A Beautiful Alien by Julia Magruder
On the deck of an ocean steamer, homeward bound from Europe, a man
and girl were walking to and fro. Their long march of monotonous
regularity had lasted perhaps an hour, and they had become objects of
special attention to the people scattered about.
A man, who was taking his afternoon exercise alone, and who had
accidentally fallen into line directly behind this couple, kept that
position purposely, turning as they turned, and, without seeming to do
so, observing them narrowly, for the reason that the woman was
This manAlbert Noel by namewas an artist by instinct and habit,
though a lawyer by profession. He painted pictures for love and
practised law for money, or conventionality, or to please his mother
and sisters, or from some reason which, however indefinite, had been
strong enough to predominate over the longing he had always had to go
to Paris, live in the Latin Quarter, and be simply and honestly what
his taste dictated. Few people, perhaps, suspected his Bohemian
proclivities; for he lived an extremely conventional life, was the idol
of his mother and sisters, and, being well born, well-off, and
sufficiently good-looking, was regarded as an excellent match
matrimonially. In spite of this fact he had never been known to be
seriously in love; though, being a quiet man, this experience might
have befallen him without the knowledge of his friends. He was coming
home from Europe now, reluctantly and with regret; but, since he had a
profession, it must be attended to.
He observed the tall young woman who walked in front of him on her
husband's arm (some instinct told him that it was her husband) from an
artist's standpoint only. It had occurred to him that here was a
remarkable model for a picture. He furtively studied the lines of her
figure, which was clad in a long, tight-fighting cloak, trimmed with
fur, and the contour and color of the knot of brown hair, whose living
lustre shone richly between the dull fur that bordered her collar and
her hat. Every moment the study fascinated him more, as he followed and
turned, as they turned. Suddenly it struck him that perhaps his
interest in the pair ahead of him might, in spite of him, be observed;
and so, rather reluctantly, he took a seat in one of several empty
chairs at the steamer's stern. Here he could still observe them, at
intervals, as they came and went. They spoke to no one, not even to
each other, though he was convinced they were newly married. Both of
them looked very young.
After a few turns the lady complained of being tired, and proposed
they should sit down. Her companion assented by a nod, and they took
the seats next to Noel. She spoke English, but with much hesitation and
with a strong foreign accent. The man was silent still, as they seated
themselves and wrapped their rugs about them; for in spite of the full
blaze of the sinking sun it was very cold. Noel also kept still,
looking and listening. He was a little back of them, and only her pure
profile was visible to him. The man's profile, which was also a
handsome one, he could see beyond hers.
For a long time there was silence. The wind grew keener. The
tarpaulin which covered the white life-boat near by trembled from end
to end, as if the thing hid were alive and shivering. The sea-gulls
that followed the boat fluttered and dipped about in the cold air. The
sun, a great gold ball, was sinking rapidly in a mist of pink and
yellow light. The wide stretch of water underneath it was a heavy iron
black, except where, near the ship, it was dashed into green-white
foam. Noel looked at the face of the woman near him, and, seeing a
sudden light of interest in her eyes, followed their glance to where a
school of dolphins was rising and plunging in the cold sea water. He
heard her call her companion's attention to them by a quick
exclamation; but he made no answer, scarcely showing that he heard.
Noel became aware that the face before him was not only beautiful,
but sad. There were no lines upon it of either care or sorrow, but both
were written in the eyes. These were very remarkable,almost gold in
color, and shaded by thick lashes, darker even than her dark brown
hair. They were large, well-opened, heavy-lidded; and no wonder was it
that, when he had seen all this, he began to desire to meet their gaze,
that he might thereby know them thoroughly.
The sun sank. People began to complain of the increasing cold, and
gather up wraps and books and move away; but still the man and woman
sat there silent, and Noel did the same. The distant sky was tinted now
with colors as delicate as the flowers of spring,pink and cream and
lilac, softening to a rich line of deep purple at the horizon. A slight
sigh escaped the woman's lips; and then, as if recollecting herself,
she sat upright, and looked about at the objects near her. Her glance
passed across Noel, and was arrested with a certain amusement on the
little cannon lashed to the side of the deck, which in its cover of
white tarpaulin had evidently given her some diverting thought. Then in
the most hesitating, laboriously constructed English, Noel heard her
telling her companion what it had made her think of. By using a little
imagination with what he heard and saw, he arrived at her meaning. She
was attempting to say that it looked like a child on all fours, trying
to frighten its companion by throwing a table-cloth over its head.
There it was complete,the head, the hands and feet, the bulky body.
Noel caught her meaning, and smiled involuntarily. It was really
wonderfully like. He controlled his features instantly, however; and,
as her gaze was fixed upon her husband, she did not see him. But her
childish idea had awakened no response in the husband. He simply asked
her meaning over again, and seemed unable to comprehend it, and not
sufficiently interested to make much effort. The few words he uttered
proved that English was his native tongue. One would have said he had
the ability, but not the inclination, to talk, while with her the
contrary was true. Noel, now that he found that she was alive to her
immediate surroundings, got up and moved away. He went and looked out
at the sea-gulls; but all the time he was seeing her eyes, and
comparing them to topaz, to amber, to a dozen things, but without
feeling that he had matched, even in his imagination, their peculiar
and beautiful color.
It was the first day out; and he liked to think that he could
occasionally look at this face for a week to come, and when he got to
shore he would paint her. He had a studio in the suburbs, to which he
often went and to which his mother and sisters had never been invited.
It was often a delight to him to think of its freedom and seclusion.
He was acutely jarred upon, as he stood alone at the deck rail, by
the approach of a man who had a club acquaintance with him at home,
which he had shown a disposition to magnify since coming aboard the
steamer. He was not a man for whose talk Noel cared at any time, but he
felt a distinct rebellion against it just now. This feeling was swiftly
put to flight, however, by the fact that on his way to him the
new-comer passed and bowed to the beautiful girl, receiving in return a
bow and a smile. The bow was gracious, the smile charming, lighting for
an instant the gravity of her calm face, and showing perfect teeth.
Ah, Miller! that you? How're you coming on? said Noel, with a
sudden access of cordiality, making a place for the new-comer at his
All right, thanks, considering it's the first day out. That's
generally the biggest bore, because you know there are six or seven
more just like it to follow. Pretty girl that, ain't it?
Who is she? asked Noel, refusing to concur in the designation.
Mrs. Dallas, according to her new name.
And that is her husband?
That is her husband. He's not a bad-looking fellow, either; but you
don't look as if you approved him.
I? said Noel. Why shouldn't I? He seems a good-looking fellow
enough. Do you know her?
Yes, I know her. Everybody knew her at Baden. It was not very hard
What do you mean? said Noel, looking at him suddenly very straight
Oh, I simply mean that her father, who seems a rather bad type of
adventurer, gave free access to her acquaintance to any man who might
turn out to be marriageable. He introduced me to her as soon as he saw
I had been attracted by her looks, and I used to talk to her a good
deal. Her mother, it seems, died in her childhood; and she was put to
school at a convent, where she remained until she was eighteen. Her
father then brought her home, and began assiduously his efforts to
marry her off. It was plain that she hampered him a good deal, but he
had a sort of sense of duty which he seemed to fulfil to his own
satisfaction by rushing her about from one watering-place to another,
and facilitating her acquaintance with the young men at each.
And what was the girl thinking of to allow it? said Noel.
The girl was absolutely blind to it,as ignorant of the world as a
little nun, and apparently quite pleased with her father, who was
avowedly a new acquisition. She must have had good teaching at her
convent; for she sings splendidly and is a pretty fair linguist, too. I
tried her in English, however, and found her so uncertain that my
somewhat limited conversation with her was carried on in French. My
French is nothing to boast of, but it's better than her English.
What is she?
An Italian, with a Swedish mother. She seems awfully foot-loose,
somehow, poor thing; and I hope the marriage which her father suddenly
contrived between her and this young American will turn out well for
her. He's an odd sort of fellow to me, somehow.
Where does he come from?
I don't know,some misty place in the West somewhere, I believe. I
tried to talk with him a dozen times, but I never got so little out of
a man in my life.
Was he so deep or merely forbidding?
Neither. He was good-tempered enough, and would answer questions;
but he seemed to have nothing to give out. He is a quiet man and
inoffensive, but somehow queer.
Does he play cards?
Not at all.
Seem to have money?
Yes, as far as I could judge, he appears to have enough to do as he
chooses and go where he pleases, though I should say he was not
extravagant. He seems to care too little for things.
He cares for her, it's to be supposed.
Yes. He could hardly help that, and yet he showed very little
emotion in his courting days. I used to see them walking together or
sitting on the piazza for hours, and they seemed a strangely silent
pair under the circumstances. I got some key to that mystery, however,
when I found that he doesn't know a word of French or Italian; and I
had already discovered her limitations in English.
Why, good heavens! how can she know the man then? It is not
possible. And he may turn out to be anything! Do you think her father
could have forced her into this marriage against her will?
No, I'm sure he did not. I thought of that, but I'm certain it
isn't so. I think she was in love with the man, as she understood it,
in her convent-bred sort of way. He's good-looking and has a certain
gentleness of manner. It may be dulness, but it's what women like. I
think her father, though he felt her a great burden, wanted to do the
best he could for her, without too much trouble. He saw plainly the
dangers she was surrounded by, and was glad to get her married to a
quiet young American, who had no vices and would probably be kind to
her. He told me he wanted her to marry an American, because they made
the best husbands. Look at them now. It is always the same
thing,either silence or that difficult sort of talk. She has to do
the most of it, you see, and in English. He literally knows not a word
in any other tongue.
It was beautiful weather; and Noel, being a good sailor, spent much
of his time on deck. Wherever he went about the ship, his eyes
continually sought Mrs. Dallas. Her beauty and singular history
interested him much. He also made a close study of the husband. So far
he had not cared to avail himself of the opportunity of making their
acquaintance, which he knew Miller would gladly have given him.
On the afternoon of the second day out he looked up from his book,
and found Mr. and Mrs. Dallas seated near him. He was partly hid by a
pile of rope, over which, however, it was easy to see them. He folded
his paper noiselessly, and, leaning back, began to watch them
furtively. As usual, they were silent. The man was smoking cigarettes
one after another, and looking apathetically at the water. The woman's
eyes were on the water, too; but their expression was certainly not
apathetic. Noel had never been so puzzled to read a face. He was not
only an artist, but also a very human-hearted man; and he longed to go
beneath that lovely surface, and read the thoughts of this woman's
mind. Now and then she turned a puzzled gaze upon her husband, who
seemed completely unconscious of both it and her. Once she spoke, and
the strong accent in her painstaking English was fascinating to Noel's
ears. She only inquired if her husband were comfortable and satisfied
to stay here. When he answered affirmatively, she spoke again,this
time so low that Noel caught only the last word, Robert. It was
pronounced in the French manner, and came from her lips very winningly.
Can't you say Robert? said her husband, bluntly. People will
laugh at you if you talk like that.
I vill try, she answered, and turned her eyes away across the
water. Noel fancied he saw them widen with tears for a moment; and he
looked to see if her companion were watching her, but his whole
attention was given to the cigarette he was rolling. In a few moments,
at the man's suggestion, they rose and walked away.
Noel noticed that she looked at no one as she passed along on her
husband's arm; but he interpreted this to be not shyness nor
self-consciousness, but rather a sort of instinct against giving any
one that opportunity of looking into her heart through her eyes.
One morning a new mood came over Noel, and he asked Miller to
introduce him. The latter complied with alacrity. Noel had no sooner
bowed his acknowledgments than he looked at Mrs. Dallas, and addressed
her in the Italian tongue. The light that came into her face at the
familiar sounds made his heart quicken. They stood some time by the
railing, the group of four,Miller talking in a desultory way to
Dallas, while Noel spoke, in animated, if somewhat halting Italian, to
the young wife. There was quite a strong breeze blowing; and some dark
ribbons, which tied her fur collar, fluttered and sounded on the air.
She held to the rail with both little smooth-gloved hands; and her
heavy cloth dress clung close about her, and was blown backward in
strong, swaying folds. They talked of Italy, where Noel had once lived
for a while, and of pictures, art, and music, for which she had an
enthusiasm which made the subjects as interesting to Noel as his
greater knowledge made them to her. He found her a genuine girl in her
feelings, and at once perceived her absolute inexperience of the world.
Her convent breeding came out frequently in a sort of quaint politeness
of manner, and it provoked him a little to find that he was being
treated with a sort of deference due to a superior in age or in
experience. He felt himself aged indeed in comparison with her
vibrating youth and the innocence of her simple little life, which, up
to this point, had plainly been that of a child; and he dreaded to
think how soon and how suddenly she might grow old. She seemed in a
world of mystery now, as one who had utterly lost her bearings, and was
too dazed to see where she was or what were the objects and influences
that surrounded her. Out of this shadow his presence seemed for the
moment to have lifted her; and as he talked to her of these subjects,
round which the whole ardor of her nature centred, she seemed a
different creature. The restraint and severity disappeared from her
manner, she forgot herself,her recent self that was so strange to
her,and over and over again he looked far into the clear depths of
her golden eyes.
More than once he glanced at Dallas to see if he showed any
disrelish of this talk, carried on in his presence in a foreign tongue;
but he was evidently not concerned about it in the least. He smoked his
eternal cigarettes, and answered in monosyllables the remarks that
Miller was making. He did not look bored, for that expression implies a
capability of being interested; and that he seemed not to possess, at
least so far as Noel's experience went, and Miller's confirmed it.
Noel had been at home a month. He had opened his law office and gone
hard to work, and his friends complained that they saw but little of
him. He had learned from the Dallases, before parting with them at the
wharf, that they were expecting to go to housekeeping in his own city,
and he had asked them to send him their address when they were
So far, it had not come, and he was beginning to fear he had lost
sight of them when one day he met them on the street. She, at least,
was glad to see him, and when she gave the address and asked him to
call, the husband, in his dull way, echoed the invitation.
The next evening he went to the house, which was in an unfashionable
quarter, but very charming, tasteful and homelike. As he sat down in
the pretty drawing-room some living objects caught his eye, and to his
great amusement he saw that the rug in front of the open fire was
occupied by a picturesque group composed of a Maltese cat and four
kittens. The mother, who was an unusually large and imposing specimen
of her kind, was seated very erect, her front feet straight before her,
evidently making an effort to enjoy a nap, which her offspring were
engaged in thwarting, after the most vigorous fashion. They were all
exactly alike, distinguishable only by the ribbonsblue, green, yellow
and redwhich ornamented their necks and were tied in bows under their
chins. The mother had a garland composed of these four colors around
her neck, upon which hung a little silver bell. Noel had been watching
this pretty sight, with a fascinated gaze, and was so preoccupied with
their gambols that he failed to hear a soft footstep approaching, and
did not turn to look until Mrs. Dallas was standing quite near him,
holding out her hand.
She was dressed in a gown of a peculiar dim shade of blue that fell
in free, straight folds about her, confined by a loose silver girdle
round the waist. It clothed her beautiful body in a way that satisfied
the soul of the artist who stood and looked at her, uttering light
words about the cat and kittens and inaugurating a conversation that
immediately put them at ease.
It was evident that she was glad to see him. She told him so at
once. Her husband, she said, had wanted her to go to the theatre, but
she had been every night for so long that she was tired of it, and had
just decided to stay at home. Was Mr. Dallas then such an infatuated
theatre-goer? Noel asked. Oh, yes, he always wanted to go every night,
she said. It seemed to be a confirmed habit with him, and she was sorry
to say she did not care for it much, though she usually went with him.
Noel knew that the season was not fairly opened yet, and reflecting
upon the bills advertised at the various theatres, he could but wonder
at the man's choice of entertainments.
Presently Dallas entered and greeted him civilly, though with his
usual apathetic manner, and said he was glad he had come in, as he
could keep Mrs. Dallas company, as he was going to the theatre. Mrs.
Dallas looked a little surprised at this announcement and suggested his
postponing the theatre, so that he might not miss Mr. Noel's visit, but
he answered that Mr. Noel he knew would excuse him, and turned to leave
the room. As he did so he stepped on one of the kittens which cried out
pitifully. It had been an accident, of course, but he might have shown
some compunction, which he utterly failed to do. The little creature
hopped away on three feet, and Mrs. Dallas, with pretty foreign words
of pity, followed it and brought it to the fireside where she sat down
with it on her lap, and stroked and soothed it, laying the wounded
little paw against her lips and making, what seemed to Noel, munificent
atonement for the injury inflicted by her husband.
As the kitten settled down contentedly purring in its mistress'
silken lap, the front door closed behind Mr. Dallas, and turning to his
hostess, Noel for the first time addressed her in her native tongue,
asking the abrupt question, How are you?
She lifted her golden eyes to his a moment, and then dropped them
under the scrutiny of his gaze, which he felt, the next instant, to
have been inconsiderate.
A little homesick, I dare say, he went on, looking down at the
kitten, that was to be expected.
Even when one never had a home? she asked. The nearest thing to
it that I have had was the convent where I was educated. The sisters
were very good to me. It was a sweet home, and of course I do miss it
Perhaps you had a dear friend there among the sisters, or possibly
Oh, yes, she said, a dear girl friendNina her name was. She was
a year younger than I, and was not permitted to leave the convent to
see me married. She was heartbroken. We had always planned that the one
first married was to take the other to live with her. Her parents are
Ah, then when she leaves school she will come to you, no doubt,
said Noel. That will be delightful for you.
I don't know. It is not certain. No, I don't think she will do
that, said his companion, evidently in some confusion. The fact is I
have not written to herI couldn't. I don't know what she will think
of me, but I cannot write to her. I have tried in vain. I fear she will
be hurt, but I have done no more than send her a brief note to tell her
she must not judge me by the frequency of my lettersthat I love her
just the samebut I seem really not to know what to write. It is all
so strangethe new country and the changesand everything being so
differentand I feel she would want a full and interesting letter,
which I cannot yet compose myself to write. This seems very strange,
but it will be different in time, will it not? You don't think this
feeling of being in such a strange, strange land, as if it couldn't be
real, and couldn't be Imyselfwill last always, do you? It will
surely pass away. Oh, if you knew how I long to feel at hometo feel
it is a place where I am to stay! I feel all the time that I must be
just on the way to somewhere, and that I have just stopped here a
little while. But I have not. It is my home and I am to spend my life
here. I try to tell myself that all day long and make myself believe
it, but I cannot. I often fear it will distress my husband that I feel
so, but he has not found it out, I'm glad to say. He seems so quiet and
satisfied, that I feel ashamed to feel so restless. It will go away in
time, will it not? It is perhaps because I am a foreigner and this is a
strange land that the feeling is so strong, but it was almost the same
when we were in Italy. Sometimes I am afraid I have not a contented
disposition, and that I will make myself unhappy always by it, and
perhaps my husband too, if he should find it out. Sometimes I cry to
think how wrong it is of me. My father told me it was my duty to be
happy, with a kind, good husband to take care of me, and I know I
ought, but I feel so homesickfor, I don't know whatfor Nina and the
sisters and the convent. Oh, she broke off suddenly, I do hope you
will forgive me. It is very silly to talk to you so, all about myself,
but I have had no one to speak toat least no one but my husband, and
I could not tell him all these feelings that I ought to be ashamed of.
I know it is my duty to be satisfied and not feel homesick, but you
think it will pass away after a while, do you not?
What was he to say? The truth was very plain to him that it would
never pass, but go on growing worse and worse, as gradually she came to
know her own soul better and to understand herself, in the light of the
new relationship she had entered into. In the case of most women the
revelation she had so unconsciously made to him of the insufficiency of
her marriage would have been unwomanly, and perhaps it was even so in
her, but it was so only in the sense of being childlike. She was really
no more than a child, and more ignorant of the world than many a child
of ten. What did she know about marriage or the needs of her own soul?
Evidently nothing, and some day he saw before her a terrible awakening
from this trance of ignorance. His heart literally ached for her as he
sought diligently in his mind for some way to help her and could find
not one. The only thing was to let her talk freely, to encourage her by
a gentle friendly interest, such as a girl friend might have shown, and
to give her the relief of expression for these vague troubles and
perplexities which, when uttered, seemed intangible and entirely
inexplicable to her. Not once did she so much as imply any reproach to
her husband, and it was plain that she felt unconscious of any ground
for complaint. She alluded to him frequently and always most kindly,
and laid at her own door the entire fault of her discontent.
Noel spoke little, but led her gently on to talk as freely as she
chose. Often she would pause and remind herself that she was doing
wrong to take up his whole visit with talk about herself, but it was
evident it never once occurred to her that she had been guilty of any
self-betrayal which she should not have made. He saw her utter loyalty
to her husband, even in thought, and it made his blood boil to think of
his stupid insensibility to the possession he had in such a wife.
