"What do you think are the greatest professions, Miss Ruth?" asked the boy suddenly.
"Well, law is one—" she began.
"That's the way Papa begins," he interrupted impatiently; "but I'll tell you what I think is the greatest. Guess, now."
"The ministry?" she ventured.
"Oh, of course; but I'm not good enough for that,—that takes exceptions. Guess again."
"Well, there are the fine arts, or soldiery,—that is it. You would be a brave soldier, Willikins, my man."
"No, sir," he replied, flinging back his head; "I don't want to take lives; I want to save them."
"You mean a physician, Will?"
"That's it—but not exactly—I mean a surgeon. Don't you think that takes bravery? And it's a long sight better than being a soldier; he draws blood to kill, we do it to save. What do you think, Miss Ruth?"
"Indeed, you are right," she answered dreamily, her thoughts wandering beyond the river. So they walked along; and as they were about to descent the slope, a man in overalls and carrying a leather bag came suddenly upon them in the gloaming. He stood stock-still, his mouth gaping wide.
When Ruth saw it was Ben, the steward, she laughed.
"Why, Ben!" she exclaimed.
The man's mouth slowly closed, and his hand went up to his cap.
"Begging your pardon, Miss,—I mean Her pardon,—the Lord forgive me, I took you for the Lady Madonna and the blessed Boy with the shining hair. Now, don't be telling of me, will you?"
"Indeed, we won't; we'll keep the pretty compliment to ourselves. Have you the mail? I wonder if there is a letter for me."
Ben immediately drew out his little pack, and handed her two. It was still light enough to read; and as Ben moved on, she stood and opened them.
"This," she announced in a matter-of-course way, "is from Miss Dorothy Gwynne, who requests the pleasure of my company at a high-tea next Saturday. That, or the hay-ride, Will? And this—this—"
It was a simple envelope addressed to
Miss RUTH LEVICE— Beacham's— ... County— Cal.
It was the sight of the dashes that caused the hiatus in her sentence, and made her heart give one great rushing bound. The enclosure was to the point.
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 18, 188—.
MISS RUTH LEVICE:
MY DEAR FRIEND,—That you may not denounce me as too presumptuous, I shall at once explain that I am writing this at Bob's urgent desire. He has at length got the position at the florist's, and tells me to tell you that he is now happy. I dropped in there last night; and when he gave me this message, I told him that I feared you would take it as an advertisement. He merely smiled, picked up a Marechal Niel that lay on the counter, and said, "Drop this in. It's my mark; she'll understand." So here are Bob's rose and my apology.
She was pale when she turned round to the courteously waiting boy. It was a very cold note, and she put it in her pocket to keep it warm. The rose she showed to Will, and told him the story of the sender.
"Didn't I tell you," he cried, when she had finished, "a doctor has the greatest opportunity in the world to be great—and a surgeon comes near it? I say, Miss Ruth, your Dr. Kemp must be a brick. Isn't he?"
"Boys would call him so," she answered, shivering slightly.
It was so like him, she thought, to fulfil Bob's request in his hearty, friendly way; she supposed he wanted her to understand that he wrote to her only as Bob's amanuensis,—it was plain enough. And yet, and yet, she thought passionately, it would have been no more than common etiquette to send a friendly word from himself to her mother. Still the note was not thrown away. Girls are so irrational; if they cannot have the hand-shake, they will content themselves with a sight of the glove.
And Ruth in the warm, throbbing, summer days was happy. She was not always active; there were long afternoons when mere existence was intensely beautiful. To lie at full length upon the soft turf in the depths of the small enchanted woods, and hear and feel the countless spells of Nature, was unspeakable rapture.
"Ah, Floy," she cried one afternoon, as she lay with her face turned up to the great green boughs that seemed pencilled against the azure sky, "if one could paint what one feels! Look at these silent, living trees that stand in all their grandeur under some mighty spell; see how the wonderful heaven steals through the leaves and throws its blue softness upon the twilight gloom; here at our feet nestle the soft, green ferns, and over all is the indescribable fragrance of the redwoods. Turn there, to your right, little artist, high up on that mountain; can you see through the shimmering haze a great team moving as if through the air? It is like the vision of the Bethshemites in Dore's mystic work, when in the valley they lifted up their eyes and beheld the ark returning. Oh, Floy, it is not Nature; it is God. And who can paint God?"
"No one. If one could paint Him, He would no longer be great," answered the girl, resting her sober eyes upon Ruth's enraptured countenance.
One afternoon Ruth took a book and Ethel over the tramway to this fairy spot. It was very warm and still. Mrs. Levice had swung herself to sleep in the hammock, and Mr. Levice was dozing and talking in snatches to the Tyrrells, who were likewise resting on the Levices' veranda. All Nature was drowsy, as Ruth wandered off with the little one, who chattered on as was her wont.
"Me and you's yunnin' away," she chatted; "we's goin' to a fowest, and by and by two 'ittle birdies will cover us up wid leaves. My! Won't my mamma be sorry? No darlin' 'ittle Ethel to pank and tiss no more. Poor Mamma!"
"Does Ethel think Mamma likes to spank her?"
"Yes; Mamma does des what she likes."
"But it is only when Ethel is naughty that Mamma spanks her. Here, sweetheart, let me tie your sunbonnet tighter. Now Ruth is going to lie here and read, and you can play hide-and-seek all about these trees."
"Can I go wound and sit on dat log by a bwook?"
"Oh, I's afwaid. I's dweffully afwaid."
"Why, you can turn round and talk to me all the time."
"But nobody'll be sitting by me at all."
"I am here just where you can see me; besides, God will be right next to you."
"Will He? Ven all yight."
Ruth took off her hat and prepared to enjoy herself. As her head touched the green earth, she saw the little maiden seat herself on the log, and turning her face sideways, say in her pleasant, piping voice,—
"How-de-do, Dod?" And having made her acknowledgments, all her fears vanished.
Ruth laughed softly to herself, and straightway began to read. The afternoon burned itself away. Ethel played and sang and danced about her, quite oblivious of the heat, till, tired out, she threw herself into Ruth's arms.
"Sing by-low now," she demanded sleepily; "pay it's night, and you and me's in a yockin'-chair goin' to by-low land."
Ruth realized that the child was weary, and drawing her little head to her bosom, threw off the huge sunbonnet and ruffled up the damp, golden locks.
"What shall I sing, darling?" she mused: she was unused to singing babies to sleep. Suddenly a little kindergarten melody she had heard came to her, and she sang softly in her rich, tender contralto the swinging cradle-song:—
"In a cradle, on the treetop, Sleeps a tiny bird; Sweeter sound than mother's chirping Never yet was heard. See, the green leaves spread like curtains Round the tiny bed, While the mother's wings, outstretching, Shield—the—tiny—head?"
As her voice died slowly into silence, she found Ethel looking over her shoulder and nodding her head.
"No; I won't tell," she said loudly.
"Tell what?" asked Ruth, amused.
"Hush! He put his finger on his mouf—sh!"
"Who?" asked Ruth, turning her head hurriedly. Not being able to see through the tree, she started to her feet, still holding the child. Between two trees stood the stalwart figure of Dr. Kemp,—Dr. Kemp in loose, light gray tweeds and white flannel shirt; on the back of his head was a small, soft felt hat, which he lifted as she turned,—a wave of color springing to his cheek with the action. As for Ruth,—a woman's face dare not speak sometimes.
"Did I startle you?" he asked, coming slowly forward, hat in hand, the golden shafts of the sun falling upon his head and figure.
"Yes," she answered, trying to speak calmly, and failing, dropped into silence.
She made no movement toward him, but let the child glide softly down till she stood at her side.
"I interrupted you," he continued; "will you shake hands with me, nevertheless?"
She put her hand in his proffered one, which lingered in the touch; and then, without looking at her, he stooped and spoke to the child. In that moment she had time to compose herself.
"Do you often come up this way?" she questioned.
He turned from the child, straightened himself, and leaning one arm against the tree, answered,—
"Once or twice every summer I run away from humanity for a few days, and generally find myself in this part of the country. This is one of my select spots. I knew you would ferret it out."
"It is very lovely here. But we are going home now; the afternoon is growing old. Come, Ethel."
A shadow fell upon his dark eyes as she spoke, scarcely looking at him. Why should she hurry off at his coming?
"I am sorry my presence disturbs you," he said quietly; "But I can easily go away again."
"Was I so rude?" she asked, looking up with a sudden smile. "I did not mean it so; but Ethel's mother will want her now."
"Ethel wants to be carried," begged the child.
"All right; Ruth will carry you," and she stooped to raise her; but as she did so, Kemp's strong hand was laid upon her arm and held her back.
"Ethel will ride home on my shoulder," he said in the gay, winning voice he knew how so well to use with children. The baby's blue eyes smiled in response to his as he swing her lightly to his broad shoulder. There is nothing prettier to a woman than to see the confidence that a little child reposes in a strong man.
So through the mellow, golden sunlight they strolled slowly homeward.
Mr. Levice, sauntering down the garden-path, saw the trio approaching. For a moment he did not recognize the gentleman in his summer attire. When he did, surprise, then pleasure, then a spirit of inquietude, took possession of him. He had been unexpectedly startled on Ruth's birthnight by a vague something in Kemp's eyes. The feeling, however, had vanished gradually in the knowledge that the doctor always had a peculiarly intent gaze, and, moreover, no one could have helped appreciating her loveliness that night. This, of itself, will bring a softness into a man's manner; and without doubt his fears had been groundless,—fears that he had not dared to put into words. For old man as he was, he realized that Dr. Kemp's strong personality was such as would prove dangerously seductive to any woman whom he cared to honor with his favor; but with a "Get thee behind me, Satan" desire, he had put the question from him. He could have taken his oath on Ruth's heart-wholeness, yet now, as he recognized her companion, his misgivings returned threefold. The courteous gentleman, however, was at his ease as they came up.
"This is a surprise, Doctor," he exclaimed cordially, opening the gate and extending his hand. "Who would have thought of meeting you here?"
