"It is perfectly impossible, Aunt Sylvia," Rose had declared, and Sylvia had listened. She listened with much more docility than at first to the decrees of sophistication.
"The painting ain't nearly as natural," she had said, feebly, regarding the moss rosebuds on a Calkin's soap plate with fluctuating admiration which caused her pain by its fluctuations.
"Oh, but, Aunt Sylvia, to think of comparing for one minute ware like that with this perfectly wonderful old willow ware!" Rose had said.
"Well, have your own way," said Sylvia, with a sigh. "Maybe I can get used to everything all blue, when it ain't blue, after awhile. I know you have been around more than I have, and you ought to know."
So the gold-and-white ware which had belonged to Sylvia's mother decked the breakfast-table and the willow ware did duty for the rest of the time. "I think it is very much better that you have no maid," Rose said. "I simply would not trust a maid to care for china like this."
Rose took care of her room now, and very daintily. "She'll be real capable after awhile," Sylvia told Henry.
"I didn't know as she'd be contented to stay at all, we live so different from the way she's been used to," said Henry.
"It's the way her mother was brought up, and the way she lived, and what's in the blood will work out," said Sylvia. "Then, too, I guess she didn't care any too much about those folks she lived with. For my part, I think it's the queerest thing I ever heard of that Miss Farrel, if she took such a notion to the child, enough to do so much for her, didn't keep her herself."
"Miss Farrel was a queer woman," said Henry.
"I guess she wasn't any too well balanced," agreed Sylvia.
"What do you suppose tired Rose out so much this morning?" asked Henry. "It isn't such a very long ride to Alford."
"I don't know. She looked like a ghost when she got home. I'm glad she's laying down. I hope she'll get a little nap."
That was after dinner, when the house had been set in order, and Sylvia was at one front window in the cool sitting-room, with a basket of mending, and Henry at another with a library book. Henry was very restless in these days. He pottered about the place and was planning to get in a good hay crop, but this desultory sort of employment did not take the place of his regular routine of toil. He missed it horribly, almost as a man is said to miss a pain of long standing. He knew that he was better off without it, that he ought to be happier, but he knew that he was not.
For years he had said bitterly that he had no opportunity for reading and improving his mind. Now he had opportunity, but it was too late. He could not become as interested in a book as he had been during the few moments he had been able to snatch from his old routine of toil. Some days it seemed to Henry that he must go back to the shop, that he could not live in this way. He had begun to lose all interest in what he had anticipated with much pleasure—the raising of grass on Abrahama White's celebrated land. He felt that he knew nothing about such work, that agriculture was not for him. If only he could stand again at his bench in the shop, and cut leather into regular shapes, he felt that while his hands toiled involuntarily his mind could work. Some days he fairly longed so for the old familiar odor of tanned hides, that odor which he had once thought sickened him, that he would go to the shop and stand by the open door, and inhale the warm rush of leather-scented air with keen relish. But he never told this to Sylvia.
Henry was not happy. At times it seemed to him that he really wished that he and Sylvia had never met with this good-fortune. Once he turned on Sidney Meeks with a fierce rejoinder, when Sidney had repeated the sarcasm which he loved to roll beneath his tongue like a honeyed morsel, that if he did not want his good-fortune it was the easiest thing in the world to relinquish it.
"It ain't," said Henry; "and what's more, you know it ain't. Sylvia don't want to give it up, and I ain't going to ask her. You know I can't get rid of it, but it's true what I say: when good things are so long coming they get sour, like most things that are kept too long. What's the use of a present your hands are too cramped to hold?"
Sidney looked gravely at Henry, who had aged considerably during the last few weeks. "Well, I am ready to admit," he said, "that sometimes the mills of the gods grind so slow and small that the relish is out of things when you get them. I'm willing to admit that if I had to-day what I once thought I couldn't live without, I'd give up beat. Once I thought I'd like to have the biggest law practice of any lawyer in the State. If I had it now I'd be ready to throw it all up. It would come too late. Now I'd think it was more bother than it was worth. How'd I make my wines and get any comfort out of life? Yes, I guess it's true, Henry, when Providence is overlong in giving a man what he wants, it contrives somehow to suck the sweetness out of what he gets, though he may not know it, and when what he thought he wanted does come to him it is like a bee trying to make honey out of a flower that doesn't hold any. Why don't you go back to the shop, Henry, and have done with it?"
"Sylvia—" began Henry.
But Sidney cut in. "If you haven't found out," said he, "that in the long-run doing what is best for yourself is doing what's best for the people who love you best, you haven't found out much."
"I don't know," Henry said, in a puzzled, weary way. "Sometimes it seems to me I can't keep on living the way I am living, and live at all; and then I don't know."
"I know," said Sidney. "Get back to your tracks."
"Sylvia would feel all cut up over it. She wouldn't understand."
"Of course she wouldn't understand, but women always end in settling down to things they don't understand, when they get it through their heads it's got to be, and being just as contented, unless they're the kind who fetch up in lunatic asylums, and Sylvia isn't that kind. The inevitable may be a hard pill for her to swallow, but it will never stick in her throat."
Henry shook his head doubtfully. He had been thinking it over since. He had thought of it a good deal after dinner that day, as he sat with the unread book in his lap. Sylvia's remarks about Rose diverted his attention, then he began thinking again. Sylvia watched him furtively as she sewed. "You ain't reading that book at all," she said. "I have been watching you, and you 'ain't turned a single page since I spoke last."
"I don't see why I should," returned Henry. "I don't see why anybody but a fool should ever open the book, to begin with."
"What is the book?"
Henry looked at the title-page. "It is Whatever, by Mrs. Fane Raymond," he said, absently.
"I've heard it was a beautiful book."
"Most women would like it," said Henry. "It seems to be a lot written about a fool woman that didn't know what she wanted, by another fool woman who didn't know, either, and was born cross-eyed as to right and wrong."
"Why, Henry Whitman, it ain't true!"
"I suppose it ain't."
"No book is true—that is, no story."
"If it ain't true, so much the less reason to tell such a pack of stupid lies," said Henry. He closed the book with a snap.
"Why, Henry, ain't you going to finish it?"
"No, I ain't. I'm going back to the shop to work."
"Henry Whitman, you ain't!"
"Yes, I am. As for pottering round here, and trying to get up an interest in things I ought to have begun instead of ended in, and setting round reading books that I can't keep my mind on, and if I do, just get madder and madder, I won't. I'm going back to work with my hands the way I've been working the last forty years, and then I guess I'll get my mind out of leading-strings."
"Henry Whitman, be you crazy?"
"No, but I shall be if I set round this way much longer."
"You don't need to do a mite of work."
"You don't suppose it's the money I'm thinking about! It's the work."
"What will folks say?"
"I don't care what they say."
"Henry Whitman, I thought I knew you, but I declare it seems as if I have never known you at all," Sylvia said. She looked at him with her puzzled, troubled eyes, in which tears were gathering. She was still very pale.
A sudden pity for her came over Henry. After all, he ought to try to make his position clear to her. "Sylvia," he said, "what do you think you would do, after all these years of housekeeping, if you had to stand in a shoe-shop, from morning till night, at a bench cutting leather?"
Sylvia stared at him. "Me?"
"Why, you know I couldn't do it, Henry Whitman!"
"Well, no more can I stand such a change in my life. I can't go to farming and setting around after forty years in a shoe-shop, any more than you can work in a shoe-shop after forty years of housekeeping."
"It ain't the same thing at all," said Sylvia.
"Because it ain't." Sylvia closed her thin lips conclusively. This, to her mind, was reasoning which completely blocked all argument.
Henry looked at her hopelessly. "I didn't suppose you would understand," he said.
"I don't see why you thought so," said Sylvia. "I guess I have a mind capable of understanding as much as a man. There is no earthly sense in your going to work in the shop again, with all our money. What would folks say, and why do you want to do it?"
"I have told you why."
"You haven't told me why at all."
Henry said no more. He looked out of the window with a miserable expression. The beautiful front yard, with its box-bordered flower-beds, did not cheer him with the sense of possession. He heard a bird singing with a flutelike note; he heard bees humming over the flowers, and he longed to hear, instead, the buzz and whir of machines which had become the accompaniment of his song of life. A terrible isolation and homesickness came over him. He thought of the humble little house in which he and Sylvia had lived so many years, and a sort of passion of longing for it seized him. He felt that for the moment he fairly loathed all this comparative splendor with which he was surrounded.
"What do you think she would say if you went back to the shop?" asked Sylvia. She jerked her head with an upward, sidewise movement towards Rose's room.
"She may not be contented to live here very long, anyway. It's likely that when the summer's over she'll begin to think of her fine friends in New York, and want to lead the life she's been used to again," said Henry. "It ain't likely it would make much difference to her."
Sylvia looked at Henry as he had never seen her look before. She spoke with a passion of utterance of which he had never thought her capable. "She is going to stay right here in her aunt Abrahama's house, and have all she would have had if there hadn't been any will," said she, fiercely.
"You would make her stay if she didn't want to?" said Henry, gazing at her wonderingly.
"She's got to want to stay," said Sylvia, still with the same strange passion. "There'll be enough going on; you needn't worry. I'm going to have parties for her, if she wants them. She says she's been used to playing cards, and you know how we were brought up about cards—to think they were wicked. Well, I don't care if they are wicked. If she wants them she's going to have card-parties, and prizes, too, though I 'most know it's as bad as gambling. And if she wants to have dancing-parties (she knows how to dance) she's going to have them, too. I don't think there's six girls in East Westland who know how to dance, but there must be a lot in Alford, and the parlor is big enough for 'most everything. She shall have every mite as much going on as she would have in New York. She sha'n't miss anything. I'm willing to have some dinners with courses, too, if she wants them, and hire Hannah Simmons's little sister to wait on the table, with a white cap on her head and a white apron with a bib. I'm willing Rose shall have everything she wants. And then, you know, Henry, there's the church sociables and suppers all winter, and she'll like to go to them; and they will most likely get up a lecture and concert course. If she can't be every mite as lively here in East Westland as in New York, if I set out to have her, I'll miss my guess. There's lots of beautiful dresses up-stairs that belonged to her aunt, and I'm going to have the dressmaker come here and make some over for her. It's no use talking, she's going to stay."
