their return home, Berkeley took a holiday and ran up to the Adirondacks to see Blanche.
Poor Mrs. Smith did not rally as her family had hoped, and the physicians—as is customary when a case baffles their skill—all recommended further and more complete change. They must take her abroad, and try what the excitement of foreign travel would do toward preventing her from sinking into confirmed invalidism. General Smith, who had abandoned every care and interest for the purpose of devoting himself to his wife, embraced the proposal with eagerness, and insisted on the experiment being tried as speedily as possible.
Blanche could not help some murmurs, both inwardly and to Berkeley, at the long separation in store for them; and the lover, although himself a little rueful, heartened her up with bright prophecies for their future. An immediate marriage for them was out of the question, for since Warner's death Mrs. Smith clung to her younger daughter with absolute dependence. The last of September was decided on for sailing, as that would allow General Smith time to enter Percival at school, and to complete other necessary arrangements before the family departure. The management of Shirley would remain in Berkeley's hands, and the house would continue closed until the return of the travelers.
To Nesbit Thorne, the summer had appeared interminable, and every golden hour had been shod with lead. He had passed the season partly in the Adirondacks with his relatives and partly in New York; but he was always oppressed with the same miserable unrest, the same weary longing. It would appear, at times, impossible for him to hold to his resolution of waiting until after the re-marriage of his ci-devant wife, before again seeking Pocahontas. He yearned to be with her, to hold her hands, and gaze into her eyes, so intensely at times, that it required the utmost exertion of his will to prevent himself from boarding the first southward-bound train. He was forced continually to remind himself that if he should yield to the impulse, he would be guilty of egregious folly—having waited so long, he could surely wait a few weeks longer. Ethel's marriage would dissipate every shadow of a tie between them, and with that fact fully established, Pocahontas must hear him.
In deference to Cumberland prejudice, Mrs. Thorne's marriage had been deferred until September—to that lady's great annoyance. She saw no reason for delay, nor any necessity for humoring the Cumberland old-fogyism, and in delicate ambiguous terms she conveyed this opinion to her lover, and discovered, to her surprise and indignation, that he disagreed with her. Some concession was due to the feelings of his family, and he did not wish to be hurried; on this ground, he intrenched himself and defied the world to move him. When Cecil made a point, he held to it with the obstinacy characteristic of mediocrity, and Ethel, not being exactly in a position to dictate, and requiring moreover some portion of the Cumberland countenance, was forced to acquiesce.
Some weeks before the day appointed for her marriage, Ethel removed herself and her belongings to the house of a poor and plastic aunt, who was in the habit of allowing herself to be run into any mold her niece should require. According to their agreement, Ethel gave her whilom husband due notice of her plans, and Thorne at once removed the child to Brooklyn, and placed him under the care of a sister of his father's, a gentle elderly widow who had known sorrow. His house he put in the hands of an agent to rent or sell, furnished, only removing such articles as had belonged to his parents. The house was hateful to him, and he felt that should the beautiful, new life of which he dreamed ever dawn for him, it must be set amid different surroundings from those which had framed his matrimonial failure.
Still in deference to the Cumberland prejudice, the re-marriage of Ethel Thorne took place very quietly. It was a morning wedding, graced only by the presence of a few indifferent relatives, and a small crowd of curious friends. The two Misses Cumberland, handsome, heavy-browed women, after much discussion in the family bosom, and some fraternal persuasion, had allowed themselves to be seduced into attending the obnoxious nuptials, and shedding the light of the family countenance upon the ill-doing pair. Very austere and forbidding they looked as they seated themselves, reprobatively, in a pew far removed from the chancel, and their light was no better than the veriest darkness.
Twelve hours after the marriage had been published to the world, another marked paper was speeding southward, addressed this time to Pocahontas, and accompanied by a thick, closely written, letter. Thorne had decided that it would be better to send a messenger before, this time, to prepare the way for him. In his letter Thorne touched but lightly on the point at issue between them, thinking it better to take it for granted that her views had modified, if not changed. The strength of his cause lay in his love, his loneliness, his yearning need of her. On these themes he dwelt with all the eloquence of which he was master, and the letter closed with a passionate appeal, in which he poured out the long repressed fire of his love: "My darling, tell me I may come to you—or rather tell me nothing; I will understand and interpret your silence rightly. You are proud, my beautiful love, and in all things I will spare you—in all things be gentle to you; in all things, save this—I can not give you up—I will not give you up. I will wait here for another week, and if I do not hear from you, I will start for Virginia at once—with joy and pride and enduring thankfulness."
