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Title: Vein of Iron (1936)
Author: Ellen Glasgow
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eBook No.: 0609351.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: December 2006
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Title: Vein of Iron (1936)
Author: Ellen Glasgow






'Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.'




CONTENTS

PART I--TOWARD LIFE

PART II--THE SINGLE HEART

PART III--LIFE'S INTERLUDE

PART IV--GOD'S MOUNTAIN

PART V--THE DYING AGE







PART I

TOWARD LIFE


I


Children were chasing an idiot boy up the village street to the
churchyard.

'Run, run, oh, what fun!' sang little Ada Fincastle, as she raced
with the pursuers.  Flushed and breathless, panting with delight,
she felt that the whole round world and the short December day were
running too.  The steep street and the shingled roofs of Ironside
rocked upward.  The wind whistled as it sped on.  Dust whirled and
scattered and whirled again.  The sunshine was spinning.  A bird
and its shadow flashed over the winter fields.  Clouds flew in the
sky.  The road beyond the church reared and plunged into the shaggy
hills.  The hills shook themselves like ponies and rushed headlong
among the mountains.  The Blue Ridge and the Alleghanies toppled
over and tumbled far down into the Valley of Virginia.  'Run, run,
oh, what fun to be flying!'  Then suddenly the world balanced
itself, revolved slowly, and settled to rest.  She had stopped.

Past the old stone church, on the edge of a field, the idiot turned
and spat at his tormentors.  His mouth was only a crooked hole in
his face; his small dull eyes squinted between inflamed eyelids.
Without dropping his pail of refuse, he squawked with rage and
dodged from side to side as the boys pelted his shoulders.  'Go
home, Toby, go home to your mammy!' the little girls mocked,
dancing about him.  'Go home to your piggie--pig--pigs!'

Across the field, beyond the last sunken mound in the churchyard,
the fallow land broke and fell into Murderer's Grave, a bare
ravine, once a watercourse, where the body of a hanged man had been
buried nearly a hundred years before.  Since that time, Ada knew,
there had been no hanging at Ironside; but some people said that
the lost spirit of the murderer, with a red stripe round its neck,
still prowled on stormy nights outside the churchyard.  In a hovel
perched on the rim of the ravine Toby Waters, the idiot, lived with
his mother.

'He's afraid to go home,' Willie Andrews cried.  'His mother got
drunk yesterday and beat him with her hickory stick.  She sold her
last petticoat for moonshine to the people on Lightnin' Ridge.'

Darting into the field, he seized the idiot's cap and stuffed it
with cow droppings.  Willie, the children shrieked, could always
think of something to do.  A great sport, he was, with the funniest
face and the quickest tongue in the village.  'He wants his cap,'
Janet Rowan trilled in her childish falsetto.  She had an innocent
rosebud face, and was fond of sticking out a small rosy tongue
which the Sunday school teacher had once brushed with quinine
because it told fibs.  'He's crying for his dirty old cap.'

'Oh, he won't mind,' Willie retorted.  'He eats slops.  I've seen
him.'

'But it hurts him,' Ada Fincastle answered slowly.  'It hurts him
to cry.'

Excitement had ebbed, and her voice sounded far off and troubled.
She glanced uneasily from the idiot's face to the spoiled cap (such
a ragged cap!) and back again to the idiot's face, which was
sagging with grief.  Sudden light broke within.  It was just as if
her heart, too, had turned over.  'I don't like to hurt things,'
she said, and there was surprise in her tone.

In a flash of vision it seemed to her that she and Toby had changed
places, that they were chasing her over the fields into that filthy
hovel.  But it wasn't the first time she had felt like this.  Last
summer she had seen a rabbit torn to pieces by hounds (their own
young Horace, for all his noble bearing, was among them) and she
had heard it cry out like a baby.  She had watched its eyes
throbbing with fear and pain, like small terrified hearts.  Since
then she had never been able to eat rabbit unless she pretended it
was chicken.  Aunt Abigail Geddy said chickens were not nearly so
much like babies.  She said chickens didn't really mind having
their necks wrung if you did it the right way.

'It does hurt him, Ralph.  I know it hurts him.'  Her voice was
firmer now, and she looked round at Ralph McBride, who was the only
boy she trusted.  She could not remember when her confidence in him
had begun.  From the time she could crawl she had tried to follow
his auburn head everywhere.

'He likes it,' Ralph replied impatiently.  'If he didn't like it,
he could run home.'

'But he's lost his cap.  Maybe he knows his mother will whip him if
he comes home without it.'  Moved by a reckless impulse, she jerked
off her own cap of knitted red wool and held it out to the idiot.
'You may have mine, Toby.  I don't need it.'

'What bedevilment are you up to now?' a voice shouted from the
churchyard, and at the first word the children scattered and fled
squealing down the village street.  'I'm sometimes tempted to
think,' the voice continued, 'that children are more savage than
savages.'

'He won't hurt me.  I shan't run,' Ada thought.  It could be nobody
but Mr. Black, the minister, she knew, and she knew also, though he
was a man of humane instincts, that he preferred children in Sunday
school.

'Can't you leave off tormenting that unfortunate?' he called again,
as he opened the gate and came out into the road where she waited
alone.  'Did he snatch your cap?' he asked, glancing severely at
Toby.

'No, sir, he didn't snatch it.  I gave it to him.'

Standing her ground, she stared up at the ungainly figure in the
long black greatcoat and the scarred face under the slouch hat of
black felt.  His eyes were dark and piercing; his long bony nose
curved in a beak; and his smooth-shaven chin was veined in
splotches like spilled blackberry wine.  A livid birthmark was
branded on the left side of his face between nose and temple, and
this, with the drooping eye above, as defiant as the eye of a caged
hawk, gave him the look of a man who had fought his way through a
forest fire.  Only the fire seemed to be burning not without but
within.  He was a saint, Ada's grandmother, who ought to have
known, had insisted, and because he was a saint he had been able,
in spite of his disfigurement, to attach to himself, with brief
intervals of widowerhood, three excellent wives.

'What will your mother say to that?'  The minister's tone was
stern.

'I have another, sir.  Grandmother knitted two red caps for me.
One for everyday, and one for Sunday.'

He smiled, and she told herself that he no longer frightened her.
'And you have a red lining to your squirrel-skin coat.'

She looked down.  Yes, 'twas true, but she hadn't thought the
minister would notice what she had on.  Her short coat of squirrel
skins stitched together in squares had been lined by Aunt Meggie
with the red flannel from one of grandmother's old petticoats.
Beneath the coat she wore a frock of brown and yellow sprigged
calico, chosen dark to save washing.  She hoped the minister
couldn't see the top of her red flannel underbody, which would poke
up at the neck, though it was sewed to her petticoat of the same
scratchy material.  Was there anything wrong, she wondered, while
her anxious gaze travelled to her brown woollen stockings with
yellow stripes at the top, and farther down, but not so very far,
after all, to her stout leather shoes made by old Mr. Borrows, the
cobbler, who still sewed so neatly that his shoes lasted for ever.
They looked clumsy, she thought; but he had assured her they would
wear until her feet grew too big for them.

Though she flushed when the minister glanced down at her, she was
not ashamed of her appearance.  She had been told, and saw no
reason to doubt, that she had a perfectly good face.  'A large
mouth, but perfectly good,' Aunt Meggie had said, and Ada's mother,
overhearing this, had laughed and added, 'A blunt nose, but
perfectly good too.'  Only, it seemed, her eyes were uncertain, or,
as her mother insisted, 'improbable'.  She had discovered this a
year before, when she was nine, and Aunt Meggie was writing a
letter about the family to a relative they had never seen, a blind
and crippled old lady in Scotland.  'Shall I say that Ada's eyes
are dark grey or smoky blue?' Aunt Meggie had asked, turning, pen
in hand, to the child's father.  'Tell her,' he had replied
quickly, 'that she has eyes like the Hebrides.'  When Ada had
demanded eagerly, 'What are the Hebrides, father?' he had answered
mysteriously, 'The Western Isles'.

She would remember this always because it had happened the day she
won her gold medal for reciting the Shorter Catechism.  The medal
was very thin and scarcely bigger than her thumb-nail, but it was
solid gold, the minister had said when he presented it.  Her name
was engraved on one side in letters so fine she couldn't read them,
and on the other side there was the single word 'Catechism', with
the year 1900 beneath.  She wore the medal threaded on a shoestring
round her neck, except on special occasions when mother would
search in her bureau drawers until she found a bit of old ribbon.

Suddenly, when she thought he had finished, she became aware that
Mr. Black was asking another question.

'Why did you give away your cap?'

'The boys spoiled Toby's.  And he was crying.  He was afraid his
mother might whip him.'

Mr. Black frowned.  He always frowned, as Ada learned afterwards,
whenever he was brought face to face with the misery of the world.
It was not easy, she could see, too, for him to avoid it.  His
sacred calling and the whole scheme of salvation depended upon
misery, mother had once complained when she was having a toothache.

'Well, I shouldn't trust her if she can lay hands on him,' he said.

While he spoke he wagged his head under the slouched brim, and
because she thought it more polite to assent, she wagged back at
him like a solid shadow.

'How old are you, my child?' Mr. Black inquired, after a pause.

'Ten, sir.  I've been going on eleven ever since last summer.'

He nodded abruptly, and then appeared, even more abruptly, to
forget her.  His countenance shone in the sunlight, and her own
small image seemed to wink at her from its glassy surface.  She saw
the drift of red in her cheeks, the freckles that never faded from
her nose even in winter, and her flying hair, between brown and
black, cut short to her shoulders, and curving up till it was like
a drake's tail, Aunt Abigail said.  She couldn't see the colour of
her eyes, but that might be because they had that far-away look.

A stuttering noise at her back made her wheel round, and she saw
that Toby was trying to stretch her cap over his deformed head.
When she looked at him, he threw the cap in the road and held out
his hands, babbling 'Sugar, sugar!'

'Can you understand what this unfortunate is saying?' Mr. Black
asked.

'He's begging for something sweet.  His mother taught him to say
"Sugar, sugar" like that whenever he meets anybody.  No, I haven't
anything sweet to give you, Toby,' she said severely.

'Go home!' Mr. Black commanded, with a queer distortion of his
mouth, and Toby picked up the half-emptied pail of refuse and
trotted obediently along the twisted path that led across the field
to the hovel.

'You ought not to throw away the caps your grandmother knits for
you.'  The minister's voice had saddened.  'Her fingers are not so
nimble as they used to be, and her bones are more brittle.  But in
her prime, before that attack of lumbago last winter, you couldn't
have found her match anywhere.  Many of our people back in the
mountains owe their lives to her and to the medicine in her saddle-
bag.  Often on stormy nights when word came down from Thunder
Mountain that somebody was near death, and the doctor was away on
another case, she would pack her saddle-bag with medicine and
bandages, not forgetting cloth for a winding-sheet, and start with
me on horseback up Lightning or Burned Timber Ridge.'

It's all true, Ada told herself proudly, tossing back the hair from
her shoulders.  Everyone spoke that way of grandmother, especially
her daughter-in-law, who had come from the Tidewater and had been a
belle in the gay, fast set there Aunt Meggie said, until she met
father when he had his first charge in Queenborough.  A fine church
it was, too, the largest Presbyterian congregation in that part of
the country.  Why had they left there, she wondered, and come back
to live with grandmother in the old manse?  Would that always, even
when she grew up, be a mystery?  From a word Aunt Meggie had let
fall, she suspected that the change had had something to do with
losing their church.  And then, when they were all safely at
Ironside and father had begun to preach in the old stone church,
which his great-great-grandfather, John Fincastle, pioneer, and his
flock had built with their own hands, he had lost this charge also
as soon as the second volume of his book had come from the press.
It was dreadful, she couldn't help thinking, though grandmother had
rebuked her for the opinion, the way pastors were dismissed just as
soon as they were comfortably settled.  Father had been obliged to
turn into a schoolmaster and fill the parlour with rows of ugly
green benches.  She had heard somebody say that he was allowed to
teach only profane learning, and even that was on grandmother's
account, because she had done so much good in her life.

'Did your father go to Doncaster, this morning?' Mr. Black's
question trailed off into the sigh she had learned to expect when
anyone spoke of her father.

'Yes, sir.  He went with Mr. Rowan in his two-horse gig.  They
started before day, and he said they would be back, if nothing
happened, about sundown.  It's a long way.'

'Not as the crow flies.  But all ways are long over bad roads.'

'He had to go about the mortgage.'  A mortgage was nothing to be
ashamed of if you were self-respecting.  Nor, for that matter, was
being poor and doing without things, so long as you saved your
pride and didn't stoop to receive charity.

What troubled her was not the mortgage, but the endless sigh that
fluttered about father's name.  He had been a more eloquent
preacher than Mr. Black, mother declared, and after the second
volume of his book was published (the book that had cost him two
pulpits) famous men from all over the world had written to ask his
opinion of the philosophers in the olden time.  For he himself was
one of the greatest.  Had he lived long ago, mother had said,
carefully pronouncing the syllables, he might have walked with
Socrates, he might have been the companion of Plato.

There was a brief silence while the man and the child gazed up the
steep road from the church to a grove of giant oaks and a red brick
house flanked by a stony hill which was used as a pasture for three
infirm sheep.  The dwelling stood slightly withdrawn from the
village, on land that had belonged to the Fincastles ever since
Ironside had been a part of the frontier and John Fincastle had led
his human flock up from the Indian savannahs, running in wild grass
and pea-vine, to the bowed shoulder of the mountain.  Near the
timbered ridges he had felled trees and built the original manse, a
cabin of round logs with a stone chimney.  He had always believed,
grandmother said, that the Lord had directed him to their grove of
oaks in Shut-in Valley.  Far into the night he had prayed, asking a
sign, and in the morning when he had risen to fetch water he had
seen a finger of light pointing straight from the sky to the
topmost bough of an oak.  After more than a century and a half, in
which the log cabin had given way first to a small stone house and
then to the square brick house, the Fincastle place was still known
as 'the old manse', while the minister's home in the village was
called 'the new parsonage'.  The child, who had heard all this and
much more, imagined that the fine town of Fincastle, and the lost
county as well, had been named after the pioneer for whom God made
a sign.  But the minister might have told her, had he felt the wish
to shatter a harmless myth, that these historic scenes commemorated
not an act of God, but the family seat of Lord Botetourt in
England.

'Is there anybody at the gate?' Mr. Black inquired presently,
shielding his eyes from the sun.  'It may be only a sheep.  It's
queer, isn't it,' he continued solemnly, 'how little difference
there is between a human being and a sheep to near-sighted eyes?'

The child laughed shyly because she knew, though it did not seem
funny, that he expected her to be amused.  ''Tis grandmother,' she
replied.  'She's picking up sticks.  Every evening, just before
sundown, she goes out and picks up all the sticks that have dropped
since the day before.'

The queer frown that bore so strong a resemblance to misery, and
yet was not misery, distorted the minister's face.  'But that is
bad for her rheumatism.'

'She doesn't stoop all the time.  Father made her a pair of wooden
tongs to pick up with.'

'Do you never help her?'

'We all pick up every evening.  Sometimes father and I go down into
the woods and gather the handcart full of light-wood.  'Tis a great
saving,' she explained in an elderly tone, 'on the backlogs father
cut last summer.'

'I dare say.  Well, you'd better run home now and help your
grandmother.'

'I'm not going home.'  Her voice was faltering but brave.  'I'm
going over to the flat rock by the big pine to watch for father.'
Had the minister forgotten that Christmas was coming soon, and the
Ladies' Missionary Society was holding a festival on Tuesday to
raise money for the heathen in China?

'Is he going to bring you something?'  Again he smiled, and again
she thought in surprise, I am not afraid of him.

'He's going to bring me a doll with real hair.'  Her eyes shone and
the red drifted back into her cheeks.

'But won't a doll with real hair cost a good deal?'

'I saved up my berry money.  Mrs. Rowan paid me two dollars and a
half for picking berries for her last summer.'

'Will a doll cost all of two dollars and a half?'

'I hope not.'  She appeared anxious, as indeed she was.  'I had to
spend a dollar.  I simply had to spend a dollar.'

'Well, run on.  He may come sooner than you expect.  Isn't the
nearest way through the village?'

'No, sir, I know a sheep track over the fields.  The track goes by
the flat rock all the way down to Smiling Creek.'

But he had not, she realized after a moment, listened to a word she
had said.  His gaze was sweeping the Appalachian uplands and the
unbroken chain of mountains to the farthest and highest blue
summit.  While she waited for him to dismiss her, she saw his mouth
quiver and move stiffly in silent prayer.  Then, as she was about
to slip away, the words fluttered and came to roost on his lips.
'Whenever I look at God's Mountain, I know what is meant by THE
PEACE OF GOD, WHICH PASSETH ALL UNDERSTANDING.'

Vaguely bewildered, but still eager to be all that he required of a
child who knew the Catechism by heart, she hesitated and raised her
eyes to a face that had become luminous with worship.  Then,
turning away softly, she tied her knitted scarf over her head and
ran into the near field to pick out the old sheep track, which was
scarcely wider than a seam in the ground.


II


The child lay on the flat rock and watched the road that climbed
through the small valleys within the Great Valley.

God's Mountain, father said, was the oversoul of Appalachian
Virginia.  Whenever she gazed at it alone for a long time, the
heavenly blue seemed to flood into her heart and rise there in a
peak.  That must have been the first thing God created, and blue,
she supposed, was the oldest colour in the world.  When she was
studying the Alps in her geography class, father had said that the
Blue Ridge and the Alleghanies were older.  And the streams were
old too.  That was why there were no lakes or ponds in the hollows
of Indian Rock County, not even in Campbell's Valley or Aunt Mary's
Valley or Can't Whistle Creek Valley or, of course, in their very
own Shut-in Valley.  But there were many rivers and creeks and runs
and trickling ice-green freshets from the melted snows in the
mountains.  Scattered among them, she could see the comfortable
farmhouses, with roofs of red painted tin or grey weather-beaten
shingles.  For Shut-in Valley was not really shut in except at the
farther end.

A DOLL WITH REAL HAIR--the thought ran in a bright skein through
her mind.  She had never in all her life had a doll with real hair.
And she was buying it with her own money that she had earned, so
she might look at it as soon as it came, without waiting for
Christmas.  Mother had given her a scrap of pink baby ribbon to tie
round its head; she knew Aunt Meggie was making a dress as a
surprise; and grandmother, she was almost sure, had crocheted a
pink coat, and perhaps tiny shoes, of worsted for it to wear when
she took it into the village.  She would call it Flora because that
name sounded pink and smooth and smiling, with yellow hair.

Leaning down from the rock, she looked far over Little River, which
reflected the sky through shadows of scudding clouds.  Immense,
clear, glittering, the even summit of God's Mountain broke on the
western horizon.  She could smell the crystal scent of winter in
the air, like the taste of wild strawberries.  Nearer, yet still
far away, she could make out the twin crests of Rain and Cloud
Mountains, and when she turned and glanced over her shoulder, there
was Thunder Mountain, the nearest of all.  On the very top of
Thunder Mountain, father said, there was a heap of brown stones.
Nobody could tell how it had come there, or why the Indians had
raised it.  Some people believed it was the burial mound of an
Indian chief.  But father thought that when the Shawnees went by on
the warpath, each brave had dropped a stone as an offering to the
Great Spirit, just as she dropped a penny in the plate Deacon
McClung passed in church.

When she was old enough she meant to climb the mountain and see for
herself.  That was one of the things mother had always longed to do
and had never done.  'Some day when we have nothing important to
do,' mother said, 'and I don't have to lie on a sofa to spare my
back, we'll take a whole day out of life and climb to the very top
of Thunder Mountain.  We'll go up as high as the Indian mount.
From there we can see nearly to the end of the world.'  And ever
since she was little, the child had asked, 'Is the end of the world
blue, mother?'

Lower down on Thunder Mountain you could still see signs of the
Shawnee warpath.  Indian trail, they called it; and Ralph McBride
had followed it with some deer-hunters last autumn.  Over that
trail the Shawnees had come for the massacre of Smiling Creek.
Ralph had found arrow-heads and part of a tomahawk down under the
rocks in the deepest bottom of the creek.  When the Indians went
back they had taken Great-great-grandmother Tod away into
captivity.  A little girl she had been, ten years old, no bigger
than Ada.  She had lived for seven long years a captive in a
Shawnee village.  When she was sixteen, they had married her to a
young chief, and she had gone into his wigwam.  Then peace with the
red men had come soon afterwards, and when she was seventeen she
was returned under the treaty, father said, that ended Pontiac's
War.  After all she had endured, she lived to be over a hundred.

In the middle of the road by the flat rock, two of the mountain
people, a man and a boy, were swinging by with a slow, even gait.
As they passed, they looked up and nodded gravely, and she nodded
back without speaking.  'Somebody must be sick up there,' she
thought; for the mountaineers seldom came down in winter, except to
buy Jamaica ginger, or to summon Dr. Updike to visit the dying.
Father had told her that they were a stalwart breed, the true
American highlanders.  In pioneer days their forefathers had fled
from the strict settlements, some because they could breathe only
in freedom, and others to escape punishment for crimes against the
laws of the Tidewater.  But old black Aunt Abigail Geddy, who had
Indian blood, muttered that there were fearful sights in the hills
if you knew where to look for them.  She had once gone to Panther's
Gap to help grandmother take care of a family of half-wits.  Three
generations of half-wits, from a chattering crone of a granny to a
newborn baby barely a day old!  And the baby was the worst.  If it
had been a kitten, she said, they would have tossed it straight
into Panther's Run.  Aunt Abigail would have mumbled on over her
pipe until the child was quaking with horror.  But just as she
approached the hair-raising part, mother came into the kitchen and
spoke so severely that the old woman could never be persuaded to
return to the subject.  She would only shake her head and mutter
that folks in Panther's Gap were all as poor as Job's turkey.

Ever since she was too little to lace her own shoes, Ada had
wondered what it meant to be poor.  She remembered, too, the very
moment her wondering began.  It was when she was five years old,
and grandmother had taken her frock of yellow sprigged calico to
give to the poor McAllisters, who lived up the road.  She had loved
her yellow sprigged frock, and she had hated to give it away.  When
she had cried, grandmother, who was rummaging in her closets to
find clothes to put into a basket, had reproved her and said she
ought to be glad to divide with God's poor.  'Are we poor,
Grandmother?' she had asked.  'Not so poor,' grandmother had
replied, 'as the poor McAllisters.'  'What does it mean,' the child
had persisted, 'to be poor?'  'It means,' grandmother had answered,
'not to have enough to eat.  It means not to have enough clothes to
cover you.'  'Oh, then, we aren't poor, grandmother,' Ada had cried
joyfully.  'We have two bags of cornmeal in the storeroom, and two
sides of bacon in the smokehouse, and a patch full of sweet
potatoes in the garden.  And all of us,' she had added in triumph,
'have our new red flannel petticoats for next winter.'  Then mother
had dropped on her knees, crying, while she folded her in her arms,
'You're right, darling,' she had said, 'we aren't really poor, and
we have much to be thankful for.'

The shadow of the big pine had fallen aslant the rock, and rolling
over in the crisp air, which was not too cold, Ada looked across
the fields to the village and the stone chimneys of the church
above the bare boughs in the churchyard.  She knew the story of
that church by heart, and she could listen for ever, she thought,
to the adventures of the first settlers, as grandmother told them.

'Ours is a little church, but we have loved it,' grandmother would
begin.  'Even if we've never been so well off as the congregations
at New Providence and Timber Ridge and Falling Springs, still we
were appointed to our humble work in the Lord's vineyard.  The
Fincastles, too, were always simple folk, though they had learning,
and were as good as the best.'

'And are we as good as the best now, Grandmother?' Ada would ask.

'In everything but circumstances, my child.  The Craigies were even
less well-to-do than the Fincastles; but they were rooted like
oaks.'

Scottish-Irish, people called the pioneers, though after they were
driven out of Strathclyde they had stayed to themselves in Ulster,
and had seldom or never crossed blood with the Irish.  John
Fincastle had brought his flock with him from County Donegal, all
the elders and deacons of his church and a few humbler members of
his congregation.  They had sailed from Ulster in the ship Martha
and Mary, and it had taken them one hundred and eighteen days to
cross the Atlantic Ocean to Philadelphia.  At first they had
settled and practised their religion in Pennsylvania; but after a
few restless years, the bolder spirits among the Ulstermen had
pushed southward, with their families, over the old Indian Road,
into Virginia.  The Scholar Pioneer, the immigrants named John
Fincastle, because he had brought not only his Bible, but as much
of his library as he could stow away into a pack.  Grandmother
would chuckle over the legend that he had reduced his wife's pots
and kettles to a single vessel in order to make room for volumes of
profane learning.  'That's how your father came by his reason, if
not by his use of it.  Though I'm far from denying,' she would
sigh, 'that, in spite of his backsliding, he is still a man of good
parts.'

But the worst was not over.  A thrilling quaver would creep into
grandmother's voice.  When the Indian Road led them into Virginia,
they found the settlement too contentious for a worshipper who
wanted peace with his Maker.  After a few months John Fincastle
thrust out toward the frontier.  The mood of the wilderness flowed
into him and ebbed back again.  He was pursuing the dream of a free
country, the dream of a country so vast that each man would have
room to bury his dead on his own land.

The pioneers who had gone ahead had left not a single track, not
even the print of a hoof, in the Indian meadows.  There was nothing
to guide them except the sun and the stars, and occasionally the
faint signs of Indian hunters.  No wagons could travel the
wilderness, and all they needed, even profane learning, had to be
carried on packhorses.  No wonder, after climbing hills, fording
rivers, defying forests, that a spear of light should seem to them
to be the finger of Providence.  Their first act was to drop on
their knees; their first thought was to build a house of divine
worship.  But years passed before they could assemble material for
the Ironside church, with the floor of walnut puncheons, the high-
backed pews, the stone stairways to the gallery.

When the ground was broken, all the families in the clearings left
their brush-harrows and ploughs and hastened with saws, axes, and
hammers to the spot where they had knelt in the sunrise.  Men and
women worked together building the walls, and every grain of sand
to make mortar was brought by the women on horseback.  Mrs.
Ettrick, a woman of great strength, was surprised by a redskin when
she was fording a creek, but she felled him with the single blow of
a hatchet and galloped back to warn the men who bore muskets.
Grandmother's words would drop thick and fast, like the pelting of
hail, while Ada's flesh crawled with fear that was somehow
delicious.

John Fincastle was a merciful man.  Though he was a trespasser on
the hunting-grounds of the Indians, he became their friend and
protector.  Only his renowned piety had saved him from death when
he tried to defend innocent tribes.  He never forgave the settlers,
especially his own militia, for the murder of Cornstalk.  In his
last years, when he was upwards of eighty, and his eldest son, John
II, had succeeded him in his ministry, he abandoned what was then
called civilization (here grandmother would pause to shake her
head), and went alone into the wilderness as a missionary to the
Shawnees.  All his worldly needs, he had declared, could be
strapped on his back.  He carried with him two Bibles and one other
book, a copy in his own handwriting of the Meditations of a Heathen
Emperor who had not even been converted and saved.  That made some
people think his years were beginning to tell on him.  It seemed,
whatever way you looked at it, a strange thing to do.

'Remember, my child, that you have strong blood,' grandmother would
end proudly, for her forefathers, the Craigies, had been members of
John Fincastle's flock.  'Never let it be weakened.  Thin blood
runs to wickedness.'

The sun was going down in a blaze, but as it sank behind the hills
it shot up again in a fountain of light and scattered a sparkling
spray into the clouds.  Cramped from waiting so long, Ada felt that
a chill had begun to creep up from the rock, where the sunshine had
vanished, through the thickness of her woollen stockings and
squirrel-skin coat.  Springing to her feet, she jumped up and down
until warmth ran in pinpricks over her arms and legs.  When she
moved to the edge of the rock, she could look through the last
faded leaves on the oaks, which glimmered with a bluish tone in the
flushed light, and see the dormer-windows and the sloping shingled
roof of the manse.  The darkness of ivy was flung over the square
front porch, with ends that groped toward the western wall and
laced back the green shutters.

In the side yard, over the fallen leaves, a dusky shape moved near
the ground, and she knew that it was Horace on his way from Aunt
Abigail Geddy's cabin, which he visited between meals in the hope
of a sop of corn pone and gravy.  The Geddys were the only coloured
family in Ironside; they were all upright and independent, and they
were proud of their Indian blood and straight features.  Aunt
Abigail had lived at the manse for forty-odd years.  After father
lost his church and had no money to pay her wages, she had stayed
on because she said it was respectable to work for a minister,
whether he preached or not, and her cabin between the garden and
the sheep pasture, behind the row of sunflowers Aunt Meggie raised
every summer for chicken feed, was all the home that she wanted.
It was a good cabin.  There were two rooms with a big stone
fireplace and a floor of double boards to defend the old woman's
bones from the dampness.  Her son, Marcellus Geddy, had plastered
the walls and whitewashed them within and without.

Between the green shutters the red eye of a window blinked from
under the ivy, and while the child watched the flickering gleam she
seemed to be in two places at once.  The dusky shape of Horace
barked at the door.  It opened and shut again behind him when he
had padded into the hall.  Grandmother had filled her basket with
sticks long ago, and had gone in to take up the ball of brown yarn
and her steel knitting needles.  She would sit erect in her deep
chair with wings on her own side of the fireplace, near the lamp on
the round table and the front window where the shutters were held
back by ivy.  The big front room was mother's chamber.  A log fire
burned there all the time, and after supper the family gathered in
front of the great fireplace to pray with grandmother, and to
listen to father when he read aloud a chapter from Old Mortality.
In one corner there was a high tester bed, and Ada's own trundle-
bed, in which she had slept ever since she was a baby, was rolled
out at night from under the hanging fringe of the counterpane.  All
the furniture, except a rosewood bookcase and sofa from the
parsonage in Queenborough, was made of walnut or pine and had
furnished the manse in her great-great-grandfather's day.

Grandmother was the kind of person you saw better when you were not
looking straight at her.  Even when she was young, mother said, she
could never have been handsome; but she had the sort of ugliness
that is more impressive than beauty.  Her figure was tall, strong,
rugged; her face reminded the child of the rock profile at Indian
Head; and her eyes, small, bright, ageless, were like the eyes of
an eaglet that had peered out from a crevice under the rock.  At
seventy, her eyebrows were still black and bushy, and in the left
one there was a large brown mole from which three stiff black hairs
bristled as sharply as needles in a pin-cushion.  Summer and
winter, except on the Sabbath, she wore the same dresses of black
and grey calico with very full skirts, and a little crocheted shawl
of grey or lavender wool was flung over her shoulders whenever she
felt the edge of a chill.  Ada had never seen her without a cap on
her thick hair, which was not white but grizzled.  Even when her
lumbago was so painful that she could not get out of bed, and a
fire had to be kept up all night in her room, she would ask for her
muslin day cap with its bunch of narrow black ribbon before she
would swallow a morsel of breakfast.

Mother, who could never sit still, would be moving about, helping
Aunt Meggie in the kitchen (for three days Aunt Abigail Geddy had
been crippled with rheumatism), or running out on the porch to look
for father or for Ada herself.  Then in a flash, hurrying and
laughing as she hurried, she would dart in through another door,
crying, 'I forgot something!  I know I forgot something, but I
can't think what it was I forgot!'  She was always like that, gay,
amused, beautiful, even when she was faded and weather-beaten,
making fun where there was no fun.

For a few years after she lost her two little sons from diphtheria,
Aunt Meggie said, the heart had seemed to go out of her.  But when
father was obliged to resign from his church in Queenborough, and
everything became suddenly so bad that it looked as if it could not
be worse, mother grew brighter than she had ever been.  She talked
all the time, and no matter how poor they were, she could always
find something to laugh at, if it were nothing more amusing than
poverty.  Yet it was true, as she would repeat over and over in her
bright, tremulous voice, they had much to be thankful for.  Never,
as far back as Ada could remember, had they been hungry.  Even if
they needed clothes, and grandmother re-dipped and turned and
pressed the ribbon on her caps until it was worn to a fringe, they
had never been without corn bread and brown gravy and all the dried
beans and peas and tinned tomatoes that Aunt Meggie gathered in
their garden and put up with the help of Aunt Abigail Geddy.


III


The dying flare of the sun cast a rust-coloured light down into the
valley, and across this light a long black shape wavered suddenly
from the blue crook in the hills.

That must be the two-horse gig, with father and Mr. Rowan side by
side on the small seat.  But was it?  She couldn't be sure.
Yes . . . no.  Oh, it was, it was . . .  Lightly as a squirrel, she
balanced herself on the edge of the rock, bounded with a single
flying leap into the road, and raced down toward the bottom of the
hill, where the gig was splashing through a puddle before taking
the climb.  Like an enormous crow, the shadow hesitated, flapped,
and then flitted onward before the vehicle, as if shadow and
substance were two separate bodies.  At last he was coming.  He was
bringing her doll with real hair that she could brush and comb and
perhaps roll up in curl-papers.  As she ran on, her breath came in
gasps and words floated in wisps of fog out of her mouth.  Never
had she been so happy before.  Her heart felt as if it would bubble
over with joy.

'Did you bring it, Father?' she called, and he answered in his
distant voice, so unlike her mother's near and thrilling tones,
'Yes, I brought it, my child.  I did the best I could.'  When the
gig reached her, she was lifted into it and settled snugly between
father's hard lean figure and Mr. Rowan's soft bulging one.

'I reckon he's got something for you stuffed away in that basket
with the coffee and sugar,' Mr. Rowan remarked pleasantly.  She had
always liked him, even if he was Janet's father and Janet would tag
after her when she went climbing with Ralph.  It wasn't any fun to
climb with a baby that fell down and scratched her knee and then
sat in the briars and cried if you didn't come back for her.  But
Mr. Rowan had a pleasant face (a red face was more cheerful,
especially in winter time, than a pale one) and he had a good habit
of carrying pink and white sugar animals in his pocket.  This was
because of Janet.  Aunt Abigail said they had spoiled Janet till
she was rotten, and some day, when the Lord had time to attend to
it, they would be punished.

'It's a doll with real hair.  I bought it with my berry money.'

'Well, well, I wish Janet would turn her hand to making money.
She's never bought anything for herself.'

'But she's always had a wax doll this high.'  She measured the
height in the air.  'It's so beautiful she won't let any of us play
with it.'

'Is that so?  Well, I tell you what we'll do.  You bring your doll
to Janet's Christmas tree and we'll all play together.'

Daylight and shadow had both vanished now, and there was only the
thin dusk on the road.  Past the flat rock into the village, where
she saw Mr. Borrows shutting his shop, and Judge Melrose walking
along the cinder-strewn sidewalk with his brown spaniel Ruddy, and
a white horse before the door of old Mr. Wertenbaker, who had come
from the Shenandoah Valley, and Janet Rowan waving her hand to her
father, and Ralph McBride opening the gate before the small house
where his mother, a widow but proud, worked so hard to keep a roof
over their heads.  Then on beyond the church into the steep short
road which led through the big gate that sagged on its hinges, and
over the crackling dead leaves in the yard of the manse.

'Well, I'll be turning home,' Mr. Rowan said, smiling and friendly,
as he picked her up and swung her to the ground.  'It's been a long
day, and we'll both be glad of a good supper with bed at the end of
it.  A cold wave is coming.  We may have snow again by to-morrow.'

The gig rolled through the gate; the crackling died away in the
leaves; there was the sound of wheels growing fainter; and then
suddenly mother's voice called eagerly from the porch.  'Have you
come, John?'

'May I have it now, Father?' the child asked.

They were standing under the oaks, and she waited while he glanced
down uncertainly at the basket.  His figure, tall, spare, with the
straight spine of an Indian, seemed to sink into and become a part
of the twilight.

'May I have my doll now, Father?' she asked again.

Stooping over the basket, he lifted the lid and drew out an oblong
parcel wrapped in brown paper and neatly tied with a store string.
'I did the best I could, my child,' he repeated, as he put it into
her hands.  'After the mortgage was settled, it took all I had left
to buy coffee and sugar for your grandmother.  She is old, and it's
a deprivation for her to go without coffee.'

But she held the parcel tight, without untying the string or taking
in a word that he said.  Suddenly the whole world was swimming in
bliss, the blue twilight, the dark afterglow, the far-off
benevolent shape of God's Mountain.  'I'll undo it inside,' she
whispered, catching her breath.  'I'll wait for mother and
grandmother.'

Wheeling round, she ran across the yard, over the dead leaves which
sighed as cheerfully as if they were not really dead.  She would
always remember that happy rustling underfoot, and the clinging
smoky scents that sprang up out of the twilight--scents of earth
and winter and frosty darkness, all shot through and mingled with a
sensation of joy, a quiver of expectancy.

The door opened and shut.  She ran into the room, straight to the
fireplace, where grandmother was knitting and mother had hurried
in, after calling father, to throw lightwood knots on the flames.

'He's come, Mother.  He's brought my doll.'

'I'm glad, dear.  I'm glad you have what you've wanted so much.'
Mother's eyes, as she turned from the fire, were like lamps under a
dark shade, and her thin cheeks, where all the dimples were sucked
into hollows, were flaming with colour.

Grandmother peered over her spectacles, though her knitting needles
continued to click busily, and Aunt Meggie, who was tying on an
apron on her way to the kitchen, stopped and glanced back, with her
round cheerful face and funny slanting eyes beneath wisps of sandy
hair that strayed over her forehead.

'The only dolls little girls had in my day were rag dolls,'
grandmother said, with a smile.  'Rag or corncob or hickory nut.  I
remember somebody, 'twas a member of your great-grandfather's
congregation, gave me a wooden doll with arms and legs on hinges,
and I nearly went out of my wits for happiness.' The sense of fun
played over her as dawn skims over a mountain crag.

Mother laughed.  'But your day was different.  The world has grown,
and children have more nowadays.'  She sighed under her breath, the
kind of sigh, Ada knew, that meant she was thinking of all they
used to have before father became a philosopher instead of a
minister.

'Hadn't you better keep it for Christmas?' Aunt Meggie asked.
'There won't be much for Christmas this year.'

'Oh, no, let her open it,' mother said.  'She bought it with her
own money.'

Ada's fingers were trembling so that she could scarcely pick out
the knot in the store string that must be saved.

'I'm going to name her Flora,' she cried.  'I think Flora is the
prettiest name in the world.'  Her voice broke off, rose again in a
sharp cry, and quavered into a sobbing moan.

'Oh, Mother, Mother, she isn't real!  She isn't anything in the
world but china like Nellie.  Her hair is just china!'

It was true.  Mother and grandmother and Aunt Meggie stared down at
the black glazed head as it emerged from the sawdust.  Then,
stooping quickly, mother snatched the doll from the box, and said
in a bright, anxious voice, 'She has a nice face, darling.  Perhaps
there weren't any better.'  Grandmother's needles stopped for a
minute, and Horace, on the rug near the fire, raised his head and
thumped his tail slowly.

'But I don't want a china doll, Mother.  Nellie is china.'
Darkness overwhelmed her.  All the shining bliss was blotted out as
suddenly as it had flashed into light.  Her heart sank down, far,
far down into emptiness, and instead of the happy sighing of the
leaves she heard only a mournful whisper from the flames that
crawled over the lightwood knots on their way into smoke.  Never,
never as long as she lived would she have a doll with real hair
that she could comb and brush.  Something would always stand in the
way.  First she had lost all the money she had saved; it had
slipped through the lining of her squirrel-skin coat before mother
mended the rent in her pocket.  Then one season had been too poor
for berries and the next season they had been too plentiful.  And
she was already outgrowing the age for dolls.  Grandmother reminded
her of this every day.  Little girls of ten years had had their
useful tasks in grandmother's childhood.  They had carded wool or
hemmed cloth or stitched a sampler like the one grandmother herself
had worked when she was only seven, with the picture of a church
and a white steeple and a few birds flying.  At the age of ten,
grandmother insisted, little girls should be taught their
responsibilities.

'I don't want it, Mother.  I don't want china hair.'

'We'll hear what father has to say, darling.  Perhaps it isn't so
bad as it seems.  She has a nice face, and I'll make her a dress
and a bonnet out of that pink gingham I'd put away.'

'As soon as my hens begin laying again, I'll buy you a doll, Ada,'
said Aunt Meggie, who possessed the treasure of a practical mind.
'Try not to give way to disappointment.  Think how sad the world
would be if we all gave way to disappointment.'

But the child had ceased to care what became of the world.  She had
waited and saved; she had denied herself sticks of painted
peppermint candy when the other children were sucking; and all the
time she was growing farther from the age of play and nearer to the
dreadful age of tasks.  There was the bedstead, too, that Ralph
McBride, who could carve almost anything, had made for her last
Christmas.  It was waiting now in the cupboard where she kept her
playthings.  The posts were smooth and round and fitted together,
and there was a carved acorn in the middle of the headboard.
Nellie hadn't looked just right in that bed, especially after Aunt
Meggie had given her a tick of feathers to put on the slats and
mother had made sheets and pillows and even a blanket.  A doll with
real hair that opened her eyes in the morning and shut them at
night was what the bed needed.  And now Nellie would have a
companion like herself, with a body that was sawdust as far as the
neck and coal black hair that was as hard as her face.

'Aunt Meggie is right, Ada,' mother was repeating in her voice of
strained sweetness which sounded as if it were on the verge of
breaking, yet never broke.  'Try not to take things so hard.'

'But Janet Rowan takes things hard, Mother, and she has all the
dolls she wants.'

'I know, Ada, but the Rowans are rich, and we are poor.  Don't envy
them, dear.  We are happier than they are.'

Above the murmur of the flames she heard grandmother heave one of
her great sighs which shook her from head to foot, immense as she
was, and remark sternly, yet not without sympathy, to mother, 'The
child has a single heart, Mary Evelyn, and that will always bear
watching.  Jealousy is the flaw in the single heart.'

'Ada has never been jealous,' mother answered quickly, while the
red in her cheeks stained her throat.  'You can't expect a child
not to feel disappointment.'

'I didn't say that to hurt you,' grandmother rejoined gently.  'Ada
is a good child.'

'Don't cry, dear,' mother said, folding the child in her arms.
'Your father is coming in.  Try not to let him see how much this
has meant to you.'

First the hall door and then the chamber door opened and shut.
Horace sprang to his feet with a bark.  The smell of winter was
blown into the room on waves of freshness; and her father entered
with a step that dragged from weariness after his long drive and
his hard day.  Crossing the floor, he kissed his wife and held out
his hand to his mother, who did not favour casual endearments.

'I did the best I could, Mary Evelyn,' he said, flinching from
mental or physical pain.  'I know the child is disappointed, but I
did the best I could.  There wasn't a wax doll with real hair for
less than three dollars.  The cheaper ones had been sold for a
festival.'

'I know you did the best you could, John,' mother replied quickly,
with a gesture as if she were patting and smoothing.  'Ada is
disappointed, of course, but Meggie is going to buy a doll for her
as soon as the hens begin laying well.  This one has a pretty face
even if she has china hair, and she will look lovely after I've
dressed her.  You must be half starved.  Sit down and get warm
while I make the coffee.  Meggie has everything ready, and think
what a treat it will be to have coffee and sugar again.'

With her sprightly walk, she hurried out into the hall, and Ada
heard the rustling of paper as the parcels were carried through the
dining-room into the kitchen.  The other side of the house was dark
now and cold.  The front room was father's library, where he worked
far into the night, though he never had a fire except when his
hands became so frostbitten that he could not close his fingers
over his pen.  Grandmother had knitted a jersey for him of thick
yarn, but in the coldest weather he wrote in his greatcoat and
sometimes even with his hat on, or one of grandmother's little
shawls tied over his head.  Mother begged him to have a fire, and
sometimes she would light one without his seeing her do it.  Yet
even in winter it was a cheerful room, and in summer it was the
nicest place in the house because of the shining backs of books on
the walls and the view from the front windows of God's Mountain,
which seemed closer there than anywhere else.  Some of the books
had always been there.  They belonged to great-great-great-
grandfather's theological library, and this had been increased year
by year in each generation.  Then there were all the works on
philosophy father had bought when he was a student in London.  He
would sometimes talk to them of the two years he had spent there,
and Ada would listen breathlessly to his account of the house and
the landlady in Bloomsbury, where he had lodged.  Every day, as
soon as the doors were opened, he would go into the Reading Room of
the British Museum, and he would stay there until it closed, except
for half an hour when he went out for a cup of tea and some slices
of bread and butter.  It must have been a dull life, mother
thought, but he had loved it.  He had been as happy, he said, as
the day was long.  Yet Ada had overheard grandmother telling Aunt
Meggie in the middle of the night that his years in London and in
the British Museum had been 'the ruination of John'.

The aroma of coffee was wafted in, and grandmother tossed her head
with a spirited gesture, in the way an old mare will do when she
feels the spring in her bones.  Presently mother would call them
back into the kitchen and they would pass the closed door of the
parlour, where all the ugly green benches and the stove for wood
were waiting for Monday morning and the rows of pupils who came to
be taught, among other branches of learning, profane history and
geography, but not sacred.

The kitchen door must have opened again, for a new smell, the warm,
kindling, delicious smell of frying bacon, curled up brown and
crisp at the ends, mingled with the aroma of coffee.  On any other
night, the child would have been the first in the kitchen, helping
and watching, but she still suffered from the memory of Flora, and
all her appetite seemed to have fled.  She thought distantly of the
table mother adorned with flowers or winter berries in the blue
bowl she loved, and would let no one else wash, because it was
exactly the colour of God's Mountain.  The blue bowl had been one
of her wedding presents, but the four silver candlesticks, which
she set out even when she had no candles to put in them, had
belonged to great-grandmother Fincastle, the one who had been a
Graham.  Good food, grandmother said, needed no trimming, but
mother had a way of living that made everything pretty.  She was
glad that the candlesticks were not solid silver, that copper
gleamed through in places where they were worn.  The copper, she
would say with a laugh, was more precious than silver, for it was
the only thing that had kept them from being turned into money.  It
was mother, of course, who kept a row of red geraniums on the
kitchen window-sill and had arranged what she called her 'winter
bouquets' in the old earthenware crocks on the hall table.

'You need something to eat, John,' grandmother said suddenly, as
she let her knitting fall in her lap.  Her nostrils quivered with
pleasure when the smell floated in, for she had a hearty relish for
food.  Not, as she complained, for the dishes provided by her
daughter-in-law's pernickety taste, but for coarse, strong,
nourishing fare with a body of its own that stayed by her.

'Rowan gave me a bite, but I wasn't hungry.'  Father spoke
dreamily, as if only the fringes of his thoughts were engaged in
his answer.  'Yes, I shall be glad of a cup of coffee.'

Going over to the cupboard in the corner, Ada took out the doll's
bedstead and stood it on the floor beside her own trundle-bed.
When she had put a nightgown on the new doll, she laid her beside
Nellie between the sheets.  Even if she couldn't love her, she
might still name her Flora.

Hurrying in, with her sweet and anxious expression, mother said
gaily, 'Supper is ready, and nobody is going to be disappointed.'

Her forehead and temples were pinched with neuralgia; the tendons
jerked like cords in her throat; and the colour in her haggard
cheeks looked as if it had been burned there by a flame.  But the
lovely contour, the perfect oval, of her face had resisted time and
disease.  A strange happiness, more a quality than an emotion, as
ethereal and as penetrating as light, rippled in her voice and
shone steadily in her eyes and smile.


IV


'Twas the three cups of coffee that put the heart into me and will
make me sleep sound, grandmother Fincastle thought; for she had
scant patience with the feeble folk who are at the mercy of nerves
and let anything in the nature of food or drink keep them awake.

Bending over with difficulty, she eased her foot, which had begun
to swell, from the square cloth boot with elastic sides and
stretched it out on the warm bricks, where the kettle steamed, the
firelight shifted, and a skeleton spider, pale as a ghost, was
spinning a single strand of cobweb over the pile of back-logs near
the chimney.  For an instant, while she raised her head, she felt
that the room receded and swam in a ruddy haze before it emerged
again in its true pattern.  The material form had dissolved into a
fluid, into a memory.  Then once more the actuality triumphed; the
immediate assumed its old power and significance.

She saw the big warm chamber glimmering with firelight.  Mary
Evelyn now slept here, but she herself had slept here long ago, as
a bride, a wife, and a mother.  Aye, she had much to be thankful
for, shelter and warmth, and all the creature comforts she had
missed in her youth . . .  There was that mouse again scampering in
the far corner.  She hoped Meggie had not forgotten to put down the
mousetrap.

She liked the soft, bright colours in the rag carpet, woven by her
own hands out of scraps the congregation had saved for her.  She
liked the home-made furniture of walnut or pine better than the
carved rosewood Mary Evelyn had brought from Queenborough.  She
liked the great bed, so substantial that it took two men to push
it, and the patchwork quilt which was brought out at night when the
fringed counterpane was removed.  Nobody nowadays had the patience
or the eyesight to make that Star of Bethlehem pattern.  Work like
that belonged to another time.  But it looked comfortable on the
foot of the bed, with the child's trundle-bed rolled out and
prepared for the night.

All grandmother's children had slept in that trundle-bed, the seven
she had lost, the two who were living, and she had grown fond of
it.  It was the only piece of furniture she had brought from Giles
County, where her father had lived when she was a child.  'I'm
going to make a sofa out of that old trundle-bed, Mr. Fincastle,'
she had murmured, blushing when Adam, her husband (though it would
not have been respectful to think of him by his Christian name),
had smiled at the sight of it.  But she had known when she spoke
that the trundle-bed would never be turned into a sofa.

Her youth had suffered from hardships; she had spent her childhood
in a log cabin, yet she had not been ashamed.  When she was five
years old her father was called to a mission on Wildcat Mountain,
and from that time she had not seen a railway train until she was
grown.  Mr. Fincastle had met her when he came to preach at the
mission, and he had felt from the first minute, he told her
afterwards, that this also was appointed.  That was the Sabbath she
was admitted to sealing ordinances.  But even before she had
reached the years of discretion, her faith had been strong.  When
she was no bigger than a slip of a girl she had felt that she was
ready to do or die, or even to be damned, if it would redound to
the greater glory of God.

Though she knew that bricks are no more than straws in the sight of
the Lord, she would always remember how wonderful the manse had
appeared to her, as a bride, when she had first seen it on a spring
morning.  Everything had seemed to her to be provided; the grove of
oaks to cast shade; the vegetable garden at the back of the house,
the well so close to the kitchen porch; the springhouse at the
bottom of the yard under the big willow; and the house inside, with
the solid furniture, the rows of books that had always been there,
and the shining pewter plates, so bright you could see your face in
them, on the sideboard.  She could imagine nothing more luxurious
than eating in a dining-room, with a cloth on the table, and having
hot water to wash in.  As a bride she used to say that she praised
the Lord whenever she took up that big kettle from the trivet in
front of the fire.  And she thanked Mr. Fincastle's father, too,
for the kitchen, nearly if not quite so large as the front chamber.
He had built that for his wife, Margaret, who had brought a family
of servants.

Margaret Graham was an extraordinary character, and she was still
beautiful as grandmother remembered her.  She had known wealth, for
she was the daughter of Squire Graham of Glenburnie, who had
inherited a fortune in land and died dispossessed.  When she was
married to the third John, she infused a romantic legend, as well
as an aristocratic strain, into the Fincastle stock.  There was a
cherished tradition that the Graham ancestor who had fled from
Scotland to Ireland in 1650 was a near kinsman of the great
Montrose.  'No, we were not always with the Covenanters,'
grandmother thought, shaking her head while she tucked the ball of
yarn between her thigh and the cushion.  Old John, the pioneer, had
said that he fought not against men, but against evil passions both
within and without the Kirk.  The present John had inherited his
grandmother's straight features and her eyes--bright blue, with a
crystal gaze that seemed to pierce the heart in its search for
truth.  When she first came as a bride, the ruling elders had
requested her to wear a veil in church, so that her beauty might
not distract men's thoughts from the eloquence of her husband.
After that, she had worn a green barge veil over her bonnet.  But
it was not Mr. Fincastle's father, John III, who had built the
brick house.  They had John II to thank for that.  When he was well
on in life, a relative in Scotland had left him a legacy.  Not a
fortune as people thought nowadays, but enough to build a brick
manse and to enlarge the church over the old house of worship.
With what was left, he had placed a sandstone slab at the head of
every Fincastle grave in the churchyard.  His father, John I, was
buried there.  A week before his death, when he was out of his
head, the Shawnees had brought him back, mourning as they would
have mourned for a great chief.

How in the world, grandmother still asked herself, had those early
settlers been able to enjoy living without such simple comforts as
feather beds and kettles of hot water?  In fear, too, whenever they
had taken time to stop and think, of the savages.  Yet they also
had loved life.  They had loved it the more, John would tell her,
because it was fugitive; they had loved it for the sake of the
surprise, the danger, the brittleness of the moment.  Her husband,
she knew, had felt this, though what he had said sounded so
different.  Life will yield up its hidden sweetness, she had heard
him preach from the pulpit, only when it is being sacrificed to
something more precious than life.

They had believed this in the old days.  Time and again, they had
risen from the ruins of happiness.  Yet they had gone on; they had
rebuilt the ruins; they had scattered life more abundantly over the
ashes.  There was a near neighbour of her grandfather who had held
his cabin twice when others fled to the stockade.  For the sake of
his crop, he had held his ground.  All within the space of ten
years, he had seen two wives and two families of children scalped
and killed by the savages.  He himself had once been left to die,
and a second time he had escaped from an Indian village and made
his way home through the wilderness.  For the rest of his life he
had worn a handkerchief tied over his head, and one Sunday morning,
while the congregation sang the Doxology, he had fallen down in a
fit.  In his later years he had married a third wife and had
brought up a new family, after the manner of Job, to inherit the
land.  Though he had seen men burned at the stake, he had never
lost his trust in Divine goodness.

And nearer still, there was her own grandmother, Martha Tod.  She
had liked the young chief too well, people had whispered.  He was a
noble figure; he had many virtues; she had wept when they came to
redeem her.  One story ran that her Indian husband had come to the
settlement in search of her, and that her two brothers had killed
him in the woods, from ambush, and had hidden his body.  This may
have been true, and again it may not have been.  The age was a wild
one.  Many of the men who had come to the wilderness to practise
religion appeared to have forgotten its true nature.  Whatever
happened, Martha Tod's lips were sealed tight.  No one, not even
her mother, had ever won her confidence again, or heard her speak
of her life with the Shawnees.  But as long as she lived, after her
marriage to an elder in the church, she had suffered from spells of
listening, a sort of wildness, which would steal upon her in the
fall of the year, especially in the blue haze of weather they
called Indian summer.  Then she would leap up at the hoot of an owl
or the bark of a fox and disappear into the forest.  When she
returned from these flights, her husband would notice a strange
stillness in her eyes, as if she were listening to silence.  But
gradually, as her children grew up, ten of them in all, fine,
sturdy, professing Christians, her affliction became lighter.  To
the end of her days, even after her reason had tottered, she could
still card, spin, weave, dye, or knit as well as the best of them.
Grandmother had heard that when she was dying, her youth, with the
old listening look, had flashed back into her face, and she had
tried to turn toward the forest.  But that was too much to credit.
It couldn't have happened.  Not when her mind was addled, not when
she was well over a hundred.  Grandmother remembered her well, an
old, old woman with a face like a skull, mumbling over her pipe in
the chimney corner.

Was it true, grandmother wondered, looping the yarn round the
thought, was it true that wildness could be handed down in the
blood?  Could Martha Tod's spells have skipped her own children and
broken out again in John's heresy?  Yet Martha Tod had been as
innocent as a lamb.  Never, even in captivity, had she doubted that
only through the blood of Christ could she be redeemed.

Jerking up her head, which had nodded a moment, the old woman
glanced at her son on the other side of the lamp, and thought in
surprise, 'But he has a fine face!'  Whenever she looked at him, no
matter how many times in the day, she was startled afresh, as if
she had never seen him before.  How could a man who denied the
Virgin Birth wear a countenance that seemed, when he was plunged
within, to be cut out of light?  He had looked like that, she
recalled with a pang, when he had stood his trial for heresy and
schism (nothing, not even the loss of her husband and her seven
children, had caused her such anguish); but in later years, since
his hair had whitened (though he was only forty-four), the thinness
and clearness of his features had become more striking.  She had
ascribed it all, his loss of zeal, his backsliding, the resignation
from his church in Queenborough, the final trial before the
Presbytery that deposed him--all these misfortunes she had ascribed
to the influence of the British Museum, and to the sinister volumes
(never would she have glanced into one of them) that he had bought
at such sacrifices (he had gone without a greatcoat; he had even
gone without food) when he was a student.

Mary Evelyn, too, had encouraged him when she should have
admonished.  A cruel doctrine, she had called predestination, and
once, while the trial lasted, she had cried out that she believed
anything John believed, that she would rather be damned with John
than saved without him.  Yet grandmother had loved her better than
she loved Meggie, who was one of the elect, assured of salvation.
But Mary Evelyn had needed her more.  She had made the heartbreaking
appeal of the dying or the poverty-stricken.  Though she was happy,
her happiness, like her beauty, was too ardent to seem natural.  And
she had never had a family of her own.  Her parents had died before
she was old enough to remember them, and she had been left--an
orphan, and what was far worse in the Tidewater, a poor orphan.
The relatives who had brought her up had been elderly and unkind.
It is true that she had been, for a few years, a belle and a beauty,
but worldliness, as nobody knew better than grandmother, was without
staying power.

After Mary Evelyn's marriage to John her worldly friends had
forsaken her.  Then the last of her relatives had passed away,
and she had turned to grandmother, when her children died of
diphtheria, as she might have turned to the Rock of Ages had her
mind been less given to flightiness.  A cross she had been, 'twas
true, but a cross that pressed into the heart.  If only her love
for John had been a strength instead of a weakness.  And worse than
a weakness.  In some obscure way, almost an infirmity of the flesh.
For how could a man like John, with that queer absent-minded
attitude of a thinker who is more dreamer than thinker, satisfy any
woman?

His father had been different.  Blessed with a robust constitution,
he had loved, as he had lived, robustly.  They had had perfect
sympathy and great satisfaction in marriage.  When grandmother
looked back on it now, it seemed to her that she had enjoyed
everything, even childbirth.  There had been pangs, of course
(though never the long spasms of agony that had tortured Mary
Evelyn's frail body), but the pains were so soon forgotten in the
joy of bringing a child into the world.  Could her children be born
again, she would bear with gladness every pang, great or small,
that she had suffered.  But nothing could take her family away from
her, not even death.  They were still united, the dead and the
living.  And Mary Evelyn was one of them, as dear as her own.  Yet
she was wasting away.  Year by year, she was wasting away under
John's eyes, who had never so much as noticed the change in her.
He thought her perfect, he said, when what she needed was plenty of
milk and custards and delicate food.  That was the worst of being
poor, you couldn't give the right things in sickness.

But it was a mercy, with the mortgage falling due, that John had
been able to pay the premium on his insurance.  Small as it was,
they had had a struggle to meet the payments and to find something
they could turn into money.  There were only a few silver spoons
left, and these were so old and thin and brittle that they would
break when you washed them.  Three thousand dollars wouldn't go far
nowadays.  But if anything should happen to John, even that little
might tide Mary Evelyn over the first year or so.  Neither Mary
Evelyn nor Meggie would let her speak of the insurance.  For her
part, she had a practical mind; she had always looked ahead; she
had never expected life to be easy.  Not after John's trial, not
after he had told the Presbytery he rejected the God of Abraham but
accepted the God of Spinoza.

That was the beginning--or was it the end?--of his ruin.  The most
brilliant mind in the church, they had called him, and then he was
ruined, he was finished, he was forgotten.  For what place was
there for eloquence outside the pulpit?  What future was there in a
Christian country for a man who had denied his Redeemer?  In the
'eighties people were more strict than they were in this new
century, which was already slipping from its foundations.  A
scholar outside the church then was as blind as a bat in the
daylight.  To be sure, he had tried his hand at other work, but
that, too, had ended in failure.  He could not push his own way; he
could not even stand on his feet and sell dry goods.  All he could
do was to think, and nobody (here grandmother picked up a dropped
stitch) could earn a livelihood in America by thinking the wrong
thoughts.  Then, when they had come to their last crust (for a year
there had not been a scrap of meat in the house except bacon for
gravy), they had called in Dr. Updike to see Ada, who coughed as if
she had croup, and he had stumbled, by chance or benign curiosity,
into the bare storeroom.  They had the doctor (a better friend
never lived) to thank for the school in the parlour.  At first the
people in Ironside had protested, but at last they had remembered
her; they had reminded themselves of all they owed to their
Fincastle ministers, from John, the pioneer, down to Adam, her
husband.  A closed memory, unfolded as a fan in her thoughts.  She
saw the pale red loop of the road round the manse on a spring
morning, the narrow valley, deep as a river, and the Endless
Mountains thronging under the April blue of the sky.  More than
fifty years ago, but it seemed only yesterday!  From the changeless
past and the slow accretion of time, the day and the scene emerged
into the firelight . . . from the falling leaves . . . and the
sifting dust . . . and the cobwebs . . . and the mildew. . . .


Suddenly, without warning, descended upon her a sleep that was not
sleep as yet.  Her eyes saw; her ears heard; and in her stiff
fingers the needles did not slacken.  But she was immersed in
profound stillness; she rested upon an immovable rock.  And about
her she could feel the pulse of the manse beating with that secret
life which was as near to her as the life in her womb.  All the
generations which had been a part, and yet not a part, of that
secret life.  The solid roof overhead, the solid floor underfoot,
the fears of the night without, the flames and the shadows of
flames within, the murmurs that had no voices, the creepings that
had no shape, were all mingled now.  Weaving in and out of her body
and soul, knitting her into the past as she knitted life into
stockings, moved the familiar rhythms and pauses now--of the house;
and moved as a casual wave, as barely a minute's ebbing and flow,
in the timeless surge of predestination.

'Grandmother's nodding.  She's dropped off.  She's beginning to
snore,' Ada whispered triumphantly.  'Maybe . . . oh, maybe she
will forget about prayers.  Father,'--she turned to pluck his
sleeve--'Father, doesn't God ever get tired of just listening?'


V


No man who has to provide for a family, John Fincastle thought, has
a right to search after truth.  Perhaps not anywhere in the world.
Certainly not in America.  But were the Renaissance and the
nineteenth century in Europe the only ages when men believed that
they could discover truth as they discovered a gold mine?  When men
believed that the search alone was worthy of sacrifice?
Missionaries, Mary Evelyn declared, sacrificed their families all
the time, but his mother insisted there was a difference when
people were sacrificed to a truth that had been revealed.

Well, there might be.  He didn't know.  He couldn't pretend to
care.  That, he supposed, was what religious education had done for
him--only his mother thought it was the British Museum.  It had
condemned him to poverty and isolation while it denied him the
faith that makes poverty and isolation supportable.  Not that he
had been unhappy.  Working over his book was sufficient happiness
for one lifetime, if only he could have taken care of those who
depended upon him.

Deep within his consciousness, so deep that the wish had never
floated to the surface of thought, there was a buried regret for
the solitary ways of the heart.  In London, as a student, when he
had lived in Bloomsbury on next to nothing, he had felt this
freedom, he had been content to drift.  He was on fire then for
knowledge.  He had believed that, if only he knew enough, he might
defend the doctrine of his church, he might even justify God.
This, he saw now, bending over with his gaze on the fire, was the
first mistake of his youth.  Knowledge does not justify God.  All
the learning in the British Museum does not prove that man can
apprehend God; it proves only that men have invented gods.  A
multitude of gods, and all to be reconciled, one with another,
before they could be vindicated.  He had turned then to translating
Plotinus, and while he pondered the Enneads he had been happy.
Happy, yet a failure.  For he had been born with an otherworldliness
of the mind.  He had never felt at peace except when he had strained
toward something beyond life.

A year later, when he had returned from his studies abroad (he had
held a scholarship for six months in Germany; he had spent two
years in London), any place the church had to offer would have been
open to him.  But he had wanted a charge among the dispossessed of
the earth; he had preferred the independence of spirit that comes
from not owning things.  His world, he knew, was not, and could
never become, the world of facts; he was, and would always remain,
out of touch with what men call realities.

During a brief visit to Queenborough he had received a call from
the largest Presbyterian church in that city.  There had been no
question in his mind of acceptance.  Then the next day, a day in
June, while the letter was still unanswered ('Having good hopes
that your ministrations in the Gospel will be profitable . . .'),
he had met Mary Evelyn; and in an instant, or so it seemed to him,
his past and future had been divided by the clean thrust of a
blade.  Even now, after fourteen years, this was a secret spot in
his memory.  Was it strength?  Was it weakness?  Mary Evelyn had
never suspected that the meeting with her had swept away his
vocation.  Ada believed that he was the pastor of his church in
Queenborough when he had fallen in love with her mother.  But that
first glimpse of Mary Evelyn had brought ecstasy, and the touch of
ecstasy had released the desire for a home and children and close
human ties.  For a moment Mary Evelyn returned to him.  Not the
woman who sat within reach of his hand, frail and worn and used up
by living, but a girl who was tender and radiant, with eyes like
smothered flames under black lashes.

Well, he had loved her.  No woman, only his seeking mind, had ever
divided them.  He would have given all he was for her, but he could
not give what he was not; he could not make himself over; he could
not prevent that involuntary recoil now and then, as if his whole
existence were overgrown and smothered by the natures of women.
Even the wincing of his nerves while her voice ran on, strained,
bright, monotonous, inexpressibly sweet, was beyond his control.

It was true that the external world and all the part of his life
that people called 'real life'--his affections, his daily
activities, teaching the young, hoeing the garden, cutting logs,
picking up sticks (he must remember to tell Ada that the poet
Wordsworth picked up sticks for firewood)--all the outward aspects
of living seemed to him fragmentary, unreal, and fugitive.  He had
not willed this; he had struggled against the sense of exile that
divided him from the thought of his time, from his dearest, his
nearest.  Nevertheless, it was there.  His inner life alone, the
secret life of the soul, was vital and intimate and secure.

He could remember the year, the month, the day, the hour, the very
minute even, when the outline of his system had come to him.  In
the church in Queenborough he had been a success; Mary Evelyn was
happy and more beautiful than she had ever been; they had two
little sons, the eldest only three.  For a few weeks he had come
back to visit his mother, and he was planning to write his work on
God as Idea, a history of religious thought through the ages.  It
was a morning in April.  There was a changeable sky and new life on
the earth.  He had been reading philosophy (was it Schopenhauer?
was it Spinoza?), and when he closed the book he had turned and
looked over the valley to the companionable mountains.  In the very
act of turning in his chair he had seen that sudden light on
reality, that reconciliation between the will and the intellect.

For years the idea had lain buried.  Yet in those years all he was,
and thought, and felt had gathered to the bare outline and
clustered over it as barnacles cling to the sides of a sunken ship.
But when he began the Introduction to his history, the idea came
again to the surface and he found that it was not dead but alive.
In the end he had been driven into obscurity, into poverty, into
the strange kind of happiness that comes to the martyr and the
drunkard.  Why?  Why?  Who could answer?  He might have been false
to himself, and who would have suffered?  But he had craved truth
(yet who knows what is truth?) as another man might crave a drink
or a drug.  Was this endless seeking an inheritance from the past?
Was it a survival of the westward thrust of the pioneer?

He had a sudden vision of his grandmother, the one who had been
Margaret Graham, with her young blue eyes and nimbus of snow-white
hair.  Even in her old age she had not lost a certain legendary
glamour.  Women were not supposed to be students in those days, yet
he had never seen her kneading dough without an open book on the
table beside her.  With much difficulty, no doubt, she had gained a
fair knowledge of history and languages.  After her marriage she
had still kept up her studies, and when her husband had died at the
age of thirty-eight and left her with three sons, she had prepared
them for college.  They had made their mark, too, not one but had
done honour to her and her training.  How, he wondered, had she
been able to overcome all those obstacles?  Strong, of course, she
had been in mind and body, but what he remembered most vividly was
the impression she gave of invincible poise.  He had heard his
father say that she would have felt at home in any epoch, in any
circle.

He had never forgotten, though he couldn't have been more than ten,
that several of the elders in the church had surprised her one
September morning before breakfast when she was walking barefooted
in the wet grass on the lawn (somebody had told her that the
Indians considered dew a cure for swollen feet), and she had
received them without a word of excuse, and invited them, with her
grand air, into the house.  Yet she had cherished the queerest
jumble of superstitions.  Though she was scholarly for her sex, she
was not above calling in old Aunt Jerusalem (Aunt Abigail's mother,
and a step nearer the savage) when she wished a mole or a wart
conjured away.  Until they put her to bed for the last time, she
had warded off rheumatism by carrying an Irish potato in her
pocket.  But these beliefs were more absurd nowadays than they had
appeared in that credulous era.  Would the time ever come when all
superstitions, even those about God, would seem as ignorant as his
grandmother's faith in an Irish potato?

The muscles in his leg twitched, and he glanced at Mary Evelyn, who
smiled and said something in a whisper when she saw he was looking
at her.  His mother thought he had not noticed the change in Mary
Evelyn, but she was mistaken.  There were moments when he would
have believed anything, acted any part, if only he could have saved
her.


VI


'I've forgotten something,' Mary Evelyn said under her breath, 'but
I can't think what it is.'  If she didn't remind herself Saturday
night, she would be sure to neglect it on Monday.  There was the
rent in John's greatcoat; there was the turpentine liniment for
Aunt Abigail; there was Ada's best dress to be washed and prettiest
hair ribbon to be pressed for the festival--Oh, the new doll's
dress!  That was what she was trying to think of!  Sunday always
made a breach in her work; but perhaps she might steal into the
closet when they came back from church and look for the pink
gingham she had put away, though, to save her life, she couldn't
remember where she had put it.  It was dreadful the way she forgot
things.  Her memory was growing worse all the time.  Her bringing
up was to blame, said Mother Fincastle, who was upwards of seventy
and never forgot anything . . .  If that mouse scratched under the
wainscoting, she was sure she should scream, and then Mother
Fincastle would make Meggie or John set a trap.  She didn't mind
stepping on spiders, but she couldn't bear to kill things that
squeaked.

Flightiness was her infirmity, Mary Evelyn mused, folding her worn
hands in her lap, and trying to restrain the impulse to jump up and
sweep the hearth clear of the wood embers that had just broken and
scattered.  Little things filled her thoughts.  They rattled about
in her mind, like dried seeds in a pod.  Important facts would slip
away, but her whole inner world was cluttered up with the sweepings
of yesterday--mere straws in the wind.  It wasn't that she hadn't
struggled to be sober and steady.  Nobody knew how ashamed she felt
just now when Mother Fincastle spoke reverently of her husband,
John's father, who had been dead thirteen years.  Mary Evelyn had
the sincerest respect for his memory.  He was a man of God, an
earnest Christian, a great preacher, a true father to the poor and
the afflicted.  All his life he had laboured in the field at
Ironside, and he had built up his church here and founded the
mission on Thunder Mountain.  He was all this, Mary Evelyn knew.
Yet, whenever she heard his name, the first thing she thought about
him was that he chewed tobacco.  His godliness ought to have
obliterated that recollection.  But her mind wouldn't record in the
right way.  No matter how long she lived she would remember that
Father Fincastle chewed tobacco.  And she would think, 'How
dreadful to be the wife of a man who chewed tobacco!'

It was like this, too, in the present.  She was burdened by the
litter of trifles.  Her appetite was so fastidious that the sight
of a bleeding rabbit or a mouse in a trap would take it away.
Mother Fincastle said all that was mere silliness.  She had the
robust relish of the pioneer, and she couldn't understand how one
could be sickened and made to turn away from food when one was
hungry--or at least empty, for Mary Evelyn could never feel hungry
for corn bread and bacon.  Well, love was a great power when it
could make everything else seem so trivial to her that she could
wear rough clothes and eat coarse fare without a regret.

But there were other trials, too, so small that she was ashamed of
them.  Those black bristles in the mole in Mother Fincastle's
eyebrow!  For twelve years, ever since John had brought her to live
in the manse, she had worried over those bristles.  If only
somebody would do something about them!  Again and again, she had
opened her mouth to speak of them and had shut it quickly, deterred
by the austere dignity in the old woman's demeanour.  It was safe,
she knew, to venture just so far, but no farther, with Mother
Fincastle, who commanded respect and disapproved of familiarities.
Not even little Ada would have dared to speak or think of her as
'Granny'.  Still the bristles were preying on Mary Evelyn's mind,
which had become, she felt, more and more flighty.  It's such a
trivial thing, she told herself now, but I shall never bring myself
to the point of speaking about it.  For Mother Fincastle had been
more than a mother to her; she had been a fortress of strength.

The evening was very long.  John was too tired to read.  She had
never seen him more exhausted by a day's trip.  That mortgage was
wearing him out.  If only they had a little money.  Not much, just
enough to keep out of debt.  When she thought of the power of money
to ruin lives a dull resentment against life, against society,
against religion, awoke in her heart.  For there was no sorrow
greater than living day and night, in sickness and in health, in
the shadow of poverty, watching that shadow spread darker and
deeper over everything that one loved.  There was no sorrow
greater, yet there was something, she told herself, greater than
sorrow.

Turning her head on the back of the chair, she looked out into the
night, where the shutter flapped at the side window and the wind
had risen in gusts.  Outside, in the troubled darkness, she heard
the creaking of boughs, the rustle of dead leaves on the ground,
the small tongues of wind lapping the walls under the ivy.  Inside
(she touched Horace with the tip of her shoe, for he had growled in
his sleep) there was the glowing centre of life.  She had much to
be thankful for.  Nobody was ill; nobody was hungry; nobody she
loved was out in the cold.  Aunt Abigail had a good fire, and
Horace (she glanced down at his black and tan head) was warm on the
hearth.

But I must keep Ada happy, she thought the next minute.  I must
keep her as happy as I have been.  For it was true.  Looked at from
any angle, she had been happy.  Life had been eager, piercing in
flashes of ecstasy, tragic at times beyond belief, but never drab,
never tedious; never, not even at its worst, when John was standing
his trial, had it been ugly.


VII


It's blowing up colder, Meggie thought, as she picked up her hooked
needle and returned to the counterpane she was crocheting.  I'm
glad John mended that leak in the roof.  Half of her mind was still
in the next room, where she had turned down her own and her
mother's bed, started a fire to undress by, and hung two outing
nightgowns and two red flannel wrappers on a small clothes-horse in
front of the flames.  The woodhouse had been well filled in the
summer, and with the help of chips and sticks the back logs ought
to last until the winter was over.  While John was away she had had
the place tidied up and the paths swept with a brush broom by old
Beadnell Geddy, who would work for a cast-off flannel shirt or a
worn-out pair of shoes.  She must remember to tell John, who would
never notice the loss, that she had given the old man a pair of
woollen stockings because he suffered from chilblains.

Though she had little patience with John's religious doubts (hadn't
he gone out of his way to borrow trouble when he put unsound views
into his book?) she could not deny that he was unselfish in little
things and ready to help her with any work that she wanted done.
And she could never forget (nobody who saw it could ever forget)
the way he had nursed his wife when she had pneumonia six years
ago.  He had never left her bedside, even to change his clothes,
until the crisis was over, and then he had fallen asleep from
exhaustion with his hand on her pillow.  Mother had covered him
with a blanket and had left him there, with his knee on the floor,
until he awoke.

While she watched him Meggie had felt her heart soften.  She still
loved him; he was her brother and a Fincastle, and she prided
herself upon the strength of the family ties.  But she could not
forgive the headstrong will that had affronted his father's memory
(who should know more of truth than their father, who had been a
servant of God?) and broken his mother's heart.  'Would you have
him live a lie?' Mary Evelyn had asked passionately.  But why
should he set up his own belief for the truth?  Who was John that
he should know more of truth than his forefathers had known or the
Bible had revealed to them?

Bending over the counterpane, she reached down into the big splint
basket near the hearth and tossed a knot of resinous pine on the
fire.  She loved to watch the coloured flames shoot up quickly,
branch out from the stalk, and unfold into flowers.  Another pale
spider (how she hated spiders!) was lowering itself on a cobweb
from the top log on the woodpile.  That was the pile they kept
there in case of a snowstorm.  She must make Uncle Beadnell move
the logs on Monday and look for the spiders.  A mouse, too, had
been worrying mother in the night, and she must remember before she
went to bed to bait a trap with middling rind in case Ada had eaten
the last crumbs of cheese.

Mary Evelyn was as thin as a rail.  Her face was all eyes, and in
spite of her high colour, the skin looked waxen.  She was not
strong like the Fincastles.  When that pain in her back stabbed
suddenly, her hand would fly to her heart, and a look of terror
would flash into her eyes.  Yet she would work on until it killed
her.  Nothing could stop her.  Energy had fastened upon her like a
disease.  John ought to speak to Dr. Updike about her.  Perhaps he
would suggest a tonic of bitters or some cod liver oil.  Mr.
Greenlee, the apothecary, would always let them have medicine and
pay for it when they were able.

