At sight of him she hesitated and wavered; then she came towards him, and at a second impulse held out her hand, smiling with a radiant pleasure.
"I didn't know it was you at first," she said. "It seems so strange to see any one that I know!"
"I didn't expect to see you, either," he stammered out, getting somehow upon his feet, and taking her hand, while his face burned, and he could not keep his eyes on hers; "I—didn't know you were here."
"I've only been here a few days. I'm drawing at the Museum. I've just got back. Have you been here all summer?"
"Yes—all summer. I hope you've been well—I suppose you've been away—"
"Yes, I've just got back," she repeated.
"Oh yes! I meant that!"
She smiled at his confusion, as kindly as the ideal of his day-dream. "I've been spending the summer with Madeline, and I've spent most of it out-of-doors, sketching. Have you been well?"
"Yes—not very; oh yes, I'm well—" She had begun to move forward with the last question, and he found himself walking with her. "Did she—has Miss Swan come back with you?" he asked, looking her in the eyes with more question than he had put into his words.
"No, I don't think she'll come back this winter," said the girl. "You know," she went on, colouring a little, "that she's married now?"
"No," said Lemuel.
"Yes. To Mr. Berry. And I have a letter from him for you."
"Was he there with you, this summer?" asked Lemuel, ignoring alike Berry's marriage and the letter from him.
"Oh yes; of course! And I liked him better than I used to. He is very good, and if Madeline didn't have to go so far West to live! He will know how to appreciate her, and there are not many who can do that! Her father thinks he has a great deal of ability. Yes, if Madeline had to get married!"
She talked as if convincing and consoling herself, and there was an accent of loneliness in it all that pierced Lemuel's preoccupation; he had hardly noted how almost pathetically glad she was to see him. "You'll miss her here," he ventured.
"Oh, I don't dare to think of it," cried the girl. "I don't know what I shall do! When I first saw you, just now, it brought up Madeline and last winter so that it seemed too much to bear!"
They had walked out of the garden across Charles Street, and were climbing the slope of Beacon Street Mall, in the Common. "I suppose," she continued, "the only way will be to work harder, and try to forget it. They wanted me to go out and stay with them; but of course I couldn't. I shall work, and I shall read. I shall not find another Madeline Swan! You must have been reading a great deal this summer, Mr. Barker," she said, in turning upon him from her bereavement. "Have you seen any of the old boarders? Or Mrs. Harmon? I shall never have another winter like that at the poor old St. Albans!"
Lemuel made what answer he could. There was happiness enough in merely being with her to have counterbalanced all the pain he was suffering; and when she made him partner of her interests and associations, and appealed to their common memories in confidence of his sympathy, his heavy heart stirred with strange joy. He had supposed that Berry must have warned her against him; but she was treating him as if he had not. Perhaps he had not, and perhaps he had done so, and this was her way of showing that she did not believe it. He tried to think so; he knew it was a subterfuge, but he lingered in it with a fleeting, fearful pleasure. They had crossed from the Common and were walking up under the lindens of Chestnut Street, and from time to time they stopped, in the earnestness of their parley, and stood talking, and then loitered on again in the summer security from oversight which they were too rapt to recognise. They reached the top of the hill, and came to a door where she stopped. He fell back a pace. "Good-bye—" It was eternal loss, but it was escape.
She smiled in timorous hesitation. "Won't you come in? And I will get Mr. Berry's letter."
She opened the door with a latch-key, and he followed her within; a servant-girl came half-way up the basement stairs to see who it was, and then went down. She left him in the dim parlour a moment, while she went to get the letter. When she returned, "I have a little room for my work at the top of the house," she said, "but it will never be like the St. Albans. There's no one else here yet, and it's pretty lonesome—without Madeline."
She sank into a chair, but he remained standing, and seemed not to heed her when she asked him to sit down. He put Berry's letter into his pocket without looking at it, and she rose again.
She must have thought he was going, and she said with a smile of gentle trust, "It's been like having last winter back again to see you. We thought you must have gone home right after the fire; we didn't see anything of you again. We went ourselves in about a week."
Then she did not know, and he must tell her himself.
"Did Mr. Berry say anything about me—at the fire—that last day?" he began bluntly.
"No!" she said, looking at him with surprise; there was a new sound in his voice. "He had no need to say anything! I wanted to tell you—to write and tell you—how much I honoured you for it—how ashamed I was for misunderstanding you just before, when—"
He knew that she meant when they all pitied him for a coward.
Her voice trembled; he could tell that the tears were in her eyes. He tried to put the sweetness of her praise from him. "Oh, it wasn't that that I meant," he groaned; and he wrenched the words out. "That fellow, who said he was a friend of mine, and got into the house that way, was a thief; and Mr. Berry caught him robbing his room the day of the fire, and treated me as if I knew it and was helping him on—"
"Oh!" cried the girl. "How cruel! How could he do that?"
Lemuel could not suffer himself to take refuge in her generous faith now.
"When I first came to Boston, I had my money stolen, and there were two days when I had nothing to eat; and then I was arrested by mistake for stealing a girl's satchel; and when I was acquitted, I slept the next night in the tramp's lodging-house, and that fellow was there, and when he came to the St. Albans I was ashamed to tell where I had known him, and so I let him pass himself off for my friend."
He kept his eyes fixed on hers, but he could not see them change from their pity of him, or light up with a sense of any squalor in his history.
"And I used to think that my life had been hard!" she cried. "Oh, how much you have been through!"
"And after that," he pursued, "Mr. Sewell got me a place, a sort of servant's place, and when I lost that I came to be the man-of-all work at the St. Albans."
In her eyes the pity was changing to admiration; his confession which he had meant to be so abject had kindled her fancy like a boastful tale.
"How little we know about people and what they have suffered! But I thank you for telling me this—oh yes!—and I shall always think of myself with contempt. How easy and pleasant my life has been! And you—"
She stopped, and he stood helpless against her misconception. He told her about the poverty he had left at home, and the wretched circumstance of his life, but she could not see it as anything but honourable to his present endeavour. She listened with breathless interest to it all, and, "Well," she sighed at last, "it will always be something for you to look back to, and be proud of. And that girl—did she never say or do anything to show that she was sorry for that cruel mistake? Did you ever see her afterwards?"
"Yes," said Lemuel, sick at heart, and feeling how much more triumphantly he could have borne ignominy and rejection than this sweet sympathy.
She seemed to think he would say something more, but he turned away from her, and after a little silence of expectance she let him go, with promises to come again, which she seemed to win from him for his own sake.
In the street he took out Berry's letter and read it.
"DEAR OLD MAN,—I've been trying to get off a letter to you almost any time the last three months; but I've been round so much, and upside down so much since I saw you—out to W. T. and on my head in Western Mass.—that I've not been able to fetch it. I don't know as I could fetch it now, if it wasn't for the prospective Mrs. A. W. B., Jr., standing over me with a revolver, and waiting to see me do it. I've just been telling her about that little interview of ours with Williams, that day, and she thinks I ought to be man enough to write and say that I guess I was all wrong about you; I had a sneaking idea of the kind from the start almost, but if a fellow's proud at all, he's proud of his mistakes, and he hates to give them up. I'm pretty badly balled up now, and I can't seem to get the right words about remorse, and so forth; but you know how it is yourself. I am sorry, there's no two ways about that; but I've kept my suspicions as well as my regrets to myself, and now I do the best thing I can by way of reparation. I send this letter by Miss Carver. She hasn't read it, and she don't know what it's all about; but I guess you'd better tell her. Don't spare, yours truly, A. W. BERRY, JR."
The letter did not soften Lemuel at all towards Berry, and he was bitterly proud that he had spoken without this bidding, though he had seemed to speak to no end that he had expected. After a while he lost himself in his day-dreams again, and in the fantastic future which he built up this became a great source of comfort to him and to his ideal. Now he parted with her in sublime renunciation, and now he triumphed over all the obstacles between them; but whatever turn he willed his fortunes to take, she still praised him, and he prided himself that he had shown himself at his worst to her of his own free impulse. Sewell praised him for it in his reverie; Mr. Corey and Mr. Bellingham both made him delicate compliments upon his noble behaviour, which he feigned had somehow become known to them.
At the usual hour he was at Mr. Corey's house, where he arrived footsore, and empty from supperless wanderings, but not hungry and not weary. The serving-man at the door met him with the message that Mr. Corey had gone to dine at his club, and would not be at home till late. He gave Lemuel a letter, which had all the greater effect from being presented to him on the little silver tray employed to bring up the cards and notes of the visitors and correspondents of the family. The envelope was stamped in that ephemeral taste which configured the stationery of a few years ago, with the lines of alligator leather, and it exhaled a perfume so characteristic that it seemed to breathe Statira visibly before him. He knew this far better than the poor, scrawly, uncultivated handwriting which he had seen so little. He took the letter, and turning from the door read it by the light of the next street lamp.
