Across the Way by Robert Grant
The news that the late Mr. Cherrington's house on Saville Street had been
let for a school, within a few months after his death, could not have been
a surprise to any one in the neighborhood. Ten years before, when Mr.
Cherrington and those prominent in his generation were in their heyday,
Saville Street had been sacred to private residences from one end to the
other, but the tide of fashion had been drifting latterly. There was
already another school in the same block, and there were scattered all
along on either side of the street a sprinkling of throat, eye, and ear
doctors, a very fashionable dressmaker or two, an up-town bank, and
numerous apartments for bachelors.
The news could not have been a surprise even to Mr. Homer Ramsay, but that
crusty old bachelor in the seventies brought down his walking-stick with a
vicious thump when he heard it, and remarked that he would live to be
ninety "if only to spite 'em." This threat, however, had reference, not to
Mr. Cherrington's residence, but his own, which was exactly opposite, and
which he had occupied for more than forty years. It was a conviction of
Mr. Ramsay's that there was a conspiracy on foot to purchase his house,
and accordingly he took every opportunity to declare that he would never
part with an inch of his land while he was in the flesh. A wag in the
neighborhood had expressed the opinion that the old gentleman waxed hale
and hearty on his own bile. He was certainly a churlish individual in his
general bearing toward his fellow-beings, and violent in his prejudices.
For the last ten years his favorite prophecy had been that the country was
going to the devil.
Besides the house on Saville Street, Mr. Ramsay had some bonds and stock—fifty
or sixty thousand dollars in all—which tidy little property would,
in the natural course of events, descend to his next of kin; in this case,
however, only a first cousin once removed. In the eye of the law a living
person has no heir; but blood is thicker than water, and it was generally
taken for granted that Mr. Horace Barker, whose grandmother had been the
sister of Mr. Ramsay's father, would some day be the owner of the house on
Saville Street. At least, confident expectation that this would come to
pass had long restrained Mr. Barker from letting any one but his better
half know that he regarded his Cousin Homer as an irascible old
curmudgeon; and perhaps, on the other hand, had justified Mr. Ramsay in
his own mind for referring in common parlance to his first cousin once
removed as a stiff nincompoop who had married a sickly doll. Not that Mr.
Horace Barker needed the money, by any means. He was well-to-do already,
and lived in a more fashionable street than Saville Street, where he
occupied a dignified-looking brown-stone house, from the windows of which
his three little people—all girls—peeped and nodded at the
organ-grinder and the street-band.
The name of the person to whom Mr. Cherrington's house had been leased was
Miss Elizabeth Whyte. She was twenty-five, and she was starting a school
because it was necessary for her to earn her own living. She considered
that life, from the point of view of happiness, was over for her; and yet,
though she had made up her mind that she could never be really happy
again, she was resolved neither to mope nor to be a burden on any one. Mr.
Mills, the executor of Mr. Cherrington's estate, who believed himself to
be a judge of human nature withal, had observed that she seemed a little
overwrought, as though she had lived on her nerves; but, on the other
hand, he had been impressed by her direct, business-like manner, which
argued that she was very much in earnest. Besides, she was vouched for by
the best people, and Mrs. Cyrus Bangs was moving heaven and earth to
procure pupils for her. It was clearly his duty as a business man to let
her have the house.
Until within a few months Elizabeth Whyte had lived in a neighboring town—the
seat of a college, where the minds of young men for successive generations
have been cultivated, but sometimes at the expense of a long-suffering
local community. Her father, who at the time of her birth was a clergyman
with a parish, had subsequently evolved into an agnostic and an invalid
without one, and she had been used to plain living and high thinking from
her girlhood. Even parents who find it difficult to keep the wolf at a
respectful distance by untiring economy will devise some means to make an
only daughter look presentable on her first appearance in society. Fine
feathers do not make fine birds, and yet the consciousness of a becoming
gown will irradiate the cheek of beauty. Elizabeth at eighteen would have
been fetching in any dress, but in each of her three new evening frocks
she looked bewitching. She was a gay, trig little person, with snapping,
dark eyes and an arch expression; a tireless dancer, quick and audacious
at repartee; the very ideal of a college belle. The student world had
fallen prostrate at her feet, and Tom Whittemore most conspicuously and
devotedly of all.
Tom was, perhaps, the most popular man of his day; a Philadelphian of
reputedly superfine stock, fresh-faced and athletic, with a jaunty walk.
There was no one at the college assemblies who whispered so entrancingly
in her ear when she was all alone with him in a corner, and no one who
placed her new fleecy wrap about her shoulders with such an air of
devotion when it was time to go home. She liked him from the very first;
and all her girl friends babbled, "Wouldn't it be a lovely match?" But
Tom's classmates from Philadelphia, when they became confidential in the
small hours of the morning, asked each other what Tom's mother would say.
