Ragged Lady, v2
William Dean Howells

Part 4 out of 4

any more at once. Then she asked, "Do you know what ever became of Mr.

"Yes. He's taken his title again, and gone back to live in Russia; he's
made peace with the Czar; I believe."

"That's nice," said Clementina; and Miss Milray made bold to ask:

"And what has become of Mr. Gregory?"

Clementina answered, as Miss Milray thought, tentatively and obliquely:
"You know his wife died."

"No, I never knew that she lived."

"Yes. They went out to China, and she died the'a."

"And is he there yet? But of course! He could never have given up being
a missionary."

"Well," said Clementina, "he isn't in China. His health gave out, and
he had to come home. He's in Middlemount Centa."

Miss Milray suppressed the "Oh!" that all but broke from her lips.
"Preaching to the heathen, there?" she temporized.

"To the summa folks," Clementina explained, innocent of satire. "They
have got a Union Chapel the'a, now, and Mr. Gregory has been preaching
all summa." There seemed nothing more that Miss Milray could prompt her
to say, but it was not quite with surprise that she heard Clementina
continue, as if it were part of the explanation, and followed from the
fact she had stated, "He wants me to marry him."

Miss Milray tried to emulate her calm in asking, "And shall you?"

"I don't know. I told him I would see; he only asked me last night. It
would be kind of natural. He was the fust. You may think it is

Miss Milray, in the superstition of her old-maidenhood concerning love,
really thought it cold-blooded and shocking; but she said, "Oh, no."

Clementina resumed: "And he says that if it was right for me to stop
caring for him when I did, it is right now for me to ca'e for him again,
where the'e's no one to be hu't by it. Do you think it is?"

"Yes; why not?" Miss Milray was forced to the admission against what she
believed the finer feelings 'of her nature.

Clementina sighed, "I suppose he's right. I always thought he was good.
Women don't seem to belong very much to themselves in this wo'ld, do

"No, they seem to belong to the men, either because they want the men, or
the men want them; it comes to the same thing. I suppose you don't wish
me to advise you, my dear?"

"No. I presume it's something I've got to think out for myself."

"But I think he's good, too. I ought to say that much, for I didn't
always stand his friend with you. If Mr. Gregory has any fault it's
being too scrupulous."

"You mean, about that old trouble--our not believing just the same?"
Miss Milray meant something much more temperamental than that, but she
allowed Clementina to limit her meaning, and Clementina went on.
"He's changed all round now. He thinks it's all in the life. He says
that in China they couldn't understand what he believed, but they could
what he lived. And he knows I neva could be very religious."

It was in Miss Milray's heart to protest, "Clementina, I think you are
one of the most religious persons I ever knew," but she forebore, because
the praise seemed to her an invasion of Clementina's dignity. She merely
said, "Well, I am glad he is one of those who grow more liberal as they
grow older. That is a good sign for your happiness. But I dare say it's
more of his happiness you think."

"Oh, I should like to be happy, too. There would be no sense in it if I

"No, certainly not."

"Miss Milray," said Clementina, with a kind of abruptness, "do you eva
hear anything from Dr. Welwright?"

"No! Why?" Miss Milray fastened her gaze vividly upon her.

"Oh, nothing. He wanted me to promise him, there in Venice, too."

"I didn't know it."

"Yes. But--I couldn't, then. And now--he's written to me. He wants me
to let him come ova, and see me."

"And--and will you?" asked Miss Milray, rather breathlessly.

"I don't know. I don't know as I'd ought. I should like to see him, so
as to be puffectly su'a. But if I let him come, and then didn't--It
wouldn't be right! I always felt as if I'd ought to have seen then that
he ca'ed for me, and stopped him; but I didn't. No, I didn't," she
repeated, nervously. "I respected him, and I liked him; but I neva"--
She stopped, and then she asked, "What do you think I'd ought to do, Miss

Miss Milray hesitated. She was thinking superficially that she had never
heard Clementina say had ought, so much, if ever before. Interiorly she
was recurring to a sense of something like all this before, and to the
feeling which she had then that Clementina was really cold-blooded and
self-seeking. But she remembered that in her former decision, Clementina
had finally acted from her heart and her conscience, and she rose from
her suspicion with a rebound. She dismissed as unworthy of Clementina
any theory which did not account for an ideal of scrupulous and unselfish
justice in her.

