A Spinner in the Sun
Part 1 out of 5
E-text prepared by Al Haines
A SPINNER IN THE SUN
I. "THE FIRE WAS KIND"
II. MISS MEHITABLE
III. THE PEARLS
IV. "FROM THE DEPTHS OF HIS LOVE"
VI. PIPES O' PAN
VII. THE HONOUR OF THE SPOKEN WORD
VIII. PIPER TOM
X. RALPH'S FIRST CASE
XI. THE LOOSE LINK
XII. A GREY KITTEN
XIII. THE RIVER COMES INTO ITS OWN
XIV. A LITTLE HOUR OF TRIUMPH
XV. THE STATE OF ARAMINTA'S SOUL
XVI. THE MARCH OF THE DAYS
XVII. LOVED BY A DOG
XIX. IN THE SHADOW OF THE CYPRESS
XX. THE SECRET OF THE VEIL
XXI. THE POPPIES CLAIM THEIR OWN
XXIII. UNDINE FINDS HER SOUL
XXIV. TELLING AUNT HITTY
XXVI. THE LIFTING OF THE VEIL
A Spinner in the Sun
"The Fire was Kind"
The little house was waiting, as it had waited for many years. Grey
and weather-worn, it leaned toward the sheltering hillside as though to
gather from the kindly earth some support and comfort for old age.
Five-and-twenty Winters had broken its spirit, five-and-twenty Springs
had not brought back the heart of it, that had once gone out, with
dancing feet and singing, and had returned no more.
For a quarter of a century, the garden had lain desolate. Summers came
and went, but only a few straggling blooms made their way above the
mass of weeds. In early Autumn, thistles and milkweed took possession
of the place, the mournful purple of their flowering hiding the garden
beneath trappings of woe. And at night, when the Autumn moon shone
dimly, frail ghosts of dead flowers were set free from the thistles and
milkweed. The wind of Indian Summer, itself a ghost, convoyed them
about the garden, but they never went beyond it. Each year the panoply
of purple spread farther, more surely hiding the brave blooms beneath.
Far down the path, beside the broken gate, a majestic cypress cast
portentous gloom. Across from it, and quite hiding the ruin of the
gate, was a rose-bush, which, every June, put forth one perfect white
rose. Love had come through the gate and Love had gone out again, but
this one flower was left behind.
Brambles grew about the doorstep, and the hinges of the door were deep
in rust. No friendly light gleamed at night from the lattice, a beacon
to the wayfarer or a message of cheer to the disheartened, since the
little house was alone. The secret spinners had hung a drapery of
cobwebs before the desolate windows, as though to veil the loneliness
from passers-by. No fire warmed the solitary hearth, no gay and
careless laughter betrayed the sleeping echoes into answer. Within the
house were only dreams, which never had come true.
A bit of sewing yet lay upon the marble-topped table in the
sitting-room, and an embroidery frame, holding still a square of fine
linen, had fallen from a chair. An open book was propped against the
back of the chair, and a low rocker, facing it, was swerved sharply
aside. The evidence of daily occupation, suddenly interrupted, was all
there--a quiet content, overlaid by a dumb, creeping paralysis.
The March wind blew fiercely through the night and the little house
leaned yet more toward the sheltering hill. Afar, in the village, a
train rumbled into the station; the midnight train from the city by
which the people of Rushton regulated their watches and clocks.
Strangely enough, it stopped, and more than one good man, turning
uneasily upon his pillow, wondered if the world might have come to its
Half an hour afterward, a lone figure ascended the steep road which led
to the house. A woman, fearless of the night, because Life had already
done its worst to her, stumbled up the stony, overgrown way. The moon
shone fitfully among the flying clouds, and she guided herself by its
uncertain gleams, pausing now and then, in complete darkness, to wait
for more light.
Ghost-like, a long white chiffon veil trailed behind her, too securely
fastened to her hat to be blown away. Even in the night, she watched
furtively and listened for approaching footsteps, one hand holding the
end of her veil in such a way that she might quickly hide her face.
Outside the gate she paused, irresolute. At the last moment, it seemed
as if she could never enter the house again. A light snow had fallen
upon the dead garden, covering its scarred face with white. Miss
Evelina noted quickly that her garden, too, was hidden as by chiffon.
A gust of wind made her shiver--or was it the veiled garden? Nerving
herself to her necessity, she took up her satchel and went up the path
as one might walk, with bared feet, up a ladder of swords. Each step
that took her nearer the house hurt her the more, but she was not of
those who cry out when hurt. She set her lips more firmly together and
continued upon her self-appointed way.
When she reached the house, she already had the key in her uncertain
fingers. The rusty lock yielded at length and the door opened noisily.
Her heart surged painfully as she entered the musty darkness. It was
so that Miss Evelina came home, after five-and-twenty years.
The thousand noises of an empty house greeted her discordantly. A
rattling window was answered by a creaking stair, a rafter groaned
dismally, and the scurrying feet of mice pattered across a distant
Fumbling in her satchel, Miss Evelina drew out a candle and a box of
matches. Presently there was light in the little house--a faint
glimmering light, which flickered, when the wind shook the walls, and
twinkled again bravely when it ceased.
She took off her wraps, and, through force of habit, pinned the
multitudinous folds of her veil to her hair, forgetting that at
midnight, and in her own house, there were none to see her face.
Then she made a fire, for the body must be warmed, though the heart is
dead, and the soul stricken dumb. She had brought with her a box
containing a small canister of tea, and she soon had ready a cup of it,
so strong that it was bitter.
With her feet upon the hearth and the single candle flickering upon the
mantel shelf, she sat in the lonely house and sipped her tea. Her
well-worn black gown clung closely to her figure, and the white chiffon
veil, thrown back, did not wholly hide her abundant hair. The horror
of one night had whitened Miss Evelina's brown hair at twenty, for the
sorrows of Youth are unmercifully keen.
"I have come back," she thought. "I have come back through that door.
I went out of it, laughing, at twenty. At forty-five, I have come
back, heart-broken, and I have lived.
"Why did I not die?" she questioned, for the thousandth time. "If
there had been a God in Heaven, surely I must have died."
The flames leaped merrily in the fireplace and the discordant noises of
the house resolved themselves into vague harmony. A cricket, safely
ensconced for the Winter in a crevice of the hearth, awoke in the
unaccustomed warmth, piping a shrill and cheery welcome, but Miss
Evelina sat abstractedly, staring into the fire.
After all, there had never been anything but happiness in the
house--the misery had been outside. Peace and quiet content had dwelt
there securely, but the memory of it brought no balm now.
As though it were yesterday, the black walnut chair, covered with
haircloth, stood primly against the wall. Miss Evelina had always
hated the chair, and here, after twenty-five years, it confronted her
again. She mused, ironically, upon the permanence of things usually
considered transient and temporary. Her mother's sewing was still upon
the marble-topped table, but the hands that held it were long since
mingled with the dust. Her own embroidery had apparently but just
fallen from the chair, and the dream that had led to its
fashioning--was only a dream, from which she awoke to enduring agony.
With swift hatred, she turned her back upon the embroidery frame, and
hid her face in her hands.
Time, as time, had ceased to exist for her. She suffered until
suffering brought its own far anodyne--the inability to sustain it
further,--then she slept, from sheer weariness. Before dawn, usually,
she awoke, sufficiently rested to suffer again. When she felt faint,
she ate, scarcely knowing what she ate, for food was as dust and ashes
in her mouth.
In the bag that hung from her belt was a vial of laudanum, renewed from
time to time as she feared its strength was waning. She had been
taught that it was wicked to take one's own life, and that God was
always kind. Not having experienced the kindness, she began to doubt
the existence of God, and was immediately face to face with the idea
that it could not be wrong to die if one was too miserable to live.
Her mind revolved perpetually in this circle and came continually back
to a compromise. She would live one more day, and then she would free
herself. There was always a to-morrow when she should be free, but it
The fire died down and the candle had but a few minutes more to burn.
It was the hour of the night when life is at its lowest--when souls
pass out into the great Beyond. Miss Evelina took the vial from her
reticule and uncorked it. The bitter, pungent odour came as sweet
incense to her nostrils. No one knew she had come. No one would ever
enter her door again. She might die peacefully in her own house, and
no one would know until the walls crumbled to dust--perhaps not even
then. And Miss Evelina had a horror of a grave.
She drew a long breath of the bitterness. The silken leaves of the
poppies--flowers of sleep--had been crushed into this. The lees must
be drained from the Cup of Life before the Cup could be set aside.
Every one came to this, sooner or later. Why not choose? Why not
drain the Cup now? When it had all been bitter, why hesitate to drink
The monstrous and incredible passion of the race was slowly creeping
upon her. Her eyes gleamed and her cheeks burned. The hunger for
death at her own hands and on her own terms possessed her frail body to
the full. "If there had been a God in Heaven," she said, aloud,
"surely I must have died!"
The words startled her and her hand shook so that some of the laudanum
was spilled. It was long since she had heard her own voice in more
than a monosyllabic answer to some necessary question. Inscrutably
veiled in many folds of chiffon, she held herself apart from the world,
and the world, carelessly kind, had left her wholly to herself.
Slowly, she put the cork tightly into the vial and slipped it back into
her bag. "Tomorrow," she sighed; "to-morrow I shall set myself free."
The fire flickered and without warning the candle went out, in a gust
of wind which shook the house to its foundations. Stray currents of
air had come through the crevices of the rattling windows and kept up
an imperfect ventilation. She took another candle from her satchel,
put it into a candlestick of blackened brass, and slowly ascended the
She went to her own room, though her feet failed her at the threshold
and she sank helplessly to the floor. Too weak to stand, she made her
way on her knees to her bed, leaving the candle in the hall, just
outside her door. As she had suspected, it was hardest of all to enter
A pink and white gown of dimity, yellowed, and grimed with dust, yet
lay upon her bed. Cobwebs were woven over the lace that trimmed the
neck and sleeves. Out of the fearful shadows, mute reminders of a lost
joy mocked her from every corner of the room.
She knelt there until some measure of strength came back to her, and,
with it, a mad fancy. "To-night," she said to herself, "I will be
brave. For once I will play a part, since to-morrow I shall be free.
To-night, it shall be as though nothing had happened--as though I were
to be married to-morrow and not to--to Death!"
She laughed wildly, and, even to her own ears, it had a fantastic,
unearthly sound. The empty rooms took up the echo and made merry with
it, the sound dying at last into a silence like that of the tomb.
She brought in the candle, took the dimity gown from the bed, and shook
it to remove the dust. In her hands it fell apart, broken, because it
was too frail to tear. She laid it on a chair, folding it carefully,
then took the dusty bedding from her bed and carried it into the hall,
dust and all. In an oaken chest in a corner of her room was her store
of linen, hemmed exquisitely and embroidered with the initials: "E. G."
