Infomotions, Inc.On the Church Steps / Hallowell, Sarah C.



Author: Hallowell, Sarah C.
Title: On the Church Steps
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): bessie; sloman; fanny meyrick; meyrick; fanny; hiram; charlie; aunt sloman; bessie stewart
Contributor(s): Wheatley, Henry B. [Editor]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 28,609 words (really short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 68 (easy)
Identifier: etext17559
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Title: On the Church Steps

Author: Sarah C. Hallowell

Release Date: January 20, 2006 [EBook #17559]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ON THE CHURCH STEPS ***




Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Christine D. and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net









ON THE CHURCH STEPS.

By SARAH C. HALLOWELL.


This e-text was compiled from sections of this novel published in the
August to October editions of:

LIPPINCOTT'S MAGAZINE OF POPULAR LITERATURE AND SCIENCE. 1873


CHAPTER I.


What a picture she was as she sat there, my own Bessie! and what a
strange place it was to rest on, those church steps! Behind us lay the
Woolsey woods, with their wooing fragrance of pine and soft rushes of
scented air; and the lakes were in the distance, lying very calm in
the cloud-shadows and seeming to wait for us to come. But to-day
Bessie would nothing of lakes or ledges: she would sit on the church
steps.

In front of us, straight to the gate, ran a stiff little walk of white
pebbles, hard and harsh as some bygone creed.

"Think of little bare feet coming up here, Bessie!" I said with a
shiver. "It is too hard. And every carriage that comes up the hill
sees us."

"And why shouldn't they see us?" said my lady, turning full upon me.
"I am not ashamed to be here."

"Churches should always have soft walks of turf; and lovers," I would
fain have added, "should have naught but whispering leaves about
them."

But Bessie cut me short in her imperious way: "But we are not lovers
this morning: at least," with a half-relenting look at my rueful face,
"we are very good friends, and I choose to sit here to show people
that we are."

"What do you care for _people_--the Bartons or the Meyricks?" as I
noticed a familiar family carriage toiling up the hill, followed by a
lighter phaeton. I recognized already in the latter vehicle the
crimson feather of Fanny Meyrick, and "the whip that was a parasol."

"Shall I step out into the road this minute, and stop those ladies
like a peaceable highwayman, and tell them you have promised to marry
me, and that their anxiety as to our intimacy may be at rest? Give me
but leave and I will do it. It will make Mrs. Barton comfortable. Then
you and I can walk away into those beckoning woods, and I can have you
all to myself."

Indeed she was worth having. With the witchery that some girls know,
she had made a very picture of herself that morning, as I have said.
Some soft blue muslin stuff was caught up around her in airy
draperies--nothing stiff or frilled about her: all was soft and
flowing, from the falling sleeve that showed the fair curve of her arm
to the fold of her dress, the ruffle under which her little foot was
tapping, impatiently now. A little white hat with a curling blue
feather shaded her face--a face I won't trust myself to describe, save
by saying that it was the brightest and truest, as I then thought, in
all the world.

She said something rapidly in Italian--she is always artificial when
she uses a foreign tongue--and this I caught but imperfectly, but it
had a proverbial air about it of the error of too hasty assumptions.

"Well, now I'll tell you something," she said as the carriages
disappeared over the top of the hill. "Fanny Meyrick is going abroad
in October, and we shall not see her for ever so long."

Going abroad? Good gracious! That was the very thing I had to tell her
that morning--that I too was ordered abroad. An estate to be
settled--some bothering old claim that had been handed down from
generation to generation, and now springing into life again by the
lapsing of two lives on the other side. But how to tell her as she
looked up into my face with the half-pleading, half-imperious smile
that I knew so well? How to tell her _now_?

So I said nothing, but foolishly pushed the little pebbles aside with
my stick, fatuously waiting for the subject to pass. Of course my
silence brought an instant criticism: "Why, Charlie, what ails you?"

"Nothing. And really, Bessie, what is it to us whether Fanny Meyrick
go or stay?"

"I shouldn't have thought it _was_ anything. But your silence, your
confusion--Charlie, you do care a little for her, after all."

Two years ago, before Bessie and I had ever met, I had fluttered
around Fanny Meyrick for a season, attracted by her bright brown eyes
and the gypsy flush on her cheek. But there were other moths
fluttering around that adamantine candle too; and I was not long in
discovering that the brown eyes were bright for each and all, and that
the gypsy flush was never stirred by feeling or by thought. It was
merely a fixed ensign of health and good spirits. Consequently the
charm had waned, for me at least; and in my confessions to Bessie
since our near intimacy it was she, not I, who had magnified it into
the shadow even of a serious thought.

"Care for her? Nonsense, Bessie! Do you want me to call her a mere
doll, a hard, waxen--no, for wax will melt--a Parian creature, such as
you may see by the dozens in Schwartz's window any day? It doesn't
gratify you, surely, to hear me say that of any woman."

And then--what possessed me?--I was so angry at myself that I took a
mental _resume_ of all the good that could be said of Fanny
Meyrick--her generosity, her constant cheerfulness; and in somewhat
headlong fashion I expressed myself: "I won't call her a dolt and an
idiot, even to please you. I have seen her do generous things, and she
is never out of temper."

"Thanks!" said Bessie, nodding her head till the blue feather
trembled. "It is as well, as Aunt Sloman says, to keep my shortcomings
before you."

"When did Aunt Sloman say that?" I interrupted, hoping for a diversion
of the subject.

"This morning only. I was late at breakfast. You know, Charlie, I was
_so_ tired with that long horseback ride, and of course everything
waited. Dear aunty never _will_ begin until I come down, but sits
beside the urn like the forlornest of martyrs, and reads last night's
papers over and over again."

"Well? And was she sorry that she had not invited me to wait with
her?"

"Yes," said Bessie. "She said all sorts of things, and," flushing
slightly, "that it was a pity you shouldn't know beforehand what you
were to expect."

"I wish devoutly that I had been there," seizing the little hand that
was mournfully tapping the weatherbeaten stone, and forcing the
downcast eyes to look at me. "I think, both together, we could have
pacified Aunt Sloman."

It _was_ a diversion, and after a little while Bessie professed she
had had enough of the church steps.

"How those people do stare! Is it the W----s, do you think, Charlie? I
heard yesterday they were coming."

From our lofty position on the hillside we commanded the road leading
out of the village--the road that was all alive with carriages on this
beautiful September morning. The W---- carriage had half halted to
reconnoitre, and had only not hailed us because we had sedulously
looked another way.

"Let's get away," I said, "for the next carriage will not only stop,
but come over;" and Bessie suffered herself to be led through the
little tangle of brier and fern, past the gray old gravestones with
"Miss Faith" and "Miss Mehitable" carved upon them, and into the leafy
shadow of the waiting woods.

Other lovers have been there before us, but the trees whisper no
secrets save their own. The subject of our previous discussion was not
resumed, nor was Fanny Meyrick mentioned, until on our homeward road
we paused a moment on the hilltop, as we always did.

It is indeed a hill of vision, that church hill at Lenox. Sparkling
far to the south, the blue Dome lay, softened and shining in the
September sun. There was ineffable peace in the faint blue sky, and,
stealing up from the valley, a shimmering haze that seemed to veil the
bustling village and soften all the rural sounds.

Bessie drew nearer to me, shading her eyes as she looked down into the
valley: "Charlie dear, let us stay here always. We shall be happier,
better here than to go back to New York."

"And the law-business?" I asked like a brutal bear, bringing the
realities of life into my darling's girlish dream.

"Can't you practice law in Foxcroft, and drive over there every
morning? People do."

"And because they do, and there are enough of them, I must plod along
in the ways that are made for me already. We can make pilgrimages
here, you know."

"I suppose so," said Bessie with a sigh.

Just then Fanny Kemble's clock in the tower above us struck the
hour--one, two, three.

"Bless me! so late? And there's that phaeton coming back over the hill
again. Hurry, Charlie! don't let them see us. They'll think that we've
been here all the time." And Bessie plunged madly down the hill, and
struck off into the side-path that leads into the Lebanon road. The
last vibrations of the bell were still trembling on the air as I
caught up with her again.

But again the teasing mood of the morning had come over her. Quite out
of breath with the run, as we sat down to rest on the little porch of
Mrs. Sloman's cottage she said, very earnestly, "But you haven't once
said it."

"Said what, my darling?"

"That you are glad that Fanny is going abroad."

"Nonsense! Why should I be glad?"

"Are you sorry, then?"

If I had but followed my impulse then, and said frankly that I was,
and why I was! But Mrs. Sloman was coming through the little hall: I
heard her step. Small time for explanation, no time for reproaches.
And I could not leave Bessie, on that morning of all others, hurt or
angry, or only half convinced.

"No, I am not sorry," I said, pulling down a branch of honeysuckle,
and making a loop of it to draw around her neck. "It is nothing,
either way."

"Then say after me if it is nothing--feel as I feel for one minute,
won't you?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Say, after me, then, word for word, 'I am glad, _very_ glad, that
Fanny Meyrick is to sail in October. I would not have her stay on this
side for _worlds_!"

And like a fool, a baby, I said it, word for word, from those sweet
smiling lips: "I am glad, _very_ glad, that Fanny Meyrick is to sail
in October. I would not have her stay on this side for _worlds_!"




CHAPTER II.


The next day was Sunday, and I was on duty at an early hour, prepared
to walk with Bessie to church. My darling was peculiar among women in
this: her church-going dress was sober-suited; like a little gray nun,
almost, she came down to me that morning. Her dress, of some soft gray
stuff, fell around her in the simplest folds, a knot of brown ribbon
at her throat, and in her hat a gray gull's wing.

I had praised the Italian women for the simplicity of their
church-attire: their black dresses and lace veils make a picturesque
contrast with the gorgeous ceremonials of the high altar. But there
was something in this quiet toilet, so fresh and simple and girl-like,
that struck me as the one touch of grace that the American woman can
give to the best even of foreign taste. Not the dramatic abnegation
indicated by the black dress, but the quiet harmony of a life atune.

Mrs. Sloman was ready even before Bessie came down. She was a great
invalid, although her prim and rigid countenance forbore any
expression save of severity. She had no pathos about her, not a touch.
Whatever her bodily sufferings may have been--and Bessie dimly hinted
that they were severe to agony at times--they were resolutely shut
within her chamber door; and when she came out in the early morning,
her cold brown hair drawn smoothly over those impassive cheeks, she
looked like a lady abbess--as cold, as unyielding and as hard.

There was small sympathy between the aunt and niece, but a great deal
of painstaking duty on the one side, and on the other the habit of
affection which young girls have for the faces they have always known.

Mrs. Sloman had been at pains to tell me, when my frequent visits to
her cottage made it necessary that I should in some fashion explain to
her as to what I wanted there, that her niece, Bessie Stewart, was in
nowise dependent on her, not even for a home. "This cottage we rent in
common. It was her father's desire that her property should not
accumulate, and that she should have nothing at my hands but
companionship, and"--with a set and sickly smile--"advice when it was
called for. We are partners in our expenses, and the arrangement can
be broken up at any moment."

Was this all? No word of love or praise for the fair young thing that
had brightened all her household in these two years that Bessie had
been fatherless?

I believe there was love and appreciation, but it was not Mrs.
Sloman's method to be demonstrative or expansive. She approved of the
engagement, and in her grim way had opened an immediate battery of
household ledgers and ways and means. Some idea, too, of making me
feel easy about taking Bessie away from her, I think, inclined her to
this business-like manner. I tried to show her, by my own manner, that
I understood her without words, and I think she was very grateful to
be spared the expression of feeling. Poor soul! repression had become
such a necessity to her!

So we talked on gravely of the weather, and of the celebrated Doctor
McQ----, who was expected to give us an argumentative sermon that
morning, until _my_ argument came floating in at the door like a calm
little bit of thistledown, to which our previous conversation had been
as the thistle's self.

The plain little church was gay that morning. Carriage after carriage
drove up with much prancing and champing, and group after group of
city folk came rustling along the aisles. It was a bit of Fifth Avenue
let into Lenox calm. The World and the Flesh were there, at least.

In the hush of expectancy that preceded the minister's arrival there
was much waving of scented fans, while the well-bred city glances took
in everything without seeming to see. I felt that Bessie and I were
being mentally discussed and ticketed. And as it was our first
appearance at church since--well, _since_--perhaps there was just a
little consciousness of our relations that made Bessie seem to retire
absolutely within herself, and be no more a part of the silken crowd
than was the grave, plain man who rose up in the pulpit.

I hope the sermon was satisfactory. I am sure it was convincing to a
brown-handed farmer who sat beside us, and who could with difficulty
restrain his applauding comment. But I was lost in a dream of a near
heaven, and could not follow the spoken word. It was just a quiet
little opportunity to contemplate my darling, to tell over her
sweetness and her charm, and to say over and again, like a blundering
school-boy, "It's all mine! mine!"

The congregation might have been dismissed for aught I knew, and left
me sitting there with her beside me. But I was startled into the
proprieties as we stood up to sing the concluding hymn. I was standing
stock-still beside her, not listening to the words at all, but with a
pleasant sense of everything being very comfortable, and an
old-fashioned swell of harmony on the air, when suddenly the book
dropped from Bessie's hand and fell heavily to the floor. I should
have said she flung it down had it been on any other occasion, so
rapid and vehement was the action.

I stooped to pick it up, when with a decided gesture she stopped me. I
looked at her surprised. Her face was flushed, indignant, I thought,
and instantly my conscience was on the rack. What had I done, for my
lady was evidently angry?

Glancing down once more toward the book, I saw that she had set her
foot upon it, and indeed her whole attitude was one of excitement,
defiance. Why did she look so hot and scornful? I was disturbed and
anxious: what was there in the book or in me to anger her?

As quickly as possible I drew her away from the bustling crowd when
the service was concluded. Fortunately, there was a side-door through
which we could pass out into the quiet churchyard, and we vanished
through it, leaving Mrs. Sloman far behind. Over into the Lebanon road
was but a step, and the little porch was waiting with its cool
honeysuckle shade. But Bessie did not stop at the gate: she was in no
mood for home. And yet she would not answer my outpouring questions as
to whether she was ill, or what _was_ the matter.

"I'll tell you in a minute. Come, hurry!" she said, hastening along up
the hill through all the dust and heat.

At last we reached that rustic bit of ruin known popularly as the
"Shed." It was a hard bit of climbing, but I rejoiced that Bessie, so
flushed and excited at the start, grew calmer as we went; and when,
the summit reached, she sat down to rest on a broken board, her color
was natural and she seemed to breathe freely again.

"Are they all hypocrites, do you think, Charlie?" she said suddenly,
looking up into my face.

"They? who? Bessie, what have I done to make you angry?"

"You? Nothing, dear goose! I am angry at myself and at everybody else.
Did it flash upon you, Charlie, what we were singing?"

Then she quoted the lines, which I will not repeat here, but they
expressed, as the sole aspiration of the singer, a desire to pass
eternity in singing hymns of joy and praise--an impatience for the
time to come, a disregard of earth, a turning away from temporal
things, and again the desire for an eternity of sacred song.

"Suppose I confess to you," said I, astonished at her earnestness,
"that I did not at all know what I was singing?"