"DEAR LEMUEL—Manda Grier has told me what she said to you and Ime about crazy about it dear Lem I want you should come and see mee O Lem you dont Suppose i could of let Manda Grier talk to you that way if I had of none it but of course you dident only do Say so I give her a real good goen over and she says shes sory she done it i dont want any body should care for mee without itse there free will but I shall alwayes care for you if you dont care for me dont come but if you do Care I want you should come as soon as ever you can I can explane everything Manda Grier dident mean anything but for the best but sometimes she dont know what she is sayin O Lem you mussent be mad But if you are and you dont want to come ennymore dont come But O i hope you wouldent let such a thing set you againste mee recollect that I never done or Said anything to set you against me
A cruel disgust mingled with the remorse that this letter brought him. Its illiteracy made him ashamed, and the helpless fondness it expressed was like a millstone hanged about his neck. He felt the deadly burden of it drag him down.
A passer-by on the other side of the street coughed slightly in the night air, and a thought flashed through Lemuel, from which he cowered, as if he had found himself lifting his hand against another's life.
His impulse was to turn and run, but there was no escape on any side. It seemed to him that he was like that prisoner he had read of, who saw the walls of his cell slowly closing together upon him, and drawing nearer and nearer till they should crush him between them. The inexperience of youth denies it perspective; in that season of fleeting and unsubstantial joys, of feverish hopes, despair wholly darkens a world which after years find full of chances and expedients.
If Mr. Sewell had been in town there might have been some hope through him; or if Mr. Evans were there; or even if Berry were at hand, it would be some one to advise with, to open his heart to in his extremity. He walked down into Bolingbroke Street, knowing well that Mr. Sewell was not at home, but pretending to himself, after the fashion of the young, that if he should see a light in his house it would be a sign that all should come out right with him, and if not, it would come out wrong. He would not let himself lift his eyes to the house front till he arrived before it. When he looked his heart stood still; a light streamed bright and strong from the drawing-room window.
He hurried across the street, and rang; and after some delay, in which the person coming to the door took time to light the gas in the hall, Mr. Sewell himself opened to him. They stood confronted in mutual amazement, and then Sewell said, with a cordiality which he did not keep free from reluctance, "Oh—Mr. Barker! Come in! Come in!" But after they had shaken hands, and Lemuel had come in, he stood there in the hall with him, and did not offer to take him up to his study. "I'm so glad to have this glimpse of you! How in the world did you happen to come?"
"I was passing and saw the light," said Lemuel.
Sewell laughed. "To be sure! We never have any idea how far our little candle throws its beams! I'm just here for the night, on my way from the mountains to the sea; I'm to be the 'supply' in a friend's pulpit at New Bedford; and I'm here quite alone in the house, scrambling a sermon together. But I'm so glad to see you! You're well, I hope? You're looking a little thin, but that's no harm. Do you enjoy your life with Mr. Corey? I was sure you would! When you come to know him, you will find him one of the best of men—kindly, thoughtful, and sympathetic. I've felt very comfortable about your being with him whenever I've thought of you, and you may be sure that I've thought of you often. What about our friends of the St. Albans? Do you see Mrs. Harmon? You knew the Evanses had gone to Europe."
"Yes; I got a letter from him yesterday."
"He didn't pick up so fast as they hoped, and he concluded to try the voyage. I hear very good accounts of him. He said he was going to write you. Well! And Mr. Corey is well?" He smiled more beamingly upon Lemuel, who felt that he wished him to go, and stood haplessly trying to get away.
In the midst of his own uneasiness Sewell noted Lemuel's. "Is there anything—something—you wished to speak with me about?"
"No. No, not anything in particular. I just saw the light, and—"
Sewell took his hand and wrung it with affection.
"It was so good of you to run in and see me. Don't fancy it's been any disturbance. I'd got into rather a dim place in my work, but since I've been standing here with you—ha, ha, ha! those things do happen so curiously!—the whole thing has become perfectly luminous. I'm delighted you're getting on so nicely. Give my love to Mr. Corey. I shall see you soon again. We shall all be back in a little over a fortnight. Glad of this moment with you, if it's only a moment! Good-bye!"
He wrung Lemuel's hand again, this time in perfect sincerity, and eagerly shut him out into the night.
The dim place had not become so luminous to him as it had to the minister. A darkness, which the obscurity of the night faintly typified, closed round him, pierced by one ray only, and from this he tried to turn his face. It was the gleam that lights up every labyrinth where our feet wander and stumble, but it is not always easy to know it from those false lights of feeble-hearted pity, of mock-sacrifice, of sick conscience, which dance before us to betray to worse misery yet.
Some sense of this, broken and faltering, reached Lemuel where he stood, and tried to deal faithfully with his problem. In that one steadfast ray he saw that whatever he did he must not do it for himself; but what his duty was he could not make out. He knew now, if he had not known before, that whatever his feeling for Statira was, he had not released himself from her, and it seemed to him that he could not release himself by any concern for his own advantage. That notion with which he had so long played, her insufficiency for his life now and for the needs of his mind hereafter, revealed itself in its real cruelty. The things that Mr. Sewell had said, that his mother had said, that Berry had said, in what seemed a fatal succession, and all to the same effect, against throwing himself away upon some one inadequate to him at his best, fell to the ground like withered leaves, and the fire of that steadfast ray consumed them.
But whom to turn to for counsel now? The one friend in whom he had trusted, to whom he had just gone, ready to fling down his whole heart before him, had failed him, failed him unwittingly, unwillingly, as he had failed him once before, but this time in infinitely greater stress. He did not blame him now, fiercely, proudly, as he had once blamed him, but again he wandered up and down the city streets, famished and outcast through his defection.
It was late when he went home, but Mr. Corey had not yet returned, and he had time to sit down and write the letter which he had decided to send to Statira, instead of going to see her. It was not easy to write, but after many attempts he wrote it.
Dear Statira,—You must not be troubled, at what Amanda said to me. I assure you that, although I was angry at first, I am entirely willing to overlook it at your request. She probably spoke hastily, and I am now convinced that she spoke without your authority. You must not think that I am provoked at you.
"I received your letter this evening; and I will come to see you very soon. Lemuel Barker."
The letter was colder than he meant to make it, but he felt that he must above all be honest, and he did not see how he could honestly make it less cold. When it came to Statira's hands she read it silently to herself, over and over again, while her tears dripped upon it.
'Manda Grier was by, and she watched her till she could bear the sight no longer. She snatched the letter from the girl's hands and ran it through, and then she flung it on the ground. "Nasty, cold-hearted, stuck-up, shameless thing!"
"Oh, don't, 'Manda; don't, 'Manda!" sobbed Statira, and she plunged her face into the pillows of the bed, where she sat.
"Shameless, cold-hearted, stuck-up, nasty thing!" said 'Manda Grier, varying her denunciation in the repetition, and apparently getting fresh satisfaction out of it in that way. "Don't? St'ira Dudley, if you was a woman—if you was half a woman—you'd never speak to that little corpse-on-ice again."
"O 'Manda, don't call him names-! I can't bear to have you!"
"Names? If you was anybody at all, you wouldn't look at him! You wouldn't think of him!"
"O 'Manda, 'Manda! You know I can't let you talk so," moaned Statira.
"Talk? I could talk my head off! 'You must not think I was provoked with you,'" she mimicked Lemuel's dignity of diction in mincing falsetto. "'I will come to see you very soon.' Miserable, worthless, conceited whipper-snapper!"
"O 'Manda, you'll break my heart if you go on so!"
"Well, then, give him up! He's goin' to give you up."
"Oh, he ain't; you know he ain't! He's just busy, and I know he'll come. I'll bet you he'll be here to-morrow. It'll kill me to give him up."
She had lifted herself from the pillow, and she began to cough.
"He'll kill you anyway," cried 'Manda Grier, in a passion of pity and remorse. She ran across the room to get the medicine which Statira had to take in these paroxysms. "There, there! Take it! I sha'n't say anything more about him."
"And do you take it all back?" gasped Statira, holding the proffered spoon away.
"Yes, yes! But do take your med'cine, St'ira, 'f you don't want to die where you set."
"And do you think he'll come?"
"Yes, he'll come."
"Do you say it just to get me to take the medicine?"
"No, I really do believe he'll come."
"O 'Manda, 'Manda!" Statira took her medicine, and then wildly flung her arms round 'Manda Grier's neck, and began to sob and to cry there. "Oh, how hard I am with you, Manda! I should think if I was as hard with everybody else, they'd perfectly hate me."
"Yes, and that's why he hate me. He does hate me. You said he did."
"No, St'ira, I didn't. You never was hard to anybody, and the meanest old iceberg in creation couldn't hate you."
"Then you think he does care for me?"
"And you know he'll come soon?"
