There’s something lovely about having a lovely time. Now I know that
looks like a very foolish sentence when one reads it over after having
written it down. So many sentences are like that; you think they’re
strong, beautiful, full of meaning and bright with fancy, while you’re
getting them out–then they appear so pale and thin when you look them
over. They’re like the fish that you’re playing in the water: “What a
whopper,” you say, “I’ve got this time!”–but how thin and small when
it lies panting on the grass.
Yet I venture to repeat, as Mr. Furvell says in his sermons, I venture
to repeat: there’s something lovely about having a lovely time. In
this, I mean, that it can never be taken away from you. There will,
you know, be cold, dark days, and bitter disappointments, and burning
tears, and emptiness of heart, till you quite forget that ever you were
glad. But, even so, all these can never rob you of that one hour, or
day, or month of pleasure unalloyed.
Mr. Laird used to say something like this in the long happy days that
followed his arrival. It had not been hard to persuade him to prolong
his visit. Fortunately for us, his friend Dr. Paine was engaged to go,
the very next week, to the meeting of the General Assembly at Dallas;
so it was arranged Mr. Laird should tarry with us till he returned,
perhaps longer–for I think it was about decided that he was to take up
mission work in Canada.
When I say those days were happy, I mean in a perfectly sane and
unfeverish kind of way, of course, with no thought of–of what every
woman looks for in every book she reads. That is, no calm and
courageous thought of it; although I shouldn’t wonder if something of
that, more or less diluted, lies back of all real joy. Anyhow, Mr.
Laird said that very thing, and more than once, about the
unloseableness of one hour or day of real happiness. Whatever has been
before of pain, or whatever may be ahead of sorrow, he said, neither
the one nor the other can ever make pure gladness as if it had never
been. It belongs to you forever, said the Reverend Gordon Laird.
I should have known that I had no right to be so happy. For one thing,
Charlie had gone back to Savannah, and I should have been miserable
over that, if conscience had been half as faithful as it should have
been. Then, besides, he was waiting for my decision about Europe and
the yacht–and I had no claim to happiness till that was settled. And,
most of all, I wasn’t sure about my love for him–very far from it–and
so I should have been quite wretched.
But I wasn’t. I was shamefully happy. We were all happy, I think, to
see our visitor so thoroughly delighted with everything about him.
After all is said and done, American people take it as a compliment
when old-country folks seem to like them. I don’t think we ever
forget, even the most democratic of us, that they have dukes and lords
across the sea. And Mr. Laird did seem so perfectly happy. For one
thing, the weather was delightful, and morning after morning found him
and me–there was no one else to act as cicerone–walking or driving
about the lovely haunts that surrounded our quiet little city.
Everything was in the glory of bud and blossom; fragrance was wafted on
every breeze; the wistaria and the yellow jasmine were gathered from a
thousand trees. Sometimes we had picnics too, making our way on our
asthmatic little launch up the winding river; sometimes we went
together to the oyster market at the wharf, where he seemed to be quite
enchanted with the negroes’ singing. “On the other side of Jordan,” I
remember, was a great favourite of his, and he used to get them to sing
it again and again.
Indeed, everything connected with negroes seemed to have a strange
fascination for Mr. Laird. This perplexed me considerably, and
mortified me not a little too. Of course, having spent all my life
among them, they were a commonplace lot to me, and I regarded them with
the kindly disdain which marks every Southern girl’s attitude to the
negro race. But Mr. Laird seemed to find a new vein in them–and,
besides, he was so intensely human and so tremendously interested in
all human things. But he didn’t know how volcanic was the ground he
walked on when he came into contact with the darkies; and I may as well
go aside here to tell how this provided the only jarring note in all
that memorable visit.
One day we were all on the piazza, engaged in that most delightful
occupation of waiting for dinner to be announced, catching savoury
whiffs the while that betokened its near approach. All of a sudden a
coal-black negress came through the back gate and stood at the foot of
the porch steps. Beside her stood a little curly-headed boy, about
three years of age, clinging to his mother’s hand. She had been asking
for something at the kitchen door, I think–they were always asking for
something, those darkies. Of course we simply looked at her; I don’t
believe uncle quite did that–I think he pretended to be reading a
newspaper. But Mr. Laird, in his impulsive way, went right down the
steps and began talking to the woman. It was really aggravating to see
how flattered she seemed to be by his attention. And then, to our
horror–clergyman as he was and in full ministerial dress–Mr. Laird
actually took that pickaninny up, and flung him onto his shoulder,
pretending to be a horse or something of that sort. And the little
negro dug his hands into Mr. Laird’s ruddy locks, while his Anglo-Saxon
steed made an exhibition of himself, galloping once or twice around the
flower bed. The mother grinned with delight in a way that I knew
fairly maddened uncle.
When Mr. Laird finally returned, panting, to his chair, uncle had quite
a time controlling himself to speak.
“Do you know who that child is, sir?” said my uncle, keeping his voice
under fine control.
“No,” said Mr. Laird, innocent of everything; “no, I never saw him
before–do you, Mr. Lundy?”
Uncle threw his newspaper on the floor without a word. Mr. Laird,
still all unconscious, meekly stooped and picked it up. “I guess I’d
better go and fix my hair before dinner,” he said, running his fingers
through the startled thatch.
“You’d better wash your hands, sir,” said my uncle sternly, oblivious
to muttered appeals from both Aunt Agnes and my mother; “I’ll tell you
who that child is, sir–it’s a coon.”
“What?” said Mr. Laird, beginning to apprehend.
“It’s a coon, sir,” my uncle repeated, as sternly as if he had been
defining some cub of the jungle; “it’s a nigger coon.”
“Well?” said Mr. Laird, looking uncle very steadfastly in the eye.
“Well,” echoed my uncle, “yes, well.” Then he paused, but soon
gathered fresh strength. “And I hardly need to tell you, I presume,
sir, that it’s not our custom to fondle darkey babies–they’re supposed
to soil white hands, sir,” he declared, waxing warm.
Mr. Laird looked innocently at his own. “It hasn’t injured mine any,
Mr. Lundy,” he said simply. “I don’t quite understand what caused
the–the panic,” he concluded, still looking very steadfastly at uncle.
“Well, then, sir, I may as well tell you plainly that such an action as
yours would be considered quite–quite improper, to say the least. We
don’t take familiarities like that with negro children.”
“It’s a harmless enough looking little chap,” responded Mr. Laird,
nodding towards the receding youngster. He was toddling along beside
his mother, his hand in hers.
“They’re harmless enough while you keep them in their place, sir,”
retorted my uncle. “But you must know that our people down here have
their own way of doing that. And you don’t understand the situation,
sir, you don’t understand the situation,” repeated Uncle Henry,
employing the favourite formula of the South. “For instance, I heard
you express surprise at something the other day. You remember when
Smallwood, the rector of the Coloured Episcopal Church, called to ask
Mrs. Lundy for a subscription–you seemed horrified that he went to the
back door, because he was a preacher and dressed up like a bishop.”
Mr. Laird nodded.