"That's just it! just what makes it so dreadful! _Nobody_ was thinking
about it--nobody! Nobody there wanted to give up earth and go straight
to heaven and sing. I looked round at all the people, with their new
bonnets, and the diamonds, and the footmen in the pews up stairs, and
I thought, What lies they are all saying! Nobody wants to go to heaven
at all until they are a hundred years old, and too deaf and blind and
tired out to do anything on earth. My heaven is here and now in my own
happiness, and so is yours, Charlie; and I felt so convicted of being
a story-teller that I couldn't hold the book in my hand."

"Well, then," said I, "shall we have one set of hymns for happy
people, and another for poor, tired-out folks like that little
dressmaker that leaned against the wall?" For Bessie herself had
called my attention to the pale little body who had come to the church
door at the same moment with us.

"No, not two sets. Do you suppose that she, either, wants to _sing_ on
for ever? And all those girls! Sorry enough they would be to have to
die, and leave their dancing and flirtations and the establishments
they hope to have! It wouldn't be much comfort to them to promise them
they should _sing_. Charlie, I want a hymn that shall give thanks that
I am alive, that I have _you_."

"Could the dressmaker sing that?"

"No;" and Bessie's eyes sought the shining blue sky with a wistful,
beseeching tenderness. "Oh, it's all wrong, Charlie dear. She ought to
tell us in a chant how tired and hopeless she is for this world; and
we ought to sing to her something that would cheer her, help her, even
in this world. Why must she wait for all her brightness till she dies?
So perfectly heartless to stand up along side of her and sing _that_!"

"Well," I said, "you needn't wait till next Sunday to bring her your
words of cheer."

In a minute my darling was crying on my shoulder. I could understand
the outburst, and was glad of it.

All athrill with new emotions, new purposes, an eternity of love, she
had come to church to be reminded that earth was naught, that the
trials and tempests here would come to an end some day, and after, to
the patiently victorious, would come the hymns of praise. _Earth_ was
very full that morning to her and me; _earth_ was a place for
worshipful harmonies; and yet the strong contrast with the poor
patient sufferer who had passed into church with us was too much for
Bessie: she craved an expression that should comprehend alike her
sorrow and our abundant joy.

The tempest of tears passed by, and we had bright skies again. Poor
Mrs. Sloman's dinner waited long that day; and it was with a guilty
sense that she was waiting too that we went down the hill at a
quickened pace when the church clock, sounding up the hillside, came
like a chiding voice.

And a double sense of guiltiness was creeping over me. I must return
to New York to-morrow, and I had not told Bessie yet of the longer
journey I must make so soon. I put it by again and again in the short
flying hours of that afternoon; and it was not until dusk had fallen
in the little porch, as we sat there after tea, and I had watched the
light from Mrs. Sloman's chamber shine down upon the honeysuckles and
then go out, that I took my resolution.

"Bessie," I said, leaning over her and taking her face in both my
hands, "I have something to tell you."




CHAPTER III.


"I have something to tell you;" and without an instant's pause I went
on: "Mr. D---- has business in England which cannot be attended to by
letter. One of us must go, and they send me. I must sail in two
weeks."

It was a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, and Bessie gave a little gasp
of surprise: "So soon! Oh, Charlie, take me with you!" Realizing in
the next instant the purport of the suggestion, she flung away from my
hands and rushed into the parlor, where a dim, soft lamp was burning
on the table. She sat down on a low chair beside it and hid her face
on the table in her hands.

Like a flash of lightning all the possibilities of our marriage before
many days--arranging it with Mrs. Sloman, and satisfying my partners,
who would expect me to travel fast and work hard in the short time
they had allotted for the journey,--all came surging and throbbing
through my brain, while my first answer was not given in words.

When I had persuaded Bessie to look at me and to answer me in turn, I
hoped we should be able to talk about it with the calm judgment it
needed.

"To leave my wife--my wife!"--how I lingered on the word!--"in some
poky lodgings in London, while I am spending my day among dusty boxes
and files of deeds in a dark old office, isn't just my ideal of our
wedding-journey; but, Bessie, if _you_ wish it so--"

What was there in my tone that jarred her? I had meant to be
magnanimous, to think of her comfort alone, of the hurry and business
of such a journey--tried to shut myself out and think only of her in
the picture. But I failed, of course, and went on stupidly, answering
the quick look of question in her eyes: "If you prefer it--that is,
you know, I must think of you and not of myself."

Still the keen questioning glance. What new look was this in her eyes,
what dawning thought?

"No," she answered after a pause, slowly withdrawing her hand from
mine, "think of yourself."

I had expected that she would overwhelm me in her girlish way with
saucy protestations that she would be happy even in the dull London
lodgings, and that she would defy the law-files to keep me long from
her. This sudden change of manner chilled me with a nameless fear.

"If _I_ prefer it! If _I_ wish it! I see that I should be quite in
your way, an encumbrance. Don't talk about it any more."

She was very near crying, and I wish to heaven she had cried. But she
conquered herself resolutely, and held herself cold and musing before
me. I might take her hand, might kiss her unresisting cheek, but she
seemed frozen into sudden thoughtfulness that it was impossible to
meet or to dispel.

"Bessie, you know you are a little goose! What could I wish for in
life but to carry you off this minute to New York? Come, get your hat
and let's walk over to the parsonage now. We'll get Doctor Wilder to
marry us, and astonish your aunt in the morning."

"Nonsense!" said Bessie with a slight quiver of her pretty, pouting
mouth. "Do be rational, Charlie!"

I believe I was rational in my own fashion for a little while, but
when I ventured to say in a very unnecessary whisper, "Then you will
go abroad with me?" Bessie flushed to her temples and rose from the
sofa. She had a way, when she was very much in earnest, or very much
stirred with some passionate thought, of pacing the parlor with her
hands clasped tightly before her, and her arms tense and straining at
the clasping hands. With her head bent slightly forward, and her brown
hair hanging in one long tress over her shoulder, she went swiftly up
and down, while I lay back on the sofa and watched her. She would
speak it out presently, the thought that was hurting her. So I felt
secure and waited, following every movement with a lover's eye. But I
ought not to have waited. I should have drawn her to me and shared
that rapid, nervous walk--should have compelled her with sweet force
to render an account of that emotion. But I was so secure, so entirely
one with her in thought, that I could conceive of nothing but a
passing tempest at my blundering, stupid thoughtfulness for her.

Suddenly at the door she stopped, and with her hand upon it said,
"Good-night, Charlie;" and was out of the room in a twinkling.

I sprang from the sofa and to the foot of the stairs, but I saw only a
glimpse of her vanishing dress; and though I called after her in low,
beseeching tones, "Bessie! Bessie!" a door shut in the distant
corridor for only answer.

What to do? In that decorous mansion I could not follow her; and my
impulse to dash after her and knock at her door till she answered me,
I was forced to put aside after a moment's consideration.

I stood there in the quiet hall, the old clock ticking away a solemn
"I-told-you-so!" in the corner. I made one step toward the kitchen to
send a message by one of the maids, but recoiled at the suggestion
that this would publish a lovers' quarrel. So I retreated along the
hall, my footsteps making no noise on the India matting, and entered
the parlor again like a thief. I sat down by the table: "Bessie will
certainly come back: she will get over her little petulance, and know
I am here waiting."

All about the parlor were the traces of my darling. A soft little coil
of rose-colored Berlin wool, with its ivory needle sheathed among the
stitches, lay in a tiny basket. I lifted it up: the basket was made of
scented grass, and there was a delicious sweet and pure fragrance
about the knitting-work. I took possession of it and thrust it into my
breast-pocket. A magazine she had been reading, with the palest slip
of a paper-knife--a bit of delicate Swiss wood--in it, next came in my
way. I tried to settle down and read where she had left off, but the
words danced before my eyes, and a strange tune was repeating in my
ears, "Good-night, Charlie--good-night and good-bye!"

One mad impulse seized me to go out under her window and call to her,
asking her to come down. But Lenox nights were very still, and the
near neighbors on either side doubtless wide awake to all that was
going on around the Sloman cottage.

So I sat still like an idiot, and counted the clock-strokes, and
nervously calculated the possibility of her reappearance, until I
heard, at last, footsteps coming along the hall in rapid tread. I
darted up: "Oh, Bessie, I knew you would come back!" as through the
open door walked in--Mary, Mrs. Sloman's maid!

She started at seeing me: "Excuse me, sir. The parlor was so--I
thought there was no one here."

"What is it, Mary?" I asked with assumed indifference. "Do you want
Miss Bessie? She went up stairs a few moments ago."

"No, sir. I thought--that is--" glancing down in awkward confusion at
the key she held in her hand. She was retiring again softly when I saw
in the key the reason of her discomposure.

"Did you come in to lock up, Mary?" I asked with a laugh.

"Yes, sir. But it is of no consequence. I thought you had gone, sir."

"Time I was, I suppose. Well, Mary, you shall lock me out, and then
carry this note to Miss Bessie. It is so late that I will not wait for
her. Perhaps she is busy with Mrs. Sloman."

Something in Mary's face made me suspect that she knew Mrs. Sloman to
be sound asleep at this moment; but she said nothing, and waited
respectfully until I had scribbled a hasty note, rifling Bessie's
writing-desk for the envelope in which to put my card. Dear child!
there lay my photograph, the first thing I saw as I raised the dainty
lid.

"Bessie," I wrote, "I have waited until Mary has come in with her
keys, and I suppose I must go. My train starts at nine to-morrow
morning, but you will be ready--will you not?--at six to take a
morning walk with me. I will be here at that hour. You don't know how
disturbed and anxious I shall be till then."




CHAPTER IV.


Morning came--or rather the long night came to an end at last--and at
twenty minutes before six I opened the gate at the Sloman cottage. It
was so late in September that the morning was a little hazy and
uncertain. And yet the air was warm and soft--a perfect reflex, I
thought, of Bessie last night--an electric softness under a brooding
cloud.

The little house lay wrapped in slumber. I hesitated to pull the bell:
no, it would startle Mrs. Sloman. Bessie was coming: she would surely
not make me wait. Was not that her muslin curtain stirring? I would
wait in the porch--she would certainly come down soon.

So I waited, whistling softly to myself as I pushed the withered
leaves about with my stick and drew strange patterns among them. Half
an hour passed.

"I will give her a gentle reminder;" so I gathered a spray from the
honeysuckle, a late bloom among the fast-falling leaves, and aimed it
right at the muslin curtain. The folds parted and it fell into the
room, but instead of the answering face that I looked to see, all was
still again.

"It's very strange," thought I. "Bessie's pique is not apt to last so
long. She must indeed be angry."

And I went over each detail of our last night's talk, from her first
burst of "Take me with you!" to my boggling answers, my fears, so
stupidly expressed, that it would be anything but a picturesque
bridal-trip, and the necessity that there was for rapid traveling and
much musty, old research.

"What a fool I was not to take her then and there! She _is_ myself:
why shouldn't I, then, be selfish? When I do what of all things I want
to, why can't I take it for granted that she will be happy too?" And a
hot flush of shame went over me to think that I had been about to
propose to her, to my own darling girl, that we should be married as
soon as possible _after_ I returned from Europe.

Her love, clearer-sighted, had striven to forestall our separation:
why should we be parted all those weary weeks? why put the sea between
us?

I had accepted all these obstacles as a dreary necessity, never
thinking for the moment that conventional objections might be
overcome, aunts and guardians talked over, and the whole matter
arranged by two people determined on their own sweet will.

What a lumbering, masculine plan was mine! _After I returned from
Europe!_ I grew red and bit my lips with vexation. And now my dear
girl was shy and hurt. How should I win back again that sweet impulse
of confidence?

Presently the household began to stir. I heard unbarring and
unbolting, and craftily retreated to the gate, that I might seem to be
just coming in, to the servant who should open the door.

It was opened by a housemaid--not the Mary of the night before--who
stared a moment at seeing me, but on my asking if Miss Bessie was
ready yet to walk, promised smilingly to go and see. She returned in a
moment, saying that Miss Bessie begged that I would wait: she was
hurrying to come down.

The child! She has slept too soundly. I shall tell her how insensate
she must have been, how serenely unconscious when the flower came in
at the window.

The clock on the mantel struck seven and the half hour before Bessie
appeared. She was very pale, and her eyes looked away at my greeting.
Passively she suffered herself to be placed in a chair, and then, with
something of her own manner, she said hurriedly, "Don't think I got
your note, Charlie, last night, or I wouldn't, indeed I wouldn't, have
kept you waiting so long this morning."

"Didn't Mary bring it to you?" I asked, surprised.

"Yes: that is, she brought it up to my room, but, Charlie dear, I
wasn't there: I wasn't there all night. I did shut my door, though I
heard you calling, and after a little while I crept out into the entry
and looked over the stairs, hoping you were there still, and that I
could come back to you. But you were not there, and everything was so
still that I was sure you had gone--gone without a word. I listened
and listened, but I was too proud to go down into the parlor and see.
And yet I could not go back to my room, next Aunt Sloman's. I went
right up stairs to the blue room, and stayed there. Mary must have put
your note on my table when she came up stairs. I found it there this
morning when I went down."

"Poor darling! And what did you do all night in the blue room? I am
afraid," looking at her downcast eyes, "that you did not sleep--that
you were angry at me."

"At you? No, at myself," she said very low.

"Bessie, you know that my first and only thought was of the hurry and
worry this journey would cost you. You know that to have you with me
was something that I had scarce dared to dream."

"And therefore," with a flash of blue eyes, "for me to dare to dream
it was--" and again she hid her face.

"But, my precious, don't you know that it was for _you_ to suggest
what I wanted all the time, but thought it would be too much to ask?"
For I had discovered, of course, in my morning's work among the dead
leaves on the porch, that I had desired it from the moment I had known
of my journey--desired it without acknowledging it to myself or
presuming to plan upon it.

At this juncture breakfast was announced, and the folding doors thrown
open that led into the breakfast-parlor, disclosing Mrs. Sloman seated
by the silver urn, and a neat little table spread for three, so quick
had been the housemaid's intuitions.

"Good-morning, Charles: come get some breakfast. You will hardly be in
time for your train," suggested Aunt Sloman in a voice that had in it
all the gloom of the morning. Indeed, the clouds had gathered heavily
during the parlor scene, and some large drops were rattling against
the window.

I looked at my watch. After eight! Pshaw! I will let this train go,
and will telegraph to the office. I can take the night train, and thus
lose only a few hours. So I stayed.

What rare power had Bessie in the very depths of her trouble, and with
her face pale and eyes so heavy with her last night's vigil--what gift
that helped her to be gay? Apparently not with an effort, not forced,
she was as joyous and frank as her sunniest self. No exaggeration of
laughter or fun, but the brightness of her every-day manner, teasing
and sparkling round Aunt Sloman, coquetting very naturally with me. It
was a swift change from the gloomy atmosphere we had left behind in
the parlor, and I basked in it delighted, and feeling, poor fool! that
the storm was cleared away, and that the time for the singing of birds
was come.

I was the more deceived. I did not know all of Bessie yet. Her horror
of a scene, of any suspicion that there was discord between us, and
her rare self-control, that for the moment put aside all trouble,
folded it out of sight and took up the serene old life again for a
little space.

"Aunt Maria," said Bessie, pushing aside her chair, "won't you take
care of Mr. Munro for a little while? I have a letter to write that I
want him to take to New York."

Aunt Maria would be happy to entertain me, or rather to have me
entertain her. If I would read to her, now, would I be so kind, while
she washed up her breakfast cups?

How people can do two things at once I am sure I cannot understand;
and while the maid brought in the large wooden bowl, the steam of
whose household incense rose high in the air, I watched impatient for
the signal to begin. When the tea-cups were all collected, and Aunt
Sloman held one by the handle daintily over the "boiling flood,"
"Now," she said with a serene inclination of her head, "if you
please."