Years ago when Meggie was a young girl (she was only thirty-three
now, but she felt older), Dr. Updike had treated her for spring
fever.  His figure was less burly then and there were no pouches
under his eyes.  He couldn't be over forty now, but he had
travelled the roads at all hours in all seasons, and he looked
elderly for his years.  Whenever she thought of him, though it was
so long ago, a pale flush seemed to spread more within than
without.  Not that she had had any sentiment (for her life was too
full of useful activities and her heart was too full of her
family), but for a little while she had wondered if--well, if he
had cared more than he showed on the surface.  She had never
forgotten the time he kept his hand on the inside curve of her arm
(she was noted for her pretty arms), stroking it softly while he
sat by her bed and asked questions about her health.  That was all.
Yet she had felt startled and shy, with this pale glow breaking out
in her mind.  It was queer she should remember that after all these
years, after he had married Hannah Kelso and had a family of
children.

For herself, she had never thought of love-making or marriage.  It
wasn't that she had been plain or unattractive.  She was better-
looking than most, especially when she had been plump and fresh,
with a neat figure.  But she couldn't run after men the way some
girls did even in Ironside.  In the old days there had not been
women enough to go round, and all had been sought after.  There
were belles among simple people like themselves, as well as in the
more distinguished circles of the upper Valley.  Mother said it had
been different ever since the war, with most of the young men going
away to make a livelihood and marrying in strange places.  Well,
she hadn't worried about that.  If the Lord had appointed her to
marriage, He would have arranged it all in His own good time.  As
it was, she had put her hope in little things, and she had been
happy.  She was the only member of the family who was never low-
spirited, not even in the long winters, when sometimes they were
snowed in for a week.


VIII


The taste of sugar is like pinks, Ada thought.  It's like verbena
and sweet alyssum.  If only a taste wouldn't melt and fade as soon
as it had gone down!  And when you hadn't had sweetness for a long
time (Father had waited because he could get coffee and sugar
cheaper from a wholesale house over in Doncaster) it tasted
different and sharper.  She wished pleasant things lasted longer,
and other things, like evening prayers when you were sleepy,
wouldn't drag on for ever.  Father wasn't going to read to-night.
She wanted dreadfully to hear what happened next in Old Mortality,
but mother had whispered in the kitchen that she mustn't ask him to
read.  If she couldn't listen to that, she wished they would let
her shut her eyes tight till morning.

Mother had promised to get up early on Monday (Sunday always came
when you'd rather it wouldn't) and cut out the dress and bonnet for
the new doll before breakfast.  Nellie had never had a pink dress.
She had never even had a sunbonnet.  Maybe, after a long time, she
might get used to Flora and begin to love her.

Nights were always short, except Christmas Eve, which was longer
than anything.  She hoped it would be snowy this Christmas.  Aunt
Meggie said it was blowing up cold.  If there was a deep snow,
Ralph McBride was going to make a big snow man, the biggest they
had ever had, in their yard.  But if there wasn't any snow, he had
promised to take her for a climb to the top of Lost Turkey Hill.
She had never been more than half way up when she was picking
huckleberries, but this time they would start early, with some
bread and meat in their pockets, and climb to the very top.  Then
they could look down into the gap between Thunder Mountain and Old
Man Mountain.

Oh, she wished Christmas would hurry up!  Mrs. Tiller, who kept a
cake and candy store down in the village, had sent grandmother some
raisins and currants and citron for a fruit cake.  Aunt Meggie was
trying to save enough sugar and butter, pinch by pinch.  Nobody was
going to have any sugar until Christmas, except Ada, because mother
said children couldn't be expected to do without sweets.  Children
and old people, she had said, handing the sugar bowl to
grandmother.  But grandmother had replied that she wasn't old
enough yet to be childish.  'Wait until I'm a hundred, my dear.
Don't hurry me into my dotage.'

Last Christmas (it seemed miles away!) had been splendid.  Ralph
had given her the doll's bedstead, and she had had a good package
of fire-crackers for him.  They had gone out together, and he had
set off the fire-crackers, only not all at a time.  He had shown
her how to light one and let it go off a little and then stamp it
out, so it would last longer.  She had another package for him this
year.  His mother had to give him only useful presents, like shirts
and stockings, and things to keep him warm when he hadn't a
greatcoat.  Grandmother had knitted a thick jersey for him, like
the one she gave father.  He wore it over a flannel shirt, under
his thin coat, and he said the cold never really got to him.

Ralph was the brightest boy in school, though grandmother insisted
he was too headstrong.  Already he was saving money to go to
college, and he worked part of the day in Mr. Rowan's machine shop.
In summer he and his mother lived on the vegetables they raised in
their back yard.  Ralph was a fine gardener, too, but no matter how
hard he worked he could never put by enough, father said, to take
him to college.  A gifted boy, though, might find some other way,
and father was teaching him everything that he could.  Ralph was
going to be a lawyer when he grew up.  Though he was only twelve,
he knew already what he wanted to be, and he read everything he
could find about law and lawyers.  He would make up all kinds of
games with a trial in them, and a judge and a jury.  Ada would be
the prisoner on trial for her life.  She didn't know why, but that
was the part she could act best.  Janet would want to be the judge,
but he wouldn't let her.  He didn't like Janet.  She fibbed, he
said, and was a telltale.  Blue eyes and yellow curls didn't make
her any better to play with.  She trotted after them wherever they
went, and she was always begging him to make her a doll's bedstead.

There was that white spider again.  Did spiders have ghosts?  Did
they have skeletons?  Did they have hearts?  She must remember to
ask father when he woke up.  But Ralph might know better than
father about things like spiders.  There was a mouse, too, that
crept out when it thought they were all asleep.  She wondered if
Aunt Meggie had caught it in her trap.  Mother hated to hear them
squeak when they were caught.  But grandmother didn't mind any more
than Aunt Meggie.  She said the Lord had made mice to be caught in
traps.  'Why?' Ada had asked, but nobody had answered.  Only when
she had asked a second time, mother had replied sharply, 'Your
father must tell you.'  Then she had asked over again, 'Why,
Father?' and he had answered slowly, 'God alone knows why, my
child.'  Father and mother worried over such questions.  Why God
does this?  Why God does that?  What is the reason for everything?
But grandmother and Aunt Meggie knew straight off, without any
thinking.  Grandmother said she answered questions 'out of
conviction'.

The wind was blowing loud and rough.  She could hear it crashing
through the trees, as if it were bringing snow.  Lots of sticks
would be shaken down.  They would have to lie there till Monday,
because nobody ever did any work, except cooking and making fires,
on Sunday.  Picking up sticks didn't look like work, but even if
'twas only useful play, that also was profaning the Sabbath.  Wind
made mother feel jumpy, she said, and she didn't like the tap-tap-
tapping of the ivy on the window-pane.  'I hope Aunt Abigail has
plenty of cover,' she would say.  Or, 'Have the sheep sense enough
to go into that shelter?'  Or, 'Are you sure none of the chickens
were shut out, Meggie?'  It did seem dreadful that their sheep had
so little sense.  They were old sheep, and Job, the pet ram, was
almost as rheumatic as grandmother.  When Ada was little they had
had more.  One of the first things she could remember was going
into the kitchen one morning in the midst of a spring blizzard and
seeing a new lamb, wrapped in grandmother's red flannel underbody,
lying on an old feather bed in front of the stove, while Aunt
Meggie fed it from a rag dipped in a mixture of milk and water and
a little sugar.  That was the sort of recollection, she felt, that
stayed with you till you grew up.

She was glad she didn't have to live out in winter, like a bird or
a sheep or a wild animal.  She wondered if the small furry
creatures in the woods could snuggle down under the dead leaves at
night and keep the cold wind from nipping them.  The wind was the
worst.  It sounded then as if it had blown off a bough.  She hoped
the wind would spare their oldest oak, 'the pioneer', even if it
damaged the younger trees.  So many bird and squirrel families
would be made homeless if the storm stripped the pioneer.  When you
looked up in the branches you could see nests sprinkled like houses
in a village, and in spring and summer the tree hummed all the
time, mother said, as if 'twere a harp in a breeze.  Last year,
when Aunt Meggie raised three turkeys (though one of them was
mistaken for a wild turkey and shot by a hunter, who took it away
with him) they would never roost anywhere but on that low-hanging
bough near the gate . . .  Toby Waters must be frightened, out by
Murderer's Grave.  You'd think the hovel and the pigsty would be
swept down into the gully, with all the pigs squealing.
Grandmother said the church helped Mrs. Waters because, though she
was a bad woman, Toby was not to blame for being an idiot.

Well, she was glad, too, that she wasn't an idiot.  But why did God
make idiots?  It seemed worse than making mice to be caught in
traps.  When she had tried to find an answer to that, grandmother
had replied tartly, 'If you ask any more foolish questions, Ada, I
shall be tempted to box your ears'.  And father had said over
again, 'God alone knows why, my child'.  But, whatever God's reason
might be, it was a mercy that they lived almost in the village and
not, like the Waterses, in a pigsty on the rim of a gully.  They
couldn't be too thankful, mother kept saying, though she must know
that she had said it before, for a warm room and a good fire and
plenty to eat.  The words had a singing sound that Ada enjoyed, and
they reminded her that the taste of sweetness was still somewhere
far down inside her.  'Twas nice, too, to feel Horace's head, as
soft as velvet, resting on her foot and keeping it cosy.  If the
evening didn't stop soon, she was going to slip down on the rug and
let Horace be her pillow and sink away, away, while the flames
crooned and the kettle sang and the shadows danced and the spider
swung to and fro on his cobweb.

Suddenly father was saying, 'It's almost time for bed.  Shall I
read a page, Ada?'

'Oh, if you would, Father!'  She raised her head from the softness
of Horace and sprang to her feet.  'I want dreadfully to know if
they caught Morton.'

The leaves fluttered as John Fincastle opened the book.  Well,
every day had an end.  He glanced at his mother's face, furrowed
into an expression of grim goodness, at Meggie's cheerful features,
which were still comely, at the drooping head of his wife,
transfigured by the firelight into its old loveliness.  A sigh
passed his lips, but his voice when he began reading was strong and
thrilling.

'"Hist," he said, "I hear a distant noise."

'"It is the rushing of the brook over pebbles," said one.

'"It is the sough of the wind among the bracken," said another.

'"It is the galloping of horse," said Morton to himself, his sense
of hearing rendered acute by the dreadful situation in which he
stood.  "God grant they may come as my deliverers!"'

The pages rustled as they turned, and the book was closed.  'He's
safe, my dear, until Monday.  I'll let Horace out for a minute, and
then we'll lock up and have prayers.'  Every night Horace ran as
far as the gate before he went to sleep in the front hall on the
sofa with the sagging bottom.  The chamber door was left open, and
sometimes Ada would be awakened by the nose of the hound on her
cheek.  'He's had a bad dream,' she would think.  'I reckon dogs
have bad dreams just like other people.'

To-night, after she had said her prayers and slipped into her
trundle-bed and drawn the blanket up to her chin, she dropped to
sleep saying, 'It is the sough of the wind among the bracken'.
Those were glorious words to have in your head; they seemed to go
round by themselves.  At midnight, when she awoke suddenly, they
were still turning.  Outside, the wind was blowing harder than
ever.  Could the last leaves hold on until morning?  Underneath the
crashing and the whistling she could hear the murmur of the dying
flames in the fireplace, and then the sudden squeak of the mouse in
Aunt Meggie's trap.  She hoped Aunt Abigail knew when she said mice
didn't mind being caught.  Perhaps her Indian blood made her wise
in such matters.  Well, anyway, Flora wouldn't have heard about
that.  Rising softly, she picked up the new doll from beside
Nellie, who was used to sleeping alone, and brought it to bed with
her.  Grandmother thought it was only silliness to pretend that
things like trees and dolls had real feelings.  But they may have,
she thought; you never can tell.




PART II

THE SINGLE HEART


I


Yes, it was true, Ada thought, she couldn't remember the time when
they had not cared for each other.  Ralph had always been there, no
matter how far back she went, with his bright auburn head, his gay
nut-brown eyes, his sudden smile that had a power over her heart.
There was an Irish strain in his blood.  Mother said this gave him
his charm and his amused, friendly manner.

Midway between the garden and the front porch, she stopped in the
June sunshine and looked toward the rocky road, which plunged down
from the manse to the church and then swerved abruptly, as if it
shied away from the houses.  While she stood there she felt that
the little girl of ten years before was pausing close beside her in
the tall bright grass.  She thought of this other Ada, who had
never grown up, not as herself, but as a shadowy companion.  She
would be happy now, even though she was invisible, because the girl
of twenty, who was herself and yet not herself, would be married to
Ralph as soon as he had finished his law course.  One year at
college had used up whatever he had been able to put by, and even
then he had worked as a porter in an hotel at night and had sent
home every penny he made to provide for his mother.  After that, he
had thought he would be obliged to give up the study of law and
accept a position Mr. Rowan had offered him in his machine shop.
But father, who could do everything except earn a living, had made
the way easy.  Dr. Ogilvy, one of the professors at Washington and
Lee University, had engaged Ralph as his secretary for several
hours every afternoon; and father had arranged with the Dean of the
Faculty that all the classes of the law course might be taken in
one year.  'With Ralph's wide reading and fine memory, he will be
able to do the work,' father had said.  'The boy has a brilliant
mind, he has a natural bent for the law, and he has read and
remembered now more than most lawyers ever know and forget.  It is
not often,' he had concluded, 'that life is so straight and so
simple as this.'

In front of her swallows circled over the steep roof from which
shingles were peeling.  When she moved nearer the porch, she could
see the outline of mother's head at the window, while a shadow
darted as swiftly as a grey wing into her mind.  All the past year
mother had suffered from an obscure malady, an injury to the spine,
Dr. Updike suspected, though he wasn't sure.  Every day she sat
from morning till night in a wheel-chair sent to her by one of
grandmother's friends in the Ladies' Aid Society.  The strangest
part to Ada was that she still wore her cheerful look and talked
breathlessly, without stopping or waiting for a reply.  She looked
as pale now as a wax flower under the greenish light cast by the
ivy, with her lovely head, which was still brown and glossy,
turning as quickly as a bird's when anyone came into the room.
Presently the bulk of grandmother's figure moved toward the window.
The girl could see her massive features, carved into granite
fortitude, bending down over mother.  At eighty, grandmother was
still the strongest member of the family, except for her
rheumatism.  And the happiest, too, until Ralph came home from his
year at college, and surprised that shy, startled ecstasy in Ada's
face when she looked at him.

'Love, love, love,' she said over to herself, as if she were trying
a strange word on her lips.  Sudden stillness dropped into her
mind, and through this stillness there floated presently the absurd
recollection of the doll with china hair father had brought her
from Doncaster.  Why should she think of that now?  Some minds are
no better than ragbags, grandmother had remarked disapprovingly.
But there was Flora beside Nellie in the bedstead Ralph had carved,
just as she had them tucked away in that old tin trunk in the
attic.  For she had never had the doll with real hair, and Flora
still wore, even in bed, her pink sunbonnet.  Aunt Meggie had
promised her a doll.  Then something had happened.  She couldn't
think what it was.  Had the hens refused to lay?  Had they needed
the money for medicine?  Well, it did not matter now.  It seemed
silly that she should ever have wanted a doll so much.  Grandmother
thought it was because she was jealous of Janet.  But it wasn't.
No, she had never been jealous of Janet, not even when Janet tried
to make Ralph fall in love with her.

Was that because she felt safe?  Was it because she knew that Janet
had always wanted Ralph, but Ralph in his heart had always disliked
Janet?  The other boys in Ironside admired her.  It may have been
because Ralph had never liked her that she ran after him.  For it
was no secret; everybody but her parents had talked of her ways
with men.  'That was the trouble of a village,' father had said.
'All likes and dislikes are inbred until they become like the half-
wit families over in Panther's Gap.'  Grandmother had added
severely, 'Too much tittle-tattle, that is the worst of it'.  Then
mother had asked, 'But what can you do?  If you're different, you
have to be sacrificed, just as they used to sacrifice living things
on an altar.  Heaven knows you were sacrificed, John'.

Father had looked at her with his vague but hopeful smile.  'Don't
make a martyr of me, my dear.  You might tempt me to make one of
myself.  And a self-made martyr is a poor thing.'

'I can never understand,' grandmother had insisted, 'what has got
into the young folks nowadays.  It looks to me as if they were
clean daft, every one of them.  Well, well, I reckon I've outlived
my time.  Things were not like this when I was young.'

'Nor when I was young, and that wasn't so long ago,' Aunt Meggie
had agreed.  'If you'd told us in the 'eighties that boys and girls
would be so wild in 1911, we'd have laughed in your face.  Mrs.
Tiller was saying yesterday that some of the boys, sons of decent
parents, too, think it manly to go up to Lightning Ridge to buy
moonshine.  Mrs. Melrose had to break up her daughter's birthday
party, she said, because several boys were unsteady on their feet.
She thinks 'tis all this round dancing that has ruined their
morals.'

'But the waltz is the only dance worth dancing,' mother had
laughed.  'I adore it still, and I was so sorry for John when I
found he had never learned even to heel and toe in his childhood.'

'Mark my words,' grandmother had retorted, 'when customs like that
come in, moral responsibility is the first thing to go.  I may not
live to see it, but remember what I have said when you are
compelled to live in a world that has lost the sense of
responsibility.  I doubt if you'll find it any more to your taste
than the one you were brought up in.'

'There's a point in your argument, Mother,' father had replied,
after a pause.  'I am inclined to believe that a man may be free to
do anything he pleases if only he will accept responsibility for
whatever he does.'

Grandmother and Ada had exchanged a mystified look.  It wasn't
always easy to decide how strong or weak was the tincture of irony
in father's remarks.

'I don't know what you mean, John,' the old woman had rejoined
tartly, 'but I know very well what your grandfather meant when he
used to say, "If you flosh the water, you will have scum without
fish".'

No, she wasn't jealous of Janet--well, not what you would call
really jealous.  But there had been a queer twisting pain far down
beneath a tight lid in her heart when Ralph had seemed to like
Janet for a few weeks last summer.  Janet might have all the pretty
clothes she wanted, even pink nightgowns, which grandmother and
Aunt Meggie agreed were unrefined, and silk stockings for the day
as well as the evening.  She might even have a dogcart with red
wheels and a high-stepping bay.  All these things did not matter.
But when it came to Ralph, Ada knew that she wouldn't give up
without a struggle, that she would fight for her own.  That was
what grandmother meant by the flaw in the single heart, she
supposed.  The single heart holds on to its own.  'I won't let her
have him,' she had resolved, 'no matter what happens.'  Then Janet
and Ralph had stopped speaking to each other after a quarrel (they
were always fussing about trifles), and immediately Janet appeared
to become infatuated with Hunt Patton, the son of a well-to-do
farmer in the Shenandoah Valley.  All the winter they had been
together from morning till midnight.  But early in March, Hunt gave
up his work in Judge Melrose's office and returned to the farm.
When he went away so hurriedly everybody was astonished that
nothing was said of Janet's engagement, that the very next week she
should begin flirting with Charlie Draper.  In April, Ralph went
into Mr. Rowan's big store and machine shop, which dealt in
everything you could need on a farm, from a garden rake to a
reaping machine or one of the new automobiles, and after that Janet
was obliged to be friendly with him, on the surface at least.
Fortunately, Ralph wouldn't be there long, only until he went to
Washington and Lee in the autumn.

She had been looking towards the house, and when she turned her
head she saw that Ralph had entered the gate and was coming across
the lawn, where the sheepmint in the grass gave out an aromatic
scent when it was crushed.  Whenever he came back, after even a
brief absence, a sensation of freshness and surprise rushed over
her, as if she had never seen him before--as if she had never seen
anyone else.  He was tall and thin and strong; he was warm and
sunburned and eager.

'You're early,' she said, smiling.  When she was happy words seemed
to stop coming.

'I'm on my way to work.  I had to see you a minute.'

They had turned away under the oaks, and she was in his arms while
the whole June landscape and the unearthly blue of the mountains
spun round them.

'I simply had to see you,' he repeated.

'I know.'  She loved the leanness and hardness of his body, as if
his warm young flesh had turned to bone and muscle.  Suddenly, she
felt that she wanted to stoop and kiss the dark freckles and the
reddish down on the back of his hand.  But all she could bring
herself to say was, 'I know.  But you mustn't be late.'

He laughed.  'Do you want me to go?'

She shook her head while a quivering sweetness ran over her.

'I know you don't,' he said presently.  'I can tell by your eyes
even when you don't speak.  They are dark grey in the shade, but in
the sunshine they are exactly the colour of huckleberries.  That's
why I like you in that blue dress.'

Her glance dropped quickly.  It wasn't that she was shy, she told
herself, only she couldn't let him break down some deep reserve he
had struggled against ever since he had known she loved him.  'It's
worn out,' she said, stroking his hand.  'I have two blue cotton
dresses, but both are worn out.  I wish,' she added, 'I had
something better than my pink gingham to wear to the dance on
Wednesday.'

'You'll look all right.  You'll look right in anything.'

'Janet has a white organdie.  Her mother ordered it from a
catalogue.'

'It doesn't matter.  You'll look better than Janet.'

'But Janet's lovely.  She has real blue eyes.'  Why had she said
that?  Was it to hurt herself?  Was it to make him praise her?

'I don't care about Janet's eyes.  I like yours better.'  Taking
her face in his hands, which were eager and strong, he began
kissing it very slowly all over, from the backward wave of dark
hair to the full white throat.  'There's something about you.  I
don't know what it is, and I don't care.  It's different, that's
all.  It's you, and if you've got faults, then I like faults.  I
like a blunt nose better than a sharp one.  I like a large mouth
better than a small one.  I like sunburn better than a peach-bloom
skin.  Sometimes I think I fell in love with you because of those
silly freckles on the top of your nose.'  His arm slipped to her
bosom, crushing her to him.  'Well, I ought to go.  I'll come as
early as I can to-night.'

He took a step away and turned back to kiss her again.  'It won't
be much more than a year,' he said.  'I'll be through by next
summer, and then I'll go into somebody's office, perhaps down in
Queenborough.  Would you like to live in Queenborough?'

Her eyes dwelt on him.  'Anywhere with you.  I don't care, except
for mother, and of course father.'

'Well, a year isn't long.'

She loved the husky quiver that ruffled his voice.

'No, a year isn't long.'

'But it's hell waiting.'

She laughed tenderly.  'If grandmother heard that, she wouldn't
want me to marry you.  She thinks all the young people to-day are
headed to ruin.'  Then she caught his arm.  'Did you ask Judge
Melrose to lend us his buggy for the dance?  How are we going out
to the Padgetts'?'

'I forgot to tell you.  Janet wants us to go with her in her
father's spring wagon.'

'I thought we were going alone.'

'I wish we were, but I didn't see how I could refuse.  While I'm
working for Mr. Rowan I have to be nice to Janet.  Do you know, he
is going to buy an automobile,' he added in an interested tone.

'Is he?' she answered indifferently.  'I'd like to see Janet in the
sort of motor veils and goggles they put in the papers.  Who else
is going with us to the dance?'

'Charlie Draper.  And she has asked Willie Andrews to take a girl
who is spending the night with her.'

'That's Bessie McMurtry.'

'It's all right, isn't it?  But why do you always get miffed when I
mention Janet?  The only quarrels we've ever had were about her.'

'I don't.'  Her face felt scorched--but it was true, though she
denied it.  Once she had left him at a picnic for a whole afternoon
because Janet had dared him to take a drink of moonshine whisky
with Willie Andrews and he hadn't had the courage to refuse.  No
man, he had said to her then, would 'refuse to take a dare from a
girl'.

'You don't?' he laughed teasingly.  'Well, you don't, darling.
It's all right, isn't it?'

He had started away, and when he looked round, she saw the shadow
of the leaves flickering over his eyes, which changed from nut-
brown to yellow as the sun touched them.  Then, while she
hesitated, the sudden smile broke on his lips, and she felt that
her heart was a wheel turning.

'Oh, yes, it's all right,' she answered in a voice that vibrated
with tenderness.  At the house she saw him stop for a minute to
speak to Horace, who awoke from a nap on the sunken millstone at
the foot of the steps and greeted him with the air of an elder
statesman.

I ought to go in, she told herself, but they would see that I am
all in a flutter.  There was plenty of work to do helping Aunt
Abigail.  Or, perhaps, grandmother would be waiting on the kitchen
porch beside the big splint basket.  Grandmother liked to lean on
the garden fence, or walk along the paths, if the dew was not on
the weeds, and watch her gather the early vegetables, while they
talked of the way the corn and tomatoes and black-eyed peas were
ripening.

In the effort to steady her mind she walked over to the sagging
gate which failed even to keep out the hens.  Inside the broken
palings, once straight and white, Aunt Meggie's sunflowers were
shooting up in tall rows which would bloom in July and August.
Beyond Aunt Abigail Geddy's cabin the narrow hayfield ran on until
it sank and was lost in the stony hill, where three sheep and two
lambs were nibbling the high weeds.  Job was gone, but a sprightly
young ram had inherited his place.  From where she stood she could
barely distinguish the huddled grey stones from the browsing sheep.

Though they had had the little flock only three seasons, the wool
had come in well for grandmother's knitting and to make warm, light
interlinings for several of the old quilts.  Grandmother and Aunt
Abigail Geddy were still as good as ever at washing wool, carding,
and spinning.  Aunt Abigail and Marcellus sheared the sheep, but
grandmother always watched because she said she couldn't trust
either African or Indian blood not to enjoy nipping.  Grandmother
looked after everything, and father said she could feed a whole
family on what Aunt Abigail threw away.  When she was a child they
never saw a store, she would say proudly.  Their coffee was made of
sweet potatoes, just as in wartime, and once or twice her father
had been obliged to write his sermons in pokeberry juice.  Yet she
had been as happy as she was after she learned to crave real
coffee.

I hope she has taught me how to live, Ada mused, as if she were
smoothing out some tumult within, some exultation and overflow of
the heart.  I hope she has taught me how to make the right kind of
wife.  There was no fear of poverty in her mind.  She was prepared
to meet the future on its own terms, and to take what it gave.  If
only she had Ralph, she could find happiness, and no one could be
easier to make happy than Ralph.

Grandmother called urgently, and Ada turned away from the garden.
Over the springhouse at the bottom of the yard she could see the
nearer valley laced with the crystal blue of streams, and beyond
the valley the throbbing azure light on the mountains.  God's
Mountain ranged far and free toward the west, beyond the heavenly
twins, as father called Rain and Cloud Mountains.  But directly in
front of her the dark brow of Thunder Mountain frowned through its
summer foliage, with the coloured hills flowing away from it fold
on fold.

I never knew before that happiness hurt, she thought.  Happiness
like this hurts.

Suddenly, from an old lilac tree by the side of the house, a bird's
song sprinkled the air with joy.  It was a catbird.  The pair (was
it the same pair?) came back every spring.


II


On the porch her grandmother was waiting.  'You must run down to
the store, Ada, for a box of mustard.  'Twas all used up last
night.'

'Is mother worse?'

'That stitch in her back is troubling her again.  She's had mighty
little sleep for the last two nights.'

'I'll go straight down.  It won't take me any time.'  At the sound
of her voice Horace peered inquiringly from the side of the house,
shook himself twice, and ambled after her when she hurried through
the gate into the road.

As she went on, picking her way among stones, Thunder Mountain
seemed to push back the brushy hills and move nearer.  She had seen
the mountain in all aspects and in all seasons, dark-browed,
frowning, remote, or ringed with flame while terrified deer and the
humble furred and feathered creatures of the forest fled, with the
eagles, the buzzards, and the hawks, from the furnace that had once
sheltered them.  But to-day she felt only the June softness of the
fields, sown with small powdery daisies which looked as if they had
been plucked from the stem and strewn over the long grass.  Wild
lupins were still running in a bluish fire down by Smiling Creek,
and clusters of chicory had just flowered along the roadside.  All
this light and softness and colour streamed within and became a
part of her mood.  But mother was in pain.  Resolutely, prompted by
some inherited instinct, she accepted the fact of pain as the
deeper reality.

When she reached the church she threw a glance over the field to
the hovel and the evil-smelling pigsty, where Mrs. Waters and Toby
scratched the hard soil on the edge of the ravine.  She had never
spoken to Mrs. Waters, and she tried not to look at her if they met
in the road.  Though she pitied the old woman (it seemed so
hopeless to be old and bad together), she was embarrassed when they
passed each other, as if a bodily disfigurement had been thrust
under her eyes.  Years ago, she had wondered how Mrs. Waters, who
was then robust and not ugly, with plump legs in tight black
stockings that bulged over her shoes, was able to live and even
gain flesh on a pigsty alone.  That earlier banishment, for Mrs.
Waters had been expelled from church in her youth, differed in some
curious particular from the present self-inflicted retreat.  In the
past she had at least kept her curves in those places where curves
were desirable, and she had never failed in summer to flaunt a few
gaudy blossoms, usually prince's feather or cockscomb, before the
door of her hovel.  One spring, it is true, she had come down with
pneumonia at planting-time.  Then the church had paid Uncle
Beadnell Geddy to hoe her garden and to look after the hogs which
Toby would neglect whenever he was given an opportunity.

For a week or more the woman had lingered near death.  It was only
natural, Ada realized now, that Ironside should have been divided
between relief over the removal of sin and reluctance to accept the
burden of Toby, who would remain an idiot boy if he lived to be
eighty.  Dr. Updike had attended Mrs. Waters as faithfully as if
she were one of the redeemed; grandmother had made mustard plasters
and sage tea, and had carried a soft pillow and a wool-lined quilt
to the cabin; the Ladies' Aid Society had taken up a collection and
had engaged Uncle Beadnell's wife, Aunt Pomona, to sit up at night.
But the minister and the elders, supported by the entire
congregation, including grandmother and Dr. Updike, had decided
that she could not be buried among professing Christians in the
churchyard, but must sleep beside the hanged, and no doubt damned,
sinner in Murderer's Grave.  Even mother had thought that the
decision was 'merely human', and father had remarked, 'If they
turned her out of the church, it is scarcely logical to expect them
to welcome her in the churchyard.  Dead Presbyterians are still
Presbyterians, only more so.'

'Why is it, Father,' little Ada had asked, after pondering the
fact, 'that Mrs. Waters never has any visitors in the daytime?
Willie Andrews says she sees company late at night after her lamp
is turned down.  They are tall dark people, and Willie is sure
they're witches.  Are there any men witches, Father?'

'There are no witches, my child.  Perhaps they are charitable
persons who come to bring her food or swill for her hogs.  Let us
hope,' he had concluded, 'that Mrs. Waters may live long enough to
make peace with God and the congregation.'

He had had his wish fulfilled, though only in part.  If Mrs. Waters
had made peace, it was with God alone, and there was a flaw, or so
it appeared, in that tardy reconciliation.  After her illness she
had fallen into a decline; her bouncing curves had flattened out;
the dark company had ceased its nocturnal visits.  Presently she
had begun to beg for broken bread or hogwash at the back doors in
the village.  There had been talk of putting her in the almshouse.
But the county almshouse was too proud to receive women of a
certain character, and at last the village fathers had banished
her, on a bare pittance, to her hovel out in the fields.  Stringy,
bedraggled, raddled with the paint of pokeberry juice, and smelling
of moonshine whisky, she haunted the alleys or poked in the dump
heaps between sunset and dusk.

Like the shadow of a crow, the image of Mrs. Waters flapped over
Ada's mind and was gone.  Only a mild wonder remained.  Was
religion like that?  How could she tell?  How could anyone tell?
she asked herself, looking at Horace (mother said dogs were dumb
poets), who raised his nose from the cow manure in the road and
gazed up at her.

She passed the church and the churchyard.  Light shadows were
playing over the tombstones.  Birds were singing high up in the
trees.  Uncle Beadnell was trimming the grass on the graves with a
sickle.  Close by the church, they were painting the shutters and
small square porch of the parsonage.  Mrs. Black's hollyhocks were
gay and bright, and the climbing red rose on the porch was in full
bloom.  They had it tied back while old Mr. Potter and his son were
painting the posts.  Mrs. Black, who was watching them, nodded to
Ada and asked after her mother.  She was a small, active, managing
woman, so thin that people said you could see every bone in her
body, with a shiny look that ran over one like a swarm of ants when
she was excited.  But her heart was too big for her, grandmother
insisted; she would go out of her way to do a kindness to anybody.

'She's not so well to-day,' Ada answered.  'I'm going for mustard.'

She passed the doctor's house, and saw him coming out in an alpaca
coat with a crape band on the sleeve.  He was in mourning for Mrs.
Updike, who had died in the winter.  But his stout figure and ruddy
face, with the beaming smile that warmed the hearts of his
patients, appeared as sanguine as ever.  Though he had never
complained of his marriage, Ada had heard that his wife had been a
trial to the flesh, and that in her last years she had formed the
habit of drink--or it may have been drugs.

'I'm going to drop in to see your mother on my rounds,' he said.
'Tell your grandmother to keep mustard plasters on her back until I
come.'

She passed the big white frame house of the Rowans and saw Janet in
a dress of green linen watching her from an upper window.  She
passed Mrs. McBride's small cottage, lost in rows of potatoes,
tomatoes, beets, and turnip-tops that were running to yellow.  She
passed the post office, where several horses were tethered to the
hitching-bar in the street.  At the end of the square, which was
bordered by wire-grass and dandelions, she went into the general
store, and waited for Mr. Robinson to finish wrapping up a parcel
before he gave her the box of mustard.

'Hope nobody is sick up at your place,' Mr. Robinson said.  'Is
your mother feeling bad again?'

'She has that pain in her back.  It comes and goes all the time.'

'I'm sorry to hear that.  I'd hoped the fine weather would cure
her.'

Taking the box of mustard, she went out into the street and stopped
to draw breath.  I didn't know how fast I was walking, she thought.
Missing Horace, she looked about her and found him lying in the
speckled shade of a young locust tree.  The tree was in blossom,
and she paused a moment to breathe in the fragrance.  Ironside, so
bleak and hostile in winter, was charming in summer, with its leafy
shade trees and the hollyhocks and roses in the front gardens.

'I know you're feeling the heat, Horace,' she said, 'but we must
start back right away.'

As she reached the Rowans' house, Janet came running down the walk
to the gate.

'Oh, Ada, come in and see my new dress.  I've just unpacked it, and
it's too lovely for words.'

'I can't, Janet, not now.  Grandmother is waiting for this
mustard.'

'It wouldn't take you a minute.  I've laid it out on the bed.'

On the other side of the gate Janet's flaxen head nodded above the
sheath of pale green linen; her pleading face, as vacant as an
empty eggshell, was faintly pink and transparent; her eyes of
periwinkle blue were round, soft, and innocent of expression.  The
only flaws in her loveliness were two front teeth that projected
from her short upper lip and a dimpled chin that receded abruptly.
Yet even these faults had worked, oddly enough, Ada thought, to her
advantage.  'She's the living image of Queen Victoria as a girl,'
Mrs. Rowan declared.  'That engraving in our parlour of Princess
Victoria in a tall comb, picking up a rose from a table, might have
been taken from Janet.'

'Oh, do come in,' Janet begged.

'No, I can't stop now.'  Ada walked on, and Janet opened the gate
and fell into step at her side.

'What are you going to wear to the dance, Ada?  Amy Padgett says
their new barn is a like a ballroom.  It's just finished, and they
are going to put up Chinese lanterns and chairs and tables around
the walls.'

Ada sighed.  'I haven't anything to wear but my pink gingham.'
Ralph had said she would look prettier than Janet in all her
finery.  Still, she wished she had something better.  The
recollection of the pink gingham pinned on the clothesline at home
floated into her thoughts, swayed upward in the breeze, was puffed
out in rosy billows, and covered, in a single immense wave, the
whole field of vision.  It didn't seem fair, she reflected, being
human, that Janet, who was so lovely, should have finer clothes
than any other girl in the village.  No, it wasn't fair.  Yet Janet
might think it wasn't fair that Ada had Ralph, whom Janet wanted
more than she had ever wanted white organdie.  But, even then,
Ralph wasn't the only man Janet wanted and had run after.  Mrs.
Tiller believed she had cared most for Hunt Patton, who went away
so suddenly--too suddenly, the malicious old woman had whispered,
for Janet's good.  Only women, Ada had noticed, were severe with
Janet.

'I can't come any farther,' Janet said when they had passed the
churchyard, 'but I want you to see my dress.  This is Monday.
There isn't much time.'

'I'll come to-morrow if mother isn't worse.  I'll run down in the
morning.'

'You're going with us, aren't you?  Ralph said you would.'

'He told me you'd asked us to go in the spring-wagon.'

'I thought we could all crowd in.  When did Ralph ask you?'

'Days ago.  I can't remember when.'

'He would have taken me,' Janet said, with abrupt vehemence, 'only
we'd had a falling-out.'

Looking at her in surprise, Ada remembered the Sunday morning when
Janet had had her tongue brushed with quinine because she told
fibs.  She was older now, and the fibs had matured into lies.

'I don't believe he ever thought of asking you,' Ada retorted,
while her face, flushed already from the sun, burned to a flame.

'Oh, he would have, only we had a falling-out,' Janet repeated.
'He felt dreadfully when I told him this morning that I was going
with Charlie Draper.'  She bit her lip and her voice trembled with
irritation.  'Oh, I wish I could go away!  I'm so tired of
Ironside.  Do you ever feel that you want to go away and never come
back?'

'I'm going away next year.  Ralph and I are going to be married as
soon as he has settled in Queenborough.'  Her tone was defiant, as
if she were flinging back Janet's falsehood.  Yet she had not meant
to tell anyone, not even the minister, until next autumn.  It was
unwise, she knew, but that twisting pain (was it anger? was it
jealousy?) had been more than she could bear.  The instant after
she had betrayed her secret she began to regret it.  'I ought to
have known better,' she thought in self-reproach, 'but I suppose
I'll never know better than to let Janet hurt me.  Even when I know
she is lying, she still hurts me.  Well, no matter . . .  If only
she will leave us alone.'

For a minute Janet's breath came and went with a rustling sound, as
if something alive in her bosom struggled to break out.

'Even when we were children I was the only girl Ralph would play
with,' Ada added.  'You and he always quarrelled.'

Janet laughed, without effort apparently.  'Well, you're welcome to
him,' she said.  'I hope you'll be happy.  Yes it's true we were
always falling out.  He was never, even when we were children, my
sort.'  Dismissing the subject, she asked lightly, 'You will come
to see my dress, won't you?'

'Yes, I'll come.  I'll come in the morning.'  Ada's anger had
faded, though she still blamed herself for betraying her secret.
'You won't repeat what I've told you?' she asked.

'Oh, no, I shan't repeat it.  After all, you're my best friend,
aren't you?  It was natural that you should tell me first.'

That was a nice way to take it.  Janet had her pleasant side when
she wasn't crossed, and it seemed that Ada's confidence had not
ruffled her temper.  She did look rather like Princess Victoria in
the old engraving, with her small stubborn mouth, red as a cardinal
flower, above her childish receding chin.

'I'll keep the dress in the spare room for you to see,' she added
sweetly.  'Be sure to come early.'


III


When she passed from the sunshine into the cool greenish light of
the hall, Ada felt she had entered an invisible network of
affection and security and that something more which is the essence
of fortitude.  The pine planks of the floor splintered under her
feet; the plaster was sifting in a yellow dust from a crack in the
ceiling; the walls were streaked and splotched under the peeling
paint--but the unity of the house, the way of life, had survived
the processes of destruction.

Father ought to mend things, she thought, even if he has so little
time between the garden and his book.  But I suppose it would take
every minute he has to keep the place from falling to pieces.

Horace stopped to drink from the earthenware bowl in one corner,
and, after quenching his thirst, looked up at her with moist
velvety eyes and his attractive dog's smile.  His black and tan
head was domed like a philosopher's, though he still kept a puppy's
heart beneath his shining black coat.  When she did not go upstairs
to her room under the dormered roof, he followed her, with a
wagging tail, into her mother's chamber.

Grandmother was standing in the middle of the floor, erect from the
waist up, but bent slightly in her rheumatic hip.  She stood much
of the time, because her joints were more painful after she rested,
and she believed that it was a mistake to give in to infirmities.

'Sit with your mother while I make the plasters,' she said.  'She
hasn't touched a morsel to-day, and she's trying to sip a glass of
milk.'

'It's delicious milk,' Mary Evelyn said in her excited voice from
the wheel-chair.  Ever since her illness began Dr. Updike had sent
her a pitcher of milk from his Jersey cows every day, and she
insisted that it had kept her alive.  She sipped very slowly,
holding up the glass first in one wasted hand and then in the
other, and raising her head as a bird does when it drinks.  'Yes,
the pain is better.  It comes and goes,' she answered.  'Did you
see anyone in the village?'

'Nobody but Janet.  Oh, Mother, I told Janet!  I didn't mean to,
but she made me angry, and I told her.'

'Did you, dear?  Well, I suppose it won't make any difference.'  In
her wrapper of lavender lawn, with a faded purple shawl over her
shoulders, Mary Evelyn looked as transparent as a shadow against
the greenish light at the window.  Only her voice was strong,
animated, and intensely alive.  'Your grandmother doesn't like
Janet, but I doubt whether there's any harm in her.'

'She promised me she wouldn't tell anyone.'

'Even if she does, it won't matter.  Everyone knows that you and
Ralph were made for each other.  It makes me happy when I think of
it, just as if I were living my own youth over again.'

'All the same I wish I'd kept my secret . . .  You've forgotten to
sip your milk.'

'Yes, I know.'  Mary Evelyn raised the glass to her lips.  'You and
Ralph have known each other so long and you are so much alike that
you ought to understand without having to explain.  It's a pity you
are both quick-tempered.  But you will have to be patient.  Women
always have to be patient.'

'His mother isn't.  Does it matter very much that I can't make
myself like his mother?  She made Ralph unhappy when he was little.
He used to say that he felt closer to you than he did to her.'

'She's a good woman according to her lights, but your father says'--
Mary Evelyn laughed at the recollection--'that her religion has
curdled.  Calvinism does curdle in some natures.  I know how angry
I used to feel when she kept Ralph in all Saturday evening because
he hadn't had time to learn his answers in the Catechism.'

'Well, there's one thing certain,' Ada said.  'If I ever have
children, I shan't make them learn the Catechism.  And it isn't
only about that.  I believe Mrs. McBride enjoys making Ralph
miserable.  He hasn't told her about us because he knows she will
be sure to say the wrong thing.  Do you think I shall have to call
her "Mother McBride"?  Nothing will ever make me call anyone but
you mother.'

'I'm afraid she'll expect it, darling.  But that isn't really
important.  You mustn't say she likes to make Ralph unhappy.  You
mustn't even let yourself think it.'

'It's true.  And Ralph doesn't really love her.  You can't make
yourself love people.'

'But he's working to make money for her.  He told me he would give
her every penny he made in Mr. Rowan's store.  It ought to take
care of her while he is at Washington and Lee.'

'That's because of the obligation.  He wants to give her what she
thinks she deserves for being his mother.  But it isn't because he
loves her.  You can do a great deal for a person without love.  She
tried to stand in his way even about the law.  There's some bent in
her, he says, that makes her recoil to the contrary whenever he
wants to do a thing.  It isn't exactly spite, but it works the same
way.'

Grandmother Fincastle brought the plasters and applied them to Mary
Evelyn's back under the lawn wrapper and the muslin chemise.  'Let
them burn well,' she said.

'Do you want me for anything, Grandmother?' Ada asked.

'Not just yet.  Stay with your mother until the plasters burn too
hot.  Meggie will give you the peas to shell while you're waiting.
Does that feel right, Mary Evelyn?'

'Perfectly right,' Mary Evelyn answered sweetly, though she shifted
the plasters as soon as her mother-in-law had taken the empty glass
and gone back to the kitchen.

In a few minutes Meggie came in with the peas in a yellow bowl.
'Would you like me to iron your pink gingham, Ada?'

'Oh, Aunt Meggie, if you have time!  You iron so beautifully.'  As
her aunt turned away, she said a little wistfully, 'You never wore
gingham to a party when you were a girl, Mother.'

'No, dear, we wore a great deal of mousseline-de-soie.  That was
all the fashion when I was a girl.  But your pink gingham looks
very well on you.'

'Aunt Meggie says you were perfectly beautiful when you were
young.'

'That was long ago.'

'Father thinks you haven't changed.'

Mary Evelyn smiled.  'He sees me as I used to be.  He never really
looks at the outside of anything.  But he has to give his whole
mind to his books.  That is his life's work.  Each volume has taken
many years, and he has still two more to write.'

'I wish people would read them, Mother.  Three years ago, when his
third volume came out, nobody, at least nobody in America, seemed
to take any notice.'

'More than you think noticed it, Ada.  There were letters, you
remember, from philosophers in Europe.'

'They are so far away they don't sound as if they were real.  Is
the plaster too strong?'

'No, it's my skin.  Everything hurts it.'

'Your nerves are like that too.  It must have been hard on you when
you first came to live at Ironside.'

'I had to learn.  Everyone has to learn.  Then I'd just lost your
two little brothers.  It didn't matter whether I had things or went
without.'

'Aunt Meggie says you were always in high spirits.'

'I had to choose between high spirits and low spirits, and I chose
what I thought would be easier on others.  Those first years were a
trial, but gradually things seemed to get better.  Or, perhaps, I
got used to their being bad.  You were only a baby, and you can't
remember the time when there wasn't enough to eat in the house.  It
was then I fell into the habit of laughing too much.  A light
spirit, Aunt Abigail called me.'  Her mouth twitched convulsively,
while Ada stopped shelling the peas and bent over her.

'Is the pain worse, Mother?'

'No, it isn't the pain.  I was thinking.'  She made a sudden
gesture as if she were brushing away a recollection.  Then
animation quivered through her nerves in a spasm, and she sprang
upright in her chair.  'You could never guess,' she said in a
changed voice, 'what was the hardest thing to get used to.  After
the death of my babies, the hardest thing was having to do without
running water in the house.  Even going hungry was less of a trial.
There were times when I'd have given years of my life to hear the
sound of hot water running into a bathtub.  Your grandmother and
Meggie have the kind of skin that nothing irritates.  They could
wash with home-made soap in cold water (though your grandmother was
fond of her warm bath), but I used to chap and have chilblains that
first winter.  Your grandmother bound up my heels in mutton tallow,
and when she couldn't get Castile soap for me, she tried her hand
at boiling down the tallow and scenting it with rose leaves.  Aunt
Abigail began then bringing in the big tub every morning to fill
with pails of warm water.  After they saw how I suffered, they
never forgot to keep my kettle steaming on the trivet in winter and
the stove in summer.'

'I like to splash in cold water.  It's the first thing I do when I
get out of bed.'

'You have the Fincastle skin.  It's a blessing because it makes
life so much simpler, like the Fincastle constitution.  That gives
you your fine colour.'

'I'd rather be like you, Mother.'

'You wouldn't say that, darling, if you knew everything.  Many and
many a time I've been no better than a thorn in the flesh.  Nothing
is more trying than nerves to people who have none.'

'They love you.'

'That has helped.  Love has been stronger than religion.  But they
would smile if they knew how much of my courage depends on little
things.  These little things mean more than themselves.  They mean
an attitude of soul, a ceremony of living.  Your grandmother could
never understand that my blue bowl has helped me more than morning
prayers.  For me, bare Presbyterian doctrine was not enough.  I
needed a ritual.  That is why I have never, not even when we were
poorest, let myself think poor.  That is why I have never failed to
put the crocheted mats on the table, and the candlesticks, with or
without candles, and the flowers or berries in the blue bowl.'

'I hope I'm like you, Mother.  Oh, I hope I'm like you.'

'Well, I've been happy, dear.  In spite of everything, I've been
happy.  But it was a hard struggle at times.  I like to look ahead
for you and think that your life will be easier.'


IV


The Rowans' hall was fragrant with the smell of hot gingerbread
when Mrs. Rowan, wearing an apron over her fresh print dress, met
Ada at the door and told her to run upstairs.  She was a stout,
unshapely woman, with flaxen hair just going grey, smooth pink
cheeks, and eyes like periwinkles that had been rained on.  Janet
was her only child, and since she should never have been without a
baby at her rich bosom, she had spent an immoderate maternal
sentiment upon a single daughter.  Like all the wives of the upper
Valley, she was a conscientious housekeeper; her drip coffee and
salt-rising bread and her 'light hand' for sponge cake were
celebrated even in that region of plain thinking and good living.

'Go straight up to Janet's room,' she said as cheerfully as if she
had not spoiled her husband's digestion and her daughter's
disposition.  'I'll bring you a glass of lemonade and a piece of
gingerbread as soon as it's done.  Janet hasn't been herself for
the last day or two.  She won't touch a morsel at the table, so I'm
trying to make her take a bite between meals.  I can't imagine why
in the world she should be in the sulks now, and her father and I
are driven almost out of our wits trying to think of something that
will please her.  I've just been up to see about her.  Running up
and down stairs at my age,' she added, pushing her hair back with
her wrist, 'is no joke.'

'She asked me to come and see her dress,' Ada answered, while her
gaze wandered over the spotless hall and staircase and through the
open door of the parlour, where the dim light rippled on the
engraving of Princess Victoria picking up a rose from a table.

'Yes, I've laid it out on Janet's bed.  She was wild with pleasure
when it first came, but she's so moody that nothing ever pleases
her for very long.'

'She has asked us to go to the dance with her.'

'I know.  She was going to take a party in the spring-wagon.  But
this morning she said she wasn't sure she wanted to go.  I
shouldn't worry about that, though.  She always goes contrary at
the last minute.'

'I know she'll be the prettiest girl there,' Ada said, because she
knew nothing else would cheer poor Mrs. Rowan so much.  'But Aunt
Meggie says you were prettier than Janet when you were young.'

To her astonishment, Mrs. Rowan appeared vaguely offended.  'Oh,
no, I couldn't touch Janet,' she rejoined stiffly.  'There's never
been a girl in Ironside who could hold a candle to her.  That's why
I wouldn't call her "Jeanie" after me even when she was little.  It
seemed too common a name for her.  It's a pity she wouldn't study;
but you can't have everything.  After our sending her away to
boarding-school for two years, she doesn't seem to know as much as
you learned at home.'

Ada frowned.  'Father taught me.'

'Yes, I know.  I'm not denying that your father is a scholar.  Mr.
Rowan says you can know a great deal without being sound in
doctrine.  Everybody thinks he's done as well as a college by Ralph
McBride.  That's a fine boy,' she continued.  'Judge Melrose would
have taken him into his office this summer, but Ralph's mother
insisted on his working for Mr. Rowan because the salary is higher.
There's Janet calling now.  Yes, honey, I'm sending her right up.
It's a blessing the child hasn't inherited my prattling tongue.'

Yes, Janet had never prattled, Ada agreed, as she ascended the
stairs.  There was no denying, however, that the silence of her
pouting red lips could be eloquent.

'Oh, it's you!' she exclaimed as Ada entered, looking round from
the window, where she was drying her hair in the sunshine.  'Wait a
minute.  I'll show you my dress as soon as my hair stops dripping.'

'What a pity you have to put it up.'

'I'm going to let one large curl hang on my shoulder.  That fashion
has come in again.'

'Well, it's nice for girls who have curls like yours.'  Ada turned
to the organdie flounces on the bed and took up the blue and pink
ribbons.  'Oh, how lovely!' she exclaimed.

Janet laughed with pleasure while she tossed back her hair (it was
like a spray of silver gilt, Ada thought) over the checked apron
she had slipped round her shoulders.  'There are roses at the
waist, and I'm going to wear a rose, an artificial one, in my hair.
Mother wants me to wear a natural rose as she used to do.  She has
a perfect half-blown bud she's saving on her rose bush.  But nobody
wears natural flowers any longer.'  Her sullen mood had vanished;
she was fresh and animated for the moment at least.  'It's a pity
you haven't anything but that everyday dress.  If you were smaller,
I might lend you something of mine.'

'Oh, I couldn't.'  Ada flushed and shook her head.  'My pink
gingham is good enough.  I can't help it if it is an everyday
dress.'

An everyday dress and an everyday figure, she thought, glancing
into the handsome mirror over the dressing-table.  Above Janet's
face, like a young moon in an empty sky, Ada's own features spun
suddenly into vision.  A perfectly good face, she said to herself,
with a laugh, but more pleasant than pretty when you compared it
with Janet's, and almost too vigorous in contour, like a picture of
a head on the prow of a ship.

'There's mother,' Janet said in an angry whisper.  'I wanted to
talk to you alone, but she never leaves me a minute in peace.  This
morning she tried to make me swallow sulphur and molasses.'

Panting from her exertion, Mrs. Rowan pushed open the door with her
foot, and brought in the lemonade and gingerbread on a painted
tray.  'I stopped to rinse out your best stockings,' she said, as
she put the tray on the table where Janet could reach it.
'Alberta's hands are so rough, I was afraid she might tear them.'

Silk stockings, too!  Ada thought, with a stab of envy.  How lovely
it must be to wear silk stockings to a dance!  Her own best pair (a
gift from Aunt Meggie at Christmas) was woven of a fine mixture of
lisle thread and cotton.  'I wonder how it feels to wear silk
stockings,' she sighed, and continued happily, with her mind on the
future, 'Some day I shall know.'

Mrs. Rowan was pouring lemonade into tall amber glasses.  'Well,
I've never had any myself.  We were too poor when I grew up to
bother about what kind of stockings we wore as long as we weren't
barefooted.  But Janet has so many she won't even take the trouble
to darn them.'

'She'll have to marry a rich man,' Ada said, thinking of Ralph, who
was so poor that he had his shoes half-soled until they were
dropping to pieces.

'Oh, father will take care of that,' Janet retorted.  The doting
bliss in her mother's look faded to anxiety.  'He will as long as
he is able, honey,' she replied.  'But your father isn't so well
off as he once was.  I know he worries to think what would become
of you, with your expensive tastes, if anything should happen to
him.'

'But what could possibly happen to him?' Janet inquired.  'He's as
strong as an ox.  No, I don't want any gingerbread.  Just give me a
sip of lemonade.'

Mrs. Rowan seemed disappointed.  'I made it the way you like it,
Janet, with plenty of butter.'

'Well, I don't want it now,' the girl returned, so pettishly that
Ada could see she was longing to be rid of her mother's attentions.
'I wish you wouldn't keep poking things at me.'

'I declare, I don't know what is the matter with her,' Mrs. Rowan
remarked helplessly.  'She isn't often like this.  You'll take a
piece, won't you, Ada?' she asked almost timidly.

'Of course I will.  But I'd rather take it home with me.
Grandmother has such a sweet tooth.'

'No, you eat this now with your lemonade.  I'll wrap up some in a
napkin for your grandmother and put it on the hall table.'  Her
tone was sprightly again.  'Well, I'd better be going down if there
isn't anything I can do.  Poor Alberta is crying with toothache,
but I can't persuade her to have her tooth pulled.  If you want
anything before dinner, just call me.'

As soon as she had left the room and her heavy tread was heard
descending the stairs, Janet flew to the door and turned the key in
the lock.  'I thought she'd never go,' she breathed impatiently.
'I never can talk before mother.'

'She's so devoted to you, Janet.  It makes me feel sorry for her.'

'I know.  I love her, too, but she fusses over me until I feel as
if I should scream.'

'What is it you have to tell me?'

'Nothing much.  Only some of the boys went up to Lightning Ridge
yesterday, after they stopped work, to buy moonshine.  They're
going to hide it in the loft to-morrow night.  Of course, it's just
for fun.  They don't mean anything but a joke.  Willie Andrews
started it, and you know how he is.'

'But they oughtn't to.  Nobody has anything but lemonade at a barn
dance.  The Padgetts wouldn't like it.'

'Tommy Padgett is one of them.  He is going to fix a table up in
the loft because his mother won't let him put anything in the
punch.'

'How do you always hear things?'

'Oh, the boys tell me.  They know I won't give them away.  You
mustn't say a word about it, you know.'

'Who are the others?'

'Charlie Draper wouldn't go.  But there was Fred Robinson, and
there was Ralph McBride.'

Ada started and put down the glass of lemonade she was holding.
'What made Ralph go?' she asked.  'He can't touch that whisky
without its going straight to his head.  Charlie Draper can't
either.  That's why they don't drink anything.'

Janet laughed.  'Oh, the boys were teasing Ralph.  You know Ralph
can't bear to be teased.  I suppose Willie Andrews dared him to go.
But he's all right to-day.  I saw him when I went to speak to
father in the office.'

'Well, it may be just fun.  I don't know.  But why didn't you stop
them?  That moonshine is too strong.'

Janet shook her head.  'I'd rather be anything than a killjoy.'

That was meant for her, Ada told herself, with a flash of anger.
Janet thought she was a killjoy.  Well, no matter . . .  Beyond the
window a cloud of bees had settled on a blossoming locust tree, and
she thought, I never saw bees so golden.

'Wouldn't you like to have some pink roses to-morrow?' Janet asked
sweetly.  'Mother will give you as many as you want.  They will
match your dress.'

'If I can come for them, but there's so much to do at home.  Mother
has been sick, and neither grandmother nor Aunt Abigail can stoop
to pick up things.'

'I should think you'd need a more active servant.'

'Aunt Abigail stays for her cabin and meals.  She doesn't do much,
and we have to bring in all the wood.  But it's a help having her
in the kitchen.  Anyway, she's like one of the family.  She'll
never leave us as long as she lives.'

'That's the trouble,' Janet remarked, 'with family servants.  They
always hang on after they've ceased to be useful.  I'm glad we
haven't any old ones left.  Then, if I don't see you before to-
morrow evening, mother will send the wagon at half-past eight.'

There wasn't any reason in the world, Ada thought, descending the
stairs, why the visit to Janet should have dampened her spirits.
Of course, it was foolish of those boys to go up to Lightning
Ridge, but then, weren't young people, especially boys, always
doing things that appeared foolish?  Ralph was only twenty-two.
His mother had been too strict with him as a child.  When he became
a man, father said, he would feel less need to assert his
personality.  And, strangely enough, this headstrong will was one
of the qualities in Ralph that moved her most deeply.  There was
something childlike and helpless in his defiance.  She felt the
wish to protect him in the very moment when she surrendered.  Well,
she wouldn't change him if she could.  She loved him for what he
was.

On the hall table she saw the neatly folded red and white napkin,
and as she picked it up Mrs. Rowan came out of the dining-room.

'I put in some sponge cake for your mother.  It isn't so rich as
gingerbread, and I hoped she might fancy it.'

'I know she will.  Yours is always as light as a feather.'

'How did you leave Janet?  She hasn't been a bit like herself.
You'd never believe that she has one of the sweetest dispositions.'

'Anybody would be cheerful with that lovely dress.  I never saw
anything so perfect as the sash with those artificial flowers.'

'You'd think she'd be pleased, but she takes everything for
granted.'

'That's because she doesn't know what it is to do without.'

Mrs. Rowan sighed so heavily that her stiff apron rustled.  'I hope
she never will.  Only sometimes'--her voice quavered--'I wonder if
doing things for people is the best way to make them happy.'

From the front porch Ada looked back with a kind of stern sympathy.
Though she felt sorry for Mrs. Rowan, who tried so hard to please,
she distrusted the unbridled mother-love that had spoiled Janet.
'Oh, she'll be all right,' she said.  'When she looks in the glass
she'll forget she didn't know what she wanted.'


V


Stopping where the path twisted away from the churchyard, Ada
unfolded the napkin and broke off an end of the gingerbread.

I'll give it to Toby, she thought.  Grandmother would like him to
have it.

Across the field, she saw Mrs. Waters squatting between the rows of
her cabbages.  Toby was not in sight, but Ada called to him on the
chance that he might be inside the hovel or carrying slops to the
hogs.  Little pigs were his only companions, and he seemed to grow
fond of them.

'Toby!' she cried, and over again as shrilly as she could pitch her
voice, 'Toby, here's cake for you!'

But the call drifted away on the air, and a sentinel crow, posted
over a cornfield on the other side of the road, flapped his wings
in suspicion.  Caw!  Caw! floated after her cry like a derisive
echo.  Well, there wasn't anything she could do, she told herself,
as she wrapped up the gingerbread.  It was a pity, because the
taste of sweet was heavenly bliss to the idiot.

Grandmother was on the front porch, shading her eyes from the
strong sunlight with a palm-leaf fan bound in a rim of black
cambric.  She had put on a freshly starched calico, and the ribbons
on her cap were still warm from the iron.

'Were you looking for me, Grandmother?' Ada asked as she ran up the
steps.

The old woman shook her head.  'I thought I heard something going
by in the road.  My right ear has got so bad that every sound seems
to come from the left side.'

'I wish you could see Janet's dress.  It has a pink and blue sash
with artificial flowers.'

'I reckon your pink gingham is more suitable than organdie in a
barn.'

'Janet says the Padgetts' new barn is as fine as a ballroom.'

Grandmother sniffed.  'Who on earth would want a barn like a
ballroom?  Did you bring anything your mother might fancy?'

'Mrs. Rowan sent you some gingerbread.  The sponge cake is for
mother.'

'Well, I hope it will put a taste in her mouth.  I'm at my wit's
end trying to find something she is able to eat.'

'The doctor didn't think she was worse yesterday, did he?'  Ada's
voice sank to a whisper, and she glanced from the porch to the
window under the ivy; but her tone was so low that the words were
lost on grandmother's bad ear.  'She looks much better this
morning,' the girl said more distinctly.  'What will she have for
dinner?'

'A cup of tea, she says, and a soft-boiled egg.  I tried to make
some tapioca, but the milk curdled in the pan.  Dr. Updike sent it
early, and it was sweet when your mother had her glass at eleven
o'clock.  But it must have turned in the spring-house.  That
worried me.'  She let her palm-leaf fan fall to her side.  'I'm
always put out when I can't make something to tempt your mother.'

For an instant Ada stared in perplexity.  'Effectually called,' she
thought, repeating the words she had heard on grandmother's lips,
'justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved', was it still possible
for one to be upset because a pan of milk curdled?  'I wish we
could have ice for her,' she said.  'It must be a comfort to have
ice every day.'

'On the hottest days I try to get somebody to leave it.  But we
can't afford to have it left regularly, and usually the spring-
house keeps the milk and butter all right.  It must have stood too
long this morning before Meggie went down with it.  I can't
recollect that such a thing ever happened when I could get about on
my feet.'  She broke off and cupped her ear in her hand.  'I reckon
that must be your father.'

'Yes, he's calling me.  I'll come to help you as soon as I see what
he wants.'

Ada went into the hall, threw her hat on the sofa beside Horace,
and opened the door of the library.

'Do you want me, Father?'

He looked up with his expectant air which seemed to come from
something he saw far away.  'Yes, I've had a letter from Dr.
Ogilvy.  He would like Ralph to come to the university before the
middle of September.  I suppose he can arrange it?'

'Oh, yes.  He will be only too glad to go.  It is the opportunity
of a lifetime.'

'Ogilvy seems interested.  He may do a great deal for him.  Ralph
won't be the first promising lawyer he has started on a career.'

He was seated at his desk, with the manuscript of his fourth volume
spread out before him, while the sunshine from the window illumined
his features and left his still figure in shadow.  The serenity in
his face bore that inner warmth which proceeds less from a state of
mind than from a climate of soul.  One was always sure, Ada
thought, watching him while he pushed the papers aside, of a
meaning, a purpose, in whatever he said or did.  He had not
acquired fortitude, she felt, he was fortitude.

'O, Father, it's wonderful.  I am so happy.'

'Then I am happy, my child, and so is your mother.  We ask nothing
better of life.'

Turning his head toward the window, he appeared to withdraw into
the morning brightness beyond.  He was silent for so long that she
wondered whether he had forgotten her.  Persons and objects, even
the nearest, had a way of slipping out of his vision.  Moving
noiselessly to the door, she went out and shut it behind her.  Poor
father, she thought, as she crossed the hall to her mother's room,
he has had a hard life.  If I had had a life like his, I'd ask a
better reward than just being able to bear it.'

Yes, it was true, John Fincastle reflected, his life would be
justified in her happiness.  Even his work, which had meant much to
him and nothing to the world, would be repaid.  There were hours
even now, before daybreak or at the close of dusk, when a chill,
soundless and swift as the flight of time, brushed his mood, and he
paused to ask himself whether this book he was writing had not cost
him too dear.

Removing his spectacles, he rubbed his hand slowly over his eyes.
As he pressed his tired eyeballs, a light flashed in sparks, and a
half-forgotten recollection started out of the dimness.  An autumn
afternoon in Bloomsbury, and the scent of falling leaves in Bedford
Square--or was it in Russell Square?  Not that it mattered.  What
he had treasured across the years was not a scene but a sense,
barely more than a distillation of joy.  He had been making notes
for his book, and his mind was at rest.  But while he walked under
the yellowed leaves, so pale beside the brilliant colouring of Shut-
in Valley, he had determined to spend his life among the poor and
the miserable, not as a bringer of good tidings, but as one of
themselves with a message of brotherhood.  Was this the cause of
that strange joy, which had never returned, which he had never
forgotten?  Other joys more intense he had felt, but not that one
again.  Never in its own likeness, its own essence.  For the life
he had lived and the life he had planned had been as far apart as
the poles.

Among the poor he might have been useful, but whatever he had to
give was not needed, was not even acknowledged, by his well-to-do
and self-satisfied congregation.  Within, he had been attacked from
the first by a sense of futility, and this deepening sense had come
at last to signify failure without.  Then it was that he had
retreated into himself, into solitude, and because his intellect
demanded an escape, he had plunged back again, with renewed vigour,
into his book.  What he had not considered was the simple fact of
falling in love.  But it was love, he perceived, that had altered
everything, great or small, in his life, that had seemed to change
the very beat of his heart.  Instead of a single self, he had
become a double self, and then, with each child that was born to
him, he was divided into other and separate selves of his being.

Not until five years after his marriage had he found a publisher
who was willing to risk money on a work of philosophy that owed
nothing to the dynamo.  That the money would be lost was an
accepted conclusion.  Yet ten years later the same publisher, a
Hebrew mystic, had issued the second volume, and three years ago
the third volume had appeared.  So far as John Fincastle was aware,
his book had reached only six readers--an English metaphysical
poet, a Scottish philosopher at the University of Edinburgh, a
student of Neoplatonism in Alexandria, a French scholar at Lyons,
and two obscure German professors.  This group of readers, diverse
but faithful, had compensated for neglect in his immediate place
and time.

Of what was he thinking, he now asked himself, before he had heard
Ada's voice on the porch?  With his eyes on the level crest of
God's Mountain, he groped in bewilderment.  Then, suddenly, he
remembered.  Had pure philosophy, he was speculating, ever advanced
beyond the Three Hypostases of Plotinus?  Was there a swifter
approach to Deity (granting an approachable Deity) than the flight
of the alone to the Alone?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps in some distant
future man might turn away, disillusioned, from the inventive mind,
and human consciousness might stumble back again along the
forgotten paths of blessedness and mystic vision.

Clouds had gathered farther away, and a watery violet light, as
fresh as rain, streamed over the summit of the mountain.
Blessedness is there, he mused, not only in beauty; it is in the
little things also. . . .  Though his inner world was builded of
thought, not of emotion, he had found contentment in many minor
activities.  The part of life he had called fragmentary and
unfinished had woven the peace that is more lasting than happiness.
As for his deeper consciousness, the crystal globe holding the
light within the light, this had been always remote and inviolable.
Nothing had broken through.  Not joy, not pain, not love, not
passion, not sorrow, not loss, not life at its sharpest edge, had
been able to break or bend this still pointed flame that burned
upward.


VI


If life were always like this, John Fincastle thought, while he
watched the lovers meet in the hall, there would be no need of
religion, there would be no need of philosophy.  Ada was looking
her best, he observed, though he seldom noticed a change in her
appearance.  Not so beautiful as her mother had been at her age (no
woman could ever again compare with Mary Evelyn), but the girl's
face was coloured like ripe fruit and eloquent with emotion.  Her
eyes, though less striking than her mother's, were large and deep,
with something of the same dusky radiance.  The bloom of love is
over her, he said to himself, and sighed without knowing why.  Was
it because of remembrance, of some stir that was scarcely more than
a breath from the past?  Or was it from the old Scottish
superstition that life will bear watching whenever it appears
simple and well-disposed?

For Ralph, he reflected, he had a different, and perhaps a more
understanding, devotion.  Like a son, like one of his own lost
sons, the boy had grown to be in the past few years.  His very
faults were the faults that endeared.  The stubborn wilfulness, the
periods of introspection and irresolution, which came and went
without evident cause, the recklessness for the sake of
recklessness, the disbelief for the sake of disbelieving--all these
were flaws of character, but not barriers to affection and
sympathy.  Born six months after his father's death, and brought up
by a mother who had become a religious fanatic, what else, John
Fincastle demanded of the invisible Powers, was one to expect?
Even to meet Mrs. McBride in the road was like facing the grim
doctrine of predestination.  A strange marriage that had been,
though most marriages appear strange to spectators.

Hearing Ralph's eager voice, John Fincastle was reminded of Barney
McBride, whose mother, Molly O'Boyle (people in Ironside still
remembered her), had come from Ireland when she was a child.
Barney's hair had been redder than Ralph's, and his yellow-hazel
eyes had held that same gleam of amusement.  His marriage to
Rebecca Muirhead, of a dour Scottish family, had been a surprise to
John Fincastle's womenfolk, though he himself had never given it so
much as a thought.  Yet Mary Evelyn, who had an ardent interest in
all marriages, had told him that Mrs. McBride had passionately
loved her husband.  Only in widowhood had she grown rigid with
piety.  Well, it was easier to pity her than it was to forgive her
for ruining her son's childhood and destroying his faith in
himself.  If any woman could save him from his upbringing and his
mother's influence, it would be Ada.  Yet there were moments when
John Fincastle felt that they were too much alike, Ralph and Ada,
for a union of even average success.  Joy, perhaps, they might
find, but not peace, for joy is a restless thing.  After all, Ralph
might be saved by work in the end.  Never in the young had John
Fincastle found such power of concentration, provided the subject
absorbed him, or such completeness of assimilation.  This much, at
least, he owed, not to his father's charm, but to the stern
integrity of the Muirheads.

Glowing with delight, the lovers went into Mary Evelyn's chamber,
and it seemed to John Fincastle, as well as to Aunt Abigail, who
had brought a cluster of moss-rosebuds from the bush by her cabin,
that the radiance of youth surrounded them and moved with them.

'Good night, Mother, I hope you will be asleep before we come in.'

'Good night, dear.  You couldn't look any lovelier.  Could she,
Ralph?'

'She couldn't,' Ralph answered, eager and confident.  'Nobody could
look any better.'

The yellow wagon, harnessed to Mr. Rowan's two stout greys, had
rolled over the grass and sheepmint and was waiting beside the old
millstone in front of the house.

'Good night!'

'Good night!'

Voices rang out gaily as Ralph and Ada ran down the steps and
sprang into the wagon.  Then the wheels turned from the square of
light into the darkness beyond, and the glimmer of the oil lamp in
front of the vehicle flitted through the gate and over the wheels
ruts and the broken stones in the road.  Standing on the porch,
with the scent of crushed sheepmint around him, John Fincastle
heard the happy laughter, which floated back, rippled into silence,
and began again farther away, like dance music that is played in
the memory.  Yes, if only life, if only what men call civilization,
were not hostile to youth and to joy!  Suddenly, a thought surged
up out of the past, on that distant laughter, now rising, now
falling--I, too, have known ecstasy!  For an instant he hesitated,
then, turning back into the house, he crossed the hall and entered
the chamber.

The lamp was lowered, and the familiar shapes in the room had
shifted and altered.  At the windows a faint breeze was stirring
among the tendrils of ivy, and the night air vibrated with a
universe of winged creatures.  Mary Evelyn had not moved from the
window, but Meggie and Aunt Abigail were turning down the bed and
arranging her medicines and the mustard plasters on the small table
beside it.  In front of the empty fireplace, his mother was
thrusting her knitting needles through the rolled stocking before
she laid it away for the night.  As he looked at her, he remembered
the abounding vitality of her prime, when his father had called her
'a daughter of earth and sky'.  He hoped that Ada, who was like her
grandmother in many other ways, had inherited that intense relish
for life combined with that eloquent response to the things of the
spirit.  Compared with his mother, he told himself, he had never
known the true zest of experience.

'Can I do anything for you, Mary Evelyn?' he asked tenderly, the
more tenderly because he was longing, against his will, to escape
from the room, from the trail of anguish that quivered through his
nerves at the sound of his wife's voice.  I couldn't bear it if she
were not here, he thought, and then, with a throb of pain, and I
cannot bear to be with her.  Had he loved her less, it would have
been easier to watch her suffer and change and grow, day by day, a
stranger in the flesh to the Mary Evelyn with whom he had shared
that old ecstasy.  For it was true that the passion he felt for her
was an agony too great to be borne unless there were hours of
release into solitude, into silence, where emotion could no longer
survive.

'Nothing now, John, but sit by me till I feel sleepy.'

Dropping into a chair at her side, he reached for her fragile hand
and began stroking it gently from the wrist, which was so thin that
the bones seemed scarcely covered, to the tips of her fingers.
Sometimes he would sit like this for hours, not hearing a word that
she said, yet never pausing in that soft pressure from wrist to
finger-tips and then back again more slowly from finger-tips to
wrist.

'Have you finished your day, Mother?' he asked presently.

'Aye, my son.  I never like to sit long in summer after the light
fades.  Your father used to say the cock in the barnyard sets the
hour in a village.  That was the way you were brought up, but the
lamp in your library burns well on after midnight.'  Steadying
herself on her swollen feet, the old woman slipped her work behind
a cow in Staffordshire ware on the end of the mantelpiece.

While he looked at her, John Fincastle pondered the history of that
cow, which had lost her horns but still preserved a suckling calf
at her udder.  In some fantastic flare of memory (the laws of the
mind, he told himself, are still barbaric), the cow reminded him of
India, and the thought of the favourite prayer of Schopenhauer,
that ancient supplication of the Hindus, 'MAY ALL THAT HAVE LIFE BE
DELIVERED FROM SUFFERING'.  Aloud he said, 'Has it never occurred
to you, Mother, that the night has more room than the day?  It is
only at night that I can find time to range like the lone wolf I
am'.

'He gives up so much of his time to me,' Mary Evelyn sighed in her
breathless tone.

'Not nearly so much as I should like to give, my dear.'

'Then there's Ralph and the school until it closes,' his wife
continued, as if he had not spoken.  'Besides that, the work out of
doors is enough for two men.'

'I have a strong constitution.'  Her husband was still stroking her
hand.  'Work in the garden and at the wood-pile keeps me active.'

'He never had a day's sickness as a child,' his mother remarked.
'It's fortunate for Ada that she has inherited his constitution.'

'Yes, it's fortunate that she did not inherit mine.'  There was a
tremor in Mary Evelyn's voice.

'She will never compare with you, Mary Evelyn,' John Fincastle
said, while a lump swelled in his throat.  'You are too precious
for the hard life I have given you.'

''Tis a miracle that she's stood it so well,' Grandmother Fincastle
assented.  'I've always said that, except for her delicate frame,
she's more of a Fincastle than you are yourself, John.'

'You're right, Mother.  I was a variation from type, as biologists
say.  Such oddities occur even in the best breeds.'

Bending over, the old woman kissed her daughter-in-law's forehead
with one of the rare caresses she never bestowed on her own
children.  Then, leaning on the old-fashioned ebony cane that had
belonged to her husband, she limped across the floor and into the
adjoining room, where she had slept alone since the beginning of
summer.  'But for my legs,' she muttered, as she went, 'I'd be as
spry as I ever was.'

'Would you like me to read to you, or is it too warm?' John
Fincastle asked.

'It is too warm.  I'd rather stay like this unless you are
neglecting your work.  You have so little time.'

'All I have is yours.  Anything can wait when you need me.'

She smiled wistfully and sank back on her pillows, while he sat
motionless by her side and listened to the soft whirring of a bat
at the window.  Meggie, having measured out the dose of bromide,
was placing the night lamp, with lowered wick, behind the screen in
one corner.  Aunt Abigail, who was still active from the waist up,
like Grandmother Fincastle, but had stopped trying to stoop, was
hanging a knitted shawl on the headboard.  In a little while the
chair would be wheeled across the room, and he would lift his wife
into bed, after Meggie had arranged the pillows in the way that
made Mary Evelyn's pain more endurable when she awoke in the night.
The first sleeping-draught would usually ease her suffering until
three o'clock.  Then she would waken him if he had fallen asleep,
and he would measure out a second dose and repeat one of the Psalms
to her until the sedative had taken effect.

When her preparations were over, Aunt Abigail turned away from the
bed.  'Good night, Miss May Ev'lyn.  Good night, Marse John.'

'Good night, Aunt Abigail.  Good night.'

'Good night, Miss Meggie.'  Then, opening the crack of
grandmother's door, the old servant raised her voice:  'Good night,
ole Miss.  Sleep well an' wake up peart in de mawnin'.'

'Good night, Abigail.  If the moon ain't up when you go, be sure to
light your lantern.  You remember that bad fall you had the last
dark of the moon.'

'I sho' do, ole Miss.  We ain't needer uv us de high-steppers we
use'n ter be.'

She waddled out, while Meggie went into her mother's room to help
her undress.