Kemp grasped his hand heartily.
"I am a sort of surprise-party," he answered, swinging Ethel to the ground and watching her scamper off to the hotel; "and what is more," he continued, turning to him, "I have not brought a hamper, which makes one of me."
"You calculate without your host," responded Levice; "this is a veritable land of milk and honey. Come up and listen to my wife rhapsodize."
"How is she?" he asked, turning with him and catching a glimpse of Ruth's vanishing figure.
"Feeling quite well," replied Levice; "she is all impatience now for a delirious winter season."
"I thought so," laughed the doctor; "but if you take my advice, you will draw the bit slightly."
Mrs. Levice was delighted to see him; she said it was like the sight of a cable-car in a desert. He protested at such a stupendous comparison, and insisted that she make clear that the dummy was not included. The short afternoon glided into evening, and Dr. Kemp went over to the hotel and dined at the Levices' table.
Ruth, in a white wool gown, sat opposite him. It was the first time he had dined with them; and he enjoyed a singular feeling over the situation. He noticed that although Mrs. Levice kept up an almost incessant flow of talk, she ate a hearty meal, and that Ruth, who was unusually quiet, tasted scarcely anything. Her father also observed it, and resolved upon a course of strict surveillance. He was glad to hear that the doctor had to leave on the early morning's train, though, of course, he did not say so. As they strolled about afterward, he managed to keep his daughter with him and allowed Kemp to appropriate his wife.
They finally drifted to the cottage-steps, and were enjoying the beauty of the night when Will Tyrrell presented himself before them.
"Good-evening," he said, taking off his hat as he stood at the foot of the steps. "Mr. Levice, Father says he has at last scared up two other gentlemen; and will you please come over and play a rubber of whist?"
Mr. Levice felt himself a victim of circumstances. He and Mr. Tyrrell had been looking for a couple of opponents, and had almost given up the search. Now, when he decidedly objected to moving, it would have been heartless not to go.
"Don't consider me," said the doctor, observing his hesitancy. "If it ill relieve you, I assure you I shall not miss you in the least."
"Go right ahead, Jules" urged his wife; "Ruth and I will take care of the doctor."
If she had promised to take care of Ruth, it would have been more to his mind; but since his wife was there, what harm could accrue that his presence would prevent? So with a sincere apology he went over to the hotel.
He hardly appreciated what an admirable aide he had left behind him in his wife.
Kemp sat upon the top step, and leaned his back against the railing; although outwardly he kept up a constant low run of conversation with Mrs. Levice, who swayed to and fro in her rocker, he was intently conscious of Ruth's white figure perched on the window-sill.
How Mrs. Levice happened to broach the subject, Ruth never knew; but she was rather startled when she perceived that Kemp was addressing her.
"I should like to show my prowess to you, Miss Levice."
"In what?" she asked, somewhat dazed.
"Ruth, Ruth," laughed her mother, "do you mean to say you have not heard a word of all my glowing compliments on your rowing?"
"And I was telling your mother that in all modesty I was considered a fine oar at my Alma Mater."
"And I hazarded the suggestion," added Mrs. Levice, "that as it is such a beautiful night, there is nothing to prevent your taking a little row, and then each can judge of the other's claim to superiority?"
"My claim has never been justly established," said Ruth. "I have never allowed any one to usurp my oars."
"As yet," corrected Kemp. "Then will you wrap something about you and come down to the river?"
"Certainly she will," answered her mother; "run in and get some wraps, Ruth."
"You will come too, Mamma?"
"Of course; but considering Dr. Kemp's length, a third in your little boat will be the proverbial trumpery. Still, I suppose I can rely on you two crack oarsmen, though you know the slightest tremble in the boat in the fairest weather is likely to create a squall on my part."
If Dr. Kemp wished to row, he should row; and since the Jewish Mrs. Grundy was not on hand, anything harmlessly enjoyable was permissible.
Ruth went indoors. This was certainly something she had not bargained for. How could her mother be so blind as not to know or feel her desire to evade Dr. Kemp? She felt a positive contempt for herself that his presence should affect her as it did; she dared not look at him lest her heart should flutter to her eyes. Probably the display amused him. What was she to him anyway but a girl with whom he could flirt in his idle moments? Well (with a passionate fling of her arms), she would extinguish her uncontrollable little beater for the nonce; she would meet and answer every one of his long glances in kind.
She wound a black lace shawl around her head, and with some wraps for her mother, came out.
"Hadn't you better put something over your shoulders?" he asked deferentially as she appeared.
"And disgust the night with lack of appreciation?"
She turned to a corner of the porch and lifted a pair of oars to her shoulder.
"Why," he said in surprise, coming toward her, "you keep your oars at home?"
"On the principle of 'neither a borrower nor a lender be;' we find it saves both time and spleen."
She held them lightly in place on her shoulder.
"Allow me," he said, placing his hand upon the oars.
A spirit of contradiction took possession of her.
"Indeed, no," she answered; "why should I? They are not at all heavy."
He gently lifted her resisting fingers one by one and raised the broad bone of contention to his shoulder. Then without a look he turned and offered his arm to Mrs. Levice.
The crickets chirped in the hedges; now and then a firefly flashed before them; the trees seemed wrapped in silent awe at the majesty of the bewildering heavens. As they approached the river, the faint susurra came to them, mingled with the sound of a guitar and some one singing in the distance.
"Others are enjoying themselves also," he remarked as their feet touched the pebbly beach. A faint crescent moon shone over the water. Ruth went straight to the little boat aground on the shore.
"It looks like a cockle-shell," he said, as he put one foot in after shoving it off. "Will you sit in the stern or the bow, Mrs. Levice?"
"In the bow; I dislike to see dangers before we come to them."
He helped her carefully to her place; she thanked him laughingly for his exceptionally strong arm, and he turned to Ruth.
"I was waiting for you to move from my place," she said in defiant mischief, standing motionless beside the boat.
"Your place? Ah, yes; now," he said, holding out his hand to her, "will you step in?"
She took his hand and stepped in; they were both standing, and as the little bark swayed he made a movement to catch hold of her.
"You had better sit down," he said, motioning to the rower's seat.
"And you?" she asked.
"I shall sit beside you and use the other oar," he answered nonchalantly, smiling down at her.
With a half-pleased feeling of discomfiture Ruth seated herself in the stern, whereupon Kemp sat in the contested throne.
"You will have to excuse my turning my back on you, Mrs. Levice," he said pleasantly.
"That is no hindrance to my volubility, I am glad to say; a back is not very inspiring or expressive, but Ruth can tell me when you look bored if I wax too discursive."
It was a tiny boat; and seated thus, Kemp's knees were not half a foot from Ruth's white gown.
"Will you direct me?" he said, as he swept around. "I have not rowed on this river for two or three years."
"You can keep straight ahead for some distance," she said, leaning back in her seat.
She could not fail to notice the easy motion of his figure as he rowed lightly down the river. His flannel shirt, low at the throat, showed his strong white neck rising like a column from his broad shoulders, and his dark face with the steady gray eyes looked across at her with grave sweetness. She would have been glad enough to be able to turn from the short range of vision between them; but the stars and river afforded her good vantage-ground, and on them she fixed her gaze.
Mrs. Levice was in bright spirits, and seemed striving to outdo the night in brilliancy. For a while Kemp maintained a sort of Roland-for-an-Oliver conversation with her; but with his eyes continually straying to the girl before him, it became rather difficult. Some merry rowers down the river were singing college songs harmoniously; and Mrs. Levice soon began to hum with them, her voice gradually subsiding into a faint murmur. The balmy, summer-freighted air made her feel drowsy. She listened absently to Ruth's occasional warnings to Kemp, and to the swift dip of the oars.
"Now we have clear sailing for a stretch," said Ruth, as they came to a broad curve. "Did you think you were going to be capsized when we shot over that snag, Mamma?"
She leaned a little farther forward, looking past Kemp.
Then she straightened herself back in her seat. Kemp, noting the sudden flush that had rushed to and from her cheek, turned halfway to look at Mrs. Levice. Her head was leaning against the flag-staff; her eyes were closed, in the manner of more wary chaperones,—Mrs. Levice slept.
Dr. Kemp moved quietly back to his former position.
Far across the river a woman's silvery voice was singing the sweet old love-song, "Juanita;" overhead, the golden crescent moon hung low from the floor of heaven pulsating with stars; it was a passionate, tender night, and Ruth, with her face raised to the holy beauty, was a dreamy part of it. Against the black lace about her head her face shone like a cameo, her eyes were brown wells of starlight; she scarcely seemed to breathe, so still she sat, her slender hands loosely clasped in her lap.
Dr. Kemp sat opposite her—and Mrs. Levice slept.
Slowly and more slowly sped the tiny boat; long gentle strokes touched the water; and presently the oars lay idle in their locks,—they were unconsciously drifting. The water dipped and lapped about the sides; the tender woman's voice across the water stole to them, singing of love; their eyes met—and Mrs. Levice slept.
Ever, in the after time, when Ruth heard that song, she was again rocking in the frail row-boat upon the lovely river, and a man's deep, grave eyes held hers as if they would never let them go, till under his worshipping eyes her own filled with slow ecstatic tears.
"Doctor," called a startled voice, "row out; I am right under the trees."
They both started. Mrs. Levice was, without doubt, awake. They had drifted into a cove, and she was cowering from the over-hanging boughs.
"I do not care to be Absalomed; where were your eyes, Ruth?" she complained, as Kemp pushed out with a happy, apologetic laugh. "Did not you see where we were going?"
"No," she answered a little breathlessly; "I believe I am growing far-sighted."
"It must be time to sight home now," said her mother; "I am quite chilly."
In five minutes Kemp had grounded the boat and helped Mrs. Levice out. When he turned for Ruth, she had already sprung ashore and had started up the slope; for the first time the oars lay forgotten in the bottom of the boat.
"Wait for us, Ruth," called Mrs. Levice, and the slight white figure stood still till they came up.
"You are so slow," she said with a reckless little laugh; "I feel as if I could fly home."