Lemuel had promised himself that if he could gain a little time he should be able better to decide what it was right for him to do. His heart lifted as he dropped the letter into the box, and he went through the chapters which Mr. Corey asked him to read, after he came in, with an ease incredible to himself. In the morning he woke with a mind that was almost cheerful. He had been honest in writing that letter, and so far he had done right; he should keep his word about going soon to see Statira, and that would be honest too. He did not look beyond this decision, and he felt, as we all do, more or less vaguely when we have resolved to do right, that he had the merit of a good action.
Statira showed herself so glad to see him that he could not do less than seem to share her joy in their making-up, as she called it, though he insisted that there had been no quarrel between them; and now there began for him a strange double life, the fact of which each reader must reject or accept according to the witness of his own knowledge.
He renewed as far as he could the old warmth of his feeling for Statira, and in his compunction experienced a tenderness for her that he had not known before, the strange tenderness that some spirits feel for those they injure. He went oftener than ever to see her, he was very good to her, and cheered her with his interest in all her little interests; he petted her and comforted her; but he escaped from her as soon as he could, and when he shut her door behind him he shut her within it. He made haste to forget her, and to lose himself in thoughts that were never wholly absent even in her presence. Sometimes he went directly from her to Jessie, whose innocent Bohemianism kept later hours, and who was always glad to see him whenever he came. She welcomed him with talk that they thought related wholly to the books they had been reading, and to the things of deep psychological import which they suggested. He seldom came to her without the excuse of a book to be lent or borrowed; and he never quitted her without feeling inspired with the wish to know more, and to be more; he seemed to be lifted to purer and clearer regions of thought. She received him in the parlour, but their evenings commonly ended in her little studio, whither some errand took them, or some intrusion of the other boarders banished them. There he read to her poems or long chapters out of the essayists or romancers; or else they sat and talked about the strange things they had noticed in themselves that were like the things they found in their books. Once when they had talked a long while in this strain, he told how when he first saw her he thought she was very proud and cold.
She laughed gaily. "And I used to be afraid of you," she said. "You used to be always reading there in your little office. Do you think I'm very proud now?"
"Are you very much afraid of me now?" he retorted.
They laughed together.
"Isn't it strange," she said, "how little we really know about people in the world?"
"Yes," he answered. "I wonder if it will ever be different. I've been wrong about nearly every one I've met since I came to Boston."
"And I have too!" she cried, with that delight in the coincidence of experience which the young feel so keenly.
He had got the habit, with his growing ease in her presence, of walking up and down the room, while she sat, with her arms lifted and clasped above her head, forgetful of everything but the things they were saying, and followed him with her eyes. As he turned about in his walk, he saw how pretty she was, with her slender form cased in the black silk she wore, and thrown into full relief by the lifted arms; he saw the little hands knit above her head, and white as flowers on her dark hair. Her eyes were very bright, and her soft lips, small and fine, were red.
He faltered, and lost the thread of his speech. "I forgot what I was going to say!"
She took down her hands to clasp them over her laughing face a moment. "And I don't remember what you were saying!" They both laughed a long time at this; it seemed incomparably droll, and they became better comrades.
They spent the rest of the evening in laughing and joking.
"I didn't know you were so fond of laughing," he said, when he went away.
"And I always supposed you were very solemn," she replied.
This again seemed the drollest thing in the world. "Well, I always was," he said.
"And I don't know when I've laughed so much before!" She stood at the head of the stairs, and held her lamp up for him to find his way down.
Again looking back, he saw her in the undefended grace that had bewildered him before.
When he came next they met very seriously, but before the evening was past they were laughing together; and so it happened now whenever he came. They both said how strange it was that laughing with any one seemed to make you feel so much better acquainted. She told of a girl at school that she had always disliked till one day something made them laugh, and after that they became the greatest friends.
He tried to think of some experience to match this, but he could not; he asked her if she did not think that you always felt a little gloomy after you had been laughing a great deal. She said yes; after that first night when they laughed so, she felt so depressed that she was sure she was going to have bad news from Madeline. Then she said she had received a letter from Madeline that morning, and she and Mr. Berry had both wished her to give him their regards if she ever saw him. This, when she had said it, seemed a very good joke too; and they laughed at it a little consciously, till he boldly bade her tell them he came so very seldom that she did not know when she could deliver their message.
She answered that she was afraid Madeline would not believe that; and then it came out that he had never replied to Berry's letter.
She said, "Oh! Is that the way you treat your correspondents?" and he was ashamed to confess that he had not forgiven Berry.
"I will write to him to-night, if you say so," he answered hardily.
"Oh, you must do what you think best," she said, lightly refusing the responsibility.
"Whatever you say will be best," he said, with a sudden, passionate fervour that surprised himself.
She tried to escape from it. "Am I so infallible as that?"
"You are for me!" he retorted.
A silence followed, which she endeavoured to break, but she sat still across the little table from him where the shaded lamp spread its glow, leaving the rest of the room, with its red curtains and its sketches pinned about, in a warm, luxurious shadow. Her eyes fell, and she did not speak.
"It must sound very strange to you, I know," he went on; "and it's strange to me, too; but it seems to me that there isn't anything I've done without my thinking whether you would like me to do it."
She rose involuntarily. "You make me ashamed to think that you're so much mistaken about me! I know how we all influence each other—I know I always try to be what I think people expect me to be—I can't be myself—I know what you mean; but you—you must be yourself, and not let—" She stopped in her wandering speech, in strange agitation, and he rose too.
"I hope you're not offended with me!"
"Offended? Why? Why do you—go so soon?"
"I thought you were going," he answered stupidly.
"Why, I'm at home!"
They looked at each other, and then they broke into a happy laugh.
"Sit down again! I don't know what I got up for. It must have been to make some tea. Did you know Madeline had bequeathed me her tea- kettle—the one we had at the St. Albans?" She bustled about, and lit the spirit-lamp under the kettle.
"Blow out that match!" he cried. "You'll set your dress on fire!" He caught her hand, which she was holding with the lighted match in it at her side, after the manner of women with lighted matches, and blew it out himself.
"Oh, thank you!" she said indifferently. "Can you take it without milk?"
"Yes, I like it so."
She got out two of the cups he remembered, and he said, "How much like last winter that seems!"
And "Yes, doesn't it?" she sighed.
The lamp purred and fretted under the kettle, and in the silence in which they waited, the elm tree that rose from the pavement outside seemed to look in consciously upon them.
When the kettle began to sing, she poured out the two cups of tea, and in handing him his their fingers touched, and she gave a little outcry. "Oh! Madeline's precious cup! I thought it was going to drop!"
The soft night-wind blew in through the elm leaves, and their rustling seemed the expression of a profound repose, an endless content.
The next night Lemuel went to see Statira, without promising himself what he should say or do, but if he were to tell her everything, he felt that she would forgive him more easily than 'Manda Grier. He was aware that 'Manda always lay in wait for him, to pierce him at every undefended hint of conscience. Since the first break with her, there had never been peace between them, and perhaps not kindness for long before that. Whether or not she felt responsible for having promoted Statira's affair with him, and therefore bound to guard her to the utmost from suffering by it, she seemed always to be on the alert to seize any advantage against him. Sometimes Statira accused her of trying to act so hatefully to him that he would never come any more; she wildly blamed her; but the faithful creature was none the less constant and vigilant on that account. She took patiently the unjust reproaches which Statira heaped upon her like a wayward child, and remitted nothing of her suspicion or enmity towards Lemuel. Once, when she had been very bitter with him, so bitter that it had ended in an open quarrel between them, Statira sided with him against her, and when 'Manda Grier flounced out of the room she offered him, if he wished, to break with her, and never to speak to her again, or have anything more to do with such a person. But at this his anger somehow fell; and he said no, she must not think of such a thing; that 'Manda Grier had been her friend long before he was, and that, whatever she said to him, she was always good and true to her. Then Statira fell upon his neck and cried, and praised him, and said he was a million times more to her than 'Manda Grier, but she would do whatever he said; and he went away sick at heart.
When he came now, with his thoughts clinging to Jessie, 'Manda Grier hardly gave him time for the decencies of greeting. She was in a high nervous exaltation, and Statira looked as if she had been crying.
"What's become o' them art-students you used to have 't the St. Albans?" she began, her whopper-jaw twitching with excitement, and her eyes glaring vindictively upon Lemuel.
He had sat down near Statira on the lounge, but she drew a little away from him in a provisional fashion, as if she would first see what came of 'Manda Grier's inquisition.
"Art-students?" he repeated aimlessly while he felt his colour go.
"Yes!" she snapped. "Them girls 't used to be 't the St. Albans, 't you thought so wonderful!"
"I didn't know I thought they were very wonderful!"
"Can't you answer a civil question?" she demanded, raising her voice.
"I haven't heard any," said Lemuel, with sullen scorn.
