Before he could answer, and quite before the judge could reach the tragical group, she had flung her arms round Boyne's neck, and was kissing his tear-drabbled face, while he lamented back, "They're taking me to prison."
"Taking you to prison? I should like to know what for! What are you taking my brother to prison for?" she challenged the detectives, who paused, bewildered, while all the little Dutch boys round admired this obstruction of the law, and several Dutch housewives, too old to go out to see the queens, looked down from their windows. It was wholly illegal, but the detectives were human. They could snub such a friend of their prisoner as Breckon, but they could not meet the dovelike ferocity of Ellen with unkindness. They explained as well as they might, and at a suggestion which Kenton made through Breckon, they admitted that it was not beside their duty to take Boyne directly to a magistrate, who could pass upon his case, and even release him upon proper evidence of his harmlessness, and sufficient security for any demand that justice might make for his future appearance.
"Then," said the judge, quietly, "tell them that we will go with them. It will be all right, Boyne. Ellen, you and I will get back into the carriage, and—"
"No!" Boyne roared. "Don't leave me, Nelly!"
"Indeed, I won't leave you, Boyne! Mr. Breckon, you get into the carriage with poppa, and I—"
"I think I had better go with you, Miss Kenton," said Breckon, and in a tender superfluity they both accompanied Boyne on foot, while the judge remounted to his place in the carriage and kept abreast of them on their way to the magistrate's.
The magistrate conceived of Boyne's case with a readiness that gave the judge a high opinion of his personal and national intelligence. He even smiled a little, in accepting the explanation which Breckon was able to make him from Boyne, but he thought his duty to give the boy a fatherly warning for the future. He remarked to Breckon that it was well for Boyne that the affair had not happened in Germany, where it would have been found a much more serious matter, though, indeed, he added, it had to be seriously regarded anywhere in these times, when the lives of sovereigns were so much at the mercy of all sorts of madmen and miscreants. He relaxed a little from his severity in his admonition to say directly to Boyne that queens, even when they wished to speak with people, did not beckon them in the public streets. When this speech translated to Boyne by Breckon, whom the magistrate complimented on the perfection of his Dutch, Boyne hung his head sheepishly, and could not be restored to his characteristic dignity again in the magistrate's presence. The judge gratefully shook hands with the friendly justice, and made him a little speech of thanks, which Breckon interpreted, and then the justice shook hand with the judge, and gracefully accepted the introduction which he offered him to Ellen. They parted with reciprocal praises and obeisances, which included even the detectives. The judge had some question, which he submitted to Breckon, whether he ought not to offer them something, but Breckon thought not.
Breckon found it hard to abdicate the sort of authority in which his knowledge of Dutch had placed him, and when he protested that he had done nothing but act as interpreter, Ellen said, "Yes, but we couldn't have done anything without you," and this was the view that Mrs. Kenton took of the matter in the family conclave which took place later in the evening. Breckon was not allowed to withdraw from it, in spite of many modest efforts, before she had bashfully expressed her sense of his service to him, and made Boyne share her thanksgiving. She had her arm about the boy's shoulder in giving Breckon her hand, and when Breckon had got away she pulled Boyne to her in a more peremptory embrace.
"Now, Boyne," she said, "I am not going to have any more nonsense. I want to know why you did it."
The judge and Ellen had already conjectured clearly enough, and Boyne did not fear them. But he looked at his younger sister as he sulkily answered, "I am not going to tell you before Lottie."
"Come in here, then," said his mother, and she led him into the next room and closed the door. She quickly returned without him. "Yes," she began, "it's just as I supposed; it was that worthless fellow who put him up to it. Of course, it began with those fool books he's been reading, and the notions that Miss Rasmith put into his head. But he never would have done anything if it hadn't been for Mr. Trannel."
Lottie had listened in silent scorn to the whole proceedings up to this point, and had refused a part in the general recognition of Breckon as a special providence. Now she flashed out with a terrible volubility: "What did I tell you? What else could you expect of a Cook's tourist? And mom—mother wanted to make me go with you, after I told her what he was! Well, if I had have gone, I'll bet I could have kept him from playing his tricks. I'll bet he wouldn't have taken any liberties, with me along. I'll bet if he had, it wouldn't have been Boyne that got arrested. I'll bet he wouldn't have got off so easily with the magistrate, either! But I suppose you'll all let him come bowing and smiling round in the morning, like butter wouldn't melt in your mouths. That seems to be the Kenton way. Anybody can pull our noses, or get us arrested that wants to, and we never squeak." She went on a long time to this purpose, Mrs. Kenton listening with an air almost of conviction, and Ellen patiently bearing it as a right that Lottie had in a matter where she had been otherwise ignored.
The judge broke out, not upon Lottie, but upon his wife. "Good heavens, Sarah, can't you make the child hush?"
Lottie answered for her mother, with a crash of nerves and a gush of furious tears: "Oh, I've got to hush, I suppose. It's always the way when I'm trying to keep up the dignity of the family. I suppose it will be cabled to America, and by tomorrow it will be all over Tuskingum how Boyne was made a fool of and got arrested. But I bet there's one person in Tuskingum that won't have any remarks to make, and that's Bittridge. Not, as long as Dick's there he won't."
"Lottie!" cried her mother, and her father started towards her, while Ellen still sat patiently quiet.