'Are you in pain, my dear?' John Fincastle asked, as his wife
moaned softly under her breath.

'Only a stab.  It will pass in a minute.  I am so happy about Ada,
John.  If only life will be good to her.'

'It will be.  She knows its secret.  Shall I give you your
bromide?'

'Not until I am in bed.  Meggie will come as soon as she has seen
mother settled.  When I look at Ada's happiness, it makes even pain
bearable.  I long to see her with children.  She is a born mother
if ever a woman was.'

'Yes, I remember the way she cared for her dolls, and the time I
disappointed her.  I failed then as I have so often.'

'All I ask,' Mary Evelyn continued in her excited voice, 'is that
Ralph will make her as happy . . . as blissfully happy . . . as you
have made me.'

'My dear, my dear!'  If only the spirit could be reached through
the flesh!  If only he could pour himself into this anguish, this
tenderness!  'You made your own happiness.  I was always unworthy.'

'I couldn't have done it without you.  As a girl, I wasn't
satisfied.  Then you came, and that made everything different.'

His smile wavered and vanished in the moonlight that was beginning
to fall through the window.  How little she knew him!  How little
did any human being know another!  'I grew up in a sterner age,' he
answered.  'The world has softened nowadays.  Nobody but Mrs.
McBride believes any longer that the will must be broken if one is
to be saved.'

'Yet you have always been happy.  In spite of all the struggle, the
tragedy, you have been happy.'

He pressed her hand.  'Happiness is a hardy annual.'

'You would live your life over again, wouldn't you?  As it is, I
mean, taking the good and the bad?'

Without appearing to do so, he evaded her question.  'And you, my
darling?  You have had more to bear than I have.'  Laughter
quivered and died in his voice.  'For you have had to bear with
me.'

'Oh, John, John.'  Memory shuddered through her, but when she spoke
there was a triumphant note in her answer.  'I would take it all
again with you, the joy and the grief, even this last suffering.
Yes, I would take it all with you if I could.'

His pain was so intense that, for an instant, the pulse of his
heart seemed suspended.  'You are a joyous spirit,' he said at
last.  'I have a darker mind, or a less courageous one.'  Why had
he made that answer?  It would hurt or at least sadden her.

'It isn't that, but life has meant so much to me.  Even now I cling
on.  I can't bring myself to let go my hold.'

Leaning over her, he rested his forehead on her hand.  It was
possible sometimes when they were alone to break through the
reserve he had inherited with his rugged body and embattled mind.
'Don't leave me,' he pleaded.  'I'd be lost if you went.'

She lay back again, as if feeling had exhausted her strength, and
he sat on beside her, sunk in meditation, until she asked, after a
long silence, 'What are you thinking of, John?'

'Of nothing, my dear.  My thoughts wandered.  I was wondering what
kind of world we might have had if all the love that has been spent
on a personal God and an individual human being had been spread
over the whole of creation.'

She shook her head.  'That will never be.'

The door into his mother's room opened and shut.  Then a fragment
of shadow detached itself from the border of lamplight and floated
toward them.  As it approached, he distinguished Meggie in her grey
wrapper and heel-less slippers.

'Do you feel as if you could sleep, Mary Evelyn?'

'Is it time for my bromide?'

'Yes, I've measured it out.  You've had a long day.'

'But a happy one.'

When they had rolled the chair across the room and placed her in
bed, John Fincastle stood watching while Meggie gave her the
medicine and folded back the sheet over her bosom.

'It may turn cooler in the night,' Meggie said, 'so I've put a
blanket on the foot of the bed.  Ask for it, Mary Evelyn, if you
feel a chill in the air.'

'Yes, I'll ask for it.  Is my shawl where I can reach it?'  Sinking
into the pillows, Mary Evelyn put up a trembling hand for the shawl
before she settled down into the inner peace of the sedative.

'The bottle and the teaspoon are here where John can give you
another dose.'  With her capable touch, Meggie rearranged the
glass, the medicine, and the small brown jug of water on the bed
table.  All night the lamp burned very low behind the screen, which
was papered in a Chinese pattern of temples and peacocks, sent by a
missionary to Grandmother Fincastle when she was a young woman.

'You will sleep now?'

'Oh, yes.  I feel that I'll have a good night.'

'Shall I sit by you awhile?' asked her husband, with his hand on
her pulse.

'No, don't wait.  Go back to your work.  I'm falling asleep
already.  Bromide is so wonderful.'  Her soft, eager voice dropped
to a whisper.  'You will sit up, John, until Ada comes in?'

'Yes, I'll sit up, and I'll hear if you call.'

'Don't have me on your mind.  Meggie is going to stay downstairs
with mother to-night.'

'I'll leave a crack in the door,' Meggie said, 'and you know I'm a
light sleeper, even when I don't have to be up and down with
mother.  She says I can hear a leaf turning.'


VII


Ada would not come home until well after midnight, and ahead of him
there were three hours of the loneliness that he loved.  He loved
his family more, of course, John Fincastle thought, but that was an
attachment spun by habit and association and the complex need of
human relationships.  And, when all was said and felt and thought,
human beings were more important than ideas about God--at least in
the lot of man.

Before striking a match, he went to the window of his library and
looked out on God's Mountain in the light of a moon that had just
risen over the house.  While he watched the glimmering rays grow
brighter and stronger, he felt the external world break up and
dissolve, as the shredded clouds dissolved in the luminous sky.
Here, apart, withdrawn from the enveloping glow of time, he was
wholly himself; he was Mary Evelyn's lover; he was the student in
Bloomsbury; he was the scholar in exile; he was the labourer in the
potato field.  He was all these things, and yet he was none of
these things alone.

The moon sailed upward, the mist vanished, God's Mountain receded.
Where a mystic presence had brooded, there were only dark masses on
the horizon.  Turning away from the window, he removed the chimney
from the lamp and touched a match to the wick, which sent up a thin
blue flame and then began to burn brightly.  To-morrow a leak in
the roof must be mended.  The loosened boards must be nailed down
on the porch, and several shingles must be replaced on the eaves of
the kitchen.  But to-night he had escaped for a while at least,
from the boundaries of the immediate and the necessary.  Stillness
enclosed him, and over this stillness, near or distant sounds
trembled and fell without sinking below the surface, as leaves
tremble and fall on a pond--the whispering of a breeze, the
fluttering of swallows in the chimney, the plaintive cry of a night
bird over the spring, the ceaseless patter of unseen but intimate
presences in the ivy or higher up on the roof.  During the hours
between dusk and daybreak the manse seemed to separate itself from
the village, to shed the covering of communal life, and to slip
back into the wilderness.  And in his own nature, too, the link
between himself and the community would be broken.  Again and
again, his look would fly through the open window, and over the
sheep pasture and the stony hill, to the unconquerable solitude.
So might old John Fincastle have gazed toward some visionary
frontier when he shook the dust of the settlement from his feet and
marched away to the savages.

Two hours passed, and he was still writing.  Only two hours, he
told himself with a sigh, as he glanced at the clock.  Then the
sound that had disturbed him grew louder.  There was the rattle of
wheels over the rocks in the road, and a grinding noise as the turn
was made at the gate and a buggy rolled over the lawn to the old
millstone.  Perhaps it was not Ada, after all, but a call from the
dying or the bereaved for his mother.  No, it could not be Ada.  He
remembered that she had gone, and would of course return, in the
spring-wagon.  Then, as he was about to go out into the hall, his
daughter's voice floated in from the porch.

'Thank you for bringing me home.  Good night.'

Immediately the wheels started again, and a minute afterwards the
grinding noise began over the rocks at the gate.  While he waited,
pen in hand, the door in the hall was shut very quietly, the bolt
was slipped into place, and Ada spoke in a low voice to Horace
before she came into the library.

'Is mother asleep, Father?' she asked in a whisper, closing the
door.

'She took the bromide, and she has not called.'

'I hope I didn't wake her when I came in.'

'She would have spoken to you if she'd been awake.  You are home
early.'

'Yes, I'm home early.'

'That wasn't the Rowans' wagon?'

She shook her head.  'It was Ross Greenlee's buggy.  He never stays
late, because he's studying medicine.'

'Where's Ralph?  I thought he was studying too.'

'He didn't know I'd come away.  I had a headache, and I asked Ross
to bring me when I saw him leaving.'

As she answered she moved from the shadow by the door into the
yellow orb of the lamplight, which seemed to quiver faintly and
then to lie still again under a wave of emotion--or perhaps only a
dying breeze.  A strange note in her voice, or something unusual
in her look, arrested his gaze, and he remained with his pen
transfixed in his hand while an impression stabbed into his mind.
Was it true--could it be possible that he had never really known
her?  With the question, all his theories about life toppled over,
like the lofty towers in a dream, and crumbled to dust.  Not his
philosophy alone was threatened, but all that he had discovered, or
imagined he had discovered, about human beings.

'What is the matter, my child?' he asked gently.  'Has anything
hurt you?'

'Nothing has happened.  Ralph was dancing in a figure, and I wanted
to come home.'  Her voice trembled, and she repeated quickly in the
effort to steady it, 'I do hope mother hasn't waked'.  Stooping
over, she put out her hand as if to stroke Horace, but the old
hound, after following her into the room, had retired to his
sleeping-place on the sofa.

'You must not take things too hard, my dear.  It is so easy when we
are young to make mountains out of molehills.'

It seemed to him that her eyes were beseeching, but she made no
sound as she stood there in the lamplight, winding and unwinding a
crocheted scarf over her wrist and hand.  His heart ached for her.
He felt her suffering as he felt the inarticulate distress of a
child or an animal.

'I know,' she assented after a pause.  'I do exaggerate things.'

'Most of us do when we are young.'

She shook her head again, and he felt that she was wrapping her
pride about her.  Even as a child she had a way of withdrawing into
her pride when she was hurt.  'I'll go upstairs now,' she said.
'Our voices might wake mother or Aunt Meggie.'

'Are you sure nothing has hurt you?'

'Oh, nothing.  I'll be all right in the morning.'  Then, after she
had turned from him, she stopped and looked back.  'Why are we this
way, Father?'

'What way, my child?  There are so many different ways.'

'Why are we always doing things we didn't mean to do and didn't
want to do?  Why is something always tripping us up when we try to
be happy?'

'Many have put that question, my dear, and no one has been able to
answer it.  Some have said that Nature is the antagonist of
happiness.  But try to sleep off your headache.  Nothing has
occurred that can't be put right to-morrow.'

'Oh, yes.  It will be all right to-morrow.  Only it tears you
inside to be angry.  I wonder if I'll ever get over flaring up
quickly?'

'As you grow older.  But be patient.  Ralph has had a hard
upbringing, and he needs all the patience you have or are ever
likely to have.'

'If only I could remember that.  I do till something happens that
hurts my pride, like . . . like . . .  Oh, well, I shan't even let
myself think of it.  It was mostly my fault, because I didn't have
patience.'

'Then promise me that you will forget your pride and remember
Ralph's mother.'

'I promise, Father.  Good night.'

The door opened and shut softly; he felt rather than heard her
steps ascending the worn staircase, and then the slight creak of
the boards in the bedroom above.  Something had wounded her, he
knew, and he knew also that he was powerless to shield her from her
own nature.  She must fight the conflict alone, as his mother had
fought alone in her youth, as his great-grandmother Tod had fought
alone in captivity.

With a sigh, he turned his gaze to the window and waited until the
shiver of apprehension was over and the life of reason spread its
protecting wings in his mind.


VIII


No, nothing had happened, Ada repeated in her room under the
sloping roof, nothing had hurt her.  Moonlight fell in flakes
through the two dormer-windows, but the side window cutting into
the triangle of the wall was in darkness.  Through the rustling
leaves she could see the few scattered lights that still burned in
Ironside and, flung far out into the silvery dusk of the fields, a
single wavering spark in the hovel by the ravine.

Slipping out of her pink gingham, she said, 'Nothing has happened'.
Carefully folding the skirt before she laid it away in a drawer,
she added firmly, 'Everything will be all right again in the
morning'.  As she dropped her chemise about her feet, and drew her
cambric nightgown over her head, she looked down at her strong
young arms and high pointed breasts, as smooth as cream in the
moonlight.  And then, while she let down her hair and shook it in a
dusky veil over her shoulders, she spoke aloud in a tone of
surprise.  'I wonder what it is about Janet?'

What was it?  She couldn't answer.  She didn't know.  It was true
that she had not wanted to go with Janet (Ralph, she insisted to
herself, had never liked her); yet they had gone; she had had her
way as always with everyone.  'Even when you like to be with her,
you don't like her,' Ralph had said.  And Ada had not understood.
She did not understand now, with her eyes on the lights in the
village.  One light went out while she watched it--then another,
and still another.  A few hours before she had been happy, and then
something, as dark and mysterious as that mountain spur thrusting
out in the moonlight, had broken into her life, into her happiness.
If only she could think it over.  But she couldn't think.  She
could only feel this sharp thrust, this twisting pain in her heart.

'It was my fault,' she said aloud, while the cloud in her mind
became lighter and seemed to evaporate.  'I ought to have had
patience.  Ralph didn't want to go up into the barn loft with
Janet.  She asked him to go.  I heard her.'  He hadn't wanted to
go, but he had gone.  He hadn't wanted to drink whisky, but he had
drunk it when they dared him.  Yet he was always like that.  When
he was a little boy and his mother had whipped him for playing with
Toby Waters, he had stood it without a whimper, and as soon as it
was over, he had run straight out of the house and over the fields
to the pigsty.  That was what father called Ralph's need to defend
his personality.  His whole childhood, father said, had been warped
by forces he did not understand, though he felt they were
destructive.  But perhaps grandmother was right when she insisted
that she didn't hold with such newfangled ideas and wilful children
should be made to obey.  Then, without effort, as soon as she had
stopped trying to think things out clearly, Ada began to live over
all that had happened, or had not happened, to turn eager
expectancy into vague disappointment.

A few hours before, in the evening, life had been simple and
straight, and now, at midnight, it was ruffled and complicated and
obscured by this smoky vapour of apprehension.  And she had wanted
life to be simple.  She had asked nothing more than a certain
security for her life, for her love, for her happiness.  They were
on the back seat in the big wagon; Charlie Draper and Willie
Andrews were in front; Janet and Bessie McMurtry would be waiting
for them on the Rowans' porch.  When they started down the rocky
road, Ralph put his arm about her and kissed her in the darkness.
She remembered the warm pressure of his mouth on hers, and she
remembered, too, the roll of the wheels, turning within and
without, and the yellow gleam from the wagon lamp flitting over the
tufts of grass and weeds which stood out illuminated, each blade or
leaf separate and distinct, on the edge of obscurity.  Later,
moonlight would pour down over the hills into the valleys, but
while they drove on past the churchyard into the village they were
swallowed up in the darkness.  It was a tender darkness, soft,
warm, clinging, not like this burned-out silver light which seemed
to drain the world and her own mind of emotion.

'I had hoped we were going alone,' he murmured, as she lived the
evening over again.

She laughed from sheer delight.  'It was your fault.  It serves you
right for saying you would go with Janet.  Is it true that some of
the boys went up to Lightning Ridge to buy moonshine?'

He nodded.  'Who told you that?  It was exactly like Janet.'

'I don't care so long as you weren't one of them,' she replied,
ignoring his question.

The arm she leaned against hardened slightly.  'A man can't be a
killjoy,' he answered.  'That is what you and your father can never
understand.  It is easy to be noble in the woods, but among other
people, it makes you a killjoy.'

His tone had roughened, and in some strange way the roughness
increased his power over her.  She felt ecstasy stabbing through
her flesh into her heart, piercing every cell of her body with tiny
splinters of flame.  Why?  Why?  She couldn't tell, she didn't
know.  It was nothing that he had said, only the eager seeking of
his lips and the ruffled sound of his voice.  All his charm, the
thrilling charm of his mouth, his eyes, his smile, his imperative
tone and gestures, seemed to envelop her and crush out resistance.
Yes, it was true.  You could not live in the world and be a
killjoy.  How she loved him!  What a miracle love can make of life!
Nothing else mattered, not Janet, not moonshine whisky, not being
alone in a crowd.  Then, as they stopped before the Rowans' gate,
she whispered, 'I hope you will be nice to Janet'.

She could feel, and see, too, when a light flashed from the porch,
that he was smiling.  'Oh, no, you don't,' he retorted.  'You don't
really.'

Before she had time to answer, Janet and Bessie were calling to
them as they ran down the walk, and the three boys jumped out of
the wagon and flung open the gate.  Charlie held up a lantern, and
the light danced over Janet in her organdie flounces, with the
single flaxen curl on her neck.  She was so lovely that Ada caught
her breath as she looked at her.  'Oh, isn't she beautiful?
Doesn't her dress suit her?'  To her astonishment, Ralph was not
looking; he had turned away and was fumbling with the reins that
had dropped from the wagon.  Even when they had all crowded into
the wagon, and were driving up the street, Ralph did not turn his
eyes from the broad backs of the greys.  He did not speak until
Janet leaned over and touched his arm.  Then he looked at her and
looked away again before he replied to some trivial question.  She
possessed some power, Ada felt, that Ralph despised and resisted
but could neither ignore nor deny.  A boy brought up so severely
would always retain some secret allegiance to duty, grandmother
said, no matter how far he wandered.  Even if his senses fell into
sin, his conscience would always remind him that it was not
pleasure but sin.  And watching the exercise of this power, which
appeared to be rooted more in aversion than in attraction, Ada
wondered whether Aunt Meggie had meant this when she called Janet
'a born trouble-maker'.

Somewhere in the fields a hound was howling.  The small darkened
light still shone, like a vindictive eye, in Mrs. Waters's hovel.
Was the woman ill or in want?  Perhaps Toby was sick.  To-morrow,
she must tell grandmother or Aunt Meggie.  Aunt Meggie had told her
not to bother about mother's salt-rising bread, which had to be put
down at four o'clock for a third rising.  No matter how early she
went downstairs, grandmother, who never slept a wink after the
first crack of day, was sure to be ahead of her.  A winged shape
flew out suddenly from the darkness of an oak and sped through the
moonlight into the shadows.  There was a swift rush, a startled
squeak, and then silence woven of innumerable whispering leaves, of
soundless wings, of a multitude of soft-footed creatures that lived
only at night.

By the window, with the moonlight streaming over her, Ada told
herself that there had been moments in the evening she could never
forget.  Yet they were as empty as dried husks.  There wasn't
anything to remember but that uneasiness, that undercurrent of
impulse--or was it violence?  And what had brought on the quarrel?
It was true that she and Ralph had quarrelled before (they were
both easily hurt), but only about Janet, the trouble-maker.  It
wasn't his being self-willed that Ada resented.  It was something
different, something that had to do with Janet, not with whisky in
the loft, but with Janet dancing up and down the floor of the new
barn.  The more the boys drank in secret (Mrs. Padgett was a leader
in the temperance movement), the happier they appeared to become,
and the happier they became, the louder grew their attentions to
Janet and Bessie.  Not that anything was really amiss on the
surface.  None of the boys had tasted too deeply to mind his steps,
and only those who knew of the hidden treasure in the loft were the
wiser.  The row of watching matrons, who would help presently with
the supper, had no suspicions.

But there was a difference.  A feeling that she had never known
before had become between her and Ralph.  Pride?  Jealousy?  Or
only the shyness that made her draw away when she was hurt?  Well,
whatever it was, she was to blame for it.  She wouldn't have been
like this, she knew, with anyone else; but love, as mother had
warned her, made people act so strangely, made them do such
unbelievable things, that their closest friends did not recognize
them.

She wished that hound would stop howling.  It sounded as if it were
hurt or in distress.  Perhaps the moonlight made it feel lonely.
To-morrow she would find out why the lamp burned so late and the
hound howled.  But to-night she could not bother about such things.
She must rid her heart of anxiety and impatience.

When had the quarrel begun (think quietly, she told herself) and
why had she grown suddenly so angry that she had broken away from
the party and come home with Ross Greenlee?  For an instant the
scene whirled before her eyes in a revolving mass of impressions.
A dance had just finished, and the music of another was beginning.
She had danced with Charlie Draper and Fred Robinson, and she was
waiting for Ralph, while she watched Janet smiling and nodding to
him from beneath the Chinese lanterns in the doorway.  'I wonder
what it is about Janet?' she said aloud to herself and, looking
round at a touch, saw Ralph at her elbow.

'What's that about Janet?' he asked in a tone that sounded excited
and irritable.  Then, before she could laugh away the question, he
added in a lowered voice, 'Don't let's dance.  It's too hot in
here.  Let's go out into the fields'.

That was the beginning, that was the turning-point which cut her
evening in two parts.  For Ralph was not himself she saw at a
glance.  He had been drinking that mountain whisky because Janet
and the other boys had teased him, and when he drank he grew sullen
and curiously defiant.  She should have had patience; she should
have remembered that he needed her now more than ever.  But instead
she felt that stab of pain in her heart, and her indignation flared
up because he yielded to Janet, because he had not kept away from
the wilder boys in the loft.  'I was waiting to dance with you,'
she said, 'but I don't want to dance with you now.  You'd better
ask Janet.'  Why had she said that?  She had not meant to reproach
him.  The words were spoken by some inner voice over which she had
no control.

'Don't let's dance,' he urged.  'It's cooler out in the fields, and
we'll be by ourselves.'

'Not like this.'  (She was not remembering; she was living the
scene again.)  'I don't want to be with you when you're like this.'

'Like what?'

'I don't want to be with you when you're not yourself.'

'But I am myself, and if I'm not, you're to blame.'

At that she should have laughed; it was so absurd that she should
have laughed it away and tried to keep near him until his temper
wore off.  But she flared up again, and they quarrelled--as always,
about Janet!  They quarrelled for a few minutes as bitterly as
ignorant mountain people, she told herself, who did not know how to
bear themselves when they were in love.  For, strangely enough,
love had had a part in it too.  Love had driven her into saying
things that had never entered her mind, that were uttered straight
out of the air, without the slightest connection with either the
past or the future.  A sob escaped her.  'You never know love,'
mother had told her once, 'till you feel its pain.'  But it would
be over to-morrow.  He would come in the morning before he went to
work, and the making-up would be happiness.  Never again would they
quarrel.  Never, never again!

What had come next?  Was that another screech owl or only the
shadow of a moving branch under the trees?

'But you're coming?' he insisted.

'No, I'm not coming.  Not until you're yourself again.'

He laughed under his breath.  She could never forget that laugh,
though it meant nothing.  A dull ache from the stab it had left was
still in her heart.  'Maybe you'd rather I asked Janet,' he said.
'Janet says it's cooler outside.'

A sensation she had never felt before, a stinging darkness, swept
over her.  Was it love?  Was it jealousy?  Was it anger?  Was it
Ada Fincastle or some strange girl who was speaking?  'If you leave
me for Janet, I'll go home.  I'll walk home by myself.'

'You couldn't at night.  It's nearly five miles.  But why won't you
come out?  My head is too heavy for dancing.'

'That's because of the whisky.  You let Janet and those boys make
you drink.'

'Well, you can't be a killjoy.  Do you want me to ask Janet?'

A sob burst from her lips.  Yet she had not given way; she would
not go out into the fields with him.  A girl with proper pride did
not go off alone into the moonlight with a man who had been
drinking.  No matter how much she loved him, and even though he
wasn't drunk, only just not himself, she could protect them both
(grandmother had told her this) if she stood on her dignity.  'I
don't care.  I don't care what you do when you're like this,' she
flung back at him.

'Then I will,' he said stormily.  'I shan't have to beg Janet.'

He turned away and walked straight to the open door, where Janet
was waiting.  They were behaving like two children, Ada thought,
two children who ought to know better.  While she stood there and
watched him cross the floor, it seemed to her that joy was slowly
ebbing away from her heart.  Yet something stronger than joy, the
vein of iron far down in her inmost being, in her secret self,
could not yield, could not bend, could not be broken.  Then, as
Janet smiled up at him with her rose-red mouth, Ada turned away,
walked the length of the barn with an unhurried step, and went out
of the other door into the road.  She would have started to walk
home, driven by some force that seemed to be outside her thoughts
and yet to have control over her words or acts.  But just as she
was about to leave, Ross Greenlee came out to his buggy, and after
a few meaningless sounds had passed between them, she asked him to
drive her back to the manse.  It was too hot to stay inside; she
was anxious about her mother; she wanted to go home.

He seemed to understand, and made it as easy as possible by talking
the whole way, without putting a question.  A nice boy, fired with
ambition, who would probably go north and become a success in his
profession.  Men with ability never stayed in a village.  That was
why Ralph was going to Queenborough.

'But it was all my fault,' she said aloud, before the sentence had
taken shape in her mind.  'It was all my fault because I didn't
have patience.'  As if self-reproach were a blessing, anger and
apprehension faded out of her thoughts.  A moment later, when she
turned her cheek to the pillow, she felt that sleep and peace were
closing about her.


IX


At six o'clock Ada awoke with a start.  What had happened?  Why did
yesterday seem to be still going on?  Jumping out of bed, she stood
up in the green tub and washed with grandmother's strong home-made
soap and cold water.  She was glad her skin was not fine and
brittle like mother's.  It must be dreadful to have everything hurt
you, and not be able to wear flannel next you in winter, she mused,
while she combed back her hair and wound it in the figure eight on
the nape of her neck.

In the kitchen she found grandmother stirring batter in a big
yellow bowl.  Already the loaf of salt-rising bread was in the
oven, and the fresh smell of baking would presently fill the room.
Mary Evelyn ate only this kind of bread, which was fine and close
in texture and supposed to be good for an invalid.

'What can I do to help, Grandmother?' Ada asked, tying a checked
apron over her blue cotton dress.

'You might slice the bacon very thin.  My hands are so bad I can't
manage that small knife.  I begin to dread the time when I shall
have to give up my knitting.'

'Aren't those big wooden needles a help?'

'They won't be if my joints get more crooked.  And they don't knit
right.  I've had to pull out the armhole in that sweater I'm making
for your father.'

The old woman was seated by the table, which was covered with brown
oilcloth, and behind her the red geraniums on the window-sill were
in full bloom.  In winter the family had their meals in the
kitchen; but in summer they opened the dining-room and used the
walnut table, which had served so many preachers and missionaries
and presiding elders when the pastor lived in the old manse.
'It won't cost you a penny more to be particular than to be
slatternly,' grandmother would say.  'Even in the wilderness Scots-
Irish housekeepers seldom become slatterns.  If you have the proper
pride, you may keep nice among savages.'  Bending over the yellow
bowl, she stirred slowly and smoothly, taking care not to let the
big pewter spoon drop from her bent fingers.  Her massive head had
gained nobility with age, and though she wore the plainest clothes,
except for her lawn cap and cameo brooch, no one, meeting her in
the road, would have mistaken her for a peasant.

'I'm afraid Aunt Abigail is sick again,' Ada said, as she poured a
heaping cupful of coffee beans into the iron coffee mill and began
turning the crooked handle.  The old coffee mill, nailed to the
wall by the door, had been used every morning and evening, except
in wartime, for the last century.  As Ada ground the fragrant Mocha
and Java beans, toasted by grandmother and bought with Aunt
Meggie's savings, she glanced at the whitewashed walls and the
strings of red peppers and the rusted dipper hanging above the
wooden bucket on the small table.  Ever since she could remember
the kitchen had looked like this, with everything in its proper
place and every withered leaf carefully pinched from the geraniums.

'Little black Dinty ran over to ask for turpentine,' grandmother
answered, 'but Aunt Abigail is coming as soon as she can get on her
feet.'

'She's getting worse all the time.'

'Aye, it looks that way.  If she's bedridden by next winter we'll
have to get her daughter Liddy to come and help out.  It will mean
one more mouth to feed, and we'll have to stint more than we do
now'--she looked up to sniff the stimulating aroma--'but of course
we can't let Aunt Abigail come to want.'

'You ought to be spared, too, Grandmother.'

'I don't worry about myself,' the old woman replied, rising to pour
the batter into the baking-dish.  'I'm old, like Abigail, and my
time has 'most come.  I made this batter bread because your father
wouldn't take his buttermilk yesterday, and I didn't want to throw
it away.  Batter bread tastes better when it is made with
buttermilk.'

'There's somebody coming in the gate,' Ada said, glancing out of
the side window.  'I suppose he wants father to advise him.  Isn't
it funny the way they come to father for counsel after they've
turned him out of the ministry?  They even come before breakfast!'

Grandmother looked up at the stout hands of the walnut clock, which
had ticked on for a century above a painted landscape.  'It's about
to strike seven,' she answered.  'Can you see who it is?'

'I think it's Mr. Rowan,' Ada's voice was charged with anxiety.  'I
wonder what he can want coming so early.  They don't keep as early
hours as other people.  Janet always sleeps late.'  She slipped off
her apron and rolled down the sleeves of her dress.  'Had I better
ask him to breakfast?'

'It seems more hospitable.  We can't let him go away just as it's
ready, and we're having a plenty this morning.'

Running out into the hall, Ada unbolted the front door as Mr. Rowan
was lifting his hand for a second knock.  'Father is in the
library,' she said, smiling, 'and grandmother hopes you will stay
to breakfast.'

He looked heavy, and fat and overheated from the short walk, which
must have been hurried, and his expression, she saw with her first
glance, was not so hearty as usual.  There were pouches under his
eyes, and the congested veins in his cheeks had turned purple.  But
his thin grey hair was neatly brushed, he wore an alpaca coat
without creases, and he was holding a fresh straw hat with a
striped band and one of the new narrow brims.

'It smells mighty good,' he said pleasantly, 'but my wife will be
expecting me.  I wish you could teach Janet to keep early hours.'
Though he smiled at her as he entered the hall, she was quick to
perceive that his smile was forced and unnatural.  'I stepped up
the first thing this morning for a word with your father.'

Opening the library door, she said distinctly, because it was
always difficult to distract her father from work, 'Here is Mr.
Rowan to see you'.  Then, turning away while the door was still
ajar, she went back through the dining-room to the kitchen, where
grandmother sat in a deep study, with her knees apart, like the
headless basalt image on the clock without works in the parlour.

'He won't stay to breakfast,' Ada said, trying to speak cheerfully
in spite of the hard lump in her throat.  Emptying the ground
coffee into the coffee-pot, she mixed it with part of an egg
grandmother had kept back, and dropped in the shell before she
filled the pot with cold water and put it on the stove to boil up
twice.  'I hope there's nothing the matter,' she continued
uneasily, as she opened the door of the stove and thrust in some
sticks of wood.

Grandmother glanced up with a stolid expression.  'If 'twas
sickness,' she answered, 'he'd more likely come straight to me.'

Ada's face was flushed from the heat of the stove, and she raised
her free hand to push back a lock of hair from her forehead.  'It
must be something important to bring him so early.'

'We'll know in a few minutes.  Tell me when you hear him come out
of the library.  It ain't likely he'll stay long with breakfast
waiting for him at home.  Well, whatever he has, it won't be a
better breakfast than ours this morning.'

'I wish Ralph could come in time for it.  He has so little at
home.'

'His mother has to be sparing, poor woman.  Be sure to have the
bacon ready to go into the frying-pan as soon as the batter bread
is brown on top.'

Ada opened the door of the oven and glanced inside.  'It won't be
long.  I wish father could have become a great preacher,' she
remarked thoughtfully, 'but I suppose he had to follow his
conscience.'

'It's a poor conscience,' grandmother retorted, 'that leads into
error.'

'I'll never believe that father ever had a poor conscience.'

Grandmother's eyes softened while her mouth hardened.  'It is a
trial of faith to believe that a good man can be an unbeliever.
All the Fincastles were men of spirit, but not one was ever before
an open doubter.  They never questioned God's will, not even when
it went against them, and they kept their word to Christian and
heathen alike.  It was told of old John, the pioneer, that he was
strung up and half choked by a party of hunters because he refused
to give away the hiding-place of some Cherokees who had trusted
him.  When the men from the settlement found him, he was lying
unconscious at the foot of a tree, and as he came to, he cried out
in a loud voice, "What I have said, I have said!"  Roaming white
men, he wrote down somewhere, were his abomination, and he added,
"Only a God-loving man can be a good hater".'

'He's going now!' Ada exclaimed, at the sound of chairs pushed back
in the library.

Grandmother rose, patted her cap in place, and picking up her ebony
cane, went out into the hall.

'Won't you stay to breakfast, William?  We are about to have
prayers.'

'Thank you, Mrs. Fincastle, but my wife will be waiting for me.'

'I hope 'twasn't sickness that brought you.'

'No, ma'am, if it had been sickness, I'd have come first to you.'
Without a change of tone, he inquired after the garden, and
grandmother replied that the turnip salad was about over, but they
were getting beets and onions and snaps, and there was a good
promise of corn and tomatoes and black-eyed peas later on in the
summer.  Things to eat occupied a large part in her old age, and
she was never reluctant to talk of them.

'Well, you have fine garden spot,' he remarked as she finished.
'Thank you again, and good morning.'

His departure was too hurried, or so it seemed to Ada, who was
watching through a crack in the dining-room door.  A moment later
she heard the tapping of grandmother's stick and her imperative
voice saying, 'Breakfast will be ready by the time we've had
prayers, John.'

'What has happened?' Ada asked herself, as her father came out into
the hall on his way to her mother's chamber, where he read family
prayers every morning.  Her heart fluttered and sank as she
followed him into the room.  'Don't let it be about Ralph,' she
prayed mutely to her grandmother's God--or to any god, even a
heathen one, that would listen.  'Anything but that.  Oh, God,
please, please please, don't let it be about Ralph!'

Outside, the morning was fair; sunshine streamed from a sky as blue
as the traveller's joy by the fence; birds were singing in the
bright green and gold of the trees.  Yet, while she stood there and
listened vaguely to her father's solemn tones reading a Psalm, it
seemed to her that the world beyond the window was suddenly
troubled, as if a storm were approaching.  On her knees a moment
later, she entreated wildly, 'Not about Ralph!  I can't bear it if
it is about Ralph!'

Through her loosened fingers, as she knelt, she could see her
father's face, steadfast, inscrutable, confirmed in fortitude.  Her
mother, in the invalid's chair, was bowed over with her eyes hidden
in hands that trembled like leaves.  By her side on the rag carpet
grandmother, who had bitten back a groan as she eased herself down,
was praying aloud.  Near the door, Aunt Meggie listened with half a
mind for the sound of Aunt Abigail in the kitchen.  'Oh, God, don't
let any harm come to Ralph!'

Worship this morning was soon over.  Rising with a spring Ada
stooped to help grandmother to her feet ('You oughtn't to kneel,
Grandmother; it is bad for your joints') while her father rolled
the chair from the front window across the hall to the dining-room.
Ahead of them, Aunt Meggie had darted into the kitchen, and she was
already back again with the steaming coffee-pot in her hand.  Her
father, Ada noticed, with a shiver of apprehension, ate nothing.
But then, she reassured herself, he was seldom hungry and could go
for a whole morning on dry bread with a radish.  Only grandmother,
whose appetite never flagged, and Aunt Meggie, who enjoyed anything
she did not cook herself, remarked that the breakfast was better
than usual and ought not to be wasted.  When at last the meal was
over, Ada left Aunt Meggie to clear the table and went into the
library to wait until her father returned from rolling the chair
back to the window.

'You haven't touched a morsel, Ada,' grandmother called.

'I'm not hungry.  Give it to Horace.'

'Do you feel sick?  Here, Horace, here's your good breakfast.'

'No, not sick.  I want to see father.  I'm waiting for father.'

'Well, he'll come in a minute.  He's fixing your mother in her
chair.'

Was it a minute or an hour that she waited?  What was time after
all?  Who had divided it?  Who could tell where now ended and for
ever began?  Perhaps there wasn't any time.  Perhaps there was only
having or waiting to have.  Across the hall she could hear her
mother's animated voice, and the sound seemed to pluck at her
nerves.  What on earth can mother find to talk about from morning
till night? she thought, with a quiver of exasperation.  A redbird
flew by the window and alighted on the branch of an oak.  Then,
without waiting, it spread its wings and flew on again.  It must be
wonderful to fly.  That bird could fly away and leave things.  But
it couldn't fly away from love and pain.  An eagle looking down
from the sky must see love and pain all over the world.

Her father was coming.  He had shut the door of the chamber, and
then had opened it a little way when her mother called, 'Leave the
door ajar, dear, if you're going for good'.  His steps were in the
hall now; he had paused a moment to look out of the front door and
exclaim in a raised tone, 'Did you see that redbird, Mary Evelyn?'
Then he came into the library, walking as stiffly as an old man, as
an old woman, and she saw that his face was a grey mask behind
which pain burned and flickered.  Her mind went blank as a wall,
and out of this blankness a single thought flashed:  'It is my
fault.  Whatever has happened is my fault'.  Not until the words
were in the air did she realize that she had spoken aloud.

He turned back to shut the door, and then sat down at his desk and
stretched out his hand, which was shaking a little.  'Why, he is
old,' she said to herself in surprise, 'I didn't know he had so
many wrinkles.'  She could hear him swallowing when he tried to
speak, and she felt her fear dissolve into nausea.  'Poor father,'
she thought, but she could force no pity into her voice, only
irritation because he prolonged the extremity of suspense.  'It is
my fault,' she said again in an angry tone, as if he had
contradicted her.

'I don't know how to tell you, my child,' he began slowly.  'I
shall have to hurt you, and I don't know how to do it.'

'I can bear anything.  Whatever it is, I am to blame.'  Between her
and desperation there was only this single thought.

'It may be nobody's fault.  It may be only the way life has of
trying our strength.'

'What is it, father?  I can bear anything better than waiting to
hear.'  A tremor had crawled up her spine and was spreading over
every part of her body--millions of tiny tremors, like invisible
creeping feet.

'I am trying to, Ada, but I cannot find words.  It is about
Ralph . . . Mrs. Rowan found Ralph in her daughter's room after
the young people had come home last night . . .'

'It isn't true.  Janet was lying.  Janet is always lying.'

'It is true that he was there.  He says the girl asked him to come
in to look at some photographs . . .'

'Then that was true.  He doesn't like Janet.  He never liked her.'

'Whether it is true or not, naturally Rowan is on the side of his
daughter.  It seems the whole house was alarmed.  Janet was in
hysterics.  Even if Ralph is innocent, Rowan insists that her good
name is damaged.'

'Her good name!  Why she's never had any.  Everybody knows how she
is about men.'

'Her parents do not.  You can't blame them for defending their
child.'

'I do.  I do blame them for not knowing.'  Her voice rose on a
sobbing breath.

'Be careful, my dear.  We must keep it from your mother as long as
we can.'

'Keep what?  What are we keeping?'  When she lowered her tone it
was as hoarse, she told herself, as the 'Caw!  Caw!' of a crow.

'Even now, in spite of all Rowan told me, I find it incredible,'
John Fincastle said.  Then, without warning, he asked, 'Why did you
leave the dance last night and come home with Ross?  We must try to
get at the truth.'

A sob seemed to tear her lips apart.  'What did Ralph say?
Whatever Ralph says is true.'

'He has said very little.  It seems that Janet has been in trouble
for some time.  Nobody suspected it.  Nobody knows it now except
her parents and Mr. Black and Ralph's mother.  But she says that
Ralph is responsible, and that seems to settle it for her parents.
It is the custom,' he added dryly, 'to accept a woman's word in
such cases.'

'It's not right, Father.'

'I know, my child, but we cannot alter a rule of conduct.  No
matter how wrong or absurd it may be, it is stronger than we are.
Tell me why you came home with Ross.'

Somewhere in the trees a bird sang the same note over twice and
broke off.  Before replying, she turned her head toward the window,
as if she were listening for the song to be renewed.  'Oh, we
quarrelled,' she answered presently, 'but it didn't mean anything.'

'Was the quarrel about Janet?'

For an instant she hesitated, trying to think clearly and wisely.
Was it about Janet?  Or was it about nothing?  'He called me a
killjoy, but it was my fault.'

Her father sighed and looked down at his papers.  'How often I have
seen it happen like that in human relationships.  You had
everything, you and Ralph.  All you needed to do was to hold fast
to your happiness . . . but you let it slip through your fingers.'

'I know now . . . I know . . . but, oh, Father, I didn't know then.
Why didn't somebody tell me that life was this way . . .'

'It is something we have to learn, Ada.  I did tell you to have
patience.'

'And I didn't have.  I didn't have patience.  I thought being good
mattered.  But it doesn't.  It doesn't matter to life . . . it
doesn't matter to God.'

'We know as little about life as we know about God, my child.'

'Where is Ralph?'  She looked up with a start.  'What have they
done to him?'

'He is coming.  Rowan has gone to bring him.  I told him I must
talk with Ralph.  But you must not blame the Rowans for standing by
their daughter.'

'I do blame them.  They ought to stand by the truth.'

'They think they're doing that.  But you must try to be brave, Ada,
and face what you have to face.'

'What do they mean, Father?  What have they done to Ralph?'

'They are trying to make him marry Janet and take her away from
Ironside.  They insist that her future here is impossible.  They
believe, or pretend to believe . . . I think they are honest about
it . . . that Ralph ought to marry her.'

Though her mouth dropped open, no sound came from her lips, and
when she tried to lower her eyelids she felt that her lashes were
plastered back.

'But he won't . . . he won't,' she said at last in a strained
whisper.  'They can't make him, Father?'

'I don't know, my dear.  Everything is on their side, religion,
law, morality, influence, even money . . .  They can release all
the forces of society.'

'They couldn't, Father.  It would be savage.'

'We are still savage, my child.  What we call civilization is only
a different and perhaps a higher level of barbarism.'

Words!  Words!  Impatience twitched through her.  'Don't let them,
Father!' she cried out.  'Don't let them take Ralph away from me.'

'Would they listen to me, my daughter?  Have they ever listened to
me?  I may have taken the wrong way in life,' he said, with a
controlled wildness in his look, in his voice, in his gestures.
'There are only two ways of meeting life . . . one is to yield to
it, and one is to retreat from it.  I chose the latter, and I may
have been wrong.  That may be why I am inadequate in dealing with
circumstances.'

But she was not listening.  What did it matter?  What did anything
matter?  She leaned forward, pressing her hands together until the
knuckles stood out like white pebbles.  Something that had been
asleep in her nature awoke, flared up, and quivered into vitality.
All the part of her that had been innocent and unawakened to passion
became as living as agony.  Pain had brought her to life, not pain
of the heart or the mind alone, but of every nerve, every pulse,
every cell and pore in her being.

'Where is Ralph, Father?  I must find Ralph.'

'He is coming, my dear.  Try to be quiet.  Your look makes me
anxious.'

'I must see Ralph.  If he doesn't come,' she started up, 'I must go
to find him.'

'You cannot, Ada.  You cannot fight with another woman . . . not
over a man. . . .'

'I must see Ralph.'

'Will you talk to your grandmother?'

She shook her head stubbornly.  'I must see Ralph.'

He looked at her without speaking, and his features, while she
watched them, seemed to fade and reassemble and fade again into a
watery mist.  Only his long, fine hands, which were roughened and
blistered from the hoe and the axe, did not waver.

'How soon are they coming?' she asked.  If only that bird would
stop whistling the same call over and over!

'At any minute now.  They were waiting to have breakfast.'

'To have breakfast!'  When suspense was eating into her heart--and
into Ralph's--they could wait to have breakfast.

'Can't you leave this in our hands, Ada?  If Ralph has been at
fault, he must bear the responsibility.  There is no way of
escape.'

'But he hasn't been at fault, Father, not really.'

'By our moral code, my dear, an appearance of error is punished
more severely than error itself.'

'He didn't think.  He does things without thinking.'

'And he pays with thought in the end.'

'If only I'd stayed!'  She sprang up and dropped back again.  'I
ought to have gone out with him when he asked me.  What does it
matter now whether I did right or wrong?  But why didn't you tell
me?  Why didn't mother or grandmother tell me that self-respect
doesn't help you when you've lost happiness?'

'In the end it may make all the difference in the world to you.
You are too young to look far ahead.  But you shall see Ralph.  I
promise you that.'

'I shall see Ralph.'  As she repeated the words, a faint distant
drumming surged into her mind--'What I have said, I have said.'
Somewhere, miles and miles away, it seemed, she had heard this
voice and these words in another place.

'I will send him to you if you will wait quietly.  You must be
brave.  I would give my life to spare you this trial.'

Life?  But what did he know of life?  Even his happiness, she
thought, had no connection with the life that was jerking in her
muscles and twisting like a knife in her bosom.  For she did not
want quietness; she did not want to be brave and to suffer.  'I
can't sit still,' she said in a hoarse whisper.  'I can't sit still
any longer.'  She could not bear that changeless tranquillity of
the old which came from not wanting things.

Turning away, she rushed out of the room; and it seemed to him that
the very sound of her footsteps was alive and throbbing with
passion.  Long ago, in some other existence, he had suffered like
that--long ago.  Nothing of his old wound was left now.  Yet he
knew that while a single creature he loved remained alive on the
earth his heart could never become wholly invulnerable to fate.


X


No, she couldn't bear peace, Ada thought, as she ran down the hall
and through the open door of the dining-room.  There would be time
enough for peace when she was dead, and she would be dead then once
and for ever.

Glancing into the kitchen, she saw her grandmother bent over the
breakfast things, while small black Dinty scraped the grease from
the frying-pan.  Aunt Abigail, who had had a turn for the worse,
had gone back to bed in her cabin, and Aunt Meggie would be feeding
her chickens before the door of the henhouse.  Usually Ada helped
with the work, but this morning it did not matter to her whether
the house was clean or stayed dirty.  What she could not stand was
the look in her grandmother's face.  Resignation to the will of the
Lord was the one thing more that would drive her wild.

After she had bolted the door of her room, she sat down in front of
the mirror over the pine bureau and gazed at her reflection as if
it were the face of a stranger.  Removing the hairpins, she let
down her hair and brushed it until it shone with a dark lustre.
'If I am going to my funeral, I may as well put on a clean dress,'
she told herself mockingly.  Slipping out of her crumpled dress and
into a fresh blue cotton with a white lawn collar that rolled back,
she felt her strength flowing into muscles that were strong and
free under the silken warmth of her skin.  She would stand firm;
she would hold fast to her own; she would not exchange a living
happiness for the last refuge of fortitude.  Even if that iron
cross sustained her father and exalted her grandmother, it could do
nothing for her.  For she would rather suffer and keep alive than
be crucified by God's will into submission.  Sweeping the floor,
she thought over and over, as if the words rose and fell and rose
again on the steady strokes of her broom, I want to live while I'm
living.  While I'm living, I want to live.  After she had made the
bed and put the room in order, she emptied the water from the tub
into a pail and carried it downstairs to pour over the hop-vines.
The pail was heavy, but her arms were hard and firm, and to-day she
felt the need to undertake fresh trials of strength.  Since they
depended on their old well and the spring at the foot of the slope,
dry summers had taught the Fincastles not to waste water; and the
stern struggle with the wilderness had trained them not to fear
effort.

When she returned with the empty pail, three men had entered the
gate and were walking slowly across the grass to the front porch.
Three men, and one of them Ralph.  Ralph with his head held up
defiantly, and his boyish figure slouching between the minister and
Mr. Rowan.  As in a bad dream, while her heart seemed to pause, she
watched the three shadows marching ahead into the next minute,
vanishing as they passed under the oaks, and then flitting back
into step as they emerged into the sunshine.  But it was all so
vague, she felt, that it might be scarcely more real than a
reflection in running water, which rippled on and on and mirrored
always, as it flowed away, the same broken images.

'Ada!' her grandmother called in her Sabbath tone.  'Ada, will you
wait patiently until your father and I have talked over this
matter?'

'I must see Ralph, Grandmother.'

'Well, I've sent Dinty to the cabin.  Wait in the dining-room till
we call you.'

Grandmother had changed into the alpaca dress she wore on Sunday or
to funerals, and had put on her best cap with a bunch of fresh
ribbons.  Only sin itself, the old adversary, which must be
wrestled with and prayed over, could explain, Ada realized, the
company dress and the best cap in the morning.  But who had told
her?  Had father spoken to her while Ada was upstairs in her room?
Had Mr. Rowan contrived to let fall a warning?  Or had she been
granted some special gift of fore-knowledge?  Well, however it
occurred, she always knew things before anyone else; she was
prepared, at any time, day or night, awake or asleep, for calamity.

'Aye, you may see him,' the old woman continued, as she shut the
door between the dining-room and the kitchen.  'I'll send him to
you as soon as I can, but he'll feel easier if you are not in the
library.'

This sounded true.  It even sounded fair, which was by no means the
same thing.

'Then I'll wait,' Ada replied.  'I'll wait in this very spot.  I'll
wait all day if I have to.'

What else could she do? she demanded of vacancy, while she watched
grandmother move with a massive dignity, in spite of her stick,
down the long hall to the front door.  After the usual greetings,
more formal because of grandmother's respect for her pastor, the
men entered the house and followed the rustling skirt and the
tapping cane through the door of the library.

Sitting there at the dining-room table, Ada tried in vain to empty
her mind and to fix her thoughts on external objects alone--on the
clustering branches of an oak by the window, on the shadow of a
hawk as it flew over a brood of chickens, on the figure of Dinty
skirting the garden fence on her way to Aunt Abigail's cabin.  But
the instant she released an impression, the whole pattern of her
mind would shift and break up, and suspense, which she had driven
out, would filter in with the green light from the window.

It would be an eternity, she thought, before grandmother called
her, the worst kind of eternity, without minutes and enclosed
within revolving circles of time.  Round and round in circles.
What had happened?  What were they saying behind that shut door of
the library?  A power, terrible for good or evil, was offended, and
only sacrifice could appease its resentment.  The wrath of God,
said her grandmother.  The law of the tribe, said her father.
Well, no matter, since the wrath of God and the law of the tribe
both demanded atonement in blood.  Suddenly, it seemed to her that
she was opposing a phantom.  But it was a phantom that would
prevail in the end because it was the stronger.

She started back from the window as grandmother came down the hall
and into the dining-room.  The old woman was saying something out
of a tumult of sound, like the drumming of arteries--something
about right--something about honour--something about duty.

'What have they done, Grandmother?'

'You must prepare yourself, my child.  You must remember that other
women have endured worse things than disappointment in love.'

'I don't care about other women.  What are they doing to Ralph?'

'You must try not to think of Ralph.  You must bridle your wild
impulses.'

'I can't wait any longer, Grandmother.'

'If he has harmed Janet, Ada, he will have to bear the blame for
it.'

'But everybody knows what Janet is.'

'I am not defending Janet.  I leave that to her father, who is well
able to do it.'

'I must see Ralph.'

'Your wild heart is speaking again.  Try to bring your will to God
before it is broken.'

'I must see Ralph.'

'You must remember that Janet is an only child.  Her father and
mother are broken-hearted.  They insist, and Mr. Black and your
father agree with them, that the girl cannot be left to bear the
burden alone.  You have no share in this, Ada.  You must be left
out of it.'

'I don't want to be left out.  If Ralph is made to marry her,' her
voice was a mere thread of agony, 'he will be miserable all his
life.'

'There are more things than happiness to be considered, my poor
child.'

'He loves me.  He would hate Janet.'  Ralph's suffering was harder
to bear than her own, because Ralph would never, she felt, learn
how to suffer.

'There are more things than love to be considered in marriage.'
Though the words were uttered in a refrain, the old woman gulped
down a sob.  'They have been talking since midnight,' she said.  'I
don't see how the older men keep it up.  But Ralph, anyway, is worn
out.  He is sullen and defiant, but he has agreed to marry Janet
and go with her to Queenborough. . . .'

'But he can't . . . he can't . . .  Oh, Grandmother . . .'
Misery broke over her in a curved wave.

'William Rowan is not an easy man to oppose.  He is an elder in the
church and a pillar of the community.  He is able to ruin Ralph,
and he will believe it his duty to do it if Ralph has disgraced
Janet.  And Ralph's mother is on his side.  Though Ralph does not
get on well with his mother, she has a strong . . . almost an
extraordinary . . . influence over him.'

'She loves to make him suffer.'

'That is unjust.  It is only that she could not let her feeling
stand in the way of God's law.  You must learn that, too, before
life is done with you.'

Before life had done with her!  'Oh, Grandmother, I can't bear it!
I can't bear what is ahead of me!'

'My child, my dear child.  I wouldn't spare myself if I could help
you.'

'What are they doing now?'

'They are afraid to leave him.  William Rowan is afraid to leave
him to himself.  As soon as they are married, William seems to
think people will forget about Janet.  He doesn't know human nature
any better than he knows God, though he is an elder.  They will go
away, he says, and begin life all over again.  Of course Ralph will
have to give up law.  All his study will be wasted; but William
thinks he can do better as an agent for the new automobiles.
There's a kind of small car that William has taken the agency for
in Queenborough.'

'It will ruin his life.  Can't you see, Grandmother, that it will
ruin his life?'

Grandmother groaned as she sank heavily in a chair by the table.
Ada's grief weighed on her mind as a catastrophe that some error of
faith could not reconcile with God's providence.  All this Ada saw
in the stricken old face as she looked at it through the mist of
anguish that floated between them.

'I know, I know, my child, but if I were you, I shouldn't try to
speak to Ralph while he is with them.  Though he is so quiet, he
looks ready to fly off the helve.' . . .  The stick dropped to the
floor as she reached out her trembling hand to seize the girl's
dress, which slipped from her grasp when Ada turned away and darted
out of the room.

While the old woman sat there alone a sudden vertigo rushed over
her, as if every object in the room had become menacing and alive.
To save herself from falling out of her chair, she clutched the
edge of the table and looked up, startled, astonished, incredulous.
In front of her yawned the bottomless pit, outside and beyond the
infinite mercy.  Then, just as the room and the earth were about to
give way under her feet, she said aloud:  'The Lord has never
failed me.  I am in the hands of the Lord.'  While the chant pealed
through her mind, equilibrium was restored, faith balanced itself
on its throne, a fresh infusion of energy surged through her veins,
and her withered heart, she felt, put on greenness.  For she had
spoken only the truth.  The Lord had never failed her.  She was in
the hands of the Lord.


XI


He had come at the sound of her voice.  He had broken away from the
older men and had followed her through the door and down the slope
of lawn to the willow beside the spring.  The others had gone
without him.  She could see them moving in dark smudges over the
grass and down the road to the village.  On the other side, beyond
the circle of love and terror that closed in about them, Aunt
Meggie was scattering dough for her hens.  But while they stood
there in that invisible circle, they were safe, they were alone
together, they were still lovers.

With her first glance at him, after they had joined hands and fled
out of the house, she felt that something (was it hope?) had died
in her bosom.  He looked sullen, defiant, and years older since
last night, and what was even harder to bear, he looked humbled.
They had not only broken his spirit, they had humbled his pride.
Worst of all, there was a flickering rage, like a dark fire, in his
eyes, and his usually charming mouth sagged downward at the corners
in a curve of brooding resentment.  Yet never, not even in their
happiest moments, had she loved him so much.  Never until she had
seen him humbled, but still defiant, had she felt that her heart
was flaming with tenderness.  Nothing could ever change that.
Nothing could make her stop loving him.  Oh, Ralph--Ralph--She had
again that sense of struggling with an illusion, of being swept
away by an invisible current.

'I am trapped,' he said hoarsely, as if his mouth had gone dry.
'They've got me in a trap.  I can't get out.  There's no way.'  He
hesitated, swallowed hard, and repeated with smothered vehemence,
'I'm trapped.'  His clothes looked as if he had slept in them, and
the knuckles went red and white as he clenched his hands.

'I ought not to have come away last night,' she said.

'You were right to come.  I was making a fool of myself.'

'They've gone back without you.'  It was like catching at a leaf in
a flood.

'I told them I had to see you.  I told them I wouldn't budge a step
till I'd seen you.'  His mouth flattened into ugliness.  'I told
them . . .'

'What have they done to you?'

'They're making me give you up.  They're making me marry Janet.'
He spoke in sharp bitten-off phrases, with a whistling sound in his
throat.  'They're all against me, even your father.  It isn't that
they believe anything happened last night.  I kissed her, that was
all.  Anybody could kiss her.  We weren't in her room five minutes.
She pretended she couldn't find the photograph.  Then she screamed
at a mouse.  But there wasn't any mouse.'

'I know Janet.  But why does she have to have you?  There are
plenty of others.'

'She thought you wanted me.'  His laugh curled like a whip round
the words.  'That would be reason enough.'

'Tell them.  Let me tell them.'

'They wouldn't listen.  There're some things a man can't say, not
even if he's trapped.  Your father thinks I deserve anything.  I
reckon I do for being a fool.'

'Can't we fight them?  I'll fight them with you.  I'll never give
in.'  Her tears streamed down, and without wiping them away,
without lifting a finger to her convulsed mouth, she broke into a
sobbing moan, 'Oh, Ralph . . . Ralph. . . .'

While he looked down at her, violent yet helpless, he began
trembling from head to foot, like a tree in a high wind.  'Don't,
Ada . . .  Don't, my darling . . .  I feel as if I'd like to kill
something.  But not an animal.  I know how animals feel when
they're trapped.  I want to kill something human.'

She clung to him, sobbing.  'You're different.  They've made you
different.'

'The difference is that I see what I fool I am.  I've always been a
fool, but now I know it . . . and I've dragged you into the mess.'

'You haven't.  You haven't dragged me into anything.'

'Yes, I have, that's the worst of it.  I love you.  I've never
loved anybody but you, and I've spoiled your life.'  His rage
leaped out in a running fire and subsided as quickly into disgust.
'It isn't fair.  I'm no worse than others.  Any boy who wants to
kiss Janet can do it.  I never did more than kiss her.  You believe
that, don't you, Ada?'

'I believe it.'

She stared through tears at a soaring hawk, which swooped suddenly,
flashed downward like a curved blade in the air, and seized a small
bird--or it may have been one of Aunt Meggie's chickens--in its
claws before it swept upward and onward.  And she felt that the
same claws had seized her heart out of her breast, and had swept
away with it over the sunny land, over the tranquil blue of the
hills.  Until this moment of anguish, she had felt that she was a
part of the Valley, of its religion, its traditions, its unspoken
laws, as well as of its fields and streams and friendly mountains.
But now her heart was torn up from its place, mangled and bleeding.
Only a jagged scar was left in the spot where her life had been
rooted.

'I must go,' he said.  'And you will despise me.  You will love
someone else.  But . . . but we belong together . . . we've always
belonged together.  Nothing can change that.'

'Nothing can change that.'  She looked round with a wild gaze, as a
person looks on the verge of flight.  'If only we could go away!
But where?  There isn't anywhere.'

As he opened his lips, a sound between a groan and a sob strangled
his words.  There was a throbbing pulse in his voice, and when he
spoke at last this throbbing made a formless tumult in her mind.

'Will you come with me now--this minute?  Will you come up on
Thunder Mountain?  We could walk over the old Indian trail to . . .
somewhere.  People have done things more reckless.'  Then the flare
of courage died down.  'But we couldn't go far enough.  They could
ruin us before I found work.  The little I've saved mother has put
away in the bank, and Mr. Rowan was going to lend me the money to
start on.'

She nodded while her lips worked to keep back her sobs.  Dumbness
had seized her.  At the moment when she needed words most, when she
longed to pour out her heart, to utter vows, to speak prophecies,
dumbness had sealed her lips.

'There's no place we could go.'  The cry might have been wrung from
him by the turn of some inner screw.  'There's no room in the world
for a fool.'  He crushed her to him till she felt there was nothing
left alive in her but the burning sense of that pressure--nothing
but his kiss, which was salt with tears, and the extremity of her
despair.  'I love you,' he said, and drawing away, looked at her
with that dreadful humility in his eyes.  'I've loved you all my
life.  I'll always love you.  Not only this way, but every way.'

Again her lips worked convulsively, though no word would come, only
that straining to shape syllables.  Animals must feel like this,
she thought, when they are trying to learn human speech.

His smile swept away the darkness from his face, and she felt again
that she had never loved him so much as in the moment when she must
lose him for ever.  'I ought to fight,' she told herself.  'I ought
to fight for what is mine.'  But how could she fight?  How could
she fight an antagonist that had no reality?

She was alone now, alone with that phantom.  He had kissed her
again and said more quietly, 'I love you'.  He had taken her hands,
folded them on her bosom, and kissed them over and over.  While she
was still struggling to speak he had turned away, and then,
abruptly, as if the earth had opened under his feet, he was gone.
One minute he had been there, his arms about her, his mouth on
hers, and the next minute she was alone with the empty day and the
shadows moving over the grass.

Far away, across an immeasurable vacancy, she heard the thin piping
call of her grandmother's voice.  'Ada!  Ada, where are you?'  No,
she couldn't bear her grandmother--not now.  As the call was
repeated, she fled from the willow, past the henhouse and the
garden fence and Aunt Abigail's cabin, to the stony hillside where
sheep were cropping.  But the hill was too near the heartbreaking
blue of the sky.  She must go away.  She must go away from peace--
from beauty.  Only ugliness could help her--only ugliness that
stabbed into her eyes.  Only the world's pain could blunt the edge
of her own pain.  Turning her back on God's Mountain, she climbed
the board fence and skirted the edge of the meadow until she came
to the old field and the gully of red clay by Murderer's Grave.
Here she dropped down on soil where nothing would grow, and stared
into bright emptiness.  She felt the warmth of the ground stealing
over her, but it awoke only repulsion.  Pain had thrust her out of
the smiling meadow into this unhealed wound in the earth.

The soil fell away, without a blade of green, into the rutted basin
of the old watercourse.  Nobody knew the spot where the murderer
was buried.  But somewhere below those reddish furrows, which the
rain had worn into grotesque shapes, lay the skeleton of a man who
had been hanged because he had murdered a woman--his wife, the old
story ran--though Aunt Abigail believed the woman had had her
deserts because she had left her real husband to run off with her
murderer.  Not that it mattered.  He was at rest now; his grave had
sunk down out of sight.  They had cast him out from the churchyard,
but for nearly a hundred years he had taken his revenge as a scar
on the landscape.  That was the way life left its brand upon
happiness.  Wherever life was, there was evil and ugliness; there
was misery.

'It is all over,' she said aloud.  'Everything is over.'  Her voice
startled her, it was so toneless and grey--a drab voice.  'It is
all over,' she said again, still speaking aloud.  But the words
meant nothing to her; the syllables were as empty as old wasps'
nests.  A deep instinct, stronger than speech, superior to
knowledge, told her this could not have happened.  To someone else
perhaps, long ago in that half-obliterated past when savages roamed
the mountains--long ago a boy named Ralph and a girl named Ada
might have lived through such shame and suffering and bitterness.
If it were true, and not merely an evil dream, her heart would feel
broken; but now, after that first shock of agony, she felt nothing.
There was only a numbness that began in her senses and closed in
slowly about that beating pulse in her head.

On the other side of the ravine Toby Waters was crawling on his
stomach over the ground.  Being an idiot was more terrible than
anything in the world.  It was worse than death; it was worse than
losing your lover.  It was so terrible, being an idiot, that she
pressed the thought deeper and deeper, like a thorn, into her
consciousness.  If only the thorn would pierce sharply enough, it
might bring relief.  It might even separate the old past where such
things happened from the new present in which she was dreaming
about them.  In her dream there was Murderer's Grave; there was the
green valley; there was Toby Waters crawling toward her; there were
the hovel and the pigsty and the squealing pigs and the chickens
scratching among refuse.  And, in some strange way, she seemed to
deny her own suffering while she dwelt on the dirt and squalor and
horror and inescapable misery of life.

An unknown bird with a white breast flew overhead.  Was it a dove
or a hawk?  Her gaze followed it in its flight towards Thunder
Mountain, and she remembered the Indian trail on one of the timbered
ridges.  One might live for weeks people said, on the berries and
roots in the forest.  Then, suddenly, like the shadow of a beast,
pain sprang out on her, clutching, tearing, devouring. . . .
Everything was over.  There was nothing to expect, nothing to
fear, nothing to dread.  Flinging herself on the ground, she
bruised her bosom against the hard furrows.  All that remained now
was waiting--waiting for nothing.  Twenty years . . . thirty
years . . . fifty years might be ahead of her.  The Fincastles and
the Craigies were long-lived.  She was only twenty now, and she
might live to be ninety!  And she had not fought for her own.  She
had yielded without a struggle to this tyranny of opinion, of the
way people think about things.  It was only air, after all.  Words
are only stale air--yet they had conquered her.  She had been
conquered by a mere mouthing.  There are some things a man can't
say.  Who had said that?  Even if a woman is to blame, a man cannot
accuse her.  Who had said that?  Not Ralph?  Yes, it was Ralph.  It
was Ralph who had said he couldn't accuse Janet.  He had sacrificed
himself, and her also, to a last rag of chivalry, to a tradition in
which he did not even believe.  And her father!  Her father was a
martyr to truth, but it was his own truth, not hers, not another's.
Oh, Ralph . . .  Ralph . . .  While she cried the name without
sound, her anguish increased until it filled all the hollows.  The
June meadows and Smiling Creek and Murderer's Grave and the
emptiness in her own mind became only stark outlines of pain--mere
skeletons of what had once been a living and moving world.


An eternity (or was it a minute?) afterwards a voice whined over
her head.  Turning on the ground, she saw the idiot's face bending
above her, holding out hands that were filled with purple larkspur,
torn up by the roots and already beginning to wilt.  'Sugar,
sugar,' he drooled, offering her the flowers.  'Toby wants sugar.'

Before springing to her feet, she sat motionless for an instant, as
if she were only a larger lump of clay, and stared up into the
grinning face, where yellow teeth protruded like fangs, and a
crooked leer slanted up to the squinting eyes.  Almost he had
touched her.  Never before had she been so close to his filthy
clothes and his evil stench.  Horror, less gnawing but more
loathsome than pain, seized her.  Yet he was a creature like
herself, she thought, more repulsive than any animal, but born, as
she and an animal were born, to crave joy, to suffer loss, and to
know nothing beyond.  His mother, she found herself thinking
vacantly, ought to do something about him.  She ought to make him
clean himself before he came out to beg in the road.  'No sugar to-
day,' she said sternly, warding off his approach because his acrid
odour, like the odour of a bear, sickened her.  Then she saw his
eyes water with tears and his mouth stutter, and she added
hurriedly, 'There will be sugar to-morrow.  Toby shall have a sugar
cake in the morning'.

Leering joyously, he held out the larkspur, which scattered and
dropped to die on the ground.  No, she couldn't touch them.  Even
the flowers would be tainted by that foul smell.  Nothing could be
worse than that, it was true.  The village ought to take care of
him, her father said.  Yet his mother had buried two other
children, both idiots.  Mrs. Waters had a father, an old man, still
living in Panther's Gap.  He had married an idiot girl from the
almshouse, and they had four idiot sons, who worked in the
cornfield.  Once when Ada was little she had ridden by the place
behind her father on his old bay mare, and she had seen three of
these boys gathering sunflower seeds for the chickens.  They had
frightened her so by the faces they made that she had slipped down
from the mare's back.  If Bess, the mare, had not been wise enough
to stop, her father had said, there might have been broken bones
for Dr. Updike to set.  But people couldn't do anything about
idiots.  It was God's law, grandmother said, that married people,
no matter whether they were halfwits or not, must bring all the
children they could into the world to share in the curse that was
put upon Adam and Eve.

Standing there, while Toby ran back to the hovel, she felt the
sharp revulsion of her senses deaden for an instant her intolerable
heartache.  Life was like that.  Life contained no security.
Horror waited everywhere to pounce upon happiness, as the hawk had
pounced upon the small bird.  Under her feet there was the sterile
clay, encircled by the flower-sprinkled valley which shaded from
palest azure to deepest violet.  Beyond the smaller valley the
light was already changing on the lower hills, where noon hesitated
before passing.  Ugliness she could bear, even horror, but not
beauty.  Not the beauty that was like a knife in her heart, the
beauty that made her believe in the joy she had lost without ever
possessing.


Hours later, when she circled the field, the light had changed
again, and afternoon brooded over the valley.  Within its
clustering oaks, the old brick house was folded in quiet.  The
birds were silent in the trees, the leaves had ceased to quiver on
their stems, and the shadows were so transparent that they might
have been merely darker waves of the sunshine.  It looked a place
of happiness, she thought bitterly; but the lost harmony of mood
and scene was scarcely nearer to her now than was the girl she had
been yesterday.  For that girl seemed as remote and unreal as a
snow image.  She had never known pain, she had never known cruelty,
she had never known life.

As she crossed the lawn her father came out of the garden with a
hoe in his hand.  'There are times,' he said, 'when the pen is
heavier than the hoe.'  Though he was stricken to the heart, she
knew, he could still smile his inward, dreaming, faintly ironic
smile.

'Father, why did you let them ruin Ralph's life?'

'You will understand better when you are older, Ada.  But Ralph's
life is not ruined, nor is yours.  You are both young, and to the
young nothing, not even ruin, has finality.  Don't lose your
courage too soon.  The future belongs still to you.'

She shook her head.  'No, I haven't anything left.  Nothing again
will ever make any difference.'

Inside the house, she heard her mother's voice, soft, eager, yet
vaguely apprehensive.  'Is that you, Ada?  I have not seen you to-
day.  Where have you been?'

'I've been out in the fields, Mother.  As soon as I've washed my
face and hands, I'll come to read to you.'

Peering in from the back porch, grandmother beckoned to her.  'You
haven't eaten a bite, my dear.  I've saved some cold buttermilk.'

Ada slipped noiselessly past her mother's door and went out on the
porch.  'No, I don't want anything.'

'Couldn't you swallow a little of your mother's tapioca?'

'I don't want anything.'

When she had finished hanging out a dishcloth, grandmother turned
and looked at the girl from under the horn rims of her spectacles.
There was sympathy in her face, but there was a tremendous power
also, the equanimity of unruffled conviction.

'Try not to take this too hard, my dear child.  God would not have
sent you a trial of faith if it were not for your good.  You won't
make it easier by taking it too hard.'

'I take it the only way I can, Grandmother.'

'Pray over it, and try not to be rebellious.  The Lord knows what
is best for you.'

'I'll never pray again.  I'll never, never pray again as long as I
live.'

A shudder ran over grandmother's massive frame.  So she had
shuddered in church when Dugald Adcock had turned away from the
bread and wine of the Lord's Supper.

'Bend your will, my child!' she cried out in fear.  'Bend your will
before it is broken!'

For an instant Ada stared dumbly away into space.  When her voice
came at last it was barely louder than the whimpering moan of a
small animal in a trap.

'I don't care,' she said.  'I don't care what God does to me.'
While she dragged her body, which felt cold and dead, upstairs to
her room, she thought wearily, 'It will always be like this.  No
matter how long it lasts, everything will be nothing'.


XII


Mary Evelyn was dying.  For weeks she had not moved from her bed,
but had lain propped on pillows while she gazed through the open
windows, where the ivy had been trimmed back to let in the light.
Outside, she could see the light drift on the grass and the
sunflowers, heavy with brown seed, sway and bend over the garden
fence.  In the room her invalid's chair stood empty, pushed into a
corner but not put away out of sight.  Hour after hour, day after
day, week after week, her family listened anxiously to a murmur so
thin and soft that it might have been the voice of the stillness.
Not only the birds, but even the insects, were hushed in the trees;
the wind made no stir as it passed on; only this whisper, rapid,
fugitive, yet strangely alive, gushed out from the pallid lips and
became a part of the silence.  The bed, the room, the house, the
whole of life, were saturated with the mingled smell of mustard and
camphor.  The odour of pain! Ada thought.  As long as she lived
that smell would always mean to her the odour of pain--of the dying
flesh, of the spirit struggling to release itself from the clay, of
loss, grief, helpless pity, and heartbreak.

'Is it time for her medicine, Grandmother?'

'I tried to give it, but she can take so little.'

'Does she know what she is saying?  Does she know when she smiles
or frowns?'

'I think so sometimes.  Anyway, she is at peace.  She has put her
trust in her Redeemer.'

'She is trying to tell us something.  Oh, Grandmother, what is she
trying to tell us?'

'I think she is wandering.  Perhaps you can catch the words, John.'

'Can you hear, Father?  Oh, Father, she is trying so hard!  It
makes her cry, she is trying so hard.'

Still clasping his wife's hand, John Fincastle leaned over with his
ear close to the fluttering breath.  'Mary Evelyn!  Mary Evelyn!'

Light broke in her face.  Her head raised itself from the pillow
and turned slightly in his direction.  Then it fell back.  Her eyes
opened and looked through him, and through the room and the trees
and the hills, as if they were all figures of shadow.  While she
looked, she spoke in a new voice.

'I have been happy,' she said clearly.

Grandmother measured out a dose of digitalis and rising softly,
held a towel under Mary Evelyn's chin.  'She has swallowed a
little, if only she is able to keep it down.'  But the medicine
came up almost immediately, and the old woman's hand trembled as
she wiped away the stains from the moving lips.  'Dr. Updike says
there may be no change for weeks,' she whispered, 'but the doctor
from Queenborough was less hopeful.'

How often had she heard those words? Ada asked herself.  When and
where were they first spoken?  How long had they sat here, waiting
through days that had no hours, through hours that had no minutes,
flat, timeless, everlasting, for her mother to die?  Was it
yesterday?  Was it to-day?  Was it even to-morrow?  Her back was
towards the window, and she saw only the rays of sunshine that
trickled in through the leaves and settled in a still pool on her
mother's face.  Near the head of the bed, beside the bottles of
medicine and the candlestick, her grandmother was seated with her
knees far apart, erect, tireless, watchful.  Her grey hair
straggled in wisps from under a cap that was now slightly askew,
like the wrinkles across her brow, but at eighty-three she was
still calm, austere, indomitable.  Within the shadow of the
headboard, John Fincastle's features seemed to blend with this
outline, though the serenity in his face was shattered by grief.
To her father, Ada knew, death was a part of life, to be accepted
with the animal faith which was nobler than vain conflicts with
nature.  To her grandmother, death was an act of God, and so
justified.  Yet they both valued existence; they had lived more
happily because they had believed, each in a different way, that
life was something more than mere living.

Her mother was now sleeping quietly, so quietly that fear shot
through Ada's mind while she watched.  'Is it natural, Grandmother?'
she whispered.  'She's barely breathing.'

'Yes, she's sleeping.  You'd better go upstairs and lie down.'

'I can't.  I can't leave her.'  In years to come she would reproach
herself for every minute she spent away from her mother's side, she
would suffer over every remembered neglect.  'But you need rest
yourself,' she urged in so low a tone that the old woman was
obliged to guess what she was saying.

'No, I must keep watch.  Old people can do without sleep.'  While
her stooping spine sprang upright, she said again, 'I must watch, I
can bide my time.'

Horace, fourteen years old now, if a day, and almost as rheumatic
as grandmother, padded in from the hall, raised his eyes with a
wondering glance, and lay down on the strip of rug by the bed.
They wouldn't keep him long, grandmother feared, though a foxhound
belonging to her husband had lived nearly seventeen years.  It was
seldom that he left the house, and then only for an excursion into
the unmown grass or to the roots of a tree.  'I declare that dog is
almost human,' the old woman murmured.  'I believe he understands
every word that we say.'  She laid her hand on his head, and he
thumped his tail so gently that it was merely another vibration.

I wonder whether Ralph knows? Ada thought.  But Ralph and her
unhappy love were shapes without substance.  When she tried to
think of him, he evaporated into a mist.  She could say to herself,
'Three years ago he married Janet,' and it meant nothing.  When she
said, 'My heart is broken,' that also meant nothing.  The only
thing that now lived for her was the slow dying, day after day, of
her mother.

'Grandmother, isn't there a change?  Doesn't she seem to know
more?'

'She is still sleeping, my dear.  Dr. Updike says she doesn't
suffer even when she comes back.'

'If only she wouldn't frown, if only she wouldn't cry to herself.'

So it had been since the beginning of July.  So it would be, the
physicians thought, for months longer, perhaps into the autumn.
But at the end of August she died very quietly, alone in the room
with her husband and old Horace.  Grandmother was making a fresh
mustard plaster, Aunt Meggie was warming a little milk in a
saucepan on the kitchen stove, and Ada had slipped out of doors for
a breath of the late afternoon.  At the door the girl had beckoned
to Horace, but he had refused to leave the rug by the bedside.
John Fincastle had glanced round and smiled at his daughter, and
for an instant it had seemed to him that his wife's fingers played
as softly as the touch of a fern over the back of his hand.  Then
the pale golden light of the afterglow had shone into the room, and
somewhere outside, far up in the leaves, there was the startled
cheep of a bird.  At the call, Mary Evelyn opened her eyes and
looked at him with a flash of her old animation.  'It will be dark
soon,' she said in a cheerful voice, before sinking back into a
sleep from which she never awoke.  For a few minutes he sat there
beside her, apprehensive yet hopeful, while he listened to her
breathing, which seemed to grow fainter and fainter, like a breeze
that is dying away in the distance.  Even then, after it had
entirely ceased, without effort and without the horror of the death
struggle, he did not realize that she was dead.  Grandmother,
coming in with the plaster, found him still holding Mary Evelyn's
hand.

'I thought I heard somebody call,' the old woman said, 'and I came
as quick as I could.'  Then, as she reached the bedside, she pushed
her son away, and he saw her hands, knotted and worn with healing,
pass over his wife's bosom.