Pocahontas took the paper to her mother's room, the letter she put quietly away. She would answer it, but not yet; at night—when the house should be quiet she would answer it.
The lines containing the brief announcement were at the head of the list:
"CUMBERLAND-THORNE.—At the church of the Holy Trinity, September 21st, 18—, by the Rev. John Sylvestus, Cecil Cumberland to Ethel Ross Thorne; both of this city."
Mrs. Mason laid the paper on the little stand beside her chair. "My daughter," she said, looking up at the girl seriously, "this can make no difference."
"No, mother," very quietly, "no difference; but I thought you ought to know."
In her own room, at night, when the house was still, the girl sat with the letter in her lap thinking. The moonlight poured in through the open window and made a map on the floor, whereon slender shadows traced rivers, mountains and boundaries. In the trees outside, the night insects chirped, and bats darted and circled in the warm air.
If only she could think that this made a difference. She was so weary of the struggle. The arguments which formerly sustained her had, with ceaseless iteration, lost their force; her battle-worn mind longed to throw down its arms in unconditional surrender. Her up-bringing had been so different; this thing was not regarded by the world in the same light as it appeared to her; was she over-strained, opinionated, censorious? Nesbit had called her so—was he right? Who was she, to set up her feeble judgment against the world's verdict—to condemn and criticise society's decision? Divorce must be—even Scripture allowed that; a limb must be sacrificed sometimes that a life might be saved. True, the process had always appeared to her, in her ignorance, an operation of cruel anguish, from which the patient came halt, or lame, or blind for life; but what if she should be wrong? What if the present crab-like propensity for the renewal of the missing part was the natural and sensible condition. This wicked woman—this wife who had recklessly thrown aside life's choicest gift—was happy; she had replaced her lopped-off limb with a new one, and it was well with her. Norma had said long ago that, "any woman who trifled with her happiness because of a scruple was a fool." Was Norma right? Was her hesitation senseless, doltish folly?
The boundaries of the moonlight shifted; a long irregular cape, like a shining finger, stretched out across the floor and touched the hem of her dress. From behind the screen in the fireplace came a little sound, as though a mouse were rustling fragments of torn paper.
If she could only recognize that this marriage had made a difference. It was so wearisome, this strife with a heart that would not admit defeat, a love that fought on and would not die. What was required of her?—nothing; nothing save to sit with folded hands and let happiness flood her life like sunshine—only to lay away the letter in her desk and wait silently for her lover to come to her. Her lover—the man whose influence had changed the monotonous calm of existence into the pulsing passion of living—the man who loved her; whom she loved. No words were needed—only silence; he was so thoughtful for her, so anxious to spare her; only silence, and in a little while his arms would infold her; his beautiful eyes, heavy with tenderness, gaze deep into hers; his sweet, passionate kisses burn upon her lips.
The radiant finger stole softly up her dress, across her lap, and made a little pool of brightness in the heart of which the letter lay; outside in the dove-cote a pigeon cooed sleepily to his mate.
What was that tale of long ago that was coming strangely back to her? A girl, one whom they all knew and loved, had been separated from her husband after several years of misery, bravely borne. Her husband had been a confirmed drunkard, and in his cups was as one possessed with devils. They had grieved over Clare, and when her husband's brutality grew such that her brother interfered and insisted on her procuring a divorce for the protection of herself and her children, they had felt that it was right; and while they deplored the necessity, they had sided with Clare throughout. But when, two years later, wedding cards had come from Clare, from some place in the West, whither she had moved with her children; it had been a grievous shock, for the drunkard still lived. It had seemed a strange and monstrous thing, and their judgment had been severe—their censure scathing. Poor Clare! She understood her temptation better now. Poor little Clare!
What was it Jim had said? The men had been guarded in the expression of their opinion before her; they were fastidious in conversation before women. This, he had said in an under-tone to Berkeley, but she had caught it, and caught also the scorn of the hazel eye, and knew that the lip curled under the brown mustache. He had said—"To a woman of innate purity the thing would be impossible. There is a coarseness in the situation which is revolting."