"Oh, well!" Lottie submitted. "But if Dick was here I know this Trannel wouldn't get off so smoothly. Dick would give him a worse cowhiding than he did Bittridge."
Half the last word was lost in the bang of the door which Lottie slammed behind her, leaving her father and mother to a silence which Ellen did not offer to break. The judge had no heart to speak, in his dismay, and it was Mrs. Kenton who took the word.
"Ellen," she began, with compassionate gentleness, "we tried to keep it from you. We knew how you would feel. But now we have got to tell you. Dick did cowhide him when he got back to Tuskingum. Lottie wrote out to Dick about it, how Mr. Bittridge had behaved in New York. Your father and I didn't approve of it, and Dick didn't afterwards; but, yes, he did do it."
"I knew it, momma," said Ellen, sadly.
"You knew it! How?"
"That other letter I got when we first came—it was from his mother."
"Did she tell—"
"Yes. It was terrible she seemed to feel so. And I was sorry for her. I thought I ought to answer it, and I did. I told her I was sorry, too. I tried not to blame Richard. I don't believe I did. And I tried not to blame him. She was feeling badly enough without that."
Her father and mother looked at each other; they did not speak, and she asked, "Do you think I oughtn't to have written?"
Her father answered, a little tremulously: "You did right, Ellen. And I am sure that you did it in just the right way."
"I tried to. I thought I wouldn't worry you about it."
She rose, and now her mother thought she was going to say that it put an end to everything; that she must go back and offer herself as a sacrifice to the injured Bittridges. Her mind had reverted to that moment on the steamer when Ellen told her that nothing had reconciled her to what had happened with Bittridge but the fact that all the wrong done had been done to themselves; that this freed her. In her despair she could not forbear asking, "What did you write to her, Ellen?"
"Nothing. I just said that I was very sorry, and that I knew how she felt. I don't remember exactly."
She went up and kissed her mother. She seemed rather fatigued than distressed, and her father asked her. "Are you going to bed, my dear?"
"Yes, I'm pretty tired, and I should think you would be, too, poppa. I'll speak to poor Boyne. Don't mind Lottie. I suppose she couldn't help saying it." She kissed her father, and slipped quietly into Boyne's room, from which they could hear her passing on to her own before they ventured to say anything to each other in the hopeful bewilderment to which she had left them.
"Well?" said the judge.
"Well?" Mrs. Kenton returned, in a note of exasperation, as if she were not going to let herself be forced to the initiative.
"I thought you thought—"
"I did think that. Now I don't know what to think. We have got to wait."
"I'm willing to wait for Ellen!"
"She seems," said Mrs. Kenton, "to have more sense than both the other children put together, and I was afraid—"
"She might easily have more sense than Boyne, or Lottie, either."
"Well, I don't know," Mrs. Kenton began. But she did not go on to resent the disparagement which she had invited. "What I was afraid of was her goodness. It was her goodness that got her into the trouble, to begin with. If she hadn't been so good, that fellow could never have fooled her as he did. She was too innocent."
The judge could not forbear the humorous view. "Perhaps she's getting wickeder, or not so innocent. At any rate, she doesn't seem to have been take in by Trannel."
"He didn't pay any attention to her. He was all taken up with Lottie."
"Well, that was lucky. Sarah," said the judge, "do you think he is like Bittridge?"
"He's made me think of him all the time."
"It's curious," the judge mused. "I have always noticed how our faults repeat themselves, but I didn't suppose our fates would always take the same shape, or something like it." Mrs. Kenton stared at him. "When this other one first made up to us on the boat my heart went down. I thought of Bittridge so."
"Yes, the same lightness; the same sort of trifling—Didn't you notice it?"
"No—yes, I noticed it. But I wasn't afraid for an instant. I saw that he was good."
"What I'm afraid of now is that Ellen doesn't care anything about him."
"He isn't wicked enough?"
"I don't say that. But it would be too much happiness to expect in one short life."
The judge could not deny the reasonableness of her position. He could only oppose it. "Well, I don't think we've had any more than our share of happiness lately."
No one except Boyne could have made Trannel's behavior a cause of quarrel, but the other Kentons made it a cause of coldness which was quite as effective. In Lottie this took the form of something so active, so positive, that it was something more than a mere absence of warmth. Before she came clown to breakfast the next morning she studied a stare in her mirror, and practised it upon Trannel so successfully when he came up to speak to her that it must have made him doubt whether he had ever had her acquaintance. In his doubt he ventured to address her, and then Lottie turned her back upon him in a manner that was perfectly convincing. He attempted a smiling ease with Mrs. Kenton and the judge, but they shared neither his smile nor his ease, and his jocose questions about the end of yesterday's adventures, which he had not been privy to, did not seem to appeal to the American sense of humor in them. Ellen was not with them, nor Boyne, but Trannel was not asked to take either of the vacant places at the table, even when Breckon took one of them, after a decent exchange of civilities with him. He could only saunter away and leave Mrs. Kenton to a little pang.
"Tchk!" she made. "I'm sorry for him!"
"So am I," said the judge. "But he will get over it—only too soon, I'm afraid. I don't believe he's very sorry for himself."