Gradually he was able to soothe heror perhaps it was the relief of
utterance that made her presently seem more light-hearted. Noel
pronounced a great many platitudes in an insincere effort to persuade
her that things would get better, and somehow they seemed to give her
comfort for the moment. As if to put the subject by, she called the big
cat to her, snapping her fine slim fingers, and saying, Come,
Grisette; and the creature jumped into her lap with the obedience of a
well-trained dog. Then she enticed the kittens to follow, one by one,
until they were all in her lap playing with her ribbons, catching at
her little embroidered handkerchief with their soft paws, and rolling
over in high glee. She talked to them as if they had been children,
petted and chided them in the prettiest way, and then put them down,
one by one, with a kiss on each little soft head that made Noel half
angry and wholly pitying. It was so touching to see her tenderness, her
longing to expend the great store of love within herand to see her,
too, so utterly without an object for it.
The cat and kittens having returned to their place on the rug, Noel
proffered a request he had been wanting to put all the evening and
asked her to sing. He had found out on the steamer that she possessed
an extraordinarily beautiful voice. Her face, which had grown brighter,
I cannot, she answered. I don't sing at all. My husband got me a
piano, thinking it would please me, but I have not opened it. I was
afraid he would be disappointed, but he has not noticed it. I used to
be sorry he was not fond of music, but this makes me glad.
Do you really mean that you are going to give up singing? If you do
you must let me assure you that it would be very wrong, a wrong to
others, to let such a voice as yours be silent.
Oh, do not tell me that, she said, I want not to do anything
wrong, but indeed I cannot sing. I have tried it sometimes when I sit
alone, and it is always the same thingI choke so I cannot sing. I
will get over it, but don't ask me to sing yet.
He could not say another word, especially as the tears were
evidently near her eyes, and seeing that the hour was late and her
husband, for whose return he had expected to wait, was delayed, he got
up to take his leave.
Vill you not vait for Robert? she said, speaking for the first
time in English and showing already a greater ease in its use. He vill
not be late. I haf not know him to remain so long as this, since I am
Noel smiled to hear her, but shook his head.
No, he answered, I must go now, but first I want to get you to
give me a promise. He put out his hand as he spoke, and she placed
hers in it with the confidence of a child.
You are in a strange land, he said, but I don't want you to feel
that you are altogether among strangers. You may have some need of
friendstrouble or sickness or some of the things that are always
happening in this sad world, may come to you. I trust not. I hope to
God they may let you go by, but we can never tell what will come to us,
and I want you to promise me that if you are ever in need of a friend
you will write to me. Your husband may be ill, or something like that,
he added hurriedly, fearing he had ventured too far, though she showed
no sign of thinking so. And if it is a thing in which you want a
woman's help, I have sisters and a mother and they shall come to you.
Will you promise me this?
I vill. Oh, I vill promise truly, she said. But vill you not come
Oh, perhaps so, now and then, he said hurriedly. He could not tell
her he had resolved not to, but that was the fixed determination which
had been the result of this evening's experiences. He saw her needs of
help and tenderness so clearly and he longed so to answer them that the
very intensity of that longing was a warning to him. If he had been a
younger man, or she an older woman, he might not have come to this hard
resolution, but he was experienced enough to know that there was danger
in such a companionship as he was tempted to enter into. If she had
been older and better acquainted with the world that also might have
made a difference, but it would have been exactly the same thing as
taking advantage of the unknowingness of a child. Then again, in the
third place, if her husband had been careful of her, or even suspicious
and jealous, he might have thought it some one's else affair than his,
and allowed himself the delight of this acquaintanceship, guarding and
loving her like a brother, but none of these supposititious cases was
so. The matter as it stood threw the whole responsibility upon him,
and, as a man of honor, he could see but one course open to him.
So he stood and held her by the hand with a feeling that she was his
little sister, struggling with another feeling that she was not, and
took a long look at her lovely face. How he yearned to paint it, and
perhaps, for the asking, he might!
One thing more, he said at last, feeling that he must get it over,
I have never heard your first name, will you not tell me what it is?
Christine, she said, and as he repeated it gently she exclaimed:
Oh, it is truly a pleasant thing to hear it. I have not heard it
since so long a time. Robert do say it is too, vat you callI forget,
but he call me Chrissy, and my own name do seem a thing forgot.
Good-night, Christine, he said, feeling sure he might venture this
once, and do not think I have forgotten you, if you don't see me soon.
I am very busymy friends claim my spare timeI live very far away,
but if you are ever in any trouble, little or big, and you or your
husband should need me, send a line to my club, and I will come the
instant I receive it. Good-by, be a good, brave girl, and don't forget
During all these parting words she had let him hold her little hand.
He wanted to kiss it before dropping it, for it seemed to him unlikely
that he would ever touch it again. He resisted this, however, and
merely said good-by again and left her.
Looking back before he closed the front door he could see her in the
pretty drawing-room seated on the rug before the fire, her silk
draperies crushed beneath her, and holding all the kittens in her lap,
the mother-cat sitting by, and looking on contentedly. It was upon this
picture that he closed the door.
Just outside he met Dallas, who apologized for being late. He had
stayed for the ballet, he said, knowing his wife was not alone. He
asked Noel to come again, but got no very satisfactory response.
During the months that followed Mrs. Dallas did not see Noel again,
and the news accidentally reached her that he had gone abroad with his
mother and sisters. He had called on her once, probably on the eve of
his departure, but she had been ill that evening, and the servant had
excused her. It had been reported to her that he had inquired
particularly whether her illness was serious and had been informed that
it was not. That was the last she had heard of him, until she had made
some acquaintances in the society in which he was known, and then she
occasionally heard his name mentioned and gained the information
Her introduction into this society had come about very suddenly. For
a long time she had known absolutely no one, and once, in her intense
longing for some one to speak to, she had obeyed an ardent impulse and
run across the street to a house where a young girl and her mother
lived, the former keeping a day-school for small children, and had
begged the little teacher to come over and spend the evening with her.
Out of this a friendship had sprung, which had been for a long time her
only resource. Her husband's habit of going to some place of amusement
in the evening seemed to be an inveterate one, though he cared little,
apparently, for what he saw. She wearied through a great many evenings
with him, and then got out of the habit of accompanying him. It was
evident he cared little whether she went or stayed.
One Sunday afternoon the little school-teacher persuaded her to go
with her to a great church near by. They were given seats close to the
choir, and when a familiar piece of music began Christine, in utter
self-forgetfulness, lifted up her voice and sang. When the service was
over the conductor of the singing came up to her, and pleading the
common bond of music, introduced himself and begged that he and his
wife might be allowed to call on her to enlist her interest and
services in a great charity entertainment which he was getting up.
Christine agreed, with the feeling that it would be ungracious to
decline, and the next day they called.
The outcome of the visit of Mr. and Mrs. Jannish was an engagement
on the part of Mrs. Dallas to sing the leading rôle in an opera which
had become a cherished wish among some of the best amateur musicians of
the city. The scheme had halted only for want of a soprano capable of
taking the responsibility of the most difficult part. Jannish was an
authority in this musical set, and he knew that the acquisition he had
made for their scheme would be not only approved, but rejoiced over. It
was such an infinite improvement upon the idea of securing the services
of a professionala thing that they had almost been compelled to
Mrs. Dallas qualified her consent by the securing of her husband's
approval, though she said she felt sure he would not withhold it. He
was out at the time, but before the visitors left he came in. He was
called and introduced and the request put to him by Jannish, in his
most elaborate and supplicatory style. Consent was immediately given,
with an air of slightly impatient wonder at being dragged into it at
all. It was precisely what his wife had expected, and as she looked at
him as he spoke, there was a different expression on her face from that
which it would have worn a few months back. That vague and wondering
look was less noticeable and an element of comprehendingness that made
her eyes look hard now struggled with it sometimes.
After the visit of Jannish and his wife other people called, and
immediately Mrs. Dallas was drifting in a stream of musical engagements
and rehearsals that took up most of her time, and formed a strong
contrast to her former mode of life. She had opportunities to indulge
her taste for dress and to wear some of the charming costumes which
belonged to her trousseaubought with what girlish ardor, and then
laid away out of sight! She soon came to be admired for her dressing,
as well as her beauty and her voice, and as is usual in such cases, the
men regarded her with more favor and less suspicion than the women. The
good will of the latter sex was, however, secured to some extent, when
it was discovered that the prima donna, who they all perceived was to
make their opera a great success and the envy of all sister cities with
aspiring musical coteries, was apparently indifferent to the
attentions of the men, if not, indeed, embarrassed by them. She never
went anywhere, to rehearsals or resorts of any kind, public or private,
without her husband, no matter who tried to entice her away. She never
left his side, except under the necessity of going through her part,
and then she returned to him unvaryingly. He was good-looking and
well-dressed, and some of the company of both sexes made an effort to
make something out of him, but he always seemed surprised when he was
spoken to, and to find it a trouble to respond. He was too free from
self-consciousness to be awkward, and would sit passive, twirling his
mustache and looking on, and was apparently as satisfied to be a
spectator of this performance as to go to see something professional.
He had grown accustomed to sameness, perhaps, for he never seemed to
object to it.
To see his wife the object of enthusiastic adulation on all sides,
whether sincere or put on of necessity, as it was by some of the
company, appeared to arouse in the husband no emotions of either
satisfaction or displeasure.
The great occasion came. The evening's entertainment rose, minute by
minute, to its climax of glory, on which the curtain fell, amidst an
enthusiasm so intense that only the controlled good breeding of the
invited audience prevented demonstrations of a noisy character.
Christine had been previously seen by very few of them, and as the
audience dispersed, her name, coupled with expressions of enthusiastic
surprise and admiration, was on every lip.
Fifteen minutes after the curtain went down the theatre was empty
and deserted, every light was out, and profound silence reigned where
so lately all had been excitement and animation, and the young creature
who had occasioned so much the greatest part of it was being driven
homeward, leaning back in the close carriage and clasping close the
work-hardened hand of the little teacher who was her companion. Her
husband sat opposite, silent as usual, and after a few impetuous,
ardent words of love and appreciation Hannah had fallen silent too,
merely holding out her hand to meet the hard and straining clasp that
had seized upon it as soon as they were settled in the carriage.
After the performance people who had leaped from the audience to the
stage, privileged by an acquaintance with some of the company, had
pressed forward eagerly for an introduction to Christine. Invitations
to supper were showered upon her. She might have gone off in a carriage
drawn by men instead of horses if she had desired it. But she had
turned away from it all. She was in haste to go, and summoning her
husband and friend as quickly as possible, she had declared she was
tired out, and had made her excuses with an air so earnest, and to
those who had the vision for it, so distressed, that amidst the
reproaches of some and the regrets of others she had made her escape.
She shivered as the cold night air struck her face outside the
theatre, and drew her wrap closer about her as she stepped into the
carriage which was waiting. The drive homeward was silent. The two
women sat together, each feeling in that fervent handclasp the emotions
which filled the heart of the other. Mrs. Dallas had been roused by
something to an unusual pitch of excited feeling, and her little
friend, by the intuition of sympathy, defined it. The way was long and
Mr. Dallas, making himself as comfortable as possible on the seat
opposite, took off his hat, leaned his head back and in a few moments
was breathing audibly and regularly.
He is asleep, whispered his wife, and then, on the breath of a
deep-drawn sigh, she added in the same low whisper, Oh, God, have
mercy on me.
What is it? whispered Hannah timidly, her voice tender with
Hush! I am going to tell you everything. Wait till we get home. I
am going to tell you all.
She spoke excitedly, though still in a whisper, and it was evident
that the agitation under which she labored was urging her on to actions
in which the voice of discretion and prudence had no part.
Hannah, who had long ago suspected that her beautiful friendwhose
face and voice, together with the luxury of her surroundings and dress
had made her acquaintance seem like intercourse with a being from a
higher spherewas not happy, now felt an impulse of affectionate pity
which made her move closer to her companion and rather timidly put her
arm around her. In an instant she was folded in a close embrace, the
bare white arm under the wrap straining her in an ardent pressure that
drew her head down until it leaned against the breast of the taller
woman, and felt the bounding pulses of her heart.
I am so miserable, whispered the soft voice close to her ear. I
am going to tell you about it. If I couldn't talk to somebody to-night
I feel as if I should go mad. Whether it's right or wrong I'm going to
tell you. I can't bear it this way any longer. Oh, I am so unhappyI
am so unhappy.
Hannah only pressed closer, without speaking. There was nothing that
she could say. She felt keenly that in what seemed the brilliant lot of
her beautiful friend there were possibilities of anguish which her
commonplace life could know nothing of. So they drove along in silence
until the carriage stopped at the door. Mr. Dallas was sleeping so
soundly that it was necessary for his wife to waken him, and he got up,
looking sleepy and confused, and led the way into the house, while the
carriage rolled away, the wheels reverberating down the silent streets.
In the hall Hannah looked at her friend and saw that her face,
though pale, was perfectly composed, and her voice, when she spoke to
her husband, was also quiet and calm.
Hannah is going to stay all night, you know, she said. You
needn't stay up for us. I will put out the lights.
He nodded sleepily and went at once up-stairs, as the two women
turned into the drawing-room. The lights in the chandelier were burning
brightly and a great deep chair was drawn under them, upon which Mrs.
Dallas sat down, motioning her friend to a seat facing her. She was
wearing the dress in which she had sung the last act of the operaa
Greek costume of soft white silk with trimmings of gold. It was in this
dress that she had roused the audience to such a pitch of admiration by
her beauty, and seen close, as Hannah was privileged to see it now,
there were a score of perfections of detail, in both woman and costume,
which those who saw her from afar would not have been aware of. Hannah,
who had an ardent soul within her very ordinary little body, looked at
her with a sort of worship in her eyes.
Meeting this look, Mrs. Dallas smileda smile that was sadder than
Oh, Hannah, I am so unhappy, she said. I want to tell you but I
don't know how. Oh, my child, I am so miserable.
Her utterance had still that little foreign accent that made it so
pathetic, although, in spite of some odd blunders, she had become
almost fluent in the English tongue. There was still no indication of
tears in either her voice or her eyes, as she leaned back in the padded
chair, her head supported by its top, and her long bare arms with their
picturesque Greek bracelets resting wearily on its cushioned sides.
Hannah looked at her with the tenderness of her kind heart
overflowing in great tears from her eyes and rolling down her cheeks.
She pressed her handkerchief to her face in the vain effort to keep
them back, but the woman for whom they fell shed no tears. She sat
there calm and quiet in her youth and beauty and looked at the plain
little school-teacher with a wistful gaze that seemed as if it might be
Tell me, Hannah, she said presently, when the girl had dried her
eyes and grown more calm, tell me frankly, no matter how strange it
may seem to you to have the question asked, what do you think of my
This startling question naturally found Hannah unprepared with an
answer, and after clearing her throat and getting rather red, she said
confusedly that she had seen so little of Mr. Dallas, her intercourse
with him had been so slight, that she really did not feel that she knew
him well enough to give an answer.
You know him as well as I do, his wife replied. As he is to
youas you see him daily, exactly so he is to me. I have waited and
waited for something more, but in vain. I have come at last to the
conclusion that this is all.
Hannah, between wonder and distress, began to feel the tears rise
again. The other saw them and bent forward and took her hand.
Don't cry, poor little thing, she said. Yescry if you can. It
shows your heart is soft stillmine is as hard as stone. Oh, God, how
I have cried! she broke off, in a voice grown suddenly passionate.
How I have laid awake at night and cried until my body was exhausted
with the sobs. I have thought of my little white bed in the convent,
where I slept so placidly, for every night of all those blessed, quiet,
peaceful years, until my whole longing would be that I might once more
lay myself down upon it and close my eyes forever. If an angel from
Heaven had offered me a wish it would have been that one. Oh, Hannah,
you do not know. You ought to be so happy. You are so happy. Do you
know it? I didn't know it, and I was never grateful for it, but always
looking forward to being happy in the future, and oh, how I am
She wrung her hands together and bit the flesh of her soft lips, as
if with a sense of anguish too bitter to be borne.
I always thought, said Hannah, in a husky voice that sounded still
of tears, that a woman who was beautiful and gifted and admired, and
had a husband to take care of her, must be the happiest creature in the
world. I used to look at you with envy, but I knew, before to-night,
that you suffered sometimes.
Sometimes! Oh, Hannah, it is not sometimesbut
alwayscontinuallyevening and morningday-time and night-time, for
when I sleep I have such dreams! The things that were my day dreams
long ago come back to me in sleep, and when I wake and think of myself
as I am, I know not why I do not die of it. Oh, Hannah, if you have
dreamed of marriage, give it up. Live your life out as you are. Die a
dear, sweet, good, old maid, teaching little children and being kind to
them and taking care of your old mother. Oh, my dear, don't call
yourself lonely. Don't dare to say it, lest you should be punished.
There is no loneliness that a woman can know which can be compared to a
marriage like mine. Oh, I am so lonely every moment that I live, that I
feel there is no companionship for me in all this crowded world, for
the bitterness of my heart is what no one can feel or share.
Why did you marry your husband? said Hannah, surprised at her own
Why? I am glad you asked me that. I will tell you, and perhaps you
may be saved what I have suffered. If my mother had lived it might have
been all different. Surely, surely a mother would have known how to
save her child from what I have suffered. A father might notperhaps a
father might not be to blame, though sometimesoh, Hannah, it is
dreadful, but my father seems to me a cruel, wicked man. It was he that
did it. What did I know? Why your knowledge of the world is great and
vast compared to mine! I had had only the sisters to teach me, and they
were as ignorant as I. My father told me he had no home to take me to,
and that Robert would give me a sweet home, and love and protection and
kindness, and that I would be so happy and must consider myself very
fortunate. He told me that Robert could not express himself very well,
speaking a different tongue from my own, but that he loved me devotedly
and that the great object of his life would be to make me happy. And so
I married him, glad to please my father, pleased myself, as a child, at
the idea of having a home of my own, and ignorant as a child of what I
And without loving your husband? said the little teacher, with a
look that showed she could be severe.
What did I know about love? I thought I loved him. He was handsome
and kind to me and my father said he adored mehe told me himself that
he loved me. If his manner was not very ardent, what did I know about
ardor in love-making? I knew my not being able to speak English
fluently must be a hindrance to him in expressing himself, and I
thought he was everything I could wish, and never doubted I should be
as happy as a child with a doll-house and everything else that she
wanted. As I remember now, she said reflectingly, as if searching back
into her memory, Robert was different in those daysnot an
impassioned lover, compared to the tenor who sang in the opera
to-night, but compared to what he is now, he was so. There was once
that he seemed to care a little
She broke off and Hannah spoke:
I was thinking to-night about you and whether you were not in
danger, she said, with a certain air of wisdom which her somewhat hard
experience of life had given her. How that man looked at you as he
sang those words! That wild passion of love which they expressed seemed
a reality. I wondered if you could hear them unmovedand a thought of
danger for you made me feel unhappy.
Christine did not answer her for a moment. A strange smile came to
her lips as her eyes rested gently on the little teacher. Eyes and
smile had both something of hopelessness in them, as if she despaired
of making herself understood.
That was sweet of you, Hannah, she said presently, a look of
simple affectionateness chasing away the other. It is good to think
that there was any one, in all that great crowd of people, who cared so
much about me, but, my good little friend, never trouble yourself with
that thought in connection with me again. My heart is deadso dead
that it seem weary waiting for the rest of me to die, and nothing but
the resurrection morning that renews it all can ever give me back the
heart I had before I was married. It did not die suddenly at one blow,
but it died a lingering death of slow, slow pain. Think what it is! I
am younger than you, and already joy and pleasure and hope are words
that have no meaning for me. Oh, poor Hannah! I oughtn't to make you
cry, and yet your tears are blessed things. When I could cry I was not
She leaned toward the girl and clasped her close, kissing the
teardrops from each eye and soothing her, as if hers had been the
I want to be just to my husband, she went on presently. I do
believe he is not to blame. He gives me all he has to give, but there
is nothing! Oh, when I look into my heart and see its power of
suffering, and see, too, how marvellously happy I might once have been,
I seem a thousand worlds away from himmy husband, who ought to be the
very closest, nearest, likest thing to me! Perhaps he is not happy, but
at least he does not suffer, and he is always contented to live on as
we areno work, no friends, no ambition, no interest in life, except
mere living. Oh, but it is hard! How long will it go on so, Hannah?
she broke out suddenly, with a ring of fervor in her voice. Did you
ever hear of any one living on and on and on, in a life like this?