What would he think of her? She was weighing the matter—canvassing its possibility. Was her nature deteriorating? Was she growing coarser, less pure? Would her old friend, whose standard was so high, despise her? Would she be lowered in the eyes of those whose influence and opinions had, heretofore, molded her life? The associations of years are not uprooted and cast aside in days or in months. Responsibilities engendered by the past environed her, full-grown, comprehensible, insistent; responsibilities which might be engendered by the future, lay in her mind a tiny germ in which the embryo life had scarcely begun to stir. The duty to the old life seemed to her plain and clear; a beaten track along which she might safely travel. The duty to another life which might, in time, be equally plain and clear, was now a bewildering mist through which strange shapes passed, like phantasmagoria. She could not think; her mind was benumbed; right and wrong, apparently, had changed places and commingled so, that, for the time, their identity was confused, indistinguishable: she could not guide herself, as yet; she could only hold blindly to the old supports.
The silver finger had lifted itself from her lap and rested on her breast, forming a shining pathway from her heart, through the open window, out into the silence and beauty of the night.
Winter again; the city dull, listless and sodden of aspect in the gloom of a January evening. In the country, and nature's quiet places, the dusk was throwing a veil over the cheerlessness of earth, as a friend covers a friend's deficiencies with love; but here, in the haunts of men, garish electric lights made plain the misery. The air was a depressing compound which defied analysis; but was apparently composed of equal parts of snow, drizzle, and stinging sleet; the wind caught it in sudden whirls, and dashed it around corners and into the eyes and the coat collars of wayfarers with gusty malevolence.
The streets were comparatively deserted, only such people being abroad as could not help themselves, and these plodded along with bent heads, and silent curses on the night. Even the poor creatures who daily "till the field of human sympathy" kept close within the shelter of four walls, no matter how forlorn, and left the elements to hold Walpurgis night in the thoroughfares alone.
In a comfortable easy chair, in the handsome parlor of an elegant up-town mansion, sat Ethel Cumberland, reading a novel. Since her second marriage, life had gone pleasantly with her and she was content. Cecil never worried her about things beyond her comprehension, or required other aliments for his spiritual sustenance than that which she was able and willing to furnish; he was a commonplace man and his desires were commonplace—easily understood and satisfied. He liked a pretty wife, a handsome house, a good dinner with fine wine and jolly company; he liked high-stepping horses, a natty turn-out, and the smile of Vanity Fair. Ethel's tastes were similar, and their lives so far had fitted into each other without a single crevice. The Cumberlands were grim and unbending, it is true, and after that one concession to fraternal feeling, made no more; they held themselves rigidly aloof from the pair, and invested all intercourse with paralyzing formality. Ethel did not care a pin for them or their opinion; if they chose to be old-fogyish and disagreeable, they were quite welcome to indulge their fancy. As long as society smiled upon her, Madam Ethel was superbly indifferent to the Cumberland frown.
Cecil worried over it, as men will worry, who have been accustomed to the adulation of their womenkind, when that adulation is withdrawn. He grumbled and fumed over their "damned nonsense," as he called it, and bored his wife no little with conjectures as to their reasons for being stiff and unpleasant when nobody else was.
Since her return from her wedding trip, which had lengthened to four months amid the delights of Paris, Mrs. Cumberland had found time for only one short visit to her little son. There had been such an accumulation of social duties and engagements, that pilgrimages over to Brooklyn were out of the question; and besides, she disliked Mrs. Creswell, Thorne's aunt, who had charge of the boy, and who had the bad taste, Ethel felt sure, to disapprove of her. It was too bad of Nesbit to put the child so far away, and with a person whom she did not like; it amounted to a total separation, for of course it would be impossible for her to make such a journey often. When her time should be less occupied, she would write to Nesbit about it; meanwhile, her maternal solicitude found ample pacification in sending a servant across at intervals to carry toys and confectionery to the little fellow, and to inquire after his welfare.
The portieres were drawn aside to admit Mr. Cumberland in smoking jacket and slippers, yawning and very much bored. He was a large, heavy looking man, very dependent on outside things for his entertainment. Failing to attract his wife's attention, he lounged over to the window, and drew aside the velvet curtain. The atmosphere was heavy, and the light in front of the house appeared to hold itself aloof from the environment in a sulky, self-contained way; all down the street, the other lamps looked like the ghosts of lights that had burned and died in past ages.
A little girl with a bag of apples in her frost-bitten hands came hastily around the corner, and, going with her head down against the sleet, butted into an elderly gentleman, with a big umbrella, who was driving along in an opposite direction. The gentleman gave the child an indignant shove which caused her to seat herself violently upon the pavement; the bag banged hard against the bricks and delivered up its trust, and the apples scudded away into the gutter.