And off I started at a foot-pace through the magazine that had been
put into my hands. Whether it was anything about the "Skelligs," or
"Miss Sedgwick's Letters," or "Stanley-Livingstone," I have not the
remotest idea. I was fascinated by the gentle dip of each tea-cup, and
watched from the corner of my eye the process of polishing each
glittering spoon on a comfortable crash towel.

Then my thoughts darted off to Bessie. Was she indeed writing to her
old trustee? Judge Hubbard was a friend of my father's, and would
approve of me, I thought, if he did not agree at once to the hurried
marriage and ocean journey.

"What an unconscionable time it takes her! Don't you think so, Mrs.
Sloman?" I said at last, after I had gone through three several papers
on subjects unknown.

I suppose it was scarcely a courteous speech. But Mrs. Sloman smiled a
white-lipped smile of sympathy, and said, "Yes: I will go and send her
to you."

"Oh, don't hurry her," I said falsely, hoping, however, that she
would.

Did I say before that Bessie was tall? Though so slight that you
always wanted to speak of her with some endearing diminutive, she
looked taller than ever that morning; and as she stood before me,
coming up to the fireplace where I was standing, her eyes looked
nearly level into mine. I did not understand their veiled expression,
and before I had time to study it she dropped them and said hastily,
"Young man, I am pining for a walk."

"In the rain?"

"Pshaw! This is nothing, after all, but a Scotch mist. See, I am
dressed for it;" and she threw a tartan cloak over her shoulder--a
blue-and-green tartan that I had never seen before.

"The very thing for shipboard," I whispered as I looked at her
admiringly.

Her face was flushed enough now, but she made no answer save to stoop
down and pat the silly little terrier that had come trotting into the
room with her.

"Fidget shall go--yes, he shall go walking;" and Fidget made a gray
ball of himself in his joy at the permission.

Up the hill again we walked, with the little Skye terrier cantering in
advance or madly chasing the chickens across the road.

"Did you finish your letter satisfactorily?" I asked, for I was
fretting with impatience to know its contents.

"Yes. I will give it to you when you leave to-night."

"Shall we say next Saturday, Bessie?" said I, resolving to plunge at
once into the sea of our late argument.

"For what? For you to come again? Don't you always come on Saturday?"

"Yes, but this time I mean to carry you away."

A dead pause, which I improved by drawing her hand under my arm and
imprisoning her little gray glove with my other hand. As she did not
speak, I went on fatuously: "You don't need any preparation of gowns
and shawls; you can buy your _trousseau_ in London, if need be; and
we'll settle on the ship, coming over, how and where we are to live in
New York."

"You think, then, that I am all ready to be married?"

"I think that my darling is superior to the nonsense of other
girls--that she will be herself always, and doesn't need any
masquerade of wedding finery."

"You think, then," coldly and drawing her hand away, "that I am
different from other girls?" and the scarlet deepened on her cheek.
"You think I say and do things other girls would not?"

"My darling, what nonsense! You say and do things that other girls
_cannot_, nor could if they tried a thousand years."

"Thanks for the compliment! It has at least the merit of dubiousness.
Now, Charlie, if you mention Europe once in this walk I shall be
seriously offended. Do let us have a little peace and a quiet talk."

"Why, what on earth can we talk about until this is settled? I can't
go back to New York, and engage our passage, and go to see Judge
Hubbard--I suppose you were writing to him this morning?"

She did not answer, but seemed bent on making the dainty print of her
foot in the moist earth of the road, taking each step carefully, as
though it were the one important and engrossing thing in life.

"--Unless," I went on, "you tell me you will be ready to go back with
me this day week. You see, Bessie dear, I _must_ sail on the fixed
day. And if we talk it over now and settle it all, it will save no end
of writing to and fro."

"Good-morning!" said a gay voice behind us--Fanny Meyrick's voice. She
was just coming out of one of the small houses on the roadside. "Don't
you want some company? I've been to call on my washerwoman, and I'm so
glad I've met you. Such an English morning! Shall I walk with you?"




CHAPTER V


If I could have changed places with Fidget, I could scarce have
expressed my disapproval of the new-comer more vehemently than he.
Miss Meyrick seemed quite annoyed at the little dog's uncalled-for
snapping and barking, and shook her umbrella at him in vain. I was
obliged to take him in hand myself at last, and to stand in the road
and order him to "Go home!" while the two young ladies walked on,
apparently the best of friends.

When I rejoined them Fanny Meyrick was talking fast and unconnectedly,
as was her habit: "Yes, lodgings in London--the dearest old house in
Clarges street. Such a butler! He looks like a member of Parliament.
We stayed there once before for three days. I am just going to settle
into an English girl. Had enough of the Continent. Never do see
England now-a-days, nobody. All rush off. So papa is going to have a
comfortable time. Embassy? Oh, I know the general well."

I looked beseechingly at Bessie. Why wouldn't she say that we too
would be there in London lodgings? Perhaps, then, Fanny Meyrick might
take the hint and leave us soon.

But Bessie gave no sign, and I relapsed into a somewhat impatient
_resume_ of my own affairs. Yes: married quietly on Saturday; leave
here on Monday morning train; take, yes, Wednesday's steamer. I could
arrange it with my law-partners to be absent a little longer perhaps,
that there might be some little rest and romance about the
wedding-journey.

Two or three times in the course of that morning--for she stayed with
us all the morning--Fanny Meyrick rallied me on my preoccupation and
silence: "He didn't use to be so, Bessie, years ago, I assure you.
It's very disagreeable, sir--not an improvement by any means."

Then--I think without any malice prepense, simply the unreasoning
rattle of a belle of two seasons--she plunged into a description of a
certain fete at Blankkill on the Hudson, the occasion of our first
acquaintance: "He was so young, Bessie, you can't imagine, and blushed
so beautifully that all the girls were jealous as could be. We were
very good friends--weren't we?--all that summer?"

"And are still, I hope," said I with my most sweeping bow. "What have
I done to forfeit Miss Meyrick's esteem?"

"Nothing, except that you used to find your way oftener to Meyrick
Place than you do now. Well, I won't scold you for that: I shall make
up for that on the other side."

What did she mean? She had no other meaning than that she would have
such compensation in English society that her American admirers would
not be missed. She did not know of my going abroad.

But Bessie darted a quick glance from her to me, and back again to
her, as though some dawning suspicion had come to her. "I hope," she
said quietly, "that you may have a pleasant winter. It will be
delightful, won't it, Charlie?"

"Oh, very!" I answered, but half noting the under-meaning of her
words, my mind running on deck state-rooms and the like.

"Charlie," said Miss Meyrick suddenly, "do you remember what happened
two years ago to-day?"

"No, I think not."

Taking out a little book bound in Russia leather and tipped with gold,
she handed it to Bessie, who ran her eye down the page: it was open at
September 28th.

"Read it," said Fanny, settling herself composedly in her shawl, and
leaning back against a tree with half-shut eyes.

"'_September 28th_'" Bessie read, in clear tones which had a strange
constraint in them, "'Charlie Munro saved my life. I shall love him
for ever and ever. We were out in a boat, we two, on the
Hudson--moonlight--I was rowing. Dropt my oar into the water. Leaned
out after it and upset the boat. Charlie caught me and swam with me to
shore.'"

A dead silence as Bessie closed the book and held it in her hand.

"Oh," said I lightly, "that isn't worth chronicling--that! It was no
question of saving lives. The New York boat was coming up, if I
remember."

"Yes, it was in trying to steer away from it that I dropped my oar."

"So you see it would have picked us up, any how. There was nothing but
the ducking to remember."

"Such a figure, Bessie! Imagine us running along the road to the gate!
I could scarcely move for my dripping skirts; and we frightened papa
so when we stepped up on the piazza out of the moonlight!"

To stop this torrent of reminiscences, which, though of nothings, I
could see was bringing the red spot to Bessie's cheek, I put out my
hand for the book: "Let me write something down to-day;" and I hastily
scribbled: "_September_ 28. Charles Munro and Bessie Stewart, to sail
for Europe in ten days, ask of their friend Fanny Meyrick her warm
congratulations."

"Will that do?" I whispered as I handed the book to Bessie.

"Not at all," said Bessie scornfully and coldly, tearing out the leaf
as she spoke and crumpling it in her hand.--"Sorry to spoil your book,
Fanny dear, but the sentiment would have spoiled it more. Let us go
home."

As we passed the hotel on that dreary walk home, Fanny would have left
us, but Bessie clung to her and whispered something in a pleading
voice, begging her, evidently, to come home with us.

"If Mr. Munro will take word to papa," she said, indicating that
worthy, who sat on the upper piazza smoking his pipe.

"We will walk on," said Bessie coldly. "Come, Fanny dear."

Strange, thought I as I turned on my heel, this sudden fond intimacy!
Bessie is angry. Why did I never tell her of the ducking? And yet when
I remembered how Fanny had clung to me, how after we had reached the
shore I had been forced to remind her that it was no time for
sentimental gratitude when we both were shivering, I could see why I
had refrained from mentioning it to Bessie until our closer
confidences would allow of it.

No man, unless he be a downright coxcomb, will ever admit to one woman
that another woman has loved him. To his wife--perhaps. But how much
Fanny Meyrick cared for me I had never sought to know. After the
dismal ending of that moonlight boat-row--I had been already
disenchanted for some time before--I had scarce called at Meyrick
Place more than civility required. The young lady was so inclined to
exaggerate the circumstance, to hail me as her deliverer, that I felt
like the hero of a melodrama whenever we met. And after I had met
Bessie there were pleasanter things to think about--much pleasanter.

How exasperating girls can be when they try! I had had my _conge_ for
the walk home, I knew, and I was vexed enough to accept it and stay at
the hotel to dinner.

"I will not be played upon in this way. Bessie knows that I stayed
over the morning train just to be with her, and piled up for to-morrow
no end of work, as well as sarcastic remarks from D. & Co. If she
chooses to show off her affection for Fanny Meyrick in these few hours
that we have together--Fanny Meyrick whom she _hated_ yesterday--she
may enjoy her friendship undisturbed by me."

So I loitered with my cigar after dinner, and took a nap on the sofa
in my room. I was piqued, and did not care to conceal it. As the clock
struck five I bethought me it was time to betake me to the Sloman
cottage. A sound of wheels and a carriage turning brought me to the
window. The two young ladies were driving off in Fanny Meyrick's
phaeton, having evidently come to the hotel and waited while it was
being made ready.

"Pique for pique! Serves me right, I suppose."

Evening found me at the Sloman cottage, waiting with Mrs. Sloman by
the tea-table. Why do I always remember her, sitting monumental by the
silver urn?

"The girls are very late to-night."

"Yes." I was beginning to be uneasy. It was nearing train-time again.

"Such lovely moonlight, I suppose, has tempted them, or they may be
staying at Foxcroft to tea."

Indeed? I looked at my watch: I had ten minutes.

A sound of wheels: the phaeton drove up.

"Oh, Charlie," said Bessie as she sprang out, "you bad boy! you'll
miss your train again. Fanny here will drive you to the hotel. Jump
in, quick!"

And as the moonlight shone full on her face I looked inquiringly into
her eyes.

"The letter," I said, "for Judge Hubbard?" hoping that she would go to
the house for it, and then I could follow her for a word.

"Oh! I had almost forgotten. Here it is;" and she drew it from her
pocket and held it out to me in her gloved hand. I pressed the hand to
my lips, riding-glove and all, and sprang in beside Fanny, who was
with some difficulty making her horse stand still.

"Good-bye!" from the little figure at the gate. "Don't forget, Fanny,
to-morrow at ten;" and we were off.

By the wretched kerosene lamp of the car, going down, I read my
letter, for it was for me: "I will not go to Europe, and I forbid you
to mention it again. I shall never, never forget that _I_ proposed it,
and that you--_accepted_ it. Come up to Lenox once more before you
go."

This was written in ink, and was sealed. It was the morning's note.
But across the envelope these words were written in pencil: "Go to
Europe with Fanny Meyrick, and come up to Lenox, both of you, when you
return."




CHAPTER VI.


I had a busy week of it in New York--copying out instructions, taking
notes of marriages and intermarriages in 1690, and writing each day a
long, pleading letter to Bessie. There was a double strain upon me:
all the arrangements for my client's claims, and in an undercurrent
the arguments to overcome Bessie's decision, went on in my brain side
by side.

I could not, I wrote to her, make the voyage without her. It would be
the shipwreck of all my new hopes. It was cruel in her to have raised
such hopes unless she was willing to fulfill them: it made the
separation all the harder. I could not and would not give up the plan.
"I have engaged our passage in the Wednesday's steamer: say yes, dear
child, and I will write to Dr. Wilder from here."

I could not leave for Lenox before Saturday morning, and I hoped to be
married on the evening of that day. But to all my pleading came "No,"
simply written across a sheet of note-paper in my darling's graceful
hand.

Well, I would go up on the Saturday, nevertheless. She would surely
yield when she saw me faithful to my word.

"I shall be a sorry-looking bridegroom," I thought as I surveyed
myself in the little mirror at the office. It was Friday night, and we
were shutting up. We had worked late by gaslight, all the clerks had
gone home long ago, and only the porter remained, half asleep on a
chair in the hall.

It was striking nine as I gathered up my bundle of papers and thrust
them into a bag. I was rid of them for three days at least. "Bill, you
may lock up now," I said, tapping the sleepy porter on the shoulder.

"Oh, Mr. Munro, shure here's a card for yees," handing me a lady's
card.

"Who left it, Bill?" I hurriedly asked, taking it to the flaring
gaslight on the stairway.

"Two ladies in a carriage--an old 'un and a pretty young lady, shure.
They charged me giv' it yees, and druv' off."

"And why didn't you bring it in, you blockhead?" I shouted, for it was
Bessie Stewart's card. On it was written in pencil: "Westminster
Hotel. On our way through New York. Leave on the 8 train for the South
to-night. Come up to dinner."

The eight-o'clock train, and it was now striking nine!

"Shure, Mr. Charles, you had said you was not to be disturbed on no
account, and that I was to bring in no messages."

"Did you tell those ladies that? What time were they here?"

"About five o'clock--just after you had shut the dure, and the clerks
was gone. Indeed, and they didn't wait for no reply, but hearin' you
were in there, they druv' off the minute they give me the card. The
pretty young lady didn't like the looks of our office, I reckon."

It was of no use to storm at Bill. He had simply obeyed orders like a
faithful machine. So, after a hot five minutes, I rushed up to the
Westminster. Perhaps they had not gone. Bessie would know there was a
mistake, and would wait for me.

But they were gone. On the books of the hotel were registered in a
clear hand, Bessie's hand, "Mrs. M. Antoinette Sloman and maid; Miss
Bessie Stewart." They had arrived that afternoon, must have driven
directly from the train to the office, and had dined, after waiting a
little time for some one who did not come.

"And where were they going?" I asked of the sympathetic clerk, who
seemed interested.

"Going South--I don't know where. The elder lady seemed delicate, and
the young lady quite anxious that she should stay here to-night and go
on in the morning. But no, she would go on to-night."

I took the midnight train for Philadelphia. They would surely not go
farther to-night if Mrs. Sloman seemed such an invalid.

I scanned every hotel-book in vain. I walked the streets of the city,
and all the long Sunday I haunted one or two churches that my memory
suggested to me were among the probabilities for that day. They were
either not in the city or most securely hid.