She began to move about feverishly, fearing that her resolution might
fail. The key of the chest was in a drawer in her dresser, hidden
beneath a pile of yellowed garments. Her hands, so long nerveless,
were alive and sentient now. When she opened the chest, the scent of
lavender and rosemary, long since dead, struck her like a blow.
The room swam before her, yet Miss Evelina dragged forth her linen
sheets and pillow-slips, musty, but clean, and made her bed. Once or
twice, her veil slipped down over her face, and she impatiently pushed
it back. The candle, burning low, warned her that she must make haste,
In one of the smaller drawers of her dresser was a nightgown of
sheerest linen, wonderfully stitched by her own hands. She hesitated a
moment, then opened the drawer.
Tiny bags of sweet herbs fell from the folds as she shook it out. It
was yellowed and musty and as frail as a bit of fine lace, but it did
not tear in her hands. "I will wear it," she thought, grimly, "as I
planned to do, long ago."
At last she stood before her mirror, the ivory-tinted lace falling away
from her neck and shoulders. Her neck was white and firm, but her
right shoulder was deeply, hideously scarred. "Burned body and burned
soul," she muttered, "and this my wedding night!"
For the first time in her life, she pitied herself, not knowing that
self-pity is the first step toward relief from overpowering sorrow.
When detachment is possible, the long, slow healing has faintly, but
She unpinned her veil, took down her heavy white hair, and braided it.
There was no gleam of silver, even in the light--it was as lustreless
as a field of snow upon a dark day. That done, she stood there,
staring at herself in the mirror, and living over, remorselessly, the
one day that, like a lightning stroke, had blasted her life.
Her veil slipped, unheeded, from her dresser to the floor. Leaning
forward, she studied her face, that she had once loved, then swiftly
learned to hate. Even on the street, closely veiled, she would not
look at a shop window, lest she might see herself reflected in the
plate glass, and she had kept the mirror, in her room covered with a
Since the day she left the hospital, where they all had been so kind to
her, no human being, save herself, had seen her face. She had prayed
for death, but had not been more than slightly ill, upborne, as she
was, by a great grief which sustained her as surely as an ascetic is
kept alive by the passion of his faith. She hungered now for the sight
of her face as she hungered for death, and held the flaring candle
aloft that she might see better.
Then a wave of impassioned self-pity swept her like flame. "The fire
was kind," she said, stubbornly, as though to defend herself from it.
"It showed me the truth."
She leaned yet closer to the glass, holding the dripping candle on
high. "The fire was kind," she insisted again. Then the floodgates
opened, and for the first time in all the sorrowful years, she felt the
hot tears streaming over her face. Her hand shook, but she held her
candle tightly and leaned so close to the mirror that her white hair
brushed its cracked surface.
"The fire was kind," sobbed Miss Evelina. "Oh, but the fire was kind!"
The slanting sunbeams of late afternoon crept through the cobwebbed
window, and Miss Evelina stirred uneasily in her sleep. The mocking
dream vanished and she awoke to feel, as always, the iron, icy hand
that unmercifully clutched her heart. The room was cold and she
shivered as she lay beneath her insufficient covering.
At length she rose, and dressed mechanically, avoiding the mirror, and
pinning her veil securely to her hair. She went downstairs slowly,
clinging to the railing from sheer weakness. She was as frail and
ghostly as some disembodied spirit of Grief.
Soon, she had a fire. As the warmth increased, she opened the rear
door of the house to dispel the musty atmosphere. The March wind blew
strong and clear through the lonely rooms, stirring the dust before it
and swaying the cobwebs. Suddenly, Miss Evelina heard a footstep
outside and instinctively drew down her veil.
Before she could close the door, a woman, with a shawl over her head,
appeared on the threshold, peered curiously into the house, then
"For the land's sake!" cried a cheery voice. "You scared me most to
death! I saw the smoke coming from the chimney and thought the house
was afire, so I come over to see."
Miss Evelina stiffened, and made no reply.
"I don't know who you are," said the woman again, mildly defiant, "but
this is Evelina Grey's house."
"And I," answered Miss Evelina, almost inaudibly, "am Evelina Grey."
"For the land's sake!" cried the visitor again. "Don't you remember
me? Why, Evelina, you and I used to go to school together. You----"
She stopped, abruptly. The fact of the veiled face confronted her
stubbornly. She ransacked her memory for a forgotten catastrophe, a
quarter of a century back. Impenetrably, a wall was reared between
"I--I'm afraid I don't remember," stammered Miss Evelina, in a low
voice, hoping that the intruder would go.
"I used to be Mehitable Smith, and that's what I am still, having been
spared marriage. Mehitable is my name, but folks calls me Hitty--Miss
Hitty," she added, with a slight accent on the "Miss."
"Oh," answered Miss Evelina, "I remember," though she did not remember
"Well, I'm glad you've come back," went on the guest, politely.
Altogether in the manner of one invited to do so, she removed her shawl
and sat down, furtively eyeing Miss Evelina, yet affecting to look
carelessly about the house.
She was a woman of fifty or more, brisk and active of body and kindly,
though inquisitive, of countenance. Her dark hair, scarcely touched
with grey, was parted smoothly in the exact centre and plastered down
on both sides, as one guessed, by a brush and cold water. Her black
eyes were bright and keen, and her gold-bowed spectacles were
habitually worn half-way down her nose. Her mouth and chin were
indicative of great firmness--those whose misfortune it was to differ
from Miss Hitty were accustomed to call it obstinacy. People of
plainer speech said it was "mulishness."
Her gown was dark calico, stiffly starched, and made according to the
durable and comfortable pattern of her school-days. "All in one
piece," Miss Hitty was wont to say. "Then when I bend over, as folks
that does housework has to bend over, occasionally, I don't come apart
in the back. For my part, I never could see sense in wearing clothes
that's held by a safety-pin in the back instead of good, firm cloth,
and, moreover, a belt that either slides around or pinches where it
ain't pleasant to be pinched, ain't my notion of comfort. Apron
strings is bad enough, for you have to have 'em tight to keep from
slipping." Miss Hitty had never worn corsets, and had the straight,
slender figure of a boy.
The situation became awkward. Miss Evelina still stood in the middle
of the room, her veiled face slightly averted. The impenetrable
shelter of chiffon awed Miss Mehitable, but she was not a woman to give
up easily when embarked upon the quest for knowledge. Some unusual
state of mind kept her from asking a direct question about the veil,
and meanwhile she continually racked her memory.
Miss Evelina's white, slender hands opened and closed nervously. Miss
Hitty set her feet squarely on the floor, and tucked her immaculate
white apron closely about her knees. "When did you come?" she demanded
finally, with the air of the attorney for the prosecution.
"Last night," murmured Miss Evelina.
"On that late train?"
"I heard it stop, but I never sensed it was you. Seemed to me I heard
somebody go by, too, but I was too sleepy to get up and see. I thought
I must be dreaming, but I was sure I heard somebody on the walk. If
I'd known it was you, I'd have made you stop at my house for the rest
of the night, instead of coming up here alone."
"Very kind," said Miss Evelina, after an uncomfortable pause.
"You might as well set down," remarked Miss Hitty, with a new
gentleness of manner. "I'm going to set a spell."
Miss Evelina sat, helplessly, in the hair-cloth chair which she hated,
and turned her veiled face yet farther away from her guest. Seeing
that her hostess did not intend to talk, Miss Hitty began a
conversation, if anything wholly one-sided may be so termed.
"I live in the same place," she said. "Ma died seventeen years ago on
the eighteenth of next April, and left the house and the income for me.
There was enough to take care of two, and so I took my sister's child,
Araminta, to bring up. You know my poor sister got married. She ought
to have known better, but she didn't. She just put her head into the
noose, and it slipped up on her, as I told her it would, both before
and after the ceremony. Having seen all the trouble men make in the
world, I sh'd think women would know enough to keep away from 'em, but
they don't--that is, some women don't." Miss Hitty smoothed her stiff
white apron with an air of conscious virtue.
"Araminta was only a year old when her ma got enough of marrying and
went to her reward in Heaven. What she 'd been through would have
tried the patience of a saint, and Barbara wasn't no saint. None of
the Smith family have ever grown wings here on earth, but it's my
belief that we'll all be awarded our proper plumage in Heaven.
"He--" the pronoun was sufficiently definite to indicate Araminta's
hapless father--"was always tracking dirt into the clean kitchen, and
he had an appetite like a horse. Barbara would make a cake to set away
for company, and he'd gobble it all up at one meal just as if 't was a
doughnut. She was forever cooking and washing dishes and sweeping up
after him. When he come into the house, she'd run for the broom and
dustpan, and follow him around, sweeping up, and if you'll believe me,
the brute scolded her for it. He actually said once, in my presence,
that if he'd known how neat she was, he didn't believe he'd have
married her. That shows what men are--if it needs showing. It's no
wonder poor Barbara died. I hope there ain't any brooms in Heaven and
that she's havin' a good rest now.
"Araminta's goin' on nineteen, and she's a sensible girl, if I do say
it as shouldn't. She's never spoke to a man except to say 'yes' and
'no.' I've taught her to steer clear of 'em, and even when she was
only seven years old, she'd run if she saw one coming. She knows they
're pizen and I don't believe I'll ever have any cause to worry about
"I've got the minister boarding with me," pursued Miss Hitty,
undaunted, and cheerfully taking a fresh start. "Ministers don't
count, and I must say that, for a man, Mr. Thorpe is very little
trouble. He wipes his feet sometimes for as much as five minutes when
he's coming in, and mostly, when it's pleasant weather, he's out. When
he's in, he usually stays in his room, except at meals. He don't eat
much more 'n a canary, and likes what he eats, and don't need hardly
any pickin' up after, though a week ago last Saturday he left a collar
layin' on the bureau instead of putting it into his bag.
"I left it right where 't was, and Sunday morning he put it where it
belonged. He's never been married and he's learned to pick up after
himself. I wouldn't have had him, on Araminta's account, only that
there wasn't no other place for him to stay, and it was put to me by
the elders as being my Christian duty. I wouldn't have took him,
otherwise, and we've never had an unmarried minister before.
"Besides, Mr. Thorpe ain't pleasing the congregation, and I don't know
that he'll stay long. He's been here six months and three Sundays
over, and I've been to every single service, church and Sunday-school
and prayer-meeting, and he ain't never said one word about hell. It's
all of the joys of Heaven and a sure reward in the hereafter for
everybody that's done what they think is right--nothing much, mind you,
about what is right. Why, when Mr. Brewster was preaching for us, some
of the sinners would get up and run right out of the church when he got
started on hell and the lost souls writhin' in the flames. That was a
minister worth having.
