Mrs. Farrell

by William Dean Howells

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Chapter VIII

AT the best, love is fatal to friendship; the most that friendship can do is to listen to love’s talk of itself and be the confident of its rapturous joys, its transports of despair. The lover fancies himself all the fonder of his friend because of his passion for his mistress, but in reality he has no longer any need of the old comrade. They cannot talk sanely and frankly together any more; there is something now that they cannot share; even if the lover desired to maintain the old affectionate relation, the mistress could not suffer it. The specter of friendship is sometimes invited to haunt the home of the lovers after marriage; but when their happiness has been flaunted in its face, when it has been shown the new house, the new china, the new carpets, the new garden, it is tacitly exorcised, and is not always called back again except to be shown the new baby. The young spouses are ever so willing to have the poor ghost remain; the wife learns whether it takes two or three lumps of sugar in its tea; the husband bids it smoke anywhere it likes, and the wife smiles a menacing acquiescence; but all the same they turn it out-of-doors. They praise it when it is gone, and they feel so much more comfortable to be alone.{116}

Mrs. Farrell had only hastened a natural result from Easton’s passion for her, which now declared itself without any of the conventional reserves. It was the degree of passion which is called a perfect infatuation by the tranquil spectator, but which probably appears a reasonable enough condition both to the subject and the object of it. In fact, there is no just cause why every woman should not reduce some man to it; it is a hardship that she cannot; in a better state of things no doubt she could.

Easton found in Mrs. Farrell’s presence a relief from thoughts that troubled him when away from her; when he beheld her, or heard her speak, his bliss was so great that his heart could not harbor self-reproach; but at other times it upbraided him that he was making Gilbert wait for the explanation that was his instant due. His love had revealed to him a whole new world of rights and duties which seemed at war with those of the world he had always lived in before. This new passion claimed reverence for an ideal as exacting as that of the old friendship; and perfect loyalty to both seemed beyond him.

Gilbert neither shunned nor sought him; and it was Easton’s constraint under his friend’s patience that made their being together intolerable. When they met they never spoke of Mrs. Farrell, or indeed of anything but passing trifles; and Easton avoided his friend as much as he could until the inspired moment should come to do him justice; the moment which seemed to retreat farther and{117} farther from him the more he tasted the supreme bliss which life now held to his lip. Their affairs had come to this pass when, on Friday, Gilbert abruptly announced that he had arranged with one of the men at the hotel to spend a few days in camp on the northern side of the mountain, where the brooks were less accessible and less fished than those of West Pekin. He made no pretense of asking Easton to go with him; and he parted from him with a nod when his wagon with the camping outfit in it drove up to the door. They had often parted as carelessly, but with a difference. Easton watched the wagon out of sight, and then started toward Woodward farm with a sigh of sad relief.

He was seen coming every morning by the ladies on watch, who had made so careful a study of his face that they knew by its changes from desperate courage and endurance to all-forgetting ecstasy the very moment when he caught sight of Mrs. Farrell; and they could not help rejoicing in the perfect abandon of his loverhood. It was indeed a devotion not less than heroic, which none but a primitive soul, nurtured in high and pure ideals, could have been capable of; it was so unlike the languid dangling which they had been used to call attentions, that they could not help regarding it with a tender admiration; they were all half in love with a man who could be so wholly in love, and they began to respect the woman who could inspire such a passion. They even liked the unsparing directness with which he made it appear that he came to see Mrs. Farrell and no one else; that he cared to speak to{118} no other, to look at none but her; they sweetly bore, they even approved, the almost savage frankness with which he went away when she was absent. He made no pretenses of any sort; he did not bring a book as excuse for coming to see her; he had no scruple about asking her before half a piazza full of people to walk or drive with him; when he sat down beside her, in whatever presence, he always seemed to be alone with her.

She would perhaps have been satisfied with a less perfect surrender; it looked sometimes as if his worship alarmed and puzzled her; but for the most she received it in good part; and if she ever found it necessary to administer a snub, he took it with heroic patience; it plainly hurt him to his heart’s core, but plainly it did not daunt him; the next day he wooed as ardently, and he never dreamed of resenting it.

They walked a good deal, the following week, to the wood where they had sat on the first Sunday among the ferns, and there he read to her, or talked to her in the freedom of a heart never opened to a woman before. Love baptizes us with a new youth whenever it comes; the talk of all lovers is like the babble of childhood, and a heavenly simpleness inspires it. This is so, whatever the number of the passion; it is true in even greater degree if first love comes when the lover is well toward his thirties. Easton was one of the most single-hearted of men, but pride had kept him one of the most reserved. Now love came, and, taking away his pride toward her he loved, seemed to leave him no re{119}serve. He told her what his life had been, what his theories of life were; his likes, his dislikes; things that had happened to him as a boy at school; about his uncle who had brought him up and left him his money; that he looked like this uncle; he even told of curious dreams that he had dreamt. A load lay on his heart all the time: it was the thought of Gilbert, whom alone he would not speak of, though the talk seemed to be always drifting toward him.

They were sitting in the old place on the Saturday afternoon of the week after Gilbert’s departure. Gilbert was staying longer than his sister-in-law had expected, and there had begun to be a vague wonder, not yet deepened to anxiety, at his prolonged absence, which Easton inwardly shared. He began to speak now, with the intention of talking of Gilbert, as if it would be some sort of reparation to praise him to Mrs. Farrell.

“Do you remember,” he asked, “being surprised that afternoon when I told you what an idler in the world I was?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Farrell, “we were both rather foolish that afternoon,” and she looked at him demurely from under her fallen lashes.