Could it go on until one got old and deaf and wrinkled, and can
anything end it but death? It seems so impossible that I can be the
little Christine who used to sit and dream of happiness in marriage,
and of the handsome lover who would come some day and carry me off to a
beautiful land where all my dreams would be realized. I came out on
that stage to-night, she went on, sitting upright and folding her
beautiful arms, and while the people were looking at me and clapping,
a thought came to me that made me feel like sobbing. I wondered in my
soul how many broken hearts were covered by those lace and velvet
garments, and those smiling, superficial faces. The thought absorbed me
so that I forgot everything and the prompter thought I'd forgotten my
part entirely and gave me my cue.
I saw you. I saw the strange look that came over your face, but I
did not know what it meant. And perhaps the people envied you and
thought you must be so happy, to be so beautiful and admired. Oh, poor
Christine! I am sorry for you. I wish you could be happy. It seems as
if you might.
You might! Everything is possible to you. There is no
reason, I suppose, why you may not have all the happiness I ever
dreamed of, for, after all, the beginning and end of it was love. And
yet I have advised you never to marryfor I often disbelieve in the
existence of the sort of love that I have dreamed ofbut how can I
tell? I know nothing but my own life, and I tell you that is an
intolerable pain. I sit here and say the words and you hear them, but
they are words only to you, shut off as you are from all the
experiences that make up my suffering. Lately there has been a new one.
If anything could make my life more miserable it would be the addition
of poverty and privation to what I bear alreadyand that is what I am
threatened withwhat may probably be just ahead of me. Suppose that
should come too! Why, then I should be more unhappy yet, I suppose,
although I have thought I couldn't be.
She spoke still with that strange calm which her companion had
wondered at from the beginning of their conversation. Her manner in the
carriage seemed to be a part of the excitement of the evening's
performance, but now the cold calm of reaction had come on and she was
very quiet. She had leaned back again in the big chair, and looked at
Hannah gravely. Neither of them thought of sleep, and their faces
expressed its nearness as little as if it were afternoon, instead of
midnight. The last words uttered by Christine had presented a practical
difficulty to her friend which her own experiences brought home to her
forcibly, while they shut her off from a just sympathy with some of her
What do you mean? she said. Isn't your husband well off and able
to support you comfortably?
How do I know? How am I to find out?
Ask him. Make him explain to you exactly what his circumstances
are. I wonder you haven't done that long ago.
You will wonder at a good deal more if you go on. For my part, I
have wondered and wondered until I have no power to wonder left. I did
ask himthat and many other thingsand the result is I am as blind
and ignorant this moment as you are. She spoke almost coldly. One
would have thought it was another and an almost indifferent person
whose affairs she was discussing.
But how can you be ignorant? said Hannah. Does he refuse to
answer your questions?
Nohe doesn't refuse to answer them, though it is evident he
thinks them useless and annoyingbut generally he tells me he doesn't
Doesn't know how much money he has, or whether he is rich or poor?
The other nodded in acquiescence.
Why, how on earth can that be so? Doesn't he always have money to
pay for things as you go along?
Yesheretofore he has always had. I have needed nothing for
myself. All the handsome clothes you see me wear belong to my poor,
miserable trousseau. She smiled bitterly as she said it, but there
were no tears in her eyes and her voice was utterly calm.
What makes you think, then, that he may not continue to have
A letter I read without his permission, though he left it on the
table and probably didn't care. I have been troubled vaguely for some
time to find he knew nothing whatever about his business affairs, and
that he merely drew on his lawyer for what he wanted, and was always
content so long as he got it. Lately, however, although he had been
looking for a remittance, the lawyer's letter came without it, and it
was that letter that I read. I saw he looked annoyed, but not for long.
He put the letter down and spent the evening playing solitaire, as he
always does when he doesn't go to the theatre. After he went to bed I
read the letter. It was from the lawyer in the far West, who had always
had charge of the money left by his fatherand he said that having
repeatedly warned him that he could not go on spending his principal
without coming to the end of his rope, he had to tell him now that the
end was almost reached. He might manage to send him a remittance soon
by selling some bonds at a great sacrifice, and as his orders were
imperative of course he would have to do this, but he notified him that
there was scarcely anything left, a certain tract of land, which was
almost valueless, and that, he said, was the entire remnant of his
inheritance, which could never have been very much as he certainly has
no extravagant tastes.
Why didn't you tell him you had read the letter and ask him about
it? said Hannah, her rather acute little face animated and serious at
And what did he say?
That a woman had no business meddling with men's affairs, and that
he could not help it.
But if it is so why doesn't he get something to do?
I asked him and he said he couldn't.
But had he tried?
He said he hadseveral times.
What could he do?
Christine shook her head.
I have wondered, she said, and I can think of nothing. He said he
was not trained to any business, and I know no more what to tell him to
do than he knows himself. The lawyer advised him to go to work, but did
not suggest how. He spoke as if he did not know of his marriage, for he
said a man ought to be able to get something to do that would support
Oh, Christine! and is this all you accomplished?
This is all.
How long ago was it?
About a week.
And you have gone through with all that rehearsing and dressing and
acting with this weight on your mind? How could you do it?
I was determined to do it. It kept me from thinking. I could not
withdraw at the last moment. I knew that as soon as the performance was
over I would have to look the thing in the face somehow, though I am
more helpless than any child. The thought has pursued me through
everything. It terrifies me less when I sit and face it calmly, so,
than when I put it by and it comes rushing backas it did to-night
while I was singing my last solo. I thought it would take my breath
away, but instead it seemed to give an impulse to my voice that made me
sing as I had never sung before. I wondered to hear myself, and I was
not surprised the people applauded. It was a love song, but what did I
care for the stupid man who stood and rolled his eyes at me
sentimentally while I sang it? I was in a frenzy, not of love, but
despair. This last knowledge that has come to me has put the final
touch. To be an actual beggar, as I may be before long, leaves nothing
more but deathand that would be peace and satisfaction and joy.
But surely your father will help you when he understands.
He has no money generally. I know he had to borrow some to get my
wedding clothes. He explained to me that the last cent of my little
inheritance from my mother had been spent on my education. Besides,
she added, with a change of tone that made her face harden, I shall
not tell him. I feel bitterly toward my father. He could never have
truly loved me: he wanted to rid himself, as soon as he could, of the
burden of me. So I am left absolutely without a friend. I don't forget
you, Hannah, she added quickly. You are my friend, I know, and would
help me if you could. Your love can help me and it does and will, but
we are poor little waifs togetheronly you can do something to support
yourself, and your mother loves you, while I am utterly helpless and
have no love in all the world except what you give me. Oh, Hannah, you
must never leave me!
Where is Mr. Noelthe gentleman you told me of who was so good to
you on the steamer, and afterward came to see you and spoke to you so
He has forgotten meat least I suppose so, she said, shaking her
head. Yes, he was good to me. I think he would be sorry for me. He has
gone back to Europe and taken his mother and sisters. Some one was
speaking of them and said they all loved him so. You and I are more
desolate than most people, Hannah. You have only your mother and me to
love youand I have only you.
The clock on the mantel struck twelve. Christine rose to her feet
with a little shiver. There was a mirror not far away, toward which she
turned and surveyed herself from head to foot. As she did so the soft
folds of her Greek drapery settled about her, severe and beautiful. The
masses of her dark hair were drawn into a loose, rich knot pierced by a
gold dagger, and her eyesso remarkably beautiful in color and
expression that no one ever saw them unimpressedwere clear and steady
as they gazed at the reflected image in front of her.
I wonder, she said, lifting her bare arms with a sort of conscious
unconsciousness and clasping her hands in a fine pose behind her head,
which she turned slightly to one side, I wonder if this is the very
last of methe very last of the Christine who loved to look beautiful
and wear rich clothes and be admired, and who thought that she would
one day be loved.
Turning away from that long look she held out both fair arms to
Come close, close, Hannah, she said, as the plain little teacher,
in her rough dark gown, was drawn into her embrace. I want to feel
some living thing near my heart to-night, for I am frightened and
lonely. I have told myself good-by. Christine is dead and gone and I
have buried her. I want some one near me in these first moments of my
strange new self. Oh, Hannah, if we could die! Not youfor your mother
needs youbut me. Oh, Hannah, she said, in a strained voice that
sounded as if it were only by an effort that she kept her teeth from
chattering, if I hadn't you to-night I don't know what would become of
Hannah tried to soothe her with soft words of comfort and assurances
It will not be so dark and sad and friendless as you think, she
said. All those people who have admired and praised you so will surely
be good to you But she was interrupted sharply.
I am done with them, she said, and done with fine dressing, and
becoming colors. Her voice shook, and Hannah, seeing that she was
completely unnerved, succeeded in persuading her to go up to her own
room. On the threshold she paused.
Come into the dressing-room with me, Christine said. Don't leave
me. He will not wake, she added, seeing her friend glance toward the
door between the dressing-room and sleeping-room. He sleeps like a
stone. I shall lie here on the lounge till morning. I often do. I have
lain there, night in and out, and almost sobbed my heart away, and no
Hannah braided the lovely hair, unfastened the exquisite white and
gold dress, which fell in a rich mass on the floor, and out of it
Christine stepped, looking more lovely than ever and more childlike.
She caught sight of the ornaments she still wore, and hastily taking
them off laid them in a heap on the dressing-table.
They can be sold, she said. I shall never want to put them on
again. Oh, Hannah, you are so good to me, she went on in the plaintive
voice of an unhappy child, as Hannah brought a warm dressing-gown and
made her put it on, and little soft-lined slippers for her feet. I am
so cold, she said, shivering. Some day you will know, perhaps, how
unhappy I am. You don't know half of it now, and I cannot tell you. Oh,
you have made me so comfortable, she added, as Hannah tucked a warm
coverlet over her, on the big, soft lounge. I haven't had any one to
take care of me for so long. Don't leave me, Hannah. Sit in that big
chair and hold my hand and let me go to sleep. I am so tired.
Her lids drooped and her voice fell. In another moment she was
Once only Christine opened her eyes, and finding Hannah still there
said piteously, Oh, I am so unhappy, but the plaintive little tones
died away in sleepiness, and in a moment she was drawing in the regular
breaths of profound slumber.
By-and-by, without waking her, Hannah drew her hand away, and
leaning back in the big chair, threw a great shawl all around her, and
worn out by the experiences of the evening, she also fell asleep.
Morning found them so. The rising sun looking in at the window waked
them simultaneously, and with a remembering look on both faces, they
were clasped in each other's arms. A long embrace and then a kiss. No
word was spoken, and when they met at breakfast and were joined by Mr.
Dallas, the manner of all three was as usual. The servant who waited
saw nothing to comment upon, except, perhaps, that the unwonted
presence of a guest made little difference in the usual silentness of
Noel remained abroad a year and a half and came home at last with a
new determination, which he promptly put into effect. This was to begin
in earnest the practice of his profession. He was tired of travelling,
and even his beloved painting was not enough to satisfy the more
insistent demands for occupation and interest, which his maturity of
mind and character gave rise to.
Not very long after his return he went to call on the Dallases. He
was informed, on inquiring at the house, that a family of another name
now occupied it, and no one could tell where Mr. and Mrs. Dallas had
gone. He made inquiries at several places in the neighborhood, but in
He walked away, with a sad and tender feeling in his heart for the
poor foreign girl, whose beauty, youth and childlike charm had taken a
strong hold upon his mind. The annoying thought occurred to him that he
had been foolishly prudent and apprehensive of danger. He wondered if
it hadn't been a sort of coxcombry in him to think there was any danger
to her in free and frequent intercourse with him! As for the danger to
himself, that it was cowardly to think about. He wished he had acted
differently, and felt unreasonably troubled at having let the girl
drift beyond his knowledge. She had looked so young and appealing as he
had seen her last, seated on the rug with the kittens on her lap, and
so beautiful. No one he had seen before or since was as beautiful. The
type seemed almost unique. He knew her to be utterly ignorant of the
world, and he hated to think what experience might have taught her of
it. He ought to have looked after her more. The reproachful thought
stung him. He said to himself that he'd be a little more careful the
next time he felt inclined to occupy this high moral platform and be
better than other men! He ought to have seen that common kindness
demanded a little more of a man than this. He was completely
self-disgusted, and registered a sort of mental vow that if he ever
found the young creature again he would befriend her, if she were still
in need of a friend, and take the consequences. He was not so
irresistible, he told himself, as to be necessarily dangerous to the
peace of mind of all the women of his acquaintance. He had acted the
part of a prig and he was well punished for it.
Noel had altered in some ways since his former return from Europe.
For one thing his appearance had changed. He had now a thick,
close-trimmed beard, which made him look older and graver. There were
some premature gray hairs, also, in his close-cropped hair.
The weather was very hot, and his mother and sisters had gone at
once to their country house, but Noel lingered in town, although,
socially, it was almost deserted.
One afternoon of a very hot day, when the neighborhoods of soda
fountains alone were populous, and men walked about the streets with
umbrellas in one hand and palm-leaf fans in the other, with coats open,
hats pushed back and frequent manipulation of their
pocket-handkerchiefs, Noel, whose sense of propriety admitted of none
of these mitigations of the heat, was standing at a down-town crossing,
waiting for a car. He was going to his club to refresh himself with a
bath, order a dinner with plenty of ice accompanying it, and then take
a drive in the park behind a horse warranted to make a breeze. It was
getting intolerable in town, and he had just determined to leave it
As he stood waiting he observed, on the opposite corner, a woman
carrying a baby. He had a good heart and it troubled him to see that
the child seemed ill. He was struck, too, with the fact that the woman,
although closely veiled, had something in her figure and bearing, as
well as her dress, which made her present position seem in some way
incongruous. His practised eye perceived that her figure was good, and
his instinct told him that she was a lady. He looked at her so
attentively that his car passed without his seeing it until it was too
far to hail. As another car, going the opposite way, came along and
stopped, the woman got on it, and a resemblance, which some fleeting
movement or position suggested to his mind, struck him so powerfully
that almost without knowing what he was doing he found himself running
to overtake the car, which had started on. It was not difficult to do,
and once having undertaken it, it would have looked silly to stop, so
he swung himself on to the platform. The car was full and he did not go
inside. He saw the figure his eye was following take a seat high up,
and turn the child so that it might get the air from the window. He
could see the poor, little pinched face, utterly listless and wan, and
by reason of its sickness totally bereft of the beauty that belongs to
plump, round, rosy babyhood. And yet the child had wonderful
eyesstrange, large eyes of a clear, golden-brown colorthe like of
which he had seen once only before. Memories, speculations and
presentments seemed to crowd upon him. He tried to get a view of the
mother, but her back was turned to him, and a fat German woman, with a
pile of unmade trousers from a clothing establishment, almost hid the
sight of that. Usually he could not see these poor sewing-women, with
their great, hot burdens of woollen cloth on their knees, without a
sentiment of pity, but he did not give this one a thought. His mind was
wholly absorbed in scanning curiously, though furtively, the baby's
poor, little white face, and all that he could see of the mother's
dress and figure. Presently the car came to a halt. The German woman
got up and labored down the aisle with her burden and got off, but some
one quickly moved into the vacant seat. Still he could see better now,
and the better he saw the stronger grew the conviction in his heart.
Gradually the car thinned out, and he might have gone nearer, but
something held him back. He kept his position by the conductor, until
he rang his bell and called out the name of a landing from which the
excursion boats went out daily. Then the woman rose, lifting her baby
with gentle carefulness, and came down the aisle and got out. She
passed directly by Noel, but her thick veil was impenetrable, and yet,
from the nearer view of her figure and the pose of her head, the
feeling he had was deepened and strengthened. He got out, too, and
followed her, and as he walked directly behind her, his eyes fastened
on the rich coil of her wavy dark hair, he felt sure that this was
Poor thing! he said under his breath. The tears were near his
eyes, but a feeling of rage surged up and overmastered them. Where was
the girl's husband? Where were all the men and women that ought to have
protected her and given her support and companionship in this hour?
She toiled on in front of him now, her figure braced to its burden.
The baby was light, but she carried in addition to it a shawl and a
small bag. He longed to go and help her, but he feared to startle or
distress her. If he had been a stranger he would not have hesitated,
and he wondered at the cruel indifference of the passers-by. They were
mostly laborers, draymen and porters, but at least they were men, and
it made his blood boil to see them passing her carelessly and almost
She got on board the boat, which was not crowded, and he followed a
little way behind. It gave him a sense of keen distress to see her
threading her way through groups of rough men, who ignored or jostled
her, to the little window where she bought her ticket, and it angered
him to see how indifferently the man sold it to her, and pushed her her
For a while he kept at a distance, observing her, however, as she
took her way, with an air of familiarity with her surroundings, to a
place on deck sheltered alike from observation and from the strong
breeze which was already beginning. Here the stewardess brought her a
pillow, handing it without speaking and waiting significantly. She took
it in silence, then got out her purse, a meagre-looking one, and put a
little coin into the woman's hand. As she did so she said, Thank you,
and the least little foreign inflectiona lingering difficulty with
the thgave Noel the last assurance that he needed. How unforgotten
the voice was! He believed he would almost have recognized it without
The woman made no reply, but pocketed her fee and walked away. Then
Noel, who had seated himself quite near, with his face so turned that
he could see her without the appearance of gazing at her directly, set
himself to watch what followed. There was no one else near and it was
evident that she had not observed him. Indeed, she did not look about
her at all, but kept her eyes on the baby, whose apathetic little face
did not change. Shaking and smoothing the pillow she laid it on the
seat and tenderly placed her baby on it. The boat had started and the
breeze, delicious as it was to a strong person, might yet be too much
for a sick child, and this the mother plainly feared, for she hastily
hung her shawl over the railing beside the pillow. But this she soon
discovered kept off too much air. Noel could note her mental processes
and comprehend them as he saw her put up her hand to loosen her thick
His pulses quickened. He was sure already, and yet a figure, a pose,
a knot of hair, even a voice and accent might deceive him. So he
watched intently as she unfastened her veil and took it off. The brim
of her hat was narrow and left her face fully exposed.
It was Christine Dallasa girl no longer, no longer blooming and
childlike and wonderingbut saddened, matured, mysteriously changed,
with more than the old charm for him in her exquisite woman-face. It
was turned to him in profile, distinct against the distant sky, and the
remembered eyes were veiled by their dark-fringed lids, as she looked
down upon her child.
The veil, ingeniously fastened with a few pins, proved a convenient
awning. She laid her arm above it on the rail, as she bent her head
toward the baby. Although the eyes were hid, the mouthin her a
feature of extreme sensitivenesstold the story of past suffering and
What a face! No artist had ever had a model such as that before him,
and the pale attenuation of the sick child was almost as interesting a
subject. But Noel never thought of it. For once the artist in him
became subservient, and he looked on with no feeling but a pity so
great that it absolutely filled his heart and left no room for any
The mother's suffering face put on a smile, and she made a little
kissing sound with her lips to try to attract the baby's notice, and
rouse it from its apathy.
Mother's precious little pigeon, she said caressingly, and
catching the thin little face between her soft thumb and forefinger and
giving it a loving twitch. But, instead of smiling back at her, a
piteous little tremor came around the baby's mouth. His thin forehead
wrinkled and he began to whimper.
She caught him to her heart with a motion of passionate love and
pity, and began to rock her body to and fro as she held him there.
Did mother hurt her baby? she said, speaking in low tones of
keenest self-reproach. There, then, mother wouldn't trouble him any
more! Mother was bad and naughty to try to make her boy laugh when he
was so sick! Mother loves her baby, that she does, and when her little
man gets well he'll play and laugh with mother then, won't he?
The whimper died away, and when the soft crooning and rocking had
continued a little while the baby dropped its weary lids and slept. She
laid him in her lap, raising her knee to elevate his head, by resting
her foot on the round of a chair. He sank into his new position with a
tremulous sigh, and slept on. And as he slept she watched him, her
great eyes fastened on his thin little face with a look as if she would
devour it with love. Afraid to touch him, lest he should wake, she
caught the folds of his dress in her hand with a strength that strained
its sinews, as if she were afraid he would be snatched away from her.
Noel, who had expected every moment that she would turn, had now
ceased to look for it. She was evidently unconscious of everything,
herself included, except the child. As she bent her head above it,
never taking her eyes from its wan little countenance, the look of
hungry love that came to her was stronger than any look he had ever
seen expressed upon a face before. Presently, as if unable to resist
the impulse, she took one of the little hands, blue-white for lack of
blood, and held it in her own. He could divine the fact that it cost
her an effort not to squeeze it hard. Her eyes fastened on it hungrily,
and then looked into the pinched little face. Evidently this sleep was
something coveted, for she made these slight movements with the utmost
caution, and did not venture to change her constrained position. And as
she so watched the baby, Noel, keeping as profoundly still, watched
her. He saw that her plain, gray costume, charmingly fashioned as it
was, was yet somewhat worn and shabby, as if from over-long usage; that
her round straw hat was shabby, too, and one of her little boots, cut
and finished in such a pretty, foreign fashion, had a small hole in it.