"Oh! Well!" she sneered. "I forgot that you've b'en used to goin' with such fine folks that you can't bear to be spoken to in plain English."
"'Manda!" began Statira, with an incipient whimper.
"You be still, S'tira Dudley! Mr. Barker," said the poor foolish thing in the mincing falsetto which she thought so cutting, "have you any idea what's become of your young lady artist friends,—them that took your portrait as a Roman youth, you know?"
Lemuel made no answer whatever for a time. Then, whether he judged it best to do so, or was goaded to the defiance by 'Manda Grier's manner, he replied, "Miss Swan and Miss Carver? Miss Swan is married, and lives in Wyoming Territory now." Before he had reached the close of the sentence he had controlled himself sufficiently to be speaking quite calmly.
"Oh indeed, Mr. Barker! And may I ask where Miss Carver is? She merried and living in Wyoming Territory too?"
"No," said Lemuel quietly. "She's not married. She's in Boston."
"Indeed! Then it was her I see in the Garden to-day, S'tira! She b'en back long, Mr. Barker?"
"About a month, I think," said Lemuel.
"Quite a spell! You seen her, Mr. Barker?"
"Yes, quite often."
"I want to know! She still paintin' Roman boys, Mr. Barker? Didn't seem to make any great out at it last winter! But practice makes perfect, they say. I s'pose you seen her in the Garden, too?"
"I usually see her at home," said Lemuel. "You probably receive your friends on the benches in the Garden, but young ladies prefer to have them call at their residences." He astonished himself by this brutality, he who was all gentleness with Miss Carver.
"Very well, Mr. Barker! That's all right. That's all I wanted to know. Never mind about where I meet my friends. Wherever it is, they're gentlemen; and they ain't generally goin' with three or four girls 't the same time."
"No, one like you would be enough," retorted Lemuel.
Statira sat cowering away from the quarrel, and making little ineffectual starts as if to stay it. Heretofore their enmity had been covert, if not tacit, in her presence.
Lemuel saw her wavering, and the wish to show 'Manda his superior power triumphed over every other interest and impulse in him. He got upon his feet. "There is no use in this sort of thing going on any longer. I came here because I thought I was wanted. If it's a mistake, it's easy enough to mend it, and it's easy not to make it again. I wish you good evening."
Statira sprang from the lounge, and flung her arms around his neck. "No, no! You sha'n't go! You mustn't go, Lem! I know your all right, and I won't have you talked to so! I ain't a bit jealous, Lem; indeed I ain't. I know you wouldn't fool with me, any more than I would with you; and that's what I tell 'Manda Grier, I'll leave it to her if I don't. I don't care who you go with, and I hain't, never since that first time. I know you ain't goin' to do anything underhanded. Don't go, Lem; oh, don't go!"
He was pulling towards the door; her trust, her fond generosity drove him more than 'Manda Grier's cutting tongue: that hurt his pride, his vanity, but this pierced his soul; he had only a blind, stupid will to escape from it.
Statira was crying; she began to cough; she released his neck from her clasp, and reeled backward to the lounge, where she would have fallen, if 'Manda Grier had not caught her. The paroxysm grew more violent; a bright stream of blood sprang from her lips.
"Run! Run for the doctor! Quick, Lemuel! Oh, quick!" implored 'Manda Grier, forgetting all enmity in her terror.
Statira's arms wavered towards him, as if to keep him, but he turned and ran from the house, cowed and conscience-stricken by the sight of that blood, as if he had shed it.
He did not expect to see Statira alive when he came back with the doctor whom he found at the next apothecary's. She was lying on the lounge, white as death, but breathing quietly, and her eyes sought him with an eagerness that turned to a look of tender gratitude at the look they found in his.
The doctor bent over her for her pulse and her respiration; then when he turned to examine the crimson handkerchief which 'Manda Grier showed him, Lemuel dropped on his knees beside her and put his face down to hers.
With her lips against his cheek she made, "Don't go!"
And he whispered, "No, I'll not leave you now!"
The doctor looked round with the handkerchief still in his hand, as if doubting whether to order him away from her. Then he mutely questioned 'Manda Grier with a glance which her glance answered. He shrugged his shoulders, with a puzzled sigh. An expression of pity crossed his face which he hardened into one of purely professional interest, and he went on questioning 'Manda Grier in a low tone.
Statira had slipped her hand into Lemuel's, and she held it fast, as if in that clasp she were holding on to her chance of life.
Sewell returned to town for the last time in the third week of September, bringing his family with him.
This was before the greater part of his oddly assorted congregation had thought of leaving the country, either the rich cottagers whose family tradition or liberal opinions kept them in his church, or the boarding and camping elements who were uniting a love of cheapness with a love of nature in their prolonged sojourn among the woods and fields. Certain families, perhaps half of his parish in all, were returning because the schools were opening, and they must put their children into them; and it was both to minister to the spiritual needs of these and to get his own children back to their studies that the minister was at home so early.
It was, as I have hinted already, a difficult and laborious season with him; he himself was always a little rusty in his vocation after his summer's outing, and felt weakened rather than strengthened by his rest. The domestic machine started reluctantly; there was a new cook to be got in, and Mrs. Sewell had to fight a battle with herself, in which she invited him to share, before she could settle down for the winter to the cares of housekeeping. The wide skies, the dim mountain slopes, the long, delicious drives, the fresh mornings, the sweet, silvery afternoons of their idle country life, haunted their nerves and enfeebled their wills.
One evening in the first days of this moral disability, while Sewell sat at his desk trying to get himself together for a sermon, Barker's name was brought up to him.
"Really," said his wife, who had transmitted it from the maid, "I think it's time you protected yourself, David. You can't let this go on for ever. He has been in Boston nearly two years now; he has regular employment, where if there's anything in him at all, he ought to prosper and improve without coming to you every other night. What can he want now?"
"I'm sure I don't know," said the minister, leaning back in his chair, and passing his hand wearily over his forehead.
"Then send down and excuse yourself. Tell him you're busy, and ask him to come another time!"
"Ah, you know I can't do that, my dear."
"Very well, then; I will go down and see him. You sha'n't be interrupted."
"Would you, my dear? That would be very kind of you! Do get me off some way; tell him I'm coming to see him very soon." He went stupidly back to his writing, without looking to see whether his wife had meant all she said; and after a moment's hesitation she descended in fulfilment of her promise; or, perhaps rather it was a threat.
She met Lemuel not unkindly, for she was a kind-hearted woman; but she placed duty before charity even, and she could not help making him feel that she was there in the discharge of a duty. She explained that Mr. Sewell was very unusually busy that evening, and had sent her in his place, and hoped soon to see him. She bade Lemuel sit down, and he obeyed, answering all the questions as to the summer and his occupations and health, and his mother's health, which she put to him in proof of her interest in him; in further evidence of it, she gave him an account of the Sewell family's doings since they last met. He did not stay long, and she returned slowly and pensively to her husband.
"Well?" he asked, without looking round.
"Well; it's all right," she answered, with rather a deep breath. "He didn't seem to have come for anything in particular; I told him that if he wished specially to speak with you, you would come down."
Sewell went on with his writing, and after a moment his wife said, "But you must go and see him very soon, David; you must go to- morrow."
"He looks wretchedly, though he says he's very well. It made my heart ache. He looks perfectly wan and haggard. I wish," she burst out, "I wish I had let you go down and see him!"
"Why—why, what was the matter?" asked Sewell, turning about now. "Did you think he had something on his mind?"
"No, but he looked fairly sick. Oh, I wish he had never come into our lives!"
"I'm afraid he hasn't got much good from us," sighed the minister. "But I'll go round and look him up in the morning. His trouble will keep overnight, if it's a real trouble. There's that comfort, at least. And now, do go away, my dear, and leave me to my writing."
Mrs. Sewell looked at him, but turned and left him, apparently reserving whatever sermon she might have in her mind till he should have finished his.
The next morning he went to inquire for Lemuel at Mr. Corey's. The man was sending him away from the door with the fact merely that Lemuel was not then in the house, when the voice of Mr. Corey descending the stairs called from within: "Is that you, Sewell? Don't go away! Come in!"
The old gentleman took him into the library and confessed in a bit of new slang, which he said was delightful, that he was all balled up by Lemuel's leaving him, and asked Sewell what he supposed it meant.
"Left you? Meant?" echoed Sewell.
When they got at each other it was understood that Lemuel, the day before, had given up his employment with Mr. Corey, expressing a fit sense of all his kindness and a fit regret at leaving him, but alleging no reasons for his course; and that this was the first that Sewell knew of the affair.
"It must have been that which he came to see me about last night," he said, with a sort of anticipative remorse. "Mrs. Sewell saw him— I was busy."
"Well! Get him to come back, Sewell," said Mr. Corey, with his whimsical imperiousness; "I can't get on without him. All my moral and intellectual being has stopped like a watch."