Easton laughed a flattered lover’s laugh. “But you have forgiven me.”

“And you me. So sweet to be forgiven!”

They both laughed, and she went on. “How funny it seems, after such a very unpromising start, that you should be sitting here with me again, and really quite tolerating me.”

“Yes,” he said in a hoarse undertone, “very{120} droll”; but he was thinking in a rapturous absence how far her word was from painting his attitude toward her. In the same sense one might tolerate the hope of heaven. Mrs. Farrell laughed again, and he smiled his happiness.

“You seem to like being laughed at better than you did at first, Mr. Easton,” she said, gravely. “Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know; perhaps it’s practice. It would be a pity if we learned nothing from experience.”

“Very true, very true indeed. I’ve no doubt you could learn a great many useful things. For instance, now you like being laughed at before your face, perhaps you will come to like being laughed at behind your back.”

“I think that would be more difficult.”

“Well, let us try: I laughed at you to the Woodwards that morning when you mended our broken holdback with your handkerchief. It seemed such a wanton waste of handkerchief; and you did it with the air of laying down your life, of shedding your last drop of blood, for our sakes. It was too ridiculous! There; how do you like that?”

“I don’t mind it—much.”

“Well, you’re really getting on. Shall I tell you now how I made fun of you to Mr. Gilbert?”

The name gave Easton a shock. Gilbert had gone wholly out of his mind; but that was not the worst. He grew pale, and remained silently frowning.

“Oh dear! now I’ve done it again,” cried Mrs.{121} Farrell. “I wonder which cord of your high-strung friendship I’ve snapped this time. I wish you’d never brought it near a plain, every-day person like me. I can weep for my crime, if that will do any good.” She drew out a handkerchief, and began to make a conspicuous pretense of drying her tears. Then she dropped it, and as Easton made a movement to restore it to her he suddenly arrested himself.

“Why, this is my handkerchief,” he said.

“Excuse me, Mr. Easton,” retorted Mrs. Farrell with exaggerated hauteur, “the handkerchief is mine. Will you give it back, or shall I scream for help? This wood is inhabited, and a lady doesn’t cry out in vain. Come, sir; my property!”

She reached forward for it, and Easton withheld it. “How came it yours?” he asked.

“Ben Woodward found it on the buggy harness two weeks ago, and brought it to me. I washed it and ironed it nicely with my own hands. ‘That handkerchief did an Egyptian to my mother give. She was a charmer, and could almost read the thoughts of people. There’s magic in the web of it. A sibyl, that had numbered in the world the sun to course two hundred compasses, in her prophetic fury sewed the work.’” Mrs. Farrell declaimed the words with fire, and at the last caught quickly at the handkerchief, which Easton still held beyond her reach. Then she made a fascinating pretense of taking up a point of her overskirt in her left hand to wipe her eyes with it as with an apron.{122}

“What will you give me in exchange for it?”

“Nothing,” she said, coldly. “Why should I wish to buy your handkerchief of you? I have enough of my own;” and while Easton looked in unguarded embarrassment at her face, to see if she were really offended or not, she caught the handkerchief from him and ran it swiftly into that fold of her dress where her pocket lurked. “Now!” she said, and looked at him with beautiful mocking.

He gave a laugh of confusion and pleasure, and, “Oh, you carry it off very well,” said Mrs. Farrell.

“Where did you study Shakespeare?” he asked.

“At school, where he wasn’t in the course. Look here, Mr. Easton: I think you ought to be punished, instead of rewarded, for your attempt on my handkerchief. But I am so forgiving that I can’t be harsh with the basest offenders. So I am really going to let you have something in exchange for this handkerchief, and I hope you’ll read it often and often.” She drew her hand from her pocket and offered him a little book. “Don’t you remember the book you picked up for me in the meadow? Here it is. You won’t find my name in it?” She put up her hand to waive his thanks, and added, hastily: “Spare your gratitude. I want to get rid of the book. It’s a constant reproach to me, and a constant reminder of my very bold behavior that day. But I couldn’t help it. Oh, Mr. Easton! You know I left that book there so that I could come back and get a better look at you two, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know that.{123}”

“And could you really pardon such a shameless trick?”

“I rather liked to have you look at me.”

“Don’t prevaricate! Do you approve of such actions?”

“You did it.”

“Oh, but that’s personal. Why, you’re actually shuffling! Now, tell me whether you don’t think it was very unladylike and unbecoming.”

“I saw no harm in it.”

“Well, you are large-minded. If I had been in your place I should certainly have suspected some ulterior motive.”

“Like what?”

“Like what? Why, like my wanting you to see me!”

Easton merely laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. Her daring was delicious; he wanted her to talk on so forever. But she sat looking at him a full minute before she spoke.

“Well,” she said at last, “I don’t know what to make of such mercifulness. I’m not used to it. I think I might have been different if I hadn’t always been so sharply judged. What I do isn’t so very bad, that I can see, but people seem to think it is awful. The only people I’ve ever seen who could make any allowance for me are the Woodwards. I suppose it must seem very odd to you, my being with them so much, and so little with the other boarders. But you go where you find sympathy. It seems to me I’ve always been alone,” she said with passionate self-pity that dimmed her eyes.{124} She dried them with Easton’s handkerchief, and turned her face away.

He could not have spoken now without pouring out his whole heart, and to speak of love to her in this mood would be like seizing an advantage which his fantastic notions of justice forbade him to take.