What is it, John Fincastle asked himself, that has enabled human
beings to build their indestructible fallacies about death?  Is it
hope?  Is it fear?  Is it the long mingling of both?  As a part of
life, perhaps, one could accept death without bitterness, as the
only part of life that is endowed with finality.

With his mind he had acquiesced; he had triumphed over belief and
denial.  But one does not believe, one does not doubt, with the
mind alone.  The heart must be convinced, and the blood stream, and
the nerves.  'If only I had known,' he thought, confronting the
universe, where not a gleam, not a flash, lighted the darkness.
For there was much, there were so many things, that he had not
known, that now he could never know.  He had thought of himself as
strong; he had thought of Mary Evelyn as weak; yet he felt to-night
that, in some mysterious way, he had renewed his strength in her
weakness.  He had listened so long to the murmurous flow of her
voice that he could not think in the silence.  His freedom was so
vast that he was lost in the midst of it.

Beyond the open window, it seemed to him that the very brightness
of the stars was dim and tarnished with grief.  'Mary Evelyn!  Mary
Evelyn!' he cried without sound into a void that was bottomless.
There was no answer.  He had not expected an answer.  Though her
going had drained the world of life, she would vanish from his
sight and his touch without pausing to look back.  'Mary Evelyn!'
he cried over again and aloud, trying to reach her while she was
still so near, before she had passed entirely out of the universe
that contained them both.  But there was no return from the abyss
that was loss, no stir, no shadow, not so much as a vibration of
light.  She had left nothing behind her but this intolerable
stillness.


Yet in my flesh shall I see God, Grandmother Fincastle was
thinking, while a few tears rolled over her eyelids and down on her
furrowed cheeks.  Even now, Mary Evelyn was beholding the face of
God, though her body would wait in its grave, as in a bed, for the
Day of Judgment.  How could one mourn when one remembered that
incorruptible glory?  When one remembered the promise that the
righteous shall be caught up to Christ in the clouds, that they
shall be set on His right hand, and shall join in the judging of
reprobate angels and men?  A spasm of pain convulsed grandmother's
features.  But what of John?  What of her son?  Where would he
stand among the reprobate angels and men?  Would Mary Evelyn be
asked to judge her own husband?  And could she, who had loved him
so passionately, be happy after he was judged and cast out?  Could
she be satisfied even in the company of innumerable saints and
angels, 'but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God
the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to
all eternity'?  Who could answer?  Could even the Larger Catechism
cast light into that darkness?  But it was God's will, and so one
must believe.  One must see with the eye of faith, not with the eye
of flesh, as her husband had said.  And, meanwhile, the work of the
house waited.  She must leave salvation to God, and remind Meggie
not to let her dish of batter bread burn while she laid out the
dead.


'If only I had stayed with her every minute,' Ada told herself in
remorse, for she felt that her heart was breaking over again.  'If
only I hadn't neglected her because I was unhappy.  If only I
hadn't let myself think of Ralph when she needed me.'

But it was useless to try not to think of Ralph when Ralph was
still the very pulse of her thought.  If she tore him out, there
would be nothing left of herself.  He had been a part of her
happiness; he was now a part of her sorrow.  She could not escape
him by wishing.  Not seeing him did not alter her love.  Mother had
wanted her to marry Ross Greenlee, but she could never think of any
man but Ralph as her lover.  Yet while her mother lay dying her
self-reproach was so bitter that she would have married anyone, no
matter how old or ugly he was, if only her mother had approved of
him.  'Oh, Mother, Mother!' she called aloud, biting back the cry
before it reached the ears of her grandmother.  Nothing, not even
Ralph, not even her own faithfulness, would be too much to give if
it would bring back her mother.

But life was here, and the will was toward life.  Nobody, not even
the old, not even the despairing, wished to come to an end in time
or in eternity.  So her grandmother said, and her grandmother must
know.  Ada wondered now why her father believed that fear of the
end was an ignoble delusion.  Surely he also, like other persons,
sound or unsound, must still wish to live on.  Well, whatever came
to her must be borne.  'If broken hearts could kill,' grandmother
had reminded her, 'the earth would be as dead as the moon.'


Dressed in ill-fitting black, tearless and composed, Ada stood in
the parlour, which was thrown open for the funeral, and thanked the
neighbours who had flocked to the manse.  The road from the village
was crowded with vehicles, and with those too poor to own a horse
and buggy who came walking.  Many of them had brought mourning
garments to offer Meggie and Ada, and closer friends, such as Mrs.
Black and the Rowans and Dr. Updike and the Melroses and old Mrs.
Tiller, stole across the hall and into the dimly lighted chamber,
where Mary Evelyn, young again and indescribably radiant, lay in
her coffin.  'She couldn't look that way,' Mrs. Black had whispered
to Ada, 'if she hadn't liked what she found over there.'  'My boy
has come to the funeral,' Mrs. McBride murmured, softened by death.
'I've always told him he loved Mary Evelyn better than his own
mother.'

In the churchyard Ada saw only the open grave, and heard only the
clods of earth falling, falling.  Her father's arm felt as
fleshless as a bleached bone in her grasp, and it seemed to her
that the universe, with all that it contained, was pared down to a
skeleton.  All the Fincastle skeletons were lying there, within
that rusty railing, under the old sycamore.  The row of sandstone
slabs, as yellow as old teeth and stained with the droppings of
birds, stood upright among the periwinkle and ivy.  Oh, why did she
think morbid thoughts at such moments?  Her grandmother, by her
side, could keep her mind properly governed and fixed upon the hope
of a joyful resurrection.  When the last clod had been shovelled
in, the flowers had been placed on the fresh grave, and Ada had
driven home in a borrowed carriage with her father, her
grandmother, and her weeping aunt, she cried out wildly that she
could not bear the blank horror of loss, the unendurable flatness
of grief.


XIII


The next afternoon, when Ada was in the kitchen ironing a cap for
her grandmother, she heard Ralph's voice speaking to Horace.
Handing the iron to Aunt Abigail, she went through the dining-room
and into the hall as he entered the front door.

'I must see you alone, Ada.  I'm going away, and I must see you
alone.'

'Come into mother's chamber.  Nobody's there.'

Together they crossed the threshold, and he helped her unfasten the
closed shutters.  'Father slept on the sofa in his library, but I
don't like to feel that the room is deserted.'

'You know I cared for her,' he said.

'I know.'  Turning away from the window, she looked into his face
and saw how much he had changed.

'I had to see you.'

'I thought you'd come.'

'It's the first time I've been back since . . .'

'I know.'  She dropped into her grandmother's winged chair, while
he paced restlessly from the empty fireplace to the open window,
and then back again from the window to the fireplace.

'I sometimes thought your mother understood better than anyone
else.'

'I know.'  The words fluttered like a dead leaf from her lips, and
she could think of nothing to add.

'I ought to have stood up against them,' he burst out.  'Janet had
to marry somebody, and she thought I was the easiest.'

'I know.'  All this seemed to have occurred in another period of
time, when people did absurd things for absurd reasons.

'The child wasn't mine.  I want you to know that.'

'The child?'  The echo floated back from some void that was
windless and dark.

'I suppose there was really a child.  She said she lost it before
it was born.  But it wasn't mine.'

She bowed her head, weeping.  'Nothing seems to make any difference
now.  Nothing makes any difference but the thought that mother . . .
oh, mother . . .'

'She would want you to be happy.'

'She believed in happiness.  Feeling meant life to her.  It is only
in the heart, she used to say, that anything really happens.'

He looked round, startled and attentive, as if he had heard a bell
ringing.  'Did she say that?'

'Can't you hear her voice?'

'I'll always hear it.  Now I must go.  But I had to see you.'

'Of course you had to see me.'  As he smiled down on her, she felt
that she was slowly coming to life again.  'You couldn't have gone
without seeing me.'

'I've been living in hell,' he said, as if the words were forced
out by torture.  'That's why I couldn't come before.  If this ever
ends, and it's obliged to end some way, I'll come again.'

'It almost broke father's heart when you gave up the law to sell
automobiles.'

'And your heart?'

'I didn't care so much about that.'

'You've never asked about Janet?'

'No, I'll never ask you about Janet.'

'You thought she wanted me?'

'Yes, I thought so.'

'If she did, it was soon over.  We quarrel now all day and the
better part of the night.  Whenever she finds a man with money, she
will leave me and marry him.  What fools people are when they think
they can make two lives belong together by saying words over them.'

'It's funny,' she sighed indifferently, for the glow of life had
flickered out again, 'the things we used to believe in.  But you
were never bitter before.'

'I never had need to be.  By the time I am free to come back to
you, I may be so hardened you won't know me.'

'You couldn't be that.  No, you could never be that.'

The derision faded from his tone.  'You ought to be happy, Ada,' he
said.  'You ought to fall in love with a better man.'

'I may be happy again, but there will never be another man.'

'If I'm ever free, will you go away with me?  I mean go across the
world to some other place?'  His voice broke, and under the
tenderness, she heard for the first time the stifled cry of his
longing.

'But for father and grandmother, I'd go away with you to-morrow,'
she said.  'I'd go with you anywhere.'

'Then it's a promise?'

'Yes, it's a promise.'

As she waited for him to speak again, he bent over suddenly, kissed
her lips, cheeks, and throat, and then breaking away without a
word, ran out of the room and the house.

She heard the flight of his footsteps on the porch, the millstone,
the drive, and the road, dying at last into silence.  From the echo
in her mind, she could not tell whether the footsteps were going or
coming.  But it seemed to her that she should hear them eternally
passing in and out of her life.  Then, gradually, while the faint
reverberations persisted, she became aware that activity was no
longer suspended, that the breath of life was flowing back into the
house.  A board creaked, a clock struck, a door opened and shut,
there was an almost inaudible movement, a slow pulsation, from the
cellar below to the closed rooms overhead.  As the pulsations grew
longer, all the scattered threads of sound seemed to be gathered
into a single strand of existence.  She heard her father cross the
floor of his library and go out on the porch.  Ever since the
funeral he had wandered about as if he were searching for
something.  There was the measured fall of his tread, and looking
through the side window, she watched him walk over the grass and
stoop to pick up his hoe at the garden gate.  Why was it, she
wondered, that digging in the ground appeared to comfort him more
than the wisdom in books?  His nerves, he said, not his mind, were
soothed by the smell of the earth, or by the even strokes of the
axe or the hammer.

The diminishing nest egg he had borrowed from his life insurance
was withdrawn from the bank and used to pay the modest expenses of
Mary Evelyn's funeral, and before the summer was over another
sandstone slab was placed in the churchyard.  Even then, Ada felt,
something of her mother remained, some unseen presence, or some
unfamiliar fragrance of cinnamon-roses in the new stillness.  There
were moments when this sense of a lingering spirit became so vivid
that she would go into the chamber and call 'Mother!' in
heartbroken appeal.  Mary Evelyn, not her way of living, had
vanished; and this bond of personality stronger than death held the
family together.

Slowly, almost as if it were unwanted or unrecognized, the movement
of the house renewed itself and went on again.  Unfinished tasks
were taken up and completed, work was planned and discussed with
interest, meals were cooked and eaten with the old relish.  Though
they were poor, they were not too poor to wear turned mourning;
they were not as Ada reminded herself, as poor as the poor
McAllisters.  In September the school term began, and sufficient
pupils would provide money for the taxes and the next payment on
the mortgage.  The garden would yield them a living, even in
winter, for Aunt Meggie and old Aunt Abigail, who had to be brought
over in a wheelbarrow by her son Marcellus, were wise in methods of
canning and drying.  Aunt Meggie was always able to exchange eggs
or young chickens for coffee and sugar at Mr. Robinson's store, and
grandmother's trembling fingers spun wool into yarn and knitted
yarn into jerseys, stockings, and petticoats for the winter.
Clothes were scarce, but occasionally there would be money for a
bolt of cotton cloth or red flannel or printed calico, and then Ada
would make house dresses and underwear.  John Fincastle's coats and
trousers were turned so often that they had become a problem for
the women, though not for him.  He had never known what he wore,
Aunt Meggie insisted, not even when he was pastor of the largest
congregation in Queenborough.  Money he required to pay taxes, to
meet the mortgage, and to buy Horace a licence.  For the rest, he
had never failed, he assured them, to find enough to eat in the
ground.  But when the need became acute, he would select a few
books from the remnant of his library, and set out with Mr. Rowan
to sell his precious volumes to a professor at Washington and Lee
University.  For the first few weeks after Mary Evelyn's death, he
had turned to the hoe and the spade as an appeasement of grief; but
when autumn came and school was opened in the parlour, he went back
to the lonely work of his lifetime.

'I know I could make my way in Queenborough,' Ada would urge.  'So
many girls are going to the city.  I know I could find work and
help pay off the mortgage.'

'Not as long as I last, my child,' grandmother would beg, with a
catch in her old voice.  'It won't be long now, and I want my
children about me when I come to the end.'

'What would the manse be like with nothing young in it?' Aunt
Meggie would ask wistfully.  'I'd rather do with less and keep the
family together.'

'That's going, too, like everything else I was used to,'
grandmother sighed.  'Even families don't hold together any
longer.'

'Well, I'll stay,' Ada said, but she said it regretfully.  There
were moments when she felt the stirring call of the unknown--of
anything that was different.  I know I could make my own way, she
would tell herself, and besides, Ralph would be near me in
Queenborough.  Then the strong pull of roots in the soil would hold
her steadfast.  I couldn't leave grandmother, and if grandmother
were not here, I couldn't leave father.

When she looked back from a distant time, the years immediately
after her mother's death appeared to have flowed into a single
year.  She could not separate them in memory, or if she separated
them, it was merely by the thought, Ralph wrote to me often then,
or Ralph came back to Ironside, but I seldom saw him.  Or again,
That was the spring Horace died, and we buried him in the corner of
the garden where the day lilies bloom, or, That was the winter a
fox ate Aunt Meggie's Rhode Island Red rooster.

From the beginning, John Fincastle had stood aside while war
hysteria swept by in a whirlwind.  'A moral pestilence,' he had
said, 'and it will pass as a pestilence.'  Only when America was
wavering, and he refused to sing warlike hymns in his classes and
to teach his pupils that God was on the side of the Allies, did the
villagers begin to withdraw their children.  Not all of them, to be
sure, for some who had overlooked heresy were able to regard
'pacifism' as merely another mental oddity, but these were
invariably the poorer parents, unable to pay the fee for tuition.

On a bright Sunday morning soon after America had entered the war,
Ada met Ralph's mother as the congregation streamed out of church
and over the flagstone walk to the gate.  'That was an inspiring
sermon,' the older woman said, drawing the girl aside, while John
Fincastle passed on with his mother and sister.  'I wish Ralph
could have heard it.'

'Aren't they preaching that way in Queenborough?'

'Not with the same zeal.  Churches grow lukewarm in cities.  But we
are blessed beyond most congregations, even in the upper Valley.
Mr. Black is as tender as a father with the afflicted, but his
sermons on the war are fiery with the wrath of God.  There won't be
many skulkers in Ironside after this morning.  I am proud to
think,' she added, pursing her lips, 'that my boy will volunteer as
a private if he does not get into an officers' training-camp.  He
applied the very minute war was declared.  You remember he always
said he would be ahead of the draft.'

It seemed to Ada that her whole life--or was it only her heart?--
shuddered and sank.  But she had known it would come like this,
that they would go into the war, that Ralph would be one of the
first to volunteer, that he might be killed over in France.  Regret
was, of course, the wrong emotion to feel.  War must be splendid, a
righteous war, or Mr. Black, a saint in everyday life, would not be
so certain God was behind us.  Clergymen seemed to want war more
than most other persons, but everybody, so far as she could see,
wanted to fight Germany--everybody except her father, who was
condemned, it appeared, to be upon the deserted side of every mass
movement.  'I know Ralph wants to go,' she answered, and prayed
silently, 'Oh, God, let him come back!'

'I hope this will be a lesson to Janet,' Mrs. McBride continued.
'Janet has not made the right sort of wife.  But it won't matter so
much now that he has had to give up his career.  In war,' she
rolled the phrase on her tongue, 'we are all ready to make
sacrifices.'

To make sacrifices!  How she hated the word, Ada thought, as she
slipped out of the churchyard, while tears clouded the spring
landscape.  Ahead of her, she saw her grandmother, supported by her
father and Aunt Meggie, moving, in all the luxury of martyrdom, up
the steep road to the manse.  Though the walk was torture to the
old woman, she could not be induced either to stay away from church
or to drive on the Sabbath.

'Somehow, I don't seem able to get excited about this war,' she was
confessing, as Ada joined them.  'War isn't real to me as long as
it leaves a window-pane in your house.  I recollect as well as if
'twere yesterday the skirmish that shattered every pane of glass in
the manse.  Well, I'm thankful that General Hunter is safely buried
and not on the side of the Germans.'

'It is hard to understand,' Ada said, 'how God can want war.'
Pressing her father's arm, she added consolingly, 'Even if all the
children stop coming, Father, you will have that much more time for
your book.'  But she was thinking sadly, 'And fewer people than
ever will read it'.

John Fincastle smiled and patted her hand.  'Yes, I'll have more
time and fewer readers than ever.  Still, my concern is with
Reality alone, and I shan't worry if the whole world of appearances
goes mad over killing.  As long as it leaves my potatoes in the
ground, we shall be able to get on without starving.  But there are
concrete problems that only the hoe can solve.'

Around them the meadows were sprinkled with flowers, the fringed
willows were silver-green by the brooks, and the tranquil blue of
God's Mountain was bathed in a light that refreshed the eyes.  Yet
here also, Ada thought, hatred and bloodshed, the torch and the
scalping knife, the gun and the bayonet, had once raged and passed
and were now almost forgotten.

Where was Ralph? she wondered.  Had the war taken him already, or
would he come back to her?  She had seen him seldom and at long
intervals in the last three years.  Whenever they met, he had
spoken of Janet in a kind of sullen fury that reminded her of a
brushwood fire.  The appeal of the flesh had recoiled into
aversion.  There was no peace, he had said, they quarrelled like
bluejays.  Janet was going with other men, and his only hope was
that, sooner or later, she would find one rich enough to give her
the luxuries she demanded.  She was a favourite in the less
dignified circles of Queenborough; but Queenborough was a small
place, and she craved the excitement of New York or Hollywood.
Once she had been photographed for a moving picture, and it was
soon evident that the edges of her beauty were too soft for the
screen.  The mouth and chin of Queen Victoria, even without the
royal virtues, had ceased to be an advantage.

'I have learned why men kill women,' he had declared vehemently at
their last meeting.  'I don't mean that I want to kill a woman,
simply that I understand why men do it so often.'

'After all,' Ada had sighed, 'she may never find the man she is
looking for.'

'I've thought of that.  If I had proof of what I know without
proof, I shouldn't wait to let the grass grow under my feet.  But
you still have to have evidence in Virginia, and I can't afford to
go West.  Well, there's one thing certain, if the choice is offered
me between living with Janet and fighting the Germans, I'll choose
war with a vengeance.'

'You sound like grandmother.  We tell grandmother that she really
likes war.'

That was five months ago, and grandmother was becoming more
militant.  She approved of a righteous war, and what war could be
more righteous than the war to defend little Belgium?  For the
second time, John Fincastle was snatched by his mother from the
outcast company of reprobate souls.  A quarter of a century before
she had shielded him from the penalties imposed by a God-fearing
village.  In the summer of 1917, she towered, impregnable, as a
fortress, between him and the suspicions that he preferred an
unrighteous peace.  Too infirm to stand, but busily knitting for
devastated France, she presided impressively over the first Red
Cross meetings in Ironside.

'Ralph is a second lieutenant now.  He has his commission,' the old
woman said proudly one day in September, as she was assisted down
from Judge Melrose's buggy.  'He wrote to his mother from Fort
M--.'

To his mother!  Suddenly Ada felt that the soft breeze had turned
to blown smoke in her throat.

'Your grandmother says she will be eighty-six tomorrow,' Judge
Melrose remarked flatteringly before he stepped back into his
buggy, 'but I tell her she had more pith and sap left in her still
than many who are yet in the prime of life.'

'But for my legs,' grandmother's old complaint slipped readily off
her tongue, 'I'd be as good as I ever was.'

'You used to be a sufferer, I recollect, from lumbago.'

'Aye, aye, but I've been spared that.  Now 'tis mostly seated in my
knees, though in summer I still manage to get about.'

'How can I stand it any longer?' Ada asked herself desperately
while she helped grandmother into the house.  'How can I stand it?'

The six years since she had lost Ralph seemed to stretch away into
a blind alley, and down this alley, strewn with the dust of old
summers, she saw her own figure diminishing, as if it were the
shape of a stranger.  If only I'd known, she thought in despair.
If only I'd known what it all meant!  If only I'd known what life
is!


XIV


It was October when he came.  The leaves had turned before falling,
and the hills were changing their colour.  One morning, on her way
to the springhouse, she looked back and saw him enter the gate and
pause an instant in the walk to the porch.

'Ralph!' she called in a voice that was tremulous with joy, while
she ran toward him.  Was it the khaki that made him look hard and
lean and red-brown and years older?  Even his skin and hair had
acquired this hardness like bronze.  Then, as he reached her and
she was enveloped in his disarming smile, she saw that he wore the
look, strong, free, happy, of a man who has escaped.

'I didn't know,' she cried softly, 'that you were coming.'

'I didn't know myself till yesterday.  What was the good of coming
when I couldn't be with you?  It's worse seeing you at a distance
than not seeing you any more.'

'Oh, no, Ralph, oh, no.'  She was in his arms, her face hidden
against him.

'It is for me.  I can't help how I'm made.'

'Then why did you come?'

'I couldn't help that either.  I've only three days of leave left,
and I had promised Amory Morgan to spend it hunting with him on
Thunder Mountain.  He has a cabin a little way up on Eagle Ridge,
and he has sent a man from Teesdale to put it in order.  Then he
was taken ill two days ago.  They think it's pneumonia, and he has
had to go to a hospital in Queenborough.  But the food is all
there, and he gave me his key in case I wanted to go up without
him.  I thought of asking Charlie Draper.  Is he home on leave
now?'  He talked breathlessly, as if he had been running, while he
kept his eyes away from her face as she raised her head and looked
up at him.

'I don't know.  Oh, I wish you could stay here!'

'What's the use?  I couldn't be with you without starting a row.
What a hell of a world, God!'

'But you'll be free some day.'

'Well, Janet has found her man.  She wants to be free now as much
as I do.  But he has a wife, and his wife must get a divorce too.
It sounds like squaring the circle.  Anyway, Janet is doing her
best.  She's in Reno at this minute, so far as I know.  I believe
she's been there for six months.  She may have been there when I
last saw you.  It's no use trying to keep up with her.  All I ask,'
he broke out vehemently, 'is not to have her so near that I fear
the impulse to kill her!'

'Ralph, Ralph!'

'You don't know.  You couldn't know the kind of hell another woman
can make for the man who is tied to her.'

'I know enough.'  She clung to him in fear and tenderness.

'Well, it can't last for ever.'  His voice rang out on a triumphant
note.  'We're going over.  We don't know just when.  That's a
secret.  But we're going over.'  His face was glowing with an
emotion that seemed to thrust her away, and for an instant she felt
that she was dying of love and despair in his arms.

'And you're glad.  You're glad that you're going.'

'Who wouldn't be?  This war is a great thing.  But for you, I
shouldn't have a regret.  It will be rotten luck if I have to wait
for you till I come home . . . if I ever come home.'

'If you ever come home!'  His smile had sunk into her heart, she
felt, and was drawing out the pain and the bitterness.

'Oh, I'll come home,' he rejoined in gay derision.  'You'll see
that I'll come home.'  Still laughing, but on a deeper note, he
caught her to him again and kissed her lips, while it seemed to her
that all living had been distilled into some pure essence of life.
It was madness, she knew, but a blessed madness.

When he released her from his arms, she sank on the bench under the
old willow, and he stood looking down at her.  'I've been thinking
a lot in the last months,' he said almost shyly, and she realized
that the sullen anger had passed out of his mind.  'I've an
idea . . . it keeps getting bigger . . . that we're beginning all
over again.  This is a fresh start.  The war can't last for ever,
and when I come home, we'll forget everything that has happened and
go ahead just as we planned.  You'll meet me at the dock.  Maybe
I'll be free before I sail, but if I'm not, we'll be married the
very minute I'm home again.  I'll find that job as somebody's
secretary and take the law course at Washington and Lee just as
I've wanted to do all my life.  We'll make up the six years we've
lost.  We'll be as free then as we ever were.'

How like him that sounded!  How careless, short-sighted, splendid,
and irresistible to the heart of a lover.  For he loved her!  Never
had she doubted, never could she doubt when she looked into his
eyes and heard his voice, that he loved her.

'It must be over soon.  And you will write to me?'

'Oh, I'll write, but I can never put anything in a letter.  We
wasted six years and you don't look unhappy.'  He stooped over her
and plunged his hand into her thick up-springing hair, until she
felt that tiny waves of delight rippled after his touch.  'I
suppose it's the way your features all seem to be expecting
something to happen . . . your eyebrows and the corners of your
mouth and that queer hopeful smile, like your father's, that is
always waiting to come out.  You couldn't look sad if you tried
to.'

'I haven't been really unhappy for long, except at first, and then
when I lost mother.  But I always felt that we belonged to each
other, and I began to hope that we'd be together again.  In the
last two years, I've begun to enjoy living, just as if I'd come to
myself after an illness.  We're made that way, the Fincastles.
Even when we're brokenhearted we still love life and enjoy it.  I
mean just getting up and seeing the sunrise, and then all the
little things that happen before we see the sunset and go to bed.
It isn't much, but it keeps us going.  And I like sleeping because
I have such wonderful dreams, like Aunt Meggie's, only hers are
about Heaven, and mine are always with you following the Indian
trail on Thunder Mountain.  For six years I've dreamed, whenever I
dream at all, that we were together somewhere in the Indian trail.
It isn't happiness exactly,' she added, stroking his sleeve, 'but
it's better than nothing.'

'Oh, Ada, Ada, I can't stand it!  Oh, Ada, my darling!'

It was he who had broken down now, and she who felt suddenly
stronger.  When she withdrew her gaze from his face, all she had
said seemed unreal--but then, the war in Europe seemed unreal too.
Less near than the war between the states, which had burned the
roof off the manse, and shattered the window-panes, and killed
three of her great-uncles.  Almost as far away as the massacre of
Smiling Creek.

'Would you go with me now?' he asked in a tone that was shy, eager,
and yet as deeply thrilling to her as a storm.  'I have two more
days before I have to go back.  We could go to Teesdale by train,
and then up to the cabin on Eagle Ridge.  I have the key.  Nobody
is there, and everything is ready and waiting.'

Above the drumming in her ears she heard her own voice speaking,
and it sounded far away and unnatural.  'Father thinks this war may
last a long time.  He says the Germans will not give up for years.'

'A lot of people say that.'

'And years last for ever.'  A shiver ran over her.  'You might stay
over there always.'

'Perhaps.'  He laughed, and she wondered why he always laughed when
he alluded to death.  'After all, the ground makes no difference.
I'd be in France anyway.'

'But for ever.'  Her voice shook with fear.  'For ever never ends.'

He held her bare arm against his throat, stroking the inside curve
of her elbow.  'When you flare up like that it makes your eyes
shine.'

'If you never come back, I'll always be cheated of life.'

'They stole six years, and we can get back two days.'

'It wasn't fair, Ralph.  You were mine.  We belonged together.'

'I was a fool, and I let them trap me.  Even your father wasn't
fair to me.'

'He didn't understand.  There are times when he is too far away to
see things as they are.  He's like that about the war.  But for
grandmother people would shun him.  Mr. Black warned him against
going down to the village; but he went just the same to the post
office.  If anybody insulted him, he wasn't looking.  He insists
there's no such thing as a righteous war, not even in the Old
Testament, and that makes people furious.'

'I used to talk that way when I was studying philosophy with him.
It seems a million years ago.  The world has moved on since then.
Or maybe it has only swung back.'

'He's never been the same since mother died.  Yet I used to think
she sometimes wore on his nerves.'

'What was that she said about things happening?  I've tried to
remember.'

'"It is only in the heart," she used to say, "that anything really
happens."'

He was still stroking her arm.  'You know, don't you, that there's
never been anyone else?  Not really.  Not when it mattered.'

'I know now.'

'Janet didn't make any difference.'

'Not for long.  I knew she didn't mean anything.'

'Nobody ever meant anything.  Nobody but you.'  He kissed her
throat, and she drew back under the willow.

'Grandmother might look out.  I saw her go by the kitchen window.'

'She wouldn't hurt us.  But I wish we had those six years.'

'Six years!  And it may go on till we're dead.  I can't bear it
when it comes over me.  Oh, Ralph, I can't bear its being for
ever!'

'Then come with me now.  We'll save our two days out of life.'

'If you're killed, I'll never forgive myself.  I'll feel that I
missed life because I was afraid.'

'You aren't afraid, darling?'

'Not of life.  I can bear what I have to bear.'

'Two days aren't much, but they're something.  We could save
something.'  When he smiled at her with his serious eyes and
careless lips, she felt that parting was too intolerable to be
borne.  The swift, exulting tremors of her heart seemed to pass on
into a world where valleys were rising and hills falling under a
sky that was splintered to pieces.  Though she had drawn away and
was trying to wipe the mist from her eyes, to think clearly and
quickly, she could still feel his hand stroking her arm and the
pressure of his mouth on her throat.

'It isn't only six years,' she said in a voice that was stifled by
joy--or was it pain?  'It has been all my life.'

'Then two days must make up for all our lives.'  The throbbing
within ceased suddenly, and she felt that the shock of emotion no
longer frightened her.  Only this longing for joy, this sense of
separation from life, filled her universe.  No, it wasn't any use
trying.  She could never learn, like Ralph, to live in the moment,
not even in the burning moment of ecstasy.

'Whatever you do will be right, Ada,' he said, 'because you do it.'
His voice had grown husky and there was a white circle about his
mouth.  'It's like your looking happy.  You can't get away from
it.'

A thin call piped from the house, and he turned to wave to
grandmother, who was leaning out of the window.  'It does me good
to see a soldier, Ralph.  Don't go without coming in.'

'I'd sooner go without my dinner,' he called gaily, and she
answered, 'Ours is nearly ready.  Won't you stay?'

But he couldn't stay; he had to say good-bye to his mother and a
few of the boys before he caught the two o'clock train back to
Teesdale.

'Are you going on that train?' Ada asked, watching the fluted
outline of her grandmother's cap.

'Here's my ticket to Teesdale.  If you'll take it and come on that
train, I'll join you two stations down the road.  Then we can catch
another train to Enniskill.  It isn't far, but it's a roundabout
way.  There's only a trail from the branch road to Eagle Ridge.
The Indian trail is on the other side.  I've always promised to
take you there.'

'I can tell them I've gone to Doncaster.'  A lie?  Oh, what was a
lie?

He held out the ticket, and as she took it from him, she saw that
his hand was shaking.  'I'll take you now, if you'll come,' he
said.  'We may never have a chance after to-day.'

'I'll come,' she answered in a clear, firm tone.  'I'll come on the
two o'clock train.'

'Then I'll join you down the road.  I'd better go now.  Can you
find a way easily?'

'Oh, I can find a way.  It won't matter how.  I'm coming.'

'I know I oughtn't to let you.  I know as well as any one I
oughtn't to let you.'

'That doesn't matter.  They ought to have known they couldn't keep
us apart.  We came first with each other.  They ought to have
known.'

'I've thought that too.  I'm always thinking it.  Being a fool
oughtn't to draw a life sentence.'

'No matter.  We'll be happy now.'

'Then I'll go on.  Tell your grandmother good-bye, and your father
too.'

'Poor father, though I suppose his happiness is the only kind that
is safe.  People can't break in on it.'

'And they can't break in on ours after this.  I'll be watching for
you every minute.'

As she looked after him on his way to the gate, she thought, 'Two
days out of our lives!  Two days all our own!  And if I'm punished,
I'm punished.'

Upstairs in her room, she opened the bottom drawer of the bureau
and took out the garments of white china silk that her mother had
made more than six years before and had put away wrapped in one of
her best towels of fringed damask.  Soft and fragile, they seemed
to Ada, slipping through her fingers like flowers, and as fragrant
with memories.  Her mother's eyes filled with that deep radiance!
Her mother's lips quivering into a smile!  Her mother's hands
moving swiftly while the needle flashed in and out and in and out
again to the end of the seam!

When she had brushed her hair until it was as lustrous as satin,
she slipped into her Sunday dress of navy-blue silk with a white
polka dot, which felt smooth and clinging over the thin chemise,
and studied her image in the gay little hat of red straw Aunt
Meggie had bought for a dollar from a girl who had gone into
mourning.  Every minute, while she packed the willow basket in
which she had carried a dozen eggs to the store yesterday, she was
thinking:  This is my dream coming true.  If only I have something
true to remember, nothing that happens can ever hurt me as much
again.

Downstairs Aunt Meggie was calling, and when Ada went into the
dining-room, only her father's chair was vacant.  He was preparing
his fourth volume for the press, though it was doubtful whether it
would be published as long as the war lasted, and frequently he
would take only a glass of buttermilk and a piece of corn bread
that grandmother carried into the library and put on one end of his
desk.  Energy consumed him and, like her mother's inward flame, it
was superior to the pleasures and pains of the flesh.

'Why, you've got on your best dress!' Aunt Meggie exclaimed.  'Has
anything happened?'

'I want Miss Fanny Hopkins to see it.  She may tell me what is
wrong with it.'

'I can't see anything wrong with it, honey,' grandmother said,
raising her horn spectacles.  'Navy blue is always becoming, and
that hat looks very well on you.'

Ada poured out a glass of buttermilk and drank it standing by the
table.  'I'm not hungry now.  I'll eat something later.  Has father
had anything?'

'He is so absorbed we don't like to disturb him,' Aunt Meggie
replied.  'I wonder if that book will ever be published now that
we've gone into the war?'

'I sometimes hope,' grandmother's voice sank to a husky whisper,
'that it will never be.'

Refilling her glass, Ada sipped the buttermilk slowly while her
thoughts danced like motes in a sunbeam.  She couldn't eat--she was
too deeply stirred--but the buttermilk, she told herself, would
carry her through the day, and in the evening she and Ralph would
have supper together--far away, she hoped, in the Indian trail.
She had written a few words on the back of an envelope, 'I've gone
to see Lizzie Draper in Doncaster.  Don't be anxious,' and stealing
across the hall, she placed it on the Bible in her mother's room,
which they still called 'the chamber'.  Grandmother would be sure
to find it there when she went in for her knitting.  Then, after
slipping on her coat in the hall, she picked up the willow basket
and ran down the steps and over the grass to the gate.  Once in the
road, she stopped and glanced back, as if she heard a voice calling
her name.  But there was only the silence and the October haze
dusted in a powdery bloom over the valley.  She had made her
choice; she would have her dream come true if she paid for it with
all the rest of her life.  Swift, light-footed, with radiant eyes
and heart, she appeared to be running toward happiness.

She went by the churchyard, where Abraham Geddy (Uncle Beadnell had
died last winter) was trimming the ivy.  She went by the Rowans'
house, where Mrs. Rowan was putting up fresh curtains at the
parlour windows.  She went by the Red Cross workrooms, where
several fiery non-combatants were rolling bandages as grimly as if
they were bullets.  She went by the harness shop, where kind old
Mr. Wertenbaker, who was finding life difficult, smiled wistfully.
Then, just as she reached the station, she saw the smoke of the
train curling upward where the track wound through the lowest notch
in the hills.  A little later, when she sprang up the steps to the
platform and entered the nearest coach, she saw that it was already
filled and that she knew none of the passengers.  One seat alone
remained empty, and in front of her several young men in khaki were
making sounds without sense to a group of girls with fresh, flat,
expressionless faces, insatiable for adventure.  They might have
been going to a circus, she thought, idly listening to a
conversation that was noisy, gushing, monosyllabic.  But they also
were straining toward happiness, though they appeared only flippant
and foolish.  Withdrawing her gaze, she fixed her eyes on the
landscape, which swept by in flashes, glowing with colour.  The
buzz around her was as meaningless as the chirping of grasshoppers.
Maybe we are grasshoppers, she thought, and something bigger will
tread us into the ground, and our time will be over.  But even
then, a voice added within, I shall have something true to
remember.

A hand touched her shoulder.  She turned, startled, and saw Ralph
standing beside her.  Suddenly the chirping, the gushing, the near
tinkling, and the distant rumbling all died away and left them
alone in a place apart with their happiness.



PART III

LIFE'S INTERLUDE


I


The car had left them in the branch road, and they carried the few
things they had brought up the tangled trail to the cabin.  At noon
on Monday the same car would be waiting for them in the same spot.
Then they would come down the mountain; but there were two days and
three nights before Monday, and days and nights are a part of
eternity.  Beyond the hunter's cabin, which awaited them with food
on the shelves and wood under the shed, they could plunge deep into
the wilderness and follow the old Indian trail.

At first they walked in silence, clinging together, because the
nearness, the stillness, seemed to be fuller than speech.  One of
his arms pressed her to his side, and looking up into his face, she
thought, as she had thought so often before, that never had she
loved him so much--not even when she believed she had lost him.
What was the meaning of it, this incompleteness, this longing that
she had brought into the world?  She didn't know.  She could never
know.  All she felt, while his arm held her, was the perfection,
the shining joy, of the moment.  And this shining joy was mingled
with the sharp scents of autumn, with the flame and scarlet and
bronze of the trees, with the plaintive murmur, now near, now far
away, of the October wind in the leaves.

'Let's rest awhile,' he said presently.  'I haven't seen you alone
for six years.  Let's rest awhile before we go on.'

But she broke away and ran ahead up the climbing path.  'Not till
we reach the top.'

'We don't go to the top.  Only as far as the cabin.'

'But the Indian trail is beyond.  Except when I'm dreaming, the
Indian trail is always beyond.'

'There's barely a sign left.  The Indians went long ago.  Now the
bears and foxes are going fast.'

'Well, we'll go with the bears and foxes.  Isn't that the cabin up
there in the clearing?'

When he tried to catch her, she slipped from his arms, sprang over
a fallen log in the path, and ran toward the grassy space where all
the forest trees fell away in a circle.  Her body, winged and
tremulous, seemed as light as a swallow's.  There was a tumult in
her ears, but it was the divine tumult of living.  If only it would
never end!  If only the moment could pause, arrested by its own
fullness, and stay with them for ever!

'This is the ridge,' he laughed, breathing quickly, as he held out
his hands.  'Now we may rest.'

Within a screen of yellow sycamores, she saw the cabin beside a
tiny stream, as bright as quicksilver, which darted over the bare
rock.  Around them, the wilderness closed in, murmurous, myriad-
coloured, inscrutable.  Above the wilderness and the violet-blue
rim of the mountains, the autumn sunset was throbbing.  While she
hesitated, without touching him but aware in every heartbeat, in
every sense, of his nearness, a single thought shot through her
mind and was gone with an arrowy swiftness:  I can never in all my
life be happier than I am now!

He had put the basket down at the door of the cabin, not hastily,
she noticed almost with surprise, but slowly and gravely, as if the
act had significance, or the hush of the solitude had sobered his
mind.  When she took off her hat and tossed it beside the basket,
he put his hand on her head and pushed back the waves of hair from
her forehead.

'Tell me,' she begged.  'Tell me over and over, I want to hear it
in words.'

He shook his head, while his hand wandered from her hair to her
face, and then to her throat and the slender curve of her bosom and
waist.  'I can't say things.  You know.  You know without my
telling you.'

'Tell me you love me.'

He laughed with a stinging softness, while she seemed to dissolve
to air and light in his embrace.  'I love you, love you, love you.
Haven't I always loved you?  Has there ever been anyone else from
the beginning?'  His swift kisses became harder and deeper, until
her restless thoughts were suspended in a universe of pure feeling.
All the hunger and the thwarted happiness of the last six years
were consuming her with his lips.  But it was bliss.  Even the
hardness and roughness were a part of the ecstasy.

Breaking away from his arms, she gazed into the forest which flamed
in the long pulsations of sunset.  'Let's find the Indian trail.
Before the sun goes down, we must find the real warpath.'

'This is enough.  Oh, Ada, I've wanted you so!  For six years I've
wanted you so.  And they cheated me.  They spoiled my life.  Now
we've only two days left out of the whole of life.'

His outburst died in a sobbing sound, and she caught his head to
her bosom, as if he were a child that needed quieting.  'I know,
Ralph, but we must find the trail.  It is as warm as summer.  We
may stay out in the moonlight.'

Drawing him with her, she turned and ran into the forest, where the
light was splintered by the coloured branches and scattered like
jewels over the brown mould and green moss on the ground--square,
round, triangular, diamond-shaped, crescent-shaped.  The air was
still and fragrant with the ending of day; the only distinct sounds
were the crackle of the leaves underfoot, the dropping of acorns
near and far, the startled movement now and then of a bird or a
squirrel.  While they ran on, springing over fallen logs, plunging
deeper into the woods, pushing aside the thick underbrush in the
hollows, she felt that the pulse of wildness in her heart was at
rest.

'This is the Indian trail,' he said presently, pausing where the
oldest trees were assembled like columns and arched into a roof
overhead.  'There's a feeling still left--but it's only a feeling.'
Reaching up, he began tearing down the thickest pine boughs and a
covering of brilliant leaves.  'I'm making you a couch--an Indian
couch.  All the Indians have gone, and we're the last of the
lovers.'  He laughed as he spoke, but under the light overtone she
could feel the thrill of his longing.

'I think you love me more,' she said.

'Don't think.  Don't waste time in thinking.  We've waited too
long.'

'I know,' she answered regretfully.  'I try to stop thinking.  But
I can't.  It goes on without me.'

'Are you happy?  You aren't afraid?'

'I'm happy.  I'm not afraid.  Not even if I have to pay for
happiness with all the rest of my life.'

'You're thinking again, darling.'

This was true.  Feeling swept over her, but below feeling, thought
went on into the next minute, the next hour, ticking steadily, like
a clock that could never run down.  'I'm perfectly happy,' she
answered.  'Life may take away happiness.  But it can't take away
having had it.'

'Well, I'll be free soon.  It can't be long now.  A telegram may
come to-morrow saying I'm as free as I ever was.'

Over a vast stillness she heard the sound of his voice.  Against
the afterglow on the leaves she saw his auburn head bending over
her.  She saw the glow in his face, in his eyes, in his smile,
which was shy and adoring.  She felt his swift, seeking hands,
which moved over her with the touch of vision, as if they were the
hands of the blind.  If only thought would stop and she could
become all emotion!  Yearning over him, she ran her lips from his
eyes to his mouth and his cheek.  This was what she had longed for.
This was happiness.  'Let me feel it all,' she prayed.  'Oh, God,
let me feel it while I have it and do not have to remember.  Let me
feel every wave, every spark, every flash of the ecstasy.'

'This is just the beginning,' he said.

'Yes, it is just the beginning.'

But it was the beginning of life, she told herself, yielding at
last to the tide of emotion.  This was life--to give and give until
the aching heart and mind and nerves were appeased and asleep.


Gradually moonlight silvered the sky; the still leaves shone like
metal; a fox barked far away; and suddenly the wilderness awoke
from sleep and gave voice to the solitude.

'I was dreaming,' she said, sitting up on the pine couch, 'but I
knew I was happy.'

'We oughtn't to waste time sleeping.  It's only for two days.'

She shook her head with a smile.  'It's for ever.  Nobody can take
away what is ours.  Not even people who think they're right.'

The fox barked again from a nearer distance.  'I wish they couldn't
take you away,' Ralph said.

'They can't.  Nobody can.'

'Well, they'll try, but you mustn't let them.  You're mine.  If I'm
killed over there--that isn't likely, I'm more of the damned sort
that gets knocked up--but if I'm killed over there, you're still
mine.  Those aren't words.  They're things.  I hate words.  But
you're mine.'

He stood up and held out his hand.  With a spring, she rose to her
feet, and looked through the opening in the trees, which was so
faint that it might have been the vanishing track of the moon.  She
shivered at his side, and he asked, 'Are you cold?'

'No, it was only that the war over there, so far away, brushed my
thoughts.'

'Remember, you must live without thinking.'

'I know.  Are you hungry?'

'Starving.  It's too late for supper, but we can find something to
eat in the cabin.'

She clung to him, laughing.  This also was happiness, being hungry
together, going home together in the moonlight through the
wilderness, picking their way over logs, and at last searching for
food in the cabin.  'I'll cook breakfast before you wake up,' she
said, and saying it filled her with a glow.  'Is this the way?
Everything looks so different by moonlight.'

'I could feel the way with my feet.'  He caught her up as she would
have slipped over a stump hidden by creepers.  'You mustn't be
unhappy again.  Promise me that.'

'I feel now as if this would last always.  Anyway, nothing can ever
be the same when we have this.'

When they came out of the woods, the moon was riding high, and the
light illumined the dark rim of the mountains and flooded the
brushy hills and the valleys.  In the stillness the music of the
little stream tinkled like bells.  Then, suddenly, it seemed to her
that everywhere bells were ringing.

'I never saw the moon so bright,' she said.

'I never saw you so lovely.  If happiness had a body, it would look
like you.'

'It's a pity to leave this and go in.'

'It's a pity, but I'm as hungry as a bear.'

Ada sighed as he turned the key in the creaking lock.  Men were
like that, she supposed; their thoughts could never stay away long
from what they called the necessities of existence.  A minute
later, she heard the scraping of a match, and the wick of a lamp
caught the light and flamed up in the dusk.  Reluctantly, while her
eyes strained backward to the glimmering world, she followed him
into the cabin and through the front room into the kitchen on the
side next to the bedroom.  Here he placed the lamp on a table and
looked round at the shelves.

'We'll eat dry bread and apples.  It won't take me a minute to
fetch a pail of water.'

Seizing the wooden bucket, he ran down to the spring, while she
went out on the grass and watched him swim through the moonlight as
if it were water.  The shadows by the spring sucked him in, and all
the bubbling joy went flat in her heart; then he plunged back into
the light, and the phosphorescent spray scattered again.  This is
life, this beauty, her thoughts were singing.  This is love, this
delight.

After he had returned with the dripping bucket, they broke off the
end of a loaf, and sat on an overturned box, eating dry bread and
winesaps, which they had found in a hempen bag in one corner.

'It's too late to make a fire,' she said, 'but I'll cook a
wonderful breakfast, and we'll have it out of doors on the grass.
There's everything we need.'  Raising the lid of the icebox, she
glanced inside.  'They've left us butter and milk and eggs.  Are
you as sleepy as you look, Ralph?  Your eyes are like chinquapins
that are just beginning to open.'

'I'm happy.  Happiness makes me sleepy.'

'Did you ever feel happy and know it when you were asleep?' she
asked.

'Only in a dream.  Do we ever know things in dreams?'

'Well, you'll know to-night.  Let's take the lamp and look about.'

There were two rooms, besides the kitchen, which was barely more
than what the mountain people called a lean-to.  In the back room,
built out from the hillside near the stream, she found clean sheets
of unbleached cotton, and a pair of red blankets tucked away in a
pine chest in one corner.  'I shan't wake up,' she said, while she
unfolded the covering, 'not if a bear looks in the window.'

'A bear would be better than Mr. Black.'

'Or than anybody else.  Are there bears left about here?'

'Not many.  They're more afraid of us than we are of them.'

'Well, they're right.  We're more dangerous than they are.'

The lamp was smoking on the chest, and he trimmed the wick while
she pressed the pillows into the pillowcases and tucked the
covering under the thin cotton mattress.  Below her careless tone
there was a mute supplication embedded somewhere in her unconscious
being.  Don't punish us, God.  We aren't hurting anyone.  Don't
punish us, God.

'It will be like sleeping in the trail,' she said, as she turned
back the covers.  'What is that rushing noise I've heard ever since
we came?  It is like wind blowing under the stream.'

'That's Cockspur Run.  The trees hide it.'

'I like to hear it in the night.  It sounds as if time were going
by and leaving us alone on an island of happiness.'

'You've queer fancies, but so have I.'  He laughed again as he
spoke, because the protective reserve he had built up so carefully
had broken down.  He had hated words as long as words had been
weapons of conflict and treachery.  But with her, while they strove
to reach each other through the veils of the flesh, while they
sought with passionate tenderness the reality within realities,
words had become as natural and as unguarded as impulses.

'Let's put out the lamp now, and pretend we're in the forest,' she
answered.  'Is that the hoot of an owl?  Or is it the ghost of
Grandmother Tod's Indian lover?'

Waking in the night, while he lay asleep with his arm thrown across
her, the thought flared up brightly in the darkness:  This is life.
Whatever comes afterwards, I shall always have had life.  Then the
flare went out, and she drifted back into unconsciousness that was
still strangely blissful.

With the break of day, she heard first the rippling murmur of the
little stream, and then, farther off, the windy music of Cockspur
Run as it dashed over ledges into the deep basin below.  The
rhythms of ecstasy, the singing pulse in her heart, were blended
with the long strokes of light and the awakening stir in the
forest.  As she looked down on Ralph's rumpled auburn head, a
sudden passion without desire suffused her being.  In that instant
she realized not only the mutability of joy, but the poignant
tenderness that might remain after longing was spent.

When the sun had risen over the mountains, she left Ralph still
asleep and stole out of doors to bathe in the stream.  Running with
bare feet across the grass, she plunged into sparkling water, as
cold as ice on her skin, and then, after rubbing her body into a
glow, put on her clothes and combed her hair behind the screen of
the sycamores.  With a radiant face, she went back into the cabin,
built a fire of lightwood in the stove, and ran down again to fill
a pail with fresh water.  On her way from the spring to the cabin,
she set the pail down in the dew-drenched weeds and lifted her arms
in a gesture of pure delight toward the risen sun.  Far away the
blue mountains were like clouds on the horizon, and high above the
blue clouds were like mountains.  Below, through webs of iridescent
mist, she could see red or grey roofs and the ripe autumn fields in
the smaller valleys.

In the kitchen the fire burned well and, moving as noiselessly as
she could, she poured water into the kettle and the coffee-pot and
prepared the frying-pan for the eggs and thin bacon.  The little
table was set out on the grass, and the aroma of coffee had filled
the cabin, when she turned from the stove at a sound and saw Ralph,
with a bath towel over his arm and his hair still glistening from
pearly dew.  As he bent over her, she thought that his kiss tasted
of happiness.

'You were so busy you didn't hear me slip out,' he said.

'The stream was like ice, but the sun is almost warm and the day is
going to be like summer.'

'I was thinking of breakfast.  It will be ready in a minute.
You're dressed, aren't you?'

'Dressed enough.'  He dashed into the bedroom, jerked a comb
through his hair, and returned with a blanket.  'You'll need your
coat out of doors till the sun is well up.'

'Oh, I'm not cold.  I'm too glad.  Gladness warms.  Put the plates
on the stove for a minute and fill the cups with hot water while
I'm heating the milk.  There isn't any cream, but I'm bringing the
milk to a froth.'  Pausing to whisk the batter bread from the oven,
she gave it to him on a tin plate.  'Be careful how you hold it.
The plate is bent.  All the cups have lost their handles, and I can
find only one teaspoon.'

'No matter.  We'll use the same spoon.'

'I had to hunt for pepper.  Why is it people always forget pepper?
You'll have to sweeten your coffee with brown sugar.'

'That's fun.  It's all the sweeter.'

Wrapped in a blanket, she smiled at him over the coffeepot, and
thought of the six long years in which she might have looked at him
every morning at breakfast.  They could never grow tired of each
other, she told herself innocently, not in six years, not in six
hundred years.  It was like being with another and a nearer self.
He talked now without stopping, as if he were only thinking aloud,
and she felt suddenly that nothing they said or did could make any
difference.  Merely being together was all that they needed.

'Do you suppose anything was ever so perfect before?' she asked.
'I mean for others . . .'

'Are there any others?'

'Well, they think they are.'

'Then they're mistaken.'

'It's absurd the way people talk,' she said.  'Even father, who was
so happily married, speaks as if love didn't last.'

'Well, he's old.  The old get queer.  Ours has lasted, hasn't it?'

'When did it begin?'

'I can't remember, can you?'

'We've grown together.'  She reached for his cup and filled it for
the third time.  (Why did little things give such bliss?)  'Even if
we become like other people and stop talking about love, that won't
make any difference.'

'No, that won't make any difference,' he repeated, but she realized
that he had taken in her voice, not her words.  His eyes were on
the glittering summit of God's Mountain, and a look of startled
surprise made him appear young and ardent.

'I wonder if I am too old to begin from the beginning,' he said.


II


All that day, it seemed to Ada, she wandered in a pause of time
from which she should presently awake to find that the world had
dissolved.

The autumn wind, like racing sunlight, had shaken down a rain of
leaves.  In the slanting shower she could see the crimson pink of
the dogwood, the purplish velvet of the oaks, the clear gold of the
hickories and beeches, the wavering flame of maples, the fugitive
scarlet of the black gum, and the tarnished bronze of the
sycamores, walnuts, and poplars--all driven by streamers of mist
towards the dark background of pines.  The air sparkled like new
cider, the pines droned in the wind, the sun blazed on the
splendour.  Merely to be alive was like music.  She longed to run,
to sing, to dance over the rustling leaves.  And flowing between
them was this deeper mood, this effortless harmony of being
together.  She hadn't known love was like this!  She hadn't known
living was like this!  'Oh, my love, my love,' she cried without
words, while they walked with clasped hands, seizing the ecstasy
before it escaped them.  Yet, beneath the wonder and delight, she
knew always that parting must come, that anguish waited, as it had
waited six years before on that June afternoon.  Love brings fear,
she thought, trying not to remember.  When one has been through
that parting, love can never lose fear.  Round their island of
happiness, there was the ebb and flow of a treacherous universe.
For six years she had missed him, as she might have missed a part
of herself that had been torn away.  Six years of fruitless hope,
of long waiting!  Yet the wound was healed now, the soreness was
eased in her mind.

Lying on the crisp sun-warmed leaves beside a mountain rill, they
ate, for lunch, slices of bread sprinkled with brown sugar, and
drank water that gushed over a rocky ledge.

'Are you happy?' he asked for the hundredth time, looking through
the boughs of a sycamore up into the clouds.

'Perfectly happy . . . if only . . . if only . . .'

'You're thinking again.'

'If only I could make myself know that this isn't a dream.  It's
too good to be true.'

He laughed.  'This is the only thing that seems true to me.'

'Talk to me.  I like to hear your voice.  Talk about anything.'

'My mind has stopped.  Everything has gone into . . . well, into
being happy.  That's all there is.'

'That's all there is,' she repeated, and shivered as she drew
nearer to him.

'What's the matter?  You aren't cold?'  He reached out his arm and
pressed her so close that she felt the shape of his bones, she
thought with a laugh, and heard the steady beating of his heart
under her head.

'No, I'm not cold.  I don't know why I shivered.'

'That's silly, Ada darling.  Any day now I may be free.  Janet's
trying to get that divorce before her man goes over.  Then we'll be
married as soon as you can come to me.  If I'm killed in France,'
he continued gaily, 'at least I shall leave the widow I want.'

'Don't, oh, don't,' she said, with vehement reproach.  'That
doesn't sound funny.'

'Doesn't it?  Perhaps Janet would think so.'

'I wish you would never think of Janet again.'

'I wish I couldn't.  I think of her now as I think of a toothache
on the way to the dentist.'

'More than anything,' she said passionately, 'I wish this could
never end.  I wish we didn't have to go back.'

'Winter would come.  Then we shouldn't have anything.'

'We'd have everything.  We'd have each other.'

'Well, we'll have each other anyway.'

'If we stayed up here, they'd bring things to us, wouldn't they?'

'Not if they thought we were happy.  Don't people try to starve
happiness?'

'But we aren't really so far off.  We're nearer than we think to
everything.'

'Nearer than we think,' he repeated slowly, 'but what is
everything?'

'Everything is what happiness needs to live on.  That isn't much.
Do you remember how we used to play we were escaping from Indians?
You always led us back, because you knew the Indian woodcraft.  You
could tell so many secrets from the side of a tree that bark grew
on, and the way moss covered a rock, and even the kind of moss, and
how the leaves fell on the earth, and all the tracks of small
creatures.'

'Well, that wouldn't help us now.  We're escaping from worse things
than Indians.  If I thought I'd harmed you,' he said, frowning up
at the sky, 'I'd want to go away and put an end to myself.'

'You haven't harmed me.  I shall always be glad.  Nothing could
ever make me sorry.'

'I wonder,' he whispered, and she heard the strangling of a lump in
his throat.  'All the same, I wish I were free.'

'You may be.  At this minute a letter may be on the way to you.'

'If you should need help, and I can't get to you,' he answered,
'there's a man in Queenborough who would look after you.  He is an
old man, but my friend.  His name is Herbert Bentley, and he lives
at 602 Gamble Street.  Will you remember that, darling?'

'Yes, I'll remember.'

'I'll write it down anyway.  It might be useful, and I'll feel
easier.  Of course nobody knows how long I'll be gone.'

'Nobody knows,' she echoed faintly, while fear surged through her
mind.

'I'm made that way,' he continued, with a spark of his old derisive
humour.  'I'm always waiting for punishment.  I suppose I'm still
incurably Presbyterian.'

'Or Irish?' she laughed.  'Perhaps an Irishman makes a bad
Presbyterian.'

'Or a Presbyterian a bad Irishman.'  The cloud had passed from his
face, and his quick smile swept the apprehension out of her
thoughts.

The wind dropped and died in the valleys; the light thinned and
paled over the mountains; the rustling of the leaves, like the
stealthy patter of bare feet, sank from a murmur to a sigh and from
a sigh into stillness.  Only the small hidden lives, the creeping
furry shapes, within and without the forest--only the scurrying of
mice, the burrowing of moles, the shuffling of toads, the
scampering of ground squirrels--had inherited the twilight.  With
the fainting wind, all the wild earthy scents grew stronger and
closer.

'It's time to go on,' he said, lifting her from the moss.

'I know.  I'll cook supper to-night.'

When they came out into the clearing, the afterglow still lingered
in streaks, and the visionary light transfigured the grassy circle,
the dappled boughs of the sycamores, and the wheeling wings of late
swallows.  The scene of their happiness was enveloped for her in
some changeless air of the mind.

'I wish the cabin belonged to us, Ralph.'

'When the war is over, we'll buy it.  When the war is over and won,
we may have everything we want.'

'I have everything now, only I want it to last.'

The next morning they walked in the woods again, but there was no
running and little speech.  All the afternoon they lay in the warm
sunshine on the grass by the cabin and talked of their life
together after the war had ended in victory.  Parting was not
mentioned in words, though the knowledge pierced as a mental
darkness, as a moving shadow, into their unspoken thoughts.
Cheerfully, almost lightly, they discussed practical plans for the
future--where they should live, how he could arrange to resume his
study of the law, how much money they might save if they were to
take a house in Lexington and he worked as a secretary while she
made fruit cake and preserves to sell.  Yet, beneath the casual
words, there was the slow drumming of fear.  Suppose he should
never come back!  Suppose her happiness should be snuffed out as
quickly as the flame of a candle!  Safe, for the precious instant
within the circle of sunny grass, like a ring of white magic, she
drew his head into her arms and looked over the valleys and the
mountains toward some hidden antagonist beyond the blue of the
heavens.  There was a fluttering in her bosom, but her voice was
strong and steady when she answered his questions.

'No, it can't be long now.  The letter may be waiting for you.
Janet isn't going to let you stand in her way.  Charlie Draper says
he's afraid the war will end before he can get over.  He thinks the
Germans will give up as soon as they see we're in earnest.'

'He talks that way.  His head is too big for his body.'

'Well, they can't hold out much longer.  I believe you'll be
disappointed if you don't get to France.'

'I don't want anybody else to do my fighting.  But for you, I'd be
glad to be sailing.'

'I'm thankful you aren't.'

'It's leaving you I mind.  I ought never to have asked you to come
away with me.'

She stroked the top of his head.  'I'm glad you did.  Would you
have missed our two days?'

As the light faded into dusk, the wilderness appeared to creep
nearer, but the solitude could not protect them from the dread of
separation and the threatened loneliness of to-morrow.  'We're so
happy,' she said in a whisper, for she had become suddenly afraid
of the word 'happiness'.  Through the night she lay with her head
on his arm, fearing to fall asleep, trying to keep back the
hurrying minutes.  'I mustn't lose a second,' she told herself.  'I
must fill my memory so full that it will last me until he comes
home.'  Gazing beyond the open window, she watched the moon, which
sailed like a ship in the waste of sky, while her ears were awake
to every ripple over the rocks and to every movement or sound in
the trees.

Towards morning she fell asleep, and awoke with a new sense of
security, a vision of permanence.  Between earth and sky, she
seemed to be anchored fast in some central radiance, while the
hostile universe flowed away from her.  The night and the world
were moving round her, but eternity had found a place in her heart.
Was she awake or asleep? she thought happily.  Outside, she could
hear the wind rising, the clouds were flying like witches, ragged
and dark against a thin moon; the forest was shaken; leaves whirled
past the cabin; the very mountains were loosened and flowed away
with the universe.  'But love is safe,' she said aloud, in a pause
between sleeping and waking.  'I can never lose what is mine.'

At noon the next day they put the cabin in order, saw that the last
embers had burned out, turned the key in the lock, and taking up
Ralph's bag and Ada's basket, stepped over the threshold and stood
clinging together.  Though tears filled her eyes, they did not
fall.  Is it for the last time? she thought, but, no, there is
never a last time while we are still alive.  She felt the deep
vibrations of his love and pain, and she knew that he also was
longing to bring only happiness, to be true, tender, loyal.  They
were young, they were lovers, they were parting in a world with
which love could never be reconciled.  We have done no harm, she
said in her heart.  We have hurt nobody.  We have asked so little
beyond ourselves, so little beyond being together.

Then, once again, she felt this inner sense of security.  All this
is ours, she thought, while her eyes shone through a rainbow mist.
We have everything.  Nothing can take it away.  As long as she
lived her will would have a part, perhaps an immortal part, in this
place and this moment.  She would have this forest enclosing this
circle of bright grass.  She would have this joy, this autumn
sunshine, this stream, this valley, these mountains, even these
leaves falling, these birds flying . . .

Once more they clung to each other, while he kissed her weeping
eyes and smiling lips.  'Some day,' he said, 'we'll come back
again.'

'Yes, we'll come back.'

'If I find the letter, you'll join me to-morrow.'

'Oh, I hope it is waiting for you!'

'You won't be unhappy?  If I thought I'd made you unhappy . . .'

'Don't say that.  Oh, don't say it!  Ralph . . . Ralph!'

'Well, you know what I mean.'

'I know you love me.  Nothing else matters.  You'll write often?'

'As often as I can.  You know how I am about letters.  But I'll see
you soon.  After all, we may not go over till spring.  The talk is
just rumour.'

They drew apart, looking at each other, at the cabin, at the
wilderness, at the sky.  Then, joining hands again, they turned
away and walked slowly down the winding track to where the car
waited for them in the road.



PART IV

GOD'S MOUNTAIN


I


Nothing had changed.

Can this be real, and that also?  Ada asked herself as she walked
up the long street in Ironside.  Was the cabin still there as they
had left it?  Or was that only a dream, like her old dream of the
Indian trail?

Here was the same trodden dust, the same trash in the gutters, the
same beams of sunshine gilding the ragged leaves on the maples; and
when she raised her eyes to the mountains, it seemed to her that
the same clouds were scudding across an unchangeable sky.  Even old
Mr. Saunders, the blacksmith, was still shoeing a grey mule.  In
the store Mr. Robinson was still measuring off a yard of red
flannel.  Old Mrs. Tiller still peered eagerly after scandal over
her window-box of frost-bitten geraniums.  Farther back in the
churchyard, as if he had drifted on with the leaves, Uncle Abraham
Geddy was still trimming the ivy.  And when she passed the church,
she saw that Toby Waters was still carrying slops from the hovel to
the hogs in the pen.

But it was the actual world, not the inner vision, that was wanting
in substance.  The core of life was within her heart.  If all this
were to break up and dissolve, she thought, the reality, as her
father said, would not change; the image would exist for all time,
perhaps for eternity.  Even father could not tell me which is more
real, she mused happily.  Nobody knows.

When she reached the gate of the manse, she met Aunt Meggie on her
way to a Red Cross meeting.  The round, ruddy face, as soft as old
leather, wore a mild beam of astonishment.

'Everything is all right, Aunt Meggie.  I hope grandmother didn't
worry about me.'

'We couldn't imagine what had got into you.  It wasn't like you to
do such a thing, Ada.  You might have known we'd be anxious.'

'I had to go.  There was a chance to drive over.'  Why, she
wondered, did the lie bring no feeling of shame?  All her life she
had been taught that a lie, like unlawful love, was a sin.  Yet she
could feel no remorse, only amusement because the words came so
readily.  After all, it was a white lie, and though grandmother
condemned equally all shades of lying, mother had distinguished
between 'black lies', which were evil, and 'white lies', which were
always harmless and occasionally benign.

'Did you find Lizzie Draper well?'

'Oh, yes, everybody was well.'

'How does she like living in Doncaster?'

'Very much.'

'Does Henry like teaching?'

'I think so.'

'Well, I always thought Charlie was the brightest of the Draper
boys and would have made the best professor.  Did you hear any news
of the war?'

'Only what everybody knows.'

'You look as if you'd had a good time.'

'Oh, wonderful, Aunt Meggie!'  The words sang on her lips, and her
aunt, who was passing on, stopped and glanced at her sharply.  'I'm
glad you had the change.  I believe in taking pleasure if you can
do it without being selfish.'

Without being selfish!  Did Aunt Meggie, who had never taken a
selfish pleasure in her life, think that Ada had been wicked?
Well, perhaps she had been, but the thought did not dampen her
gladness.  It might be true that God would punish her for two days
of joy.  But she was not sure that she believed in a God of wrath;
and it was strange the way God never seemed to feel it necessary to
punish people who did not believe in Him.  But it made no
difference.  She had made her choice, and she was prepared to pay
for it with all the rest of her life.

Running up the steps and into the hall, she opened the door of the
library.  Her father, absorbed in his work, did not look up, and
she shut the door again very softly, and went on, through the
dining-room, into the kitchen, where Liddy was ironing one of
grandmother's black and grey calico dresses.

'Is everything all right, Liddy?'

Before replying, Liddy moistened a finger and flicked it across the
bottom of an iron which she returned to the stove.  'Yas'm,
ev'ybody cep'n Aun' Abigail.  She's done mos' come ter de een sence
you been gone.'

'I'm sorry for that.  I'll go over to see her.  Is Dinty with her?'

'Yas'm, but I'se here all de time now f'um sunup ter sundown.  I'se
gwineter stay on jes ez long ez old Miss needs me ter help out.'

Turning back into the house, Ada hesitated an instant, while she
tried to summon an explanation that would sound natural, before she
entered her mother's old chamber.  In front of a single smouldering
log, which was charred on one side, grandmother sat in her usual
chair, knitting her interminable stockings for the Red Cross.

'Oh, Grandmother, I'm so sorry to hear about poor Aunt Abigail!'
the girl exclaimed as she went over to the hearth, and after
bestowing a hurried kiss, stooped over the basket of chips.

'No, don't put on any chips,' grandmother said.  'I lit the fire to
warm my knees, but we mustn't waste fuel while the weather keeps
mild.  Yes, we were up most of the night expecting Aunt Abigail to
go.  Dr. Updike says she can't last many days.'

'I'll go right over.'

'I've just come back because she didn't seem to know anybody, and
Dinty's mother, Rhody, has come to sit with her.  Rhody is a good
nurse.  I taught her how to be useful in sickness.'

'Then I'll go up and take off my best dress.'

'I hope you didn't hurt it.  It looks mussed under your coat.'

'No, I didn't hurt it.'

'Where have you been all this time, my child?'

'It was only two days, Grandmother.  I had a chance to go and see
Lizzie.'

'You might have told us.'

'It was so sudden I didn't have time.'

'Did you find Lizzie well?'

'Yes, she is well.  They're all well.'  Fortunately grandmother's
eyes were dim, and her spectacles, though strong, were easily
blurred.

'What kind of war work is Lizzie doing?'

'Oh, every kind!'

'Well, she hasn't any children, so she ought to have plenty of
time.  I saw Mrs. Greenlee at church yesterday, and she told me
Ross was already with the French.  The day after he received his
commission, he was assigned to a division that was about to go
over.  She hasn't heard from him more than once, but she isn't a
bit downhearted.  Did you see Ralph again after he left here?'

'Yes . . . no.'  A sob burst from Ada's lips, and dropping on her
knees, she buried her face in the old woman's lap.  'Oh,
Grandmother, why did you let them do it?  Why did you let them
spoil our lives?'

Grandmother put down her knitting and laid both hands on the girl's
head, 'Nobody can do that, my dear.  The only way to spoil a life
is to take away God's grace, and nobody but God Himself can do
that.'

'And God wouldn't, Grandmother, not the God I believe in.'

'Only as a trial of faith, my child.'

Ada sprang to her feet with a laugh that had begun as a sob.  'Then
I'd better go up and put on something old,' she said.  'This is the
only good dress I have, and a trial of faith would certainly ruin
it.'

She had turned away when grandmother's voice stopped her.  'What we
did seemed best at the time, but more than once it has crossed my
mind that we weren't as careful as we ought to have been.  I've
always liked Ralph, in spite of what the Rowans said of him, and I
never had a particle of use for that empty-headed Janet we made him
marry.'

'But it's too late now, Grandmother!' Ada cried out, as she left
the room.  'It is too late to give us back what you took from us.'

Flying away from the answer, she ran out into the hall and up the
stairs to her room.  Once inside, with the door shut, fear ebbed
from her mind and she said aloud, 'But they couldn't take love.
When you have love, nothing else makes any difference.'

Two days afterwards, when his letter came, she told herself that
she had expected too much.  What she had expected she scarcely
knew, but it was more than this; it was different from this.  The
surface of restraint, which had thawed while they were together,
had frozen over again.  'I can never write a love letter,' he had
said, but she had not believed him.  'I can't put down on paper
things I have to pluck up out of myself.  You know I care.  You'll
have to understand that once for all.'

Once for all!  When she was aching to hear it a hundred times, when
she found that words, even more than embraces, meant reassurance.
Well, it was her own fault.  She had hoped for too much.  She must
be satisfied to know without being told in the future.  Nothing can
keep us apart, she thought, nothing but death, and even death may
end, as grandmother is convinced, in everlasting reunion.  If she
didn't believe this, how could she look ahead to the war?  If all
women didn't believe this, how could they face the long waiting for
birth and death?

He had felt so free, so sure of their marriage, he had written
early in November, that it was a blow to find the divorce was still
hanging over.  Janet, he heard, had been ill with pneumonia in
Reno, and for a few days they didn't think she could possibly pull
through.  But she was eager to be free and to be married again
before her lover, whose wife had already divorced him, was ordered
to France.  She had charged Ralph with mental cruelty, whatever
that implied, but, so far as he was concerned, she might accuse him
of murder and he would not deny it.  This meant, he hoped, only a
few days or weeks longer of separation.  It was queer how much
harder waiting was after you had seen light ahead.  There were
rumours of going over, but there had been rumours for weeks.
Nobody could tell what the next move would be.  Orders had been
hushed up since the sinking of the Antilles.  If she did not hear,
she must understand that they were going over or had already
sailed.  All the talk now was of joining the British troops--but it
was only talk.

For a fortnight she heard every few days, and in that fortnight
Aunt Abigail died and was buried in the churchyard of the Negro
church a few miles away.  Judge Melrose drove grandmother to the
funeral, and the rest of the family went in Mr. Rowan's carriage,
with the Geddy family and the coffin leading the procession in a
spring-wagon that was shrouded in black.  All the way they talked
of the war, and Aunt Meggie recalled Aunt Abigail's pride when her
grandson, Marcellus Junior, had enlisted.  The next day grandmother
was kept in bed with a return of lumbago, and after she was up and
about she complained that the pain had crept from her loins into
her legs.

'But my suffering is small compared to the agony in Europe,' she
would say, as she limped across the floor and slowly eased herself
down on the cushions of her winged chair.  'Lying there in bed, my
mind went over what we endured in our own war.  Many and many a
time, with your grandfather away in the army (and he wasn't the
only minister who took up arms in defence of his state), I've gone
out and chopped and sawed wood for a fire, not knowing where I
could find a scrap of food to cook when the fire was made.  And all
the time the children were clinging to my skirts and crying from
hunger.  Yes, many and many a time I've done that.  We thought we'd
surely starve, all over the Valley, after Hunter and Sheridan.  I
had a baby born the worst winter, with only old Aunt Jerusalem to
take care of me and the children, because Abigail had taken it into
her head to run off and have a look at the Yankees.  I named the
baby Elijah after the prophet, but he lived only long enough to be
baptized by a minister who came over from Doncaster to preach.  His
father never saw him, poor lamb, until they met in the blessed
Resurrection.'  Sometimes she would pause in exasperation, raise a
flushed face from her work, and inquire suspiciously, 'Did I name
him Elijah or Elisha, Meggie?  I don't seem to recollect clearly.'

'Elijah, Mother, because you had prayed the Lord to send ravens.'

'Yes, Elijah was the name, but what about that general?  Was his
name Hunter?  Are you sure?  It doesn't sound right somehow.'

'Yes, that was General Hunter.  He burned Glenburnie.'

For a few days grandmother's memory seemed to desert her.  She
would ask the same questions over with a peevish and acrimonious
expression, while her face flamed out in angry splotches.

'She's not herself,' Aunt Meggie said, wiping her eyes.  'It's not
like her to be so irritable.'

'Why doesn't her faith help her, Aunt Meggie?  Is faith like
everything else, at the mercy of the body?'

'I don't know, dear, but she was never this way before.'

Then, suddenly, just as they feared the general breaking-up of age,
her will triumphed over the flesh, and she collected her faculties.
One morning, as she finished breakfast, she asked Liddy and Aunt
Meggie to have her room ready for her and a fire burning as soon as
she came in from the porch.

'I need a breath of air,' she said.  'I haven't had a breath of air
for a week.'

Going out on the porch, she hobbled up and down with the help of
her cane until Meggie ran out to tell her that her room had been
made ready.

'Is there anything you want, Mother?  Can I help you?'

'Nothing, my child.  I must get command of myself.  When you're
old, the fight is on between the will to live and the nature to
die.  I'm beginning to break, but it must be a long beginning
before I let go.'

Taking up her Bible from the table, she went into her room and shut
the door, though they could hear the sound of her voice, strong and
composed, as she read from the Scriptures or prayed aloud on her
knees.  Once or twice, a groan reached them, but when she came out
at dinner time, in response to a knock on the door, her resolution
had conquered.  She ate with her usual robust appetite; her temper
had recovered serenity; the purple flush in her face had subsided;
even her memory seemed to have been restored by a miracle.  From
this time her infirmities appeared to decrease, and her only
allusion to her weakness was when she said, ''Twas those apple
dumplings upset me'.

For a week in November, Ada heard from Ralph every day.  Then, just
as she had become accustomed to brief notes, which told her
nothing, not even that he loved her, there came a long letter,
written in dejection, that seemed to tear at her heartstrings.

'I have been sitting here alone, thinking of our first night in the
Indian trail and the way I held you in my arms, and the way we
loved each other, and all that happened to us up there by
ourselves.  If I had known how things would drag on, that we might
sail before I saw you again, that I might even have to die without
seeing you, I would never have urged you to come away with me.  I
see now I ought not to have done that.  It was not fair to you.  I
thought I loved you then as much as I could ever love you.  But I
know now that was just the beginning.  I love you more to-night
than I have ever loved you.  If I thought I had made you unhappy or
brought you harm, I'd rather put an end to myself than come back
from France.  This sounds like a weak fool.  I never could write
things I feel.  But if you were here to-night, I could make you
feel how much I love you.  Did you know that the memory of
happiness could turn into a torment?'

After this there was a long silence.  Though she wrote cheerfully
every day, there was no answer to her letters, and she might have
told him, had she been able to pierce a void, that silence can be a
worse torment than memory.  But she still wrote on, in the hope
that her letters might follow him to France and even, if it were
necessary, into No Man's Land.

'I can never forget, not for a minute, that we have been perfectly
happy.  Only for two days.  But how many people in this world have
been perfectly happy for two days?  No matter what comes in the
future, we shall always have that, and I shall always be glad we
have it . . . no matter what comes.'

When still another fortnight had passed, the long suspense became
almost intolerable.  One afternoon, when the weather was bright and
mild for the end of November, she went into Ironside to ask Ralph's
mother if she had known of his sailing.  Even if Mrs. McBride had
had no word, she would still be eager to talk of her son, and her
perpetual complaint might act as a counter-irritant to anxiety.
'Anyway, I can't stay in the house,' Ada told herself.  'I'd rather
go anywhere than help Aunt Meggie in the kitchen, or sit by the
fire and watch grandmother doze over her knitting.'

