A DUNGAN BOOKS PUBLICATION
LAVENDER AND OLD LACE
by Myrtle Reed
I. The Light in the Window
A rickety carriage was slowly ascending the hill,
and from the place of honor on the back seat, the single passenger
surveyed the country with interest and admiration. The driver of
that ancient chariot was an awkward young fellow, possibly
twenty-five years of age, with sharp knees, large, red hands,
high cheek-bones, and abundant hair of a shade verging upon orange. He was
not unpleasant to look upon, however, for he had a certain evident honesty,
and he was disposed to be friendly to every one.
"Be you comfortable, Miss?" he asked, with
"Very comfortable, thank you," was the quiet
response. He urged his venerable steeds to a gait of about two mles an hour,
then turned sideways.
"Be you goin' to stay long, Miss?"
"All Summer, I think."
The young woman smiled in listless amusement, but
Joe took it for conversational encouragement. "City folks is dretful bashful
when they's away from home," he said to himself. He clucked again to his
unheeding horses, shifted his quid, and was casting about for a new topic
when a light broke in upon him.
"I guess, now, that you're Miss Hathaway's niece,
what's come to stay in her house while she goes gallivantin' and travellin'
in furrin parts, be n't you?"
"I am Miss Hathaway's niece, and I have never
been here before. Where does she live?"
He flourished the discarded fish-pole which
served as a whip, and pointed out a small white house on the brow of the
hill. Reflection brought him the conviction that his remark
concerning Miss Hathaway was a social mistake, since his passenger sat
very straight, and asked no more questions.
The weary wheels creaked, but the collapse which
Miss Thorne momentarily expected was mercifully postponed. Being gifted
with imagination, she experienced the emotion of a wreck without bodily
harm. As in a photograph, she beheld herself suddenly projected into space,
followed by her suit case, felt her new hat wrenched from her head, and saw
hopeless gravel stains upon the tailored gown which was the pride of her
heart. She thought a sprained ankle would be the inevitable outcome of the
fall, but was spared the pain of it, for the inability to realise an
actual hurt is the redeeming feature of imagination.
Suddenly there was a snort of terror from one of
the horses, and the carriage stopped abruptly. Ruth clutched her suit case
and umbrella, instantly prepared for the worst; but Joe
"Now don't you go and get skeered, Miss," he
said, kindly; "'taint nothin' in the world but a rabbit. Mamie can't never
get used to rabbits, someways." He indicated one of the horses—a high,
raw-boned animal, sketched on a generous plan, whose ribs and joints
protruded, and whose rough white coat had been weather-worn to
"Hush now, Mamie," he said; "'taint
"Mamie" looked around inquiringly, with one ear
erect and the other at an angle. A cataract partially concealed one eye, but
in the other was a world of wickedness and knowledge, modified by
a certain lady-like reserve.
"G' long, Mamie!"
Ruth laughed as the horse resumed motion in
mincing, maidenly steps. "What's the other one's name?" she
"Him? His name's Alfred. Mamie's his
Miss Thorne endeavoured to conceal her amusement
and Joe was pleased because the ice was broken. "I change their names
every once in a while," he said, "'cause it makes some variety, but
now I've named'em about all the names I know."
The road wound upward in its own lazy fashion,
and there were trees at the left, though only one or two shaded the hill
itself. As they approached the summit, a girl in a blue gingham dress
and a neat white apron came out to meet them.
"Come right in, Miss Thorne," she said, "and I'll
explain it to you."
Ruth descended, inwardly vowing that she would
ride no more in Joe's carriage, and after giving some directions about her
trunk, followed her guide indoors.
The storm-beaten house was certainly entitled to
the respect accorded to age. It was substantial, but unpretentious
in outline, and had not been painted for a long time. The faded green
shutters blended harmoniously with the greyish white background, and the
piazza, which was evidently an unhappy afterthought of the architect, had two
or three new shingles on its roof.
"You see it's this way, Miss Thorne," the maid
began, volubly; "Miss Hathaway, she went earlier than she laid out to, on
account of the folks decidin' to take a steamer that
sailed beforehand—before the other one, I mean. She went in sech a hurry
that she didn't have time to send you word and get an answer, but she's left
a letter here for you, for she trusted to your comin'."
Miss Thorne laid her hat and jacket aside and
settled herself comfortably in a rocker. The maid returned presently with
a letter which Miss Hathaway had sealed with half an ounce of red wax,
presumably in a laudable effort to remove temptation from the path of the
red-cheeked, wholesome, farmer's daughter who stood near by with her hands on
"Miss Ruth Thorne," the letter
"I am writing this in a hurry, as we are going a
week before we expected to. I think you will find everything all right.
Hepsey will attend to the house-keeping, for I don't suppose you know much
about it, coming from the city. She's a good-hearted girl, but she's set in
her ways, and you'll have to kinder give in to her, but any time when you
can't, just speak to her sharp and she'll do as you tell her.
"I have left money enough for the expenses until
I come back, in a little box on the top shelf of the closet in the front
room, under a pile of blankets and comfortables. The key that unlocks it
is hung on a nail driven into the back of the old bureau in the attic. I
believe Hepsey is honest and reliable, but I don't believe in tempting
"When I get anywhere where I can, I will write
and send you my address, and then you can tell me how things are going at
home. The catnip is hanging from the rafters in the attic, in case
you should want some tea, and the sassafras is in the little drawer in the
bureau that's got the key hanging behind it.
"If there's anything else you should want, I
reckon Hepsey will know where to find it. Hoping that this will find you
enjoying the great blessing of good health, I remain,
"Your Affectionate Aunt,
"P. S. You have to keep a lamp burning every
night in the east window of the attic. Be careful that nothing catches
The maid was waiting, in fear and trembling, for
she did not know what directions her eccentric mistress might have
"Everything is all right, Hepsey," said Miss
Thorne, pleasantly, "and I think you and I will get along nicely. Did Miss
Hathaway tell you what room I was to have?"
"No'm. She told me you was to make yourself at
home. She said you could sleep where you pleased."
"Very well, I will go up and see for myself. I
would like my tea at six o'clock." She still held the letter in her hand,
greatly to the chagrin of Hepsey, who was interested in everything and had
counted upon a peep at it. It was not Miss Hathaway's custom to guard her
letters and she was both surprised and disappointed.
As Ruth climbed the narrow stairway, the quiet,
old-fashioned house brought balm to her tired soul. It was exquisitely
clean, redolent of sweet herbs, and in its atmosphere was a
subtle, Puritan restraint.
Have not our houses, mute as they are, their own
way of conveying an impression? One may go into a house which has been empty
for a long time, and yet feel, instinctively, what sort of people
were last sheltered there. The silent walls breathe a message to
each visitor, and as the footfalls echo in the bare cheerless rooms, one
discovers where Sorrow and Trouble had their abode, and where the light,
careless laughter of gay Bohemia lingered until dawn. At night, who has not
heard ghostly steps upon the stairs, the soft closing of unseen doors, the
tapping on a window, and, perchance, a sigh or the sound of tears? Timid
souls may shudder and be afraid, but wiser folk smile, with reminiscent
tenderness, when the old house dreams.
As she wandered through the tiny, spotless rooms
on the second floor of Miss Hathaway's house, Ruth had a sense of security
and peace which she had never known before. There were two front rooms, of
equal size, looking to the west, and she chose the one on the left, because
of its two south windows. There was but one other room, aside from the small
one at the end of the hall, which, as she supposed, was
One of the closets was empty, but on a shelf in
the other was a great pile of bedding. She dragged a chair inside, burrowed
under the blankets, and found a small wooden box, the contents
clinking softly as she drew it toward her.
Holding it under her arm, she ascended the
narrow, spiral stairs which led to the attic. At one end, under the eaves,
stood an old mahogany dresser. The casters were gone and she moved it
with difficulty, but the slanting sunbeams of late afternoon revealed the
key, which hung, as her aunt had written, on a nail driven into the back of
She knew, without trying, that it would fit the
box, but idly turned the lock. As she opened it, a bit of paper fluttered
out, and, picking it up, she read in her aunt's cramped, But
distinct hand: "Hepsey gets a dollar and a half every week. Don't you
pay her no more."
As the house was set some distance back, the east
window in the attic was the only one which commanded a view of the sea. A
small table, with its legs sawed off, came exactly to the sill, and here
stood a lamp, which was a lamp simply, without adornment, and held about a
pint of oil.
She read the letter again and, having mastered
its contents, tore it into small pieces, with that urban caution which does
not come amiss in the rural districts. She understood that every night
of her stay she was to light this lamp with her own hands, but why? The
varnish on the table, which had once been glaring, was scratched with
innumerable rings, where the rough glass had left its mark. Ruth wondered if
she were face to face with a mystery.
The seaward side of the hill was a rocky cliff,
and between the vegetable garden at the back of the house and the edge of
the precipice were a few stumps, well-nigh covered with moss. From her
vantage point, she could see the woods which began at the base of the hill,
on the north side, and seemed to end at the sea. On the south, there were a
few trees near the cliff, but others near them had been cut
Still farther south and below the hill was a
grassy plain, through which a glistening river wound slowly to the
ocean. Willows grew along its margin, tipped with silvery green, and with
masses of purple twilight tangled in the bare branches below.
Ruth opened the window and drew a long breath.
Her senses had been dulled by the years in the city, but childhood,
hidden though not forgotten, came back as if by magic, with that
first scent of sea and Spring.
As yet, she had not fully realised how grateful
she was for this little time away from her desk and typewriter. The
managing editor had promised her the same position, whenever she chose
to go back, and there was a little hoard in the savings-bank, which she
would not need to touch, owing to the kindness of this eccentric aunt, whom
she had never seen.
The large room was a typical attic, with its
spinning-wheel and discarded furniture—colonial mahogany that would make
many a city matron envious, and for which its owner cared little
or nothing. There were chests of drawers, two or three battered trunks, a
cedar chest, and countless boxes, of various sizes. Bunches of sweet herbs
hung from the rafters, but there were no cobwebs, because of Miss Hathaway's
Ruth regretted the cobwebs and decided not to
interfere, should the tiny spinners take advantage of Aunt Jane's absence.
She found an old chair which was unsteady on its rockers but not
yet depraved enough to betray one's confidence. Moving it to the window,
she sat down and looked out at the sea, where the slow boom of the surf came
softly from the shore, mingled with the liquid melody of returning
The first grey of twilight had come upon the
world before she thought of going downstairs. A match-safe hung upon the
window casing, newly filled, and, mindful of her trust, she lighted
the lamp and closed the window. Then a sudden scream from the floor below
"Miss Thorne! Miss Thorne!" cried a shrill voice.
"Come here! Quick!"
White as a sheet, Ruth flew downstairs and met
Hepsey in the hall. "What on earth is the matter!" she gasped.
"Joe's come with your trunk," responded that
volcanic young woman, amiably; "where'd you want it put?"
"In the south front room," she answered, still
frightened, but glad nothing more serious had happened. "You mustn't scream
"Supper's ready," resumed Hepsey, nonchalantly,
and Ruth followed her down to the little dining-room.
As she ate, she plied the maid with questions.
"Does Miss Hathaway light that lamp in the attic every night?"
"Yes'm. She cleans it and fills it herself, and
she puts it out every morning. She don't never let me touch it."
"Why does she keep it there?"
"D' know. She d' know, neither."
"Why, Hepsey, what do you mean? Why does she do
it if she doesn't know why she does it?"
"D'know.'Cause she wants to, I
"She's been gone a week, hasn't
"No'm. Only six days. It'll be a week
Hepsey's remarks were short and jerky, as a rule,
and had a certain explosive force.
"Hasn't the lamp been lighted since she went
"Yes'm. I was to do it till you come, and after
you got here I was to ask you every night if you'd forgot it."
Ruth smiled because Aunt Jane's old-fashioned
exactness lingered in her wake. "Now see here, Hepsey," she began kindly, "I
don't know and you don't know, but I'd like to have you tell me what you
think about it."
"I d' know, as you say, mum, but I think—" here
she lowered her voice—" I think it has something to do with Miss
"Who is Miss Ainslie?"
"She's a peculiar woman, Miss Ainslie is," the
girl explained, smoothing her apron, "and she lives down the road a piece, in
the valley as, you may say. She don't never go nowheres, Miss
Ainslie don't, but folks goes to see her. She's got a funny
house—I've been inside of it sometimes when I've been down on errands
for Miss Hathaway. She ain't got no figgered wall paper, nor no
lace curtains, and she ain't got no rag carpets neither. Her floors is all
kinder funny, and she's got heathen things spread down onto'em. Her house is
full of heathen things, and sometimes she wears'em."
"Wears what, Hepsey? The'heathen things' in the
"No'm. Other heathen things she's got put away
somewheres. She's got money, I guess, but she's got furniture in her parlour
that's just like what Miss Hathaway's got set away in the attic.
We wouldn't use them kind of things, nohow," she added
"Does she live all alone?"
"Yes'm. Joe, he does her errands and other folks
stops in sometimes, but Miss Ainslie ain't left her front yard for I
d' know how long. Some says she's cracked, but she's the best housekeeper
round here, and if she hears of anybody that's sick or in trouble, she allers
sends'em things. She ain't never been up here, but Miss Hathaway, she goes
down there sometimes, and she'n Miss Ainslie swaps cookin' quite regler. I
have to go down there with a plate of somethin' Miss Hathaway's made, and
Miss Ainslie allers says: 'Wait just a moment, please, Hepsey, I
would like to send Miss Hathaway a jar of my preserves.'"
She relapsed unconsciously into imitation of Miss
Ainslie's speech. In the few words, softened, and betraying a
quaint stateliness, Ruth caught a glimpse of an old-fashioned gentlewoman,
reserved and yet gracious.
She folded her napkin, saying: "You make the best
biscuits I ever tasted, Hepsey." The girl smiled, but made no
"What makes you think Miss Ainslie has anything
to do with the light?" she inquired after a little.
"'Cause there wasn't no light in that winder when
I first come—leastways, not as I know of—and after I'd been here a
week or so, Miss Hathaway, she come back from there one day looking kinder
strange. She didn't say much; but the next mornin' she goes down to town and
buys that lamp, and she saws off them table legs herself. Every night since,
that light's been a-goin', and she puts it out herself every mornin' before
she comes downstairs."
"Perhaps she and Miss Ainslie had been talking of
shipwreck, and she thought she would have a little lighthouse of her own,"
Miss Thorne suggested, when the silence became oppressive.
"P'raps so," rejoined Hepsey. She had become
Ruth pushed her chair back and stood at the
dining-room window a moment, looking out into the yard. The valley was in
shadow, but the last light still lingered on the hill. "What's that,
Hepsey?" she asked.
"That—where the evergreen is coming up out of
the ground, in the shape of a square."
"That's the cat's grave, mum. She died jest afore
Miss Hathaway went away, and she planted the evergreen."
"I thought something was lacking," said Ruth,
half to herself.
"Do you want a kitten, Miss Thorne?" inquired
Hepsey, eagerly. "I reckon I can get you one—Maltese or white, just as you
"No, thank you, Hepsey; I don't believe I'll
import any pets."
"Jest as you say, mum. It's sorter lonesome,
though, with no cat; and Miss Hathaway said she didn't want no
Speculating upon the departed cat's superior
charms, that made substitution seem like sacrilege to Miss Hathaway, Ruth sat
down for a time in the old-fashioned parlour, where the shabby haircloth
furniture was ornamented with "tidies" to the last degree. There was a
marble-topped centre table in the room, and a basket of wax flowers under a
glass case, Mrs. Hemans's poems, another book, called The Lady's Garland, and
the family Bible were carefully arranged upon it.
A hair wreath, also sheltered by glass, hung on
the wall near another collection of wax flowers suitably framed. There
were various portraits of people whom Miss Thorne did not know, though she
was a near relative of their owner, and two tall, white china vases,
decorated with gilt, flanked the mantel-shelf. The carpet, which was once of
the speaking variety, had faded to the listening point. Coarse lace curtains
hung from brass rings on wooden poles, and red cotton lambrequins were
festooned at the top.
Hepsey came in to light the lamp that hung by
chains over the table, but Miss Thorne rose, saying: "You needn't mind,
Hepsey, as I am going upstairs."
"Want me to help you unpack? she asked, doubtless
wishing for a view of "city clothes."
"No, thank you."
"I put a pitcher of water in your room, Miss
Thorne. Is there anything else you would like?"
"Nothing more, thank you."
She still lingered, irresolute, shifting from one
foot to the other. "Miss Thorne—" she began hesitatingly.
"Be you—be you a lady detective?" Ruth's clear
laughter rang out on the evening air. "Why, no, you foolish girl; I'm a
newspaper woman, and I've earned a rest—that's all. You mustn't read
books with yellow covers."
Hepsey withdrew, muttering vague apologies, and
Ruth found her at the head of the stairs when she went up to her room. "How
long have you been with Miss Hathaway?" she asked.
"Five years come next June."
"Good night, Hepsey."
"Good night, Miss Thorne."
From sheer force of habit, Ruth locked her door.
Her trunk was not a large one, and it did not take her long to put her
simple wardrobe into the capacious closet and the dresser drawers. As she
moved the empty trunk into the closet, she remembered the box of money that
she had left in the attic, and went up to get it. When she returned she heard
Hepsey's door close softly.
"Silly child," she said to herself. I might just
as well ask her if she isn't a'lady detective.' They'll laugh about that in
the office when I go back."
She sat down, rocking contentedly, for it was
April, and she would not have to go back until Aunt Jane came home,
probably about the first of October. She checked off the
free, health-giving months on her tired fingers, that would know the blue
pencil and the typewriter no more until Autumn, when she would be strong
again and the quivering nerves quite steady.
She blessed the legacy which had fallen into Jane
Hathaway's lap and led her, at fifty-five, to join a "personally
conducted" party to the Old World. Ruth had always had a dim yearning
for foreign travel, but just now she felt no latent injustice, such as had
often rankled in her soul when her friends went and she remained at
Thinking she heard Hepsey in the hall, and not
caring to arouse further suspicion, she put out her light and sat by the
window, with the shutters wide open.
Far down the hill, where the road became level
again, and on the left as she looked toward the village, was the white
house, surrounded by a garden and a hedge, which she supposed was
Miss Ainslie's. A timid chirp came from the grass, and the faint, sweet
smell of growing things floated in through the open window at the other end
of the room.
A train from the city sounded a warning whistle
as it approached the station, and then a light shone on the grass in front of
Miss Ainslie's house. It was a little gleam, evidently from a
"So she's keeping a lighthouse, too," thought
Ruth. The train pulled out of the station and half an hour afterward the
She meditated upon the general subject of
illumination while she got ready for bed, but as soon as her head touched the
pillow she lost consciousness and knew no more until the morning light
crept into her room.
The maid sat in the kitchen, wondering why Miss
Thorne did not come down. It was almost seven o'clock, and Miss
Hathaway's breakfast hour was half past six. Hepsey did not frame
the thought, but she had a vague impression that the guest was
Yet she was grateful for the new interest which
had come into her monotonous life. Affairs moved like clock work at
Miss Hathaway's—breakfast at half past six, dinner at one, and supper at
half past five. Each day was also set apart by its regular duties, from the
washing on Monday to the baking on Saturday.
Now it was possible that there might be a change.
Miss Thorne seemed fully capable of setting the house topsy-turvy—and
Miss Hathaway's last injunction had been: "Now, Hepsey, you mind
Miss Thorne. If I hear that you don't, you'll lose your place."
The young woman who slumbered peacefully
upstairs, while the rest of the world was awake, had, from the beginning,
aroused admiration in Hepsey's breast. It was a reluctant,
rebellious feeling, mingled with an indefinite fear, but it was
admiration none the less.
During the greater part of a wondering, wakeful
night, the excited Hepsey had seen Miss Thorne as plainly as when she
first entered the house. The tall, straight, graceful figure was familiar
by this time, and the subdued silken rustle of her skirts was a wonted sound.
Ruth's face, naturally mobile, had been schooled into a certain reserve, but
her deep, dark eyes were eloquent, and always would be. Hepsey wondered at
the opaque whiteness of her skin and the baffling arrangement of her
hair. The young women of the village had rosy cheeks, but Miss
Thorne's face was colourless, except for her lips.
It was very strange, Hepsey thought, for Miss
Hathaway to sail before her niece came, if, indeed, Miss Thorne was her
niece. There was a mystery in the house on the hilltop, which she
had tried in vain to fathom. Foreign letters came frequently, no two of
them from the same person, and the lamp in the attic window had burned
steadily every night for five years. Otherwise, everything was explainable
Still, Miss Thorne did not seem even remotely
related to her aunt, and Hepsey had her doubts. Moreover, the guest had
an uncanny gift which amounted to second sight. How did she know that all
of Hepsey's books had yellow covers? Miss Hathaway could not have told her in
the letter, for the mistress was not awire of her maid's literary
It was half past seven, but no sound came from
upstairs. She replenished the fire and resumed meditation. Whatever Miss
Thorne might prove to be, she was decidedly interesting. It wis
pleasant to watch her, to feel the subtle refinement of all
her belongings, and to wonder what was going to happen next. Perhaps Miss
Thorne would take her back to the city, as her maid, when Miss Hathaway came
home, for, in the books, such things frequently happened. Would she go?
Hepsey was trying to decide, when there was a light, rapid step on the
stairs, a moment's hesitation in the hall, and Miss Thorne came into
"Good morning, Hepsey," she said, cheerily; "am I
"Yes'm. It's goin' on eight, and Miss Hathaway
allers has breakfast at half past six."
"How ghastly," Ruth thought. "I should have told
you," she said, "I will have mine at eight."
"Yes'm," replied Hepsey, apparently unmoved.
"What time do you want dinner?"
"At six o'clock—luncheon at half past
Hepsey was puzzled, but in a few moments she
understood that dinner was to be served at night and supper at midday.
Breakfast had already been moved forward an hour and a half, and
stranger things might happen at any minute.
Ruth had several other reforms in mind, but
deemed it best to wait. After breakfast, she remembered the lamp in the
window and went up to put it out.
It was still burning when she reached it, though
the oil was almost gone, and, placing it by the stairway, that she might
not forget to have it filled, she determined to explore the attic to her
The sunlight streamed through the east window and
searched the farthest corners of the room. The floor was bare and worn,
but carefully swept, and the things that were stored there were huddled
together far back under the eaves, as if to make room
It was not idle curiosity, but delicate
sentiment, that made Ruth eager to open the trunks and dresser drawers, and
to turn over the contents of the boxes that were piled together and
covered with dust. The interest of the lower part of the house paled
in comparison with the first real attic she had ever been in.
After all, why not? Miss Hathaway was her
aunt,—her mother's only sister,—and the house was in her care. There was no
earthly reason why she should not amuse herself in her own way.
Ruth's instincts were against it, but Reason triumphed.
The bunches of dried herbs, hanging from the
rafters and swaying back and forth in ghostly fashion, gave out a
wholesome fragrance, and when she opened trunks whose lids creaked on
their rusty hinges, dried rosemary, lavender, and sweet clover filled the
room with that long-stored sweetness which is the gracious handmaiden of
Miss Hathaway was a thrifty soul, but she never
stored discarded clothing that might be of use to any one, and so Ruth found
no moth-eaten garments of bygone pattern, but only things which seemed to
be kept for the sake of their tender associations.
There were letters, on whose yellowed pages the
words had long since faded, a dogeared primer, and several well
worn schoolbooks, each having on its fly-leaf: "Jane Hathaway, Her Book";
scraps of lace, brocade ard rustling taffeta, quilt patterns, needlebooks,
and all of the eloquent treasures that a well stored attic can
As she replaced them, singing softly to herself,
a folded newspaper slipped to the floor. It was yellow and worn, like
the letters, and she unfolded it carefully. It was over thirty years old,
and around a paragraph on the last page a faint line still lingered. It was
an announcement of the marriage of Charles G. Winfield, captain of the
schooner Mary, to Miss Abigail Weatherby.
"Abigail Weatherby," she said aloud. The name had
a sweet, old-fashioned sound. "They must have been Aunt Jane's
friends." She closed the trunk and pushed it back to its place, under
In a distant corner was the old cedar chest,
heavily carved. She pulled it out into the light, her cheeks glowing with
quiet happiness, and sat down on the floor beside it. It was
evidently Miss Hathaway's treasure box, put away in the attic
when spinsterhood was confirmed by the fleeting years.
On top, folded carefully in a sheet, was a gown
of white brocade, short-waisted and quaint, trimmed with pearl passementerie.
The neck was square, cut modestly low, and filled in with lace of
a delicate, frosty pattern—Point d'Alencon. Underneath the gown lay piles
of lingerie, all of the finest linen, daintily made by hand. Some of it was
trimmed with real lace, some with crocheted edging, and the rest with
hemstitched ruffles and feather-stitching.
There was another gown, much worn, of soft blue
cashmere, some sea-shells, a necklace of uncut turquoises, the colour changed
to green, a prayer-book, a little hymnal, and a bundle of letters, tied
with a faded blue ribbon, which she did not touch. There was but one
picture—an ambrotype, in an ornate case, of a handsome young man, with that
dashing, dare-devil look in his eyes which has ever been attractive to
Ruth smiled as she put the treasures away,
thinking that, had Fate thrown the dice another way, the young man might have
been her esteemed and respected uncle. Then, all at once, it came to her
that she had unthinkingly stumbled upon her aunt's romance.
She was not a woman to pry into others' secrets,
and felt guilty as she fled from the attic, taking the lamp with her.
Afterward, as she sat on the narrow piazza, basking in the warm
Spring sunshine, she pieced out the love affair of Jane Hathaway's
early girlhood after her own fashion.
She could see it all plainly. Aunt Jane had
expected to be married to the dashing young man and had had her trousseau
in readiness, when something happened. The folded paper would indicate
that he was Charles Winfield, who had married some one else, but whether Aunt
Jane had broken her engagement, or the possible Uncle Charles had simply
taken a mate without any such formality, was a subject of
Still, if the recreant lover had married another,
would Aunt Jane have kept her treasure chest and her wedding gown? Ruth knew
that she herself would not, but she understood that aunts were in a class
by themselves. It was possible that Charles Winfield was an earlier lover,
and she had kept the paper without any special motive, or, perhaps, for "auld
Probably the letters would have disclosed the
mystery, and the newspaper instinct, on the trail of a "story," was
struggling with her sense of honor, but not for the world, now that
she knew, would Ruth have read the yellowed pages, which doubtless held
faded roses pressed between them.
The strings of sea-shells, and the larger ones,
which could have come only from foreign shores, together with the light in
the window, gave her a sudden clew. Aunt Jane was waiting for her lover
and the lamp was a signal. If his name was Charles Winfield, the other woman
was dead, and if not, the marriage notice was that of a friend or an earlier
The explanation was reasonable, clear, and
concise—what woman could ask for more? Yet there was something beyond it
which was out of Miss Thorne's grasp—a tantalising something, which
would not be allayed. Then she reflected that the Summer was before tier,
and, in reality, now that she was off the paper, she had no business with
other people's affairs.
The sun was hidden by gathering clouds and the
air was damp before Ruth missed the bright warmth on the piazza, and began
to walk back and forth by way of keeping warm. A gravelled path led to the
gate and on either side was a row of lilac bushes, the bare stalks tipped
with green. A white picket fence surrounded the yard, except at the back,
where the edge of the precipice made it useless. The place was small and well
kept, but there were no flower beds except at the front of the house, and
there were only two or three trees.
She walked around the vegetable garden at the
back of the house, where a portion of her Summer sustenance was planted,
and discovered an unused gate at the side, which swung back and forth,
idly, without latching. She was looking over the fence and down the steep
hillside, when a sharp voice at her elbow made her jump.
"Sech as wants dinner can come in and get it,"
announced Hepsey, sourly. "I've yelled and yelled till I've most bust my
throat and I ain't a-goin' to yell no more."
She returned to the house, a picture of offended
dignity, but carefully left the door ajar for Ruth, who discovered, upon
this rude awakening from her reverie, that she was very hungry.
In the afternoon, the chill fog made it
impossible to go out, for the wind had risen from the sea and driven the salt
mist inland. Miss Hathaway's library was meagre and uninteresting, Hepsey
was busy in the kitchen, and Ruth was frankly bored. Reduced at last to
the desperate strait of putting all her belongings in irreproachable order,
she found herself, at four o'clock, without occupation. The temptation in the
attic wrestled strongly with her, but she would not go.