The long glove on her left hand was ripped at the finger-ends. The
right hand was bare, and looked very strong and healthy as it held the
little feeble one. With her other hand she was holding a fan between
her child's eyes and the sun. She had never ceased a little rocking
motion of the knee. Oh, if she could only keep him asleep! her whole
attitude and motion seemed to say. Now and then she uttered low,
hushing sounds as a pang of pain would contract the baby's face, and
threaten to waken him. These little noises came to Noel faintly, and he
felt himself sharing with her this intense desire to keep the child
asleep. Suddenly, above the soothing monotone of the vessel's motion,
there was a sharp steam-whistle. Christine gave a little smothered cry,
and the next instant burst into tears. It was too much for her
over-strung nerves. At the same moment the baby waked and began to cry
weakly. The sound recalled her to herself and she took the little
creature in her arms and rocked and hushed it, at the same time
fighting with her own sobs, brushing away her tears with a fold of the
baby's dress and trying to speak to it soothingly. But she was utterly
unnerved, and the tears and sobs kept coming back even while she spoke
those calming, loving words.
Noel could bear it no longer. He was afraid of increasing her
agitation, but he felt he must go to her aid. So he took quietly the
few steps that brought him to her and said gently:
Christine, give the baby to me. Don't mind my seeing you. Don't
mind anything, but just try to be quiet and rest a little. I will help
She looked at him an instant without recognition, then a gleam of
comprehension came into her eyes, and in a confused, weak way she let
him take the baby, and falling back upon the seat she hid her face in
her hands and fell to sobbing. Noel, for the first time in his life
holding a young baby in his arms, was yet skilful with it, since
nothing but strength and tenderness were required, and he had both. He
soothed the little creature into silence, walking backward and forward
a few steps, and watching Christine intently, without speaking to her.
It was only a moment or two that she gave way, and he felt it would
relieve her. She wiped her eyes and sat up.
I don't know what made me do it, she said. I have never done so
before. It is so foolish; but I did so want baby to stay asleep, and I
was hoping nothing would wake him, and the whistle scared me so. Let me
have him now, Mr. Noel. Thank you, oh, thank you. Perhaps he feels
better. He has had a nice little sleep.
Noel would have kept the child, but he saw she was not to be
prevented from taking it, and when she had got it in her arms she began
to look at it and talk to it and walk it about with every appearance of
having forgotten Noel altogether. He had called her Christine under
impulse, and he now recalled the fact that she had taken it simply and
without any protest. On the whole, he was glad. To have called her by
the formal name by which he had known her might have struck some chord
of pain. He did not even know that she bore it still. Dallas might be
dead or worse than dead to her. A score of possibilities suggested
themselves to his mind. But he felt he must try, if possible, to make
her understand him.
Poor little ill baby, he said, going close to her side, where she
stood by the railing with the baby laid upon her shoulder, her head
tilted so as to rest her cheek on his. I hope he is better. I am so
glad I saw you, Christine. You must let me help you, exactly as if I
were your brother, for no brother could want to help you more. I really
think I forgot I wasn't when I called you by your name just now. But
you didn't mind it, did you?
Oh, no, she said simply. But where did you come from? she asked,
as if the question had just occurred to her.
Let us say from the skies, he answered, smiling. I think my good
angel must have sent me to take care of you. Sit down, if you will hold
the baby. Let me make you more comfortable.
He went and brought a large and easy chair from some unknown quarter
and made her sit in it. Then, saying he would be back presently, he
walked away. Before he returned the stewardess appeared, smiling and
obsequious, making a profuse offer of her services to hold the baby, or
to do anything desired of her. She brought a comfortable hassock, which
she placed under Christine's feet, and only the latter's determination
prevented her from taking possession of the baby. She told her exactly
where she was to be found in case she should be wanted, and ended by
presenting her with a key which, she told her, would open a stateroom
at the head of the stairs. As the woman walked away Noel returned.
Christine told him how kind the stewardess had been, and said that she
had never known there were any staterooms on board, this being an
Oh, there are generally two or three, said Noel carelessly, for
the people to go to when they want to rest. If you'd like to, we'll go
now and inspect.
Evidently the prospect pleased her, so they went together, but she
refused to allow him to carry the baby, or even to send for the woman.
When they opened the door everything was clean and fresh, as if just
prepared for them. Christine looked about her with an air of relief
that it rejoiced him to see. He told her to get a little rest, if she
could, and that he would stroll about for a while and come back for
her. She went in and closed the door and he turned away. In a few
minutes the stewardess knocked, to offer her services, and Christine,
as she accepted them, felt a sudden change as to her whole surrounding
Noel, meanwhile, had gone up on deck, and was walking about and
looking around him curiously. He was certainly out of his element, but
his habits of life had been such as to make him feel at home almost
anywhere. What he rebelled at was the thought of Christine being in
this place. Her distress of mind and her poverty seemed so indecently
exposed to view. He lingered a while in the thick of the crowd,
torturing himself with the horrible incongruity between it and the
poor, dear woman in the stateroom below. He had contrived to have put
at her disposal the best the boat afforded, but it was abominably
meagre. What business had she here at all? It was no place for her. His
whole nature rebelled at it, and he grew savage as he thought that it
was no business of his to put it right.
Throwing his cigar away he went below and knocked very gently at the
stateroom door. It was opened by Christine, who had, perhaps, bathed
her face, for the traces of tears were almost gone, though enough
remained to give her eyes an appealingness that went to his very heart.
Well, he said, in that tentative tone which admits of any sort of
She looked immediately at the baby lying on the berth and stood
aside to let him see. He is quiet, she said. I don't think he is in
any pain. I am going to take him on deck again. The doctor said the
only thing for him was change of air. I couldn't take him away, so he
said to bring him down here on the water every afternoon would do him
good, and I've been bringing him every day.
And is he better? Noel said, forcing himself to appear to be
thinking chiefly of the child. He saw that the idea absorbed her so
completely that she had no thought of herself and apparently none of
him, and this was well.
His fever is not so high, she said. Oh, he has been so ill. Once
I thought but she broke off unable to speak, and turning toward the
berth caught up the child with the fervor of passion, though she did
not forget to touch him tenderly, and held him close against her. Then
she put on his little head a muslin cap that perhaps had fitted him
once but was now pitifully large, and carried her light burden out into
the saloon and up the steps, refusing Noel's offer to help her. They
went back to their old places, which were quiet and away from the
crowd, and when Noel had made her as comfortable as he could, he drew
his chair near and sat down. And then the watch began again. He looked
at her, and she looked down at the baby on her lap, and apparently the
baby was no more unconscious of the gaze bent on him than Christine was
of the look with which Noel steadily regarded her. He burned to ask her
questions as to what had taken place since he had seen her last, but he
feared to waken her from her unconsciousness. It was evident that she
accepted him as a simple fact. He had come and here he was. If he
helped her to take care of the baby it was all right and she was glad.
Not a scruple as to the acceptance of the help had occurred to her. He
saw this and was too thankful for it not to be willing to take
precautions against interrupting this most satisfactory course of
The child would die, he felt sure of that, and his heart quivered to
think how she would suffer. And who was there to help her to bear it?
He almost wished he was in truth her brother, that his might naturally
be that right; almost, but not quite. Well, he wished a great many vain
and useless things as he sat there opposite to her, conscious that she
had forgotten him. He moved, and even coughed, but she took no notice.
The baby's little mouth twitched slightly and her whole being became
acutely conscious. She changed its position and words of passionate
lovingness crowded upon her lips. But instead of responding to them, it
began to whimper fretfullya sound that brought a spasm of positive
anguish across her face.
There, then, mother's little dear lamb that mother has hurt and
troubled! Mother loves her little man, and he'll get well and make poor
mother happy againwon't he?
It was some time before the child could be quieted. The peevish
little whine almost angered Noel when he saw how it was cutting into
Christine's heart. In the hope of diverting the baby he put out his
hand and began to snap his fingers softly in front of its face. There
was a ring on the hand that sparkled, and the baby saw it and stretched
out his little hand toward it. A gleam of pure delight came into the
He hasn't noticed anything for days, she said, catching Noel's
hand in an ardent grasp and holding it so that the baby could see the
ring. He felt her fingers close upon it almost lovingly. He knew she
could have kissed it, because it had for that second been of interest
to her childand with no knowledge that it was in any way different
from the ring upon it. When the baby turned away from it fretfully she
let it drop.
At last the little invalid went to sleep in Christine's lap. The
boat, which was not to land but went only for the excursion on the
water, had turned and they were going back toward the city. The breeze
that played around Christine's bent head blew little curly strands
about her face and called a faint flush into her cheeks. Noel noted
Night began to draw on and she could no longer see the baby's face
distinctly. She drew the end of a light shawl over him, saying as she
The doctor says this is the best of allthe coming back in the
fresh evening air.
She sat up in her place then, and Noel could see that she kept her
hand upon her baby's pulse.
Do you ever sing now? he asked abruptly.
She shook her head.
Noexcept little songs to baby.
I heard while I was in Europe of your making an immense hit in the
amateur opera. Why did you stop?
I was forced to. Those people compelled me. I don't know why, but
they looked on me as something apart from them. The women were strange
and unfriendly, and the menI don't know, she broke off confusedly,
but it is all hateful to me to think of. I was glad to get away from
them. The night of the opera was the last time. Oh, if my baby will get
well, she said, bending to touch his thin hair with her lips, I will
never need anything but him. You believe in prayerdon't you? Will you
pray to God to make him well?
Noel promised with a willingness that seemed to comfort her.
Absorbed in the child once more, she soon seemed to forget him and
silence fell between them again. It was scarcely broken during the
whole return trip. She seemed to have nothing to say to him. When she
spoke to him at all her thrilling voice dropped to a whisper, and it
was always to give some information about the baby. Once she said with
fervent interest, He is asleep, and once she told him that his skin
felt cool and natural. This was all. It must be owned that Noel didn't
think very lovingly of that poor atom of humanity as he sat there. It
was the baby that had caused her to be in this false position, which he
felt so keenly, and it was terror for the baby which brought that
suffering look to her face. And yet something of the same feeling was
in his own breast as he palpitated at the thought of this little
creature's dying and breaking the heart of its mother, who plainly
loved it with the absorbingness of the first passion she had ever
When they reached the wharf it was quite dark, and the electric
lights and publicity of the place made Noel shrink so from the thought
of exposing the girl, in her suffering, to the gaze of such men and
women as he saw about him, that, without consulting her, he called a
carriage and helped her into it, following and seating himself opposite
her. She protested at first, but he said:
I have a long way to go and need a carriage, and I may as well drop
you at home. Where must I put you down?
She gave a street and number. The door was shut, the man mounted to
his box and drove away, and they were alone together. Alone, except for
the baby, but that was enough to make him feel that he and all the
world beside were thousands of miles away from her. They drove on in
silence. Now and then as they passed a bright light, her beautiful
face, outlined by its dark hat-brim and darker hair, shone out from the
shadow, but for which he might have felt himself in a dream interrupted
by no sound, except the monotonous rumble of the wheels. Always as he
looked her eyes were lowered to catch each passing glimpse of the
baby's face. She never looked at him.
He began to feel it necessary to ask one or two questions that he
might know what to prepare for, but as he broke the silence to begin
she said warningly, in a low whisper:
Sh-sh-sh, he is waking, and then fell to rocking and crooning over
the baby and coaxing him back to sleep. When he seemed quite quiet
again she said suddenly in a low whisper, and in the dark he felt her
eyes upon him:
What makes you so kind? No one is ever kind to me. I thought nobody
cared. I had one friend but she went away. She did not want to leave
me, but she had to go far off somewhere to make a living for her
I will always help you if you will let me, Noel said, whispering
too, for fear of being silenced. I will send my sisters to see you, if
you will let them come
Oh, no! she said, interrupting him impulsively. Don't send any
women out of the world you live in to see me. They are cruelthey have
dreadful thoughts of me. They look at me strangely and suspect me. Oh,
noI'd rather take my baby to the end of the earth and hide from them.
I beg you not to send any one to see me.
Noel hastened to promise her that he certainly would not go against
her wish, and was wondering how he should find out the things he longed
so to know, when suddenly the carriage stopped.
The driver got down and rang the bell. As Noel was helping Christine
to get out, the door was opened and the figure of Dallas appeared. It
was a surprise to him, somehow, and an unwelcome one. How his spirit
rose in abhorrence of this man!
Christine went up the steps with the baby, and as he had her bag and
shawl Noel followed, telling the driver to wait.
It was a miserable little house, poor and cheap, and empty, and but
for the counteracting effect of his anger against Dallas, Noel thought
he must have almost sobbed to see Christine here. Dallas himself was
not at all discomposed as he recognized his visitor and asked him in,
offering a hand which Noel managed to touch.
The baby was still asleep, and when Christine had placed it
carefully on a wretched little couch, she seemed, for the first time,
free to think of Noel. She turned and asked him to sit downat the
same time glancing about her with a sudden rush of consciousness, which
until now a nearer interest had crowded out. The poverty-stricken look
of her surroundings was made the more evident by the few objects
belonging to other days that lay abouta charming sacque, smartly
braided and lined with rich silk, hung on the back of a chair, and a
handsome travelling rug was folded under the baby on the sofa.
Everything was clean, for Christine even yet had not come to
contemplate the possibility of doing without a servant.
There was a small kerosene lamp on a table, over which were spread a
lot of cards with their faces up. Some one had evidently been playing
solitaire, and as evidently, on the witness of another sense, been
accompanying the game by the smoking of bad tobacco. The room reeked
with it to a degree that made Noel feel it an outrage to Christine. But
what was he to do? There was but one thing. He said good-by and went
away, carrying the memory of Christine's face flushed scarlet for
He remembered afterward that Dallas had taken no notice of the
babynot even glancing at it or inquiring for ita thing which the
poor mother had taken as a matter of course. He thought, as he shook
hands with her at parting, that Christine had tried to speakperhaps a
word of thanksbut something stopped it and she let him go in silence.
The next afternoon Noel, at the same hour, went down to the wharf
and boarded the excursion boat, for the deliberate purpose of having
some practical talk with Christine. He soon found her, absorbed so
completely in the baby that his coming seemed scarcely to disturb for a
moment the intentness of her preoccupation. This, at first, made him
feel a certain irritation, but he soon had reason to congratulate
himself upon an absence of self-consciousness on her part which made it
the easier for him to put certain questions. Everything he inquired
about she responded to with absolute honesty and a sort of vagueness
which precluded any such feelings as wounded pride. He learned, by his
adroit questionings, that they were now very poor, that Dallas had been
spending his principal, which was now exhausted, and that their chief
means of support was the money she obtained for doing a very elaborate
sort of embroidery which she had learned while at the convent. When he
asked if she had all the work she wanted she said no, and that she
often rang door-bells and asked ladies to give her work and was
refused. She told all this with apathy, however, and seemed to have no
power of acute feeling outside of her child.
Then Noel, with a beating heart, made a proposal to her which had
occurred to him during the wakeful hours of the night, but which he had
felt he should hardly have courage for. This was that she should come
every day and give him sittings for a new picture he had in mind. When
he suggested it, to his delight she caught eagerly at the idea,
accepting every word he said in absolute good faith, and showing no
disposition to doubt when he told her that every hour would be many
times more valuable so spent than in sewing, as good models were rare
and very well paid. She thanked him with the simplest gratitude, and
when she heard that she would be allowed to bring her child with her
she promised to come the next morning to his studio. The baby, she
said, was better now, and would sleep for hours at a time, and in the
afternoon she could take him on the water as usual. It was evident that
there was no one else who made any demand upon her timea significant
fact to Noel.
Accordingly, next morning she came, her baby in her arms as usual.
She had made an effort to dress herself attractively, looking upon the
matter in a very businesslike way, and so girlish and charming and
delicately high-bred did she look in her French-made gown of
transparent black, with trimmings of pale green ribbons, and a wide
lace hat to match, that Noel rebelled with all his might against her
lugging that absurdly superfluous baby up those long steps. Still it
was necessary to accept the inevitable, and he set his teeth and said
nothing. When she had laid the sleeping child upon a lounge and turned
toward him, her eyes fastened eagerly upon a great bunch of crimson
roses in a blue china bowl, which Noel had gotten in honor of her
coming. She did not, of course, suspect this, but he saw that here, at
least, was a vivid and spontaneous feeling apart from her child, as she
bent above the mass of rich color.
Oh, how good they are! she said. I seem to want to eat them, and
smell them and look at them all at once.
She held them off and regarded them enjoyingly a moment and then
raised them to her face again, and smelled them with audible little
sniffs, even nibbling the red leaves with her white teeth, as she
looked at Noel over them and smiled. He went, delighted, and brought a
basket of luscious grapes which he held out to her. She took a large
bunch, and holding it by the stem began to pick the grapes off one by
one and eat them enjoyingly. They were pale green in color, and he
noted the effect of her clear pink nails against them and the beautiful
curves of the long fingers that held the stem. He poured out some water
in a beautiful old Venetian goblet and offered it to her. There was a
bit of ice in it, which she tinkled against the side with the delight
of a child before she drank it.
I am sure I am dreaming, perfectly sure, she said seriously. I
only hope I won't wake until I have finished this bunch of grapes.
Then she lifted the glass to her mouth, tilting it until she had got
the ice, which she chewed up noisily with her sharp little teeth. Noel
felt a keen delight to see that she was letting herself be gay for a
brief moment, but he seemed to see into the sadness back of it more
plainly than ever.
Oh, I am very happy, she said, suddenly throwing herself into a
chair where she could see her sleeping child. My baby is bettera
great deal better; he has smiled twice, and is sleeping so peacefully!
Yes, I am happy!and yet the other feelingthe one that has been with
me always latelyis here too. It is very strange that one can be at
the same time very happy and also the most miserable woman in the
world! Does this sound like craziness? I am not crazy. There are some
peopledid you know it?who can't go crazy!who never would, no
matter what happened to them! A doctor told me that, and I believe it.
He says it is constitutional or inherited or something like thata
physical thinghaving a very strong brain that couldn't be upset!
She rose now, and insisted that the sitting should begin. Noel saw
again the unforgotten outline of her beautiful head, with its rippling
dark hair drawn backward into that low knot behind.
It was in silence that she seated herself, and he began to work. He
felt as if some fair saint were sitting to him, and that the picture
would never come out right without a nimbus round the head. As he went
on with his rapid drawing in charcoal he saw a change settle heavily
upon the face before him. Utter sadness seemed to come there as soon as
the lines relaxed into their natural look.
At last, when he felt he had done enough to entitle her to feel that
she had really rendered service, he threw a cloth over the picture and
declared the sitting ended. She did not, however, ask to look at it,
but went over at once to where the baby lay, and stood looking down
upon him. Noel, who had followed her, stood silently beside her for
some moments. Suddenly she said aloud:
I am very miserable.
He took it in silence, as he had taken her former confession of
happiness. Presently she went on:
I said, a little while ago, that I was happy, and for a moment I
seemed to feel it in spite of all the misery. God knows I don't forget
to thank Him that my baby is betterher lips trembledbut what is
his dear life to be? What is mine to be? Always like this? Oh, God help
me! My heart is broken.
He thought she was going to cry, but she did not. She only clasped
her hands hard together and drew in her lower lip, clenching it in her
Perhaps I ought not to speak like this, she said. I don't know
whether it is very wrong or not. But it is so long since any one was
kind to me or seemed to care.
It is not wrong, said Noel, don't think it. Ease your heart by
speaking, if it comforts you. Try to remember what we are to each
otherthink of me as your brother.
Thus invited, he hoped she would speak freely, but she caught her
lip again, as if in the effort of self-repression, and shook her head.
Noel was hurt.
Do you not trust me? he said.
I trust you always, she answered. You are good and kind and true,
and not like other men. Oh, how bad they are! What things they can
think of a woman! The world is dark and evil, and I and my baby are
The vehemence of this outburst seemed to recall her to herself and
her surroundings, and by a tremendous effort she managed to attain a
manner and expression of calm. The baby stirred and opened its eyes,
and in a moment everything else was forgotten.
A few moments later, when, with the child in her arms, she was ready
to go, Noel, as he handed her her gloves and pocketbook, slipped
something into the latter.
I don't know what you will think of the reward of your morning's
labor, he said, in an off-hand way. To me it seems miserably little,
although you, with your notions, may think it too much. You don't know,
of course, that a model such as the one I've secured this morning is
hard to get, and can always command a good price. You have fairly and
honestly earned it and I hope you will be willing to come again. May I
If baby is as well as to-day. Oh, how good you are! I hope God will
bless you for being so good to me.