"Are you light-headed, Ruth?" asked her mother, but the girl had fallen behind them. She could not yet meet his eyes again.
"Come, Ruth, either stay with us or just ahead of us." Mrs. Levice, awake, was an exemplary duenna.
"There is nothing abroad here but the stars," she answered, flitting before them.
"And they are stanch, silent friends on such a night," remarked Kemp, softly.
She kept before them till they reached the gate, and stood inside of it as they drew near.
"Then you will not be home till Monday," he said, taking Mrs. Levice's hand and raising his hat; "and I am off on the early morning train. Good-by."
As she turned in at the gate, he held out his hand to Ruth. His fingers closed softly, tightly over hers; she heard him say almost inaudibly,—
She raised her shy eyes for one brief second to his glowing ones; and he passed, a tall, dark figure, down the shadowy road.
When Mr. Levice returned from his game of whist, he quietly opened the door of his daughter's bedroom and looked in. All was well; the wolf had departed, and his lamb slept safe in the fold.
But in the dark his lamb's eyes were mysteriously bright. Sleep! With this new crown upon her! Humble as the beautiful beggar-maid must have felt when the king raised her, she wondered why she had been thus chosen by one whom she had deemed so immeasurably above her. And this is another phase of woman's love,—that it exalts the beloved beyond all reasoning.
At six o'clock the hills in their soft carpet of dull browns and greens were gently warming under the sun's first rays. At seven the early train that Dr. Kemp purposed taking would leave. Ruth, with this knowledge at heart, had softly risen and left the cottage. Close behind the depot rose a wooded hill. She had often climbed it with the Tyrrell boys; and what was to prevent her doing so now? It afforded an excellent view of the station.
It was very little past six, and she began leisurely to ascend the hill. The sweet morning air was in her nostrils, and she pushed the broad hat form her happy eyes. She paused a moment, looking up at the wooded hill-top, which the sun was jewelling in silver.
"Do you see something beautiful up there?"
With an inarticulate cry she wheeled around and faced Dr. Kemp within a hand's breadth of her.
"Oh," she cried, stepping back with burning cheeks, "I did not mean—I did not expect—"
"Nor did I," he said in a low voice; "chance is kinder to us than ourselves—beloved."
She turned quite white at the low, intense word.
"You understood me last night—and I was not—deceived?"
Her head drooped lower till the broad brim of her hat hid her face.
With one quick step he reached her side.
"Ruth, look at me."
She never had been able to resist his compelling voice; and now with a swift-drawn breath she threw back her head and looked up at him fairly, with all her soul in her eyes.
"Are you satisfied?" she asked tremulously.
"Not yet," he answered as with one movement he drew her to him.
"My Santa Filomena," he murmured with his lips against her hair, "this is worth a lifetime of waiting; and I have waited long."
In his close, passionate clasp her face was hidden; she hardly dared meet his eyes when he finally held her from him.
"Why, you are not afraid to look at me? No one knows you better than I, dear; you can trust me, I think."
"I know," she said, her hand fluttering in his; "but isn't—the train coming?"
"Are you so anxious to have me go?"
Her hand closed tightly around his.
"Because," laying his bearded cheek against her fair one, "I have something to ask you."
"To ask me?"
"Yes; are you surprised, can't you guess? Ruth, will you bless me still further? Will you be my wife, love?"
A strange thrill stole over her; his voice had assumed a bewildering tenderness. "If you really want me," she replied, with a sobbing laugh.
"Soon?" he persisted.
"Because you must. You will find me a tyrant in love, my Ruth."
"I am not afraid of you, sir."
"Then you should be. Think, child, I am an old man, already thirty-five; did you remember that when you made me king among men?"
"Then I am quite an old lady; I am twenty-two."
"As ancient as that? Then you should be able to answer me. Make it soon, sweetheart."
"Why, how you beg—for a king. Besides, there is Father, you know; he decides everything for me."
"I know; and I have already asked him on paper. There is a note awaiting him at the hotel; you will see I took a great deal for granted last night, and—Ah, the whistle! What day is this, Ruth?"
"Good Friday, sweet, I think."
"Oh, I am not at all superstitious."
"And Monday is four days off; well, it must make up for all we lose. Monday will be four days rolled into one."
"Remember," he continued hurriedly, "you are doubly precious now, darling, and take good care of yourself till our 'Auf Wiedersehn.'"
"And—and—you will remember that for me too, D-doctor?"
"Who? There is no doctor here that I know of."
"But I know one—Herbert."
"God bless you for that, dear!" he answered gravely.
Mr. Levice, sleepily turning on his pillow, heard the whistle of the out-going train with benignant satisfaction. It was taking Dr. Kemp where he belonged,—to his busy practice,—and leaving his child's peace undisturbed. Confound the man, anyway! he mused; what had possessed him to drop down upon them in that manner and rob Ruth of her appetite and happy talk? No doubt she had been flattered by the interest he had shown in her; but he was too old and too dignified a gentleman to resort to flirtation, and anything deeper was out of the question. He must certainly have a little plain talk with the child this morning, and, well, he could cry "Ebenezer!" on his departure. With this conclusion, he softly rose, taking care not to disturb his placidly sleeping wife, who never dreamed of waking till nine.
Ruth generally waited for him for breakfast, but not seeing her around, he went in and took a solitary meal. Sauntering out afterward toward the hotel porch, his hat on, his stick under his are, and busily lighting a cigar, he was met at the door of the billiard-room by one of the clerks.
"Dr. Kemp left this for you this morning," said he, holding out a small envelope. A flush rose to the old gentleman's sallow cheek as he took it.
"Thank you," he said; "I believe I shall come in here for a few minutes."
He passed by the clerk and seated himself in a deep, cane-bottomed chair near the window. He fumbled for the cord of his glasses in a slightly nervous manner, and adjusted them hastily. The missive was addressed to him, certainly; and with no little wonder he tore it open and read:—
BEACHAM'S Friday morning.
MY DEAR SIR,—Pardon the hurried nature of this communication, but I must leave shortly on the in-coming train, having an important operation to undertake this morning; otherwise I should have liked to prepare you more fully, but time presses. Simply, then, I love your daughter. I told her so last night upon the river, and she has made me the proudest and happiest of men by returning my love. I am well aware what I am asking of you when I ask her of you to be my wife. You know me personally; you know my financial standing; I trust to you to remember my failings with mercy in the knowledge of our great love. Till Monday night, then, I leave her and my happiness to your consideration and love.
With the greatest respect,
The clerk standing near him in the doorway turned hurriedly.
"Any trouble?" he asked, moving toward him and noticing the ashy pallor of his face.
The old man's hand closed spasmodically over the paper.
"Nothing," he managed to answer, waving the man away; "don't notice me."
The clerk, seeing his presence was undesirable, took up his position in the doorway again.
Levice sat on. No further sound broke from him; he had clinched his teeth hard. It had come to this, then. She loved him; it was too late. If the man's heart alone were concerned, it would have been an easy matter; but hers, Ruth's. God! If she really loved, her father knew only too well how she would love. Was the man crazy? Had he entirely forgotten the gulf that lay between them? Great drops of perspiration rose to his forehead. Two ideas held him in a desperate struggle,—his child's happiness; the prejudice of a lifetime. Something conquered finally, and he arose quietly and walked slowly off.
Through the trees he heard laughter. He walked round and saw her swinging Will Tyrrell.
"There's your father," cried Boss, from the limb of a tree.
She looked up, startled. With a newborn shyness she had endeavored to put off this meeting with her father. She gave the swing another push and waited his approach with beating heart.
"The boys will excuse you, Ruth, I think; I wish you to come for a short walk with me."
At his voice, the gentle seriousness of which penetrated even to the Tyrrell boys' understanding, she felt that her secret was known.
She laid her arm about his neck and gave him his usual morning kiss, reddening slowly under his long searching look as he held her to him. She followed him almost blindly as he turned from the grounds and struck into the lane leading to the woods. Mr. Levice walked along, aimlessly knocking off with his stick the dandelions and camomile in the hedges. It was with a wrench he spoke.
"My child," he said, and now the stick acted as a support, "I was just handed a note from Dr. Kemp. He has asked me for your hand."
In the pause that followed Ruth's lovely face was hidden in her hat.
"He also told me that he loves you," he continued slowly, "and that you return his love. Will you turn your face to me, Ruth?"
She did so with dignity.
"You love this man?"
"I do." As reverently as if at the altar, she faced and answered her father. All her love was in the eyes she raised to his. Beneath their happy glow Levice's sank and his steady lips grew pale.
They were away from mankind in the shelter of the woods, the birds gayly carolling their matins above them.
"And you desire to become his wife?"
Neck, face, and ears were suffused with color as she faltered unsteadily,—
"Oh, Father, he loves me." Then at the wonder of it, she exclaimed, throwing her arms about his neck impulsively and hiding her face in his shoulder, "I am so happy, so happy! It seems almost too beautiful to be true."
The old man's trembling hand smoothed the soft little tendrils of hair that had escaped from their pins. He stifled a groan as he was thus disarmed.
"And what," she asked, her sweet eyes holding his as she stepped back, "what do you think of Herbert Kemp, M. D.? Will you be proud of your son-in-law, Father darling?"
Levice's hand fell suddenly on her shoulder. He schooled himself to smile quietly upon her.
"Dr. Kemp is a great friend of mine. He is a gentleman whom all the world honors, not only for his professional worth, but for his manly qualities. I am not surprised that you love him, nor yet that he loves you—except for one thing."
"And that?" she asked, smiling confidently at him.
"Child, you are a Jewess; Dr. Kemp is a Christian."
And still his daughter smiled trustingly.
"What difference can that make, since we love each other?" she asked.
"Will you believe me, Ruth, when I say that all I desire is your happiness?"
"Father, I know it."
"Then I tell you I can never bring myself to approve of a marriage between you and a Christian. There can be no true happiness in such a union."
"Why not? Inasmuch as all my life you have taught me to look upon my Christian friends as upon my Jewish, and since you admit him irreproachable from every standpoint, why can he not be my husband?"