"But Mr. Thorpe, now, he doesn't seem to have no sense of the duties of
his position. Week before last, I heard of his walkin' along the river
with Andy Rogers--arm in arm, if you'll believe me, with the worst
drunkard and chicken thief in town. The very idea of a minister
associatin' with sinners! Mr. Brewster would never have done that.
Why, Andy was one of them that run out of the church the day the
minister give us that movin' sermon on hell, and he ain't never dared
to show his face in a place of worship since.
"As I said, I don't think Mr. Thorpe 'll be with us long, for the
vestry and the congregation is getting dissatisfied. There ain't been
any open talk, except in the Ladies' Aid Society, but public opinion is
settin' pretty strongly in that direction." Miss Hitty dropped her
final g's when she got thoroughly interested in her subject and at
times became deeply involved in grammatical complications.
"Us older ones, that's strong in the faith, ain't likely to be injured
by it, I suppose, but there's always the young ones to be considered,
and it's highly important for Araminta to have the right kind of
influence. Of course Mr. Thorpe don't talk on religious subjects at
home, and I ain't let Araminta go to church the last two Sundays.
Meanwhile, I've talked hell to her stronger 'n common.
"But, upon my soul, I don't know what Rushton is comin' to. A month or
so ago, there was an outlandish, heathen character come here that beats
anything I've ever heard tell of. His name is Tom Barnaby and he's set
up a store on the edge of town, in the front parlour of Widow Simon's
house. She's went and rented it to him, and she says he pays his rent
"He wears leather leggings and a hat with a red feather stuck in it,
and he's gone into competition with Mrs. Allen, who's kept the
dry-goods here for the last twenty years.
"Of course," she went on, a little wistfully, "I've always patronised
Mrs. Allen, and I always shall. They do say Barnaby's goods is a great
deal cheaper, but I'd feel it my duty to buy of a woman, anyhow, even
though she has been married. She's been a widow for so long, it's most
the same as if she'd never been married at ail.
"Barnaby lives with a dog and does for himself, but he's hardly ever in
his store. People go there to buy things and find the door propped
open with a brick, and a sign says to come in and take what you want.
The price of everything is marked good and plain, and another sign says
to put the money in the drawer and make your own change. The
blacksmith was at him for doing business so shiftless, and Barnaby
laughed and said that if anybody wanted anything he had bad enough to
steal it, whoever it was, he was good and welcome to it. That just
shows how crazy he is. Most of the time he's roaming around the
country, with his yellow dog at his heels, making outlandish noises on
some kind of a flute. He can't play a tune, but he keeps trying.
Folks around here call him Piper Tom.
"Of course I wouldn't want Mrs. Allen to know, but I've thought that
sometime when he was away and there was nobody there to see, I'd just
step in for a few minutes and take a look at his goods. Elmiry Jones
says his calico is beautiful, and that for her part, she's going to
trade there instead of at Allen's. I suppose it is a temptation. I
might do it myself, if 't want for my principles."
The speaker paused for breath, but Miss Evelina still sat silently in
her chair. "What was it?" thought Miss Hitty. "I was here, and I knew
at the time, but what happened? How did I come to forget? I must be
She searched her memory without result. Her house was situated at the
crossroads, and, being on higher ground, commanded a good view of the
village below. Gradually, her dooryard had become a sort of clearing
house for neighbourhood gossip. Travellers going and coming stopped at
Miss Hitty's to drink from the moss-grown well, give their bit of news,
and receive, in return, the scandal of the countryside. Had it not
been for the faithful and industrious Miss Mehitable, the town might
have needed a daily paper.
"Strange I can't think," she said to herself. "I don't doubt it'll
come to me, though. Something happened to Evelina, and she went away,
and her mother went with her to take care of her, and then her mother
died, all at once, of heart failure. It happened the same week old
Mis' Hicks had a doctor from the city for an operation, and the
Millerses barn was struck by lightning and burnt up, and so I s'pose
it's no wonder I've sorter lost track of it."
Miss Evelina's veiled face was wholly averted now, and Miss Hitty
studied her shrewdly. She noted that the black gown was well-worn, and
had, indeed, been patched in several places. The shoes which tapped
impatiently on the floor were undeniably shabby, though they had been
carefully blacked. Against the unrelieved sombreness of her gown.
Miss Evelina's hands were singularly frail and transparent. Every line
of her body was eloquent of weakness and well-nigh insupportable grief.
"Well," said Miss Hitty, again, though she felt that the words were
flat; "I'm glad you've come back. It seems like old times for us to be
settin' here, talkin', and--" here she laughed shrilly--"we've both
been spared marriage."
A small, slender hand clutched convulsively at the arm of the haircloth
chair, but Miss Evelina did not speak.
"I see," went on Miss Hitty, not unkindly, "that you're still in
mourning for your mother. You mustn't take it so hard. Sometimes
folks get to feeling so sorry about something that they can't never get
over it, and they keep on going round and round all the time like a
squirrel in a wheel, and keep on getting weaker till it gets to be a
kind of disease there ain't no cure for. Leastwise, that's what Doctor
"Doctor Dexter!" With a cry, Miss Evelina sprang to her feet, her
hands tightly pressed to her heart.
"The same," nodded Miss Hitty, overjoyed to discover that at last her
hostess was interested. "Doctor Anthony Dexter, our old schoolmate, as
had just graduated when you lived here before. He went away for a year
and then he came back, bringing a pretty young wife. She's dead, but
he has a son, Ralph, who's away studying to be a doctor. He'll
graduate this Spring and then he's coming here to help his father with
his practice. Doctor Dexter's getting old, like the rest of us, and he
don't like the night work. Some folks is inconsiderate enough to get
sick in the night. They orter have regular hours for it, same as a
doctor has hours for business. Things would fit better.
"Well, I must be going, for I left soup on the stove, and Araminta's
likely as not to let it burn. I'm going to send your supper over to
you, and next week, if the weather's favourable, we'll clean this
house. Goodness knows it needs it. I'd just as soon send over all
your meals till you get settled--'t wouldn't be any trouble. Or, you
can come over to my house if you wouldn't mind eating with the
minister. It seems queer to set down to the table with a man, and not
altogether natural, but I'm beginning to get used to it, and it gives
us the advantage of a blessing, and, anyway, ministers don't count.
Come over when you can. Goodbye!"
With a rustle of stiffly starched garments Miss Mehitable took her
departure, carefully closing the door and avoiding the appearance of
haste. This was an effort, for every fibre of her being ached to get
back to the clearing house, where she might speculate upon Evelina's
return. It was her desire, also, to hunt up the oldest inhabitant
before nightfall and correct her pitiful lapse of memory.
At the same time, she was planning to send Araminta over with a nice
hot supper, for Miss Evelina seemed to be far from strong, and, even to
one lacking in discernment, acutely unhappy.
Down the road she went, her head bowed in deep and fruitless thought.
Swiftly, as in a lightning flash, and without premonition, she
"Evelina was burnt," she said to herself, triumphantly, "over to Doctor
Dexter's, and they took her on the train to the hospital. I guess she
wears that veil all the time."
Then Miss Hitty stopped at her own gate, catching her breath quickly.
"She must have been burnt awful," she thought. "Poor soul!" she
murmured, her sharp eyes softening with tears. "Poor soul!"
A rap at the door roused Miss Evelina from a deadly stupor which seemed
stabbed through with daggers of pain. She sat quite still, determined
not to open the door. Presently, she heard the sound of retreating
footsteps, and was reassured. Then she saw a bit of folded paper which
had been slipped under the door, and, mechanically, she picked it up.
"Here's your supper," the note read, briefly. "When you get done,
leave the tray outside. I'll come and get it. I would like to have
you come over if you want to.--Mehitable Smith."
Touched by the unexpected kindness, Miss Evelina took in the tray.
There was a bowl of soup, steaming hot, a baked potato, a bit of thin
steak, fried, in country fashion, two crisp, buttered rolls, and a pot
of tea. Faint and sick of heart, she pushed it aside, then in simple
justice to Miss Hitty, tasted of the soup. A little later, she put the
tray out on the doorstep again, having eaten as she had not eaten for
She considered the chain of circumstances that had led her back to
Rushton. First, the knowledge that Doctor Dexter had left the place
for good. She had heard of that, long ago, but, until now, no one had
told her that he had returned. She had thought it impossible for him
ever to return--even to think of it again,
Otherwise--here the thread of her thought snapped, and she clutched at
the vial of laudanum which, as always, was in the bag at her belt. She
perceived that the way of escape was closed to her. Broken in spirit
though she was, she was yet too proud to die like a dog at Anthony
Dexter's door, even after five-and-twenty years.
Bitterest need alone had driven her to take the step which she so
keenly regretted now. The death of her mother, hastened by misfortune,
had left her with a small but certain income, paid regularly from two
separate sources. One source had failed without warning, and her
slender legacy was cut literally in two. Upon the remaining half she
must eke out the rest of her existence, if she continued to exist at
all. It was absolutely necessary for her to come back to the one
shelter which she could call her own.
Weary, despairing, and still in the merciless grip of her obsession,
she had come--only to find that Anthony Dexter had long since preceded
her. A year afterward, Miss Hitty said, he had come back, with a
pretty young wife. And he had a son.
The new knowledge hurt, and Evelina had fancied that she could be hurt
no more, that she had reached the uttermost limits of pain. By a
singular irony, the last refuge was denied her at the very moment of
her greatest temptation to avail herself of it. Long hours of thought
led her invariably to the one possible conclusion--to avoid every one,
keep wholly to herself, and, by starvation, if need be, save enough of
her insignificant pittance to take her far away. And after
Since the night of full realisation which had turned her brown hair to
a dull white she had thought of death in but one way--escape. Set free
from the insufferable bondage of earthly existence. Miss Evelina
dreamed of peace as a prisoner in a dungeon may dream of green fields.
To sleep and wake no more, never to feel again the cold hand upon her
heart that tore persistently at the inmost fibres of it, to forget----
Miss Evelina took the vial from her bag and uncorked it. The incense
of the poppies crept subtly through the room, mingling inextricably
with the mustiness and the dust. The grey cobwebs swayed at the
windows, sunset touching them to iridescence. Conscious that she was
the most desolate and lonely thing in all the desolate house, Miss
Evelina buried her face in her hands.
The poppies breathed from the vial. In her distorted fancy, she saw
vast plains of them, shimmering in the sun--scarlet like the lips of a
girl, pink as the flush of dawn upon the eastern sky, blood-red as the
passionate heart that never dreamed of betrayal.
