The Desert and The Sown
Mary Hallock Foote
Part 4 out of 4
one woman, in less than a third of her lifetime, had developed into a
competence for her son. He could afford to dream dreams of beneficence
with his mother to make them good. Yes, he needed her still. His child was
in her keeping; and, though brief the lease, that trust was no accident.
It was the surest proof he could have given her of his vital allegiance.
In the step which Paul and Moya were taking, she saw the first promise of
that wisdom she had despaired of in her son. In the course of years he
would understand her. And Christine? She rested bitterly secure in her
daughter's inevitable physical need of her. Christine was a born parasite.
She had no true pride; she was capable merely of pique which would wear
itself out and pass into other forms of selfishness.
This woman had been governed all her life by a habit of decision, and a
strong personality rooted in the powers of nature. Therefore she was
seldom mistaken in her conclusions when they dealt with material results.
Occasionally she left out the spirit; but the spirit leaves out no one.
Her long dark skirts were sweeping the autumn grass at sunset as she paced
back and forth under the red-gold tents of the maples. It was a row of
young trees she had planted to grace a certain turf walk at the top of the
low wall that divided, by a drop of a few feet, the west lawn at Stone
Ridge from the meadow where the beautiful Alderneys were pastured. The
maples turned purple as the light faded out of their tops and struck flat
across the meadow, making the grass vivid as in spring. Two spots of color
moved across it slowly--a young woman capped and aproned, urging along a
little trotting child. Down the path of their united shadows they came,
and the shadows had reached already the dividing wall. The waiting smile
was sweet upon the grandmother's features; her face was transformed like
the meadow into a memory of spring. The child saw her, and waved to her
with something scarlet which he held in his free hand. She admired the
stride of his brown legs above their crumpled socks, the imperishable look
of health on his broad, sweet glowing face. She lifted him high in her
embrace and bore him up the hill, his dusty shoes dangling against her
silk front breadths, his knees pressed tight against her waist, and over
her shoulder he flourished the scarlet cardinal flower.
"Where have you been with him so long?" she asked the nursemaid.
"Only up in the lane, as far as the three gates, ma'am."
"Then where did he get this flower?"
"Oh," said the pretty Irish girl, half scared by her tone, and tempted to
prevaricate. "Why--he must have picked it, I guess."
"Not in the lane. It's a swamp-flower. It doesn't grow anywhere within
four miles of the lane!"
"It must have been the old man gev it him then," said the maid. "Is it
unhealthy, ma'am? I tried to get it from him, but he screamed and fussed
"What old man do you mean?"
"Why, him that was passin' up the lane. I didn't see him till he was clean
by--and Middy had the flower. I don't know where in the world he could
have got it, else, for we wasn't one step out of the lane, was we, Middy!
That's the very truth."
"But where were you when strangers were giving him flowers?"
"Why, sure, ma'am, I was only just a step away be the fence, having a word
with one o' the boys. I was lookin' in the field, speakin' to him and he
was lookin' at me with me back to the lane. 'There's the old man again,'
he says, shiftin' his eye. I turned me round and there, so he was, but he
was by and walkin' on up the lane. And Middy had the flower. He wouldn't
be parted from it and squeezed it so tight I thought the juice might be
bad on his hands, and he promised he'd not put it to his mouth. I kep' my
eye on him. Ah, the nasty, na-asty flower! Give it here to Katy till I
"There's no harm in the flower. But there is harm in strangers making up
to him when your back is turned. Don't you know the dreadful things we
read in the papers?"
Mrs. Bogardus said no more. It was Middy's supper-time. But later she
questioned Katy particularly concerning this old man who was spoken of
quite as if his appearance were taken for granted in the heart of the
farm. Katy recalled one other day when she had seen him asleep as she
thought in a corner of the fence by the big chestnut tree when she and the
boy were nutting. They had moved away to the other side of the tree, but
while she was busy hunting for nuts Middy had strayed off a bit and
foregathered with the old man, who was not asleep at all, but stood with
his back to her pouring a handful of big fat chestnuts into the child's
little skirt, which he held up. She called to him and the old man had
stepped back, and the nuts were spilled. Middy had cried and made her pick
them up, and when that was done the stranger was gone quite out of sight.
Chauncey, too, was questioned, and testified that the old man of the
fields was no myth. But he deprecated all this exaggerated alarm. The
stranger was some simple-minded old work-house candidate putting off the
evil day. In a few weeks he would have to make for shelter in one of the
neighboring towns. Chauncey could not see what legal hold they had upon
him even if they could catch him. He hardly came under the vagrancy law,
since he had neither begged, nor helped himself appreciably to the means
"That is just the point," Mrs. Bogardus insisted. "He has the means--from
somewhere--to lurk around here and make friends with that child. There may
be a gang of kidnappers behind him. He is the harmless looking decoy. I
insist that you keep a sharp lookout, Chauncey. There shall be a hold upon
him, law or no law, if we catch him on our ground."