And all this time there was a letter in the New York post-office
waiting for me. I found it at my room when I went back to it on Monday
noon.

It ran as follows:

                                            "WESTMINSTER HOTEL.
    "Very sorry not to see you--Aunt Sloman especially sorry; but
    she has set her heart on going to Philadelphia to-night. We
    shall stay at a private house, a quiet boarding-house; for
    aunt goes to consult Dr. R---- there, and wishes to be very
    retired. I shall not give you our address: as you sail so
    soon, it would not be worth while to come over. I will write
    you on the other side.                                B.S."

Where's a Philadelphia directory? Where is this Dr. R----? I find him,
sure enough--such a number Walnut street. Time is precious--Monday
noon!

"I'll transfer my berth to the Saturday steamer: that will do as well.
Can't help it if they do scold at the office."

To drive to the Cunard company's office and make the transfer took
some little time, but was not this my wedding holiday? I sighed as I
again took my seat in the car at Jersey City. On this golden Monday
afternoon I should have been slowly coming down the Housatonic Valley,
with my dear little wife beside me. Instead, the unfamiliar train, and
the fat man at my side reading a campaign newspaper, and shaking his
huge sides over some broad burlesque.

The celebrated surgeon, Dr. R----, was not at home in answer to my
ring on Monday evening.

"How soon will he be in? I will wait."

"He can see no patients to-night sir," said the man; "and he may not
be home until midnight."

"But I am an _im_patient," I might have urged, when a carriage dashed
up to the door. A slight little man descended, and came slowly up the
steps.

"Dr. R----?" I said inquiringly.

"Yes, sir."

"Just one minute, doctor, if you please. I only want to get an address
from you."

He scanned me from head to foot: "Walk into my office, young man."

I might have wondered at the brusqueness of his manner had I not
caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror over the mantelshelf. Dusty
and worn, and with a keen look of anxiety showing out of every
feature, I should scarcely have recognized myself.

I explained as collectedly as possible that I wanted the address of
one of his patients, a dear old friend of mine, whom I had missed as
she passed through New York, and that, as I was about to sail for
Europe in a few days, I had rushed over to bid her good-bye. "Mrs.
Antoinette Sloman, it is, doctor."

The doctor eyed me keenly: he put out his hand to the little silver
bell that stood on the table and tapped it sharply. The servant
appeared at the door: "Let the carriage wait, James."

Again the watchful, keen expression. Did he think me an escaped
lunatic, or that I had an intent to rob the old lady? Apparently the
scrutiny was satisfactory, for he took out a little black book from
his pocket, and turning over the leaves, said, "Certainly, here it
is--No. 30 Elm street, West Philadelphia."

Over the river, then, again: no wonder I had not seen them in the
Sunday's search.

"I will take you over," said Dr. R----, replacing the book in his
pocket again. "Mrs. Sloman is on my list. Wait till I eat a biscuit,
and I'll drive you over in my carriage."

Shrewd little man! thought I: if I am a convict or a lunatic with
designs on Mrs. Sloman, he is going to be there to see.

"Till he ate a biscuit?" I should think so. To his invitation, most
courteously urged, that I should come and share his supper--"You've
just come from the train, and you won't get back to your hotel for two
hours, at least"--I yielded a ready acceptance, for I was really very
hungry: I forget whether I had eaten anything all day.

But the biscuit proved to be an elegant little supper served in
glittering plate, and the doctor lounged over the tempting bivalves
until I could scarce conceal my impatience.

"Do you chance to know," he said carelessly, as at last we rose from
the table and he flung his napkin down, "Mrs. Sloman's niece, Miss
Stewart?"

"Excellently well," I said smiling: "in fact, I believe I am engaged
to be married to her."

"My dear fellow," said the doctor, bursting out laughing, "I am
delighted to hear it! Take my carriage and go. I saw you were a
lawyer, and you looked anxious and hurried; and I made up my mind that
you had come over to badger the old lady into making her will. I
congratulate you with all my soul--and myself, too," he added, shaking
my hand. "Only think! Had it not been for your frankness, I should
have taken a five-mile ride to watch you and keep you from doing my
patient an injury."

The good doctor quite hurried me into the carriage in the effusion of
his discovery; and I was soon rolling away in that luxurious vehicle
over the bridge, and toward Bessie at last.

I cannot record that interview in words, nor can I now set down any
but the mere outline of our talk. My darling came down to meet me with
a quick flush of joy that she did not try to conceal. She was natural,
was herself, and only too glad, after the _contretemps_ in New York,
to see me again. She pitied me as though I had been a tired child when
I told her pathetically of my two journeys to Philadelphia, and
laughed outright at my interview with Dr. R----.

I was so sure of my ground. When I came to speak of the journey--_our_
journey--I knew I should prevail. It was a deep wound, and she shrank
from any talk about it. I had to be very gentle and tender before she
would listen to me at all.

But there was something else at work against me--what was
it?--something that I could neither see nor divine. And it was not
altogether made up of Aunt Sloman, I was sure.

"I cannot leave her now, Charlie. Dr. R---- wishes her to remain in
Philadelphia, so that he can watch her case. That settles it, Charlie:
I must stay with her."

What was there to be said? "Is there no one else, no one to take your
place?"

"Nobody; and I would not leave her even if there were."

Still, I was unsatisfied. A feeling of uneasiness took possession of
me. I seemed to read in Bessie's eyes that there was a thought between
us hidden out of sight. There is no clairvoyant like a lover. I could
see the shadow clearly enough, but whence, in her outer life, had the
shadow come? _Between_ us, surely, it could not be. Even her anxiety
for her aunt could not explain it: it was something concealed.

When at last I had to leave her, "So to-morrow is your last day?" she
said.

"No, not the last. I have changed my passage to the Saturday steamer."

The strange look came into her face again. Never before did blue eyes
wear such a look of scrutiny.

"Well, what is it?" I asked laughingly as I looked straight into her
eyes.

"The Saturday steamer," she said musingly--"the Algeria, isn't it? I
thought you were in a hurry?"

"It was my only chance to have you," I explained, and apparently the
argument was satisfactory enough.

With the saucy little upward toss with which she always dismissed a
subject, "Then it isn't good-bye to-night?" she said.

"Yes, for two days. I shall run over again on Thursday."




CHAPTER VII.


The two days passed, and the Thursday, and the Friday's parting,
harder for Bessie, as it seemed, than she had thought for. It was hard
to raise her dear little head from my shoulder when the last moment
came, and to rush down stairs to the cab, whose shivering horse and
implacable driver seemed no bad emblem of destiny on that raw October
morning.

I was glad of the lowering sky as I stepped up the gangway to the
ship's deck. "What might have been" went down the cabin stairs with
me; and as I threw my wraps and knapsack into the double state-room I
had chosen I felt like a widower.

It was wonderful to me then, as I sat down on the side of the berth
and looked around me, how the last two weeks had filled all the future
with dreams. "I must have a genius for castle-building," I laughed.
"Well, the reality is cold and empty enough. I'll go up on deck."

On deck, among the piles of luggage, were various metal-covered trunks
marked M----. I remember now watching them as they were stowed away.

But it was with a curious shock, an hour after we had left the dock,
that a turn in my solitary walk on deck brought me face to face with
Fanny Meyrick.

"You here?" she said. "I thought you had sailed in the Russia! Bessie
told me you were to go then."

"Did she know," I asked, "that _you_ were going by this steamer?"

On my life, never was gallantry farther from my thoughts: my question
concerned Bessie alone, but Fanny apparently took it as a compliment,
and looked up gayly: "Oh yes: that was fixed months ago. I told her
about it at Lenox."

"And did she tell you something else?" I asked sharply.

"Oh yes. I was very glad to hear of your good prospect. Do be
congratulated, won't you?"

Rather an odd way to put it, thought I, but it is Fanny Meyrick's way.
"Good prospect!" Heavens! was that the term to apply to my engagement
with Bessie?

I should have insisted on a distincter utterance and a more flattering
expression of the situation had it been any other woman. But a
lingering suspicion that perhaps the subject was a distasteful one to
Fanny Meyrick made me pause, and a few moments after, as some one else
joined her, I left her and went to the smokestack for my cigar.

It was impossible, in the daily monotony of ship-life, to avoid
altogether the young lady whom Fate had thrown in my way. She was a
most provokingly good sailor, too. Other women stayed below or were
carried in limp bundles to the deck at noon; but Fanny, perfectly
poised, with the steady glow in her cheek, was always ready to amuse
or be amused.

I tried, at first, keeping out of her way, with the _Trois
Mousquetaires_ for company. But it seemed to me, as she knew of my
engagement, such avoidance was anything but complimentary to her.
Loyalty to her sex would forbid me to show that I had read her secret.
Why not meet her on the frank, breezy ground of friendship?

Perhaps, after all, there was no secret. Perhaps her feeling was only
one of girlish gratitude, however needless, for pulling her out of the
Hudson River. I did not know.

Nor was I particularly pleased with the companion to whom she
introduced me on our third day out--Father Shamrock, an Irish priest,
long resident in America, and bound now for Maynooth. How he had
obtained an introduction to her I do not know, except in the easy,
fatherly way he seemed to have with every one on board.

"Pshaw!" thought I, "what a nuisance!" for I shared the common
antipathy to his country and his creed. Nor was his appearance
prepossessing--one of Froude's "tonsured peasants," as I looked down
at the square shoulders, the stout, short figure and the broad
beardlessness of the face of the padre. But his voice, rich and
mellow, attracted me in spite of myself. His eyes were sparkling with
kindly humor, and his laugh was irresistible.

A perfect man of the world, with no priestly austerity about him, he
seemed a perpetual anxiety to the two young priests at his heels. They
were on their dignity always, and, though bound to hold him in
reverence as their superior in age and rank, his songs and his gay
jests were evidently as thorns in their new cassocks.

Father Shamrock was soon the star of the ship's company. Perfectly
suave, his gayety had rather the French sparkle about it than the
distinguishing Italian trait, and his easy manner had a dash of
manliness which I had not thought to find. Accomplished in various
tongues, rattling off a gay little _chanson_ or an Irish song, it was
a sight to see the young priests looking in from time to time at the
cabin door in despair as the clock pointed to nine, and Father
Shamrock still sat the centre of a gay and laughing circle.

He had rare tact, too, in talking to women. Of all the ladies on the
Algeria, I question if there were any but the staunchest Protestants.
Some few held themselves aloof at first and declined an introduction.
"Father Shamrock! An Irish priest! How _can_ Miss Meyrick walk with
him and present him as she does?" But the party of recalcitrants grew
less and less, and Fanny Meyrick was very frank in her admiration.
"Convert you?" she laughed over her shoulder to me. "He wouldn't take
the trouble to try."

And I believe, indeed, he would not. His strong social nature was
evidently superior to any ambition of his cloth. He would have made a
famous diplomat but for the one quality of devotion that was lacking.
I use the word in its essential, not in its religious sense--devotion
to an idea, the faith in a high purpose.

We had one anxious day of it, and only one. A gale had driven most of
the passengers to the seclusion of their state-rooms, and left the
dinner-table a desert. Alone in the cabin, Father Shamrock, Fanny
Meyrick, a young Russian and myself: I forget a vigilant duenna, the
only woman on board unreconciled to Father Shamrock. She lay prone on
one of the seats, her face rigid and hands clasped in an agony of
terror. She was afraid, she afterward confessed to me, to go to her
state-room: nearness and voices seemed a necessity to her.

When I joined the party, Father Shamrock, as usual, was the narrator.
But he had dropped out of his voice all the gay humor, and was talking
very soberly. Some story he was telling, of which I gathered, as he
went on, that it was of a young lady, a rich and brilliant society
woman. "Shot right through the heart at Chancellorsville, and he the
only brother. They two, orphans, were all that were left of the
family. He was her darling, just two years younger than she.

"I went to see her, and found her in an agony. She had not kissed him
when he left her: some little laughing tiff between them, and she had
expected to see him again before his regiment marched. She threw
herself on her knees and made confession; and then she took a holy
vow: if the saints would grant her once more to behold his body, she
would devote herself hereafter to God's holy Church.

"She gathered all her jewels together in a heap and cast them at my
feet. 'Take them, Father, for the Church: if I find him I shall not
wear them again--or if I do not find him.'

"I went with her to the front of battle, and we found him after a
time. It was a search, but we found his grave, and we brought him home
with us. Poor boy! beyond recognition, except for the ring he wore;
but she gave him the last kiss, and then she was ready to leave the
world. She took the vows as Sister Clara, the holy vows of poverty and
charity."

"But, Father," said Fanny, with a new depth in her eyes, "did she not
die behind the bars? To be shut up in a convent with that grief at her
heart!"

"Bars there were none," said the Father gently. "She left her vocation
to me, and I decided for her to become a Sister of Mercy. I have
little sympathy," with a shrug half argumentative, half
deprecatory--"but little sympathy with the conventual system for
spirits like hers. She would have wasted and worn away in the offices
of prayer. She needed _action_. And she had the full of it in her
calling. She went from bedside to bedside of the sick and dying--here
a child in a fever; there a widow-woman in the last stages of
consumption--night after night, and day after day, with no rest, no
thought of herself."

"Oh, I have seen her," I could not help interposing, "in a city car. A
shrouded figure that was conspicuous even in her serge dress. She read
a book of _Hours_ all the time, but I caught one glimpse of her eyes:
they were very brilliant."

"Yes," sighed the Father, "it was an unnatural brightness. I was
called away to Montreal, or I should never have permitted the
sacrifice. She went where-ever the worst cases were of contagion and
poverty, and she would have none to relieve her at her post. So, when
I returned after three months' absence, I was shocked at the change:
she was dying of their family disease. 'It is better, so,' she said,
'dear Father. It was only the bullet that saved Harry from it, and it
would have been sure to come to me at last, after some opera or ball.'
She died last winter--so patient and pure, and such a saintly
sufferer!"

The Father wiped his eyes. Why should I think of Bessie? Why should
the Sister's veiled figure and pale ardent face rise before me as if
in warning?

Of just such overwhelming sacrifice was my darling capable were her
life's purpose wrecked. Something there was in the portrait of the
sweet singleness, the noble scorn of self, the devotion unthinking,
uncalculating, which I knew lay hidden in her soul.

The Father warmed into other themes, all in the same key of mother
Church. I listened dreamily, and to my own thoughts as well.

He pictured the priest's life of poverty, renunciation, leaving the
world of men, the polish and refinement of scholars, to take the
confidences and bear the burdens of grimy poverty and ignorance.
Surely, I thought, we do wrong to shut such men out of our sympathies,
to label them "Dangerous." Why should we turn the cold shoulder? are
we so true to our ideals? But one glance at the young priests as they
sat crouching in the outer cabin, telling their beads and crossing
themselves with the vehemence of a frightened faith, was enough.
Father Shamrock was no type. Very possibly his own life would show but
coarse and poor against the chaste, heroic portraits he had drawn. He
had the dramatic faculty: for the moment he was what he related--that
was all.

Our vigilant duenna had gradually risen to a sitting posture, and
drawn nearer and nearer, and as the narrator's voice sank into silence
she said with effusion, "Well, _you_ are a good man, I guess."

But Fanny Meyrick sat as if entranced. The gale had died away, and, to
break the spell, I asked her if she wanted to take one peep on deck,
to see if there was a star in the heavens.