It seemed an age until six o'clock. "This won't
do," she said to herself; "I'll have to learn how to sew, or crochet, or
make tatting. At last, I am to be domesticated. I used to wonder how women
had time for the endless fancy work, but I see, now."
She was accustomed to self analysis and
introspection, and began to consider what she could get out of the next six
months in the way of gain. Physical strength, certainly, but what else?
The prospect was gloomy just then.
"It's goin' to rain, Miss Thorne," said Hepsey,
at the door. "Is all the winders shut?"
"Yes, I think so," she answered.
"Supper's ready any time you want
"Very well, I will come now."
When she sat down in the parlour, after doing
scant justice to Hepsey's cooking, it was with a grim resignation, of the
Puritan sort which, supposedly, went with the house. There was but
one place in all the world where she would like to be, and she was afraid
to trust herself in the attic.
By an elaborate mental process, she convinced
herself that the cedar chest and the old trunks did not concern her in the
least, and tried to develop a feminine fear of mice, which was not natural
to her. She had just placed herself loftily above all mundane things, when
Hepsey marched into the room, and placed the attic lamp, newly filled, upon
the marble table.
Here was a manifest duty confronting a very
superior person and, as she went upstairs, she determined to come back
immediately, but when she had put the light in the seaward window,
she lingered, under the spell of the room.
The rain beat steadily upon the roof and dripped
from the eaves. The light made distorted shadows upon the wall and floor,
while the bunches of herbs, hanging from the rafters, swung lightly back
and forth when the wind rattled the windows and shook the old
The room seemed peopled by the previous
generation, that had slept in the massive mahogany bed, rocked in the chairs,
with sewing or gossip, and stood before the old dresser on tiptoe, peering
eagerly into the mirror which probably had hung above it. It was as if Memory
sat at the spinning-wheel, idly twisting the thread, and bringing visions of
the years gone by.
A cracked mirror hung against the wall and Ruth
saw her reflection dimly, as if she, too, belonged to the ghosts of
the attic. She was not vain, but she was satisfied with her eyes and hair,
her white skin, impervious to tan or burn, and the shape of her mouth. The
saucy little upward tilt at the end of her nose was a great cross to her,
however, because it was at variance with the dignified bearing which she
chose to maintain. As she looked, she wondered, vaguely, if she, like Aunt
Jane, would grow to a loveless old age. It seemed probable, for, at
twenty-five, The Prince had not appeared. She had her work and was happy;
yet unceasingly, behind those dark eyes, Ruth's soul kept maidenly match
for its mate.
When she turned to go downstairs, a folded
newspaper on the floor attracted her attention. It was near one of the trunks
which she had opened and must have fallen out. She picked it up, to
replace it, but it proved to be another paper dated a year later than
the first one. There was no marked paragraph, but she soon discovered the
death notice of "Abigail Winfield, nee Weatherby, aged twenty-two." She put
it into the trunk out of which she knew it must have fallen, and stood there,
thinking. Those faded letters, hidden under Aunt Jane's wedding gown, were
tempting her with their mute secret as never before. She hesitated, took
three steps toward the cedar chest, then fled ingloriously from
Whoever Charles Winfeld was, he was free to love
and marry again. Perhaps there had been an estrangement and it was he for
whom Aunt Jane was waiting, since sometimes, out of bitterness, the years
distil forgiveness. She wondered at the nature which was tender enough to
keep the wedding gown and the pathetic little treasures, brave enough to keep
the paper, with its evidence of falseness, and great enough to
Yet, what right had she to suppose Aunt Jane was
waiting? Had she gone abroad to seek him and win his recreant heart again? Or
was Abigail Weatherby her girlhood friend, who had married unhappily, and
Somewhere in Aunt Jane's fifty-five years there
was a romance, but, after all, it was not her niece's business. "I'm
an imaginative goose," Ruth said to herself. "I'm asked to keep a light in
the window, presumably as an incipient lighthouse, and I've found some old
clothes and two old papers in the attic—that's all—and I've constructed a
She resolutely put the whole matter aside, as she
sat in her room, rocking pensively. Her own lamp had not been filled and
was burning dimly, so she put it out and sat in the darkness, listening to
She had not closed the shutters and did not care
to lean out in the storm, and so it was that, when the whistle of the
ten o'clock train sounded hoarsely, she saw the little glimmer of light
from Miss Ainslie's window, making a faint circle in
Half an hour later, as before, it was taken away.
The scent of lavender and sweet clover clung to Miss Hathaway's linen,
and, insensibly soothed, Ruth went to sleep. After hours of
dreamless slumber, she thought she heard a voice calling her and
telling her not to forget the light. It was so real that she started
to her feet, half expecting to find some one standing beside
The rain had ceased, and two or three stars, like
timid children, were peeping at the world from behind the threatening cloud.
It was that mystical moment which no one may place—the turning of night
to day. Far down the hill, ghostly, but not forbidding, was Miss Ainslie's
house, the garden around it lying whitely beneath the dews of dawn, and up in
the attic window the light still shone, like unfounded hope in a woman's
soul, harking across distant seas of misunderstanding and gloom, with its
pitiful "All Hail!"
Ruth began to feel a lively interest in her Aunt
Jane, and to regret that she had not arrived in time to make her
acquaintance. She knew that Miss Hathaway was three or four years younger
than Mrs. Thorne would have been, had she lived, and that a legacy
had recently come to her from an old friend, but that was all, aside from
the discoveries in the attic.
She contemplated the crayon portraits in the
parlour and hoped she was not related to any of them. In the family album she
found no woman whom she would have liked for an aunt, but was determined
to know the worst.
"Is Miss Hathaway's picture here, Hepsey?" she
"No'm. Miss Hathaway, she wouldn't have her
picter in the parlour, nohow. Some folks does, but Miss Hathaway
"I think she's right, Hepsey," laughed Ruth,
"though I never thought of it in just that way. I'll have to wait until she
In the afternoon she donned the short skirt and
heavy shoes of her "office rig," and started down hill to explore the
village. It was a day to tempt one out of doors,—cool and bright,
with that indefinable crispness which belongs to Spring.
The hill rose sheer from the highlands, which
sloped to the river on the left, as she went down, and on the right to the
forest. A side path into the woods made her hesitate for a moment, but
she went straight on.
It was the usual small town, which nestles at the
foot of a hill and eventually climbs over it, through the enterprise of
its wealthier residents, but, save for Miss Hathaway's house,
the enterprise had not, as yet, become evident. At the foot of the hill,
on the left, was Miss Ainslie's house and garden, and directly opposite, with
the width of the hill between them, was a brown house, with a lawn, but no
garden except that devoted to vegetables.
As she walked through the village, stopping to
look at the display of merchandise in the window of the single shop,
which was also post-office and grocery, she attracted a great deal
of respectful attention, for, in this community, strangers were an event.
Ruth reflected that the shop had only to grow to about fifty times its
present size in order to become a full-fledged department store and bring
upon the town the rank and dignity of a metropolis.
When she turned her face homeward, she had
reached the foot of the hill before she realised that the first long walk
over country roads was hard for one accustomed to city pavements. A broad,
flat stone offered an inviting resting-place, and she sat down, in the shadow
of Miss Ainslie's hedge, hoping Joe would pass in time to take her to the top
of the hill. The hedge was high and except for the gate the garden was
"I seem to get more tired every minute," she
thought. "I wonder if I've got the rheumatism."
She scanned the horizon eagerly for the
dilapidated conveyance which she had once both feared and scorned. No sound
could have been more welcome than the rumble of those creaking wheels,
nor any sight more
pleasing than the conflicting expressions
in "Mamie's" single useful eye. She sat there a long time, waiting for
deliverance, but it did not come.
"I'll get an alpenstock," she said to herself, as
she rose, wearily, and tried to summon courage to start. Then the
gate clicked softly and the sweetest voice in the world said: "My dear,
you are tired—won't you come in?"
Turning, she saw Miss Ainslie, smiling
graciously. In a moment she had explained that she was Miss Hathaway's niece
and that she would be very glad to come in for a few moments.
"Yes, " said the sweet voice again, "I know who
you are. Your aunt told me all about you and I trust we shall be
Ruth followed her up the gravelled path to the
house, and into the parlour, where a wood fire blazed cheerily upon the
hearth. "It is so damp this time of year," she went on, "that I like
to keep my fire burning."
While they were talking, Ruth's eyes rested with
pleasure upon her hostess. She herself was tall, but Miss Ainslie towered
above her. She was a woman of poise and magnificent bearing, and she had
the composure which comes to some as a right and to others with long social
Her abundant hair was like spun silver—it was
not merely white, but it shone. Her skin was as fresh and fair as a girl's,
and when she smiled, one saw that her teeth were white and even; but the
great charm of her face was her eyes. They were violet, so deep in colour as
to seem almost black in certain lights, and behind them lay an indescribable
something which made Ruth love her instinctively. She might have been forty,
or seventy, but she was beautiful, with the beauty that never
At intervals, not wishing to stare, Ruth glanced
around the room. Having once seen the woman, one could not fail to recognise
her house, for it suited her. The floors were hardwood, highly polished,
and partly covered with rare Oriental rugs. The walls were a soft, dark
green, bearing no disfiguring design, and the windows were draped with net,
edged with Duchesse lace. Miss Hathaway's curtains hung straight to the
floor, but Miss Ainslie's were tied back with white cord.
The furniture was colonial mahogany, unspoiled by
varnish, and rubbed until it shone.
"You have a beautiful home," said Ruth, during a
"Yes," she replied, "I like it."
"You have a great many beautiful
"Yes," she answered softly, "they were given to
me by a—a friend."
"She must have had a great many," observed Ruth,
admiring one of the rugs.
A delicate pink suffused Miss Ainslie's face. "My
friend," she said, with quiet dignity, "is a seafaring
That explained the rugs, Ruth thought, and the
vase, of finest Cloisonne, which stood upon the mantel-shelf. It accounted
also for the bertha of Mechlin lace, which was fastened to Miss Ainslie's
gown, of lavender cashmere, by a large amethyst inlaid with gold and
surrounded by baroque pearls.
For some little time, they talked of Miss
Hathaway and her travels. "I told her she was too old to go," said Miss
Ainslie,. smiling, "but she assured me that she could take care of
herself, and I think she can. Even if she couldn't, she is perfectly
safe. These'personally conducted' parties are by far the best, if one goes
alone, for the first time."
Ruth knew that, but she was surprised,
nevertheless. "Won't you tell me about my aunt, Miss Ainslie?" she asked.
"You know I've never seen her."
"Why, yes, of course I will! Where shall I
"At the beginning," answered Ruth, with a little
"The beginning is very far away, deary," said
Miss Ainslie, and Ruth fancied she heard a sigh. "She came here long before I
did, and we were girls together. She lived in the old house at the top of
the hill, with her father and mother, and I lived here with mine. We were
very intimate for a long time, and then we had a quarrel, about something
that was so silly and foolish that I cannot even remember what it was. For
five years—no, for almost six, we passed each other like strangers, because
each was too proud and stubborn to yield. But death, and trouble, brought
us together again."
"Who spoke first," asked Ruth, much interested,
"you or Aunt Jane?"
"It was I, of course. I don't believe she would
have done it. She was always stronger than I, and though I can't remember the
cause of the quarrel, I can feel the hurt to my pride, even at
"I know," answered Ruth, quickly, "something of
the same kind once happened to me, only it wasn't pride that held me
back—it was just plain stubbornness. Sometimes I am conscious of
two selves—one of me is a nice, polite person that I'm really fond of,
and the other is so contrary and so mulish that I'm actually afraid of her.
When the two come in conflict, the stubborn one always wins. I'm sorry, but I
can't help it."
"Don't you think we're all like that?" asked Miss
Ainslie, readily understanding. "I do not believe any one can
have strength of character without being stubborn. To hold one's position
in the face of obstacles, and never be tempted to yield —to me, that seems
the very foundation."
"Yes, but to be unable to yield when you know you
"Is it?" inquired Miss Ainslie, with quiet
"Ask Aunt Jane," returned Ruth, laughing. "I
begin to perceive our definite relationship."
Miss Ainslie leaned forward to put another maple
log on the fire. "Tell me more about Aunt Jane," Ruth suggested. "I'm getting
to be somebody's relative, instead of an orphan, stranded on the shore of
"She's hard to analyse," began the older woman.
"I have never been able to reconcile her firmness with her softness. She's
as hard as New England granite, but I think she wears it like a mask.
Sometimes, one sees through. She scolds me very often, about anything that
occurs to her, but I never pay any attention to it. She says I shouldn't live
here all alone, and that I deserve to have something dreadful happen to me,
but she had all the trees cut down that stood on the hill between her window
and mine, and had a key made to my lower door, and made me promise that if
I was ill at any time, I would put a signal in my window—a red shawl in the
daytime and a light at night. I hadn't any red shawl and she gave me
"One night—I shall never forget it—I had a
terrible attack of neuralgia, during the worst storm I have ever known. I
didn't even know that I put the light in the window—I was so
beside myself with pain—but she came, at two o'clock in the morning, and
stayed with me until I was all right again. She was so gentle and so tender—
I shall always love her for that."
The sweet voice vibrated with feeling, and Ruth's
thoughts flew to the light in the attic window, but, no—it could not be
seen from Miss Ainslie's. "What does Aunt Jane look like?" she
asked, after a pause.
"I haven't a picture, except one that was taken a
long time ago, but I'll get that." She went upstairs and returned,
presently, putting an old-fashioned ambrotype into Ruth's hand.
The velvet-lined case enshrined Aunt Jane in the
bloom of her youth. It was a young woman of twenty or twenty-five, seated in
a straight-backed chair, with her hands encased in black lace mitts and
folded in the lap of her striped silk gown. The forehead was high, protruding
slightly, the eyes rather small, and very dark, the nose straight, and the
little chin exceedingly firm and determined. There was an expression of
maidenly wistfulness somewhere, which Ruth could not definitely locate, but
there was no hint of it in the chin.
"Poor little Aunt Jane, " said Ruth. "Life never
would be easy for her."
"No," returned Miss Ainslie, "but she would not
let anyone know."
Ruth strolled over to the window, thinking that
she must be going, and Miss Ainslie still held the picture in her hand.
"She had a lover, didn't she?" asked Ruth, idly.
"I-I-think so," answered the other, unwillingly.
"You remember we quarrelled."
A young man stopped in the middle of the road,
looked at Miss Ainslie's house, and then at the brown one across the hill.
From her position in the window, Ruth saw him plainly. He hesitated
a moment, then went toward the brown house. She noted that he was
a stranger—there was no such topcoat in the village.
"Was his name Winfield?" she asked suddenly, then
instantly hated herself for the question.
The ambrotype fell to the floor. Miss Ainslie
stooped to pick it up and Ruth did not see her face. "Perhaps," she said, in
a strange tone, "but I never have asked a lady the name of
Gentle as it was, Ruth felt the rebuke keenly. An
apology was on her lips, but only her flushed cheeks betrayed any emotion.
Miss Ainslie's face was pale, and there was unmistakable resentment in her
"I must go," Ruth said, after an awkward silence,
and in an instant Miss Ainslie was herself again.
"No-you mustn't go, deary. You haven't seen my
garden yet. I have planted all the seeds and some of them are coming up.
Isn't it beautiful to see things grow?"
"It is indeed," Ruth assented, forgetting the
momentary awkwardness, "and I have lived for a long time where I have
seen nothing grow but car tracks and high buildings. May I come again and
see your garden?"
"I shall be so glad to have you," replied Miss
Ainslie, with a quaint stateliness. "I have enjoyed your visit so much and I
hope you will come again very soon."
"Thank you—I will."
Her hostess had opened the door for her, but Ruth
stood in the hall, waiting, in obedience to some strange impulse. Then
she stepped outside, but something held her back-something that
lay unspoken between them. Those unfathomable eyes were fixed upon her,
questioning, pleading, and searching her inmost soul.
Ruth looked at her, wondering, and striving to
answer the mute appeal. Then Miss Ainslie laid her hand upon her arm. "My
dear," she asked, earnestly, "do you light the lamp in the attic
window every night?"
"Yes, I do, Miss Ainslie," she answered,
The older woman caught her breath, as if in
relief, and then the deep crimson flooded her face.
"Hepsey told me and Aunt Jane left a letter about
it," Ruth continued, hastily, "and I am very glad to do it. It would
be dreadful to have a ship wrecked, almost at our door."
"Yes," sighed Miss Ainslie, her colour receding,
"I have often thought of 'those who go down to the sea in ships.' It is
so terrible, and sometimes, when I hear the surf beating against
the cliff, I—I am afraid."
Ruth climbed the hill, interested, happy, yet
deeply disturbed. Miss Ainslie's beautiful, changing face seemed to follow
her, and the exquisite scent of the lavender, which had filled the
rooms, clung to her senses like a benediction.
Hepsey was right, and unquestionably Miss Ainslie
had something to do with the light; but no deep meaning lay behind it—so
much was certain. She had lived alone so long that she had grown to have a
great fear of shipwreck, possibly on account of her friend, the "seafaring
gentleman," and had asked Miss Hathaway to put the light in the window—that
Ruth's reason was fully satisfied, but something
else was not. "I'm not going to think about it any more," she said to
herself, resolutely, and thought she meant it.
She ate her dinner with the zest of hunger, while
Hepsey noiselessly served her. "I have been to Miss Ainslie's,
Hepsey," she said at length, not wishing to appear unsociable.
The maid's clouded visage cleared for an instant.
"Did you find out about the lamp?" she inquired, eagerly.
"No, I didn't, Hepsey; but I'll tell you what I
think. Miss Ainslie has read a great deal and has lived alone so much
that she has become very much afraid of shipwreck. You know all of us have
some one fear. For instance, I am terribly afraid of green worms, though a
green worm has never harmed me. I think she asked Miss Hathaway to put the
lamp in the window, and possibly told her of something she had read which
made her feel that she should have done it before."
Hepsey's face took on its old, impenetrable
"Don't you think so?" asked Miss Thorne, after a
"It's all very reasonable, isn't
In spite of the seeming assent, she knew that
Hepsey was not convinced; and afterward, when she came into the room with
the attic lamp and a box of matches, the mystery returned to trouble Ruth
"If I don't take up tatting," she thought, as she
went upstairs, "or find something else to do, I'll be a meddling old maid
inside of six months."
As the days went by, Ruth had the inevitable
reaction. At first the country brought balm to her tired nerves, and she
rested luxuriously, but she had not been at Miss Hathaway's a
fortnight before she bitterly regretted the step she had taken.
Still there was no going back, for she had given
her word, and must stay there until October. The months before her
stretched out into a dreary waste. She thought of Miss Ainslie
gratefully, as a redeeming feature, but she knew that it was impossible
to spend all of her time in the house—it the foot of the hill.
Half past six had seemed an unearthly hour for
breakfast, and yet more than once Ruth had been downstairs at five o'clock,
before Hepsey was stiring. There was no rest to be had anywhere,
even after a long walk through the woods and fields. Inaction
became irritation, and each day was filled with a thousand
unbearable annoyances. She was fretful, moody, and restless, always
wishing herself back in the office, yet knowing that she could not do good
work, even if she were there.
She sat in her room one afternoon, frankly
miserable, when Hepsey stalked in, unannounced, and gave her a
"Mr. Carl Winfield!" Ruth repeated aloud. "Some
one to see me, Hepsey?" she asked, in astonishment.
"Yes'm. He's a-waitin' on the
"Didn't you ask him to come in?"
"No'm. Miss Hathaway, she don't want no strangers
in her house."
"Go down immediately," commanded Ruth, sternly,
"ask him into the parlour, and say that Miss Thorne will be down in a few
Hepsey shuffled downstairs with comfortable
leisure, opened the door with aggravating slowness, then said, in a harsh
tone that reached the upper rooms distinctly: "Miss Thorne, she says
that you can come in and set in the parlour till she comes
"Thank you," responded a masculine voice, in
quiet amusement; "Miss Thorne is kind—and generous."
Ruth's cheeks flushed hotly. "I don't know
whether Miss Thorne will go down or not," she said to herself. "It's probably
She rocked pensively for a minute or two,
wondering what would happen if she did not go down. There was no sound from
the parlour save a subdued clearing of the throat. "He's getting ready to
speak his piece," she thought, "and he might as well do it now as to wait for
Though she loathed Mr. Carl Winfield and his
errand, whatever it might prove to be, she stopped before her mirror long
enough to give a pat or two to her rebellious hair. On the way down
she determined to be dignified, icy, and crushing.
A tall young fellow with a pleasant face rose to
greet her as she entered the room. "Miss Thorne?" he inquired.
"Yes—please sit down. I am very sorry that my
maid should have been so inhospitable." It was not what she had meant to
"Oh, that's all right," he replied, easily; "I
quite enjoyed it. I must ask your pardon for coming to you in this abrupt
way, but Carlton gave me a letter to you, and I've lost it." Carlton
was the managing editor, and vague expectations of a summons to the office
came into Ruth's mind.
"I'm on The Herald," he went on; "that is, I was,
until my eyes gave out, and then they didn't want me any more. Newspapers
can't use anybody out of repair," he added, grimly.
"I know," Ruth answered, nodding.
"Of course the office isn't a sanitarium, though
they need that kind of an annex; nor yet a literary kindergarten, which
I've known it to be taken for, but—well, I won't tell you my troubles.
The oculist said I must go to the country for six months, stay outdoors, and
neither read nor write. I went to see Carlton, and he promised me a berth in
the Fall—they're going to have a morning edition, too, you
Miss Thorne did not know, but she was much
"Carlton advised me to come up here," resumed
Winfield. "He said you were here, and that you were going back in the Fall.
I'm sorry I've lost his letter."
"What was in it?" inquired Ruth, with a touch of
sarcasm. "You read it, didn't you?"
"Of course I read it—that is, I tried to. The
thing looked like a prescription, but, as nearly as I could make it out, it
was principally a description of the desolation in the office since you
left it. At the end there was a line or two commending me to your tender
mercies, and here I am."
"Now what in the dickens have I done?" thought
Winfield. "That's it exactly, Miss Thorne. I've lost my reference, and I'm
doing my best to create a good impression without it. I thought that
as long as we were going to be on the same paper, and were
He paused, and she finished the sentence for him:
"that you'd come to see me. How long have you been in town?"
"'In town' is good," he said. "I arrived in this
desolate, God-forsaken spot just ten days ago. Until now I've hunted
and fished every day, but I didn't get anything but a cold. It was very
good, of its kind—I couldn't speak above a whisper for three
She had already recognised him as the young man
she saw standing in the road the day she went to Miss Ainslie's, and
mentally asked his pardon for thinking he was a book-agent. He
might become a pleasant acquaintance, for he was tall, clean shaven, and
well built. His hands were white and shapely and he was well groomed, though
not in the least foppish. The troublesome eyes were dark brown, sheltered by
a pair of tinted glasses. His face was very expressive, responding readily to
every change of mood.
They talked "shop" for a time, discovering many
mutual friends, and Ruth liked him. He spoke easily, though hurriedly,
and appeared to be somewhat cynical, but she rightly attributed it
to restlessness like her own.
"What are you going to do on The Tribune?" she
"Anything," he answered, with an indefinable
shrug. "'Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.' What are you
going to do?"
"The same," replied Ruth. "'Society,''Mother's
Corner,''Under the Evening Lamp,' and'In the Kitchen with Aunt
He laughed infectiously. "I wish Carlton could
hear you say that."
"I don't," returned Ruth, colouring
"Why; are you afraid of him?"
"Certainly I am. If he speaks to me, I'm
instantly stiff with terror."
"Oh, he isn't so bad," said Winfield,
reassuringly, "He's naturally abrupt, that's all; and I'll venture he doesn't
suspect that he has any influence over you. I'd never fancy that you
were afraid of anybody or anything on earth."
"I'm not afraid of anything else," she answered,
"except burglars and green worms."
"Carlton would ernjoy the classification—really,
Miss Thorne, somebody should tell him, don't you think? So much
innocent pleasure doesn't often come into the day of a busy
For a moment Ruth was angry, and then, all at
once, she knew Winfield as if he had always been her friend.
Conventionality, years, and the veneer of society were lightly laid upon one
who would always be a boy. Some men are old at twenty, but Winfield would
be young at seventy.
"You can tell him if you want to," Ruth rejoined,
calmly. "He'll be so pleased that he'll double your salary on the
"And you?" he asked, his eyes twinkling with
"I'll be pensioned, of course."
"You're all right," he returned, "but I guess I
won't tell him. Riches lead to temptation, and if I'm going to be on The
Tribune I'd hate to have you pensioned."
Hepsey appeared to have a great deal of
employment in the dining-room, and was very quiet about it, with long
pauses between her leisurely movements. Winfield did not seem to
notice it, but it jarred upon Ruth, and she was relieved when he said
he must go.
"You'll come again, won't you?" she
"I will, indeed."
She stood at the window, unconsciously watching
him as he went down the hill with a long, free stride. She liked the strength
in his broad shoulders, his well modulated voice, and his clear, honest
eyes; but after all he was nothing but a boy.
"Miss Thorne," said Hepsey, at her elbow, "is
that your beau?" It was not impertinence, but sheer friendly interest which
could not be mistaken for anything else.
"No," she answered; "of course not."
"He's real nice-lookin', ain't he?
"Have you got your eye on anybody
"Then, Miss Thorne, I don't know's you could do
"Perhaps not." She was thinking, and spoke
mechanically. From where she stood she could still see him walking rapidly
down the hill.
"Ain't you never seen him before?"
Miss Thorne turned. "Hepsey," she said, coldly,
"please go into the kitchen and attend to your work. And the next time I
have company, please stay in the kitchen—not in the
"Yes'm," replied Hepsey, meekly, hastening to
She was not subtle, but she understood that in
some way she had offended Miss Thorne, and racked her brain vainly. She had
said nothing that she would not have said to Miss Hathaway, and
had intended nothing but friendliness. As for her being in
the dining-room—why, very often, when Miss Hathaway had company, she was
called in to give her version of some bit of village gossip. Miss Hathaway
scolded her when she was displeased, but never before had any one spoken to
Hepsey in a measured, icy tone that was at once lady-like and commanding.
Tears came into her eyes, for she was sensitive, after all.
A step sounded overhead, and Hepsey regained her
self-possession. She had heard nearly all of the conversation and could have
told Miss Thorne a great deal about the young man. For instance, he had
not said that he was boarding at Joe's, across the road from Miss Ainslie's,
and that he intended to stay all Summer. She could have told her of an
uncertain temper, peculiar tastes, and of a silver shaving-cup which Joe had
promised her a glimpse of before the visitor went back to the city; but she
decided to let Miss Thorne go on in her blind ignorance.
Ruth, meanwhile, was meditating, with an
aggravated restlessness. The momentary glimpse of the outer world had stung
her into a sense of her isolation, which she realised even more keenly
than before. It was because of this, she told herself, that she
hoped Winfield liked her, for it was not her wont to care about
such trifles. He thought of her, idly, as a nice girl, who was
rather pretty when she was interested in anything; but, with a
woman's insight, influenced insensibly by Hepsey's comment, Ruth
She wanted him to like her, to stay in that
miserable village as long as she did, and keep her mind from stagnation—her
thought went no further than that. In October, when they went back,
she would thank Carlton, prettily, for sending her a friend—provided they
did not quarrel. She could see long days of intimate companionship, of that
exalted kind which is, possible only when man and woman meet on a high plane.
"We're both too old for nonsense," she thought; and then a sudden fear struck
her, that Winfield might be several years younger than she was.
Immediately she despised herself. "I don't care
if he is," she thought, with her cheeks crimson; "it's nothing to me. He's
a nice boy, and I want to be amused."
She went to her dresser, took out the large top
drawer, and dumped its contents on the bed. It was a desperate measure,
for Ruth hated to put things in order. The newspaper which had lain in the
bottom of it had fallen out also, and she shook it so violently that she tore
Then ribbons, handkerchiefs, stocks, gloves, and
collars were unceremoniously hustled back into the drawer, for Miss Thorne
was at odds with herself and the world. She was angry with Hepsey, she
hated Winfield, and despised herself. She picked up a scrap of paper which
lay on a glove, and caught a glimpse of unfamiliar penmanship.
It was apparently the end of a letter, and the
rest of it was gone. "At Gibraltar for some time," she read, "keeping a
shop, but will probably be found now in some small town on the coast
of Italy. Very truly yours." The signature had been torn off.
"Why, that isn't mine," she thought. "It must be
something of Aunt Jane's." Another bit of paper lay near it,
and, unthinkingly, she read a letter which was not meant for
"I thank you from my heart," it began, "for
understanding me. I could not put it into words, but I believe you know.