"Well, I am sure I hope she will," said Henry, still regarding his wife with wonder.
"She is going to, and if she does stay, you know you can't go back to work in the shop, Henry Whitman. I'd like to know how you think you could set down to the table with her, smelling of leather the way you used to."
"There might be worse smells."
"That's just because you are used to it."
"That's just it," cried Henry, pathetically. "Can't you get it through your head, Sylvia? It is because I'm used to it. Can't you see it's kind of dangerous to turn a man out of his tracks after he's been in them so long?"
"There ain't any need for you to work in the shop. We've got plenty of money without," said Sylvia, settling back immovably in her chair, and Henry gave it up.
Sylvia considered that she had won the victory. She began sewing again. Henry continued to look out of the window.
"She is a delicate little thing, and I guess it's mighty lucky for her that she came to live in the country just as she did," Sylvia observed.
"I suppose you know what's bound to happen if she and Mr. Allen stay on in the same house," said Henry. "As far as I am concerned, I think it would be a good arrangement. Mr. Allen has a good salary, and she has enough to make up for what he can't do; and I would like to keep the child here myself, but I somehow thought you didn't like the idea."
Again Sylvia turned white, and stared at her husband almost with horror. "I don't see why you think it is bound to happen," said she.
Henry laughed. "It doesn't take a very long head to think so."
"It sha'n't happen. That child ain't going to marry anybody."
"Sylvia, you don't mean that you want her to be an old maid!"
"It's the best thing for any girl, if she only thought so, to be an old maid," said Sylvia.
Henry laughed a little. "That's a compliment to me."
"I ain't saying anything against you. I've been happy enough, and I suppose I've been better off than if I'd stayed single; but Rose has got enough to live on, and what any girl that's got enough to live on wants to get married for beats me."
Henry laughed again, a little bitterly this time. "Then you wouldn't have married me if you had had enough to live on?" he said.
Sylvia looked at him, and an odd, shamed tenderness came into her elderly face. "There's no use talking about what wasn't, anyway," said she, and Henry understood.
After a little while Sylvia again brought up the subject of Horace and Rose. She was evidently very uneasy about it. "I don't see why you think because a young man and girl are in the same house anything like that is bound to happen," said she.
"Well, perhaps not; maybe it won't," said Henry, soothingly. He saw that it troubled Sylvia, and it had always been an unwritten maxim with him that Sylvia should not be troubled if it could be helped. He knew that he himself was about to trouble her, and why should she be vexed, in addition, about an uncertainty, as possibly this incipient love-affair might be. After all, why should it follow that because a young man and a girl lived in the same house they should immediately fall in love? And why should it not be entirely possible that they might have a little love-making without any serious consequences? Horace had presumably paid a little attention to girls before, and it was very probable that Rose had received attention. Why bother about such a thing as this when poor Sylvia would really be worried over his, Henry's, return to his old, humble vocation?
For Henry, as he sat beside the window that pleasant afternoon, was becoming more and more convinced it must happen. It seemed to him that his longing was gradually strengthening into a purpose which he could not overcome. It seemed to him that every flutelike note of a bird in the pleasance outside served to make this purpose more unassailable, as if every sweet flower-breath and every bee-hum, every drawing of his wife's shining needle through the white garment which she was mending, all served to render his purpose so settled a thing that any change in it was as impossible as growth in a granite ledge. That very day Henry had been approached by the superintendent of Lawson & Fisher's, where he had worked, and told that his place, which had been temporarily filled, was vacant and ready for him. He had said that he must consider the matter, but he had known in his heart that the matter admitted of no consideration. He looked gloomy as he sat there with his unread book in his hand, yet gradually an eager, happy light crept into his eyes.
After supper he told Sylvia he was going down to the store. He did go, but on his way he stopped at the superintendent's house and told that he would report for work in the morning.
Rose had not come down to supper. Henry had wondered why, and sympathized in part with Sylvia's anxiety. Still, he had a vague feeling that a young girl's not coming down to supper need not be taken very seriously, that young girls had whims and fancies which signified nothing, and that it was better to let them alone until they got over them. He knew that Sylvia, however, would take the greatest comfort in coddling the girl, and he welcomed the fact as conducing to his making his arrangements for the next day. He thought that Sylvia would not have the matter in mind at all, since she had the girl to fuss over, and that she would not ask him any questions. On his way home he stopped at Sidney Meeks's. He found the lawyer in a demoralized dining-room, which had, nevertheless, an air of homely comfort, with its chairs worn into hollows to fit human anatomies, and its sideboard set out with dusty dishes and a noble ham. Meeks was a very good cook, although one could not confidently assert that dust and dirt did not form a part of his ingredients. One of his triumphs was ham cooked in a manner which he claimed to have invented. After having been boiled, it was baked, and frequently basted in a way which Meeks kept as secret as the bouquet of his grape wine. Sidney sat at the table eating bread and ham spread with mustard, and there were also a mysterious pie in reserve and a bottle of wine. "Draw up, Henry," said Sidney.
"I've had supper."
"Sylvia had chicken salad and flapjacks and hot biscuits."
Sidney sniffed. "Cut a slice off that ham," he ordered, "and draw a chair up. Not that one; you'll go through. Yes, that's right. Bring over another wineglass while you're about it. This is daisy wine, ten years old. I've got a pie here that I'll be willing to stake your fortune you can't analyze. It's after the pattern of the cold pasties you read about in old English novels. You shall guess what's in it. Draw up."
Henry obeyed. He found himself sitting opposite Sidney, eating and drinking with intense enjoyment. Sidney chuckled. "Good?" said he.
"I don't know when my victuals have tasted right before," said Henry. He received a large wedge of the pie on his plate, and his whole face beamed with the first taste.
Sidney leaned across the table and whispered. "Squabs," said he, "and—robins, big fat ones. I shot 'em night before last. It's all nonsense the fuss folks make about robins, and a lot of other birds, as far as that goes—damned sentiment. Year before last I hadn't a bushel of grapes on my vines because the robins stole them, and not a half-bushel of pears on that big seckel-pear-tree. If they'd eaten them up clean I wouldn't have felt so bad, but there the ground would be covered with pears rotted on account of one little peck. They are enough sight better to be on women's bonnets than eating up folks' substance, though I don't promulgate that doctrine abroad. And one thing I ain't afraid to say: big fat robins ought to be made some use of. This pie is enough sight more wholesome for the bodies of men who have immortal souls dependent a little on what is eaten, in spite of the preaching, than Western tainted beef. I made up my mind that pie was the natural destiny of a robin, and I make squab-and-robin pies every week of my life. The robins are out of mischief in that pie, and they are doing us good. What makes you look so, though, Henry? There's something besides my pie and ham and wine that gives that look to your face."
"I'm going back to the shop to-morrow," said Henry.
Sidney looked at him. "Most folks would say you were an uncommon fool," said he. "I suppose you know that."
"I can't help it," said Henry, happily. Along with the savory pie in his mouth came a subtler relish to his very soul. The hunger of the honest worker who returns to his work was being appeased.
While Henry was at Sidney Meeks's, Horace sat alone smoking and reading the evening paper. He kept looking up from the paper and listening. He was hoping that Rose, in spite of the fact that she had not been able to come down to supper, might yet make her appearance. He speculated on her altered looks and manner at dinner. He could not help being a little anxious, in spite of all Mrs. Ayres's assurances and the really vague nature of his own foreboding. He asked himself if he had had from the beginning anything upon which to base suspicion. Given the premises of an abnormal girl with a passion for himself which humiliated him, an abnormal woman like Miss Farrel with a similar passion, albeit under better control, the melodramatic phases of the candy, and sudden death, and traces of arsenical poison, what should be the conclusion?
He himself had eaten some of presumably the same candy with no ill effects. Mrs. Ayres had assured him of her constant watchfulness over her daughter, who was no doubt in an alarmingly nervous state, but was she necessarily dangerous? He doubted if Mrs. Ayres had left the two girls a moment to themselves during the drive. What possible reason, after all, had he for alarm?
When he heard Sylvia mounting the stairs, and caught a glimpse of a little tray borne carefully, he gave up all hope of Rose's coming down. Presently he went out and walked down the village street, smoking. As he passed out of the yard he glanced up at Rose's windows, and saw the bright light behind the curtains. He felt glad that the girl had a woman like Sylvia to care for her.
As he looked Sylvia's shadow passed between the window and the light. It had, in its shadowy enlargement, a benignant aspect. There was an angelic, motherly bend to the vague shoulders. Sylvia was really in her element. She petted and scolded the girl, whom she found flung upon her bed like a castaway flower, sobbing pitifully.
"What on earth is the matter?" demanded Sylvia, in a honeyed tone, which at once stung and sweetened. "Here you are in the dark, crying and going without your victuals. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
As she spoke Sylvia struck a match and lit the lamp. Rose buried her face deeper in the bed.
"I don't want any lamp," she gasped.
"Don't want any lamp? Ain't you ashamed of yourself? I should think you were a baby. You are going to have a lamp, and you are going to sit up and eat your supper." Sylvia drew down the white shades carefully, then she bent over the girl. She did not touch her, but she was quivering with maternal passion which seemed to embrace without any physical contact. "Now, what is the matter?" she said.
"What is the matter?" repeated Sylvia, insistently.
Suddenly Rose sat up. "Nothing is the matter," she said. "I am just nervous." She made an effort to control her face. She smiled at Sylvia with her wet eyes and swollen mouth. She resolutely dabbed at her flushed face with a damp little ball of handkerchief.