The sun was shining on the field of poppies and Miss Evelina walked
among them, her face unveiled. Golden masses of bloom were spread at
her feet, starred here and there by stately blossoms as white as the
blown snow. Her ragged garments touched the silken petals, her worn
shoes crushed them, bud and blossom alike. Always, the numbing, sleepy
odour came from the field. Dew was on the petals of the flowers; their
deep cups gathered it and held it, never to be surrendered, since the
dew of the poppies was tears.
Like some evil genius rising from the bottle, the Spirit of the Poppies
seemed to incarnate itself in the vapour. A woman with a face of
deadly white arose to meet Miss Evelina, with outspread arms. In her
eyes was Lethe, in her hands was the gift of forgetfulness. She
brought pardon for all that was past and to come, eternal healing,
unfathomable oblivion. "Come," the drowsy voice seemed to say. "I
have waited long and yet you do not come. The peace that passeth all
understanding is mine to give and yours to take. Come--only come!
Miss Evelina laughed bitterly. Never in all the years gone by had the
Spirit of the Poppies pleaded with her thus. Now, at the hour when
surrender meant the complete triumph of her enemy, the ghostly figure
came to offer her the last and supreme gift.
The afterglow yet lingered in the west. The grey of a March twilight
was in the valley, but it was still late afternoon on the summit of the
hill. Miss Evelina drew her veil about her and went out into the
garden, the vial in her hand.
Where was it that she had planted the poppies? Through the mass of
undergrowth and brambles, she made scant headway. Thorns pressed
forward rudely as if to stab the intruder. Vines, closely matted,
forbade her to pass, yet she kept on until she reached the western
slope of the garden.
Here, unshaded, and in the full blaze of the Summer sun, the poppies
had spread their brilliant pageantry. In all the village there had
been no such poppies as grew in Evelina's garden. Now they were dead
and only the overgrown stubble was left.
"Dust to dust, earth to earth, and ashes to ashes." The solemn words
of the burial service were chanted in her consciousness as she lifted
the vial high and emptied it. She held it steadily until the last drop
was drained from it. The poppies had given it and to the poppies she
had returned it. She put the cork into the empty vial and flung it far
away from her, then turned back to the house.
There was a sound of wheels upon the road. Miss Evelina hastened her
steps, but the dense undergrowth made walking difficult. Praying that
she might not be seen, she turned her head.
Anthony Dexter, in the doctor's carriage, was travelling at a leisurely
pace. As he passed the old house, he glanced at it mechanically, from
sheer force of habit. Long ago, it had ceased to have any definite
meaning for him. Once he had even stripped every white rose from the
neglected bush at the gate, to take to his wife, who, that day, for the
first time, had held their son in her arms.
Motionless in the wreck of the garden, a veiled figure stood with
averted face. Doctor Dexter looked keenly for an instant in the fast
gathering twilight, then whipped up his horse, and was swiftly out of
sight. Against his better judgment, he was shaken in mind and body.
Could he have seen a ghost? Nonsense! He was tired, he had
overworked, he had had an hallucination. His cool, calm, professional
sense fought with the insistent idea. It was well that Ralph was
coming to relieve his old father of a part of his burden.
Meanwhile, Miss Evelina, her frail body quivering as though under the
lash, crept back into the house. With the sure intuition of a woman,
she knew who had driven by in the first darkness. That he should dare!
That he should actually trespass upon her road; take the insolent
liberty of looking at her house!
"A pretty young wife," Miss Hitty had said. Yes, doubtless a pretty
one. Anthony Dexter delighted in the beauty of a woman in the same
impersonal way that another man would regard a picture. And a son. A
straight, tall young fellow, doubtless, with eyes like his
father's--eyes that a woman would trust, not dreaming of the false
heart and craven soul. Why had she been brought here to suffer this
last insult, this last humiliation? Weakly, as many a woman before
her, Miss Evelina groped in the maze of Life, searching for some clue
to its blind mystery.
Was it possible that she had not suffered enough? If five-and-twenty
years of sodden misery were not sufficient for one who had done no
wrong, what punishment would be meted out to a sinner by a God who was
always kind? Miss Evelina's lips curled scornfully. She had taken
what he should have borne--Anthony Dexter had gone scot free.
"The man sins and the woman pays." The cynical saying, which, after
all, is not wholly untrue, took shape in her thought and said
itself--aloud. Yet it was not altogether impossible that he might yet
be made to pay--could be--
Her cheeks burned and her hands closed tightly. What if she were the
chosen instrument? What if she had been sent here, after all the dead,
miserable years, for some purpose which hitherto she had not guessed?
What if she, herself, with her veiled face, were to be the tardy
avenger of her own wrong? Her soul stirred in its despair as the dead
might stir in the winding sheet. Out of her sodden grief, could she
"The fire was kind," said Miss Evelina, in a whisper. "It showed me
the truth. The fire was kind and God is kind. He has brought me here
to pay my debt--in full."
She began to consider what she might do that would hurt Anthony Dexter
and make him suffer as she had suffered for half a lifetime. If he had
forgotten, she would make him remember--ah, yes, he must remember
before he could be hurt. But what could she do? What had he given her
aside from the misery that she hungered to give back to him?
The pearls! Miss Evelina lighted her candle and hurried upstairs.
In her dower chest, beneath the piles of heavy, yellowed linen, was a
small jewel case. She knelt before the chest, gasping, and thrust her
questioning fingers down through the linen to the solid oak. With a
little cry, she rose to her feet, the jewel case in her hand.
The purple velvet was crushed, the satin was yellowed, but the string
of pearls was there--yellowed, too, by the slow passage of the years.
One or two of them were black. A slip of paper fluttered out as she
opened the case, and she caught it as it fell. The paper was yellow
and brittle and the ink had faded, but the words were still there,
written in Anthony Dexter's clear, bold hand; "First from the depths of
the sea, and then from the depths of my love."
"Depths!" muttered Miss Evelina, from between her clenched teeth.
Once the necklace had been beautiful--a single strand of large,
perfectly matched pearls. The gold of the clasp was dull, but the
diamond gleamed like the eye of some evil thing. She wound the
necklace twice about her wrist, then shuddered, for it was cold and
smooth and sinuous, like a snake.
She coiled the discoloured necklace carefully upon its yellowed satin
bed, laid the folded slip of paper over it, and closed it with a snap.
To-morrow--no, this very night, Anthony Dexter should have the pearls,
that had come first from the depths of the sea, and then from the
depths of his love.
No hand but hers should give them back, for she saw it written in the
scheme of vengeance that she herself should, mutely, make him pay. She
felt a new strength of body and a fresh clearness of mind as, with grim
patience, she set herself to wait.
The clocks in the house were all still. Miss Evelina's watch had long
ago been sold. There was no town clock in the village, but the train
upon which she had come was due shortly after midnight. She knew every
step of the way by dark as well as by daylight, but the night was clear
and there would be the light of the dying moon,
Her own clouded skies were clearing. Dimly she began to perceive
herself as a part of things, not set aside helplessly to suffer
eternally, but in some sort of relation to the rest of the world.
On the Sunday before the catastrophe, Miss Evelina had been to church,
and even yet, she remembered fragments of the sermon. "God often uses
people to carry out His plans," the minister had said. At the time, it
had not particularly impressed her, and she had never gone to church
again. If she had listened further, she might have heard the minister
say that the devil was wont to do the same thing.
Minute by minute, the hours passed. Miss Evelina's heart was beating
painfully, but, all unknowingly, she had entered upon a new phase. She
had turned in the winding sheet of her own weaving, and her hands were
clutching at the binding fabric.
At last, the train came in. It did not stop, but thundered through the
sleeping village, shrieking as it went. The sound died into a distant
rumble, then merged into the stillness of the night. Miss Evelina rose
from her chair, put on her wraps, slipped the jewel case into her bag,
and went out, closely veiled.
The light of the waning moon was dim and, veiled as she was, she felt
rather than saw the way. Steadfastly, she went down the steep road,
avoiding the sidewalk, for she remembered that Miss Mehitable's ears
were keen. Past the crossroads, to the right, down into the village,
across the tracks, then sharply to the left--the way was the same, but
the wayfarer was sadly changed.
She went unemotionally, seeing herself a divinely appointed instrument
of vengeance. Something outside her obsession had its clutch upon her
also, but it was new, and she did not guess that it was fully as
Doctor Dexter's house was near the corner on a shaded street. At the
gate. Miss Evelina paused and, with her veil lifted, carefully
scrutinised the house for a possible light. She feared that some one
might be stirring, late as it was, but the old housekeeper always went
to bed promptly at nine, and on this particular night, Anthony Dexter
had gone to his room at ten, making sleep sure by a drug.
With hushed steps, Miss Evelina went furtively up to the house on the
bare earth beside the brick pavement. She was in a panic of fear, but
something beyond her control urged her on. Reaching the steps, she
hesitated, baffled for the moment, then sank to her knees. Slowly she
crept to the threshold, placed the jewel case so that it would fall
inward when the door was opened, and started back. Instinct bade her
hurry, but reason made her cautious. She forced herself to walk slowly
and to muffle the latch of the gate with her skirts as she had done
when she came in.
It seemed an hour before she crossed the tracks again, at the deserted
point she had chosen, but, in reality, it was only a few minutes. At
last she reached home, utterly exhausted by the strain she had put upon
herself. She had seen no one, heard no footstep save her own; she had
gone and returned as mysteriously as the night itself.
When she slept, she dreamed of the poppy bed on the western slope of
the garden. It was twilight, and she stood there with a vial of
laudanum in one hand and a necklace of discoloured pearls in the other.
She poured the laudanum upon the earth and a great black poppy with a
deadly fragrance sprang up at her feet. Then Anthony Dexter drove up
in a carriage and took the pearls away from her. She could not see him
clearly, because his face was veiled, like her own.
The odour of the black poppy made her faint and she went into the house
to escape from it, but the scent of it clung to her garments and hands
and could not be washed away.
"From the Depths of his Love"
At seven o'clock, precisely, Anthony Dexter's old housekeeper rang the
rising bell. Drowsy with the soporific he had taken, the doctor did
not at once respond to the summons. In fact, the breakfast bell had
rung before he was fully awake.
He dressed leisurely, and was haunted by a vague feeling that something
unpleasant had happened. At length he remembered that just before
dusk, in the garden of Evelina Grey's old house, he had seen a ghost--a
ghost who confronted him mutely with a thing he had long since
"It was subjective, purely," mused Anthony Dexter. "I have been
working too hard." His reason was fully satisfied with the plausible
explanation, but he was not a man who was likely to have an
hallucination of any sort.