Cecil laughed amusedly as the little creature picked herself up crying, and proceeded to institute search for the missing treasure. A kindly policeman, who doubtless had children of his own, stopped on his beat, and helped her, wiping the mud from the rescued fruit with his handkerchief, and securing all again with a newspaper and a stout twine string which he took from his pocket; then they went away together, the officer carrying the bundle and the child trotting contentedly in the lee of him. They seemed to be old acquaintances.
Nothing else happened along to amuse him, so Mr. Cumberland let the velvet folds fall back in their place and came over to the fire. He had been suffering with a heavy cold, and found confinement to the house in the last degree irksome. His wife was too much engrossed with her book to be willing to lay it aside for his entertainment, and he spurned her suggestion of the evening paper, so there was nothing for it but to sulk over a cigar and audibly curse the weather.
A sharp ring at the door-bell, tardily answered by a servant, and then footsteps approached the parlor door. Husband and wife looked up with interest—with expectation. Was it a visitor? No; only the servant with a telegram which he handed Mr. Cumberland, and then withdrew. Cecil turned the thin envelope in his hand inquisitively. He was fond of having every thing pass through his own hands—of knowing all the ins and outs, the minutiae of daily happenings. "What is it?" questioned Ethel, indolently.
"A dispatch for you. Shall I open it?"
"If you like. I hate dispatches. They always suggest unpleasant possibilities. It's a local, so I guess it's from my aunt, about that rubbishing dinner of hers."
Cecil tore open the envelope and read the few words it contained with a lengthening visage; then he let his hand fall, and stared blankly across at his wife.
"It's from that fellow! and it's about the child," he said, uneasily.
"What fellow? What child? Not mine! Give it to me quickly, Cecil. How slow you are!" And she snatched the telegram from his unresisting hand. Hastily she scanned the words, her breath coming in gasps, her fingers trembling so that she could scarcely hold the paper. "The child is dying. Come at once!" That was all, and the message was signed Nesbit Thorne. Short, curt, peremptory, as our words are apt to be in moments of intense emotion; a bald fact roughly stated.
For a moment Ethel Cumberland sat stunned, with pallid face and shaking hands, from which the message slipped and fluttered to the carpet. Then she sprang to her feet in wild excitement, an instinct aroused in her breast which even animals know when their young are in danger.
"Cecil!" she cried, sharply, "don't you hear? My child! My baby is dying! Why do you stand there staring at me? I must go—you must take me to him now, this instant, or it will be too late. Don't you understand? My darling—my boy is dying!" and she burst into a passion of grief, wringing her hands and wailing. "Go! send for a carriage. There's not a moment to lose. Oh, my baby!—my baby!"
"You can't go out in this storm. It's sleeting heavily, and I've been ill. I can't let you go all that distance with only a maid, and how am I to turn out in such weather?" objected Mr. Cumberland, who, when he was opposed to a thing, was an adept in piling up obstacles. "I tell you it's impossible, Ethel. It's madness, on such a night as this."
"Who cares for the storm?" raved Ethel, whose feelings, if evanescent, were intense. "I will go, Cecil! I don't want you, I'll go by myself. Nothing shall stop me. If it stormed fire and blood I should go all the same. I'll walk—I'll crawl there, before I will stay here and let my boy die without me. He is my baby—my own child, I tell you, Cecil!—if he isn't yours."
Of this fact Cecil Cumberland needed no reminder. It was a thorn that pricked and stung even his dull nature—for the child's father lived. To a jealous temperament it is galling to be reminded of a predecessor in a wife's affections, even when the grave has closed over him; if the man still lives, it is intolerable.
He was not a brute, and he knew that he must yield to his wife's pressure—that he had no choice but to yield; but he stood for a moment irresolute, staring at her with lowering brows, a hearty curse on living father and dying child slowly formulating in his breast.
As he turned to leave the room to give the necessary orders, a carriage drove rapidly to the door and stopped, and there was a vigorous pull at the bell. Thorne had provided against all possible delay. Then the question arose of who should accompany her, and they found that there was not a single available woman in the house. It was impossible to let her go alone, and Cumberland, with the curses rising from his heart to his lips, was forced, in very manhood, to go with her himself.