Perhaps you think it is useless—that it is too late; but if it was, I
would know. You have been very kind, and I thank you."
There was neither date, address, nor
signature. The message stood alone, as absolutely as some far-off star whose
light could not be seen from the earth. Some one understood
it—two understood it—the writer and Aunt Jane.
Ruth put it back under the paper, with the scrap
of the other letter, and closed the drawer with a bang. "I hope," she said
to herself, "that while I stay here I'll be mercifully preserved from
finding things that are none of my business." Then, as in a lightning flash,
for an instant she saw clearly.
Fate plays us many tricks and assumes strange
forms, but Ruth knew that some day, on that New England hill, she would come
face to face with a destiny that had been ordained from the
beginning. Something waited for her there—some great change. She
trembled at the thought, but was not afraid.
V. The Rumors of the Valley
"Miss Thorne," said Hepsey, from the doorway of
Ruth's room, "that feller's here again." There was an unconscious emphasis
on the last word, and Ruth herself was someewhat surprised, for she had
not expected another call so soon.
"He's a-settinn' in the parlour,"continued
Hepsey, "when he ain't a-walkin' around it and wearin' out the carpet. I
didn't come up when he first come, on account of my pie crust bein' all ready
to put in the oven."
"How long has he been here?" asked Ruth, dabbing
a bit of powder on her nose and selecting a fresh collar.
"Oh, p'raps half an hour."
"That isn't right, Hepsey; when anyone comes you
must tell me immediately. Never mind the pie crust next time."
Ruth endeavoured to speak kindly, but she was irritated at the necessity
of making another apology.
When she went down, Winfield dismissed her
excuses with a comprehensive wave of the hand. "I always have to wait when I
go to call on a girl," he said; "it's one of the most charming vagaries of
the ever-feminine. I used to think that perhaps I wasn't popular, but every
fellow I know has the same experience."
"I'm an exception," explained Ruth; "I never keep
any one waiting. Of my own volition, that is," she added, hastily, feeling
his unspoken comment.
"I came up this afternoon to ask a favour of
you," he began. "Won't you go for a walk with me? It's wrong to stay indoors
on a day like this."
"Wait till I get my hat," said Ruth,
"Fifteen minutes is the limit," he called to her,
as she went upstairs.
She was back again almost immediately, and Hepsey
watched them in wide-mouthed astonishment as they went down hill together,
for it was not in her code of manners that "walking out" should begin
so soon. When they approached Miss Ainslie's he pointed out the brown
house across from it, on the other side of the hill.
"Yonder palatial mansion is my present lodging,"
he volunteered, "and I am a helpless fly in the web of the 'Widder'
"Pendleton," repeated Ruth; "why, that's Joe's
"It is," returned Winfield, concisely. "He sits
opposite me at the table, and wonders at my use of a fork. It is
considered merely a spear for bread and meat at the 'Widder's.' I
am observed closely at all times, and in some respects Joe admires me
enough to attempt imitation, which, as you know, is the highest form of
flattery. For instance, this morning he wore not only a collar and tie, but a
scarf pin. It was a string tie, and I've never before seen a pin worn in one,
but it's interesting."
"It must be."
"He has a sweetheart," Winfield went on, "and I
expect she'll be dazzled."
"My Hepsey is his lady love," Ruth
"What? The haughty damsel who wouldn't let me in?
"You're imitating now," laughed Ruth, "but I
shouldn't call it flattery."
For a moment, there was a chilly silence. Ruth
did not look at him, but she bit her lip and then laughed, unwillingly.
"'It's all true," she said, "I plead guilty."
"You see, I know all about you," he went on. "You
knit your brows in deep thought, do not hear when you are spoken to, even in
a loud voice, and your mail consists almost entirely of bulky envelopes,
of a legal nature, such as came to the 'Widder' Pendleton from the insurance
"Returned manuscripts," she
"Possibly—far be it from me to say they're not.
Why, I've had 'em myself."
"You don't mean it!" she exclaimed,
"You seek out, as if by instinct, the only crazy
person in the village, and come home greatly perturbed. You ask queer
questions of your humble serving-maid, assume a skirt which is shorter
than the approved model, speaking from the village standpoint,
and unhesitatingly appear on the public streets. You go to the attic at
night and search the inmost recesses of many old trunks."
"Yes," sighed Ruth, "I've done all
"At breakfast you refuse pie, and complain
because the coffee is boiled. Did anybody ever hear of coffee that wasn't
boiled? Is it eaten raw in the city? You call supper'dinner,' and have
been known to seek nourishment at nine o'clock at night, when
all respectable people are sound asleep. In your trunk, you have vainly
attempted to conceal a large metal object, the use of which is
"Oh, my hapless chafing-dish!" groaned
"Chafing-dish?" repeated Winfield, brightening
visibly. "And I eating sole leather and fried potatoes? From this hour I am
your slave—you can't lose me now!
"Go on," she commanded.
"I can't—the flow of my eloquence is stopped by
rapturous anticipation. Suffice it to say that the people of
this enterprising city are well up in the ways of the wicked world, for
the storekeeper takes The New York Weekly and the 'Widder' Pendleton
subscribes for The Fireside Companion. The back numbers, which are not worn
out, are the circulating library of the village. It's no use, Miss
Thorne—you might stand on your hilltop and proclaim your innocence until you
were hoarse, and it would be utterly without effect. Your status is
"How about Aunt Jane?" she inquired. "Does my
relationship count for naught?"
"Now you are rapidly approaching the centre of
things," replied the young man. "Miss Hathaway is one woman in a thousand,
though somewhat eccentric. She is the venerated pillar of the
community and a constant attendant it church, which it seems you are
not. Also, if you are really her niece, where is the family resemblance?
Why has she never spoken of you? Why have you never been here before? Why are
her letters to you sealed with red wax, bought especially for the purpose?
Why does she go away before you come? Lady Gwendolen Hetherington," he
demanded, with melodramatic fervour, "answer me these things if you
"I'm tired," she complained.
"Delicate compliment," observed Winfield,
apparently to himself. "Here's a log across our path, Miss Thorne; let's sit
The budded maples arched over the narrow path,
and a wild canary, singing in the sun, hopped from bough to bough. A robin's
cheery chirp came from another tree, and the clear notes of a thrush, with
a mottled breast, were answered by another in the gold-green aisles
"Oh," he said, under his breath, "isn't this
The exquisite peace of the forest was like that
of another sphere. "Yes," she answered, softly, "it is
"You're evading the original subject," he
suggested, a little later.
"I haven't had a chance to talk," she explained.
"You've done a monologue ever since we left the house, and I listened,
as becomes inferior and subordinate woman. I have never seen my venerated
kinswoman, and I don't see how she happened to think of me. Nevertheless,
when she wrote, asking me to take charge of her house while she went to
Europe, I gladly consented, sight unseen. When I came, she was gone. I do not
deny the short skirt and heavy shoes, the criticism of boiled coffee, nor the
disdain of breakfast pie. As far is I know, Aunt Jane is my only
"That's good," he said, cheerfully; "I'm shy even
of an aunt. Why shouldn't the orphans console one another?"
"They should," admitted Ruth; "and you are doing
your share nobly."
"Permit me to return the compliment. Honestly,
Miss Thorne," he continued, seriously, "you have no idea how much I
appreciate your being here. When I first realised what it meant to
be deprived of books and papers for six months at a stretch, it seemed as
if I should go mad. Still, I suppose six months isn't as bad as forever, and
I was given a choice. I don't want to bore you, but if you will let me come
occasionally, I shall be very glad. I'm going to try to be patient, too, if
you'll help me—patience isn't my long suit."
"Indeed I will help you," answered Ruth,
impulsively; "I know how hard it must be."
"I'm not begging for your sympathy, though I
assure you it is welcome." He polished the tinted glasses with a bit of
chamois.. and his eyes filled with the mist of weakness before he put
them on again. "So you've never seen your aunt," he said.
"No—that pleasure is still in store for
"They say down at the 'Widder's' that she's a
woman with a romance."
"Tell me about it!" exclaimed Ruth,
"Little girls mustn't ask questions," he
remarked, patronisingly, and in his most irritating manner. "Besides, I don't
know. If the 'Widder' knows, she won't tell, so it's fair to suppose
she doesn't. Your relation does queer things in the attic, and
every Spring, she has an annual weep. I suppose it's the house cleaning,
for the rest of the year she's dry-eyed and calm."
"I weep very frequently," commented
"'Tears, idle tears—I wonder what they
"They don't mean much, in the case of a
"I've never seen many of'em," returned Winfield,
"and I don't want to. Even stage tears go against the grain with me. I
know that the lady who sobs behind the footlights is well paid for it, but
all the same, it gives me the creeps."
"It's nothing serious—really it isn't," she
explained. "It's merely a safety valve. If women couldn't cry, they'd
"I always supposed tears were signs of sorrow,"
"Far from it," laughed Ruth. "When I get very
angry, I cry, and then I got angrier because I'm crying and cry
"That opens up a fearful possibility. What would
happen if you kept getting angrier because you were crying and crying
harder because you got angrier?"
"I have no idea," she answered, with her dark
eyes fixed upon him, "but it's a promising field for
"I don't want to see the
"Don't worry," said Ruth, laconically, "you
There was a long silence, and Winfield began to
draw designs on the bare earth with a twig. "Tell me about the lady who
is considered crazy," he suggested.
Ruth briefly described Miss Ainslie, dwelling
lovingly upon her beauty and charm. He listened indifferently at first, but
when she told him of the rugs, the real lace which edged the curtains, and
the Cloisonne vase, he became much interested.
"Take me to see her some day, won't you," he
Ruth's eyes met his squarely. "'T isn't a
'story,'" she said, resentfully, forgetting her own temptation.
The dull colour flooded his face. "You forget,
Miss Thorne, that I am forbidden to read or write."
"For six months only," answered Ruth, sternly,
"and there's always a place for a good Sunday special."
He changed the subject, but there were frequent
awkward pauses and the spontaniety was gone. She rose, adjusting her belt in
the back, and announced that it was time for her to go home.
On their way up the hill, she tried to be
gracious enough to atone for her rudeness, but, though he was politeness
itself, there was a difference, and she felt as if she had lost something.
Distance lay between them—a cold, immeasurable distance, yet she knew that
she had done right.
He opened the gate for her, then turned to go.
"Won't you come in?" she asked, conventionally.
"No, thank you—some other time, if I may. I've
had a charming afternoon." He smiled pleasantly, and was off down the
When she remembered that it was a Winfield who
had married Abigail Weatherby, she dismissed the matter as mere
coincidence, and determined, at all costs, to shield Miss Ainslie. The
vision of that gracious lady came to her, bringing with it a
certain uplift of soul. Instantly, she was placed far above the
petty concerns of earth, like one who walks upon the heights, untroubled,
while restless surges thunder at his feet.
Miss Thorne wrote an apology to Winfield, and
then tore it up, thereby gaining comparative peace of mind, for, with
some natures, expression is the main thing, and direction is
but secondary. She was not surprised because he did not come; on
the contrary, she had rather expected to be left to her own devices for a
time, but one afternoon she dressed with unusual care and sat in state in the
parlour, vaguely expectant. If he intended to be friendly, it was certainly
time for him to come again.
Hepsey, passing through the hall, noted the crisp
white ribbon at her throat and the bow in her hair. "Are you expectin'
company, Miss Thorne?" she asked, innocently.
"I am expecting no one," answered Ruth, frigidly,
"I am going out."
Feeling obliged to make her word good, she took
the path which led to Miss Ainslie's. As she entered the gate, she had a
glimpse of Winfield, sitting by the front window of Mrs. Pendleton's brown
house, in such a dejected attitude that she pitied him. She considered the
virtuous emotion very praiseworthy, even though it was not deep enough for
her to bestow a cheery nod upon the gloomy person across the
Miss Ainslie was unaffectedly glad to see her,
and Ruth sank into an easy chair with something like content. The atmosphere
of the place was insensibly soothing and she instantly felt a
subtle change. Miss Ainslie, as always, wore a lavender gown, with
real lace at the throat and wrists. Her white hair was waved softly and on
the third finger of her left hand was a ring of Roman gold, set with an
amethyst and two large pearls.
There was a beautiful serenity about her, evident
in every line of her face and figure. Time had dealt gently with her,
and except on her queenly head had left no trace of his passing.
The delicate scent of the lavender floated from her gown and her laces,
almost as if it were a part of her, and brought visions of an old-time
garden, whose gentle mistress was ever tranquil and content. As she sat
there, smiling, she might have been Peace grown old.
"Miss Ainslie," said Ruth, suddenly, "have you
ever had any trouble?"
A shadow crossed her face, and then she answered,
patiently, "Why, yes—I've had my share."
"I don't mean to be personal," Ruth explained, "I
was just thinking."
"I understand," said the other, gently. Then,
after a little, she spoke again:
"We all have trouble, deary—it's part of life;
but I believe that we all share equally in the joy of the world. Allowing
for temperament, I mean. Sorrows that would crush some are lightly borne
by others, and some have the gift of finding great happiness in little
"Then, too, we never have any more than we can
bear—nothing that has not been borne before, and bravely at that. There
isn't a new sorrow in the world—they're all old ones—but we can all
find new happiness if we look in the right way."
The voice had a full music, instinct with
tenderness, and gradually Ruth's troubled spirit was eased. "I don't know
what's the matter with me," she said, meditatively, "for I'm not
morbid, and I don't have the blues very often, but almost ever since
I've been at Aunt Jane's, I've been restless and disturbed. I know there's
no reason for it, but I can't help it."
"Don't you think that it's because you have
nothing to do? You've always been so busy, and you aren't used to
"Perhaps so. I miss my work, but at the same
time, I haven't sense enough to do it."
"Poor child, you're tired—too tired to
"Yes, I am tired," answered Ruth, the tears of
nervous weakness coming into her eyes.
"Come out into the garden."
Miss Ainslie drew a fleecy shawl over her
shoulders and led her guest outdoors. Though she kept pace with the world in
many other ways, it was an old-fashioned garden, with a sun-dial and
an arbour, and little paths, nicely kept, that led to the flower beds and
circled around them. There were no flowers as yet, except in a bed of wild
violets under a bay window, but tiny sprigs of green were everywhere eloquent
with promise, and the lilacs were budded.
"That's a snowball bush over there," said Miss
Ainslie, "and all that corner of the garden will be full of roses in June.
They're old-fashioned roses, that I expect you wouldn't care for-blush and
cinnamon and sweet briar—but I love them all. That long row is half peonies
and half bleeding-hearts, and I have a bed of columbines under a window on
the other side of the house. The mignonette and forget-me-nots have a place
to themselves, for I think they belong together—sweetness and
"There's going to be lady-slippers over there,"
Miss Ainslie went on, "and sweet william. The porch is always covered
with morning-glories—I think they're beautiful and in that large bed I've
planted poppies, snap-dragon, and marigolds. This round one is full of
larkspur and bachelor's buttons. I have phlox and petunias, too—did you ever
see a petunia seed?"
Ruth shook her head.
"It's the tiniest thing, smaller than a grain of
sand. When I plant them, I always wonder how those great, feathery
petunias are coming out of those little, baby seeds, but they come.
Over there are things that won't blossom till late—asters, tiger-lilies
and prince's feather. It's going to be a beautiful garden, deary. Down by the
gate are my sweet herbs and simples—marjoram, sweet thyme, rosemary, and
lavender. I love the lavender, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," replied Ruth, "but I've never seen
"It's a little bush, with lavender flowers that
yield honey, and it's all sweet—flowers, leaves, and all. I expect you'll
laugh at me, but I've planted sunflowers and four-o'clocks
"I won't laugh—-I think it's lovely. What do you
like best, Miss Ainslie?"
"I love them all," she said, with a smile on her
lips and her deep, unfathomable eyes fixed upon Ruth, "but I think
the lavender comes first. It's so sweet, and then it
She paused, in confusion, and Ruth went on,
quickly: "I think they all have associations, and that's why we love them. I
can't bear red geraniums because a cross old woman I knew when I was
a child had her yard full of them, and I shall always love the lavender,"
she added, softly, "because it makes me think of you."
Miss Ainslie's checks flushed and her eyes shone.
"Now we'll go into the house," she said, "and we'll have tea."
"I shouldn't stay any longer," murmured Ruth,
following her, "I've been here so long now."
"'T isn't long," contradicted Miss Ainslie,
sweetly, "it's been only a very few minutes."
Every moment, the house and its owner took on new
beauty and charm. Miss Ainslie spread a napkin of finest damask upon
the little mahogany tea table, then brought in a silver teapot of quaint
design, and two cups of Japanese china, dainty to the point of
"Why, Miss Ainslie," exclaimed Ruth, in surprise,
"where did you get Royal Kaga?"
Miss Ainslie was bending over the table, and the
white hand that held the teapot trembled a little. "They were a present
from—a friend," she answered, in a low voice.
"They're beautiful," said Ruth,
She had been to many an elaborate affair, which
was down on the social calendar as a "tea," sometimes as reporter and often
as guest, but she had found no hostess like Miss Ainslie, no china so
exquisitely fine, nor any tea like the clear, fragrant amber which was poured
into her cup.
"It came from China," said Miss Ainslie, feeling
the unspoken question. "I had a whole chest of it, but it's almost all
Ruth was turning her cup and consulting the
oracle. "Here's two people, a man and a woman, from a great distance, and,
yes, here's money, too. What is there in yours?"
"Nothing, deary, and besides, it doesn't come
When Ruth finally aroused herself to go home, the
old restlessness, for the moment, was gone. "There's a charm about you,"
she said, "for I feel as if I could sleep a whole week and never wake at
"It's the tea," smiled Miss Ainslie, "for I'm a
very commonplace body."
"You, commonplace?" repeated Ruth; "why, there's
nobody like you!"
They stood at the door a few moments, talking
aimlessly, but Ruth was watching Miss Ainslie's face, as the sunset light
lay caressingly upon it. "I've had a lovely time," she said,
taking another step toward the gate.
"So have I—you'll come again, won't you?" The
sweet voice was pleading now, and Ruth answered it in her inmost
soul. Impulsively, she came back, threw her arms around Miss
Ainslie's neck, and kissed her. "I love you," she said, "don't you know
The quick tears filled Miss Ainslie's eyes and
she smiled through the mist. "Thank you, deary," she whispered, "it's a long
time since any one has kissed me—a long time!"
Ruth turned back at the gate, to wave her hand,
and even at that distance, saw that Miss Ainslie was very pale.
Winfield was waiting for her, just outside
the hedge, but his presence jarred upon her strangely, and her salutation was
"Is the lady a friend of yours?" he inquired,
"She is," returned Ruth; "I don't go to see my
"I don't know whether I do or not," he said,
looking at her significantly.
Her colour rose, but she replied, sharply: "For
the sake of peace, let us assume that you do not."
"Miss Thorne," he began, as they climbed the
hill, "I don't see why you don't apply something cooling to your feverish
temper. You have to live with yourself all the time, you know,
and, occasionally, it must be very difficult. A rag, now, wet in
cold water, and tied around your neck—have you ever tried that? It's said
to be very good."
"I have one on now," she answered, with apparent
seriousness, "only you can't see it under my ribbon. It's getting dry and
I think I'd better hurry home to wet it again, don't you?"
Winfield laughed joyously. "You'll do," he
Before they were half up the hill, they were on
good terms again. "I don't want to go home, do you?" he asked.
"Home? I have no home—I'm only a poor working
"Oh, what would this be with music! I can see it
now! Ladies and gentlemen, with your kind permission, I will endeavour to
give you a little song of my own composition, entitled:'Why Has
the Working Girl No Home!'"
"You haven't my permission, and you're a
"I am," he admitted, cheerfully, "moreover, I'm a
worm in the dust."
"I don't like worms."
"Then you'll have to learn."
Ruth resented his calm assumption of mastery.
"You're dreadfully young," she said; "do you think you'll ever grow
"Huh!" returned Winfield, boyishly, "I'm most
"Really? I shouldn't have thought you were of
"Here's a side path, Miss Thorne," he said,
abruptly, "that seems to go down into the woods. Shall we explore? It won't
be dark for an hour yet."
They descended with some difficulty, since the
way was not cleat, and came into the woods at a point not far from the log
across the path. "We mustn't sit there any more," he observed, "or
we'll fight. That's where we were the other day, when you attempted
to assassinate me."
"I didn't!" exclaimed Ruth
"That rag does seem to be pretty dry," he said,
apparently to himself. "Perhaps, when we get to the sad sea, we can wet it,
and so insure comparative calm."
She laughed, reluctantly. The path led around the
hill and down from the highlands to a narrow ledge of beach that lay under
the cliff. "Do you want to drown me?" she asked. "It looks very much as if
you intended to, for this ledge is covered at high tide."
"You wrong me, Miss Thorne; I have never drowned
His answer was lost upon her, for she stood on
the beach, under the cliff, looking at the water. The shimmering turquoise
blue was slowly changing to grey, and a single sea gull
He made two or three observations, to which Ruth
paid no attention. "My Lady Disdain," he said, with assumed
anxiety, "don't you think we'd better go on? I don't know what time
the tide comes in, and I never could look your aunt in the face if I had
drowned her only relative."
"Very well," she replied carelessly, "let's go
around the other way."
They followed the beach until they came to the
other side of the hill, but found no path leading back to civilisation,
though the ascent could easily be made.
"People have been here before," he said; "here
are some initials cut into this stone. What are they? I can't
Ruth stooped to look at the granite boulder he
indicated. "J. H.," she answered, "and J. B."
"It's incomplete," he objected; "there should be
a heart with an arrow run through it."
"You can fix it to suit yourself," Ruth returned,
coolly, "I don't think anybody will mind." She did not hear his reply,
for it suddenly dawned upon her that "J. H." meant Jane
They stood there in the twilight for some little
time, watching the changing colours on the horizon and then there was a
faint glow on the water from the cliff above. Ruth went out far enough to
see that Hepsey had placed the lamp in the attic window.
"It's time to go," she said, "inasmuch as we have
to go back the way we came."
They crossed to the other side and went back
through the woods. It was dusk, and they walked rapidly until they came to
the log across the path.
"So your friend isn't crazy," he said
tentatively, as he tried to assist her over it.
"That depends," she replied, drawing away from
him; "you're indefinite."
"Forgot to wet the rag, didn't we?" he asked. "I
will gladly assume the implication, however, if I may be your
"Kind, I'm sure," she answered, with distant
The path widened, and he walked by her side.
"Have you noticed, Miss Thorne, that we have trouble every time we approach
that seemingly innocent barrier? I think it would be better to keep away
from it, don't you?"
"What initials were those on the boulder? J. H.
"I thought so. 'J. B.' must have had a lot of
spare time at his disposal, for his initials are cut into the 'Widder'
Pendleton's gate post on the inner side, and into an apple tree in the
"Did you know Joe and Hepsey were going out
"No, I didn't—they're not my intimate
"I don't see how Joe expects to marry on the
income derived from the village chariot."
"Have they got that far?"
"I don't know," replied Winfield, with the air of
one imparting a confidence. "You see, though I have been in this peaceful
village for some little time, I have not yet arrived at the
fine distinction between 'walking out, 'settin' up,' and 'stiddy comp'ny.'
I should infer that 'walking out' came first, for 'settin' up' must take a
great deal more courage, but even 1, with my vast intellect, cannot at
present understand 'stiddy comp'ny.'"
"Joe takes her out every Sunday in the carriage,"
volunteered Ruth, when the silence became awkward.
"In the what?"
"Carriage—haven't you ridden in
"I have ridden in them, but not in it. I walked
to the 'Widder's,' but if it is the conveyance used by travellers,
they are both 'walking out' and 'settin' up.'"
They paused at the gate. "Thank you for a
pleasant afternoon," said Winfield. "I don't have many of them."
"You're welcome," returned Ruth, conveying the
impression of great distance.
Winfield sighed, then made a last desperate
attempt. "Miss Thorne," he said, pleadingly, "please don't be unkind to me.
You have my reason in your hands. I can see myself now, sitting on the
floor, at one end of the dangerous ward. They'll smear my fingers with
molasses and give me half a dozen feathers to play with. You'll come to visit
the asylum, sometime, when you're looking for a special, and at first, you
won't recognise me. Then I'll say: 'Woman, behold your work,' and you'll be
miserable all the rest of your life."
She laughed heartily at the distressing picture,
and the plaintive tone of his voice pierced her armour. "What's the matter
with you?" she asked.
"I don't know—I suppose it's my eyes. I'm
horribly restless and discontented, and it isn't my way."
Then Ruth remembered her own restless weeks,
which seemed so long ago, and her heart stirred with womanly sympathy. "I
know," she said, in a different tone, "I've felt the same way myself,
almost ever since I've been here, until this very afternoon. You're tired
and nervous, and you haven't anything to do, but you'll get over
"I hope you're right. I've been getting Joe to
read the papers to me, at a quarter a sitting, but his pronunciation is
so unfamiliar that it's hard to get the drift, and the whole
thing exasperated me so that I had to give it up."
"Let me read the papers to you," she said,
impulsively, "I haven't seen one for a month."
There was a long silence. "I don't want to impose
upon you," he answered—"no, you mustn't do it."
Ruth saw a stubborn pride that shrank from the
slightest dependence, a self-reliance that would not failter, but
would steadfastly hold aloof, and she knew that in one thing, at
least, they were kindred.
"Let me," she cried, eagerly; "I'll give you my
eyes for a little while!"
Winfield caught her hand and held it for a
moment, fully understanding. Ruth's eyes looked up into his—deep,
dark, dangerously appealing, and alight with generous desire.
His fingers unclasped slowly. "Yes, I will," he
said, strangely moved. "It's a beautiful gift—in more ways than one. You
are very kind—thank you—good night!"
VII. The Man Who Hesitates
"Isn't fair'," said Winfield to himself,
miserably, "no sir, 't isn't fair!"
He sat on the narrow piazza which belonged to
Mrs. Pendleton's brown house, and took stern account of his inner self.
The morning paper lay beside him, unopened, though his fingers itched to
tear the wrapper, and his hat was pulled far down over his eyes, to shade
them from the sun.
"If I go up there I'm going to fall in love with
her, and I know it!"
That moment of revelation the night before, when
soul stood face to face with soul, had troubled him strangely. He knew
himself for a sentimentalist where women were concerned, but until
they stood at the gate together, he had thought himself safe. Like many
another man, on the sunny side of thirty, he had his ideal woman safely
enshrined in his inner consciousness.
She was a pretty little thing, this dream
maiden—a blonde, with deep blue eyes, a rosy complexion, and a mouth like
Cupid's bow. Mentally, she was of the clinging sort, for Winfield did not
know that in this he was out of fashion. She had a dainty, bird-like air
about her and a high, sweet voice—a most adorable little woman, truly, for a
man to dream of when business was not too pressing.
In almost every possible way, Miss Thorne was
different. She was dark, and nearly as tall as he was; dignified,
self-possessed, and calm, except for flashes of temper and that one
impulsive moment. He had liked her, found her interesting in a
tantalising sort of way, and looked upon her as an oasis in a social
desert, but that was all.
Of course, he might leave the village, but he
made a wry face upon discovering, through laboured analysis, that he didn't
want to go away. It was really a charming spot—hunting and fishing to be
had for the asking, fine accommodations at Mrs. Pendleton's, beautiful
scenery, bracing air—in every way it was just what he needed. Should he let
himself be frightened out of it by a newspaper woman who lived at the top of
the hill? Hardly!
None the less, he realised that a man might
firmly believe in Affinity, and, through a chain of unfortunate
circumstances, become the victim of Propinquity. He had known of such
instances and was now face to face with the dilemma.
Then his face flooded with dull colour. "Darn
it," he said to himself, savagely, "what an unmitigated cad I am! All this is
on the assumption that she's likely to fall on my neck at any minute!
Yet there was a certain comfort in the knowledge
that he was safe, even if he should fall in love with Miss Thorne.
That disdainful young woman would save him from himself, undoubtedly, when
he reached the danger point, if not before.
"I wonder how a fellow would go about it anyway,"
he thought. "He couldn't make any sentimental remarks, without being
instantly frozen. She's like the Boston girls we read about in the
funny papers. He couldn't give her things, either, except flowers
or books, or sweets, or music. She has more books than she wants, because
she reviews'em for the paper, and I don't think she's musical. She doesn't
look like the candy fiends, and I imagine she'd pitch a box of chocolates
into the sad sea, or give it to Hepsey. There's nothing left but flowers—and
I suppose she wouldn't notice'em.