Sylvia turned to the bureau and took a fresh handkerchief from the drawer. She sprinkled it with some toilet water that was on the dressing-table, and gave it to Rose. "Here is a clean handkerchief," she said, "and I've put some of your perfumery on it. Give me the other."
Rose took the sweet-smelling square of linen and tried to smile again. "I just got nervous," she said.
"Set down here in this chair," said Sylvia, "and I'll draw up the little table, and I want you to eat your supper. I've brought up something real nice for you."
"Thank you, Aunt Sylvia; you're a dear," said Rose, pitifully, "but—I don't think I can eat anything." In spite of herself the girl's face quivered again and fresh tears welled into her eyes. She passed her scented handkerchief over them. "I am not a bit hungry," she said, brokenly.
Sylvia drew a large, chintz-covered chair forward. "Set right down in this chair," she said, firmly. And Rose slid weakly from the bed and sank into the chair. She watched, with a sort of dull gratitude, while Sylvia spread a little table with a towel and set out the tray.
"There," said she. "Here is some cream toast and some of those new pease, and a little chop, spring lamb, and a cup of tea. Now you just eat every mite of it, and then I've got a saucer of strawberries and cream for you to top off with."
Rose looked hopelessly at the dainty fare. Then she looked at Sylvia. The impulse to tell another woman her trouble got the better of her. If women had not other women in whom to confide, there are times when their natures would be too much for them. "I heard some news this morning," said she. She attempted to make her voice exceedingly light and casual.
"I heard about Mr. Allen's engagement."
"Engagement to who?"
"Lucy Ayres. She seems to be a very sweet girl. She is very pretty. I hope she will make him very happy." Rose's voice trembled with sad hypocrisy.
"Who told you?" demanded Sylvia.
"She told me herself."
"Did her mother hear it?"
"She did, but I think she did not understand. Lucy spoke in French. She talks French very well. She studied with Miss Farrel, you know. I think Lucy has done all in her power to fit herself to become a good wife for an educated man."
"What did she tell you in French for? Why didn't she speak in English?"
"I don't know."
"Well, I know. She did it so her mother wouldn't hear, and say in English that she was telling an awful whopper. Mr. Allen is no more engaged to Lucy Ayres than I am."
Rose gazed at Sylvia with sudden eagerness. "What makes you think so, Aunt Sylvia?"
"Nothing makes me think what I know. Mr. Allen has never paid any attention to Lucy Ayres, beyond what he couldn't help, and she's made a mountain out of a mole-hill. Lucy Ayres is man-crazy, that's all. You needn't tell me."
"Then you don't think—?"
"I know better. I'll ask Mr. Allen."
"If you asked him it would make it very hard for him if it wasn't so," said Rose.
"I don't see why."
"Mr. Allen is a gentleman, and he could not practically accuse a woman of making an unauthorized claim of that sort," said Rose.
"Well, I won't say anything about it to him if you think I had better not," said Sylvia, "but I must say I think it's pretty hard on a man to have a girl going round telling folks he's engaged to her when he ain't. Eat that lamb chop and them pease while they're hot."
"I am going to. They are delicious. I didn't think I was hungry at all, but to have things brought up this way—"
"You've got to eat a saucer of strawberries afterwards," said Sylvia, happily.
She watched the girl eat, and she was in a sort of ecstasy, which was, nevertheless, troubled. After a while, when Rose had nearly finished the strawberries, Sylvia ventured a remark.
"Lucy Ayres is a queer girl," said she. "I've known all about her for some time. She has been thinking young men were in love with her, when they never had an idea of such a thing, ever since she was so high."
Sylvia indicated by her out-stretched hand a point about a foot and a half from the floor.
"It seems as if she must have had some reason sometimes," said Rose, with an impulse of loyalty towards the other girl. "She is very pretty."
"As far as I know, no young man in East Westland has ever thought of marrying her," said Sylvia. "I think myself they are afraid of her. It doesn't do for a girl to act too anxious to get married. She just cuts her own nose off."
"I have never seen her do anything unbecoming," began Rose; then she stopped, for Lucy's expression, which had caused a revolt in her, was directly within her mental vision.
It seemed as if Sylvia interpreted her thought. "I have seen her making eyes," said she.
Rose was silent. She realized that she, also, had seen poor Lucy making eyes.
"What a girl is so crazy to get married for, anyway, when she has a good mother and a good home, I can't see," said Sylvia, leading directly up to the subject in the secret place of her mind.
Rose blushed, with apparently no reason. "But she can't have her mother always, you know, Aunt Sylvia," said she.
"Her mother's folks are awful long-lived."
"But Lucy is younger. In the course of nature she will outlive her mother, and then she will be all alone."
"What if she is? 'Ain't she got her good home and money enough to be independent? Lucy won't need to lift a finger to earn money if she's careful."
"I always thought it would be very dreadful to live alone," Rose said, with another blush.
"Well, she needn't be alone. There's plenty of women always in want of a home. No woman need live alone if she don't want to."
"But it isn't quite like—" Rose hesitated.
"It wouldn't seem quite so much as if you had your own home, would it, as if—" Rose hesitated again.
Sylvia interrupted her. "A girl is a fool to get married if she's got money enough to live on," said she.
"Why, Aunt Sylvia, wouldn't you have married Uncle Henry if you had had plenty of money?" asked the girl, exactly as Henry had done.
Sylvia colored faintly. "That was a very different matter," said she.
"Because it was," said Sylvia, bringing up one of her impregnable ramparts against argument.
But the girl persisted. "I don't see why," she said.
Sylvia colored again. "Well, for one thing, your uncle Henry is one man in a thousand," said she. "I know every silly girl thinks she has found just that man, but it's only once in a thousand times she does; and she's mighty lucky if she don't find out that the man in a thousand is another woman's husband, when she gets her eyes open. Then there's another thing: nothing has ever come betwixt us."
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean we've had no family," said Sylvia, firmly, although her color deepened. "I know you think it's awful for me to say such a thing, but look right up and down this street at the folks that got married about the same time Henry and I did. How many of them that's had families 'ain't had reason to regret it? I tell you what it is, child, girls don't know everything. It's awful having children, and straining every nerve to bring them up right, and then to have them go off in six months in consumption, the way the Masons lost their three children, two boys and a girl. Or to worry and fuss until you are worn to a shadow, the way Mrs. George Emerson has over her son, and then have him take to drink. There wasn't any consumption in the Mason family on either side in a straight line, but the three children all went with it. And there ain't any drink in the Emerson family, on her side or his, all as straight as a string, but Mrs. Everson was a Weaver, and she had a great-uncle who drank himself to death. I don't believe there's a family anywhere around that hasn't got some dreadful thing in it to leak out, when you don't expect it, in children. Sometimes it only leaks in a straight line, and sometimes it leaks sidewise. You never know. Now here's my family. I was a White, you know, like your aunt Abrahama. There's consumption in our family, the worst kind. I never had any doubt but what Henry and I would have lost our children, if we'd had any."
"But you didn't have any," said Rose, in a curiously naive and hopeful tone.
"We are the only ones of all that got married about the time we did who didn't have any," said Sylvia, in her conclusive tone.
"But, Aunt Sylvia," said Rose, "you wouldn't stop everybody's getting married? Why, there wouldn't be any people in the world in a short time."
"There's some people in the world now that would be a good sight better off out of it, for themselves and other folks," said Sylvia.
"Then you don't think anybody ought to get married?"
"If folks want to be fools, let them. Nothing I can say is going to stop them, but I'll miss my guess if some of the girls that get married had the faintest idea what they were going into they would stop short, if it sent them over a rail-fence. Folks can't tell girls everything, but marriage is an awful risk, an awful risk. And I say, as I said before, any girl who has got enough to live on is a fool to get married."
"But I don't see why, after all."
"Because she is," replied Sylvia.
This time Rose did not attempt to bruise herself against the elder woman's imperturbability. She did not look convinced, but again the troubled expression came over her face.
"I am glad you relished your supper," said Sylvia.
"It was very nice," replied Rose, absently. Suddenly the look of white horror which had overspread her countenance on the night of her arrival possessed it again.
"What on earth is the matter?" cried Sylvia.
"I almost remembered, then," gasped the girl. "You know what I told you the night I came. Don't let me remember, Aunt Sylvia. I think I shall die if I ever do."
Sylvia was as white as the girl, but she rose briskly. "There's nothing to remember," she said. "You're nervous, but I'm going to make some of that root-beer of mine to-morrow. It has hops in it, and it's real quieting. Now you stop worrying, and wait a minute. I've got something to show you. Here, you look at this book you've been reading, and stop thinking. I'll be back in a minute. I've just got to step into the other chamber."
Sylvia was back in a moment. She never was obliged to hesitate for a second as to the whereabouts of any of her possessions. She had some little boxes in her hand, and one rather large one under her arm. Rose looked at them with interest. "What is it, Aunt Sylvia?" said she.
Sylvia laughed. "Something to show you that belongs to you," she said.
"Why, what have you got that belongs to me, Aunt Sylvia?"
"You wait a minute."
Sylvia and Rose both stood beside the white dressing-table, and Sylvia opened the boxes, one after another, and slowly and impressively removed their contents, and laid them in orderly rows on the white dimity of the table. The lamplight shone on them, and the table blazed like an altar with jewelled fires. Rose gasped. "Why, Aunt Sylvia!" said she.
"All these things belonged to your aunt Abrahama, and now they belong to you," said Sylvia, in a triumphant tone.
"Why, but these are perfectly beautiful things!"
"Yes; I don't believe anybody in East Westland ever knew she had them. I don't believe she could have worn them, even when she was a girl, or I should have heard of them. I found them all in her bureau drawer. She didn't even keep them under lock and key; but then she never went out anywhere, and if nobody even knew she had them, they were safe enough. Now they're all yours."