"That is something that nobody can say but yourself, Clementina," she
answered, gravely.

"Yes," sighed Clementina, "I presume that is so."

She rose, and took her little girl from Miss Milray's knee. "Say good-
bye," she bade, looking tenderly down at her.

Miss Milray expected the child to put up her lips to be kissed. But she
let go her mother's hand, took her tiny skirts between her finger-tips,
and dropped a curtsey.

"You little witch!" cried Miss Milray. "I want a hug," and she crushed
her to her breast, while the child twisted her face round and anxiously
questioned her mother's for her approval. "Tell her it's all right,
Clementina!" cried Miss Milray. "When she's as old as you were in
Florence, I'm going to make you give her to me."

"Ah' you going back to Florence?" asked Clementina, provisionally.

"Oh, no! You can't go back to anything. That's what makes New York so
impossible. I think we shall go to Los Angeles."


On her way home Clementina met a man walking swiftly forward. A sort of
impassioned abstraction expressed itself in his gait and bearing. They
had both entered the shadow of the deep pine woods that flanked the way
on either side, and the fallen needles helped with the velvety summer
dust of the roadway to hush their steps from each other. She saw him far
off, but he was not aware of her till she was quite near him.

"Oh!" he said, with a start. "You filled my mind so full that I couldn't
have believed you were anywhere outside of it. I was coming to get you--
I was coming to get my answer."

Gregory had grown distinctly older. Sickness and hardship had left
traces in his wasted face, but the full beard he wore helped to give him
an undue look of age.

"I don't know," said Clementina, slowly, "as I've got an answa fo' you,
Mr. Gregory--yet."

"No answer is better that the one I am afraid of!"

"Oh, I'm not so sure of that," she said, with gentle perplexity, as she
stood, holding the hand of her little girl, who stared shyly at the
intense face of the man before her.

"I am," he retorted. "I have been thinking it all ever, Clementina.
I've tried not to think selfishly about it, but I can't pretend that my
wish isn't selfish. It is! I want you for myself, and because I've
always wanted you, and not for any other reason. I never cared for any
one but you in the way I cared for you, and"--

"Oh!" she grieved. "I never ca'ed at all for you after I saw him."

"I know it must be shocking to you; I haven't told you with any wretched
hope that it would commend me to you!"

"I don't say it was so very bad," said Clementina, reflectively, "if it
was something you couldn't help."

"It was something I couldn't help. Perhaps I didn't try ."

"Did-she know it?"

"She knew it from the first; I told her before we were married."

Clementina drew back a little, insensibly pulling her child with her.
"I don't believe I exactly like it."

"I knew you wouldn't! If I could have thought you would, I hope I
shouldn't have wished--and feared--so much to tell you."

"Oh, I know you always wanted to do what you believed was right, Mr.
Gregory," she answered. "But I haven't quite thought it out yet. You
mustn't hurry me."

"No, no! Heaven forbid." He stood aside to let her pass.

"I was just going home," she added.

"May I go with you?"

"Yes, if you want to. I don't know but you betta; we might as well;
I want to talk with you. Don't you think it's something we ought to talk

"Why, of course! And I shall try to be guided by you; I should always
submit to be ruled by you, if"--

"That's not what I mean, exactly. I don't want to do the ruling. You
don't undastand me."

"I'm afraid I don't," he assented, humbly.

"If you did, you wouldn't say that--so." He did not venture to make any
answer, and they walked on without speaking, till she asked, "Did you
know that Miss Milray was at the Middlemount?"

"Miss Milray! Of Florence?"

"With her brother. I didn't see him; Mrs. Milray is not he'a; they ah'
divo'ced. Miss Milray used to be very nice to me in Florence. She isn't
going back there any moa. She says you can't go back to anything.
Do you think we can?"

She had left moments between her incoherent sentences where he might
interrupt her if he would, but he waited for her question. "I hoped we
might; but perhaps"--

"No, no. We couldn't. We couldn't go back to that night when you threw
the slippas into the riva, no' to that time in Florence when we gave up,
no' to that day in Venice when I had to tell you that I ca'ed moa fo'
some one else. Don't you see?"

"Yes, I see," he said, in quick revulsion from the hope he had expressed.
"The past is full of the pain and shame of my errors!"