In Brooklyn Mrs. Creswell met them herself at the door, and appeared surprised—as well she might—to see Mr. Cumberland. She motioned Ethel toward the staircase, and then with a formal inclination of the head, ushered her more unwelcome guest into a small parlor where there was a fire and a lamp burning. Here she left him alone. Her house was in the suburbs, and there was nowhere else for him to go at that hour of the night and in that terrible storm.
The room was warm and cheerful, a child's toys lay scattered on floor and sofa, a little hat and coat were on the table, beside a cigar case and a crumpled newspaper. There was nothing for the man to do save to stare around and walk the floor impatiently, longing for death to hasten with his work, so that the false position might be ended.
Guided by unerring instinct, Ethel went straight to the chamber where her child lay dying—perhaps already dead. Outside the door she paused with her hand pressed hard on her throbbing heart.
It was a piteous sight that met her view as the door swung open, rendered doubly piteous by the circumstances. A luxurious room, a brooding silence, a tiny white bed on which a little child lay, slowly and painfully breathing his life away.
There were two persons in the room besides the little one: Thorne and the doctor, a grave, elderly man, who bowed to the lady, and, after a whispered word with Thorne, withdrew. Ethel sank on her knees beside the low bed and stretched out yearning arms to the child; the mother-love awakened at last in her heart and showing itself in her face.
"My baby!" she moaned, "my little one, don't you know your mother? Open your beautiful eyes, my darling, and look at me; it is your mother who is calling you!" Her bonnet had fallen off, the rich wrap and furs were trailing on the carpet where she had flung them; her arms were gathered close around the little form, her kisses raining on the pallid face, the golden hair.
The sleet beat on the window panes; the air of the room stirred as though a dark wing pressed it; the glow of the fire looked angry and fitful; a great, black lump of coal settled down in the grate and broke; in its sullen heart blue flames leaped and danced weirdly. The woman knelt beside the bed, and the man stood near her.
In the room there was silence. The child's eyes unclosed, a gleam of recognition dawned in them, he whispered his mother's name and put his hand up to her neck. Then his look turned to his father, his lips moved. Thorne knelt beside the pillow and bent his head to listen; the little voice fluttered and broke, the hand fell away from Ethel's neck, the lids drooped over the beautiful eyes. Thorne raised the tiny form in his arms, the golden head rested on his breast, Ethel leaned over and clasped the child's hands in hers. A change passed over the little face—the last change—the breath came in feeble, fluttering sighs, the pulse grew weaker, weaker still, the heart ceased beating, the end had come.
Gently, peacefully, with his head on his father's breast, his hands in his mother's clasp, the innocent spirit had slipped from its mortal sheath, and the waiting angel had tenderly received it.
Thorne laid the child gently down upon the pillows, pressing his hand over the exquisite eyes, his lips to the ones that would never pay back kisses any more; then he rose and stood erect. Ethel had risen also, and confronted him, terror, grief, and bewilderment, fighting for mastery in her face—in her heart. Half involuntarily, she stretched out her hands, and made a movement as though she would go to him; half involuntarily he extended his arms to receive her; then, with a shuddering sob, her arms fell heavily to her sides, and he folded his across his breast.
Down below, pacing the floor, in hot impatience to be gone, was the other man, waiting with smoldering jealousy and fierce longing for the end. And, outside, the snow fell heavily, with, ever and anon, a wild lash of bitter sleet; the earth cowered under her white pall, hiding from the storm, and the wind sobbed and moaned as it swept through the leafless trees like a creature wailing.
The south of France. There is music in the very words—sunshine, poetry, and a sense of calm; a suggestion of warmth and of infinite delight. No wonder pain, care and invalidism, flock there, from less favored climes, for comfort and healing; returning, year after year, to rest beneath the shadow of olive and ilex, and to dream the luscious days away beside the blue waters of the Mediterranean, drinking in strength and peace with every far-reaching gaze into the cloudless azure of the southern sky, every deep-drawn breath of the sunny southern air.
Mrs. Smith grew daily stronger, more like herself. Time, and care, and ceaseless affection, had wrought their beneficent work, and mind and body were recovering a healthier tone; her interest revived, and her hold on life renewed itself. As the weeks drifted into months, her condition became so materially improved that the anxiety of her family subsided and left room for other thoughts and interests; and finally her health was sufficiently re-established to admit of her husband's leaving them in the picturesque French village, while he returned to America.