"Have you ever thought of what such a marriage entails?"
"Then do so now: think of every sacrifice, social and religious, it enforces; think of the great difference between the Jewish race and the Christians; and if, after you have measured with the deadliest earnestness every duty that married life brings, you can still believe that you will be happy, then marry him."
"With your blessing?" Her lovely, pleading eyes still held his.
"Always with my blessing, child. One thing more: did Dr. Kemp mention anything of this to you?"
"No; he must have forgotten it as I did, or rather, if I ever thought of it, it was a mere passing shadow. I put it aside with the thought that though you and I had never discussed such a circumstance, judging by all your other actions in our relations with Christians, you would be above considering such a thing a serious obstacle to two people's happiness."
"You see, when it comes to action, my broad views dwindle down to detail, and I am only an old man with old-fashioned ideas. However, I shall remind Dr. Kemp of this grave consideration, and then—you will not object to this?"
"Oh, no; but I know—I know—" What did she know except of the greatness of his love that would annihilate all her father's forebodings?
"Yes," her father answered the half-spoken thought; "I know too. But ponder this well, as I shall insist on his doing; then, on Monday night, when you have both satisfactorily answered to each other every phase of this terrible difference, I shall have nothing more to say."
Love is so selfish. Ruth, hugging her happiness, failed, as she had never failed before, to mark the wearied voice, the pale face, and the sad eyes of her father.
"Your mother will soon be awake," he said; "had you not better go back?"
Something that she had expected was wanting in this meeting; she looked at him reproachfully, her mouth visibly trembling.
"What is it?" he asked gently.
"Why, Father, you are so cold and hard, and you have not even—"
"Wait till Monday night, Ruth. Then I will do anything you ask me. Now go back to your mother, but understand, not a word of this to her yet. I shall not recur to this again; meanwhile we shall both have something to think of."
That afternoon Dr. Kemp received the following brief note:—
BEACHAM'S, August 25, 188—
DEAR SIR,—Have you forgotten that my daughter is a Jewess; that you are a Christian? Till Monday night I shall expect you to consider this question from every possible point of view. If then both you and my daughter can satisfactorily override the many objections I undoubtedly have, I shall raise no obstacle to your desires.
Sincerely your friend,
In the mean time Ruth was thinking it all out. Love was blinding her, dazzling her; and the giants that rose before her were dwarfed into pygmies, at which she tried to look gravely, but succeeded only in smiling at their feebleness. Love was an Armada, and bore down upon the little armament that thought called up, and rode it all to atoms.
Small wonder, then, that on their return on Monday morning, as little Rose Delano stood in Ruth's room looking up into her friend's face, the dreamy, starry eyes, the smiles that crept in thoughtful dimples about the corners of her mouth, the whole air of a mysterious something, baffled and bewildered her.
Upon Ruth's writing-table rested a basket of delicate Marechal Niel buds, almost veiled in tender maiden-hair; the anonymous sender was not unknown.
"It has agreed well with you, Miss Levice," said Rose, in her gentle, patient voice, that seemed so out of keeping with her young face. "You look as if you had been dipped in a love-elixir."
"So I have," laughed Ruth, her hand straying to the velvety buds; "it has made a 'nut-brown mayde' of me, I think, Rosebud. But tell me the city news. Everything in running order? Tell me."
"Everything is as your kind help has willed it. I have a pleasant little room with a middle-aged couple on Post Street. Altogether I earn ten dollars over my actual monthly expenses. Oh, Miss Levice, when shall I be able to make you understand how deeply grateful I am?"
"Never, Rose; believe me, I never could understand deep things; that is why I am so happy."
"You are teasing now, with that mischievous light in your eyes. Yet the first time I saw your face I thought that either you had or would have a history."
"Sad?" The sudden poignancy of the question startled Rose.
She looked quickly at her to note if she were as earnest as her voice sounded. The dark eyes smiled daringly, defiantly at her.
"I am no sorceress," she answered evasively but lightly; "look in the glass and see."
"You remind me of Floy Tyrrell. Pooh! Let us talk of something else. Then it can't be Wednesdays?"
"It can be any day. The Page children can have Friday."
"Do you know how Mr. Page is?"
"Did you not hear of the great operations he—Dr. Kemp—performed Friday?"
"No." She could have shaken herself for the telltale, inevitable rush of blood that overspread her face. If Rose saw, she made no sign; she had had one lesson.
"I did not know such a thing was in his line. I had been giving Miss Dora a lesson in the nursery. The old nurse had brought the two little ones in there, and kept us all on tenter-hooks running in and out. One of the doctors, Wells, I think she said, had fainted; it was a very delicate and dangerous operation. When my lesson was over, I slipped quietly out; I was passing through the corridor when Dr. Kemp came out of one of the rooms. He was quite pale. He recognized me immediately; and though I wished to pass straight on, he stopped me and shook my hand so very friendly. And now I hear it was a great success. Oh, Miss Levice, he has no parallel but himself!"
It did not sound exaggerated to Ruth to hear him thus made much of. It was only very sweet and true.
"I knew just what he must be when I saw him," the girl babbled on; "that was why I went to him. I knew he was a doctor by his carriage, and his strong, kind face was my only stimulus. But there, you must forgive me if I tire you; you see he sent you to me."
"You do not tire me, Rose," she said gravely. And the same expression rested upon her face till evening.
Monday night had come. As Ruth half hid a pale yellow bud in her heavy, low-coiled hair, the gravity of her mien seemed to deepen. This was partially the result of her father's expressive countenance and voice. If he had smiled, it had been such a faint flicker that it was forgotten in the look of repression that had followed. In the afternoon he had spoken a few disturbing words to her:
"I have told your mother that Dr. Kemp is coming to discuss a certain project and desires your presence. She intends to retire rather early, and there is nothing to prevent your receiving him."
At the distantly courteous tone she raised a pair of startled eyes. He was regarding her patiently, as if awaiting some remark.
"Surely you do not wish me to be present at this interview?" she questioned, her voice slightly trembling.
"Not only that, but I desire your most earnest attention and calm reasoning powers to be brought with you. You have not forgotten what I told you to consider, Ruth?"
She felt, though in a greater degree, as she had often felt in childhood, when, in taking her to task for some naughtiness, he had worn this same sad and distant look. He had never punished her nominally; the pain he himself showed had always affected her as the severest reprimand never could have done.
She looked like a peaceful, sweet-faced nun in her simple white gown, that fell in long straight folds to her feet; not another sign of color was upon her.
A calmness pervaded her whole person as she paced the softly lighted drawing-room and waited for Kemp.
When he was shown into the room, this tranquillity struck him immediately.
She stood quite still as he came toward her. He certainly had some old-time manners, for the reverence he felt for her caused him first of all to raise her hand to his lips. The curious, well-known flush rose slowly to her sensitive face at the action; when he had caught her swiftly to him, a sobbing sigh escaped her.
"What is it?" he asked, drawing her down to a seat beside him. "Are you tired of me already, love?"
"Not of you; of waiting," she answered, half shyly meeting his look.
"I hardly expected this," he said after a pause; "has your father flown bodily from the enemy and left you to face him alone?"
"Not exactly. But really it was kind of him to keep away for a while, was it not?" she asked simply.
"It was unusually kind. I suppose, however, you will have to make your exit on his entrance."
"No," she laughed quietly; "I am going to play the role of the audience to-night. He expressly desires my presence; but if you differ—"
He looked at her curiously. The earnestness with which she had greeted him settled like a mask upon his face. The hand that held hers drew it quickly to his breast.
"I think it is well that you remain," he said, "because we agree at any rate on the main point,—that we love each other. Always that, darling?"
The low, sweet voice that for the first time so caressed him thrilled him oddly; but a measured step was heard in the hall, and Ruth moved like a bird to a chair. He could not know that the sound of the step had given her the momentary courage thus to address him.
He arose deferentially as Mr. Levice entered. The two men formed a striking contrast. Kemp stood tall, stalwart, straight as an arrow; Levice, with his short stature, his stooping shoulders, and his silvery hair falling about and softening somewhat his plain Jewish face, served as a foil to the other's bright, handsome figure.
Kemp came forward to meet him and grasped his hand. Nothing is more thoroughly expressive than this shaking of hands between men. It is a freemasonry that women lack and are the losers thereby. The kiss is a sign of emotion; the hand-clasp bespeaks strong esteem or otherwise. Levice's hand closed tightly about the doctor's large one; there was a great feeling of mutual respect between these two.
"How are you and your wife?" asked the doctor, seating himself in a low, silken easy-chair as Levice took one opposite him.
"She is well, but tired this evening, and has gone to bed. She wished to be remembered to you." As he spoke, he half turned his head to where Ruth sat in a corner, a little removed.
"Why do you sit back there, Ruth?"
She arose, and seeing no other convenient seat at hand, drew up the curious ivory-topped chair. Thus seated, they formed the figure of an isosceles triangle, with Ruth at the apex, the men at the angles of the base. It is a rigid outline, that of the isosceles, bespeaking each point an alien from the others.
There was an uncomfortable pause for some moments after she had seated herself, during which Ruth noted how, as the candle-light from the sconce behind fell upon her father's head, each silvery hair seemed to speak of quiet old age.
Kemp was the first to speak, and, as usual, came straight to the point.
"Mr. Levice, there is no use in disguising or beating around the bush the thought that is uppermost in all our minds. I ask you now, in person, what I asked you in writing last Friday,—will you give me your daughter to be my wife?"
"I will answer you as I did in writing. Have you considered that you are a Christian; that she is a Jewess?"
It was the first gun and the answering shot of a strenuous battle.
"And you, my child?" he addressed her in the old sweet way that she had missed in the afternoon.
"I have also done so to the best of my ability."
"Then you have found it raised no barrier to your desire to become Dr. Kemp's wife?"
The two men drew a deep breath at the sound of the little decisive word, but with a difference. Kemp's face shone exultantly. Levice pressed his lips hard together as the shuddering breath left him; his heavy-veined hands were tightly clinched; when he spoke, however, his voice was quite peaceful.