There was no star, but a light rising and falling with the ship's
motion, which was pronounced by a sailor to be Queenstown light, shone
in the distance.

The Father was to leave us there. "We shall not make it to-night,"
said the sailor. "It is too rough. Early in the morning the passengers
will land."

"I wish," said Fanny with a deep sigh, as if wakening from a dream,
"that the Church of Rome was at the bottom of the sea!"




CHAPTER VIII.


Arrived at our dock, I hurried off to catch the train for London. The
Meyricks lingered for a few weeks in Wales before coming to settle
down for the winter. I was glad of it, for I could make my
arrangements unhampered. So I carefully eliminated Clarges street from
my list of lodging-houses, and finally "ranged" myself with a neat
landlady in Sackville street.

How anxiously I awaited the first letter from Bessie! As the banker's
clerk handed it over the counter to me, instead of the heavy envelope
I had hoped for, it was a thin slip of an affair that fluttered away
from my hand. It was so very slim and light that I feared to open it
there, lest it should be but a mocking envelope, nothing more.

So I hastened back to my cab, and, ordering the man to drive to the
law-offices, tore it open as I jumped in. It enclosed simply a printed
slip, cut from some New York paper--a list of the Algeria's
passengers.

"What joke is this?" I said as I scanned it more closely.

By some spite of fortune my name was printed directly after the
Meyrick party. Was it for this, this paltry thing, that Bessie has
denied me a word? I turned over the envelope, turned it inside
out--not a penciled word even!

The shadow that I had seen on that good-bye visit to Philadelphia was
clear to me now. I had said at Lenox, repeating the words after Bessie
with fatal emphasis, "I am glad, very glad, that Fanny Meyrick is to
sail in October. I would not have her stay on this side for worlds!"
Then the next day, twenty-four hours after, I told her that I too was
going abroad. Coward that I was, not to tell her at first! She might
have been sorry, vexed, but not _suspicious_.

Yes, that was the ugly word I had to admit, and to admit that I had
given it room to grow.

My first hesitancy about taking her with me, my transfer from the
Russia to the later steamer, and, to crown all, that leaf from Fanny's
pocket-book: "I shall love him for ever and ever"!

And yet she _had_ faith in me. She had told Fanny Meyrick we were
engaged. _Had she not_?

My work in London was more tedious and engrossing than I had expected.
Even a New York lawyer has much to learn of the law's delay in those
pompous old offices amid the fog. Had I been working for myself, I
should have thrown up the case in despair, but advices from our office
said "Stick to it," and I stayed.

Eating out my own heart with anxiety whenever I thought of my home
affair, perhaps it was well for me that I had the monotonous, musty
work that required little thought, but only a persistent plodding and
a patient holding of my end of the clue.

In all these weeks I had nothing from Bessie save that first cruel
envelope. Letter after letter went to her, but no response came. I
wrote to Mrs. Sloman too, but no answer. Then I bethought me of Judge
Hubbard, but received in reply a note from one of his sons, stating
that his father was in Florida--that he had communicated with him, but
regretted that he was unable to give me Miss Stewart's present
address.

Why did I not seek Fanny Meyrick? She must have come to London long
since, and surely the girls were in correspondence. I was too proud.
She knew of our relations: Bessie had told her. I could not bring
myself to reveal to her how tangled and gloomy a mystery was between
us. I could explain nothing without letting her see that she was the
unconscious cause.

At last, when one wretched week after another had gone by, and we were
in the new year, I could bear it no longer. "Come what will, I must
know if Bessie writes to her."

I went to Clarges street. My card was carried into the Meyricks'
parlor, and I followed close upon it. Fanny was sitting alone, reading
by a table. She looked up in surprise as I stood in the doorway. A
little coldly, I thought, she came forward to meet me, but her manner
changed as she took my hand.

"I was going to scold you, Charlie, for avoiding us, for staying away
so long, but that is accounted for now. Why didn't you send us word
that you were ill? Papa is a capital nurse."

"But I have not been ill," I said, bewildered, "only very busy and
very anxious."

"I should think so," still holding my hand, and looking into my face
with an expression of deep concern. "Poor fellow! You do look worn.
Come right here to this chair by the fire, and let me take care of
you. You need rest."

And she rang the bell. I suffered myself to be installed in the soft
crimson chair by the fire. It was such a comfort to hear a friendly
voice after all those lonely weeks! When the servant entered with a
tray, I watched her movements over the tea-cups with a delicious sense
of the womanly presence and the home-feeling stealing over me.

"I can't imagine what keeps papa," she said, chatting away with
woman's tact: "he always smokes after dinner, and comes up to me for
his cup of tea afterward."

Then, as she handed me a tiny porcelain cup, steaming and fragrant, "I
should never have congratulated you, Charlie, on board the steamer if
I had known it was going to end in this way."

_This way_! Then Bessie must have told her.

"End?" I said stammering: "what--what end?"

"In wearing you out. Bessie told me at Lenox, the day we took that
long walk, that you had this important case, and it was a great thing
for a young lawyer to have such responsibility."

Poor little porcelain cup! It fell in fragments on the floor as I
jumped to my feet: "Was that _all_ she told you? Didn't she tell you
that we were engaged?"

For a moment Fanny did not speak. The scarlet glow on her cheek, the
steady glow that was always there, died away suddenly and left her
pale as ashes. Mechanically she opened and shut the silver sugar-tongs
that lay on the table under her hand, and her eyes were fixed on me
with a wild, beseeching expression.

"Did you not know," I said in softer tones, still standing by the
table and looking down on her, "that day at Lenox that we were
engaged? Was it not for _that_ you congratulated me on board the
steamer?"

A deep-drawn sigh as she whispered, "Indeed, no! Oh dear! what have I
done?"

"You?--nothing!" I said with a sickly smile; "but there is some
mistake, some mystery. I have never had one line from Bessie since I
reached London, and when I left her she was my own darling little wife
that was to be."

Still Fanny sat pale as ashes, looking into the fire and muttering to
herself. "Heavens! To think--Oh, Charlie," with a sudden burst, "it's
all my doing! How can I ever tell you?"

"You hear from Bessie, then? Is she--is she well? Where is she? What
is all this?" And I seated myself again and tried to speak calmly, for
I saw that something very painful was to be said--something that she
could hardly say; and I wanted to help her, though how I knew not.

At this moment the door opened and "papa" came in. He evidently saw
that he had entered upon a scene as his quick eye took in the
situation, but whether I was accepted or rejected as the future
son-in-law even his penetration was at fault to discover.

"Oh, papa," said Fanny, rising with evident relief, "just come and
talk to Mr. Munro while I get him a package he wants to take with
him."

It took a long time to prepare that package. Mr. Meyrick, a cool,
shrewd man of the world, was taking a mental inventory of me, I felt
all the time. I was conscious that I talked incoherently and like a
school-boy of the treaty. Every American in London was bound to have
his special opinion thereupon, and Meyrick, I found, was of the
English party. Then we discussed the special business which had
brought me to England.

"A very unpresentable son-in-law," I read in his eye, while he was
evidently astonished at his daughter's prolonged absence.

Our talk flagged and the fire grew gray in its flaky ashes before
Fanny again appeared.

"I know, papa, you think me very rude to keep Mr. Munro so long
waiting, but there were some special directions to go with the packet,
and it took me a long time to get them right. It is for Bessie,
papa--Bessie Stewart, Mr. Munro's dear little _fiancee_."

Escaping as quickly as possible from Mr. Meyrick's neatly turned
felicitations--and that the satisfaction he expressed was genuine I
was prepared to believe--hurried home to Sackville street.

My bedroom was always smothering in its effect on me--close draperies
to the windows, heavy curtains around the bed--and I closed the door
and lighted my candle with a sinking heart.

The packet was simply a long letter, folded thickly in several
wrappers and tied with a string. The letter opened abruptly:

"What I am going to do I am sure no woman on earth ever did before me,
nor would I save to undo the trouble I have most innocently made. What
must you have thought of me that day at Lenox, staying close all day
to two engaged people, who must have wished me away a thousand times?
But I did not dream you were engaged.

"Remember, I had just come over from Saratoga, and knew nothing of
Lenox gossip, then or afterward. Something in your manner once or
twice made me look at you and think that perhaps you were _interested_
in Bessie, but hers to you was so cold, so distant, that I thought it
was only a notion of my jealous self.

"Was I foolish to lay so much stress on that anniversary time? Do you
know that the year before we had spent it together, too?--September
28th. True, that year it was at Bertie Cox's funeral, but we had
walked together, and I was happy in being near you.

"For, you see, it was from something more than the Hudson River that
you had brought me out. You had rescued me from the stupid gayety of
my first winter--from the flats of fashionable life. You had given me
an ideal--something to live up to and grow worthy of.

"Let that pass. For myself, it is nothing, but for the deeper harm I
have done, I fear, to Bessie and to you.

"Again, on that day at Lenox, when Bessie and I drove together in the
afternoon, I tried to make her talk about you, to find out what you
were to her. But she was so distant, so repellant, that I fancied
there was nothing at all between you; or, rather, if you had cared for
her at all, that she had been indifferent to you.

"Indeed, she quite forbade the subject by her manner; and when she
told me you were going abroad, I could not help being very happy, for
I thought then that I should have you all to myself.

"When I saw you on shipboard, I fancied, somehow, that you had changed
your passage to be with us. It was very foolish; and I write it,
thankful that you are not here to see me. So I scribbled a little note
to Bessie, and sent it off by the pilot: I don't know where you were
when the pilot went. This is, as nearly as I remember it, what I
wrote:

    "'DEAR BESSIE: Charlie Munro is on board. He must have
    changed his passage to be with us. I know from something
    that he has just told _me_ that this is so, and that he
    consoles himself already for your coldness. You remember
    what I told you when we talked about him. I shall _try_ now.
    F.M.'

"Bessie would know what that meant. Oh, must I tell you what a weak,
weak girl I was? When I found out at Lenox, as I thought, that Bessie
did not care for you, I said to her that once I thought you _had_
cared for me, but that papa had offended you by his manner--you
weren't of an old Knickerbocker family, you know--and had given you to
understand that your visits were not acceptable.

"I am sure now that it was because I wanted to think so that I put
that explanation upon your ceasing to visit me, and because papa
always looked so decidedly _queer_ whenever your name was mentioned.

"I had always had everything in life that I wanted, and I believed
that in due time you would come back to me.

"Bessie knew well enough what that pilot-letter meant, for here is her
answer."

Pinned fast to the end of Fanny's letter, so that by no chance should
I read it first, were these words in my darling's hand:

    "Got your pilot-letter. Aunt is much better. We shall be
    traveling about so much that you need not write me the
    progress of your romance, but believe me I shall be most
    interested in its conclusion.          BESSIE S."

It was all explained now. My darling, so sensitive and spirited, had
given her leave "to try."




CHAPTER IX.


But was that all? Was she wearing away the slow months in passionate
unbelief of me? I could not tell. But before I slept that night I had
taken my resolve. I would sail for home by the next steamer. The case
would suffer, perhaps, by the delay and the change of hands: D----
must come out to attend to it himself, then, but I would suffer no
longer.

No use to write to Bessie. I had exhausted every means to reach her
save that of the detectives. "I'll go to the office, file my papers
till the next man comes over, see Fanny Meyrick, and be off."

But what to say to Fanny? Good, generous girl! She had indeed done
what few women in the world would have had the courage to do--shown
her whole heart to a man who loved another. It would be an
embarrassing interview; and I was not sorry when I started out that
morning that it was too early yet to call.

To the office first, then, I directed my steps. But here Fate lay
_perdu_ and in wait for me.

"A letter, Mr. Munro, from D---- & Co.," said the brisk young
clerk. They had treated me with great respect of late, for, indeed,
our claim was steadily growing in weight, and was sure to come right
before long. I opened and read:

"The missing paper is found on this side of the Atlantic--what you
have been rummaging for all winter on the other. A trusty messenger
sails at once, and will report himself to you."

"At once!" Well, there's only a few days' delay, at most. Perhaps it's
young Bunker. He can take the case and end it: anybody can end it now.

And my heart was light. "A few days," I said to myself as I ran up the
steps in Clarges street.

"Miss Fanny at home?" to the man, or rather to the member of
Parliament, who opened the door--"Miss Meyrick, I mean."

"Yes, sir--in the drawing-room, sir;" and he announced me with a
flourish.

Fanny sat in the window. She might have been looking out for me, for
on my entrance she parted the crimson curtains and came forward.

Again the clear glow in her cheek, the self-possessed Fanny of old.

"Charlie," she began impetuously, "I have been thinking over shipboard
and Father Shamrock, and all. You didn't think then--did you?--that I
cared so very much for you? I am so glad that the Father bewitched me
as he did, for I can remember no foolishness on my part to you,
sir--none at all. Can you?"

Stammering, confused, I seemed to have lost my tongue and my head
together. I had expected tears, pale cheeks, a burst of self-reproach,
and that I should have to comfort and be very gentle and sympathetic.
I had dreaded the _role_; but here was a new turn of affairs; and, I
own it, my self-love was not a little wounded. The play was played
out, that was evident. The curtain had fallen, and here was I, a
late-arrived hero of romance, the chivalric elder brother, with all my
little stock of property-phrases--friendship of a life, esteem,
etc.--of no more account than a week-old playbill.

For, I must confess it, I had rehearsed some little forgiveness scene,
in which I should magnanimously kiss her hand, and tell her that I
should honor her above all women for her courage and her truth; and in
which she would cry until her poor little heart was soothed and
calmed; and that I should have the sweet consciousness of being
beloved, however hopelessly, by such a brilliant, ardent soul.

But Mistress Fanny had quietly turned the tables on me, and I believe
I was angry enough for the moment to wish it had not been so.

But only for a moment. It began to dawn upon me soon, the rare tact
which had made easy the most embarrassing situation in the world--the
_bravura_ style, if I may call it so, that had carried us over such a
difficult bar.

It _was_ delicacy, this careless reminder of the fascinating Father,
and perhaps there was a modicum of truth in that acknowledgment too.

I took my leave of Fanny Meyrick, and walked home a wiser man.

But the trusty messenger, who arrived three days later, was not, as I
had hoped, young Bunker or young Anybody. It was simply Mrs. D----,
with a large traveling party. They came straight to London, and
summoned me at once to the Langham Hotel.

I suppose I looked somewhat amazed at sight of the portly lady, whom I
had last seen driving round Central Park. But the twin Skye terriers
who tumbled in after her assured me of her identity soon enough.

"Mr. D---- charged me, Mr. Munro," she began after our first
ceremonious greeting, "to give this into no hands but yours. I have
kept it securely with my diamonds, and those I always carry about me."

From what well-stitched diamond receptacle she had extracted the paper
I did not suffer myself to conjecture, but the document was strongly
perfumed with violet powder.

"You see, I was coming over," she proceeded to explain, "in any event,
and when Mr. D---- talked of sending Bunker--I think it was
Bunker--with us, I persuaded him to let me be messenger instead. It
wasn't worth while, you know, to have any more people leave the
office, you being away, and--Oh, Ada, my dear, here is Mr. Munro!"

As Ada, a slim, willowy creature, with the _surprised_ look in her
eyes that has become the fashion of late, came gliding up to me, I
thought that the reason for young Bunker's omission from the party was
possibly before me.

Bother on her matrimonial, or rather anti-matrimonial, devices! Her
maternal solicitude lest Ada should be charmed with the poor young
clerk on the passage over had cost me weeks of longer stay. For at
this stage a request for any further transfer would have been
ridiculous and wrong. As easy to settle it now as to arrange for any
one else; so the first of April found me still in London, but leaving
it on the morrow for home.