“You don’t know what good people they are,” she resumed, with her face still averted. “When I was sick with a fever here, two summers ago, they cared for me as if I were their own child. And there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for them—anything! I was very sick indeed,” she went on, turning her eyes upon him now, and speaking very solemnly, “and I suppose that I could not have lived without their nursing. It was in their busiest time, and they sent people away so that they could have a chance to care for me. Mr. Easton,” she cried, as if fired with a generous inspiration, “you must get better acquainted with Rachel Woodward. She and you are just of a piece. She’s quite as large-minded as you are, and as unsuspicious and—good. Yes, I know you’re good; you needn’t try to deceive me. I’m not. I’m full of vanity and vexation of spirit. I don’t know what I want; I’m restless, and perturbated, and horrid. But there’s nothing of that kind about Rachel Woodward; she’s a born saint, and goes round accepting self-sacrifice as if it were her birthright. For all she’s got such a genius for drawing, I suppose she’d settle down into a common country drudge without a murmur, if she found it in the line of duty. Duty! what is duty? It’s the greatest imposition of the age, I think.” Mrs.{125} Farrell had now quite emerged from her clouds, and was able to share Easton’s joy in her nonsense. “I know Mr. Gilbert didn’t think so kindly of my coming back after that book,” she said, as if this were the natural sequence of what had gone before, and had been in her mind all the time.

Easton’s embarrassment appeared in his face, but he said nothing.

“Oh well, never mind,” said Mrs. Farrell, rising, “he’s welcome to hate me if he likes; and I suppose he’ll end by making you hate me, too. I’m sure it’s very good of you to respite me so long.” She gave the faintest sigh, and began to arrange her dress for walking away, looking first over one shoulder, and then over the other, at her skirt behind.

Neither of them said anything, as they quitted the place where they had been sitting, by a path that led homeward through a rocky dell, farther around than that they usually came and went by. In this dell there was a shade of maples thicker than elsewhere in the woods, and the heavy granite bowlders started from the soil in fantastic and threatening shapes, very different from the sterile repose that they kept in the neighboring fields and woods. Something of the old, elemental strife lingered there yet; the aspect of the place was wild, almost fierce; the trout-brook, that stole so still through the flat meadows on either side of the dell, quarreled along its rocky course in this narrow solitude, and filled it with a harsh din of waters. But the soil in the crevices and little spaces between the granite masses was richer than anywhere else on the farm.{126} Earlier in the season, wherever the sun could look through the maple boughs it saw a host of wild flowers, and in its turn the shade detained the spring, and there were still violets here in July, and the shy water plants unfolded their bloom at every point along the margin of the fretted brook where they could find foothold. No maples yielded a more bounteous sweet than these in the shrewish April weather, when the Woodward boys came and tapped their gnarled trunks; and in the lower end of the valley stood the sugar house, with its rusty iron pans and kettles, and its half-ruinous brick oven and chimney, where they boiled the sap. Because the brook perhaps ran cooler here than in the meadows, the cattle from the neighboring pastures came to drink at the pool which its waters gathered into at one place, just before it took the final fray with the rocks and broke out into the open sunlight beyond, where it lulled itself among the grassy levels. An oriole had made its nest in the boughs that overhung this pool; and higher up in the same tree lived a family of red squirrels, some member of which was pretty sure to challenge every passer. In the bushes that thickened about the meadow-border in sight of the farmhouse lived thrushes and catbirds; and in the very heart of the dell, a rain crow often voiced his lugubrious foreboding.

Mrs. Farrell entered by the vagrant path that the cattle’s hoofs had made, and midway of the hollow she paused and, resting her arm on a tall bowlder, looked round the place with a certain joy{127} in her face, as of kindred wildness. Her rich eyes glowed, her bosom rose, and her breaths were full and deep. If she could indeed have been some wild, sylvan thing, with no amenability to our criterions, one could not have asked more of her than to be as she was; but behind her came a man who loved her as a woman, and whose heart was building from its hopes of her that image of possession and of home which love bids the most hapless passion cherish. When he came up with her he looked into her face and said, as if no silence had followed her last speech, his thoughts had been so voluble to him, “Why do you talk to me about hating you?”

“Why?” she echoed with a look of alarm, and signs of that inward trepidation which every woman must feel at such a moment. “Oh,” she added, with a weak effort to jest fate aside, “I suppose that I thought you ought to hate me.”

“No,” said Easton, with a passionate force that nothing could have stayed, “you know I love you!”

Her dark bloom went, but in an instant came again, with what swiftly blended emotions no man may guess and possibly no woman could tell, and “How can you say such a thing to me?” she demanded with the imperiousness of fear. “You—you hardly know me—it’s hardly a week since we met.”

“A week? What does it matter? I have never loved any other woman; I know that you are free to love me, if you can; I don’t care for any other knowledge of you. Oh, don’t answer me yet! Listen: I don’t ask you to love me now; what{128} right have I to do that? But only let me love you! I can wait. I can be silent, if you say so. You are my whole life, and my whole life is yours, if you choose to make me wait so long. How could it be better spent?”

She sank down upon a shelf of rock beside that she had leaned upon, and he fell at her feet, and then with the unsparingness of love which claims nothing and takes all, “Oh, my darling!” he murmured, and stretched his arms toward her.

She stayed him with a little electric touch. “Don’t!” she whispered, and after a look at him she hid her face.

He did not move; his attitude did change, but still expressed his headlong hope, as if a sculptor had caught it in immutable stone; but when she drew out his handkerchief and, pressing it to her eyes, handed it to him and said, with trembling lips, “Take it; give me my book,” a terrible despair blanched his face.