I hope He would curse me if I were not, said Noel, and then,
restraining his vehemence, he begged her to let him carry the baby
down-stairs for her. This she utterly refused, and it cut him to the
heart to feel that her reason for doing so was not so much to save him
trouble as to prevent his being seen in such a condescending attitude
toward his model. So he had to see her go off alone with her burden. He
rebelled passionately at the sight. Since the baby wasa stubborn fact
in an emaciated formand Christine could not be happy to have it out
of her sight, the situation should, at any rate, have had the
mitigations which civilization supplies. A picturesque bonne, in
an effective cap and apron, should have carried the child for her, and
a footman should have held open the door of a comfortable carriage for
her on reaching the street. Instead of which he had to meet the
maddening possibility that the cabman was careless and insolent and
that passers-by in the street stared at her.
With his hands thrust deep in his trousers' pockets he turned back
into the studio, slamming the door behind him with his elbow, and
walking moodily over to the window, where he stood a long while lost in
thought. The one satisfactory reflection which the situation suggested
was that he had succeeded in making Christine accept, as a natural
arrangement, the fact that when artists employed models they always
sent them to and from the studios in a cab, which it was the artist's
business to pay for.
The next day Christine came again, and although she was comforted by
the fact that the baby still seemed better Noel thought he had never
seen or imagined such absolute sadness as both her face and manner
showed. The picture progressed in long spaces of absolute silence,
while Christine sat as immovable as the sleeping child near by. It
seemed to Noel, in spite of his inexperience, that the child lay more
in a state of stupor than sleep, and that its prostration argued the
very lowest degree of vitality, but Christine seemed satisfied when he
was asleep and so Noel made no comment.
During the sitting that day he asked Christine if he would prove
himself a nuisance to either her or her husband if he sometimes called
in the evening. To the first part of the inquiry she replied that she
would be glad to see him, and to the latter, with a sort of hopeless
wonder, that Mr. Dallas would not mind.
Noel went once, and once only. The visit was too painful to himself,
and he felt also to Christine, to be repeated. The hideous barrenness
of the place seemed an outrage to her delicacy and made the refinement
of her beauty seem cruelly out of place. But more than all, when Noel
looked on the untidy negligence and brutal insensibility of the man who
was at liberty to call her wife, and whom she acknowledged as husband,
he felt it unbearable. He was even worse than he remembered him.
Formerly he had, at least, dressed well and kept up the forms of
civility. Noel could imagine that he was now glad to be rid of the
trouble. He did not even care to be particular about his person since
he was now in a position where that bother could be dispensed with.
As soon as Noel began to talk to Christine Dallas filled his pipe
and went off to the table to play solitaire. Noel fancied that the
smell of the rank tobacco, which was unimproved in quality, made the
poor girl sick. It was a relief when Dallas got up after a while, and
shoving the cards together in a heap left the room. Then Noel inquired
for the baby. Somehow he always shrank from speaking of it before
He is asleep up-stairs. Eliza is with him: He is better, said
Christine, but the doctor says there is no certainty until the hot
weather is over. Oh, it's selfish of me to want him to live, she
added, with a sudden agitation in her voice, but it isn't that; it
isn't life I want for himonly to keep him with meto be where he is.
If I could
She broke off huskily, and Noel, out of pity for her, got up and
walked to the other end of the little room. When he got back she had
recovered, and said with a smile:
I am out of patience with myself for being gloomy now. You will
think me such a poor coward. The baby is better and I will try to be
bright. I said in my prayers to God that if He would let my baby get
better I would be happy, and ask for nothing else. But what do you
think this is? she added, with a change of tone, drawing something
from her pocket and holding it hid in her closed hand.
I can't imagine, said Noel, full of delight to see that look of
interest and amusement on her face.
A present for you from me! Isn't that funny? It isn't anything very
valuable and perhaps you won't care for it, but I have a feeling that I
want you to have it. It's the cross of the Legion of Honor, which
belonged to my grandfather. My mother left it to me among some trinkets
of hers, which have all been sold. Don't look sorry about it; you don't
know how little it matters now! This I could never have sold, and
besides it is worth very little reallybut I felt I wanted you to have
it. Will you let me give it to you?
She opened her hand and held it out to him with the cross lying on
the palm. Noel was deeply touched.
I never really expected to be decorated, he said, but there is no
possible way in which a decoration could come to me that could give me
such pride and pleasure as this. Take it? I should think so! When I
used to dream of being a painter I thought perhaps I'd have a great
picture in the Salon and get a decoration for it. But I assure
you this is better.
Oh, what pleasant things you say! said Christine. You make me
feel quite happy, and she held out the cross for him to take.
I want you to fasten it on, said Noel. I mean always to wear it.
Will you pin it here?
He turned back his coat and Christine came close to him and complied
with the utmost willingness. The pin was a little blunt or rusted and
it took her several seconds to put it in and fasten it. Their faces
were almost on a level, and Noel's eyes looked closer than they had
ever done before at her youthful loveliness. Hers were bent in complete
absorption upon her task.
When she had fastened the pin she drew backward, still holding open
the coat that she might see the cross in its new position. All the time
she never looked at Noel, but all the time he looked at her.
Thank you, she said simply.
Noel seemed stricken with silence. His mind was confused, and he did
not know what to say. And Christine, wondering that he did not speak,
lifted her large eyes to his face and looked at him questioningly. Then
Noel remembered himself, and in perfect recollectedness and
self-possession he took her hands and kissed them, first one and then
You have made me your knight, he said. Let me never forget it. I
am a knight of the Legion of Honor. I shall carry this cross about me
always to remind me of it. Thank you, and bless you, Christine.
Then he dropped her hands, and they sat down and fell to talking.
For the first time in his recent intercourse with her she was able to
speak of general subjects. There was a momentary lull in her anxiety
about the baby, and in her release from that recent and heavy burden
she felt a rebound from the more remote causes of unhappiness too. So
they got into a talk that was easy and almost bright. They spoke
together of foreign lands familiar to them both, of music and painting,
and all the things from which her present life divided her so
completely that, as Christine said presently, it was like recalling
dreams. And then in the midst of it Dallas came in, with his slovenly
dress and horrible pipe, and Christine, with an awful look of
recollectedness, came back to reality. It was impossible to take this
man into a talk like theirs, and Noel quickly said good-night.
The next day and the next Christine went to the studio, and the
sittings passed in almost total silence. It had become more than ever
impossible for them to speak to each other, and they both realized it.
Then came a day on which Noel waited in vain for Christine. When
morning and afternoon were passed and he got no tidings he could bear
the suspense no longer, and went to the house to inquire. Old Eliza,
the negro servant, opened the door for him and told him the baby was
dying. His heart grew cold within him. What would Christine do? How
could she bear it? He asked if the doctor had been, and was told he was
now up-stairs. He inquired for Dallas. Gone to walk, Eliza said with
contempt, and then added that He might as well be one place as
another, as he didn't do no good nowhar.
Noel saw the doctor, an elderly, capable, decided man, who, as he
soon found, took in the whole situation and sympathized with Christine
as heartily as he excoriated her husband. Noel said he was an old
friend of Christine's, who was anxious to do all that was possible for
her, and had the satisfaction of seeing that he had inspired Dr.
Belford with confidence in him. He soon saw that it was unnecessary to
ask the good physician to see that her wants and those of the child
were supplied, as his own sympathies were thoroughly enlisted, so he
could only beg to be notified of anything he could possibly do, and go
When Noel came, early next morning, a scant bit of black drapery,
tied with a white ribbon, told him that the thing had happened which
deprived Christine of all she loved on earth. The desire of her eyes
was taken from her and her house was left unto her desolate.
Eliza opened the door, and he came inside the hall and asked her a
few questions. The baby had died about midnight, the woman said. Dr.
Belford had stayed until it was over. The child was now prepared for
burial, the mother having done everything herself, seeming perfectly
calm. She would not eat, however, and was lying on the bed by the baby.
He did not need to inquire for the father, for at the end of the hall
was the dining-room, where he could see Dallas, with his back turned,
seated at the table, evidently making a hearty breakfast, the smell of
which smote offensively the visitor's nostrils. Noel felt he must get
away, and yet the thought of Christine, lying up-stairs alone by her
little dead baby, seemed to pull him by his very heartstrings.
He put some money into Eliza's hand, telling her to use it as she
thought necessary, and then went away. He next sought Dr. Belford and
sent a message to Christine, which he felt would fall as coldly as upon
the ear of a marble statue, and then he went to a florist's and sent
her a great heap of pure white flowers, which he thought she might care
to put about the baby. This done he felt helpless, impotent and
The next morning he went with Dr. Belford and helped to lower into
the earth the treasure of Christine's heart. There were but four
persons present, the mother, the clergyman, the physician and himself.
Dallas had slipped from the house early in the morning, telling Eliza
he would not be back, deliberately shirking the unpleasantness of the
occasion. He had never shown any love for the child, but a funeral was,
in itself, a painful thing, and he ran away from it. This, at least,
was the explanation given by Dr. Belford. Noel felt that the kind old
doctor was the being who could best help Christine now, since he had
been with her through the worst of her trial. So it was he who sat
beside Christine as they drove through the crowded city streets, with
the little white coffin on the seat opposite. Noel went in another
carriage with the clergyman, to whom he told something of Christine's
history, begging him to go see her and try to give her comfort, which
he promised to do. It seemed a bitter thing to him that both these men
seemed to have some place and position beside Christineand he none!
He looked at her during the short service, which tortured his heart
with pain for her, but behind her thick veil her face was quite
invisible, and her figure was still and cold as marble. He longed
unspeakably to try to comfort her, but he felt he could not take one
step until she gave some sign that she wanted him. He knew that Dr.
Belford had told her that he wished to speak with her as soon as she
could bear it, and now he must waitno matter how longuntil she
signified her wish to have him come. She had sent him a message of
thanks by Dr. Belford, and said she would see him when she could. With
that he had to be content. He felt it useless to deny the plain fact
that grief had crowded every thought of him out of her heart now.
Every day he sent her flowersalthough he felt assured that they
all found their way to the cemeteryand every day he went to Dr.
Belford to find out how she was. The report was always the samecalm,
He longed to feel that Christine thought of him with some degree of
comfort, but there was absolutely no foundation for such a hope. He had
always felt a certain impatient scorn of the unfortunate, and to him
totally uninteresting baby, whom Christine had loved with such
idolatry, but now he found himself formulating a passionate wish that
he could get back the child's life for her at the sacrifice of his own.
He almost felt that he could consent to it.
About two weeks after the death of the baby Dr. Belford called upon
Noel. It was absolutely necessary, he said, to do something to rouse
Christine from her state of hopeless lethargy. He had accordingly laid
his plans to do this. He had discovered, through Eliza, that all the
money furnished for the support of the establishment for some time past
had come from Christine, and that Dallas even applied to his wife for
money for tobacco and car-fares, pretending he went out looking for
As far as I can understand, said Dr. Belford, the creature has no
strong viceshe is too bloodless and inane for them. Even when he had
money it doesn't appear that he gambled, and I don't believe he drinks.
He is simply wanting in principle, feeling and everything. Eliza says
he has scarcely spoken to his wife, or she to him, since the baby died.
Indeed she never speaks a word to any one beyond what is strictly
necessary. This state of things cannot go on. I told Eliza yesterday to
go and ask her for money, which she did. On the heels of it I went to
her and told her you wanted to begin a new picture and could find no
model so suitable as herself. I asked her if she would agree. She told
me then that Eliza had come to her for money to carry on the house, and
that she felt she must, in some way, earn it, as she would not owe
tradespeople, who could not afford to lose by her. So she asked me to
tell you she would begin the sittings to-morrow.
What a friend you are, Doctor, to her and to me! said Noel,
grasping his companion's hand.
The doctor held his hand in a resolute pressure as he looked at him
keenly and said:
I think I know my man. At all events I'm going to trust you. I
haven't much belief in saints, but unless you're a double-dyed
scoundrel you will never betray this trust.
Noel answered nothing. The two men grasped hands a second longer and
then, each satisfied with each, they parted.
When Christine came the next morning the pity that Noel felt for her
almost overcame him. It was evident that the sight of the place brought
up the saddest memories, and she appeared at the door empty-armed,
instead of weighted down by her helpless little burden. The look on her
face, as she threw back her veil, was almost more than he could bear.
By a mute little gesture she seemed to implore him not to speak of what
filled the minds of both, and he obeyed her. She gave him both her
hands. He felt like falling on his knees before her, and controlled
himself only by a strong effort. It seemed inhuman not to do something
to help her, but what could he do?
I'm so sorry for you, was all he could say.
Don't speak. Don't make me speak. You know I thank you for
everything. I can't talk.
Then, loosing his hands, she walked off to a window and stood
looking out, while Noel chose a different canvas and busied himself
with preparations for work. Presently she came and placed herself
calmly, and Noel began to draw. Occasionally he said some little thing,
and she assented, but they both soon felt that silence was the only
thing. There was no suggestion of tears in her eyes, but their look was
the sadder for that. When the sitting was ended Noel tried to make her
take a glass of wine or some fruit, but she turned from them almost
with distaste. As she was leaving, however, she asked if she might have
the roses on the table. When Noel eagerly said yes she took the great
bunch in her hand and went offhe well knew where!
After that she came daily, and the picture progressed, but she, the
beautiful model, remained unchanged in her hopeless apathy and misery.
One day at the close of the sitting Noel, as usual, went from the
studio to his law-office. The season was dull and his partner was out
of town, so it devolved on him to read and attend to the mail. He had
read half through the little pile of letters which he found awaiting
his attention when he took up one bearing the name and address of a law
firm in a Western town, with whom he and his partner had, from time to
time, transacted business. He opened it abstractedly and began to run
over the contents rather listlessly, when a name caught his eye that
arrested his attention. The lawyers proposed to his partner and himself
to cooperate with them in a case of bigamy. They had worked it up
satisfactorily, they said, their client being the first wife of a man
said to be now living with a second one in the city of Noel's
residence. The man's name was Robert Dallas.
Noel sprang to his feet, while a dizziness that made him almost
unconscious took possession of him. He fell back into his chair again,
a chill running through all his veins. If it should be the man
Christine had married so hastily in a foreign countrythe father of
her child! The horror of it overcame him so that for several moments he
remained transfixed. Then he reflected that the name might be a mere
coincidence, and took up the letter to finish it.
Every word he read strengthened the conviction that it was the
Robert Dallas that he knew. There was a minute description of him,
which corresponded perfectly, and the lawyer added that he had sent, by
express, a photograph and specimens of his handwriting. Noel looked
about him. An express parcel, which he had not noticed, lay on the
table. He hastily cut the twine and opened it. There were papers and
memoranda, and in an envelope a photograph. He tore it open and the
weak, handsome face of the father of Christine's child confronted him.
There was no longer a doubt of it; Christine, the innocent, the
guileless, the confiding, the pure and sweet and lovely, had been
betrayed, and by this creature, this miserable excuse for a man, whose
dull and feeble beauty looked to him hideous as leprosy. What would
become of her? How would she bear it? Who would take care of her when
the great shock fell?
A sudden strength came into him. A force that had lain as silent and
reserved as the force of steam in water surged forth at the fiery touch
of the thought that had first come to him. He got up hastily and put
the lawyer's letters and the parcel of papers into his iron safe and
locked it. The photograph only he left out, and this he thrust into the
inner pocket of his coat. As he was doing so it caught on something. It
was his cross. A thought thrilled him. He was her knight of the Legion
of Honor, and he felt that he had kept his trust!
He went out of the office, called a cab, and had himself driven to a
street and number in a remote suburb of the city. In a quiet, pretty
little house, overrun with vines, and facing a green and grassy public
square as fresh and lovely as it was unfashionable, he stayed a long
time, and when he emerged from it an elderly lady, dressed in black and
with a white widow's cap set above her smoothly-brushed hair, came to
the door with him and pressed his hand with a fervent God bless you
as he was leaving her.
It was evident that he had inspired her with some of the ardent
spirit that was animating him, for she looked eager and full of
interest, and as she turned back within the house, when he had driven
off, she had the manner of a person who had work to do that called
forth her best energies and sympathies. Noel had the same air as he
caused himself to be driven from place to place, in pursuance of some
purpose which kept him occupied until far into the night.
Next morning when the hour for Christine's sitting came Noel was
walking up and down in his studio with a face intensely pale from past
sleeplessness and present excitement. He looked at his watch
frequently, as if impatient, and yet the least sound made him start as
if nervous and apprehensive. At last the sound he longed for and yet
dreaded was heard, and he went to the door and threw it open for
Christine to enter.
She came in without speaking, and throwing back her veil revealed
her pale, sad face, with its look of passionless woe.
Noel took her hand as he closed the door behind her and inquired for
her health. It was steadier than his, that little black-gloved hand. He
felt reluctant to let it go as she withdrew it and began to take off
her bonnet and gloves. When she had laid these on the table she ran her
fingers with a pretty motion that he had often noticed through the
loose masses of her dark hair, where it curved behind her ears. It was
quite mechanical and showed an unconsciousness of self that Noel
wondered whether he should ever see in her again.
She poured out a glass of water and drank half of it, and then said
she was ready to begin. She looked tired, but she said she was not, and
would like to begin if he were ready.
Sit down, Christine, he said gently, I am not ready to begin yet.
I want to talk to you.
She looked surprised, but sank upon the lounge and he seated himself
by her side. The utter lassitude of her expression made his task seem
desperately hard to begin.
I have something to tell you, dear Christine, he said, but I want
you to make me a promise first. If the few poor little services I have
been able to render you, and the interest and sympathy I have tried to
express to you have done anything at all, I think they must have
convinced you that I am your true, devoted friend and that you can
trust me. Tell me this, Christine; you do trust medon't you?
More than any one on earthbut that is too little, she said
hastilyas much as I could ever have trusted any oneas much as I
trusted those who have been unworthyand with a feeling that the
knowledge of their unworthiness could never affect a thing so high as
my faith in you.
Thank God that it is so. And now, Christine, I call the God we both
adore and fear to witness that I will be true to your faith in me, to
the last recess of my mind, no less than to the last drop of my blood.
See, Christine, I swear it on my cross, and he drew it out, touching
the picture as he did so. Give me your hand, he said, and we will
hold this sacred cross between my hand and yours, and I will tell you
this thing, and you must try to feel that I am not only your knight but
also your dear brother, in whom all the confidence you have expressed
to me is strengthened by the added bond of relationship. Christine, my
sister, I want you to realize that there is an ordeal before you which
it will take all the strength that you can summon to bear with
fortitude. At first you will think it intolerableimpossible to be
borne, and I do not pretend to tell you that the blow will not be
awful, beyond words. I only want to say to you now, when you are calm
enough to listen, that it is not so hopeless and terrible as it will
look at firstthat there is light beyond, though at first you may not
be able to see it. Try to keep that in your mind if you can.
She had given him her hand and they clasped the cross between them.
All the time that he was speaking she looked at him with a calm and
unbelieving wonder in her large eyes. As he paused she shook her head
with grave incredulousness and said quietly:
You do not know me, Mr. Noel. I thought you understood a little,
but you are wrong if you think there is anything you could tell me for
which I should care so much. I do not suppose I could make you
understand it, but my heart is dead and buried in my baby's grave, and
nothing could make me feel as you expect me to feel. The two or three
people that Iknow (Noel knew by the pause she made that she had
wanted to say love, but couldn't, in honesty, use the word) are all
well. I have just come from themeven Dr. Belford I have seen
to-daybut if you were going to tell me they were all dead I could not
care a great dealat least not in the way you expect me to carefor
what you have to tell me. It may be wicked to have so hard a heart, but
I cannot help it. There is absolutely nothing in all the world that
could make me feel in the way you think I ought to feel at what you
have to tell me.
I did not say ought, said Noel, there is no ought about it. It is
a thing inevitable. Oh, Christine, there is no way to lead up to it. I
must just tell you and beg you, for my sake at least, to try to bear
You had better tell me, she said. You will see how I can bear
The calm security of her tones, the passionless wonder of her quiet
face were almost maddening. They made him fear the more the effect of
the shock when it should come.
Christine, he said quietly, though his heart was leaping, it is
something about yourabout the man you married.
A faint flush came up in her face, and she averted her eyes an
instant. Then she looked at him and said calmly:
I thought you knew that long ago that became one of the subjects
upon which I had ceased to feel deeply. If you think it is wrong of me
to say this I cannot help it. He hated his little child. He never
thought it anything but a trouble and a burden, and he was not sorry
when it died. He is glad the trouble of it is over. He had long ceased
to feel any love for meif he ever had itbut if he had cared a
little for the poor little baby I could have forgotten that; but he was
cruel toward it in thought and feeling, and if I had not watched the
treasure of my heart and guarded it unceasingly he would have been
cruel to it in deed, too. I know it and Eliza knows it. Oh, why did you
make me speak of it? I ought not to say such things. It is wrong.