"Bessie is in Lenox, I think," Fanny Meyrick had said to me as I bade
her good-bye.

"What! You have heard from her?"

"No, but I heard incidentally from one of my Boston friends this
morning that he had seen her there, standing on the church steps."

I winced, and a deeper glow came into Fanny's cheek.

"You will give her my letter? I would have written to her also, but it
was indeed only this morning that I heard. You will give her that?"

"I have kept it for her," I said quietly; and the adieus were over.




CHAPTER X.


Lenox again, and bluebirds darting to and fro among the maples. I had
reached the hotel at midnight. Our train was late, detained on the
road, and though my thoughts drove instantly to the Sloman cottage, I
allowed the tardier coach-horses to set me down at the hotel. I had
not telegraphed from New York. I would give her no chance to withhold
herself from me, or to avoid me by running away. There was no time for
her, as yet, to have read of the ship's arrival. I would take her
unawares.

So, after the bountiful Nora, who presides over the comfort of her
favorites, had plied me with breakfast-cakes and milk and honey, I
sauntered down toward the Lebanon road. Yes, sauntered, for I felt
that a great crisis in my life was at hand, and at such times a
wonderful calmness, almost to lethargy, possesses me. I went slowly up
the hill. The church-clock was striking nine--calm, peaceful strokes.
There was no tremor in them, no warning of what was coming. The air
was very still, and I stopped a moment to watch the bluebirds before I
turned into the Lebanon road.

There was the little gray cottage, with its last year's vines about
it, a withered spray here and there waving feebly as the soft April
air caught it and tossed it to and fro. No sign of life about the
cottage--doors and windows tight shut and barred. Only the little gate
swung open, but that might have been the wind. I stepped up on the
porch. No sound save the echo of my steps and the knocking of my
heart. I rang the bell. It pealed violently, but there were no
answering sounds: nothing stirred.

I rang again, more gently, and waited, looking along the little path
to the gate. There was snow, the winter's snow, lingering about the
roots of the old elm, the one elm tree that overhung the cottage. Last
winter's snow lying there, and of the people who had lived in the
house, and made it warm and bright, not a footprint, not a trace!

Again I rang, and this time I heard footsteps coming round the corner
of the house. I sat down on the rustic bench by the door. If it had
been Bessie's self, I could not have stirred, I was so chilled, so
awed by the blank silence. A brown sun-bonnet, surmounting a tall,
gaunt figure, came in sight.

"What is it?" asked the owner of the sun-bonnet in a quick, sharp
voice that seemed the prelude to "Don't want any."

"Where are Mrs. Sloman and Miss Stewart? Are they not in Lenox?"

"Miss' Sloman, she's away to Minnarsoter: ben thar' all winter for her
health. She don't cal'late to be home afore June."

"And Miss Stewart?--is she with her?"

"Miss Stewart? I dunno," said the woman, with a strange look about the
corners of her mouth. "I dunno: I never see her; and the family was
all away afore I came here to take charge. They left the kitchen-end
open for me; and my sister-in-law--that's Hiram Splinter's wife--she
made all the 'rangements. But I _did_ hear," hesitating a moment, "as
how Bessie Stewart was away to Shaker Village; and some does say"--a
portentous pause and clearing of her throat--"that she's jined."

"_Joined_--what?" I asked, all in a mist of impatience and perplexity.

"Jined the Shakers."

"Nonsense!" I said, recovering my breath angrily. "Where is this
Hiram's wife? Let me see her."

"In the back lot--there where you see the yaller house where the
chimney's smoking. That's Hiram's house. He has charge of the Gold
property on the hill. Won't you come in and warm yourself by the fire
in the kitchen? I was away to the next neighbor's, and I was sure I
hear our bell a-ringin'. Did you hev' to ring long?"

But I was away, striding over the cabbage-patch and climbing the
worm-fence that shut in the estate of Hiram. Some wretched mistake:
the woman does not know what she's talking about. These Splinters!
they seem to have had some communication with Mrs. Sloman: they will
know.

Mrs. Splinter, a neat, bright-eyed woman of about twenty-five, opened
the door at my somewhat peremptory knock. I recollected her in a
moment as a familiar face--some laundress or auxiliary of the Sloman
family in some way; and she seemed to recognize me as well: "Why! it's
Mr. Munro! Walk in, sir, and sit down," dusting off a chair with her
apron as she spoke.

"Miss Stewart--where is she? _You_ know."

"Miss Stewart?" said the woman, sinking down into a chair and looking
greatly disturbed. "Miss Stewart's gone to live with the Shakers. My
husband drove her over with his team--her and her trunk."

"Why, where was her aunt? Did Mrs. Sloman know? Why isn't Miss Bessie
with her?"

"Miss' Sloman said all she could--_afterward_ I guess," said the
woman, wiping her eyes, "but 'twan't no use then. You see, Miss'
Sloman had jined a party that was goin' to Minnesota--while she was in
Philadelfy, that was--and Miss Stewart she wasn't goin'. She reckoned
she'd spend the winter here in the house. Miss' Sloman's maid--that's
Mary--was goin' with her to the West, and I was to hire my
sister-in-law to take charge of things here, so that Miss Bessie could
have her mind free-like to come and go. But afore ever Mary
Jane--that's my sister-in-law--could come over from Lee, where she was
livin' out, Miss Bessie comes up and opens the house. She stayed there
about a week, and she had lots of company while she was here. I think
she got tired. They was people that was just goin' to sail for Europe,
and as soon as they went she just shut up and told me to send for Mary
Jane to take care of things. So Mary Jane never see her, and perhaps
she giv' you a crooked answer, sir, if you was inquirin' of her over
to the cottage."

"Where's Hiram? where's your husband? Can I have his team this
morning?"

"I guess so," said the sympathetic Mrs. Splinter. "He'll show you the
very house he druv' her to."

Hiram was hunted for and found; and an hour later I was bowling along
the Lebanon road behind the bay team he was so proud of. I had
concluded to take him with me, as he could identify places and
people, and I knew well what castles the Shaker houses are for the
world's people outside. Hiram was full of talk going over. He seemed
to have been bottling it up, and I was the first auditor for his
wrath. "I know 'm," he said, cracking his whip over his horses' heads.
"They be sharp at a bargain, they be. If they've contrived to get a
hold on Bessie Stewart, property and all, it'll go hard on 'em to give
her up."

"A _hold_ on Bessie!" What dreadful words! I bade him sharply hold his
tongue and mind his horses, but he went on muttering in an undertone,
"Yo'll see, yo'll see! You're druv' pretty hard, young man, I expect,
so I won't think nothing of your ha'sh words, and we'll get her out,
for all Elder Nebson."

So Hiram, looked out along the road from under his huge fur-cap, and
up hill and down. The miles shortened, until at last the fair houses
and barns of the Shaker village came in sight. A sleeping village, one
would have thought. Nobody in the road save one old man, who eyed us
suspiciously through the back of a chair he was carrying.

"It must be dinner-time, I think," said Hiram as he drove cautiously
along. Stopping at a house near the bridge: "Now this is the very
house. Just you go right up and knock at that 'ere door."

I knocked. In a twinkling the door was opened by a neat Shaker sister,
whose round, smiling face was flushed, as though she had just come
from cooking dinner. I stepped across the threshold: "Bessie Stewart
is here. Please say to her that a friend--a friend from
England--wishes to see her."

"Sure," said the motherly-faced woman, for she was sweet and motherly
in spite of her Shaker garb, "I'll go and see."

Smilingly she ushered me into a room at the left of the hall. "Take
seat, please;" and with a cheerful alacrity she departed, closing the
door gently behind her.

"Well," thought I, "this is pleasant: no bolts or bars here. I'm sure
of one friend at court."

I had leisure to observe the apartment--the neatly-scrubbed floor,
with one narrow cot bed against the wall, a tall bureau on which some
brown old books were lying, and the little dust-pan and dust-brush on
a brass nail in the corner. There was a brightly polished stove with
no fire in it, and some straight-backed chairs of yellow wood stood
round the room. An open door into a large, roomy closet showed various
garments of men's apparel hanging upon the wall. The plain thermometer
in the window casement seemed the one article of luxury or ornament in
the apartment. I believe I made my observations on all these things
aloud, concluding with, "Oh, Bessie! Bessie! you shall not stay here."
I know that I was startled enough by the apparition of a man standing
in the open closet door. He must have been within it at my entrance,
and had heard all I said.

He came forward, holding out his hand--very friendly apparently. Then,
requesting me to be seated, he drew out a chair from the wall and sat
down, tilting it back on two legs and leaning against the wall, with
his hands folded before him. Some commonplace remark about the
weather, which I answered, led to a rambling conversation, in which he
expressed the greatest curiosity as to worldly matters, and asked
several purely local questions about the city of New York. Perhaps his
ignorance was feigned. I do not know, but I found myself relating,
_a la_ Stanley-Livingstone, some of the current events of the day. His
face was quite intelligent, tanned with labor in the fields, and his
brown eyes were kind and soft, like those of some dumb animals. I note
his eyes here especially, as different in expression from those of
others of his sect.

Several times during the conversation I heard footsteps in the hall,
and darted from my seat, and finally, in my impatience, began to pace
the floor. Kindly as he looked, I did not wish to question the man
about Bessie. I would rely upon the beaming portress, whose "_Sure_"
was such an earnest of her good-will. Moreover, a feeling of contempt,
growing out of pity, was taking possession of me. This man, in what
did he differ from the Catholic priest save in the utter selfishness
of his creed? Beside the sordid accumulation of gain to which his life
was devoted the priest's mission among crowded alleys and
fever-stricken lanes seemed luminous and grand. A moral suicide, with
no redeeming feature. The barns bursting with fatness, the comfortable
houses, gain added to gain--to what end? I was beginning to give very
short answers indeed to his questions, and was already meditating a
foray through the rest of the house, when the door opened slowly and a
lady-abbess entered. She was stiff and stately, with the most formal
neckerchief folded precisely over her straitened bust, a clear-muslin
cap concealing her hair, and her face, stony, blue-eyed and cold--a
pale, frozen woman standing stately there.

"Bessie Stewart?" said I. "She is here--I know it. Do not detain her.
I must see her. Why all this delay?"

"Dost thou mean Sister Eliza?" she asked in chilling tones.

"No, nobody's sister--least of all a sister here--but the young lady
who came over here from Lenox two months ago--Bessie Stewart, Mrs.
Sloman's niece." (I knew that Mrs. Sloman was quite familiar with some
of the Shakeresses, and visited them at times.)

Very composedly the sister took a chair and folded her hands across
her outspread handkerchief before she spoke again. I noticed at this
moment that her dress was just the color of her eyes, a pale, stony
blue.

"Sister Eliza: it is the same," in measured accents. "She is not here:
she has gone--to Watervliet."

Can this be treachery? I thought, and is she still in the house? Will
they hide from her that I am here? But there was no fathoming the
woman's cold blue eyes.

"To Watervliet?" I inquired dismally. "How? when? how did she go?"

"She went in one of our wagons: Sister Leah and Brother Ephraim went
along."

"When will they return?"

"I cannot say."

All this time the man was leaning back against the wall, but uttered
not a word. A glance of triumph shot from the sister's eyes as I rose.
But she was mistaken if she thought I was going away. I stepped to the
window, and throwing it open called to Hiram, who was still sitting in
his wagon, chewing composedly a bit of straw. He leaped out in an
instant, and leaning out to him I rapidly repeated in an undertone the
previous conversation: "What would you do?"

"Ten chances to one it's a lie. Tell 'em you'll set there till you see
her. They can't shake us off that way."

I drew in my head. The pair still sat as before. "Well," said I, "as I
_must_ see her, and as you seem so uncertain about it, I will wait
here."

And again I took my seat. The sister's face flushed. I had meant no
rudeness in my tone, but she must have detected the suspicion in it.
She crimsoned to her temples, and said hastily, "It is impossible for
us to entertain strangers to-day. A brother is dying in the house: we
are all waiting for him to pass away from moment to moment. We can
submit to no intrusion."

Well, perhaps it was an intrusion. It was certainly their house if it
did hold my darling. I looked at her steadily: "Are you sure that
Bessie Stewart has gone away from here?"

"To Watervliet--yea," she answered composedly. "She left here last
week."

My skill at cross-examination was at fault. If that woman was lying,
she would be a premium witness. "I should be sorry, madam," I said,
recalling the world's etiquette, which I had half forgotten, "to
intrude upon you at this or any other time, but I cannot leave here in
doubt. Will you oblige me by stating the exact hour and day at which
Miss Stewart is expected to return from Watervliet, and the road
thither?"

She glanced across the room. Answering the look, the man spoke, for
the first time since she had entered: "The party, I believe, will be
home to-night."

"And she with them?"

"Yea, unless she has elected to remain."

"At what hour?"

"I cannot tell."

"By what road shall I meet her?"

"There are two roads: we generally use the river-road."

"To-night? I will go to meet her. By the river-road, you say?"

"Yea."

"And if I do not meet her?"

"If thou dost not meet her," said the lady-abbess, answering calmly,
"it will be because she is detained on the road."

I had to believe her, and yet I was very skeptical. As I walked out of
the door the man was at my heels. He followed me out on to the wooden
stoop and nodded to Hiram.

"Who is that, Hiram?" I whispered as he leaned across the back of a
horse, adjusting some leathern buckle.

"That?" said Hiram under his breath. "That's a deep 'un: that's Elder
Nebson."

Great was the dissatisfaction of the stout-hearted Splinter at my
retreat, as he called it, from the enemy's ground.

"I'd ha' liked nothin' better than to beat up them quarters. I thought
every minit' you'd be calling me, and was ready to go in." And he
clenched his fist in a way that showed unmistakably how he would have
"gone in" had he been summoned. By this time we were driving on
briskly toward the river-road. "You wa'n't smart, I reckon, to leave
that there house. It was your one chance, hevin' got in. Ten chances
to one she's hid away som'eres in one of them upper rooms," and he
pointed to a row of dormer-windows, "not knowin' nothin' of your bein'
there."

"Stop!" I said with one foot on the shafts. "You don't mean to say she
is shut up there?"

"Shet up? No: they be too smart for that. But there's plenty ways to
shet a young gal's eyes an' ears 'thout lockin' of her up. How'd she
know who was in this wagon, even if she seed it from her winders? To
be sure, I made myself conspicuous enough, a-whistlin' 'Tramp, tramp,'
and makin' the horses switch round a good deal. But, like enough, ef
she'd be down-spereted-like, she'd never go near the winder, but just
set there, a-stitchin' beads on velvet or a-plattin' them mats."

"Why should she work?" I asked, with my grasp still on the reins.

"Them all does," he answered, taking a fresh bite of the straw. "It's
the best cure for sorrow, they say. Or mebbe she's a-teachin' the
children. I see a powerful sight of children comin' along while you
was in there talkin', a-goin' to their school, and I tried to ask some
o' them about her. But the old sheep who was drivin' on 'em looked at
me like vinegar, and I thought I'd better shet up, or mebbe she'd give
the alarm that we was here with horses and wagon to carry her off."

I had a painful moment of indecision as Hiram paused in his narrative
and leisurely proceeded to evict a fly from the near horse's ear. "I
think we'll go on, Hiram," I said, jumping back to my seat again.
"Take the river-road."