As she descended the road to the church, she turned to look back
over Shut-in Valley, which was powdered with sunshine.  The more
brittle leaves had all fallen, and were scattered in wind drifts
against the wall of the churchyard, but sheltered boughs of the
oaks still held a few russet or pale maroon-coloured patches, which
might hang on until April.  No living thing moved in the landscape.
Only the long shafts of sunlight were alive with the stir of doomed
insects--or was it the thin drift of pollen?--not yet overtaken by
winter, a vibration so faint, so fleeting, and yet so close, that
it seemed scarcely louder than the humming within her ears.


II


Mrs. McBride was in her small front yard, watching Uncle Abraham
Geddy pile manure and straw about the roots of her rose bushes.
Since Ralph had been able to send her a monthly allowance, she had
made the cottage more comfortable and had taken a destitute cousin
to live with her.  Years of toil and self-denial had bowed her
shoulders and crippled her slender hands, but she had found it
impossible to break away from severe habits of saving and drudgery.
Her fine eyes were brooding and secretive; the wrinkles in her face
were so deep that they might have been bitten in by an acid; and to
look at her, one might have imagined that her piety, like her
patriotism, was rooted in hatred.  What could Ralph's father have
been like?  Ada wondered.  It was not from his mother that he had
inherited his disarming smile and the amused gleam in his eyes.
When she kissed Mrs. McBride, the withered cheek seemed to leave a
bitter taste on her lips.

'You weren't at church yesterday,' the girl said as she entered.
'We were sure you wouldn't have stayed away without reason.'

'No, I came down the night before with one of my bilious headaches.
Did you have a good sermon?'

'Everybody seemed to like it.'

'Was your father there?'

Ada shook her head.  'Aunt Meggie and I went alone.  Grandmother
had to give up at the last moment.'

'Is it true that Mr. Black warned your father not to come into the
village?'

'He hinted something.  But father never gave it a thought.  You
know how he is.'

'Yes, I know,' Mrs. McBride assented, as she led her visitor into
the front room and seated herself stiffly on a sofa upholstered in
horsehair.  'You heard, of course,' she said, 'that Ralph had
sailed?'

'I thought so.'

'Everything was very secret.  No one was allowed to mention the
name of a port.'

'How long have you known?'

'Only a few days.'  The bluish lips quivered.  'I expected to see
you at church yesterday.'  There was hostility in her fixed gaze
and the cutting sound of her voice.  'I am glad he has gone.  I am
glad I had a son to give to the cause.'

'He wanted to go,' Ada said.  'Nothing could have kept him from
going.'

'I was afraid your father might try to influence him.'

'Father never tries to influence anyone.  He believes in leaving
people free.'

'Too often they are left free to work out their own destruction,'
Mrs. McBride observed dryly.

As if the thought choked her, Ada swallowed a lump in her throat
and looked away to the figure of Uncle Abraham stooping over the
rose bushes.  Yes, religion could be a bitter and a terrible thing!
As a child, she had known that Mrs. McBride enjoyed punishing
Ralph.  Now she felt, with the same aversion, that the older woman
found a thrill of cruelty in the Christian symbols of crucifixion
and atonement.  She had wished him to marry Janet, Ada realized
indignantly.  She had wished him to be hurt.  Even if she doesn't
know it, the girl thought, she really hates him.  Something deep
down in her, perhaps an embittered love for his father, perhaps the
crying blood of persecutors, was gratified when she thought that
anyone, even her own child, would be punished by God.

'I must go,' the girl said, moving toward the door, because she
felt that she could not breathe in the heavy air.  'I hope Ralph
will be safe.  If you have any news, will you send me word by Uncle
Abraham?'

'I'll be glad to.'  Mrs. McBride rose and stood looking at her with
a wintry smile.  'I know you and Ralph never felt we did right by
you.  He took it hard when he was forced to marry Janet.  But it
was right.  He had to do it because it was right.'

'But it wasn't right.'

'A girl wouldn't have lied about such a thing, Ada.'

'Hasn't Janet always lied for what she wanted?'  (Well, she had
lied, too, Ada's conscience reminded her, but hers wasn't a bad
lie.)  'Why were you willing to believe Janet instead of Ralph?'

'I wasn't willing.  I had to do what was right.  But why did Ralph
give in if he hadn't been in the wrong?'

She has never liked me, Ada told herself; she has never really
liked Ralph.  But no matter what she does to me, I shall tell her
the truth.  A shiver ran over her, but she answered steadily,
'Because you had broken his will, and he couldn't resist you.  You
had broken his will when he was little.'

'All I did was for his good.  He was a headstrong child, and he had
to be disciplined.  He had to have his feet set in the right road.
I never cared about myself.  It was of him I was thinking.'  Mrs.
McBride turned away her face, and when she looked round again, her
eyes were misted with tears, and a tiny dewdrop twinkled without
falling on the reddened tip of her nose.  'He is my son,' she said.
'He is the only thing in the world that is mine.  Don't I lie awake
till dawn wondering if he is sick or cold, and whether he will be
killed over there or come home crippled for life?'  She raised her
worn hands and let them fall with a despairing gesture.

'I am sorry,' Ada murmured, 'I wish I could help you.'  But her
voice was cold, and she was thinking, It was your fault that our
lives were spoiled.

'There isn't any help except in the Lord.  I found that out long
ago.  I've gone through worse things.  Even my own family never
suspected.  But trials taught me that there is no help in this
world.'

'Well, you have God left anyway.'

'There are times when He seems to leave you in darkness.  I thought
for years that I could never find the light . . . that I was lost
for eternity.  Then suddenly one Sunday morning, after the long
night of repentance, during a missionary sermon, I felt that I was
called and regenerated.  After that, I had a new heart and a new
spirit.'

'Did they bring happiness?'

'I didn't think of happiness.  Happiness is a small thing beside
salvation.'

No, she couldn't understand, Ada told herself, she should never, no
matter how long she lived, be able to understand religion.  Ralph's
will had been broken and his life ruined because his mother had
discovered that salvation was better than happiness.

'I know how anxious you must be,' she remarked, and perceived
immediately that Mrs. McBride was offended.  How could one be both
anxious at heart and convinced in mind that everything, even war on
land and sea, was in the hands of the Lord?  'If I can do anything
for you, let me know,' she added, from the doorway.  'Grandmother
sent her love.'

'Tell her I've been wanting to come to see her.  There aren't many
women like your grandmother.'

'That will please her.'  Then gathering her courage, she asked
boldly, 'Did Mr. Rowan tell you anything about Janet?'

'Why, hadn't you heard?  It was in the paper yesterday.'

'We never see the paper on Sunday.  Has anything happened to her?'
A wild hope shot through her heart.

'Mr. Rowan came to tell me.  It was on his conscience, he said, and
he didn't try to defend Janet.  The divorce wouldn't have been so
bad . . . though he blames her for that . . . but she stepped off
the train the very next day and was married at some little place in
the West.'

The room rocked, and beyond the window Uncle Abraham and his piles
of straw and manure were caught up into the clouds.  'Janet
married!  But how could she?  I didn't know.  Ralph didn't
know . . .'

'It has all happened since Ralph sailed.  She wasn't free but one
day.  She got her divorce on Friday, and on Saturday she was
married.  I don't remember even the man's name . . . something like
Hawkins . . . something like Horley . . .  Her father had never
heard her mention him, but it seems that he is well off.  I'd have
told you, but I don't like to think of her, and, besides, I thought
you would have heard of it.  I have always felt strongly about
divorce.  Separation may be tolerated, but re-marriage is simply
living in sin.'

'I wish Ralph had known!  I wish Ralph had known before he went!'

'He told me that you and he would be married as soon as he was
free.  But he knows how I feel about it.'

Ada's cheeks flamed to crimson.  'That doesn't matter.  Nobody
could come between us a second time.'

'Well, he is in France now.  All we can do is to pray that he may
come safely home.'

'I don't dare think of it . . . of his not being safe.'

'God is with us.  Our cause is just.'

'I don't know about God.'

'You are a member of the church.'

'Isn't everybody a member of the church'--Ada laughed defiantly--
'everybody, except poor Toby Waters, who needs religion more than
any of us?'  Why had she said that?  Why did things slip out before
she could stop them?

'If you have hardened your heart, I must pray for you,' Mrs.
McBride said, with a kind of cold pity, as they parted.

So Ralph was free!  He was free.  He was in France.  He might be
killed.  He might, even now, be lying shot to pieces in a trench,
or under foreign soil among hundreds of others.  I must pray, she
told herself passionately, but prayer wouldn't come.  Yet praying
couldn't do any harm, and it was on the safe side, as Aunt Meggie
used to remind her when she forgot to kneel down at night.

The sun had dropped behind the darkening summit of God's Mountain,
and the deep bowl of the valley was filled with the hazy blue of
Indian summer.  When she walked up the road past the churchyard, a
suspicion, more an anxiety than a question, floated up from her
unconscious mind, like a face under water.  Did it mean nothing?
Did it mean everything?  Ever since the days and nights on Eagle
Ridge, it had seemed to her that the wonder--or was it expectancy--
had lain there out of sight, out of thought, and yet urgent and
vital.  In the sky above the sunset a small white cloud streamed
back like a golden fleece--like the golden hair of a child.  Her
heart shuddered in fear and was still again.  It was only her
fancy.  Or it may have been some fragment of an old wives' tale she
had heard from Aunt Abigail Geddy.  But it was too soon to know,
she told herself; it was too soon to suspect.  In a few days
everything might be right, and the danger well over.  Anxiety for
Ralph may have disturbed not only her mind, but her body.  And the
streaming fleece, the golden cloud, was already dispersing.  Yet
such signs, Aunt Abigail had once told her, were not uncommon, and
they were usually good signs.  Though there was a legend,
grandmother had remembered, of a Mrs. Morecock, one of the frontier
women, who had seen the head of an Indian in the sunset before her
eldest baby was born, and two years afterwards a Shawnee brave had
dashed out the brains of the infant in the massacre at Smiling
Creek.

But I mustn't think of myself, she thought.  That is the way fear
comes into the mind.  What I can't help, I shall be able to bear.
In the morning I may wake up and know it was merely my fancy.  And,
whether it is true or not, if Ralph is killed over there, I shall
be glad his child is mine and not Janet's.


III


On the brow of the stony hill, Ada said to herself:  You can bear
what you have to bear, as long as you don't let fear push into your
mind.

Her look swept the April landscape, looping an invisible chain
round the mountains, the sky, the valley, the sheep pasture, the
three sheep and the one lamb, the house, the road, and the sloping
roofs of the village.  But she turned her eyes away from the
village.  She had not been there since she had known how it was
with her--since anyone who glanced at her figure could tell how it
was with her.  If she saw people whispering about her, she might
begin to be sorry for herself.  And she did not want to feel sorry.
She wanted to be glad, because there was safety in gladness.

It was tragic the way grandmother had taken it.  Her father had
been different, but her father was always different from everyone
else.  He had said only, 'I blame myself most of all.  I should
have known better.  You have prepared a blow for us, my dear,
but I blame myself most of all.'  Then her grandmother had been
terrible. . . .

Dropping on a flat stone, she tried to think plainly in words of
one syllable, thrusting away every image that was not linked to a
fact.  For she had needed all her courage then, and she needed it
now.  The sin was carnal, grandmother had said, with a stricken
look, flinging out her hands, which had always been so tender in
trouble.  There was no hope but in repentance, in a broken and
contrite heart.  Still, Ada could not repent, not even when her
grandmother moaned like an animal in pain, sinking her proud old
head on her chest.

'I am sorry I hurt you, Grandmother.  We thought it would all come
right.  We hoped we could marry before Ralph sailed.  We never
dreamed . . .  But if he is killed in France, I shall be glad of it
all . . . glad that we took those two days for our own out of
life.'

'What does Ralph say?' grandmother had asked suddenly, lifting her
head with a distraught air.

'He doesn't know, Grandmother.  I haven't told him.'  Was it
thunder in the sky or only the hammering of her arteries?

'Not told him?  Why, you've known for months.  You must have
suspected . . .'

'He couldn't help me, Grandmother.  They wouldn't let him come
home, and he might try to do something rash.  It would be more than
he could bear to feel that he had brought this upon me.'

Grandmother's face had turned to stone.  'He should be made to feel
remorse.  He should be made to suffer for his sin.'

'He is unhappy enough without this.  At first, when I was in a
panic and thought I couldn't go through with it, I wrote to him.
Then when I heard how miserable he was, and the way war sickened
him to death, I tore up my letter.  If he could help me, I'd send
for him.  But I don't want to make him feel remorse.  I want only
to spare him.'

'To spare him!'  Grandmother's voice had cracked and broken with
anger.

Then it was (as long as she lived, Ada told herself, she would
remember this, she would be grateful!)--then it was that her father
had put his arm on her shaking shoulder and said gently, 'You are a
good woman, my child.  True goodness is an inward grace, not an
outward necessity.'

Grandmother had not understood.  She would never understand now.
Her faith was watered with the strong blood of martyrs.  Lying
sleepless at night in her mother's chamber, which her father had
given up, Ada would hear the floor creak in the adjoining room as
the old woman rolled from the bed and her knees bent in prayer.

'If only you would repent, Ada,' Aunt Meggie urged.  'Mother could
find it in her heart to forgive you if only you would repent.  She
is grieving so that it may be the end of her.'

'Oh, Aunt Meggie, what can I do for her?'

'You can tell her that you repent of your sin, and you can write to
Ralph as she wants you to do.'

'I will when it's over, Aunt Meggie.  If I live through it, I will
write to him the first day I can sit up.'

As the weeks had dragged by and she had grown heavier and more
shapeless, Ada reminded herself again and again that she must have
given way to despair but for Aunt Meggie's devotion.  A dozen times
a day the older woman would spring out of a corner with a jug of
cream or milk that she had brought up from the village, or a pot of
tea and a plate of buttered toast on a tray.  'I noticed you didn't
touch a morsel of breakfast, Ada, so I've fixed a little snack for
you.  It's bad for you to fast, and you mustn't let yourself mope.'
And once she had burst out impulsively.  'You look so well to-day I
can't take my eyes off you.  I was just telling John that there is
a light, a kind of starriness, in your face.'

Resting there on the hillside, Ada felt the sudden stir of the
child, of a strange life knit to her own and thrusting up from the
depths of her being toward a destiny that would be separate and
different.  Women have been through worse things, she thought,
while her glance brushed the sheep pasture and lingered on the
willows by Smiling Creek, which rippled with broken lights as the
leaves turned in the wind.  Whenever her thoughts slipped control,
she felt that dark fear clutching her bosom, and in the effort to
balance her mind she gazed steadily down on the sunny stream and
the whitening willows.

Those men and women on Smiling Creek had endured the worst, yet the
will toward life had not failed them.  Mrs. Morecock had seen the
brains of her baby spatter her skirts; she had been famished for
food as a captive; she had eaten roots; when she reached water, she
had knelt down and lapped it up like an animal.  In the end she had
had the courage to escape, she had crossed trackless mountains on
her way home to Ironside.  For months she had lived on berries and
the bark of black gum or sassafras.  Though she was a walking
skeleton when she reached Ironside, she had had the spirit, or the
folly, to begin life again.  How was she able to forget? Ada
wondered.  How could they drop the past so easily, those pioneers,
and plunge into the moment before them?  They were hard, it was
true, but it was the hardness of character.  Unlovable they were,
but heroic.  Had they been soft to the touch of fate, the exiled
Shawnees would still be roaming their lost hunting-grounds.

Was the past broken off from the present? she mused, or did that
vein of iron hold all the generations together?  Sitting there, in
touch with the land that had been won from the wilderness, she
braced her own strength against that endurance, that hardness.  How
had her great-great-grandmother Tod felt when she bore her child in
the wigwam of a savage?  What was her own plight to that?

Oh, but the wilderness!  If only she might hide away and have her
child on a bed of pine boughs!  A matronly ewe with an inquisitive
face stared at her over a stalk of mullein, and she said gravely,
'Don't pity me, Martha.  I can't bear it if you pity me.'  She must
not feel sorry for herself, not if it killed her.  Self-pity, her
father had told her, was the most primitive form of sentimentality.
Wait till the worst comes.  When the worst comes, you will be dead,
and that will be the end of it.  Aunt Meggie, who had gone soft in
spots, was fond of saying that human nature can stand only so much
and no more. . . .

The sheep had turned away, cropping the young weeds.  Was that old
tragedy still lying there in Shut-in Valley, underneath the tender
bloom of the spring?  Had it left an eternal outline somewhere in
the universe?  Or had it melted as a vapour, a breath, into
emptiness?  Suddenly, without reason, the meaning that sometimes
starts out of life and seems to make everything clear and simple
flashed back at her from the valley, the stream, the mountains, the
sky.  An instant only, and then it was gone, like the flight of an
eagle.  Struggling to her feet (would she ever be quick again?),
she walked slowly down the hillside and across the narrow pasture
to the garden fence, where her father and a small coloured urchin
were digging together.

'Side by side,' she exclaimed, 'and it doesn't make the slightest
difference to the earth that one is a philosopher and the other a
piccaninny!'

At the sound of her voice John Fincastle straightened his
shoulders, as if he were easing himself of a load.  'It must be
time to go in.  Where have you been, my dear?'

'Up on the hill with Martha and Mary and the lamb Minnie.'

'It was Mary's lamb that died, wasn't it?'

'Nobody knows, not even Mary.  But they are both mothers to Minnie.
Send Tommy home, Father.'

'Run home, Tommy!' John Fincastle called over his shoulder.  'You
may come back after dinner.  What is it, my child?' he inquired, as
Tommy trotted away.

'I'm afraid of fear.  It comes over me in a panic.'

'But it mustn't come.  You must fight it off.  Wouldn't you be
easier if Ralph knew of it?  It doesn't seem fair to him.  And then
your grandmother feels very bitterly.'

'Not yet, Father.  I'll write as soon as the worst is over.  If I
don't come through, you can write for me.'

'Still, I think he should know . . .'  Then, as she broke down and
wept, he yielded the point.  'It's hard to decide what is right.
You have chosen your own way, and life has a habit of compelling us
to abide by our choices.'

'Well, I'll write soon.  Not to-day, but some day just before the
time comes.  We were driven into this,' she cried, with sudden
passion.  'We wanted to be right.  We meant well.  It wasn't as if
we had been strange, or wild, or bad, or dissatisfied with
goodness.  We might have been good and happy all our lives if only
people had let us alone.'

'Many of us have felt that, my dear.  But try not to think about
life.  The only way to live happily is not to think about life.
There may be much for you in the future.'

'I know.  If Ralph comes home, I'll look back on all this as a
nightmare.  It's over now for the moment anyway . . . the fear of
fear.  I shan't let it come back if I can help it.'

'Try to be active, and take care of yourself.  I shouldn't, if I
were you, go into the village.  Not yet, anyway . . . not for the
present.'

'Aunt Meggie says Mr. Black and Dr. Updike are keeping it secret.
For grandmother's sake, Mr. Black told her, he hopes it won't be
known till . . . till . . .  Poor grandmother!  The one thing she
dreaded even more than sin was disgrace, and I've brought it upon
her in her old age.'

'And I in her prime.  That is the greatest injustice in life . . .
we cannot suffer anything alone, not even disgrace.  Well, I'd take
Mr. Black's advice, and walk with sheep instead of human beings for
the next few months.  There is something companionable about
animals, even about sheep, that human beings lack.  I discovered
that when I was expelled from the ministry.  That's why I've a
sneaking fondness for Martha and Mary.'

'And we're so near the village we could almost throw a stone into
the street.  But I won't go again for a long time.'  She pressed
his arm, clinging to him to save herself from a plunge into the
void.  For the meaning (it may have been only a sensation) she had
found on the hillside had been wiped out as utterly as if a brush
had swept it away.

'Aren't you coming in with me?' he asked, when she released his arm
at the front steps.

'I'll come later.  It distresses grandmother to see me.'

'She wouldn't wish you to go hungry.'

'Aunt Meggie won't let that happen.  She's always bringing me
something between meals.  But I want to spare grandmother as much
as I can.'

'It's her love for you that suffers.  Love is a terrible power, and
it's more deeply rooted in the old than in the young.  When it's
torn up in age there's nothing left but decay.'

'I never thought of that, Father.  Grandmother never entered my
mind.  My life was my own, and I thought I'd be the one to suffer
if I made a mistake.'

'And all the time you were taking the lives of others into your
hands.  When one starts a forest fire one seldom looks beyond the
match in the hand or the ember in the pipe.  But the blaze doesn't
discriminate.'

They parted at the door, and she circled the house until she
reached the bench under the willow tree.  Here she waited until she
saw first Liddy and then Aunt Meggie come out on the back porch,
and knew that dinner was over.  But a few minutes afterwards she
met her grandmother in the hall, and drew aside to make way for
her.  Without glancing at her grandchild, without quickening her
step, without the flicker of an eyelash or the quiver of a muscle,
the old woman swept on, supported by her stick, to the closed door
of her room.

She will never, never speak to me again, Ada thought, with a pang.
Slipping into the dining-room, she shed tears into the bean soup
Aunt Meggie had kept hot for her.


IV


For the next few months Ada did not go down into the village.
Every morning, when the work in the house was finished, she would
pick a book from her father's library and go up, through the little
pasture, to the hillside.  Here, with the friendly sheep browsing
around her, she would lie flat on the earth and fold her impatient
hands under her head.  Martha and Mary and sometimes William, the
ram, would walk delicately at a safe distance; but Minnie, the
lamb, was quite tame, and would sidle up to butt a woolly head
against her shoulder or knee.

The book she seldom opened.  There was cold comfort to be found in
books.  How had her father escaped, she wondered, into that
bloodless republic of the spirit?  Ralph, too, was separated from
her by the space of the universe.  He was somewhere in a far
country, fighting in a war that seemed as remote as the battles in
history.  Would the broken rim of the world ever mend?  Would he
ever return to her out of the shattered circle of life, out of the
wheeling fragments of time, out of a universe that was destroying
itself?  For nothing else really mattered.  All the vacancy, all
the death and dying in the world, meant only that one shape was
missing, that one fragment was lost among the multitudinous shapes
and fragments of being.  So her father told her, reminding her of
the world's agony, and she knew that it was true.  Her fear was
merged into a larger fear; but it was still for her own.  There
were hours when her courage seemed to flare out and leave her
supine and indifferent.  Then fortitude, which lies beyond courage,
would renew itself from some inexhaustible spring of vitality.

Lying there in the June sunshine, between the fruitful earth and
the clement sky, it seemed to her that a sense of the past would
overflow and obliterate her actual share in the present.  Well, no
matter . . .  What she must face, she could face.  But suppose--the
blue was spinning overhead--suppose it was at last over!  Suppose
the war had ended suddenly, Ralph had returned without warning . . .
Rising with the thought, as on the crest of a wave, she would
stand erect and stretch her arms to the loneliness.  As she picked
her way, followed by the two ewes and the lamb, through tufts of
mullein as grey as stones, she would find again, for the moment at
least, that her old faith in the goodness of life was restored.


On a Sunday morning in July, when she had felt unable to make the
climb to the hillside, she came in from an hour's rest on the grass
under the willow and saw the figure of Mr. Black pass through the
gate and disappear down the road to the village.  What could have
brought him in his crowded hour between the morning service and the
midday meal?  Once only in recent years had he been known to visit
on the Lord's day, and that was when he had denied himself his
frugal dinner in order to comfort a widow whose son had fallen in
France.  Then, while she stared after his retreating shape,
motionless because her legs seemed to give way under the leaden
weight of her body, the back door opened and Aunt Meggie came
hurrying to meet her.

'You look frightened, Ada.  What is the matter?  When I saw you out
of the door, I thought you were going to fall down.'

'Why did Mr. Black come?  I was afraid Ralph had been killed.'

'No, he missed us all at church, and Mrs. McBride told him mother
was sick in bed.  He wouldn't even come inside the hall, he was in
such a hurry to get back to his dinner.  You mustn't let yourself
be upset about nothing.  'Tis bad for you.'

'I thought you'd gone to church, and when I saw Mr. Black,
something like a shooting pain ran all over me.'

'Your nerves are unstrung, and I don't wonder.  I stayed at home
because Liddy wanted to go to the first big meeting over at Sugar
Spring.  Mother is ailing, though I couldn't make her stay in bed.
You're gasping for breath.  Come right in and get something to eat.
Mother has just finished her dinner.'

'Suppose Ralph never comes back!  Oh, Aunt Meggie, I can't bear it
if he never comes back!'

'I know, Ada, but you mustn't give way to your fears.  Have you
written to Ralph yet?'

'I'm waiting till it's over.  As soon as I can sit up, I'll write
to him.'

After she had struggled into the house, she stood staring about her
mother's chamber with dazed eyes, as if she were still feeling the
shock of her terror.

'You don't look right, Ada,' Aunt Meggie said.  'Don't stand there
like that.  There's only a cold dinner, but I've made you some hot
coffee, and there's a pitcher of rich milk Mr. Rowan sent mother.
She won't touch it.  Since she's turned against milk, I don't see
how she's going to keep up her strength on that diet for lumbago.'

'I'll come in a minute, Aunt Meggie.  Wait till I settle down and
can swallow.'  Going over to the winged chair, she picked up a
baby's wrapper of pink flannel Aunt Meggie had left on the table.
'You do such lovely scalloping,' she said softly.

'It if weren't Sunday, I could finish those sleeves in no time,'
Aunt Meggie replied.  'You don't see fine French flannel like this
now.  Mary Evelyn had it put away in camphor ever since she lived
in Queenborough.  She always bought the best when she could afford
it, but think of her keeping it all these years.'

For the first time Ada's tears, which had felt like stones behind
her eyeballs, melted and ran down.  Poor mother!  Or was it
fortunate mother?  She had liked nice things, yet she had known how
to be gay in calico dresses and red flannel petticoats.

In looking over the boxes Mary Evelyn had never unpacked after
leaving Queenborough, they had found piles of little garments, some
yellowed by time, and dropping apart when they touched them, others
fresh and unworn, which she had saved from Ada's infancy, or had
prepared for her last baby that came stillborn the year after she
moved to Ironside.  There were long dresses of sheer lawn, too
fragile for country wear and now out of fashion, wrappers, sacques,
and bands of pink wool scalloped in silk, and even one of the
streaming sky-blue veils which had floated, pinned to the shoulder
of a coloured nurse, over every well-born baby in Queenborough.
After spreading the garments in her lap, Ada had selected the
plainest and strongest slips and a few soft flannel bands.  The
others she had folded again and given to Aunt Meggie to hide away
from grandmother's eyes.

'Is grandmother in her room?' she asked now, putting the wrapper
aside.

'No, she's on the back porch.  She insisted on helping with dinner.
It keeps her mind occupied, she says, to use her hands.'

'That's why I like to sew.  Do you think she'd mind if I took a few
stitches?'

'I shouldn't, if I were you, Ada.  She's proud of the fact that
nobody has ever mended a break or knitted a stitch in this house on
the Lord's day.  Won't you try to eat something?  The coffee won't
be fit to drink if you wait any longer.'

'Yes, I'm famished.  I've been famished for an hour without knowing
it.  Only I can't bear to see grandmother.'

All day she kept occupied, and late in the afternoon she wrote to
Ralph and tucked the letter away in a drawer.  She would send it as
soon as she was able to sit up and add a postscript.  Or if she
died when the child came, Aunt Meggie would find it when she went
to look for something to put on her.

Whatever happened seemed to be taken out of her hands, and not
greatly to matter.

'I am cheerful,' she wrote, 'and everything goes well with me.
There is no need to be anxious.  By the time you read this, I shall
be sitting up, perhaps walking about, and thankful anyway that the
long waiting is over.  Nothing in this world is so bad as waiting
for it.  That is why I couldn't bear war.  But nothing else matters
if only you will come back and we can all be happy together in some
other place.  Everybody is kind, and Aunt Meggie is taking the best
care of me.  You would think I was a prize chicken from the way she
stuffs me.'

As she laid down her pen, she felt that the summer stillness and
the random green lights at the window were quivering with surprise.
But this cannot have happened to me, she thought.  Ralph and I love
each other.  Yet we parted and went on as strangers might pass on a
road, and he does not even know I am going to have his child and
may die when it comes into the world.  And he may be dead now, at
this minute, while I am writing to him.  He may be dead, but I
should not know.  I should go on just as if a stranger had been
killed and nothing had happened that did not happen every day of my
life.

The door of her grandmother's room was shut fast, but occasionally
she heard the creaking of boards and a monotonous supplication
winding in and out of the smothered sounds.  'Poor grandmother,'
she said to herself.  'She is praying that I may be brought to
repentance.'  While she listened, a superstitious dread shot
through her mind.  Suppose the punishment should fall not on her,
but on her child!  The sharpest anguish she had to bear was the
fear that her baby might be born deformed, or disfigured, or even
an idiot, like poor Toby Waters.  'Not that,' she implored in
breathless horror.  'Whatever happens to me, don't let grandmother's
anger fall on my child!'

At midnight, after broken dreams in which she was wandering in
search of Ralph through an eternity shaped like a tunnel, she
awoke, drenched with sweat, in a terror that seemed to be half
nightmare and half real.  When had it begun?  How long could it
last without killing her?  Fearing to call out, she sucked in her
breath while the pain seemed to be grinding the flesh away from her
bones.  Then, suddenly, it was over, and she felt at ease and
almost asleep.  It couldn't have been so bad as she imagined.  But
do you ever, she asked in surprise, feel so sharp a pang in a
dream?  Just as she was distracting her mind, another coil of pain
unwound in those long spirals of agony.

'Aunt Meggie!' she called softly.  'Aunt Meggie, are you awake?'

There was a rustle in the darkness sprinkled with moonlight.  A
match was struck, the lamp on the table flared up, and in a minute,
Aunt Meggie, wearing a calico wrapper over her nightgown, was
standing beside her.  'I'd just gone to bed,' she whispered.  'Ever
since you told me about the way you felt this evening, I've been
worried.  Are you worse?'

'Not much.'  But the words ended in a sobbing moan.

'Couldn't you get up and walk about?  I've heard mother say 'twas
easier if you kept on your feet.'

'I've tried, but I can't.  I give way.'

'Are you afraid to stay by yourself while I run into the kitchen
and light a fire?  I want to fill all the kettles and have things
ready before Dr. Updike comes.'

'No, I'm not afraid.  Not unless it gets worse.'

'It may be hours yet.  I'll send your father for the doctor.  He's
still at work in his library.'

'You won't be a minute, Aunt Meggie?'

'Not more than three minutes.  Just long enough to tell your father
and start a fire.'

She melted into the dimness, and Ada waited in terror for the
returning pain, watching a shadow, shaped like the head of a beast,
which the screen threw on the wall.  Would Aunt Meggie come back
before the pain seized and tore her?  Was she racing with pain?
One, two, three, she began counting slowly.  One, two three . . .
Footsteps passed rapidly through the hall, and she knew that her
father had started on his way to the village.  A sense of
unutterable degradation, more vehement than physical nausea, rushed
over her!  Where could the soul hide itself when the body was
degraded and tortured?  What reserve, what defences were left?  A
thought throbbed in her mind:  This is life, this hideousness!
This is love, this horror!  Then, before the words had died away, a
moan of anguish burst from her lips, 'Aunt Meggie!  Aunt Meggie!'

Suddenly arms were about her.  She was pressed to a bosom as stout
as oak, as sustaining as fortitude.  A hand, large, strong,
knotted, healing, pushed the damp hair back from her forehead, and
looking up, she saw her grandmother's face bending over her.  The
old woman must have risen at the first stir; the bunch of black
ribbon nodded over her left eyebrow, the cameo brooch pinned her
collar together.

'Hold tight to me, Ada,' she said.  'Hold tight as you can.  I
won't let you go.'

'Grandmother!  Oh, Grandmother!'  The steadfast life of the house,
the strong fibres, the closely knit generations, had gathered
above, around, underneath.  She might sink back now, cradled in
this blessed sense of security.  'Now pain may have its way, and I
may give up.  Grandmother will know what to do.'

All night she saw familiar figures moving through a red mist.  She
saw Dr. Updike come in at the door, his black bag in his hand.  The
tall, stooped shadow that brought in a fresh lamp and took away one
that smoked was her father, though he seemed to have turned into a
stranger.  Aunt Meggie hopped like a rabbit, she thought with a
queer twist of humour, knotting sheets at the foot of the bed, or
carrying steaming kettles between the door and the empty fireplace.
A strong sweetish odour filled her nostrils and floated upward into
her mind as if it were flying.  What bliss!  She thought suddenly,
and then, Am I really here?  Is Ralph over in France?  Is the cabin
still where we left it?

The winged odour ascended, and everything shifted and broke, even
the agony.  All the figures round her bed, all the objects in the
room, were swimming in this elastic fluid, which seemed to contain
light and blessedness and oblivion.  Only the arms of her
grandmother remained as firm as the roots of an oak.

Then, at last, through a watery haze, she could see the darkness
paling to lavender and a red tongue of fire licking the eastern
range of the mountains.  From a million miles away, somewhere
beyond life, beyond death, a whimpering cry wavered, and above or
below the sound, a voice exclaimed like the startled cheep of birds
in the trees, ''Tis a boy!  Well, all things considered, I'm glad
it isn't a girl.'

I am here, and not here, she thought.  Part of myself is lying on
this bed, and part is off in another world, in another life.  Or am
I divided into two separate selves, leading two separate lives?
And has all this happened to that strange self I have never known?


V


After the baby's birth Grandmother Fincastle failed rapidly.  While
Ada was kept in bed and Ranny, the baby, needed her care, she
refused to break down and forced her tired bones to obey her
commands.  But as soon as her granddaughter was well again, the old
woman's grasp upon life seemed to relax.  Her mind would slip into
strange spells of wandering, and she would sit for hours and stare
at the child with a look of bewildered astonishment, as if she
wondered when and why he had dropped into their midst.  Once she
called Aunt Meggie to her, and asked in a querulous whisper, 'Where
did that baby come from, Meggie?  Does it belong to the poor
McAllisters' brood?  Speak up.  I can't hear when you mumble.'  She
now used two sticks whenever she walked without help, because her
husband's ebony cane, a gift from his congregation, was not stout
enough.  Then, on the afternoon before her eighty-seventh birthday,
when she rose to put down a bowl of peas she had shelled for
canning, she staggered and fell to the floor of the kitchen.  Her
son had driven to Doncaster with Mr. Rowan, and grandmother was
alone with Aunt Meggie when she was stricken.  At the first sound
Ada hurried across the hall, and then, without waiting to summon
Liddy, ran on to find Dr. Updike in Ironside.  Not until she had
passed the church did she remember that she had not been into the
village for months before the birth of her child.  But it was too
late to turn back and send Liddy.  Grandmother was in danger; an
instant of delay might be fatal.  Even if she were to meet Mrs.
McBride, what would it matter?  She can't kill me, she thought, and
nobody else will take the trouble to snub me.

Dr. Updike was not at home, but his sister said she could reach him
over the telephone, and that he would be at the manse by the time
Ada returned.  'He's at old Mrs. Morse's, and that's the last house
on the way.  Yes, he says he'll go right over,' she added,
replacing the receiver.  'It's fortunate that Mrs. Morse's daughter
put in a telephone last week.  She was beginning to worry about
what she'd do if her mother had an attack in the night.  You'd
better rest, Ada.  You look as if you'd run every step of the way.'

'No, thank you, Miss Amy, I must hurry home.  Grandmother hasn't
anybody but Aunt Meggie with her.'

Still struggling for breath but spurred on by anxiety, she left the
house and started to a run up the steep street.  It was the
running, she realized afterwards, that set the pace of disaster.
Why does every frightened and fleeing creature awaken a deep-seated
instinct of cruelty in the minds of children and savages?  Had she
walked slowly, no one, not even the children playing rowdily in the
street, would have noticed her.  But because she ran, flushed and
frightened, they stopped playing and pursued her toward the
churchyard, as they had so often in the past pursued Toby Waters.
She had barely reached the church when the shrill cries pierced her
nerves through the fog of distress.  Half in malice, half in sport,
the children were romping about her, pelting her with bits of red
clay or tufts of weeds with the roots still attached.  Already she
had passed beyond the sight or sound of the shops, and of the busy
mothers hanging clothes on lines in the back yards.  Up the road to
the manse, the throng pressed about her, while a few of the bolder
boys thrust themselves between her and the easiest way of escape.

'Go home!' she commanded in a tone of fear that thrilled them with
delight.  'Go home, every one of you!'

'Go home,' echoed the little girls, forming a ring as they danced
round her.  'Go home, every one of you!  Go home to your piggie--
pig--pigs!'

While their eyes gleamed and their foolish mouths dribbled, a vivid
memory crossed her mind of the day when she had chased Toby Waters,
and had suddenly felt herself fleeing in the skin of the idiot, as
she had fled once before in the skin of the hare.  So this is what
it means to be human, she thought, swerving out of the road into
the track that wandered over the fields to the ravine.  Was all
life divided, she wondered while she ran on, between the pursued
and the pursuers?  Did fate compel one, sooner or later, to take
part?  But father wouldn't have seen.  He wouldn't have seen they
were chasing him.  A lump of soft clay struck the back of her head;
behind her the voices of children--or were they idiots?--were
babbling.  She had reached Murderer's Field, her foot had almost
touched the slippery edge, when the gate of the hovel burst open,
and Mrs. Waters and Toby rushed, amid a swarm of pigs, along the
rim of the ravine.  Stopping with a hysterical laugh, Ada watched
the woman fling the hogwash from her pail into the flock of
tormentors.

'Varmints!' she screamed.  'It ain't often ye come within throwin'
distance, or I wouldn't waste my good slops on ye!  Take that thar
broom to 'em, Toby.  You won't git a better chance to pay back what
you owe 'em.'

The children had scattered, still shrieking, on the way to the
village, and Toby stood leering over his broom with the air of a
benevolent conqueror.  Though his features were fantastic, his
little bloodshot eyes contained hollows of shining darkness.
'Sugar, sugar,' he begged, stroking a fold of her skirt.

'Not now, Toby.  I'll bring you some next time.'

'He's never forgot the way you used to keep maple sugar in yo'
pocket.  Toby's a man now, but he ain't never lost the sweet tooth
he had when he was little.  I declar' you're all blown.  Hadn't you
better set down and get yo' breath?'

'Thank you, Mrs. Waters, but I can't stop.  Grandmother has had a
stroke, and I ran for the doctor.'

'Yo' Granny?  Now, ain't that too bad!  She's one of the Lord's
own.'

'I must hurry back to her.'  As the sudden fright passed, she was
assailed by her old moral antipathy to Mrs. Waters.  A shiver of
aversion stung her like frost.  Suppose someone should come up from
the village and see them talking together!  'I must run home,' she
repeated, blushing from mingled shame for Mrs. Waters, who had
rescued her, and embarrassment over her own humiliation.  'Is the
road safe?'

'Yas'm, Toby has rid us of 'em, the varmints!  They used to pester
him near to death when he was small, though not the same bunch.
But he's grown so big now that they're feared of him.'

'Good Toby,' Ada said, while the idiot nodded and leered with
pride.  'I shan't forget your stick of candy the next time I come.'

Hurrying along the track to the road, she entered the gate of the
manse as the sun scattered the first westering beams over God's
Mountain.

At the sound of her step in the hall, Aunt Meggie opened the door
of grandmother's room and looked at her with eyes that were
disfigured by weeping.  'She passed away a few minutes after the
doctor came.  Don't come in just yet.  The doctor and Rhody are
helping me to have everything as she wished.  She always said she
wanted to go to her long rest wearing her cap and her cameo brooch.
No, she never gave the slightest sign that she was conscious.  I've
been trying so hard to think of the last words she spoke before she
was stricken.  But they have gone out of my mind, like everything
else.'

'They will come back,' Ada answered.  'Isn't there anything I can
do?'

'No, go and look at the baby.  I thought I heard him cry awhile
ago, or it may have been a bird outside.  There's one comfort,' she
continued earnestly, 'Mother didn't need any time to prepare.  Her
whole life, as Dr. Updike said of her, was a preparation for the
end.'

Grieving but consoled, she wiped her eyes and turned back to the
dead.  If only she could believe! Ada thought while she hastened
into her mother's chamber, where she had left the baby asleep in
his crib.  Picking him up, she held him close against her bosom and
hushed him to silence.  At seven weeks, he was a fair baby, the
colour of ivory, with a golden down on his head, and the bright
blue eyes of his grandfather and his great-great-grandmother,
Margaret Graham.  Though Ada tried to be sorrowful, and to keep her
thoughts fixed on grandmother lying dead in the next room, she
could not entirely banish the suffusion of hope in her heart.  The
day after the child's birth, Aunt Meggie had posted her letter to
Ralph, and only that morning an answer had come.

'If I had had to look ahead to it, I couldn't have borne it,' he
wrote, 'but now that the worst of it for you is over, I'll put my
mind on the future when we'll all be together and happy . . . if
there's such a thing as happiness left in a rotten world.  If you
should find living in Ironside unbearable, go to Queenborough and
take my name and wait for me.  It will save us the trouble of
explaining when I come back.  But, fine as you are, you can't live
on air, darling.  I am writing to my friend in Queenborough, and he
will send you as much as you need.'

There was a step in the hall, and going out as noiselessly as she
could, she found her father slipping out of his greatcoat.  How
worn he looks, she told herself, how tired and old!  At last he is
beginning to stoop in the shoulders.

'I saw the doctor's buggy,' he said.

'Grandmother was stricken.'  For the first time the fact of death
penetrated to the core of her mind.  'She fell down in the kitchen
when she got up out of her chair, and she passed away a few minutes
after the doctor came.'

She saw him shudder once, and then stand very still, as if he were
collecting his faculties.  'Was she alone?'

'No, Aunt Meggie was with her.  But grandmother didn't know her.
She never came to herself.  She said something just before she
fell.  Poor Aunt Meggie is distressed because she hasn't been able
to remember the words.  Oh, Father!'  Ada choked for a moment and
then burst into tears.  'I killed grandmother!'

'You mustn't think that, my child.  She would not wish you to think
that.'

'But I did.  It came over me then for the first time.'

He patted her shoulder, and she clung to him.  'You must not let
yourself brood.'

'I wanted to be good, Father.'

'You are good, Ada.  Not in your grandmother's heroic way, perhaps,
but in your own way.  There are many kinds of goodness, my dear,
but there is none that does not spring from the heart alone.  Now I
shall go in.'

'They want us to wait a few minutes.'

He sighed under his breath, and it seemed to her that his thin arm
was braced with an indestructible strength.  'I have held on to the
manse as long as she lived.  Now it must go.  Nobody is willing to
take another mortgage, and when the place is sold, as it must be
soon, there will be little left after the debts are settled.  Yes,
she has had a splendid life, and she has been spared a great deal.'

'What will become of us, Father?'

'We may find work in Queenborough.  The war has made work
plentiful, even for men of my age.  It is hard to tear up the roots
of generations, but I have few tendrils, and by the time Ranny is
old enough for school, you will probably feel at home in the city.'

'I shall be glad to go.  Since grandmother has gone, I want to go
too.  I am not happy here.  The children ran after me to-day in the
village and called me names.  They could only have got them from
their mothers.  Oh, why are children like that?'

'You should not have gone alone into the village.  Yet, even then,
I had not thought . . .'

'It was because I ran.  When grandmother was stricken, I was so
frightened that I ran as fast as I could for Dr. Updike.  On the
way back the children stopped playing and chased me.'

'That chase began many millions of years ago, and it is still going
on.  It will stop only when the human race becomes civilized.'

'Perhaps the world will be better after the war.'

'Perhaps.  But I have little faith in the theory that organized
killing is the best prelude to peace.  Well, we must do the best
that we can till Ralph comes back to you and the child.'

'That is why I want to leave Ironside.  In Queenborough nobody will
know about us.  I am strong, too, and the papers say there is
plenty of work.'

'We shall know by the end of the year.  But whatever happens, life
will go on.  Life must go on in one place as well as another.'



PART V

THE DYING AGE


I


Snow is cleaner in the mountains, Ada thought, raising her umbrella
as she passed from the store into the midwinter evening.  A
scudding wind, laden with sleet and mud, whipped her back into
shelter, and lowering her umbrella again, she flattened her tall
strong figure against the glass of a window.  In a little while,
perhaps, the gust would blow over, and walking in the slush on the
pavement would be less difficult.  Even if she waited for a street
car and was fortunate enough to find a seat vacant, she would be
taken only a few blocks nearer home.  Mulberry Street, where they
lived in a small dilapidated house, had once belonged to a
prosperous quarter of Queenborough, but that was before the tide of
fashion and business alike had turned toward the West End and the
new Granite Boulevard.

The walk from Shadwell's department store was not long, and in fine
weather Ada was glad of the exercise.  After two months, she was
astonished afresh whenever she remembered the abundance of work and
the ease with which she had found a position in the autumn of
nineteen hundred and eighteen.  The prejudice against women as
workers had not survived the economic urgency of a world conflict.
There had been no eager preference, immediately after the
Armistice, for returned soldiers.  Women in industry would always
be cheaper than men, and since the war was won, prosperity was more
agreeable, if not more important, than patriotism.  The first place
she had sought in November was hers for the asking.  Now, at the
end of January, she felt secure at least until Ralph's return, or
as long as she needed security.  Her father, too, had found work,
and was teaching history and languages in Boscobel School, a
fashionable academy where the daughters of the best families were
instructed in all that was necessary.  The salary was small, only a
hundred dollars a month, but with her twenty dollars a week added,
they had been able to live and to pay the cost of moving and
settling.  Yet she had never imagined that food, even the simplest,
and clothes, even the plainest, could bring such high prices as
were asked in the shops and markets of Queenborough.  Their joint
income, which would have represented fabulous wealth to her
grandmother, was barely sufficient to keep them properly clothed
and fed in a neighbourhood that had seen better days.

Well, since the war was over and right had triumphed again, life
might begin to be easier.  There might be room for everyone, even
for a scholar, Aunt Meggie exclaimed hopefully, in a world that had
been made safe for democracy.  For Aunt Meggie's serenity was
unruffled.  After her first grief for her mother had subsided into
regret, she had regained her cheerfulness without effort.  'Mother
is happy,' she had said.  'You could tell by the way she looked how
much she liked Heaven.'  And when the manse was sold at auction
over their heads, she had rebuked Ada for weeping.  'Maybe the good
Lord doesn't want us to love a house more than our heavenly
mansion.'

As soon as the furniture was unpacked, she had set to work making a
new home.  Life may be a pilgrimage, Ada had thought, while she
cleaned and scrubbed, but a home is something more than a house.
Yet, in some intimate fashion, material links still held the seen
and the unseen together.  The cheerful hand-woven rugs were spread
over the floors; the speckled engravings nobody would buy were hung
on the walls, over which John Fincastle had spread a pale cinnamon-
coloured wash; and the treasured remains of his library were placed
on shelves he had made from old timber.  There were two stories to
the house, with three rooms on each floor; and an additional
bedroom under the red tin roof over the kitchen and laundry.  The
living-room, which opened on a balcony of wrought iron above
Mulberry Street, looked, even when it was bare, Aunt Meggie had
remarked, as if it had been lived in not by nomads, but by
civilized people.  A coal fire was kept up all day in this room,
and the baby's crib stood in one corner.  Fortunately, the child
flourished in any air and on any diet, from mother's milk to patent
prepared food.  Once even, attracted by a delighted gurgle, Ada had
surprised the charwoman, who came to clean every Saturday, feeding
him strips of broiled bacon skin.  Though the other rooms were
insufficiently heated by gas stoves, it was only when they reminded
themselves of the log fire in mother's chamber that they paused to
regret the lost glow of the flames.  When John Fincastle came home
from his classes and tied his old brown jersey about his neck, he
would remark jestingly that the stove made him sleepy, but the
still cold invigorated his mind.  With a pot of coffee on his desk,
he would work long after Aunt Meggie had piled quilts on her bed
and dropped asleep in a bleak room with tightly closed windows.

But they were happy.  They were waiting.  The war was over, and a
new world was beginning.  Ralph was coming home, and nothing else
really mattered, Ada's heart assured her, while gladness poured
into her mind.

'If it weren't for you, I shouldn't care,' he had written, 'but
with you and the boy, I begin to think there may be something
ahead.  The war didn't scratch me.  I haven't so much as a shell
shock to bring home, and I can never leave you a pension.  But you
come too close to human nature in a war like this, and when you are
through, all you want to do is to forget you're human.  Disgust is
the only feeling I have left, and that's not much worse than the
way I felt when I left Ironside after that rotten deal.  I'd like
to go off somewhere with you two alone, but I suppose I'd better
try to pull through where I can find a job.  I don't give a damn
for law any longer.  It's too old, and so am I.  I've been living
for a thousand years, and I'm as dry as a husk.  And God knows I'm
sick of women . . . except you.  But you aren't a woman.  You're
Ada, and that's different.  There's been no lack of women in this
war.  They've rushed for every horror as straight as ducks for a
puddle.  I'm sick of women, and God knows I'm sick of mud.  All I
want is to get away.  Never to speak of it.  Never to think of
it . . .'

Round the electric light at the corner a million tiny globes of
sleet circled, like frozen moths in an eddying swarm.  The wind
hurtled; signs rocked; bells clanged; horns shrieked; voices
brayed; wheels skidded; chins rattled; and overhead lights blazed
and faded, as if the dissonance were threaded on flashes of
brilliance.  Within the shelter of the doorway, she watched the
throng slipping, sliding, spinning, slouching, through the slush
and the watery reflections.  Under the glare of electricity, broken
by ice-green splinters of light, the scene wavered and passed
before her eyes, like a procession in a delirium.  In the window at
her side her own image turned and glanced back at her.  She saw her
shabby coat and her ungloved hands clutching a cotton umbrella.
Then, looking more closely, she met the fearless gaze beneath the
dark winged eyebrows, the wine-red in the cheeks, the glow of
sanguine vitality.  They're different, these women, and they're all
alike, she thought . . .  A rush of rain dashed against her.  'Ah,
ah, ah, ah,' moaned the wind, speeding by, and below the storm,
through the driving gale, she heard the shrill, thin, metallic song
of the human stream.  'I, I, I, I . . .'  Never an end.  Always
the bright, blank current, eager, empty, grasping, insatiable. . . .

The cold touched her with icy fingers.  Here she stood detached,
solitary, self-rooted, while throngs of human beings plunged by her
toward some catastrophe they both feared and desired.  In Shut-in
Valley each separate individual had projected above, or aside from,
the community.  The bold outline of the frontier had not flattened
to a uniform level.  But this mass movement of living seemed to
threaten that precious identity she called her soul.  There's no
use waiting, she told herself; yet she still waited, with her gaze
on the crowd which scurried, in the shape of a gigantic insect,
through currents of wind and rain.  They were all alike, she
thought, especially the women--all wore that stare of bright
immaturity, all moved with flat bosoms, with narrow hips, with
twisting ankles on French heels.  Her thoughts drooped with
fatigue, and the blur of faces spread before her, like rows of
shallow saucers filled with slopping idealism.  Hundreds of women--
of women trying to look like boys and to fill the places of men!
Would the swarm seize her at last and distort her outline into a
caricature of male adolescence?

But youth that had saved the future for itself was now setting out
blithely to dismember the past.  To begin again without a
foundation.  In Ironside, poor as they were, they had built upon
rock.  Now in Queenborough, it seemed to her, life was an air
plant, springing up out of emptiness.  Vapour it was yesterday, and
vapour it would be again to-morrow.  All that she had thought of as
enduring for ever had apparently melted away.

Without putting up her umbrella, she pushed out into the storm, and
her image in the lighted mirrors pushed with her, strong, erect,
undefeated.  Ahead of her, she saw the warm room, where the baby
waited in his crib, and Aunt Meggie set the table for supper in
front of the open fire.  It would be like this, only better, far
better, when Ralph came back to her.  Then they would find each
other again in a world that had mistaken sensation for happiness.
They would build a home in the wilderness of the machines as their
forefathers had cleared the ground and built a home in the
wilderness of the trees.

Suddenly the wind lulled, the glare darkened, the discord receded
into a rumour.  From Broad Street she had turned into Mulberry
Street, where the sunken brick pavements stretched dimly away to
the terraced hill presiding over the canal and the river and the
iron furnaces that shot up flame and smoke into the twilight.  A
few of the more spacious houses had been turned into flats and
supplied with the modern necessities of steam heat and electricity.
A few others had become boarding-houses for the clerks and
stenographers in the near factories and the saleswomen in shops.
Over these places, one and all, a kind of skin-deep prosperity had
broken out in a rash.  When every man, black or white, who could
wield a hammer was able to command from six to eight dollars a day
for driving a nail, the earliest war wages had been transformed by
magic into pianolas and Nottingham lace curtains, just as the later
and still higher wages of the post-war period would change
automatically into radios and electric refrigerators and the newest
model of Ford cars.  Though the wind had died down for a moment, it
seemed to her that she could still hear the shrill human wail,
'I . . . I . . . I . . . I . . .'


II


A dark star shone out in the snow, and Ada thought Aunt Meggie has
put the lamp near the window.  Every winter afternoon that lamp
with the red shade flashed a welcome when she looked over the way
from the beginning of the last block.  Suppose Ralph has come! her
heart sang.  Suppose Ralph is waiting for me!  Other lights
twinkled from the closed houses, and it seemed to her that these
lights were suddenly fused with the star in her own window.  In
Ironside they had lived more or less withdrawn from the community,
because the roads and the fields and the church separated them from
the village; but in the last two months they had settled into a
strange neighbourhood, and Aunt Meggie at least had earned a
welcome for herself in every house in the quarter.

A boy in a rubber coat, his face shining with sleet, joined her at
the crossing.  She knew his name, Bertie Rawlings, and Aunt Meggie
had told her that he was the son of a dressmaker who lived on the
first floor of the yellow house at the corner.  Every day when she
went to work or came home, Ada could see Mrs. Rawlings stooped over
her sewing-machine, and she wondered whether the woman, who was a
widow and frail, ever paused to draw breath.  She had seen better
days, and she had determined that her son, a wide-awake handsome
boy, should have every advantage his father had known in his youth.
'It will be time enough to rest when Bertie is able to take care of
me,' she had said to Aunt Meggie above the ceaseless whirring of
her machine.  'I shan't begrudge any sacrifice if only Bertie can
make a success of his life.'

'Does your mother ever stop, Bertie?' Ada asked.

He laughed gaily.  'When she goes to bed.  She never stops except
when she's in bed.'

'Well, you must make it up to her.'

'When I'm a man, I'm going to be rich.  Then we'll have a fine car
and plum pudding every day.'

He darted over the slippery pavement, and she pushed on against the
wind until the sound of dance music floated from the boarding-house
next to her own door.  Beyond her iron gate, light flickered up
from the basement, where Otto Bergen, a cabinet-maker of German
descent, had his neat workshop and kept his green and red parrot
and his family of tame white mice with pink eyes.  A stout, round,
genial man, with a pleasant smile and hair like beaver fur, he had
already formed a friendship with John Fincastle, from whom he
rented his basement rooms.  With his thrifty home-keeping wife and
his two little daughters, he lived in the adjoining house, and he
had transformed a grimy backyard into the only flower garden in
Mulberry Street.  Usually, when she came in Ada stopped for a word
with him, or to exchange a greeting with the Hamblens, an elderly
couple of faded gentility who occupied the second-floor front rooms
of the boarding-house; but this evening she shut the gate quickly
behind her, and ran up the steps to the balcony of wrought iron,
where the mellow lamplight splashed like wine on the snow.  When
she entered the dim cold passage and paused to leave her soaking
umbrella, the door of the living-room opened and Aunt Meggie
called, 'You must be wet through.  Change as quickly as you can,
and give me your things to dry.'

'Is the baby all right?  I shan't go near him till I'm dry and
warm.'

'He's had a good day.  That infant's food seems to agree with him
splendidly.  I never saw such a healthy baby.  Rub your feet well
before you put on your stockings.'

'I'm warm now, and so hungry.'  Her spirit fluttered upward and
fatigue melted away.  All that meant home and peace seemed to close
in about her and to defend her from the malice of circumstance.
The red heart of the fire, the shadow of flames on the ceiling, the
old walnut table with its thread mats and worn silver, and the
flushed baby breathing as softly as a butterfly in his crib--all
these things were swimming in a miraculous fluid, in an
extraordinary delight.

When she came back from her bedroom, after smoothing her hair and
slipping into an old dress of crimson wool that she wore in the
house because it looked and felt warmer than black, Ranny awoke and
cried, and she picked him up in her arms and sat rocking him to
sleep again in front of the fire.

'I wish we had a telephone,' she said to Aunt Meggie, who was
preparing supper.  'Every footstep seems to be Ralph's.'

'He'll be sure to telegraph.  We don't miss a telephone in town as
much as we did in the country.'

'I can't help feeling he has landed.'

'We'd certainly have heard.'  Aunt Meggie was placing the worn
Sheffield candlesticks besides the blue bowl, which was filled with
winter leaves and berries John Fincastle had picked.  'Anyway, he
is safe, and I keep thinking of poor Mr. Midkiff, out yonder in
that old kitchen next door.  He has just lost his only child.  She
was a fine trained nurse, Mrs. Hambleden says, and Mr. Midkiff, who
had never had any education because he was born in a county
almshouse, worked his fingers to the bone trying to give her the
kind of start she needed.  It seems dreadful . . . doesn't it? . . .
that he wasn't taught even to read and write when he was little.
His father was disabled in the Civil War, and the whole family
(there were five children before Mr. Midkiff) had to move to the
almshouse.  Then his father and mother died, and all the children
were put out to work.  His daughter had always said she would look
after him, and she didn't go over with the Red Cross because he was
in a charity ward for an operation, and she was all he had to
depend on.  She nursed all through the epidemic.  Then, after
Christmas, she went out on a case of flu and caught it and died in
three days.'

Ada shivered and drew nearer the fire, while the baby clutched her
and whimpered.  'I've been haunted by his misery.  He was a good
carpenter, and now he is too weak to go back to work.  How in the
world will he manage?'

'Mrs. Maudsley let him live in that tumbledown kitchen, and she
always has enough left over to feed him.  Her boarders are very
particular, she says, and she has to be careful not to feed them on
anything that looks like scraps from the last meal.  As soon as
he's well, Mr. Bergen is going to give him a real job doing up old
furniture.  He's a steady worker and has a knack for treating old
mahogany.  If these good times keep up, he'll be able to make good,
I reckon, with what the neighbours can do for him.  Ever since he
began to get on in life, he has cut railway ties at fifteen cents,
or twenty cents, if he was in luck.  Nobody ever told him what year
he was born in, but I doubt whether he's more than forty-seven . . .
though he looks older.  I wish you could see that kitchen he
lives in.  It's no better than a rat hole, but Mrs. Maudsley says
she's never seen anybody with such a horror of the almshouse.  He
says calling it the City Home doesn't take the shame out of it.'

'He has a good face.  That thick grey beard makes him look like a
prophet.  Has father been over to see him?'

'He was there right after breakfast.  But he says it isn't easy to
help people who have nothing to live for.  Your father has his own
worries, I know, though he never complains.  I can tell just by the
way he looks when he comes home how those girls torment him at
school.  They do everything they can to get rid of him, because he
is old and they want a young man they can flirt with to teach them.
Nobody need tell me the world is going to be any better because the
young have taken it over.'

'I am sorry about father.  Where is he now?'

'Upstairs at work.  I tried to make him light the stove, but he
said he'd rather put on his greatcoat.  He had a letter from a
Scottish professor this morning, and that pleased him.  Now that
the war is over, I hope the next volume of his book will be brought
out as soon as it's finished.  This man at the University of
Edinburgh thinks it is the greatest work of the last twenty years.
Isn't it queer John should say he'd learned a great deal from the
war when he spent most of his time in the manse?'

'The work is everything to him.  I suppose he trusts to the future,
but I'd feel better if I could give those girls a piece of my
mind.'

'I know that feeling.  What troubles me most is that children are
growing worse every day.'

Ada shivered at a recollection.  'There were bad children in
Ironside.  But I hope the world will have settled by the time Ranny
grows up.  Did you ever see such a skin?  His hair is the colour of
honey, and his eyes are like blue flowers.'

'Yes, he's a handsome baby, and a good one so far.  You'd better
put him down and let me bring in supper.  I don't want the omelet
to fall.  There's one thing to be said for living in the city,
butter and eggs aren't so scarce in wintertime.'

'And there's money to buy them,' Ada replied lightly, while she
tucked the baby in his crib, where he fell asleep almost
immediately.  If only Ralph could see him, she thought, and turned
with a start of joy at the sound of steps on the porch.

Before the bell rang she had flung the door wide and was drawing
him to shelter from the thrust of the wind.  'Ralph, Ralph,' she
breathed over and over, on a note of quivering ecstasy so faint
that it was lost in the dim passage.  At last she was in his arms
again; her whole being was charged with his precious sense of
recovery, fulfilment, completeness, perfection.  'Oh, Ralph . . .
Ralph. . . .'

'You came so quickly,' he said, 'you must have been waiting.'

'Ever since the Armistice.'  Her voice faltered and drooped, as if
she were running.  'We've expected you for weeks.  Aunt Meggie was
sure you'd telegraph.'

He shook his head.  'There were things I wanted to see about . . .
things like getting a job.  Well, anyway, it's goodbye to war.  You
aren't sorry to lose a soldier?'

'Sorry?'  Inside the living-room, they fell apart and looked at
each other.

'You're still yourself,' he said.  'You haven't changed.'

'No, I haven't changed.'  She reached out her hands, stroking first
his face and then his arm, as if she needed to be convinced by a
touch.  He looked thinner, harder, older, and his fresh skin had
coarsened.  It struck her as swiftly as a blow that he had
forgotten how to smile.  'No, we haven't changed, have we?'

He drew her into his arms.  'Why did I come back?'

'Then you're happy?  You're happy to be back?'

'Happy?'  He laughed without merriment.  'When you've been in that
muck and got out of it, you don't know the meaning of happiness.
But I'll be happy.  Soon I'll be happy.  I can do almost anything
when I make up my mind to it.  Only have patience and let me get
clean again.'

'I'll have patience.'  Her voice broke.  'But you love me?  You're
glad to be back?'

'Of course I love you.'  He glanced round him.  'You're like your
mother.  Wherever you are becomes home.'  Then his lips trembled.
'Where is the boy?  Let me see him first when we are alone.'

'Look at him now.  Aunt Meggie will come in a minute.'  Seizing his
hand, she drew him to the crib and watched while he bent over and
touched the baby's hair as delicately as if he feared that it might
crumble to powder.  He was silent for so long while he stood there
that she spoke again in a whisper.

'They're coming, Ralph.  Aunt Meggie is calling father.  But isn't
it wonderful?  Just the three of us together.'

'He's a fine boy.  I hope his life will be less rotten than mine.'

'Less rotten!  Oh, Ralph, isn't this something?'

'It's everything, only'--his smile flickered and went out--'I've
almost come to believe that everything is nothing.  No, I don't
mean that, Ada.  This isn't the first time I've talked like a
fool.'  He turned away from the crib.  'Would they rather not see
me till to-morrow?  We can be married the first thing in the
morning.  I've arranged it with a clergyman a little way out of
town.  Nobody need know when it was.'

'Father and Aunt Meggie understand, but grandmother never forgave
me.  I killed grandmother.'  How far off, how dim and unreal,
remorse now seemed to her as it sank into the past!

'You're wonderful, Ada,' he said, and though he spoke with feeling,
it seemed to her that the feeling and the words were all part of
something he had learned long ago and was repeating with tenderness
but without passion.

Was it only the pulsing fear in her mind or did he turn with a look
of relief to Aunt Meggie?  There was a choking sob in her throat,
and she put out her hands again to grasp reality before it turned
to a shadow.

'You've come at the right moment,' Aunt Meggie exclaimed, while his
face lighted up at her welcome.  'Ada will pour the coffee, and
I'll run back and broil the ham I was saving for breakfast.  Sit
down by the fire while I beat up another omelet.'

'There's nothing I'd like better.'  For the first time he was
speaking without constraint.  'Every time I tasted chicory in
France I remembered your mother's coffee.'

As John Fincastle came in and took off the greatcoat he had
forgotten to leave in the hall, Ralph sprang up and went eagerly
toward him.

'So you're back, my boy?'

'Yes, I'm back to do the best I can for you.  Ada can stop working
and give me a chance.  She's been wonderful . . . but she mustn't
be too wonderful . . .  I shan't talk about it, but I've made all
our plans for the future, and they begin early to-morrow.'

'Well, I'll be glad,' John Fincastle said.  'I'll be glad to have
Ada stop working.'

At the head of the table, with her arm bent over the coffee-pot,
Ada felt that the walls of the room were breaking up and
reassembling in curves and arabesques of firelight.  Was this the
way things came after waiting?  Always in a new design.  Never
again with exactly the same perfection?  There was pathos in his
look, and a pathetic wistfulness in his anxiety to do right.  Even
his pleasure in his supper, and the flicker of expectancy in his
eyes while he watched her pour his coffee, seemed to her boyish and
touching and in some queer way unnatural.  Of what was he thinking?
she asked herself, while she raised her free hand to brush a mist
from her eyes.  Had the long separation, and all that he had seen
and suffered while they were apart, opened an abyss between their
lives that nothing, not even love, would be able to bridge?

'Oh, Ralph, is it true?  Are you really here?' she exclaimed.

'Sure!'  The russet colour flowed under his skin, and he
straightened his shoulders as he smiled back at her.  'That's the
only thing I'm sure of to-night.'

'Well, the rest is over,' John Fincastle said quietly, but there
was a dazed look in his eyes, as if he were still inhabiting the
world of ideas in which facts are as fleeting as symbols.

The door into the hall opened and shut, and Aunt Meggie brought in
the omelet and a dish of broiled ham.  'But you must be glad,' she
protested in her sprightly tone.  'You must be glad, Ralph, that
you helped to save civilization.'

'I am not so sure as I once was.'  Ralph took the dish from her
hands and placed it carefully in the centre of the thread mat on
the table.  'I'm not so sure civilization is worth saving.'

'But, my dear boy, you were splendid.  Ironside is so proud of your
record, especially of the time you killed all those German soldiers
single-handed.'

'Lord, Lord, was it as bad as that?  Well, it's news to me, like
most war news.'

'Why, the church wall has a tablet with the names of all the young
men of the congregation who went into the war.  Mr. Black is so
proud of it.  He never fails to point out your name and to tell
about your exploits.'

'Worse and worse.'  Though he laughed pleasantly, there was an
overtone of derision.  'Well, I hope he won't begin to tell me.
Ever since I landed three weeks ago I have been trying to keep my
mind on automobiles.'

'You landed three weeks ago!' John Fincastle exclaimed, while Ada
watched breathlessly.

Ralph flushed.  'I know it seems queer, but it wasn't, not really.
It was like shedding a dead skin and growing a new one.  If I'd
been wounded or gassed or shell-shocked, I might have known what to
do.  But I was as sound as I ever was.  Nothing had touched me.
Yet for a week after I landed I walked the streets of New York in a
blue funk.  I had to forget what I'd seen in France . . . oh, I
know some men enjoyed it! . . . before I could start selling cars
in Queenborough.'

'Well, the killing is all over,' Aunt Meggie persisted.  'And the
world will look better when you've had a third cup of coffee.'

'It looks better after a second.'

When he smiled the drawn muscles of his face relaxed and the moody
stillness in his eyes sparkled to humour.  His eyes, Ada noticed,
were darker, as if a shadow from within retarded the light.  He
loved her, he had come back to her, yet something was missing.  A
faint chill crept over her gladness.  Would it ever return, that
lost radiance?  They could not, he had said then, look back.  They
must go on--but to what?  If they had waited for love, would they
be happier now?  Or would they have missed for ever that intense
joy in terror of parting?  She didn't know.  Who could answer that
question?  But she would have patience as she had promised him.  It
isn't merely loving that matters, she thought.  It is belonging
together.

When supper was over, she helped Aunt Meggie clear the table, while
her father and Ralph sat by the fire and talked of the future.
Never of yesterday.  Always of tomorrow, of next year, of the years
after.  Life was renewing itself.  The past had faded and vanished,
and everything would be different.  Moving from firelight to
shadow, which seemed to mingle with the rhythm of voices in her
ears, in her mind, she heard the two men speaking in subdued tones
of the years ahead.

'Everyone is expecting an after-the-war boom,' Ralph was saying.
'You must let me take care of the household.  I'll have a salary of
three thousand dollars besides a commission after I sell a number
of cars.  I'll be sure to sell cars.  Everybody who has money is
buying, and the Duncan makers are going to put out the best cheap
car this spring.'

'I'll be glad to have Ada stay at home,' John Fincastle replied.
'But the habit of independence is a stubborn one.  I'd rather keep
my classes as long as I am able.'  He had aged since coming to
Queenborough, and it seemed to Ada, as she watched him, that his
features were chiselled down almost to the bone.

'If you like,' Ralph said, glancing round, 'we can move into a
bigger house and a better neighbourhood.'

'Not yet,' Ada answered before her father could speak.  'Not until
next year, or the year after.  There is nothing the matter with
this neighbourhood.  It's quiet, but so are we, and we like it.'

'Yes, they're simple folk like us,' John Fincastle agreed.

'If only you could have a fire, Father, instead of a bricked-up
grate and a gas stove.'

'We'll have all the fires we want,' Ralph said, eager and wistful
to please, and so strangely appealing.  'At least we can be warm if
you'd rather not move.'

Ada laughed happily.  Oh, how beautiful life could be after
suffering!  'Let's save a little before we begin to spend.  If we
save enough, we may be able to buy the manse for a summer home.
Nobody is going to pay a good price for that out-of-the-way place.'

'But I thought you wanted to come away.  Would you like to go back
to Ironside?'

'In a few years when we're older.  I've a feeling that I've left a
part of me, perhaps only a root, in the Valley.'  For this had been
her secret dream ever since she had lived in the city.  To go back,
not now, but some day when they had prospered and saved, and all
the children in Ironside had grown up.

'Hasn't Ada any kin here?' Ralph asked.  'Where are her mother's
people?'

'If I have any, they aren't thinking of me,' Ada replied.  'And I'm
too proud to remind them of mother.'

'I pass the Blands' house every day,' John Fincastle said.  'They
were Mary Evelyn's cousins, and she was visiting them when I met
her.  She had come to town for the winter.'

'It is a beautiful house.  I'd like to go inside.'  Ada's tone had
grown pensive.

Ralph was looking steadily into her eyes, and she leaned over him
while her enkindled features reflected his gaze.  Though she did
not speak, she knew that her smile told him everything.  What joy,
she thought, while the burning sweetness saturated her being.  Was
this the end of long patience, of sleepless anxiety?

Starting up, he pushed back his chair.  'Everything is ready for to-
morrow, even the licence.  I went out to see Mr. Berry this
morning, and he is expecting us . . . the four of us . . . at ten
o'clock.'

'Well, it's Saturday,' John Fincastle said gravely.  'There are no
classes on Saturdays.'

For a minute Ralph hesitated.  Then he looked at Ada and asked,
'Will you wear this red dress?'

'Who ever saw a bride in a red dress?'

'I don't care.  I like it.'

'Then I'll wear it.'  For it was bliss, and he knew it, to have
everything, even the colour of her dress, taken out of her hands.

Everything is ours now, she told herself, everything we had hoped
for.  Yet a moment later, when he stooped to kiss her good night,
reserve had closed in a mask over his face, and she looked in vain
for the romantic gleam in his eyes.


III


Is it because I'm old, John Fincastle asked himself, that the world
seems deranged?  Had the dregs of violence churned to a froth on
the surface?  Or was the thing called civilization now dying in
spasms after a victory over nature?  Not that it mattered--One must
keep an open mind toward the future.  If one waited long enough,
froth would settle and dregs would sink again to the bottom.
Meanwhile, he had finished his book; the fifth and last volume
would see the light (or so his publishers assured him) as soon as
the postwar world had found itself; and life as a spectacle was
never more amusing, perhaps, than in the autumn of 1925.  He was
old, and he would presently pass away, but his work, all that was
important in his existence as a human being, would live on as
thoughts in the minds of a few scattered and lonely thinkers.  If
he were remembered by others, it would be either as a dangerous
sceptic, or as a man of simple faith, who believed that God is
essence, not energy, and that blessedness, or the life of the
spirit, is the only reality.

As he descended the steps of the finishing school, he pushed onward
through a thicket of flaxen legs and blank flowerlike faces.  Not
until he had passed beyond the rosy knees and the red mockery of
the lips (even schoolgirls painted their lips) did he slacken his
pace and pause to draw breath amid the purring of ceaseless
dynamos.  He could never escape from that mechanical vibration,
which seemed to him not only the pulse, but the very soul, of the
machine.  Yet he had resolved that as long as his strength held
out, he would earn his keep and pay the premiums, as they fell due,
on what was left of his insurance.  After that, when the
infirmities of age overtook him, there would still be the good end
ahead.  For, whatever else he had missed in life, the good end he
could never miss.

But the young?  Would the young always and everywhere confuse
change with progress?  Did every new age evolve from a ferment of
centrifugal forces?  Had it been like this in his youth?  He tried
to look back, but the view was too far and too faint.  Still, it
seemed to him that his generation had held, however loosely, to
some standard of living.  Nobility of motive had not then become a
lost issue.  True, then as now, the world was inhospitable to the
lover of wisdom, though it had remained for the age of invention to
make him an outcast.  Nowadays, he mused, with a glance at the
scattered clouds in the November sky, whatever could not feed the
machine was discarded as rubbish.  Everything, from the aimless
speeding of automobiles down to the electric dust in the sunlight,
appeared to whirl on deliriously, without a pattern, without a
code, without even a centre.  Yes, he was an old fogey, of course,
and youth, with its cool, resentful stare, mocking and insolent,
was rebuilding the world.

Only that morning, on an early walk, he had seen front yards
littered with empty bottles, and three drunken boys sprawling on
the grass after a dance at a club.  A few weeks before he had
stumbled upon one of his own pupils, a girl of seventeen, locked in
an embrace in a parked car down a country lane.  All this, he
reminded himself, was merely the foam of transition, and would
disappear as it came.  But would the perpetual flux and reflux of
individualism reduce all personality to the level of mass
consciousness?  Would American culture remain neither bourgeois nor
proletarian, but infantile?  Would the moron, instead of the meek,
inherit democracy?

While he walked on, towering above the crowd, with the scholar's
stoop in a spine that had once been erect, and the ray of
otherworldliness shining through his deep eyes and transparent
features, persons who passed him hurriedly turned, with a backward
glance, and said to themselves, 'That tall old man must be a
stranger.'  But he was thinking:  There is something in me that is
still young, that will stay young if I live to be a hundred.  It
was this something that loved life and would live it over again in
its wholeness, mingling the good with the bad, that had never
valued an effortless heaven, that sympathized with youth even while
he condemned its unimaginative cruelty, its pitiless egoism.

As he reached the corner, an old Negro pedlar rolling a pushcart
was knocked down, and from the speeding car that struck him,
several bright young faces stared back with a look of indignant
astonishment.  'They are just young things out for a good time,'
remarked a middle-aged woman in the maternal tone.  'All the same
there ought to be a law,' protested a moody bystander.  And a
traffic policeman, who had strolled over from the middle of the
street, observed cynically, 'Well, as long as they'd rather risk a
killing than slow down, what is anybody going to do about it?'

In the old Negro's face there was neither astonishment nor
indignation; there was only perplexity.  He lay on his back, in the
midst of his scattered vegetables, onions, beets, carrots, turnips,
potatoes, wrinkling his forehead as if he were trying to recollect
something he had forgotten.  One bluish hand, on which the knuckles
gleamed pallid, still clutched the turnip he had reached out to
save.  Then the group closed in about him, a passing physician
stopped his car and stepped out, and the old Negro was dragged
aside to wait for the ambulance.

When John Fincastle turned into Washington Street, a flock of
sparrows scuttled like brown leaves over the pavement, and for a
moment he stood watching them, while his soul was swept by a wave
of nostalgia.  The Great Valley might be upon another planet, so
distant, so luminously green and springlike did it appear in his
memory.  Always in spring he now saw it, never in autumn or winter.
Yet there were times when the thrilling blue of God's Mountain
seemed to exist only within his mind, and to melt into his being.
And there were other hours when he felt that he was wandering on a
vast plain, treeless and dead, where all the peaks had been
levelled and twilight was flowing down in a sultry, impalpable
tide.

Every afternoon, rain or sun, he walked several blocks out of his
way for the sake of passing the Bland house in Washington Street.
It was there that he had first seen Mary Evelyn, as she came down
the steps between the white columns and paused for an instant under
the elms on the terrace.  Sometimes, toward sunset, Ada and he
would stroll up the street, with Ranny running between them, and
for a little while they would watch from the opposite pavement to
see the Bland family come in or go out.  It was the one romantic
image now left in their lives--the old yellow house, with the Doric
columns, the grassy terrace, and the look of ancient nobility that
had fallen on vulgar times.

'It must be beautiful to live like that,' Ada would sigh.  'In that
house they must have kept dignity.  I suppose things still move
with ceremony, and they think romantic thoughts as people used to
do when mother was a girl.'

'I wish you knew them, my dear.  They are your mother's people.'

'I'd love to see them, but not now.  I want to feel as dignified as
they are before I claim kinship.'