Sewell went to the boarding-house where Lemuel took his meals, but found that he no longer came there, and had left no other address. He knew nowhere else to ask, and he went home to a day of latent trouble of mind, which whenever it came to the light defined itself as helpless question and self-reproach in regard to Barker.
That evening as he sat at tea, the maid came with the announcement that there was a person in the reception-room who would not send in any name, but wished to see Mr. Sewell, and would wait.
Sewell threw down his napkin, and said, "I'll bring him in to tea."
Mrs. Sewell did not resist; she bade the girl lay another plate.
Sewell was so sure of finding Lemuel in the reception-room, that he recoiled in dismay from the girlish figure that turned timidly from the window to meet him with a face thickly veiled. He was vexed, too; here, he knew from the mystery put on, was one of those cases of feminine trouble, real or unreal, which he most disliked to meddle with.
"Will you sit down?" he said, as kindly as he could, and the girl obeyed.
"I thought they would let me wait. I didn't mean to interrupt you," she began, in a voice singularly gentle and unaffected.
"Oh, no matter!" cried Sewell. "I'm very glad to see you,"
"I thought you could help me. I'm in great trouble—doubt—"
The voice was almost childlike in its appealing innocence. Sewell sat down opposite the girl and bent sympathetically forward. "Well?"
She waited a moment. Then, "I don't know how to begin," she said hoarsely, and stopped again.
Sewell was touched. He forgot Lemuel; he forgot everything but the heartache which he divined before him, and his Christ-derived office, his holy privilege, of helping any in want of comfort or guidance. "Perhaps," he said, in his loveliest way,—the way that had won his wife's heart, and that still provoked her severest criticism for its insincerity; it was so purely impersonal,— "perhaps that isn't necessary, if you mean beginning at the beginning. If you've any trouble that you think I can advise you in, perhaps it's better for both of us that I shouldn't know very much of it."
"Yes?" murmured the girl questioningly.
"I mean that if you tell me much, you will go away feeling that you have somehow parted with yourself, that you're no longer in your own keeping, but in mine; and you know that in everything our help must really come from within our own free consciences."
"Yes," said the girl again, from behind the veil which completely hid her face. She now hesitated a long time. She put her handkerchief under her veil; and at last she said: "I know what you mean." Her voice quivered pathetically; she tried to control it. "Perhaps," she whispered huskily, after another interval, "I can put it in the form of a question."
"That would be best," said Sewell.
She hesitated; the tears fell down upon her hands behind her veil; she no longer wiped them. "It's because I've often—heard you; because I know you will tell me what's true and right—"
"Your own heart must do that," said the minister, "but I will gladly help you all I can."
She did not heed him now, but continued as if rapt quite away from him.
"If there was some one—something—if there was something that it would be right for you to do—to have, if there was no one else; but if there were some else that had a right first—" She broke off and asked abruptly, "Don't you think it is always right to prefer another—the interest of another to your own?"
Sewell could not help smiling. "There is only one thing for us to do when we are in any doubt or perplexity," he said cheerily, "and that is the unselfish thing."
"Yes," she gasped; she seemed to be speaking to herself. "I saw it, I knew it! Even if it kills us, we must do it! Nothing ought to weigh against it! Oh, I thank you!"
Sewell was puzzled. He felt dimly that she was thanking him for anguish and despair. "I'm afraid that I don't quite understand you."
"I thought I told you," she answered, with a certain reproach, and a fall of courage in view of the fresh effort she must make. It was some moments before she could say, "If you knew that some one—some one who was—everything to you—and that you knew—believed—"
At fifty it is hard to be serious about these things, and it was well for the girl that she was no longer conscious of Sewell's mood.
"—Cared for you; and if you knew that before he had cared for you there had been some else—some else that he was as much to as he was to you, and that couldn't give him up, what—should you—"
Sewell fetched a long sigh of relief; he had been afraid of a much darker problem than this. He almost smiled.
"My dear child,"—she seemed but a child there before the mature man with her poor little love-trouble, so intricate and hopeless to her, so simple and easy to him—"that depends upon a great many circumstances."
He could feel through her veil the surprise with which she turned to him: "You said, whenever we are in doubt, we must act unselfishly."
"Yes, I said that. But you must first be sure what is really selfish—"
"I know what is selfish in this case," said the girl with a sublimity which, if foolish, was still sublimity. "She is sick—it will kill her to lose him—You have said what I expected, and I thank you, thank you, thank you! And I will do it! Oh, don't fear now but I shall; I have done it! No matter," she went on in her exaltation, "no matter how much we care for each other, now!"
"No," said Sewell decidedly. "That doesn't follow. I have thought of such things; there was such a case within my experience once,"—he could not help alleging this case, in which he had long triumphed,— "and I have always felt that I did right in advising against a romantic notion of self-sacrifice in such matters. You may commit a greater wrong in that than in an act of apparent self-interest. You have not put the case fully before me, and it isn't necessary that you should, but if you contemplate any rash sacrifice, I warn you against it."
"You said that we ought to act unselfishly."
"Yes, but you must beware of the refined selfishness which shrinks from righteous self-assertion because it is painful. You must make sure of your real motive; you must consider whether your sacrifice is not going to do more harm than good. But why do you come to me with your trouble? Why don't you go to your father—your mother?"
"I have none."
She had risen and pushed by him to the outer door, though he tried to keep her. "Don't be rash," he urged. "I advise you to take time to think of this—"
She did not answer; she seemed now only to wish to escape, as if in terror of him.
She pulled open the door, and was gone.
Sewell went back to his tea, bewildered, confounded.
"What's the matter? Why didn't he come in to tea with you?" asked his wife.
"David, what is the matter?"
Sewell started from his daze, and glanced at his children: "I'll tell you by and by, Lucy."
A month passed, and Sewell heard nothing of Lemuel. His charge, always elusive and evanescent, had now completely vanished, and he could find no trace of him. Mr. Corey suggested advertising. Bellingham said, why not put it in the hands of a detective? He said he had never helped work anything up with a detective; he rather thought he should like to do it. Sewell thought of writing to Barker's mother at Willoughby Pastures, but he postponed it; perhaps it would alarm her if Barker were not there; Sewell had many other cares and duties; Lemuel became more and more a good intention of the indefinite future. After all, he had always shown the ability to take care of himself, and except that he had mysteriously disappeared there was no reason for anxiety about him.
One night his name came up at a moment when Sewell was least prepared by interest or expectation to see him. He smiled to himself in running downstairs, at the reflection that he never seemed quite ready for Barker. But it was a relief to have him turn up again; there was no question of that, and Sewell showed him a face of welcome that dropped at sight of him. He scarcely new the gaunt, careworn face or the shabby figure before him, in place of the handsome, well-dressed young fellow whom he had come to greet. There seemed a sort of reversion in Barker's whole presence to the time when Sewell first found him in that room; and in whatever trouble he now was, the effect was that of his original rustic constraint.
Trouble there was of some kind, Sewell could see at a glance, and his kind heart prompted him to take Lemuel's hand between both of his. "Why, my dear boy!" he began; but he stopped and made Lemuel sit down, waited for him to speak, without further question or comment.
"Mr. Sewell," the young man said abruptly, "you told me once you— that you sometimes had money put into your hands that you could lend."
"Yes," replied Sewell, with eager cordiality.
"Could I borrow about seventy-five dollars of you?"
"Why, certainly, Barker!" Sewell had not so much of what he called his flying-charity fund by him, but he instantly resolved to advance the difference out of his own pocket.
"It's to get me an outfit for horse-car conductor," said Lemuel. "I can have the place if I can get the outfit."
"Horse-car conductor!" reverberated Sewell. "What in the world for?"
"It's work I can do," answered Lemuel briefly, but not resentfully.
"But there are so many other things—better—fitter—more profitable! Why did you leave Mr. Corey? I assure you that you have been a great loss to him—in every way. You don't know how much he valued you, personally. He will be only too glad to have you come back."
"I can't go back," said Lemuel. "I'm going to get married."
"Married!" cried Sewell in consternation.
"My—the lady that I'm going to marry—has been sick, ever since the first of October, and I haven't had a chance to look up any kind of work. But she's better now; and I've heard of this place I can get. I don't like to trouble you; but—everything's gone—I've got my mother down here helping take care of her; and I must do something. I don't know just when I can pay you back; but I'll do it sometime."
"Oh, I'm sure of that," said Sewell, from the abyss of hopeless conjecture into which these facts had plunged him; his wandering fancy was dominated by the presence of Lemuel's mother with her bloomers in Boston. "I—I hope there's nothing serious the trouble with your—the lady?" he said, rubbing away with his hand the smile that came to his lips in spite of him.
"It's lung trouble," said Lemuel quietly.