A cold rain set in. Paul and Moya wrote of delays in the house
preparations, and hoped the grandmother was not growing tired of her
charge. On the last of the rainy days, in a burst of dubious sunshine,
came a young girl on horseback to have tea with Mrs. Bogardus. She was one
of that lady's discoverers, so she claimed, Miss Sallie Remsen, very
pretty and full of fantastic little affectations founded on her intense
appreciation of the picturesque. She called Mrs. Bogardus "Madam," and
likened her to various female personages in history more celebrated for
strength of purpose than for the Christian virtues. Mrs. Bogardus, in her
restful ignorance of such futilities, went no deeper into these allusions
than their intention, which she took to be complimentary. Miss Sallie
hugged herself with joy when the rain came down in torrents for a clear-up
shower. Her groom was sent home with a note to inform her mother that Mrs.
Bogardus wished to keep her overnight. All the mothers were flattered when
Mrs. Bogardus took notice of their daughters,--even much grander dames
than she herself could pretend to be.
They had a charming little dinner by themselves to the tune of the rain
outside, and were having their coffee by the drawing-room fire; and Miss
Sallie was thinking by what phrase one could do justice to the massive,
crass ugliness of that self-satisfied apartment, furnished in the hideous
sixties, when the word was sent in that Mrs. Dunlop wished to speak with
Mrs. Bogardus. Something of Cerissa's injured importance survived the
transmission of the message, causing Mrs. Bogardus to smile to herself as
she rose. Cerissa was waiting in the dining-room. She kept her seat as
Mrs. Bogardus entered. Her eyes did not rise higher than the lady's dress,
which she examined with a fierce intentness of comparison while she opened
"I thought you'd like to know you've got a strange lodger down to the old
house. I don't seem to ever get moved!" she enlarged. "I'm always runnin'
down there after first one thing 'n' another we've forgot. This morning 't
was my stone batter-pot. Chauncey said he thought it was getting cold
enough for buckwheat cakes. I don't suppose you want to have stray tramps
in there in the old house, building fires in the loom-room, where, if a
spark got loose, it would blaze up them draughty stairs, and the whole
house would go in a minute." Cerissa stopped to gain breath.
"Making fires? Are you sure of that? Has any smoke been seen coming out of
"Why, it's been raining so! And the trees have got so tall! But I could
show you the shucks an' shells he's left there. I know how we left it!"
"You had better speak--No; I will see Chauncey in the morning." Mrs.
Bogardus never, if she could avoid it, gave an order through a third
"Well, I thought I'd just step in. Chauncey said 't was no use disturbing
you to-night, but he's just that way--so easy about everything! I thought
you wouldn't want to be harboring tramps this wet weather when most
anybody would be tempted to build a fire. I'm more concerned about what
goes on down there now we're _out_ of the house! I seem to have it on my
mind the whole time. A house is just like a child: the more you don't see
it the more you worry about it."
"I'm glad you have such a home feeling about the place," said Mrs.
Bogardus, avoiding the onset of words. "Well, good-evening, Cerissa. Thank
you for your trouble. I will see about it in the morning."
Mrs. Bogardus mentioned what she had just heard to Miss Sallie, who
remarked, with her keen sense of antithesis, what a contrast _that_
fireside must be to _this_.
"Oh, your lodger upon the cold ground,--making his little bit of a stolen
blaze in that cavern of a chimney in the midst of the wet trees! What a
nice thing to have an unwatched place like that where a poor bird of
passage can creep in and make his nest, and not trouble any one. Think
what Jean Valjeans one might shelter"--
"What 'angels unawares.'"
"It will be unawares, my dear,--very much unawares,--when I shelter any
angels of that sort."
"Oh, you wouldn't turn him out, such weather as this?"
"The house is not mine, in the first place," Mrs. Bogardus explained as to
a child. "I can't entertain tramps or even angels on my son's premises,
when he's away."
"Oh, he! He would build the fires himself, and make up their beds,"
laughed Miss Sallie. "If he were here, I believe he would start down there
now, and stock the place with everything you've got in the house to eat."
"I hope he'd leave us a little something for breakfast," said Mrs.
Bogardus a trifle coldly. But she did not mention the cause of her
uneasiness about this particular visitor. She never defended herself.