Why wrong, Christine? Why do you feel it to be wrong? Tell me.
Because he is my husband, she said sternly, and I took solemn
vows to love, to serve and to obey him. I said 'for better or for
worse.' I said 'till death us do part.' The God who will judge me knows
whether I have kept them. The love one cannot control; but one can
force one's self to serve and obey, and that I have tried to do.
And you have done it. I have felt that I could kneel and worship
you for itbut, Christine, the truth is too evident to be avoided. He
is unworthy of you. Suppose you could be free from him?
Divorce? she said with a sort of horror. Never! I scarcely know
what it isbut marriage seems to me a thing indissoluble and
inviolate. I cannot forget that he is the father of my child. I could
never wish, on that account, to be free from him.
Christine, there is another way. Oh, my poor, poor child, you have
never even thought of it, and it breaks my heart to tell you. But there
is a way you might be free from him without divorcea sad and dreadful
way, my poor little sister, but remember, I implore you, that there is
light beyond the darkness. Oh, cannot you think what I mean?
She shook her head.
I know he is not dead, she said; there is no other way that I
Supposemy poor girl, try to be brave now, for you will have to
know itsuppose your marriage to him was not legalwas no marriage at
Her face got scarlet.
That is not possible, she said, and if it were, it would make no
difference. If he did it without knowing
Christine, Christine, he did not! He knew it, my child. Prepare
yourself for the very worst. He deceived you wilfully. Oh, Christine,
when he was married to you there was an impossible barrier between you.
It was such a thing as you could not dream of. Give me your hands and
try to feel that your brother bears this sorrow with you. He caught
her other hand also and pressed them both between his own.
Christine, he was married already. When he married you, he had
already a wife and child.
She wrenched her hands away and sprang to her feet. A low cry broke
from her. Noel felt that it was he who had applied the torture, and he
saw her racked with agony and utterly heedless of the comfort he had
offered, and had fondly hoped to give her.
Have you proof for what you say? she cried, her wild look of
confusion and terror making her so unlike her usual self that he seemed
not to know her. I will never believe it without the strongest proof.
It is too horrible, too awful, too deadly, deadly shameful to be true.
Be quick about it. If there is proof, let me have it.
Christine, there is proof. I have it here on the spot, but spare
yourself, my poor, poor girl. Wait a little
Don't talk to me of waiting. Let me see what you have got. Oh,
can't you see that I can bear anything better than not to know? Show me
what you have and if what you say is true
But she turned away as if his eyes upon her hurt her, and raised her
arm before her face. In an instant she lowered it and said
Oh, show me what you have. Have pity on me.
Noel took the envelope containing the picture from his pocket.
This has been sent me by a lawyer, he said. The woman is his
client. She says he gave her this picture soon after they were married.
Oh, Christine, don't look at it
But she walked toward him steadily and took the envelope from his
hand. He could not bear to see her when her eyes rested on it, so he
turned away and walked off a few paces, standing with his back toward
There was a moment's silence. He heard her slip the picture from the
envelope, and he knew that she was looking at it. He heard his watch
tick in the stillness, and her absolute silence frightened him. It
lasted, perhaps, a moment more and then he turned and looked at her.
She was standing erect with the picture in her hand. He saw that she
had turned it over and that it was upon the reverse side that her eyes
were fixed. There was some writing on it which he had not seen.
She held the photograph out to him, with an intense calm in her
manner, but he saw that her nostrils quivered and her breath came
short. Her hands were trembling, too, but her voice was steady as she
I am convinced.
He glanced down at the picture and saw written on the back in a
weak, uncertain hand which Christine had evidently recognized, To my
darling little wife, from Robert.
He felt her humiliation so intensely that he could not look at her,
but he took a step toward her and was about to speak when she turned
away and, with a tottering step, went toward the sofa and fell heavily
upon it, her face buried in her hands. A long breath that was almost a
groan broke from her, and then she lay very still, except that now and
then a violent shiver would run all along her frame. Poor Noel! He felt
the bitterness of the false position he had tried to occupy. If he had
been indeed her brother, this awful grief might have spent itself, to
some extent, in his arms. He felt that he was nothing to her, but his
heart was none the less soft toward her for that.
Thrusting the picture back into his pocket, he drew a chair near to
her, and sat down by her side. He wanted her to feel that he was there,
in case she should find it in her heart to turn to him for a help he
did not venture to intrude. It seemed a long while that they remained
so, but at last Christine sat up, turning upon him a face so strange
and terrible that he trembled at the look of it. Sorrow had seared it
like a blight. She had been lying upon a seam in the lounge and it had
left a red mark across her face. He thought it looked like the wound
upon her heart made visible.
I can never see him again, she said. I cannot go home. Oh God, I
have no home! It never was a home to me, except when my baby was in it.
Oh, my baby boy!my baby boy!my little child that loved and clung to
me! Oh, God was merciful to take you. My God, I see it now! I thank
Thee, I thank Thee, I thank Thee!
She fell on her knees on the floor, and then she threw herself
forward on the couch, and hiding her face again shook from head to foot
with great, tearless sobs.
Oh, I am so glad he is dead! It is so sweet to me to think it! I
would have had to look into his big, clear eyes that used to seem to
read my very heart, and think of this! Oh, if only I could go and lie
beside my baby, in the deep, still ground where the cruel eyes of men
and women could not see us, I would want no other home. I have been
lonely and miserable, lying in my bed at night, without him, and I have
felt that he missed and needed me, as I did him. Oh, if only God would
let me go to him, I would be willing to be put into his grave alive and
wait for death to come! It would be easier than life with this thing
branded on me.
Branded on you! Oh, Christine, you must not say it. You will not be
branded; you will be, as you have always been, best and purest and
truest among womento me at least. What have you ever been but an
angel of nobleness and heroism and devotion to duty? Oh, Christine, I
could worship you.
She rose to her feet and stood before him.
I believe God will reward you in Heaven for those words, she said.
You are a man who can see as He sees, in truth and clearness, and you
know, as He does, I have tried to do right. But what you do not know,
what He alone can know, is how I have sufferedhow every sacred
feeling of my woman's heart has been torn and desecrated, and dragged
to the earth, and how I endured it all, because I thought it was my
dutyand all the time it wasOh, I feel as if I don't know what may
happen to me next to drag me deeper down in misery and sorrow. I
thought the worst had come when my baby died, and now a thing so
terrible has come as to make that the comfort that I hug to my soul.
She sank to a seat on the couch again, and Noel came and took the
place at her side.
Give me your hand, she said tremblingly. Oh, I feel so
frightened. Now that this has come I feel that the air is full of awful
horrors that are waiting to fall upon me.
Noel took her hands in both his own, and she clung to them with a
The worst is over, he said gently. You have only to let me manage
and think for you now
Tell me, she said, tell me all there is to knowhow you found
this thing out, and what will be done about it. You must tell it every
word to me. I can bear it better now than ever to speak of it again.
And Noel told her, as mercifully and gently as he could, all that he
had learned from the lawyer's statements. He wanted to show her how
convincing and certain the proof was, that she might be justified in
acting on it. She held his hands in a hard grasp and looked at him with
excited, distended eyes as she listened to it all. The mixture of
wildness and calm in her manner and looks positively terrified him. He
feared her reason might be temporarily disturbed, and would have given
worlds to see her cry and complain, but she heard him through with the
same excited stillness.
I have a safe and pleasant refuge for you for the present,
Christine, he said. I have arranged everything. A ladya dear friend
of mine, whose son was my friend and a man I loved devotedlythis lady
will take you and care for you as a daughter. I have told her
everything and she is waiting for you now, longing to love and comfort
you. Her son is dead and she has often told me that I, as his friend,
came next in her affections, and that she would do anything on earth to
serve me. I was able to help him once and she never forgot it. So I
went and told her all the truth. She has a mind as clean and simple as
your own, Christine, and she is longing to love and comfort and take
care of you. You will let me take you to herwill you not?
Oh, yes, she said. God bless you for it. I could never go back
there again, she added with a shudder, but I must write a letter.
She rose hastily and Noel, wondering, brought her writing materials.
She wrote a hasty note, and sealing it, asked him to have it sent at
once. To his surprise he found it was addressed to Dallas.
I will give it to the janitor as we go down, he said. Do you feel
able to go now, Christine? A carriage will be waiting for us and I will
take you to that dear woman who will make you feel as if your mother's
arms were around you.
Christine was trembling in every limb, but she reached for her
bonnet and tried to tie it on. Her hands shook so that she let it fall.
Noel picked it up and held it a moment, saying soothingly:
Don't hurry. We can wait a little while, if you wish. Try not to be
too despairing. When you drive away from here to-day you leave the past
behind you, and enter into a new and different life. Your new friend,
Mrs. Murray, will know you only as you are now, and you may meet no one
unless you wish to. She has very few friends herself, and she will tell
them what she chooses of you. You will see she is not a woman that
people will dare to ask questions of.
He stopped. A look so dreary, strange and full of anguish had come
into Christine's face that he was alarmed and said quickly:
What is it?
She struck her hands together and uttered a low cry.
What is my name? she said, in a tone so wild and vacant he thought
her mind was wandering. It used to be, she said, passing one hand
across her forehead, as if in an effort of memoryit used to be
VerroneChristine Verrone, but I am not that happy-hearted girl the
nuns used to call by that name. This is not Christine Verrone. The very
flesh and blood and bones of this body are differentand surely in
this mind and heart and soul there is no tinge nor remnant of that old
Christine. How, then, can I be she? Oh! I have no home, no country, no
dwelling-place on earth; I have not even a name to be called by!
Noel could bear no more. Taking her hands in his, he held them
firmly, and looking in her eyes, said fervently:
Then take my name, Christine. Let me give you a home and friends,
and call you by the name I bear. God knows I would feel honored in
bestowing it upon you. If you will commit your precious life into my
keepingif you will marry me
The look of her eyes checked him. The meaning of his words had
dawned upon her slowly, and to his infinite distress he saw that they
filled her with pain.
You are speaking out of pity for me. You think I would die beneath
it, unless you sacrificed yourself and gave me the protection of your
name, she said, speaking almost eagerly. Tell me this is so. But you
do not know how I feel. I can bear it somehow, or else I can die. I
could never accept such a sacrifice from you, and, oh, I could never
think of marriage again, even to the best and noblest creature on God's
earth, without a shrinking that is pain intolerable.
Noel saw he had made a mistake. He saw, too, that the only way out
of it was to let her put this interpretation on it. So he merely
soothed and comforted her, and told her things should be as she chose,
and then he tied her bonnet under her chin as if she had been a little
girl, gave her her gloves, lowered the veil before her face and asked
her if she were ready.
You will take your sweet girl-name, he said, and be known as Mrs.
Verrone. Only Mrs. Murray and I will know anything of your past, and we
will now turn that page, Christine, and go forth into a new worldand
a brighter one, please God.
Christine was ill for many weeks, with Dr. Belford in daily
attendance, and her faithful old Eliza to help Mrs. Murray with the
nursing. All during the long fever, the gentle, little old lady, to
whom Noel had confided her, watched and tended her with a mother's
devotion and love. The patient was far too ill to protest, and very
soon she learned to lean upon and love Mrs. Murray as though she had
indeed been her mother. Again poor Noel felt himself banished, ignored
and excluded, as he alone was kept away from her, but his care for her
was so supremely above his care for himself that he never made a
He had learned from Elizawhose mouth was shut so tight to the
other servants that she went among them almost like a dumb womanthat
on the day of his making the announcement concerning her husband to
Christine, a messenger had brought Dallas a note, after reading which
he had hurriedly put a few things into a valise and left the house.
Since then he had not been heard from. Evidently Christine had warned
him in her note and he had run away to escape the suit for bigamy. Noel
had not suspected the poor girl's motive in writing, but, on the whole,
he was glad. It was the simplest and surest way of getting rid of him.
At last Dr. Belford had pronounced the patient convalescent, and she
was sitting up and even moving about the up-stairs rooms.
One afternoon Noel came to the house, as usual, to make inquiries.
As he mounted the steps he saw that by some accident the door had been
left ajar. He bethought him to go in softly, in the hope of finding
Mrs. Murray in one of the lower rooms and taking her by surprise. He
had bought a big bunch of crimson roses on the way. He crossed the hall
softly and made his way to the cozy little sitting-room, attracted by
the flickering light of a wood fire, which looked cheery and
comfortable on a day like this. It was burning rather low, but the room
was still partly lighted from without, and as he was about to cross the
threshold he saw a picture which made him pause.
On a deep lounge half turned toward the fire a girl in white was
lying fast asleep. It was Christine. Her dark hair was all gathered
loosely back and coiled in a large knot low down against her fair
throat, from which the white lace of her gown fell backward, leaving
its beautiful pureness bare. There was a charming air of foreign taste
and fashioning about the whole costume. Poor Christine! She had put it
on obediently when Mrs. Murray had brought it to her, selecting it from
among the contents of her trunk as the most comfortable and suitable
thing for the convalescent to wear. It had been long since she had worn
or even looked at it, and it had brought back sad memories of her
pretty wedding outfit, but all her clothes had sad associations for
her, and the ones she had worn more recently would have been worse than
this. So she put it on unquestioningly, too listless to care much what
she wore, a fact which did not prevent its being exquisitely suitable
She was very white, and the long black lashes that lay against her
cheek made a dark shadow under her eyes that made her look the more
fragile. Her face was infinitely sad; the corners of the mouth drooped
piteously, and a look of trouble now and then slightly contracted the
Noel, who had cautiously drawn near, was seated in a low chair near
her feet, scarcely daring to breathe for fear of waking her, and
breaking the spell which seemed to hold him, also, in a sleep of
enchantment. He made up his mind deliberately that he would remain and
be near her when she waked. He had kept himself away from her long
enough. Now he must see and talk with her. He sat so for some time, the
red roses in his hands, and his steady, grave, intense dark eyes
fastened upon her face. Presently a long, deep sigh escaped her, and
the fair figure on the lounge moved slightly, and then settled into
more profound repose. It was evident that she was sleeping soundly. A
thought occurred to Noel, and moving with infinite cautiousness and
slowness he took the roses one by one and laid them over her white
dress. One of her arms was raised above her head, so that her cheek
rested against it, and the other lay along her side, the hand relaxed
As he was putting the last rose in its place, he observed this
little, fragile left hand particularly and saw a thing that made his
heart throb: the wedding-ring was gone from it. Christine was free
indeed! Here was the sign and token before his very eyes. Being free he
might win her for his own. The force of his love in this minute seemed
strong enough for any task. Oh, if he could only be patient! He felt it
very hardthe hardest task that could beset him, but he gathered all
the strength that was in him for a great resolve of patience. The
sacredness of it rendered it a prayer.
And Christine slept on profoundly. He had known each moment that she
might wake and discover him, but he felt himself prepared for that. He
looked at her and realized that she was well, for in spite of her
pallor, she had the look of youthful health and strength, and he said
to himself that his banishment was over and the time to set himself to
the task before him was come.
As he kept his eyes upon her lovely face a sudden little smile
lifted, ever so slightly, the corners of her mouth, as if there were
pleasure in her dream. The man's heart thrilled to see it. If a dream
could make her smileif the power to smile remained to herreality
should do it, too. If he could just be patient! If he could keep down
the longing in his heart that clamored for relief in uttered words!
A piece of wood upon the fire fell apart, sending up a bright little
blaze. The sound of it wakened Christine. Still with the memory of that
dream upon her she opened her eyes, and met Noel's gaze fixed on her in
sweet friendliness and gladness. For an instant neither spoke.
Christine's large eyes, clear as jewels in the firelight, gazed at him
across the bank of crimson roses that seemed to send a red flush to her
Noel spoke first.
All right again, at last! he said, with a cheering smile. Have
you had a pleasant nap?
And he leaned forward and held out his hand.
A rush of sad remembrance came over Christine's face. The lines of
her mouth trembled a little and she dropped her eyes as she took his
hand in both her own and pressed it silently. Noel knew the touch meant
only gratitude, and it left him miserably unsatisfied, but he felt
himself strong to wait. She dropped his hand, and for a moment covered
her face with her own, as if to collect herself thoroughly. Then she
sat upright in her seat, scattering the roses to the floor. Noel knelt
to gather them up for her, and when he had collected the great mass
into a gorgeous bunch he knelt still as he held them out to her.
She took them, hiding her face in their glowing sweetness, and Noel,
rising, walked a few steps away, feeling it impossible to speak, unless
he allowed himself the words he had forsworn.
At this instant a cheery voice was heard in the hall.
Who in the world left the front door open? it said, in energetic,
matter-of-fact tones, at the sound of which Noel felt suddenly
Mrs. Murray had entered just in time, for the sight of Christine
here alone had been almost too much for the resolutions of reserve in
which he had flattered himself he was so strong.
In a little while the lives of Mrs. Murray and Christine had settled
into a calm routine of work and talk, and the simple recreations of
reading and house-decorating which were the only ones that Christine
ever seemed to think of. She never went out, and worked with as much
application as Mrs. Murray would permit at the embroidery which, at her
earnest request, the wise old lady had got for her. She and Christine
had a frank and loving talk, in which one was as interested as the
other, in Christine's making her own living, and in which it was
settled, to the joy of each, that their home in future was to be
together. They were days of strange peace and calm for poor Christine,
and her heart would swell with gratefulness for them, as she sat over
her beautiful embroidery, which was in itself a pleasure to her.
But the evenings were the best of all, for then Noel invariably
camesometimes to look in and say a bright and cheery word, on his way
to keep an engagement, sometimes to give them the benefit of the bright
stories and good things he had heard at a dinner, and sometimes to
spend a whole long evening, talking, laughing and reading aloud from
new magazines and books which he brought with him in abundance. These
were the sorts of delights utterly unknown to Christine before. She had
read very little, and the world of delight that reading opened up to
her was new, inspiring and enchanting. Noel read aloud his favorite
poets, their two young hearts throbbing together, and their eyes alight
with feeling at the passages which left the matured heart of Mrs.
It had been in vain that Mrs. Murray had tried to induce Christine
to sing. It occurred to her at last to put it in the light of a favor
to herself, and when she told Christine that she loved music very
dearly, and rarely had an opportunity to hear it, the girl went at once
and played and sang for her, and then Mrs. Murray used the same
argumentthat of giving a friend pleasurewith regard to Noel. At
first it was difficult and awkward, but before very long Christine and
Noel were singing duets together, and music now became a delightful
part of their evening's entertainment. How dull the evenings were when
Noel did not come!for sometimes there were engagements from which he
could not escape. Mrs. Murray missed him much herself and it pleased
her to be sure that Christine did also. Sometimes he would come late
after a dinner, and if it were only a brief half-hour that he spent
with them it made the evening seem a success, instead of a failure.
After a little while Mrs. Murray succeeded in inducing Christine to
take walks with her along those quiet unfashionable streets, in the
bracing air of the late autumn afternoons. She would return from these
expeditions so refreshed, with such a charming color in the fair, sweet
face to which peace and love and protecting companionship had given an
expression of new beauty, that Mrs. Murray would be half protesting at
the thought that the people that passed it, in the street, were
deprived of a sight of its loveliness by that close, thick veil, which
it never seemed to occur to Christine to lay aside. It seemed an
instinct with her, and her good friend felt hurt to the very heart when
she thought what the instinct had its foundation in.
In proportion as the influence of these days and weeks brought peace
and calm to Christine, to Noel they brought an excited restlessness. He
was under the spell of the strongest feeling that he had ever known.
All the circumstances of his intercourse with Christine, the difficult
self-repression to which he had compelled himself so long, and the
sudden sense of her freedom which made vigilance harder stillall
these things together brought about in him a state of excitement that
kept him continually on a strain. It was only in her presence that he
was calm, because it was there that he recognized most fully the
absolute need of calmness and self-control. Away from her, he sometimes
rushed into rash resolves, as to a resolute manly sort of wooing which
he felt tremendously impelled to, and in which he felt a power in him
to succeed. He would even make deliberate plans, and imagine himself
going to the house and insisting on seeing Christine alone, and then
his thoughts would fairly fly along, uttering themselves in excited
words that burned their way to Christine's heart and melted it.
But when, in actuality, he would come to where she was, all these
brave and manful purposes faded, like mist, before the commanding spell
of her deep and solemn calm. She seemed so tranquil in her assured
sense of his simple friendliness that he often thought she must have
forgotten entirely, in the excitement that followed, that he had
offered her his heart and hand and name, or else that she was so
convinced of the fact that it had been done in pity that she had never
given it a second thought.