"It is an old and just custom for parents to be consulted by their children upon their choice of husband or wife. In France the parents are consulted before the daughter; it is not a bad plan. It often saves some unnecessary pangs—for the daughter. I am sorry in this case that we are not living in France."
"Then you object?" Kemp almost hurled the words at him.
"I crave your patience," answered the old man, slowly; "I have grown accustomed to doing things deliberately, and will not be hurried in this instance. But as you have put the question, I may answer you now. I do most solemnly and seriously object."
Ruth, sitting intently listening to her father, paled slowly. The doctor also changed color.
"My child," Levice continued, looking her sadly in the face, "by allowing you to fall blindly into this trouble, without warning, with my apparent sanction for any relationship with Christians, I have done you a great wrong; I admit it with anguish. I ask your forgiveness."
Dr. Kemp's clinched hand came down with force upon his knee. He was white to the lips, for though Levice spoke so quietly, a strong decisiveness rang unmistakably in every word.
"Mr. Levice, I trust I am not speaking disrespectfully," he began, his manly voice plainly agitated, "but I must say that it was a great oversight on your part when you threw your daughter, equipped as she is, into Christian society,—put her right in the way of loving or being loved by any Christian, knowing all along that such a state of affairs could lead to nothing. It was not only wrong, but, holding such views, it was cruel."
"I acknowledge my culpability; my only excuse lies in the fact that such an event never presented itself as a possibility to my imagination. If it had, I should probably have trusted that her own Jewish conscience and bringing-up would protest against her allowing herself to think seriously upon such an issue."
"But, sir, I do not understand your exception; you are not orthodox."
"No; but I am intensely Jewish," answered the old man, proudly regarding his antagonist. "I tell you I object to this marriage; that is not saying I oppose it. There are certain things connected with it of which neither you nor my daughter have probably thought. To me they are all-powerful obstacles to your happiness. Being an old man and more experienced, will you permit me to suggest these points? My friend, I am seeking nothing but my child's happiness; if, by opening the eyes of both of you to what menaces her future welfare, I can avert what promises but a sometime misery, I must do it, late though it may be. If, when I have stated my view, you can convince me that I am wrong, I shall be persuaded and admit it. Will you accept my plan?"
Kemp bowed his head. The dogged earnestness about his mouth and eyes deepened; he kept his gaze steadily and attentively fixed upon Levice. Ruth, who was the cause of the whole painful scene, seemed remote and shadowy.
"As you say," began Levice, "we are not orthodox; but before we become orthodox or reform, we are born, and being born, we are invested with certain hereditary traits that are unconvertible. Every Jew bears in his blood the glory, the triumph, the misery, the abjectness of Israel. The farther we move in the generations, the fainter grown the inheritance. In most countries in these times the abjectness is vanishing; we have been set upon our feet; we have been allowed to walk; we are beginning to smile,—that is, some of us. Those whose fathers were helped on are nearer the man as he should be than those whose fathers are still grovelling. My child, I think, stands a perfect type of what culture and refinement can give. She is not an exception; there are thousands like her among our Jewish girls. Take any intrinsically pure-souled Jew from his coarser surroundings and give him the highest advantages, and he will stand forth the equal, at least, of any man; but he could not mix forever with pitch and remain undefiled."
"No man could," observed Kemp, as Levice paused. "But what are these things to me?"
"Nothing; but to Ruth, much. That is part of the bar-sinister between you. Possibly your sense of refinement has never been offended in my family; but there are many families, people we visit and love, who, though possessing all the substrata of goodness, have never been moved to cast off the surface thorns that would prick your good taste as sharply as any physical pain. This, of course, is not because they are Jews, but because they lack refining influences in their surroundings. We look for and excuse these signs; many Christians take them as the inevitable marks of the race, and without looking further, conclude that a cultured Jew is an impossibility."
"Mr. Levice, I am but an atom in the Christian world, and you who number so many of them among your friends should not make such sweeping assertions. The world is narrow-minded; individuals are broader."
"True; but I speak of the majority, who decide the vote, and by whom my child would be, without doubt, ostracized. This only by your people; by ours it would be worse,—for she will have raised a terrible barrier by renouncing her religion."
"I shall never renounce my religion, Father."
"Such a marriage would mean only that to the world; and so you would be cut adrift from both sides, as all women are who move from where they rightfully belong to where they are not wanted."
"Sir," interrupted Kemp, "allow me to show you wherein such a state of affairs would, if it should happen, be of no consequence. The friends we care for and who care for us will not drop off if we remain unchanged. Because I love your daughter and she loves me, and because we both desire our love to be honored in the sight of God and man, wherein have we erred? We shall still remain the same man and woman."
"Unhappily the world would not think so."
"Then let them hold to their bigoted opinion; it is valueless, and having each other, we can dispense with them."
"You speak in the heat of passion; and at such a time it would be impossible to make you understand the honeymoon of life is made up of more than two, and a third being inimical can make it wretched. The knowledge that people we respect hold aloof from us is bitter."
"But such knowledge," interrupted Ruth's sweet voice, "would be robbed of all bitterness when surrounded and hedged in by all that we love."
Her father looked in surprise at the brave face raised so earnestly to his.
"Very well," he responded; "count the world as nothing. You have just said, my Ruth, that you would not renounce your religion. How could that be when you have a Christian husband who would not renounce his?"
"I should hope he would not; I should have little respect for any man who would give up his sacred convictions because I have come into his life. As for my religion, I am a Jewess, and will die one. My God is fixed and unalterable; he is one and indivisible; to divide his divinity would be to deny his omnipotence. As to forms, you, Father, have bred in me a contempt for all but a few. Saturday will always be my Sabbath, no matter what convention would make me do. We have decided that writing or sewing or pleasuring, since it hurts no one, is no more a sin on that day than on another; to sit with idle hands and gossip or slander is more so. But on that day my heart always holds its Sabbath; this is the force of custom. Any day would do as well if we were used to it,—for who can tell which was the first and which the seventh counting from creation? On our New Year I should still feel that a holy cycle of time had passed; but I live only according to one record of time, and my New Year falls always on the 1st of January. Atonement is a sacred day to me; I could not desecrate it. Our services are magnificently beautiful, and I should feel like a culprit if debarred from their holiness. As to fasting, you and I have agreed that any physical punishment that keeps our thoughts one moment from God, and puts them on the feast that is to come, is mere sham and pretence. After these, Father, wherein does our religion show itself?"
"Surely," he replied with some bitterness, "we hold few Jewish rites. Well, and so you think you can keep these up? And you, Dr. Kemp?"
Dr. Kemp had been listening attentively while Ruth spoke. His eyes kindled brightly as he answered,—
"Why should she not? If all her orisons have made her as beautiful, body and soul, as she is to me, what is to prevent her from so continuing? And if my wife would permit me to go with her upon her holidays to your beautiful Temple, no one would listen more reverently than I. Loving her, what she finds worshipful could find nothing but respect in me."
Plainly Mr. Levice had forgotten the wellspring that was to enrich their lives; but he perceived that some impregnable armor encased them that made every shot of his harmless.
"I can understand," he ventured, "that no gentleman with self-respect would, at least outwardly, show disrespect for any person's religion. You, Doctor, might even come to regard with awe a faith that has withstood everything and has never yet been sneered at, however its followers have been persecuted. Many of its minor forms are slowly dying out and will soon be remembered only historically; this history belongs to every one."
"Certainly. Let us, however, stick to the point in question. You are a man who has absorbed the essence of his religion, and cast off most of its unnecessary externals. You have done the same for my—for your daughter. This distinguishes you. If I were to say the characteristic has never been unbeautiful in my eyes, I should be excusing what needs no excuse. Now, sir, I, in turn, am a Christian broadly speaking; more formally, a Unitarian. Our faiths are not widely divergent. We are both liberal; otherwise marriage between us might be a grave experiment. As to forms, for me they are a show, but for many they are a necessity,—a sort of moral backbone without which they might fall. Sunday is to me a day of rest if my patients do not need me. I enjoy hearing a good sermon by any noble, broad-minded man, and go to church not only for that, but for the pleasure of having my spiritual tendencies given a gentle stirring up. There is one holiday that I keep and love to keep; that is Christmas."
"And I honor you for it; but loving this day of days, looking for sympathy for it from all you meet, how will it be when in your own home the wife whom you love above all others stands coldly by and watches your feelings with no answering sympathy? Will this not breed dissension, if not in words, at least in spirit? Will you not feel the want and resent it?"
Dr. Kemp was silent. The question was a telling one and required thought; therefore he was surprised when Ruth answered for him. Her quiet voice carried no sense of hysteric emotion, but one of grave grace.
She addressed her father; each had refrained from appealing to the other. The situation in the light of their new, great love was strained and unnatural.
"I should endeavor that he should feel no lack," she said; "for so far as Christmas is concerned, I am a Christian also."
"I do not understand." Her father's lips were dry, his voice husky.
"Ever since I have been able to judge," explained the girl, quietly, "Christ has been to me the loveliest and one of the best men that ever lived. You yourself, Father, admire and reverence his life."
"Yes?" His eyes were half closed as if in pain; he motioned to her to continue.
"And so, in our study, he was never anything but what was great and good. Later, when I had read his 'Sermon on the Mount,' I grew to see that what he preached was beautiful. It did not change my religion; it made me no less a Jewess in the true sense, but helped me to gentleness. To me he became the embodiment of Love in the highest,—Love perfect, but warm and human; human Love so glorious that it needs no divinity to augment its power over us. He was God's attestation, God's symbol of what Man might be. As a teacher of brotherly love, he is sublime. So I may call myself a christian, though I spell it with a small letter. It is right that such a man's birthday should be remembered with love; it shows what a sweet power his name is, when, as that time approaches, everybody seems to love everybody better. Feeling so, would it be wrong for me to participate in my husband's actions on that day?"
She received no answer. She looked only at her father with loving earnestness, and the look of adoration Kemp bent upon her was quite lost.