He was strong and straight of body, finely muscular, and did not look
over forty, though it was more than eight years ago that he had reached
the fortieth milestone. His hair was thinning a little at the temples
and the rest of it was touched generously with grey. His features were
regular and his skin clear. A full beard, closely cropped, hid the
weakness of his chin, but did not entirely conceal those fine lines
about the mouth which mean cruelty.
Someway, in looking at him, one got the impression of a machine,
well-nigh perfect of its kind. His dark eyes were sharp and
penetrating. Once they had been sympathetic, but he had outgrown that.
His hands were large, white, and well-kept, his fingers knotted, and
blunt at the tips. He had, pre-eminently, the hand of the surgeon,
capable of swiftness and strength, and yet of delicacy. It was not a
hand that would tremble easily; it was powerful and, in a way, brutal.
He was thoroughly self-satisfied, as well he might be, for the entire
countryside admitted his skill, and even in the operating rooms of the
hospitals in the city not far distant. Doctor Dexter's name was well
known. He had thought seriously, at times, of seeking a wider field,
but he liked the country and the open air, and his practice would give
Ralph the opportunity he needed. At his father's death, the young
physician would fail heir to a practice which had taken many years of
hard work to build up.
At the thought of Ralph, the man's face softened a trifle and his keen
eyes became a little less keen. The boy's picture was before him upon
his chiffonier. Ralph was twenty-three now and would finish in a few
weeks at a famous medical school--Doctor Dexter's own alma mater. He
had not been at home since he entered the school, having undertaken to
do in three years the work which usually required four.
He wrote frequently, however, and Doctor Dexter invariably went to the
post-office himself on the days Ralph's letters were expected. He had
the entire correspondence on file and whiled away many a lonely evening
by reading and re-reading the breezy epistles. The last one was in his
"To think, Father," Ralph had written, "in three weeks more or less, I
shall be at home with my sheepskin and a fine new shingle with 'Dr.
Ralph Dexter' painted on it, all ready to hang up on the front of the
house beside yours. I'll be glad to get out of the grind for a while,
I can tell you that. I've worked as His Satanic Majesty undoubtedly
does when he receives word that a fresh batch of Mormons has hit the
trail for the good-intentions pavement. _Decensus facilis Averni_.
That's about all the Latin I've got left.
"At first, I suppose, there won't be much for me to do. I'll have to
win the confidence of the community by listening to the old ladies'
symptoms three or four hours a day, regularly. Finally, they'll let me
vaccinate the kids and the rest will be pitifully easy. Kids always
like me, for some occult reason, and if the children cry for me, it
won't be long till I've got your whole blooming job away from you.
Never mind, though, dad--I'll be generous and whack up, as you've
always done with me."
Remembering the boyishness of it, Anthony Dexter smiled a little and
took another satisfying look at the pictured face before him. Ralph's
eyes were as his father's had been--frank and friendly and clear, with
no hint of suspicion. His chin was firm and his mouth determined, but
the corners of it turned up decidedly, and the upper lip was short.
The unprejudiced observer would have seen merely an honest,
intelligent, manly young fellow, who looked as if he might be good
company. Anthony Dexter saw all this--and a great deal more.
It was his pride that he was unemotional. By rigid self-discipline, he
had wholly mastered himself. His detachment from his kind was at first
spasmodic, then exceptionally complete. Excepting Ralph, his relation
to the world was that of an unimpassioned critic. He was so sure of
his own ground that he thought he considered Ralph impersonally, also.
Over a nature which, at the beginning, was warmly human, Doctor Dexter
had laid this glacial mask. He did what he had to do with neatness and
dispatch. If an operation was necessary, he said so at once, not
troubling himself to approach the subject gradually. If there was
doubt as to the outcome, he would cheerfully advise the patient to make
a will first, but there was seldom doubt, for those white, blunt
fingers were very sure. He believed in the clean-cut, sudden stroke,
and conducted his life upon that basis.
Without so much as the quiver of an eyelash, Anthony Dexter could tell
a man that within an hour his wife would be dead. He could predict the
death of a child, almost to the minute, without a change in his
mask-like expression, and feel a faint throb of professional pride when
his prediction was precisely fulfilled. The people feared him,
respected him, and admired his skill, but no one loved him except his
Among all his acquaintances, there was none who called him friend
except Austin Thorpe, the old minister who had but lately come to town.
This, in itself, was no distinction, for Thorpe was the friend of every
man, woman, child, and animal in the village. No two men could have
been more unlike, but friendship, like love, is often a matter of
chemical affinity, wherein opposites rush together in obedience to a
The broadly human creed of the minister included every living thing,
and the man himself interested Doctor Dexter in much the same way that
a new slide for his microscope might interest him. They exchanged
visits frequently when the duties of both permitted, and the Doctor
reflected that, when Ralph came, Thorpe would be lonely.
The Dexter house was an old one but it had been kept in good repair.
From time to time, wings had been added to the original structure,
until now it sprawled lazily in every direction. One wing, at the
right of the house, contained the Doctor's medical library, office,
reception room, and laboratory. Doors were arranged in metropolitan
fashion, so that patients might go out of the office without meeting
any one. The laboratory, at the back of the wing, was well fitted with
modern appliances for original research, and had, too, its own outside
When Ralph came home, the other wing, at the left of the house, was to
be arranged in like manner for him if he so desired. Doctor Dexter had
some rough drawings under consideration, but wanted Ralph to order the
plans in accordance with his own ideas.
The breakfast bell rang again, and Doctor Dexter went downstairs. The
servant met him in the hall. "Breakfast is waiting, sir," she said.
"All right," returned the Doctor, absently. "I'll be there in a
He opened the door for a breath of fresh air, and immediately perceived
the small, purple velvet box at his feet. He picked it up,
wonderingly, and opened it.
Inside were the discoloured pearls on their bed of yellowed satin, and
the ivory-tinted slip of paper on which he had written, so long ago, in
his clear, boyish hand: "First, from the depths of the sea, and then
from the depths of my love."
Being unemotional, he experienced nothing at first, save natural
surprise. He stood there, staring into vacancy, idly fingering the
pearls. By some evil magic of the moment, the hour seemed set back a
full quarter of a century. As though it were yesterday, he saw Evelina
She had been a girl of extraordinary beauty and charm. He had
travelled far and seen many, but there had been none like Evelina. How
he had loved her, in those dead yesterdays, and how she had loved him!
The poignant sweetness of it came back, changed by some fatal alchemy
Anthony Dexter had seen enough of the world to recognise cowardice when
he saw it, even in himself. His books had taught him that the mind
could hold but one thought at a time, and, persistently, he had
displaced the unpleasant ones which constantly strove for the right of
Hard work and new love and daily wearying of the body to the point of
exhaustion had banished those phantoms of earlier years, save in his
dreams. At night, the soul claims its own--its right to suffer for its
secret sins, its shirking, its betrayals.
It is not pleasant for a man to be branded, in his own consciousness, a
coward. Refusal to admit it by day does not change the hour of the
night when life is at its lowest ebb, and, sleepless, man faces himself
as he is.
The necklace slipped snakily over his hand--one of those white, firm
hands which could guide the knife so well--and Anthony Dexter
shuddered. He flung the box far from him into the shrubbery, went back
into the house, and slammed the door.
He sat down at the table, but could not eat. The Past had come from
its grave, veiled, like the ghost in the garden that he had seen
It was not an hallucination, then. Only one person in the world could
have laid those discoloured pearls at his door in the dead of night.
The black figure in the garden, with the chiffon fluttering about its
head, was Evelina Grey--or what was left of her.
"Why?" he questioned uneasily of himself. "Why?" He had repeatedly
told himself that any other man, in his position, would do as he had
done, yet it was as though some one had slipped a stiletto under his
armour and found a vulnerable spot.
Before his mental vision hovered two women. One was a girl of twenty,
laughing, exquisitely lovely. The other was a bent and broken woman in
black, whose veil concealed the dreadful hideousness of her face.
"Pshaw!" grumbled Doctor Dexter, aloud. "I've overworked, that's all."
He determined to vanquish the spectre that had reared itself before
him, not perceiving that Remorse incarnate, in the shape of Evelina,
had come back to haunt him until his dying day.
"Araminta," said Miss Mehitable, "go and get your sewing and do your
"Yes, Aunt Hitty," answered the girl, obediently.
Each year, Araminta made a new patchwork quilt. Seven were neatly
folded and put away in an old trunk in the attic. The eighth was
progressing well, but the young seamstress was becoming sated with
quilts. She had never been to school, but Miss Mehitable had taught
her all she knew. Unkind critics might have intimated that Araminta
had not been taught much, but she could sew nicely, keep house
neatly, and write a stilted letter in a queer, old-fashioned hand
almost exactly like Miss Mehitable's.
That valiant dame saw no practical use in further knowledge. She was
concerned with no books except the Bible and the ancient ledger in
which, with painstaking exactness, she kept her household accounts.
She deemed it wise, moreover, that Araminta should not know too much.
From a drawer in the high, black-walnut bureau in the upper hall,
Araminta drew forth an assortment of red, white, and blue cotton
squares and diamonds. This was to be a "patriotic" quilt, made after
a famous old pattern which Miss Hitty had selfishly refused to give
to any one else, though she had often been asked for it by
contemporary ladies of similar interests.
The younger generation was inclined to scout at quilt-making, and
needlework heresy was rampant in the neighbourhood. Tatting,
crocheting, and knitting were on the wane. An "advanced" woman who
had once spent a Summer in the village had spread abroad the delights
of Battenberg and raised embroidery. At all of these, Miss Hitty
"Quilt makin' was good enough for their mas and their grandmas," she
said scornfully, "and I reckon it's good enough for anybody else.
I've no patience with such things."
Araminta knew that. She had never forgotten the vial of wrath which
broke upon her luckless head the day she had timorously suggested
making lace as a pleasing change from unending quilts.
She sat now, in a low rocker by the window, with one foot upon a
wobbly stool. A marvellous cover, of Aunt Hitty's making, which
dated back to her frivolous and girlish days, was underneath. Nobody
ever saw it, however, and the gaudy woollen roses blushed unseen. A
white linen cover, severely plain, was put upon the footstool every
Wednesday and every Saturday, year in and year out.
Unlike most good housewives, Miss Mehitable used her parlour every
day in the week. She was obliged to, in fact, for it was the only
room in her house, except Mr. Thorpe's, which commanded an
unobstructed view of the crossroads. A cover of brown denim
protected the carpet, and the chairs were shrouded in shapeless
habiliments of cambric and calico. For the rest, however, the room
was mildly cheerful, and had a habitable look which was distinctly
uncommon in village parlours.