"Oh!" responded Sewell. "Well! Well!" He shook himself together, and wondered what had become of the impulse he had felt to scold Barker for the idea of getting married. But such a course now seemed not only far beyond his province,—he heard himself saying that to Mrs. Sewell in self-defence when she should censure him for not doing it,—but utterly useless in view of the further complications. "Well! This is great news you tell me—a great surprise. You're— you're going to take an important step—You—you—Of course, of course! You must have a great many demands upon you, under the circumstances. Yes, yes! And I'm very glad you came to me. If your mind is quite made up about——"
"Yes, I've thought it over," said Lemuel. "The lady has had to work all her life, and she—she isn't used to what I thought—what I intended—any other kind of people; and it's better for us both that I should get some kind of work that won't take me away from her too much——" He dropped his head, and Sewell with a flash of intelligence felt a thrill of compassionate admiration for the poor, foolish, generous creature, for so Lemuel complexly appeared to him.
Again he forbore question or comment.
"Well—well! we must look you up, Mrs. Sewell and I. We must come to see your—the lady." He found himself falling helplessly into Lemuel's way of describing her. "Just write me your address here,"— he put a scrap of paper before Lemuel on the davenport,—"and I'll go and get you the money."
He brought it back in an envelope which held a very little more than Lemuel had asked for—Sewell had not dared to add much—and Lemuel put it in his pocket.
He tried to say something; he could only make a husky noise in his throat.
"Good night!" said Sewell pressing his hand with both of his again, at the door. "We shall come very soon."
"Married!" said Mrs. Sewell, when he returned to her; and then she suffered a silence to ensue, in which it seemed to Sewell that his inculpation was visibly accumulating mountains vast and high. "What did you say?"
"Nothing," he answered almost gaily; the case was so far beyond despair. "What should you have said?"
Lemuel got a conductor's overcoat and cap at half-price from a man who had been discharged, and put by the money saved to return to Sewell when he should come. He entered upon his duties the next morning, under the instruction of an old conductor, who said, "Hain't I seen you som'ere's before?" and he worked all day, taking money and tickets, registering fares, helping ladies on and off the car, and monotonously journeying back and forth over his route. He went on duty at six o'clock in the morning, after an early breakfast that 'Manda Grier and his mother got him, for Statira was not strong enough yet to do much, and he was to be relieved at eight. At nightfall, after two half-hour respites for dinner and tea, he was so tired that he could scarcely stand.
"Well, how do you like it, as fur's you've gone?" asked the instructing conductor, in whom Lemuel had recognised an old acquaintance. "Sweet life, ain't it? There! That switch hain't worked again! Jump off, young man, and put your shoulder to the wheel!"
The car had failed to take the right-hand turn where the line divided; it had to be pushed back, and while the driver tugged and swore under his breath at his horses, Lemuel set himself to push the car.
"'S no use!" said the driver finally. "I got to hitch 'em on at the other end, and pull her back."
He uncoupled the team from the front of the car, and swung round with it. Lemuel felt something strike him, on the leg, and he fell down. He scrambled to his feet again, but his left leg doubled under him; it went through his mind that one of the horses must have lashed out and broken it; then everything seemed to stop.
The world began again for him in the apothecary's shop where he had been carried, and from which he was put into an ambulance, by a policeman. It stopped again, as he whirled away; it renewed itself in anguish, and ceased in bliss as he fainted from the pain or came to.
They lifted him up some steps, at last, and carried him into a high, bright room, where there were two or three cots, and a long glass case full of surgical instruments. They laid him on a cot, and some one swiftly and skilfully undressed him. A surgeon had come in, and now he examined Lemuel's leg. He looked once or twice at his face.
"This is a pretty bad job, I can't tell how bad till you have had the ether. Will you leave it with me?"
"Yes. But do the best you can for me."
"You may be sure I will."
Lemuel believed that they meant to cut off his leg. He knew that he had a right to refuse and to take the consequences, but he would not; he had no right to choose death, when he had others to live for.
He woke deathly sick at first, and found himself lying in bed, one of the two rows in a long room, where there were some quiet women in neat caps and seersucker dresses going about, with bowls of food and bottles of medicine.
Lemuel still felt his leg, and the pain in it, but he had heard how mutilated men felt their lost limbs all their lives, and he was afraid to make sure by the touch of his hand.
A nurse who saw his eyes open came to him. He turned them upon her, but he could not speak. She must have understood. "The doctor thinks he can save your leg for you; but it's a bad fracture. You must be careful to keep very still."
He fell asleep; and life began again for him, in the midst of suffering and death. He saw every day broken and mangled men, drunk with ether, brought up as he had been, and laid in beds; he saw the priest of the religion to which most of the poor and lowly still belong, go and come among the cots, and stand by the pillows where the sick feebly followed him in the mystical gestures which he made on his brow and breast; he learned to know the use of the white linen screen which was drawn about a bed to hide the passing of a soul; he became familiar with the helpless sympathy, the despair of the friends who came to visit the sick and dying.
He had not lacked for more attention and interest from his own than the rules of the hospital allowed. His mother and 'Manda Grier came first, and then Statira when they would let her. She thought it hard that she was not suffered to do the least thing for him; she wished to take him away to their own rooms, where she could nurse him twice as well. At first she cried whenever she saw him, and lamented over him, so that the head nurse was obliged to explain to her that she disturbed the patients, and could not come any more unless she controlled herself. She promised, and kept her word; she sat quietly by his pillow and held his hand, when she came, except when she put up her own to hide the cough which she could not always restrain. The nurse told her that, of course, she was not accountable for the cough, but she had better try to check it. Statira brought troches with her, and held them in her mouth for this purpose.
Lemuel's family was taken care of in this time of disaster. The newspapers had made his accident promptly known; and not only Sewell, but Miss Vane and Mrs. Corey had come to see if they could be of any use.
One day a young girl brought a bouquet of flowers and set it by Lemuel's bed, when he seemed asleep. He suddenly opened his eyes, and saw Sybil Vane for the first time since their quarrel.
She put her finger to her lip, and smiled with the air of a lady benefactress; then, with a few words of official sympathy, she encouraged him to get well, and flitted to the next bed, where she bestowed a jacqueminot rosebud on a Chinaman dying of cancer.
Sewell came often to see him, at first in the teeth of his mother's obvious hostility, but with her greater and greater relenting. Nothing seemed gloomier than the outlook for Lemuel, but Sewell had lived too long not to know that the gloom of an outlook has nothing to do with a man's real future. It was impossible, of course, for Lemuel to go back to Mr. Corey's now with a sick wife, who would need so much of his care. Besides, he did not think it desirable on other accounts. He recurred to what Lemuel had said about getting work that should not take him too far away from the kind of people his betrothed was used to, and he felt a pity and respect for the boy whom life had already taught this wisdom, this resignation. He could see that before his last calamity had come upon him, Barker was trying to adjust his ambition to his next duty, or rather to subordinate it; and the conviction that he was right gave Sewell courage to think that he would yet somehow succeed. It also gave him courage to resist, on Barker's behalf, the generous importunities of some who would have befriended him. Mr. Corey and Charles Bellingham drove up to the hospital one day, to see Lemuel; and when Sewell met them the same evening, they were full of enthusiasm. Corey said that the effect of the hospital, with its wards branching from the classistic building in the centre, was delightfully Italian; it was like St. Peter's on a small scale, and he had no idea how interesting the South End was; it was quite a bit of foreign travel to go up there. Bellingham had explored the hospital throughout; he said he had found it the thing to do—it was a thing for everybody to do; he was astonished that he had never done it before. They united in praising Barker, and they asked what could be done for him. Corey was strenuous for his coming back to him; at any rate they must find something for him. Bellingham favoured the notion of doing something for his education; a fellow like that could come to almost anything.
Sewell shook his head. "All that's impossible, now. With that girl——"
"Oh, confound her!" cried Bellingham.
"I was rather disappointed at not seeing his mother," said Corey. "I had counted a good deal, I find, upon Mrs. Barker's bloomers."
"With a girl like that for his wife," pursued Sewell, "the conditions are all changed. He must cleave to her in mind as well as body, and he must seek the kind of life that will unite them more and more, not less and less. In fact, he was instinctively doing so when this accident happened. That's what marriage means."
"Oh, not always," suggested Corey.
"He must go back to Willoughby Pastures," Sewell concluded, "to his farm."
"Oh, come now!" said Bellingham, with disgust.
"If that sort of thing is to go on," said Corey, "what is to become of the ancestry of the future elite of Boston? I counted upon Barker to found one of our first families. Besides, any Irishman could take his farm and do better with it. The farm would be meat to the Irishman, and poison to Barker, now that he's once tasted town."