So perplexed, bewildered, overwrought did he become with all these
thoughts that he forced himself to make some excuse and stay away from
Christine. When at last he went again, it was late in the evening and
his time, he knew, would be short. It was three days now since he had
been, and his blood flowed quick with impatience. He had thought of
little else as he sat through the long dinner, eating the dishes set
before him while he talked with a certain preoccupation to the
beautiful débutante whom he had brought in, and who made herself
her most fascinating for him, Noel being just the sort of man to
represent such a girl's idealolder, graver, more finished in manner
than herself, and possessed of the still greater charm of being
thoroughly initiated in all the mysteries of the great world, across
whose threshold only she had seen. She was exceedingly pretty, and Noel
was too much an artist not to be alive to it, but as he looked at the
fair, unwritten page her face represented to him, he was seeing, in his
mind's eye, that far lovelier face on which the spiritualizing,
beautifying hand of sorrow had been laid. He had not gone thus far on
his journey of life without deep suffering himself, and the heart that
had suffered was the one to which he felt his true kinship. At the
close of the dinner the whole party adjourned to the opera, Noel alone
excusing himself, at the door of the débutante's carriage, on
the plea of an important engagement. The lovely bud looked vexed and
disappointed, but Noel knew his place at her side would be abundantly
filled, and got himself away with all the haste decorum permitted.
When he rang at Mrs. Murray's door Harriet ushered him into the
little drawing-room where Christine was seated at the piano singing.
Mrs. Murray was not present. Motioning the servant not to announce him
he took his position behind a screen, where he could see and hear
without being seen. Christine had heard neither his ring nor his
entrance, so she was utterly unconscious of any presence but her own,
and indeed most probably not of that, for there was a strange
abandonment to sway of the song as her voice, rich and full and deep,
I am weary with rowing, with rowing,
Let me drift adown with the stream.
I am weary with rowing, with rowing,
Let me lay me down and dream.
Noel knew the little song well, and in his fancy the full, pathetic
voice gave it a sound and meaning that his longing heart desired to
hear in it. The thrilling voice sang on, low and deep and full:
The stream in its flowing, its flowing,
Shall bear us adown to the sea.
I am weary with rowing, with rowing,
I yield me to love and to thee.
I can struggle no longer, no longer,
Here in thine arms let me lie,
In thine arms which are stronger, are stronger
Than all on the earth, let me die.
The sweet voice trembled as the song came to an end, and Christine,
with a swift, impulsive movement, put her elbows on the keys of the
piano, making a harsh discord of sound, and dropped her face in her
hands. She remained so, without moving, for several minutes, while
Noel, thrilling in all his senses to the power of that subtly sweet
song, kept also profoundly still. He felt it was his only safety. If he
had moved, it must have been to clasp her in his arms.
At last she rose to her feet and began to put the music in order. It
was a moment when life, for each of them, seemed very hard. And yet, to
one who looked and saw them so, it seemed as if the best that earth
could offer might be theirs, and that they were made and fashioned to
have and to enjoy it.
The pretty room was a soft glow of firelight and lamplight mingled.
The rich harmonies of dark color made by carpets, hangings and
furniture were lighted here and there by an infinite number of the
charming little things that are the perfecting touches of a tasteful
room. A bunch of freshly-gathered autumn leaves was massed under the
light from the shaded lamp. Near by sat Christine. She had taken up a
strip of gorgeous embroidery in her hands, and was bending above it and
trying hard to put her stitches in with care. To-night there was a
steady flush in her cheeks that made her look more beautiful than he
had ever seen her. He advanced a step or two, and stood, unseen, at a
little distance from her, making unconsciously a complement to the
picture. He took a step forwardand she heard the sound and lifted her
head. He came nearer and his voice was sweet and thrilling as he said
She raised her eyes and looked at him; but they dropped before his
steady gaze, and she did not answer.
Let me speak to you a little, dear Christine, he went on, taking a
seat near her. He had himself well in hand and was determined not to
blunder. Christine sat opposite and drew her needle through and
through, saying neither yes nor no. I want to be very careful not to
hurt you, Noel went on, but I have had it on my mind a long, long
time to talk to you about yourself. Do you intend to lead always,
without change or variation, the isolated, dull, restricted life you
are leading now?
Oh, don't speak to me of any change! she said entreatingly. You
have been so good to me. Be good to me still. Let me stay here, as I
am, in this heaven of rest and peace. Mrs. Murray will keep me. She is
not tired of me. She loves to have me, and it is my one idea of
blessedness and comfort and rest.
Her voice was agitated almost to tears, and she had dropped her work
and clasped her hands together with a piteousness of appeal.
No one will hinder you, Christine, he said. Mrs. Murray is made
better and brighter and happier by your presence every day, and it
would be only the greatest grief to her to part with you. This is your
sure and safe and certain home as long as she lives, unless, of your
own choice, you should choose to change it.
Christine shook her head with a denial of the thought that was
Never, she said, oh, never, never! I only ask to stay here, as I
am, until I die.
Christine, he said, and she could feel his strong gaze on her,
through her lowered lids, try to be honest with your own heart. Listen
to its voice and you will have to own you are not happy.
Happy! How could I ever expect to be? It would be a shame to me
even to think of it. Oh, you do not know a woman's nature, or you could
not talk to me of happiness.
I know your woman's nature, Christinewell enough to reverence it
and kneel to it, and I am not afraid to tell you you are outraging and
wronging it, by shutting out happiness from your heart. What is there
to hinder you from being happy? And oh, Christine, I know at least,
there is no happiness but love.
A silence, solemn and still as death, followed these fervent,
low-toned words. He could see the fluttering of her breath, and the
look of deep, affrighted pain upon her face made his heart quiver.
Christine, he murmured in a voice grown softer and lower still,
try not to be frightened or distressed. I cannot hold back my heart
any longer. I love youdear and good and noble one. If you could only
love me a little, in return, I could make you so happy. I know I could,
Christine, and as for mewhy my life, if you refuse me your love, is
worthless and wasted and dead. Oh, Christine, you are the very treasure
of my heart, whether you will or no. Be my wife. You can make my
happiness, as surely as I, if you will let me, can make yours.
He would not venture to take her hand, but he held out his to her,
saying in a voice that had sunk to a whisper:
Only put your hand in mine, Christine, in token that you will try
to love me a little, and I will wait for all the rest.
He had bent very close to her, and she felt his breath against her
hair as his passionate whisper fell upon her ear. Her heart thrilled to
it, but she got up stiffly to her feet, bending her body away from him
and covering her eyes, for a moment, with her hand.
Noel, who had risen too, stepped backward instantly. He saw her lips
compressed convulsively as if in pain, and, for her sake, he thrust
down into his heart its great longing, and forced himself to think of
her alone. It cut him like a knife to see that she drew away from him.
Don't shrink from me, Christine, he said. If it distresses you
for me to speak I can be silent. I was obliged to tell you, but there
it can stop. I have laid the offering of my love and life before you
and there it is for you to take or leave. Perhaps I have startled you.
If you will only think about it and try to get used to the idea
But Christine had found her voice.
I cannot think of it! she cried. I utterly refuse to think of it.
Oh, I am more miserable than ever I have been yet! If I am to make you
unhappyif I am to spoil your life
You have beautified and glorified and crowned it with love,
Christine. I should have gone to my grave without it, if you had not
given it to me. It is a godlike thing to feel what I feel for you. Come
what may I shall never be sorry for it. You have nothing to reproach
Christine was very pale. She felt herself trembling as she sank into
a chair and clasped her hands about her knee. Noel too sat down, but
farther away from her than he had been before.
I entreat you not to be distressed he began, but she interrupted
Oh, I feelI cannot tell you what I feel, she said. Was ever a
woman at once so honored and so shamed? How could I give to any man a
ruined life like mine, and yet God knows how it is sweet to me to know
you have this feeling for meto know that I may still arouse in such a
heart as yours this highest, holiest, purest, best of all the heart can
give. Oh, I pray God to let you feel and know the joy it is to meand
yet I'd rather cut off my right hand than listen even to the thought of
Noel could not understand her. The look in her face completely
Christine, he said, there is but one thing to do. On one thing
alone the whole matter rests. Look at me.
His voice was resolute, though it was so gentle, and in obedience to
its bidding Christine raised her eyes to his.
Answer me this, Christine. Do you love me?
And looking straight into his eyes she answered:
Noel rose from his seat and crossed over to the fire, where he stood
with his back toward her. He did not see the passionate gesture with
which she strained her clasped hands to her breast a moment and then
stretched them out toward him. In a second she withdrew them and let
them fall in her lap. Her heart reproached her for the falseness of her
tongue, and this had been a passionate impulse of atonement to him for
the wrong that she had done. But stronger than her heart was the other
voice that told her to make her utmost effort to keep up the deceit,
for in the moment that the knowledge came to her that her heart, for
the first time, was possessed by a true and mighty love an instinct
stronger than that love itself compelled her to deny itto give any
answer, go any length, do anything sooner than make an admission by
which she might be betrayed into doing a great and ineradicable wrong
to the man she loved. Yes, the man she loved! For one second's space
she let the inward flame leap up, and then she forced it back and
smothered it down, with all the power that was in her.
When Noel turned, his face was calm and he spoke, too, in a
controlled and quiet voice.
We will not be the less friends for this, Christine, he said; the
best that is left to me is to be near you when I can. You will not
forbid me this?
He saw that her eyes consented. To save her life she could not deny
him thisor deny herself. Which was it that she thought of first?
I think it best that Mrs. Murray should not know of it, he said,
and again she consented without speaking.
I shall come as usual, he went on, and, Christine, never reproach
yourself. Never dream but that it is more joy than I could ever have
had in any other way, only to come and see you and be near you and hear
you speak sometimes. Good-night, he added, taking her cold, little
hand in a gentle clasp. It is the last time. You will see how faithful
I will be. But once for allChristine, Christine, Christine!let me
tell you that I love you with as great and true and strong a love as
ever man had for woman. You seem to me a being between earth and
Heavenbetter than men and women here, and only a little below the
She felt the hand that held hers loose its hold, the kind voice died
away, a door far off shut to, and Christine, rousing herself, looked
about her and found that she was alone.
Two evenings later Noel called again, finding Mrs. Murray recovered
and able to join the group around the table as usual. There was no
consciousness expressed in the eyes of either Christine or himself as
they met. At first she was very grave and silent, but under the
influence of his easy talk her manner became perfectly natural, and at
the close of the evening she found herself wondering if the exciting
occurrences of their last meeting could be reality. Noel read aloud
most of the evening an agreeable, unexciting book, and Christine
thanked him from her heart that he did not ask, as usual, for music.
As for Mrs. Murray, as the days went on she found herself
continually wondering that such a state of things could last. She was
perfectly sure of Noel's feeling, and she thought its continued entire
suppression very strange. She was often tempted to make some excuse to
leave them alone, but a fear of the consequences held her back, for she
was absolutely unable to calculate upon Christine. She had not the
courage to lift a finger in the matter.
Almost imperceptibly a change was coming over Christine, and by
degrees Mrs. Murray became aware of it. She grew more silent and fond
of being alone. She even went out now and took long, companionless
walks, coming home exhausted and preoccupied. Poor girl! thought her
kind, old friend. She is very unhappy, and for a little while, in her
deliverance from a worse unhappiness, she had managed to forget it
On one occasion Noel rather urgently pressed the matter of being
allowed to bring his mother and sisters to call. He did so in the hope
that time might have somewhat modified Christine's feeling in the
matter, but he found it absolutely unchanged and was obliged to
withdraw his request.
As the days and weeks went by Noel became every day more restless
and gloomy. He was unhappy if he stayed away from Christine, and yet to
be in her presence merely as a friendly visitor was often galling and
depressing to an almost intolerable degree. He scarcely ever saw her
alone for a moment, and he had a certain conviction that while Mrs.
Murray did some gentle plotting to leave them tête-à-tête
Christine managed ingeniously to thwart her plans.
About this time he was compelled to go away for a week on a business
expedition, and so, for more than that space of time, he had not called
at Mrs. Murray's. When he rang the door-bell on the evening of his
return Harriet, who answered it, left him to find his way alone to the
pretty sitting-room, warm and lighted and empty, as he thought. The
next instant, however, his heart gave a bound, as he saw at its
opposite end Christine, tall and slight and young and beautiful,
standing, with her back turned, before a table against the wall, on
which a large engraving rested.
It was heavily framed and he knew he had never seen it there before.
The fact was Mrs. Murray, who had a very romantic heart, had seen it in
a shop-window and impulsively bought it, and it had just been sent
Noel, stepping with the utmost caution over the thick carpet, came
near enough to look at the picture over Christine's shoulder. He knew
it well. It was Frederick Leighton's Wedded.
As the man and woman stood before it each was under the spell of
that beautiful representation of abandonment to lovethe deep and holy
wedded love which is the God-given right of every man and woman who
lives and feels.
Christine was utterly unconscious of his nearness as she bent toward
it eagerly. He could see by the movement of her throat and shoulders
that her breaths were coming thick and fast and her heart was beating
hard. As for him the fact that he was near to her was the supreme
consciousness of that moment to him, and all the meaning of this
consciousness was in his voice, as he whispered her name:
She started and turned. His eyes caught hers and held them. For a
moment she found it impossible to release them from his compelling
gaze. She was under the spell of the picture still. It had broken down
the habitual barriers of restraint and self-control, and sent an
exultant gleam into her heart, which her face reflected.
Christine! he said again in that thrilling whisper.
The sound of his voice recalled her. That strange, exalted look gave
place to another, which was as if a withering blight had crossed her
face, and she turned and looked at Noel. He met that look of desolation
and anguish with firm, unflinching eyes.
I love you, he whispered low, but clear.
Then spare me, she whispered back.
Once more, Christine, he said. They kept their places, a few feet
apart, and neither moved a muscle except for the slight motion of their
lips, from which the faint sounds came forth like ghostly whispers.
Once more, Christineanswer me this. Do you love me?
And again she answered:
The tone in which she said it was strong and steady in spite of its
lowness, and the eyes confirmed it.
The suspense was over. With that strange recollectedness which human
beings often have in the sharpest crises of their lives Noel suppressed
the great sigh that had risen from his heart, and let the breath of it
go forth from his parted lips, with careful pains to make no sound.
It was a relief to both that at this moment Mrs. Murray came into
the room. They turned abruptly from the picture, and in the cordial
greeting which the hostess bestowed upon her guest the moment's ordeal
was successfully passed. Not, however, without the watchful eyes of
Mrs. Murray having seen much, and conjectured far more. Whether her
impulse in buying the picture had done good or harm she was puzzled to
Noel, during the sleepless hours of the night which followed, looked
the whole situation in the face and made his resolutions, strong and
fast, for the future of Christine and himself. His love for her, which
she had not forbidden and could not forbid, must be enough for him
henceforth, and because all his soul desired her love in return she
should not, for that reason, be deprived of his friendship. When he
thought of loving any other woman, and being loved by her in return,
and contrasted it with the mere right to love Christine and be near
her, forever unloved, he felt himself rich beyond telling.
That evening, determined to put into effect at once this new
resolution and conveying some hint of it to Christine, he went to Mrs.
Murray's. He rang the bell and entered the house with a strong sense of
self-possession, which was only a very little disturbed when the maid
again ushered him into the little drawing-room where he found Christine
He could see that his coming was utterly unexpected. The lamp, by
which she usually sat at work, was not lighted, and the gas in the hall
cast only a dim light upon her here, but the fire lent its aid in
lighting up the figure. She was lying on the lounge before the fire as
he came in, but she rose to her feet at once, saying, in a voice whose
slight ring of agitation disturbed a little farther yet his self-poised
Mrs. Murray has gone to see a neighbor whose daughter is very ill.
They have just moved to the house and have no friends near, and she
went to see what she could do. She will be back very soon. She did not
think you would come to-night.
Noel heard the little strained sound in her voice, and fancied he
saw also about her eyes a faint trace of recent tears; but the light
was turned low and she stood with her back to it, as if to screen
herself from his gaze. A great wave of tenderness possessed his heart.
He felt sure he could trust himself to be tender and no more, as he
Christine, have you been cryinghere all alone in the darkness,
with no one to comfort and help you to bear? The thought of it wrings
Oh, it is nothing, she said, her voice, in spite of her, choking
up. I sometimes get nervousI am not used to being alone. It is over
now. I will get the lamp
But he stopped her. He made one step toward her and took both her
hands in his.
Wait, he said, in a controlled and quiet tone. In the silence that
followed the word they could hear the little clock on the mantel
ticking monotonously. Noel was trying hard, as they stood thus alone in
the stillness and half-darkness, to gather up his suddenly-weakened
forces, so that he might tell her, in the hope of giving her comfort,
of the resolute purpose he had entered into. But in the moment which he
gave himself to make this rally a sudden influence came over him from
the contact of the cold hands he held in his. At first it was a subtle,
faint, indefinite sensation, as of something strange and wonderful and
far away, but coming nearer. The very breath of his soul seemed
suspended, to listen and look as he waited. The clock ticked on, and
they stood there motionless as statues. Suddenly a short, low sigh
escaped Christine, and he felt her cold hands tremble. The swift
consciousness that ran through Noel was like living ecstasy injected in
his veins. He drew her two hands upward and crushed them against his
Christine, he said, you love me.
She met his ardent, agitated gaze with direct, unflinching eyes.
Yes, she said distinctly, I love you, but with the exertion of
all her power she shook herself free from his grasp, and sprang away
from him to the farthest limit of the little room.
Stop, she said, waving him back with her hand. I have owned the
truth, but I must speak to you
As well might Christine have tried to parley with a coming storm of
wind. The chained spirit within Noel had been set free by the words,
Yes, I love you, that Christine had spoken, and his passionate love
must have its way. He followed her across the room, and with a gentle
force, against which she was as helpless as a child, he compelled her
to come into his arms, to put down her head against his shoulder and to
rest on his her bounding heart. He held her so in a close, restrictive
pressure, against which she soon ceased to struggle, but lay there
still and unresisting.
Now, he said gently, speaking the low word softly and clearly in
her ear, now, speak, and I will listen.
I love you, she said brokenly.
Their full hearts throbbed together as he answered:
That is enough.
It is allthe utmost, she went on. I can never marry you. When
you loose me from your arms to-night it will be forever. Hold me close
a little longer while I tell you.
Her voice was faint and uncertain; her frame was trembling; he could
feel the whole weight of her body upon him, as he held her against his
exultant heart, while the power that had come into him gave him a
strength so mighty that he supported the sweet burden as if its weight
Go on, he murmured gently, in a secure and quiet tone, I am
I only want to tell you, if I can, how much I love you. I want you
to know it all, that the torment of having it unsaid may leave me.
Of her own will she raised her arms and put them about his neck,
laying down her face on one of them, so that her lips were close
against his ear.
At the first, she said, I liked and admired you because I saw you
were good and noble. Then I trusted you, and made your truth my anchor
in the awful seas of trouble I was tossed in. Then I came to reverence
and almost worship you for the highness that is in you, and then, oh,
then after my baby died and my other dreadful sorrow came, against my
will, in spite of hard fighting and struggling and trying, I went a
step higher yet and loved you, with a love that takes in all the
restthat is admiration, and trust, and reverence, and love in one.
Oh, she said with a great sigh, but it is all in vain! I cannot tell
youI cannot! I say the utmost, and it seems pale and poor and
miserably weak. You do not understand the love you have called into
being in my poor, broken heart. I thought I should have the comfort of
feeling I had told you. I feel only that I have failed! Oh, before we
part, I want you to know how I love youhow the stress of it is
bursting my hearthow the mightiness of it seems to expand my soul
until it touches Heaven. Oh, if I could only ease my heart of its great
weight of love by finding words to tell you.
He put his lips close to her ear.
One kiss, he said softly, and then turned them to meet hers.
Christine gave him the kiss, and it was as he had said. The stress
upon her heart was loosened. She felt that she had told him all.
You are mine, he said, in a calm, low voice of controlled
exultation, although, even as he said it, he loosed her from his arms
and suffered her to move away from him and sink into a chair. He came
and sat down opposite her, repeating the words he had spoken.
No, she said, I am my own! I am the stronger to be so, now that
the whole truth is known to you. Mr. Noel, I have only to tell you
good-by. To-night must be the very last of it.
Mr. Noel! he threw the words back to her, with a little scornful
laugh. You can never call me that again, without feeling it the
hollowest pretence! I tell you you are mine!
The assured, determined calm of his tones and looks began to
frighten her. She saw the struggle before her assuming proportions that
made her fear for herselfnot for the strength of her resolve, but for
her power to carry it out. She could only repeat, as if to fortify
I will never marry you.
Why? he asked.
Becauseah, because I love you too much. Be merciful, and let that
thought plead for me.
It is for the same reason that I will never give you up. It is no
use to oppose me now, Christine. You are mine and I am yours.