“Oh!” he moaned.

“Yes,” she said, “I must be free. I can’t think if I’m not free;” and she put the book, which he mechanically surrendered, into her pocket.

“You shall be as free of me as you will,” he answered. “I ask nothing of you—only leave to love you. I will go away, if you say it. I must be to blame for speaking, if it gives you so much pain. I would rather have died than hurt you.”

An imploring humility, an ineffable tenderness evoked by her trouble, shook his voice. She did not answer at once, but, “You are not to blame;{129} I should be very ungrateful and very cruel to suffer it,” she said, after a while, “but, oh, I’m afraid that I must have been behaving very badly, very boldly, to make you talk so to me, so soon. I’m afraid,” she said, bowing her head, “that you don’t respect me—that you think I was trying to make you care for me.”

“Respect you!” he echoed. “I love you.”

“Yes, yes, I know that. But it isn’t the same thing!”

He stood bewildered, where he had risen from her feet, and looked down into her face, which she now lifted toward him. “If I had been another kind of woman, you wouldn’t have said it to me!”

“No; if you had been other than you are, I should not have loved you,” said the young man, gravely.

“Oh, I don’t mean that. I mean— Oh, Mr. Easton, what is it you find to love in me? What did I ever do or say that you ought to love me? Why do you love me?”

“I don’t know. Because—you are—you are my love.”

“Is it my looks you care for?”

“Your looks? Yes, you are beautiful. I hadn’t thought of that.”

“But if I wasn’t, you would never have cared for me.”

“How can I tell? I have no reasons. You are the one human creature in all the world whose being or doing I can’t question. You are what I love, whatever you are.{130}”

“Is it true? How strange!” said Mrs. Farrell. “And if I had always been very cold and reserved and stiff with you, and not come back after that book, and not let you take a hairpin out of my chignon, and not made mischief between you and your friend, and not been so ready to walk and ride with you in season and out of season, and not rather—well!—cut up with you to-day about that handkerchief, would you have loved me all the same?”

She was still looking very seriously into his face, so very seriously that he could not help the smile that the contrast of her words and mien brought to his lips.

“Don’t! Don’t laugh!” she pleaded piteously. “I’m trying to get at something.”

“But there is nothing, nothing for you to get at!” he cried out. “If I tried forever, I could only say at last that I love you.”

“Yes, but you oughtn’t to,” said Mrs. Farrell, with a sigh. “You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know who or what I am.” She restrained a movement of impatience on his part. “I’m not at all like other people. My father was nothing but a ship’s captain, and he had been a common sailor; and he ran off with my mother, I’ve heard, and they were married against her parents’ will. I can remember how handsome he was, with blue eyes and a yellow beard, and how he used to swear at the men—I went a voyage with him once after my mother died. I was brought up at a convent school in Canada, along with the half sisters of Mr.{131} Farrell, who owned my father’s ship; and when I came out he married me. I didn’t love him; no, I never pretended to; he was too old. But I married him, and I would have been a good enough wife, I believe, but he died; he died very soon after we were married. I never said so, but I was sorry that he should die, for he was very good to me; and yet I was glad to be free again. There, Mr. Easton, that’s all about me.”

Apparently this history had not given his passion the pause of a single pulse. She was all that she had been to him, or more; his face showed that.

“Well?” she asked, triumphantly.

“Then you don’t forbid me to love you?” he questioned in turn.

“Oh, I ought to! You are too generous and too good for me! No, no, you mustn’t love me. I should be sure to bring harm upon you. It was all true about Mr. Farrell, but it wasn’t about my father. In his last years he joined the church, and he used to pray in the cabin to be forgiven for swearing on deck. So I’m not so bad as I said, but I’m not good enough for you to love.”

“Won’t you let me judge of that?” asked Easton, with a smile, too happy to do else, whatever name she had given herself. He crouched again at her feet, near the base of the flat rock on which she had sunk, and while he spoke she looked beamingly upon him. “I could parade a few defects of my own,” he said, “but just now I am anxious to have you think all the good of me that you can; I shall be infinitely far from good enough.{132}”

“No, no; don’t do that. I want you to tell me something very disgraceful of yourself. If you don’t make yourself out the blackest kind of character, I shall not let you care for me.”

“Another time; not now.”

“Yes, now. Come.”

Easton laughed. “I can’t think of anything heinous enough for your purpose on such short notice.”

“Oh, Mr. Easton! Do you mean to say that you have never done anything to be ashamed of? Have you nothing on your conscience? What was that thing you said you oughtn’t to have done to Mr. Gilbert?”

The shadow of his lurking remorse fell over the bliss of the lover’s face, and he gave a sigh like those we heave when we wake from the forgetfulness of care to the remembrance of it. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, I do,” answered Mrs. Farrell. “If you’d been guilty of something really shabby, I should have felt more at home with you; but no matter, even if it isn’t strictly disgraceful. Go on.”

Easton did not laugh. “Yes, I will tell you,” he said; nevertheless, he did not tell her at once; he fell into a moody, unhappy silence, from which he suddenly started.

“I told you once before,” he began, “when I didn’t mean to tell you anything, that Gilbert and I were in the army together. I knew nothing of the business, and I chose to enter the ranks, where I should at least do no harm to the cause I wanted{133} to serve. Gilbert was my captain; we had not known each other before; but he had known of me, and he made a point of finding me out among those poor fellows, and in spite of the gulf fixed between officers and men, he made himself my friend at once; we were younger than we are now—”

“How interesting!” said Mrs. Farrell; “it’s quite like a love-affair.”