“Well, sir, if he was the Archbishop of Canterbury–or the Pope of
Rome–the back door’s the place for him–so long as that’s the colour
of his skin. There isn’t a self-respecting white family in the city
but would shut the front door in his face. You understand, sir?”
“I don’t think any more of them for that,” was the quiet retort of Mr.
“That may be, sir. They’ll stand your contempt, sir–but they won’t
let a pack of negroes walk all over ’em,” my uncle’s gorge rising
again. “And I hope to God none of our neighbours saw you on the gallop
round our back yard with a negro brat astride of you. You’d be
finished here, sir, if they did. Just before that wench came in here
with her young ‘un, I was going to tell you that I met Mr. Furvell, and
he asked me to give you an invitation, for him, to preach in our church
next Sunday. Well, sir, I hope it’ll stand all right–but if it got
round town that you made a saddle-horse out of yourself for a nigger
whelp to ride, you’d have the church to yourself, sir; I reckon a few
old women might go to hear you, but you wouldn’t have enough men there
to take up the collection.”
“I can’t do it, Mr. Lundy,” said the minister, with amazing quietness.
“Can’t do what?” demanded uncle.
“Can’t preach for your friend,” replied the other. “I’m engaged.”
“Engaged for what?”
“Engaged to preach.”
“Where?” said uncle, quite forgetful now of the debate. I think the
same question came in the same breath from my mother and Aunt Agnes.
“In the Coloured Methodist Church–I think they call it Zion,” Mr.
Laird informed us calmly. “I was there the other day at a
funeral–pretty boisterous funeral it was, too–and the preacher got
hold of me. They took up a collection,” Mr. Laird laughed, “and that
was how they located me. I didn’t have anything but a shilling–a
quarter, you call it. Well, he invited me to preach for him next
Sabbath, and I agreed. So I won’t be able to oblige Mr. Furvell.”
“You agreed, sir?”
“Yes, Mr. Lundy, I agreed,” repeated the stoical Scotchman.
“Good God!” said my Uncle Henry. My uncle was not a profane man–but
this was something extra.
“Don’t get excited, Henry, don’t,” began my mother; “Mr. Laird can
easily change all that–he can get released from his engagement. He
didn’t know we wanted him in our church.”
“I’m not excited, ma’am,” puffed my uncle; “I was never calmer in my
life–but the thing’s preposterous, madam. It’s utterly absurd–it’s
“Yes, yes,” broke in my Aunt Agnes, “of course, it’s the easiest thing
in the world to arrange. All Mr. Laird has to do is to explain to that
coloured preacher that—-”
“But I can’t,” interrupted Mr. Laird; “that is, I won’t.” The word
fell strangely on the ears of Southern ladies. “I gave him my
promise–and that’s the end of it. I’ll preach in Zion Church–or
whatever they call it–next Sabbath morning. If the Lord will,” he
added, with what appeared to us all quite superfluous piety. I didn’t
know then that Scotch people never take any chances.
“But you don’t realize what you’re doing, sir,” remonstrated my uncle;
“you fail to realize—-”
“I’m doing what no man will prevent,” broke in our visitor, and his eye
was flashing like the diamond on my finger; “I’m going to preach the
Gospel to them, if I get the chance.”
“That’s all right,” began my uncle, “that’s all right in its way,
“What’s all right in its way?” demanded the Reverend Gordon Laird, his
voice quite resounding now.
“That’s all right–that Gospel business,” explained my uncle, evidently
a little at a loss. “The Gospel’s all right in its place, but—-
“Thank you,” gave back Mr. Laird, his strong Scotch lip trembling,
“you’re very magnanimous, sir.”
“But you don’t know what you’re exposing yourself to,” pursued my
uncle, apparently deaf to Mr. Laird’s retort. “They’ll make a fool of
you in the pulpit, sir. I’ll tell you something, sir. Your sermon
will be wasted. We had a man here once–a white man–an evangelist,
who expected to move on anyhow. And he tried this little trick of
yours–he preached to those coons in their own church one day. And I
heard later how they made a fool of him. He preached about folks
having to use the means. Good sermon, too, sir. But he was no sooner
through than the nigger preacher got up after him–and he said he’d
give them a little illustration. Then he told them a ribald yarn, sir,
right in the church; said he and his ten-year-old brother were in bed
once, and they heard their mother telling their father of some
devilment they’d been up to; and the father said he’d go up-stairs when
he had finished his supper. Well, this nigger preacher went on to say
he got up to pray–but his brother–his brother believed in using the
means; and so he said he wouldn’t pray, but he’d get up and put
something on. That’s what he told them, sir–an indecent tale–and the
white preacher had to sit and hear it,” concluded my uncle, his cheeks
burning with indignation.
“I won’t give the black brother a chance to illustrate,” said Mr. Laird
stolidly; “I’ll close the service when I’m through.” Then he laughed.
“You’re trifling with me, sir,” said my Uncle Henry chokingly, rising
as he spoke. I saw the quick pallor come to the cheek of my Aunt
Agnes; as for my mother, she was fairly trembling. As for me–well, I
But just at this crisis a remarkable thing occurred. Mr. Laird didn’t
seem to notice my uncle’s movement at all. Indeed, he was not looking
in his direction, but sat gazing intently out towards the road that ran
down to the river and the bridge. Involuntarily my eyes followed his,
and a moment sufficed to reveal the object of his interest. For down
the road towards us there crept a fragile figure, swaying unsteadily,
overborne with weakness and her heavy load. This too was a negro
woman, but cast in finer mould than the stalwart black who had
disappeared from view. The one who had just hove in sight, as I could
see even at that distance, was a comely creature, more white than
black, but yet bearing the fatal hue.
She was heavy laden, as I have implied. One arm bore a great bundle
enclosed in a white sheet–laundry, doubtless–while on the other she
carried a plump and complacent infant, crowing as it came, in that fine
oblivion of weight which marks the procession of the heaviest babies
everywhere. The young mother was pressing towards the river; a rusty
skiff lay beside the bridge, in which, no doubt, she was to make her
way to the negro settlement on the farther shore. She seemed ready to
faint from the fatigue of her double burden, yet she pressed on with
almost rapid steps, as if she must keep up till she reached the boat.
It was this that had attracted the attention of Mr. Laird, so rapt in
observance that he evidently did not mark my uncle’s movements. For
the latter had hardly risen before our visitor sprang quickly to his
feet–I can see him now, the tall black-robed figure, with high brow
and auburn hair–and strode down swiftly towards the road. Another
moment brought him alongside of the exhausted negress, whose white eyes
could be seen wearily surveying him as he approached. Without a word
he seized both burdens from her arms, the baby held high aloft as he
led the way down to the boat. The mother straightened herself and
followed closely, as if she had taken a new lease of life–it was not
all due to the burdens she had lost, I’m sure–and the heavy baby
crowed with delight at this improved style of locomotion. When,
lo–_miserabile dictu!_ as I learned in Virgil–this second pickaninny,
with that tonsorial instinct which seems to mark the race, plunged its
pudgy fingers where those of its predecessor had held high revel one
brief half hour agone, squealing for very joy as it clutched the auburn
mane of the Reverend Gordon Laird.