There was a fireplace, which was dusted and scrubbed at intervals,
but never, under any circumstances, profaned by a fire. It was
curtained by a gay remnant of figured plush, however, so nobody
missed the fire. White and gold china vases stood on the mantel, and
a little china dog, who would never have dared to bark had he been
alive, so chaste and humble of countenance was he, sat forever
between the two vases, keeping faithful guard over Miss Mehitable's
The silver coffin plates of the Smiths, matted with black, and deeply
framed, occupied the place of honour over the mantel. On the
marble-topped table in the exact centre of the room was a basket of
wax flowers and fruit, covered by a bell-shaped glass shade. Miss
Hitty's album and her Bible were placed near it with mathematical
precision. On the opposite wall was a hair wreath, made from the
shorn locks of departed Smiths by Miss Hitty's mother. The proud
possessor felt a covert reproach in the fact that she herself was
unable to make hair wreaths. It was a talent for which she had great
Araminta rocked back and forth in her low chair by the window. She
hummed a bit of "Sweet Bye and Bye" to herself, for hymns were the
only songs she knew. She could play some of them, with one hand, on
the melodeon in the corner, but she dared not touch the yellow keys
of the venerated instrument except when Miss Hitty was out.
The sunlight shone lovingly on Araminta's brown hair, tightly combed
back, braided, and pinned up, but rippling riotously, none the less.
Her deep, thoughtful eyes were grey and her nose turned up
coquettishly. To a guardian of greater penetration, Araminta's mouth
would have given deep concern. It was a demure, rosy mouth, warning
and tantalising by turns. Mischievous little dimples lurked in the
corners of it, and even Aunt Hitty was not proof against the magic of
Araminta's smile. The girl's face had the creamy softness of a white
rose petal, but her cheeks bloomed with the flush of health and she
had a most disconcerting trick of blushing. With Spartan
thoroughness, Miss Mehitable constantly strove to cure Araminta of
this distressing fault, but as yet she had not succeeded.
The pretty child had grown into an exquisitely lovely woman, to her
stern guardian's secret uneasiness. "It's goin' to be harder to keep
Minty right than 't would be if she was plain," mused Miss Hitty,
"but t guess I'll be given strength to do it. I've done well by her
"In the Sweet Bye and Bye," sang Araminta, in a piping, girlish
soprano, "we shall meet on that beautiful shore."
"Maybe we shall and maybe we sha'n't," said Miss Hitty, grimly.
"Some folks 'll never see the beautiful shore. They'll go to the bad
Araminta lifted her great, grey, questioning eyes. "Why?" she asked,
"Because they've been bad," answered Miss Hitty, defiantly.
"But if they didn't know any better?" queried Araminta, threading her
needle. "Would they go to the bad place just because they didn't
Miss Mehitable squirmed in her chair, for never before had Araminta
spoken thus. "There's no excuse for their not knowin'," she said,
"Perhaps not," sighed Araminta, "but it seems dreadful to think of
people being burned up just for ignorance. Do you think I'll be
burned up, Aunt Hitty?" she continued, anxiously. "There's so many
things I don't know!"
Miss Mehitable set herself firmly to her task. "Araminta Lee," she
said, harshly, "don't get to bothering about what you don't know.
That's the sure way to perdition. I've told you time and time again
what's right for you to believe and what's right for you to do. You
walk in that path and turn neither to the right nor the left, and you
won't have no trouble--here or anywheres else."
"Yes, Aunt Hitty," said the girl, dutifully. "It must be awful to be
Miss Mehitable looked about her furtively, then drew her chair closer
to Araminta's. "That brings to my mind something I wanted to speak
to you about, and I don't know but what this is as good a chance as
any. You know where I told you to go the other day with the tray,
and to set it down at the back door, and rap, and run?"
"Yes." Araminta's eyes were wide open now. She had wondered much at
her mysterious errand, but had not dared to ask questions.
"Well," continued Aunt Hitty, after an aggravating pause, "the woman
that lives in that house has been burnt."
Araminta gasped. "Oh, Aunt Hitty, was she bad? What did she do and
how did she get burned before she was dead?"
Miss Mehitable brushed aside the question as though it were an
annoying fly. "I don't want it talked of," she said, severely.
"Evelina Grey was a friend of mine, and she is yet. If there's
anything on earth I despise, it's a gossip. People who haven't
anything better to do than to go around prying into other folks's
affairs are better off dead, I take it. My mother never permitted me
to gossip, and I've held true to her teachin'." Aunt Hitty smoothed
her skirts with superior virtue and tied a knot in her thread.
"How did she get burned?" asked Araminta, eagerly.
"Gossip," said Miss Mehitable, sententiously, "does a lot of harm and
makes a lot of folks miserable. It's a good thing to keep away from,
and if I ever hear of your gossiping about anybody, I'll shut you up
in your room for two weeks and keep you on bread and water."
Araminta trembled. "What is gossiping, Aunt Hitty?" she asked in a
timid, awe-struck tone.
"Talking about folks," explained Miss Hitty. "Tellin' things about
'em they wouldn't tell themselves."
It occurred to Araminta that much of the conversation at the
crossroads might appropriately be classed under that head, but, of
course, Aunt Hitty knew what she was talking about. She remembered
the last quilting Aunt Hitty had given, when the Ladies' Aid Society
had been invited, en masse, to finish off the quilt Araminta's
rebellious fingers had just completed. One of the ladies had been
obliged to leave earlier than the rest, and----
"I don't believe," thought Araminta, "that Mrs. Gardner would have
told how her son ran away from home, nor that she didn't dust her bed
slats except at house-cleaning time, nor that they ate things other
people would give to the pigs."
"I expect there'll be a lot of questions asked about Evelina,"
observed Miss Mehitable, breaking in rudely upon Araminta's train of
thought, "as soon 's folks finds out she's come back to live here,
and that she has to wear a veil all the time, even when she doesn't
wear her hat. What I'm telling you for is to show you what happens
to women that haven't sense enough to keep away from men. If Evelina
'd kept away from Doctor Dexter, she wouldn't have got burnt."
"Did Doctor Dexter burn her?" asked Araminta, breathlessly. "I
thought it was God."
At the psychological moment, Doctor Dexter drove by, bowing to Miss
Mehitable as he passed. Araminta had observed that this particular
event always flustered her aunt.
"Maybe, it was God and maybe it was Doctor Dexter," answered Miss
Mehitable, quickly. "That's something there don't nobody know except
Evelina and Doctor Dexter, and it's not for me to ask either one of
'em, though I don't doubt some of the sewin' society 'll make an
errand to Evelina's to find out. I've got to keep 'em off 'n her, if
I can, and that's a big job for one woman to tackle.
"Anyhow, she got burnt and got burnt awful, and it was at his house
that it happened. It was shameless, the way Evelina carried on.
Why, if you'll believe me, she'd actually go to his house when there
wa'n't no need of it--nobody sick, nor no medicine to be bought, nor
anything. Some said they was goin' to be married."
The scorn which Miss Mehitable managed to throw into the word
"married" indicated that the state was the crowning ignominy of the
race. The girl's cheek flamed into crimson, for her own mother had
been married, and everybody knew it. Sometimes the deep disgrace
seemed almost too much for Araminta to endure.
"That's what comes of it," explained Miss Hitty, patiently, as a
teacher might point to a demonstration clearly made out on a
blackboard for an eager class. "If she'd stayed at home as a girl
should stay, and hadn't gone to Doctor Dexter's, she wouldn't have
got burnt. Anybody can see that.
"There was so much goin' on at the time that I sorter lost track of
everything, otherwise I'd have known more about it, but I guess I
know as much as anybody ever knew. Evelina was to Doctor
Dexter's--shameless hussy that she was--and she got burnt. She was
there all the afternoon and they took her to the hospital in the city
on the night train and she stayed there until she was well, but she
never came back here until just now. Her mother went with her to
take care of her and before Evelina came out of the hospital, her
mother keeled over and died. Sarah Grey always had a weak heart and
a weak head to match it. If she hadn't have had, she'd have brought
up Evelina different,
"Neither of 'em was ever in the house again. Neither one ever came
back, even for their clothes. They had plenty of money, then, and
they just bought new ones. When the word come that Evelina was
burnt, Sarah Grey just put on her hat and locked her doors and run up
to Doctor Dexter's. Nobody ever heard from them again until Jim
Gardner's second cousin on his father's side sent a paper with Sarah
Grey's obituary in it. And now, after twenty-five years, Evelina's
"The poor soul's just sittin' there, in all the dust and cobwebs.
When I get time, I aim to go over there and clean up the house for
her--'t ain't decent for a body to live like that. I'll take you
with me, to help scrub, and what I'm telling you all this for is so
's you won't ask any questions, nor act as if you thought it was
queer for a woman to wear a white veil all the time. You'll have to
act as if nothing was out of the way at all, and not look at her any
more than you can help. Just pretend it's the style to wear a veil
pinned to your hair all the time, and you've been wearin' one right
along and have forgot and left it to home. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Aunt Hitty."
"And when people come here to find out about it, you're not to say
anything. Leave it all to me. 'T ain't necessary for you to lie,
but you can keep your mouth shut. And I hope you see now what it
means to a woman to walk straight on her own path that the Lord has
laid out for her, and to let men alone. They're pizen, every one of
Nun-like, Araminta sat in her chair and sewed steadily at her dainty
seam, but, none the less, she was deeply stirred with pity for women
who so forgot themselves--who had not Aunt Hitty's superior wisdom.
At the end of the prayer which Miss Mehitable had taught the child,
and which the woman still repeated in her nightly devotions, was this
"And, Oh Lord, keep me from the contamination of marriage. For Thy
"Araminta," said Aunt Hitty, severely, "cover up your foot!"
Modestly, Araminta drew down her skirt. One foot was on the
immaculate footstool and her ankle was exposed to view--a lovely
ankle, in spite of the broad-soled, common-sense shoes which she
"How often have I told you to keep your ankles covered ?" demanded
Miss Mehitable. "Suppose the minister had come in suddenly!
Suppose--upon my word! Speakin' of angels--if there ain't the
The Reverend Austin Thorpe came slowly up the brick-bordered path,
his head bowed in thought. He was painfully near-sighted, but he
refused to wear glasses. On the doorstep he paused and wiped his
feet upon the corn-husk mat until even Miss Mehitable, beaming at him
through the window, thought he was overdoing it. Unconsciously, she
took credit to herself for the minister's neatness.
Stepping carefully, lest he profane the hall carpet by wandering off
the rug, the minister entered the parlour, having first taken off his
coat and hat and hung them upon their appointed hooks in the hall.