They had not advised with Breckon, and he did not feel authorized to make any comment. He seemed preoccupied, to Mrs. Kenton's eye, when she turned it upon him from Trannel's discomfited back, lessening in the perspective, and he answered vaguely to her overture about his night's rest. Lottie never made any conversation with Breckon, and she now left him to himself, with some remnants of the disapproval which she found on her hands after crushing Trannel. It could not be said that Breckon was aware of her disapproval, and the judge had no apparent consciousness of it. He and Breckon tried to make something of each other, but failed, and it all seemed a very defeating sequel to Mrs. Kenton after the triumphal glow of the evening before. When Lottie rose, she went with her, alleging her wish to see if Boyne had eaten his breakfast. She confessed, to Breckon's kind inquiry, that Boyne did not seem very well, and that she had made him take his breakfast in his room, and she did not think it necessary to own, even to so friendly a witness as Mr. Breckon, that Boyne was ashamed to come down, and dreaded meeting Trannel so much that she was giving him time to recover his self-respect and courage.
As soon as she and Lottie were gone Breckon began, rather more formidably than he liked, but helplessly so: "Judge Kenton, I should be glad of a few moments with you on—on an important—on a matter that is important to me."
"Well," said the judge, cautiously. Whatever was coming, he wished to guard himself from the mistake that he had once so nearly fallen into, and that still made him catch his breath to think of. "How can I be of use to you?"
"I don't know that you can be of any use—I don't know that I ought to speak to you. But I thought you might perhaps save me from—save my taking a false step."
He looked at Kenton as if he would understand, and Kenton supposed that he did. He said, "My daughter once mentioned your wish to talk with me."
"Your daughter?" Breckon stared at him in stupefaction.
"Yes; Ellen. She said you wished to consult me about going back to your charge in New York, when we were on the ship together. But I don't know that I'm very competent to give advice in such—"
"Oh!" Breckon exclaimed, in a tone of immense relief, which did not continue itself in what he went on to say. "That! I've quite made up my mind to go back." He stopped, and then be burst out, "I want to speak with you about her." The judge sat steady, still resolute not to give himself away, and the young man scarcely recovered from what had been a desperate plunge in adding: "I know that it's usual to speak with her— with the lady herself first, but—I don't know! The circumstances are peculiar. You only know about me what you've seen of me, and I would rather make my mistakes in the order that seems right to me, although it isn't just the American way."
He smiled rather piteously, and the judge said, rather encouragingly, "I don't quite know whether I follow you."
Breckon blushed, and sought help in what remained of his coffee. "The way isn't easy for me. But it's this: I ask your leave to ask Miss Ellen to marry me." The worst was over now, and looked as if it were a relief. "She is the most beautiful person in the world to me, and the best; but as you know so little of me, I thought it right to get your leave—to tell you—to—to—That is all." He fell back in his chair and looked a at Kenton.
"It is unusual," the judge began.
"Yes, Yes; I know that. And for that reason I speak first to you. I'll be ruled by you implicitly."
"I don't mean that," Kenton said. "I would have expected that you would speak to her first. But I get your point of view, and I must say I think you're right. I think you are behaving—honorably. I wish that every one was like you. But I can't say anything now. I must talk with her mother. My daughter's life has not been happy. I can't tell you. But as far as I am concerned, and I think Mrs. Kenton, too, I would be glad —We like you Mr. Breckon. We think you are a good man.
"Oh, thank you. I'm not so sure—"
"We'd risk it. But that isn't all. Will you excuse me if I don't say anything more just yet—and if I leave you?"
"Why, certainly." The judge had risen and pushed back his chair, and Breckon did the same. "And I shall—hear from you?"
"Why, certainly," said the judge in his turn.
"It isn't possible that you put him off!" his wife reproached him, when he told what had passed between him and Breckon. "Oh, you couldn't have let him think that we didn't want him for her! Surely you didn't!"
"Will you get it into your head," he flamed back, "that he hasn't spoken to Ellen yet, and I couldn't accept him till she had?"
"Oh yes. I forgot that." Mrs. Kenton struggled with the fact, in the difficulty of realizing so strange an order of procedure. "I suppose it's his being educated abroad that way. But, do go back to him, Rufus, and tell him that of course—"
"I will do nothing of the kind, Sarah! What are you thinking of?"
"Oh, I don't know what I'm thinking of! I must see Ellen, I suppose. I'll go to her now. Oh, dear, if she doesn't—if she lets such a chance slip through her fingers—But she's quite likely to, she's so obstinate! I wonder what she'll want us to do."
She fled to her daughter's room and found Boyne there, sitting beside his sister's bed, giving her a detailed account of his adventure of the day before, up to the moment Mr. Breckon met him, in charge of the detectives. Up to that moment, it appeared to Boyne, as nearly as he could recollect, that he had not broken down, but had behaved himself with a dignity which was now beginning to clothe his whole experience. In the retrospect, a quiet heroism characterized his conduct, and at the moment his mother entered the room he was questioning Ellen as to her impressions of his bearing when she first saw him in the grasp of the detectives.
His mother took him by the arm, and said, "I want to speak with Ellen, Boyne," and put him out of the door.
Then she came back and sat down in his chair. "Ellen. Mr. Breckon has been speaking to your father. Do you know what about?"
"About his going back to New York?" the girl suggested.