In the quaint little village, time glided softly by on golden-slippered feet, the peaceful monotony broken only by little jaunts to neighboring hamlets, the arrival and departure of the mails, and long, blissful sails on the deep blue sea. Blanche's sweet face and gentle ways speedily won the simple hearts of the fisher-folks, and her letters were filled with anecdotes of her village proteges, and their picturesque life. And a steamer would have been necessary to convey away the floral and aquatic treasures heaped on her by the kindly peasants and their little brown-legged children.
The family would winter abroad, and return to America in the spring for the wedding, which Blanche had decided should take place in June. June was a lovely month, she thought, past all the uncertainty of spring, and with the glory of summer beyond it.
Some weeks after General Smith's return to New York, Nesbit Thorne joined his relatives in the pretty Mediterranean village. The general had found his nephew so changed, so worn in mind and body, that the kindly old soldier became seriously alarmed, and insisted on trying the remedy uppermost in his mind. He had come, with unswerving faith, to regard the south of France as an unfailing sanitarium, and he took his nephew promptly in hand, and gave him no peace until he consented to go abroad, never leaving him until he had secured his stateroom, and seen him embarked on his voyage.
Thorne went indifferently enough, partly to escape his uncle's persistence, and partly because all places were alike, all equally wearisome to him. He cherished also a hope of hearing, through Blanche, some tidings of the woman who still possessed him like a spell.
When he first joined them, Norma's waning hopes flickered up, in a final effort at revivification, but not for long. That her cousin should be moody, listless and thoroughly unhinged, did not surprise her, since the trials through which he had recently passed were sufficient to have tried a more robust physique than his. She set herself to interest and cheer him, and, at first, was in a measure successful; for Thorne—always fond of Norma, observed her efforts and exerted himself to a responsive cheerfulness, often feigning an interest he was far from feeling, in order to avoid disappointing her. But as he grew accustomed to her ministrations, the effort relaxed and he fell into gloom and bitterness once more.
There was in the man a sense of wrong, as well as failure. Life had dealt hardly with him—the bitterness had been wrung out to him to the very dregs. In all things—whether his intentions had been noble or ignoble, he had alike failed. He could not understand it. In his eyes, the conduct of the two women whose influence had been potent in his life, while springing from different causes, had resulted in the same effect—uncompromising hardness toward him. The diverse properties of the solutions had made no appreciable difference in the crystallization.
His love for Pocahontas had suffered no diminution; rather, it had increased. His longing for her presence, for her love, was so great at times, that the thought would come to him to end the intolerable pain by stopping forever the beating of the heart that would not break.
Her second refusal had been a cruel blow to him. He had seemed to himself so patient, so tenderly considerate; he had made allowance for the conservatism, the old world principles and prejudices amid which she had been reared; he had given her time to weigh and consider and plead. That the verdict should have gone against him, admitted, in his mind, but of one conclusion—Pocahontas did not love him. Had she loved him, she must have proved responsive; love, as he understood it, did not crucify itself for a principle; it was more prone to break barriers than to erect them. And this point of hers was no principle; it was, at noblest, an individual conscientious scruple, and to the man of the world it appeared the narrowest of bigotry.
His mind slowly settled to the conviction that she had never loved him as he had loved her—as he still loved her. Then began a change for the worse. The doubt of her love begot other doubts—a grisly brood of them—doubt of truth, doubt of generosity and courage, doubt of disinterestedness, doubt of womanhood. Thorne was getting in a bad way. Over the smoldering fires of his heart a crust of cynicism began to form and harden, powdered thick with the ashes of bitterness. What was the worth of love?—he had found it but a fair-weather friend. A storm—less than a storm—a cloud, though but as big as a man's hand, had sent the frail thing skurrying to cover. All ended in self—the ego dominated the world. Righteousness and unrighteousness arrived at the same result. The good called it self-sacrifice, and blinded and glorified themselves; the bad were less hypocritical; they gave it no sounding name and sought it openly. Self—from first to last, the same under all names and all disguises. Nay, the wicked were truer than the good, for the self-seeker inflicted no lasting injury on any save himself, while the ardor with which the self-immolator flourished the sacrificial knife imperiled other vitals than his own.
Truly, Thorne was getting into a very bad way. His was not the nature that emits sweetness when bruised; it cankered and got black spots through it. And he knew no physician to whom he could go for healing; no power, greater than his own, to set his disjointed life straight. Love and faith, alike, stood afar off. The waters of desolation encompassed his soul, without a sign of olive branch or dove.