“Don’t that beat the–the Dutch?” muttered my Uncle Henry from the
porch, gazing at the tall and supple form, the now laughing and half
boyish face, as our guest strode on towards the river, the baby and the
bale like feathers in his arms. A funny smile was on uncle’s face,
half of contempt, half of admiration. “Those two brats both into his
hair!” he murmured to himself–“and I sure enough got into his wool,”
as the grin deepened on his face.
He stood gazing. Then, recalling his sacred principles, he broke out
anew: “Good heavens, he’s going over to Slabtown with her,” for our
undaunted guest had by this time landed the bale in the bow of the
skiff. Still holding the baby high, he took the woman’s hand and
helped her over the gunwale into the boat. A moment later we could see
his shirt-sleeves glistening in the sun, he himself seated in the
middle of the skiff, starting to pull vigorously for the other shore.
“Let him go,” said my uncle between his teeth; “he’s chosen his company
and he can have it. By heavens,” he went on hotly, “I was never so
insulted in my life. What the–the dickens kind of a man is this
Scotchman anyhow?–I’ve seen men shot for less than this. I remember
once in Texas—-”
“But, Henry,” ventured my Aunt Agnes, “you shouldn’t be so hard on
him–he doesn’t understand our—-”
“Then why the devil doesn’t he keep his mouth shut?” snorted my uncle;
“comin’ down here–like those infernal Yankees–an’ tryin’ to teach us
how to run our niggers. I’ve seen men reach for their hip pockets for
less’n that,” declared my uncle, glaring round the circle.
“Now, now, Henry,” said my mother gently, “that’ll do, Henry. You’re
not much of an assassin–you know that. Besides, you can’t help
admiring his pluck, can you, now?”
“He’s too —- plucky,” muttered Uncle Henry, gazing at the now distant
boat. Then followed a season of calm, broken only by the soft voices
of my aunt and mother as they tried to pour oil on the troubled waters.
“And what do you say? What’s your opinion of your Gordon Laird–and
his nigger friends?” uncle suddenly demanded, turning on me as stern an
eye as dear old uncle could ever treat me to. I had not yet spoken.
“Do you want to know?” said I, straightening up.
“That’s what I asked you for–what makes you so white?”
“I don’t know. But I think he’s glorious–just glorious,” I said,
looking very straight at uncle. “And I don’t care who knows it,” I
added. I believe I stood up as I spoke–and I could feel my eyes
flashing. “And you were horrid to him,” I cried, my voice trembling.
“Helen,” my mother broke in reproachfully, “you forget yourself, Helen.
And do you know you’re taking up with a stranger, against your uncle?”
But the latter didn’t seem to hear what my mother said. He was staring
at me in a way that let me know the battle was won. He was a true
Southerner, was uncle, and if anything in the world appealed to him, it
was courage. Yet he had by no means surrendered.
“Then you can meet him when he comes back,” he said slowly in a minute,
nodding towards the river; “you can meet him and say good-bye for the
rest of us. You’ll make our farewells to him, you see. And tell him
the world is wide–you can remember that, can’t you, Helen?”
I smiled up into uncle’s face. “I won’t say good-bye for anybody but
Helen Randall,” I replied, speaking just as slowly as he had done, “but
I’ll do that–if I have to. And I’ll tell him–I’ll tell him,” I
repeated, gazing down the sunlit river towards the sea, “that the world
isn’t so wide after all.” And I know not why, but a strange thrill
swept over me from head to foot; for the day was beautiful, and the
fleecy clouds were overhead, and the air was laden with the sweet
breath of flowers, and God’s sunlight was on the river–and the river
flowed on in silence to the sea.
Uncle Henry turned away and presently began a little pace up and down
the piazza. Fragments of the storm could still be heard: “Preach the
Gospel, indeed–act as assistant to a nigger. A pretty pass, when our
guests turn nurse for darkey coons–the attic’s too small for him now,”
as he crossed and recrossed the porch’s sounding floor.
Presently he stopped and looked out over the river. The rest of us did
not need to look–we had been watching all the time. And, away at the
end of the long bridge–it was one of the longest in the state, nearly
a mile–we could just descry the moving figure, all in black again, of
our returning guest. He was coming back afoot, leaving the skiff to
Aunt Agnes took advantage of a long silence on uncle’s part. “Well,”
she said, “I guess I’ll order dinner served; we can’t wait any longer.”
“That’s what I say,” agreed my mother; “we may just as well go
on–it’ll be better anyhow,” she added significantly.
“What?” said my Uncle Henry, turning round and looking at us.
“We were just saying we wouldn’t wait dinner any longer,” was the
explanation, “and anyhow, ‘twould be better to go on–ourselves.
Considering everything, you know,” and my Aunt Agnes sighed.
Uncle stopped still and straightened himself up. “There’ll be no
dinner till he comes,” he said firmly, “if it’s an hour. I hope I
don’t forget what’s due to a guest,” as he looked gravely round the
circle, “and especially a stranger in a strange land.” This was said
with the air of a king and a very noble king at that.
“Call Lyn,” he said suddenly to me.
I did so. “Where are those niggers anyhow?” he asked impatiently as he
waited for her to appear. “I reckon they’ve all been watching the
procession,” jerking his thumb towards the river. “Oh, here she is,”
as the sable attendant pattered onto the porch. “Lyn, make me a
mint-julep–make it good.”
“Yes, sah!” said the vanishing servant.
“Lyn! Oh, Lyn,” he called again in an instant.
“Yes, sah; heah I is, sah!”
“Make two mint-juleps–and make them both good.”
But those were happy days, as I have said already. Neither of us knew,
I fancy, whence came the silent music that was slowly gathering in our
hearts. But it was there, even though it came in secret strains,
neither recognizing, neither declaring. Of course, I was an engaged
girl–and I was trying to live up to it. I flaunted Charlie’s ring,
sometimes; and I often wrote to him, sitting in the very same room with
Mr. Laird the while, at my own little desk in the corner. This itself
had been one of Charlie’s Christmas presents. And I kept Charlie’s
letters in the tiny drawer in the top, but I had so often been careless
about it that mother saw to it herself that it was kept securely
locked; I knew where the key was secreted–on the ledge above the
library door. Mother said I really ought to carry it on a little gold
chain around my neck; but I had no chain–and I never could bear to
have things concealed about my person. Mother never glanced at his
letters, of course–but I sometimes used to show her bits of mine after
I had written them, and mother would suggest a word here and there, a
little tenderer than the original, and I would stick them in like plums
in a pudding. Indeed–I may as well tell it–mother rewrote a part of
the one in which I kind of finally renounced any immediate prospect of
Europe and the yacht. She said no member of our family had ever been
so gifted with the pen as I–but that I was a little astray on the
facts. So she fixed my letter in a way to prevent it being very
final–for she said if it was ordained that I should go even yet, it
would be wrong to make it impossible. I fancied at the time that this
was a little like lending omnipotence a hand–but mother was an
old-time Calvinist, especially on the subject of me and Charlie, so I
presumed it must be all right to have it as she said.
I don’t think any of them, and mother least of all, ever fancied that
Mr. Laird had the remotest connection with my engagement to Charlie.