"But they belong to you, Aunt Sylvia."
Sylvia took up the most valuable thing there, a really good pearl necklace, and held it dangling from her skinny hand. "I should look pretty with this around my neck, shouldn't I?" she said. "I wanted to wear that pink silk, but when it comes to some things I ain't quite out of my mind. Here, try it on."
Rose clasped the necklace about her white, round throat, and smiled at herself in the glass. Rose wore a gown of soft, green China silk, and the pearls over its lace collar surrounded her face with soft gleams of rose and green.
"These amethysts are exquisite," said Rose, after she had done admiring herself. She took up, one after another, a ring, a bracelet, a necklace, a brooch, and ear-rings, all of clear, pale amethysts in beautiful settings.
"You could wear these," she said to Sylvia.
"I guess I sha'n't begin to wear jewelry at my time of life," declared Sylvia. Her voice sounded almost angry in its insistence. "Everything here is yours," she said, and nodded her head and set her mouth hard for further emphasis.
The display upon the dressing-table, although not of great value, was in reality rather unusual. All of the pieces were, of course, old, and there were more semi-precious than precious stones, but the settings were good and the whole enough to delight any girl. Rose hung over them in ecstasy. She had not many jewels. Somehow her income had never seemed to admit of jewels. She was pleased as a child. Finally she hung some pearl ear-rings over her ears by bits of white silk, her ears not being pierced. She allowed the pearl necklace to remain. She clasped on her arms some charming cameo bracelets and a heavy gold one set with a miniature of a lady. She covered her slender fingers with rings and pinned old brooches all over her bosom. She fastened a pearl spray in her hair, and a heavy shell comb. Then she fairly laughed out loud. "There!" said she to Sylvia, and laughed again.
Sylvia also laughed, and her laugh had the ring of a child's. "Don't you feel as if you were pretty well off as you are?" said she.
Rose sprang forward and hugged Sylvia. "Well off!" said she. "Well off! I never knew a girl who was better off. To think of my being here with you, and your being as good as a mother to me, and Uncle Henry as good as a father; and this dear old house; and to see myself fairly loaded down with jewels like a crown-princess. I never knew I liked such things so much. I am fairly ashamed."
Rose kissed Sylvia with such vehemence that the elder woman started back, then she turned again to her mirror. She held up her hands and made the gems flash with colored lights. There were several very good diamonds, although not of modern cut; there was a fairly superb emerald, also pearls and amethysts and green-blue turquoises, on her hands. Rose made a pounce upon a necklace of pink coral, and clasped it around her neck over the pearls.
"I have them all on now," she said, and her laugh rang out again.
Sylvia surveyed her with a sort of rapture. She had never heard of "Faust," but the whole was a New England version of the "Jewel Song." As Marguerite had been tempted to guilty love by jewels, so Sylvia was striving to have Rose tempted by jewels to innocent celibacy. But she was working by methods of which she knew nothing.
Rose gazed at herself in the glass. A rose flush came on her cheeks, her lips pouted redly, and her eyes glittered under a mist. She thrust her shining fingers through her hair, and it stood up like a golden spray over her temples. Rose at that minute was wonderful. Something akin to the gleam of the jewels seemed to have waked within her. She felt a warmth of love and ownership of which she had never known herself capable. She felt that the girl and her jewels, the girl who was the greatest jewel of all, was her very own. For the first time a secret anxiety and distress of mind, which she had confided to no one, was allayed. She said to herself that everything was as it should be. She had Rose, and Rose was happy. Then she thought how she had found the girl when she first entered the room, and had courage, seeing her as she looked now, to ask again: "What was the matter? Why were you crying?"
Rose turned upon her with a smile of perfect radiance. "Nothing at all, dear Aunt Sylvia," she cried, happily. "Nothing at all."
Sylvia smiled. A smile was always somewhat of an effort for Sylvia, with her hard, thin lips, which had not been used to smiling. Sylvia had no sense of humor. Her smiles would never be possible except for sudden and unlooked-for pleasures, and those had been rare in her whole life. But now she smiled, and with her lips and her eyes. "Rose wasn't crying because she thought Mr. Allen was going to marry another girl," she told herself. "She was only crying because a girl is always full of tantrums. Now she is perfectly happy. I am able to make her perfectly happy. I know that all a girl needs in this world to make her happy and free from care is a woman to be a mother to her. I am making her see it. I can make up to her for everything. Everything is as it should be."
She stood gazing at Rose for a long moment before she spoke. "Well," said she, "you look like a whole jewelry shop. I don't see, for my part, how your aunt came to have so many—why she wanted them."
"Maybe they were given to her," said Rose. A tender thought of the dead woman who had gone from the house of her fathers, and left her jewels behind, softened her face. "Poor Aunt Abrahama!" said she. "She lived in this house all her life and was never married, and she must have come to think that all her pretty things had not amounted to much."
"I don't see why," said Sylvia. "I don't see that it was any great hardship to live all her life in this nice house, and I don't see what difference it made about her having nice things, whether she got married or not. It could not have made any difference."
"Why not?" asked Rose, looking at her with a mischievous flash of blue eyes. A long green gleam like a note of music shot out from the emerald on her finger as she raised it in a slight gesture. "To have all these beautiful things put away in a drawer, and never to have anybody see her in them, must have made some difference."
"It wouldn't make a mite," said Sylvia, stoutly.
"I don't see why."
"Because it wouldn't."
Rose laughed, and looked again at herself in the glass.
"Now you had better take off those things and go to bed, and try to go to sleep," said Sylvia.
"Yes, Aunt Sylvia," said Rose. But she did not stir, except to turn this way and that, to bring out more colored lights from the jewels.
Sylvia had to mix bread that night, and she was obliged to go. Rose promised that she would immediately go to bed, and kissed her again with such effusion that the older woman started back. The soft, impetuous kiss caused her cheek to fairly tingle as she went down-stairs and about her work. It should have been luminous from the light it made in her heart.
When Henry came home, with a guilty sense of what he was to do next day, and which he had not courage enough to reveal, he looked at his wife with relief at her changed expression. "I declare, Sylvia, you look like yourself to-night," he said. "You've been looking kind of curious to me lately."
"You imagined it," said Sylvia. She had finished mixing the bread, and had washed her hands and was wiping them on the roller-towel in the kitchen.
"Maybe I did," admitted Henry. "You look like yourself to-night, anyhow. How is Rose?"
"Rose is all right. Young girls are always getting nervous kinks. I took her supper up to her, and she ate every mite, and now I have given her her aunt's jewelry and she's tickled to pieces with it, standing before the looking-glass and staring at herself like a little peacock." Sylvia laughed with tender triumph.
"I suppose now she'll be decking herself out, and every young man in East Westland will be after her," said Henry. He laughed, but a little bitterly. He, also, was not altogether unselfish concerning the proprietorship of this young thing which had come into his elderly life. He was not as Sylvia, but although he would have denied it he privately doubted if even Horace was quite good enough for this girl. When it came to it, in his heart of hearts, he doubted if any but the fatherly love which he himself gave might be altogether good for her.
"Rose is perfectly contented just the way she is," declared Sylvia, turning upon him. "I shouldn't be surprised if she lived out her days here, just as her aunt did."
"Maybe it would be the best thing," said Henry. "She's got us as long as we live." Henry straightened himself as he spoke. Since his resolve to resume his work he had felt years younger. Lately he had been telling himself miserably that he was an old man, that his life-work was over. To-night the pulses of youth leaped in his veins. He was so pleasantly excited that after he and Sylvia had gone to bed it was long before he fell asleep, but he did at last, and just in time for Rose and Horace.
Rose, after Sylvia went down-stairs, had put out her light and sat down beside the window gazing out into the night. She still wore her jewels. She could not bear to take them off. It was a beautiful night. The day had been rather warm, but the night was one of coolness and peace. The moon was just rising. Rose could see it through the leafy branches of an opposite elm-tree. It seemed to be caught in the green foliage. New shadows were leaping out of the distance as the moon increased. The whole landscape was dotted with white luminosities which it was bliss not to explain, just to leave mysteries. Wonderful sweetnesses and fresh scents of growing things, dew-wet, came in her face.
Rose was very happy. Only an hour before she had been miserable, and now her whole spirit had leaped above her woe as with the impetus of some celestial fluid rarer than all the miseries of earth and of a necessity surmounting them. She looked out at the night, and it was to her as if that and the whole world was her jewel-casket, and the jewels therein were immortal, and infinite in possibilities of giving and receiving glory and joy. Rose thought of Horace, and a delicious thrill went over her whole body. Then she thought of Lucy Ayres, and felt both pity and a sort of angry and contemptuous repulsion. "How a girl can do so!" she thought.
Intuitively she knew that what she felt for Horace was a far nobler love than Lucy's. "Love—was it love, after all?" Rose did not know, but she gave her head a proud shake. "I never would put him in such a position, and lie about him, just because—" she said to herself.
She did not finish her sentence. Rose was innately modest even as to her own self-disclosures. Her emotions were so healthy that she had the power to keep them under the wings of her spirit, both to guard and hold the superior place. She had a feeling that Lucy Ayres's love for Horace was in a way an insult to him. After what Sylvia had said, she had not a doubt as to the falsity of what Lucy had told her during their drive. She and Lucy had been on the front seat of the carriage, when Lucy had intimated that there was an understanding between herself and Horace. She had spoken very low, in French, and Rose had been obliged to ask her to repeat her words. Immediately Lucy's mother's head was between the two girls, and the bunch of violets on her bonnet grazed Rose's ear.
"What are you saying?" she had asked Lucy, sharply. And Lucy had lied. "I said what a pleasant day it is," she replied.
"You said it in French."
"Next time say it in English," said Mrs. Ayres.