Usually, he would pause for an instant as one might pause by a
grave or a memory; but this afternoon he hurried on because the
face of the old Negro floated before him in the shadows under the
elms.

Like himself, he mused whimsically, as he turned into Mulberry
Street, this neighbourhood was decayed and forgotten.  The people
who lived here were quiet folk, stranded in some slow back-current
of time.  They worked hard, enjoyed simple pleasures, and asked
only a reasonable security.  His first feeling of strangeness in
the community had worn off, and in the past seven years he had
fallen into the habit of dropping in on one of his neighbours at
the end of the day.  He had grown attached to the Hamblens, an
elderly married pair, who had denied themselves in youth for the
sake of a peaceful old age together in two front rooms of a
boarding-house.  Both were devout in the Episcopal faith, and
though they had always been poor, they prided themselves upon
being, as they would have said, 'well-born'.  In the old-fashioned
spacious rooms, with high ceilings, they now lived in the way they
had admired in their laborious youth.  Mr. Hamblen was a slight,
frail, asthmatic man, dry and brittle, with a pointed grey beard
hiding his chin, and eyes that were a little guarded but quick and
kind when you took them by surprise.  His wife was so much like him
that Meggie was sure they must have been cousins.  Her figure was
tall and spare, with nervous, willowy movements, and there was a
look of anxious solicitude in her face that reminded John Fincastle
of an ageing Madonna.  All about them, around, below, above,
industrious young persons who had escaped the post-war contagion of
wildness, slept and dressed and ate sober meals before they set out
to spend the long day in steam-heated factories or shops.  Many of
these young people helped to support families, and most of them
asked as little of life as their patient elders had asked in their
youth.

But the neighbours he liked best were the Bergens, who rented his
basement and lived in the small house with the iron balcony on the
right.  Otto Bergen had inherited a magic touch with furniture, and
he could bring out the secret lustre, like a shining heart, in old
walnut or mahogany.  He had, too, the German friendliness for
animals.  His workshop in the basement sheltered, to the delight of
Ranny and other children on the block, a variety of pets he had
rescued from ill-treatment.  Not only was there his superb parrot
on its stand, but the big cage contained a whole community of
trained white mice.  He was never seen apart from his slender
little dachshund, Hans, with a coat like brown satin and a long
wise head, as flawless and fine as a cameo.

In the middle of the block an alley ran through to Hill Street.
This was the favourite playground of the neighbourhood children,
and as he approached it now a little boy in a knitted suit dashed
out, with a toy gun, crying, 'Uppity!  Uppity!' in an excited
treble.  Immediately behind him, a young mother bore down proudly
upon her offspring.  'He means you must put up your hands!' she
exclaimed.  'He says he's going to be a gangster when he grows up.
And he was just five last birthday!'

'But suppose I don't put up my hands?'

'Oh, of course, the gun doesn't go off.  But he'd make believe he
was holding you up.'

She beamed, and John Fincastle chuckled, but it was not a chuckle
of merriment.

When he went by the Bergens' workrooms to-day, he glanced in
without stopping.  Was it the fluting presence of canaries that
made the basement so cheerful?  Was it the fire of coals in the
grate, and the rapturous gloating of Otto Bergen over a table by
Duncan Phyfe?  Or was it the animated coming and going of Mrs.
Bergen and her two pretty daughters?  Though Otto was not disposed
to piety, his wife was a German Catholic, and she lived and moved
in the serene order of ritual.  She was still very pretty, and John
Fincastle admired her neat blue or pink cotton dresses, and the
wreath of fair plaits she wore like a coronet.  Both daughters
resembled their mother, though Rosa, the elder, was a silvery
blonde, and Minna, a forward girl of sixteen, had borrowed her
sister's pure features and enkindled them with a personality that
was already defiant and dashing.  At eighteen, Rosa was engaged to
be married.  Her hands were usually filled with linen she hemmed or
embroidered, and the old man enjoyed watching her while she sewed
with her pensive gaze on the damask that streamed over her knees.

There was something exquisitely touching in these blissful
preparations for a future that might be different from the one she
anticipated.

He had never seen, he reflected, so happy a family.  Though the
ties of kinship were strong in the Fincastles and Craigies, the
moral climate of Calvinism was not favourable to effervescent
emotion.  At Ironside, anniversaries were ignored or neglected, but
in the Bergens' family circle every festival, even the birthday of
Hans, was celebrated with a kind of wistful remembrance.  For three
generations the Bergens and the Hartmanns had lived in Queenborough,
yet Mrs. Bergen, who had made only one visit to Germany, still
observed many of her grandmother's customs. Occasionally, when
John Fincastle would drop in on a wet afternoon, she would summon
the two men into the oddly furnished living-room next door, and
give them coffee thick with cream or hot frothy milk, and slices of
light sugary coffee cake.  Only during the past weeks had the old
man surprised a brooding anxiety in her smile, and a note of
exasperation in her husband's whistle as he worked. Was it possible,
he wondered, that Minna was so soon beginning to cause her parents
uneasiness?


IV


While John Fincastle ascended the steps to the balcony, Ranny
dashed across the street from a vacant lot and climbed the steep
flight beside him.  At the age of seven he was a well-developed and
vigorous boy, with thick chestnut hair, a ruddy skin that was not
sensitive, and bright blue eyes which were clear and direct,
without the dreaming inward gaze of his grandfather.

'I want my skates, Grandfather,' he said.  'I got to go out again.'

'It's time to wash your face and hands.'  The old man glanced at
his watch.  'When did you come home from school?'

'At one o'clock.  I had to do a sum, but it didn't take me a
minute.  All the other boys are older'n me, and I got through the
first one.'

'Well, I'm proud of you, my boy.  You're manly for your years.  But
have you forgotten what I said this morning about rowdy speaking?'

Ranny squirmed.  'I can't talk like you, Grandfather.  I can't.
The boys don't know what I mean.  They say it's just baby talk.  I
can't, can I?'

'Perhaps not.  By the time you're grown we may all be saying
"older'n me".'

'Did you know Aunt Meggie was making apple dumplings?'

'Then you'd better come in.  She doesn't like to be kept waiting.'

'Do you have to go to school most of your life, Grandfather?  I
mean most of the time you want to have fun?'

'Some people have to.  That depends on how quickly you learn.'

Yes, he was a fine boy, the old man reflected.  Tall and strong for
his age, and brimming over with energy, he was already a leader
among the neighbourhood children.  Though he lacked the Irish charm
of his father, he had been born with that effortless magic which
subdues circumstances.

When John Fincastle came downstairs he found the table set for
dinner at three o'clock, after the custom at Ironside.  While he
watched Ada bring in the dishes, he regretted that her figure was
losing its girlish outlines, though years had given her the noble
bearing that men of his generation had admired more than
slenderness.  Her smoky blue eyes, so like her mother's in
expression as she grew older, held the darkened radiance that
proceeds from within outward.  Wherever she went she would carry
her way of life with her, as the pioneers had carried their Bibles
beside their flintlocks and shot pouches.  She must have felt, he
told himself, that there was something missing in her marriage, but
she had felt it in silence.  We made a mistake when we tried to
separate them, he conceded.  You may separate lovers, but not human
relationships.  On rare occasions, it is true, he had heard her
quarrelling with Ralph over a trifle; and once at least the
marriage had been ruffled by a brief flare of jealousy.  Strange,
that he should have studied his daughter so closely and yet have
believed her incapable of making a scene!  Yet this proved only
that one human being could never completely understand another.  He
had learned, though, that anger and jealousy are spasms of the
nerves, not of the heart.  Vehemence had blown over, like a storm
on deep water, leaving the still depths untroubled.

'You may as well sit down,' Ada said, bending over to rearrange the
berries in the blue bowl.  'Ralph telephoned he couldn't get home
to dinner.  I'm sorry, Ranny, but Aunt Meggie is saving the apple
dumplings for supper.  After to-day, I think we'll begin having
dinner in the evening.  Ralph so seldom comes home by three
o'clock.  Have you washed your hands nicely, Ranny?'

''Cep'in' one finger, Mother.  I dyed that blue 'cause I was Dick
Blue-Finger.  We were playin' pirates.  Jimmy Wheatley says his ma
never makes him wash his hands lessen they're real dirty.  And the
only time he has to wash all over is on Sad'day night.'  He spoke
with spirit, holding his own because he felt that there was reason,
if not right, on his side.

Ada regarded him doubtfully.  'I sometimes wish we lived in a
better neighbourhood.'

'Do you suppose children like to wash in another neighbourhood?'
her father inquired.  'Anyhow, Ralph was eager to move seven years
ago.'

'I know.  I was the one who wanted to stay here.  But Ranny was a
baby then, and now he is so knowing for his age that it makes me
anxious about him.'  Her gaze passed from her father to her son,
and she thought proudly, 'Any mother in the world would want to
give a son like that every advantage.  I can understand the way
poor Mrs. Rawlings has worked until she looks as if she had a hump
on her back.'

'If we save the apple dumplin's, Mother, I want some molasses and
corn pone.'

'I'll tell Tillie.  She's bringing the scalloped oysters.'

'I don't want oysters.  If I can't have an apple dumplin', I want
molasses.'

'Did you ever imagine we'd be so well off?' Aunt Meggie asked, with
a sigh of contentment, while she sat down with her back to the fire
and threw her little crocheted shawl away from her shoulders.
Though the lines in her face had deepened with age, they were still
sanguine wrinkles.  After all, John Fincastle meditated, if
Meggie's happiness is the gift of faith without imagination, then
Ralph's unhappiness may be the bitter fruit of imagination without
faith.  Aloud he said, 'Yes, Ralph has done well by us.'

'But you won't let us help you, Father,' Ada protested in a hurt
tone.  'There is no reason now for you to teach in that girls'
school.'

'I know, my dear, and I appreciate it.  There was never a more
generous heart than Ralph's, and generosity is an agreeable virtue.
By the way, have you heard anything from Midkiff?'  Old Midkiff was
always more or less on his mind.  In the past seven years John
Fincastle had suffered from the strange sensation that he was
becoming gradually a part of a street, that his individual unity
was a cell in some organic whole.

'We had him mend a broken chair this morning, and he told us he was
working steadily for Mr. Bergen.  The trouble is that he won't eat
enough because he wants to save every penny he makes.  He is ridden
by the fear of dying a pauper.'

A faint quiver crossed and recrossed John Fincastle's features.
'Many of us have known that fear.'

'His mind has never been quite right since his daughter died,' Ada
said.  'We try to give him one good meal every evening.  That is
the only way we can make sure he is not starving himself.'

'As long as we lived at Ironside,' Aunt Meggie murmured regretfully,
'we knew at least where we'd be buried.  Somebody told me the other
day that the manse had been sold again to pay the taxes, and Dr.
Updike had bought it in for a song.'

'If we do better and better, we may go back some day,' Ada
answered.  'I wonder how Ironside would receive us?'

'Oh, everybody would be glad,' Aunt Meggie insisted.  'They're so
proud of Ralph's war record, and folks haven't as long thoughts
nowadays, in the midst of all this machinery.'

Ada laughed.  'It's a pity Ralph is the only person who isn't proud
of his war record.'

'He will be,' John Fincastle retorted, 'by the time he is too old
to fight.  Yes, I like to think I may end my days in the manse.'

'Anyway,' a shiver crawled down Ada's spine, 'the children there
will be grown up before we go back,'

'Do you feel a draught from the door?' Aunt Meggie inquired
anxiously.

'Oh, no.'  Ada shook her head impatiently.  'Ralph says the people
let the house go after they found the new highway wouldn't come to
Ironside.  It went to Teesdale because there were some politicians
on that side the mountain.  Yes, it would be nice if we could buy
the place and go up there for the summers.  Summer never seems real
in the city.'

Suddenly, while she spoke of summer in the Valley, it seemed to
John Fincastle that he felt the upward springing and downward
seeking of fibres.  Was there a physical weakness within?  Or had
his heart tightened again in the last loop of the road round the
hills?  'Well, we may yet live to end our days there, Meggie,' he
said in a quizzical tone.

Ada pushed back her hair as if she were brushing away a stinging
recollection.  'In a few years we may be able to buy it again, but
of course we must think first of Ranny's education.'

'Oh, no, you mustn't, Mother, you mustn't.  I don't really need
one.  Lots of people haven't an eddication, old Mr. Midkiff says.'

'That's true, my son, but you're going to be educated.'

'But why, Mother?  Why must I be eddicated if I don't want to be?'

'Because it's the most important thing in the world.  Because you
must make your way.'

'Do I have to be eddicated to play football?  I'd rather play
football than be a lousy . . .'

'Ranny!  Ranny, where did you learn that word?  Father, did you
hear what he said?'

'I heard it, my dear.  I'm used to hearing it.'

'Everybody says it, Mother.  Father says it.'  Ranny sounded
subdued but unconvinced.

'Well, you shan't.  You must never use it again.  You aren't old
enough.  Your father was in the war,' his mother replied, with more
sincerity than logic.  'He may use bad words because he was in the
war.  Now, if you're going to be good and talk nicely, you may get
your skates and run out.  The daylight goes so soon, and you simply
must not stay in the street after dusk.'

As he ran out eagerly to join his playfellows, she said in a
whisper, though he was well beyond the range of her voice, 'I
sometimes wish everything did not come so easily to him.  He's too
far ahead of his years.'

John Fincastle smiled.  'He is only seven, my dear.  When he is a
little older he will not seem so far advanced.'

'We ought to be thankful in this age that he isn't a girl,' Aunt
Meggie remarked briskly.  'Minna Bergen is giving her parents a
great deal of trouble.  Mrs. Bergen--she is such a nice woman--was
crying about her this morning.  Rosa is so gentle and good, but
Minna has got entirely out of hand.  She's only sixteen, but when
they reprove her, she tells them she is living her own life.  Last
night she went out in a two-seater with a young man she'd picked up
at a movie a few days before, and she didn't come home until almost
four o'clock.  When Mrs. Bergen asked Father Tallyman to speak to
her, she was just as impertinent to him as she is to her parents.'

'Well, it takes character to stand being as pretty as that,' John
Fincastle observed charitably.

'Nobody knows how pretty she'd be if she washed her face,' retorted
Aunt Meggie, who was without malice but disliked paint and powder.

Ada's features, so eloquent with feeling when she was happy,
hardened into a frown.  Even as a child, Minna had seemed to her
selfish and wayward, with an unchildish arrogance in her manner.
There was something about her, Ada had once remarked to Ralph, that
resembled, or at least suggested, Janet Rowan; but Ralph had only
laughed and denied that he had ever noticed the likeness.  And even
her father, with the singular lack of reason in the reasonable, was
now defending Minna simply because she was pretty.

When Ralph came home that evening, she told him that both her
father and Aunt Meggie were homesick for the Valley.  'They try not
to let me see it, but the note of homesickness sounds in their
voices.'

'Do you want to go back, Ada?'

'I'm not sure.  That depends . . .'

'Everything depends upon something else.'

He was standing beside her, and before she answered him, she
searched his features with a look that was bright and startled.
She knew he loved her; yet in their closest embrace this
uncertainty would drift between them, this sense of something
intimately dear she had lost without wholly possessing.  Everything
but the gleam, she had told her troubled heart over and over.  No
one, of course, could expect that to last.  It wouldn't be the
gleam if it lasted.  For the change went deeper than love, she
understood while she accepted it; the flaw was inherent in the very
structure of living.

But how she loved him, she thought, though this deep and quiet
tenderness was so different from the flaming ecstasy of her
girlhood.  A better love, perhaps, but not the same love.  Just as
his face, red-brown, weather-beaten, with the hardened crease round
the lips and the defiant reserve in the eyes, was not the face of
his romantic youth.  He looked more vital than ever; and he was
still young, though he was no longer romantic.  At moments his
touch and voice held the old power over her senses--but only at
moments.  Yet these instants were still worth to her all the
tranquil hours of her happiness.

'Do you really care as much?' she asked suddenly, instead of
replying.

'Why do you ask things like that?'

'Because you never tell me so.  If only you'd sometimes tell me.'

'You ought to know without my having to tell you.'

'I do know, but I want to hear it.'

He laughed softly.  'Well, you'll never get an answer by asking.'

No, she couldn't understand.  'You used to--I mean when we were
younger.'

'That was different.  That was before we knew anything about life.'

She choked back a sob.  'No, that was when we believed love was the
best of life and Eagle Ridge the whole world.  I can't see,' she
burst out impulsively, 'why the war should have changed you.'

'It wasn't the war.'  His face turned to a mask, she thought, and
the amusement in his eyes cooled to derision.  'Everything
flattened out and went dead on me.  But I get a lot out of life as
long as I take it on the surface.  It's only when I punch through
the surface that the world seems to go rotten.  Of course I care
for you, but it sounds silly when I try to be sentimental.  That
part doesn't seem to mean anything.  When I look about me, in spite
of all the good times, misery is the only thing that is real.
Hunger and cold and disease and physical agony and meanness and
rottenness in human nature . . .'

'But these things have always been in the world . . .  These things
were around us at Eagle Ridge. . . .'

'They hadn't got under my skin . . .'  He broke off with a laugh as
if he were ashamed of his outburst.  'I'll brush up a bit before
supper.  Would you like to go to a movie?'

She shook her head, and after he had gone into the bedroom she sat
alone on the hearthrug and looked through tears at the firelight,
which wavered and melted and wavered again into a new pattern.  No,
it would never come back.

After his return, she had hoped for years that the dark mood would
wear out.  But now she knew better.

She was still sitting alone when he bent over her, with the
burnished glow on his hair, and put his hand on her shoulder.  'Are
you all right?'

'Perfectly all right.'

For an instant he stood looking down on her.  Then, suddenly, he
dropped on his knees by her side and laid his head in her lap.
While his arms closed about her, she understood that he was telling
her in his own way what he could never put into words.  But she
knew; she realized without speech what he was trying to say.  She
felt his hardness and strength; and through the flesh and bone and
muscle, she responded to an inner rhythm that was like music.  Yes,
there was a love that went with youth, she thought, while this
harmony of mood flowed on into deeper vibrations.  A love that came
and went with passion, and was over for ever.  And there was
another and a stronger love that stayed by one if only one had
fidelity.  But fidelity, she found herself thinking an instant
later, is even rarer than love.


V


She was almost, if not wholly, glad that she had no daughter to
bring up, Ada thought, while she shielded her eyes from the May
sunshine and watched Minna Bergen flirting with a strange young man
over the black iron gate to the next yard.  Last winter, for a few
weeks, the girl had become engaged to Bertie Rawlins, while he
spent the Christmas holidays with his mother.  Then, as soon as the
boy returned to his studies, Minna had resumed her casual happiness-
hunting.  Not only Mrs. Rawlings, but the whole of Mulberry Street,
was proud of Bertie Rawlings, who had distinguished himself at the
university.  Though his mother still bent her rounded back over her
sewing machine, her features were wreathed in the smile of a martyr
whose martyrdom has been crowned.

Girls were wilder than boys, it seemed, and more troublesome in
this spring of 1928.  Poor Mrs. Bergen, so good, gentle, and
unselfish, had mingled many tears with her prayers.  Yet Minna was
extraordinarily alive, and that, father said, appeared to be all
people asked.  Glutted with its orgy of death, the modern world was
now famished for life.  For life in any form, even in paroxysms of
inflamed egoism.  But Ada disliked everything about Minna.  She
disliked the small, flat head, with the boyish bob, as smooth as
butter, pasted in dampened rings on strawberry cheeks; she disliked
the large, round, light eyes, like the challenging eyes of a bad
baby, staring upward from beneath eyelashes fringed with soot; and,
most of all, she disliked the wide insatiable mouth, painted as red
as a wound, and the flaunting bare knees above rolled stockings.
Cheap, that was the trouble.  'A puny breed', was the way her
grandmother would have dismissed the whole post-war generation.
Though the old woman was safely dead, Ada could hear her strong
snort of disgust:  'The Evil One Himself cannot stomach a puny
breed.'

Why was it, she found herself thinking abruptly, that her
grandmother, more than her own mother, seemed to live on in her
mind and nerves, awaking whenever a bell rang from the past?  And
the stranger part was that the place grandmother had filled on
earth appeared to grow larger and more empty.  A terrible old woman
in some ways--yet immortal.  'The empty hiccup of lust,' she had
once said in horror.

Ada's name was breathed in a muted tone, and turning her head, she
saw Mrs. Hamblen climbing the flight of steps to the balcony.
Ageing, though not yet old, she was still slender and upright in
carriage, with the refined manner and the sober apparel of
discredited gentility.  Yet grandmother, Ada suspected, would have
classified her also as 'puny'.

'I was just admiring your aunt's fine Rhode Island Red rooster,'
Mrs. Hamblen was saying.

'Oh, Henry VIII!  Yes, and he has six handsome hens.'

'They have a nice place to scratch in your back yard, I hope it
isn't true that you're planning to move in the autumn.'  As she put
her hand to the edge of white at her lean throat, Ada saw that her
joints were swollen and inflamed, and that she winced when she
tried to straighten her forefinger.

I am glad they have enough to live on, the younger woman thought,
with an ache of pity.  It must be dreadful to be growing old
without a sense of security.  Aloud she said doubtfully, 'We'd like
to move next year if this prosperity lasts.'

'Everyone says still better times are ahead.'

'It's hard to believe that.  Ralph is selling more Duncan cars now
than the factory can turn out.  Everybody appears able to afford a
car.  Even the scissors-grinder told Aunt Meggie he was trying to
buy an old Ford.'

'What I can't understand,' Mrs. Hamblen replied, with an anxious
frown, 'is that nobody seems to pay for anything he buys.  It is
all on the instalment plan, buying and selling.  The coloured maids
in our boarding-house buy silk stockings by instalment.  They
wouldn't be caught wearing cotton stockings or lisle thread like
mine.'

Ada laughed.  'I never saw a pair of silk stockings in Ironside,
except on Janet Rowan.'

'We were taught to practise thrift,' Mrs. Hamblen sighed, 'but when
I see how easily people live without saving, I sometimes wonder
whether we made a mistake.  My husband and I never had any youth.
We were too afraid of having to ask for charity when we were old.'

'That kind of fear seems to have passed away.'

'The sad part of it is that the young people aren't happy.  They
aren't even,' Mrs. Hamblen murmured pensively, 'as happy as we
were, saving for something better to come.  But that's the trouble,
I expect--none of them believe there is anything better to come.'

'If they're happy, they don't show it,' Ada assented.  'Maybe they
plaster their faces to hide the discontent in their looks.  I was
just watching Minna Bergen and wondering why she jumps up and down
all the time.'

Mrs. Hamblen pinched her nose into rimless glasses.  'All the girls
of her age twist their hips.  They appear to have an idea that it
is attractive.'  Her prime, pale lips tightened.  'In my day, when
we cultivated the Grecian bend, it was thought vulgar to jerk the
hips.'

'Well, they seem to fall for it now,' Ada laughed.

'It's a pity about Bertie Rawlings.  He might have done better.'

'How does Mrs. Rawlings like it?'

'She thinks it won't last.  Bertie is working for his M.A. at the
university, and then he's going to try for a scholarship.  It will
be a long time before he is ready to marry.'

'I hope Mrs. Rawlings will live to see him succeed.'

'I doubt if she holds out much longer.  Ever since Bertie was born,
a few months after his father was killed, she has sacrificed
everything to his future.  She's at the sewing machine by daybreak,
and people tell me she works every night till midnight, cutting and
basting.  Poor woman!  My mother used to say she could always tell
a mantua-maker by her back.'

'Yet she isn't unhappy.  I met her going to church with Bertie on
Easter Sunday, and her face was shining with happiness.  He's nice
with her, too.  He was trying to make her wear a black felt cloche
instead of that big hat with the brim.'

'If only Minna would let him alone!  I heard her speak very pertly
to his mother, and he only laughed.  Well, I hope you won't feel
that you have to move in the autumn.  Mulberry Street has come to
seem like one big family.'

'Yes, we're at home here, but I'd feel safer if Ranny could get
farther away from those gangs of boys on Oregon Hill and in River
Bottom.'  That was the truth, she told herself, but was it the
whole truth?  Well, it couldn't be helped . . .  The unfinished
thought turned in her mind and plunged down into darkness.  'If
good times keep up, we hope to buy back our old home in the upper
Valley.  When we do, you must both come to see us one summer.'

'Oh, how lovely!  We've never been west of the Blue Ridge.  We've
never had a glimpse of the Alleghanies.'

Alone once more, Ada turned her eyes to the street, where billows
of dust rose and fell and settled, like waves breaking.  There must
be room somewhere, she thought, for quiet people who wanted to live
apart from the delirium of an ailing world.  For it was spring
again, and the long shafts of light were ranging over the Valley.
With time softening her vision, she watched her own image as it
stood, walked, ran, stooped, rose, and at last vanished, in its dim
blue dress, a shadow among shadows, within the hyacinth-coloured
circle of mountains.  That vanishing image was herself.  Yet, this
also was herself, here, now, in this point of time, this single
cell of experience, warm, eager, expectant, still waiting for the
lost gleam to flash out of life.

The strange young man had gone on his way (her gaze dropped back to
the yard next door), but Minna, touching her red lips, was looking
for someone else.  It seemed to Ada that whenever she glanced out
of the window, the girl, always with the tiny gilt mirror flashing
in her hand, was going out, or coming in, or simply looking for
something or somebody.  She was like a blaze that may run wild,
dazzling, restless, dangerous to watch.

A primrose curtain was blown out from the window behind her, and
sucked in again as a door opened and shut.  She thought happily of
the room at her back, with its soothing colours and the mellow tone
of old furniture.  The last home-lover, Ralph called her teasingly
when she refused to go out at night.

She was still standing there, on the balcony, when she saw that
Ralph had jumped out of his car, which he had parked lower down on
the block.  Every time he came back after parting, it was just as
if life were beginning all over again.  Though he set out eagerly
in the morning, he was always glad to return before the afternoon
was far spent.  His head was bare as usual, and she watched, with a
sense of ease, of complete well-being, the way the sunbeams picked
out the auburn tints in his hair and the bronzed ruddiness of his
face and throat.  He was so near that she could almost see his
smile as his eyes searched for her.  Then, as he swung on (she
liked him in that nut-brown suit matching his eyes), Minna Bergen
called his name and reached out her thin arm, without a sleeve,
over the gate.  At the sound of the girl's voice Ralph stopped and,
with her hand still in his, began talking.  Of course, it meant
nothing.  How could he have done otherwise?  The girl ran after
him, it was true, but then, she ran after any man.  Yet it seemed
to Ada that all women ran after Ralph.  What was there about him
that made them, young and old, feel that he attracted them?  He
never apparently went out of his way; he had been, as he once said
lightly, 'fed up with women in France'; yet this very indifference
appeared to act as a challenge.  Few of them meant anything
serious.  Not one in a hundred was as designing as Minna Bergen--
but, oh, that sudden, short, sharp, burning sting of jealousy!

'Ralph!' she called, without thinking, and leaned over the balcony.
It was unreasonable, she knew, but she knew also that this impulse
of unreason was stronger than her will to resist.

'I'm coming in a minute.'  He looked up with a laugh.  'Has
anything happened?'

Turning away quickly, she went indoors and through the hall and the
kitchen to the back porch.  No, she wasn't, she could never be
really jealous.  She despised women who were suspicious and
nagging.  Jaundice-eyed, her grandmother had called them.  If that
had been anyone but Minna, she told herself, she should not have
cared for a minute.  But--oh, well, all men liked flattery, and as
long as Ralph was faithful to her in his heart, nothing else
mattered.


VI


In the kitchen Tillie, the light mulatto maid, was singing softly
while she prepared supper.  Now and then, she would pause, with a
big yellow bowl in her hands, and gaze dreamily through the back
door, over the dandelions and bluebottles in the grass, to the
poultry yard where old Midkiff was mending the wire.  He was a
silent, brooding man, who worked slowly and diligently.  Since the
loss of his daughter he had become slightly unbalanced in mind, but
he was honest and faithful and a good worker.  All his life he had
turned his hand to whatever came, and bit by bit he had saved
enough to keep his little girl out of the factory and to buy, when
his wife died, an edge of stony ground overlooking a dump heap in
the poorer part of Rose Hill Cemetery.

Beyond his grizzled head, as he nailed up the chicken wire, Ada
could look in the Bergens' back yard, where the climbing roses were
in full bloom.  In the centre of the garden there was a small
table, under a Silver Moon rose on an arbour, and the whole family,
except Minna, sat on two grape-leaf iron benches, which Otto Bergen
had picked up in a junk shop and painted to match the soft green of
the leaves.  Rosa and her husband, William Ruffner, with their year-
old baby, Otto and his wife, who looked almost as young as her
daughter, were all gathered round Otto's birthday cake and some
cups and plates of brightly flowered china.  On the grassy plot,
between the benches and a bed of Sweet Williams, Hans, the little
dachshund, was sitting in a watchful attitude.  Even the parrot and
the cage of canaries had been brought out to enjoy the flowers and
the sunlight driven by shadows.

In a little while Ralph joined Ada, and in the next yard she saw
Minna run out and cut a slice from the cake.

'You're home early, Ralph.'

He bent over to kiss her.  'I'm going straight out again.  Will you
have supper a little late?'

'We'll wait for you, except Ranny.'  Her voice dropped to a
whisper.  'The Bergens looks so happy.  I like to watch them.'

'Think of making all that fuss over a birthday.'

'They enjoy it--all but Minna.'

'Doesn't Minna enjoy it?'

'She's too discontented.'

'Well, she's a live wire.'

'Did you see Ranny when you came in?'

He laughed.  'Yes, he's watching a ball game between the Oregon
Hill Cats and the Mulberry Street Bats.'

'I wish you'd brought him in with you.  He's too little to play
with those big boys.'

'He wasn't playing.  But he'll have to take his knocks and stand up
under them like the rest of us.'

'He's too small to begin.'

'Not if he knows how to hold his own.  Anyway, we shan't have to
lie awake worrying about a boy like that.'

'But he's the chief reason I want to move.  He picks up the most
dreadful words.'

'Nobody uses nice words any longer.  The world's gone roughneck.'

'You don't expect it from a baby.'  Slipping her hand through his
arm, she turned back with him into the bedroom.  'Did you have a
good day?'

'Middling.  I've sold two cars since three o'clock.  Minna is
trying to persuade her father to buy one.'

'He hasn't any idea of it.  They're too careful.  He told me this
morning he was putting aside everything he could spare for a rainy
day.'

'Minna hadn't been after him then.  She has a way of getting
whatever she goes after.'

'I know she has.'  What had started that prickling sensation in her
nerves?  'And Rosa is so much nicer.'

He assented.  'I like her better.  She keeps up with life, and she
isn't dumb like Minna.  All Minna can do is wriggle and make
faces.'

'What did she want with you?'

'I told you it was about a car.'  Questioning always made him
impatient.  'There's no harm in that.'

'No, there's no harm in that.'  Perhaps she had said too much
already, yet something stronger than prudence prompted her to ask,
'Is she going out with you?'

Annoyance flickered in his eyes.  'Is there any other way she can
see the car?'

'Why does she have to see it?  Otto has no idea of buying one.'

'Now, you're going to nag . . .' he began on a note of irritation,
and broke off with a laugh.  'If you haven't anything more than
Minna to worry you, you don't know your blessings.'

'But I do know my blessings!' she retorted gaily, clasping her
hands over his arm.

She wanted to say more, to assure him that she knew her blessings
because he was one of them; but Ranny came rushing in at the
moment, and it was always difficult to put love into words when the
boy was listening.  Strangely enough, with all the opportunity in
the world for confidences, they had never recovered in marriage the
complete freedom they had known in the Indian trail.

'Mother, may I go out again?' the child asked breathlessly.

'What are you doing, Ranny?  I don't like you to be with those big
rough boys.'

'I'm just watching the game, Mother.  It won't last much longer.'

'Well, if you promise not to go down into the Bottom.'

'I promise.  All the smaller boys are looking on from the hill.'

'Run along, then, and remember to come in soon.  I'll give you your
supper on the back porch, and I'll help you with your lessons if
grandfather isn't ready.'

The boy started out and then turned back to join his father.  'Are
you going out, Father?  I'd rather go out in a new car than watch
the ball game.'

'I can't take you to-day, Ranny; to-morrow perhaps.'  As the child
scampered off like a young puppy, Ralph looked after him with a
quizzical smile.  'He's a stout little chap.'

'It's wonderful how he gets on, but I wish we had other children.
I wanted a large family.'  It seemed incredible that a few moments
before she had felt almost thankful because she had no daughter to
bring up.

He shook his head.  'In this age they take too much providing for.
But I shouldn't mind one more.  I'd like a girl.'

'That's just what I was thinking.  Girls are lovely to dress.  I
want a girl with my eyes and your hair.'  After all, she reminded
herself, Minna's way was not the only way to be modern.

'Well, we've time enough ahead of us.'  He was smiling again, and
when he stooped to kiss her, his mouth felt warm and eager and
searching.  'Tell Aunt Meggie to pray!' he tossed back over his
shoulder.

When she went into the living-room she found that her father had
come in and was talking to Aunt Meggie.  He had grown so gaunt that
his clothes hung on his figure as on a pole, but his faint autumnal
smile, like light that is ebbing away, softened the carved serenity
of his lips.  The fifth and last volume of his work had been
published in April, and it seemed to her that he had broken since
his long task was finished.  So far as America was concerned, the
book might have dropped into a well.  In a month or more, no doubt,
he would begin to hear from the few philosophers exiled, out of
their time, in obscure places.  But the work was completed.  To
John Fincastle, nothing else was important.  He had loved wisdom;
he had sought truth; he had set himself to the task of a lifetime.
Almost happily, he now asked, 'What is left for one to do when life
has been lived?'

'Have you been to the Bergen's, Father?'

'Yes, I stopped to congratulate Otto, and then Mr. Hamblen and I
strolled up Washington Street.  We were trying to decide whether
human beings are better off nowadays than they were in the past.  I
am inclined to think that they are, and that the best age of the
world is the age in which the sum total of happiness is greatest.
Hamblen dislikes the levelling process, and still has faith in the
heroic mould for mankind.  He can see little hope for civilization,
he says, as long as the lowest common denominator is the popular
hero.'  And a little later, 'But it is too easy to forget that
philosophy is not a reform, but a consolation, that it is still
what it has always been, the only infallible antidote to life.'

How frail yet indomitable he looked, Ada thought, as her gaze
followed him.  Next year, she knew, his classes would be taken
away.  The principal of the school had been regretful but positive.
Modern youth required modern instructors, and the girls, she felt,
would respond better to younger teachers.  'Of course, Mr.
Fincastle has great learning,' she had sighed, 'and has written a
monumental work of philosophy.'  But the parents of her pupils,
without exception, felt that science was more important than
metaphysics, and that history and languages might be taught by a
more advanced method, which exacted less effort from youthful
minds.

Yes, he is a failure in his age, she thought, watching him proudly,
but he is a splendid failure.

Her father and Mr. Hamblen would have interminable discussions,
with Ralph or Otto Bergen occasionally joining in.  Mr. Hamblen,
who knew his Bible, personified every principle, even Original Sin.
He favoured government by the superior, and complained that all the
oaks were cut down and only the scrub was left.  Ralph, on the
contrary, had lost his old eagerness to excel; he appeared even to
take pride in a pose of vulgarity.  He enjoyed, or so it seemed to
her, the popular baiting of superiority in any field.  Yet egoism,
whatever mask it wore, her father insisted, was still triumphant.
Each man wanted an individual prosperity.  Only when he had not
eaten or was empty-handed had he ever endured total immersion in
the common good.  While the Stock Exchange stood, individualism
would stand also; when the Stock Exchange fell, individualism would
fall with it.  As for immersion in humanity, Mr. Hamblen would
retort:  'Well, if a man could not suffer a single fool gladly, how
was he to suffer all the fools in the multitude?'  Then Ralph would
begin to argue about the lot of the average man in a republic, and
the general uselessness of the past, composed entirely of
experiments that had failed, as a guide; and so on and on, until he
wound up with his opinion that the age was in a bloody flux and
democracy was going lousy . . .  It was pathetic, she felt, to
watch the pleasure men seemed to take in saying at the top of their
voices words that bad little boys had once written with chalk on
back fences.

Her father and Ralph were still close and devoted friends.  Only,
it seemed to her, Ralph was splashing easily in the surf of his
age, while her father was becoming more timeless, if there could be
a degree in the absolute.  Who was right?  Who was wrong?  She did
not know.  She could not choose between the old and the young.
Still, if youth must fight, why couldn't it fight for something
worth having?

Ranny rushed in and threw his arms about her.  'It's over, Mother.
The Cats beat.'

'I'm sorry, darling, for your sake.  Tillie will have your supper
for you on the porch by the time you've washed your hands and
brushed your hair.'

While she waited for him on the back porch, arranging his bread and
milk and strawberry preserves on a small green table, she glanced
into the Bergens' yard, where only Hans and the parrot and the
canaries were left of the party.  The afterglow was fading, and the
shadows on the grass had overtaken the faint sunshine.  After
nosing vainly about the roots of the rose bushes, Hans raised his
eyes to the sky, shook his refined and melancholy head, and trotted
over the flower borders into the house.

'They've all gone in,' she said, as Ranny slammed the screen door
behind him.  'Hans has just followed them.  He knows perfectly well
what it is about, Mr. Bergen says, and he barked his thanks when
Aunt Meggie took them a coco-nut cake.'

'Did she make one for us too?'

'We'll have ours next Sunday for your grandfather's birthday.  He
will be seventy-one.'

'That's awful old, Mother.  Was Methuselah any older'n that?'

'Fifty years from now you won't think much of seventy, my dear.
You'll learn that age knows all youth knows, and something more
besides.'

'Fifty years from now.'  He drew a long whistling breath, and asked
abruptly, 'Are you going to give me a radio for my birthday,
Mother?'

'I don't know, Ranny.  Don't you want us to save our money to buy
the manse?'

'That's where I was born?'

'I was born there, too, and your grandfather and your three great-
grandfathers.'

'But I want a radio, Mother.  Almost everybody has a radio now and
a car, too.  Jimmy Bangs says they're still paying for theirs, and
they've had both a year.  What does instalment mean, Mother?'

'It means buying what you can't afford, Ranny,' she replied as
tonelessly as if she were hearing a lesson.  'Now, drink your milk,
because Tillie wants to go to a prayer meeting as soon as your
grandfather and Aunt Meggie have had their supper.'

'Will you have yours too?'

'No, I'll wait for your father.  It won't be long now.'

But after the others had had supper, and she had washed the dishes
and tidied the kitchen with Aunt Meggie's help she sat straining
her ears for the first sound of approaching footsteps.  Ralph would
leave his car in the garage at the shop, as he did every night, and
walk the few remaining blocks down Mulberry Street.  When Ranny had
finished his lessons, she followed him upstairs to see that he
washed his hands and brushed his teeth before going to bed.

'I wish we lived on Oregon Hill, Mother.  Then I might join the
Cats when I'm bigger,' he said, while she tucked him in.

'Oh, no, Ranny.  I've enough trouble as it is.'

'But I've got to get on, Mother.  I'm going to be something when I
grow up.'

'Well, there're better ways, dear.'

'Not like grandfather, I don't want to stay at home and think.  I
want to go out and do something different.'

'There's time enough.  We'll see when you're bigger.  Did you brush
your teeth well?'

'Well enough,' Ranny replied stubbornly, and turned his cheek to
his pillow.

Downstairs in the living-room John Fincastle closed his book and
rose from his chair.  'That's ten o'clock striking.  Would you like
me to wait up, my child?'

'No, go to bed, Father.  You had a long walk, and I know you're
tired.'

'I doze easily; but I'm apt to wake before light.'

'It's hard to sleep with those radios next door,' Aunt Meggie said.
'That jazz kept up till after midnight.  Yet those girls have the
impudence to complain of my cock's crowing.'

Ada frowned.  'I thought Mrs. Maudsley had got rid of them.
They've never paid any board.'

'These are others.  But they're worse, if anything, she told me
this morning.  They have wild drinking-parties every night in their
rooms.'

'Well, I'm glad we don't have to let rooms.  If it isn't one
complaint, it's another.  Good night, Father.  You go, too, Aunt
Meggie.  It's still early, and I'm not sleepy.'

'Maybe Ralph joined somebody and they went to a roadhouse,' Aunt
Meggie suggested.

'But he told me to wait for him.'

'Well, something must have stopped him.  He's always careful to
telephone.'

'Yes, he's thoughtful,' Ada assented.  'There aren't many men as
easy to live with as Ralph.  There's that jazz beginning again.
How can the Hamblens stand it over their heads?'

'It's driving Mr. Hamblen distracted.  But of course it's worse on
Mrs. Maudsley, who is trying so hard to make a living and pay her
rent.  These girls have bought radios, though not a single one of
them has paid for her board and lodging.'  Aunt Meggie turned away
and then looked back with a sound that was between a laugh and a
groan.  'It's funny the way people mind noise, unless they make it
themselves.  You won't believe it when I tell you that I like jazz
even when it keeps me awake.  It seems to let out something that's
stopped up inside of you.'

'Oh, Aunt Meggie, who would have thought it!'

'Well, things just cross my mind, Ada, but I reckon that's the way
young people feel.  There's mighty little to cling to when you've
lost your convictions.  And even convictions don't fill up your
time somehow.'

'But you're happy, Aunt Meggie.  We've loved you and valued you,
and you're always so cheerful.'

'Oh, yes, I'm as happy as anybody, I reckon, but I sometimes wonder
why people struggle so hard for so little.  It's the Lord's will, I
reckon.  That's what kept mother going, and I s'pose it keeps me
going too.  When that leaves you, it looks as if you had to take to
wild doings.  Well, I'm kind of drowsy, and I'll go to bed if you
don't need me.'

As she went out, Ada followed her with her eyes and the thought, I
wish it were easier to show affection.  She wanted to run after
Aunt Meggie and put her arms about her, but she said only, 'You
know we couldn't possibly do without you, Aunt Meggie.'

An hour later, as the slow strokes of a bell chimed over the city,
she put out the light and went on the balcony to watch the length
of the street.  Twelve o'clock!  Never before had he stayed out
until midnight without telephoning.  A good husband, Aunt Meggie
had called him.  It was true, Ada thought, gazing into the pallid
wash of electricity.  Even if love had ceased to be an emotion in
his life and become a habit, still a habit of the heart would often
outwear the flying ardours of the blood.  And passion lived on, she
felt, lost and waiting for them between the sky and the mountains.
Raising her eyes above the smokestacks on the horizon, she saw
again the tall trees on Eagle Ridge and the flight of leaves
colouring the air.

While the image was in her mind, a voice spoke from beyond a
wistaria vine on the next balcony, and she knew that Otto Bergen
and his wife must have lingered there without suspecting her
nearness.

'I did speak to her, Otto.  I spoke to her this morning but you
know how she is.'

'Well, I'll talk to her myself to-morrow.  This thing has to stop.
She may chase after all the other men she pleases, but as long as
she lives under my roof . . .'

'Hush, Otto, you're raising your voice.'

Then, just as they were about to go inside, a car dashed round the
corner of Mulberry Street, speeded along the block, and stopped in
front of the Bergens' house.  A man and a girl jumped out, opened
the gate, and run up the short brick walk to the steps.  It isn't
Ralph, Ada thought.  I may as well go to bed.  He has his key
anyway.

She had entered the house and was about to begin undressing when
the bell rang twice, and hurrying to the door, she heard Mr. Bergen
say to someone outside, 'She is still up, I saw a light in her
room.'  Then, as she opened the door, his features seemed to float
toward her, like a drowned face out of the shadows.  A foolish
thought shot through her mind:  'Something must have happened or he
would have buttoned his collar.'  Aloud she asked quietly, 'Is it
about Ralph?'

'There's been an accident.  He is in the hospital.'

'Is he dead?'

'No, oh, no.  We hope it isn't serious.  Minna came up to tell us.'

'Minna?'

'He was showing her the new model.  They were on the Hanover
turnpike when a hit-and-run driver knocked them off the road into a
ditch.  Another car brought them to the hospital . . . to St.
Giles.  Minna has only a few scratches.'

But Ralph?  Ralph?  What did it matter about Minna?  Who cared
about scratches?  'We mustn't stop to talk.  Oh, we're losing time
while I ask questions!'  She had started down the steps towards the
car at the kerb.  'Is this car waiting for me?'

'This is Mr. Hill.  He picked them up and brought Minna home.'

'Thank you, Mr. Hill,' she said, and then to Mr. Bergen, 'Aunt
Meggie and father may wake and miss me.  Will you leave a note
without waking them?'

'I'm going too,' Otto Bergen said.  'I'll stay with you.'

He put his friendly hand on her arm, and she thought, I always knew
he would be a friend in trouble.

As they were about to start, Mrs. Bergen ran out of the gate and
slipped a necktie into her husband's hand.  'Put this on at the
hospital,' she said, 'and be sure to fasten your collar.'

A wailing sound followed them.  Minna, who was not hurt, was having
hysterics over her scratched face.  'Well, I'm glad of it,' Ada
told herself sternly.  'I only hope the scratches are as deep as
she deserves.'


VII


As she looked down on his bandaged head, the light carved grey
hollows in his face, which appeared wooden.  He was still
unconscious, but the doctor had told her the skull was not
fractured.  One hand was hidden beneath the bedclothes, and the
other was turned palm upward on the folded sheet.  Years had
passed, it seemed to her, since the afternoon, when he had left her
to go out with Minna, and she felt that she had grown old and
haggard from watching.

'Is he asleep?' she asked the nurse, who answered in a rapid
whisper, as expressionless as a breeze, 'Yes, he came to, and they
gave him an opiate.  His head was hurting him.'  Shielding him with
her arms, Ada touched the ashen cheek under the bandage.  His mouth
was open, and his breathing, slow, heavy, listless, was as
unfamiliar as the breath of a stranger.  A fantastic idea spun
round in her thoughts.  Suppose this is really a stranger!  Suppose
he doesn't know me when he comes to himself!

'He doesn't look natural,' she said.

'That's the bandage and the shock.  You ought to be thankful it
isn't more serious.'

The nurse tripped silently across the floor in her white canvas
shoes with rubber heels.  As she went she put up her hand to
straighten the cap on her bobbed hair, which was bronze at the ends
and dark brown at the roots.  In a few minutes she came back and
whispered, 'A friend is at the door . . . Mr. Bergen.'

Turning from the bed, Ada went out into the passage and shut the
door softly.  'How do you find him?' Mr. Bergen asked, but his
voice was so low, in deference to the sleeping patients, that she
had to make him repeat the question twice over.

'I don't know.  The X-ray didn't show any fracture, but he looks
queer and unnatural.'

'Well, he would after that blow.  He was thrown over a bridge.'

'I wish I had Dr. Updike.  I don't know any doctor in Queenborough.
The one here is so young.'

'I'll get in touch with Dr. Bradford.  He's the best, and he'll
know about specialists.  It's all right till morning?'

'The doctor thinks so.  I always imagined,' she whispered, shaking
her head, 'that everything was perfect in a big hospital.'

'Not when politics has a hand in it.  But you won't be here long,
that's one comfort.  I'll see your father as soon as he's up, and
telephone Dr. Bradford.'

When she went back to the bedside, Ralph stirred and groaned
faintly.  'Is that you, Ada?'

'Yes, Ralph.  Do you want anything?'

'Is mother dead?'

'She's been dead for two years.  Two years from next July.'

His mouth twitched at the corners, and she thought for a moment
that he was going to smile.  Then he said slowly, 'For two years.
That's a pity.  She would have enjoyed this.'

'Oh, Ralph, how can you?'  But he had slipped back again into
unconsciousness.  She longed to draw close to him, but she knew
that if he came to himself, he would resent any outward show of
affection.  Never when he needed sympathy would he submit to it.

All night she sat there in the small, hard chair by the bedside,
while the soft breeze, laden with scents of spring, floated in
through the window.  Far away, very thin and clear, she heard bells
ringing or clocks striking.  Once a young doctor looked in, and a
little later, the nurse, who was also young, with pouting red lips
and thick ankles, went downstairs to supper.  Their attention had
been amiable but casual.  Ada had felt when they leaned over the
bed that only death could have divided their interest from youth
and spring and each other.  But it made no difference.  Nothing
made any difference as long as Ralph was alive.  Minna might run
after him as much as she pleased.  Ranny might speak all the bad
words, old or new, he could pick up.

A shiny black beetle scurried out from under the slop jar, and she
watched it make its perilous journey across the floor to the
wardrobe.  She had believed that hospitals were cleaner than
sickrooms at home, but there was a lump of stale chewing-gum stuck
between two white iron spokes of the bedstead, and when she looked
under the bed she found some dried grapeskins that has been swept
out of sight.  Perhaps the private rooms were neglected, but the
wards provided by the city were well looked after.  The queerest
thing in life was that nobody wanted to work the right way simply
because it was the right way, not even for the sick and the dying.
The people in a hospital, like people everywhere else, were
interested only in themselves and in what they could get out of the
world.

Presently, between waking and sleeping, she lost herself in a
dream.  Through this dream, which was a familiar one of her
childhood, she was running from Indians up the stony hillside at
the back of the manse.  As a Shawnee in war paint pursued her, she
dodged behind big grey rocks, up, up, up, always with her heart in
her throat and her breath whistling from terror, springing,
stooping, bending, crawling, fleeing, until at last a tomahawk
whirled down at her from the other side of a stone, and while she
waited for the crash into her skull, the painted face of the Indian
turned into a sheep--into the benign features of the old ewe that
had gazed at her over the stalk of mullein.

With a start, she opened her eyes in the wan glimmer of daybreak.
The nurse sat prim and straight in her chair.  From the street
below, she heard the rattle of milk wagons and the honking of motor
horns at the corner.  Then Ralph stirred and groaned under his
breath, and looking down at him, she saw that he was returning
slowly to consciousness.  The nurse sprang up without a sound and
moved to the bedside.

'Ada!  Ada, is that you?'

'Yes, I'm here.  Do you want anything?'

'Where are we?  This isn't home.'

'We're in the hospital.  There was an accident.  But it wasn't a
bad one, and you may go home as soon as you feel well enough.'

'Yes, I remember.  What rotten luck!'

'Are you in pain?'

'My head is pounding like hell.  It's like an army of elephants.
The thunder in my head makes my feet feel as if they didn't belong
to me.'

'It won't be long,' the nurse said soothingly, 'before the doctor
comes.  Then he will give you something.'

'I want something now.  I want coffee.'

'It isn't time yet, but I'll try to get you some in a little while.
The doctor left some medicine for you if you complained of your
head.'

As he looked up at the nurse, his smile twitched and was gone.
'Well, I'm complaining, old dear.  My heads sounds so loud that I
don't seem to know my own legs.  And I don't like the idea of
paying to suffer.  I suppose this ward must come high.'

'This isn't a ward,' the nurse replied in an indulgent tone.  'It
is a private room.'

'Did you ask the price, Ada?'  How like him that was!  He would
squander money on pleasures, but it annoyed him to pay for anything
he did not enjoy.

'Don't worry about that, Ralph,' Ada pleaded.  'It's only for a few
days.  We may go home to-morrow.'

'Oh, I'm not worrying,' he answered touchily, and then, after a
minute, 'I wish you'd go, Ada, and bring me my things.  Tell your
father I want to see him as soon as he's had breakfast.  This is
Saturday, isn't it?'

'Yes, this is Saturday.'

'Then he won't have any classes.  Tell him I want him.'

'He's coming dear.  I don't have to go after him.'

'But I want you to go.  I don't want to be fussed over.'

Tears filled her eyes.  'I'm not fussing.'

The nurse looked at her warningly.  'He'll be all right as soon as
he's taken his medicine.  It will be better for him than coffee.'

'I want you to go home, Ada,' Ralph repeated, as if the nurse had
not spoken.  'I want you to go home and take a nap and get dressed.
You don't know how you look.'

She tried to laugh off his bad temper.  'Nor do you, my dear.'

'I have a right to a long face.  But bring my things out of the
bathroom when you come back.  Where is your hat?'

'I didn't wear any.'

'Well, go home and get it.'

'I'd like to be here when the doctor comes.'

'I don't want anybody.'

'I'll send father in a little while.'  She turned away, hesitating,
and then came back to take the hand he stretched out.

'Well, I don't mind him.  But I like being alone.  Is it thundering
outside?'

'No, dear, that's from the shock.'

The nurse gave him the opiate, and then settled his head on the
pillow before she followed Ada out into the hall.

'They're always touchy when they first come round,' she said.  'We
had a man here last month who wouldn't let his wife poke her nose
in the door for a week.'

'It isn't a bit like him.'

'You never can tell.  Sometimes the one they like best they try the
hardest to keep out.'

'I'll be back by the time the day nurse comes on.'

'It won't matter.  He'll be quiet now.  But you're sensible to go.
It's always best to humour them.'

'The doctor says it isn't serious.'

'Oh, it isn't, not really.  But a thing can be pretty disagreeable
without being serious.  He's feeling both the shock and the opiate,
and he doesn't know half he's saying.'

Walking bareheaded in the street, Ada told herself that the
accident of leaving off her hat had made her a part of the morning
crowd.  There were no taxicabs in sight, and if she took a tramcar
on Main Street, she would be spared only a few blocks.  Besides,
the walk would do her good, and Ralph (her eyes were misted) did
not want her at the hospital.  Even at this early hour, the
happiness-hunters were still on the chase, speeding by in the wan
light through waves of dust and blown papers.

While she waited at the crossing, an amiable dark face flashed a
triumphant grin at her.  'Lady, I'se done made a heap uv money.
I'se done made mos' twenty dollars in stocks yestiddy.'  A coloured
bootblack, his box slung over his shoulder, was standing beside
her.

'That's nice.  How did it happen?'

'A w'ite gent'mun I shine foh, he done hit.  I'se gwinter shine fuh
'im dis mawnin' in de hotel oah yonder.'

'Well, take care, and don't lose it.'  He had an honest face, and
she hoped he wouldn't let the money slip through his fingers.  But
the gambling fever ran through everything, from the top to the
bottom.  Even Ralph had been touched by the strange contagion.  She
had had to plead with him before he would put away a share of his
earnings.  How thankful she now felt that they had waited to move!
The nine thousand dollars they had saved (five thousand safely
invested and the rest in the savings bank) would be something to
lean back on in case of an illness.

The old houses in Mulberry Street were unshuttered, and women in
cambric mob-caps were sweeping the porches and pavements.  From
their gate Ranny darted out to her with the news that his
grandfather had already gone to the hospital.  'I've been up a long
time, Mother.  I washed before there was any warm water.'

'Well, I'm glad you washed.  But I'll have to tie your tie again.'

'I put on a clean shirt because I thought you might let me go down
to the hospital.  I've never been inside a hospital.'  He was
excited and eager and had forgotten to ask after his father.  All
children were like that, she supposed, and it was useless to try to
make people different.

In the kitchen Aunt Meggie and Tillie were making fresh coffee.
Mr. Bergen had come over as soon as it was light, and John
Fincastle had snatched a mouthful of breakfast, Aunt Meggie
explained, and gone straight to the hospital.  'He must have got
there soon after you left.  He said he'd call Dr. Bradford and ask
him to come before he went to his office.  Somehow Otto Bergen
didn't seem satisfied.'

'I didn't want to come away,' Ada said, with a catch in her voice.
'But Ralph didn't want me.'

'Well, you mustn't take that to heart.  He doesn't like a fuss made
over him.'

'I wasn't making a fuss.'

'You remember his mother always complained he wouldn't tell her
when he was sick.'

'That was different.  Who would want to tell Mrs. McBride
anything?'

'Well, sit down and drink your coffee.  You'll feel better as soon
as you've eaten something.  I was perfectly certain I heard Ralph
come in last night, but it must have been Mr. Bergen.  With those
radios going on in that room next door to mine, I sometimes think I
couldn't hear Gabriel's trumpet.'  Her busy hands paused a moment.
'Ralph must have come to, or he wouldn't have known you.'

'The nurse said he wasn't himself.  He was suffering terribly with
his head.  As soon as I've had breakfast and dressed, I'm going
right back again.  But I must change my clothes.'  She laughed and
wiped her eyes.  'He told me I didn't know how I looked.'

'You look all right to me, but you'd better lie down.'

'Not now.  Not till I've heard what the doctor says this morning.
The one last night was so young I couldn't feel any confidence in
him.'

'They all seem young now, or it may be because I'm getting on.  I
suppose I'll always miss Dr. Updike.'

After breakfast and a bath, Ada tried to lie down, but her mind was
a cage in which anxiety darted round and round like a squirrel.  In
a flutter of apprehension, she jumped up and reached for a hat on
the top shelf in her wardrobe.  There were two, a red felt cloche
and a black straw with a narrow brim, and she chose the red cloche
because it gave her a jaunty air, which had always seemed to her
out of character.  As she pulled it down on one side, and pushed
back the dark waves on her temples, she glanced at her reflection
and thought, I look as if nothing had happened.  The flush in her
cheeks had not faded, the shadows beneath her eyes had not
deepened, the startled expectancy of her gaze was as fresh and
young as it had ever been.


VIII


At the hospital she found her father and Dr. Bradford, a slow,
heavy, pompous man, who diffused an air of authority.  When Ralph
had complained that his legs felt stiff and numb, as if they didn't
belong to him, both the hospital surgeon and Dr. Bradford had
suspected that there was an injury to the spine.  A second X-ray,
her father said, had failed to show a fracture or dislocation of
the vertebrae (the words droned on in her ears like the memory of
the sea in a shell), though there had been a sprain and a severe
bruise.  The symptoms pointed to a haemorrhage, but it was possible
that this might clear up in twenty-four hours.

'I can't understand, Father.  Do they mean that Ralph may be
paralysed?'  She had followed him from the room, and they stood
facing each other in the passage while they spoke in strained
whispers.

'They don't know, my child.  The stiffness may pass almost
immediately.  Both Dr. West and Dr. Bradford have looked at the
plates, and they can find nothing serious enough to explain the
symptoms.'

'And his head?'

'That was a bad blow, but he escaped with concussion of the brain
instead of a fractured skull.  However you look at it, he had luck
on his side when he went over that bridge.  The accident wasn't
nearly so bad as it might have been.  But as soon as Ralph became
conscious, he knew, he said, what it meant to feel as if his feet
were attached to somebody else.'

'Why didn't he tell me?'

'He was trying to keep it from you.  He wanted to send you home
before the doctor came in.'

'Oh, Father, and I thought . . .'

'He wanted to spare you, but I suspect, too, he found courage in
being alone or with strangers.  Some men are like that.'

'It's terrible to see him suffer with his head.  Mother used to say
she could stand anything if it wasn't in her head.  Can't they give
him something to stop the pain?'

'It might be graver if he knew nothing about it.  Try not to talk
to him when we go in.'

Lying on his back, with his head slightly turned on the pillow and
the corners of his mouth twitching, Ralph listened respectfully to
the two doctors.  Though he was not an agreeable patient, his bad
humour and the grotesque bandages seemed only to throw a fresh
angle on his curiously erratic charm.  Was it because he was always
himself?  Or was the attraction she felt even now merely the old
incalculable power over her senses?  As soon as Dr. Bradford had
reached his bedside, he had demanded to be told the whole truth
about his condition, and after the doctors had spoken, he had asked
gravely, 'Well, is there any rule against being shaved in a
hospital?  If I'm going to be paralysed, hadn't I better prepare
for it with a bath and a shave?'

'He was whistling to keep up his courage, I know,' the day nurse
observed to Ada, when she carried out the basin and towels, 'but I
must say I like it better than when they're so down in the mouth.
He does look fine, too, now we've fixed him up.  I don't wonder you
were scared about losing him.'

All that day and the next they watched anxiously for the first sign
of improvement.  The injury to the spinal cord had not been
sufficient to cause paralysis; yet he grew no better, and his legs,
as he insisted mockingly, 'had gone dead on him'.  Though the cut
on his head healed quickly, the inflammation of the nerves had
altered his disposition, and he became, as the weeks passed, more
resentful than despondent.  He had had, as he asserted sullenly, 'a
raw deal', and all the particulars of the accident, including the
company of Minna, conspired to make him a laughing-stock.  When
they attempted to argue with him, he grew angry and bitter.  'If I
had to be smashed up, why couldn't it have been in France instead
of on the Hanover turnpike?'  The nurse had gone down to her lunch,
John Fincastle and Ranny had just left, and they were alone in the
room.  'Anyway,' Ada urged soothingly, 'it is easier on me to have
you here than in France.'

As she leaned over him, he caught her hand and pressed it over his
inflamed eyes.  'Did you ever think that Minna mattered?' he asked.

'Never.  I never worried about Minna.'  Like the shadow of a wing
in her mind, a question turned, flashed, and vanished.  If there
had been no accident, how far would they have gone, where would it
have ended?

'Well, she didn't matter.  I wouldn't give your little finger for
all the other women in creation.'

'I know that, Ralph.  I've always known that.'  But before Minna,
had there been others that mattered as little?  Again the thought
turned and flashed out of obscurity.  Long ago there was Janet--
What had really happened? asked a small malicious voice from the
depths below the depths of her consciousness.  What had really
happened with Janet?

'If I pull through, it will be because of you.'  Then he laughed
softly, and beneath the crooked bandage she could see his eyes,
tender, amused, and tinged with irony, as if he were trying to turn
the jest upon life.  'It's rotten luck, though, for that girl
baby.'

She breathed quickly.  Why should a little thing like that make her
heart tremble?  'Well, she'll have to wait,' she said quietly.
'There's still plenty of time.'

He dropped her hand as the knob of the door turned.  'Has the nurse
come back already?'  But it was only Aunt Meggie bringing a bowl of
chicken jelly, which she called 'nourishment'.

Then, as the weeks dragged on and he was still unable to leave the
hospital, Ada and her father and Aunt Meggie divided the nursing
among them.  After Boscobel School had closed, John Fincastle would
sit in the sickroom through the long sunny afternoons when all they
could see of summer was a distant cloud of green over the roofs.
Ralph's early reverence for the older man had returned, and he
seemed to prefer his companionship even to Ada's.  For hours at a
time they would talk of subjects that were remote not only from the
accident and the hospital, but even from the age in which they were
living.  'It's easier to stand things,' Ralph would say afterwards,
'when you measure them against all time.'  Ada and Aunt Meggie and
the neighbours when they came would talk of the present.  Only John
Fincastle would sit in silence, with his visionary gaze on the
triangle of blue sky, and listen with wordless patience to
outbursts of angry despair.  'He's found something,' Ralph would
muse aloud to Ada.  'I don't know what to call it.  Invulnerability
is as good a name, I suppose, as any other.'

'He feels for people, Ralph, as much as anyone.'

'I know, but not for himself.  He's got beyond himself.  That the
secret.'

'I want to take you away from here,' Ada answered after a pause.
'If you can't go home by the end of June, Dr. Bradford will let us
move you to the West End Hospital.  He's on the staff there, and he
says it's more cheerful.'

'It will cost a lot.'

'Well, we can pay the difference.  I'm thankful we have our
savings.'

'We shan't have them long if this goes on.'

'Oh, you'll be well and at work again before we see the bottom.
Dr. Bradford and that new specialist are both sure you will be as
well as you ever were.'

'That's one of the things I can't stand.  All these specialists
with their stuffed shirts and fat fees.'

'I shan't begrudge a penny if they put you back on your feet.'

'If they don't . . .'  His voice broke with helpless rage, while
the nervous twitching she dreaded began again in the muscles about
his mouth.

'Don't think that, dearest.  They will . . . they must. . . .'

No, she couldn't bear this hospital another week, she decided.  It
wasn't only the discomfort for Ralph.  He had a private room, and
she could bring clean sheets and pillowcases from home, but
whenever she came or went, the relatives of poor patients would
join her in the street and describe the public wards down below.
There was dirt; there was neglect of the simplest decencies; there
were, some complained, vermin in the mattresses and the bedsteads.
Yet they dared not protest to a bureaucracy that was founded on a
political rock.  And the cost of dying, like the cost of illness,
made death the last extravagance for the poor.  The highest wave of
prosperity had merely engulfed, it had not abolished, the potter's
field.

'Everybody seems to think that only people who can afford them
should have feelings,' Ada said one day when Ranny had brought in a
story of a destitute dying in the midst of luxurious living.

'It's a hell of a world!' Ralph exclaimed.  'But we're in it, and
there's nothing to be done about it.'

Ranny stared back at him with his candid child's eyes, clear,
critical, without mystery, even the mystery of innocence.  'Why
can't you do something, Father?' he asked.  'When I grow up, I'm
going to do something about everything.'

On a hot morning toward the end of June, Ralph was put into an
ambulance and moved to the West End Hospital, which was encircled
by a garden planted in roses and dwarf evergreens.  True, the roses
were past blooming, and the blighted evergreens had turned rusty,
but from his bed he could see the broad glossy leaves of magnolias,
and breathe in the deep fragrance.  The food, too, was better, and
Ada could leave him at night, or for an hour or two in the day,
with the knowledge that he would not be neglected.

In a few days he had begun to improve, though he was not yet able
to move his feet, and he still grumbled over the cost of his
illness.

'What are we to do when we've spent all we've saved?' he asked
fretfully.

'By that time you will be well and can make more.  Dr. Bradford is
very hopeful.'

'He isn't hopeful for nothing.  Professional hopefulness is
expensive.  Nothing comes free in a hospital, not even the nurse's
smile.'

'I know, but we can't help it.  As long as our money lasts, we must
spend it on getting you well.  There's a new specialist coming down
from Washington in August.  He's from Vienna.'

'Good Lord!  Are there any left in Vienna?'

'Dr. Bradford wants to consult him.  He's a neurological surgeon.'

'What are they trying to find out?'

'They can't see why you don't get better.  Isn't it funny,' Ada
retorted, 'that I used to be the one who wanted to save?'

'It isn't that I want to save, but that I dislike to pay for the
wrong things.  If I'd kept on, we might have bought a house in a
few years.  Now, I'll have to begin grubbing all over again.'

'Oh, my dear, you can so easily make up what you've lost.  And I
can always go back to work.  I got the very first place I tried
for.'

'I don't want you to work.  Your father knows how I feel about his
teaching.'

'Yes, he knows.  He'll lose his classes next year, but he is hoping
something else will turn up.  It's terrible to have spent a
lifetime on a great work and yet not to have it yield you a
living.'

'If I once get on my feet, I can look after him.'

'But he won't hear of our providing for him.  He insists he can
live on a crust and independence.'

'Why should he mind?  He's old.'

'He doesn't feel old.  Ranny enjoys him more than anyone else since
they've taken those long walks in the woods.  It's amazing how the
boy has developed.'

'I hope he'll turn out all right, but I don't expect much from
precocious youngsters.  I was one myself.'

'Well, we had to break with tradition, and the war came at the
wrong time for us.  But I have faith in the next generation.'

'We always have faith in it, my dear, while it's the next
generation.  Disappointment belongs in the present tense.'

Ada leaned down to kiss the bitter smile on his lips.  'Well, I
don't ask any better than you, Ralph,' she said gently.  'Only I do
wish that you weren't quite so grumpy.'  If only she could look
into his mind and know what he was thinking!  If only she could
look into his heart and know what he was feeling!

The strange physician, when he came during a cool spell in August,
was discreet and sanguine, without committing himself to an
opinion.  Patience, not an operation, was necessary, patience and
perseverance and a cheerful outlook on life.  These obscure
maladies were tedious in treatment, but there was every reason to
hope that recovery would be permanent.  Everything was in Ralph's
favour, except perhaps temperament, and the probability was that,
with time and care, he would be as well as he had ever been.

Meanwhile, it could do no harm to send him home in an ambulance.
With proper nursing, the change might be beneficial rather than
otherwise.

'Rather than otherwise . . .' Ralph drawled, while the supreme
authority, round, rubicund, inscrutably suave, departed softly down
the corridor between respectful rows of doctors and nurses.  'How
soon can you get me away, Ada?'

'Just as soon as Dr. Bradford will let you go.  I'll telephone Aunt
Meggie to have your bed turned down and everything ready.'  Without
stopping to talk, she began to fold up his clothes and pack them
into bags, while he watched her with eyes that were bright and
impatient.

In the afternoon they brought him home and settled him in the big
bed by the window that looked out on the Bergens' back yard, where
borders of asters and scarlet sage were in bloom.

'There's Hans,' he exclaimed, 'and the parrot!  I never thought I'd
be glad to see a parrot.  Are Minna's scratches all healed?' he
asked scoffingly.

'Except the tiny scar by her mouth.  She's proud of that now,
because it makes a dimple when she smiles, and she always wanted a
dimple.'  But while she answered, Ada was thinking, 'They don't
know what is the matter with him.  Though they call it paralysis,
none of them really knows what it is.  And it may drag on for
years.  He may be helpless for years.'

'She got off too easily,' Ralph replied.  'Is that Rosa out in the
yard behind the crpe myrtle?'

'Yes, she comes every day with her little boy.  William has done so
well in the stock market that they've bought a nice house on Hill
Street and are having it done up.  Rosa is expecting another baby
in October.  She's looking so happy, I hope she'll run in to see
you.'

'Well, you look happy, too, and for less reason.'  The mockery had
left his voice, and his hand fluttered towards her in a nerveless
gesture that seemed to pluck at her heartstrings.

'Oh, I have reason enough.'  She stroked his hand as it lay outside
the sheet.  'I'm thinking all the time that I didn't lose you.'

'I'd rather die any day than be a burden.'  A frown darkened his
face.  'Your father and I feel alike about that.'

'Oh, Ralph, we've just come home.  Try not to say that again.
You're going to get well, and besides, you know it isn't a burden
for me to take care of you.'

'I know you're a good sport.'  His fingers closed over hers.  'And
I don't mind telling you that a good sport is a long sight better
to have for keeps than a perfect peach.  Does Ranny know I've come
home?'

'No, we're going to surprise him.  It's Aunt Meggie's birthday, and
we've saved her cake for supper.  Mr. Bergen brought over a
wonderful water-melon.  He said William had a tip yesterday and has
made money on Girdlestone Copper.  He thought maybe we might buy
some copper stock.'

'I wish I could.  This doctor from Vienna will clean up our
savings, I suppose.  We'll have to sell the securities we own, and
it wouldn't do any harm to put a thousand or so in copper.  It's a
great game to get something for nothing.'

'William didn't put down much money, he said.  It was all on
margin, but father thinks it's little better than gambling.'

'Oh, he's old.  I don't mean that he isn't fine, but it's the
fineness of the past.  People don't bother about moral quibbles
nowadays any more than they discuss the nature of reality.
Anything that clicks is real and all right.'

'Well, Ranny is a child of the new age if there ever was one.  He's
so modern I can sometimes barely understand what he says.'

For a moment he looked at her without speaking.  Then his mood
changed, and the smile of his eager youth flashed from his lips
into his eyes.  'He'll have to try hard before he's more modern
than his mother.  Didn't you break away from the past before he was
born?'

'That was different.  We were fighting against injustice.  But
Ranny believes in noise, size, numbers.  Even when he was a baby he
wanted only toys that wheeled or buzzed.  Father says he's making
the funniest kind of flying machine.  Isn't it odd?'

'Not nearly so odd as that I should have a child who knows how to
get on.  He'll grow up, I suppose, thinking cogwheels in action the
most beautiful sight in the world.  But even then he'll have his
worries.'

They were still talking, and the August sunlight still flamed on
the scarlet sage, when Dr. Updike, who was spending a few days in
the city, dropped in to see them.  Though he had grown fat and
flabby, with pendulous cheeks and a paunch like a bag of flour, he
had lost neither his genial disposition nor his keen zest for
living.  Even now, Ada could not see him after a long absence
without wondering whether he had really fancied Aunt Meggie when
she was a girl, and as people said, very pretty.  He had always
been one of their closest friends, and when trouble came he had
been the first to place his means at their disposal.  There were
not many friends like that in the world, and they valued the old
man accordingly.  For years they had seen little of him, but since
Ralph had had to stay in the hospital, Dr. Updike had looked in on
him whenever he came down to Queenborough.  Always he brought news
of the Valley, and on his last visit he had told them that Janet
was to be married for the fourth time, and that her pearl necklace
had been stolen at an hotel in New York.

'It's years since I thought of her,' Ada said.  Janet and all the
anguish she had caused seemed to belong to some secondary life.

'You did the best thing to bring him home,' the doctor remarked as
he sank back in his chair.  'I always say that hospitals are for
the homeless.  We'll have him on his feet again in a jiffy.'

Ralph shook his head, but his laugh had a natural ring.  'You'd
think from the way Aunt Meggie and Tillie welcomed me back that I
was doing them a favour when I let myself go to smash.'

'Well, you should thank your stars you aren't married to a
scatterbrained flapper.  Not that Ada isn't handsome enough for
anybody,' the old man hastened to add, 'but it's just as well for
you that her complexion isn't the most important thing about her.'

'Yes, Ada's all right.'  There was an accent of pride beneath the
chaffing tone of Ralph's voice.  'I've never seen a face yet I
liked better.'

'It's my belief,' the doctor continued regretfully, 'that in the
next fifty years a woman who sits at home in the evening will be as
extinct as the dodo.  I nursed a teething baby last night while the
mother and father went to a moving picture and stopped for drinks
on the way home.  Never laid eyes on them before in my life.  But
they'd have gone anyhow, and left the child alone in the apartment,
even if old man Noah hadn't heard it crying and offered to look
after it.'

'You may look after Ralph now,' Ada said.  'I don't like to take my
eyes off him for fear he'll vanish while I tell Aunt Meggie you've
come to supper.'  Glancing back as she ran out, she saw the doctor
push his chair to the bedside and lay his heavy hand on Ralph's
wrist.

In the kitchen Tillie was busy at the stove, while Mr. Midkiff, as
gaunt as ever, was cracking ice to pack round the freezer.  Though
his last teeth, as he said, 'would not stand for ice cream,' he
would be glad of a few scraps of chicken and a slice of chocolate
cake.  'Poor old soul,' Aunt Meggie had remarked that morning.
'What has he got that keeps him clinging to life?  He can enjoy
nothing but soft food, and he has that only in scraps.'

When Ada went back into the bedroom, the two men were cheerfully
discussing the manse.  Several years before, when the Valley
turnpike had gone to Teesdale from Doncaster instead of coming to
Ironside, the old house had changed hands again at a forced sale,
and a few months later Dr. Updike had bought it from the purchaser.
If the turnpike had come by Shut-in Valley, the owners of the manse
had expected to make it into a tourist camp, but more and better
politicians controlled the right of way round the flank of the
mountain.  For a while the flourishing values in land continued (he
had never seen such prosperity, the doctor said; even the
mountaineers, or so he heard, had bought roadsters and radios), but
prices were already beginning to drop, and when the new highway
failed them, the people who had invested in more acres than they
could afford to keep were unable to sell them.  He knew because he
himself had invested a little too heavily.  Not a great deal; his
head was screwed on too firmly for that, but he had happened to
turn his hand now and then to a bit of trading, and almost before
he was aware of it, he had taken over the old manse.  With taxes
mounting every day, he was eager to get rid of it.  There was, of
course, nothing to bring tourists to Ironside.  All the village
could boast of was an old Indian massacre, and plenty of other
places had massacres and fancy views and other things added.  But
so long as there was no hope of turning a penny on the house, with
only a bit of garden and that stony hill, he would be willing to
let Ralph take it back for precisely what it had cost him.

'Like all vacant houses, it looks pretty dilapidated.  A part of
one chimney has given way, and the roof leaks in places.  Some
gipsies tried to camp there last summer, and once a dark-skinned
foreigner with a bear slept on the back porch . . .'

'Oh, Mother, a bear!' Ranny exclaimed in ecstasy, dashing in from
the hall while the doctor was talking.  'Did they let the bear
stay?'

'Ranny, don't you see Dr. Updike?  And your father is home again.
Isn't that fine?'

'Oh, fine!'  He held out his hand to the doctor and then kissed his
father hastily on the cheek.  'But what became of the bear?  Didn't
they let him stay on the porch?'

'No, the bear went on, youngster, but his place is still waiting
for you.  If there was a stick of furniture in the house, you might
run up for September.  Ralph will need a change as soon as he is on
his feet again.  And I'll say this much, there isn't a better
garden spot anywhere in the Valley.  Abraham Geddy and Toby Waters
plant the garden every year on Good Friday.  I put by enough seeds
from one year till the next, and my sister was saying the other day
that we still get our best corn and tomatoes out of the manse
garden.'

'Oh, Mother, couldn't we go?' Ranny sighed.  'You wouldn't need a
bed for me.  I'd every bit as soon sleep on pine tags, if you'd let
me have a foxhound, like old Horace, to sleep with me.'

Ada shook her head.  'Not now, dear.  Some day, after your father
is well, we may be able to have the manse for a summer home.
That's been my dream for the last few years,' she explained to the
doctor.

'After your father is well,' Ralph repeated slowly, 'he will have
to work to pay for all the fun he has had in hospitals.'

'And your mother, too, is going to work,' Ada said.  'She is going
back to Shadwell's the first of October.'

While she looked at the two auburn heads, framed in the window
against a background of deep-golden sunset, she told herself that
working to help Ralph and Ranny would be a new kind of happiness.
But it isn't a bit like the feeling I used to call happiness, she
thought in surprise.