"I don't want to go back to what's past, eitha," she reasoned, without
gainsaying him.

She stopped again, as if that were all, and he asked, "Then is that my

"I don't believe that even in the otha wo'ld we shall want to go back to
the past, much, do you?" she pursued, thoughtfully.

Once Gregory would have answered confidently; he even now checked an
impulse to do so. "I don't know," he owned, meekly.

"I do like you, Mr. Gregory!" she relented, as if touched by his
meekness, to the confession. "You know I do--moa than I ever expected to
like anybody again. But it's not because I used to like you, or because
I think you always acted nicely. I think it was cruel of you, if you
ca'ed for me, to let me believe you didn't, afta that fust time. I can't
eva think it wasn't, no matta why you did it."

"It was atrocious. I can see that now."

"I say it, because I shouldn't eva wish to say it again. I know that all
the time you we'e betta than what you did, and I blame myself a good deal
moa fo' not knowing when you came to Florence that I had begun to ca'e
fo'some one else. But I did wait till I could see you again, so as to be
su'a which I ca'ed for the most. I tried to be fai'a, before I told
you that I wanted to be free. That is all," she said, gently, and
Gregory perceived that the word was left definitely to him.

He could not take it till he had disciplined himself to accept
unmurmuringly his sentence as he understood it. "At any rate," he began,
"I can thank you for rating my motive above my conduct."

"Oh," she said. "I don't think either of us acted very well. I didn't
know till aftawa'ds that I was glad to have you give up, the way you did
in Florence. I was--bewild'ed. But I ought to have known, and I want
you to undastand everything, now. I don't ca'e for you because I used to
when I was almost a child, and I shouldn't want you to ca'e for me eitha,
because you did then. That's why I wish you had neva felt that you had
always ca'ed fo' me."

"Yes," said Gregory. He let fall his head in despair.

"That is what I mean," said Clementina. "If we ah' going to begin
togetha, now, it's got to be as if we had neva begun before. And you
mustn't think, or say, or look as if the'e had been anything in oua lives
but ouaselves. Will you? Do you promise?" She stopped, and put her
hand on his breast, and pushed against it with a nervous vehemence.

"No!" he said. "I don't promise, for I couldn't keep my promise. What
you ask is impossible. The past is part of us; it can't be ignored any
more than it can be destroyed. If we take each other, it must be for all
that we have been as well as all that we are. If we haven't the courage
for that we must part."

He dropped the little one's hand which he had been holding, and moved a
few steps aside. "Don't!" she said. "They'll think I've made you," and
he took the child's hand again.

They had emerged from the shadow of the woods, and come in sight of her
father's house. Claxon was standing coatless before the door in full
enjoyment of the late afternoon air; his wife beside him, at sight of
Gregory, quelled a natural impulse to run round the corner of the house
from the presence of strangers.

"I wonda what they'a sayin'," she fretted.

"It looks some as if she was sayin' yes," said Claxon, with an impersonal
enjoyment of his conjecture. "I guess she saw he was bound not to take
no for an answa."

"I don't know as I should like it very much," his wife relucted.
"Clem's doin' very well, as it is. She no need to marry again."

"Oh, I guess it a'n't that altogetha. He's a good man." Claxon mused a
moment upon the figures which had begun to advance again, with the little
one between them, and then gave way in a burst of paternal pride, "And I
don't know as I should blame him so very much for wantin' Clem. She
always did want to be of moa use--But I guess she likes him too."


Didn't reason about their beliefs, but only argued
Dull, cold self-absorption
Everything seems to go
Gift of waiting for things to happen
He's so resting
It's the best that he doesn't seem prepared for
Life alone is credible to the young
Morbid egotism
Motives lie nearer the surface than most people commonly pretend
One time where one may choose safest what one likes best
Only man I ever saw who would know how to break the fall
Real artistocracy is above social prejudice
Singleness of a nature that was all pose
Submitted, as people always do with the trials of others
Sunny gayety of self-forgetfulness
Understood when I've said something that doesn't mean anything
We change whether we ought, or not
When she's really sick, she's better
Willing that she should do herself a wrong
Women don't seem to belong very much to themselves
You can't go back to anything
You were not afraid, and you were not bold; you were just right


Back to Full Books