“And after our first engagement he urgently recommended me and I got a lieutenant’s commission in another company of our regiment. The next battle vacated the captaincy above me.”

“Do you mean that the officer above you was killed?”

“That’s the way most promotions are got.”

“Well, it’s shocking! I don’t see how you could accept it. To profit by the death of others!”

Easton winced. “Oh,” he said, bitterly, “I did worse than that. Our general was killed, and the colonel who took his place as brigade commandant had an old feud with Gilbert—something that had begun before the war. I don’t know whether he planned to strike him with my hand, when he saw what friends we were, or whether it was a sudden, infernal inspiration. But just as we were going into action he detached Gilbert for staff duty; we were fighting on toward the end of the war by that time, and there had been many changes and losses, so that I now stood next to him in seniority, and took his place in the regiment. The colonel and the lieutenant-colonel were killed, and I brought the remnant of the regiment out as well as I could.{134} The colonel commanding had been a truckling politician at home, and he never took his hands off the wires that work officeholders.”

Easton stopped, and it seemed as if he did not mean to go on, the absence which he fell into was so long. He stared at her with a look of pain, when recalled by an eager “Well?” from Mrs. Farrell.

“It all fell out with such malignant fatality that I don’t think that part of it could have been planned. But one day Gilbert and I sat talking before his tent, and an orderly came up with an official letter for me. Gilbert made a joke of pretending to open it; I told him to go on, and then he opened it and looked at what was in it. He handed me the inclosure without a word: it was my commission as colonel; I had been advanced two steps over his head.”

Mrs. Farrell broke out, with a pitiless frankness that seemed to strike Easton like a blow, “I don’t see how he could forgive you!”

Easton passed his hand over his face. “It was a great deal to forgive; if it hadn’t seemed to make us closer friends, I should say it was too much to forgive; that such a thing ought to have separated us at once and forever.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Farrell, “I don’t understand how you got over it. What did you do? What did you say?”

“I hardly know,” answered Easton, gloomily, “what I did or said. I wanted to tear the commission to pieces and leave the service. But Gilbert{135} said I hadn’t any right to refuse the promotion, I hadn’t any right to leave the army; and he added things about my fitness for the place, and my duty. If I declined this commission, he should not get it; but if he could get it, what sort of face could he carry it off with? What we must do was not to let it make bad blood between us. There was a great deal more talk, but it all came to that in the end. He might often have had promotion after that in many ways—in other regiments recruiting or reorganizing—but he refused everything; he even refused the brevet that was offered him after the war; he said he had some doubts about this, for he knew what I had done to have his case made known and justice done him. But if I didn’t mind, he said, he would rather stay what he was. He didn’t go into the army for glory.”

“How grand!” said Mrs. Farrell.

“Yes,” returned Easton, sadly, “it was grand enough.”

“But, after all,” she said, “I don’t know why you shouldn’t be at peace about it now. It’s all over and done with, long ago. Besides, you thought you did right, didn’t you?”

“Yes. But in such a case, one ought to do wrong,” said Easton, sadly.

Mrs. Farrell laughed. “Oh, well,” said she, “you did wrong to let me surprise the weak place in your friendship, and that makes it just right. Why, Mr. Easton!” she exclaimed, “are you actually worried about that silly business?”

Easton did not answer.{136}

“You’re rather too sensitive, I think.”

“Excuse me,” said Easton. “A man needn’t be very sensitive to dislike to exploit himself at the expense of a friend who has already forgiven him too much.”

“But why don’t you tell him you didn’t?” demanded Mrs. Farrell, in amazement. “Why don’t you tell him that I got it out of you—what little you said—before you knew what you were talking about?”

“Why? How could I do that?” asked Easton, in as great amaze.

“Easily!” retorted Mrs. Farrell, with enthusiasm. “Don’t mind me! Why, if such a man as that had liked me, and I had offended him, there isn’t anyone I wouldn’t sacrifice, there isn’t anything so shabby I wouldn’t do, to get into his good graces again. Why, he’s sublime, don’t you know. Who would ever have thought he was that sort of man?”

Easton fell into a somber reverie from which even her presence could not save him; for the wretched moment he forgot her presence, and her voice seemed to be coming from a long way off as she bent down her face and peered into his with a sidelong, mock-serious glance.

“Don’t let me intrude upon your thoughts, Mr. Easton. I can wait till you’re quite at leisure for my answer.”

“Your answer?”

“Yes. Or no, it was you who wanted an answer—about something, wasn’t it? Oh, Mr. Easton!{137}

‘Was ever woman in such humor wooed? Was ever woman in such humor won?’ It’s a good thing I’m not proud. Come, begin over again. I’m quite ready to be persuaded that you’re still perishing of unrequited affection for me.”

Easton gave a sigh of torment. She dropped her mocking manner and said with an earnest air, “You are thinking of the matter too morbidly. It isn’t any such hopeless affair. You must speak to Mr. Gilbert and show him that no wrong was meant, and if you sacrifice yourself from any foolish idea of sparing me, I shall never forgive you. He won’t care for what I’ve done to make trouble; he hates me, anyway; and then you can both go away as good as new—and forget me.”

“I shall never go away,” said Easton, “till you send me, and I shall never forget you while I live.”