Her mother kept her patience with difficulty. "No, not about that. About you! He's asked your father—I can't understand yet why he did it, only he's so delicate and honorable, and goodness known we appreciate it- -whether he can tell you that—that—" It was not possible for such a mother as Mrs. Kenton to say "He loves you"; it would have sounded as she would have said, too sickish, and she compromised on: "He likes you, and wants to ask you whether you will marry him. And, Ellen," she continued, in the ample silence which followed, "if you don't say you will, I will have nothing more to do With such a simpleton. I have always felt that you behaved very foolishly about Mr. Bittridge, but I hoped that when you grew older you would see it as we did, and—and behave differently. And now, if, after all we've been through with you, you are going to say that you won't have Mr. Breckon—"
Mrs. Kenton stopped for want of a figure that would convey all the disaster that would fall upon Ellen in such an event, and she was given further pause when the girl gently answered, "I'm not going to say that, momma."
"Then what in the world are you going to say?" Mrs. Kenton demanded.
Ellen had turned her face away on the pillow, and now she answered, quietly, "When Mr. Breckon asks me I will tell him."
"Well, you had better!" her mother threatened in return, and she did not realize the falsity of her position till she reported Ellen's words to the judge.
Well, Sarah, I think she had you there," he said, and Mrs. Kenton then said that she did not care, if the child was only going to behave sensibly at last, and she did believe she was.
"Then it's all right" said the judge, and he took up the Tuskingum Intelligencer, lying till then unread in the excitements which had followed its arrival the day before, and began to read it.
Mrs. Kenton sat dreamily watching him, with her hands fallen in her lap. She suddenly started up, with the cry, "Good gracious! What are we all thinking of?"
Kenton stared at her over the top of his paper. "How, thinking of?"
"Why Mr. Breckon! He must be crazy to know what we've decided, poor fellow!"
"Oh," said the judge, folding the Intelligencer on his knee. "I had forgotten. Somehow, I thought it was all settled."
Mrs, Kenton took his paper from him, and finished folding it. "It hasn't begun to be settled. You must go and let him know."
"Won't he look me up?" the judge suggested.
"You must look him up. Go at once dear! Think how anxious he must be!"
Kenton was not sure that Breckon looked very anxious when he found him on the brick promenade before the Kurhaus, apparently absorbed in noting the convulsions of a large, round German lady in the water, who must have supposed herself to be bathing. But perhaps the young man did not see her; the smile on his face was too vague for such an interest when he turned at Kenton's approaching steps.
The judge hesitated for an instant, in which the smile left Breckon's face. "I believe that's all right, Mr. Breckon," he said. "You'll find Mrs. Kenton in our parlor," and then the two men parted, with an "Oh, thank you!" from Breckon, who walked back towards the hotel, and left Kenton to ponder upon the German lady; as soon as he realized that she was not a barrel, the judge continued his walk along the promenade, feeling rather ashamed.
Mrs. Kenton had gone to Ellen's room again when she had got the judge off upon his mission. She rather flung in upon her. "Oh, you are up!" she apologized to Ellen's back. The girl's face was towards the glass, and she was tilting her head to get the effect of the hat on it, which she now took off.
"I suppose poppa's gone to tell him," she said, sitting tremulously down.
"Didn't you want him to?" her mother asked, stricken a little at sight of her agitation.
"Yes, I wanted him to, but that doesn't make it any easier. It makes it harder. Momma!"
"You know you've got to tell him, first."
"Tell him?" Mrs. Kenton repeated, but she knew what Ellen meant.
"About—Mr. Bittridge. All about it. Every single thing. About his kissing me that night."
At the last demand Mrs. Kenton was visibly shaken in her invisible assent to the girl's wish. "Don't you think, Ellen, that you had better tell him that—some time?"
"No, now. And you must tell him. You let me go to the theatre with him." The faintest shadow of resentment clouded the girl's face, but still Mrs. Kenton, thought she knew her own guilt, could not yield.
"Why, Ellen," she pleaded, not without a reproachful sense of vulgarity in such a plea, "don't you suppose HE ever—kissed any one?"
"That doesn't concern me, momma," said Ellen, without a trace of consciousness that she was saying anything uncommon. "If you won't tell him, then that ends it. I won't see him."
"Oh, well!" her mother sighed. "I will try to tell him. But I'd rather be whipped. I know he'll laugh at me."
"He won't laugh at you," said the girl, confidently, almost comfortingly. "I want him to know everything before I meet him. I don't want to have a single thing on my mind. I don't want to think of myself!"
Mrs. Kenton understood the woman—soul that spoke in these words. "Well," she said, with a deep, long breath, "be ready, then."
But she felt the burden which had been put upon her to be so much more than she could bear that when she found her husband in their parlor she instantly resolved to cast it upon him. He stood at the window with his hat on.
"Has Breckon been here yet?" he asked.
"Have you seen him yet?" she returned.
"Yes, and I thought he was coming right here. But perhaps he stopped to screw his courage up. He only knew how little it needed with us!"
"Well, now, it's we who've got to have the courage. Or you have. Do you know what Ellen wants to have done?" Mrs. Kenton put it in these impersonal terms, and as a preliminary to shirking her share of the burden.
"She doesn't want to have him refused?"
"She wants to have him told all about Bittridge."
After a momentary revolt the judge said, "Well, that's right. It's like Ellen."