Miss Sallie was delighted with her callousness to the sentimental rebuke
which had been rather rubbed in. It was so unmodern; one got so weary of
fashionable philanthropy, women who talked of their social sympathies and
their principles in life. She almost hoped that Mrs. Bogardus had neither.
Certainly she never mentioned them.
"What did she say? Did she tell you what I said to her last night?"
Cerissa questioned her husband feverishly after his interview with Mrs.
"She didn't mention your name," Chauncey took some pleasure in stating.
"If you hadn't told me yourself, I shouldn't have known you'd meddled in
it at all."
"What's she going to do about it?"
"How crazy you women are! 'Cause some poor old Sooner-die-than-work warms
his bones by a bit of fire that wouldn't scare a chimbly swaller out of
its nest! Don't you s'pose if there'd been any fire there to speak of, I'd
'a' seen it? What am I here for? Now I've got to drop everything, and git
a padlock on that door, and lock it up every night, and search the whole
place from top to bottom for fear there's some one in there hidin' in a
"Chauncey! If you've got to do that I don't want you to go in there alone.
You take one of the men with you; and you better have a pistol or one of
the dogs anyhow. Suppose you was to ketch some one in there, and corner
him! He might turn on you, and shoot you!"
"I wish you wouldn't work yourself up so about nothin' at all! Want me to
make a blame jackass of myself raisin' the whole place about a potato-peel
or a bacon-rind!"
"I think you might have some little regard for my feelings," Cerissa
whimpered. "If you ain't afraid, I'm afraid for you; and I don't see
anything to be ashamed of either. I wish you _wouldn't_ go _alone_
searching through that spooky old place. It just puts me beside myself to
think of it!"
"Well, well! That's enough about it anyhow. I ain't going to do anything
foolish, and you needn't think no more about it."
Whether it was the effect of his wife's fears, or his promise to her, or
the inhospitable nature of his errand founded on suspicion, certainly
Chauncey showed no spirit of rashness in conducting his search. He knocked
the mud off his boots loudly on the doorsill before proceeding to attach
the padlock to the outer door. He searched the loom-room, lighting a
candle and peering into all its cobwebbed corners. He examined the rooms
lately inhabited, unlocking and locking doors behind him noisily with
increasing confidence in the good old house's emptiness. Still, in the
fireplace in the loom-room there were signs of furtive cooking which a
housekeeper's eye would infallibly detect. He saw that the search must
proceed. It was not all a question of his wife's fears, as he opened the
stair-door cautiously and tramped slowly up towards the tower bedroom. He
could not remember who had gone out last, on the day the old secretary was
moved down. There had been four men up there, and--yes, the key was still
in the lock outside. He clutched it and it fell rattling on the steps. He
swung the door open and stared into the further darkness beyond his range
of vision. He waved his candle as far as his arm would reach. "Anybody
_in_ here?" he shouted. The silence made his flesh prick. "I'm goin' to
lock up now. Better show up. It's the last chance." He waited while one
could count ten. "Anybody in here that wants to be let free? Nobody's
goin' to hurt ye."
To his anxious relief there was no reply. But as he listened, he heard the
loud, measured tick, tick, of the old clock, appalling in the darkness, on
the silence of that empty room. Chauncey could not have told just how he
got the door to, nor where he found strength to lock it and drag his feet
downstairs, but the hand that held the key was moist with cold
perspiration as he reached the open air.
"Well, if that's rain I'd like to know where it comes from!" He looked up
at the moon breaking through drifting clouds. The night was keen and
"If I was to tell that to Cerissa she'd never go within a mile o' that
house again! Maybe I was mistaken--but I ain't goin' back to see!"
Next morning on calmer reflection he changed his mind about removing the
lawn-mower and other hand-tools from the loom-room as he had determined
overnight should be done. The place continued to be used as a storeroom,
open by day.
At night it was Chauncey's business to lock it up, and he was careful to
repeat his search--as far as the stair-door. Never did the silent room
above give forth a protest, a sound of human restraint or occupation. He
reported to the mistress that all was snug at the old house, and nobody
anywhere about the place.
THE FELL FROST
After the rain came milder days. The still white mornings slowly
brightened into hazy afternoons. The old moon like a sleep walker stood
exposed in the morning sky. The roads to Stone Ridge were deep in fallen
leaves. Soft-tired wheels rustled up the avenue and horses' feet fell
light, as the last of the summer neighbors came to say good-by.
It was a party of four--Miss Sallie and a good-looking youth of the
football cult on horseback, her mother and an elder sister, the delicate
Miss Remsen, in a hired carriage. Their own traps had been sent to town.