“No? I thought you had forgotten me just now. Well, you had better go away; I don’t send you, but you had better go; and you had better forget me. Your fortnight is just up to-day: better go to-day. Come, here are both my hands for good-by. When you’ve put two hundred miles between us, perhaps you can think more clearly about it all.”

He took her hands, which she held out to him, smiling, and bowed his lips upon them in the utter surrender of his love.

“Why, you are really in my hands,” she murmured. A light of triumph burned in her dark eyes, but one could not have said that as a woman she had not a right to the few and fleeting triumphs that love gives her sex, on which it lays so many{138} heavy burdens. “Then,” she said, “you must do as I bid you. Come, let me go, now;” and she withdrew her hands and rose to her feet, and flung her shawl over her arm. “You must not talk of liking me, any more, till you are friends with Gilbert again. You may make up with him how and when you will, but you must not speak to me till you tell me you are reconciled. I can’t forgive myself till I know that you’ve made up at my expense. Tell him that it piqued and irritated me to see you such friends, and that I could not rest till I had got a clew to your secret; that I didn’t really mean any harm; but that I was altogether to blame. Will you obey?”

“No!” said Easton, so fiercely that Mrs. Farrell started with a sudden shock of panic that left no trace of persiflage in her tone, while she walked humbly before him with downcast head. How could he be angry with her? His whole heart yearned upon her as they moved on through the hollow, and came from its gloom at last upon the open meadow. “I didn’t mean to offend you,” she added, then. “I was only trying to show you how much in earnest I was about having you and Gilbert friends again; I couldn’t be happy if I thought I had hurt your feelings.”

“I will obey you,” said Easton, sadly.

“You will make up with him?” she asked.

“If he will let me. God knows I want to do it.”

“Then you may spare me all you like. You’re not angry now?”

“Only with myself.{139}”

“And you’re going to be real patient with me, about—that little answer?”

“As patient as you can ask.”

“Because,” she explained, “we have scarcely the advantage of each other’s acquaintance as yet”; and added, “I would rather you wouldn’t go back to the farm with me, to-day. I’m afraid,” she said, glancing at him, “that you’ll look as if you had been saying something. Those women have got such sharp eyes! Should you care if you left me at the corner of the lane and let me walk to the house alone? Shouldn’t you, really? And you don’t think it’s asking too much?”

“It would be too much if anyone else asked me to leave you sooner than I must. But it’s for you to command.”

“I don’t command,” said Mrs. Farrell. Just then they came upon a rise in the meadow, which showed the road and Rachel Woodward walking down toward the red schoolhouse. “Oh, how lucky!” cried Mrs. Farrell. “Rachel, Rachel!” she called, “wait!” and Rachel stopped till they joined her. “I want to go with you to the schoolhouse. May Mr. Easton come, too?” she asked, with a glance at him.

“I won’t put Miss Woodward to the pain of refusing. I think I shall find my friend Gilbert at the hotel, about this time, and I want to see him.”

Mrs. Farrell rewarded his surprising duplicity with a brave, strong clasp of the hand, said heartily, “Good-by,” and turned away with Rachel, while he walked slowly, with his head down, in the other{140} direction. She had not gone far when she stopped and looked back at him over her shoulder, holding her dress out of the dust with one hand; but he did not turn to look at her, and presently a downward slope of the road hid him.

“He’s handsome enough, I should hope,” said Mrs. Farrell, only half to Rachel, who made no comment, and Mrs. Farrell asked, “What have you been doing, all the week? I’ve scarcely had a chance to speak to you.”

“No,” said Rachel. “I don’t like walking in the woods so much as you do, and I haven’t time for it.”

“Rachel!” cried Mrs. Farrell, with affected sternness, “do you mean anything personal? I won’t have it, ma’am. Withdraw those vile insinuations. Do you wish to imply that I have gone walking in the woods with Mr. Easton? How very unkind of you, Rachel! But I forgive you; this sarcastic habit of yours is one of the eccentricities of genius. Here we are at the little sanctuary itself. How nicely it will read in the newspapers when you exhibit your first cattle-piece in Boston:

“During the summer, the fair artist, having dismissed her little flock of pupils, consecrated the red schoolhouse at the corner of the road to the labors of her genius, devoting to them such moments as she could steal from household cares and the demands of her mother’s boarders, who little dreamt with what visions of beauty and fame she glorified the dim old farmhouse kitchen, albeit she was familiarly known among them as the Rosa Bonheur of West Pekin, and they duly reverenced her God-given talent.

There!” triumphed Mrs. Farrell, falling into her natural tone from that in which she had seemed to{141} read these sentences aloud, “that’s from ‘a lady correspondent,’ and anybody could tell that Mrs. Stevenson wrote it. Now, will you say anything about my walking with Mr. Easton? Rachel!” she exclaimed, as the girl answered nothing, “have I trodden on some of your outlying sensibilities? Oh, I’m ever so sorry!” and she fell upon her like a remorseful wolf and devoured her with kisses. “There, I forgive you again. I’ve got my hand in—been forgiving Mr. Easton the whole afternoon.”

Rachel made no response, but when Mrs. Farrell had sufficiently wreaked her regret upon her she felt in her pocket for the schoolhouse key. “Why, I’ve come without it!” she exclaimed, in dismay.

“Splendid!” returned Mrs. Farrell; “that will oblige us to break in, and I’ve always had an ungratified taste for burglary. It won’t do for us to be seen getting in at the front window; it wouldn’t be professional; we must go round to the back,” she said, leading the way, while Rachel followed.

“It’s fastened with a stick from the frame to the top of the lower sash, and it’s no use trying to get in,” said the girl.