Of course, if Lucy had lied to her mother, she had lied to her. She had lied in two languages. "She must be a very strange girl," thought Rose. She resolved that she could not go to see Lucy very often, and a little pang of regret shot through her. She had been very ready to love poor Lucy.
Presently, as Rose sat beside the window, she heard footsteps on the gravel sidewalk outside the front yard, and then a man's figure came into view, like a moving shadow. She knew the figure was a man because there was no swing of skirts. Her heart beat fast when the man opened the front gate and shut it with a faint click. She wondered if it could be Horace, but immediately she saw, from the slightly sidewise shoulders and gait, that it was Henry Whitman. She heard him enter; she heard doors opened and closed. After a time she heard a murmur of voices. Then there was a flash of light across the yard, from a lighted lamp being carried through a room below. The light was reflected on the ceiling of her room. Then it vanished, and everything was quiet. Rose thought that Sylvia and Henry had retired for the night. She almost knew that Horace was not in the house. She had heard him go out after supper and she had not heard him enter. He had a habit of taking long walks on fine nights.
Rose sat and wondered. Once the suspicion smote her that possibly, after all, Lucy had spoken the truth, that Horace was with her. Then she dismissed the suspicion as unworthy of her. She recalled what Sylvia had said; she recalled how she herself had heard Lucy lie. She knew that Horace could not be fond of a girl like that, and he had known her quite a long time. Again Rose's young rapture and belief in her own happiness reigned. She sat still, and the moon at last sailed out of the feathery clasp of the elm branches, and the whole landscape was in a pale, clear glow. Then Horace came. Rose started up. She stood for an instant irresolute, then she stole out of her room and down the spiral stair very noiselessly. She opened the front door before Horace could insert his key in the latch.
Horace started back.
"Hush," whispered Rose. She stifled a laugh. "Step back out in the yard just a minute," she whispered.
Horace obeyed. He stepped softly back, and Rose joined him after she had closed the door with great care.
"Now come down as far as the gate, out of the shadows," whispered Rose. "I want to show you something."
The two stole down to the gate. Then Rose faced Horace in full glare of moonlight.
"Look at me," said she, and she stifled another laugh of pure, childish delight.
Horace looked. Only a few of the stones which Rose wore caught the moonlight to any extent, but she was all of a shimmer and gleam, like a creature decked with dewdrops.
"Look at me," she whispered again.
"I am looking."
"Do you see?"
"They are poor Aunt Abrahama's jewels. Aunt Sylvia gave them to me. Aren't they beautiful? Such lovely, old-fashioned settings. You can't half see in the moonlight. You shall see them by day."
"It is beautiful enough now," said Horace, with a sort of gasp. "Those are pearls around your neck?"
"Yes, really lovely pearls; and such carved pink coral! And look at the dear old pearl spray in my hair. Wait; I'll turn my head so the moon will show on it. Isn't it dear?"
"Yes, it is," replied Horace, regarding the delicate spray of seed pearls on Rose's head.
"And only look at these bracelets and these rings; and I had to tie the ear-rings on because my ears are not pierced. Would you have them pierced and wear them as they are—I believe ear-rings are coming into vogue again—or would you have them made into rings?"
"Rings," said Horace, emphatically.
"I think that will be better. I fancy the ear-rings dangling make me a little nervous already. See all these brooches, and the rings."
Rose held up her hands and twirled her ring-laden fingers, and laughed again.
"They are pretty large, most of the rings," said she. "There is one pearl and one emerald that are charming, and several of the dearest old-fashioned things. Think of poor Aunt Abrahama having all these lovely things packed away in a bureau drawer and never wearing them."
"I should rather have packed away my name," said Horace.
"So should I. Isn't it awful? The Abrahama is simply dreadful, and the way it comes down with a sort of whack on the White! Poor Aunt Abrahama! I feel almost guilty having all her pretty jewels and being so pleased with them."
"Oh, she would be pleased, too, if she knew."
"I don't know. She and my mother had been estranged for years, ever since my mother's marriage. Would she be pleased, do you think?"
"Of course she would, and as for the things themselves, they are fulfilling their mission."
Rose laughed. "Maybe jewels don't like to be shut up for years and years in a drawer, away from the light," said she. "They do seem almost alive. Look, you can really see the green in that emerald!"
Horace was trembling from head to foot. He could hardly reply.
"Why, you are shivering," said Rose. "Are you cold?"
"No—well, perhaps yes, a little. It is rather cool to-night after the hot day."
"Where have you been?"
"I walked to Tunbury and back."
"That is seven miles. That ought to have warmed you. Well, I think we must go in. I don't know what Aunt Sylvia would say."
"Why should she mind?"
"I don't know. She might not think I should have run out here as I did. I think all these jewels went to my head. Come. Please walk very softly."
"Come," repeated Rose, imperatively, and started.
The night before they had been on the verge of a love scene, now it seemed impossible, incongruous. Horace was full of tender longing, but he felt that to gratify it would be to pass the impossible.
"Please be very still," whispered Rose, when they had reached the house door. She herself began opening it, turning the knob by slow degrees. All the time she was stifling her laughter. Horace felt that the stifled laughter was the main factor in prohibiting the love-making.
Rose turned the knob and removed her hand as she pushed the door open; then something fell with a tiny tinkle on the stone step. Both stopped.
"One of my rings," whispered Rose.
Horace stooped and felt over the stone slab, and finally his hand struck the tiny thing.
"It's that queer little flat gold one," continued Rose, who was now serious.
A sudden boldness possessed Horace. "May I have it?" he said.
"It's not a bit pretty. I don't believe you can wear it."
Horace slipped the ring on his little finger. "It just fits."
"I don't care," Rose said, hesitatingly. "Aunt Sylvia gave me the things. I don't believe she will care. And there are two more flat gold rings, anyway. She will not notice, only perhaps I ought to tell her."
"If you think it will make any trouble for you—"
"Oh no; keep it. It is interesting because it is old-fashioned, and as far as giving it away is concerned, I could give away half of these trinkets. I can't go around decked out like this, nor begin to wear all the rings. I certainly never should have put that ring on again."
Horace felt daunted by her light valuation of it, but when he was in the house, and in his room, and neither Sylvia nor Henry had been awakened, he removed the thing and looked at it closely. All the inner surface was covered with a clear inscription, very clear, although of a necessity in minute characters—"Let love abide whate'er betide."
Horace laughed tenderly. "She has given me more than she knows," he thought.
Henry Whitman awoke the next morning with sensations of delight and terror. He found himself absolutely unable to rouse himself up to that pitch of courage necessary to tell Sylvia that he intended to return to his work in the shop. He said to himself that it would be better to allow it to become an accomplished fact before she knew it, that it would be easier for him. Luckily for his plans, the family breakfasted early.
Directly after he had risen from the table, Henry attempted to slip out of the house from the front door without Sylvia's knowledge. He had nearly reached the gate, and had a sensation of exultation like a child playing truant, when he heard Sylvia's voice.
"Henry!" she called. "Henry Whitman!"
Henry turned around obediently.
"Where are you going?" asked Sylvia.
She stood under the columns of the front porch, a meagre little figure of a woman dressed with severe and immaculate cheapness in a purple calico wrapper, with a checked gingham apron tied in a prim bow at her back. Her hair was very smooth. She was New England austerity and conservatism embodied. She was terrifying, although it would have puzzled anybody to have told why. Certain it was that no man would have had the temerity to contest her authority as she stood there. Henry waited near the gate.
"Where are you going?" asked Sylvia again.
"Down street," replied Henry.
"Whereabouts down street?"
Henry said again, with a meek doggedness, "Down street."
"Come here," said Sylvia.
Henry walked slowly towards her, between the rows of box. He was about three feet away when she spoke again. "Where are you going?" said she.
Sylvia looked at Henry, and he trembled inwardly. Had she any suspicion? When she spoke an immense relief overspread him. "I wish you'd go into the drug store and get me a quarter of a pound of peppermints," said she.
Then Henry knew that he had the best of it. Sylvia possessed what she considered an almost guilty weakness for peppermints. She never bought them herself, or asked him to buy them, without feeling humiliated. Her austere and dictatorial manner vanished at the moment she preferred the request for peppermints.
"Of course I'll get them," said Henry, with enthusiasm. He mentally resolved upon a pound instead of a quarter.
"I don't feel quite right in my stomach, and I think they're good for me," said Sylvia, still abjectly. Then she turned and went into the house. Henry started afresh. He felt renewed compunction at his deceit as he went on. It seemed hard to go against the wishes of that poor, little, narrow-chested woman who had had so little in life that a quarter of a pound of peppermints seemed too much for her to desire.
But Henry realized that he had not the courage to tell her. He went on. He had just about time to reach the shop before the whistle blew. As he neared the shop he became one of a stream of toilers pressing towards the same goal. Most of them were younger than he, and it was safe to assume none were going to work with the same enthusiasm. There were many weary, rebellious faces. They had not yet come to Henry's pass. Toil had not yet gotten the better of their freedom of spirit. They considered that they could think and live to better purpose without it. Henry had become its slave. He was his true self only when under the conditions of his slavery. He had toiled a few years longer than he should have done, to attain the ability to keep his head above the waters of life without toil. The mechanical motion of his hands at their task of years was absolutely necessary to him. He had become, in fact, as a machine, which rusts and is good for nothing if left long inactive. Henry was at once pitiable and terrible when he came in sight of the many-windowed building which was his goal. The whistles blew, and he heard as an old war-horse hears the summons to battle. But in his case the battle was all for naught and there was no victory to be won. But the man was happier than he had been for months. His happiness was a pity and a shame to him, but it was happiness, and sweet in his soul. It was the only happiness which he had not become too callous to feel. If only he could have lived in the beautiful old home, and spent the rest of his life in prideful wrestling with the soil for goodly crops, in tasting the peace of life which is the right of those who have worked long!