It was cold, and the cheery warmth of the room beckoned him in. He
did not know that he tried Miss Hitty by trespassing, so to speak,
upon her preserves. She would have been better pleased if he
remained in his room when he was not at the table or out, but, to do
him justice, the reverend gentleman did not often offend her thus.
Araminta, blushing, took her foot from the footstool and pulled
feverishly at her skirts. As Mr. Thorpe entered the room, she did
not look up, but kept her eyes modestly upon her work.
"There ain't no need to tear out the gathers," Miss Hitty said, in a
warning undertone, referring to Aramlnta's skirts. "Why, Mr. Thorpe!
How you surprised me! Come in and set a spell," she added,
Steering well away from the centre-table with its highly prized
ornament, Thorpe gained the chair in which, if he did not lean
against the tidy, he was permitted to sit. He held himself bolt
upright and warmed his hands at the stove. "It is good to be out,"
he said, cheerfully, "and good to come in again. A day like this
makes one appreciate the blessing of a home."
Miss Hitty watched the white-haired, inoffensive old man with the
keen scrutiny of an eagle guarding its nest. He did not lean upon
the tidy, nor rest his elbows upon the crocheted mats which protected
the arms of the chair. In short, he conducted himself as a gentleman
should when in the parlour of a lady.
His blue, near-sighted eyes rested approvingly upon Araminta. "How
the child grows!" he said, with a friendly smile upon his kindly old
face. "Soon we shall have a young lady on our hands."
Araminta coloured and bent more closely to her sewing.
"I hope I'm not annoying you?" questioned the minister, after an
"Not at all," said Miss Mehitable, politely.
"I wanted to ask about some one," pursued the Reverend Mr. Thorpe.
"It seems that there is a new tenant in the old house on the hill
that has been empty for so long--the one the village people say is
haunted. It seems a woman is living there, quite alone; and she
always wears a veil, on account of some--some disfigurement."
Miss Hitty's false teeth clicked, sharply, but there was no other
sound except the clock, which, in the pause, struck four. "I
thought--" continued the minister, with a rising inflection.
Hitherto, he had found his hostess of invaluable assistance in his
parish work. It had been necessary to mention only the name. As
upon the turning of a faucet a stream of information gushed forth
from the fountain of her knowledge. Age, date and place of birth,
ancestry on both sides three generations back, with complete and
illuminating biographical details of ancestry and individual;
education, financial standing, manner of living, illnesses in the
family, including dates and durations of said illnesses, accidents,
if any, medical attendance, marriages, births, deaths, opinions,
reverses, present locations and various careers of descendants, list
of misfortunes, festivities, entertainments, church affiliation past
and present, political leanings, and a vast amount of other personal
data had been immediately forthcoming. Tagged to it, like the
postscript of a woman's letter, was Miss Hitty's own concise,
permanent, neatly labelled opinion of the family or individual, the
latter thrown in without extra charge.
"Perhaps you didn't know," remarked the minister, "that such a woman
had come." His tone was inquiring. It seemed to him that something
must be wrong if she did not know.
"Minty," said Miss Hitty, abruptly, "leave the room!"
Araminta rose, gathered up her patchwork, and went out, carefully
closing the door. It was only in moments of great tenderness that
her aunt called her "Minty."
The light footsteps died away upon the stairs. Tactlessly, the
minister persisted. "Don't you know?" he asked.
Miss Mehitable turned upon him. "If I did," she replied, hotly, "I
wouldn't tell any prying, gossiping man. I never knew before it was
part of a minister's business to meddle in folks' private affairs.
You'd better be writing your sermon and studyin' up on hell."
"I--I--" stammered the minister, taken wholly by surprise, "I only
hoped to give her the consolation of the church."
"Consolation nothing!" snorted Miss Hitty. "Let her alone!" She went
out of the room and slammed the door furiously, leaving the Reverend
Austin Thorpe overcome with deep and lasting amazement.
Pipes o' Pan
Sleet had fallen in the night, but at sunrise, the storm ceased. Miss
Evelina had gone to sleep, lulled into a sense of security by the icy
fingers tapping at her cobwebbed window pane. She awoke in a
transfigured world. Every branch and twig was encased in crystal, upon
which the sun was dazzling. Jewels, poised in midair, twinkled with
the colours of the rainbow. On the tip of the cypress at the gate was
a ruby, a sapphire gleamed from the rose-bush, and everywhere were
diamonds and pearls.
Frosty vapour veiled the spaces between the trees and javelins of
sunlight pierced it here and there. Beyond, there were glimpses of
blue sky, and drops of water, falling from the trees, made a musical,
cadence upon the earth beneath.
Miss Evelina opened her window still more. The air was peculiarly soft
and sweet. It had the fragrance of opening buds and growing things and
still had not lost the tang of the frost.
She drew a long breath of it and straightway was uplifted, though
seemingly against her will. Spring was stirring at the heart of the
world, sending new currents of sap into the veins of the trees, new
aspirations into dead roots and fibres, fresh hopes of bloom into every
sleeping rose. Life incarnate knocked at the wintry tomb; eager,
unseen hands were rolling away the stone. The tide of the year was
rising, soon to break into the wonder of green boughs and violets,
shimmering wings and singing winds.
The cold hand that clutched her heart took a firmer hold. With acute
self-pity, she perceived her isolation. Of all the world, she alone
was set apart; branded, scarred, locked in a prison house that had no
door. The one release was denied her until she could get away.
Poverty had driven her back. Circumstances outside her control had
pushed her through the door she had thought never to enter again.
Through all the five-and-twenty years, she had thought of the house
with a shudder, peopling it with a thousand terrors, not knowing that
there was no terror save her own fear.
Sorrow had put its chains upon her suddenly, at a time when she had not
the strength to break the bond. At first she had struggled; then
ceased. Since then, her faculties had been in suspense, as it were.
She had forgotten laughter, veiled herself from joy, and walked hand in
hand with the grisly phantom of her own conjuring.
Behind the shelter of her veil she had mutely prayed for peace--she
dared not ask for more. And peace had never come. Her crowning
humiliation would be to meet Anthony Dexter face to face--to know him,
and to have him know her. Not knowing where he was, she had travelled
far to avoid him. Now, seeking the last refuge, the one place on earth
where he could not be, she found herself separated from him by less
than a mile. More than that, she had gone to his house, as she had
gone on the fateful day a quarter of a century ago. She had taken back
the pearls, and had not died in doing it. Strangely enough, it had
given her a vague relief.
Miss Evelina's mind had paused at twenty; she had not grown. The acute
suffering of Youth was still upon her, a woman of forty-five. It was
as though a clock had gone on ticking and the hands had never moved;
the dial of her being was held at that dread hour, while her broken
heart beat on.
She had not discovered that secret compensation which clings to the
commonest affairs of life. One sees before him a mountain of toil, an
apparently endless drudgery from which there is no escape. Having once
begun it, an interest appears unexpectedly; new forces ally themselves
with the fumbling hands. Misfortunes come, "not singly, but in
battalions." After the first shock of realisation, one perceives
through the darkness that the strength to bear them has come also, like
some good angel.
A lover shudders at the thought of Death, yet knows that some day, on
the road they walk together, the Grey Angel with the white poppies will
surely take one of them by the hand. The road winds through shadows,
past many strange and difficult places, and wrecks are strewn all along
the way. They laugh at the storms that beat upon them, take no reck of
bruised feet nor stumbling, for, behold, they are together, and in that
one word lies all.
Sometimes, in the mist ahead, which, as they enter it, is seen to be
wholly of tears, the road forks blindly, and there is nothing but night
ahead for each. The Grey Angel with the unfathomable eyes approaches
slowly, with no sound save the hushed murmur of wings. The dread white
poppies are in his outstretched hand--the great, nodding white poppies
which have come from the dank places and have never known the sun.
There is no possible denial. At first, one knows only that the
faithful hand has grown cold, then, that it has unclasped. In the
intolerable darkness, one fares forth alone on the other fork of the
road, too stricken for tears.
At length there is a change. Memories troop from the shadow to whisper
consolation, to say that Death himself is powerless against Love, when
a heart is deep enough to hold a grave. The clouds lift, and through
the night comes some stray gleam of dawn. No longer cold, the dear
hand nestles once more into the one that held it so long. Not as an
uncertain presence but as a loved reality, that other abides with him
Shut out forever from the possibility of estrangement, for there is
always that drop of bitterness in the cup of Life and Love; eternally
beyond the reach of misunderstanding or change, spared the pitfalls and
disasters of the way ahead, blinded no longer by the mists of earth,
but immortally and unchangeably his, that other fares with him, though
unseen, upon the selfsame road.
From the broken night comes singing, for the white poppies have also
brought balm. Step by step, his Sorrow has become his friend, and at
the last, when the old feet are weary and the steep road has grown
still more steep, the Grey Angel comes once more.
Past the mist of tears in which he once was shrouded, the face of the
Grey Angel is seen to be wondrously kind. By his mysterious alchemy,
he has crystallised the doubtful waters, which once were in the cup of
Life and Love, into a jewel which has no flaw. He has kept the child
forever a child, caught the maiden at the noon of her beauty to
enshrine her thus for always in the heart that loved her most; made the
true and loving comrade a comrade always, though on the highways of the
It is seen now that the road has many windings and that, unconsciously,
the wayfarer has turned back. Eagerly the trembling hands reach
forward to take the white poppies, and the tired eyes close as though
the silken petals had already fluttered downward on the lids, for,
radiant past all believing, the Grey Angel still holds the Best Beloved
by the hand, and the roads that long ago had forked in darkness, have
come together, in more than mortal dawn, at the selfsame place.
Upon the beauty of the crystalline March morning, the memory of the
Winter sorrow still lay. The bare, brown earth was not wholly hidden
by the mantle of sleet and snow, yet there was some intangible Easter
close at hand. Miss Evelina felt it, stricken though she was.
From a distant thicket came a robin's cheery call, a glimmer of blue
wings flashed across the desolate garden, a south wind stirred the
bending, icy branches to a tinkling music, and she knew that Spring had
come to all but her.
Some indefinite impulse sent her outdoors. Closely veiled, she started
off down the road, looking neither to the right nor the left. Miss
Hitty saw her pass, but graciously forbore to call to her; Araminta
looked up enquiringly from her sewing, but the question died on her
Down through the village she went, across the tracks, and up to the
river road. It had been a favourite walk of hers in her girlhood.
Then she had gone with a quick, light step; now she went slowly, like
one grown old.