Tea was served promptly, as the visitors had a long road home before their
dinner-hour. In the reduced state of the establishment it was Katy who
brought the tea while Cerissa looked after her little charge. Cerissa sat
on the kitchen porch sewing and expanding under the deep attention of the
cook; they could see Middy a little way off on the tennis-court wiping the
mud gravely from a truant ball he had found among the nasturtiums. All was
as peaceful as the time of day and the season of the year.
"Yes," said Cerissa solemnly. "Old Abraham Van Elten was too much cumbered
up with this world to get quit of it as easy as some. If his spirit is
burdened with a message to anybody it's to _her_. He died unreconciled to
her, and she inherited all this place in spite of him, as you may say.
I've come as near believin' in such things since the goings on up there in
"She wants Middy fetched in to see the comp'ny," cried Katy, bursting into
the sentence. "Where is he, till I clean him? And she wants some more
bread and butter as quick as ye can spread it."
"Well, Katy!" said Cerissa slowly, with severe emphasis. "When I was a
girl, my mother used to tell me it wasn't manners to"--
"I haven't got time to hear about yer mother," said Katy rudely. "What
have ye done with me boy?" The tennis-court lay vacant on the terrace in
the sun; the steep lawn sloped away and dipped into the trees.
"Don't call," said the cook warily. "It'll only scare her. He was there
only a minute ago. Run, Katy, and see if he's at the stables."
It was not noticed, except by Mrs. Bogardus, that no Katy, and no boy, and
no bread and butter, had appeared. Possibly the last deficiency had
attracted a little playful attention from the young horseback riders, who
were accusing each other of eating more than their respective shares.
At length Miss Sallie perceived there was something on her hostess's mind.
"Where is John Middleton?" she whispered. "Katy is dressing him all over,
from head to foot, isn't she? I hope she isn't curling his hair. John
Middleton has such wonderful hair! I refuse to go back to New York till I
have introduced you to John Middleton Bogardus," she announced to the
young man, who laughed at everything she said. Mrs. Bogardus smiled
vacantly and glanced at the door.
"Let me go find Katy," cried Miss Sally. Katy entered as she spoke, and
said a few words to the mistress. "Excuse me." Mrs. Bogardus rose hastily.
She asked Miss Sallie to take her place at the tea-tray.
"What is it?"
"The boy--they cannot find him. Don't say anything." She had turned ashy
white, and Katy's pretty flushed face had a wild expression.
In five minutes the search had begun. Mrs. Bogardus was at the telephone,
calling up the quarry, for she was short of men. One order followed
another quickly. Her voice was harsh and deep. She had frankly forgotten
her guests. Embarrassed by their own uselessness, yet unable to take
leave, they lingered and discussed the mystery of this sudden, acute
"It is the sore spot," said Miss Sally sentimentally. "You know her
husband was missing for years before she gave him up; and then that
dreadful time, three years ago, when they were so frightened about Paul."
Having spread the alarm, Mrs. Bogardus took the field in person. Her head
was bare in the keen, sunset light. She moved with strong, fleet steps,
but a look of sudden age stamped her face.
"Go back, all of you!" she said to the women, who crowded on her heels.
"There are plenty of places to look." Her stern eyes resisted their
frightened sympathy. She was not ready to yield to the consciousness of
her own fears.
To the old house she went, by some sure instinct that told her the road to
trouble. But her trouble stood off from her, and spared her for one moment
of exquisite relief; as if the child of Paul and Moya had no part in what
was waiting for her. The door at the foot of the stairs stood open. She
heard a soft, repeated thud. Panting, she climbed the stairs; and as she
rounded the shoulder of the chimney, there, on the top step above her,
stood the fair-haired child, making the only light in the place. He was
knocking, with his foolish ball, on the door of the chamber of fear. Three
generations of the living and the dead were brought together in this coil
of fate, and the child, in his happy innocence, had joined the knot.
The woman crouching on the stairs could barely whisper, "Middy!" lest if
she startled him he might turn and fall. He looked down at her,
unsurprised, and paused in his knocking. "Man--in there--won't 'peak to
Middy!" he said.
She crept towards him and sat below him, coaxing him into her lap. The
strange motions of her breast, as she pressed his head against her, kept
the boy quiet, and in that silence she heard an inner sound--the awful
pulse of the old clock beating steadily, calling her, demanding the
evidence of her senses,--she who feared no ghosts,--beating out the hours
of an agony she was there to witness. And she was yet in time. The hapless
creature entrapped within that room dragged its weight slowly across the
floor. The clock, sole witness and companion of its sufferings, ticked on
impartially. Neither is this any new thing, it seemed to say. A life was
starved in here before--not for lack of food, but love,--love,--love!