But it all seemed too late. When a man has become welded to toil he can never separate himself from it without distress and loss of his own substance of individuality. What Henry had told Sidney Meeks was entirely true: good-fortune had come too late for him to reap the physical and spiritual benefit from it which is its usual dividend. He was no longer his own man, but the man of his life-experience.
When he stood once more in his old place, cutting the leather which smelled to him sweeter than roses, he was assailed by many a gibe, good-natured in a way, but still critical.
"What are you to work again for, Henry?" "You've got money enough to live on." "What in thunder are you working for?"
One thing was said many times which hit him hard. "You are taking the bread out of the mouth of some other man who needs work; don't you know it, Henry?" That rankled. Otherwise Henry, at his old task, with his mind set free by the toil of his hands, might have been entirely happy.
"Good Lord!" he said, at length, to the man at his side, a middle-aged man with a blackened, sardonic face and a forehead lined with a scowl of rebellion, "do you suppose I do it for the money? I tell you it's for the work."
"The work!" sneered the other man.
"I tell you I've worked so long I can't stop, and live."
The other man stared. "Either you're a damned fool, or the men or the system—whatever it is that has worked you so long that you can't stop—ought to go to—" he growled.
"You can't shake off a burden that's grown to you," said Henry.
The worker on Henry's other side was a mere boy, but he had a bulging forehead and a square chin, and already figured in labor circles.
"As soon try to shake off a hump," he said, and nodded.
"Yes," said Henry. "When you've lived long enough in one sort of a world it settles onto your shoulders, and nothing but death can ease a man from the weight of it."
"That's so," said the boy.
"But as far as keeping the bread from another man goes—" said Henry. Then he hesitated. He was tainted by the greed for unnecessary money, in spite of his avowal to the contrary. That also had come to be a part of him. Then he continued, "As far as that goes, I'm willing to give away—a—good part of what I earn."
The first man laughed, harshly. "He'll be for giving a library to East Westland next, to make up to men for having their money and freedom in his own pockets," he said.
"I 'ain't got so much as all that, after all," said Henry. "Because my wife has had a little left to her, it don't follow that we are millionaires."
"I guess you are pretty well fixed. You don't need to work, and you know it. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. There's my wife's brother can't get a job."
"Good reason why," said the boy on the other side. "He drinks."
"He drinks every time he gets out of work and gets clean discouraged," retorted the man.
"Well," said the boy, "you know me well enough to know that I'm with my class every time, but hanged if I can see why your wife's brother 'ain't got into a circle that there's no getting him out of. We've got to get out of work sometimes. We all know it. We've got to if we don't want humps on all our shoulders; and if Jim can't live up to his independence, why, he's out of the running, or, rather, in his own running so neither God nor man can get him out of it. You know the time that last strike was on he was in the gutter every day, when he could beg enough money to keep him there. Now, we can't have that sort of thing. When a man's got so he can't work nor fight neither, why, he's up against it. If Henry here gave up his job, Jim couldn't get it, and you know it."
Henry went on. He hardly heard now what they were saying. His mind was revelling in its free flights of rebellion against everything. Henry, for a man who kept the commandments, was again as wicked as he could be, and revelling in his wickedness. He was like a drinker returned to his cups. His joy was immense, but unholy. However, the accusation that he was taking bread from another man who needed it more than he still rankled. He could, after all, rise somewhat above mere greed. He resolved that he would give, and no one should know of his giving, to the family of the man Jim who had no work.
During the morning Henry did not trouble himself about Sylvia and what she would think about it all. Towards noon, however, he began to dread going home and facing her. When he started he felt fairly cowardly. He stopped at the drug store and bought a pound of peppermints.
Albion Bennet waited on him. Albion Bennet was an intensely black-haired man in his forties. His black hair was always sleek with a patent hair-oil which he carried in his stock. He always wore a red tie and an old-fashioned scarf-pin set with a tiny diamond, and his collars were made of celluloid.
"I have gone back to the hotel to board," he informed Henry, while tying up the parcel. He colored a little under his black, bristling cheeks as he spoke.
"I thought you left," said Henry.
"So I did. I went to board at the Joneses', but—I can't stand a girl right in my face and eyes all the time. When I want to get married, and see the right one, then I want to do the courting; but hang it if I can stand being courted, and that's what I've been up against ever since I left the hotel, and that's a fact. Susy Jones was enough, but when it came to Fanny Elliot getting thick with her, and both of them on hand, it was too much. But I stuck it out till Susy began to do the cooking and her mother made me eat it."
"I have heard Miss Hart wasn't a very good cook," said Henry.
"Well, she ain't anything to brag of; but say, a man can stand regulation cooking done bad, but when it comes to new-fangled messes done bad, so a man don't know what he's eating, whether it's cats or poisonous mushrooms, I draw the line. Miss Hart's bread is more generally saleratusy and heavy, but at least you know it's heavy bread, and I got heavy stuff at the Joneses and didn't know what it was. And Miss Hart's pies are tough, but you know you've got tough pies, and at the Joneses' I had tough things that I couldn't give a name to. Miss Hart's doughnuts are greasy, but Lord, the greasy things at the Joneses' that Susy made! At least you know what you've got when you eat a greasy doughnut, and if it hurts you you know what to tell the doctor, but I had to give it up. I'd rather have bad cooking and know what it is than bad cooking and know what it isn't. Then there were other things. I like, when I get home from the store, to have a little quiet and read my paper, and Susy and Fanny, if I didn't stay in the parlor, were banging the piano and singing at me all the time to get me down-stairs. So I've gone back to the hotel, and I'm enough sight better off. Of course, when that matter of Miss Farrel came up I left. A man don't want to think he may get a little arsenic mixed in with the bad cooking, but now I'm convinced that's all right."
"How do you know?" asked Henry, paying for the peppermints. "I never thought Miss Hart had anything to do with it myself, but of course she wasn't exactly acquitted, neither she nor the girl. You said yourself that she bought arsenic here."
"So she did, and it all went to kill rats," said Albion. "Lots of folks have bought arsenic here to kill rats with. They didn't all of them poison Miss Farrel." Albion nodded wisely and mysteriously. "No, Lucinda's all right," he said. "I ain't at liberty to say how I know, but I do know. I may get bad cooking at the hotel, but I won't get no arsenic."
Henry looked curiously at the other man. "So you've found out something?" he said.
"I ain't at liberty to say," replied Albion. "It's a pretty nice day, ain't it? Hope we ain't going to have such a hot summer as last, though hot weather is mighty good for my business, since I put in the soda-fountain."
Henry, walking homeward with his package of peppermints, speculated a little on what Albion Bennet had said; then his mind reverted to his anxiety with regard to Sylvia, and her discovery that he had returned to the shop. He passed his arm across his face and sniffed at his coat-sleeve. He wondered if he smelled of leather. He planned to go around to the kitchen door and wash his hands at the pump in the yard before entering the house, but he could not be sure about the leather. He wondered if Rose would notice it and be disgusted. His heart sank as he neared home. He sniffed at his coat-sleeve again. He wondered if he could possibly slip into the bedroom and put on another coat for dinner before Sylvia saw him. He doubted if he could manage to get away unnoticed after dinner. He speculated, if Sylvia asked him where he was going again, what he could say. He considered what he could say if she were to call him to account for his long absence that forenoon.
When he reached the house he entered the side yard, stopped at the pump, washed his hands and dried them on his handkerchief, and drank from the tin cup chained to the pump-nose. He thought he might enter by the front door and steal into his bedroom and get the other coat, but Sylvia came to the side door.
"Where in the world have you been?" she said. Henry advanced, smiling, with the peppermints. "Why, Henry," she cried, in a voice of dismay which had a gratified ring in it, "you've been and bought a whole pound! I only said to buy a quarter."
"They're good for you," said Henry, entering the door.
Sylvia could not wait, and put one of the sweets in her mouth, and to that Henry owed his respite. Sylvia, eating peppermint, was oblivious to leather.
Henry went through into the bedroom and put on another coat before he sat down at the dinner-table.
Sylvia noticed that. "What did you change your coat for?" said she.
Henry shivered as if with cold. "I thought the house seemed kind of damp when I came in," he said, "and this coat is some heavier."
Sylvia looked at him with fretful anxiety. "You've got cold. I knew you would," she said. "You stayed out late last night, and the dew was awful heavy. I knew you would catch cold. You had better stop at the drug store and get some of those pellets that Dr. Wallace puts up."
Again was Henry's way made plain for him. "Perhaps I had," said he, eagerly. "I'll go down and get some after dinner."
But Horace innocently offered to save him the trouble. "I go past the drug store," said he. "Let me get them."
But Sylvia unexpectedly came to Henry's aid. "No," she said. "I think you had better not wait till Mr. Allen comes home from school. Dr. Wallace says those pellets ought to be taken right away, just as soon as you feel a cold, to have them do any good."
Henry brightened, but Rose interposed. "Why, I would love to run down to the drug store and get the medicine," she said. "You lie down after dinner, Uncle Henry, and I'll go."
Henry cast an agonizing glance at Horace. The young man did not understand in the least what it meant, but he came to the rescue.
"The last time I took those pellets," he said, "Mr. Whitman got them for me. It was one Saturday, and I was home, and felt the cold coming on, and I lay down, just as you suggest Mr. Whitman's doing, and got asleep, and awoke with a chill. I think that if one has a cold the best thing is to keep exercising until you can get hold of a remedy. I think if Mr. Whitman walks down to the drug store himself and gets the pellets, and takes one, and keeps out in the open air afterwards, as it is a fine day, it will be the very best thing for him."
"That is just what I think myself," said Henry, with a grateful look at Horace.
Henry changed his coat again before leaving, on the plea that it was better for him to wear a lighter one when walking and the heavier one when he was in the house. He and Horace walked down the street together. They were out of sight of the house when Henry spoke.