"Would this be wrong, Father?" she urged.
He straightened himself in his chair as if under a load. His dark, sallow face seemed to have grown worn and more haggard.
"I have always imagined myself just and liberal in opinion," he responded; "I have sought to make you so. I never thought you could leap thus far. It were better had I left you to your mother. Wrong? No; you would be but giving your real feelings expression. But such an expression would grieve—Pardon; I am to consider your happiness." He seemed to swallow something, and hastily continued: "While we are still on this subject, are you aware, my child, that you could not be married by a Jewish rabbi?"
She started perceptibly.
"I should love to be married by Doctor C——." As she pronounced the grand old rabbi's name, a tone of reverential love accompanied it.
"I know. But you would have to take a justice as a substitute."
"A Unitarian minister would be breaking no law in uniting us, and I think would not object to do so; that is, of course, if you had no objection." The doctor looked at him questioningly. Levice answered by turning to Ruth. She passed her hand over her forehead.
"Do you think," she asked, "that after a ceremony had been performed, Dr. C—— would bless us? As a friend, would he have to refuse?"
"He would be openly sanctioning a marriage which according to the rabbinical law is no marriage at all. Do you think he would do this, notwithstanding his friendship for you?" returned her father. They both looked at him intently.
"Ah, well," she answered, throwing back her head, a half-smile coming to her pale lips, "it is but a sentiment, and I could forego it, I suppose. One must give up little things sometimes for great."
"Yes; and this would be but the first. My children, there is something radically wrong when we have to overlook and excuse so much before marriage. 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;' and why should we add trouble to days already burdened before they come?"
"We should find all this no trouble," said Kemp; "and what is to trouble us after? We have now the wherewithal for our happiness; what, in God's name, do you ask for more?"
"As I have said, Dr. Kemp, we are an earnest people. Marriage is a step not entered into lightly. Divorce, for this reason, is seldom heard of with us, and for this reason we have few unhappy marriages. We know beforehand what we have to expect from every quarter. No question I have put would be necessary with a Jew. His ways are ours, and, with few exceptions, a woman has nothing but happiness to expect from him. How am I sure of this with you? In a moment of anger this difference of faith may be flung in each other's teeth, and what then?"
"You mean you cannot trust me."
The quiet, forceful words were accompanied by no sign of emotion. His deep eyes rested as respectfully as ever upon the old gentleman's face. But the attack was a hard one upon Levice. A vein on his temple sprang into blue prominence as he quickly considered his answer.
"I trust you, sir, as one gentleman would trust another in any undertaking; but I have not the same knowledge of what to expect from you as I should have from any Jew who would ask for my daughter's hand."
"I understand that," admitted the other; "but a few minutes ago you imputed a possibility to me that would be an impossibility to any gentleman. You may have heard of such happenings among some, but an event of that kind would be as removed from us as the meeting of the poles. Everything depends on the parties concerned."
"Besides, Father," added Ruth, her sweet voice full with feeling, "when one loves greatly, one is great through love. Can true married love ever be divided and sink to this?"
The little white and gold clock ticked on; it was the only sound. Levice's forehead rested upon his hand over which his silvery hair hung. Kemp's strong face was as calm as a block of granite; Ruth's was pale with thought.
Suddenly the old man threw back his head. They both started at the revelation: great dark rings were about his eyes; his mouth was set in a strained smile.
"I—I," he cleared his throat as if something impeded his utterance,—"I have one last suggestion to make. You may have children. What will be their religion?"
The little clock ticked on; a dark hue overspread Kemp's face. As for the girl, she scarcely seemed to hear; her eyes were riveted upon her father's changed face.
The doctor gave one quick glance at Ruth and answered,—
"If God should so bless us, I think the simple religion of love enough for childhood. Later, as their judgment ripened, I should let them choose for themselves, as all should be allowed."
"And you, my Ruth?"
A shudder shook her frame; she answered mechanically,—
"I should be guided by my husband."
The little clock ticked on, backward and forward, and forward and back, dully reiterating, "Time flies, time flies."
"I have quite finished," said Levice, rising.
Kemp did likewise.
"After all," he said deferentially, "you have not answered my question."
"I—think—I—have," replied the old man, slowly. "But to what question do you refer?"
"The simple one,—will you give me your daughter?"
"No, sir; I will not."
Kemp drew himself up, bowed low, and stood waiting some further word, his face ashy white. Levice's lips trembled nervously, and then he spoke in a gentle, restrained way, half apologetically and in strange contrast to his former violence.
"You see, I am an old man rooted in old ideas; my wife, not so old, holds with me in this. I do not know how wildly she would take such a proposition. But, Dr. Kemp, as I said before, though I object, I shall not oppose this marriage. I love my daughter too dearly to place my beliefs as an obstacle to what she considers her happiness; it is she who will have to live the life, not I. You and I, sir, have been friends; outside of this one great difference there is no man to whom I would more gladly trust my child. I honor and esteem you as a gentleman who has honored my child in his love for her. If I have hurt you in these bitter words, forgive me; as my daughter's husband, we must be more than friends."
He held out his hand. The doctor took it, and holding it tightly in his, made answer somewhat confusedly,—
"Mr. Levice, I thank you. I can say no more now, except that no son could love and honor you more than I shall."
Levice bent his head, and turned to Ruth, who sat, without a movement, looking straight ahead of her.
"My darling," said her father, softly laying his hand on her head and raising her lovely face, "if I have seemed selfish and peculiar, trust me, dear, it was through no lack of love for you. Do not consider me; forget, if you will, all I have said. You are better able, perhaps, than I to judge what is best for you. Since you love Dr. Kemp, and if after all this thought, you feel you will be happy with him, then marry him. You know that I hold him highly, and though I cannot honestly give you to him, I shall not keep you from him. My child, the door is open; you can pass through without my hand. Good-night, my little girl."
His voice quavered sadly over the old-time pet name as he stooped and kissed her. He wrung the doctor's hand again in passing, and abruptly turned to leave the room. It was a long room to cross. Kemp and Ruth followed with their eyes the small, slightly stooped figure of the old man passing slowly out by himself. As the heavy portiere fell into place behind him, the doctor turned to Ruth, still seated in her chair.
She was perfectly still. Her eyes seemed gazing into vacancy.
"Ruth," he said softly; but she did not move. His own face showed signs of the emotions through which he had passed, but was peaceful as if after a long, triumphant struggle. He came nearer and laid his hand gently upon her shoulder.
"Love," he whispered, "have you forgotten me entirely?"
His hand shook slightly; but Ruth gave no sign that she saw or heard.
"This has been too much for you," he said, drawing her head to his breast. She lay there as if in a trance, with eyes closed, her face lily-white against him. They remained in this position for some minutes till he became alarmed at her passivity.
"You are tired, darling," he said, stroking her cheek; "shall I leave you?"
She started up as if alive to his presence for the first time, and sprang to her feet. She turned giddy and swayed toward him. He caught her in his arms.
"I am so dizzy," she laughed in a broken voice, looking with dry, shining eyes at him; "hold me for a minute."
He experienced a feeling of surprise as she clasped her arms around his neck; Ruth had been very shy with her caresses.
His eyes met hers in a long, strange look.
"Of what are you thinking?" he asked in a low voice.
"There is an old German song I used to sing," she replied musingly; "will you think me very foolish if I say it is repeating itself to me now, over and over again?"
"What is it, dear?' he asked, humoring her.
"Do you understand German? Oh, of course, my student; but this is a sad old song; students don't sing such things. These are some of the words: 'Beh te Gott! es war zu schoen gewesen.' I wish—"
"It is a miserable song," he said lightly; "forget it."
She disengaged herself from his arms and sat down. Some late roisterers passing by in the street were heard singing to the twang of a mandolin. It was a full, deep song, and the casual voices blended in perfect accord. As the harmony floated out of hearing, she looked up at him with a haunting smile.
"People are always singing to us; I wish they wouldn't. Music is so sad; it is like a heart-break."
He knelt beside her; he was a tall man, and the action seemed natural.
"You are pale and tired," he said; "and I am going to take a doctor's privilege and send you to bed. To-morrow you can answer better what I so long to hear. You heard what your father said; your answer rests entirely with you. Will you write, or shall I come?"
"Do you know," she answered, her eyes burning in her pale face, "you have very pretty, soft dark hair? Does it feel as soft as it looks?" She raised her hand, and ran her fingers lingeringly through his short, thick hair.
"Why," she said brightly, "here are some silvery threads on your temples. Troubles, darling?"
"You shall pull them out," he answered, drawing her little hand to his lips.
"There, go away," she said quickly, snatching it from him and moving from her chair as he rose. She rested her elbow on the mantel-shelf, and the candles from the silver candelabra shone on her face; it looked strained and weary. Kemp's brows gathered in a frown as he saw it.
"I am going this minute," he said; "and I wish you to go to bed at once. Don't think of anything but sleep. Promise me you will go to bed as soon as I leave."
"Good-night, sweetheart," he said, kissing her softly, "and dream happy dreams." He stooped again to kiss her hands, and moved toward the door.
"Herbert!" His hand was on the portiere, and he turned in alarm at her strange call.
"What is it?" he asked, taking a step toward her.
"Nothing. Don't—don't come back, I say. I just wished to see your face. I shall write to you. Good-night."
And the curtain fell behind him.
As he passed down the gravel walk, a hack drew up and stopped in front of the house. Louis Arnold sprang out. The two men came face to face.
Arnold recognized the doctor immediately and drew back. When Kemp saw who it was, he bowed and passed on. Arnold did likewise, but he went in where the other went out.
It was late, after midnight. He had just arrived on a delayed southern train. He knew the family had come home that morning. Dr. Kemp was rather early in making a visit; it had also taken him long to make it.
Louis put his key in the latch and opened the door. It was very quiet; he supposed every one had retired. He flung his hat and overcoat on a chair and walked toward the staircase. As he passed the drawing-room, a stream of light came from beneath the portiere. He hesitated in surprise, everything was so quiet. Probably the last one had forgotten to put out the lights. He stepped noiselessly up and entered the room. His footfall made no sound on the soft carpet as he moved about putting out the lights. He walked to the mantel to blow out the candles, but stopped, dumfounded, within a foot of it. The thing that disturbed him was the motionless white figure of his cousin. It might have been a marble statue, so lifeless she seemed, though her face was hidden in her hands.