"A man would have to teach her to like him, and,
on my soul, I don't know how he'd do that. Constant devotion wouldn't have
any effect—I doubt if she'd permit it; and a fellow might stay away from
her for six months, without a sign from her. I guess she's cold—no, she
isn't, either—eyes and temper like hers don't go with the
"I—that is, he couldn't take her out, because
there's no place to go. It's different in the city, of course, but if he
happened to meet her in the country, as I've done—
"Might ask her to drive, possibly, if I could
rent Alfred and Mamie for a few hours—no, we'd have to have the day,
for anything over two miles, and that wouldn't be good form, without a
chaperone. Not that she needs one—she's equal to any emergency, I fancy.
Besides, she wouldn't go. If I could get those two plugs up the hill, without
pushing 'em, gravity would take'em back, but I couldn't ask her to walk up
the hill after the pleasure excursion was over. I don't believe a drive
would entertain her.
"Perhaps she'd like to fish—no, she wouldn't,
for she said she didn't like worms. Might sail on the briny deep, except
that there's no harbour within ten miles, and she wouldn't trust her fair
young life to me. She'd be afraid I'd drown her.
"I suppose the main idea is to cultivate a
clinging dependence, but I'd like to see the man who could woo any dependence
from Miss Thorne. She holds her head like a thoroughbred touched with the
lash. She said she was afraid of Carlton, but I guess she was just trying to
be pleasant. I'll tell him about it—no, I won't, for I said I
"I wish there was some other girl here for me to
talk to, but I'll be lucky if I can get along peaceably with the one
already here. I'll have to discover all her pet prejudices and be
careful not to walk on any of 'em. There's that crazy woman,
for instance—I mustn't allude to her, even respectfully, if I'm to have
any softening feminine influence about me before I go back to town. She
didn't seem to believe I had any letter from Carlton—that's what comes of
"I shouldn't have told her that people said she
had large feet and wore men's shoes. She's got a pretty foot; I noticed
it particularly before I spoke—I suppose she didn't like that—most girls
wouldn't, I guess, but she took it as a hunter takes a fence. Even after
that, she said she'd help me be patient, and last night, when she said she'd
read the papers to me—she was awfully sweet to me then.
"Perhaps she likes me a little bit—I hope so.
She'd never care very much for anybody, though—she's too independent.
She wouldn't even let me help her up the hill; I don't know whether it was
independence, or whether she didn't want me to touch her. If we ever come to
a place where she has to be helped, I suppose I'll have to put gloves on, or
let her hold one end of a stick while I hang on to the other.
"Still she didn't take her hand away last night,
when I grabbed it. Probably she was thinking about something else, and
didn't notice. It's a particularly nice hand to hold, but I'll never have
another chance, I guess.
"Carlton said she'd take the conceit out of me,
if I had any. I'm glad he didn't put that in the letterstill it doesn't
matter, since I've lost it. I wish I hadn't, for what he said about me was
really very nice. Carlton is a good fellow.
"How she lit on me when I thought the crazy
person might make a good special! Jerusalem! I felt like the dust under her
feet. I'd be glad to have anybody stand up for me, like that, but
nobody ever will. She's mighty pretty when she's angry, but I'd rather she
wouldn't get huffy at me. She's a tremendously nice girl—there's no doubt of
At this juncture, Joe came out on the porch, hat
in hand. "Mornin', Mr. Winfield."
"Good morning, Joe; how are your troubles this
"They're ill right, I guess," he replied, pleased
with the air of comradeship. "Want me to read the paper to yer?"
"No, thank you, Joe, not this
The tone was a dismissal, but Joe lingered,
shifting from one foot to the other. "Ain't I done it to suit
"Quite so," returned Winfield,
"I don't mind doin' it," Joe continued, after a
long silence. "I won't charge yer nothin'."
"You're very kind, Joe, but I don't care about it
to-day." Winfield rose and walked to the other end of the porch. The
apple trees were in bloom, and every wandering wind was laden
with sweetness. Even the gnarled old tree in Miss Hathaway's yard, that
had been out of bearing for many a year, had put forth a bough of fragrant
blossoms. He saw it from where he stood; a mass of pink and white against the
turquoise sky, and thought that Miss Thorne would make a charming picture if
she stood beneath the tree with the blown petals drifting around
He lingered upon the vision till Joe spoke again.
"Be you goin' up to Miss Hathaway's this mornin'?"
"Why, I don't know," Winfield answered somewhat
"'Cause I wouldn't go—not if I was in your
"Why?" he demanded, facing him.
"Miss Hathaway's niece, she's sick."
"Sick!" repeated Winfield, in sudden fear,
"what's the matter!"
"Oh,'t ain't nothin' serious, I reckon, cause
she's up and around. I've just come from there, and Hepsey said that all
night Miss Thorne was a-cryin', and that this mornin' she wouldn't eat no
breakfast. She don't never eat much, but this mornin' she wouldn't eat
nothin', and she wouldn't say what was wrong with her."
Winfield's face plainly showed his
"She wouldn't eat nothin' last night, neither,"
Joe went on. "Hepsey told me this mornin' that she thought p'raps you and
her had fit. She's your girl, ain't she?"
"No," replied Winfield, "she isn't my girl, and
we haven't 'fit.' I'm sorry she isn't well."
He paced back and forth moodily, while Joe
watched him in silence. "Well," he said, at length, "I reckon I'll be
movin' along. I just thought I'd tell yer."
There was no answer, and Joe slammed the gate in
disgust. "I wonder what's the matter," thought Winfield. "'T isn't a
letter, for to-day's mail hasn't come and she was all right last
night. Perhaps she isn't ill—she said she cried when she was angry. Great
Heavens! I hope she isn't angry at me!
"She was awfully sweet to me just before I left
her," he continued, mentally, "so I'm not to blame. I wonder if
she's angry at herself because she offered to read the papers to
All unknowingly he had arrived at the cause of
Miss Thorne's unhappiness. During a wakeful, miserable night, she had wished
a thousand times that she might take back those few
"That must be it," he thought, and then his face
grew tender. "Bless her sweet heart," he muttered, apropos of nothing,
"I'm not going to make her unhappy. It's only her generous impulse, and I
won't let her think it's any more."
The little maiden of his dreams was but a faint
image just then, as he sat down to plan a course of action which would
assuage Miss Thorne's tears. A grey squirrel appeared on the gate
post, and sat there, calmly, cracking a nut.
He watched the little creature, absently, and
then strolled toward the gate. The squirrel seemed tame and did not move
until he was almost near enough to touch it, and then it scampered only a
"I'll catch it," Winfield said to himself, "and
take it up to Miss Thorne. Perhaps she'll be pleased."
It was simple enough, apparently, for the desired
gift was always close at hand. He followed it across the hill, and bent a
score of times to pick it up, but it was a guileful squirrel and escaped
with great regularity.
Suddenly, with a flaunt of its bushy tail and a
daring, backward glance, it scampered under the gate into Miss Ainslie's
garden and Winfield laughed aloud. He had not known he was so near
the other house and was about to retreat when something stopped
Miss Ainslie stood in the path just behind the
gate, with her face ghastly white and her eyes wide with terror, trembling
like a leaf. There was a troubled silence, then she said,
"I beg your pardon," he answered, hurriedly, "I
did not mean to frighten you."
"Go!" she said again, her lips scarcely moving,
"Now what in the mischief have I done;" he
thought, as he crept away, feeling like a thief. "I understood that this was
a quiet place and yet the strenuous life seems to have struck the
village in good earnest.
"What am I, that I should scare the aged and make
the young weep? I've always been considered harmless, till now. That must be
Miss Thorne's friend, whom I met so unfortunately just now. She's crazy,
surely, or she wouldn't have been afraid of me. Poor thing, perhaps I
He remembered that she had carried a basket and
worn a pair of gardening gloves. Even though her face was so changed, for
an instant he had seen its beauty—the deep violet eyes, fair skin, and
regular features, surmounted by that wonderful crown of silvered
Conflicting emotions swayed him as he wended his
way to the top of the hill, with the morning paper in his pocket as an
excuse, if he should need one. When he approached the gate, he was
seized by a swift and unexplainable fear, and would have turned back, but
Miss Hathaway's door was opened.
Then the little maiden of his dreams vanished,
waving her hand in token of eterna1 farewell, for as Ruth came down the path
between the white and purple plumes of lilac, with a smile of welcome upon
her lips, he knew that, in all the world, there was nothing half so
The rumble of voices which came from the kitchen
was not disturbing, but when the rural lovers began to sit on the
piazza, directly under Ruth's window, she felt called upon
"Hepsey," she asked, one morning, "why don't you
and Joe sit under the trees at the side of the house? You can take
your chairs out there."
"Miss Hathaway allerss let us set on the
piazzer," returned Hepsey, unmoved.
"Miss Hathaway probably sleeps more soundly than
I do. You don't want me to hear everything you say, do you?"
Hepsey shrugged her buxom shoulders. "You can if
you like, mum."
"But I don't like," snapped Ruth. "It annoys
There was an interval of silence, then Hepsey
spoke again, of her own accord. "If Joe and me was to set anywheres but in
front, he might see the light."
"Well, what of it?"
"Miss Hathaway, she don't want it talked of, and
men folks never can keep secrets," Hepsey suggested.
"You wouldn't have to tell him, would
"Yes'm. Men folks has got terrible curious minds.
They're all right if they don't know there's nothin', but if they does,
why they's keen."
"Perhaps you're right, Hepsey," she replied,
biting her lips. "Sit anywhere you please."
There were times when Ruth was compelled to admit
that Hepsey's mental gifts were fully equal to her own. It was unreasonable
to suppose, even for an instant, that Joe and Hepsey had not pondered long
and earnestly upon the subject of the light in the attic window, yet the
argument was unanswerable. The matter had long since lost its interest for
Ruth—perhaps because she was too happy to care.
Winfield had easily acquired the habit of
bringing her his morning papers, and, after the first embarrassment, Ruth
settled down to it in a businesslike way. Usually, she sat in
Miss Hathaway's sewing chair, under a tree a little way from the house,
that she might at the same time have a general supervision of her domain,
while Winfield stretched himself upon the grass at her feet. When the sun was
bright, he wore his dark glasses, thereby gaining an unfair
After breakfast, which was a movable feast at the
"Widder's," he went after his mail and brought hers also. When he reached
the top of the hill, she was always waiting for him.
"This devotion is very pleasing," he remarked,
"Some people are easily pleased," she retorted.
"I dislike to spoil your pleasure, but my stern regard for facts compels me
to say that it is not Mr. Winfield I wait for, but the postman."
"Then I'll always be your postman, for I 'do
admire' to be waited for, as they have it at the 'Widder's.' Of course, it's
more or less of an expense—this morning, for instance, I had to dig
up two cents to get one of your valuable manuscripts out of the clutches
of an interested government."
"That's nothing," she assured him, "for I save
you a quarter every day, by taking Joe's place as reader to Your Highness,
not to mention the high tariff on the Sunday papers. Besides,
the manuscripts are all in now."
"I'm glad to hear that," he replied, sitting down
on the piazza. "Do you know, Miss Thorne, I think there's a great deal of
joyous excitement attached to the pursuit of literature. You send out
a story, fondly believing that it is destined to make you famous. Time
goes on, and you hear nothing from it. You can see your name 'featured' on
the advertisements of the magazine, and hear the heavy tread of the fevered
mob, on the way to buy up the edition. In the roseate glow of your fancy, you
can see not only your cheque, but the things you're going to buy with it.
Perhaps you tell your friends, cautiously, that you're writing for such
and such a magazine. Before your joy evaporates, the thing comes back from
the Dead Letter Office, because you hadn't put on enough postage, and they
wouldn't take it in. Or, perhaps they've written 'Return' on the front page
in blue pencil, and all over it are little, dark, four-fingered prints, where
the office pup has walked on it."
"You seem to be speaking from
"You have guessed it, fair lady, with your usual
wonderful insight. Now let's read the paper—do you know, you read
much better than Joe does?"
"Really?" Ruth was inclined to be sarcastic, but
there was a delicate colour in her cheeks, which pleased his aesthetic
At first, he had had an insatiable thirst for
everything in the paper, except the advertisements. The market reports
were sacrificed inside of a week, and the obituary notices,
weather indications, and foreign despatches soon followed. Later,
the literary features were eliminated, but the financial and local news
died hard. By the end of June, however, he was satisfied with the
"No, thank you, I don't want to hear about the
murder," he said, in answer to Ruth's ironical question, "nor yet the Summer
styles in sleeves. All that slop on the Woman's Page, about making
home happy, is not suited to such as I, and I'll pass."
"There's a great deal here that's very
interesting," returned Ruth, "and I doubt if I myself could have crammed more
solid knowledge into one Woman's Page. Here's a full account of a wealthy
lady's Summer home, and a description of a poor woman's garden, and eight
recipes, and half a column on how to keep a husband at home nights, and plans
for making a china closet out of an old bookcase."
"If there's anything that makes me dead tired,"
remarked Winfield, "it's that homemade furniture business."
"For once, we agree," answered Ruth. "I've read
about it till I'm completely out of patience. Shirtwaist boxes from soap
boxes, dressing tables from packing boxes, couches from cots, hall
lamps from old arc light globes, and clothes hampers from
barrels—all these I endured, but the last straw was a 'transformed
"Tell me about it," begged Winfield, who was
enjoying himself hugely.
"The stove was to be set into the wall," began
Ruth, "and surrounded with marble and white tiling, or, if this was
too expensive, it was to be hidden from view by a screen of Japanese silk.
A nice oak settle, hand carved, which 'the young husband might make in his
spare moments,' was to be placed in front of it, and there were to be plate
racks and shelves on the walls, to hold the rare china. Charming
Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes shone like
stars. "You're an awfully funny girl," said Winfield, quietly, "to fly into
a passion over a 'transformed kitchen' that you never saw. Why don't you
save your temper for real things?"
She looked at him, meaningly, and he retreated in
good order. "I think I'm a tactful person," he continued, hurriedly, "because
I get on so well with you. Most of the time, we're as contented as two
kittens in a basket."
"My dear Mr. Winfield," returned Ruth,
pleasantly, "you're not only tactful, but modest. I never met a man whose
temperament so nearly approached the unassuming violet. I'm afraid you'll
never be appreciated in this world—you're too good for it. You must learn
to put yourself forward. I expect it will be a shock to your sensitive
nature, but it's got to be done."
"Thank you," he laughed. "I wish we were in town
now, and I'd begin to put myself forward by asking you out to dinner
and afterward to the theatre."
"Why don't you take me out to dinner here?" she
"I wouldn't insult you by offering you the
'Widder's' cooking. I mean a real dinner, with striped ice cream at the end
"I'll go," she replied, "I can't resist the
blandishments of striped ice cream."
"Thank you again; that gives me courage to speak
of something that has lain very near my heart for a long time."
"Yes?" said Ruth, conventionally. For the moment
she was frightened.
"I've been thinking fondly of your chafing-dish,
though I haven't been allowed to see it yet, and I suppose there's nothing in
the settlernent to cook in it, is there?"
"Nothing much, surely."
"We might have some stuff sent out from the city,
don't you think so?"
"Yes—anything that would keep."
Aided and abetted by Winfield, she made out a
list of articles which were unknown to the simple-minded inhabitants of
"I'll attend to the financial part of it," he
said, pocketing the list, "and then, my life will be in your
After he went away, Ruth wished she knew more
about the gentle art of cooking, which, after all, is closely allied to the
other one—of making enemies. She decided to dispense with
Hepsey's services, when Winfield came up to dinner, and to do
She found an old cook book of Aunt Jane's and
turned over its pages with new interest. It was in manuscript form, and
seemed to represent the culinary knowledge of the entire
neighbourhood. Each recipe was duly accredited to its original author, and
there were many newspaper clippings, from the despised "Woman's Page" in
Ruth thought it would be an act of kindness to
paste the loose clippings into Aunt Jane's book, and she could look them over
as she fastened them in. The work progressed rapidly, until she found a
clipping which was not a recipe. It was a perfunctory notice of the death of
Charles Winfield, dated almost eighteen years ago.
She remembered the various emotions old
newspapers had given her when she first came to Aunt Jane's. This was Abigail
Weatherby's husband—he had survived her by a dozen years. "I'm glad
it's Charles Winfield instead of Carl," thought Ruth, as she put it aside,
and went on with her work.
"Pantry's come," announced Winfield, a few days
later; "I didn't open it, but I think everything is there. Joe's going to
bring it up."
"Then you can come to dinner Sunday," answered
"I'll be here," returned Winfield promptly. "What
time do we dine?"
"I don't know exactly. It's better to wait, I
think, until Hepsey goes out. She always regards me with more or less
suspicion, and it makes me uncomfortable."
Sunday afternoon, the faithful Joe drove up to
the gate, and Hepsey emerged from her small back room, like a butterfly from
a chrysalis. She was radiant in a brilliant blue silk, which was festooned
at irregular intervals with white silk lace. Her hat was bending beneath its
burden of violets and red roses, starred here and there with some unhappy
buttercups which had survived the wreck of a previous millinery triumph. Her
hands were encased in white cotton gloves, which did not fit.
With Joe's assistance, she entered the vehicle
and took her place proudly on the back seat, even while he pleaded for her to
sit beside him.
"You know yourself that I can't drive nothin'
from the back seat," he complained.
"Nobody's askin' you to drive nothin' from
nowhere," returned Hepsey, scornfully. "If you can't take me out like a lady,
I ain't a-goin'."
Ruth was dazzled by the magnificence of the
spectacle and was unable to take her eyes away from it, even after Joe had
turned around and started down hill. She thought Winfield would see
them pass his door and time his arrival accordingly, so she was startled
when he came up behind her and said, cheerfully:
"They look like a policeman's, don't
"Hepsey's hands—did you think I meant
"How long have you been here?"
"Nearly thirty years."
"That wasn't what I meant," said Ruth, colouring.
"How long have you been at Aunt Jane's?"
"Oh, that's different. When Joe went out to
harness his fiery steeds to his imposing chariot, I went around through the
woods, across the beach, climbed a vertical precipice, and came up
this side of the hill. I had to wait some little time, but I had a front
seat during the show."
He brought out her favourite chair, placing it
under the maple tree, then sat down near her. "I should think you'd get
some clothes like Hepsey's," he began. "I'll wager, now, that you haven't
a gown like that in your entire wardrobe."
"You're right—I haven't. The nearest approach to
it is a tailored gown, lined with silk, which Hepsey thinks I should
wear wrong side out."
"How long will the coast be clear?"
"Until nine o'clock, I think. They go to church
in the evening."
"It's half past three now," he observed, glancing
at his watch. "I had fried salt pork, fried eggs, and fried potatoes
for breakfast. I've renounced coffee, for I can't seem to get used
to theirs. For dinner, we had round steak, fried, more fried potatoes, and
boiled onions. Dried apple pie for dessert—I think I'd rather have had the
mince I refused this morning."
"I'll feed you at five o'clock," she said,
"That seems like a long time," he
"It won't, after you begin to entertain
It was after five before either realised it.
"Come on," she said, "you can sit in the kitchen and watch me."
He professed great admiration while she put on
one of Hepsey's white aprons, and when she appeared with the chafing-dish,
his emotion was beyond speech. He was allowed to open the box and to cut
up some button mushrooms, while she shredded cold chicken. "I'm getting
hungry every minute," he said, "and if there is undue postponement, I fear I
shall assimilate all the raw material in sight—including the
Ruth laughed happily. She was making a sauce with
real cream, seasoned delicately with paprika and celery salt. "Now I'll
put in the chicken and mushrooms," she said, "and you can stir it while I
They were seated at the table in the dining-room
and the fun was at its height, when they became aware of a presence. Hepsey
stood in the door, apparently transfixed with surprise, and
with disapproval evident in every line of her face. Before either could
speak, she was gone.
Though Ruth was very much annoyed, the incident
seemingly served to accentuate Winfield's enjoyment. The sound of wheels on
the gravel outside told them that she was continuing her
"I'm going to discharge her to-morrow," Ruth
"You can't—she is in Miss Hathaway's service,
not yours. Besides, what has she done? She came back, probably,
after something she had forgotten. You have no reasonable ground
for discharging her, and I think you'd be more uncomfortable if she went
than if she stayed."
"Perhaps you're right," she
"I know how you feel about it," he went on, "but
I hope you won't let her distress you. It doesn't make a bit of difference to
me; she's only amusing. Please don't bother about it."
"I won't," said Ruth, "that is, I'll try not
They piled the dishes in the sink, "as a pleasant
surprise for Hepsey," he said, and the hours passed as if on wings. It
was almost ten o'clock before it occurred to Winfield that his permanent
abode was not Miss Hathaway's parlour.
As they stood at the door, talking, the last
train came in. "Do you know," said Winfield, "that every night, just as that
train comes in, your friend down there puts a candle in her
"Well," rejoined Ruth, sharply, "what of it? It's
a free country, isn't it?"
"Very. Untrammelled press and highly independent
women. Good night, Miss Thorne. I'll be up the first thing in the
She was about to speak, but slammed the door
instead, and was displeased when she heard a smothered laugh from
As lightly as a rose petal upon the shimmering
surface of a stream, Summer was drifting away, but whither, no one seemed
to care. The odour of printer's ink upon the morning paper no
longer aroused vain longings in Winfield's breast, and Ruth had all
but forgotten her former connection with the newspaper world.
By degrees, Winfield had arranged a routine which
seemed admirable. Until luncheon time, he was with Ruth and, usually, out
of doors, according to prescription. In the afternoon, he went up again,
sometimes staying to dinner, and, always, he spent his evenings
"Why don't you ask me to have my trunk sent up
here?" he asked Ruth, one day.
"I hadn't thought of it," she laughed. "I suppose
it hasn't seemed necessary."
"Miss Hathaway would be pleased, wouldn't she, if
she knew she had two guests instead of one?"
"Undoubtedly; how could she help
"When do you expect her to return?"
"I don't know—I haven't heard a word from her.
Sometimes I feel a little anxious about her." Ruth would have been much
concerned for her relative's safety, had she known that the eccentric
lady had severed herself from the excursion and gone boldly into Italy,
unattended, and with no knowledge of the language.
Hepsey inquired daily for news of Miss Hathaway,
but no tidings were forthcoming. She amused herself in her leisure moments
by picturing all sorts of disasters in which her mistress was doubtless
engulfed, and in speculating upon the tie between Miss Thorne and Mr.
More often than not, it fell to Hepsey to light
the lamp in the attic window, though she did it at Miss Thorne's direction.
"If I forget it, Hepsey," she had said, calmly, "you'll see to it, won't
Trunks, cedar chests, old newspapers, and long
hidden letters were out of Ruth's province now. Once in two or three weeks,
she went to see Miss Ainslie, but never stayed long, though almost every
day she reproached herself for neglect.
Winfield's days were filled with peace, since he
had learned how to get on with Miss Thorne. When she showed herself stubborn
and unyielding, he retreated gracefully, and with a suggestion
of amusement, as a courtier may step aside gallantly for an angry lady to
pass. Ruth felt his mental attitude and, even though she resented it, she was
Having found that she could have her own way, she
became less anxious for it, and several times made small concessions,
which were apparently unconscious, but amusing, nevertheless. She had none
of the wiles of the coquette; she was transparent, and her friendliness was
disarming. If she wanted Winfield to stay at home any particular morning or
afternoon, she told him so. At first he was offended, but afterward learned
to like it, for she could easily have instructed Hepsey to say that she was
The pitiless, unsympathetic calendar recorded the
fact that July was near its end, and Ruth sighed—then hated herself for
She had grown accustomed to idleness, and, under
the circumstances, liked it far too well.
One morning, when she went down to breakfast,
Hepsey was evidently perplexed about something, but Ruth took no
outward note of it, knowing that it would be revealed ere long.
"Miss Thorne," she said, tentatively, as Ruth
rose from the table.
"Of course, Miss Thorne, I reckon likely't ain't
none of my business, but is Mr. Winfield another detective, and have
you found anything out yet?"
Ruth, inwardly raging, forced herself to let the
speech pass unnoticed, and sailed majestically out of the room. She
was surprised to discover that she could be made so furiously angry by so
small a thing.
Winfield was coming up the hill with the mail,
and she tried to cool her hot cheeks with her hands. "Let's go down on the
side of the hill," she said, as he gave her some letters and the
paper; "it's very warm in the sun, and I'd like the sea breeze."
They found a comparatively level place, with two
trees to lean against, and, though they were not far from the house, they
were effectually screened by the rising ground. Ruth felt that she could
not bear the sight of Hepsey just then.
After glancing at her letters she began to read
aloud, with a troubled haste which did not escape him. "Here's a man who had
a little piece of bone taken out of the inside of his skull," she said.
"Shall I read about that? He seems, literally, to have had something on his
"You're brilliant this morning," answered
Winfield, gravely, and she laughed hysterically.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked. "You
don't seem like yourself."
"It isn't nice of you to say that," she retorted,
"considering your previous remark."
There was a rumble and a snort on the road and,
welcoming the diversion, he went up to reconnoitre. "Joe's coming; is
there anything you want in the village?"
"No," she answered, wearily, "there's nothing I
"You're an exceptional woman," returned Winfield,
promptly, "and I'd advise you to sit for your photograph. The papers would
like it—'Picture of the Only Woman Who Doesn't Want Anything'—why, that
would work off an extra in about ten minutes!"
Ruth looked at him for a moment, then turned her
eyes away. He felt vaguely uncomfortable, and was about to offer atonement
when Joe's deep bass voice called out:
"Hello yourself!" came in Hepsey's highest tones,
from the garden.
"Want anything to-day?"
There was a brief pause, and then Joe shouted
"I should think they'd break their vocal cords,"
"I wish they would," rejoined Ruth,
"Come here!" yelled Joe. "I want to talk to
"Talk from there," screamed Hepsey.
"Where's yer folks?"
"Say, be they courtin'?"
Hepsey left her work in the garden and came
toward the front of the house. "They walk out some," she said, when she was
halfway to the gate, "and they set up a good deal, and Miss Thorne told me
she didn't know as she'd do better, but you can't rightly say they're
courtin''cause city ways ain't like our'n."
The deep colour dyed Ruth's face and her hands
twitched nervously. Winfield very much desired to talk, but could think
of nothing to say. The situation was tense.
Joe clucked to his horses. "So long," he said.
"See yer later."
Ruth held her breath until he passed them, and
then broke down. Her self control was quite gone, and she sobbed bitterly,
in grief and shame. Winfield tucked his handkerchief into her cold hands,
not knowing what else to do.
"Don't!" he said, as if he, too, had been hurt.
"Ruth, dear, don't cry!"
A new tenderness almost unmanned him, but he sat
still with his hands clenched, feeling like a brute because of her
The next few minutes seemed like an hour, then
Ruth raised her head and tried to smile. "I expect you think I'm silly,"
she said, hiding her tear stained face again.
"No!" he cried, sharply; then, with a catch in
his throat, he put his hand on her shoulder.
"Don't!" she sobbed, turning away from him,
"what—what they said—was bad enough!"
The last words ended in a rush of tears, and,
sorely distressed, he began to walk back and forth. Then a bright idea came
"I'll be back in a minute," he said.
When he returned, he had a tin dipper, freshly
filled with cold water. "Don't cry any more," he pleaded, gently, "I'm going
to bathe your face."
Ruth leaned back against the tree and he knelt
beside her. "Oh, that feels so good," she said, gratefully, as she felt his
cool fingers upon her burning eyes. In a little while she was calm again,
though her breast still heaved with every fluttering breath.
"You poor little woman," he said, tenderly,
"you're just as nervous as you can be. Don't feel so about it. just suppose
it was somebody who wasn't!"
"Who wasn't what?" asked Ruth,
Winfield crimsoned to the roots of his hair and
hurled the dipper into the distance.
"What—what—they said," he stammered, sitting
down awkwardly. "Oh, darn it!" He kicked savagely at a root, and added,
in bitterest self accusation, "I'm a chump, I am!"
"No you're not," returned Ruth, with sweet
shyness, "you're nice. Now we'll read some more of the paper."
He assumed a feverish interest in the market
reports, but his thoughts were wandering. Certainly, nothing could have
been worse. He felt as if a bud, which he had been long and
eagerly watching, was suddenly torn open by a vandal hand. When he
first touched Ruth's eyes with his finger tips, he had trembled like
a schoolboy, and he wondered if she knew it.