“Oh, isn’t it!” retorted Mrs. Farrell. “Have you brought your knife?”

She took the knife, and half opened the blade, when it snapped to again, and she flung it away with a shriek and looked to see if it had cut her finger. “I’m still in one piece, I’m thankful to say,” she said, presently; “but you open the knife, Rachel.” She took it again, and, sliding the blade vertically between the upper and lower sash, sent{142} the fastening flying out upon the floor. “That’s a little trick I read of, once,” she said, handing the open knife back to Rachel, and throwing up the sash.

The next moment she gave her two strong arms to Rachel and helped her in; and then she went straight to the teacher’s desk, took out a portfolio, and pinned about the walls the sketches that she found in it, Rachel making no resistance.

“Why it is—quite like a studio, Rachel,” she said, and made a show of conscientiously examining each of the sketches in turn.

At last she came to one from which she abruptly turned with the tragic appeal of “Rachel!” It was the first of a series of three, and it represented Mrs. Farrell seated at the foot of a rock and turning an anxious face to confront Blossom’s visage thrust through the birch-trees, with a mildly humorous gleam in her great calm eyes, as if she relished the notion of having been mistaken for a man. The next represented Blossom driven from her shelter, and at a few paces distant indignantly regarding Gilbert and Easton, who had just appeared, while Mrs. Farrell and Rachel were shown sailing down the meadow with extravagant swiftness. The third was Mrs. Farrell confronting Easton, to whom she had returned to claim her book; Blossom looked on with grave surprise. The cow’s supposed thoughts, and feelings were alone suggested; the figures of the men were caricatures, and the fashionableness and characteristic beauty of Mrs. Farrell were extremely burlesqued.

“Oh, this is how you spend your time, is it?” she asked.

“I thought I would have something ready to exhibit if I went to Boston this winter,” said Rachel, very demurely. “Do you like the subjects?”

“This circumscribes me fearfully,” said Mrs. Farrell, not heeding the question. “I can never snub you any more, Rachel. From this moment I’m afraid of you. I’m not hurt or angry; I’m frightened. Aren’t they splendid?” she asked, joyously, of Rachel, as if they were two indifferent connoisseurs of the work. “You’ve got me exactly; and Blossom, why, she looks perfectly shocked. Anybody can see what an unsophisticated cow she is; you’re a country cow, Blossom, or you wouldn’t be astonished at such an innocent little maneuver as that. Your men are not so good as your cows and women, Rachel. Mr. Easton isn’t such a stick as that; you know he isn’t. Oh, Rachel,” said Mrs. Farrell, sinking upon a seat behind a school desk and leaning her elbow on it, chin in hand, while she brooded on the last sketch with effective eyes, “how awfully embarrassing men are! Here is Mr. Easton, for example, who has known me a week—a week but barely two—and guess what he’s been saying to me this afternoon!” She changed her posture and sat with her hands in her lap, regarding Rachel as one does the person whom one has posed with a conundrum.

“Why, I don’t know,” said Rachel, in a voice as faint as the blush on her cheek.

“Not,” resumed Mrs. Farrell, “that he seems to{144} consider it at all precipitate! I’ve had to fight it off ever since last Sunday; I’ve no doubt he thinks he’s waited a proper time, as they say of widowers. Why, Rachel, he’s been making love to me, that’s what.”

Rachel hung down her head a little, as if the confidence scared her, and played with a corner of some paper on the desk before her, but she did not say anything. She was not apparently surprised, but silenced.

“Well,” said Mrs. Farrell, after a while, “haven’t you any observations to offer, Rachel? What should you do to him if you were in my place? Come!”

“I should think you would know,” faltered the girl, “if you liked him.”

“Like him? Oh, don’t I like a blond, regular-featured young man of good mind and independent property, and no more pretense than—well, say pie, for instance! But that isn’t the question. The question is whether I ought to marry such a man. Yes, I really think I have a scruple or two, on this point. I do love him—sort of. But, oh dear me! I don’t suppose I love him rightly, or enough of it. I could imagine myself doing it. I can see myself,” said Mrs. Farrell, half-closing her eyes as if to examine the scene critically, “in some moods that I could love him with unutterable devotion in. But I should have to have something tremendous to draw me out; a ten-horse-power calamity; and then perhaps I shouldn’t stay drawn out. It brings the tears into my eyes to think how, if he had lost the{145} use of his limbs, say, and we were dreadfully poor, I would slave myself to the bone for his sake—for about ten minutes! But a saint, a hero in perfect repair, with plenty of money, it’s quite another thing.”

“If you were ever in earnest, Mrs. Farrell,” said Rachel, sternly, “you ought to be afraid to talk as you do.”

“Why, so I am, aunty—so I am,” retorted Mrs. Farrell, incorrigibly. “It sends the cold chills over me to talk as I do, but I can’t help it. Don’t you suppose I know how nice Mr. Easton is? I do. He is the very soul of truth and honor and all uprightness. He is the noblest and best man in the world. But what could I do with him, or he with me? No, ma’am, it isn’t such a simple affair as liking or not liking. This is a case of conscience, I’d have you to know, such as doesn’t often turn up in West Pekin.”

Mrs. Farrell rose and made some tragic paces across the schoolroom floor to where the girl sat, and fell on her knees before her, having with a great show of neatness arranged a bit of paper to kneel upon. She took Rachel’s hands in her own, and with uplifted face implored, “Advise me, my friend,” which rendered the girl helpless with laughter.