"There's something else that's more like her," said Mrs. Kenton, indignantly. "She wants him to told about what Bittridge did that night —about him kissing her."
The judge looked disgusted with his wife for the word; then he looked aghast. "About—"
"Yes, and she won't have a word to say to him till he is told, and unless he is told she will refuse him."
"Did she say that?"
"No, but I know she will."
"If she didn't say she would, I think we may take the chances that she won't."
"No, we mustn't take any such chances. You must tell him."
"I? No, I couldn't manage it. I have no tact, and it would sound so confoundedly queer, coming from one man to another. It would be— indelicate. It's something that nobody but a woman—Why doesn't she tell him herself?"
"She won't. She considers it our part, and something we ought to do before he commits himself."
"Very well, then, Sarah, you must tell him. You can manage it so it won't by so—queer.
"That is just what I supposed you would say, Mr. Kenton, but I must say I didn't expect it of you. I think it's cowardly."
"Look out, Sarah! I don't like that word."
"Oh, I suppose you're brave enough when it comes to any kind of danger. But when it comes to taking the brunt of anything unpleasant—"
"It isn't unpleasant—it's queer."
"Why do you keep saying that over and over? There's nothing queer about it. It's Ellenish but isn't it right?"
"It's right, yes, I suppose. But it's squeamish."
"I see nothing squeamish about it. But I know you're determined to leave it to me, and so I shall do it. I don't believe Mr. Breckon will think it's queer or squeamish."
"I've no doubt he'll take it in the right way; you'll know how to—" Kenton looked into his hat, which he had taken off and then put it on again. His tone and his manner were sufficiently sneaking, and he could not make them otherwise. It was for this reason, no doubt, that he would not prolong the interview.
"Oh yes, go!" said Mrs. Kenton, as he found himself with his hand on the door. "Leave it all to me, do!" and he was aware of skulking out of the room. By the time that it would have taken him so long as to walk to the top of the grand stairway he was back again. "He's coming!" he said, breathlessly. "I saw him at the bottom of the stairs. Go into your room and wash your eyes. I'LL tell him."
"No, no, Rufus! Let me! It will be much better. You'll be sure to bungle it."
"We must risk that. You were quite right, Sarah. It would have been cowardly in me to let you do it."
"Rufus! You know I didn't mean it! Surely you're not resenting that?"
"No. I'm glad you made me see it. You're all right, Sarah, and you'll find that it will all come out all right. You needn't be afraid I'll bungle it. I shall use discretion. Go—"
"I shall not stir a step from this parlor! You've got back all your spirit, dear," said the old wife, with young pride in her husband. "But I must say that Ellen is putting more upon you than she has any right to. I think she might tell him herself."
"No, it's our business—my business. We allowed her to get in for it. She's quite right about it. We must not let him commit himself to her till he knows the thing that most puts her to shame. It isn't enough for us to say that it was really no shame. She feels that it casts a sort of stain—you know what I mean, Sarah, and I believe I can make this young man know. If I can't, so much the worse for him. He shall never see Ellen again."
"Do you think he would be worthy of her if he couldn't?"
"I think Ellen is perfectly ridiculous."
"Then that shows that I am right in deciding not to leave this thing to you. I feel as she does about it, and I intend that he shall."
"Do you intend to let her run the chance of losing him?"
"That is what I intend to do."
"Well, then, I'll tell you what: I am going to stay right here. We will both see him; it's right for us to do it." But at a rap on the parlor door Mrs. Kenton flew to that of her own room, which she closed upon her with a sort of Parthian whimper, "Oh, do be careful, Rufus!"
Whether Kenton was careful or not could never be known, from either Kenton himself or from Breckon. The judge did tell him everything, and the young man received the most damning details of Ellen's history with a radiant absence which testified that they fell upon a surface sense of Kenton, and did not penetrate to the all-pervading sense of Ellen herself below. At the end Kenton was afraid he had not understood.
"You understand," he said, "that she could not consent to see you before you knew just how weak she thought she had been." The judge stiffened to defiance in making this humiliation. "I don't consider, myself, that she was weak at all."
"Of course not!" Breckon beamed back at him.
"I consider that throughout she acted with the greatest—greatest—And that in that affair, when he behaved with that—that outrageous impudence, it was because she had misled the scoundrel by her kindness, her forbearance, her wish not to do him the least shadow of injustice, but to give him every chance of proving himself worthy of her tolerance; and—"
The judge choked, and Breckon eagerly asked, "And shall I—may I see her now?"
"Why—yes," the judge faltered. "If you're sure—"
"What about?" Breckon demanded.
"I don't know whether she will believe that I have told you."
"I will try to convince her. Where shall I see her?"
"I will go and tell her you are here. I will bring her—"
Kenton passed into the adjoining room, where his wife laid hold of him, almost violently. "You did it beautifully, Rufus," she huskily whispered, "and I was so afraid you would spoil everything. Oh, how manly you were, and how perfect he was! But now it's my turn, and I will go and bring Ellen—You will let me, won't you?"
"You may do anything you please, Sarah. I don't want to have any more of this," said the judge from the chair he had dropped into.
"Well, then, I will bring her at once," said Mrs. Kenton, staying only in her gladness to kiss him on his gray head; he received her embrace with a superficial sultriness which did not deceive her.