If she did, she made no sign. Her cheeks were
flushed, the lids of her downcast eyes were pink, and her voice had lost its
crisp, incisive tones, but she read rapidly, without comment or
pause, until the supply of news gave out. Then she began on
the advertisements, dreading the end of her task and vainly wishing for
more papers, though in her heart there was something sweet, which, even to
herself, she dared not name.
"That'll do," he said, abruptly, "I'm not
interested in the 'midsummer glove clearing.' I meant to tell you something
when I first came—I've got to go away."
Ruth's heart throbbed painfully, as if some cold
hand held it fast. "Yes," she said, politely, not recognising her own
"It's only for a week—I've got to go to the
oculist and see about some other things. I'll be back before
"I shall miss you," she said, conventionally.
Then she saw that he was going away to relieve her from the embarrassment of
his presence, and blessed him accordingly.
"When are you going?" she asked.
"This afternoon. I don't want to go, but it's
just as well to have it over with. Can I do anything for you in the
"No, thank you. My wants are few and, at present,
"Don't you want me to match something for you? I
thought women always had pieces of stuff that had to be matched
"They made you edit the funny column, didn't
they?" she asked, irrelevantly.
"They did, Miss Thorne, and, moreover, I expect
I'll have to do it again."
After a little, they were back on the old
footing, yet everything was different, for there was an obtruding self
consciousness on either side. "What time do you go?" she asked, with
"Three-fifteen, I think, and it's after one
He walked back to the house with her, and, for
the second time that day, Hepsey came out to sweep the piazza.
"Good bye, Miss Thorne," he said.
"Good bye, Mr. Winfield."
That was all, but Ruth looked up with an unspoken
question and his eyes met hers clearly, with no turning aside. She knew
he would come back very soon and she understood his answer—that he had
As she entered the house, Hepsey said,
pleasantly: "Has he gone away, Miss Thorne?"
"Yes," she answered, without emotion. She was
about to say that she did not care for luncheon, then decided that she must
seem to care.
Still, it was impossible to escape that keen-eyed
observer. "You ain't eatin' much," she suggested.
"I'm not very hungry."
"Be you sick, Miss Thorne?"
"No—not exactly. I've been out in the sun and my
head aches," she replied, clutching at the straw.
"Do you want a wet rag?"
Ruth laughed, remembering an earlier suggestion
of Winfield's. "No, I don't want any wet rag, Hepsey, but I'll go up to my
room for a little while, I think. Please don't disturb me."
She locked her door, shutting out all the world
from the nameless joy that surged in her heart. The mirror disclosed
flushed, feverish cheeks and dark eyes that shone like stars.
"Ruth Thorne," she said to herself, "I'm ashamed of you! First you
act like a fool and then like a girl of sixteen!"
Then her senses became confused and the objects
in the room circled around her unsteadily. "I'm tired," she murmured.
Her head sank drowsily into the lavender scented pillow and she slept too
soundly to take note of the three o'clock train leaving the station. It was
almost sunset when she was aroused by voices under her window.
"That feller's gone home," said Joe.
"Do tell!" exclaimed Hepsey. "Did he pay his
"Yep, every cent. He's a-comin'
"D'know. Don't she know?" The emphasis indicated
"I guess not," answered Hepsey. "They said good
bye right in front of me, and there wa'n't nothin' said about
"They ain't courtin', then," said Joe, after a
few moments of painful thought, and Ruth, in her chamber above, laughed
happily to herself.
"Mebbe not," rejoined Hepsey. "It ain't fer sech
as me to say when there's courtin' and when there ain't, after havin'
gone well nigh onto five year with a country loafer what ain't never said
nothin'." She stalked into the house, closed the door, and noisily bolted it.
Joe stood there for a moment, as one struck dumb, then gave a long, low
whistle of astonishment and walked slowly down the hill.
"A week!" Ruth said to herself the next morning.
"Seven long days! No letter, because he mustn't write, no telegram,
because there's no office within ten miles—nothing to do but
When she went down to breakfast, Hepsey did not
seem to hear her cheery greeting, but was twisting her apron and walking
about restlessly. "Miss Thorne," she said, at length, "did you ever get a
"Why, yes, of course," laughed Ruth. "Every girl
gets love letters."
Hepsey brightened visibly, then inquired, with
great seriousness: "Can you read writin', Miss Thorne?"
"That depends on the writing."
"Yes'm, it does so. I can read some writin'—I
can read Miss Hathaway's writin', and some of the furrin letters she's had,
but I got some this mornin' I can't make out, nohow."
"Where did you find 'writing' this morning? It's
too early for the mail, isn't it?"
"Yes'm. It was stuck under the kitchen winder."
Hepsey looked up at the ceiling in an effort to appear careless, and sighed.
Then she clutched violently at the front of her blue gingham
dress, immediately repenting of her rashness. Ruth was inwardly amused but
asked no helpful questions.
Finally, Hepsey took the plunge. "Would you mind
tryin' to make out some writin' I've got, Miss Thorne?"
"Of course not—let me see it."
Hepsey extracted a letter from the inmost
recesses of her attire and stood expectantly, with her hands on her
"Why, it's a love letter!" Ruth
"Yes'm. When you get through readin' it to
yourself, will you read it out loud?"
The letter, which was written on ruled note
paper, bore every evidence of care and thought. "Hepsey," it began, and, on
the line below, with a great flourish under it, "Respected Miss" stood, in
"Although it is now but a short interval," Ruth
read, "since my delighted eyes first rested on your beautiful
"Five year!" interjected Hepsey.
"—yet I dare to hope that you will receive
graciously what I am about to say, as I am assured you will, if you
reciprocate the sentiments which you have aroused in my bosom.
"In this short time, dear Miss, brief though it
is, yet it has proved amply sufficient for my heart to go out to you in
a yearning love which I have never before felt for one of your sex. Day by
day and night by night your glorious image has followed me."
"That's a lie," interrupted Hepsey, "he knows I
never chased him nowheres, not even when he took that red-headed Smith girl
to the Sunday-school picnic over to the Ridge, a year ago come
"Those dark tresses have entwined my soul in
their silken meshes, those deep eyes, that have borrowed their colour from
Heaven's cerulean blue, and those soft white hands, that have never
been roughened by uncongenial toil, have been ever present in
Ruth paused for a moment, overcome by her task,
but Hepsey's face was radiant. "Hurry up, Miss Thorne," she said,
"In short, Dear Miss, I consider you the most
surpassingly lovely of your kind, and it is with pride swelling in my manly
bosom that I dare to ask so peerless a jewel for her heart and
"My parentage, birth, and breeding are probably
known to you, but should any points remain doubtful, I will be pleased to
present references as to my character and standing in the
"I await with impatience, Madam, your favourable
answer to my plea. Rest assured that if you should so honor me as to
accept my proposal, I will endeavour to stand always between you and
the hard, cruel world, as your faithful shield. I will also
endeavour constantly to give you a happiness as great as that which
will immediately flood my bing upon receipt of your
"I remain, Dear Miss, your devoted lover and
"JOSEPH PENDLETON, ESQ."
"My! My!" ejaculated Hepsey. "Ain't that fine
"It certainly is," responded Miss Thorne, keeping
her face straight with difficulty.
"Would you mind readin' it again?"
She found the second recital much easier, since
she was partially accustomed to the heavy punctuation marks and shaded
flourishes. At first, she had connected Winfield with the effusion,
but second thought placed the blame where it belonged—at the door of a
"Complete Letter Writer."
"Miss Thorne," said Hepsey,
"Of course, I'd like my answer to be as good
writin' as his'n."
"Where d'you s'pose he got all that lovely
"Grammar is a rare gift, Hepsey."
"Yes'm,'t is so. Miss Thorne, do you guess you
could write as good as that?"
"I'd be willing to try," returned Ruth, with due
Hepsey thought painfully for a few moments. "I'd
know jest what I'd better say. Now, last night, I give Joe a hint, as you
may say, but I wouldn't want him to think I'd jest been a-waitin'
"No, of course not."
"Ain't it better to keep him in suspense, as you
"Far better, Hepsey; he'll think more of
"Then I'll jest write that I'm willin' to think
it over, and if you'll put it on a piece of paper fer me, I'll write it out
with ink. I've got two sheets of paper jest like this, with nice
blue lines onto it,that I've been a-savin' fer a letter, and
Miss Hathaway, she's got ink."
Ruth sat down to compose an answer which should
cast a shadow over the "Complete Letter Writer." Her pencil flew over the
rough copy paper with lightning speed, while Hepsey stood by
"Listen," she said, at length, "how do you like
"MR. JOSEPH PENDLETON—
"Respected Sir: Although your communication of
recent date was a great surprise to me, candour compels me to confess that it
was not entirely disagreeable. I have observed, though with true feminine
delicacy, that your affections were inclined to settle in my direction, and
have not repelled your advances.
"Still, I do not feel that as yet we are
sufficiently acquainted to render immediate matrimony either wise or
desirable, and since the suddenness of your proposal has in a measure taken
my breath away, I must beg that you will allow me a proper interval
in which to consider the matter, and, in the meantime, think of me simply
as your dearest friend.
"I may add, in conclusion, that your character
and standing in the community are entirely satisfactory to me. Thanking you
for the honor you have conferred upon me, believe me, Dear Sir,
"Your sincere friend,
"My!" exclaimed Hepsey, with overmastering pride;
"ain't that beautiful! It's better than his'n, ain't it?"
"I wouldn't say that," Ruth replied, with proper
modesty, "but I think it will do."
"Yes'm. 'Twill so. Your writin' ain't nothin'
like Joe's," she continued, scanning it closely, "but it's real pretty." Then
a bright idea illuminated her countenance. "Miss Thorne, if you'll write
it out on the note paper with a pencil, I can go over it with the ink, and
afterward, when it's dry, I'll rub out the pencil. It'll be my writin' then,
but it'll look jest like yours."
"All right, Hepsey."
She found it difficult to follow the lines
closely, but at length achieved a respectable result. "I'll take good care of
it," Hepsey said, wrapping the precious missive in a newspaper, "and this
afternoon, when I get my work done up, I'll fix it. Joe'll be surprised,
Late in the evening, when Hepsey came to Ruth,
worn with the unaccustomed labours of correspondence, and proudly displayed
the nondescript epistle, she was compelled to admit that unless Joe had
superhuman qualities he would indeed "be surprised."
The next afternoon Ruth went down to Miss
Ainslie's. "You've been neglecting me, dear," said that gentle soul, as she
opened the door.
"I haven't meant to," returned Ruth,
conscience-stricken, as she remembered how long it had been since the gate of
the old- fashioned garden had swung on its hinges for her.
A quiet happiness had settled down upon Ruth and
the old perturbed spirit was gone, but Miss Ainslie was subtly
different. "I feel as if something was going to happen," she
"I—don't know." The sweet face was troubled and
there were fine lines about the mouth, such as Ruth had never seen there
"You're nervous, Miss Ainslie—it's my turn to
"I never scolded you, did I deary?"
"You couldn't scold anybody—you're too sweet.
You're not unhappy, are you, Miss Ainslie?"
"I? Why, no! Why should I be unhappy?" Her deep
eyes were fixed upon Ruth.
"I—I didn't know," Ruth answered, in
"I learned long ago," said Miss Ainslie, after a
little, "that we may be happy or not, just as we choose. Happiness is not
a circumstance, nor a set of circumstances; it's only a light, and we may
keep it burning if we will. So many of us are like children, crying for the
moon, instead of playing contentedly with the few toys we have. We're always
hoping for something, and when it does n't come we fret and worry ; when it
does, why there's always something else we'd rather have. We
deliberately make nearly all of our unhappiness, with our own
unreasonable discontent, and nothing will ever make us happy, deary,
except the spirit within."
"But, Miss Ainslie," Ruth objected, "do you
really think everybody can be happy?"
"Of course—everybody who wishes to be. Some
people are happier when they're miserable. I don't mean, deary, that it's
easy for any of us, and it's harder for some than for others, all
because we never. grow up. We're always children—our playthings are
a little different, that's all."
"'Owning ourselves forever children,' quoted
Ruth, "'gathering pebbles on a boundless shore.'"
"Yes, I was just thinking of that. A little girl
breaks her doll, and though the new one may be much prettier, it never
wholly fills the vacant place, and it's that way with a woman's
dream." The sweet voice sank into a whisper, followed by a
"Miss Ainslie," said Ruth, after a pause, "did
you know my mother?"
"No, I didn't, deary—I'm sorry. I saw her once
or twice, but she went away, soon after we came here."
"Never mind," Ruth said, hurriedly, for Mrs.
Thorne's family had never forgiven her runaway marriage.
"Come into the garden," Miss Ainslie suggested,
and Ruth followed her, willingly, into the cloistered spot where golden
lilies tinkled, thrushes sang, and every leaf breathed peace.
Miss Ainslie gathered a bit of rosemary, crushing
it between her white fingers. "See," she said, "some of us are like that
it takes a blow to find the sweetness in our souls. Some of us need dry,
hard places, like the poppies "—pointing to a mass of brilliant bloom—"and
some of us are always thorny, like the cactus, with only once in a while a
"I've always thought my flowers had souls, dear,"
she went on; "they seem like real people to me. I've seen the roses
rubbing their cheeks together as if they loved each other, and
the forget-me-nots are little blue-eyed children, half afraid of
"Over there, it always seems to me as if the
lavender was a little woman in a green dress, with a lavender bonnet and a
white kerchief. She's one of those strong, sweet, wholesome people,
who always rest you, and her sweetness lingers long after she goes away. I
gather all the flowers, and every leaf, though the flowers are sweetest. I
put the leaves away with my linen and the flowers among my laces. I have some
beautiful lace, deary."
"I know you have—I've often admired
"I'm going to show it to you some day," she said,
with a little quiver in her voice, "and some other day, when I can't wear
it any more, you shall have some of it for your own."
"Don't, Miss Ainslie," cried Ruth, the quick
tears coming to her eyes, "I don't want any lace—I want you!"
"I know," she answered, but there was a far-away
look in her eyes, and something in her voice that sounded like a
"Miss Thorne," called Joe from the gate, "here's
a package for yer. It come on the train."
He waited until Ruth went to him and seemed
disappointed when she turned back into the garden. "Say," he shouted, "is
Hepsey to home?"
Ruth was busy with the string and did not hear.
"Oh, look!" she exclaimed, "what roses!"
"They're beautiful, deary. I do not think I have
ever seen such large ones. Do you know what they are?"
"American Beauties—they're from Mr. Winfield. He
knows I love them."
Miss Ainslie started violently. "From whom,
dear?" she asked, in a strange tone.
"Mr. Winfield—he's going to be on the same paper
with me in the Fall. He's here for the Summer, on account of his
Miss Ainslie was bending over the
"It is a very common name, is it not?" she
"Yes, quite common," answered Ruth, absently,
taking the roses out of the box.
"You must bring him to see me some time, dear; I
should like to know him."
"Thank you, Miss Ainslie, I will."
They stood at the gate together, and Ruth put a
half blown rose into her hand. "I wouldn't give it to anybody but you," she
said, half playfully, and then Miss Ainslie knew her secret. She put her
hand on Ruth's arm and looked down into her face, as if there was something
she must say.
"I don't forget the light, Miss
"I know," she breathed, in answer. She looked
long and searchingly into Ruth's eyes, then whispered brokenly, "God
bless you, dear. Good bye!"
XI. The Rose of all the World
"He didn't forget me! He didn't forget me!"
Ruth's heart sang in time with her step as she went home. Late afternoon
flooded all the earth with gold, and from the other side of the hill came
the gentle music of the sea.
The doors were open, but there was no trace of
Hepsey. She put the roses in her water pitcher, and locked her door upon them
as one hides a sacred joy. She went out again, her heart swelling like the
throat of a singing bird, and walked to the brow of the cliff, with every
sense keenly alive. Upon the surface of the ocean lay that deep, translucent
blue which only Tadema has dared to paint.
"I must go down," she murmured.
Like a tawny ribbon trailed upon the green, the
road wound down the hill. She followed it until she reached the side path on
the right, and went down into the woods. The great boughs arched over her
head like the nave of a cathedral, and the Little People of the Forest, in
feathers and fur, scattered as she approached. Bright eyes peeped at her from
behind tree trunks, or the safe shelter of branches, and rippling bird music
ended in a frightened chirp,
"Oh," she said aloud, "don't be
Was this love, she wondered, that lay upon her
eyes like the dew of a Spring morning, that made the air vocal with rapturous
song, and wrought white magic in her soul? It had all the mystery
ind freshness of the world's beginning; it was the rush of waters where
sea and river meet, the perfume of a flower, and the far light trembling from
a star. It was sunrise where there had been no day, the ecstasy of a thousand
dawns; a new sun gleaming upon noon. All the joy of the world surged and beat
in her pulses, till it seemed that her heart had wings.
Sunset came upon the water, the colour on the
horizon reflecting soft iridescence upon the blue. Slow sapphire surges broke
at her feet, tossing great pearls of spray against the cliff. Suddenly, as
if by instinct, she turned—and faced Winfield.
"Thank you for the roses," she cried, with her
He gathered her into his arms. "Oh, my Rose of
All the World," he murmured, "have I found you at last?"
It was almost dusk when they turned to go home,
with their arms around each other, as if they were the First Two,
wandering through the shaded groves of Paradise, before sin came into
"Did you think it would be like this?" she asked,
"No, I didn't, darling. I thought it would be
very prim and proper. I never dreamed you'd let me kiss you—yes, I did,
too, but I thought it was too good to be true."
"I had to—to let you," she explained,
crimsoning, "but nobody ever did before. I always thought—" Then Ruth hid
her face against his shoulder, in maidenly shame.
When they came to the log across the path, they
sat down, very close together. "You said we'd fight if we came here,"
"We're not going to, though. I want to tell you
something, dear, and I haven't had the words for it till now."
"What is it?" she asked, in alarm.
"It's only that I love you, Ruth," he said,
holding her closer, "and when I've said that, I've said all. It isn't an idle
word; it's all my life that I give you, to do with as you will. It isn't
anything that's apart from you, or ever could be; it's as much yours as your
hands or eyes are. I didn't know it for a little while—that's because I was
blind. To think that I should go up to see you, even that first day, without
knowing you for my sweetheart—my wife!"
"No, don't draw away from me. You little wild
bird, are you afraid of Love? It's the sweetest thing God ever let a man
dream of, Ruth—there's nothing like it in all the world. Look up, Sweet
Eyes, and say you love me!"
Ruth's head drooped, and he put his hand under
her chin, turning her face toward him, but her eyes were downcast still. "Say
it, darling," he pleaded.
"I—I can't," she stammered.
"I want you to say it, sweetheart. Won't
"When—when it's dark."
"It's dark now."
"No it isn't. How did you know?"
"How did I know what, dear?"
"That I—that I—cared."
"I knew the day you cried. I didn't know myself
until then, but it all came in a minute."
"I was afraid you were going to stay away a whole
"I couldn't, darling—I just had to
"Did you see everybody you wanted to
"I couldn't see anything but your face, Ruth,
with the tears on it. I've got to go back to-morrow and have another try at
"Oh!" she exclaimed, in acute
"It's the last time, sweetheart; we'll never be
"Never in all the world—nor
"I expect you think I'm silly," she said, wiping
her eyes, as they rose to go home, "but I don't want you to go
"I don't want to go, dearest. If you're going to
cry, you'll have me a raving maniac. I can't stand it, now."
"I'm not going to," she answered, smiling through
her tears, "but it's a blessed privilege to have a nice stiff collar and a
new tie to cry on."
"They're at your service, dear, for anything but
that. I suppose we're engaged now, aren't we?"
"I don't know," said Ruth, in a low tone; "you
haven't asked me to marry you."
"Do you want me to?"
"It's time, isn't it?"
Winfield bent over and whispered to
"I must think about it," said Ruth, very gravely,
"it's so sudden."
"Oh, you sweet girl," he laughed, "aren't you
going to give me any encouragement?"
"You've had some."
"I want another," he answered, purposely
misunderstanding her, "and besides, it's dark now."
The sweet-scented twilight still lingered on the
hillside, and a star or two gleamed through the open spaces above. A
moment later, Ruth, in her turn, whispered to him. It was only a word
or two, but the bright-eyed robins who were peeping at them from the maple
branches must have observed that it was highly satisfactory.
Though Winfield had sternly determined to go back
to town the following day, he did not achieve departure until later.
Ruth went to the station with him, and desolation came upon her when the
train pulled out, in spite of the new happiness in her heart.
She had little time to miss him, however, for, at
the end of the week, and in accordance with immemorial custom, the
She was sitting at her window one morning, trying
to sew, when the village chariot stopped at the gate and a lady descended.
Joe stirred lazily on the front seat, but she said, in a
clear, high-pitched voice: "You needn't trouble yourself, Joe. He'll carry
She came toward the house, fanning herself with a
certain stateliness, and carrying her handkerchief primly, by the
exact centre of it. In her wake was a little old gentleman, with a
huge bundle, surrounded by a shawl-strap, a large valise, much the worse
for wear, a telescope basket which was expanded to its full height, and two
small parcels. A cane was tucked under one arm and an umbrella under the
other. He could scarcely be seen behind the mountain of baggage.
Hepsey was already at the door. "Why, Miss
Hathaway!" she cried, in astonishment.
"'T ain't Miss Hathaway," rejoined the visitor,
with some asperity, "it's Mrs. Ball, and this is my husband. Niece Ruth,
I presume," she added, as Miss Thorne appeared. "Ruth, let me introduce
you to your Uncle James."
The bride was of medium height and rather
angular. Her eyes were small, dark, and so piercingly brilliant that they
suggested jet beads. Her skin was dark and her lips had been
habitually compressed into a straight line. None the less, it was the
face that Ruth had seen in the ambrotype at Miss Ainslie's, with
the additional hardness that comes to those who grow old without love. Her
bearing was that of a brisk, active woman, accustomed all her life to
obedience and respect.
Mr. Ball was two or three inches shorter than his
wife, and had a white beard, irregularly streaked with brown. He was
baldheaded in front, had scant, reddish hair in the back, and his faded
blue eyes were tearful. He had very small feet and the unmistakable gait
of a sailor. Though there was no immediate resemblance, Ruth was sure that he
was the man whose picture was in Aunt Jane's treasure chest in the attic. The
daredevil look was gone, however, and he was merely a quiet, inoffensive old
gentleman, for whom life had been none too easy.
"Welcome to your new home, James," said his wife,
in a crisp, businesslike tone, which but partially concealed a
latent tenderness. He smiled, but made no reply.
Hepsey still stood in the parlour, in wide
mouthed astonishment, and it was Ruth's good fortune to see the glance which
Mrs. Ball cast upon her offending maid. There was no change of
expression except in the eyes, but Hepsey instantly understood that she
was out of her place, and retreated to the kitchen with a flush upon her
cheeks, which was altogether foreign to Ruth's experience.
"You can set here, James," resumed Mrs. Ball,
"until I have taken off my things."
The cherries on her black straw bonnet were
shaking on their stems in a way which fascinated Ruth. "I'll take my things
out of the south room, Aunty," she hastened to say.
"You won't, neither," was the unexpected answer;
"that's the spare room, and, while you stay, you'll stay there."
Ruth was wondering what to say to her new uncle
and sat in awkward silence as Aunt Jane ascended the stairs. Her
step sounded lightly overhead and Mr. Ball twirled his
thumbs absently. "You—you've come a long way, haven't you?"
"Yes'm, a long way." Then, seemingly for the
first time, he looked at her, and a benevolent expression came upon his
face. "You've got awful pretty hair, Niece Ruth," he observed, admiringly;
"now Mis' Ball, she wears a false front."
The lady of the house returned at this juncture,
with the false front a little askew. "I was just a-sayin'," Mr. Ball
continued, "that our niece is a real pleasant lookin' woman."
"She's your niece by marriage," his wife replied,
"but she ain't no real relative."
"Niece by merriage is relative enough," said
Mr.Ball, "and I say she's a pleasant lookin' woman, ain't she,
"She'll do, I reckon. She resembles her Ma." Aunt
Jane looked at Ruth, as if pitying the sister who had blindly followed
the leadings of her heart and had died unforgiven.
"Why didn't you let me know you were coming, Aunt
Jane?" asked Ruth. "I've been looking for a letter every day and I
understood you weren't coming back until October."
"I trust I am not unwelcome in my own house," was
the somewhat frigid response.
"No indeed, Aunty—I hope you've had a pleasant
"We've had a beautiful time, ain't we, James?
We've been on our honeymoon."
"Yes'm, we hev been on our honeymoon, travellin'
over strange lands an' furrin wastes of waters. Mis' Ball was terrible
sea sick comin' here."
"In a way," said Aunt Jane, "we ain't completely
married. We was married by a heathen priest in a heathen country and it
ain't rightfully bindin', but we thought it would do until we could
get back here and be married by a minister of the gospel, didn't
"It has held," he said, without emotion, "but I
reckon we will hev to be merried proper."
"Likewise I have my weddin' dress," Aunt Jane
went on, "what ain't never been worn. It's a beautiful dress—trimmed with
pearl trimmin'"—here Ruth felt the pangs of a guilty conscience—"and I
lay out to be married in it, quite private, with you and Hepsey for
"Why, it's quite a romance, isn't it,
"'T is in a way," interjected Mr. Ball, "and in
another way, 't ain't."
"Yes, Ruth," Aunt Jane continued, ignoring the
interruption, "'t is a romance—a real romance," she repeated, with all
the hard lines in her face softened. "We was engaged over
thirty-five year. James went to sea to make a fortin', so he could give
me every luxury. It's all writ out in a letter I've got upstairs. They's
beautiful letters, Ruth, and it's come to me, as I've been settin' here, that
you might make a book out'n these letters of James's. You write, don't
"Why, yes, Aunty, I write for the papers but I've
never done a book."
"Well, you'll never write a book no earlier, and
here's all the material, as you say, jest a-waitin' for you to copy it. I
guess there's over a hundred letters."
"But, Aunty," objected Ruth, struggling with
inward emotion, "I couldn't sign my name to it, you know, unless I had
written the letters."
"Because it wouldn't be honest," she answered,
clutching at the straw, "the person who wrote the letters would be entitled
to the credit—and the money," she added hopefully.
"Why, yes, that's right. Do you hear James? It'll
have to be your book, 'The Love Letters of a Sailor,' by James, and dedicated
in the front 'to my dearly beloved wife, Jane Ball, as was Jane Hathaway.'
It'll be beautiful, won't it, James?"
"Yes'm, I hev no doubt but what it
"Do you remember, James, how you borrered a
chisel from the tombstone man over to the Ridge, and cut our names into
"I'd forgot that—how come you to remember
"On account of your havin' lost the chisel and
the tombstone man a-worryin' me about it to this day. I'll take you to the
place. There's climbin' but it won't hurt us none, though we ain't
as young as we might be. You says to me, you says: 'Jane, darlin', as long
as them letters stays cut into the everlastin' rock, just so long I'll love
you,' you says, and they's there still."
"Well, I'm here, too, ain't I?" replied Mr. Ball,
seeming to detect a covert reproach. "I was allers a great hand
"There'll have to be a piece writ in the end,
Ruth, explainin' the happy endin' of the romance. If you can't do it
justice, James and me can help—James was allers a master hand at
writin'. It'll have to tell how through the long years he has
toiled, hopin' against hope, and for over thirty years not darin' to write
a line to the object of his affections, not feelin' worthy, as you may say,
and how after her waitin' faithfully at home and turnin' away dozens of
lovers what pleaded violent-like, she finally went travellin' in furrin parts
and come upon her old lover a-keepin' a store in a heathen land, a-strugglin'
to retrieve disaster after disaster at sea, and constantly withstandin'
the blandishments of heathen women as endeavoured to wean him from his faith,
and how, though very humble and scarcely darin to speak, he learned that she
was willin' and they come a sailin' home together and lived happily ever
afterward. Ain't that as it was, James?"
"Yes'm, except that there wa'n't no particular
disaster at sea and them heathen women didn't exert no blandishments. They
was jest pleasant to an old feller, bless their little hearts."
By some subtle mental process, Mr. Ball became
aware that he had made a mistake. "You ain't changed nothin' here, Jane,"
he continued, hurriedly, "there's the haircloth sofy that we used to set
on Sunday evenins' after meetin', and the hair wreath with the red rose in it
made out of my hair and the white rose made out of your grandmother's hair on
your father's side, and the yeller lily made out of the hair of your Uncle
Jed's youngest boy. I disremember the rest, but time was when I could say'm
all. I never see your beat for makin' hair wreaths, Jane. There
ain't nothin' gone but the melodeon that used to set by the mantel. What's
come of the melodeon?"