For a moment Arnold was terrified; but the feeling was immediately succeeded by one of exquisite pain. He was a man not slow to conjecture; by some intuition he understood.
He regained his presence of mind and turned quietly to quit the room; his innate delicacy demanded it. He had but turned when a low, moaning sound arrested him; he came back irresolutely.
"Did you call, Ruth?"
"Ruth, it is I, Louis, who is speaking to you. Do you know how late it is?"
With gentle force he drew her fingers from her face. The mute misery there depicted was pitiful.
"Come, go to bed, Ruth," he said as to a child.
She made a movement to rise, but sank back again.
"I am so tired, Louis," she pleaded in a voice of tears, like a weary child.
"Yes, I know; but I will help you." The unfamiliar, gentle quality of his voice penetrated even to her numbed senses.
She had not seen him since the night he had asked her to be his wife. No remembrance of this came to her, but his presence held something new and restful. She allowed him to draw her to her feet; and as calmly as a brother he led her upstairs and into her room. Without a question he lit the gas for her.
"Good-night, Ruth," he said, blowing out the match. "Go right to bed; your head will be relieved by sleep."
"Thank you, Louis," she said, feeling dimly grateful for something his words implied; "good-night."
Arnold noiselessly closed the door behind him. She quickly locked it and sat down in the nearest chair.
Her hands were interlaced so tightly that her nails left imprints in the flesh. She had something to consider. Oh dear, it was such a simple thing; was she to break her father's heart, or her own and—his? Her father's, or his.
It was so stupid to sit and repeat it. Surely it was decided long ago. Such a long time ago, when her father's loving face had put on its misery. Would it look that way always? No, no, no! She would not have it; she dared not; it was too utterly wretched.
Still, there was some one else at the thought of whom her temples throbbed wildly. It would hurt him; she knew it. The thought for a moment was a miserable ecstasy; for he loved her,—her, simple Ruth Levice,—beyond all doubting she knew he loved her; and, oh, father, father, how she loved him! Why must she give it all up? she questioned fiercely; did she owe no duty to herself? Was she to drag out all the rest of her weary life without his love? Life! It would be a lingering death, and she was young yet in years. Other girls had married with graver obstacles, in open rupture with their parents, and they had been happy. Why could not she? It was not as if he were at fault; no one dared breathe a word against his fair fame. To look at his strong, handsome face meant confidence. That was when he left the room.
Some one else had left the room also. Some one who had loved her all her life, some one who had grown accustomed in more than twenty years to listen gladly for her voice, to anticipate every wish, to hold her as in the palm of a loving hand, to look for and rest on her unquestioned love. He too had left the room; but he was not strong and handsome, poor, poor old father with his small bent shoulders. What a wretched thing it is to be old and have the heart-strings that have so confidently twisted themselves all these years around another rudely cut off,—and that by your only child!
At the thought an icy quiet stole over her. How long she sat there, musing, debating, she did not know. When the gray dawn broke, she rose up calmly and seated herself at her writing-table. She wrote steadily for some time without erasing a single word. She addressed the envelope without a falter over the name.
"That is over," she said audibly and deliberately.
A cock crowed. It was the beginning of another day.
Dr. Kemp tossed the reins to his man, sprang from his carriage, and hurried into his house. "Burke!" he called while closing the door, "Burke!" He walked toward the back of the house and into the kitchen, still calling. Finding it empty, he walked back again and began a still hunt about the pieces of furniture in the various rooms. Being unsuccessful, he went into his bedroom, made a hasty toilet, and hurried again to the kitchen.
"Where have you been, Burke?" he exclaimed as that spare-looking personage turned, spoon in hand, from the range.
"Right here, General," he replied in surprise, "except when I went out."
"Well; did any mail come here for me?"
"One little Billy-do, General. I put it under your dinner-plate; and shall I serve the soup?" the last was bellowed after his master's retreating form.
"Wait till I ring," he called back.
He lifted his solitary plate, snatched up the little letter, and sat down hastily, conscious of a slight excitement.
His name and address stared at him from the white envelope in a round, firm hand. There was something about the loop-letters that reminded him of her, and he passed his hand caressingly over the surface. He did not break the seal for some minutes,—anticipation is sometimes sweeter than realization. Finally it was done, but he closed his eyes for a second,—a boyish trick of his that had survived when he wished some expected pleasure to spring suddenly upon him. How would she address him? The memory of their last meeting gave him courage, and he opened his eyes. The denouement was disconcerting. Directly under the tiny white monogram she had begun without heading of any description:—
It was cruel of me to let you go as I did: you were hopeful when you left. I led you to this state for a purely selfish reason. After all, it saved you the anguish of knowing it was a final farewell; for even then I knew it could never be. Never! Forever!—do you know the meaning of those two long words? I do. They have burned themselves irrevocably into my brain; try to understand them,—they are final.
I retract nothing that I said to my father in your presence; you know exactly how I still consider what is separating us. I am wrong. Only I am causing this separation; no one else could or would. Do not blame my father; if he were to see me writing thus he would beg me to desist; he would think I am sacrificing my happiness for him. I have no doubt you think so now. Let me try to make you understand how different it really is. I am no Jephthah's daughter,—he wants no sacrifice, and I make none. Duty, the hardest word to learn, is not leading me. You heard my father's words; but not holding him as I do, his face could not recoil upon your heart like a death's hand.
I am trying to write coherently and to the point: see what a coward I am! Let me say it now,—I could never be happy with you. Do you remember Shylock,—the old man who withdrew from the merry-making with a breaking heart? I could not make merry while he wept; my heart would weep also. You see how selfish I am; I am doing it for my own sake, and for no one's else.
And that is why I ask you now to forgive me,—because I am not noble enough to consider you when my happiness is at stake. I suppose I am a light person seemingly to play thus with a man's heart. If this reflection can rob you of regret, think me so. Does it sound presumptuous or ironical for me to say I shall pray you may be happy without me? Well, it is said hearts do not break for love,—that is, not quickly. If you will just think of what I have done, surely you will not regret your release; you may yet find a paradise with some other and better woman. No, I am not harsh or unreasonable; even I expect to be happy. Why should not you, then,—you, a man; I, a woman? Forget me. In your busy, full life this should be easy. Trust me, no woman is worthy of spoiling your life for you.
My pen keeps trailing on; like summer twilight it is loath to depart. I am such a woman. I may never see your face again. Will you not forgive me?
He looked up with a bloodless face at Burke standing with the smoking soup.
"I—I—thought you had forgotten to ring," he stammered, shocked at the altered face.
"Take it away," said his master, hoarsely, rising from his chair. "I do not wish any dinner, Burke. I am going to my office, and must not be disturbed."
The man looked after him with a sadly wondering shake of his head, and went back to his more comprehensible pots and kettles.
Kemp walked steadily into his office, lit the gas, and sat down at his desk. He began to re-read the letter slowly from the beginning. It took a long time, for he read between the lines. A deep groan escaped him as he laid it down. It was written as she would have spoken; he could see the expression of her face in the written words, and a miserable empty feeling of powerlessness came upon him. He did not blame her,—how could he, with that sad evidence of her breaking heart before him? He got up and paced the floor. His head was throbbing, and a cold, sick feeling almost overpowered him. The words of the letter repeated themselves to him. "Paradise with some other, better woman,"—she might have left that out; she knew better; she was only trying to cheat herself. "I too shall be happy." Not that, not some other man's wife,—the thought was demoniacal. He caught his reflection in the glass in passing. "I must get out of this," he laughed with dry, parched lips. He seized his hat and went out. The wind was blowing stiffly; for hours he wrestled with it, and then came home and wrote to her:—
I can never forgive you; love's litany holds no such word. Be happy if you can, my santa Filomena; it will help me much,—the fact that you are somewhere in the world and not desolate will make life more worth the living. If it will strengthen you to know that I shall always love you, the knowledge will be eternally true. Wherever you are, whatever the need, remember—I am at hand.
Mr. Levice's face was more haggard than Ruth's when, after this answer was received, she came to him with a gentle smile, despite the heavy shadows around her eyes.
"It is all over, Father," she said; "we have parted forever. Perhaps I did not love him enough to give up so much for him. At any rate I shall be happier with you, dear."
"Are you sure, my darling?"
"Quite sure; and there is no more to be said of it. Remember, it is dead and buried; we must never remind each other of it again. Kiss me, Father, and forget that it has been."
Mr. Levice drew a long sigh, partly of relief, partly of pain, as he looked into her lovely, resolute face.
We do not live wholly through ourselves. What is called fate is but the outcome of the spinning of other individuals twisted into the woof of our own making; so no life should be judged as a unit.
Ruth Levice was not alone in the world; she was neither recluse nor a genius, but a girl with many loving friends and a genial home-life. Having resolved to bear to the world an unchanged front, she outwardly did as she had always done. Her mother's zealous worldliness returned with her health; and Ruth fell in with all her plans for a gay winter,—that is, the plans were gay; Ruth's presence could hardly be termed so. The old spontaneous laugh was superseded by a gentle smile, sympathetic perhaps, but never joyous. She listened more, and seldom now took the lead in a general conversation, though there was a charm about a tete-a-tete with her that earnest persons, men and women, felt without being able to define it. For the change, without doubt, was there. It was as if a quiet hand had been passed over her exuberant, happy girlhood and left a serious, thoughtful woman in its stead. A subtile change like this is not speedily noticed by outsiders; it requires usage before an acquaintance will account it a characteristic instead of a mood. But her family knew it. Mrs. Levice, wholly in the dark as to the cause, wondered openly.
"You might be thirty, Ruth, instead of twenty-two, by the staidness of your demeanor. While other girls are laughing and chatting as girls should, you look on with the tolerant dignity of a woman of grave concerns. If you had anything to trouble you, there might be some excuse; but as it is, why can't you go into enjoyments like the rest of your friends?"