For he was a minister–and that itself would be supposed to settle it
as far as I was concerned. Besides, he was a minister without a
church, a kind of free lance on a holiday. Then, too, we knew he was
poor; he never said so, but there are always certain signs; and he took
great care of his clothes, and seemed very cautious about money, except
when he came across some one who was very poor. And I’m sure we all
remembered, though we almost never spoke of it, that he had been a
shepherd, and that his father was still keeping sheep on the hills of
Scotland–it never seemed to embarrass him a bit to refer to this,
which we all thought very strange.
Then, on the other hand, we hadn’t the slightest reason–for a long
time at least–to think he cared a single thing for me. Indeed, I was
just a little piqued about this; one evening I took some fresh flowers
to his room in the attic, and his diary was lying open on the table. I
don’t know why–I have no excuses to make at all–but my eye fell on
the entry for the first day or two he had been with us. I only glanced
at it–any girl would, I think–to see what he said about us. And I
found references to uncle, and my mother, and Aunt Agnes–even to Lyn
and Moses more than once–but not a single word about me. I didn’t
care a straw–only I had a good mind to take the violets down-stairs
with me again. But I didn’t.
I have always fancied I would have been a good deal more interested if
I had thought he was engaged. But I soon made up my mind he wasn’t,
although I had declared so stoutly to the contrary. For he never
seemed to want to be alone, especially in the twilight–and that’s a
sure sign; and he left all his letters lying around after he had
written them; and when he sang, which he did very nicely, he preferred
“Scots Wha’ Ha’e” to “Annie Laurie”; and he was never melancholy, and
never sighed–and he never asked the price of things you need for
house-keeping. So all these signs convinced me thoroughly.
I have already said he didn’t seem to care a thing for me. And
yet–and yet! For one thing, he loved to hear me sing–and he taught
me two or three of the old psalms that were in a leather-bound book he
brought down-stairs one day. Then he seemed so happy when I said I
thought them beautiful. And he talked with me so gently and reasonably
about the darkey question that I finally came to admit he did right in
preaching in that coloured church. And I wondered why he cared for
what I thought at all. Besides all this, he tried to get my promise
that I would take a class in the Sunday-school after he was gone–and I
remember the gray kind of feeling I had inside of me when he spoke of
going away. I wouldn’t promise, for I was about as fit to teach a
class as I was to be President of the United States–but I promised to
help in the library.
By and by, though I can’t tell how, we even came to speaking about
Charlie. And he praised him, said he was such a clever business man,
and handsome. I didn’t think much of that; but one evening, when we
were sitting on the shore all alone, he said he thought an engagement
was such a sacred thing–and he urged me, in a veiled kind of way,
always to be true to Charlie. And it was then I began to know–any
true girl would know there was something, when he talked like that.
And it was through that–that kind of conversation, I mean–that it all
came about. Because, by and by, I actually told him all about my
misgivings and my fears. Of course I did it all loyally enough–I
always praised Charlie, and always said I knew we’d likely be so happy
because he was, already–and I would try to be. And I told him one day
how Charlie was still urging me to consent that it should be soon,
right away soon–and any one would have thought, if they watched his
expression, that he was very concerned for Charlie’s interests. For a
strange paleness came upon his face when he broke a silence that seemed
rather long, I fancy, to both of us.
“I think you should,” he said, but his voice was so strange that I
wondered where all his strength had gone to.
“What makes you say that?” I replied, and I don’t believe my own voice
was quite natural.
“Because I think you’d be happier,” he answered–“and I want you to be
happy.” Then, for the first time, he looked at me, and his wonderful
eyes were filled with a kind of yearning such as I never saw before.
So different, indeed, from the look in Charlie’s eyes, though nobody
surely ever yearned more earnestly than Charlie.
“I’m about as happy now,” I answered, “as any girl could hope to be.”
He looked at me enquiringly, and I thought the paleness was deeper than
“Just like I am, I mean,” I hastened to enlarge, “with a lovely house,
and having a lovely time–and uncle and aunt and mother all so good to
“It isn’t the same,” he said.
“The same as what?” I pressed, knowing I should not. But I remember
yet the thrill of peril and pain and joy that accompanied the words.
“The same as love–real love,” he answered slowly. “It isn’t the same
at all–the other is a new life altogether. That’s what makes life
holy–and beautiful,” he said, his voice so low I could scarcely hear.
“That’s the whole of life–every bit of it,” he added softly.
I answered never a word. And in a moment he went on. “Yes, that’s my
highest wish for you, Miss Helen–that you may find a sphere worthy of
you. For you’ll forgive me, won’t you, when I say you haven’t found it
yet? You’ve got a wonderful nature,” he suddenly startled me with,
“and you’ve got gifts and qualities that can be so useful, so
wonderfully useful–and they can give you such deep happiness too,” he
went earnestly on, “if they only get a chance–if you only give them a
chance; if they’re developed, I mean. And nothing will ever ripen them
“But what?” murmured I, who knew right well.
“But love,” he answered gently. “No woman’s life ever really ripens
except through love. And–forgive me again, but I must say it–you’re
not getting the most out of life, living as you are now, Miss Helen.”
I looked at him searchingly. “As I am now?” I echoed. “Why, what kind
of life do you think I’m living?” But even as I spoke the words my own
poor heart provided all the answer. I felt rising up within me a
conception, not adequate or full, but quite sufficient at the time, of
the hollowness and barrenness of the poor frivolous life I was living.
And I knew, oh, so well, how far from the well-spring of real joy and
peace were the glittering streams at which I had sipped so long.
“What do you mean?” I urged, for he had not spoken.
“Oh,” he began slowly, “I guess you know. Nobody can have a nature
like yours without knowing when it’s not being satisfied. You have no
work–no calling, I mean. And you don’t have any recreation, except
only pleasure–a little party here, and a picnic there, a card party
yonder, and an afternoon tea somewhere else. You know what I mean–all
those things–and a nature like yours can’t live on confections,” he
added, smiling. “That’s why I’ll be glad–when the other happens.”
“What other?” repeated I, who knew right well again.
“You know,” he said; and the great eyes looked solemnly and wistfully
“Do you mean when I marry Mr. Giddens?” said I, dwelling on the words,
my eyes never taken from his face.
“Yes,” he said; “that’s what I mean.” And his own eyes never flinched,
although I could see the pallor deepen on his face. And I rejoiced,
though I honestly believe I scarce knew why.
“What difference would–would that make?” I asked, looking away.
“It would fill your life,” he answered quietly, “fill your life to
“But I wouldn’t give up those things even then–card-playing and
dancing and everything like that. I’ve always done those things–and I
love them, Mr. Laird. You don’t understand me, I’m afraid. You see,
your life has been a very different one from mine, hasn’t it?”
“Wide as the poles asunder,” he answered without looking at me. “I
never knew any of those things. Yes, very different,” he repeated.
And he smiled.
“Your parents are very religious people, I suppose?” I ventured.
“My mother’s not living,” he said in a hushed voice. “She died when I
“And your father?” I asked in a burst of boldness.