"Mrs. Whitman don't know it yet," said he, "but there's no reason why you shouldn't. I 'ain't got any cold. I'll get the pellets to satisfy her, but I 'ain't got any cold. I wanted to get out again and not tell her, if I could help it. I didn't want a fuss. I'm going to put it off as long as I can. Mrs. Whitman's none too strong, and when anything goes against her she's all used up, and I must save her as long as possible."
Horace stared at Henry with some alarm. "What on earth is it?" he said.
"Nothing, only I have gone back to work in the shop."
Horace looked amazed. "But I thought—"
"You thought we had enough so I hadn't any need to work, and you are right," said Henry, with a pathetic firmness. "We have got property enough to keep us, if nothing happens, as long as we live, but I had to go back to that infernal treadmill or die."
Horace nodded soberly. "I think I understand," said he.
"I'm glad you do."
"But Mrs. Whitman—"
"Oh, poor Sylvia will take it hard, and she won't understand. Women don't understand a lot of things. But I can't help it. I'll keep it from her for a day or two. She'll have to hear of it before long. You don't think Rose will mind the leather smell?" concluded Henry.
"I wouldn't worry about that. There is nothing very disagreeable about it," Horace replied, laughing.
"I will always change my coat and wash my hands real particular before I set down to the table," said Henry, wistfully. Then he added, after a second's hesitation: "You don't think she will think any the less of me? You don't suppose she won't be willing to live in the house because I work in the shop?"
"You mean Rose—Miss Fletcher?"
"Yes; of course she's been brought up different. She don't know anything about people's working with their hands. She's been brought up to think they're beneath her. I suppose it's never entered into the child's head that she would live to set at the same table with a man who works in a shoe-shop. You don't suppose it will set her against me?"
"I think even if she has been brought up differently, as you say, that she has a great deal of sense," replied Horace. "I don't think you need to worry about that."
"I'm glad you don't. I guess it would about break Sylvia's heart to lose her now, and I've got so I set a good deal by the child myself. Mr. Allen, I want to ask you something."
Henry paused, and Horace waited.
"I want to ask you if you've noticed anything queer about Sylvia lately," Henry said, at last.
Horace looked at him. "Do you mean in her looks or her manners?"
Horace hesitated in his turn. "Now you speak of it—" he began.
"Well," said Henry, "speak out just what you think."
"I have not been sure that there was anything definite," Horace said, slowly. "I have not been sure that it was not all imagination on my part."
"That's just the way I've been feeling," Henry said, eagerly. "What is it that you've been noticing?"
"I told you I am not sure that it is not all imagination, but—"
"Well, sometimes your wife has given me the impression that she was brooding over something that she was keeping entirely to herself. She has had a look as if she had her eyes turned inward and was worrying over what she saw. I don't know that you understand what I mean by that?"
Henry nodded. "That's just the way Sylvia's been looking to me."
"I don't know but she looks as well as ever."
"She's grown thin."
"Maybe she has. Sometimes I have thought that, but what I have noticed has been something intangible in her manner and expression, that I thought was there one minute and was not at all sure about the next. I haven't known whether the trouble, or difference, as perhaps I had better put it, was with her or myself."
Henry nodded still more emphatically. "That's just the way it's seemed to me, and we 'ain't either of us imagined it. It's so," said he.
"Have you any idea—"
"No, I haven't the least. But my wife's got something on her mind, and she's had something on her mind for a long time. It ain't anything new."
"Why don't you ask her?"
"I have asked her, and she says that of course she's got something on her mind, that she ain't a fool. You can't get around Sylvia. She never would tell anything unless she wanted to. She ain't like most women."
Just then Horace turned the corner of the street leading to his school, and the conversation ceased, with an enjoinder on his part to Henry not to be disturbed about it, as he did not think it could be anything serious.
Henry's reply rang back as the two men went their different ways. "I don't suppose it can be anything serious," he said, almost angrily.
Horace, however, was disposed to differ with him. He argued that a woman of Sylvia Whitman's type does not change her manner and grow introspective for nothing. He was inclined to think there might be something rather serious at the bottom of it all. His imagination, however, pictured some disease, which she was concealing from all about her, but which caused her never-ceasing anxiety and perhaps pain.
That night he looked critically at her and was rather confirmed in his opinion. Sylvia had certainly grown thin, and the lines in her face had deepened into furrows. She looked much older than she had done before she had received her inheritance. At the same time she puzzled Horace by looking happier, albeit in a struggling sort of fashion. Either Rose or the inheritance was the cause of the happiness. Horace was inclined to think it was Rose, especially since she seemed to him more than ever the source of all happiness and further from his reach.
That night he had found in the post-office a story of whose acceptance he had been almost sure, accompanied by the miserable little formula which arouses at once wrath and humiliation. Horace tore it up and threw the pieces along the road. There was a thunder-shower coming up. It scattered the few blossoms remaining on the trees, and many leaves, and the bits of the civilly hypocritical note of thanks and rejection flew with them upon the wings of the storm wind.
Horace gazed up at the clouds overhead, which looked like the rapids of some terrible, heavenly river overlapping each other in shell-like shapes and moving with intense fury. He thought of Rose, and first hoped that she was in the house, and then reflected that he might as well give up all hope of ever marrying her. The returned manuscript in his pocket seemed to weigh down his very soul. He recalled various stories which he had read in the current magazines of late, and it seemed to him that his compared very favorably with them. He tried to think of the matter judicially, as if the rejected story were not his own, and felt justified in thinking well of it. He had a sickening sense of being pitted against something which he could not gainsay, which his own convictions as to the privilege of persons in authority to have their own opinions forbade him to question.
"The editors had a perfect right to return my story, even if it is every whit as worthy of publication, even worthier, than anything which has appeared in their magazine for a twelvemonth," he told himself.
He realized that he was not dependent upon the public concerning the merit of his work—he could not be until the work appeared in print—but he was combating the opinions (or appealing to them) of a few men whose critical abilities might be biassed by a thousand personal matters with which he could not interfere. He felt that there was a broad, general injustice in the situation, but absolute right as to facts. These were men to whom was given the power to accept or refuse. No one could question their right to use that power. Horace said to himself that he was probably a fool to entertain for a moment any hope of success under such conditions.
"Good Lord! It might depend upon whether the readers had indigestion," he thought; and at the same time he accepted the situation with a philosophic pride of surrender.
"It's about one chance in a good many thousand," he told himself. "If I don't get the chance some other fellow does, and there's no mortal way but to make the best of it, unless I act like a fool myself." Horace was exceedingly alive to the lack of dignity of one who kicked against the pricks. He said to himself that if he could not marry Rose, if he could not ask her why, he must accept his fate, not attack it to his own undoing, nor even deplore it to his ignominy.
In all this he was, rather curiously, leaving the girl and her possible view of the matter entirely out of the question. Horace, while he was not in the least self-deprecatory, and was disposed to be as just in his estimate of himself as of other men, was not egotistical. It did not really occur to him that Rose's fancy, too, might have been awakened as his own had been, that he might cause her suffering. It went to prove his unselfishness that, upon entering the house, and seeing Rose seated beside a window with her embroidery, his first feeling was of satisfaction that she was housed and safe from the fast-gathering storm.
Rose looked up as he entered, and smiled.
"There's a storm overhead," remarked Horace.
"Yes," said Rose. "Aunt Sylvia has just told me I ought not to use a needle, with so much lightning. She has been telling me about a woman who was sewing in a thunder-storm, and the needle was driven into her hand." Rose laughed, but as she spoke she quilted her needle into her work and tossed it on a table, got up, and went to the window.
"It looks almost wild enough for a cyclone," she said, gazing up at the rapid scud of gray, shell-like clouds.
"Rose, come right away from that window," cried Sylvia, entering from the dining-room. "Only last summer a woman in Alford got struck standing at a window in a tempest."
"I want to look at the clouds," said Rose, but she obeyed.
Sylvia put a chair away from the fireplace and out of any draught. "Here," said she. "Set down here." She drew up another chair close beside Rose and sat down. There came a flash of lightning and a terrible crash of thunder. A blind slammed somewhere. Out in the great front yard the rain swirled in misty columns, like ghostly dancers, and the flowering shrubs lashed the ground. Horace watched it until Sylvia called him, also, to what she considered a place of safety. "If you don't come away from that window and set on the sofa I shall have a conniption fit," she said. Horace obeyed. As he sat down he thought of Henry, and without stopping to think, inquired where he was.
"He went down to Mr. Meeks's," replied Sylvia, with calm decision.
Horace stared at her. He wondered if she could possibly be lying, or if she really believed what she said.
He did not know what had happened that afternoon; neither did Rose. Rose had gone out for a walk, and while Sylvia was alone a caller, Mrs. Jim Jones, had come. Mrs. Jim Jones was a very small, angry-looking woman. Nature had apparently intended her to be plump and sweet and rosy, and altogether comfortable, but she had flown in the face of nature, like a cross hen, and had her own way with herself.
It was scarcely conceivable that Mrs. Jim Jones could be all the time in the state of wrath against everything in general which her sharp tongue and her angry voice evinced, but she gave that impression. Her little blond face looked like that of a doll which has been covered with angry pin-scratches by an ill-tempered child. Whenever she spoke these scratches deepened.
Mrs. Jim Jones could not bring herself to speak of anything without a show of temper, whether she really felt it or not. She fairly lashed out at Sylvia when the latter inquired if it was true that Albion Bennet had left her house and returned to the hotel.
"Yes, it is true, and thank the Lord for His unspeakable mercy to the children of men. I couldn't have stood that man much longer, and that's the gospel truth. He ate like a pig, so there wasn't a mite of profit in it. And he was as fussy as any old maid I ever saw. If I have to choose between an old maid and an old batch for a boarder, give me the old maid every time. She don't begin to eat so much, and she takes care of her room. Albion Bennet about ruined my spare chamber. He et peanuts every Sunday, and they're all ground into the carpet. Yes, I'm mighty glad to get rid of him. Let alone everything else, the way he pestered my Susy was enough to make me sick of my bargain. There that poor child got so she tagged me all over the house for fear Albion Bennet would make love to her. I guess Susy ain't going to take up with a man like Albion Bennet. He's too old for her anyhow, and I don't believe he makes much out of his drug store. I rather guess Susy looks higher than that. Yes, he's gone, and it's 'good riddance, bad rubbish.'"