"Yes, I know all that," said Sewell sadly. "I once thought the greatest possible good I could do Barker, after getting him to Boston, was to get him back to Willoughby Pastures; but if that was ever true, the time is past. Now, it merely seems the only thing possible. When he gets well, he will still have an invalid wife on his hands; he must provide her a home; she could have helped him once, and would have done so, I've no doubt; but now she must be taken care of."
"Look here!" said Bellingham. "What's the reason these things can't be managed as they are in the novels? In any well-regulated romance that cough of hers would run into quick consumption and carry Barker's fiancee off in six weeks; and then he could resume his career of usefulness and prosperity here, don't you know. He could marry some one else, and found that family that Corey wants."
They all laughed, Sewell ruefully.
"As it is," said Corey, "I suppose she'll go on having hemorrhages to a good old age, and outlive him, after being a clog and burden to him all his life. Poor devil! What in the world possesses him to want to marry her? But I suppose the usual thing."
This gave Sewell greater discomfort than the question of Lemuel's material future. He said listlessly, "Oh, I suppose so," but he was far from thinking precisely that. He had seen Lemuel and the young girl together a great deal, and a painful misgiving had grown up in his mind. It seemed to him that while he had seen no want of patience and kindness towards her in Lemuel, he had not seen the return of her fondness, which, silly as it was in some of its manifestations, he thought he should be glad of in him. Yet he was not sure. Barker was always so self-contained that he might very well feel more love for her than he showed; and, after all, Sewell rather weakly asked himself, was the love so absolutely necessary?
When he repeated this question in his wife's presence, she told him she was astonished at him.
"You know that it is vitally necessary! It's all the more necessary, if he's so superior to her, as you say. I can't think what's become of your principles, my dear!"
"I do, you've got them," said Sewell.
"I really believe I have," said his wife, with that full conviction of righteousness which her sex alone can feel. "I have always heard you say that marriage without love was not only sinful in itself, but the beginning of sorrow. Why do you think now that it makes no difference?"
"I suppose I was trying to adapt myself to circumstances," answered Sewell, frankly at least. "Let's hope that my facts are as wrong as my conclusions. I'm not sure of either. I suppose, if I saw him idolising so slight and light a person as she seems to be, I should be more disheartened about his future than I am now. If he overvalued her, it would only drag him lower down."
"Oh, his future! Drag him down! Why don't you think of her, going up there to that dismal wilderness, to spend her days in toil and poverty, with a half-crazy mother-in-law, and a rheumatic brother- in-law, in such a looking hovel?" Mrs. Sewell did not group these disadvantages conventionally, but they were effective. "You have allowed your feelings about that baffling creature to blind you to everything else, David. Why should you care so much for his future, and nothing for hers? Is that so very bright?"
"I don't think that either is dazzling," sighed the minister. Yet Barker's grew a little lighter as he familiarised himself with it, or rather with Barker. He found that he had a plan for getting a teacher's place in the Academy, if they reopened it at Willoughby Pastures, as they talked of doing, under the impulse of such a course in one of the neighbouring towns, and that he was going home, in fancy at least, with purposes of enlightenment and elevation which would go far to console him under such measure of disappointment as they must bring. Sewell hinted to Barker that he must not be too confident of remodelling Willoughby Pastures upon the pattern of Boston.
"Oh no; I don't expect that," said Lemuel. "What I mean is that I shall always try to remember myself what I've learnt here—from the kind of men I've seen, and the things that I know people are all the time doing for others. I told you once that they haven't got any idea of that in the country. I don't expect to preach it into them; they wouldn't like it if I did; and they'd make fun of it; but if I could try to live it?"
"Yes," said Sewell, touched by this young enthusiasm.
"I don't know as I can all the time," said Lemuel. "But it seems to me that that's what I've learnt here, if I've learnt anything. I think the world's a good deal better than I used to."
"Do you indeed, my dear boy?" asked Sewell, greatly interested. "It's a pretty well-meaning world—I hope it is."
"Yes, that's what I mean," said Lemuel. "I presume it ain't perfect—isn't, I should say," and Sewell smiled. "Mr. Corey was always correcting me on that. But if I were to do nothing but pass along the good that's been done me since I came here, I should be kept busy the rest of my life."
Sewell knew that this emotion was largely the physical optimism of convalescence; but he could not refuse the comfort it gave him to find Barker in such a mood, and he did not conceive it his duty to discourage it. Lofty ideals, if not indulged at the expense of lowly realities, he had never found hurtful to any; and it was certainly better for Barker to think too well than too ill of Boston, if it furnished him incentives to unselfish living. He could think of enough things in the city to warrant a different judgment, but if Barker's lesson from his experience there was this, Sewell was not the person to weaken its force with him. He said, with a smile of reserved comment, "Well, perhaps you'll be coming back to us, some day."
"I don't look forward to that," said Lemuel soberly; and then his face took a sterner cast, as if from the force of his resolution. "The first thing I've got to do after I've made a home for her is to get Statira away from the town where she can have some better air, and see if she can't get her health back. It'll be time enough to talk of Boston again when she's fit to live here."
The minister's sympathetic spirit sank again. But his final parting with Barker was not unhopeful. Lemuel consented to accept from him a small loan, to the compass of which he reduced the eager bounty of Miss Vane and Mr. Corey, representing that more would be a burden and an offence to Barker. Statira and his mother came with him to take leave of the Sewells.
They dismounted from the horse-car at the minister's door; and he saw, with sensibility, the two women helping Lemuel off; he walked with a cane, and they went carefully on either side of him. Sewell hastened to meet them at the door himself, and he was so much interested in the spectacle of this mutual affection that he failed at first to observe that Mrs. Barker wore the skirts of occidental civilisation instead of the bloomers which he had identified her with.
"She says she's goin' to put 'em on again as soon as she gets back to Willoughby," the younger woman explained to Mrs. Sewell in an aside, while the minister was engaged with Lemuel and his mother. "But I tell her as long as it ain't the fashion in Boston, I guess she hadn't better, he-e-e-re." Statira had got on her genteel prolongation of her last syllables again. "I guess I shall get along with her. She's kind of queer when you first get acquainted; but she's real good-heart-e-e-d." She was herself very prettily dressed, and though she looked thin, and at times gave a deep, dismal cough, she was so bright and gay that it was impossible not to feel hopeful about her. She became very confidential with Mrs. Sewell, whom she apparently brevetted Lemuel's best friend, and obliged to a greater show of interest in him than she had ever felt. She told her the whole history of her love affair, and of how much 'Manda Grier had done to help it on at first, and then how she had wanted her to break off with Lemuel. "But," she concluded, "I think we're goin' to get along real nice together. I don't know as we shall live all in the same hou-ou-se; I guess it'll be the best thing for Lem and I if we can board till we get some little of our health back; I'm more scared for him than what I am for my-se-e-lf. I don't presume but what we shall both miss the city some; but he might be out of a job all winter in town; I shouldn't want he should go back on them ca-a-rs. Most I hate is leavin' 'Manda Grier, she is the one that I've roomed with ever since I first came to Boston; but Lem and her don't get on very well; they hain't really either of 'em got anything against each other now, but they don't like very we-e-ll; and, of course, I got to have the friends that he wants me to have, and that's what 'Manda Grier says, to-o-o; and so it's just as well we're goin' to be where they won't cla-a-sh."
She talked to Mrs. Sewell in a low voice; but she kept her eyes upon Lemuel all the time; and when Sewell took him and his mother the length of the front drawing-room away, she was quite distraught, and answered at random till he came back.
Sewell did not know what to think. Would this dependence warm her betrothed to greater tenderness than he now showed, or would its excess disgust him? He was not afraid that Lemuel would ever be unkind to her; but he knew that in marriage kindness was not enough. He looked at Lemuel, serious, thoughtful, refined in his beauty by suffering; and then his eye wandered to Statira's delicate prettiness, so sweet, so full of amiable cheerfulness, so undeniably light and silly. What chiefly comforted him was the fact of an ally whom the young thing had apparently found in Lemuel's mother. Whether that grim personage's ignorant pride in her son had been satisfied with a girl of Statira's style and fashion, and proven capableness in housekeeping, or whether some fancy for butterfly prettiness lurking in the fastnesses of the old woman's rugged nature had been snared by the gay face and dancing eyes, it was apparent that she at least was in love with Statira. She allowed herself to be poked about and rearranged as to her shawl and the narrow-brimmed youthful hat which she wore on the peak of her skull, and she softened to something like a smile at the touch of Statira's quick hands.
They had all come rather early to make their parting visit at the Sewells, for the Barkers were going to take the two o'clock train for Willoughby Pastures, while Statira was to remain in Boston till he could make a home for her. Lemuel promised to write, as soon as he should be settled, and tell Sewell about his life and his work; and Sewell, beyond earshot of his wife, told him he might certainly count upon seeing them at Willoughby in the course of the next summer. They all shook hands several times. Lemuel's mother gave her hand from under the fringe of her shawl, standing bolt upright at arm's-length off, and Sewell said it felt like a collection of corn- cobs.