She carried the child out into the air, and he ran before her like a
breeze. The women who met them stared at her sick and desperate face. She
made herself quickly understood, and as each listener drained her meaning
the horror spread. There was but one man left on the place, within call,
he with the boyish face and clean brown hands, who had ridden across the
fields for an afternoon's idle pleasure. He stepped to her side and took
the key out of her hand. "You ought not to do this," he said gently, as
their eyes met.
"Wednesday, Thursday, Friday," she counted mechanically. "He has been in
there six days and seven nights by my orders." She looked straight before
her, seeing no one, as she gave her commands to the women: fire and hot
water and stimulants, in the kitchen of the old house at once, and another
man, if one could be found to follow her.
The two figures moving across the grass might have stepped out of an
illustration in the pages of some current magazine. In their thoughts they
had already unlocked the door of that living death and were face to face
with the insupportable facts of nature.
The morbid, sickening, prison odor met them at the door--humanity's
helpless protest against bolts and bars. Again the young man begged his
companion not to enter. She took one deep breath of the pure outside air
and stepped before him. They searched the emptiness of the barely
furnished room. The clock ticked on to itself. Mrs. Bogardus's companion
stood irresolute, not knowing the place. The fetid air confused his
senses. But she went past him through the inner door, guided by
remembrance of the sounds she had heard.
She had seen it. She approached it cautiously, stooping for a better view,
and closing in upon it warily, as one cuts off the retreat of a creature
in the last agonies of flight. Her companion heard her say: "Show me your
face!--Uncover his face," she repeated, not moving her eyes as he stepped
behind her. "He will not let me near him. Uncover it."
The thing in the corner had some time been a man. There was still enough
manhood left to feel her eyes and to shrink as an earthworm from the
spade. He had crawled close to the baseboard of the room. An old man's
ashen beard straggled through the brown claws wrapped about the face. As
the dust of the threshing floor to the summer grain, so was his likeness
to one she remembered.
"I must see that man's face!" she panted. "He will die if I touch him.
Take away his hands." It was done, with set teeth, and the face of the
football hero was bathed in sweat. He breathed through tense nostrils, and
a sickly whiteness spread backward from his lips. Suddenly he loosed his
burden. It fell, doubling in a ghastly heap, and he rushed for the open
Mrs. Bogardus groaned. She raised herself up slowly, stretching back her
head. Her face was like the terrible tortured mask of the Medusa. She had
but a moment in which to recover herself. Deliberately she spoke when her
companion returned and stood beside her.
"That was my husband. If he lives I am still his wife. You are not to
forget this. It is no secret. Are you able to help me now? Get a blanket
from the women. I hear some one coming."
She waited, with head erect and eyes closed and rigid tortured lips apart,
till the feet were heard at the door.
PEACE TO THIS HOUSE
Mrs. Remsen and her delicate daughter had driven away to avoid excitement
and the night air.
Chauncey hovered round the piazza steps, talking, with but little
encouragement, to Miss Sallie and the young man who had become the centre
of all eyes.
"I don't see how anybody on the face of the earth could blame her, nor me
either!" Chauncey protested. "If the critter wanted to git out, why
couldn't he say so? I stood there holdin' the door open much as five
minutes. 'Who's in there?' I says. I called it loud enough to wake the
dead. 'Nobody wants to hurt ye,' says I. There want nothing to be afraid
of. He hadn't done nothing anyway. It's the strangest case ever I heard
tell of. And the doctor don't think he was much crazy either."
"Can he live?" asked Miss Sallie.
"He's alive now, but doctor don't know how long he'll last. There he comes
now. I must go and git his horse."
The doctor, who seemed nervous,--he was a young local practitioner,--asked
to speak with Miss Sallie's hero apart.
"Did Mrs. Bogardus say anything when she first saw that man? Did you
notice what she said?--how she took it?"
The hero, who was also a gentleman, looked at the doctor coolly.
"It was not a nice thing," he said. "I saw just as little as I could."
"You don't understand me," said the doctor. "I want to know if Mrs.
Bogardus appeared to you to have made any discovery--received any shock
not to be accounted for by--by what you both saw?"
"I shouldn't attempt to answer such a question," said the youngster
bluntly. "I never saw Mrs. Bogardus in my life before to-day."
The doctor colored. "Mrs. Bogardus has given me a telegram to send, and I
don't know whether to send it or not. It's going to make a whole lot of
talk. I am not much acquainted with Mrs. Bogardus myself, except by
hearsay. That's partly what surprises me. It looks a little reckless to
send out such a message as that, by the first hand that comes along.
Hadn't we better give her time to think it over?" He opened the telegram
for the other to read. "The man himself can't speak. But he just pants for
breath every time she comes near him: he tries to hide his face. He acts
like a criminal afraid of being caught."