"If you feel so about it I'm glad he's gone back to Lucinda," said Sylvia. "She didn't have many steady boarders, and it did sort of look against her, poor thing, with all the mean talk there's been."
"I guess there wasn't quite so much smoke without a little fire," said Mrs. Jim Jones, and her small face looked fairly evil.
Then Sylvia was aroused. "Now, Mrs. Jones, you know better," said she. "You know as well as you want to that Lucinda Hart was no more guilty than you and I were. We both went to school with her."
Mrs. Jim Jones backed down a little. There was something about Sylvia Whitman when she was aroused that a woman of Mrs. Jones's type could not face with impunity. "Well, I don't pretend to know," said she, with angry sullenness.
"You pretended to know just now. If folks don't know, it seems to me the best thing they can do is to hold their tongues, anyhow."
"I am holding my tongue, ain't I? What has got into you, Sylvia Whitman?"
"No, you didn't hold your tongue when you said that about there not being so much smoke without some fire."
"Well, there always is fire when there's smoke, ain't there?"
"No, there ain't always, not on the earth. Sometimes there's smoke that folks' wicked imaginations bring up out of the other place. I do believe that."
"Why, Sylvia Whitman, how you do talk! You're almost swearing."
"Have it swearing if you want to," said Sylvia. "I know I'm glad that Albion Bennet has gone back to Lucinda's. Everybody knows how mortal scared he is of his own shadow, and if he's got grit enough to go back there it's enough to about satisfy folks that there wasn't anything in the story."
"Well, it's 'good riddance, bad rubbish,' as far as I'm concerned," said Mrs. Jim Jones. There had been on her face when she first entered an expression of peculiar malignity. Sylvia knew it of old. She had realized that Mrs. Jones had something sweet for her own tongue, but bitter for her, in store, and that she was withholding it as long as possible, in order to prolong the delight of anticipation. "You've got two boarders, ain't you?" inquired Mrs. Jim Jones.
"I've got one boarder," replied Sylvia, with dignity, "and we keep him because he can't bear to go anywhere else in East Westland, and because we like his company."
"I thought Abrahama White's niece—"
"She ain't no boarder. She makes her home here. If you think we'd take a cent of money from poor Abrahama's own niece, you're mistaken."
"I didn't know. She takes after her grandmother White, don't she? She was mortal homely."
Then Sylvia fairly turned pale with resentment. "She doesn't look any more like old Mrs. White than your cat does," said she. "Rose is a beauty; everybody says so. She's the prettiest girl that ever set foot in this town."
"Everybody to their taste," replied Mrs. Jim Jones, in the village formula of contempt. "I heard Mr. Allen, your boarder, was going to marry her," she added.
"I'm glad to hear it from headquarters," said Mrs. Jim Jones. "I said I couldn't believe it was true."
"Mr. Allen won't marry any girl in East Westland," said Sylvia.
"Is there anybody in Boston?" asked Mrs. Jim Jones, losing her self-possession a little.
Sylvia played her trump card. "I don't know anything—that is, I ain't going to say anything," she replied, mysteriously.
Mrs. Jim Jones was routed for a second, but she returned to the attack. She had not yet come to her particular errand. She felt that now was the auspicious moment. "I felt real sorry for you when I heard the news," said she.
Sylvia did not in the least know what she meant. Inwardly she trembled, but she would have died before she betrayed herself. She would not even disclose her ignorance of what the news might be. She did not, therefore, reply in words, but gave a noncommittal grunt.
"I thought," said Mrs. Jim Jones, driven to her last gun, "that you and Mr. Whitman had inherited enough to make you comfortable for life, and I felt real bad to find out you hadn't."
Sylvia turned a little pale, but her gaze never flinched. She grunted again.
"I supposed," said Mrs. Jim Jones, mouthing her words with intensest relish, "that there wouldn't be any need for Mr. Whitman to work any more, and when I heard he was going back to the shop, and when I saw him turn in there this morning, I declare I did feel bad."
Then Sylvia spoke. "You needn't have felt bad," said she. "Nobody asked you to."
Mrs. Jim Jones stared.
"Nobody asked you to," repeated Sylvia. "Nobody is feeling at all bad here. It's true we've plenty, so Mr. Whitman don't need to lift his finger, if he don't want to, but a man can't set down, day in and day out, and suck his thumbs when he's been used to working all his life. Some folks are lazy by choice, and some folks work by choice. Mr. Whitman is one of them."
Mrs. Jim Jones felt fairly defrauded. "Then you don't feel bad?" said she, in a crestfallen way.
"Nobody feels bad here," said Sylvia. "I guess nobody in East Westland feels bad unless it's you, and nobody wants you to."
After Mrs. Jim Jones had gone, Sylvia went into her bedroom and sat down in a rocking-chair by the one window. Under the window grew a sweetbrier rose-bush. There were no roses on it, but the soothing perfume of the leaves came into the room. Sylvia sat quite still for a while. Then she got up and went into the sitting-room with her mouth set hard.
When Rose had returned she had greeted her as usual, and in reply to her question where Uncle Henry was, said she guessed he must be at Mr. Meeks's; there's where he generally was when he wasn't at home.
It did not occur to Sylvia that she was lying, not even when, later in the afternoon, Horace came home, and she answered his question as to her husband's whereabouts in the same manner. She had resolved upon Sidney Meeks's as a synonyme for the shoe-shop. She knew herself that when she said Mr. Meeks's she in reality meant the shoe-shop. She did not worry about others not having the same comprehension as herself. Sylvia had a New England conscience, but, like all New England consciences, it was susceptible of hard twists to bring it into accordance with New England will.
The thunder-tempest, as Sylvia termed it, continued. She kept glancing, from her station of safety, at the streaming windows. She was becoming very much worried about Henry. At last she saw a figure, bent to the rainy wind, pass swiftly before the side windows of the sitting-room. She was on her feet in an instant, although at that minute the room was filled with blue flame followed by a terrific crash. She ran out into the kitchen and flung open the door.
"Come in quick, for mercy's sake!" she called. Henry entered. He was dripping with rain. Sylvia did not ask a question. "Stand right where you are till I bring you some dry clothes," she said.
Henry obeyed. He stood meekly on the oil-cloth while Sylvia hurried through the sitting-room to her bedroom.
"Mr. Whitman has got home from Mr. Meeks's, and he's dripping wet," she said to Horace and Rose. "I am going to get him some dry things and hang the wet ones by the kitchen stove."
When she re-entered the kitchen with her arms full, Henry cast a scared glance at her. She met it imperturbably.
"Hurry and get off those wet things or you'll catch your death of cold," said she.
Henry obeyed. Sylvia fastened his necktie for him when he was ready for it. He wondered if she smelled the leather in his drenched clothing. His own nostrils were full of it. But Sylvia made no sign. She never afterwards made any sign. She never intimated to Henry in any fashion that she knew of his return to the shop. She was, if anything, kinder and gentler with him than she had been before, but whenever he attempted, being led thereto by a guilty conscience, to undeceive her, Sylvia lightly but decidedly waved the revelation aside. She would not have it.
That day, when she and Henry entered the sitting-room, she said, so calmly that he had not the courage to contradict her: "Here is your uncle Henry home from Mr. Meeks's, and he was as wet as a drowned rat. I suppose Mr. Meeks didn't have any umbrella to lend. Old bachelors never do have anything."
Henry sat down quietly in his allotted chair. He said nothing. It was only when the storm had abated, when there was a clear streak of gold low in the west, and all the wet leaves in the yard gave out green and silver lights, when Sylvia had gone out in the kitchen to get supper and Rose had followed her, that the two men looked at each other.
"Does she know?" whispered Horace.
"If she does know, and has taken a notion never to let anybody know she knows, she never will," replied Henry.
"You mean that she will never mention it even to you?"
Henry nodded. He looked relieved and scared. He was right. He continued to work in the shop, and Sylvia never intimated to him that she knew anything about it.
When Henry had worked in the shop before Sylvia's inheritance, he had always given her a certain proportion of his wages and himself defrayed their housekeeping bills. He began to do so again, and Sylvia accepted everything without comment. Henry gradually became sure that she did not touch a dollar of her income from her new property for herself. One day he found on the bureau in their bedroom a book on an Alford savings-bank, and discovered that Sylvia had opened an account therein for Rose. Sylvia also began to give Rose expensive gifts. When the girl remonstrated, she seemed so distressed that there was nothing to do but accept them.
Sylvia no longer used any of Abrahama White's clothes for herself. Instead, she begged Rose to take them, and finally induced her to send several old gowns to her dressmaker in New York for renovation. When Rose appeared in these gowns Sylvia's expression of worried secrecy almost vanished.
The time went on, and it was midsummer. Horace was spending his long vacation in East Westland. He had never done so before, and Sylvia was not pleased by it. Day after day she told him that he did not look well, that she thought he needed a change of air. Henry became puzzled. One day he asked Sylvia if she did not want Mr. Allen to stay with them any longer.
"Of course I do," she replied.
"Well, you keep asking him why he doesn't go away, and I began to think you didn't," said Henry.
"I want him to stay," said Sylvia, "but I don't want any foolishness."
"Foolishness?" said Henry, vaguely.
It was a very hot afternoon, but in spite of the heat Rose and Horace were afield. They had been gone ever since dinner. It was Saturday, and Henry had come home early from the shop. The first question he asked had been concerning the whereabouts of the young people. "Off together somewhere," Sylvia had replied. Then the conversation had ensued.