Ellen came back without her mother, and as soon as she entered the room, and Breckon realized that she had come alone, he ran towards her as if to take her in his arms. But she put up her hand with extended fingers, and held him lightly off.
"Did poppa tell you?" she asked, with a certain defiance. She held her head up fiercely, and spoke steadily, but he could see the pulse beating in her pretty neck.
"Yes, he told me—"
"Oh, I love you, Ellen—"
"That isn't it. Did you care?"
Breckon had an inspiration, an inspiration from the truth that dwelt at the bottom of his soul and had never yet failed to save him. He let his arms fall and answered, desperately: "Yes, I did. I wished it hadn't happened." He saw the pulse in her neck cease to beat, and he swiftly added, "But I know that it happened just because you were yourself, and were so—"
"If you had said you didn't care," she breathlessly whispered, "I would never have spoken to you. He felt a conditional tremor creeping into the fingers which had been so rigid against his breast. "I don't see how I lived through it! Do you think you can?"
"I think so," he returned, with a faint, far suggestion of levity that brought from her an imperative, imploring—
Then he added, solemnly, "It had no more to do with you, Ellen, than an offence from some hateful animal—"
"Oh, how good you are!" The fingers folded themselves, and her arms weakened so that there was nothing to keep him from drawing her to him. "What—what are you doing?" she asked, with her face smothered against his.
"Oh, Ell-en, Ellen, Ellen! Oh, my love, my dearest, my best!"
"But I have been such a fool!" she protested, imagining that she was going to push him from her, but losing herself in him more and more.
"Yes, yes, darling! I know it. That's why I love you so!"
"There is just one thing," said the judge, as he wound up his watch that night, "that makes me a little uneasy still."
Mrs. Kenton, already in her bed turned her face upon him with a despairing "Tchk! Dear! What is it? I thought we had talked over everything,"
"We haven't got Lottie's consent yet."
"Well, I think I see myself asking Lottie!" Mrs. Kenton began, before she realized her husband's irony. She added, "How could you give me such a start?"
"Well, Lottie has bossed us so long that I couldn't help mentioning it," said the judge.
It was a lame excuse, and in its most potential implication his suggestion proved without reason. If Lottie never gave her explicit approval to Ellen's engagement, she never openly opposed it. She treated it, rather, with something like silent contempt, as a childish weakness on Ellen's part which was beneath her serious consideration. Towards Breckon, her behavior hardly changed in the severity which she had assumed from the moment she first ceased to have any use for him. "I suppose I will have to kiss him," she said, gloomily, when her mother told her that he was to be her brother, and she performed the rite with as much coldness as was ever put in that form of affectionate welcome. It is doubtful if Breckon perfectly realized its coldness; he never knew how much he enraged her by acting as if she were a little girl, and saying lightly, almost trivially, "I'm so glad you're going to be a sister to me."
With Ellen, Lottie now considered herself quits, and from the first hour of Ellen's happiness she threw off all the care with all the apparent kindness which she had used towards her when she was a morbid invalid. Here again, if Lottie had minded such a thing, she might have been as much vexed by Ellen's attitude as by Breckon's. Ellen never once noticed the withdrawal of her anxious oversight, or seemed in the least to miss it. As much as her meek nature would allow, she arrogated to herself the privileges and prerogatives of an elder sister, and if it had been possible to make Lottie ever feel like a chit, there were moments when Ellen's behavior would have made her feel like a chit. It was not till after their return to Tuskingum that Lottie took her true place in relation to the affair, and in the preparations for the wedding, which she appointed to be in the First Universalist Church, overruling both her mother's and sister's preferences for a home wedding, that Lottie rose in due authority. Mrs. Kenton had not ceased to feel quelled whenever her younger daughter called her mother instead of momma, and Ellen seemed not really to care. She submitted the matter to Breckon, who said, "Oh yes, if Lottie wishes," and he laughed when Ellen confessed, "Well, I said we would."
With the lifting of his great anxiety, he had got back to that lightness which was most like him, and he could not always conceal from Lottie herself that he regarded her as a joke. She did not mind it, she said, from such a mere sop as, in the vast content of his love, he was.
This was some months after Lottie had got at Scheveningen from Mr. Plumpton that letter which decided her that she had no use for him. There came the same day, and by the same post with it, a letter from one of her young men in Tuskingum, who had faithfully written to her all the winter before, and had not intermitted his letters after she went abroad. To Kenton he had always seemed too wise if not too good for Lottie, but Mrs. Kenton, who had her own doubts of Lottie, would not allow this when it came to the question, and said, woundedly, that she did not see why Lottie was not fully his equal in every way.
"Well," the judge suggested, "she isn't the first young lawyer at the Tuskingum bar."
"Well, I wouldn't wish her to be," said Mrs. Kenton, who did not often make jokes.
"Well, I don't know that I would," her husband assented, and he added, "Pretty good, Sarah."
"Lottie," her mother summed up, "is practical, and she is very neat. She won't let Mr. Elroy go around looking so slovenly. I hope she will make him have his hair cut, and not look as if it were bitten off. And I don't believe he's had his boots blacked since—"
"He was born," the judge proposed, and she assented.
"Yes. She is very saving, and he is wasteful. It will be a very good match. You can let them build on the other corner of the lot, if Ellen is going to be in New York. I would miss Lottie more than Ellen about the housekeeping, though the dear knows I will miss them both badly enough."