"He didn't look that way to me--what was left of him. Not in the least
like a criminal."
"Well, no; that's a fact, too. Now they've got him laid out clean and
neat, he looks as if he might have been a very decent sort of man. But
_that_, you know--that's incredible. If she knows him, why doesn't he know
her? Why won't he own her? He's afraid of her. His eyes are ready to burst
out of his head whenever she comes near him."
"Did Mrs. Bogardus write that telegram herself?"
"And what did she tell you to do with it?"
"Send it to her son."
"Then why don't you send it?"
This was the disputed message: "Come. Your father has been found. Bring
In the local man's opinion, the writer of that dispatch was Doctor
Gainsworth's true patient. What could induce a woman in Mrs. Bogardus's
position to give such hasty publicity to this shocking disclosure,
allowing it were true? The more he dwelt on it the less he liked the
responsibility he was taking. He discussed it openly; and, with the best
intentions, this much-impressed young man gave out his own counter-theory
of the case, hoping to forestall whatever mischief might have been done.
He put himself in the place of Mr. Paul Bogardus, whom he liked extremely,
and tried to imagine that young gentleman's state of mind when he should
look upon this new-found parent, and learn the manner of his resurrection.
This was the explanation he boldly set forth in behalf of those most
nearly concerned. [He was getting up his diagnosis for an interesting half
hour with the great doctor who had been called in consultation.] The shock
of that awful discovery in the locked chamber, he attested, had put Mrs.
Bogardus temporarily beside herself. Outwardly composed, her nerves were
ripped and torn by the terrible sight that met her eyes. She was the prey
of an hallucination founded on memories of former suffering, which had
worn a channel for every fresh fear to seek. There was something truly
noble and loyal and pathetic in the nature of her possession. It threw a
softened light upon her past. How must she have brooded, all these years,
for that one thought to have ploughed so deep! It was quite commonly known
in the neighborhood that she had come back from the West years ago without
her husband, yet with no proof of his death. But who could have believed
she would cling for half a lifetime to this forlorn expectancy, depicting
her own loss in every sad hulk of humanity cast upon her prosperous
Every one believed she was deceiving herself, but great honor was hers
among the neighbors for the plain truth and courage of her astonishing
avowal. They had thought her proud, exclusive, hard in the security of
wealth. Here she stood by a pauper's bed in the name of simple constancy,
stripping herself of all earthly surplusage, exposing her deepest wound,
proclaiming the bond--herself its only witness--between her and this
speechless wreck, drifting out on the tide of death. She had but to let
him go. It was the wild word she had spoken in the name of truth and
deathless love that fired the imagination of that slow countryside. It was
the touch beyond nature that appeals to the higher sense of a community,
and there is no community without a soul.
The straight demands of justice are frequently hard to meet, but its
ironies are crushing. Mrs. Bogardus had fallen back on the line of a
mother's duty since that moment of personal accountability. She read the
unspoken reverence in the eyes of all around her, but she put in no
disclaimer. Her past was not her own. She could not sin alone. Only those
who have been honest are privileged under all conditions to remain so.
On his arrival with the doctor, Paul endeavored first to see his mother
alone. For some reason she would not have it so. She took the unspeakable
situation as it came. He was shown into the room where she sat, and by her
orders Doctor Gainsworth was with him.
She rose quietly and came to meet them. Placing her hand in her son's arm,
and looking towards the bed, she said:--
"Madam!" said Doctor Gainsworth. He had been Mrs. Bogardus's family
physician for many years.
"My husband," she repeated.
The doctor appeared to accept the statement. As the three approached the
bed Mrs. Bogardus leaned heavily upon her son. Paul released his arm and
placed it firmly around her. He felt her shudder. "Mother," he said to her
with an indescribable accent that tore her heart.
The doctor began his examination. He addressed his patient as "Mr.
"Mistake," said a low, husky voice from the bed. "This ain't the man."
Doctor Gainsworth pursued his investigations. "What is your name?" he
asked the patient suddenly.
The hunted eyes turned with ghastly appeal upon the faces around him.
"Paul, speak to him! Own your father," Mrs. Bogardus whispered
"It is for him to speak now," said Paul. "When he is well, Doctor," he
added aloud, "he will know his own name."
"This man will never be well," the doctor answered. "If there is anything
to prove, for or against the identity you claim for him, it will have to
be done within a very few days."
Doctor Gainsworth rose and held out his hand. He was a man of delicate
perceptions. His respect at that moment for Mrs. Bogardus, though founded
on blindest conjecture, was an emotion which the mask of his professional
manner could barely conceal. "As a friend, Mrs. Bogardus, I hope you will
command me--but you need no doctor here."