“Yes,” he said. We were sitting by the river at the time, and the sun
was setting, and its last rays bathed the trees with amber light. His
head was lying on the ground; and the dying sun shed its beauty on the
wavy hair and the wonderfully modulated face. Modulated is the fitting
word, for various voices spoke through the different features, yet the
master note was tenderness, always so lovable in a man when it is
joined to strength.
“I’d love to be religious,” I said suddenly. “I believe I would have
been, too, if I’d been a man.”
He smiled. “Why would you like to be religious?” he said, picking up a
pebble and throwing it far out into the river. “You’ve just said you
love those other things so much.”
“Oh, yes, I know I did. But I mean what I say, just the same. I
admire that sort of people,” I went on enthusiastically; “religious
people, you know. Really good people–like you,” I broke out
recklessly. “I knew an awfully religious girl in Richmond once. She
was naturally good, no struggle for her at all. Well, she married a
minister,”–I laughed as I said it–“and nearly all her friends pity
her so. She and her husband live in the country, and he takes care of
his own horse–he has three stations. But I never pitied her,” I
declared earnestly; “I think it must be a perfectly lovely life–when
your heart’s in it. She loves him to distraction–and his work too;
and she visits the people, and she teaches in the Sunday-school.
Besides, she has two children–and I think he preaches all his sermons
at her on Saturday nights and she fixes them up. But then, of course,
she’s fitted for that sort of thing–she can pray out loud,” I
concluded, nodding my head towards Mr. Laird as though this were the
acme of all eulogy.
“There are better kinds of prayer than that,” he answered, smiling
again; “and I’m so glad you don’t pity her,” he added, turning his
earnest eyes on me again.
“Why?” I could not help enquiring.
“Because I was afraid you would,” he said meaningly–“and she doesn’t
need it. Where two hearts are in love with each other and their
work–I wouldn’t ask any higher heaven than that.” Then he sighed;
although, as I have said, he wasn’t much given to sighing.
Then came my question. For days I had been burning to ask it; yet I
marvel that I was ever bold enough to form the words.
“You talk like a specialist on that subject. Were you ever in love,
Mr. Laird?” I shot the words out quickly; otherwise they never would
He turned with swift movement and looked at me. It seemed to me he
looked me over from head to foot, though I knew he wouldn’t do anything
so rude. The paleness was all gone now, I noticed, and I thought his
lip trembled a little. It was a moment before he spoke.
“You’ve been very kind in giving me your confidence, haven’t you, Miss
Helen?” he asked, very gravely and slowly.
I stammered out my answer. “Forgive me, Mr. Laird,” I began
penitently; “I had no right to say what I did. And if I’ve told you
anything about–about me and Charlie–it was only because it seemed
easy to do it–because I wanted to. Because I trusted you,” I added,
wishing some one would suddenly appear.
But no one did, and Mr. Laird seemed so dreadfully calm. I was
waiting, intending to say something more, when he went serenely on.
“Well, I can trust you, too,” he said; “and it seems easy to tell you.
And, anyhow, I don’t know why I shouldn’t. Yes, I was in love once,
long ago. And I was engaged to be married,” he continued, in that same
tone of reverence with which he always spoke of matters such as this.
“But it’s long ago now–it was while I was in my second year in the
university. And I had to give her up”–he smiled as he turned his eyes
on mine–“had to give her up for another man. Her father, like mine,
was a shepherd, and she was bright as a sunbeam and as pure as the
dewdrop in the dell–that’s a line from an old Scotch song,” he
interjected, smiling rather more broadly than I thought he should have
done in mid-narrative of a tragedy like that. “But a fellow came home
from across the sea–from Australia–and he was very rich.”
“Did she give you up for him?” I asked, indignation in my voice.
“Not exactly,” he answered; “but it amounted to that. She wrote and
asked me to release her; said she had found she loved him best.”
“And you gave her up?”
“Certainly,” he said, and I thought what a magnificent man he was;
“yes, what else could I do? Or what else could she do?”
“Didn’t you hate her?”
“No, of course not–I think she did perfectly right. Anything else
would have been false to both of us. And they got married very soon
after–they have three bairns now,” and I wondered how he could smile
such a happy kind of smile.
“And do you think,” I said, “do you think any girl would be justified
in changing–if she found–if she found she loved somebody else?”
“Yes,” he answered slowly. “Yes, I think she would. But she has no
right to find out anything of the sort–I would never find it out,” he
“You wouldn’t?–why wouldn’t you?”
“Because I shouldn’t,” he said; “that’s why I wouldn’t–if I loved, I’d
“Would you have loved _her_ always?” I asked, wondering at my rashness.
“Yes,” he said after a pause; “yes, if she had let me. Do you know, I
believe it’s getting chilly–shall we go home?”
To which proposal I gave swift assent–outwardly, at least. And as we
walked along I marvelled at the restraint of the strong man beside me.
I knew, or felt, rather, that his heart was a molten mass of fire–I
couldn’t have told why, but its burning heat was just as real to me as
anything could be. I knew it was aflame; but he was as reserved, and
cold, and strong, and silent as though we had been talking of something
that had nothing to do with human hearts at all. I hated myself for
the weakness I could not conceal. And I fairly loathed that Scotch
girl who married the rich Australian–and I hoped all her children had
flaming red hair, like I felt sure she had.
That same night I was chatting a while with uncle before he went to bed.
“And what is your majesty going to decide about Savannah–and the royal
yacht–and Europe?” he suddenly enquired, after our talk had run a
little on a kindred vein.
“I’m not going,” I declared vehemently; “at least, not for a long
time–I simply can’t.”
“I wouldn’t either,” he said meaningly, “if I were you–you’ll be a
fool if you do.”
“Why?” demanded I.
“I reckon you know,” said uncle; “if you don’t, I won’t tell you. And
I don’t blame you, honey. I think he’s a true blue sort of chap–but
he’ll have to revise his views about the niggers.”
Well, the result of the whole thing was this, that I spent a good half
hour posting my diary that night. I too had begun a diary by this
time–and I, too, took good care whose name shouldn’t go into it. And
the outcome of my half hour’s pondering was this brief entry: “Have
made up my mind that I can’t marry Charlie–and I shall never, never
marry the Reverend Gordon Laird.”
If there is one thing a girl loves more than another, it’s being a
martyr. If there is any such thing as sweet sorrow, that’s where it
may be found. And of all kinds of martyrdom the love kind is the
sweetest. Now in all this a woman is so different from a man. A man
enjoys the suffering that comes with love–if some one else does the
suffering; but a woman glories in it–if some one else does the loving.
And that was pretty much my case.
For I was having lots of love–from Charlie. This was all very well so
far as it went; nor can it be denied that it went a considerable way.
For every girl prizes a strong man’s love, though she return it never
so faintly. Like some preachers, she highly esteems a call–even if
she has little or no thought of accepting it. But there is nothing,
nothing in all the world, so troublesome as love; unless it utterly
swamps you–then is the solution simple. But to have just enough to
marry on, with no surplus for the years–that’s dreadful. That is like
launching some mighty ship when the tide is out–and it must be awful
to hear the keel grating on the sand.