"Well, you can break off their engagements," said the judge.
As yet, and until Ellen was off her hands, Lottie would not allow Mr. Elroy to consider himself engaged to her. His conditional devotion did not debar him from a lover's rights, and, until Breckon came on from New York to be married, there was much more courtship of Lottie than of Ellen in the house. But Lottie saved herself in the form if not the fact, and as far as verbal terms were concerned, she was justified by them in declaring that she would not have another sop hanging round.
It was Boyne, and Boyne alone, who had any misgivings in regard to Ellen's engagement, and these were of a nature so recondite that when he came to impart them to his mother, before they left Scheveningen, and while there was yet time for that conclusion which his father suggested to Mrs. Kenton too late, Boyne had an almost hopeless difficulty in stating them. His approaches, even, were so mystical that his mother was forced to bring him to book sharply.
"Boyne, if you don't tell me right off just what you mean, I don't know what I will do to you! What are you driving at, for pity's sake? Are you saying that she oughtn't to be engaged to Mr. Breckon?"
"No, I'm not saying that, momma," said Boyne, in a distress that caused his mother to take a reef in her impatience.
"Well, what are you saying, then?"
"Why, you know how Ellen is, momma. You know how conscientious and—and —sensitive. Or, I don't mean sensitive, exactly."
"Well, I don't think she ought to be engaged to Mr. Breckon out of— gratitude."
"Yes. I just know that she thinks—or it would be just like her—that he saved me that day. But he only met me about a second before we came to her and poppa, and the officers were taking me right along towards them." Mrs. Kenton held herself stormily in, and he continued: "I know that he translated for us before the magistrate, but the magistrate could speak a little English, and when he saw poppa he saw that it was all right, anyway. I don't want to say anything against Mr. Breckon, and I think he behaved as well any one could; but if Ellen is going to marry him out of gratitude for saving me—"
Mrs. Kenton could hold in no longer. "And is this what you've been bothering the life half out of me for, for the last hour?"
"Well, I thought you ought to look at it in that light, momma."
"Well, Boyne," said his mother, "sometimes I think you're almost a fool!" and she turned her back upon her son and left him.
Boyne's place in the Kenton family, for which he continued to have the highest regard, became a little less difficult, a little less incompatible with his self-respect as time went on. His spirit, which had lagged a little after his body in stature, began, as his father said, to catch up. He no longer nourished it so exclusively upon heroical romance as he had during the past year, and after his return to Tuskingum he went into his brother Richard's once, and manifested a certain curiosity in the study of the law. He read Blackstone, and could give a fair account of his impressions of English law to his father. He had quite outlived the period of entomological research, and he presented his collections of insects (somewhat moth-eaten) to his nephew, on whom he also bestowed his postage-stamp album; Mary Kenton accepted them in trust, the nephew being of yet too tender years for their care. In the preoccupations of his immediate family with Ellen's engagement, Boyne became rather close friends with his sister-in-law, and there were times when he was tempted to submit to her judgment the question whether the young Queen of Holland did not really beckon to him that day. But pending the hour when he foresaw that Lottie should come out with the whole story, in some instant of excitement, Boyne had not quite the heart to speak of his experience. It assumed more and more respectability with him, and lost that squalor which had once put him to shame while it was yet new. He thought that Mary might be reasoned into regarding him as the hero of an adventure, but he is still hesitating whether to confide in her. In the meantime she knows all about it. Mary and Richard both approved of Ellen's choice, though they are somewhat puzzled to make out just what Mr. Breckon's religion is, and what his relations to his charge in New York may be. These do not seem to them quite pastoral, and he himself shares their uncertainty. But since his flock does not include Mrs. Rasmith and her daughter, he is content to let the question remain in abeyance. The Rasmiths are settled in Rome with an apparent permanency which they have not known elsewhere for a long time, and they have both joined in the friendliest kind of letter on his marriage to their former pastor, if that was what Breckon was. They have professed to know from the first that he was in love with Ellen, and that he is in love with her now is the strong present belief of his flock, if they are a flock, and if they may be said to have anything so positive as a belief in regard to anything.
Judge Kenton has given the Elroys the other corner of the lot, and has supplied them the means of building on it. Mary and Lottie run diagonally into the home-house every day, and nothing keeps either from coming into authority over the old people except the fear of each other in which they stand. The Kentons no longer make any summer journeys, but in the winter they take Boyne and go to see Ellen in New York. They do not stay so long as Mrs. Kenton would like. As soon as they have fairly seen the Breckons, and have settled comfortably down in their pleasant house on West Seventy-fourth Street, she detects him in a secret habit of sighing, which she recognizes as the worst symptom of homesickness, and then she confides to Ellen that she supposes Mr. Kenton will make her go home with him before long. Ellen knows it is useless to interfere. She even encourages her father's longings, so far as indulging his clandestine visits to the seedsman's, and she goes with him to pick up second-hand books about Ohio in the War at the dealers', who remember the judge very flatteringly.
As February draws on towards March it becomes impossible to detain Kenton. His wife and son return with him to Tuskingum, where Lottie has seen to the kindling of a good fire in the furnace against their arrival, and has nearly come to blows with Mary about provisioning them for the first dinner. Then Mrs. Kenton owns, with a comfort which she will not let her husband see, that there is no place like home, and they take up their life in the place where they have been so happy and so unhappy. He reads to her a good deal at night, and they play a game of checkers usually before they go to bed; she still cheats without scruple, for, as she justly says, he knows very well that she cannot bear to be beaten.