Hiram had brought plentiful provision for his horses in a bag under
the seat. "Victualed for a march or a siege," he said as he dragged
out a tin kettle from the same receptacle when we drew up by the
roadside an hour after. "We're clear of them pryin' Shakers, and we'll
just rest a spell."

I could not demur, though my impatience was urging me on faster than
his hungry horses could go.

"I told Susan," he said, "to put me up a bit of pie and cheese--mebbe
we wouldn't be back afore night. Won't you hev' some?--there's a
plenty."

But I declined the luncheon, and while he munched away contentedly,
and while the horses crunched their corn, I got out and walked on,
telling Hiram to follow at his leisure. My heart beat fast as I espied
a wagon in the distance with one--yes, two--Shaker bonnets in it.
Bessie in masquerade! Perhaps so--it could not be the other: that
would be too horrible. But she was coming, surely coming, and the cold
prim sister had told the truth, after all.

The wagon came nearer. In it were two weather-beaten dames, neither of
whom could possibly be mistaken for Bessie in disguise; and the lank,
long-haired brother who was driving them looked ignorant as a child of
anything save the management of his horses. I hailed them, and the
wagon drew up at the side of the road.

It was the women who answered in shrill, piping voices: "Ben to
Watervliet? Nay, they'd ben driving round the country, selling garden
seeds."

"Did they know Bessie Stewart, who was staying in the Shaker village,
in the house by the bridge?"

"Sure, there had ben a stranger woman come there some time ago: they
could not tell--never heerd her name."

I was forced to let them drive on after I had exhausted every possible
inquiry, trusting that Hiram, who was close behind, would have keener
wit in questioning them, but Hiram, as it happened, did not come up to
them at all. They must have turned off into some farm-house lane
before they passed him. The afternoon wore on. It grew toward sunset,
and still we kept the river-road. There was no trace of the Shaker
wagon, and indeed the road was growing wild and lonely.

"I tell you what," said Hiram, stopping suddenly, "these beasts can't
go on for ever, and then turn round and come back again. I'll turn
here, and drive to the little tavern we passed about two mile back,
and stable 'em, and then you and me can watch the road."

It was but reasonable, and I had to assent, though to turn back seemed
an evil omen, and to carry me away from Bessie. The horses were
stabled, and I meanwhile paced the broad open sweep in front of the
tavern, across which the lights were shining. Hiram improved the
opportunity to eat a hearty supper, urging me to partake. But as I
declined, in my impatience, to take my eyes off the road, he brought
me out a bowl of some hot fluid and something on a plate, which I got
through with quickly enough, for the cool evening air had sharpened my
appetite. I rested the bowl on the broad bench beside the door, while
Hiram went backward and forward with the supplies.

"Now," said he as I finished at last, still keeping my eye upon the
road, "you go in and take a turn lyin' down: I'll watch the road. I'm
a-goin' to see this thing out."

But I was not ready to sleep yet; so, yielding to my injunction, he
went in, and I seated myself, wrapped in a buffalo robe from the
wagon. The night was damp and chill.

"Hedn't you better set at the window?" said the kind-hearted landlady,
bustling out. Hiram had evidently told her the story.

"Oh no, thank you;" for I was impatient of walls and tongues, and
wanted to be alone with my anxiety.

What madness was this in Bessie? She could not, oh she could not, have
thrown her life away! What grief and disquiet must have driven her
into this refuge! Poor little soul, scorched and racked by distrust
and doubt! if she could not trust me, whom should she trust?

The household noises ceased one by one; the clump of willows by the
river grew darker and darker; the stars came out and shone with that
magnetic brilliancy that fixes our gaze upon them, leading one to
speculate on their influence, and--

A hand on my shoulder: Hiram with a lantern turned full upon my face.
"'Most one o'clock," he said, rubbing his eyes sleepily. "Come to take
my turn. Have you seen nothing?"

"Nothing," I said, staggering to my feet, which felt like
lead--"nothing."

I did not confess it, but to this hour I cannot tell whether I had
been nodding for one minute or ten. I kept my own counsel as I turned
over the watch to Hiram, but a suspicion shot through me that perhaps
that wagon had gone by, after all, in the moment that I had been off
guard.

Hiram kept the watch faithfully till five that morning, when I too was
stirring. One or two teams had passed, but no Shaker wagon rattling
through the night. We breakfasted in the little room that overlooked
the road. Outside, at the pump, a lounging hostler, who had been
bribed to keep a sharp lookout for a Shaker wagon, whistled and waited
too.

"Tell you what," said Hiram, bolting a goodly rouleau of ham and eggs,
"I've got an idee. You and me might shilly-shally here on this road
all day, and what surety shall we hev' that they hevn't gone by the
other road. Old gal said there was two?"

"Yes, but the folks here say that the other is a wild mountain-road,
and not much used."

"Well, you see they comes down by the boat a piece, or they _may_ cut
across the river at Greenbush. They have queer ways. Now, mebbe they
_have_ come over that mountain-road in the night, while you and me was
a-watchin' this like ferrits. In that case she's safe and sound at
Shaker Village, not knowin' anything of your coming; and Elder Nebson
and that other is laughin' in their sleeves at us."

"Perhaps so."

"Now, this is my advice, but I'll do just as you say. 'Tain't no good
to lay around and watch that ere house _to day_. Ef we hedn't been in
such a white heat, we might just hev' hid round in the neighborhood
_there_ till she came along. But it's too late, for that now. Let's
you and me lay low till Sunday. She'll be sure to go to meetin' on
Sunday ef she's there, and you can quietly slip in and see if she is.
And to shut their eyes up, so that they won't suspect nothin', we'll
leave a message on one of your pasteboards that you're very sorry not
to hev' seen her, drefful sorry, but that you can't wait no longer,
and you are off. They'll think you're off for York: you've got York on
your cards, hevn't you?"

"Yes."

"You just come and stay to my house: we'll make you comfortable, and
there's only one day longer to wait. This is Friday, be'ent it? You'd
best not be seen around to the hotel, lest any of their spies be
about. They do a powerful sight o' drivin' round the country this time
o' year. And then, you see, ef on Sunday she isn't there, you can go
over to Watervliet, or we'll search them houses--whichever you
choose."

There seemed no help for it but to take Hiram's advice. We drove
homeward through the Shaker village, and drew up at the house again.
This time the door was opened by a bent, sharp little Creole, as I
took her to be: the beaming portress of the day before had been
relieved at her post.

"Nay, Bessie Stewart was not at home: she would go and inquire for me
when she was expected."

"No," I said carelessly, not wishing to repeat the scene of yesterday
and to present myself, a humiliated failure, before the two elders
again--"no: give her this card when she does come, and tell her I
could stay no longer."

I had not written any message on the card, for the message, indeed,
was not for Bessie, but for the others. She would interpret it that I
was in the neighborhood, anxious and waiting: she would understand.

"Home, then, Hiram," as I took my seat beside him. "We'll wait till
Sunday."




CHAPTER XI.


"You'd better eat sum'thin'," said Hiram over the breakfast-table on
Sunday morning. "Got a good long drive afore you, and mebbe a good
day's work besides. No? Well, then, Susan, you put the apple-brandy
into the basket, and some of them rusks, for I reckon we'll hev' work
with this young man afore night."

Susan, bless her good heart! wanted to go along, and as Hiram's
excitement was evidently at the highest pitch, he consented that she
should occupy the back seat of the wagon: "P'raps Miss Stewart'll feel
more comfortable about leavin' when she sees there's a woman along."

It was a rainy morning, and there were but few wagons on the road.
Arrived at the village, we encountered one little procession after
another of broad-brim straws and Shaker bonnets turning out of the
several houses as we drove past. They stepped along quickly, and
seemed to take no notice of us.

"Reckon we're the only visitors to-day," whispered Hiram as he stopped
at the horseblock in front of the meeting-house. "You know where you
hev' to set--on the left-hand side; and Susan, she goes to the right."

I followed Susan up the steps, and she hastened, as ordered, to the
right, while I took my seat on one of the back benches of the left,
against the wall. It was a barn-like structure, large, neat and
exquisitely chill. Two large stoves on either side possibly had fire
in them--an old man who looked like an ancient porter went to them
from time to time and put on coal--but the very walls reflected a
chill, blue glare. The roof was lofty and vaulted, and added to the
hollow coldness of the hall. The whole apartment was clean to
sanctity, and in its straitness and blank dreariness no unfit emblem
of the faith it embodied.

Around three sides of the hall, and facing the benches for visitors,
the Shaker fraternity were ranged. The hats and straight straw bonnets
hung decorously upon the wall over their heads: here and there a
sky-blue shawl or one of faded lilac hung beneath the headgear. Across
the wide apartment it was difficult to distinguish faces. I scanned
closely the sisterhood--old, withered faces most of them, with here
and there one young and blooming--but no Bessie as yet. Still, they
were coming in continually through the side door: she might yet
appear. I recognized my lady-abbess, who sat directly facing me, in a
seat of state apparently, and close to her, on the brethren's side of
the house, was Elder Nebson.

The services began. All rose, and sisters and brethren faced each
other and sang a hymn, with no accompaniment and no melody--a harsh
chant in wild, barbaric measure. Then, after a prayer, they entered
upon the peculiar method of their service. Round and round the room
they trooped in two large circles, sister following sister, brother
brother, keeping time with their hanging hands to the rhythm of the
hymn. Clustered in the centre was a little knot of men and women, the
high dignitaries, who seemed to lead the singing with their clapping
hands.

The circles passed each other and wove in and out, each preserving its
unbroken continuity. I looked for Elder Nebson: could it be that he
was joining in these gyrations? Yes, he was leading one of the lines.
But I noticed that his hands moved mechanically, not with the
spasmodic fervor of the rest, and that his eyes, instead of the dull,
heavy stare of his fellows, sought with faithful yet shy constancy the
women's ranks. And as the women filed past me, wringing their hands, I
scrutinized each face and figure--the sweet-faced portress, the
shrunken little creole ("A mulatto, she is," Hiram whispered--he had
taken his seat beside me--"and very powerful, they say, among 'em"),
and some fair young girls; two or three of these with blooming cheeks
bursting frankly through the stiff bordering of their caps. But I saw
not the face I sought.

"Them children! Ain't it awful?" muttered Hiram as a file of blue-coat
boys shambled past, with hair cut square across their foreheads and
bleached white with the sun. "Ain't got a grain of sense! Look at
'em!--all crowded clean out by the Shaker schools."

And surely they were a most unpromising little crowd. Waifs, snatched
probably from some New York whirlpool of iniquity, and wearing the
brute mark on their faces, which nothing in this school of their
transplanting tended to erase--a sodden little party, like stupid
young beasts of burden, uncouth and awkward.

As the girls came round again, and I had settled it in my mind that
there was certainly no Bessie in the room, I could watch them more
calmly. Eagerly as I sought her face, it was a relief, surely, that it
was not there. Pale to ghastliness, most of them, with high, sharpened
shoulders, and features set like those of a corpse, it was indeed
difficult to realize that these ascetic forms, these swaying devotees,
were women--women who might else have been wives and mothers. Some of
them wore in their hollow eyes an expression of ecstasy akin to
madness, and there was not a face there that was not saintly pure.

It was a strange union that assembled under one roof these nun-like
creatures, wasted and worn with their rigid lives, and the heavy,
brutish men, who shambled round the room like plough-horses. _Wicked_
eyes some of them had, mere slits through which a cunning and selfish
spirit looked out. Some faces there were of power, but in them the
disagreeable traits were even more strongly marked: the ignorant,
narrow foreheads were better, less responsible, it seemed.

The singing ended, there was a sermon from a high priest who stood out
imperious among his fellows. But this was not a sermon to the flock.
It was aimed at the scanty audience of strangers with words of
unblushing directness. How men and women may continue pure in the
constant hearing and repetition of such revolting arguments and
articles of faith is matter of serious question. The divine instincts
of maternity, the sweet attractions of human love, were thrown down
and stamped under foot in the mud of this man's mind; and at each
peroration, exhorting his hearers to shake off Satan, a strong
convulsive shiver ran through the assembly.

"Bessie is certainly not here: possibly she's still at Watervliet," I
whispered to; Hiram as the concluding hymn began. "But I'll have a
chance at Elder Nebson and that woman before they leave the house."

The rain had ceased for some time, and as again the wild chant went up
from those harsh strained voices, a stray sunbeam, like a gleam of
good promise, shot across the floor. But what was this little figure
stealing in through a side-door and joining the circling throng?--a
figure in lilac gown, with the stiff muslin cap and folded
neckerchief. She entered at the farthest corner of the room, and I
watched her approach with beating heart. Something in the easy step
was familiar, and yet it could not be. She passed around with the rest
in the inner circle, and, leaning forward, I held my breath lest
indeed it might be she.

The circle opened, and again the long line of march around the room.
The lilac figure came nearer and nearer, and now I see her face. It is
Bessie!

With a cry I sprang up, but with a blow, a crash, a horrible darkness
swept over me like a wave, and I knew nothing.

When I came to myself I was lying on a bed in a room that was new to
me. A strong light, as of the setting sun, shone upon the whitewashed
wall. There was a little table, over which hung a looking-glass,
surmounted by two fans of turkey feathers. I stared feebly at the fans
for a while, and then closed my eyes again.

Where was I? I had a faint remembrance of jolting in a wagon, and of
pitying faces bent over me, but where was I now? Again I opened my
eyes, and noted the gay patchwork covering of the bed, and the green
paper curtain of the window in the golden wall--green, with a tall
yellow flower-pot on it, with sprawling roses of blue and red. Turning
with an effort toward the side whence all the brightness came, in a
moment two warm arms were round my neck, and a face that I could not
see was pressed close to mine.

"Oh, Charlie, Charlie! forgive, forgive me for being so bad!"

"Bessie," I answered dreamingly, and seemed to be drifting away again.
But a strong odor of pungent salts made my head tingle again, and when
I could open my eyes for the tears they rested on my darling's
face--my own darling in a soft white dress, kneeling by my bedside,
with both her arms round me. A vigorous patting of the pillow behind
me revealed Mrs. Splinter, tearful too: "He's come to now. Don't
bother him with talk, Miss Bessie. I'll fetch the tea."

And with motherly insistance she brought me a steaming bowl of
beef-tea, while I still lay, holding Bessie's hand, with a feeble
dawning that the vision was real.

"No," she said as Bessie put out her arm for the bowl, "you prop up
his head. I've got a steddyer hand: you'd just spill it all over his
go-to-meetin' suit."

I looked down at myself. I was still dressed in the clothes that I had
worn--when was it? last week?--when I had started for the Shaker
meeting.

"How long?" I said feebly.

"Only this morning, you darling boy, it all happened; and here we are,
snug at Mrs. Splinter's, and Mary Jane is getting the cottage ready
for us as fast as ever she can."

How good that beef-tea was! Bessie knew well what would give it the
_sauce piquante_. "Ready for us!"

"Here's the doctor at last," said Hiram, putting his head in at the
door. "Why, hillo! are we awake?"

"The doctor! Dr. Wilder?" I said beamingly. How good of Bessie! how
thoughtful!

"Not Dr. Wilder, you dear old boy!" said Bessie, laughing and
blushing, "though I sha'n't scold you, Charlie, for that!" in a
whisper in my ear. "It's Dr. Bolster of Lee. Hiram has been riding all
over the country for him this afternoon."

"I'll go down to him," I said, preparing to rise.