IX


No matter how tired she was, Ada told herself, she felt rested as
soon as she saw the firelight in the window and the outline of
Ralph's head between the thin curtains.  Every week-day in the year
since she had returned to Shadwell's, she had quickened her steps,
with a sigh of contentment, when she found him watching for her
over the rusty iron flowers on the balcony.  She was so used to
expecting him that it seemed to her her heart would fail to beat if
she were to come home and find an empty space in the window.

From the first minute in Mulberry Street, he had begun to grow
better.  After a few months, he had been able to move his feet and
to roll himself in a wheel-chair; and she could never forget the
afternoon in early spring when he had taken his first walk, with
the help of her father and her grandmother's ebony stick, to a
bench on the terrace of Mulberry Hill.  Since then the paralysis
had disappeared, and gradually he had recovered his health and the
look of agile strength that had always delighted her.  By the first
of November, Dr. Bradford had said, he might take up his work, and
since nobody was satisfied with only one car in the garage, it
would not be long before he regained all that his illness had cost
him.  Though his old place had been filled, the shop could easily
make a new opening if the automobile industry continued to
flourish.  Wall Street may or may not have been apprehensive; but
in the late summer and early autumn of 1929, Mulberry Street looked
ahead to years of undiminished prosperity.  Even the Bergens' son-
in-law, William Ruffner, had built a better and bigger house than
he had planned.

'But don't forget,' Ralph would insist moodily, 'that it took the
savings of ten years to put me on my feet again.'

'I can't think of that.  I'm too happy.'

'It's no fun to me to see you working.  I didn't marry you to be
supported.'

'I don't mind working if only you'll get well.  But I wish I could
make more.  Since father has lost his classes, it has been harder
to manage.  I hope we shan't have to touch the money we put by for
Ranny's education.'

'If we do, I can make it up to him.  It's only a thousand dollars.'

This was one of his cheerful days, but it was harder and darker in
his resentful moods.  Last night, when he could not sleep, she had
only exasperated him by trying to quiet his restlessness.

'The worst is over now, Ralph.  In a week you'll begin to work
again.  Have patience for a few days.'

'I've had patience.  I'm tired of patience.  This has taken ten
years out of my life.'

'No, it hasn't, not really.  And there must be a reason,' she had
continued without thinking, because the catchword flitted into her
mind.  'There must be a reason why we have to go through such
things.'

'If I thought that . . .'  His voice had trailed off on a
despairing note.  'If I thought any God had made this crazy world,
I'd go out and shoot somebody.'

'Oh, don't . . . don't . . .'

'Then stop talking like Mr. Black.  The only way I can bear it is
by believing there isn't a reason.'

'Try to lie still.  Try to stop thinking, and let the medicine put
you to sleep.  I wish I could bear it in your place.  It is harder
on you.'

For an instant he had lain so quiet that she knew he dared not
trust his voice to reply.  Then he had reached for her hand.  'If
it wasn't for you, Ada . . .'

That strange happiness which seemed always to mean something more
than itself flared up suddenly like a torch in her mind.  As long
as he depended upon her, she could face anything, she said over and
over; she could face even the strain of sleepless nights and
exhausting days, even the stubborn pain of his misery.

Her work at Shadwell's had been easier when she was employed
upstairs in her old place with the dresses.  But gloves had
returned to fashion, and she was now kept standing all day at the
glove counter, where she smoothed, pulled, and stretched kid over
too plump or too thin fingers.  When six o'clock came at last, she
gathered up the split gloves left for repair and brought them home
to mend in the evening.  Ralph boiled with indignation while he
watched her mending the gloves of strange women, but the extra task
was required, and she needed employment too much to refuse.  Yet
that was nothing, she told herself, compared to the blistering pain
in her feet.  After standing most of the day on the french heels
she was expected to wear, her feet felt as if red-hot needles had
been thrust into the joints.  Gradually they had hardened, but in
the beginning she would take off her shoes as soon as she entered
the front door, and hasten to plunge her feet into a tub of hot
water and Epsom salts.  'There ought to be a law,' Aunt Meggie
would protest, 'against wearing silk stockings and french heels in
shops.'

The ripe October day was closing in, but the far dome of the sky
still shed a mother-of-pearl lustre, more a broken vibration than a
light, over the grey steeples and red chimneys.  A minute before
she had ached with fatigue.  Then she had come within range of the
window, and suddenly she had ceased to feel tired while her
thoughts were swept forward on strong waves of expectancy.  If only
Ralph had had a good day after the restless night that had kept
them awake.  Now that he was so nearly well again, his moods of
tortured indignation were more frequent.  Did he ever suspect, she
wondered, how completely drained of vitality she found herself
after hours of vehement despair and troubled sleep?  But it's worse
on him than on me, she would think.  Everything is worse on him
than on me.

From the yellow house at the corner Mrs. Rawlings peered over her
machine, with her foot still working the treadle.  On the porch of
the boarding-house Mrs. Maudsley was stubbornly reasoning with one
of her lodgers, while her features jerked up and down in a futile
effort to please.  Then, as Ada opened the gate, William Ruffner
dashed up the curving brick steps from the basement.

'Why, William!' she exclaimed in alarm, for his pleasant face,
usually so fair and fresh, looked ashen and withered, and he
hurried past her as if he were driven by wind.  An instant later,
while she gazed after him, Otto locked the door of the workroom and
ascended the steps.

'I hope Rosa hasn't had a bad turn,' she said anxiously.

'No, Rosa's all right.  The baby was three weeks old yesterday.
But William's wiped out.'

'Wiped out?'  She stared at him with dazed eyes.

'In the panic to-day.  Most of the little speculators were thrown
over.'

'I heard Mr. Shadwell talking about it, but I thought it was a
panic in New York, not in Queenborough.  Is it worse than the break
in September?'

'It's the worst that ever was for us.  William has been rushing all
over town trying to borrow.  Then, after he put up everything he
had, he couldn't hold his margin, and the brokers have sold him
out.  They carried the big traders--or some of them--but the little
fellow didn't stand a chance when the bottom dropped out of the
market.'

'Poor William.'  There was a tremor in her voice.  'I know what it
means to him.'

'He'd gone in too deep to draw back.  Even Rosa didn't know that he
was still plunging in oil and copper.  Of course, if stocks had
soared instead of dropping, he'd have made a fortune.  Did Ralph
ever buy that Girdlestone stock?'

'No, we put the thousand dollars away for Ranny's education.  It
seemed too little to risk.'

'That was a queer way to look at it, but it turned out to be the
best way.'

'I suppose William will have to rent his house now and move into a
smaller one.'

'The house went with everything else.  He had mortgaged it to try
to save something.  I know,' he added, with a rueful laugh, 'that
this sounds as if William were a fool.  But he isn't a fool.  He
has as good a mind as you'll meet any day.'

'No, I don't blame William.  I'm too sorry about it.  Rosa is so
fine.'

'You'd think that if you saw the way she's standing by William.  If
all modern girls were like Rosa, they'd be a long way ahead.'  His
face clouded, and Ada knew he was thinking of Minna.  'I tell her
mother that when she feels the blues coming on, she ought to pull
herself together and think of her splendid daughter.'  He looked at
her with a smile that tried to be sportive, and she thought that
the plump contour of his cheeks had grown haggard since yesterday.
'The trouble is,' he continued, 'that people, even the best of
them, have forgotten how to deny themselves.  All they think of is
having a good time, and they aren't willing to make sacrifices even
for their own children.  Rosa wasn't that way till she was married,
but she can't bear not to give in to William.  Well, I know you're
tired, and I mustn't keep you.'

Wherever you looked, there was something waiting to destroy
happiness, Ada thought as she turned away.  No sooner was a shelter
found for the mind or the heart than the savage elements of cruelty
and injustice swept up and demolished it.  Shelters and systems and
civilizations were all overwhelmed in time, her father said, by the
backward forces of ignorance, of barbarism, of ferocity.  Yet the
level would steadily rise, little by little; in the end other
unities would emerge from the ruins; and the indestructible will of
the world was toward life.

With her first questioning glance at Ralph, she saw that the dark
cloud had not lifted.  'You must be tired to death,' he said, as he
kissed her.  'This life is killing you, Ada.'

'Oh, no, it isn't.'  She tried to laugh away his anxiety.  'I can
stand worse things than this.  Wait and try me.'

'You didn't get any sleep last night.'

'I slept whenever you did.'

'I know it was my fault.  But I feel as if I'd been buried under a
rubbish heap of wasted time and money.'

'Well, whatever happens, I must sit down.  If I stand another
minute, I'll drop in my tracks.'

Pushing her into a chair, he knelt in front of her and took off her
shoes, rubbing her swollen feet gently.  'I meant to have your
slippers waiting, but I forgot after I heard about William.'
Looking down at him, she thought with that vague part of her which
seemed only a second self:  'Yes, he can be gentle, he can be
tender.  If he hurts anything, it is because he has been hurt.'

'Give me your hat and coat,' he said, and taking them from her, he
carried them into the closet and returned with the soft old
slippers she wore in the house.  'Do you want me to turn on the hot
water?'

She shook her head.  'I'll wait till bedtime.  All I want is just
to lie here in this easy chair in the firelight.  I believe I could
drop to sleep without shutting my eyes.'  Like a tired swimmer, she
felt, her mind floated outward on a shadowy stream.  Then, starting
up, she said, 'I am so worried about William.'

'So am I.  He spent the whole day trying to borrow.  I wish I'd had
something to lend him.'

That was reckless, and it was like Ralph, yet she had always found
such recklessness more endearing than prudence.  I couldn't be like
that, but I love it in him, she thought.  Only, I suppose, for
Ranny's sake, one of us had to be prudent, or we should have saved
nothing.

'Your father has gone to see Rosa.  She sent word that she wanted
to see him.'

'People always send for him when they're in trouble.  That used to
surprise me in Ironside.  Though he lacks everything that they
have, he seems to have something they've lost--or perhaps never
had.'  Turning her head, she spoke to Aunt Meggie in the passage.
'Yes, I did bring home some gloves to mend.  Ralph must have taken
them.'  With a sigh, she stretched her arms over her head and
withdrew her floating self from the shadows.  'Did you look in the
pocket of my coat?' she inquired a minute later, as she followed
Aunt Meggie into the bedroom.

'Yes, I found them, and I'll do them to-night.  I didn't like the
idea of your bobbing your hair, Ada, but it does make you look
younger.'

Picking up a comb, Ada ran it through the grey lock that waved like
a silver feather straight back through her thick shingled hair.
'This is the way I'll look when I'm old,' she said abruptly; for it
seemed to her, while she gazed at her reflection in the mirror,
that the firm contour had broken up into sagging lines.

'That's just because you didn't get any sleep last night, and
you're tired out.'

'I'm thirty-eight, and I feel as if I were fifty.'  She smoothed
out two deep furrows between her eyebrows, and turned away from the
glass.  'I didn't have anything for lunch but an apple.  A woman
from the country had to be fitted.'

'You'll feel better when you've had supper.  There's a Sally Lunn
in the stove.'

'You work too hard, Aunt Meggie.  I'm so sorry we had to let Tillie
go.'

'There wasn't anything else to do.  We couldn't have managed on
what we have.  And besides, I never mind working if people like
what I do.  I'm like mother in that.  It isn't the work that kills,
but the complaints, she used to say.'

'You know we like what you do, but that doesn't ease the strain.
Old Betsey comes only once a week now.'

'Your father helps when he can.  He never had any false pride about
a man's work.  He takes Ranny off my hands, too, as soon as the
child comes from school.  And Ralph isn't any real trouble.  He's
always had a way with him that makes people want to do things for
him.  Even when he complains, you don't mind, because it's sure to
be about something so big you can't help it.'

'Well, you mustn't mend these gloves to-night.  It won't hurt them
to wait.'

'Then things will begin to pile up on us, and we'll get behind in
the mending.  And I'm not real tired yet.  Old Betsey was here
washing this morning, and Mr. Midkiff helped tidy up when he
stopped by to fix a bench for the washtub.  No, I didn't have a bad
day.  It seemed just like every other day to me.'


X


'Ranny and I were in the woods,' John Fincastle was saying.  'As
long as we didn't know of the crash, it hadn't happened to us.'

Looking at him on the other side of the fire, Ada thought, 'It's
true that he is unreal.  That makes him so lovable'.

But what, he would have asked, is reality?  Do we know that the
idea is less real than the object?  That the Stock Exchange is more
real than Plato's Republic?  His features, worn down to the spirit,
were charged with light, with a singular clearness.  'Yesterday I
tried to find something I might do in the library,' he continued.
'A public library, one imagines, might become the last refuge of
the ageing student, but there also they demand youth, they demand
inexperience.'

'You mustn't think of that, Father.'  Ada glanced round from
arranging the cups and saucers.  'We owe you a great deal more than
we can ever repay.'

'It worries me that John eats so sparingly,' Aunt Meggie said.

'I eat enough, my dear.  You may give my share to Midkiff, or to
someone else who is hungry.'

'Isn't there a plenty, Mother?  I mean a plenty for everybody?'
Ranny asked.

'A plenty, darling.  Your grandfather is thinking of the very
poor.'

'We aren't that?'

'Oh, no, Ranny.'  She laughed, remembering the poor McAllisters.
'There are many people worse off than we are.'

'If we're ever very poor, Mother, I can sell newspapers.  I know a
boy, Jimmy Brackett, who sells papers.  It's a lot of fun.  I'd
rather do that than go to school.'

'You'd rather do anything than go to school,' Ralph said.  'But it
won't be long before your mother sits at home and I look after my
family.'

Why did the word 'family' on his lips bring a sense of peace to her
heart?  Only yesterday he had said that they were clinging to the
roots of the old order, that the family as an institution was as
antiquated as slavery.  Yet glancing now out on the lights in
Mulberry Street, she thought happily, 'Behind those rows of windows
there must be other families like ours, holding together through
success and failure, through good times and bad.'

'I saw William and Rosa.'  John Fincastle looked troubled.  'They
will have to begin again from the bottom.'

Ranny squirmed with curiosity.  'The bottom of what, Grandfather?'

'The bottom of the world,' Ralph replied impatiently.  'I only hope
it isn't the bottom of the hill to the poor-house.'

'Oh, don't put that in his mind!' Ada exclaimed.  'He will never
forget it.'

'Why not, Mother?  Why can I never forget it?'

'Haven't I always told you,' Ralph asked dryly, 'that the inquiring
mind in a household is not an unmixed blessing?'

Although Ralph had come out of his illness with a strong zest for
activity, she soon saw that he flagged easily, and that he had lost
his earlier interest in buying and selling.  His natural bent, from
which he had been twisted in youth, was toward what her grandmother
had called 'the learned professions', and he was irritated by
modern methods of advertising.  As long as the business had
provided a livelihood and he had been able to divert himself with
the hope of success, he had found it possible to drive his mind
into an occupation that irked him.  But after the frustration of
illness, new fears had displaced his old hopes for the future.
That strange fantasy of impotence, of failure, so startling to her
and so familiar to Dr. Bradford and the neurological surgeon, had
built its nest in the lower levels of consciousness.

'The truth is, they don't need me,' he complained one day in the
early spring.  'They're waiting for the first chance to fire me for
good.  And you can't blame them.  Trade is dull, and they've more
men hanging about the place than they know what to do with.'

'Things are certain to look up.'

'Everybody's waiting for that.  Stocks are up again, but business
is dragging.  Every other man you meet is trying to sell you a
cheap car.'

'I thought they expected a great deal from their tractor plough?'

'They did until the drought.'

'But there's always a drought.  A flood and a drought were the
first things I remember.'

'Well, people aren't buying.  Or perhaps I've lost the knack of
making people want to buy.'

'Oh, no, you haven't.  It will all come back to you.'  Merely to
say this was not enough; she must believe it.  All her strength was
poured into an act of faith, into a glowing affirmation of life.

'I've worked for four months, and I haven't made enough to keep us
going.'

'You will when business is better.  Everything will improve now
that spring is here.  And I shall hold on to my job just a little
longer.'

'I hate your doing that.  It makes me feel that I'm not more than
half a man.'

'But think how well we were doing before that accident.  If nothing
had happened, we'd be in our own home by this time, and we should
have put by enough for a rainy day.  For she must find and give
back to him what he had lost, his pride in himself and his
masculine vanity.  She must pass on that act of faith, that glow,
that affirmation which was more to him than the thing it affirmed.

The next day he sold two cars, and returned in a sanguine temper.
'It looks now as if better times were coming back.  Everyone
expects a good summer.'

Was the worst really over? she wondered as the summer advanced.
People said there was a firmer tone in the market, and that it was
the best time to buy if one had anything left.  Even William
Ruffner, who had brought his wife to live with her family and gone
to work repairing old furniture in his father-in-law's shop in the
basement, was eager to begin speculating all over again.  But there
was more play and less cheerfulness in the Bergens' back yard.
Though the elder grandchild toddled across the grass, there were
fewer flowers and they bloomed less profusely.  Sometimes, it
seemed to Ada, the tunes Otto whistled over his work sounded almost
dejected, and even Hans waddled more soberly, and gazed at his
master with the look of a tragic poet in his deep, velvety eyes.
Minna, who now spent whole nights away from home, confessed that
she was bored to death by the crowded house, the crying babies, and
the endless discussion of the best way to make two short ends meet.
Nothing had come of her engagement to Bertie Rawlings, and there
was a smouldering blaze under her fringed lashes.  For several
weeks she had worked in a hat shop, but early risings and long
hours had been too much for her, and she declared, at the end of a
hot day in August, that she would rather die than go back the next
morning.  Rosa had taken her place, and Mrs. Bergen, who was a born
mother, but had the cooking and the housework on her hands, was
obliged to look after the two babies.

'Otto is the one I feel for,' Aunt Meggie said.  'His wife has her
church, and she can shoulder a part of the trouble on that, but he
hasn't anything but his own goodness to fall back on.'

'This is only the beginning,' Ralph replied.  'Wait till next
winter.'

'But you said in April that things were looking up.'

'That was in April.  This is August.  I suppose some things are
picking up, if you mean speakeasies and cockfights and dice.'

'When you're in the street,' Ada said, 'you'd imagine that nobody
stays at home except in a coffin.'

'Yes, I was thinking to-day,' Aunt Meggie sighed, 'that I'd never
seen the world look so flighty.  It does seem hard that the
sensible people have to be sacrificed to the foolish.'

Ada tried to speak lightly.  'I'm glad Ranny isn't grown yet.
There may be worse things ahead of us than gangs of hoodlums.'

'Well, we'll have to take our punishment,' Ralph said angrily, 'and
the chances are that we'll have to take it lying down.  You can't
expect common decency from a bad system.'

'No doubt,' her father assented, with his tranquil smile, 'but
until we have common decency we shall never invent a system that is
not bad.'

Nothing, not even established disaster, Ada told herself, could be
so terrible as the rootless poverty of the streets.  Aloud she said
only, 'Where is Ranny?  Has anybody seen Ranny?  Since he is big
enough to fight, I never dare take my eyes off him when I'm at
home, and I worry all day long about the company he keeps.  He has
sworn vengeance, he told me, against the Oregon Hill crowd'.

'That's because some of them tried to steal Henry VIII,' Aunt
Meggie explained.  'Before I could get him back, they had plucked
out his handsomest tail feather.  Otto says he never lets Hans out
of his sight for fear they may do him a mischief.'

'Here I am, Mother.'  Ranny appeared with blood oozing from a cut
on his lip.  'I got him!' he cried triumphantly.  'I broke his
head!'

'Ranny, you promised me you wouldn't fight.'

'But I had to, Mother.  I had to.'

'You know you oughtn't to fight.'

'Yes, I ought, Mother.  I ought.'

'Good boy!' Ralph said approvingly.

'Tell him, Father, he mustn't fight,' Ada begged.

'Violence is the spirit of the age, my dear.  You wouldn't have him
out of touch with his time.'

'Wouldn't you fight, Grandfather, if they plucked your rooster?'

'I don't know, my boy.  I've never have that decision to make.'

If only they could move!  But how could they? she asked herself in
discouragement, and where could they go?

'Ranny, do be careful,' she begged.  'Those gangs are too rough.'

'I'm not afraid of 'em, Mother.  I'm twelve, and I can throw
straighter than they can.  Besides, Jimmy Brackett and I are
forming a gang of our own.  We're going to join with the Bats and
the River Bottom Spiders against the Oregon Hill Cats.'

'I declare, there goes that rowdy now,' Aunt Meggie said from the
front window.  'Of all the impudence!  He has dared to stick Henry
VIII's feather in his cap.'

'Do you want Jimmy and me to get it back, Aunt Meggie?  We want it
for you.'

'No, Ranny, oh, no,' Aunt Meggie answered quickly and flatly.
'That feather isn't a bit of use to me as long as it isn't in my
rooster's tail.'  Her voice changed, and she peered under the old
mulberry tree with a sympathetic expression.  'Bertie Rawlings is a
nice-looking young man,' she said.  'I wonder why he can't find a
place to teach?'

Ada went over to the window and smiled down on Bertie's tall, thin
figure.  Yes, he was a well-favoured youth, with his deeply tanned
skin, his glossy brown hair, and his sparkling eyes between brown
and black.  'I don't see how his mother makes enough for them both.
Everybody is wearing ready-made dresses.'

'She's having a hard time, I know, but Bertie hopes to find a job
by autumn.  He spends his days watching for the postman.  I can see
that he's worried, though he tries to keep a brave front.  All the
colleges are turning away men, he says, and a Ph.D. doesn't mean
any more than a war decoration when you're hunting a job.'

'If nothing better turns up,' John Fincastle said, 'he might do
well in my academy for young ladies.'

'But he's tried Boscobel School,' Aunt Meggie replied.  'They did
like him, and Miss Curran would have engaged him if he'd applied a
week sooner.  If the young man she selected doesn't suit, she has
promised to give Bertie a chance.'

'Well, the other young man will see to it that he suits,' Ralph
said.  'Suitability is a merit that no longer goes begging.'


XI


A year later, two years later, Ada was still working in Shadwell's,
and Ralph was still having his good or bad days, his good or bad
weeks, his good or bad months.  What had they meant to her, those
days, weeks, months of time?  Were they spun to endure out of the
deepest substance of living?  Or were they as brief and brittle as
circumstances?

There was, among other recollections, the memory of a particular
evening, after the noisy elections were over and done with, in the
autumn of 1932.  Isolated in its own unhappiness, yet without the
moral grandeur of tragedy, it stood alone in her thoughts.
Misfortunes never come singly, her grandmother used to say, and on
this day of slanting rain and slopping streets, it seemed to Ada
that a brood of accidents alighted upon her.  In the morning a
water pipe had burst, and she had sent Ranny to the Bergens' for a
bucket of fresh water.  Then, just as she was starting for the
shop, Aunt Meggie had tripped over a loosened board in the kitchen
floor, and Ralph had bandaged her swollen ankle, while John
Fincastle set out to summon old Betsey from her bleak cellar in
Jackson Ward.

When Ada finally reached Shadwell's, she heard that her salary had
been cut from twenty to eighteen dollars a week; yet she felt only
a sense of relief because she had not been discharged with the
mournful women and girls she found in the cloakroom.  Nobody, she
realized, was to blame, not the departing President, not the
arriving President, not even the Kaiser.  An economic disaster was
as impersonal as an earthquake.  It overtook, like the rain or the
wrath of the Lord, both the just and the unjust, the diligent and
the idle.  There was nothing to be done about it, unless she could
succeed in making eighteen dollars as elastic as twenty.  Besides,
there was always the chance that Ralph might earn an unusually good
commission.  Last month he had done better, and the Duncan car
appeared to be recovering its old popularity.  This, of course, was
the sensible, as well as the sanguine, view of their difficulties.
But all day long, while she fitted gloves on fingers that seemed to
wilt in her grasp, she was wondering how she could possibly buy
Ranny the new overcoat and the pair of shoes he needed for school.
What could she sell or pawn?  All the good pieces of old walnut had
gone for a meagre sum; the clock with the landscape and the painted
tray had brought almost nothing; the scattered books left in John
Fincastle's library were such as few persons would read and nobody
would buy.  Only the blue bowl, which had acquired an ethereal
value, as if it were the symbol of some precious bowl of the
spirit, stood in its old place and shone with the radiance or the
darkness of firelight.

'I wonder if we could get anything for this?' Ralph had asked one
day, picking up the bowl in his hands.

Like a fragment of God's Mountain, the blue had deepened to violet
as the sunbeams flashed over it.  'Oh, no, that was mother's bowl!'
Ada had cried, seizing it from him.  'That must go last of all.'

'I spoke to Mr. Milliken about it,' Aunt Meggie had confessed, 'but
he said it would bring very little.  People aren't buying ornaments
any longer.'

In the street this afternoon, hurrying home under her raised
umbrella, it seemed to Ada that she was stalked by the grim spectre
of poverty.  So many scarecrow figures, with lean arms protruding
from tattered sleeves!  So many gnarled dirty hands begging!  So
many putty-coloured faces hag-ridden by fear!  And at lunch time,
when she had gone out for a sandwich, she had seen the breadlines
forming before an empty warehouse, where a charitable society
dispensed stale bread and potato soup.  All over Queenborough such
lines were forming and such places were opening.  Three blocks away
from their home in Mulberry Street, rows of hungry men, women, and
children, in the cast-off but still fashionable garments of the
rich, waited, with tin cups in their hands, on every Monday,
Thursday, and Saturday.  And this world of visible wretchedness was
hemmed in by an area as unreal and fantastic as a nightmare.
Distraught, chaotic, grotesque, it was an age, she told herself, of
cruelty without moral indignation, of catastrophe without courage.
Movie-minded children pounced in bands from the alleys.  The nimble
wits and legs of bandits were matched against the sluggish law and
the heavy-footed police.  Every class, every period of life even,
demanded more freedom and stronger excitements.

Through the sheets of rain a drunken man lurched against her as he
tossed a pint flask into an alley.  On the other side, close under
her umbrella, a woman was shrieking with hysterical mirth.  'He
asked me if I'd wear an old-fashioned nightgown, and I said,
"Never, except in my coffin".  Then he said . . .'  The shrieks
died in chuckles, and the wind swept on from the river.

This was a crowded quarter of the town, but in Granite Boulevard,
where the very rich were safely buried beneath the last pyramid of
high finance, there were still teas without tea, she had heard, and
motion-picture faces without a film, and endless gin-drinking, and
hastily bitten-back hiccups, and stories just a little funnier that
went just a little farther than last year, and much talk of prize
fighting, which was Puritanically forbidden, and of fox-hunting,
which was Cavalierly allowed, and ardent prophecies that the next
legislature would permit horse racing and gambling and pari-mutuel
betting.  How long ago had she waited in an imposing hall, on an
errand after Shadwell's had closed, and listened as if she were at
a play to the ribald chatter of the younger married set that called
itself the Underworld?  But people aren't like that, she had
thought.  People aren't really like that.

A beggar touched her arm under the umbrella, and after a glance
into his eyes, she stopped and gave him a little money.  I suppose
he'll buy a drink, and I hope he will if it helps him to forget.
The dimmed stare had reminded her of Mr. Midkiff.  They were
feeding him every night, since he had been without work for a year,
and Mrs. Maudsley, who had become sour and slovenly and tight-
fisted, poor creature, was trying to push him into the almshouse.
But they were beginning to wonder how much longer they could scrape
together bread and meat for his plate on the kitchen table.  Every
penny had to be counted twice over, and the cost of bacon alone,
Aunt Meggie complained, would drive any honest skinflint into his
grave.

At home she found Aunt Meggie in the kitchen, and a pot of bean
soup on the gas stove.

'Yes, I'm all right, Ada.  As soon as the swelling went down, the
pain stopped.  I'm making soup with that old ham bone.'

'Did the plumber come?'

'He mended the pipe, but he said it might burst again any day.  In
a ramshackle house like this something is always the matter.  I
brought your clothes in here to warm them.  You mustn't wear your
one black dress in the house.'

'It doesn't look as if we could keep on this way.'  As Ada replied,
she peeled off her wet stockings.  'Mr. Shadwell has cut my salary
to eighteen dollars.'

'That means eight dollars less every month.  Well, we'll have to
see how we can manage.'

'Where's Ranny?  I'm always uneasy when I don't see him.'

'He went over to the Bergens' with your father.  They both get
restless in bad weather.  There they are now.  Or maybe it is
Ralph.'

'Yes, it's Ralph's step,' Ada answered, and flying into her
bedroom, she changed into a flowered dress which was worn but
bright, and hastily dragged a comb through her dampened hair.
'Even in my coffin, I should hate to look dreary,' she said to her
face in the mirror.

In the front room Ralph was standing before the fire, and when she
entered he turned to look at her with an expression of hopeless
defiance.  Rain was dripping from his overcoat, and she saw, with a
start, that he had forgotten to take off his hat, which was as
soaked as a wet sponge.

'I'm dog-tired,' he said in a dull voice.  'I'm dog-tired of
living.'

'I know, Ralph, I know.  There are times when I feel that way
myself.  But take off your coat.  Give it to me, and your hat too.
They're dripping wet.'

While she hurried to the kitchen with his wet things, he sank into
a chair and sat motionless until she came back and bent over him.
'We all have our blue days,' she began, and stopped suddenly
because it seemed to her that her heart had turned over.  He had
been drinking.  For the first time since that night of their old
estrangement and Janet's triumph, she knew when he kissed her that
he had been drinking.  I shouldn't mind, she thought helplessly, if
he could stand it, or could even afford it, but he can't.  He
can't, and he is doing it from sheer desperation.  And this, she
had learned from watching the streets, is the worst of all
drunkenness.  To drink for pleasure may be a distraction, but to
drink from misery is always a danger.  What could she say or do?
What did other women say or do with men who were not sober enough
to listen?

'I'm fired,' he said, without turning.

She dropped into the chair facing him--her grandmother's chair with
wings.  'But . . . but that's ridiculous.'

'It's true too.  There aren't sales enough to divide among so many
men.  Two men can handle that part of the business, and the rest of
us were turned off.  I've seen it coming for six months.  As soon
as sales look up, and the farmers begin buying tractor ploughs,
we'll all be taken back again, if we haven't given in to starvation
or old age . . .'

The words rustled in vacancy.  'I can't understand,' she answered.
'There must be a mistake.'

'I've spent six hours looking for a job.  I must have tramped miles
in and out of buildings.  Good God!  I never realized till now what
men are up against when they're out of work.  Then, when I was too
tired to move on, I stopped at a bootlegger's.'  He drew a flat
pint bottle from his pocket and held it up.  'There's mighty little
left.  It took most of this to get me home, and it cost a dollar
and a half.  A dollar and a half for a pint of filthy stuff that
doesn't touch the moonshine on Lightning Ridge.'

'Some men can stand it,' she said, 'but you can't.'

While she stared into his face, it seemed to her that something
within (was it pride? was it self-control?) had recoiled like a
wave, had curved, ascended, and shattered itself against life.  'I
can't bear it!' she cried out wildly.  'This is the one thing too
much.  I can't bear anything more.'  A storm of sobs choked her
voice.  Flinging herself on the rug, she wept bitterly, without
shame, without covering her eyes, without wiping away the tears
from her cheeks or the salty taste from her lips.  Utterly
abandoned to fatigue, beyond restraint, beyond humiliation, beyond
effort, she felt only that resistance was hopeless and despair
might wash over her.

'But, Ada!' he burst out, suddenly sobered.  'But, Ada!'  When she
did not look up, he knelt beside her and lifted her from the floor.
'It isn't like you to break down.  You're too good a sport to break
down.'

Her tears stopped as suddenly as they had begun.  With the stains
still on her face, she felt for the winged chair and dropped into
it.

He gazed at her in bewilderment.  'I'm not drunk, you know, if you
mean that.'

'It's for Ranny.  You couldn't put that on Ranny.'

'I was worn out, and it went to my head a bit.  But I won't again.
If you feel like that about it, I won't ever again.'

She laughed, fumbling for her handkerchief.  'Something snapped
inside.'

'Well, I promise.'  His voice was toneless.  'You have enough to
stand without that.'

'Remember Ranny too.'

'Yes, Ranny too.'  He patted her shoulder while he dropped the
bottle into her lap.  'If it isn't too near supper, I think I'll
take a nap on that sofa.'

As he lay down on her mother's old sofa, and she covered him with a
knitted robe, she said, 'We'll manage somehow.  When things are so
bad, if they change at all, they have to change for the better.  We
can rent out the rooms upstairs, and that will split the rent
almost in half.'  But her heart was shivering, she felt, like a
frightened hare.  How are we going to live? it panted faster and
faster.  How in the world are we going to live?

She had dreaded having to break the bad news to her father and
Ranny, but the old man merely nodded in sympathy, and Ranny treated
the general calamity as a new kind of lark.

'Now, I can sell papers till father gets back his job.'  His round
fresh face, with the clear blue eyes, looked manly and eager.

'No, Ranny, you have that scholarship to work for.  Everything
depends upon your going to Meadow Brook School next year.'

'Oh, I can do that too, Mother.  All the boys in my class are
older, but I keep at the head.'  Sometimes he was almost too
assured, she admitted, too sanguine and self-reliant.  She wondered
what Ralph thought of such boastfulness, but when she glanced
round, she read in his look only pride and a dazed kind of
admiration.  Well, that was the way, no doubt, to succeed in life,
but if the boy was so cocksure at thirteen and a half, what would
he become by the time he was twenty-one?

The next instant she told herself that she might have misconstrued
Ralph's expression.  Never could she surmise what he was thinking.
He was still, as he had always been, a mystery to her.  Had he
found happiness in his marriage?  Had he found happiness anywhere?
Only when her muscles ached and her nerves quivered like harp
strings under an awkward hand did these aimless questions flock
into her mind and settle over her thoughts.

Rather than lose his tenants the owner of the house consented to
reduce the rent, and immediately they agreed to let out all the
second floor, except the small rooms over the kitchen, to a family
from the country.  By the end of the week John Fincastle had moved
his desk and his books into the back room under the tin roof, and
Aunt Meggie had arranged her few possessions downstairs in what had
once been the laundry.  Ranny, to his intense delight, was to sleep
on a bed behind the screen in the living-room.

'In some ways, it will be more convenient,' Aunt Meggie said.
'I'll take fewer steps next to the kitchen, and it will be easier
to keep warm.'

In another era, Ada thought admiringly, Aunt Meggie might have been
merely commonplace, but she emerged as a heroine from this
particular moment of history.  Her small weather-beaten face had
not aged; her thin grey hair still straggled in curly wisps over
her trusting brown eyes.

'When she gets to Heaven,' Ralph had once remarked to Ada, 'what
will she do there?  How could she find enough little things to keep
her happy?'

'I wonder,' Ada had whispered back, 'but without her religion, I
don't see how we'd make out on earth.'

'All the same she works too hard.  You ought to stop her.'

'I've tried, but I can't.  She won't give up.  But have you noticed
how absent-minded she is growing?'

'Who wouldn't be?'  And your father too.  There's that queer
stillness in his face.'

'I know.  It comes over him, I sometimes think, like twilight on a
pond.  His heart is somewhere else.  Perhaps it is in another age
or another world.'


XII


The first lodgers in the rooms upstairs were a retired country
clergyman, his second wife, and two stepdaughters just old enough
to crave excitement.  From Aunt Meggie, in whom they confided, Ada
learned that the country church was too poor to struggle on any
longer, and had suspended its pastor after a bitter drought and the
failure of crops.  The man himself had a tortured look, with
cavernous eyes, and appeared crushed in spite of his piety, but the
wife and daughters were spiteful and quarrelsome.  'They blame me
because I am a failure,' he confessed to Aunt Meggie.  'But how
could I live on people who have nothing, even though I have nothing
myself?  The girls want to enjoy themselves, and they think it is
my fault because they can't.'

At the end of the week, when the rent was paid by a sharp-nosed
young woman with a notebook, Ada discovered that the family was
supported by charity.  It seemed too dreadful when one thought of
that nice old man, who looked as if God had ordained him to rescue
the perishing.  Whenever she saw the impassive countenance of the
social worker, like some wooden symbol of philanthropy, she felt a
vague resentment against society, against the world, against God,
but, most of all, against human nature.  A mere slip of a girl,
without tact or experience, but armed with institutional methods
and possessing a diploma that covered all deficiencies, the
investigator classified, tabulated, registered, and summed up with
a yellow pencil in her small black notebook held together by a
stout band of elastic.  Every week, with the inconvenient
regularity of a machine, she darted into the hall, without ringing
the bell, and tripped up the staircase.  For twenty minutes or
more, she would remain closeted with her victims in the front room
upstairs.  Then the door would open; she could be heard piping good
advice in the metallic tone of patronage; and a little later she
would flit down and disappear as rapidly as she had come.  But in
the room overhead the quarrels and recriminations would again break
out in a torrent.

'I can't see how that old minister lives through those scenes,'
Aunt Meggie would sigh.  'It's a pity he didn't have too much sense
to marry that nagging woman.  Of course she's years younger than he
is, but youth isn't everything.'

'They're poor sports,' Ralph said one evening when a string of
whining complaints dripped through the ceiling.  'One thing you can
count on in Ada,' he continued chaffingly.  'She'll never let
anybody down.  Even if she'd married an old minister, she'd have
stuck by her bargain.'

Ada smiled as she threaded her needle to patch Ranny's trousers.
'I like getting the better of life,' she tossed back gaily, 'and
I'm not ashamed that I do.'

It was amazing, she thought, knotting the thread and smoothing the
triangular patch on her knee, how many things one could find to
laugh at on the brink of disaster.  If only one took the world as
one found it, and did not sit down and wait for something to
happen!

'Please put the patch where it doesn't show, Mother,' Ranny begged.
'If you put it on the seat, the boys will call me Bottom Patches.'

'I can't find a place, darling, that doesn't show when you stoop
over.  But I'll do my best to hide the stitches where it's put in.'

Her gaze left the scrap of cloth and wandered over the living-room
to the screen covered with Chinese wallpaper they had brought from
the manse.  Though little was left in the room it was still
homelike and cheerful when the lamp was lighted at dusk and the
firelight rippled over the faded cinnamon-coloured walls.  I've
held on to my blue bowl, she thought, just as great-great-
grandmother Tod held on to her cameo brooch among savages.  We held
on because they were symbols.

Now and then, Ranny earned a little money by running errands after
school.  Earlier in the winter, he had tried to deliver newspapers,
but after getting up before day and starting out at a quarter to
five every morning, he had found at the end of a week that he was
the richer by only seventeen cents.  The trouble was, he explained
after much earnest figuring, that he had worked under another boy
who collected the money and pocketed the entire profits.  A
greengrocer in the market was more dependable, but he needed an
errand boy only for a week or two in December, while his regular
delivery man who had been knocked down in the street was in the
hospital.

Life that autumn and winter was drawn out into a single aching
nerve, Ada felt, a slowly gnawing anxiety.  Ralph was walking the
streets, and the echo of his wearied footfalls was like a thudding
pain in her heart.  Sometimes she would dream that a long
reverberating roll of drums had marched over her grave, rat-a-tat,
rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat.  Then she would start up, strangled by fear,
while the echo escaped from the nightmare into her waking mind, and
she remembered that the thudding sound (the devil's tattoo, her
grandmother would have called it) was the monotonous tramp of
homeless men in the street.  Always they passed on to Mulberry Hill
and the shelter for transients, one, or two, or three, or
occasionally a straggling row with its dreary passage from the
delusion to the actuality.  In that grey army all the faces were
arrested in a death-in-life immobility, as if the blood in the
veins had stopped and frozen.  It was the familiar look of long
patience, which had carved her father's features into graven
serenity, which would presently chisel bluish hollows in Ralph's
cheeks and temples and beneath his still amused and defiant eyes.

A shiver like creeping frost would steal over her.  Under the
strain of tense nerves, would Ralph at last lose his mocking
courage and become apathetic, humble, defeated?  Suppose conditions
should change from bad to worse before the winter was over!
Suppose she were to fall ill, or Ralph's paralysis were to return
(though the doctor said this was not likely), or suppose she should
be obliged to stop work before Ralph found steady employment.  Far
into the night, after Ralph had tormented his mind into
unconsciousness, while Ranny slept snugly on the lounge in the
living-room, while Aunt Meggie, drugged by fatigue, dozed in
snatches beside the tubs in the laundry, while John Fincastle
wondered ceaselessly how he could pay the next premium on his
insurance--far into the chill, blank hours of approaching dawn, a
multitude of anxieties, featureless, grotesque, repulsive as bats,
would pour out from the corners and crevices of the house and swarm
over her bed.  And she would ask herself, in the clutch of an old
fear--or was it remorse?--Is God punishing me because I killed
grandmother?  Yet, even in the winter darkness, the idea seemed
ludicrous.  She was sure that Aunt Meggie, safely anchored on the
rock of predestination, would consider such vengeance excessive.
If I had my life to live over again, I suppose I'd do differently,
she thought, but nobody knows. . . .

The dark troubled her, but strength returned with the deep
vibrations of sunrise.  Then she would slip out of bed, without
waking Ralph, and steal into the kitchen to find that Aunt Meggie,
who awoke with the first crow of Henry VIII, had lighted the gas
stove and put on a kettle of water.  Glowing and tingling from an
icy dip, Ada would hurry into her clothes and help Ranny dress,
before the table was set in the living-room and the soft-coal fire
fanned into a blaze.  'Even if you stint yourself on your other
meals,' Aunt Meggie would say, as she fried bacon, or scrambled
eggs in season, 'it is always well to start the day with a good
breakfast.  Anyhow,' she would add with a twist of dry merriment,
'Anne Boleyn will never lose her head if she begins to lay an egg
every morning.'

'If it's hard on me,' Ada said to herself, 'what must it mean to
Aunt Meggie, who works her fingers to the bone and comes first with
nobody?'  And she wasn't the only one!  All over the world there
were nameless wives and mothers still baking and scrubbing and
washing in the hope that imperfect human ties might remain linked
together.

'I'm not easy in my mind about your father.'  Aunt Meggie lowered
her voice while she put the coffee-pot on the table.  'I never saw
so little flesh on anyone who wasn't mortally ill.'

'Yet he looks happy.'

'That has grown on him since the doctor discovered there was a
general breaking up.  He has serious kidney trouble, and his heart,
too, is bad.  But he wouldn't follow any treatment . . .'

That was late in January, on the mild, silvery day when the
Queenborough Central and Savings Bank, the largest bank in the
city, closed its doors.  Ada, fitting a glove over stiffened
fingers in Shadwell's, listened incredulously to an account of the
disaster.

'Why that's where we have the last of our savings!' she exclaimed.

'I wish we'd known about you,' the customer answered regretfully.
'My husband says so many people chose that bank because it looks so
substantial and the president is considered a monument of
integrity.  A rumour reached us yesterday that things weren't
exactly right there, and my husband went down and withdrew the
greater part of his deposit.  Early this morning there was a run on
the bank, and the doors didn't stay open longer than half an hour.'
She lifted her pretty face and settled her elbow in the centre of
the small velvet cushion on the counter.  'There are a great many
stories going about, but nobody knows, of course, whether or not
they are true.  My husband doesn't believe that the directors of
the bank knew it was obliged to fail and that several of them had
sold all their stock weeks before.  Of course, it's dreadfully hard
on the small depositors.  My husband says they are the people who
always pay in the end.  He telephoned me just before I started to
market that he was having the most trying day of his life, and to
send him down some aspirin for a headache.  Men and women had come
to him in tears and told him they had lost everything they had in
the world.'

'Everything they had in the world,' Ada repeated, with dry lips,
working mechanically over the kid fingers.

She remembered the Hamblens, who had invested all their savings in
stock of the Queenborough Bank because it represented power and
solidity and financial security.  She remembered old Mr. Midkiff,
with his hoarded nest egg wrung from more than forty years of
hardship and self-sacrifice.  She remembered Mrs. Rawlings and Mrs.
Maudsley, and the whole of Mulberry Street in a procession; men,
with sagging shoulders in shabby coats, trudging out to work in the
first pale fingers of light; women, with corded necks and knotted
hands, sweeping porches and pavements; the old and tired; the young
and restless; white and black; children and animals--all hurrying
by, caught up in waves of blown dust, from toil into idleness, from
hope into failure.  These were not the spenders and wasters of a
false dawn of prosperity.  These were the simple folk, the little
people, who had had the gospel of thrift preached to them from the
hour of their birth, who had feared charity more than death and a
pauper's grave more than eternity, who had trusted their pitiful
independence to a name, a promise, a reputation.

'I'm afraid I gave you a shock,' the customer was saying.  'Isn't
there a place you can sit down?'

No, she wasn't supposed to sit down.  'That's a perfect fit,' she
said, smoothing the ivory glove on the soft, plump hand.  'I'm glad
gloves have come in again for the evening.'

'Yes, it's perfect.  I was obliged to have them for the concert to-
night.  Perhaps things aren't really so serious as they look now.'
She smiled and nodded as Mr. Shadwell, appearing upset but
benevolent, paused to speak to her.  'I'm afraid I gave this nice
Mrs. McBride a blow.  She hadn't heard that the Queenborough Bank
had closed.  Is it really as bad as they say, Mr. Shadwell?'

'It looks very serious,' Mr. Shadwell replied, for he also had
suffered from too blind a confidence in solidity.  'Hadn't you
better go to the rest room for a while, Mrs. McBride?' he inquired
sympathetically.  'A dose of ammonia might do you good.'  Then, as
the customer went out, he continued gently.  'After all, the
depositors may be protected, you know.  The doors may open again
to-morrow.'

While he bowed and walked on, she thought, 'How rapidly he has
aged!'  She had never before realized that he was infirm, though
she had heard people say that he was too scrupulous in his dealings
to contend with sharp modern methods of business.  He was the last
merchant of dignified tradition, and when he passed out of
Queenborough, it would mean the doom of the old-fashioned shop.
Buckman, who owned the biggest department store in town, was
watching Shadwell's, she knew, as a cat watches a mouse hole.
Suppose Shadwell's should go under, she found herself thinking.
What would become of them if she were to lose her place and her
salary?  For all the other shops were turning away older women
(only that morning she had told herself that she looked every day
of her age), and picked only the tender, the blooming, and the
ornamental to decorate counters.

That afternoon, for the first time in her memory, she dreaded to
leave the shop and go home.  What had they heard?  Perhaps they
thought that she did not know, and would try to spare her as long
as they could.  As she turned into Mulberry Street, her steps
faltered, suspense pulsed through her thoughts, and it seemed to
her that a tumult had broken out in her ears.  Had the look of the
house really changed?  Or was it only that Ralph's head was missing
from the front window?  Between the parted curtains the firelight
glimmered and darkened on the vacant panes, and it seemed to her
that both the glimmer and the darkness were reflected from the
anxiety within her mind.


XIII


At the sound of her key in the latch, Aunt Meggie opened the door.

'You've heard, Ada?'

'Yes, I've heard.  Where's Ralph?'

'He's found a job for two weeks.  A man named Blakely Sands has had
to go to hospital for an operation, and he has employed Ralph to
take charge of his repair shop and filling station.  He will pay
twenty-five dollars a week.  That's a help.'

'It's a godsend!  Is Ranny still out?'

'He went with his father.  You know how he enjoys anything that has
to do with machinery.  Ralph has to go early and stay late, but he
said he'd send Ranny home in time for his lessons.  The boy is bent
on getting a job in a filling station next summer.'  A grating note
ruffled her voice.  'Do you reckon Ralph will get back any of the
money in the bank?'

'Nobody seems to know.  Mr. Shadwell was just as much in the dark
as anyone else.'  She sighed as she followed Aunt Meggie into the
kitchen.  'It takes the heart out of you.'

'Everybody in Mulberry Street seems to have suffered.  All the
women were crying, and the men looked half dead with worry.  People
say that some of the officers of the bank drew out all their
deposits in the last few weeks.'

'I heard that, but it may not be true.  Mr. Shadwell says the doors
may open again to-morrow.'

'Well, maybe things will have to get better.'

'Maybe.  But I'm not going to lie down and let trouble walk over
me.  When I think I might have lost Ralph and didn't, I feel I can
stand whatever I have to stand.  But the poor Hamblens!  They're so
old and tired.'

'And they haven't a cent left.'  Aunt Meggie wiped her eyes on the
hem of her apron.  'Not even the money to pay their week's board
and lodging.  Mr. Hamblen meant to draw that much out of the
savings department day before yesterday, but something prevented
him.  They had taken the advice of one of the directors, a man who
belongs to their church, and sold all their Liberty Bonds and put
everything in bonds or stock of that bank.  It looked so big and
substantial they never imagined it could fail.'

'They may get everything back.  All this is just talk.  Have you
seen them?'

'Only for a minute.  They look stunned, just as if they had had a
blow on the head.  All they do is to sit and stare at each other,
and say over and over, "There must be some mistake.  It couldn't be
true".  I had a long talk with Mrs. Maudesley about them.  She's
terribly upset, too, poor soul, because she had all her money for
rent in the bank.  So many people have been behind in their board,
and the agent had already threatened to turn her out.  I suppose
it's the depression that makes everybody so ready to believe the
worst.'

'Well, I wish they'd wait to give up hope till the directors have
had a chance.'

'The trouble is that people have lost confidence in everything and
everybody, from the government down.'

'I wish the Hamblens hadn't trusted so easily.'

'I know.  Then there's poor Mr. Midkiff.  He had six hundred
dollars put away secretly to cover the cost of dying and burial.
He drew out three dollars a month to pay Mrs. Maudsley for his
kitchen, after she stopped letting him have it for nothing, and
then he would have gone hungry if we hadn't helped the Bergens to
feed him.  For the last two years he has made nothing but the few
cents he got for his pickings on the cinder dumps.  When he scraped
up a piece of old iron or a little tin, he would sell it to a junk
dealer down by the river.  Somebody gave him that broken
wheelbarrow.  If it had been a horse and cart, he told me
yesterday, he might have done better collecting waste paper.'

'Has anyone seen him to-day?'

'Your father went over there, and he came back more upset than he's
been for years.  Mother used to say that he took other people's
afflictions harder than his own.'

'When everybody is that way, there may be less misery around us.'

'Mr. Midkiff is a strong old man,' Aunt Meggie said, still wiping
her eyes.  'He's a good carpenter and handy with his tools.  I
asked him once what his Christian name was, and he said if he'd
ever had one, he'd "disremembered" it.  He thinks his mother named
him "Mister" when he was born in the almshouse, and they called him
that even when he was little.  They gave him a number, he said, and
he answered to the name of "Luke" in the roll call.  But somehow
"Luke" didn't stick to him.'

'Well, I'm going straight over there.  I'm going before I take off
my hat.'

'You look real tired, Ada.'

'There're worse things than being tired.'

'Won't you wait till you've had a cup of coffee?  It's 'most
ready.'

'Not now.  I feel as if I were choking.'

When she opened the gate and went out she stopped for a minute to
look through the smoky light and the flying papers.  The whole of
Mulberry Street seemed to her to be watching and waiting, as if the
windows and doorways and even the forlorn basements exhaled the
odour of fear.  It looks exactly as if a funeral, or a plague
perhaps, had gone by, she thought, as she entered the boarding-
house and went up the fine old staircase to the Hamblens' sitting-
room on the second floor.

At her knock Mr. Hamblen opened the door and ceremoniously ushered
her into the presence of his wife, who was seated in a carved
rosewood chair (it was once prized, but would now bring nothing,
Ada said to herself) before a small coal fire, which glowed with a
steady beat, like a living heart.  She was dressed as neatly as
usual; the brooch of twisted gold fastened her collar; the gold
chain was looped over her flat bosom.

'It can't be true,' she said, as she looked up from the fire.
'There must be some mistake.'

Ada bent over and kissed her cheek, which felt soft and dry and
wilted.  'It may not be so bad as it looks now,' she answered.

As she glanced round her, she saw that they had been less inactive
through the long day than Aunt Meggie imagined.  On the marble top
of the centre table a few heirlooms had been carefully arranged: a
bracelet wove of hair with heavy gold clasps, several small old
pictures of no value, an antiquated watch with a heavy seal
attached, an elaborate wreath of wax-flowers, a mourning pin with
the design of a tomb under a weeping willow, and a chessboard
bearing a set of ivory chessmen, which had belonged to Mr.
Hamblen's Uncle John, a famous chess-player, who had fallen at
Seven Pines.  While she looked at them a wild idea darted like a
minnow below the surface of Ada's mind:  All their treasures might
just bury them and no more.

'We've been looking over our relics,' Mr. Hamblen explained
formally, avoiding what he would have considered the low comedy of
a pathetic cadence.  'A dealer in antiques has just examined them.
He would buy nothing but the old gold.'

'If it is necessary, I can add the brooch and chain I have on,' the
old lady remarked.  'Unfortunately, the demand for relics has
fallen off since the depression.  And they tell me that common
walnut or maple, or even pine, brings a higher price than carved
rosewood.'

'Something may turn up,' Ada said hurriedly, fearing that she might
break down beneath the strain of their unnatural composure.  'I do
hope you won't have to give up these rooms.'

Though a quiver convulsed Mrs. Hamblen's mouth, her voice was
without the note of self-pity when she replied, 'I feel that there
must be a mistake.  But if it should turn out to be true, we shall
be obliged to make other plans.  We don't know just yet . . .  We
don't see our way . . .  We shall have to make shift with what we
have.  Only,' she concluded primly, 'that seems to be very little.'

'Of course if we were younger,' Mr. Hamblen said, 'it would mean
only beginning over again.  When I was a small boy after the Civil
War, my parents began again from the bottom.  But at seventy-
seven,' he smiled at his wife, 'that does not appear practicable.'

They were wonderful, Ada thought, with a clutch in her throat.
They belonged to an age when vehemence was still regarded as
vulgar.  All their fine qualities, industry, veracity, self-denial,
were as antiquated as the linked chain Mrs. Hamblen draped on her
bosom.  Nothing could stay young for ever, not even the cardinal
virtues.

'I'll try to think of something and come back to-morrow,' she said
quickly.  'There's plenty of time.'

Oh, yes, there was plenty of time, they assented politely.  It
was true that Mrs. Maudesley had not been so kind as they would
have expected.  Fear was whipping her on, no doubt, and fear, as
Mr. Hamblen had once said, was the blood brother of cruelty.
Still, it was incredible that they should have lost everything.
Everything down to the money for the week's board and lodging.  But
charity . . . no, that was out of the question.  To be sure, the
world appeared to be rapidly losing its horror of charity.  Even
the almshouse, once regarded by white and black alike as the final
descent into ignominy, was now trying to improve its social
position.  The very young spoke of it lightly as the resort of the
profligate, but for the Hamblens, as well as for old Midkiff, it
remained the ancient antagonist of the poor and proud.

Downstairs, she went out of the back door into the cluttered yard,
which was used as a trash heap for tin cans and empty bottles and
broken crockery.  Factories used to buy rubbish like that, she had
heard, but Mrs. Maudsley said it wouldn't now bring enough to pay
for hauling it down to the river bottom.  Even Mr. Midkiff had to
find better pickings.

At the end of the slipper walk, surrounded by piles of junk and
furnished with baited rat traps, she saw the wreck of an outside
kitchen.  'Nothing ought to live here,' she thought in horror, 'not
even rats.'  Near the door, which swung on a single hinge, Mr.
Midkiff's wheelbarrow stood half upset, with the refuse spilling
over the ground, as if it had been overtaken by the immense
futility of cinders.  As there was no response to her call, she
skirted the vehicle and gingerly ascended the outside wooden steps
to what had once been the cook's room in the loft.  The door above
was not shut; the damp wind was pouring into the vacancy; and she
saw that the old man was seated, apparently sunk in a stupor, on
the pallet he used day and night as a resting-place.  It would be
too much, she told herself, to expect him to want to keep the room
clean or to notice the stench of old rat traps.

'Mr. Midkiff!' she called, and was compelled to repeat the cry
before he heard her voice and looked round.

'I was just studyin',' he said apologetically, as he shuffled to
his feet and stood gazing at her in an attitude of oxlike
resignation.  If only he were not so patient, so confirmed in that
terrible humility of the old!  If only he would rebel, strike back,
blaspheme against the inevitable!  For the pathos of life, she
felt, was worse than the tragedy.

'Have you had anything to eat?'

He shook his head.  'Naw'm.  I ain't felt the want of nothin'.'

'You must come over to our kitchen.  Aunt Meggie will have your
supper ready.'  Before he came into Aunt Meggie's kitchen, she knew
that he would wash himself and put on the cleaner one of the two
blue cotton shirts Ralph had given him.

His face was muffled in his wide grey beard, worn long and full,
like the beard of Moses in her grandmother's illustrated Bible.
She could see only his eyes, as bright and still as rain puddles
hidden in dried grass, and the strong curving beak of his nose.  'I
ain't felt the want to eat to-day,' he said.  'I was jest settin'
thar studyin'.'

'Everything may be better to-morrow.'  The sanguine note in her
voice reminded her of the chirping of a doomed cricket.  'Your
money may be given back to you.'

'Yas'm, that may be.'

'You know we'll always help you as much as we can.'

'Thank you, ma'am.'

'It won't do you any good to sit and brood.'

'I warn't broodin', ma'am.  I was jest studyin'.  I'd calc'lated
that what I'd put by would last me for rent as long as I had to
live and see me through to a good burial.  I ain't no pauper, and I
don't want no pauper's burial.  But it ain't likely I can make
more'n a few cents a day by scratchin' on dumps.'  He held out his
big gnarled hands and looked at them with a kind of slow wonder.
'I ain't wore out yet.  Thar's a good piece of work left in me
still.'

'That's true.  You are strong for your age.  Aunt Meggie was saying
a little while ago that you know how to handle tools.'  She
couldn't tell him that Mrs. Maudsley objected to him because she
said he was dirty.

'Well, I ain't real old.  I cal'clate that I'll be sixty-three come
next March.  I'm pretty spry, too, even if I ain't as peart as I
used to be.  But I was studyin' jest now that I ain't never had
half a chance to git on.  When I was born in the po'house down the
Jeems, nobody took a notion to teach me readin' and writin' and
addin' up.  But I learnt the whole Catechism by heart befo' I was
set out as a hired orphan.  I can say parts of the Catechism now
right straight off, but it don't git you far in these times.'

'You've always done the best you could, I know.  Father will tell
you that.  But don't worry any more than you can help, and be sure
to come over for a bite of supper.'

As she turned away, she saw, without glancing round, that he had
dropped back on his pallet and was sunk again in a stupor of
resignation.  She felt faint, and slightly sickened by an
intolerable pity, as if she were bleeding within.  Faceless,
dismembered, a brood of half-forgotten recollections surged up from
the shaken depths of her mind.  Hills tumbled about her.  Leaves
scuttled.  A tower rocked in a pale sky.  A crow and its shadow
flashed over the barren fields.  Then, suddenly, her skin seemed to
change, while her identity turned and doubled upon her.  Once again
she was living two separate lives in two separate places.  Was she
an idiot fleeing over a twisted path?  Was she something soft warm,
furry, with eyes like small, terrified hearts?  Or was she merely
Ada McBride, who was once Ada Fincastle, clutching the rickety
stairway as she descended with a sensation of nausea from the rat
hole Mr. Midkiff called home?


XIV


From the kitchen floated the familiar fragrance of Aunt Meggie's
coffee, and Ada asked if she might fill the small tin coffee-pot
and take it over to Mr. Midkiff.  'I can't bear to think of him
over there in that cold loft.'

'I'll take it right over myself, and some pork and beans too.
They're filling and nourishing and go farther than anything else.
I can go through the alley gate.  It's only a step, and I feel as
if I needed a breath of air.'  While Aunt Meggie added sugar and
milk to the coffee, and put a corn pone on the tray beside the
plate of pork and beans, she asked abruptly, 'Has it ever crossed
your mind, Ada, that you might get help from your mother's people?'

Ada started.  'Not for myself, Aunt Meggie.  I'd rather starve.'

'I wasn't thinking about us.  We'll manage somehow, and if Ranny
wins this scholarship, he'll earn his own education.  But I was
wondering if they would do anything for the Hamblens.'

'That's different, I hadn't thought of the Hamblens.'

'Your father still goes by the Bland house every day.  Ranny has
made up his mind that he is going to live in it when he grows up.'

'Well, making up his mind won't do any harm.  I suppose he
inherited the feeling from father and me, but neither of us has
ever set foot inside the door.'

'They might be glad to see you if they were fond of Mary Evelyn.'

'But they gave her up after she married father.  And besides, I am
too independent to stand patronage.'

'I know how you feel, but the idea just came to me.  You look as if
you'd drop.  Why don't you sit down and drink a cup of coffee while
I take this through the alley?'

As she disappeared, Ada poured out a cup of coffee and sat down to
drink it.  Between sips she found herself saying aloud, 'I wonder
if it would do any good?  I wonder if they would be willing to
help?'  Breaking off an end of corn pone, she ate it slowly while a
resolution sprang into her mind and assumed shape and energy.  I
couldn't ask help for myself, but I might ask for the Hamblens, I
will ask help for the Hamblens.  Through the window she could look
over the board fence into Mrs. Maudsley's yard, where a lean and
rusty cat, with a twitching black tail, was stalking a sparrow.
Then Aunt Meggie slipped in through the alley gate, holding her
tray carefully, and went up the steps to the loft.  It's strange
how people, even the most miserable, cling to life, Ada thought,
and a small satirical voice in her mind answered:  But it isn't so
easy to die.  Starting up, she washed her cup quickly and put it
back on the shelf.  I'll go now while my mind is made up.  I'll go
before Aunt Meggie and Father and Ranny come in to distract me.
Hurrying into the bedroom she smoothed her hair under the cloth
beret, fastened the high collar of black fur on her coat, and drew
on her only whole pair of gloves.  A perfectly good face, she said
to herself, with a smile, warranted to wear, but not to remain
youthful.

As she passed through the gate, a squat shadow detached itself from
the darkness under the old mulberry tree.  For an instant, while it
approached her, the figure appeared hunchbacked, and she said to
herself, 'That is the shape of depression'.  Then she saw that it
was only Mrs. Rawlings, more bowed than ever beneath her heavy cape
and the drooping brim of her hat.

'Is your father at home?' she inquired nervously.  'I ran over just
for a word with him.'

'He hasn't come in yet, but he may be back any minute.  Will you go
inside and wait?'

'No, I just wanted to ask him what I'd better do about Bertie.
It's going on three months since I heard from him, and I'm
beginning to worry.'

'Why, I thought he was well placed at that college in Texas?'

'Yes, he's well enough placed, I reckon, but they keep him so busy
moving about teaching and lecturing that he hasn't been able to get
home for nearly two years.  It was splendid when they picked him,
he said, out of a hundred teachers.  We'd just come to the bare
end.  There wasn't a scrap left to eat in the house, and I hadn't
had any work for a month, when he told me he'd met a professor from
this Texas college who offered him a place if he could go right
away.  At first he wrote regularly, though the address was always
changing because they sent him to speak in schools all over the
State, and he'd asked me to send my letters to the post office.
But for the last year I've only had a card now and then, and three
months ago he stopped writing entirely.  I was wondering if your
father knew anybody down there he could ask about Bertie.'

'I know he'll do what he can.  Why don't you wait with Aunt Meggie
while I go out on an errand?'  It seemed to her that she was
suddenly entangled in the complexities of Mulberry Street.

'Well, I will, and thank you, if you don't mind.'

Mrs. Rawlings entered the gate with her stooping walk, while Ada
turned away as if she were driven, and hastened up the three long
blocks to the once elegant and now faintly malodorous Washington
Street.  Toward the West End, where the Bland house stood withdrawn
behind its Doric columns, the street retained a measure at least of
its dignity; but it could never recover the lost opulence, the
flowery scents, the vanished illusion.  From east to west, there
were flying papers in the windy dusk and the forlorn aspect of
deterioration.

Through the bare elms the lights of the house glittered, and when
she ascended the steps of the terrace, the door was opened before
she had reached the porch and put out her hand to the bell.
Inside, music was playing, and beyond an arched doorway she caught
a glimpse of bright dresses and flowerlike heads swaying and
bending.  They can't know the misery, she thought.  They don't know
what life is.

'Do you mean the elder Mrs. Bland, ma'am?' inquired the old
coloured butler.  'She doesn't come downstairs, but you might see
her if you'd like to go up.'

'Tell her it is the daughter of her cousin, Mrs. Fincastle.'

As he turned away, she moved under the arch in the hall, idly
watching the slender shapes winding in and out of the intricate
maze.  Out of the variegated blur a voice fluted, 'But sex has gone
out.  We've changed the name of our club from the Underworld to the
High Flyers'.  Glancing round, with a start, she smelt the odour of
rum, and saw a slim girl, with a face like an artificial carnation,
in the arms of a youth who looked vapid, undeveloped, and
swaggering.

'Oh, I say, will you go to that cockfight up in Goochland?  The
police may raid it, you know.'

She giggled in rapture.  'Not really!  Oh, what a thrill to be
raided!'

'Mrs. Bland will see you, ma'am,' said a voice at Ada's elbow.
'Will you please come upstairs, ma'am?'  How, she mused, as he
ushered her up the distinguished staircase, had he been able to
imitate the ceremonious presence and the superior manner of
slavery?  I wonder, she found herself thinking, if he remembers
mother?  Behind her the girl's voice was still fluting over the
music, 'Not really!  Oh, how exciting!'

When she entered the long front room, drenched with the smell of
lavender salts, she felt that she was dazzled by firelight.  A
woman lying on the couch in front of the fire appeared first as a
study in mauve that was shading to purple.  She seemed merely
middle-aged, but when Ada drew nearer she saw that the features
were those of an old woman--older than her mother had ever been,
almost as old as her grandmother had looked in her coffin.  There
were mauve tints in her piled white hair, and her sunken eyes,
beneath heavily veined lids, were like dead lilacs.

'I have sciatica,' she said.  'I can't get up.  So you are Mary
Evelyn's daughter?'

'Yes, I am her daughter.  My name is Ada McBride.'

'Ada McBride!  Did your husband come from the mountains?'

'From Ironside.  The McBrides have always lived there.'

'Ironside?  That must be a small place.  I never heard of it.  Will
you draw up that low chair and sit close to me?'

As Ada pushed the low chair nearer the couch, she thought, 'She's
strong like mother, in spite of her frail look.  No matter how much
you bend her, she'd never give way.'

'Tell me about Mary Evelyn,' Mrs. Bland said gently.  'I was very
fond of her when she was a young girl, but we lost touch with each
other many years ago.  Is she still living?'

'No, she died before we left Ironside.'

'When did you leave?  And why?'

'We left before the Great War ended.  Everything seemed to go down,
and we couldn't hold on to the manse.'

'The manse?  I remember she married a clergyman.  He was a
Presbyterian minister, wasn't he?'

'He was until he left the church and wrote books.'

'Books?  Well, I don't read.  Nobody that I know ever opens a
book.'  As she winced from pain, the hand holding the bottle of
lavender salts dropped to her side.  'Will you take this?  Put the
stopper in and take it away.  Was Mary Evelyn happy?'

'Yes, she was happy.'

'I heard that she had a hard life, that she was living in poverty.'

'She was, but she was happy.'

'I'm sorry we drifted apart.  I'd like to have seen her again
before she died.  She might have been a celebrated beauty, but she
never knew how to make the best of herself.'

'She didn't care.  Other things seemed to her more important.'

'Other things.  What things?'

'Well, being happy.'

'I wonder.'  Mrs. Bland murmured below her breath.  Then her face
changed while the hollows seemed to deepen and to suck in the puffs
under her eyes.  Her lips tightened as if they were drawn by an
elastic string, and beneath her heavy eyelids a startled fear
flashed to the surface.  'Why did you come after all these years?'
she asked stiffly.  'I hope you didn't come because you're in
need.'

'No, I'm not in need.  I thought you might help two of our
neighbours who lost all they had when the bank failed this
morning.'

The fear leaped again.  'I can't help.  For two years my son has
been warding off failure.  We have tried to keep up to the last.  I
oughtn't to speak of it . . .'

'I won't say anything.  I promise you I won't say anything.'

'I know I'm too garrulous, but I feel I must talk to somebody.  If
I don't talk to somebody, I shall break down.  My son is one of the
directors of this bank.  He has stood by it.  He wouldn't draw out
and leave the others to bear the responsibility.  Even when he saw
before the other directors what was coming, and had an opportunity
to save a little for himself and for us, he would not sell his
stock or even withdraw his account.  He is down there now . . . he
has been there day and night . . . trying to save the bank and to
protect the depositors . . .'

Her voice broke, while a door downstairs opened and a wild strain
of music rippled into the room.  'This is my granddaughter's
birthday.  The invitations to her party had gone out long before,
or we shouldn't have sent them.  It is only for the afternoon, and
when it is over, I may be able to quiet my nerves.  She's nineteen,
and she's coming out this winter.  We're trying to give her one
happy winter before she knows what has happened.  If it takes the
last cent we have, we mean to give her one happy winter.  Then
everything may have to go.  The house and everything else.  It
isn't a secret, except to the poor child, that my son may be
ruined . . . that he is holding on by the last margin.'  A sob
strangled her and, gasping for breath, she sank back on the couch
and veiled her face with her hands, which were weak and tremulous,
yet still clutching at shadows.  'I can't help anybody,' she moaned
under her breath.  'I can't help my own family.  We need help
ourselves.'

What could she say? Ada asked herself.  What could anyone say or do
before the ghastly spectacle of age in defeat?  Bending above the
prostrate figure, she covered it gently with a robe of violet satin
edged with lace and artificial rosebuds.  'I'll come to see you
again,' she said.  'We don't need anything.  We can always manage
somehow.'

When there was no response, she turned away from the couch and went
out of the room and down the stairs, treading as softly in the
violent music as if she were following the burial of a lost hope
through a carnival.  That is spoilt too, she thought.  I wish I
hadn't come.  I wish I'd stayed away and kept my faith in the
romantic life.  As long as I believed in it, it was mine.  And
maybe nothing is real, not even money or the want of it.

The wind shivered in Washington Street.  Patches of vapour were
blown here, there, everywhere.  In the thick dusk the electric
lamps bristled, shooting out sharp quills of light.  Suddenly a
jagged pain clutched her feet and galloped as madly as a living
thing up her legs to her waist.  She oughtn't to have come.  No
good ever came of expecting people to help.  Each human being lived
in its own cell of clay, confined within an inert speck of
creation, and indifferent to the other millions of cells by which
it was surrounded.  A whole world of mud-daubers!  Like the red-
winged insects, less stinging than wasps, that built their nests in
the old stable at Ironside.  But I won't tell anybody where I've
been, she resolved wearily.  I won't tell anybody but Father.

An omnibus stopped at the corner, and she dragged herself to the
platform, groped her way inside, and dropped into a seat next to a
woman holding a green wicker basket.  I was too tired, she
reflected, justifying the price of the fare.  That long walk was
too much for me.  But it wasn't the walk that had tired her, she
knew.  It was the surprise, the disappointment, the death of an
illusion.  While the bus plunged into darkness, scattering the
wisps of vapour, splintering the frosty light on the pavement, it
seemed to her that her inmost self, the hidden core of her
personality, had been violated by fear.  But this isn't true, she
insisted.  Nothing has really touched me.  Nothing has happened
that I mightn't have known.  Yet she knew that something had
happened.  She knew that life had lost a sense of permanence, of
continuing tradition.  What does it all mean? she thought, dazed
with weariness.  Does it go on for ever, round and round in circles
without beginning or end?

That night when Ralph came home, very late and soaked with fog, his
first words were, 'You'd better call it a day, Ada.  You look all
in.'

'Who wouldn't, my dear?  Some days are like this one.  Everything
comes in an avalanche, without space to breathe, and then it sinks
in with the rest.  But I'm thankful you found work.'

'It's only for two weeks.  Still, another and a better job may turn
up.  We've struck the bottom so hard that it looks as if there must
be a rebound.'

'Maybe the new President will work out a way,' suggested Aunt
Meggie, who held a strong political faith.

'It would take more than a new President, it would take a new God,'
Ralph retorted, 'to make over human nature.'

'But not to make over human behaviour,' John Fincastle said.

Ralph's tone was less sullen, Ada observed thankfully, and he
looked animated.  Only idleness and the sense of dependence on
circumstances sharpened the edge of his temper.  Now, though he
regretted his own loss and was sorry for the Hamblens and old
Midkiff, he was cheered by the news that none of the Bergens had
suffered.  William had told him, he continued, that they had not
heard from Minna for months.  She had gone away one evening with a
strange man from Baltimore, and had never come home again.  They
had thought of calling in the police, and Mrs. Bergen had been
almost distracted with shame and anxiety.  Then an old friend,
returning from a business trip, had told them that he had seen
Minna at a play in Baltimore, and that she appeared in high spirits
and was wearing a mink coat and orchids.

'The uniform of ill fame,' Ralph said sardonically.  'But she's
like those women upstairs.  There was always a yellow streak
somewhere.'  He was savage toward Minna, Ada remarked, not without
a flicker of pleasure, and entirely lacking in the lip-homage of
chivalry.

'There's real trouble upstairs,' Aunt Meggie responded.  'The
Welfare League doesn't want to keep on paying the rent.  I wonder
what we'll do when those people stop being helped.'

'Well, we can't take them in,' Ralph protested.  'We have enough to
look after as it is.  I'd rather take care of old Midkiff if I
could.  Maybe I can some day.  Maybe when the tractor plough is put
on the market I can build up the Duncan agency in the Valley.'

'If that time ever comes, we will go back to the mountains,' John
Fincastle said, and Ada noticed, as she watched him, that his
shining vision pierced inward.

'Then we'll take Mr. Midkiff to help me with my chickens and the
garden,' Aunt Meggie mused happily.  'Aunt Abigail's cabin is
better, anyway, than Mrs. Maudsley's old kitchen.'

'Yes, we'll go back if that time ever comes,' Ada assented.  Then
she asked abruptly, 'Father, did you see Mrs. Rawlings?  She was
going to wait for you.  There was something she wanted to ask you
about Bertie.'

'I couldn't help her.'  He rubbed his hand over his eyes and then
looked at it as if he expected to find the image he had seen.  'The
only address he gave was a post office wherever he lectured.  I
don't know of any travelling college in Texas.  It seems queer.
Perhaps she misunderstood.'

'He may be sick or in trouble.  At least he might have written,
even if he couldn't send money.  Poor woman, she's dreadfully
worried.'

'Would it do any good to advertise in Texas?' Ralph asked, suddenly
interested.  'There's a chance for him now at Boscobel School.
Miss Curran brought her car to the shop to-day, and she asked me
for his address.  Their English teacher died last November, and the
substitute she put in his place has resigned to go abroad as a
tutor.  Bertie always had a winning way.  She told me he had made a
very pleasant impression.'

'If we wait long enough,' Aunt Meggie said, 'he may come back.'

'I have a feeling,' Ada answered sleepily, as she rose from her
chair and put her work-basket aside, 'that, if we wait long enough,
everything will come back, and we shall all be happy again.'  It
was like speaking in a dream, she thought, as she crossed the floor
with a slight limp, because her legs ached when she stood up.  It
was like moving in a dream that stretched on and on, and led
nowhere.  'Well, I'm going to stay in bed, no matter what happens,
till tomorrow's troubles begin.'  Nothing ever lasts, she told
herself, but the thought broke away and whirled on without her.  It
wasn't the right moment, some obscure instinct warned her, to turn
round and try to look life in the face.

In Mulberry Street this day of disaster was followed by quiet.  On
the surface at least living resumed its familiar monotony.  After
the first shock, men who had lost everything began to hope, men who
had escaped loss began to forget, and women, sweeping pavements and
trudging to market, echoed the faint hopes or the increasing
forgetfulness.  Then one evening in February, when Ada came home
from work in the early dusk, she found Aunt Meggie shedding tears
of indignation and pity.  The visitor from the Welfare League had
come to see the Hamblens that afternoon.  Aunt Meggie had found her
with them, investigating, classifying, recording.  'I thought it
would embarrass them if I stayed,' she said, 'so I slipped out
while she was asking them the most intimate questions, and putting
every word down in her notebook.  Just as I was going downstairs, I
heard her call, and I hurried back to find that Mrs. Hamblen had
fainted.  In a minute Mrs. Maudsley rushed in with a bottle of
camphor, and one of the boarders, a nice, common man named
Smithson, brought a flask of brandy from his room and made the old
lady swallow a good drink.  She'd never so much as tasted brandy
before, but it acted like magic.

'What had the girl done to her?'

'Nothing, she declared, absolutely nothing.  All she had told her
was that the best place for them was the almshouse.  I reckon she
called it the City Home, but Mrs. Hamblen knew what she meant.  The
girl was dreadfully upset.  She was trying, she explained, to
remove the old-fashioned prejudice against the City Home.  All the
charitable organizations have combined, she said, and are trying to
place their work upon a scientific basis and to overcome antiquated
ideas.  They seem to think they can do away with a prejudice just
by reasoning with people.'

'What will become of the Hamblens?'

'The girl didn't know.  I'm not sure she knows how to think for
herself.  The habit seems to have been squeezed out of her by a
system.  She was flustered because she couldn't make up her mind
what to put in her notebook.'