"Well?" said Sewell's wife, when they were gone.
"Well," he responded; and after a moment he said, "There's this comfort about it which we don't always have in such cases: there doesn't seem to be anybody else. It would be indefinitely worse if there were."
"Why, of course. What in the world are you thinking about?"
"About that foolish girl who came to me with her miserable love- trouble. I declare, I can't get rid of it. I feel morally certain that she went away from me and dismissed the poor fellow who was looking to her love to save him."
"At the cost of some other poor creature who'd trusted and believed in him till his silly fancy changed? I hope for the credit of women that she did. But you may be morally certain she did nothing of the kind. Girls don't give up all their hopes in life so easily as that. She might think she would do it, because she had read of such things, and thought it was fine, but when it came to the pinch, she wouldn't."
"I hope not. If she did she would commit a great error, a criminal error."
"Well, you needn't be afraid. Look at Mrs. Tom Corey. And that was her own sister!"
"That was different. Corey had never thought of her sister, much less made love to her, or promised to marry her. Besides, Mrs. Corey had her father and mother to advise her, and support her in behaving sensibly. And this poor creature had nothing but her own novel fed fancies, and her crazy conscience. She thought that because she inflicted suffering upon herself she was acting unselfishly. Really the fakirs of India and the Penitentes of New Mexico are more harmless; for they don't hurt any one else. If she has forced some poor fellow into a marriage like this of Barker's she's committed a deadly sin. She'd better driven him to suicide, than condemned him to live a lie to the end of his days. No doubt she regarded it as a momentary act of expiation. That's the way her romances taught her to look at loveless marriage—as something spectacular, transitory, instead of the enduring, degrading squalor that it is!"
"What in the world are you talking about, David? I should think you were a novelist yourself, by the wild way you go on! You have no proof whatever that Barker isn't happily engaged. I'm sure he's got a much better girl than he deserves, and one that's fully his equal. She's only too fond of that dry stick. Such a girl as the one you described,—like that mysterious visitor of yours,—what possible relation could she have with him? She was a lady!"
"Yes, yes! Of course, it's absurd. But everybody seems to be tangled up with everybody else. My dear, will you give me a cup of tea? I think I'll go to writing at once."
Before she left her husband to order his tea Mrs. Sewell asked, "And do you think you have got through with him now?"
"I have just begun with him," replied Sewell.
His mind, naturally enough in connection with Lemuel, was running upon his friend Evans, and the subject they had once talked of in that room. It was primarily in thinking of him that he begun to write his sermon on Complicity, which made a great impression at the time, and had a more lasting effect as enlarged from the newspaper reports, and reprinted in pamphlet form. His evolution from the text, "Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them," of a complete philosophy of life, was humorously treated by some of his critics as a phase of Darwinism, but upon the whole the sermon met with great favour. It not only strengthened Sewell's hold upon the affections of his own congregation, but carried his name beyond Boston, and made him the topic of editorials in the Sunday editions of leading newspapers as far off as Chicago. It struck one of those popular moods of intelligent sympathy when the failure of a large class of underpaid and worthy workers to assert their right to a living wage against a powerful monopoly had sent a thrill of respectful pity through every generous heart in the country; and it was largely supposed that Sewell's sermon referred indirectly to the telegraphers' strike. Those who were aware of his habit of seeking to produce a personal rather than a general effect, of his belief that you can have a righteous public only by the slow process of having righteous men and women, knew that he meant something much nearer home to each of his hearers when he preached the old Christ- humanity to them, and enforced again the lessons that no one for good or for evil, for sorrow or joy, for sickness or health, stood apart from his fellows, but each was bound to the highest and the lowest by ties that centred in the hand of God. No man, he said, sinned or suffered to himself alone; his error and his pain darkened and afflicted men who never heard of his name. If a community was corrupt, if an age was immoral, it was not because of the vicious, but the virtuous who fancied themselves indifferent spectators. It was not the tyrant who oppressed, it was the wickedness that had made him possible. The gospel—Christ—God, so far as men had imagined him,—was but a lesson, a type, a witness from everlasting to everlasting of the spiritual unity of man. As we grew in grace, in humanity, in civilisation, our recognition of this truth would be transfigured from a duty to a privilege, a joy, a heavenly rapture. Many men might go through life harmlessly without realising this, perhaps, but sterilely; only those who had had the care of others laid upon them, lived usefully, fruitfully. Let no one shrink from such a burden, or seek to rid himself of it. Rather let him bind it fast upon his neck, and rejoice in it. The wretched, the foolish, the ignorant whom we found at every turn, were something more; they were the messengers of God, sent to tell his secret to any that would hear it. Happy he in whose ears their cry for help was a perpetual voice, for that man, whatever his creed, knew God and could never forget him. In his responsibility for his weaker brethren he was Godlike, for God was but the impersonation of loving responsibility, of infinite and never-ceasing care for us all.
When Sewell came down from his pulpit, many people came up to speak to him of his sermon. Some of the women's faces showed the traces of tears, and each person had made its application to himself. There were two or three who had heard between the words. Old Bromfield Corey, who was coming a good deal more to church since his eyes began to fail him, because it was a change and a sort of relief from being read to, said—
"I didn't know that they had translated it Barker in the revised version. Well, you must let me know how he's getting on, Sewell, and give me a chance at the revelation, too, if he ever gets troublesome to you again."
Miss Vane was standing at the door with his wife when Sewell came out. She took his hand and pressed it.
"Do you think I threw away my chance?" she demanded. She had her veil down, and at first Sewell thought it was laughter that shook her voice, but it was not that.
He did not know quite what to say, but he did say, "He was sent to me.'"
As they walked off alone, his wife said—
"Well, David, I hope you haven't preached away all your truth and righteousness."
"I know what you mean, my dear," answered Sewell humbly. He added, "You shall remind me if I seem likely to forget." But he concluded seriously, "If I thought I could never do anything more for Barker, I should be very unhappy; I should take it as a sign that I had been recreant to my charge."
The minister heard directly from Barker two or three times during the winter, and as often through Statira, who came to see Mrs. Sewell. Barker had not got the place he had hoped for at once, but he had got a school in the country a little way off, and he was doing something; and he expected to do better.
The winter proved a very severe one. "I guess it's just as well I stayed in town," said Statira, the last time she came, with a resignation which Mrs. Sewell, fond of the ideal in others as most ladies are, did not like. "'Manda Grier says 'twould killed me up there; and I d' know but what it would. I done so well here, since the cold weather set in that 'Manda Grier she thinks I hadn't better get married right away; well, not till it comes summer, anyway. I tell her I guess she don't want I should get married at all, after all she done to help it along first off. Her and Mr. Barker don't seem to get along very well."
Now that Statira felt a little better acquainted with Mrs. Sewell, she dropped the genteel elongation of her final syllables, and used such vernacular forms of speech as came first to her. The name of 'Manda Grier seemed to come in at every fourth word with her, and she tired Mrs. Sewell with visits which she appeared unable to bring to a close of herself.
A long relief from them ended in an alarm for her health with Mrs. Sewell, who went to find her. She found her still better than before, and Statira frankly accounted for her absence by saying that 'Manda thought she had better not come any more till Mrs. Sewell returned some of her calls. She laughed, and then she said—
"I don't know as you'd found me here if you'd come much later. 'Manda Grier don't want I should be here in the east winds, now it's coming spring so soon; and she's heard of a chance at a box factory in Philadelphia. She wants I should go there with her, and I don't know but what it would be about the best thing."
Mrs. Sewell could not deny the good sense of the plan, though she was sensible of liking Statira less and less for it.
The girl continued: "Lem—Mr. Barker, I should say—wants I should come up there, out the east winds. But 'Manda Grier she's opposed to it: she thinks I'd ought to have more of a mild climate, and he better come down there and get a school if he wants me too," Statira broke into an impartial little titter. "I'm sure I don't know which of 'em 'll win the day!"
Mrs. Sewell's report of this speech brought a radiant smile of relief to Sewell's face. "Ah, well, then! That settles it! I feel perfectly sure that 'Manda Grier will win the day. That poor, sick, flimsy little Statira is completely under 'Manda Grier's thumb, and will do just what she says, now that there's no direct appeal from her will to Barker's; they will never be married. Don't you see that it was 'Manda Grier's romance in the beginning, and that when she came to distrust, to dislike Barker, she came to dislike her romance too—to hate it?"
"Well, don't you romance him, David," said Mrs. Sewell, only conditionally accepting his theory.
Yet it may be offered to the reader as founded in probability and human nature. In fact, he may be assured here that the marriage which eventually took place was not that of Lemuel with Statira; though how the union, which was not only happiness for those it joined, but whatever is worthier and better in life than happiness, came about, it is aside from the purpose of this story to tell, and must be left for some future inquiry.