"No you won't;" and Mrs. Splinter's strong arm, as well as Bessie's
soft hand, patted me down again.

Dr. Bolster pronounced, as well he might, that all danger was over.
The blow on my head--I must have struck it with force against the
projecting window-shelf as I sprang up--was enough to have stunned me;
but the doctor, I found, was inclined to theorize: "A sudden vertigo,
a dizziness: the Shaker hymns and dances have that effect sometimes
upon persons viewing them for the first time. Or perhaps the heat of
the room." He calmly fingered my pulse for a few seconds, with his fat
ticking watch in his other hand, and then retired to the bureau to
write a prescription, which I was indignantly prepared to repudiate.
But Bessie, in a delightful little pantomime, made signs to me to be
patient: we could throw it all out of the window afterward if need be.

"A soothing draught, and let him keep quiet for a day or so, will be
all that is required. I will call to-morrow if you would prefer it."

"We will send you a note, doctor, to-morrow morning: he seems so much
stronger already that perhaps it will not be necessary to make you
take such a long drive."

"Yes, yes, I'm very busy. You send me word whether to come or not."

And bustlingly the good doctor departed, with Mrs. Splinter
majestically descending to hold whispered conference with him at the
gate.

"Charlie, I _will_ send for Dr. Wilder if you are ready, for I'm never
going to leave you another minute as long as we live."

"I think," said I, laughing, "that I should like to stand up first on
my feet; that is, if I have any feet."

What a wonderful prop and support was Bessie! How skillfully she
helped me to step once, twice, across the floor! and when I sank down,
very tired, in the comfortable easy-chair by the window, she knelt on
the floor beside me and bathed my forehead with fragrant cologne, that
certainly did not come from Mrs. Splinter's tall bottle of lavender
compound on the bureau.

"Oh, my dear boy, I have _so_ much to say! Where shall I begin?"

"At the end," I said quietly. "Send for Dr. Wilder."

"But don't you want to hear what a naughty girl--"

"No, I want to hear nothing but 'I, Elizabeth, take thee--'"

"But I've been so very jealous, so suspicious and angry. _Don't_ you
want to hear how bad I am?"

"No," I said, closing the discussion after an old fashion of the
Sloman cottage, "not until we two walk together to the Ledge
to-morrow, my little wife and I."

"Where's a card--your card, Charlie? It would be more proper-like, as
Mrs. Splinter would say, for you to write it."

"I will try," I said, taking out a card-case from my breast-pocket. As
I drew it forth my hand touched a package, Fanny Meyrick's packet.
Shall I give it to her now? I hesitated. No, we'll be married first in
the calm faith that each has in the other to-day, needing no outward
assurance or written word.

I penciled feebly, with a very shaky hand, my request that the doctor
would call at Hiram Splinter's, at his earliest convenience that
evening, to perform the ceremony of marriage between his young friend,
Bessie Stewart, and the subscriber. Hiram's eldest son, a youth of
eight, was swinging on the gate under our window. To him Bessie
entrusted the card, with many injunctions to give it into no other
hands than the doctor's own.

In less time than we had anticipated, as we looked out of the window
at the last pink glow of the sunset, the urchin reappeared, walking
with great strides beside a spare little-figure, whom we recognized as
the worthy doctor himself.

"Good gracious! he _is_ in a hurry!" said Bessie, retiring hastily
from the window; "and we have not said a word to Mrs. Splinter yet!"

We had expected the little doctor would wait below until the
bridal-party should descend; but no, he came directly up stairs, and
walked into the room without prelude. He took Bessie in his arms with
fatherly tenderness: "Ah, you runaway! so you've come back at last?"

"Yes, doctor, and don't you let go of her until you have married her
fast to me."

"Ahem!" said the doctor, clearing his throat, "that is just what I
came to advise you about. Hiram told me this afternoon of the chase
you two had had, and of your illness this morning. Now, as it is half
over the village by this time that Bessie Stewart has been rescued
from the Shaker village by a chivalrous young gentleman, and as
everybody is wild with impatience to know the _denoument_, I want you
to come down quietly to the church this evening and be married after
evening service."

"To please everybody?" I said, in no very pleasant humor.

"I think it will be wisest, best; and I am sure this discreetest of
women," still holding Bessie's hand, "will agree with me. You need not
sit through the service. Hiram can bring you down after it has begun;
and you may sit in the vestry till the clerk calls you. I'll preach a
short sermon to-night," with a benignant chuckle.

He had his will. Some feeling that it would please Mrs. Sloman best,
the only person besides ourselves whom it concerned us to please,
settled it in Bessie's mind, although she anxiously inquired several
times before the doctor left if I felt equal to going to church.
Suppose I should faint on the way?

I was equal to it, for I took a long nap on the sofa in Mrs.
Splinter's parlor through the soft spring twilight, while Bessie held
what seemed to me interminable conferences with Mary Jane.

It was not a brilliant ceremony so far as the groom was concerned. As
we stood at the chancel-rail I am afraid that the congregation,
largely augmented, by this time, by late-comers--for the doctor had
spread the news through the village far and wide--thought me but a
very pale and quiet bridegroom.

But the bride's beauty made amends for all. Just the same soft white
dress of the afternoon--or was it one like it?--with no ornaments, no
bridal veil. I have always pitied men who have to plight their troth
to a moving mass of lace and tulle, weighed down with orange-blossoms
massive as lead. This was my own little wife as she would walk by my
side through life, dressed as she might be the next day and always.

But the next day it was the tartan cloak that she wore, by special
request, as we climbed the hill to the Ledge. It was spring
indeed--bluebirds in the air, and all the sky shone clear and warm.

"Let _me_ begin," said my wife as she took her old seat under the
sheltering pine. "You can't have anything to say, Charlie, in
comparison with me."

There was a short preliminary pause, and then she began.




CHAPTER XII.


"Well, after you wouldn't take me to Europe, you know--"

"You naughty girl!"

"No interruptions, sir. After you _couldn't_ take me to Europe I felt
very much hurt and wounded, and ready to catch at any straw of
suspicion. I ran away from you that night and left you in the parlor,
hoping that you would call me back, and yet longing to hide myself
from you too. You understand?"

"Yes, let us not dwell on that."

"Well, I believe I never thought once of Fanny Meyrick's going to
Europe too until she joined us on the road that day--you remember?--at
the washerwoman's gate."

"Yes; and do _you_ remember how Fidget and I barked at her with all
our hearts?"

"I was piqued then at the air of ownership Fanny seemed to assume in
you. She had just come to Lenox, I knew; she could know nothing of our
intimacy, our relations; and this seemed like the renewal of something
old--something that had been going on before. Had she any claim on
you? I wondered. And then, too, you were so provokingly reticent about
her whenever her name had been mentioned before."

"Was I? What a fool I was! But, Bessie dear, I could not say to even
you, then, that I believed Fanny Meyrick was in--cared a great deal
for me."

"I understand," said Bessie nodding. "We'll skip that, and take it for
granted. But you see _I_ couldn't take anything for granted but just
what I saw that day; and the little memorandum-book and Fanny's
reminiscences nearly killed me. I don't know how I sat through it all.
I tried to avoid you all the rest of the day. I wanted to think, and
to find out the truth from Fanny."

"I should think you _did_ avoid me pretty successfully, leaving me to
dine coldly at the hotel, and then driving all the afternoon till
train-time."

"It was in talking to Fanny that afternoon that I discovered how she
felt toward you. She has no concealment about her, not any, and I
could read her heart plainly enough. But then she hinted at her
father's treatment of you; thought he had discouraged you, rebuffed
you, and reasoned so that I fairly thought there might be truth in it,
_remembering it was before you knew me."_

"Listen one minute, Bessie, till I explain that. It's my belief, and
always was, that that shrewd old fellow, Henry Meyrick, saw very
clearly how matters were all along--saw how the impetuous Miss Fanny
was--"

"_Falling in love_: don't pause for a 'more tenderer word,' Charlie.
Sam Weller couldn't find any."

"Well, falling in love, if you _will_ say it--and that it was
decidedly a difficult situation for me. I remember so well that night
on the piazza, when Fanny clung about me like a mermaid, he bade her
sharply go and change her dripping garments, and what Fanny calls 'a
decidedly queer' expression came into his face. He could not say
anything, poor old chap! and he always behaved with great courtesy to
me. I am sure he divined that I was a most unimpassioned actor in that
high-comedy plunge into the Hudson."

"Very well: I believe it, I'm sure, but, you see, how could I know
then what was or was not true? Then it was that I resolved to give you
leave--or rather give her leave to try. I had written my note in the
morning, saying _no_ finally to the Europe plan, and I scrawled across
it, in lead-pencil, while Fanny stood at her horse's head, those ugly
words, you remember?"

"Yes," I said: "'Go to Europe with Fanny Meyrick, and come up to
Lenox, both of you, when you return.'"

"Then, after that, my one idea was to get away from Lenox. The place
was hateful to me, and you were writing those pathetic letters about
being married, and state-rooms, and all. It only made me more
wretched, for I thought you were the more urgent now that you had been
lacking before. I hurried aunt off to Philadelphia, and in New York
she hurried me. She would not wait, though I did want to, and I was so
disappointed at the hotel! But I thought there was a fate in it to
give Fanny Meyrick her chance, poor thing! and so I wrote that
good-bye note without an address."

"But I found you, for all, thanks to Dr. R----!"

"Yes, and when you came that night I was so happy. I put away all
fear: I had to remind myself, actually, all the time, of what I owed
to Fanny, until you told me you had changed your passage to the
Algeria, and that gave me strength to be angry. Oh, my dear, I'm
afraid you'll have a very bad wife. Of course the minute you had
sailed I began to be horribly jealous, and then I got a letter by the
pilot that made me worse."

"But," said I, "you got my letters from the other side. Didn't that
assure you that you might have faith in me?"

"But I would not receive them. Aunt Sloman has them all, done up and
labeled for you, doubtless. She, it seems--had you talked her
over?--thought I ought to have gone with you, and fretted because she
was keeping me. Then I couldn't bear it another day. It was just after
you had sailed, and I had cut out the ship-list to send you; and I had
worked myself up to believe you would go back to Fanny Meyrick if you
had the chance. I told Aunt Sloman that it was all over between
us--that you might continue to write to me, but I begged that she
would keep all your letters in a box until I should ask her for them."

"But I wrote letters to her, too, asking what had become of you."

"She went to Minnesota, you know, early in February."

"And why didn't you go with her?"

"She scolded me dreadfully because I would not. But she was so well,
and she had her maid and a pleasant party of Philadelphia friends; and
I--well, I didn't want to put all those hundreds of miles between me
and the sea."

"And was Shaker Village so near, then, to the sea?"

"Oh, Charlie," hiding her face on my shoulder, "that was cowardice in
me. You know I meant to keep the cottage open and live there. It was
the saddest place in all the world, but still I wanted to be
there--alone. But I found I could not be alone; and the last people
who came drove me nearly wild--those R----s, Fanny Meyrick's
friends--and they talked about her and about you, so that I could bear
it no longer. I wanted to hide myself from all the world. I knew I
could be quiet at the Shaker village. I had often driven over there
with Aunt Sloman: indeed, Sophia--that's the one you saw--is a great
friend of Aunt Maria's."

"So the lady-abbess confessed, did she?" I asked with some curiosity.

"Yes: she said you were rudely inquisitive; but she excused you as
unfamiliar with Shaker ways."

"And were you really at Watervliet?"

"Yes, but don't be in a hurry: we'll come to that presently. Sophia
gave me a pretty little room opening out of hers, and they all treated
me with great kindness, if they _did_ call me Eliza."

"And did you," I asked with some impatience, remembering Hiram's
description--"did you sew beads on velvet and plait straw for mats?"

"Nonsense! I did whatever I pleased. I was parlor-boarder, as they say
in the schools. But I did learn something, sir, from that dear old
sister Martha. You saw _her_?"

"The motherly body who invited me in?"

"Yes: isn't she a dear? I took lessons from her in all sorts of
cookery: you shall see, Charlie, I've profited by being a Shakeress."

"Yes, my darling, but did you--you didn't go to church?"

"Only once," she said, with a shiver that made her all the dearer,
"and they preached such dreary stuff that I told Sophia I would never
go again."

"But did you really wear that dress I saw you in?"

"For that once only. You see, I was at Watervliet when you came. If
you had only gone straight there, dear goose! instead of dodging in
the road, you would have found me. I had grown a little tired of the
monotony of the village, and was glad to join the party starting for
Niskayuna, it was such a glorious drive across the mountain. I longed
for you all the time."

"Pretty little Shakeress! But why did they put us on such a false
track?"

"Oh, we had expected to reach home that night, but one of the horses
was lame, and we did not start as soon as we had planned. We came back
on Saturday afternoon--Saturday afternoon, and this is Monday
morning!", leaning back dreamily, and looking across the blue distance
to the far-off hills. "Then I got your card, and they told me about
you, and I knew, for all the message, that you'd be back on Sunday
morning. But how could I tell then that Fanny Meyrick would not be
with you?"

"Bessie!" and my hand tightened on hers.

"Oh, Charlie, you don't know what it is to be jealous. Of course I did
know that--no, I didn't, either, though I must have been _sure_
underneath that day. For it was more in fun than anything else, after
I knew you were in the meeting-house--"

"How did you know?"

"I saw you drive up--you and Hiram and Mrs. Hiram."

"You didn't think, then, that it was Mrs. Charles?"

"So I stole into Sophia's room, and put on one of her dresses. She is
tall too, but it did not fit very well."

"I should think not," I answered, looking down admiringly at her.

"In fact," laughing, "I took quite a time pinning myself into it and
getting the neckerchief folded prim. I waited till after the sermon,
and then I knew by the singing that it was the last hymn, so I darted
in. I don't know what they thought--that I was suddenly converted, I
suppose, and they would probably have given thanks over me as a brand
snatched from the burning. Did I do the dance well? I didn't want to
put them out."

"My darling, it was a dreadful masquerade. Did you want to punish me
to the end?"

"I was punished myself, Charlie, when you fell. Oh dear! don't let's
talk about the dreadful thing any more. But I think you would have
forgiven Elder Nebson if you had seen how tenderly he lifted you into
the wagon. There, now: where are we going to live in New York, and
what have we got to live on besides my little income?"

"Income! I had forgotten you had any."

"Ask Judge Hubbard if I haven't. You'll see."

"But, my dear," said I gravely, drawing forth the packet from my
breast, "I, too, have my story to tell. I cannot call it a confession,
either; rather it is the story of somebody else--Hallo! who's broken
the seal?" For on shipboard I had beguiled the time by writing a sort
of journal to accompany Fanny's letter, and had placed all together in
a thick white envelope, addressing it, in legal parlance, "To whom it
may concern."

"_I_ did," said Bessie faintly, burying her face on my arm. "It fell
out of your pocket when they carried you up stairs; and I read it,
every word, twice over, before you came to yourself."

"You little witch! And I thought you were marrying me out of pure
faith in me, and not of sight or knowledge."

"It was faith, the highest faith," said Bessie proudly, and looking
into my eyes with her old saucy dash, "to know, to feel sure, that
that sealed paper concerned nobody but me."

And so she has ever since maintained.




Transcriber's Note:
This is a compiled version of a novel published in sections
in the LIPPINCOTT'S MAGAZINE OF POPULAR LITERATURE AND SCIENCE.

List of the e-books from which this text was compiled:
[EBook #13828] August 1873
[EBook #14036] September 1873
[EBook #13964] October 1873







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