To Him Who Waits.
The air was filled with the spring and all its promises. Full with the sound of it, the smell of it, the deliciousness of it. Such sweet air; soft and strong, like the touch of a brave woman’s hand. The air of an early March day in New Orleans. It was folly to shut it out from nook or cranny. Worse than folly the lady thought who was making futile endeavors to open the car window near which she sat. Her face had grown pink with the effort. She had bit firmly into her red nether lip, making it all the redder; and then sat down from the unaccomplished feat to look ruefully at the smirched finger tips of her Parisian gloves. This flavor of Paris was well about her; in the folds of her graceful wrap that set to her fine shoulders. It was plainly a part of the little black velvet toque that rested on her blonde hair. Even the umbrella and one small valise which she had just laid on the seat opposite her, had Paris written plain upon them.
These were impressions which the little grey-garbed conventional figure, some seats removed, had been noting since the striking lady had entered the car. Points likely to have escaped a man, who--unless a minutely observant one,--would only have seen that she was handsome and worthy of an admiration that he might easily fancy rising to devotion.
Beside herself and the little grey-garbed figure was an interesting family group at the far end of the car. A husband, but doubly a father, surrounded and sat upon by a small band of offspring. A wife--presumably a mother--absorbed with the view of the outside world and the elaborate gold chain that hung around her neck.
The presence of a large valise, an overcoat, a cane and an umbrella disposed on another seat, bespoke a further occupant, likely to be at present in the smoking car.
The train pushed out from the depôt. The porter finally made tardy haste to the assistance of the lady who had been attempting to open the window, and when the fresh morning air came blowing in upon her Thérèse leaned back in her seat with a sigh of content.
There was a full day’s journey before her. She would not reach Place-du-Bois before dark, but she did not shrink from those hours that were to be passed alone. She rather welcomed the quiet of them after a visit to New Orleans full of pleasant disturbances. She was eager to be home again. She loved Place-du-Bois with a love that was real; that had grown deep since it was the one place in the world which she could connect with the presence of David Hosmer. She had often wondered--indeed was wondering now--if the memory of those happenings to which he belonged would ever grow strange and far away to her. It was a trick of memory with which she indulged herself on occasion, this one of retrospection. Beginning with that June day when she had sat in the hall and watched the course of a white sunshade over the tops of the bending corn.
Such idle thoughts they were with their mingling of bitter and sweet--leading nowhere. But she clung to them and held to them as if to a refuge which she might again and again return to.
The picture of that one terrible day of Fanny’s death, stood out in sharp prominent lines; a touch of the old agony always coming back as she remembered how she had believed Hosmer dead too--lying so pale and bleeding before her. Then the parting which had held not so much of sorrow as of awe and bewilderment in it: when sick, wounded and broken he had gone away at once with the dead body of his wife; when the two had clasped hands without words that dared be uttered.
But that was a year ago. And Thérèse thought many things might come about in a year. Anyhow, might not such length of time be hoped to rub the edge off a pain that was not by its nature lasting?
That time of acute trouble seemed to have thrown Hosmer back upon his old diffidence. The letter he wrote her after a painful illness which prostrated him on his arrival in St. Louis, was stiff and formal, as men’s letters are apt to be, though it had breathed an untold story of loyalty which she had felt at the time, and still cherished. Other letters--a few--had gone back and forth between them, till Hosmer had gone away to the sea-shore with Melicent, to recuperate, and June coming, Thérèse had sailed from New Orleans for Paris, whither she had passed six months.
Things had not gone well at Place-du-Bois during her absence, the impecunious old kinsman whom she had left in charge, having a decided preference for hunting the _Gros-Bec_ and catching trout in the lake to supervising the methods of a troublesome body of blacks. So Thérèse had had much to engage her thoughts from the morbid channel into which those of a more idle woman might have drifted.