Norma, watching him with the eyes of her heart, as well as those of her understanding, learned something of all this. Thorne did not tell her, indeed he talked little in the days they spent together, walking or sitting on the warm dry sand of the coast, and of himself not at all. His pain was a prisoner, and his breast its Bastile.
But Norma learned it, all the same, and learned, too, that never while that stormy heart beat in a living breast would it beat for her. She faced the conclusion squarely, accepted it, and took her resolution. Norma was a proud woman, and she never flinched; the world should know nothing of her pain, should never guess that her life held aught of disappointment.
A letter from Blanche to Berkeley, written within the following month, contained the result of Norma's resolution.
"You will be surprised," Blanche wrote, "to hear of Norma's sudden marriage to Hugh Castleton, which took place three days ago, at the house of the American Minister here in Paris. We were amazed—at least mamma and I were—when Hugh joined us here, and, after a long interview with Norma, informed us that he had cabled father for consent and that the ceremony was to take place almost immediately. Hugh, as perhaps you know, is a brother of Mrs. Vincent, Norma's intimate friend, and he has been in love with Norma time out of mind. I do not like the marriage, and feel troubled and sick at heart about it. It has been so hastily arranged, and Norma isn't one bit in love with her husband, and don't pretend to be. Hugh is patient and devoted to her, which is my strongest hope for their happiness in the future. It seems to me so unnatural to make a loveless marriage. I can't understand a woman's doing it. Nesbit is going to Palestine and the East. He is miserably changed; his hair is beginning to streak with gray at the temples already, and the lines about his mouth are getting hard. It makes me miserable to think about his life and his future. I can't help feeling that he has had hard measure meted out to him all around. It is cruel to touch happiness but never grasp it. I know what you all think about the affair, Berkeley, but I'm so wrought up about poor Nesbit, I must and will speak. He ought not to be made to suffer so; it would be far kinder to take a pistol and kill him at once. You don't think about him at all—and you should. I know that I'm just a silly little thing, and that my opinions don't amount to much, but I must say that I think you are wrong about this matter. A human soul is worth more than a scruple, be the scruple ever so noble, and I believe the Heavenly Father thinks so too. If you, who are strong and large-minded, will put prejudice aside and think the matter out fairly, you will be obliged to see that Pocahontas is doing wrong. She is killing herself, and she is killing him, and you ought not to let her do it. You know your influence over her—I believe it is you and your mother—the dread of disappointing you, or lowering herself in your estimation, or something of that sort, that holds her back. Don't do it any longer, Berkeley. Be generous and noble and large-hearted, like God means us all to be toward each other. It is awful to be so hard. Excess of righteousness must be sinful—almost as sinful as lack of righteousness. There, I've said it all and shocked you, but I can't help that. Nesbit's face haunts me so that I can't rid myself of it, sleeping or waking. I am all the time picturing terrible possibilities. Think of all that Nesbit has had to endure. Think of how that selfish woman wrecked his past, and ask yourself if there is any justice—not mercy—bare justice, in letting her wreck his future, now that the child's death has severed the last link that bound them together. Has any thing been spared Nesbit? Has not his heart been wrung again and again? Put yourself in his place, Berkeley, and acknowledge that after so much tempest, he is entitled to some sunshine, How can Pocahontas stand it? Could I, if it were you? Could I endure to see you suffer? Do you think that if you were in Nesbit's place I would not come to you, and put my arms round you, and draw your head to my bosom and whisper—'Dear love, if to all this bitterness I can bring one single drop of sweet, take it freely, fully from my lips and from my love?'"
Berkeley Mason went on to New York in ample time to meet the incoming Cunarder. His sister accompanied him, and as it was her first visit to the Empire City, Mason arranged to have nearly a week for lionizing before the arrival of the travelers. Percival was allowed to come from Hoboken and join the party, in order that his mother's eyes might be gladdened by the sight of him the instant she should land.
At the last moment, General Smith was prevented from joining his family in Paris according to his original intention, and having old-fashioned notions relative to the helplessness of ladies, and no sort of confidence in Blanche's ability to distinguish herself as her mother's courier and protector, he cabled privately to Nesbit Thorne, requesting him to defer his Eastern journey for a month, and escort his aunt and cousin home. Thorne changed his plans readily enough. He only contemplated prolonged travel as an expedient to fill the empty days, and if he could be of service to his relatives, held himself quite at their disposal.