"The melodeon is set away in the attic. The mice
et out the inside."
"Didn't you hev no cat?"
"There ain't no cat, James, that could get into a
melodeon through a mouse hole, more especially the big maltese you
gave me. I kept that cat, James, as you may say, all these weary years.
When there was kittens, I kept the one that looked most like old Malty, but
of late years, the cats has all been different, and the one I buried jest
afore I sailed away was yeller and white with black and brown spots—a kinder
tortoise shell—that didn't look nothin' like Malty. You'd never
have knowed they belonged to the same family, but I was sorry when
she died, on account of her bein' the last cat."
Hepsey, half frightened, put her head into the
room. "Dinner's ready," she shouted, hurriedly shutting the
"Give me your arm, James," said Mrs. Ball, and
Ruth followed them into the dining-room.
The retired sailor ate heartily, casting
occasional admiring glances at Ruth and Hepsey. It was the innocent approval
which age bestows upon youth. "These be the finest biscuit," he
said, "that I've had for many a day. I reckon you made 'em, didn't
you, young woman?"
"Yes, sir," replied Hepsey, twisting her
The bride was touched in a vulnerable
"Hepsey," she said, decisively, "when your week
is up, you will no longer be in my service. I am a-goin'to make a
Mr. Ball's knife dropped with a sharp clatter.
"Why, Mis' Ball," he said, reproachfully, "who air you goin' to hev to do
"Don't let that trouble you, James," she
answered, serenely, "the washin' can be put out to the Widder Pendleton, her
as was Elmiry Peavey, and the rest ain't no particular trouble."
"Aunty," said Ruth, "now that you've come home
and everything is going on nicely, I think I'd better go back to the city.
You see, if I stay here, I'll be interrupting the honeymoon."
"No, no, Niece Ruth!" exclaimed Mr. Ball, "you
ain't interruptin' no honeymoon. It's a great pleasure to your aunt and me to
hev you here—we likes pretty young things around us, and as long as we
hev a home, you're welcome to stay in it; ain't she Jane?"
"She has sense enough to see, James, that she is
interruptin' the honeymoon," replied Aunt Jane, somewhat harshly. "On account
of her mother havin' been a Hathaway before marriage, she knows things.
Not but what you can come some other time, Ruth," she added, with belated
"Thank you, Aunty, I will. I'll stay just a day
or two longer, if you don't mind—just until Mr. Winfield comes back. I don't
know just where to write to him."
"Mr.—who?" demanded Aunt Jane, looking at her
"Mr. Carl Winfield," said Ruth, crimsoning —"the
man I am going to marry." The piercing eyes were still fixed upon
"Now about the letters, Aunty," she went on, in
confusion, "you could help Uncle James with the book much better than I
could. Of course it would have to be done under your
Mrs. Ball scrutinized her niece long and
carefully. "You appear to be tellin' the truth," she said. "Who would best
"I think it would be better for you to handle it
yourself, Aunty, and then you and Uncle James would have all the profits. If
you let some one else publish it and sell it, you'd have only ten
per cent, and even then, you might have to pay part of the
expenses." "How much does it cost to print a book?"
"That depends on the book. Of course it costs
more to print a large one than a small one."
"That needn't make no difference," said Aunt
Jane, after long deliberation. "James has two hundred dollars sewed up on
the inside of the belt he insists on wearin', instead of
Christian suspenders, ain't you, James?"
"Yes'm, two hundred and four dollars in my belt
and seventy-six cents in my pocket."
"It's from his store," Mrs. Ball explained. "He
sold it to a relative of one of them heathen women."
"It was worth more'n three hundred," he said
"Now, James, you know a small store like that
ain't worth no three hundred dollars. I wouldn't have let you took
three hundred, 'cause it wouldn't be honest."
The arrival of a small and battered trunk created
a welcome diversion. "Where's your trunk, Uncle James?" asked
"I ain't a needin' of no trunk," he answered,
"what clothes I've got is on me, and that there valise has more of my things
in it. When my clothes wears out, I put on new ones and leave the
others for some pore creeter what may need 'em worse'n me."
Aunt Jane followed Joe upstairs, issuing caution
and direction at every step. "You can set outside now, Joe Pendleton," she
said, "and see that them hosses don't run away, and as soon as I get some
of my things hung up so's they won't wrinkle no more, I'll come out and pay
Joe obeyed, casting longing eyes at a bit of blue
gingham that was fluttering among the currant bushes in the garden. Mr.
Ball, longing for conversation with his kind, went out to the gate
and stood looking up at him, blinking in the bright sunlight. "Young
feller," he said, "I reckon that starboard hoss is my old mare. Where'd you
"Over to the Ridge," answered Joe, "of a feller
"Jest so—I reckon 't was his father I give
Nellie to when I went away. She was a frisky filly then—she don't look
nothin' like that now."
"Mamie" turned, as if her former master's voice
had stirred some old memory. "She's got the evil eye," Mr. Ball continued.
"You wanter be keerful."
"She's all right, I guess," Joe
"Young feller," said Mr. Ball earnestly, "do you
"Yep, but I ain't got no more. I'm on the last
Mr. Ball stroked his stained beard. "I useter,"
he said, reminiscently, "afore I was merried."
Joe whistled idly, still watching for
"Young feller, "said Mr. Ball, again, "there's a
great deal of merryin' and givin' in merriage in this here settlement,
"Not so much as there might be."
"Say, was your mother's name Elmiry
"Yes sir," Joe answered, much
"Then you be keerful," cautioned Mr. Ball. "Your
hoss has got the evil eye and your father, as might hev been, allers had a
weak eye fer women." Joe's face was a picture of blank astonishment. "I
was engaged to both of 'em," Mr. Ball explained, "each one a-keepin' of it
secret, and she—" here he pointed his thumb suggestively toward the
house—"she's got me."
"I'm going to be married myself," volunteered
"Merriage is a fleetin' show—I wouldn't, if I
was in your place. Merriage is a drag on a man's ambitions. I set out to own
a schooner, but I can't never do it now, on account of bein' merried. I
had a good start towards it—I had a little store all to myself, what was
worth three or four hundred dollars, in a sunny country where the women folks
had soft voices and pretty ankles and wasn't above passin' jokes with an old
feller to cheer 'im on 'is lonely way."
Mrs. Ball appeared at the upper window. "James,"
she called, "you'd better come in and get your hat. Your bald spot will
get all sunburned."
"I guess I won't wait no longer, Miss Hathaway,"
Joe shouted, and, suiting the action to the word, turned around and
started down hill. Mr. Ball, half way up the gravelled walk, turned
back to smile at Joe with feeble jocularity.
Hearing the familiar voice, Hepsey hastened to
the front of the house, and was about to retreat, when Mr. Ball stopped
"Pore little darlin', he said, kindly, noting her
tear stained face. "Don't go—wait a minute." He fumbled at his belt and
at last extracted a crisp, new ten dollar bill. "Here, take that and buy
you a ribbon or sunthin' to remember your lovin' Uncle
Hepsey's face brightened, and she hastily
concealed the bill in her dress. "I ain't your niece," she said,
hesitatingly, "it's Miss Thorne."
"That don't make no difference," rejoined Mr.
Ball, generously, "I'm willin' you should be my niece too. All pretty young
things is my nieces and I loves 'em all. Won't you give your pore
old uncle a kiss to remember you by?"
Ruth, who had heard the last words, came down to
the gravelled walk. "Aunt Jane is coming," she announced, and Hepsey
When the lady of the house appeared, Uncle James
was sitting at one end of the piazza and Ruth at the other, exchanging
Hepsey had been gone an hour before Mrs. Ball
realised that she had sent away one of the witnesses of her approaching
wedding. "It don't matter," she said to Ruth, "I guess there's others
to be had. I've got the dress and the man and one of 'em and I have faith
that the other things will come."
Nevertheless, the problem assumed undue
proportions. After long study, she decided upon the minister's wife. "If
'twa'nt that the numskulls round here couldn't understand two weddin's," she
said, "I'd have it in the church, as me and James first
Preparations for the ceremony went forward with
Aunt Jane's customary decision and briskness. She made a wedding
cake, assisted by Mr. Ball, and gathered all the flowers in the
garden. There was something pathetic about her pleasure; it was as
though a wedding had been laid away in lavender, not to see the light for
more than thirty years.
Ruth was to assist in dressing the bride and then
go after the minister and his wife, who, by Aunt Jane's decree, were to
have no previous warning. "'T ain't necessary to tell 'em beforehand, not
as I see," said Mrs. Ball. "You must ask fust if they're both to home, and if
only one of 'em is there, you'll have to find somebody else. If the
minister's to home and his wife ain't gaddin', he'll get them four dollars in
James's belt, leavin' an even two hundred, or do you think two dollars would
be enough for a plain marriage?"
"I'd leave that to Uncle James,
"I reckon you're right, Ruth—you've got the
The old wedding gown was brought down from the
attic and taken out of its winding sheet. It had been carefully folded, but
every crease showed plainly and parts of it had changed in colour.
Aunt Jane put on her best "foretop," which was entirely dark, with
no softening grey hair, and was reserved for occasions of high state. A
long brown curl, which was hers by right of purchase, was pinned to the hard,
uncompromising twist at the back of her neck.
Ruth helped her into the gown and, as it slipped
over her head, she inquired, fiom the depths of it: "Is the front door
locked?" "Yes, Aunty, and the back door too."
"Did you bring up the keys as I told you
"Yes, Aunty, here they are. Why?"
There was a pause, then Mrs. Ball said solemnly:
"I've read a great deal about bridegrooms havin' wanderin' fits
immediately before weddin's. Does my dress hike up in the back,
It was a little shorter in the back than in the
front and cleared the floor on all sides, since she had grown a little after
it was made, but Ruth assured her that everything was all right. When they
went downstairs together, Mr. Ball was sitting in the parlour, plainly
"Now Ruth," said Aunt Jane, "you can go after the
minister. My first choice is Methodis', after that Baptis' and
then Presbyterian. I will entertain James durin' your absence."
Ruth was longing for fresh air and gladly
undertook the delicate mission. Before she was half way down the hill, she
met Winfield, who had come on the afternoon train.
"You're just in time to see a wedding," she said,
when the first raptures had subsided.
"Whose wedding, sweetheart? Ours?"
"Far from it," answered Ruth, laughing. "Come
with me and I'll explain."
She gave him a vivid description of the events
that had transpired during his absence, and had invited him to the
wedding before it occurred to her that Aunt Jane might not be pleased. "I
may be obliged to recall my invitation," she said seriously, "I'll have to
ask Aunty about it. She may not want you."
"That doesn't make any difference," announced
Winfield, in high spirits, "I'm agoin' to the wedding and I'm a-goin' to kiss
the bride, if you'll let me."
Ruth smothered a laugh. "You may, if you want to,
and I won't be jealous. Isn't that sweet of me?"
"You're always sweet, dear. Is this the abode of
The Methodist minister was at home, but his wife
was not, and Ruth determined to take Winfield in her place. The clergyman
said that he would come immediately, and, as the lovers loitered up the
hill, they arrived at the same time.
Winfield was presented to the bridal couple, but
there was no time for conversation, since Aunt Jane was in a hurry. After
the brief ceremony was over, Ruth said wickedly:
"Aunty, on the way to the minister's, Mr.
Winfield told me he was going to kiss the bride. I hope you don't
Winfield looked unutterable things at Ruth, but
nobly fulfilled the obligation. Uncle James beamed upon Ruth in a way
which indicated that an attractive idea lay behind it, and
Winfield created a diversion by tipping over a vase of flowers.
"He shan't," he whispered to Ruth, "I'll be darned if he shall!"
"Ruth," said Aunt Jane, after a close scrutiny of
Winfield, "if you' relayin' out to marry that awkward creeter, what
ain't accustomed to a parlour, you'd better do it now, while him and the
minister are both here."
Winfield was willing, but Ruth said that one
wedding at a time was enough in any family, and the minister, pledged to
secrecy, took his departure. The bride cut the wedding cake and
each solemnly ate a piece of it. It was a sacrament, rather than
When the silence became oppressive, Ruth
suggested a walk.
"You will set here, Niece Ruth," remarked Aunt
Jane, "until I have changed my dress."
Uncle James sighed softly, as she went upstairs.
"Well," he said, "I'm merried now, hard and fast, and there ain't no help for
it, world without end."
"Cheer up, Uncle," said Winfield, consolingly,
"it might be worse."
"It's come on me all of a sudden," he rejoined.
"I ain't had no time to prepare for it, as you may say. Little did I think,
three weeks ago, as I set in my little store, what was wuth four or five
hundred dollars, that before the month was out, I'd be merried. Me! Merried!"
he exclaimed, "Me, as never thought of sech!"
When Mrs. Ball entered, clad in sombre calico,
Ruth, overcome by deep emotion, led her lover into the open air. "It's bad
for you to stay in there, "she said gravely, "when you are destined
to meet the same fate."
"I've had time to prepare for it," he answered,
"in fact, I've had more time than I want."
They wandered down the hillside with aimless
leisure, and Ruth stooped to pick up a large, grimy handkerchief, with "C.
W." in the corner. "Here's where we were the other morning," she
"Blessed spot," he responded, "beautiful Hepsey
and noble Joe! By what humble means are great destinies made evident! You
haven't said you were glad to see me, dear."
"I'm always glad to see you, Mr. Winfield," she
"Mr. Winfield isn't my name," he objected, taking
her into his arms.
"Carl," she whispered shyly, to his coat
"That isn't all of it."
"Carl—dear—" said Ruth, with her face
"That's more like it. Now let's sit down—I've
brought you something and you have three guesses."
"No, you said they were all in."
"Another piece of Aunt Jane's wedding
"No, guess again."
"Who'd think you were so stupid," he said,
putting two fingers into his waistcoat pocket.
"Oh—h!" gasped Ruth, in delight.
"You funny girl, didn't you expect an engagement
ring? Let's see if it fits."
He slipped the gleaming diamond on her finger and
it fitted exactly. "How did you guess?" she asked, after a
"It wasn't wholly guess work, dearest." From
another pocket, he drew a glove, of grey suede, that belonged to Ruth's left
"Where did you get that?"
"By the log across the path, that first day, when
you were so cross to me."
"I wasn't cross!"
"Yes you were—you were a little
"Will you forgive me?" she pleaded, lifting her
face to his.
"Rather!" He forgave her half a dozen times
before she got away from him. "Now let's talk sense," she said.
"We can't—I never expect to talk sense
"Pretty compliment, isn't it?" she asked. "It's
like your telling me I was brilliant and then saying I wasn't at all like
myself." "Won't you forgive me?" he inquired significantly.
"Some other time," she said, flushing, "now what
are we going to do?"
"Well," he began, "I saw the oculist, and he says
that my eyes are almost well again, but that I mustn't use them for two
weeks longer. Then, I can read or write for two hours every
day, increasing gradually as long as they don't hurt. By the first
of October, he thinks I'll be ready for work again. Carlton wants me to
report on the morning of the fifth, and he offers me a better salary than I
had on The Herald."
"We'll have to have a flat in the city, or a
little house in the country, near enough for me to get to the
"For us to get to the office," supplemented
"What do you think you're going to do, Miss
"Why—I'm going to keep right on with the paper,"
she answered in surprise.
"No you're not, darling," he said, putting his
arm around her. "Do you suppose I'm going to have Carlton or any other man
giving my wife an assignment? You can't any way, because I've
resigned your position for you, and your place is already filled.
Carlton sent his congratulations and said his loss was my gain,
or something like that. He takes all the credit to himself."
"I'm not a wretch—you said yourself I was nice.
Look here, Ruth," he went on, in a different tone, "what do you think I
am? Do you think for a minute that I'd marry you if I couldn't take care
"'T isn't that," she replied, freeing herself
from his encircling arm, "but I like my work and I don't want to give it
up. Besides— besides—I thought you'd like to have me near
"I do want you near me, sweetheart, that isn't
the point. You have the same right that I have to any work that is your
natural expression, but, in spite of the advanced age in which we live,
I can't help believing that home is the place for a woman. I may
be old-fashioned, but I don't want my wife working down town—I've got too
much pride for that. You have your typewriter, and you can turn out Sunday
specials by the yard, if you want to. Besides, there are all the returned
manuscripts—if you have the time and aren't hurried, there's no reason why
you shouldn't do work that they can't afford to refuse."
Ruth was silent, and he laid his hand upon hers.
"You understand me, don't you, dear? God knows I'm not asking you to let
your soul rust out in idleness, and I wouldn't have you crave expression
that was denied you, but I don't want you to have to work when you don't feel
like it, nor be at anybody's beck and call. I know you did good work on the
paper—Carlton spoke of it, too—but others can do it as well. I want you to
do something that is so thoroughly you that no one else can do it. It's a
hard life, Ruth, you know that as well as I do, and I—I love
His last argument was convincing. "I won't do
anything you don't want me to do, dear," she said, with a new
"I want you to be happy, dearest," he answered,
quickly. "Just try my way for a year—that's all I ask. I know your
independence is sweet to you, but the privilege of working for you with
hand and brain, with your love in my heart; with you at home, to be proud
of me when I succeed and to give me new courage when I fail, why, it's the
sweetest thing I've ever known."
"I'll have to go back to town very soon, though,"
she said, a little later, "I am interrupting the honeymoon."
"We'll have one of our own very soon that you
can't interrupt, and, when you go back, I'm going with you. We'll buy things
for the house."
"We need lots of things, don't we?" she
"I expect we do, darling, but I haven't the least
idea what they are. You'll have to tell me."
"Oriental rugs, for one thing," she said, "and a
mahogany piano, and an instrument to play it with, because I haven't any
parlour tricks, and some good pictures, and a waffle iron and a
porcelain rolling pin."
"What do you know about rolling pins and waffle
irons?" he asked fondly.
"My dear boy," she replied, patronisingly,
"you forget that in the days when I was a free and independent woman, I was
on a newspaper. I know lots of things that are utterly strange to
you, because, in all probability, you never ran a woman's department. If
you want soup, you must boil meat slowly, and if you want meat, you must boil
it rapidly, and if dough sticks to a broom straw when you jab it into a cake,
it isn't done."
He laughed joyously. "How about the porcelain
"It's germ proof," she rejoined,
"Are we going to keep house on the antiseptic
"We are—it's better than the installment plan,
isn't it? Oh, Carl!" she exclaimed, "I've had the brightest
"Spring it!" he demanded.
"Why, Aunt Jane's attic is full of old furniture,
and I believe she'll give it to us!"
His face fell. "How charming," he said, without
"Oh, you stupid," she laughed, "it's colonial
mahogany, every stick of it! It only needs to be done over!"
"Ruth, you're a genius."
"Wait till I get it, before you praise me. Just
stay here a minute and I'll run up to see what frame of mind she's
When she entered the kitchen, the bride was
busily engaged in getting supper. Uncle James, with a blue gingham apron tied
under his arms, was awkwardly peeling potatoes. "Oh, how good
that smells!" exclaimed Ruth, as a spicy sheet of gingerbread was taken
out of the oven.
Aunt Jane looked at her kindly, with gratified
pride beaming from every feature. "I wish you'd teach me to cook, Aunty,"
she continued, following up her advantage, "you know I'm going to marry
"Why, yes, I'll teach you—where is
"He's outside—I just came in to speak to you a
"You can ask him to supper if you want
"Thank you, Aunty, that's lovely of you. I know
he'll like to stay."
"James," said Mrs. Ball, "you're peelin' them
pertaters with thick peelins'and you'll land in the poorhouse. I've never
knowed it to fail."
"I wanted to ask you something, Aunty," Ruth went
on quickly, though feeling that the moment was not auspicious, "you know
all that old furniture up in the attic?"
"Well, what of it?"
"Why—why—you aren't using it, you know, and I
thought perhaps you'd be willing to give it to us, so that we can go
to housekeeping as soon as we're married."
"It was your grandmother's," Aunt Jane replied
after long thought, "and, as you say, I ain't usin' it. I don't know
but what you might as well have it as anybody else. I lay out to buy me a
new haircloth parlour suit with that two hundred dollars of James's—he give
the minister the hull four dollars over and above that—and—yes, you can
have it," she concluded.
Ruth kissed her,with real feeling. "Thank you so
much, Aunty. It will be lovely to have something tlhat was my
When she went back to Winfield, he was absorbed
in a calculation he was making on the back of an envelope.
"You're not to use your eyes," she said
warningly, "and, oh Carl! It was my grandmother's and she's given us every
bit of it, and you're to stay to supper!"
"Must be in a fine humour," he observed. "I'm
ever so glad. Come here, darling, you don't know how I've missed
"I've been earning furniture," she said, settling
down beside him. "People earn what they get from Aunty—I won't say
that, though, because it's mean."
"Tell me about this remarkable furniture. What is
it, and how much of it is destined to glorify our humble
"It's all ours," she returned serenely, "but I
don't know just how much there is. I didn't look at it closely, you know,
because I never expected to have any of it. Let's see—there's a
heavy dresser, and a large, round table, with claw feet—that's
our dining-table, and there's a bed, just like those in the windows in
town, when it's done over, and there's a big old-fashioned sofa, and a
"Are you going to spin?"
"Hush, don't interrupt. There are five
chairs—dining-room chairs, and two small tables, and a card table with a
leaf that you can stand up against the wall, and two lovely rockers, and
I don't know what else."
"That's a fairly complete inventory, considering
that you 'didn't look at it closely.' What a little humbug you
"You like humbugs, don't you?"
"Some, not all."
There was a long silence, and then Ruth moved
away from him. "Tell me about everything," she said. "Think of all the years
I haven't known you!"
"There's nothing to tell, dear. Are you going to
conduct an excavation into my 'past?'"
"Indeed, I'm not! The present is enough for me,
and I'll attend to your future myself."
"There's not much to be ashamed of, Ruth," he
said, soberly. "I've always had the woman I should marry in my mind—'the
not impossible she,' and my ideal has kept me out of many a pitfall
I wanted to go to her with clean hands and a clean heart, and I have. I'm
not a saint, but I'm as clean as I could be, and live in the world at
Ruth put her hand on his. "Tell me about your
A shadow crossed his face and he waited a moment
before speaking. "My mother died when I was born," he said with an effort.
"I can't tell you about her, Ruth, she—she—wasn't a very
"Forgive me, dear," she answered with quick
sympathy, "I don't want to know!"
"I didn't know about it until a few years ago,"
he continued, "when some kindly disposed relatives of father's gave me
full particulars. They're dead now, and I'm glad of
"Don't, Carl!" she cried, "I don't want to
"You're a sweet girl, Ruth," he said, tenderly,
touching her hand to his lips. "Father died when I was ten or twelve
years old and I can't remember him very well, though I have one picture,
taken a little while before he was married. He was a moody, silent man, who
hardly ever spoke to any one. I know now that he was broken-hearted. I can't
remember even the tones of his voice, but only one or two little
peculiarities. He couldn't bear the smell of lavender and the sight of any
shade of purple actually made him suffer. It was very strange.
"I've picked up what education I have," he went
on. "I have nothing to give you, Ruth, but these—" he held out
his hands—"and my heart."
"That's all I want, dearest—don't tell me any
A bell rang cheerily, and, when they went in,
Aunt Jane welcomed him with apparent cordiality, though a close observer
might have detected a tinge of suspicion. She liked the ring on
Ruth's finger, which she noticed for the first time. "It's real
pretty, ain't it, James?" she asked.
"Yes'm, 't is so."
"It's just come to my mind now that you never
give me no ring except this here one we was married with. I guess we'd
better take some of that two hundred dollars you've got sewed up in
that unchristian belt you insist on wearin' and get me a ring like Ruth's,
and use the rest for furniture, don't you think so?"
"Yes'm," he replied. "Ring and furniture—or
anythin' you'd like."
"James is real indulgent," she said to Winfield,
with a certain modest pride which was at once ludicrous and
"He should be, Mrs. Ball," returned the young
She looked at him closely, as if to discover
whether he was in earnest, but he did not flinch. "Young feller," she said,
"you ain't layin' out to take no excursions on the water, be
"Not that I know of," he answered,
"Sea-farin' is dangerous," she
"Mis' Ball was terrible sea sick comin' here,"
remarked her husband. "She didn't seem to have no sea legs, as you may
"Ain't you tired of dwellin' on that?" asked Aunt
Jane, sharply. "'T ain't no disgrace to be sea sick, and I wan't the only
Winfield came to the rescue with a question and
the troubled waters were soon calm again. After supper, Ruth said: "Aunty,
may I take Mr. Winfield up to the attic and show him my
grandmother's things that you've just given me?"
"Run along, child. Me and James will wash the
"Poor James, "said Winfield, in a low tone, as
they ascended the stairs. "Do I have to wash dishes, Ruth?"
"It wouldn't surprise me. You said you wanted to
work for me, and I despise dishes."
"Then we'll get an orphan to do 'em. I'm not
fitted for it, and I don't think you are."
"Say, isn't this great!" he exclaimed, as they
entered the attic. "Trunks, cobwebs, and old furniture! Why have I never been
"It wasn't proper," replied Ruth, primly, with a
sidelong glance at him. "No, go away!"
They dragged the furniture out into the middle of
the room and looked it over critically. There was all that she had
described, and unsuspected treasure lay in concealment behind it.
"There's almost enough to furnish a flat!" she cried, in
He was opening the drawers of a cabinet, which
stood far back under the eaves. "What's this, Ruth?"
"Oh, it's old blue china—willow pattern! How
rich we are!"
"Is old blue willow-pattern china considered
"Of course it is, you goose! We'll have to have
our dining-room done in old blue, now, with a shelf on the wall for
"Why can't we have a red
"Because it would be a fright. You can have a red
den, if you like."
"All right," he answered, "but it seems to me it
would be simpler and save a good deal of expense, if we just pitched the
plates into the sad sea. I don't think much of 'em."
"That's because you're not educated, dearest,"
returned Ruth, sweetly. "When you're married, you'll know a great deal
more about china—you see if you don't."
They lingered until it was so dark that they
could scarcely see each other's faces. "We'll come up again to-morrow," she
said. "Wait a minute."
She groped over to the east window, where there
was still a faint glow, and lighted the lamp, which stood in its accustomed
place, newly filled.
"You're not going to leave it burning, are you?"
"Yes, Aunt Jane has a light in this window every
"Why, what for?"
"I don't know, dearest. I think it's for a
lighthouse, but I don't care. Come, let's go downstairs."
The next day, while Ruth was busily gathering up
her few belongings and packing her trunk, Winfield appeared with
a suggestion regarding the advisability of outdoor exercise. Uncle James
stood at the gate and watched them as they went down hill. He was a pathetic
old figure, predestined to loneliness under all circumstances.
"That's the way I'll look when we've been married
a few years," said Carl.
"Worse than that," returned Ruth, gravely. "I'm
sorry for you, even now."
"You needn't be proud and haughty just because
you've had a wedding at your house—we're going to have one at
"At the 'Widder's,' I mean, this very
"That's nice," answered Ruth, refusing to ask the
"It's Joe and Hepsey," he continued, "and I
thought perhaps you might stoop low enough to assist me in selecting an
appropriate wedding gift in yonder seething mart. I feel greatly indebted
"Why, of course I will; it's quite sudden, isn't
it?" "Far be it from me to say so. However, it's the most reversed wedding
I ever heard of. A marriage at the home of the groom, to say the least, is
unusual. Moreover, the 'Widder' Pendleton is to take the bridal tour and
leave the happy couple at home. She's going to visit a relative who is
distant in both position and relationship—all unknown to the relative, I
fancy. She starts immediately after the ceremony and it seems to me that it
would be a pious notion to throw rice and old shoes after her."
"Why, Carl! You don't want to maim her, do
"I wouldn't mind. If it hadn't been for my
ostrich-like digestion, I wouldn't have had anything to worry about by
this time. However, if you insist, I will throw the rice and let you heave
the shoes. If you have the precision of aim which distinguishes your sex, the
'Widder' will escape uninjured."
"Am I to be invited?"
"Certainly—haven't I already invited
"They may not like it."
"That doesn't make any difference. Lots of people
go to weddings who aren't wanted."
"I'll go, then," announced Ruth, "and once again,
I give you my gracious permission to kiss the bride."
"Thank you, dear, but I'm not going to kiss any
brides except my own. I've signed the pledge and sworn off."
They created a sensation in the village when they
acquired the set of china which had been on exhibition over a year.