"As a friend I ask you to believe me," she said. "This man _is_ my
husband. He came back here because this was his home. I cannot tell you
any more, but this we expect you and every one who knows"--
The dissenting voice from the bed closed her assertion with a hoarse "No!
Not the man."
"Good-by, Mrs. Bogardus," said the doctor. "Don't trouble to explain. You
and I have lived too long and seen too much of life not to recognize its
fatalities: the mysterious trend in the actions of men and women that
cannot be comprised in--in the locking of a door."
"It is of little consequence--what was done, compared to what was not
done." This was all the room for truth she could give herself to turn in.
The doctor did not try to understand her: yet she had snatched a little
comfort from merely uttering the words.
Paul and the doctor dined together, Mrs. Bogardus excusing herself.
"There seems to be an impression here," said the doctor, examining the
initials on his fish-fork, "that your mother is indulging an overstrained
fancy in this melancholy resemblance she has traced. It does not appear to
have made much headway as a fact, which rather surprises me in a country
neighborhood. Possibly your doctor here, who seems a very good fellow, has
wished to spare the family any unnecessary explanations. If you'll let me
advise you, Paul, I would leave it as it is,--open to conjecture. But, in
whatever shape this impression may reach you from outside, I hope you
won't let it disturb you in the least, so far as it describes your
mother's condition. She is one of the few well-balanced women I have had
the honor to know."
Paul did not take advantage of the doctor's period. He went on.
"Not that I do know her. Possibly you may not yourself feel that you
altogether understand your mother? She has had many demands upon her
powers of adaptation. I should imagine her not one who would adapt herself
easily, yet, once she had recognized a necessity of that sort, I believe
she would fit herself to its conditions with an exacting thoroughness
which in time would become almost, one might say, a second, an external
self. The 'lendings' we must all of us wear."
"There will be no explanations," said Paul, not coldly, but helplessly.
"Much the best way," said the doctor relieved, and glad to be done with a
difficult undertaking. "If we are ever understood in this world, it is not
through our own explanations, but in spite of them. My daughters hope to
see a good deal of your charming wife this winter. I hear great pleasure
expressed at your coming back to town."
"Thank you, Doctor. She will be up this evening. We shall stay here with
my mother for a time. It will be her desire to carry out
this--recognition--to the end. We must honor her wishes in the matter."
The talk then fell upon the patient's condition. The doctor left certain
directions and took shelter in professional platitudes, but his eyes
rested with candid kindness upon the young man, and his farewell
hand-clasp was a second prolonged.
He went away in a state of simple wonderment, deeply marveling at Paul's
"Extraordinary poise! Where does it come from? No: the boy is happy! He
hides it; but it is the one change in him. He has experienced a great
relief. Is it possible"--
On his way down the river the doctor continued to muse upon the dignity,
the amazingly beautiful behavior of this rising family in whose somewhat
commonplace city fortunes he had taken a friendly interest for years. He
owned that he had sounded them with too short a line.
* * * * *
Watching with the dying man hours when she was with him alone, Emily
Bogardus continued to test his resolution. He never retracted by a
look--faithful to the word she had spoken which made them strangers.
It was the slightest shell of mortality that ever detained a soul on
earth. The face, small like the face of an old, old child, waxed finer and
more spiritual, yet ever more startlingly did it bear the stamp of that
individuality which the spirit had held so cheap--the earthly so
impenetrated with the spiritual part that the face had become a
sublimation. As one sees a sheet of paper covered with writing wither in
flame and become a quivering ash, yet to the last attenuation of its fibre
the human characters will stand forth, till all is blown up chimney to the
Still, peaceful, implacable in its peace, settling down for the silence of
eternity. Still no sign.
The younger ones came and went. The little boy stole in alone and pushed
against his grandmother's knee,--she seated always by the bed,--gazed,
puzzled, at the strange, still face, and whispered obediently,
"Gran'faver." There was no response. Once she took the boy and drew him
close and placed his little tender hand within the dry, crumpled husk
extended on the bedclothes. The eyes unclosed and rested long and
earnestly on the face of the child, who yawned as if hypnotized and flung
his head back on the grandmother's breast. She bent suddenly and laid her
own hand where the child's had been. The eyes turned inward and shut
again, but a sigh, so deep it seemed that another breath might never come,
was all her answer.
Past midnight of the fourth night's watch Paul was awakened by a light in
his room. His mother stood beside him, white and worn. "He is going," she
said. It was the final rally of the body's resistance. A few moments'
expenditure, and that stubborn vitality would loose its hold.--The
strength of the soil!