"Don't I? Why, I hardly know another girl who lives in such constant gayety as I. Are we not going to a dinner this evening and to the ball to-morrow night?"
"Yes; but you might as well be going to a funeral for all the pleasure you seem to anticipate. If you come to a ball with such a grandly serious air, the men will just as soon think of asking a statue to dance as you. A statue may be beautiful in its niche, but people do not care to study its meaning at a ball."
"What do you wish me to do, Mamma? I should hate the distinction of a wall-flower, which you think imminent. I am afraid I am too big a woman to be frolicsome."
"You never were that, but you were at least a girl. People will begin to think you consider yourself above them, or else that you have some secret trouble."
The smile of incredulity with which she answered her would have been heart-breaking had it been understood. No flush stained the ivory pallor of her face at these thrusts in the dark; Louis was never annoyed in this way now. Her old-time excited contradictions never obtruded themselves in their conversations. A silent knowledge lay between them which neither, by word or look, ever alluded to. Mrs. Levice noted with delight their changed relations. Louis's sarcasm ceased to be directed at Ruth; and though the familiar sparring was missing, Mrs. Levice preferred his deferential bearing when he addressed her, and Ruth's grave graciousness with him. She drew her own conclusions, and accepted Ruth's quietness with more patience on this account.
Louis understood somewhat; and in his manliness he could not hide that her suffering had cost him a new code of actions. But he could not understand as her father did. Despite her brave smile, Levice could almost read her heart-beats, and the knowledge brought a hardness and a bitter regret. He grew to scanning her face surreptitiously, looking in vain for the old, untroubled delight in things; and when the unmistakable signs of secret anguish would leave traces at times, he would turn away with a groan. Yet there was nothing to be done. He knew that her love had been no light thing nor could her giving up be so; but feeling that no matter what the present cost, the result would compensate, he trusted to time to heal the wound. Meanwhile his own self-blame at these times left its mark upon him.
For Ruth lived a dual life. The real one was passed in her quiet chamber, in her long solitary walks, and when she sat with her book, apparently reading. She would look up with blank, despairing eyes, clinched hands, and hard-set teeth when the thought of him and all her loss would steal upon her. Her father had caught many such a look upon her face. She had resolved to live without him, but accomplishment is not so easy. Besides, it was not as if she never saw him. San Francisco is not so large a city but that by the turning of a corner you may not come across a friend. Ruth grew to study the sounds the different kinds of vehicles made; and the rolling wheels of a doctor's carriage behind her would set her pulses fluttering in fright.
She was walking one day along Sutter Street toward Gough from Octavia. The street takes a sudden down-grade midway in the block. She was approaching this declension just before the Boys' High School when a carriage drove quickly up the hill toward her. The horses gave a bound as if the reins had been jerked; there was the momentary flash of a man's stern, white face as he raised his hat; and Ruth was walking down the hill, trembling and pale. It was the first time; and for one minute her heart seemed to stop beating and then rushed wildly on. Whether she had bowed or made any sign of recognition, she did not know. It did not matter, though; if he thought her cold or strange or anything, what difference could it possibly make? For her there would be left forever this dead emptiness. These casual meetings were inevitable; and she would come home after them worn-out and heavy-eyed. "A slight headache" was a recurrent excuse with her.
They had common friends, and it would not have been surprising had she met him at the different affairs to which she went, always through her mother's desire. But the dread of coming upon him slowly departed as the months rolled by and with them all token of him. Time and again she would hear allusions to him. "Dr. Kemp has developed into a misogynist," pouted Dorothy Gwynne. "He was one of the few decided eligibles on the horizon, but it requires the magnet of illness to draw him now. I really must look up the symptoms of a possible ache; the toilet and expression of an invalid are very becoming, you know."
"Dr. Kemp made a splendid donation to our kindergarten to-day. I have not seen him since we were in the country, and he thought me looking very well. He inquired after the family, and I told him we had a residence, at which he smiled." This from Mrs. Levice. Ruth would have given much to have been able to ask after him with self-possession, but the muscles of her throat seemed to swell and choke her while silent. She went now and then to see Bob Bard in his flower-store; he would without fail inquire after "our friend" or tell her of his having passed that day. Here was her one chance of inquiring if he was looking well, to which the answer was invariably "yes."
She sat one night at the opera in her wonted beauty, with her soft, dusky hair rolled from her sweet Madonna face. Many a lorgnette was raised a second and a third time toward her. Louis, seated next to her, resented with unaccountable ferocity this free admiration that she did not see or feel.
As the curtain went down on the first act, he drew her attention to some celebrity then passing out. She raised her glass, but her hand fell nerveless in her lap. Immediately following him came Dr. Kemp. Their eyes met, and he bowed low, passing on immediately. The rest of the evening passed like a nightmare; she heard nothing but her heart-throbs, saw nothing but his beloved face regarding her with simple courtesy. Louis knew that for her the opera was over; the tell-tale bistrous shadows grew around her eyes, and she became deadly silent.
"What a magnificent man he is," murmured Mrs. Levice, "and what an impressive bow he has!" Ruth did not hear her; but when she reached her own room, she threw herself face downward on her bed in intolerable anguish. She was not a girl who cried easily. If she had been, her suffering would not have been so intense,—when the flood-gates are opened, the river finds relief. Over and over again she wished she might die and end this eager, passionate craving for some token of love from him, or for the power of letting him know how it was with her. And it would always be thus as long as she lived. She did not deceive herself; no mere friendship would have sufficed,—all or nothing after what had been.
Physically, however, she bore no traces of this continual restraint. On the contrary, her slender figure matured to womanly proportions. Little children, seeing her, smiled responsively at her, or clamored to be taken into her arms, there was such a tender mother-look about her. By degrees her friends began to feel the repose of her intellect and the sympathy of her face, and came to regard her as the queen of confidantes. Young girls with their continual love episodes and excitements, ambitious youths with their whimsical schemes of life and aspirations of love, sought her out openly. Few of these latter dared hope for any individual thought from her, though any of the older men would have staked a good deal for the knowledge that she singled him for her consideration.
Arnold viewed it all with inward satisfaction. He regarded memory but as a sort of palimpsest; and he was patiently waiting until his own name should appear again, when the other's should have been sufficiently obliterated.
It was a severe winter, and everybody appreciated the luxury of a warm home. December came in wet and cold, and la grippe held the country in its disagreeable hold. The Levices were congratulating themselves one evening on their having escaped the epidemic.
"I suppose the secret of it lies in the fact that we do not coddle ourselves," observed Levice.
"If you were to coddle yourself a little more," retorted his wife, "you would not cough every morning as you do. Really, Jules, if you do not consult a physician, I shall send for Kemp myself. I actually think it is making you thin."
"Nonsense!" he replied carelessly; "it is only a little irritation of the throat every morning. If the weather is clear next week, I must go to New York. Eh, Louis?"
"At this time of the year!" cried Mrs. Levice, in expostulation.
"Some one has to go, and the only one that should is I."
"I think I could manage it," said Louis, "if you would see about the other adjustment while I am gone."
"No, you could not,"—when Levice said "no," it seldom meant an ultimate "yes." "Besides, the trip will do me good."
"I shall go with you," put in Mrs. Levice, decidedly.
"No, dear; you could not stand the cold in New York, and I could not be bothered with a woman's grip-sack."
"Take Ruth, then."
"I should love to go with you, Father," she replied to the questioning glance of his eyes. He seemed to ponder over it for a while, but shook his head finally.
"No," he said again; "I shall be very busy, and a woman would be a nuisance to me. Besides, I wish to be alone for a while."
They all looked at him in surprise; he was so unused to making testy remarks.
"Grown tired of womankind?" asked Mrs. Levice, playfully. "Well, if you must, you must; don't overstay your health and visit, and bring us something pretty. How long will you be gone?"
"That depends on the speediness of the courts. No more than three weeks at the utmost, however."
So the following Wednesday being bright and sunny, he set off; the family crossed the bay with him.
"Take care of your mother, Ruth," he said at parting, "and of yourself, my pale darling."
"Don't worry about me, Father," she said, pulling up his furred collar; "indeed, I am well and happy. If you could believe me, perhaps you would love me as much as you used to."
"As much! My child, I never loved you better than now; remember that. I think I have forgotten everybody else in you."
"Don't, dear! it makes me feel miserable to think I should cause you a moment's uneasiness. Won't you believe that everything is as I wish it?"
"If I could, I should have to lose the memory of the last four months. Well, try your best to forgive me, child."
"Unless you hate me, don't hurt me with that thought again. I forgive you? I, who am the cause of it all?"
He kissed her tear-filled eyes tenderly, and turned with a sign to her mother.
They watched to the last his loved face at the window, Ruth with a sad smile and a loving wave of her handkerchief.
Over at the mole it is not a bad place to witness tragedies. Pathos holds the upper hand, and the welcomes are sometimes as heart-rending as the leave-takings. A woman stood on the ferry with a blank, working face down which the tears fell heedlessly; a man, her husband, turned from her, drew his hat down over his eyes, and stalked off toward the train without a backward glance. Parting is a figure of death in this respect,—that only those who are left need mourn; the others have something new beyond.
The fire-light threw grotesque shadows on the walls. Ruth and Louis in the library made no movement to ring for lights; it was quite cosey as it was. They had both drawn near the crackling wood-blaze, Ruth in a low rocker, Arnold in Mr. Levice's broad easy-chair.
"I surely thought you intended going to the concert this evening, Louis," she said, looking across at him. "I fancy Mamma expected you to accompany her."
"What! Voluntarily put myself into the cold when there is a fire blazing right here? Ah, no. At any rate, your mother is all right with the Lewises, and I am all right with you."
"I give you a guarantee I shall not bite; you look altogether too hard for my cannibalistic propensities."
"It is something not to be accounted soft. I think a redundancy of flesh overflows in trickling sentimentality. My worst enemy could not accuse me of either fault."