During that time it had fallen at least a third in price, though its value
was unchanged. Ruth bought a hideous red table-cloth, which she knew would
please Hepsey, greatly to Winfield's digust.
"Why do you do that?" he demanded. "Don't you
know that, in all probability, I'll have to eat off of it? I much prefer
the oilcloth, to which I am now accustomed."
"You'll have to get used to table linen, dear,"
she returned teasingly; "it's my ambition to have one just like this for
Joe appeared with the chariot just in time to
receive and transport the gift. "Here's your wedding present, Joe!"
called Winfield, and the innocent villagers formed a circle about them as
the groom-elect endeavoured to express his appreciation. Winfield helped him
pack the "101 pieces" on the back seat and under it, and when Ruth, feeling
like a fairy godmother, presented the red table-cloth, his cup of joy was
He started off proudly, with a soup tureen and
two platters on the seat beside him. The red table-cloth was slung over his
arm, in toreador fashion, and the normal creak of the conveyance
was accentuated by an ominous rattle of crockery. Then he circled back,
motioning them to wait.
"Here's sunthin' I most forgot," he said, giving
Ruth a note. "I'd drive you back fer nothin', only I've got sech a
The note was from Miss Ainslie, inviting Miss
Thorne and her friend to come at five o'clock and stay to tea. No answer
was expected unless she could not come.
The quaint, old-fashioned script was in some way
familiar. A flash of memory took Ruth back to the note she had found in
the dresser drawer,beginning: "I thank you from my heart for understanding
me." So it was Miss Ainslie who had sent the mysterious message to Aunt
"You're not paying any attention to me,"
complained Winfield. "I suppose, when we're married, I'll have to write out
what I want to say to you, and put it on file."
"You're a goose," laughed Ruth. "We're going to
Miss Ainslie's to-night for tea. Aren't we getting gay?"
"Indeed we are! Weddings and teas follow one
another like Regret on the heels of Pleasure."
"Pretty simile," commented Ruth. "If we go to the
tea, we'll have to miss the wedding."
"Well, we've been to a wedding quite recently, so
I suppose it's better to go to the tea. Perhaps, by arranging it, we might
be given nourishment at both places—not that I pine for the 'Widder's'
cooking. Anyhow, we've sent our gift, and they'd rather have that than to
have us, if they were permitted to choose."
"Do you suppose they'll give us
"Let us hope not."
"I don't believe we want any at all," she said.
"Most of them would be in bad taste, and you'd have to bury them at night,
one at a time, while I held a lantern."
"The policeman on the beat would come and ask us
what we were doing," he objected; "and when we told him we were only
burying our wedding presents, he wouldn't believe us. We'd be dragged
to the station and put into a noisome cell. Wouldn't it make a pretty
story for the morning papers! The people who gave us the things would enjoy
it over their coffee."
"It would be pathetic, wouldn't it?"
"It would, Miss Thorne. I think we'd better not
tell anybody until its all safely over, and then we can have a little
card printed to go with the announcement, saying that if anybody
is inclined to give us a present, we'd rather have the money."
"You're a very practical person, Carl. One would
think you had been married several times."
"We'll be married as often as you like, dear.
Judging by your respected aunt, one ceremony isn't 'rightfully bindin', and
I want it done often enough to be sure that you can't get away
As they entered the gate, Uncle James approached
stealthily by a roundabout way and beckoned to them. "Excuse me," he began,
as they came within speaking distance, "but has Mis' Ball give
"Yes," replied Ruth, in astonishment,
"There's clouds to starboard and she's repentin'.
She's been admirin' of it the hull mornin' in the attic. I was sot in
the kitchen with pertaters," he explained, "but the work is wearin' and a
feller needs fresh air."
"Thank you for the tip, Uncle," said Winfield,
The old man glowed with gratification. "We men
understand each other," was plainly written on his expressive face, as he
went noiselessly back to the kitchen.
"You'd better go home, dear," suggested
"Delicate hint," replied Winfield. "It would take
a social strategist to perceive your hidden meaning. Still, my
finer sensibilities respond instantly to your touch, and I will go.
I flatter myself that I've never had to be put out yet, when I've been
calling on a girl. Some subtle suggestion like yours has always been
"Don't be cross, dear—let's see how soon you can
get to the bottom of the hill. You can come back at four
He laughed and turned back to wave his hand at
her. She wafted a kiss from the tips of her fingers, which seemed momentarily
to impede his progress, but she motioned him away and ran into
Aunt Jane was nowhere to be seen, so she went on
into the kitchen to help Uncle James with the potatoes. He had peeled almost
a peck and the thick parings lay in a heap on the floor. "My goodness'"
she exclaimed. "You'd better throw those out, Uncle, and I'll put the
potatoes on to boil."
He hastened out, with his arms full of peelings.
"You're a real kind woman, Niece Ruth," he said gratefully, when he came
in. "You don't favour your aunt none—I think you're more like
Mrs. Ball entered the kitchen with a cloud upon
her brow, and in one of those rare flashes of insight which are vouchsafed
to plodding mortals, a plan of action presented itself to Ruth. "Aunty,"
she said, before Mrs. Ball had time to speak, "you know I'm going back to the
city to-morrow, and I'd like to send you and Uncle James a wedding
present—you've been so good to me. What shall it be?"
"Well, now, I don't know," she answered, visibly
softening, "but I'll think it over, and let you know."
"What would you like, Uncle James?"
"You needn't trouble him about it," explained his
wife. "He'll like whatever I do, won't you, James?"
"Yes'm, just as you say."
After dinner, when Ruth broached the suliject of
furniture, she was gratified to find that Aunt Jane had no serious
objections. "I kinder hate to part with it, Ruth," she said, "but in a
way, as you may say, it's yours."
"'Tisn't like giving it away, Aunty—it's all in
the family, and, as you say, you're not using it."
"That's so, and then James and me are likely to
come and make you a long visit, so I'll get the good of it,
Ruth was momentarily stunned, but rallied enough
to express great pleasure at the prospect. As Aunt Jane began to clear up
the dishes, Mr. Ball looked at his niece, with a certain quiet joy, and
then, unmistakably, winked.
"When you decide about the wedding present,
Aunty, let me know, won't you?" she asked, as Mrs. Ball came in after the
rest of the dishes. "Mr. Winfield would like to send you a remembrance
also." Then Ruth added, to her conscience, "I know he would."
"He seems like a pleasant-spoken feller,"
remarked Aunt Jane. "You can ask him to supper to-night, if you
"Thank you, Aunty, but we're going to Miss
"Huh!" snorted Mrs. Ball. "Mary Ainslie ain't got
no sperrit!" With this enigmatical statement, she sailed majestically out
of the room.
During the afternoon, Ruth finished her packing,
leaving out a white shirt-waist to wear to Miss Ainslie's. When she went
down to the parlour to wait for Winfield, Aunt Jane appeared, with
her husband in her wake.
"Ruth, "she announced, "me and James have decided
on a weddin' present. I would like a fine linen table-cloth and a
"All right, Aunty."
"And if Mr. Winfield is disposed to it, he can
give me a lemonade set—one of them what has different coloured tumblers
belongin' to it."
"He'll be pleased to send it, Aunty; I know he
"I'm a-layin' out to take part of them two
hundred dollars what's sewed up in James's belt, and buy me a new black
silk," she went on. "I've got some real lace to trim it with, whet dames give
me in the early years of our engagement. Don't you think a black silk is
allers nice, Ruth?"
"Yes, it is, Aunty; and just now, it's very
"You appear to know about such things. I guess
I'll let you get it for me in the city when you buy the weddin' present. I'll
give you the money, and you can get the linin's too, while you're about
"I'll send you some samples, Aunty, and then you
can take your choice."
"And—" began Mrs. Ball.
"Did you know Mrs. Pendleton was going away,
Aunty?" asked Ruth, hastily.
"Do tell! Elmiry Peavey goin'
"Yes, she's going somewhere for a visit—I don't
know just where."
"I had laid out to take James and call on
Elmiry," she said, stroking herapron thoughtfully, while a shadow crossed Mr.
Ball's expressive face; "but I guess I'll wait now till I get my new black
silk. I want her to know I've done well."
A warning hiss from the kitchen and the odour of
burning sugar impelled Aunt Jane to a hasty exit just as Winfield came.
Uncle James followed them to the door.
"Niece Ruth," he said, hesitating and fumbling at
his belt, "be you goin' to get merried?"
"I hope so, Uncle," she replied
"Then—then—I wish you'd take this and buy you
sunthin' to remember your pore old Uncle James by." He thrust a
trembling hand toward her, and offered her a twenty dollar bill.
"Why, Uncle!" she exclaimed. "I mustn't take
this! Thank you ever so much, but it isn't right!"
"I'd be pleased," he said plaintively. "'Taint as
if I wan's accustomed to money. My store was wuth five or six
hundred dollars, and you've been real pleasant to me, Niece Ruth. Buy
a hair wreath for the parlour, or sunthin' to remind you of your pore old
Winfield pressed her arm warningly, and she
tucked the bill into her chatelaine bag. "Thank you, Uncle!" she said; then,
of her own accord, she stooped and kissed him lightly on the
A mist came into the old man's eyes, and he put
his hand to his belt again, but she hurriedly led Winfield away. "Ruth," he
said, as they went down the hill, "you're a sweet girl. That was
real womanly kindness to the poor devil."
"Shall I be equally kind to all 'poor
"There's one more who needs you—if you attend to
him properly, it will be enough."
"I don't see how they're going to get Aunty's
silk gown and a ring like mine and a haircloth parlour suit and publish a
book with less than two hundred dollars, do you?"
"Hardly—Joe says that he gave Hepsey ten
dollars. There's a great discussion about the spending of it."
"I didn't know—I feel guilty."
"You needn't, darling. There was nothing else for
you to do. How did you succeed with your delicate mission?"
"I managed it," she said proudly. "I feel that I
was originally destined for a diplomatic career." He laughed when she
described the lemonade set which she had promised in his name.
"I'll see that the furniture is shipped
tomorrow," he assured her; "and then I'll go on a still hunt for the gaudy
glassware. I'm blessed if I don't give 'em a silver ice pitcher,
"I'm in for a table-cloth and a dozen napkins,"
laughed Ruth; "but I don't mind. We won't bury Uncle's wedding present,
"I should say not! Behold the effect of the card,
long before it's printed."
"I know, "said Ruth, seriously, "I'll get a
silver spoon or something like that out of the twenty dollars, and then
I'll spend the rest of it on something nice for Uncle James. The poor soul
isn't getting any wedding present, and he'll never know."
"There's a moral question involved in that,"
replied Winfield. "Is it right to use his money in that way and assume the
"We'll have to think it over," Ruth answered. "It
isn't so very simple after all."
Miss Ainslie was waiting for them in the
garden and came to the gate to meet them. She wore a gown of lavender
taffeta, vhich rustled and shone in the sunlight. Th skirt was slightly
trained, with a dust ruffle underneath, and the waist was made in
surplice fashion, open at the throat. A bertha of rarest Brussels lace
was fastened at her neck with the amethyst pin, inlaid with gold
and surrounded by baroque pearls. The ends of the bertha hung loosely and
under it she had tied an apron of sheerest linen, edged with narrow Duchesse
lace. Her hair was coiled softly on top of her head, with a string of
amethysts and another of pearls woven among the silvery strands.
"Welcome to my house," she said, smiling,
Winfield at once became her slave. She talked easily, with that exquisite
cadence which makes each word seem like a gift, but there was a certain
subtle excitement in her manner, which Ruth did not fail to perceive. When
Winfield was not looking at Miss Ainslie, her eyes rested upon him with a
wondering hunger, mingled with tenderness and fear.
Midsummer lay upon the garden and the faint odour
of mignonette and lavender came with every wandering wind. White
butterflies and thistledown floated in the air, bees hummed drowsily, and
fhe stately hollyhocks swayed slowly back and forth.
"Do you know why I asked you to come today?" She
spoke to Ruth, but looked at Winfield.
"Why, Miss Ainslie?"
"Because it is my birthday—I am fifty-five years
Ruth's face mirrored her astonishment. "You don't
look any older than I do," she said.
Except for the white hair, it was true. Her face
was as fresh as a rose with the morning dew upon it, and even on her neck,
where the folds of lace revealed a dazzling whiteness, there were
"Teach us how to live, Miss Ainslie," said
Winfield, softly, "that the end of half a century may find us
A delicate pink suffused her cheeks and she
turned her eyes to his. "I've just been happy, that's all," she
"It needs the alchemist's touch," he said, "to
change our sordid world to gold."
"We can all learn," she replied, "and even if we
don't try, it comes to us once."
"What?" asked Ruth.
"Happiness—even if it isn't until the end. In
every life there is a perfect moment, like a flash of sun. We can shape our
days by that, if we will—before by faith, and afterward by
The conversation drifted to less serious things.
Ruth, remembering that Miss Ainslie did not hear the village
gossip, described her aunt's home-coming, the dismissal of Hepsey,
and told her of the wedding which was to take place that evening. Winfield
was delighted, for he had never heard her talk so well, but Miss Ainslie
listened with gentle displeasure.
"I did not think Miss Hathaway would ever be
married abroad," she said. "I think she should have waited until she came
home. It would have been more delicate to let him follow her. To seem
to pursue a gentleman, however innocent one may be,
Winfield choked, then coughed
"Understand me, dear," Miss Ainslie went on, "I
do not mean to criticise your aunt—she is one of my dearest friends. Perhaps
I should not have spoken at all," she concluded in
"It's all right, Miss Ainslie," Ruth assured her,
"I know just how you feel."
Winfield, having recovered his composure, asked a
question about the garden, and Miss Ainslie led them in triumph around
her domain. She gathered a little nosegay of sweet-williams for Ruth, who
was over among the hollyhocks, then she said shyly: "What shall I pick for
"Anything you like, Miss Ainslie. I am at a loss
She bent over and plucked a leaf of rosemary,
looking at him long and searchingly as she put it into his hand.
"For remembrance," she said, with the deep fire
burning in her eyes. Then she added, with a pitiful hunger in her
"Whatever happens, you won't forget
"Never!" he answered, strangely
"Thank you," she whispered brokenly, drawing away
from him. "You look so much like—like some one I used to know."
At dusk they went into the house. Except for the
hall, it was square, with two partitions dividing it. The two front rooms
were separated by an arch, and the dining-room and kitchen were similarly
situated at the back of the house, with a china closet and pantry between
Miss Ainslie's table, of solid mahogany, was
covered only with fine linen doilies, after a modern fashion, and two
quaint candlesticks, of solid silver, stood opposite each other. In
the centre, in a silver vase of foreign pattern, there was a great bunch
of asters—white and pink and blue.
The repast was simple—chicken fried to a golden
brown, with creamed potatoes, a salad made of fresh vegetables from
the garden, hot biscuits, deliciously light, and the fragrant Chinese tea,
served in the Royal Kaga cups, followed by pound cake, and pears preserved in
a heavy red syrup.
The hostess sat at the head of the table,
dispensing a graceful hospitality. She made no apology, such as prefaced
almost every meal at Aunt Jane's. It was her best, and she was proud to
give it—such was the impression.
Afterward, when Ruth told her that she was going
back to the city, Miss Ainslie's face grew sad.
"Why—why must you go?" she asked.
"I'm interrupting the honeymoon," Ruth answered,
"and when I suggested departure, Aunty agreed to it immediately. I can't
very well stay now, can I?"
"My dear," said Miss Ainslie, laying her hand
upon Ruth's, "if you could, if you only would—won't you come and stay with
"I'd love to," replied Ruth, impetuously, "but
are you sure you want me?"
"Believe me, my dear," said Miss Ainslie, simply,
"it will give me great happiness."
So it was arranged that the next day Ruth's trunk
should be taken to Miss Ainslie's, and that she would stay until the first
of October. Winfield was delighted, since it brought Ruth nearer to him
and involved no long separation.
They went outdoors again, where the crickets and
katydids were chirping in the grass, and the drowsy twitter of birds came
from the maples above. The moon, at its full, swung slowly over the hill,
and threads of silver light came into the fragrant dusk of the garden. Now
and then the moonlight shone full upon Miss Ainslie's face, touching her hair
as if with loving tenderness and giving her an unearthly beauty. It was the
face of a saint.
Winfield, speaking reverently, told her of their
betrothal. She leaned forward, into the light, and put one hand caressingly
upon the arm of each.
"I am so glad," she said, with her face
illumined. Through the music of her voice ran lights and shadows, vague,
womanly appeal, and a haunting sweetness neither could ever
That night, the gates of Youth turned on their
silent hinges for Miss Ainslie. Forgetting the hoary frost that the years had
laid upon her hair, she walked, hand in hand with them, through the clover
fields which lay fair before them and by the silvered reaches of the River of
Dreams. Into their love came something sweet that they had not found
before—the absolute need of sharing life together, whether it should be joy
or pain. Unknowingly, they rose to that height which makes sacrifice
the soul's dearest offering, as the chrysalis, brown and
unbeautiful, gives the radiant creature within to the light and freedom
When the whistle sounded fcr the ten o'clock
train, Ruth said it was late and they must go. Miss Ainslie went to the gate
with them, her lavender scented gown rustling softly as she walked, and
the moonlight making new beauty of the amethysts and pearls entwined in her
Ruth, aglow with happiness, put her arms around
Miss Ainslie's neck and kissed her tenderly. "May I, too?" asked
He drew her toward him, without waiting for an
answer, and Miss Ainslie trembled from head to foot as she lifted her face to
Across the way the wedding was in full blast, but
neither of them cared to go. Ruth turned back for a last glimpse of the
garden and its gentle mistress, but she was gone, and the light from
her candle streamed out until it rested upon a white hollyhock, nodding
To Ruth, walking in the starlight with her lover,
it seemed as if the world had been made new. The spell was upon Winfield for
a long time, but at last he spoke.
"If I could have chosen my mother," he said,
simply, "she would have been like Miss Ainslie."
XV. The Secret and the Dream
Ruth easily became accustomed to the quiet life
at Miss Ainslie's, and gradually lost all desire to go back to the
city. "You're spoiling me," she said, one day. "I don't want to go back to
town, I don't want to work, I don't want to do anything but sit still and
look at you. I didn't know I was so lazy."
"You're not lazy, dear," answered Miss Ainslie,
"you were tired, and you didn't know how tired you were."
Winfield practically lived there. In the morning,
he sat in the garden, reading the paper, while Ruth helped about the house.
She insisted upon learning to cook, and he ate many an unfamiliar dish,
heroically proclaiming that it was good. "You must never doubt his love,"
Miss Ainslie said, "for those biscuits—well, dear, you know they were—were
not just right."
The amateur cook laughed outright at the gentle
criticism. "They were awful," she admitted, "but I'm going to keep at it
until I learn how."
The upper part of the house was divided into four
rooms, with windows on all sides. One of the front rooms, with north and
east windows, was Miss Ainslie's, while the one just back of it,
with south and east windows, was a sitting-room.
"I keep my prettiest things up here, dear," she
explained to Ruth, "for I don't want people to think I'm crazy." Ruth
caught her breath as she entered the room, for rare tapestries hung on the
walls and priceless rugs lay on the floor. The furniture, like that
downstairs, was colonial mahogany, highly polished, with here and there a
chair or table of foreign workmanship. There was a cabinet, filled with rare
china, a marquetry table, and a chair of teakwood, inlaid with mother of
pearl. In one corner of the room was a large chest of sandal wood, inlaid
with pearl and partly covered by a wonderful antique rug.
The world had seemingly given up its beauty to
adorn Miss Ainslie's room. She had pottery from Mexico, China and
Japan; strange things from Egypt and the Nile, and all the
Oriental splendour of India and Persia. Ruth wisely asked no
questions, but once, as before, she said hesitating; "they were given to
me by a—a friend."
After much pleading on Ruth's part, Winfield was
allowed to come to the sitting room. "He'll think I'm silly, dear," she
said, flushing; but, on the contrary, he shared Ruth's delight, and
won Miss Ainslie's gratitude by his appreciation of her
Day by day, the singular attraction grew between
them. She loved Ruth, but she took him unreservedly into her heart.
Ruth observed, idly, that she never called him "Mr. Winfield." At first
she spoke of him as "your friend" and afterward, when he had asked her to,
she yielded, with an adorable shyness, and called him Carl.
He, too, had eaten of the lotus and lost the
desire to go back to town. From the hilltop they could see the yellow fields
and hear the soft melody of reaping from the valley around them. He
and Ruth often walked together, but Miss Ainslie never would go with them.
She stayed quietly at home, as she had done for many years.
Every night, when the last train came from the
city, she put a lighted candle in her front window, using always the
candlestick of solid silver, covered with fretwork in intricate design.
If Winfield was there, she managed to have him and Ruth in another room.
At half-past ten, she took it away, sighing softly as she put out the
Ruth wondered, but said nothing, even to
Winfield. The grain in the valley was bound in sheaves, and the first colour
came on the maples—sometimes in a delicate flush, or a flash of gold,
and sometimes like a blood-red wound.
One morning, when Miss Ainslie came downstairs,
Ruth was startled at the change in her. The quick, light step was slow and
heavy, the broad, straight shoulders drooped a little, and her face, while
still dimpled and fair, was subtly different. Behind her deep, violet eyes
lay an unspeakable sadness and the rosy tints were gone. Her face was as pure
and cold as marble, with the peace of the dead laid upon it. She seemed to
have grown old in a single night.
All day she said little or nothing and would not
eat. She simply sat still, looking out of the east window. "No," she
said, gently, to Ruth, "nothing is the matter, deary, I'm just
When Winfield came, she kept him away from Miss
Ainslie without seeming to do so. "Let's go for a walk," she said. She tried
to speak lightly, but there was a lump in her throat and a tightening at
They climbed the hill and took the side path
which led to the woods, following it down and through the aisles of trees, to
the log across the path. Ruth was troubled and sat there some little time
without speaking, then suddenly, she knew that something was wrong with
Her heart was filled with strange foreboding and
she vainly tried to swallow the persistent lump in her throat. She spoke to
him, gently, once or twice and he did not seem to hear. "Carl!" she cried
in agony, "Carl! What is it?"
He tried to shake off the spell which lay upon
him. "Nothing, darling," he said unsteadily, with something of the
old tenderness. "I'm weak—and foolish—that's all."
"Carl! Dearest!" she cried, and then broke down,
Her tears aroused him and he tried to soothe her.
"Ruth, my darling girl, don't cry. We have each other, sweetheart, and
it doesn't matter—nothing matters in the whole, wide world."
After a little, she regained her
"Come out into the sun," he said, "it's ghostly
here. You don't seem real to me, Ruth."
The mist filled her eyes again. "Don't, darling,"
he pleaded, "I'll try to tell you."
They sat down on the hillside, where the sun
shone brightly, and where they could see Miss Ainslie's house plainly. She
waited, frightened and suffering, for what seemed an eternity, before
"Last night, Ruth," he began, "my father came to
me in a dream. You know he died when I was about twelve years old,
and last night I saw him as he would have been if he had lived
until now—something over sixty. His hair and beard were matted and there
was the most awful expression in his eyes—it makes me shudder yet. He was in
his grave clothes, dead and yet not dead. He was suffering—there was
something he was trying to say to me; something he wanted to explain. We were
out here on the hill in the moonlight and I could see Miss Ainslie's house
and hear the surf behind the cliff. All he could say to me
was: 'Abby—Mary—Mary —Abby—she—Mary,' over and over again. Once he
said 'mother.' Abby was my mother's name.
"It is terrible," he went on. "I can't understand
it. There is something I must do, and I don't know what it is. A command
is laid on me by the dead—there is some wrong for which I must atone.
When I first awoke, I thought it was a dream, but it isn't, it's real. It
seems as though that was the real world, and this—all our love and
happiness, and you, were just dreams. I can't bear it, Ruth!"
He shuddered, and she tried to comfort him,
though she was cold as a marble statue and her lips moved with difficulty.
"Don't, dear," she said, "It was only a dream. I've had them sometimes, so
vividly that they haunted me for days and, as you say, it seemed as if that
was the real world and this the dream. I know how you feel—those things
aren't pleasant, but there's nothing we can do. It makes one feel so
helpless. The affairs of the day are largely under our control, but at night,
when the body is asleep, the mind harks back to things that have been
forgotten for years. It takes a fevered fancy as a fact, and builds upon
it a whole series of disasters. It gives trivial things great signif!cance
and turns life upside down. Remembering it is the worst of all."
"There's something I can't get at, Ruth," he
answered. "It's just out of my reach. I know it's reasonable to suppose it
was a dream and that it can be explained by natural causes, but I don't
dream very often."
"I dream every night," she said. "Sometimes
they're just silly, foolish things and sometimes they're vivid and horrible
realities that I can't forget for weeks. But, surely, dear, we're
not foolish enough to believe in dreams?"
"No, I hope not," he replied,
"Let's go for a little walk," she said, "and
we'll forget it."
Then she told him how changed Miss Ainslie was
and how she had left her, sitting aimlessly by the window. "I don't think
I'd better stay away long," she concluded, "she may need me."
"I won't be selfish, Ruth; we'll go back now.
"I'm sorry Miss Ainslie isn't well."
"She said she was 'just tired' but it isn't like
her to be tired. She doesn't seem to want anybody near her, but you can sit
in the garden this afternoon, if you'd like to, and I'll flit in and
out like an industrious butterfly. Some new books have just come, and I'll
leave them in the arbour for you."
"All right, dear, and if there's anything I can
do, I hope you'll tell me."
As they approached the house, a brisk little man
hurried out of the gate and went toward the village.
"Who's that?" asked Winfield.
"I don't know—some one who has brought
something, probably. I trust she's better."
Miss Ainslie seemed more like herself, as she
moved about the house, dusting and putting the rooms in order, as was her
wont. At noon she fried a bit of chicken for Ruth, but took
nothing herself except a cup of tea.
"No, deary," she said, in answer to Ruth's
anxious question, "I'm all right—don't fret about me." "Have you
any pain, Miss Ainslie?"
"No, of course I haven't, you foolish
She tried to smile, but her white lips quivered
In the afternoon, when she said she was cold,
Ruth made a fire in the open fireplace, and wheeled Miss Ainslie's favourite
chair in front of it. She drew her shawl about her shoulders and
"I'm so comfortable, now, she said drowsily; "I
think I'm going to sleep, dear."
Ruth sat by her, pretending to read, but, in
reality, watching her closely, until the deep, regular breathing assured her
that she was asleep. She went out into the garden and found Winfield in
"How's this patient?" she asked, kissing him
lightly on the forehead.
"I'm all right, dearest," he answered, drawing
her down beside him, "and I'm ashamed of myself because I was so
During the afternoon Ruth made frequent trips to
the house, each time finding Miss Ainslie sound asleep. It was after six
o'clock when she woke and rubbed her eyes, wonderingly.
"How long have I been asleep, Ruth?"
"All the afternoon, Miss Ainslie—do you feel
"Yes, I think I do. I didn't sleep last night,
but it's been years since I've taken a nap in the daytime."
Ruth invited Carl to supper, and made them both
sit still while she prepared the simple meal, which, as he said,
was "astonishingly good." He was quite himself again, but Miss Ainslie,
though trying to assume her old manner, had undergone a great
Carl helped Ruth with the dishes, saying he
supposed he might as well become accustomed to it, and, feeling the need of
s!eep, went home very early.
"I'm all right," he said to Ruth, as he kissed
her at the door, "and you're just the sweetest girl in the world. Good
A chill mist came inland, and Ruth kept pine
knots burning in the fireplace. They sat without other light, Miss Ainslie
with her head resting upon her hand, and Ruth watching her narrowly.
Now and then they spoke aimlessly, of commonplaces.
When the last train came in, Miss Ainslie raised
her eyes to the silver candlestick that stood on the mantel and
"Shall I put the light in the window?" asked
It was a long time before Miss Ainslie
"No, deary," she said sadly, "never any
She was trying to hide her suffering, and Ruth's
heart ached for her in vain. The sound of the train died away in the distance
and the firelight faded.
"Ruth," she said, in a low voice, "I am going
"Away, Miss Ainslie? Where?"
"I don't know, dear—it's where we all go—'the
undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns.' Sometimes it's
a long journey and sometimes a short one, but we all take it—alone—at
Ruth's heart throbbed violently, then stood
"Don't!" she cried, sharply.
"I'm not afraid, dear, and I'm ready to go, even
though you have made me so happy—you and he."