'Oughtn't I to run over and see what has happened?'

'There hasn't anything happened.  As soon as the girl went, the old
people began to figure out what they could sell and how little
would keep life in them till they recovered some of their money.
They didn't talk as if they were low-spirited, but Mrs. Maudsley
says they will be obliged to go to the City Home in the end.  All
their things together would do no more than bury them.'

'I thought that when I was over there.  But I feel as if I must
talk with them.'

'Wait till to-morrow.  I hate to see you wear yourself out.  You
are getting real hollow-eyed.'

'I know.'  Ada raised her hand to smooth out the two furrows.
'Something tells me that Mr. Shadwell is going to cut my salary
again.'

'Again?'

'It isn't his fault.  I can tell that he is failing every day.
Sooner or later, he will be ruined.'

'You get only eighteen dollars now.'

'By next week I may get only fourteen.'

Aunt Meggie sighed and threw out her bony arm as if she were
feeling for a support.  'Well, we'll have to make it do, but I wish
mother had left me more of her trust in the Lord.'

Ada bit back a smile, 'We'll have to manage with what we have.
Yes, I do feel too tired to go to the Hamblens'.  I'll wait until
supper is over.'

But after supper she sat in her old dress by the fire and mended
gloves for the shop, while Ralph read the newspapers, and her
father and Ranny worked out problems in arithmetic.  The room was
immersed in stillness that trembled and whispered, broken now and
then by John Fincastle's cough, by the scraping of Ranny's feet on
the floor, by the falling of an ember that crumbled as it dropped
through the grate to the ashes.  Not a word had been said; yet it
seemed to Ada that a voice suddenly called her name and, raising
her eyes from her needle, she found Ralph gazing at her with a look
that made her heart beat more quickly and the silken thread knot
and break in her fingers.

'Tired out?' he asked softly.

'Tired and happy, too . . . happy in spots down below all the
unhappiness.'

'Try to stop thinking.  What we've lost, we can make up.'

'I know, but the others.  The whole of Mulberry Street . . .'

'That's the worst.  That's why you must stop thinking for to-night.
Spring is nearly here.  If we can only make out till spring, I'm
sure I can get a job, and then everything will be better.'

She smiled into his eyes, while his gaze sank into her heart and
drew out the pain.  It had been years since they had smiled like
that, with a look as tender and intimate as an embrace.  'The
winter might have been worse,' she said.  'After all, we've been
happy together.'  She had trusted herself to the moment, and it was
still here between them, holding them closer.  Even speech had not
startled it into flight.

'Yes, we've been happy together.'  A tremor softened the embittered
curve of his mouth.  'You're easy to live with.'

'Well, you're not easy, but you're interesting,' she tossed back.

Never again, she felt, flushing under his steady gaze, would she
ask if he loved her.  It was different, but it was love.  It was
different, but it was happiness.  We couldn't have felt this when
we were young lovers, she told herself.  What we felt was more
glowing, more vehement, more light-hearted and joyous; but it
lacked this peace, this completeness, this security against time
and change.  His smile still held her, and she thought, He doesn't
see that my hair is streaked with grey, that my skin is weather-
beaten, that my forehead is disfigured by two wrinkles.

For the rest of that night the troubles of Mulberry Street were
forgotten.  Not until the next morning did she remind herself of
the Hamblens, and determine that she would drop in to see them for
a minute on the way to her work.  But just as they were beginning
breakfast there was a frantic ring at the bell, and one of Mrs.
Maudsley's boarders burst in before Ranny had had time to open the
door.

'A terrible thing has happened, Mrs. McBride!  The Hamblens are
dead.'

'But I saw them yesterday!' Aunt Meggie exclaimed, as she put down
the coffee-pot with a shaking hand.

'Bessie, the maid, found them.  They didn't come down to breakfast,
and Mrs. Maudsley sent her upstairs to tell them.  They were never
a minute late for a meal.  She thought they might be holding back
because they couldn't pay her.  When Bessie knocked, she smelt gas.
Then she went in and found them both lying on the floor of the
bathroom.  It isn't much bigger than a closet.  They had stuffed
towels in every crack, and under the door . . .'

'But I saw them yesterday.'  Aunt Meggie glanced about in dazed
perplexity.  'They didn't complain.  They didn't say a word . . .
that . . .'

'They seemed to be in high spirits at supper.  Mr. Hamblen told all
his old jokes, and everybody was laughing to keep up courage.  But
I reckon they couldn't stand the thought of the City Home.'

'If only they'd said something . . .' Ada began.  But what could
they have said?  There wasn't anything to be said that could have
made any difference.

'They left a note asking Mrs. Maudsley to sell their relics, as
they called them, and keep the money.  Only they hoped there would
be enough left to bury them in their old plot in Rose Hill
Cemetery.  But there won't be enough for funeral expenses,' she
continued, rolling her handkerchief into a ball and mopping her
eyes.  'We're taking up a collection.'

'We'll help,' Ralph said eagerly.  'I'll give half of my week's
salary.'  How like him that was, Ada thought, with love in her eyes
as she looked at him.  How like him, and how completely lacking in
prudence!

'I'll go over.'  John Fincastle had come in while they were
talking.  'I'll go over and see what can be done.'

'Drink this hot coffee, Father.'  Ada filled a cup and held it to
his lips.  'You must eat something.  You are shaking.'

'I felt a chill.  A thing like this brings a chill.'  Obediently,
as if he scarcely knew what he was doing, he seated himself and
drank the coffee and ate the buttered roll she put on his plate.

'You aren't well enough to go out, John,' Aunt Meggie pleaded.
'Let me go in your place.  It is so terrible.'

He shook his head, and the empty outline of a smile wavered across
his lips.  'I'm not sure of that, my dear.  A timely end is a good
end.'

So this had happened last night, Ada thought.  This had happened
while she sat by the fire and mended gloves, and told herself that
the winter had not been so bad, after all, and they were fortunate
to have a whole roof over their heads.  This tragedy had happened
only two walls away while she and Ralph were smiling into each
other's eyes and thinking they had been happy together.


XV


'If Homer begged,' John Fincastle said, 'why should we be ashamed?'

Old Mr. Midkiff, who had never heard of Homer, but had his
suspicions of philanthropy, straightened his stooped shoulders and
tried to look proud and hopeful, as if he had been ushered as an
equal into fine company.  That dry humour on Mr. Fincastle's tongue
never failed to put the courage back into his bones.  It was a way
of speaking, and of smiling, too, as if everything, charity
included, wasn't worth making a fuss about, because it didn't
really matter a straw.  'There's one thing they can't take from us,
and that's fortitude,' he would say, with his laugh so low and far
off that it brought back to Mr. Midkiff an echo of the sea he had
once heard, as a boy, when somebody put a shell to his ear.  That's
the sea.  I've heard the sea, he had thought, though he had known
even then that he should never lay eyes on it.  Well, well, those
were fine, heartening words.  Whether they made sense or not (and
not much that Mr. Fincastle said seemed to make sense), they had a
power to brace up a man's spirit.  Even waiting like this, with a
tin cup in your hand, wasn't nearly so humble when you told
yourself that it was fortitude.

The March wind had a biting edge.  John Fincastle shivered and
pulled the collar of his greatcoat (a fine bottle-green, Ada called
it) high up to his chin.  'Delivered from suffering,' he said
suddenly, and discovered to his horror that he was speaking aloud,
after the bad habit of old persons.  The words had blown through
his mind.  Somebody had prayed that prayer ages before--somebody
had prayed:  May all that have life be delivered from suffering.

Yes, he was old now.  He couldn't remember.  He couldn't see
clearly.  There were times when the world receded into a vast
humming.  At other times a sudden clutch in his heart would leave
him gasping for breath until the sweat poured down on the coldest
nights.  A general breaking-up, the doctor had called it.  When one
got on in years, one must not expect too much of the heart and the
kidneys.  Well, he was glad that the end was in sight.  He had
lived out his life to the full circle.  His work was what he had
wished to do, and now it was finished.  Whenever he looked back,
the way he had come appeared far off and beautiful.  He would not
like to give up that backward vision.  But, for all the world could
offer, he would not go over that steep road once again.

In front of him the breadline stretched in two separate rows, one
white, one coloured, to the door of the dilapidated dwelling-house
which had been turned into a soup kitchen.  The sagging iron gate
was flung wide.  An icy rain dripped from the bare boughs of a
crooked paulownia tree in the street.  No, he had not wanted to
beg, John Fincastle thought.  After he had been told of that
general breaking-up, he had eaten as little food as was needed to
keep one alive.  He was not deliberately starving himself.  Only,
since the pangs of hunger had left him, and that strange exaltation
had flooded his mind with light, his body had offered less
resistance to the advance of mortality.  But Mr. Midkiff, who found
the cinder dumps scraped bare, could not keep up his strength on
the lean scraps Meggie was able to put by after supper.  Ada's
salary had suffered a new cut.  The value of every penny must be
stretched out when fourteen dollars a week provided for a family of
five.  And yet that wasn't the worst, John Fincastle mused.
Beneath Ada's brave smile he could see the haggard lines of
anxiety.  Always, he knew, she was struggling against the fear that
Shadwell's could hold out no longer.  When the crash came, as come
it must, unless Ralph had found work they would be turned out
penniless into the street, driven at last to accept the picked
bones of charity.  And knowing this, Ralph had divided a week's
salary with the dead Hamblens.  Well, he wasn't sorry.  He was glad
the boy (he still thought of Ralph in his middle forties as a boy)
was still capable of a magnificent folly.  It was the Irish in him,
Ada had said, with that shining wistfulness in her eyes.  Older
eyes they were now, tired and older, but still shining.

If only I can die, my insurance will help them a little, John
Fincastle told himself.  Not much, but a little.  Enough, perhaps,
to tide them over until better times.

The line wavered, and to steady himself he rested his hand against
the bark of the tree, which felt slimy and cold.  He had expected
to see famished faces and shrunken figures before the soup kitchen,
but most of these hungry persons, waiting with tin cups to be
filled, were warmly clad, in garments from the Red Cross, no doubt,
or other charitable organizations.  Many of the women, particularly
the younger women, wore bright coats trimmed with the fashionable
collars of cheap fur.  Never had he seen so much rabbit fur, not
even on rabbits.  None of the girls seemed depressed or even
subdued, and few of them, as Meggie would have said, had spared the
rouge pot or the lipstick.  Well, scarlet lips helped one, he
supposed, to keep up one's courage.  Had the homeless men resorted
to such embellishments, they might have looked less dejected.  For,
oddly enough, the men, not the women, appeared to have suffered the
most.  Flinching, nervous, hollow-eyed, unwashed, unshaven, and
bowed with that dreadful humbleness of the down and out, he watched
them falling into line, as he might have watched spectres in some
grim caricature of existence.

Turning his head, he looked beyond the gate to the coloured row,
which reached the corner and swept in a stream round the side of
the house.  What was there in the nature of the Negro, he wondered,
that enabled him to squeeze the zest of life out of husks?  A
steady murmur, as of bees swarming, drifted from the crowd of brown
and black and russet faces.  The sound was not gay, nor was it sad;
it belonged, with the dripping of the rain or the sighing of the
wind, to the natural cadences of earth.  Though the Negroes had had
a harder time, they had suffered less, he thought, or perhaps they
had learned how to suffer.  They also wore the cast-off finery of
the well-to-do, but they wore it with pride.  There was
submissiveness without humility in their sleek smiles and soft
droning voices.

But Mr. Midkiff--Mr. Midkiff, who had scratched rubbish-heaps and
lived among rat holes, still feared only one thing more than
charity when he was alive, and that was charity when he was dead.
'I don't feel no call to eat,' he had protested.  'I ain't a big
eater at no time.  I was al'ays scrawny like this.'  Meggie,
however, had insisted that his scant supper could not keep out the
cold.  'That old man,' she said, 'is too bony to live on pickings.'
It was then that John Fincastle had borrowed two tin cups from her,
and had begun to ramble on, in his tone of whimsical irony, about
the poets and prophets who had begged for a living.  Not Homer
alone, but many others, many of the very greatest, had begged,
without shame, in an abundance of the spirit.  Christ had not
rejected charity, he reminded Mr. Midkiff, and Buddha, the
Compassionate One, had walked the roads of India with his yellow
bowl.  Then the philosophers--He was still harping on the
philosophers and the merit of begging in the right spirit when Mr.
Midkiff, who had missed every word but was as much impressed as any
literary critic by wind humming through syllables, accepted one of
the tin cups, and consented to stand and wait with him at the door
of the soup kitchen.

From the ragged clouds a light flurry of snow whirled suddenly, and
before the flakes had melted in the air a pale finger of sunshine
pointed over the housetops.  The line shivered as if it were strung
on a single wire.  Ahead of him, a man raised his arm in a ragged
sleeve to turn up the collar of his thin coat.  Beside the gay
clothes and cheap or imitation fur on the women, the men were like
scarecrows.  Did well-to-do men, John Fincastle wondered, never
cast off old clothing while it still kept the shape of a man?  In
the street a handsome limousine passed on its way from the lower
station.  He heard a girl gasp, 'Don't I wish that was mine?' and
turning quickly saw a woman in the car bending over a little boy.
She had taken off her glove, and a single ring on her finger
flashed out like a star, and was gone.  There was envy in the faces
about him, a physical envy, without the sting and smart of an
insurgent idea.  Well, the bleating of sheep doesn't make a
revolution, he told himself, while the familiar pain struck in his
chest.  A revolution might end in the shambles, but it must begin
in the stars.  There must be bliss in that dawn, he thought,
remembering Wordsworth, and the tranquil poverty of Dove cottage
(stone floors and dampness, and swallows building in windows, and a
birch tree like 'a flying sunshiny shower', and a beggar with two
sticks, and a tall gipsy woman in multicoloured patches), and then
the tragic peace of the long evening.

No, one couldn't make a revolution, one couldn't even start a riot,
with sheep that asked only for better browsing.  The door opened,
and the two separate rows swerved abruptly, and then crawled slowly
forward while he wondered how a country unable to handle a
breadline, or to curb the Stock Exchange, could find a successful
way to plan and manage a world.  There was a sensation of
closeness, a sound of shuffling feet, and for a minute he felt that
he was suffocating in the smell of dirty clothes, the stale sweat
of unwashed bodies, and, now and then, a whiff of cheap scented
powder.  Then, as he approached the Negro line at the foot of the
steps, his nostrils were assailed by the earthy and more acrid
odours of Africa.  A wisp of satire revolved in his mind.  'The
sense of smell remains the greatest obstacle to the parliament of
mankind.'

As the crowd pushed behind him he tottered, and Mr. Midkiff put out
an arm to keep him from falling.  Glancing back, he saw rows of
vacant eyes, as cold and glassy as the eyes of codfish.  Hunger
surrounded him.  But was it merely a physical hunger?  Could the
human race, glutted with horrors of its own making, survive upon a
material basis alone?--Suddenly a voice piped out of nowhere into
his ear.  'If I hadn't lost my week's pay in that damn slot
machine, I'd bet my last dollar on a chicken fight.'  'You oughtn't
to,' a second squeak answered.  'You oughtn't to, when the baby has
to have medicine, and I haven't been able to get to a movie for a
whole week.'

In waves of elasticity that strange lightness poured into his mind.
His body seemed to exist merely as a shred of vapour attached to a
mood that was ethereal, swift, and exalted.  It can't be long now,
he thought, with an exquisite sense of release.  'All right?' he
inquired of Mr. Midkiff over his shoulder.

Yes, Mr. Midkiff was bearing up, but ashamed.  His muffled voice
vibrated with humiliation above the thin squeaking about him.  Was
it another sphere, or simply another tradition, that he inhabited?
Inside the house, where the only sounds were the inarticulate
scurryings, the jingling of tin cups, and the gulping of pale
liquid in which a few coffee grounds swam about, he received a
cupful of fluid, a baker's stale roll, and some scraps of stringy
meat stewed with potatoes.  Well, a warm stomach, however you
looked at it, was an advantage.  While they swallowed their coffee,
Mr. Midkiff riveted his abashed gaze on the floor.  When all was
said, he pondered gloomily, the man named Homer must have lived in
the olden time, for modern paupers, even in the cast-off clothes
from the Red Cross, cut a poor figure.

A shabby spectacle, John Fincastle assented.  But it may be, he
mused ironically more to himself than to his companion, that
poverty, like incest, requires Grecian apparel.  In that noon day
of a planned to-morrow, when science has bared the last mysteries
of the human entrails, and the closed cells of spontaneous
generation are opened in public view--in that morning brightness of
knowledge will men have found a better world than human nature
provides? . . .

'Well, we've had enough,' he said aloud, and thrust his arm through
Mr. Midkiff's, while a touch of vertigo sent the room spinning
round him.  Then the dizziness passed, and he discovered that he
was in the street again, with the chill wind and the sullen clouds
overhead.  An icy lump in the pit of his stomach dissolved into
nausea when he attempted to walk.

'Lean on me,' Mr. Midkiff urged, grasping his shoulder.  'I reckon
this here charity's fair upset your stomach.'

But it wasn't that.  John Fincastle reflected gratefully that he
was dying.  The sparks before his eyes would settle into a vast
nebula--or perhaps into nothingness.  It no longer mattered.  The
end would come slowly.  It was a question of weeks, or it might be
of days.  Whenever it came, he would welcome it.  Yet he was not
defeated.  Life had given him the thing he had wanted most.  He had
had his moment of victory, and he could look serenely ahead beyond
the vanishing-point in the perspective.

'It is over now,' he said, pushing his way through the huddled
flock, which still reminded him curiously of sheep let out of a
pen.  The vertigo had left him, but his body felt as inanimate as a
dead tree dragged on by a machine.  The tatters on Mr. Midkiff's
elbow were as much alive, he told himself, as his own clutching
fingers.

At the corner running footsteps overtook them, and Ranny's voice
asked breathlessly, 'Did they give you something to eat,
Grandfather?'

'Yes, we had half a mind to sample that fare.'

'Are all those people hungry?'

'I suppose so, my boy, or they wouldn't come for what they
receive.'

'But didn't they have anything at home?  Where did they get all
those fur collars?'

'The garments of charity are cut thicker than the bread . . . at
least for the women.  But it is never safe, you know, to judge by
appearances.'

Ranny looked puzzled.  'But, Grandfather, I went by the market
yesterday, and I saw a man dump a whole cartload of potatoes in the
mud and trample them down because nobody would buy them.'

'That's the way of our world, my boy.'

'Can't anybody stop it?'

'Enough people could.  But that would require thinking about
things, and most people find thinking too difficult or too painful.
Give them enough for themselves, and they're satisfied.  There is
only one force stronger than selfishness, and that is stupidity.
But, remember, the man with the potatoes wasn't to blame.  He was
merely a cog in the wheel that had destroyed the fruit of his toil.
I think, on the whole, he is the one we should pity most.  Nothing
eats the heart out of one so rapidly as wasted toil.'

Ranny threw back his head.  'I'm almost grown up,' he replied
stubbornly, 'and I'm going to do something about it.'

'Sixty years ago I said that, too, Ranny, but you may succeed where
I failed.'

'I'm going to do something.  Grandfather, a stranger is waiting to
see you.  I came out to find you, but I went too far up the street.
Aunt Meggie says he's a German philosopher.'

'Well, what does he . . . what does anyone want with me?'

'He was telling Aunt Meggie.  One of his reasons for coming to
America, he said, was to talk with you, but he has been the whole
morning long trying to find you in Queenborough.  When he asked
about you at the hotel, they thought he meant Mr. Mountcastle, who
had that burglary at his house last week.  You remember,' he added
in a solemn tone, 'his wife lost thirty thousand dollars' worth of
rings and things.'

'Then I'll be gittin' back to my wheelbarrow,' Mr. Midkiff said,
with embarrassment.  'I feel less set agin that soup kitchen since
you took me thar.'

'That's only to stay you till supper.  You must come over as usual.
Did the stranger tell you his name, Ranny?'

'Hardenberg.  Dr. Hardenberg, Aunt Meggie called him.  He's old,
Grandfather.  He must be over fifty.  But that's not so old as you
are.'

'No, that's not so old as I am.'  He knew the name, for it was one
of the important names in modern philosophy--the name of perhaps
the last great German Idealist.

'Run on ahead, my boy, and say I'm coming.'  John Fincastle's voice
trembled as if it were too tired to take up the burden of speech.
While he leaned against a tree for support, he felt that his
skeleton more than his flesh was animated by pleasure.  It occurred
to him that Hardenberg had lived out of Germany, lecturing at an
English university, for less than a year, while he himself had been
born in the land of exile, where all tongues are alien.  And now at
last, before he stepped down into his grave, he might, for an hour
at least, speak and hear spoken the native language of his
thoughts.  Impetuously, still wearing his shabby greatcoat and
holding his tin cup, he rushed into the house.


XVI


The strange philosopher, a small, impressive figure, with an erect
carriage and a pleasant face half concealed by a fawn-coloured
beard trimmed square at the end, was discussing Rhode Island Red
poultry with Meggie.  As John Fincastle entered, he broke off
without haste, and murmured his greetings in perfect English, with
a neatly clipped accent.  He had come out of his way, he explained,
since his lectures would not bring him to the south, in order to do
homage to one of the greatest among living philosophers.  He
brought also, he continued, in the impersonal tone of metaphysics,
and with a gesture that seemed in some curious way (or was it only
a return of his vertigo? John Fincastle asked himself) to be linked
to the imponderable--he brought also respectful felicitations from
a small group of German Idealists.

While he stood there, listening to the smooth, deferential voice,
John Fincastle felt the glow of anticipation dissolve at a touch.
In one instant, it seemed to him, the expectancy had slipped away,
had vanished, was over.  Had he lived too long among shadows to
renew his grasp on reality?  Or had he lived too close to reality
to feel at home among shadows?  Not that it mattered.  The
revolving sparks before his eyes might be the rays of eternity.
They might, also, be vertigo.  It's too late, he thought.  I'm too
far off to be reached.

Meeting his dazed eyes, Meggie said, 'We've a very homely lunch,
but we hope you will share it with us.'  Never had she appeared so
natural, and yet so dignified.  The mountain poise had not deserted
her.  His mother had never lost it, and beyond his mother--how far
beyond!--he remembered the noble bearing of that grandmother who
had been Margaret Graham, walking on her bare feet through the
drenched grass.  The frontier, for all its savage impulses and
brutal habits, had created, if only now and then, characters that
rose superior to destiny.

He put his tin cup on the mantelpiece, and said hospitably, 'I'm
just back from lunch, but I should like to sit with you while you
have yours.'  Meggie would find a way, he knew, to spread the
butter thin on her own bread and add a cup of hot water to her own
soup.  But the stranger would find her coffee better than the flat
chicory blend of Europe.  And in her grey cotton dress and ample
white apron she would remind him of an older and a lost Germany.
For he was talking with her, John Fincastle realized, as if he had
known her when they were young.  While he ate his bean soup, which
had not been watered, and broke and buttered his stale roll, their
visitor was completely at ease and apparently enjoying himself.
Even Ranny, heartily consuming a double share of lunch, paused only
once to make trouble.

'Grandfather, the next time you and Mr. Midkiff go to the free
lunch kitchen, I want to go with you.  When I'm older, I'm going to
do something about all the hungry people.'

A mauve flush mottled his aunt's cheek, but the stranger, who was
praising the coffee while he helped himself to sugar, appeared not
to have heard.  A most hospitable country to scholars, he remarked,
so long as they did not happen to have been born here.  Even in the
midst of the depression, America provided a living for hundreds of
foreign lecturers, and it not only paid them for speaking, it sat
quietly in rows and listened to what they said.

After lunch was over, while Meggie was clearing the table, the two
men went upstairs to the room over the kitchen, where the few books
left from John Fincastle's library filled a shelf in one corner.
There was nothing to smoke, until Dr. Hardenberg observed that he
had been persuaded to try Virginia cigarettes, and drew out a
package.  Then, as they settled themselves in the two pine chairs
with rush bottoms, John Fincastle realized that the power of
speech, as he had once known speech, had deserted him.  He was out
of touch, it seemed to him, with two hemispheres.  Downstairs, he
had completely missed the idiom of facts.  Up here, alone with a
visitor who spoke his own language, the streams of metaphysics
sounded as vague as the lapping of surf on a beach.  Beyond time
and space, nothing that men thought of eternity was either
important or unimportant.  Speculation?  Philosophy?  Had these
realities failed him?  Or were they at last resolved into the only
element that endures?  He was more at home nowadays with the humble
folk, like old Midkiff or Otto Bergen, who spoke neither the hollow
idiom of facts nor the dead tongues of the schools, but the natural
speech of the heart.

Gradually, as the hours wore on and the sunlight faded from the
window under the red tin roof, he heard happily the rise, the
curve, the breaking, the thunderous fall and murmur of waves on
that invisible shore.  There is an understanding deeper than words,
deeper than sound, he thought, below consciousness.  Time had
renounced him.  He was a shell, or less than a shell, washed up and
left by the tide.  Yet the tide had flowed and ebbed over him, and
he remained himself; he had endured; he was alone.

'Well, I shall remember this,' the stranger was saying out of a fog
of light.  'It makes life easier and death harder.  I am obliged to
confess,' he continued, with his foreign smile, 'that I have no
message, not even the simplest, for my age.  I exist, that is all.
And perhaps I ask myself without expecting an answer:  "After James
and Bergson, what now?"'

A flash of irony quivered over John Fincastle's face.  'God, maybe.
It is true that under a microscope God may be only a cluster of
cells.  But, then, who has ever put God under a microscope?  The
intellect has survived Bergson.  Ultimate truth will outwear James
by an eternity.  It is possible that God is more than motion.  It
is even possible that modern man is more than glandular
maladjustment.  You and I can afford to wait.'

'And the wheel turns.  For myself, at least, the end is better than
the beginning.'

Walking after his visitor, John Fincastle descended the stairs very
slowly, because the sensation of swiftness, of flying out of
himself, had returned.  Alone by the gate, when the other had
passed through, he stood looking on an earth and sky that seemed to
be bathed in some fluid quality of mind.  Pure philosophy, he
thought suddenly, is a wordless thing.


'A strange country, America,' the German philosopher was thinking
aloud in his clipped accents.  'A race as indistinguishable as the
Chinese.'  While he waited at the corner for the lights to turn,
painted faces drifted by him as aimlessly as toy boats drift and
pass on a stream.  Undoubtedly, a strange country, with its watered
psychology, its vermin-infested fiction, and its sloppy minds that
spill over.  A whole civilization scourged by masochism!  Well, one
must not expect too much of a people so recently savage and still
raw under the skin.  In a thousand years or so, when Americans have
learned that religion did not begin with Christianity and did not
end with the Great War, they may discover also that this queer old
man with the tin cup is their greatest philosopher.  Still
practising the way to think clearly in two languages, while he
tried in vain to separate uniformity into features, the stranger
again wondered silently, paused an instant to watch a speeding car
rock through a safety zone, and at last passed on his tranquil way.


'But hunger is vital,' John Fincastle thought, staring ahead at the
breadline.  'One couldn't, no, not in a million years, think hunger
out of the universe.'  This was the second time he had walked with
Mr. Midkiff to the soup kitchen, and he would stand and wait
outside while the old man went in for his lunch.  A cold spring
sky, uncertain, remote, shone through the bare trees.  Then he saw
that needle points of green sprinkled a branch overhead.  'This is
the last week,' a voice neighed at his side.  'The first of April,
rain or shine, we'll be turned out to graze.'

'I'm studyin' how we'll make out,' Mr. Midkiff muttered under his
breath.

'We'll find a way.'  John Fincastle discovered, to his surprise,
that he was laughing.  After all, a sense of the ridiculous was as
stout a prop as one needed.  It helped even more than philosophy
when one matched one's wits against the universe.  Or was all
philosophy simply an ultimate sense of the ridiculous?

A man pushed against him, dodged into the moving row, and then
pushed again.  Seizing a limp arm, which struggled in his grasp,
John Fincastle drew away from the throng, beyond a tree by the
kerb.  'What are you doing here, Bertie Rawlings?' he asked in a
whisper.

'Nothing.'

'Where are you going?'

'Nowhere.'

'I thought you were in Texas.'

'I was once.'

'When did you lose your place?'

'I never had one.  Not for more than a few weeks.  Just what I
could pick up.'

Clutching the boy's arm (for he was still scarcely more than a
boy), John Fincastle looked at him as he had looked at the points
of green on the tree, seeing not the buds alone, but the whole
vision of time.  Bertie's face was grey, his cheeks were hollowed,
his eyes were reddened from cinders, his nostrils might have been
pinched in by dirty fingers.  He was shabby, unwashed, unshaven--
but these things were trifles.  What was worse, what mattered most,
was that dreadful humbleness, the stain of inward defeat.  I know
what it is, the old man thought, with a flash of insight as sharp
as a blade.  I know what it is because I've been through it.  A
space was cleared in his memory.  Pure vacancy closed round him.
Nothing lived there, not even an outline, not even a shadow; but in
the centre a wing turned, and he saw once again that sudden light
on reality.  'Yes, I know,' he said aloud.  'You don't need to tell
me.'

'I never had a place in Texas,' Bertie gasped out, as if he were
retching.  'But mother couldn't feed us both.  She was beginning to
starve herself.  I found out that she saved her dinner and gave it
to me at night.  The streets were filled with teachers looking for
jobs.  If I'd been a day labourer, I might have had a chance.  It's
easier in a country like this if you can handle a spade.  I tried
taking off my collar, only my hands gave me away, and I wasn't
husky enough.  Once I fainted when I was digging . . .'

'How did you keep alive?'  As Mr. Midkiff went through the gate and
into the soup kitchen, they turned away and sat down on the lower
step of a neighbouring house.  'Did you go as far as Texas and back
again?'

'I went to Texas.  I went to Florida.  I went . . . oh, anywhere.
I bummed.  I hiked.  I panhandled.  I've eaten with bums.  I've
slept with bugs. . . .  But I'm not going to talk about it.'

'Why didn't you write?  We wanted your address.'

'I didn't have any address.'  His voice rose tauntingly, and then
strained and broke under the weight of despair.  'Whenever I could
manage, I'd send a postcard to mother.  Sometimes, if I knew where
I'd be, I'd tell her to write to the post office.  That's how I
heard they wanted me at Boscobel School.  I started that night.  I
bummed my way back as fast as I could.  Then as soon as I got here,
the first minute my eyes fell on that steeple'--he pointed to a
grey spire--'I knew it was no use.  I couldn't come back again.  I
was down for good.  I was out and ended. . . .  Besides, I'm dog-
tired. . . .'

'You ought to have told us.'

'What could you have done?  I couldn't come home to sit down on
mother.  Look at her back.'

'She's better off now.  She's had help.'

'I know, charity.  But I went by there, and she was still sewing.'

'She hasn't changed as much as you have.  You'll have to brush up a
bit before she sees you.'

'Oh, she shan't see me.  I'll take care of that.  I'll hop off
again on the first freight.'

'The head of Boscobel School liked you.'

Bertie's laugh sank into a sneer.  'I know.  She thought I looked
as if I might be trusted.'

'Well, you may, mayn't you?'

'May what?'

'Be trusted?'

'I'll be damned if I know.  But I've never stolen, if that's what
you mean.'

'No, that isn't what I mean.  That isn't at all what I mean.'

'Maybe you mean a cigarette.  Have you got one?'

John Fincastle shook his head.  'No, but I have the price of one.'
He was still laughing, he discovered, with that deep inward irony.
It wasn't easy to surpass the Ancient of Days in a burlesque of
mortality.

'You're just my height,' he said carelessly, almost gaily.  'My
clothes would fit you.'

'Well, you're not an old-clothes man.'  The sneer had returned.  'I
know I look a bum, but a suit of clothes and a pair of shoes can't
build up a man from the bottom.'

'Maybe not.  Still, my clothes would fit you.  But you need a bath.
There's plenty of hot water to-day.  Old Betsey is washing clothes,
and she's kept the kettles filled on the stove.'  While he shivered
slightly in the brisk wind, he stared into Bertie's sullen face
without seeing it.  He had meant to wear that one good suit of
clothes, that one whole pair of shoes, back to Ironside.  When he
came to die, he had intended to spare the pride of Meggie--of his
mother--of Mary Evelyn.  Women had queer ideas about burials.  They
wanted a man to look spruce when he entered into eternal rest.  As
if worms could discriminate between homespun and broadcloth.  As if
there were fashions even for the incorruptible.

'What's the use?' Bertie was scoffing.  'They don't begin school in
the spring.'

'There will be a summer term.  They are moving out of town, and
they need an English instructor to keep on.  Since the substitute
teacher resigned, the English classes have been divided among the
others.  It's your only chance, and you're going to take it.  Think
of your mother's back.  Think of all those years bent over that
sewing machine.'

'I do think of them, but it's no use.'

'Anyway, you're going home with me now.'

The boy jerked away.  'No, I'm not.  I'd be ashamed before that old
coloured woman.'  He dropped back on the step.  'I'll go to those
public baths up the street, if you can let me have the money to
hire a towel.  I can still remember how it feels to be clean.
Until a few weeks ago I washed regularly.  Sometimes in a place for
transients, when I could stand charity.  But the best place to
wash, when it isn't too cold, is a park fountain at daybreak,
before the police are about.  A woman gave me a cake of soap--good
soap, too'--he chuckled at the recollection--'scented with lemon
verbena, and I hoarded it as if it were money.  She dropped a
package in the street and a cake rolled out.  When I picked it up,
there was a little mud on it, so she gave it to me.  A nice woman.
She'd have given me the price of a cup of coffee if she'd had any
change in her purse.'  For the first time he smiled, yielding his
will to a sensation of pleasure.

'Miss Curran remembered you,' John Fincastle rambled on, as if he
were thinking aloud.  'It was easy to see, she told me, that you
had kept your standards . . .'

'Standards?  Good Lord!' Bertie groaned.  'You can do anything with
standards except eat them.'

'Besides, your professors all thought well of you.  She had never
read recommendations she liked more.'

'Professors?  What are they?'

John Fincastle stood up and fumbled in the depths of his pocket.
'I can manage just enough for that towel, and perhaps a shave and
haircut.  Did you get a roll here?'

'I'd just eaten it when you caught me.'

'Well, come straight to us.  There isn't anybody in the house but
Meggie.  Ada is at work, Ralph is looking for work, and Ranny took
his lunch to school.  I'll have a cup of real coffee for you, if
nothing else, and while you're getting clean, I'll telephone Miss
Curran, and look over my clothes.  It's lucky that you're tall,
with a stoop, and haven't put on an ounce of flesh.'

'I can leave my shirt at the bath.'

'Yes, it's only a few blocks.  Button your coat tight after you get
warm.  I'll lend you my greatcoat when you go out to Boscobel.
It's green with age, but of good quality, and you may leave it in
the hall if you don't show the lining.  You won't disappoint me if
I wait for you?  Here's Midkiff coming now.'

'Oh, no, I'll come.  I'll come whether there's any use or not.
I'll think of that coffee.'  He stretched out a shaking hand.  'God
knows I'm grateful.'

A smile that was barely more than a quiver of the muscles tightened
John Fincastle's lips.  'Don't worry, my boy.  You won't be by to-
morrow.'  Turning away, he slipped his arm through Mr. Midkiff's,
while he added dreamily, 'The eternal verities are few, Midkiff,
and gratitude is not among them.'

'I reckon that's so,' Mr. Midkiff assented, 'but I'm studyin' about
how we'll manage next week.'

'Something will turn up, my friend.  Let us hope it may be better
bread.'  Would Bertie Rawlings keep his word? he was wondering.
Ought he to have gone with him to the public baths and the barber?
Could the boy be saved, or was it too late?  Was he even worth
saving?

In Otto Bergen's shop, where there was a telephone, he picked up
the receiver with a trembling hand and called up the head of
Boscobel School.  Until her composed voice reached him, he had a
moment of doubt, of suspense, of perplexity.  Then, abruptly, he
heard himself speaking in thin, clear tones across a tumult of
reverberations.  'So the place is still vacant?  Yes, he has come
back.  I have just seen him.  What?  No, your letter did not reach
him till a week ago.  He has had an illness.  What?  Oh, no,
nothing like that.  All he needs is building up.  A doctor?  That
would be a good idea.  The school doctor might examine him, and
give him a tonic.  Don't be shocked when you see him.  Young people
pick up weight rapidly.  Good food and work he likes will be the
making of him.  The professors?  Yes, I'm sure they were right.  He
is a born teacher.  You liked what they said of his character, and
he looked . . . what? . . . oh, yes, I hear . . . he looked
innocent.  Well, I'll send him up this afternoon late, as soon as
he has seen his mother. . . .'  While he turned away from the
telephone and went out into the street, it seemed to him that the
earth rose with him when he stepped higher and higher into space.
Things don't happen this way, he thought, but there are times when
life surprises one, and anything may happen, even what one had
hoped for.

The house was so quiet when he entered that he wondered whether
Meggie had gone out.  Could she have run over to chat with Mrs.
Bergen, or to do an errand at the apothecary's on the corner?  Then
he saw a flutter and change in the light at the end of the hall;
the kitchen door, which had stood ajar, opened wider; and Meggie
called softly, 'Is that you, John?  Do you want anything?'

'I want you.  I want you to help me.'

'Well, I'm right here.'

'Have you any coffee?  I mean the kind of coffee mother used at the
manse?'

'I have a little Mocha and Java put away for sickness.  We use a
cheaper blend in Queenborough.  Everything is so dear.  The poorest
coffee beans cost more now than we used to pay for the best.'

'I know, but I want the best, and I want it strong.'

'What is the matter, John?  Are you feeling faint?'

'No, I'm all right.  Did you ever hear of a soul saved by coffee?'

Meggie shook her head.  'No, I never heard of it, but I can believe
in it.  Have you brought the Hamburg steak?'

'I gave the money to Bertie Rawlings.'

'Bertie Rawlings?  I thought he was in Texas.'

'He wasn't.  He was in the soup line when I went there with
Midkiff.'

'Where did he come from?  How did he look?'

'He'd just come off a freight train.  That's how he looked.  I gave
him the money to have his hair cut and a shave.  He's coming here
from the public bath.'

'Then I'd better begin grinding that coffee.  I'm glad I saved the
shell of Ranny's egg after breakfast.'

'Can you scrape up something else?  Hope, mother used to say,
doesn't settle on an empty stomach.'

'I'll send Aunt Betsey out to buy some middling.  Otto Bergen sold
one of those old pine corner cupboards this morning, and I was
saving the money.  The people wanted it, he said, because it's
early American, and was made by hand in the Valley.  They may buy
the table, too, but he wants us to hold that for better times.'

'Well, we'll hold what we can.  But we've got to do more than this
for Bertie.'

'What more can we do, John?'  She looked worried.  'I don't see
what we can do for ourselves.  If Otto hadn't sold that cupboard, I
don't know how we'd have managed till the end of the week.  I'd
have put off old Betsey, but I knew she'd come down to her last
crust.  By next month, she'll most likely be in the City Home.'

For a long pause he looked at her in silence, while the edge of a
smile flickered and died and flickered again.  When at last he
spoke, it seemed to her, as she said afterwards, that he had taken
leave of his senses.

'Do you remember, Meggie, what dress mother was buried in?'

She started as if she had seen a mouse.  'Why, what in the world,
John?'

'Well, do you remember?'

The start of fear passed off in a shiver.  'Of course I do.  She
was buried in her best dress of grosgrain silk.  You gave it to her
for your wedding, and she kept it pinned up with camphor to be
buried in.  She'd never worn it but three times.'

'A whole generation!  I didn't know silk lasted that long.'

'Silk like that lasts for ever, she used to say.  It was the best
quality, so heavy and stiff that it would stand alone, and yet as
soft as a pigeon's breast.  I don't believe anything ever gave her
more pleasure than the knowledge that she had that one good dress
to be laid out in, and we shouldn't have to worry about how she
looked in her coffin.  It has always distressed me,' she added,
with a sigh, 'that I have never been able to remember her last
words.'

'Poor Meggie,' he said gently.  'I wish I'd given you a dress for
my wedding.'

Her thin cheeks were stained with a lavender flush.  'But you did,
John.  It's funny the way you forget some things and remember
others.  You gave me a silk dress.  It was the colour they used to
call ashes of roses.'

'Did you put that away?'

'What else could I have done with it?' she sighed softly.  'But it
hasn't held together as well as mother's did.'

All those years they had treasured that silk!  It was incredible;
it was ridiculous; it was profoundly and mysteriously moving.  He
had a vision, vague, fleeting, fringed with light, of his mother's
brave old body lying at rest, beneath billows of black grosgrain
silk, in her coffin.  That was not defeat.  That was a triumph over
death, he thought proudly.

'You must have my best clothes put away somewhere, Meggie,' he said
in a cheerful tone.  'Everything from the socks up, neatly mended
and darned.'

She shook her head.  'I've always kept something nice for you, in
case you should begin to teach again . . . or . . . or . . .' her
voice quavered, 'be called back to the ministry.'

There was now no effort in his laughter.  'That isn't likely, my
dear, but I want my good clothes all the same.  Life is more
important than death--at least to the living.'

'It doesn't seem right, John.  I wish you wouldn't.'  As she turned
back to the kitchen she added briskly:  'They are all pinned up in
that unbleached cotton cloth on the top shelf in your closet.  Now,
I'd better put on the coffee if you want it good and strong.'  A
minute later he heard her composed voice saying to old Betsey in
the kitchen, 'I'll have to send you to the corner, Aunt Betsey.
I'm sorry, but Mr. Fincastle forgot to buy that Hamburg.'

'Yas'm, I knows.  Dey sho do furgit whut you tell um.'

Beyond the red tin roof of the next house, where sparrows were
quarrelling, a dispassionate sun blinked mildly through the
shredded clouds towards the west.  Strange, how the weakness of the
morning had left him, he thought, as he pushed a chair into the
closet and groped back in the dark corners on the top shelf.  Was
the bundle there?  Had Meggie, who forgot so few details, forgotten
where she had hidden it?  Then his hand touched it, and he drew it
out, a little dusty, but neatly wrapped and pinned with safety
pins.  As he unfolded the cloth, a whiff of moth balls stung his
nostrils.  Camphor, like everything else, Meggie said, was too dear
nowadays.  Prepared to meet his Maker, he thought, with that
irrepressible humour, while he looked at the clothes on his bed.
He was glad the suit was grey and not too old-fashioned in cut.
Ada and Ralph had given it to him when they were prosperous, and he
remembered that Ralph had chosen that dark tweed because it would
keep its shape and stand wear.  'But it's better to meet life,' he
said aloud, picking up the blue tie (Meggie had always had a fancy
for polka dots), though he observed, after a quizzical glance, that
she had included a black tie in the bundle.  Yes, women were kittle
cattle, as he had so often, in the past, heard his mother remark of
men.  Meggie was an honest soul, yet she had tried to make him
believe she had saved a grey suit for the ministry.  Or perhaps she
had forgotten that it was not black.  Even women forget sometimes.

Standing there beside his bed, in the pale flakes of sunshine, he
gazed down on the clothes he had once worn, and thought, I am
giving them a new lease of life.  Then his amusement faded at the
touch of anxiety.  Suppose Bertie never came after all!  Suppose
the boy had not really meant to come back when they parted!  To
distract his mind, he went into the closet and brought out a pair
of shoes he had had half-soled a few weeks before.  Nothing to
boast of, he decided, as he examined each shoe, but they would wear
a good while longer if one were careful to watch where one walked.
Bertie's feet were shorter, he suspected, but it would do no harm
to fill in the toes with paper.  Shoes, he had discovered long ago,
were the major problem in poverty.  Good shoes--he had begun to
smile again--never went begging.  But no man, not even at his
burial, could ask for a better shirt.  When it came to shirts and
socks and woollen underwear, Meggie's instinct was infallible.  Her
needle could be trusted, not only with a nightshirt, but even in
the more intricate pattern of pyjamas.

From the kitchen below fragrance ascended.  Meggie's coffee was
already beginning its benevolent mission.  'There is a spirit in
coffee like the spirit of to-morrow,' he said aloud to himself.
'But I wish I felt easier about Bertie.'  Opening the door, he
glanced out into the hall and down the staircase just as Bertie
entered the house and a minute later waved a hand in his direction.
Even in his ragged clothes he looked young and clean and eager to
begin something and start somewhere.  While he came up the steps
with the long stride of youth, John Fincastle thought, 'Give the
young half a chance and they will create their own future, they
will even create their own heaven and earth.'

'I'd forgotten how it feels to be clean all over,' Bertie said.

'Well, strip and change.  There're your things on the bed.  Put
your old suit in this newspaper, and we'll give it to Aunt Betsey
to take away.'

'I hope she'll burn it.  I want to get that smell of bumming out of
my head.'

Yes, he was worth saving, the old man told himself while he watched
the boy strip and change in the middle of the room, standing on
newspapers he had spread over the rag carpet.  A decent chap, as
they used to say, before decency had been discredited.  And after
all, though it had become the world's scapegoat, there were more
dangerous virtues than decency.  But that bluish pallor was not
unattractive, and the sunken darkness round his eyes lent a wistful
pathos to his expression.  Women would find him more appealing than
ever, and it would not matter in the least that he was a rather
commonplace youth at bottom, with more behaviour than brains.  In a
democracy, and perhaps anywhere else, it was safer to be average.

'As soon as you've had something to eat and spoken to your mother,
you are to go out to Boscobel School,' he said.  'I've called up
Miss Curran, and she is expecting you.'

Well, that was over, though he had a curious feeling that he had
turned back his own funeral when he saw the grey figure neatly tie
the blue tie in front of the mirror, and then swoop down on the
newspapers and quickly bundle the old clothes out of sight.


XVII


As the days drifted by, it seemed to John Fincastle that he was
resting in some timeless reality.  With his failing body, the sense
of immobility deepened, until at last, after a life-time of
speculation, he attained the inarticulate certitude of animal
faith.  And like a dying animal, fearless of death or dissolution,
he remembered and longed to return to the places he had known when
he was happy.  Looking over the smoke stacks by the river, he would
say cheerfully, 'Spring is coming in the Valley', while his heart
would quicken with the new pulsing life in the earth.  He would
feel the swift stirring of the sap in his veins and taste the
bitter sweetness of April showers on his lips.

This secret way alone, interwoven with nature yet derived, in some
deeper sense, from the source of all wisdom, was real and vital,
and as close to the life of reason, he felt, as the stem to the
fruit.  All the rest, whatever happened on the surface, was
unimportant and fragmentary.  The noises of the city, which had
once tortured his nerves, now dwindled into an immense distant
humming.  Beneath the thunderous silence, so remote and yet so
oppressive, like an approaching storm in the sky, he strained the
ear of his soul for a whisper that was still inaudible though he
felt its vibrations.  Whenever it reached him, day or night, he
would know that the last bell was ringing and it was time for him
to seek solitude.

Then, while he still waited, Ada told them one evening that Mr.
Shadwell had barely averted failure by selling his entire store to
a new firm of Jewish merchants.  The old staff would, of course, be
discharged.  Few of the older women would be retained, and she
would not be among them.

'But I've a week ahead.'  Though she laughed as she spoke, her feet
throbbed and the smile twisted on her pale lips.  'I've a whole
week with a salary.  Anything may happen in a week.  Wasn't the
earth, with all its unnecessary inhabitants, created in less time
than that?'

'Yes, anything may happen and occasionally does,' her father
assented.

'I heard to-day of a job I may get,' Ralph said, and there was the
old protective note in his voice, 'but it depends on business
picking up a bit, and it would mean an agency in the Valley.'

'Well, isn't business picking up?' Aunt Meggie asked.  'Isn't it
better, anyway, than it was when the banks were all closed?  And
even if we have to ask help, it won't be for long.  Taking charity
isn't nearly so bad as losing someone you love.  Besides'--her
voice broke for an instant--'if it would be any real help, I could
go to the City Home.  I haven't as much dread as some people have
of coming to that.  I don't mean I'd choose to do it,' she added,
'but I could put up with it, if I felt God thought it was best for
me.'

'Don't be too hasty, Meggie,' John Fincastle rejoined lightly.  'If
that is God's will, we'll do our best to circumvent it.'  Turning
to glance out of the window, he remarked with a smile, 'Have you
noticed how well my grey suit looks in the street?'

'I'm glad you helped that boy, John, but I can't help begrudging
your good clothes.'

'I saved the black tie, my dear.  Many a man has worn less when he
met his Maker.  Besides, Bertie will take better care of those
clothes than I did.'

'When Boscobel School moves into the country, his salary will be
seventy-five dollars a month, with his board.  That isn't much, but
I hope Mrs. Rawlings will at last be able to rest her back.'

'Whether she does or not, she will be happy.  Bertie has learned
his lesson in a hard school, and he will make a little happiness go
a long way.  The iron may not have entered his soul, but it has
probably singed his feathers.'

'I can't see what has come over you, John.  You never used to be
flippant.'

'You're right, Meggie, as usual.  Flippancy is one of the
infirmities of a mature point of view.  I only wish, my dear,' he
continued, after a pause in which his gaze followed the tall grey
figure from the shadow under the mulberry tree into the sunshine
beyond, 'that I could be flippant about ourselves and old Midkiff.
Perhaps because I am old, too, I find that Midkiff is rapidly
becoming a centre of gravity.'


The next morning he awoke at dawn with a feeling of extraordinary
anticipation.  He had felt this way before, as a boy at the manse,
when he had awakened, light-hearted, in the sunrise, and had known
that some great day, to which he had looked forward for months, was
beginning.  Rising softly, he dressed himself with shaking fingers,
and descended the stairs as soundlessly as the light glided down
through an upper window.  In the kitchen he drank a little milk and
ate a crust from the end of a stale loaf.  I must keep up my
strength, he thought.  Yet he knew, as surely as an animal that
slips away from the herd towards finality, that his strength would
not fail while he needed it.  This sense of elasticity, of buoyant
upspringing, was not physical.  Whatever the source, he felt, it
was superior to matter; it used his body as a vehicle that soon
would be discarded.

In the street sunbeams were rising, sinking, advancing in waves.
He moved carefully, lifting his feet and putting them down again
with the slowness of a man who has learned to walk after an
illness.  The world had worn so thin that he could see through it.
People and objects, earth and sky, buildings and trees, bricks in
the pavement, a milk wagon trundling past--all these appearances
were so transparent that he looked into them and beyond.  Only
beyond there was nothing.  Nothing but vapour.  Nothing but a
universe dissolving into a void.

For weeks he had saved, bit by bit, the price of his ticket on the
omnibus to Charlottesville.  There he could change for the Valley.
Or perhaps the driver of a van or a car would offer him a ride for
a part of the way.  There was no shadow of doubt, no quiver of
apprehension.  All his life he had weighed, pondered, considered;
he had obeyed reason.  Now, at the end, he was controlled by some
faculty deeper, stronger, wiser, than the power he had called
reason.  Even the hours of waiting on the street corner belonged
not to time, but to an undivided eternity.

The omnibus, when at last it set out, was more than half empty.
There were three women inside, large, medium, diminutive in figure,
and a little girl, who played with a bouncing ball on the end of an
elastic string.  Behind him two men, one slow and elderly, and one
speaking with a brisk Northern accent, pursued an argument back and
forth and round again through a labyrinth.  In the seat ahead an
old farmer, stooped, crooked, with long twisted arms and knotted
hands, chewed tobacco and spat through the lowered window down into
the road.  When he turned, as he did once in a while, to join in
the argument, he showed a ruddy, humorous face covered with a criss-
cross pattern of obstinate wrinkles.  In his hand he held a new
fishing rod, while he steadied, between his feet, a basket of
groceries with a few purple petunia plants trailing from one end.

Sinking down into his corner, John Fincastle tried to doze away a
sensation of nausea.  Impressions skimmed over the surface of
thought.  Sounds came and went, and among these sounds--the grating
of wheels, the shrieking of horns, the tinkling of words--there was
no distinction in quality.  All were meaningless, shrill, and as
piercing as tin whistles.

Women's voices mingled:  'I stayed to have a permanent wave.
There's a place on the other side of Broad Street where they're
doing them for two dollars and a half.' . . . 'Well, I don't
favour a permanent wave.  I had one once and it turned my hair
yellow.' . . . 'It's hard not to turn grey hair yellow in streaks.
What you need is bluing.  You need to put so much bluing in the
water that your hair comes out purple.  My man's an Eyetalian.
He sets the wave all right, but he burned places in my scalp.  I
went straight back and showed it to him.  I said, "You've burned my
scalp, and I'm going to tell everybody I know."  But he just laughed
at me. "You don't know anybody to tell," he said.' . . . 'Ma, I've
lost my ball.  The string broke, and it fell out of the window.  Oh,
Ma, make the man stop, and let me run back and find it.' . . .
'Hush, Mamie, sit right down, and stop crying.  You can't go back.
Don't you hear me?  Stop crying.  I'll get you another the next time
we go back to Queenborough.' . . . 'But we ain't goin' back, Ma,
and I want my ball.  I want to show it to the others.  I want it
now.' . . . 'I can't help it.  You hadn't any business to bounce it
out of the window.  If you don't keep quiet, I'll give you something
to cry about as soon as we get home.' . . . 'Yes, I was just going
to say, even a poor "perm" is better than none.  I wonder if you
happened to see that bargain sale at Spender's on Merchant Street.
They had a nice lot of dresses, odd sizes, reduced to three dollars
and ninety-five cents.  They were imitation silk, too, all made
after expensive models.  My niece said she saw her identical dress
in the moving pictures.  Some were reduced from sixteen-fifty.  I
got one real pretty print, mustard-colour, piped with green.  All
I've got to do is to let it out a little over the hips.'

Men's voices mingled:  'All I want to know is what you're going to
do when you've got your revolution, Mister.  When you've turned the
country over to the down-and-outs, what are they going to do with
it?  If they couldn't make anything of themselves, how are they
going to make anything of a world?' . . . 'The trouble with you
Southerners is that your class hatred has soaked out into race
hatred.  You haven't enough guts to hate anybody but Negroes.  When
the class struggle comes in the South, if it ever does, it will be
all the white people against all the Negroes.  You can't even see
the value of a planned economy.' . . . 'So far as I can make out,
you radicals ain't never done anything but planning.  It's all this
damned theorizing that's the ruination of the country.  When you
talk about this planned economy, what I want to know is, Who's to
do the planning and whose economy it's going to be?  It seems to me
that it's always the other fellow's economy that's being planned.
The folks who've got something don't want the planning.  What they
aim to do is to hold on to what they've got left.' . . . 'But they
can't hold on to it.  It's going to be taken away from them for the
good of the whole.' . . . 'What whole?  Ain't they as much the
whole as all the folks that are trying to eat out of your
hand?' . . . 'It all comes back to social consciousness.  There
isn't enough social consciousness in the South to make a proletarian
revolution.' . . . 'Gabble, gabble, gabble.'  The old farmer had
looked round.  'I tell you right now, I ain't no proletarian, and I
ain't never seen one, unless it's the darkey that don't want to
work.' . . . 'All I say is, you Yankee radicals had better stand
aside and give this new President a chance to see what he's
doing.' . . . 'A proletarian dictatorship will mean security and
leisure for the worker.' . . . 'And where's your dictator coming
from?  If we can't elect the right President, how are we going to
elect the right dictator?  If we can't run a veterans' hospital
without stealing, as some folks say, how are we going to run a
government?  Anyway, I don't want a glorified ward boss telling me
how I'm going to work, and when I'm going to loaf, and the way I'm
going to manage my own business.' . . .  Rattle, rattle, grind,
grind, lurch, lurch, the bus protested in varied tongues of
machinery.

The sun shone; the wind blew; the dust whirled; the unsteady old
bus clattered and rumbled.  But there was no substance.  All was
insubstantial and fugitive.  He had waited for his first glimpse of
the hills, but when the long rhythms of the Blue Ridge flowed out
of the sky, they were as limpid as the April clouds on the horizon.

A woman's voice:  'I don't want to start anything.  This is as
secret as the grave between us.  No, Mamie wouldn't understand what
we're talking about.  Well, they do say that the minister and Ida
Watson didn't get home till near daybreak.  Of course he said the
car had broken down, but all the same a member of his congregation
who doesn't want his name mentioned told me he had seen them
together at a soda fountain in Staunton.' . . .

A man's voice:  'People don't want wine any more.  Wine's a fancy
drink.  They want cawn.  It takes more'n a fancy drink to tickle
our prohibition palate.  Yes, sir, you can get right good cawn
almost anywhere, if you know the way to go about it.  Up in the
mountains they make a first-rate apple brandy, but that ain't as
easy to get as moonshine whisky.  When you Yankees have tasted 'em
all, you'll most likely agree with me that it's hard to beat the
real old Virginny cawn.' . . .

A second man's voice:  'What I want to know is, When you get your
working-class dictator, is he going to let us have all the chicken
fights we want?  Folks are tired of being too decent.  They want
strong stuff, like they have in the movies.  Only they want it real
blood and thunder.  I believe in letting people do what they want
to do, as long as it brings tourists and money into the State.
Look at betting now.  This State is roused, I tell you, and it's
going to have betting made legal the next time the legislature gets
together.  Just watch out and see.  We're darn sick of reforms, and
of trying to make people better than God Almighty did.  In the
olden time we had chicken fights and dog fights and darkey gougings
too.  It wouldn't surprise me, the way folks need to be toned up,
if we even get gouging back again.  No, sir, I don't reckon I'm set
on politics.  I want a President that makes people happy.' . . .

An echo within the shell of the mind--'May all that have life be
delivered from suffering.'

Beyond Charlottesville he sat by the roadside until a friendly
young man in a shiny new Ford car offered to take him to Staunton.
Farther on, as they crossed the Blue Ridge above Rockfish Valley,
where beauty ravished the eyes, he heard the friendly young man,
who represented a Baltimore manufacturer of insecticides, glowingly
describe the new prosperity among exterminators.  He had been
selling insecticides for the past two years, and in that time he
had sold thirty thousand dollars' worth to one orchard man in
Virginia.  'You'd know his name if I told you.  He's the biggest
apple-grower in the Valley.  I tell you, if the insects don't get
the better of us before we invent a killer for every kind, we're
going to get rich out of pests.  It's a rare bug, I say, that won't
make a fortune for somebody.  Looks as if it was a race between man
and bugs in this old world, don't it?' he inquired cheerfully.
'Seems as if God Almighty is making pests faster than he can make
human beings, though some scientists do say that we're pests like
the others, only more so.  But, you may take my word for it, there
ain't any slump among exterminators.  It's news to us that old man
Depression has been hanging round.  We've got more business than we
can handle, and it grows bigger and better.  When the bugs wanted a
heaven, God gave them the Shenandoah Valley, Judge Simpkins said
the last time I was travelling between Staunton and Harrisonberg.
But he was fooling.  Our bumper crop, I hear, is raised in the
Middle West, and even in old Virginia, the Valley makes a poor
showing beside the Tidewater.  When you come to think of it, they
don't have seed ticks in the Valley, or even in Piedmont.  I've had
to do with a lot of pests in my time; but I've never seen one yet
that I'd trade for the seed tick.'

In July, he continued after a period of meditation, he would go on
his vacation for two weeks, and he expected to be married before he
began travelling again.  'She's a good-looker all right, but not a
blonde.  I don't trust blondes.  They get too much newspaper
publicity.  What I want is a good sport, who knows a thing or two
and can take care of herself with men, especially old ones.  Old
ones are the worst when they get going.  This girl of mine has
worked in an office ever since she was seventeen, and I don't
believe there's a man alive that could put anything over on her.'

At Staunton, John Fincastle tottered when he stepped to the
pavement.  Immediately, he was submerged in blackness through which
red dots were sailing.  From the clouds overhead he heard the voice
of the exterminator asking solicitously, 'Couldn't you manage a
bite of lunch?  I wish I could take you to Ironside, but I'm
travelling through the Shenandoah.'  Then, as there was no
response, 'Good God!  It looks like starvation!'

A glass of milk was put to his lips, and a new voice said, 'I've
dashed it with brandy.  It may bring him round, but he isn't fit to
go on.  Does anybody know who he is?'  A pause, and then, 'He
didn't tell me his name.  He's going to Ironside.  He said he had
friends in Ironside.'  Another pause, before a sound slashed like a
pair of shears into darkness, 'Then he'd better get there as quick
as he can.  If you think he'll last, I'll put him on the back seat
of my car, and drop him as I pass Ironside.  But I don't want a
corpse on my hands.  Wonder who he is, anyway?  Looks as if he'd
seen better days.'

From an abyss within, it seemed to John Fincastle, his will soared
up on wings, as a great bird, before it turned and seized his
suffering frame in its claws.  He knew he was dying.  He knew also
that he should not die until his will had relinquished him.
Without surprise, he felt that he was stretched on the pavement,
that people were gathering round him, that a hand was feeling his
pulse.  His will closed and tightened over sensation.  Opening his
eyes, he stared up at a single white cloud.  Death was like that,
infinite and serene.

'I must go to Ironside.'  The voice was so strange, so reedy, that
he did not recognize it as his own.  'I have important business in
Ironside.'

'Business?  Have you no friends?  You're too weak for business.'

'I have friends.  My friend is expecting me.'

'Then I'll take him,' a man said.  'Ironside is on my way.  I live
sixteen miles beyond Teesdale.  There's a pile of empty sacks in my
car.  He may ride easier if he is propped up on them.  Hadn't he
better finish that glass of milk?'

He sipped the rest of the milk, though for days he had felt unable
to swallow.  In one instant, by a single act of relinquishment, he
knew that he could free himself with a gesture from the burden of
pain.  But the time had not come.  Before his will released its
prey, he must help where he could, he must save what he could, he
must spare when it was possible.  If he died in Ironside, they
would be saved the trouble and cost of the journey.  Even dying,
Meggie had said, was not so dear in the Valley, and his body, which
would have fared as well in a pauper's grave, would require little
spending before it was laid away beside Mary Evelyn in the
churchyard.  A hundred dollars, perhaps a hundred and fifty, might
be saved, he had figured carefully, by the lower cost of burial in
a mountain village.  It would be like them, especially like Ralph,
to wish the best for him when he was dead, but the best and the
worst of death were both cut alike and of the same quality.  Things
had never mattered.  He had none of old Midkiff's pride--or was it
self-respect?  Old bones were only old bones to him wherever one
laid them.

Propped on empty sacks, he watched the road sliding into the hills.
Now and then, the tight-lipped driver (he liked that silent sort)
would call back, without turning his head, 'Are you all right
there?' or, 'How are you coming?'  And at every question he would
spur himself into a dull consciousness.

Spring was running in a thin green flame over the Valley.  There
was a mist of green on the trees; luminous patches of green and
blue sprinkled the earth.  The deeper hollows were thatched with
shade, and all the little hills, just touched by sunlight, were
carved into stillness.  Suddenly, as the road looped round a shaggy
ridge, the heavens parted, and the friendly shoulder of God's
Mountain marched with them on the horizon.  Only, he told himself
in astonishment, this was not the mountain that he remembered.  For
he could look through this swimming shape.  God's Mountain, which
had once seemed immovable, was floating on, with other fragments of
the actuality, into bottomless space--with the scudding clouds, the
sun-flushed river, the scattered farms, and the diminished figures
of men and horses in the April fields.

He looked over the hills to where a flock of crows were crossing
and recrossing the sky.  His legs were dying, he thought, but his
heart was still strong and urgent.  A single wish drummed in his
mind, now loud, now faint, now near, now distant, like a beating
pulse in the centre of a vast loneliness.  He must live to reach
Ironside.  Only in Ironside could he find release from this
terrible will.  Only in Ironside could he find the freedom to sink
back into changeless beatitude, into nothing and everything.

The car jolted and stopped in the road below the flat rock and the
big pine.  While the jar still grated on his nerves a bland voice
inquired out of the air, 'Is there any place you'd like to go?
We're coming to Ironside.'

'No, no place.  Put me down here.  I don't go any farther.'  His
will was bearing him up.  He felt the sharp teeth and claws, and
the pain brought him to life.  When the driver had helped him from
the car to the roadside, he stood looking vaguely over the fields
to the red chimneys beyond a veil of green.  'I know my way, thank
you.  It isn't far.  I can easily find it.'

'Are you fit?  I don't like to leave you like this by the road.'

'Oh, I'm fit.  I'm perfectly able to make my way home.  I thank you
for bringing me,' he continued as tonelessly as if he were reciting
words in a foreign tongue.  'I'm sorry I've nothing to offer you.'

The man had expected no money and wanted none, he replied.  Only he
wasn't sure he was doing the right thing when he left a sick old
man by the road.  'I'll take you anywhere you want to go,' he
insisted.  'You look as if you ought to be taken care of.'

John Fincastle shook his head, and immediately the darkness shot
with fiery sparks was spinning before his eyes.  'I'm going home.
It's just over the fields.  You can see the house.'

'Do you live there?  I thought that house was deserted.'

'Yes, I live there.  I was born there.  I've always lived there.
Sometimes'--he smiled with an effort that seemed to crack his lips--
'I think we always live where we're born.'

Then at last, after a moment's indecision, the man drove away,
turning to look back until he disappeared beyond the dip in the
road, and so on past the railway station and the main street of the
village.

When the car was out of sight, but not until then, John Fincastle
crawled through a broken place in the fence, and sat down in the
tall weeds beneath a cluster of willows.  He knew these fields, he
told himself, as well as he knew the palm of his hand.  As a boy he
had sprained his great toe on that sharp rock over there.
Suddenly, surprisingly, his heart was overflowing with happiness.
I've had a good life, he thought.  I'd like to live it again, and
live differently.  In a little while he would get up and go on, but
until that tremendous purpose seized him, he was incapable of an
effort.  When he tried to move, everything was blotted out by the
old sensation of dizziness, as if he were blown in the April wind
between earth and sky.  And this dizziness, or this wind, stripped
him of all that he had once thought of as his immortal part, as his
inviolable personality.  Nothing remained but a blind faith in some
end that he could not see, in some motive that he could not
understand.  He knew his direction as the crow flying overhead knew
its way in the air.

'It will come back,' he said aloud.  'My strength will come back.'
But when he rose to his feet and struggled to go on, he was struck
down by a blow from within.

Lying there, in the midst of the spring meadows, he passed into a
state that was not death and not sleep, while a strange dream
stemmed up from below against the tide of his consciousness.  In
this dream, which was more vivid than life, he was a little boy
again, riding behind his mother on one of her journeys of mercy
into the mountains.  He could feel the bulging saddle-bags under
his toes; he could see the nodding bunches of indigo in the bridle
of old Bess.  They were near Burned Timber Ridge, he knew, and they
rode deeper and deeper into woods that had been burned a hundred
years before, and had grown up again thick and strong.  Once they
passed an abandoned lumber camp, with the magnificent forest
despoiled, the wild creatures trapped or slaughtered, and even the
birds hurrying by overhead at a safe distance.  Presently, they
approached the few cabins in Panther's Gap, where women, in
drooping sunbonnets, hoed rows of thin vegetables, and men lounged
about with guns and lean hounds, or busied themselves with the
stealthy making of mash.  Then, at last, after a journey that
seemed to the child to lead always deeper and deeper and yet higher
and higher, they stopped at a cabin in the centre of some charred
stumps, and his mother dismounted, unpacked her medicine case, and
knocked at a closed door.  He was left sitting alone on a stump,
with only old Bess, patiently nibbling leaves from a scrub oak, as
a protector.  While he waited there a sudden dread, a panic terror,
clutched at his heart.  He knew, without knowing how he knew it,
that something horrible was about to happen, was stealing towards
him.  I must run away, he thought, but he couldn't run; he couldn't
detach his feet from the bare ground between the stumps.  He
couldn't loosen his tongue from the roof of his mouth when he tried
to open his lips and call out to his mother.  While the sweat broke
out on his skin, and every pore seemed dripping with fear, the
family flocked from the cabin and began to dance round him, singing
and jeering.  And as soon as he saw them he knew what he had
dreaded--for they were all idiots.  His mother had brought him to
one of the mountain families that had inbred until it was imbecile.
Two generations of blank, grinning faces and staring eyes and
drivelling mouths danced and shouted round him as they pressed
closer and closer.  A world of idiots, he thought in his dream.  To
escape from them, to run away, he must break through not only a
throng, but a whole world of idiots. . . .

Pain brought back consciousness, that strangling pain in his chest.
For an instant it seemed to him that his breathing was over.  Then
the clutch of the agony withdrew slowly, winding back into itself.
The field rolled before him like an ocean of space, rising and
falling in billows.  But there was only a little way to go.  It
would not take many minutes if he went straight and fast.  One
could bear anything for one minute . . . for two minutes . . . for
three minutes.  The grass and the trees and the distant hills were
all a part of the running waves.  A clod of earth was as large as a
mound.  God's Mountain was merely a hummock.  The world and
life were all one.  Yet he struggled on, in this anguish of
breathlessness, towards an end that was beyond the end of the
living.

Behind him was the long--or was it short?--journey.  He had reached
the gate of the manse, where there was no gate.  He walked through
the gap and approached the house, which stood there in changeless
quiet, near and yet far, like a house in a legend.  I'm better now,
he thought, for the pain had stopped suddenly.  I'll have a spell
now of quiet.

The manse was dilapidated, crumbling to ruins, smothered in weeds
and in rubbish, but he saw it as one sees an image that rises
quickly to the surface of memory, fresh, vivid, unaltered.  While
physical pain was suspended, a peace too deep for happiness, too
still for ecstasy, poured into his mind and heart.  Every
dandelion, every clover-leaf, every pointed blade of grass, stood
out in a spear of light that would melt at a breath, at a touch, at
a whisper.  Was this vision the reality?  Not brick and mortar,
stone and iron, but this vision?

Vertigo seized him again, and he sank down between the house and
the garden.  A strange, wild odour surrounded him.  Gipsies had
camped here.  Or was it a man with a bear?  Yet that was a lifetime
before.  He couldn't remember when or where he had heard it.  But
the smell of an animal, heavy, sour, curiously dark, seemed to drag
him back to the earth, to all that had happened or had not happened
in life, to the old ache, the old bitterness, the old despair of
mortal identity.  For he took a long time to die.  A strong old
man, somebody had called him.  Or was somebody speaking of old
Midkiff?  A name floated into his thoughts.  Mary Evelyn.  Was she
named Mary Evelyn?  And how long ago had he known her?  His mother
he could remember.  All his childhood was perfectly clear in his
memory.  He could recall every incident, every person and object
that had filled in the pattern.  But between his childhood and the
present moment when he was old and dying there was nothing but
loneliness.

The sunset blazed on the broken window-panes of the house, and the
dark face--dark and stern and bright--watching beyond the panes was
the face of his mother.  It's time to go in, he thought.  I must
get up and go in.  But when he stood up, the pain leaped at him,
and he dropped back on the earth.


XVIII


God's Mountain was lower, Ada thought, than she remembered it.
Shut-in Valley was smaller.  The manse was nearer the church.
After her father's funeral, when the mourning villagers had
scattered, she had left Aunt Meggie with Mrs. Black while she
walked with Ralph up the steep road to the house.

'I wonder why he came back?' Ralph said.  'It must have killed him,
that day's journey.'

'I think he knew he was dying, and he held death off till he came
home.  He did it to spare us.  The only thing that worried him, he
used to say in fun, was the high cost of dying.  It would be so
much more reasonable, he told me, if he could arrange to die in
Ironside.  And he wanted his coffin made by Mr. Tinsley.  I
pretended I thought he was joking.'

'Everything, even death, comes back to that damned money in the
end,' Ralph answered moodily.

Ada wiped her eyes and tried to smile up at him.  'I know.  It was
always that way.  I suppose it always will be that way.'

How forlorn the house looked under the spring sky!  What had they
done to it?  How brutally it must have been treated!  The shingles
were rotting away beneath the golden green of the moss; the
swallows were wheeling above a fallen chimney; the drain-pipes were
choked with trash and last year's leaves; the air was tainted by
that wild, roving smell.

'That must be the smell of a skunk,' she said, looking round from
the western wall.

'Why not of a menagerie?'

'I hate to leave the house like this.  I wish we could clean it up.
I feel that it suffers.'

'Nobody would interfere with you.  It isn't nearly so far gone as
it looks, but the work would be wasted unless somebody came here to
live.  They've even cut down the pioneer oak for wild honey.'

'Dr. Updike said he would let anybody come who would look after the
place.  He has always kept up the garden.  Toby and old Marcellus
Geddy are planting it now.'  She pointed to a hoe, stained with
fresh earth, beside the gap where the gate used to be.  'There are
always plenty of vegetables coming on after May.  I wonder . . .'
She broke off and turned her eyes to the narrow pasture and the
stony hill.

'I wonder, too.  I've been wondering the whole way up.'

'You mean?'  Her voice had come to life.

Without answering her question, he looked down on her with that
sudden smile which would be the last thing about him she could ever
forget!  'Mr. Rowan wants me to take the Duncan agency for the
Valley,' he said.

'Then we might come back to live?  Oh, Ralph . . .  There's nothing
to keep us in Queenborough.'

'Nothing but the soup kitchen.'

'Well, we shan't stay for that.  I'd rather live in this village
and raise my own vegetables in my own back yard.'

'Why not in this garden?'

'Why not?'  She caught her breath with a sob.  'We might buy it
with father's money.  It would be what grandmother used to call
"perpetual remembrance".'

'It would take a lot of work.  Look at that drainpipe.'

'But you think it isn't so ruined as it looks.  And we have plenty
of time.'

'How could we live after we get here?'

'Oh, we'd find a way.  Aunt Meggie can raise chickens, and the
garden will take care of itself if we keep the seeds every year.
Toby Waters or some old Geddy will be glad to work it in return for
his living.  That's the good thing about a village.  There's always
somebody to do nobody's job.'

Ralph shook his head.  'We'd be peasants,' he replied bitterly.
'Peasants without land.'

'No, we shouldn't.  Oh, Ralph, we shouldn't . . .  Nothing can make
peasants of us but ourselves.  Grandmother had less when she grew
up, but she wasn't a peasant.  Living with the savages didn't turn
great-great-grandmother Tod into a savage.'  Her gaze flew to the
huddled stones on the hillside.  'No matter how little we have, we
shall have more than the first Fincastle owned when he cut down the
trees and built the log manse here.  What would he have thought if
he had stumbled upon a brick house, a garden with seeds in the
ground, a well, a springhouse, and the whole of Smiling Creek, with
no Indians in the willows?'

'There's a difference.  He had something else too.  He had not only
civilization, but Heaven and Hell, within himself.  It takes
conviction to set out to despoil the wilderness, defraud Indians of
their hunting-grounds, and start to build a new Jerusalem for
predestinarians.  I'm not sure,' he concluded grimly, 'that
predestination didn't conquer the land.  It's a doctrine that has
made history wherever it found itself.'

'Don't be bitter, Ralph.  It doesn't help to be bitter.'

'If you're like me, it does.'

She brushed away his rejoinder.  'I might be able to do a little
dressmaking.  I learned about clothes at Shadwell's--though, of
course, it's easier nowadays to buy everything ready-made.'

'I'd think your hands would be full of dirt . . .  I'm not sure
that any animal left that stench.  It's foul enough to be human.'

'What we need is lime and more lime.  I'll ask Dr. Updike to start
Marcellus cleaning.'

'Are you sure, then, that we're coming back?  I was only half
serious.'

'Yes, I'm sure.  I felt it from the beginning.'  She had a sense,
more a feeling than a vision, of the dead generations behind her.
They had come to life there in the past; they were lending her
their fortitude; they were reaching out to her in adversity.  This
was the heritage they had left.  She could lean back on their
strength; she could recover that lost certainty of a continuing
tradition.

'It will be starting over from the very bottom.'

'Well, we're at the bottom, so it's high time for us to start.'

'Have you thought of Ranny?'

'I've thought of him every minute.  The Bergens will take care of
him till school is over.  He would love the summer in Ironside, and
if he wins that scholarship, as he is sure to do, he will be away
all next winter.  When he gets on in the world, he may like to have
this place for his children.'

'You're a dreamer, Ada.  It's queer that a dreamer should be a rock
to lean on.'  There was a sullen twist to his lips, but tenderness
was welling up in his eyes.  In the brilliant sunlight, surrounded
by the pale green of the landscape, his face was the face of an old
man--creased, hardened, hollowed, and stained by time.

'And you . . .  Oh, Ralph, we have been happy together!'

He did not answer, and she wondered whether she had said too much.
Always, she told herself, he would suffer from his fear of
softness, from his incurable hostility to life.  Because he had
been in youth a disappointed romantic, he would inherit a middle
age, and even an old age, if he lived, of cynical realism.  But he
depended upon her.  The human tie was still strong.  And even if
his flesh had ceased to desire her, or desired her only in flashes
(she looked down at her withered hands; she remembered her faded
cheeks), some hunger deeper and more enduring than appetite was
still constant and satisfied.

'Yes, we've had a poor life,' he said at last, 'but we've been
happy together.'

He reached out his arm, and while she leaned against him, she felt
the steady beating of his heart as she had felt it--how long ago?--
when they were lovers.  Never, not even when we were young, she
thought, with a sudden glow of surprise, was it so perfect as this.


THE END




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