The wife stood aside and gave up her place to the children. Her expression
was noble, like a queen rebuked before her people. There was comfort in
that, too. A great, solemn, mutual understanding drew this death-bed group
together. Within the sickle's compass so they stood: the woman God gave
this man to found a home; the son who inherited his father's gentleness
and purity of purpose; the fair flower of the generations that father's
sacrifice had helped him win; the bud of promise on the topmost bough.
Those astonished eyes shed their last earthly light on this human group,
turned and rested in the eyes of the woman, faded, and the light went out.
He died, blessing her in one whispered word. Her name.
Before daybreak on the morning of the funeral, Paul awoke under pressure
of disturbing dreams. There were sounds of hushed movements in the house.
He traced them to the door of the room below stairs where his father lay.
Some one had softly unlocked that door, and entered. He knew who that one
must be. His place was there alone with his mother, before they were
called together as a family, and the mask of decency resumed for those
ironic rites in the presence of the unaccusing dead.
The windows had been lowered behind closed curtains, and the air of the
death chamber, as he entered, was like the touch of chilled iron to the
warm pulse of sleep. Without, a still dark night of November had frosted
the dead grass.
The unappeasable curiosity of the living concerning the Great Transition,
for the moment appeared to have swept all that was personal out of the
watcher's gaze, as she bent above the straightened body. And something of
the peace there dawning on the cold, still face was reflected in her own.
"You have never seen your father before. There he is." She drew a deep
sigh, as if she had been too intent to breathe naturally. All her
self-consciousness suddenly was gone. And Paul remembered his dream, that
had goaded him out of sleep, and vanished with the shock of waking. It
gave him the key to this long-expected moment of confidence.
"The old likeness has come back," his mother repeated, with that new
quietness which restored her to herself.
"I dreamed of that likeness," said Paul, "only it was much
stronger--startling--so that the room was full of whispers and
exclamations as the neighbors--there were hundreds of them--filed past.
And you stood there, mother, flushed, and talking to each person who
passed and looked at him and then at you; you said--you"--
Mrs. Bogardus raised her head. "I know! I have been thinking all night. Am
I to do that? Is that what you wish me to do? Don't hesitate--to spare
"Mother! I could not imagine you doing such a thing. It was like insanity.
I wanted to tell you how horrible, how unseemly it was, because I was sure
you had been dwelling on some form--some outward"--
"No," she said. "I know how I should face this if it were left to me. But
you are my only earthly judge, my son. Judge now between us two. Ask of me
anything you think is due to him. As to outsiders, what do they matter! I
will do anything you say."
"_I_ say! Oh, mother! Every hand he loved was against him--bruising his
gentle will. Each one of us has cast a stone upon his grave. But you took
the brunt of it. You spoke out plain the denial that was in my coward's
heart from the first. And I judged you! I--who uncovered my father's soul
to ease my own conscience, and put him to shame and torture, and you to a
trial worse than death. Now let us think of the whole of his life. I have
much to tell you. You could not listen before; but now he is listening. I
speak for him. This is how he loved us!"
In hard, brief words Paul told the story of his father's sin and
self-judgment; his abdication in the flesh; what he esteemed the rights to
be of a woman placed as he had placed his wife; how carefully he had
guarded her in those rights, and perjured himself at the last to leave her
free in peace and honor with her children. She listened, not weeping, but
with her great eyes shining in her pallid face.
"All that came after," said Paul, taking her cold hands in his--"after his
last solemn recantation does not touch the true spirit of his sacrifice.
It was finished. My father died to us then as he meant to die. The body
remained--to serve out its time, as he said. But his brain was tired. I do
not think he connected the past very clearly with the present. I think you
should forget what has happened here. It was a hideous net of circumstance
that did it."
"There is no such thing as circumstance," said Mrs. Bogardus with
loftiness. Her face was calm and sweet in its exaltation. "I cannot say
things as you can, but this is what I mean. I was the wife of his
body--sworn flesh of his flesh. In the flesh that made us one I denied
him, and caused his death. And if I could believe as I used to about
punishment, I would lock myself in that room, and for every hour he
suffered there, I would suffer two. And no one should prevent me, or
hasten the end. And the feet of the young men that carried out my husband
who lied to save me, should wait there for me who lied to save myself. All
lies are death. But what is a made-up punishment to me! I shall take it as
it comes--drop by drop--slowly."
"Mother--my mother! The fashion of this world does not last; but one thing
does. Is it nothing to you, mother?"
"Have I my son--after all?" she said as one dreaming.
The night lamp expired in smoke that tainted the cold air. Paul drew back
the curtains one by one, and let in the new-born day.
"'Peace to this house,'" he said; "'not as the world giveth,'" his thought
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