She went occasionally enough to the mill. There at least she was always sure to hear Hosmer’s name--and what a charm the sound of it had for her. And what a delight it was to her eyes when she caught sight of an envelope lying somewhere on desk or table of the office, addressed in his handwriting. That was a weakness which she could not pardon herself; but which staid with her, seeing that the same trifling cause never failed to awaken the same unmeasured delight. She had even trumped up an excuse one day for carrying off one of Hosmer’s business letters--indeed of the dryest in substance, and which, when half-way home, she had torn into the smallest bits and scattered to the winds, so overcome was she by a sense of her own absurdity.
Thérèse had undergone the ordeal of having her ticket scrutinized, commented upon and properly punched by the suave conductor. The little conventional figure had given over the contemplation of Parisian styles and betaken herself to the absorbing pages of a novel which she read through smoked glasses. The husband and father had peeled and distributed his second outlay of bananas amongst his family. It was at this moment that Thérèse, looking towards the door, saw Hosmer enter the car.
She must have felt his presence somewhere near; his being there and coming towards her was so much a part of her thoughts. She held out her hand to him and made place beside her, as if he had left her but a half hour before. All the astonishment was his. But he pressed her hand and took the seat she offered him.
“You knew I was on the train?” he asked.
“Oh, no, how should I?”
Then naturally followed question and answer.
Yes, he was going to Place-du-Bois.
No, the mill did not require his presence; it had been very well managed during his absence.
Yes, she had been to New Orleans. Had had a very agreeable visit. Beautiful weather for city dwellers. But such dryness. So disastrous to the planters.
Yes--quite likely there would be rain next month: there usually was in April. But indeed there was need of more than April showers for that stiff land--that strip along the bayou, if he remembered? Oh, he remembered quite well, but for all that he did not know what she was talking about. She did not know herself. Then they grew silent; not from any feeling of the absurdity of such speech between them, for each had but listened to the other’s voice. They became silently absorbed by the consciousness of each other’s nearness. She was looking at his hand that rested on his knee, and thinking it fuller than she remembered it before. She was aware of some change in him which she had not the opportunity to define; but this firmness and fullness of the hand was part of it. She looked up into his face then, to find the same change there, together with a new content. But what she noted beside was the dull scar on his forehead, coming out like a red letter when his eyes looked into her own. The sight of it was like a hurt. She had forgotten it might be there, telling its story of pain through the rest of his life.
“Thérèse,” Hosmer said finally, “won’t you look at me?”
She was looking from the window. She did not turn her head, but her hand went out and met his that was on the seat close beside her. He held it firmly; but soon with an impatient movement drew down the loose wristlet of her glove and clasped his fingers around her warm wrist.
“Thérèse,” he said again; but more unsteadily, “look at me.”
“Not here,” she answered him, “not now, I mean.” And presently she drew her hand away from him and held it for a moment pressed firmly over her eyes. Then she looked at him with brave loving glance.
“It’s been so long,” she said, with the suspicion of a sigh.
“Too long,” he returned, “I couldn’t have borne it but for you--the thought of you always present with me; helping me to take myself out of the past. That was why I waited--till I could come to you free. Have you an idea, I wonder, how you have been a promise, and can be the fulfillment of every good that life may give to a man?”
“No, I don’t know,” she said a little hopelessly, taking his hand again, “I have seen myself at fault in following what seemed the only right. I feel as if there were no way to turn for the truth. Old supports appear to be giving way beneath me. They were so secure before. It commenced, you remember--oh, you know when it must have begun. But do you think, David, that it’s right we should find our happiness out of that past of pain and sin and trouble?”
“Thérèse,” said Hosmer firmly, “the truth in its entirety isn’t given to man to know--such knowledge, no doubt, would be beyond human endurance. But we make a step towards it, when we learn that there is rottenness and evil in the world, masquerading as right and morality--when we learn to know the living spirit from the dead letter. I have not cared to stop in this struggle of life to question. You, perhaps, wouldn’t dare to alone. Together, dear one, we will work it out. Be sure there is a way--we may not find it in the end, but we will at least have tried.”