Yet, all unconsciously, life was quickening in her pulses; the old
magic of Spring was stirring in her, too. Dark and deep, the waters of
the river rolled dreamily by, waiting for the impulse which should send
the shallows singing to the sea, and stir the depths to a low,
Upon the left, as she walked, the road was bordered with elms and
maples, stretching far back to the hills. The woods were full of
unsuspected ravines and hollows, queer winding paths, great rocks, and
tiny streams. The children had called it the enchanted forest, and
played that a fairy prince and princess dwelt therein.
The childhood memories came back to Evelina with a pang. She stopped
to wipe away the tears beneath her veil, to choke back a sob that
tightened her throat. Suddenly, she felt a presentiment of oncoming
evil, a rushing destiny that could not be swerved aside. Frightened,
she turned to go back; then stopped again.
From above, on the upper part of the road, came the tread of horse's
feet and the murmur of wheels. Her face paled to marble, her feet
refused to move. The heart within her stood portentously still. With
downcast eyes she stood there, petrified, motionless, like a woman
carved in stone and clothed in black, veiled impenetrably in chiffon.
At a furious pace, Anthony Dexter dashed by, his face as white as her
chiffon. She had known unerringly who was coming; and had felt the
searing consciousness of his single glance before, with a muttered
oath, he had lashed his horse to a gallop. This, then, was the last;
there was nothing more.
The sound of the wheels died away in the distance. He had the pearls,
he had seen her, he knew that she had come back. And still she lived.
Clear and high, like a bugle call, a strain of wild music came from the
enchanted forest. Evelina threw back her head, gasping for breath; her
sluggish feet stirred forward. Some forgotten valour of her spirit
leaped to answer the summons, as a soldier, wounded unto death, turns
to follow the singing trumpets that lead the charge.
Strangely soft and tender, the strain came again, less militant, less
challenging. Swiftly upon its echo breathed another, hinting of peace.
Shaken to her inmost soul by agony, she took heed of the music with the
precise consciousness one gives to trifles at moments of unendurable
stress. Blindly she turned into the forest.
"What was it?" she asked herself, repeatedly, wondering that she could
even hear at a time like this. A bird? No, there was never a bird to
sing like that. Almost it might be Pan himself with his syrinx,
walking abroad on the first day of Spring.
The fancy appealed to her strongly, her swirling senses having become
exquisitely acute. "Pipes o' Pan," she whispered, "I will find and
follow you." To see the face of Pan meant death, according to the old
Greek legend, but death was something of which she was not afraid.
Lyric, tremulous, softly appealing, the music came again. The bare
boughs bent with their chiming crystal, and a twig fell at her feet,
Sunlight starred the misty distance with pearl; shining branches swayed
to meet her as she passed.
Farther in the wood, she turned, unconsciously in pursuit of that
will-o'-the-wisp of sound. Here and there out of the silence, it came
to startle her; to fill her with strange forebodings which were not
wholly of pain.
Some subliminal self guided her, for heart and soul were merged in a
quivering ecstasy of torture which throbbed and thundered and
overflowed. "He saw me! He saw me! He saw me! He knew me! He knew
me! He knew me!" In a triple rhythm the words vibrated back and forth
unceasingly, as though upon a weaver's shuttle.
For nearly an hour she went blindly in search of the music, pausing now
and then to listen intently, at times disheartened enough to turn back.
She had a mad fancy that Death was calling her, from some far height,
because Anthony Dexter had passed her on the road.
Now trumpet-like and commanding, now tender and appealing, the mystic
music danced about her capriciously. Her feet grew weary, but the
blood and the love of life had begun to move in her, too, when her
whole nature was unspeakably stirred. She paused and leaned against a
tree, to listen for the pipes o' Pan. But all was silent; the white
stillness of the enchanted forest was like that of another world. With
a sigh, she turned to the left, reflecting that a long walk straight
through the woods would bring her out on the other road at a point near
her own home.
Exquisitely faint and tender, the call rang out again. It was like
some far flute of April blown in a March dawn. "Oh, pipes o' Pan,"
breathed Evelina, behind her shielding veil; "I pray you find me! I
pray you, give me joy--or death!"
Swiftly the music answered, like a trumpet chanting from a height.
Scarcely knowing what she did, she began to climb the hill. It was a
more difficult way, but a nearer one, for just beyond the hill was her
Half-way up the ascent, the hill sloped back. There was a small level
place where one might rest before going on to the summit. It was not
more than a little nook, surrounded by pines. As she came to it, there
was a frightened chirp, and a flock of birds fluttered up from her
feet, leaving a generous supply of crumbs and grain spread upon the
Against a great tree leaned a man, so brown and shaggy in his short
coat that he seemed like part of the tree trunk. He was of medium
height, wore high leather gaiters, and a grey felt hat with a long red
quill thrust rakishly through the band. His face was round and rosy
and the kindest eyes in the world twinkled at Evelina from beneath his
bushy eyebrows. At his feet, quietly happy, was a bright-eyed, yellow
mongrel with a stubby tail which wagged violently as Evelina
approached. Slung over the man's shoulder by a cord was a
From his elevated position, he must have seen her when she entered the
wood, and had glimpses of her at intervals ever since. It was evident
that he thoroughly enjoyed the musical hide-and-seek he had forced her
to play while he was feeding the birds. His eyes laughed and there
were mischievous dimples in his round, rosy cheeks.
"Oh," cried Evelina, in a tone of dull disappointment.
"I called you," said the Piper, gently, "and you came."
She turned on her heel and walked swiftly away. She went downhill with
more haste than dignity, turned to her right, and struck out through
the woods for the main road.
The Piper watched her until she was lost among the trees. The birds
came back for their crumbs and grain and he stood patiently until his
feathered pensioners had finished and flown away, chirping with
satisfaction. Then he stooped to pat the yellow mongrel.
"Laddie," he said, "I'm thinking there's no more gypsying for us just
now. To-morrow, we will not pack our shop upon our back and march on,
as we had thought to do. Some one needs us here, eh, Laddie?"
The dog capered about his master's feet as if he understood and fully
agreed. He was a pitiful sort, even for a mongrel. One of his legs
had been broken and unskilfully set, so he did not run quite like other
"'T isn't a very good leg, Laddie," the Piper observed, "but I'm
thinking 't is better than none. Anyway, I did my best with it, and
now we'll push on a bit. It's our turn to follow, and we 're fain,
Laddie, you and I, to see where she lives."
Bidding the dog stay at heel, the Piper followed Miss Evelina's track.
By dint of rapid walking, he reached the main road shortly after she
did. Keeping a respectful distance, and walking at the side of the
road, he watched her as she went home. From the safe shelter of a
clump of alders just below Miss Mehitable's he saw the veiled figure
enter the broken gate.
"'T is the old house, Laddie," he said to the dog; "the very one we
were thinking of taking ourselves. Come on, now; we'll be going.
Down, sir! Home!"
"The Honour of the Spoken Word"
Anthony Dexter sat in his library, alone, as usual. Under the lamp,
Ralph's letters were spread out before him, but he was not reading.
Indeed, he knew every line of them by heart, but he could not keep his
mind upon the letters.
Between his eyes and the written pages there came persistently a veiled
figure, clothed shabbily in sombre black. Continually he fancied the
horror the veil concealed; continually, out of the past, his cowardice
and his shirking arose to confront him.
A photograph of his wife, who had died soon after Ralph was born, had
been taken from the drawer. "A pretty, sweet woman," he mused. "A
good wife and a good mother." He told himself again that he had loved
her--that he loved her still.
Yet behind his thought was sure knowledge. The woman who had entered
the secret fastnesses of his soul, and before whom he had trembled, was
the one whom he had seen in the dead garden, frail as a ghost, and
again on the road that morning.
Dimly, and now for the first time, there came to his perception that
recognition of his mate which each man carries in his secret heart when
he has found his mate at all. Past the anguish that lay between them
like a two-edged sword, and through the mists of the estranging years,
Evelina had come back to claim her own.
He saw that they were bound together, scarred in body or scarred in
soul; crippled, mutilated, or maimed though either or both might be,
the one significant fact was not altered.
He knew now that his wife and the mother of his child had stood
outside, as all women but the one must ever stand. Nor did he guess
that she had known it from the first and that heart-hunger had hastened
Aside from a very deep-seated gratitude to her for his son, Anthony
Dexter cherished no emotion for the sake of his dead wife. She had
come and gone across his existence as a butterfly crosses a field,
touching lightly here and there, but lingering not at all. Except for
Ralph, it was as though she had never been, so little did she now exist
Yet Evelina was vital, alive, and out of the horror she had come back.
To him? He did not believe that she had come definitely to seek
him--he knew her pride too well for that. His mind strove to grasp the
reason of her coming, but it eluded him; evaded him at every point.
She had not forgotten; if she had, she would not have given back that
sinuous necklace of discoloured pearls.
By the way, what had he done with the necklace? He remembered now. He
had thrown it far into the shrubbery, for the pearls were dead and the
love was dead.
"First from the depths of the sea and then from the depths of my love."
The mocking words, written in faded ink on the yellowed slip of paper,
danced impishly across the pages of Ralph's letters. He had a curious
fancy that if his love had been deep enough the pearls would not have
Impatiently, he rose from the table and paced back and forth restlessly
across the library. "I'm a fool," he growled; "a doddering old fool.
No, that's not it--I've worked too hard."
Valiantly he strove to dispel the phantoms that clustered about him. A
light step behind him chimed in with his as he walked and he feared to
look around, not knowing it was but the echo of his own.
He went to a desk in the corner of the room and opened a secret drawer
that had not been opened for a long time. He took out a photograph,
wrapped in yellowed tissue paper, and went back to the table. He
unwrapped it, his blunt white fingers trembling ever so slightly, and
A face of surpassing loveliness looked back at him. It was Evelina, at
the noon of her girlish beauty, her face alight with love. Anthony
Dexter looked long at the perfect features, the warm, sweet, tempting
mouth, the great, trusting eyes, and the brown hair that waved so
softly back from her face; the all-pervading and abiding womanliness.
There was strength as well as beauty; tenderness, courage, charm.
"Mate for a man," said Dexter, aloud. For such women as Evelina, the
knights of old did battle, and men of other centuries fought with their
own temptations and weaknesses. It was such as she who led men to the
heights, and pointed them to heights yet farther on.
Insensibly, he compared Ralph's mother with Evelina. The two women
stood as far apart as a little, meaningless song stands from a great
symphony. One would fire a man with high ambition, exalt him with
noble striving--ah, but had she? Was it Evelina's fault that Anthony
Dexter was a coward and a shirk? Cravenly, he began to blame the
woman, to lay the burden of his own shortcomings at Evelina's door.
Yet still the face stirred him. There was life in those walled
fastnesses of his nature which long ago he had denied. Self-knowledge
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