Miss Ainslie waited a moment, then continued, in
a different tone:
"To-day the lawyer came and made my will. I
haven't much—just this little house, a small income paid semi-annually, and
my—my things. All my things are for you—the house and the income
are for—for him."
Ruth was crying softly and Miss Ainslie went to
her, laying her hand caressingly upon the bowed head. "Don't, deary,"
she pleaded, "don't be unhappy. I'm not afraid. I'm just going to sleep,
that's all, to wake in immortal dawn. I want you and him to have my things,
because I love you—because I've always loved you, and because I will—even
Ruth choked down her sobs, and Miss Ainslie drew
her chair closer, taking the girl's cold hand in hers. That touch,
so strong and gentle, that had always brought balm to her troubled spirit,
did not fail in its ministry now.
"He went away," said Miss Ainslie, after a long
silence, as if in continuation of something she had said before, "and I was
afraid. He had made many voyages in safety, each one more successful
than the last, and he always brought me beautiful things, but, this time,
I knew that it was not right for him to go."
"When he came back, we were to be married." The
firelight shone on the amethyst ring as Miss Ainslie moved it on her
finger. "He said that he would have no way of writing this time,
but that, if anything happened, I would know. I was to wait—as women have
waited since the world began.
"Oh, Ruth, do you know what waiting means? Mine
has lasted through thirty-three interminable years. Each day, I have
said: 'he will come to-morrow.' When the last train came in, I put
the light in the window to lead him straight to me. Each day, I have made
the house ready for an invited guest and I haven't gone away, even for an
hour. I couldn't bear to have him come and find no welcome waiting, and I
have always worn the colour he loved. When people have come to see me, I've
always been afraid they would stay until he came, except with you—and Carl.
I was glad to have you come to stay with me, because, lately, I have
thought that it would be more—more delicate than to have him find
me alone. I loved you, too, dear," she added quickly.
"I—I asked your aunt to keep the light in the
window. I never told her why, but I think she knew, and you must tell her,
dear, the next time you see her, that I thank her, and that she need never
do it again. I thought, if he should come in a storm, or, perhaps, sail by,
on his way to me—"
There was another long silence, then, with an
effort, she went on. "I have been happy, for he said he wanted me to be,
though sometimes it was hard. As nearly as I could, I made my dream real.
I have thought, for hours, of the things we would say to each other when the
long years were over and we were together again. I have dressed for his eyes
alone, and loved him—perhaps you know—"
"I know, Miss Ainslie," said Ruth, softly, her
own love surging in her heart, "I know."
"He loved me, Ruth," she said, lingering upon the
words, "as man never loved before. In all of God's great universe, there
was never anything like that—even in Heaven, there can't be anything so
beautiful, though we have to know human love before we can understand God's.
All day, I have dreamed of our little home together, and at night,
sometimes—of baby lips against my breast. I could always see him plainly,
but I never could see our—our child. I have missed that. I have had more
happiness than comes to most women, but that has been denied
She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.
Her lips were white and quivering, but there were no tears. At length she
sat upright and fixed her eyes upon Ruth.
"Don't be afraid of anything," she said in a
strange tone, "poverty or sickness or death, or any suffering God will let
you bear together. That isn't love—to be afraid. There's only
one thing—the years! Oh, God, the bitter, cruel, endless
Miss Ainslie caught her breath and it sounded
like a sob, but she bravely kept it back. "I have been happy," she said, in
pitiful triumph; "I promised him that I would be, and I have kept my word.
Sometimes it was hard, but I had my dream. Lately, this last year, I have
often been afraid that—that something had happened. Thirty-three years, and
you know, dear," she added, with a quaint primness, "that I am a woman of the
"In the world, but not of it," was on Ruth's
lips, but she did not say it.
"Still, I know it was wrong to doubt him—I
couldn't, when I thought of our last hour together, out on the hill in
the moonlight. He said it was conceivable that life might keep him from
me, but death never could. He told me that if he died, I would know, that he
would come and tell me, and that in a little while afterward, we should be
The dying embers cast a glow upon her face. It
was almost waxen in its purity; she seemed transfigured with the light of
another world. "Last night, he came to me—in a dream. He is
dead—he has been dead for a long time. He was trying to explain
something to me—I suppose he was trying to tell me why he had not
come before. He was old—an old man, Ruth, and I have always thought of
him as young. He could not say anything but my name—'Mary—Abby—Mary—
Abby—' over and over again; and, once, 'mother.' I was christened 'Mary
Abigail,' but I never liked the middle name, so I dropped it; and he used to
tease me sometimes by calling me 'Abby.' And—from his saying 'mother,' I
know that he, too, wherever he may be, has had that dream of —of
Ruth was cold from head to foot, and her senses
reeled. Every word that Winfield had said in the morning sounded again in
her ears. What was it that went on around her, of which she had no ken? It
seemed as though she stood absolutely alone, in endless space, while planets
swept past, out of their orbits, with all the laws of force set suddenly
Miss Ainslie felt her shuddering fear. "Don't be
afraid, dear," she said again, "everything is right. I kept my promise, and
he kept his. He is suffering—he is very lonely without me; but in
a little while we shall be together."
The fire died out and left the room in darkness,
broken only by the last fitful glow. Ruth could not speak, and Miss Ainslie
sat quietly in her chair. "Come," she said at last, stretching out her
hand, "let's go upstairs. I have kept you up, deary, and I know you must be
The house seemed filled with a shadowy
presence—something intangible, but portentous, for both good and ill. Ruth
took down the heavy mass of white hair and brushed it back, tying it at
the neck with a ribbon, in girlish fashion, as Miss Ainslie always did.
Her night gown, of sheerest linen, was heavy with Valenciennes lace, and
where it fell back from her throat, it revealed the flesh, exquisitely white,
set in gracious curves and womanly softness, as if by a sculptor who loved
The sweet, wholesome scent of the lavender
flowers breathed from the folds of Miss Ainslie's gown, as she stood there in
the candle light, smiling, with the unearthly glow still upon
"Good night, deary," she said; "you'll kiss me,
For a moment the girl's face was buried among
Miss Ainslie's laces, then their lips met. Ruth was trembling and she
hurried away, swallowing the lump in her throat and trying to keep
back the tears.
The doors were open, and there was no sound save
Miss Ainslie's deep breathing, but Ruth kept a dreary vigil till almost
XVI. Some One Who Loved Her
The summer waned and each day, as it slipped
away, took a little of Miss Ainslie's strength with it. There was neither
disease nor pain—it was simply a letting go. Carl sent to the city for
a physician of wide repute, but he shook his head. "There's nothing the
matter with her," he said, "but she doesn't want to live. Just keep her as
happy as you can."
For a time she went about the house as usual,
but, gradually, more and more of her duties fell to Ruth. Hepsey came in
every day after breakfast, and again in the late afternoon.
Ruth tried to get her to go out for a drive, but
she refused. "No, deary," she said, smiling, "I've never been away, and
I'm too old to begin now." Neighbours, hearing of her illness, came to
offer sympathy and help, but she would see none of them—not even Aunt
One night, she sat at the head of the table as
usual; for she would not surrender her place as hostess, even though she
ate nothing, and afterward a great weakness came upon her. "I don't know
how I'll ever get upstairs," she said, frightened; "it seems such a long
Winfield took her in his arms and carried her up,
as gently and easily as if she had been a child. Her cheeks were flushed
and her eyes bright when he put her down. "I never thought it would be so
easy," she said, in answer to his question. "You'll stay with me, won't you,
Carl? I don't want you to go away."
"I'll stay as long as you want me, Miss Ainslie,
and Ruth will, too. We couldn't do too much for you."
That night, as they sat in front of the fire,
while Miss Ainslie slept upstairs, Ruth told him what she had said about
leaving him the house and the little income and giving her the
beautiful things in the house.
"Bless her sweet heart," he said tenderly, "we
don't want her things—we'd rather have her."
"Indeed we would," she answered
Until the middle of September she went back and
forth from her own room to the sitting-room with comparative ease. They
took turns bringing dainties to tempt her appetite, but, though she ate a
little of everything and praised it warmly, especially if Ruth had made it,
she did it, evidently, only out of consideration for them.
She read a little, talked a little, and slept a
great deal. One day she asked Carl to pull the heavy sandal wood chest over
near her chair, and give her the key, which hung behind a
"Will you please go away now," she asked, with a
winning smile, "for just a little while?"
He put the bell on a table within her reach and
asked her to ring if she wanted anything. The hours went by and there was no
sound. At last he went up, very quietly, and found her asleep. The
chest was locked and the key was not to be found. He did not know whether
she had opened it or not, but she let him put it in its place again, without
Sometimes they read to her, and she listened
patiently, occasionally asking a question, but more often falling
"I wish," she said one day, when she was alone
with Carl, "that I could hear something you had written."
"Why, Miss Ainslie," he exclaimed, in
astonishment, "you wouldn't be interested in the things I write—it's only
"Yes, I would," she answered softly; "yes, I
Something in the way she said it brought the mist
to his eyes.
She liked to have Ruth brush her hair, but her
greatest delight was in hearing Winfield talk about her
"Won't you tell me about the rug, Carl, the one
on the sandal wood chest?" she asked, for the twentieth time.
"It's hundreds of years old," he began, "and it
came from Persia, far, far beyond the sea. The shepherds watched their flocks
night and day, and saved the finest fleeces for the rug. They made colour
from flowers and sweet herbs; from strange things that grew on the mountain
heights, where only the bravest dared to go. The sumac that flamed on the
hills, the rind of the swaying pomegranates, lichens that grew on the rocks
by the Eastern sea, berries, deep-sea treasures, vine leaves, the juice of
the grape—they all made colours for the rug, and then ripened, like old
"After a long time, when everything was ready,
the Master Craftsman made the design, writing strange symbols into the
margin, eloquent with hidden meanings, that only the wisest may
understand. "They all worked upon it, men and women and children.
Deep voices sang love songs and the melody was woven into the rug. Soft eyes
looked love in answer and the softness and beauty went in with the fibre.
Baby fingers clutched at it and were laughingly untangled. At night, when the
fires of the village were lighted, and the crimson glow was reflected upon
it, strange tales of love and war were mingled with the thread. "The
nightingale sang into it, the roses from Persian gardens breathed upon it,
the moonlight put witchery into it; the tinkle of the gold and silver on the
women's dusky ankles, the scent of sandal wood and attar of rose—it all went
into the rug.
"Poets repeated their verses to it, men knelt
near it to say their prayers, and the soft wind, rising from the sea,
made faintest music among the threads.
"Sometimes a workman made a mistake, and the
Master Craftsman put him aside. Often, the patient fingers stopped weaving
forever, and they found some one else to go on with it. Sometimes
they went from one place to another, but the frame holding the rug was not
injured. From mountain to valley and back again, urged by some strange
instinct, past flowing rivers and over the golden sands of the desert, even
to the deep blue waters that broke on the shore—they took the
"The hoof-beats of Arabian horses, with
white-robed Bedouins flashing their swords; all the glitter and splendour of
war were woven into it. Songs of victory, the rush of a cavalry
charge, the faith of a dying warrior, even the slow marches of
defeat—it all went into the rug.
"Perhaps the Master Craftsman died, but the
design was left, and willing fingers toiled upon it, through the long years,
each day putting new beauty into it and new dreams. Then, one day,
the final knot was tied, by a Veiled Lady, who sighed softly in the pauses
of her song, and wondered at its surpassing loveliness." "And—" said Miss
"Some one who loved you brought it to
"Yes," she repeated, smiling, "some one who loved
me. Tell me about this," she pleaded, touching a vase of
"It came from Japan," he said, "a strange world
of people like those painted on a fan. The streets are narrow and there
are quaint houses on either side. The little ladies flit about in
gay attire, like so many butterflies—they wear queer shoes on
their dainty feet. They're as sweet as their own cherry
"The little man who made this vase, wore a blue
tunic and had no robes of state, because he was poor. He loved the daughter
of a nobleman and she loved him, too, though neither dared to say so. "So
he sat in front of his house and worked on this vase. He made a model of
clay, shaping it with his fingers until it was perfect. Then a silver vase
was cast from it and over and over it he went, very carefully, making a
design with flat, silver wire. When he was satisfied with it, he filled it in
with enamel in wonderful colours, making even the spots on the
butterflies' wings like those he had seen in the fields. Outside the
design, he covered the vase with dark enamel, so the bright colours
"As he worked, the little lady he loved came and
watched him sometimes for a moment or two, and then he put a tiny bit
of gold into the vase. He put a flower into the design, like those she
wore in her hair, and then another, like the one she dropped at his feet one
day, when no one was looking.
"The artist put all his love into the vase, and
he hoped that when it was done, he could obtain a Court position. He was
very patient with the countless polishings, and one afternoon, when the
air was sweet with the odour of the cherry blossoms, the last touches were
put upon it.
"It was so beautiful that he was commissioned to
make some great vases for the throne room, and then, with joy in
his heart, he sought the hand of the nobleman's daughter.
"The negotiations were conducted by another
person, and she was forced to consent, though her heart ached for the artist
in the blue tunic, whose name she did not know. When she learned that her
husband was to be the man she had loved for so long, tears of happiness came
into her dark eyes.
"The vase had disappeared, mysteriously, and he
offered a large reward for its recovery. At last they were compelled to give
up the hope of finding it, and he promised to make her another one, just
like it, with the same flowers and butterflies and even the little glints of
gold that marked the days she came. So she watched him, while he made the new
one, and even more love went into it than into the first one."
"And—" began Miss Ainslie.
"Some one who loved you brought it to
"Yes," she repeated, smiling, "some one who loved
Winfield fitted a story to every object in the
room. Each rug had a different history and every bit of tapestry its own
tale. He conjured up an Empress who had once owned the teakwood chair,
and a Marquise, with patches and powdered hair, who wrote love letters at
the marquetry table.
He told stories of the sea shells, and of the
mermaids who brought them to the shore, that some one who loved her might
take them to her,and that the soft sound of the sea might always come to
her ears, with visions of blue skies and tropic islands, where the sun
The Empress and the Marquise became real people
to Miss Ainslie, and the Japanese lovers seemed to smile at her from the
vase. Sometimes, holding the rug on her lap, she would tell them how
it was woven, and repeat the love story of a beautiful woman who
had worked upon the tapestry. Often, in the twilight, she would
sing softly to herself, snatches of forgotten melodies, and, once,
a lullaby. Ruth and Carl sat by, watching for the slightest change, but
she never spoke of the secret in her heart.
Ruth had the north room, across the hall, where
there were two dressers. One of them had been empty, until she put her
things into it, and the other was locked. She found the key, one
day, hanging behind it, when she needed some things for Miss
As she had half expected, the dresser was full of
lingerie, of the finest lawn and linen. The dainty garments were edged
with real lace—Brussels, Valenciennes, Mechlin, Point d'Alencon, and the
fine Irish laces. Sometimes there was a cluster of tucks, daintily run by
hand, but, usually, only the lace, unless there was a bit of insertion to
match. The buttons were mother of pearl, and the button holes were
exquisitely made. One or two of the garments were threaded with white ribbon,
after a more modern fashion, but most of them were made according to the
quaint old patterns. There was a dozen of everything.
The dried lavender flowers rustled faintly as
Ruth reverently lifted the garments, giving out the long-stored sweetness
of Summers gone by. The white had changed to an ivory tint, growing deeper
every day. There were eleven night gowns, all made exactly alike, with high
neck and long sleeves, trimmed with tucks and lace. Only one was in any way
elaborate. The sleeves were short, evidently just above the elbow, and the
neck was cut off the shoulders like a ball gown. A deep frill of Venetian
point, with narrower lace at the sleeves, of the same pattern, was the
only trimming, except a tiny bow of lavender ribbon at the
fastening, pinned on with a little gold heart.
When Ruth went in, with one of the night gowns
over her arm, a faint colour came into Miss Ainslie's cheeks.
"Did—did—you find those?" she
"Yes," answered Ruth, "I thought you'd like to
Miss Ainslie's colour faded and it was some time
before she spoke again.
"Did—did you find the other—the one with
Venetian point?" "Yes, Miss Ainslie, do you want that one It's
"No," she said, "not now, but I thought that I'd
like to wear that—afterward, you know."
A shadow crossed Ruth's face and her lips
"Don't, dear," said Miss Ainslie,
"Do you think he would think it was indelicate
if—if my neck were bare then?"
"Who, Miss Ainslie?"
"Carl. Would he think it was wrong if I wore that
afterward, and my neck and shoulders showed? Do you think he
"No!" cried Ruth, "I know he wouldn't! Oh, Miss
Ainslie, you break my heart!"
"Ruth," said Miss Ainslie, gently; "Ruth, dear,
don't cry! I won't talk about it any more, deary, I promise you, but I
wanted to know so much!"
Ruth kissed her and went away, unable to bear
more just then. She brought her chair into the hall, to be near her if she
were needed. Miss Ainslie sighed, and then began to croon a
As Miss Ainslie became weaker, she clung to Carl,
and was never satisfied when he was out of her sight. When she was settled
in bed for the night, he went in to sit by her and hold her hand until she
dropped asleep. If she woke during the night she would call Ruth and ask
where he was.
"He'll come over in the morning, Miss Ainslie,"
Ruth always said; "you know it's night now."
"Is it?" she would ask, drowsily. "I must go to
sleep, then, deary, so that I may be quite rested and refreshed when
Her room, in contrast to the rest of the house,
was almost Puritan in its simplicity. The bed and dresser were
mahogany, plain, but highly polished, and she had a mahogany rocker with
a cushion of old blue tapestry. There was a simple white cover on the bed
and another on the dresser, but the walls were dead white, unrelieved by
pictures or draperies. In the east window was a long, narrow footstool, and a
prayer book and hymnal lay on the window sill, where this maiden of half a
century, looking seaward, knelt to say her prayers.
One morning, when Ruth went in, she said: "I
think I won't get up this morning, dear; I am so very tired. If Carl should
come over, will you say that I should like to see him?"
She would see no one but Carl and Ruth, and Mrs.
Ball was much offended because her friend did not want her to come
upstairs. "Don't be harsh with her, Aunt Jane," pleaded Ruth, "you
know people often have strange fancies when they are ill. She sent
her love to you, and asked me to say that she thanked you, but you need
not put the light in the attic window any more."
Mrs. Ball gazed at her niece long and earnestly.
"Be you tellin' me the truth?" she asked.
"Why, of course, Aunty."
"Then Mary Ainslie has got sense from somewheres.
There ain't never been no need for that lamp to set in the winder; and
when she gets more sense, I reckon she'll be willin' to see her friends."
With evident relief upon her face, Mrs. Ball departed.
But Miss Ainslie seemed quite satisfied, and each
day spoke more lovingly to Ruth and Carl. He showed no signs of impatience,
but spent his days with her cheerfully. He read to her, held her hand, and
told her about the rug, the Marquise, and the Japanese lovers. At the end she
would always say, with a quiet tenderness: "and some one who loved me brought
it to me!"
"Yes, Miss Ainslie; some one who loved you.
Everybody loves you; don't you know that?"
"Do you?" she asked once, suddenly and yet
"Indeed I do, Miss Ainslie—I love you with all
She smiled happily and her eyes filled. "Ruth,"
she called softly, "he says he loves me!"
"Of course he does," said Ruth; "nobody in the
wide world could help loving you."
She put out her left hand to touch Ruth, and the
amethyst ring slipped off, for her fingers were thin. She did not seem
to notice when Ruth slipped it on again, and, shortly afterward, fell
That night Winfield stayed very late. "I don't
want to leave you, dear," he said to Ruth. "I'm afraid something is going
"I'm not afraid—I think you'd better
"Will you put a light in your window if you want
me, darling?" "Yes, I will."
"I can see it from my room, and I'll be watching
for it. If you want me, I'll come."
He awoke from an uneasy sleep with the feeling
that Ruth needed him, and was not surprised to see the light from her
candle streaming out into the darkness. He dressed hurriedly, glancing at
his watch by the light of a match. It was just three o'clock.
Ruth was waiting for him at the lower door. "Is
"No, she seems to be just the same, but she wants
you. She's been calling for you ever since you went away."
As they went upstairs Miss Ainslie's sweet voice
came to them in pitiful pleading: "Carl, Carl, dear! Where are you? I want
"I'm here, Miss Ainslie," he said, sitting down
on the bed beside her and taking her hot hands in his. "What can I do for
"Tell me about the rug."
With no hint of weariness in his deep, quiet
voice, he told her the old story once more. When he had finished, she spoke
again. "I can't seem to get it just right about the Japanese lovers. Were
"Yes, they were married and lived happily ever
afterward—like the people in the fairy tales."
"That was lovely," she said, with evident
satisfaction. "Do you think they wanted me to have their vase?"
"I know they did. Some one who loved you brought
it to you. Everybody loves you, Miss Ainslie."
"Did the Marquise find her lover?"
"Yes, or rather, he found her."
"Did they want me to have their marquetry
"Of course they did. Didn't some one who loved
you bring it to you?"
"Yes," she sighed, "some one who loved
She sang a little, very softly, with her eyes
closed. It was a quaint old-fashioned tune, with a refrain of "Hush-a-by" and
he held her hand until the song ceased and she was asleep. Then he went
over to Ruth. "Can't you go to sleep for a little while, dearest? I know
"I'm never tired when I'm with you," Ruth
answered, leaning upon his arm, "and besides, I feel that this is the
Miss Ainslie slept for some time, then, all at
once, she started as if in terror. "Letters," she said, very distinctly,
He went to her and tried to soothe her, but
failed. "No," she said again, "letters—Ruth —chest."
"She wants some letters that are in the sandal
wood chest," he said to Ruth, and Miss Ainslie nodded. "Yes," she
Ruth went into the sitting-room, where a light
was burning dimly, but the chest was locked. "Do you know where the key is,
Carl?" she asked, coming back for a moment.
"No, I don't, dear," he answered. Then he asked
Miss Ainslie where the key was, but she only murmured:
"Shall I go and help Ruth find
"Yes," she said, "help—letters."
Together, they broke open the lock of the chest,
while Miss Ainslie was calling, faintly: "Carl, Carl, dear! Where are you?
I want you!"
"We'd better turn the whole thing out on the
floor," he said, suiting the action to the word, then put it back
against the wall, empty. "We'll have to shake everything
out, carefully," returned Ruth, "that's the only way to find
Wrapped carefully in a fine linen sheet, was Miss
Ainslie's wedding gown, of heavy white satin, trimmed simply with
priceless Venetian point. They shook it out hurriedly and put it back
into the chest. There were yards upon yards of lavender taffeta, cut into
dress lengths, which they folded up and put away. Three strings of amethysts
and two of pearls slipped out of the silk as they lifted it, and there was
another length of lustrous white taffeta, which had changed to an ivory
Four shawls of Canton crepe, three of them
lavender and one ivory white, were put back into the chest. There were
several fans, of fine workmanship, a girdle of oxidized silver, set with
amethysts and pearls, and a large marquetry box, which contained
tea. "That's all the large things," he said; "now we can look
Ruth was gathering up great quantities of
lace—Brussels, Point d'Alencon, Cluny, Mechlin, Valenciennes, Duchesse and
Venetian point. There was a bridal veil of the Venetian lace,
evidently made to match that on the gown. Tiny, dried petals rustled out
of the meshes, for Miss Ainslie's laces were laid away in lavender, like
"I don't see them," she said, "yes, here they
are." She gave him a bundle of yellowed letters, tied with lavender
ribbon. "I'll take them to her," he answered, picking up a small
black case that lay on the floor, and opening it. "Why, Ruth!" he
gasped. "It's my father's picture!"
Miss Ainslie's voice rose again in pitiful
cadence. "Carl, Carl, dear! Where are you? I want you—oh, I want
He hastened to her, leaving the picture in Ruth's
hand. It was an ambrotype, set into a case lined with purple
velvet. The face was that of a young man, not more than
twenty-five or thirty, who looked strangely like Winfield. The eyes,
forehead and the poise of the head were the same.
The earth trembled beneath Ruth's feet for a
moment, then, all at once, she understood. The light in the attic window, the
marked paragraph in the paper, and the death notices— why, yes,
the Charles Winfield who had married Abigail Weatherby was Miss Ainslie's
lover, and Carl was his son. "He went away!" Miss Ainslie's voice
came again to Ruth, when she told her story, with no hint of her lover's
name. He went away, and soon afterward, married Abigail Weatherby, but why?
Was it love at first sight, or did he believe that his sweetheart was dead?
Then Carl was born and the mother died. Twelve years afterward, he followed
her —broken hearted. Carl had told her that his father could not bear the
smell of lavender nor the sight of any shade of purple—and Miss Ainslie
always wore lavender and lived in the scent of it—had he come to shrink from
it through remorse?
Why was it, she wondered? Had he forgotten Miss
Ainslie, or had he been suddenly swept off his feet by some blind whirlwind
of passion? In either case, memory had returned to torture him a thousand
fold—to make him ashamed to face her, with his boy in his arms.
And Aunt Jane knew of the marriage, at the time,
probably, and said no word. Then she learned of Abigail Weatherby's death,
and was still silent, hoping, perhaps, that the wanderer would come back,
until she learned that Charles Winfield, too, was dead. And still she had not
told Miss Ainslie, or, possibly, thought she knew it all till the day that
Hepsey had spoken of; when she came home, looking "strange," to keep the
light in the attic window every night for more than five years.
Was it kind? Ruth doubted for a moment, then her
heart softened with love for Aunt Jane, who had hidden the knowledge that
would be a death blow to Miss Ainslie, and let her live on, happy in her
dream, while the stern Puritan conscience made her keep the light in the
attic window in fulfilment of her promise.
As if the little light could reach the veil which
hangs between us and Eternity, or penetrate the greyness which never parts
save for a passage! As if all Miss Ainslie's IGve and faith could bring
the dead to life again, even to be forgiven!
Her lips quivered when she thought of Miss
Ainslie's tenderness for Carl and the little whispered lullabies that she
sang to herself, over and over again. "She does not know," thought
Ruth. "Thank God, she will never know!"
She put the rest of the things into the chest and
closed it, covering it, as before, with the rug Miss Ainslie loved. When
she went into the other room, she was asleep again, with her
cheek pillowed on the letters, while Carl sat beside her, holding her hand
and pondering over the mystery he could not explain. Ruth's heart ached for
those two, so strangely brought together, who had but this little hour to
atone for a lifetime of loss.
The first faint lines of light came into the
eastern sky. Ruth stood by the window, watching the colour come on the grey
above the hill, while two or three stars still shone dimly. The night lamp
flickered, then went out. She set it in the hall and came back to the
As Miss Ainslie's rug had been woven, little by
little, purple, crimson, and turquoise, gleaming with inward fires, shone
upon the clouds. Carl came over to Ruth, putting his arm around her. They
watched it together—that miracle which is as old as the world, and yet ever
new. "I don't see—" he began.
"Hush, dear," Ruth whispered, "I know, and I'll
tell you some time, but I don't want her to know."
The sky brightened slowly, and the intense colour
came into the room with the light. Ruth drew the curtains aside, saying, in
a low tone, "it's beautiful, isn't it?"
There was a sudden movement in the room and they
turned, to see Miss Ainslie sitting up, her cheeks flushed, and the
letters scattered around her. The ribbon had slipped away, and her
heavy white hair fell over her shoulders. Ruth went to her, to tie it back
again, but she put her away, very gently, without speaking.
Carl stood by the window, thinking, and Miss
Ainslie's eyes rested upon him, with wonder and love. The sunrise stained
her white face and her eyes shone brightly, as sapphires touched
with dawn. The first ray of the sun came into the little room and lay upon
her hair, changing its whiteness to gleaming silver. Then all at once her
face illumined, as from a light within.
Carl moved away from the window, strangely drawn
toward her, and her face became radiant with unspeakable joy. Then the
passion of her denied motherhood swelled into a cry of longing—"My
"Mother!" broke from his lips in answer He went
to her blindly, knowing only that they belonged to each other, and that, in
some inscrutable way, they had been kept apart until it was too late. He
took her into his arms, holding her close, and whispering, brokenly, what
only she and God might hear! Ruth turned away, sobbing, as if it was
something too holy for her to see.
Miss Ainslie, transfigured with unearthly light,
lifted her face to his. Her lips quivered for an instant, then grew cold
beneath his own. She sank back among the pillows, with her eyes
closed, but with yet another glory upon the marble whiteness of her
face, as though at the end of her journey, and beyond the mists
that divided them, her dream had become divinely true.
Then he, who should have been her son, bent down,
the tears falling unheeded upon her face, and kissed her again.