Yes, that’s where the martydom comes in, to recall the noble word with
which I began the chapter. And when the Judgment Day shall
dawn–concerning which I have no doubt, but much misgiving–the most
oft-repeated charge against our poor weak womanhood will be that we
sold ourselves for nought. Some of our loveliest will be the first to
learn, in that great day, how deadly was the barter of their
bodies–and of so much more. I have often heard uncle say that when a
horse is sold its halter always goes along–but no one ever told me
that when a girl sells her body, that sale includes the soul.
Reluctant, protesting, even horrified, it yet must cleave to its
tenement of clay and meet the tenant’s doom. And what a doom! if it be
fitting destiny for those who have bartered the sanctity of life, some
for bread, some for home, some for gold, some for fame, some for
earthly station; and some, nobler these, for very hungriness of heart,
crying out for the nameless something that shall satisfy the soul.
I hardly know just how or when I resigned myself to such a martyrdom.
But I did. I decided to marry Charlie, right soon too–despite the
defiant vow I had registered in my diary that night. One thing I’m
sure of–and that is, that Europe and the yacht had mighty little to do
with it. But whether it was because I feared Charlie might throw
himself from the deck of the aforesaid yacht if I didn’t marry him; or
whether I felt it was a matter of honour; or whether I knew it would
throw mother’s life into eclipse; or whether I agreed with that
semi-intelligent philosopher who once said that all life was a gamble
in probabilities, or something of that sort, I cannot say. But anyhow,
one midnight hour, I drew my pen through the first half of that diary
vow, the part which declared I could never marry Charlie, and I left
uninjured the savage promise to myself that I would never, never marry
the Reverend Gordon Laird.
Besides, he had been horrid. Not in any positive sense, of course, for
Mr. Laird was such a perfect gentleman. And yet he was a gentleman
after a fashion I had never seen before. He was not in the least like
our Southern gallants; he couldn’t bow like them, nor make pretty
speeches–and he wouldn’t jump across the floor to pick up my
handkerchief, though I once saw him give Dinah a hand up the back steps
with a heavy block of ice that had slipped from her grasp and fallen to
the bottom. And he never brought me flowers, or candies, except some
wild violets he might sometimes pluck–and once he did give me some
molasses taffy, of which his reverence himself partook with almost
But he was scrupulously polite, and that’s so hard for a girl to stand
if she’s interested in a man at all. And he seemed so strong, and
self-possessed, that he was distant without meaning to be–the distance
of a sort of superiority, all the worse because you knew he wasn’t
trying to make you realize it at all; and I had the intolerable feeling
that his world was an altogether different one from mine, and that he
was interested in things I didn’t know about, yet which I felt might be
just as much mine as his if I only had a chance. As it was, however, I
was a good deal like a child standing knee high to some man whose face
was half hidden by the telescope to his eye; if he knew you were there
at all, you felt the very most he’d do would be to pat your head and
ask you if you’d lost your ball.
I don’t know what finally decided me. But anyhow I wrote Charlie a
letter, and told him Yes. “Yes, right away,” was the burden of what I
said, “as soon as I can get ready.” I thought at the time what a cruel
term that was, “getting ready”–as if the milliner and dressmaker had
any part to play in that. All the world I would have given to have
known how to really “get ready” in my inmost heart and life. But I
wrote the letter, and sealed it, and kissed it on the outside–which I
felt was the proper thing to do–and then I placed it in the Bible on
my dressing-table, taking quite a pious satisfaction in the fancy.
Then I sat down and cried till my eyes were sore and the Bible all
stained with bitter tears. Later on, I told my mother; her joy was
quite enough for two, quite too much for me.
And I told Mr. Laird too. Some will ask why, and perhaps make merry
over that delicate reserve which Southern women pride themselves upon.
But let them ask, and let them make merry as they will. Besides, I had
already told Mr. Laird so much that it was surely natural enough for me
to tell him this. Moreover, was he not a minister–and what are they
for if not to be confided in?
So I told him I was going to post a letter. It was the gathering dusk,
for such a letter should never sure be launched in the garish light of
day. Then I told him what was in it, or, at least, told him enough to
let him know; for he was remarkably “quick in the uptake,” to adopt a
phrase of his own countrymen; I think I referred, too, to his own
counsel in the matter.
He didn’t speak for a little, nor could I see his face. But when he
did break the silence, it was to say he’d walk to the post-office with
me; he added that the exercise would do him good, since he hadn’t had
much of an appetite for supper–which was, I thought, one of the
shabbiest speeches he could have framed. But I let him come.
“Why not row down?” he suddenly suggested as we came to the bend in the
road beside the river. Our boat-house, its door wide open, was at the
water’s edge. “We can land within a square of the office,” he enlarged.
I should have refused, I know; for the letter to Charlie was in my
hand. But I didn’t. And I remember yet the sense of sweet
helplessness I felt as he turned and led the way to the boat-house. It
all comes back to me again. I stand once more alone, outside, while
the tall form disappeared within the low-roofed house. The sound of
pushing and rolling I hear again as the boat emerged slowly from its
home. The rattle of oars comes back, idly rolling to and fro in the
rocking skiff; the metallic chink as they were being adjusted in the
iron sockets; and the lapping waves, and the soft breath of evening,
and the distant noises of the drowsy town. I remember, too, that there
was neither moon nor star, the sky all veiled with the gentle haze that
often marks our Southern spring. He rowed; and I sat in the armchair
in the stern.
“You’re going too far out,” I said suddenly, for we were near the
middle of the river.
“I want to get a last look at the place,” he said, “and one can see
better from out here. Doesn’t the town look lovely in the dusk?–see
all those twinkling lights.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “it’s beautiful. Why do you say that?” I asked,
trying to conceal the tremor in my voice.
“What you said a moment ago–about a last look–why the last?”
“Because it is,” he answered slowly, the oars hardly moving now. “I’m
I looked down at the dimpling track my hand was making in the water.
“When?” I said; oh, so carelessly.
“Where?” as I caught at the little throb in my voice.
“To Canada–they’ve got an opening for me there. I’m going to take a
I made no response. But I knew for the first time, in all this life of
mine, what it really meant to have a heart on fire. He was not
looking, so he could not see the quick rise and fall of my bosom as I
looked out through the deepening darkness towards the twinkling shore.
I could see the dim outline of a few tall elms on the bank; and muffled
sounds floated towards us across the darkling water. But what I
remember most was the wonderful stillness that reigned without, while
the first real heart-storm I had ever known raged deep within.
One hand was in the water, troubling the unconscious element; in the
other I still held the letter I had written Charlie. And I leaned far
out over the edge of the boat, withdrawing my gaze from the shore; but
the silent river gave back nothing except murky blankness. Life had
the selfsame colour to me then, poor child and changeling that I was.
Suddenly I felt that his eyes were on me, though the gloom was
deepening–and I trembled, actually trembled; if I had been alone with
him in mid-ocean I could not have trembled more. Perhaps I glanced
down the sullen river and remembered that its home was the far waiting
Then he moved–and towards me. If there had been a mile between us,
instead of a few paltry feet, I could not have been more conscious of
his coming. For he never spoke, and I neither spoke nor stirred. In a
moment he was beside me, or at my feet, or both. And such a
transformation I had never seen. His voice was low and unsteady,
choking almost, and I could catch the wonderful fire of his eyes as
they were fastened on me in the gloom.