The colonel, as he is still invariably known to his veterans, works pretty faithfully at the regimental autobiography, and drives round the country, picking up material among them, in a buggy plastered with mud. He has imagined, since his last visit to Breckon, who dictates his sermons, if they are sermons, taking a stenographer with him, and the young lady, who is in deadly terror of the colonel's driving, is of the greatest use to him, in the case of veterans who will not or cannot give down (as they say in their dairy-country parlance), and has already rescued many reminiscences from perishing in their faltering memories. She writes them out in the judge's library when the colonel gets home, and his wife sometimes surprises Mr. Kenton correcting them there at night after she supposes he has gone to bed.
Since it has all turned out for the best concerning Bittridge, she no longer has those pangs of self-reproach for Richard's treatment of him which she suffered while afraid that if the fact came to Ellen's knowledge it might make her refuse Breckon. She does not find her daughter's behavior in the matter so anomalous as it appears to the judge.
He is willing to account for it on the ground of that inconsistency which he has observed in all human behavior, but Mrs. Kenton is not inclined to admit that it is so very inconsistent. She contends that Ellen had simply lived through that hateful episode of her psychological history, as she was sure to do sooner or later and as she was destined to do as soon as some other person arrived to take her fancy.
If this is the crude, common-sense view of the matter, Ellen herself is able to offer no finer explanation, which shall at the same time be more thorough. She and her husband have not failed to talk the affair over, with that fulness of treatment which young married people give their past when they have nothing to conceal from each other. She has attempted to solve the mystery by blaming herself for a certain essential levity of nature which, under all her appearance of gravity, sympathized with levity in others, and, for what she knows to the contrary, with something ignoble and unworthy in them. Breckon, of course, does not admit this, but he has suggested that she was first attracted to him by a certain unseriousness which reminded her of Bittridge, in enabling him to take her seriousness lightly. This is the logical inference which he makes from her theory of herself, but she insists that it does not follow; and she contends that she was moved to love him by an instant sense of his goodness, which she never lost, and in which she was trying to equal herself with him by even the desperate measure of renouncing her happiness, if that should ever seem her duty, to his perfection. He says this is not very clear, though it is awfully gratifying, and he does not quite understand why Mrs. Bittridge's letter should have liberated Ellen from her fancied obligations to the past. Ellen can only say that it did so by making her so ashamed ever to have had anything to do with such people, and making her see how much she had tried her father and mother by her folly. This again Breckon contends is not clear, but he says we live in a universe of problems in which another, more or less, does not much matter. He is always expecting that some chance shall confront him with Bittridge, and that the man's presence will explain everything; for, like so many Ohio people who leave their native State, the Bittridges have come East instead of going West, in quitting the neighborhood of Tuskingum. He is settled with his idolized mother in New York, where he is obscurely attached to one of the newspapers. That he has as yet failed to rise from the ranks in the great army of assignment men may be because moral quality tells everywhere, and to be a clever blackguard is not so well as to be simply clever. If ever Breckon has met his alter ego, as he amuses himself in calling him, he has not known it, though Bittridge may have been wiser in the case of a man of Breckon's publicity, not to call it distinction. There was a time, immediately after the Breckons heard from Tuskingum that the Bittridges were in New York, when Ellen's husband consulted her as to what might be his duty towards her late suitor in the event which has not taken place, and when he suggested, not too seriously, that Richard's course might be the solution. To his suggestion Ellen answered: "Oh no, dear! That was wrong," and this remains also Richard's opinion.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A nature which all modesty and deference seemed left out of All but took the adieus out of Richard's hands Americans spoil their women! "Well, their women are worth it" An inscrutable frown goes far in such exigencies Another problem, more or less, does not much matter Certain comfort in their mutual discouragement Conscience to own the fact and the kindness to deny it Fatuity of a man in such things Fatuity of age regarding all the things of the past Fertile in difficulties and so importunate for their solution Girl is never so much in danger of having her heart broken Good comrades, as elderly married people are apt to be He was too little used to deference from ladies Impart their sufferings as well as their pleasures to each other Know more of their clothes than the people they buy them of Learning to ask her no questions about herself Left him alone to the first ecstasy of his homesickness Living in the present Melting into pity against all sense of duty Misgiving of a blessed immortality More faith in her wisdom than she had herself More helpful with trouble to be ignorant of its cause Not find more harm in them, if you did not bring it with you Not what their mothers but what their environments made them Pain of the preparations for a day's pleasure Part of her pride not to ask Performance of their common duty must fall wholly to her Petted person in her youth, perhaps, and now she petted herself Place where they have been so happy and so unhappy Provoked that her mother would not provoke her further Question whether the fellow was more a fool or a fraud Relationship when one gives a reproof and the other accepts it Relieved from a discoverer's duties to Europe Renunciation of his judgment in deference to the good woman Waiting with patience for the term of his exile We have to make-believe before we can believe anything When he got so far beyond his depth Why, at his age, should he be going into exile Wife was glad of the release from housekeeping Worst whim was having no wish that could be ascertained