But if you know that you make me suffer
I know, too, that I can comfort you. I know I can make you happy,
beyond your highest dreams. I know I can take you away from every
association of sadness, far off to beautiful foreign countries where no
one will know us for anything but what we arewhat alone we shall be
henceforth, a man and woman who love each other and who have been
united in the holy bond of marriage, which God has blessedjust a
husband and wife, Christineget used to the dear names and
thoughtwith whose right to love each other no one will have anything
to do. If the idea of the past disturbs you we will get rid of it by
going where we have no past, where no one will ever have heard of us
before. As for ourselves, Christine, I can give you my honor that there
is nothing in the past of either of us that disturbs me for one
pulse-beat, and I'll engage to make you forget all that it pains you to
remember. Why, it is a simple thing to do. We send for a clergyman, and
here in this room, with Mrs. Murray and Eliza and Harriet for
witnesses, we are married to-morrow morning! In the afternoon we sail
for Europe, to begin our long life of happiness together. You know
whether I could make you happy or not, Christine. You know whether your
heart longs to go with mejust as surely as I know that my one
possible chance of happiness is in getting your consent to be my wife.
I cannot! she said, I cannot! We must think of others beside
ourselves. If you are willing to sacrifice yourself, think of your
mother and sisters!
Sacrifice myself! I sacrifice myself only if I give you up. You
must feel the falseness of such a use of the word. As for my mother and
sisters, I ask you to test that matter. Agree to marry me and I promise
that they will come to our wedding, and my mother will call you
daughter, and my sisters will call you sister, and they will open their
hearts to you and love you.
Because your will is all-powerful with them, she said.
Yes, partly because they trust and believe in me, and will sanction
what I do; and also becausein spite of a good deal of surface
conventionality and worldlinessthey are right-minded, true-hearted,
good women, who will only need to know your whole history, as I know
it, and to realize my love for you, as I can make them realize it, to
feel that our marriage is the right and true and only issue of it all.
Christine felt herself terribly shaken. She did not dare to look at
Noel lest her eyes might betray her, and she would not for anything
have him to know how she was weakened in her resolve by what he had
said of his mother and sisters. The conviction with which he spoke had
carried its own force to her mind, and she suddenly found the strongest
weapon with which she had fought her fight shattered in her hands. He
saw that she was weakening, but he would not take advantage of it. She
was so white and tremulous; her breath came forth so quick and short;
the drawn lines about her mouth were so piteous that he felt she must
I will not press you now, Christine, he said; take time to think
about it. Let me come again to-morrow morning. I will leave you now and
you must try to rest. Talk freely to Mrs. Murray. Ask her what you must
do. Remember that I consent to wait, only because I am so determined.
Listen to me one moment. I swear before Heaven I will never give you
up. You gave yourself to me in that kiss, and you are mine.
Yes, she said, as if that struggle were over with her now, I am
yours. I know it. Even if we part forever I am always yours. I will
tell you what I will do. Your mother shall know everything and she
He was at once afraid and glad, and Christine saw it.
I must see your mother, she began.
I will see her for you. I will tell her everything and you shall
see she will be for us. But if she should not, I warn you, Christine, I
will not give you up for any one alive.
Listen to me, said Christine calmly. This is what you must do.
You must go to your mother and tell her there is some one that you
love. Tell her as fully and freely as you choose. Convince her of the
truth and strength of it as thoroughly as you can, and tell her that
woman loves you in return, but has refused to marry you, for reasons
which, if she would like to hear them, that woman herself will lay
before her. I cannot let you do it for me, she went on earnestly. I
know you would wish to spare me this, but only a woman's tongue could
tell that story of misery, and only a woman's heart could understand
it. You think she will love me for my misfortunes, as you have done in
your great, generous heart. I do not dare to think it, but I will put
it to the test. You must promise me to tell her nothing except just
what I have told you. Do you promise this?
I promise it, upon my honor; but remember, if my mother should
decide against me, I do not give you up.
No, but I will give you up.
Christine! he cried. And yet you say you love me!
Oh, yes, I say I love youand you know whether it is true.
She stood in front of him and looked him firmly in the face, but the
look of her clear eyes was so full of crowding, overwhelming sorrow
that love, for a while, seemed to have taken flight.
In vain he tried to put his hopeful spirit into her. She only shook
her head and showed him a face of deep, unhoping sorrow.
If your mother consents to see me, appoint an hour to-morrow
morning and let me know. I will take a carriage and go alone
I will come for you. I will bring my mother's carriage
No, I must go alone, and I prefer to go in a hired carriage. You
must see that no one else is presentneither of your sisters. It is to
your mother only that I can say what I have to say.
Everything shall be as you wish. But, Christine, don't be hurt if
you find my mother's manner difficult, at first. She has had a great
deal of trouble, and it has made her manner a little hard
Ah, she said, I can understand that.
But it is only her manner, Noel went on, her heart is kind and
Don't try to encourage me. I am not afraid. If she has known the
face of sorrow that is the best passport between us. Perhaps she will
Promise me this, Christinethat whatever happens, you will see me
to-morrow eveningand see me alone.
I promise, but it may be to say good-by.
He repressed the defiant protest of his heart, secure in his strong
Good-night, Christine, he said.
Good-night, she answered. Her eyes seemed to look at him through a
great cloud of sorrow, and her voice was like the speaking of a woman
in a dream. There was a great and availing force in the mood that held
her. Noel knew she wished to be alone and that she had need of the
repose of solitude. So he only clasped her hand an instant, in a
strong, assuring pressure, and was gone.
Exhausted, worn out, spent with sorrow, Christine retired at once to
her room, and went wearily to bed, wondering what the next day would
bring. She soon fell into a deep sleep, and slept heavily till morning,
waking with a confused mingling of memory and expectancy in which joy
and pain were inseparably united.
Noel's note came early. It announced that his mother would be ready
to receive her visitor any time after eleven. It was full of the
strongest assurances of love and constancy, and Christine knew it was
meant to comfort and support her in her approaching ordeal. She felt so
strong to meet this, however, that even Mrs. Murray's earnest protest
that harm would come of the visit failed to intimidate her, and she
turned a deaf ear to all her good friend's entreaties to her to give it
up. Mrs. Murray's advice was for the immediate marriage and departure
for Europe, but Christine's mind was made up, and could not be shaken.
She was feeling strangely calm as she drove along through a part of
the great city she had never ever seen before, where there were none
but splendid houses, with glimpses, through richly-curtained windows,
of luxurious interiors, and where all the people who passed her,
whether on foot or in handsome carriages, had an air of ease and
comfort and luxury that made her feel herself still more an alien. She
did not regret her resolution, but she felt quite hopeless of its
result. It would make matters simpler for her, at all events.
When the carriage stopped she got out with a strange feeling of
unreality, closed the door behind her, careful to see that it caught,
spoke to the driver quietly and told him to wait, and then walked up
the steps and rang the bell. During the moment she stood there a boy
came along and threw a small printed paper at her feet. It was an
advertisement of a new soap, and she was reading it mechanically when
the door was opened by a tall man-servant who stood against the
background of a stately hall, whose rich furnishings were revealed by
the softened light that came through the stained glass windows.
Christine was closely veiled, and coming out of the sunshine it all
seemed obscure and dim. She asked if Mrs. Noel was at home, and when
the man said yes, and ushered her in she desired him to say to Mrs.
Noel that the lady with whom she had an appointment was come.
Then she sat down in the great drawing-room and waited. The silence
was intense. She seemed to have shrunk to a very small size as she sat
in the midst of all this high-pitched, broad-proportioned stateliness.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness the objects about her
seemed to come out, one by onebeautiful pictures, graceful statues,
rich draperies and delicate, fine ornaments of many kinds. A carriage
rolled by outside, one of the horses slipping on the thin coat of ice
with which the shady side of the street was covered. The driver jerked
him up sharply, with a smothered exclamation, and went on. As the sound
of wheels died away she could hear a street band far off, playing a
popular air. Then that too ceased and the silence without was as
profound as the silence within. Christine felt precisely as if she were
dreaming. It seemed to her hours that she had waited here, though she
knew it was only a very few minutes, before the servant returned. Mrs.
Noel requested that she would be kind enough to come up-stairs, he
Christine followed him silently up the great staircase, and was
ushered into a room near its head. She heard the door closed behind
her, and saw a small, slight figure, dressed in black, standing
opposite to her.
Good-morning. Excuse my asking you to come up-stairs, a clear,
refined voice began; but suddenly it broke off, and perfect silence
followed, and the eyes of the two women met. Christine was very pale,
and those beautiful eyes of hers had dark rings around them, but they
were marvellously clear and true, and, above all, they were eloquent
The elder woman advanced to her and took her hand.
Oh, my child, how you must have suffered! she said.
Ah, you know what it is. You have suffered, too. We shall
understand each other better for that.
My dear, I seem to understand it all. Don't be unhappy. You need
have no fear of me. If you love my son as he loves you, you have my
consent. I will not ask to know anything.
You must know. I have come to tell you. You will probably change
your mind when you have heard.
The elder woman, who was pale and delicate, and yet in spite of all
this bore some resemblance to her strong young son, now led her tall
companion to a seat, and sitting down in front of her, said kindly:
Take off your hat and gloves, my dear. Try to feel at home with me.
I love my son too dearly to go against him in the most earnest desire
of his life. He has told me nothing, except that you love each other,
and that there is something which you consider an obstacle to your
marriage, but which he utterly refuses to accept as such. Tell me about
it, dear, and let me set your mind at rest.
Christine took off her gloves, because they were a constraint to
her, and now, as she gave her two bare hands into those of Mrs. Noel,
she said calmly:
You think it is some little thingthat lack of fortune or a
difference in social position is the obstacle. I would not be here now
if it were no more than thatfor I do love him!
The last words broke from her as if involuntarily, and the impulse
that made her utter them sent the swift tears to her eyes. But she
forced them back, and they had no successors.
And he loves you, toooh, how he loves you! I wonder if you know.
Yes, I knowI know it all. He has shown and proved, as well as
told me. We love each other with a complete and perfect love. Even if I
have to give him up nothing can take that away.
My dear, you need not give him up. I asked my son one question
only: 'Is her honor free from stain?'
And what was his answer?
'Absolutely and utterly. She is as stainless as an angel.' Those
were his very words.
God bless him for them! God forever bless him! said Christine. I
know, in his eyes, it is so.
In his eyes! repeated Mrs. Noel. Is there any doubt that it would
be so in any eyes?
Yes, said Christine, there is great doubt.
It was well for her that she had not hoped too muchwell that she
had kept continually in mind the awful value of the revelation she had
come to make. If she had been sanguine and confident the look that now
came over the face of Noel's mother would have been a harder thing to
bear. But Christine was all prepared for it. It wounded, but it did not
surprise nor disturb her perfect calm. There was a distinct change in
the tone with which Mrs. Noel now said:
If you have been unfortunate, poor girl, and have been led into
trouble without fault of your own, as may possibly be, no one could
pity you more than I. I can imagine such a case, and I could not look
at you and think any evil of you. But if you know the world at all, you
must know that these thingslet a woman be utterly free from fault
herselfcarry their inexorable consequences.
I know the world but little, said Christine, and yet I know
Then, my dear child, you cannot wonder that the woman so
unfortunately situated is thought to be debarred from honorable
I do not wonder when I meet with this judgment in the world or in
you. I only wondered when I found in your son a being too high for
ita being to whom right is right and pureness is pureness, as it is
to God. You will remember, madame, that it was your son who claimed
that I was not debarred from honorable marriage, and not I. Oh, I have
sufferedyou were right. No wonder that the sign of it is branded on
my forehead for all the world to see. I have suffered in a way as far
beyond the worst pain you have ever known as that pain of yours has
been from pleasure. You have known death in its most awful form when it
took from you your dearest ones, but I have known death too. My little
baby, who was like the very core of my heart, round which the
heartstrings twisted, and the clinging flesh was wrapped, was torn away
from me by death, and it was pain and anguish unspeakablebut I have
known a suffering compared to which that agony was joy. There can be
worse things to bear than the death of your heart's dearest
treasureat least I know it may be so with women. And it was because
you were a woman, with a woman's possibilities of pain, that I wanted
to come to youto tell you all, and let you say whether I am a fit
wife for your son.
Ah, poor Christine! She felt, as she spoke those words, the silent,
still, impalpable recoil in her companion's heart. She knew the poor
woman was trying to be kind and merciful and sympathetic, but she also
knew that what she had just said had rendered Noel's mother the foe and
opposer of this marriage, instead of its friend.
Go on, tell me all, his mother said, and that subtle change of
voice and manner was distincter still to the acute consciousness of
Christine's suffering soul. I will be your friend whatever happens,
and I honor you for the spirit in which you look upon this thing. I
will speak out boldly, though you know I dislike to give you pain. But
tell me this: Do you think yourself a fit wife for my son?
Christine raised her head and answered with a very noble look of
Her companion seemed to be surprised, and a faint shade of
disapproval crossed her face.
I know it, said Christine. I know he did not say too much when he
spoke those blessed words to you and said I was stainless. God saw my
heart through everything and He knows that it is so, but the world
thinks otherwise. The world, and his own family, perhaps, would think
your son lowered and dishonored by marrying me, and I never could
consent to go among the people who could think it; so, if he married
me, he would not only have to bear this odium, but to give up too,
forever, his home and relatives, and friends and country, and it was
for these reasons I refused to marry himnot for an instant because I
felt myself unworthy.
It was plain that these earnest words had moved her companion
deeply, and that she felt a desire to hear more.
Tell me the whole story, she said. This you have promised to do,
and you have made me eager to hear it. Remember how little I have been
told. I do not even know your name.
With the full gaze of her sorrowful eyes upon the elder woman's
face, she said quietly:
My name is Christine.
There was an infinite proud calm in her voice, and in the same tone
she went on:
I bore throughout my childhood and my young girl days another name
that seems in no sense to belong to me now. That child and girl,
Christine Verrone, is not in any way myself. It seems only a sweet
memory of a dear young creature, nearer akin to the birds, and the
winds, and the flowers than to me. I cannot feel I ought to take her
name, and pass myself for her. For three years I bore another name, but
it is one my very lips refuse to utter now, and I never had a right to
it. The one name that I feel is really mine is just Christinethe name
that was given to the little baby, on whose forehead the sign of the
cross was made soon after she came into this sad world, to taste of its
most awful sorrow and to grow into the woman that I am. I have always
loved it, because, in sound, it seemed to bring me near to Christthe
dear Christ who has never forsaken me since I have borne His sign, who
has been through all my loving, dear Brother, knowing and understanding
all and grieving that I had to suffer so. He is with me still. He will
stay with me if I have to give up earthly love and all that can make
life happy. I know He has let it all happen to me, and that it must be
for my good. I know I am as pure in His eyes as when I was that little
baby, baptized in His name, bearing the humanity He bore. You may
decide my earthly happiness as you choose. I am not comfortless. I know
now the extent of His perfect power to comfort, since I find that He
can support me through the supreme trial of giving up the man I love.
It is in our darkest hour He comes closest, she said, as if in a sort
of ecstasy. He is here right with me now, strengthening and blessing
me. I can feel His hands on my head. They actually press and touch me.
The fervor of her voice, the exaltation of her look, and the extreme
realism of the words she used were indescribably awing and agitating to
her companion, to whom such evidences in connection with religious
feeling were utterly unprecedented. She saw that the source of this
deep emotion was utter despair of earthly happiness, as, in truth, it
was. From the moment that Christine had noted the change in her
companion, which had followed her partial confession, she felt that her
doom was sealed, and it was under the influence of this conviction that
she had spoken. She felt anxious now to finish the interview and get
away, that she might look her sorrow in the face, without the feeling
of strange eyes upon her, and that she might gather strength for her
parting with the man she loved.
Her last words had been followed by a thrilling silence which the
other felt herself powerless to break. It was Christine who spoke.
I promised your son that I would tell you the history of my life,
she said. I can give it to you very briefly. I was as innocent and
unknowing as a little child when I was taken from the convent where I
was educated, and married by my father to a man I scarcely knew. I
suppose I was a burden to my father and he wanted to get rid of me. He
told me that the whole of my mother's little fortune had been spent on
my education, and that he had no home to take me to, and that I must
marry. The young man he chose for me was good-looking and kind, though
he did not speak my language, and I knew almost nothing of his. My
father did everything. He assured me this man adored me and would do
everything to make me happywould always take care of me and give me a
beautiful home in his land beyond the sea. I was ignorant of marriage
as a baby. It was easy to get up a girlish fancy for the young man thus
presented to my childish imagination, and I consented willingly. I had
a lot of charming clothes ordered for my trousseau, and I was as
delighted as a child. In this way I was married
Ah, you were really married! interrupted her companion, the cloud
on her face beginning to clear away. Christine saw it with a tinge of
bitterness in her gentle heart.
No, she said, almost coldly, I was not really married. I thought
so, and for three years I struggled through pain and woe and horror to
do my duty to the man to whom I believed myself bound by the holy and
indissoluble tie of marriage. I was ignorant, but somehow I had imbibed
from every source ever opened to me a deep sense of the sacredness and
eternity of that bond. So I fought and struggled on, feeling that truth
to that obligation was my one anchor in a sea of trouble. I thought
when I came here I could tell you some of the things I felt and
endured, but I cannot. There would be no use. The bare fact is enough
for a woman's heart. When my child came I fixed my whole soul's
devotion on him. He was always delicate and feeble, but I loved him as,
perhaps, a strong and healthy child could not have been loved. His
father never noticed him at all, except to show that he thought him a
burden. That was the final touch of complete alienation. Loveor what
I had once called by that namewas gone long ago. We had become
extremely poorevery cent of the principal had been spent in the most
reckless wayoh, I can't tell you all that. Your son will tell you if
you ask him. I think a sort of mental lack was at the back of it. I
must hurry; I can't bear to go over it all now. I met your son on the
steamer coming over, and he was kind to me then, suspecting, perhaps,
how things were tending. Long after I met him again, accidentally, and
he found out how wretched and poor I was, with my baby ill, and in need
almost of the necessaries of life. He gave me sittings at his studio,
then, and paid me for themlarger sums, I suppose, than they were
worth. At any rate, he and a good doctor and an old servant helped me
through my trouble when my baby died and was buried. Thenoh, I am
almost done with it now, thank God! she said, with a great sobbing
breathit came to your son's knowledge, professionally, that another
woman claimed the man I supposed to be my husband, and he was about to
be tried for she hesitated before the word, and could not utter it.
Thenit was months agohe took me to Mrs. Murray, who took care of
me through all the misery and wretchedness of those first weeks, and
afterward got me work to do that I might make my own living. There I
have been, in my sad peace and safety, ever sincea broken-hearted,
wretched, nameless woman, and as such your son loved me. I returned his
love with all the fire and strength of an utterly unexpended force. I
had never loved before. I never felt the power of that love so mighty
as now, in this moment that I give him up.
You shall not give him up! I know it all now, and, in spite of
everything, I tell you you shall not. Christine, listen, I give my
consent. I declare to you that you honor him supremely when you agree
to marry him. My child, if you had had a mother all this would not have
come to you. I rejoice to take you for my daughter. Look at me,
Christine, and try to feel that you have a mother at last.
It was almost too much for the strained nerves of the girl. She
could have borne denial calmly, seeing that she was ready for it, but
the great rush of joy that surged into her heart at these unexpected
words confused and agitated her. A strong voice spoke to her words of
comfort and cheer, and loving arms embraced her. Sweet mother-kisses
were pressed upon her cheeks and eyes, and she was gently reassured and
calmed and strengthened. Her mind was still a little dazed, however,
and she did not quite know how it was that she found herself now
standing alone, near the middle of the room.
The door opened. Some one entered and closed it softly. She felt
that it was Noel. He paused an instant near the threshold, and she
turned her head and looked at him. He held out his arms. They moved
toward each other, and she was folded in a close embrace. They remained
so, absolutely still. Her heart was beating in full, thick throbs
against his, which kept time to it. Her closed eyes were against his
throat, and she would not move so much as an eyelash. She gave herself
up utterly to this ecstasy of content.
Don't move, she whispered. She was afraid this perfect moment
would be spoiled; a kiss, even, would have done it. But he seemed to
understand, and except to tighten slightly the pressure of his arms he
kept profoundly still. She could hear his low, uneven breathing and the
faint, regular ticking of his watch. They seemed enclosed in a silence
vast as space, and sweeter than thought could fathom. A great ocean of
contentment flowed about them, stretching into infinity. Neither could
have thought of anything to wish for. They seemed in absolute
possession of all joy.
A soundthe striking of a clockbroke the spell of silence. They
moved a little apart, and so looked long into each other's eyes. Then
Noel bent toward the face upraised to his, and their lips met.
There were tears in Christine's eyes as she sank back from that
kiss, but her happiness was complete, absolute, supreme. God had given
to them both his richest gift of pleasure after pain.