“Don’t,” I said faintly, “please don’t–let us row in–we’ll miss the
But he made no movement, never even glancing at one of the oars which
had been lifted from its socket and slipped with a little splash into
the stream. The other sulked alone in the darkly dimpling water.
“Oh! Helen,” he said in an altered voice, such a voice as I had never
heard before, “you know–you know all I want to say.”
He had hold of my hand, the one that held the letter. And still I did
not move or speak. But a swift thought flashed through my mind; it was
of another day, when another man had thus laid siege to me–and I knew
now what life’s real passion meant. Yes, I will tell it–and they may
smile who will–my whole soul leaped in silent ecstasy, and triumph,
and hope. But the greatest of these was hope. I knew, at long last,
what it meant to love and to be loved–and no queen ever gloried in the
hour of her coronation as I silently rejoiced in mine. I forgot that
he was stronger than I, and greater, and nobler; forgot all about the
strength of intellect that I had felt as a gulf between us; all the
difference, too, of life’s aim and purpose was sunk and forgotten now.
I even forgot that he was a minister at all, set apart for life to
duties and sacrifices for which I had neither gift nor inclination. I
only knew I loved him, and that we were alone together–and that he was
at my feet.
“Helen,” he began again, “I’m going away–and you’ll forget all about
me, won’t you, Helen?”
It was sweet to hear him speak my name. And his words would mean, of
course, that he wanted me to forget–but I knew what they really meant,
and I held every tone sacred to my heart.
Then I said, and the words were soft as the breeze about us: “I won’t.”
I knew it was wrong–for Charlie’s letter was still in the hand he
held. But it was glorious. Oh, how I revelled in the words I spoke!
They were simple and insignificant, I know,–but the wild breath of a
new-born love pulsed through them, and I could see by the kindled face,
though the dark was round about us, how his heart had leaped to
recognize their meaning. And then his own soul poured itself out in a
great gust of passion, pure and holy and resistless and triumphant; all
the strength and silentness and self-control that had provoked my
wonder through the days seemed now to be turned to leaping flame as he
told me–oh, so eloquently and yet so brokenly–of such a love as I had
never dreamed could be offered any maiden’s heart.
“Can you see that steeple there?” he said, his voice hoarse with
feeling as he pointed to the distant town; “no, it’s too dark–but I
can see it. I see it even in my dreams. It was under its shadow I met
you first, when your uncle and I were coming from the train. And I
knew then, Helen–in that instant I knew, and have known ever since,
that there was only one love for me–and it was you, my darling. And I
knew, I knew, who put the roses in that attic room of mine–and they
made the place like heaven to me ever since. And give me this,
Helen–surrender it to me,” he went on passionately, his fingers
closing stealthily around the letter in my hand.
“I cannot,” I cried, protesting, summoning what strength I might. “Oh,
I cannot–that’s my letter to Charlie.”
His clasp relaxed a little. “I know,” he said; “that’s why I want
it–and you cannot, you must not, send it now.”
“But you told me, you told me more than once,” I pleaded; “you said how
true I ought to be–you know you did,” and I trembled lest his own
counsel should prevail.
He seemed to sink back a little–and awful silence reigned a moment.
“But I didn’t know,” he soon began, new earnestness in his voice, “I
only knew then that I loved you–and I could have given you up, I
really could–but I didn’t know then that you belonged to me–to me, my
darling,” his voice rising to the masterful with the words; “I didn’t
know then that God meant you for me, and that that was why He led my
steps across the sea. I could have given you up–I swear I could,” he
cried almost fiercely, “if it had meant nothing but a wounded life for
me–but when it’s you–oh, when it’s you, my darling, when your life
would be wounded and broken too. For you love me, my own,” and his
voice had the tenderest strain that ever filled woman’s heart with
rapture; “don’t you, Helen?” he went pleadingly on; “oh, say you do–or
tell me, tell me, Helen, if you don’t.”
Then the silence of death reigned about us both, though heaven knows I
tried my best to break it, but could make no sound. And then,
then–with all the stealth of love and of a strong man’s will–he
gently drew the letter from my hand, my heart fluttering till it hurt,
and without a word he tore it up, slowly, noiselessly, almost
reverently, into a hundred pieces, and a moment later they fluttered
through the dark out onto the bosom of the silent river.
I was like one in a dream, unspeaking still. Perhaps I had a great
sense of weakness, even of wrong. But I do not think so. I only knew
that life was changed to me in that wonderful hour, and that I cared
nothing for the future, all that it might bring, all my unfitness for
it. I only knew that I had found at last what my poor, tired,
frivolous heart had been seeking in alien ways for long. And I knew
that love’s great lie, so desperately cherished, had retreated before
Love’s great Reality. And when he took me in his arms, so strong, so
tight, I shut my eyes and rested there; and when he kissed me–only
once–I prayed, a swift, wonderful prayer. And I knew at last that
love was holy, stainless, and that God was good.
They were waiting for us when we got home, wondering a little why we
were so late. We told them we had been on the river, and Mr. Laird
apologized for the loss of the oar; I remember uncle said it was lucky
he was able to paddle his own canoe.
I went into mother’s room when I went up-stairs to fix my hair–and she
noticed that Charlie’s ring was absent from my hand. I expected her
to, for it was a source of constant joy to her. Then I told her. I
shall not describe the gust that followed, except to say that what I
remember best about it was mother’s appeal to my sense of unfitness for
the life of a minister’s wife. There was a lot more–Europe and the
yacht were not forgotten–about the folly of giving myself to a life of
obscurity and poverty when a very different one was open to me.
“I’m sick of money,” I said foolishly; “I’ve always had nearly
everything I wanted–and I wasn’t happy.”
“You’ll know the difference when you don’t have your uncle to give you
everything you want,” said my mother.
“He’s been the kindest man that ever was,” I agreed, “but no uncle that
ever lived could give a girl everything she wants. There’s only one
can do that,” I went on, for my heart was singing–“and I’ve found him
It was then that mother appealed to me on the ground of my unfitness
for the life I had chosen. And I must admit that _did_ hit me pretty
“Look at our minister’s wife,” she said; “she’s meant for it. It’s
true she looks half starved, and she’s always dowdy, and has to make a
dress do for years–but she’s happy in that kind of life.”
“Maybe I’ll be happy too,” I ventured to predict.
“How could you be?” retorted my mother. “How could you ever hope to
be, when you’re not fitted for that kind of work? Mrs. Furvell can
lead in prayer.”
“Well, I can’t,” I said–“but I can follow. And Mr. Laird says that’s
“And she can take the chair at meetings–and she knows how to talk to
ministers when they come–and they say she looks over her husband’s
sermons, and makes suggestions.”
“My husband’s sermons won’t need any,” I made reply. And at this I
blushed furiously: the word sounded like a beautiful judgment day. I
knew how crimson my face and neck all grew, for I was standing in front
of a pier glass at the time, my hair flowing down about my shoulders.
And I wondered if I was beautiful–I hoped I was, but not for my own
sake at all–I can honestly say no vanity was in my thought.