“Oh, for shame, for shame, Mrs. Farrell!” she said, when she could get breath; “you make fun of everything.”

“No, no, Rachel, I don’t! I never made fun of Mr. Easton. Would you like to know how he behaved when he made love to me? No? Well, you{146} shall. Now, you are the fatally beautiful Mrs. Farrell, and you’re sitting on a rock in the hollow near the sugar house. Your head is slightly downcast, so—yes, very good—and you are twiddling the handle of your sun umbrella and poking the point of it into the dirt. Mr. Easton is standing before you with his arms folded thus—ahem!—waiting life or death at your hands.” She folded her arms, and gave that intensely feminine interpretation of a man’s port and style which is always so delicious. “‘Oh, Mr. Easton,’ you are faltering, ‘I am afraid that you have deceived yourself in me; I am indeed. I am not at all the party you think you love. I was—listen!—I was changed at nurse. She whom you love, the real Mrs. Farrell, is my twin sister, and the world knows her as—Rachel Woodward!’”

Rachel had been struggling to release herself from a position so scandalous; but Mrs. Farrell, who had never risen from her knees, had securely hemmed her in. At the climax of the burlesque the girl flung herself back and gave way to a rush of sobs and tears. Mrs. Farrell attempted to throw her arms about her and console her, but Rachel shrank resolutely aside. “Don’t touch me!” she cried, when she could speak. “It’s horrible! You have no pity; you have no heart! You have no peace of yourself, and you are never at rest unless you are tormenting some one else. I wish you would go away from our house and never come back again!”

Mrs. Farrell rose from her knees, all her jesting{147} washed away, for that moment, at least, by this torrent of feeling from a source habitually locked under an icy discipline.

“Rachel,” she said, “do you really hate me?”

“No,” said the girl, fiercely. “If I hated you I could bear it! Nothing is sacred to you. You only care for yourself and your own pleasure, and you don’t care how you make others suffer, so you please yourself.”

“Yes, I do, Rachel,” said Mrs. Farrell, humbly. “I know I’m selfish. But I do care for you, and I’m very, very sorry that I’ve wounded you. You needn’t forgive me; I don’t deserve it, but I’m sorry all the same.”

The afternoon was waning when they came into the schoolhouse, and now a level ray of the setting sun struck across Rachel’s head, fallen on the desk before her, and illumined Mrs. Farrell’s stricken beauty. They sat there till after the sunset had faded away. Then Mrs. Farrell went softly about the room, taking down the sketches, which she brought and laid before Rachel. The girl lifted her head and took out the three sketches in which Mrs. Farrell figured, and, tearing them in pieces, thrust them into the stove which stood, red with rust, in the middle of the room. She would not let Mrs. Farrell help her out of the window, and that lady followed her meekly homeward when they left the schoolhouse.

Before she slept she came and knocked at Mrs. Farrell’s door, and entered in response to her cheerful “Come in, come in!{148}”

“I’m awfully glad to see you, Rachel,” said Mrs. Farrell, who was lying on her lounge, reading Shakespeare. “Do sit down and visit;” and she shut her book and rose upon her elbow.

“No,” said Rachel, stiffly, as she stood shading with one hand the kerosene lamp she held in the other, “I have come to say that I think I have treated you badly; for whatever you did, I had no right to say the things to you that I said. I—”

“Oh, never mind about that,” said Mrs. Farrell. “You’re all right. I dare say it was all true enough. But what I can’t understand is this, Rachel: when I’ve been doing anything wrong, I’m as sorry as can be, and I have no rest till I go off and make a glib apology. That’s as it should be, of course, but it isn’t like your repentance. You’ve been abusing me, frightfully, and you come here and fire your regrets into the air, so to speak; you don’t seem to care whether they hit me or not; you discharge ’em, and there you are all nicely, with a perfectly clean conscience. Well now, you know, when I apologize to any one, I like to see the apology hit them; I like to see them writhe and quiver under it, and go down before it, and I feel a good deal wickeder after I’ve repented than I did before. What do you suppose is the reason?”

Rachel made no reply, and Mrs. Farrell seemed not to have expected any. She went on: “Well, now, I’ll tell you what I think it is; I think it’s sense of duty. I’m sorry when I’m sorry because it’s so very uncomfortable to think of people suffering; it’s like stepping on something that{149} squirms; but when you’re sorry, it’s because you’ve done wrong. There! Now I’m going to keep that distinction clearly in mind, and go in for a sense of duty—at the earliest opportunity.”

Mrs. Farrell fell back upon her lounge with an air of refreshment and relief, which nobody could resist, and Rachel laughed a reluctant, protesting laugh, while the other kept a serious face.

“Crimps, I suppose,” she mused, aloud, “would be very unbecoming to a person who was going in for a sense of duty, and I must give them up. I ought to have my hair brushed perfectly flat in front, and I shall come down with it so to breakfast. I wonder how I shall look?” She went to the bureau, took a brush, and smoothed down the loose hair above her forehead; then holding it on either side with her hands to keep it down she glanced into the mirror. “Oh, oh, oh!” she cried out with a great laugh, “I look slyer than anything in the world! No! A sense of duty will never do for me. I must chance it with unregenerate nature. But you can’t say after this that I didn’t try to be good, can you, Rachel?” She put her hand on Rachel’s cheek and pressed the girl’s head against her breast, while she looked down into her clear eyes. “I do love you, Rachel, and I’m glad you felt sorry for having flown out at me. I didn’t mean anything—I didn’t indeed;” and she tenderly kissed Rachel good night.


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