Everything was different now.
“Of course,” conceded my mother, “I believe in a girl marrying for
love–but you haven’t known him long enough. Now Charlie’s different;
you’ve known him so long.”
“That’s just where it comes in,” said I, dimly groping for what I felt
was a great point.
“What do you mean?” said mother.
“I don’t know,” I answered, which was gloriously true.
“Besides,” digressed my mother, leaving this obscure point unsettled,
“what reason have you got to think you’ll ever get along agreeably with
“I’d get along with Choctaw Indians,” quoth I, “if it would make him
any happier; besides, I won’t have to–they’re all in Scotland.”
“Whose happiness do you mean?” enquired my mother, though she knew
“Why, his–Mr. Laird’s, of course.”
“Are you going to call him Mr. Laird?” pursued my mother, for womanly
curiosity will show itself even amid high tragedy.
“I reckon so–I don’t know,” and I laughed as I spoke; “that never
occurred to me.”
“He didn’t ask you to–to call him Gordon?”
“Mercy, no–why should he?” I exclaimed aghast.
“Why shouldn’t he?” replied my mother. “I remember the night your
father asked me to marry him–but then, there’s no use of that; that’s
all over now. When is he going to speak to me about it, Helen?”
“Oh, mother,” I said, putting my arms about her neck, “you’re such a
woman! I know you’re just counting the minutes till you’ll be alone
with him when he’s pleading with you to give your daughter to him.
That’s the next best thing to getting a proposal yourself, isn’t it,
But she was not yet ready for surrender. “It’s very easy for you,
Helen,” she said seriously, “to treat it all as a trifling matter–but
you don’t know what a heavy heart you’ve given me. And there’s another
thing,” she went on, a little timidly, I thought: “I suppose you don’t
forget that his father’s a shepherd–a man that takes care of sheep, on
the hills?” she enlarged.
“No, I haven’t forgotten it,” I answered, and I felt my colour rising,
“nor has he forgotten. And I wouldn’t care if his father were a
chimney-sweep. Do you mean that, mother?” I demanded, my voice about
as stern as she had ever heard it.
“Mean what, Helen?”
“Do you mean that that–about his father being a shepherd–should make
any difference to me? When I love him?” I added, my voice shaking a
“No, child, no. No, of course not,” my mother hastened to reply; “only
it’ll be a little awkward, I’m afraid. You’ve got to consider
everything, you know.”
“That’s just what I’m doing,” I retorted quickly. “And if he’s good,
and true, and noble–and he is–what difference does it make to me who
his father is, or what he does? It won’t be as awkward as to be
married to a man you don’t love–that’s what I _would_ call awkward,” I
cried, “and that’s what nearly happened me. And he–Mr. Laird–he tore
the letter up and threw it into the river, thank God!” as the tears
that could no longer be restrained poured forth at last.
Her tender arms tightened about me as she soothed me with some
explanation of what she meant, telling me meantime that I was tired and
needing rest. Nor did the interview last much longer, being fruitful
of but little satisfaction on either side. Mother loved me too well to
make any real unpleasantness about it; and, before we finished, she
laid most of her grief to the score of Charlie’s broken heart. But she
did add, rather sorrowfully, that in all probability now I would live
and die without ever seeing Europe.
I believe there’s no place where a girl so feels the trembling joy of
love as in her own little room when first she returns to it with her
lips still moist from the sacramental kiss. I have often wondered
since why this is so. And I do not know. But I remember well, with
quickening heart, that almost bridal hour. I did not light the
gas–and I wondered at the time why I shrank from doing so–but kindled
instead the candle on my dressing-table. The soft and tender light
accorded better with my mood, and the flitting shadows that fell across
the room seemed beautiful. When I was undressed and robed for the
night, I sat long, my hair still flowing on my shoulders, before the
pier glass, gazing into my own eyes for very joy. The shallow will say
it was empty vanity; but it was not. It was a kind of communion time,
searching, so far as I could, the mystic depths of a personality that
had been so suddenly wakened to a new and holy life.
I know not how long I lingered thus, peering into the hidden
future–once or twice I buried my hot face in my hands–marvelling at
the ministry of love, before I put the candle out and went to bed. And
then, strangely enough, there stole into my mind the verse Charlie used
to love to hear me sing. I hummed it softly to myself:–
“Still must you call me tender names
Still gently stroke my tresses;
Still shall my happy answering heart
Keep time to your caresses.”
But now the words seemed all on fire and I wondered why their beauty
had never appeared to me before. I lilted them again and again, the
image of my lover, my first real lover, before me all the time–and I
wondered when, if ever, I would sing the words for him.
But all of a sudden I felt that this was frivolous. For it was
beginning to be borne in upon me–scarcely thought of in the first rush
of joy–what manner of man this was whose lot I was to share. I was to
be a minister’s wife! With a wave of cowardice I hid my face under the
snowy covers as I thought of it; while visions of other days, of dances
and parties and cards, and all sorts of alien things, floated before my
eyes. I fought against them all with an intensity they did not
deserve, really trying to lead my thoughts into higher channels. And
there came into my mind–which I have always considered an intervention
from a Higher Source–a line or two of a psalm I had heard Mr. Laird
sing more than once. The words came back to me so readily, and I said
them over and over again to myself:–
“I to the hills will lift mine eyes
From whence doth come mine aid,”
and, almost before I knew it, I had slipped out of bed and was on my
knees in prayer. I must confess that I barely knew how to pray–that
is, outside of a little groove along which my devotions had tripped
since I was a child. But this time I really did pray–out of my own
heart–though I fear it was a very broken and halting prayer, a poor
sort of thing compared to those finished efforts of Mrs. Furvell to
which my mother had referred. Yet I think it was sincere. I asked God
to guard my love–but especially his–and to not let anything happen to
spoil it; and to help me give up everything that was wrong or
frivolous, and to make me some help to him in his life-work.
I was hardly snuggled up in bed again before I heard Mr. Laird coming
up-stairs to the attic. I suppose he had been doing some thinking on
his own account, all alone in the parlour. His room was right over
mine–and that was why I had such a luxurious night. For very soon he
began walking up and down the floor–I don’t think he knew I was just
beneath–and he kept up that lonely tramp for hours. Every step he
took was music to me. Back and forward, forward and back, he walked,
and I could fairly see the tall, noble form, the serious face, the
deep, penetrating eyes. Once or twice he stopped, for a few minutes;
and I began to fear he didn’t love me as he should. But soon the firm
tread began again and then I knew how really dear I was.
Dozens of times since then, when I have teased him about it, he has
told me those little silences came when he threw himself on his bed and
snatched a few minutes’ sleep; but that he knew I was listening, so he
would shake himself, dash some cold water on his face or wrap a towel
about his head, and start on his beat again. But I knew better–and
anyhow, he confessed to me once that nothing short of chloroform could
have kept him still that night.
When we assembled at breakfast the next morning Mr. Laird didn’t eat
anything except one little half slice of toast–and I could see how
this appealed to mother, though she maintained a sad gravity throughout.
When the meal was finished he asked mother if he might have a few
minutes with her alone. And she asked him what could it possibly be