Tom was a senior, and it was generally assumed that matters would
culminate on Class-day evening, that evening of all evenings in the
collegiate world sacred to explanation and vows. Elizabeth lay awake all
that night, remembering that she had let Tom have his impetuous say, and
that at the end he had folded her in his arms and kissed her. Not until
the next morning, and then merely as an unimportant fact, did it occur to
her that, though Tom had told her she was dearer to him than all the world
besides, there was no definite engagement between them. It was only when
whispers reached her that Tom, who had gone to Philadelphia to attend the
wedding of a relation, was not coming back to his Commencement, that she
began to think a little. But she never really doubted until the news came
that Tom had been packed off by his mother on a two years' journey round
What mother in a distant city would be particularly pleased to have her
only son, on whom rested the hopes of an illustrious stock, lose his heart
to a college belle? But Elizabeth can scarcely be blamed for not having
taken the illustrious stock into consideration. She kept saying to
herself, that, if he had only written, she could have forgiven him; and it
was not surprising that the partners with whom she danced at the college
assemblies during the next five years described her to each other as
steely. Indeed, she danced and prattled with such vivacious energy, and
her black eyes shone so like beads, that college tradition twisted her
story until it ran that she had thrown over Tom Whittemore, the most
popular man of his day, and that she had no more heart than a nether
millstone. And all the time, just to prove to herself that she had not
cared for him, she kept the roses that he had given her on that Class-day
evening in the secret drawer of her work-box. It had been all sheer
nonsense, a boy and girl flirtation. So she had taught herself to argue,
knowing that it was untrue, and knowing that she knew it to be so.
Then had come the deaths of her father and mother within three months of
each other, and she had awakened one morning to the consciousness that she
was alone in the world, and face to face with the necessity of earning her
daily bread. The gentleman who had charge of the few thousand dollars
belonging to her father's estate, in announcing that her bonds had ceased
to pay interest, had added that she was in the same boat with many of the
best people; which ought to have been a consolation, had she needed any.
But this loss of the means of living had seemed a mere trifle beside her
other griefs; indeed, it acted as a spur rather than a bludgeon. The same
pride which had prompted her to continue to dance bade her bestir herself
to make a living. Upon reflection, the plan of starting a school struck
her as the most practicable. But it should be a school for girls; she had
done with the world of men. She had loved with all her heart, and her
heart was broken; it was withered, like the handful of dried roses in the
secret drawer of her work-box.
Elizabeth was fortunate enough to obtain at the outset the patronage of
some of those same "best people" in the adjacent city, who happened to
know her story. Fashionable favor grows apace. It was only after hearing
that Mrs. Cyrus Bangs had intrusted her little girl to the tender mercies
of Miss Whyte that Mrs. Horace Barker subdued the visions of
scarlet-fever, bad air, and evil communications which haunted her,
sufficiently to be willing to send her own darlings to the new
kindergarten. People intimate with Mrs. Barker were apt to say that worry
over her three little girls, who were exceptionally healthy children, kept
her a nervous invalid.
"I consider Mrs. Cyrus Bangs a very particular woman," she said, with
plaintive impressiveness to her husband. "If she is willing to send her
Gwendolen to Miss Whyte, I am disposed to let Margery, Gladys, and Dorothy
go. Only you must have a very clear understanding with Miss Whyte, at the
outset, as to hours and ventilation and Gladys's hot milk. We cannot move
from the seaside until a fortnight after her term begins, and it will be
utterly impossible for me to get the children to school in the mornings
before half-past nine."
It never occurred to Horace Barker, when one morning about ten o'clock,
some six weeks later, he called at the kindergarten with his precious
trio, that there was any impropriety in breaking in upon Miss Whyte's
occupations an hour after school had begun. What school-mistress could
fail to be proud of the distinction of obtaining his three daughters as
pupils at any hour of the twenty-four when he saw fit to proffer them? He
expected to find a cringing, deferential young person, who would, in the
interest of her own bread and butter, accede without a murmur to any
stipulations which so important a patroness as Mrs. Horace Barker might
see fit to impose. He became conscious, in the first place, that the
school-mistress was a much more attractive-looking young person than he
had anticipated, and secondly, that she seemed rather amused than
otherwise at his conditions. No man, and least of all a man so consummate
as Mr. Barker—for he was a dapper little person with a closely
cropped beard and irreproachable kid gloves—likes to be laughed at
by a woman, especially by one who is young and moderately good-looking;
and he instinctively drew himself up by way of protest before Elizabeth
"Really, Mr. Barker," she replied, after a few moments of reflection, "I
don't see how it is possible for me to carry out Mrs. Barker's wishes. To
let the children come half an hour later and go home half an hour earlier
than the rest would interfere with the proper conduct of the school. I
will do my best to have the ventilation satisfactory, and perhaps I can
manage to provide some hot milk for the second one, as her mother desires;
but in the matter of the hours, I do not see how I can accommodate Mrs.
Barker. To make such an exception would be entirely contrary to my
Horace Barker smiled inwardly at the suggestion that a school-mistress
could have principles which an influential parent might not violate.
"When I say to you that it is Mrs. Barker's particular desire that her
preferences regarding hours should be observed, I am sure that you will
interpose no further objection."
Elizabeth gave a strange little laugh, and her eyes, which were still her
most salient feature, snapped noticeably. "It is quite out of the
question, Mr. Barker," she said with decision. "Much as I should like to
have your little girls, I cannot consent to break my rules on their
"Mrs. Barker would be very sorry to be compelled to send her children
elsewhere," he said solemnly, with the air of one who utters a dire
"I should be glad to teach your little girls upon the same terms as I do
my other pupils," said Elizabeth, quietly. "But if my regulations are
unsatisfactory, you had better send them elsewhere."
Horace Barker was a man who prided himself on his deportment. He would no
more have condescended to express himself with irate impetuosity than he
would have permitted his closely cropped beard to exceed the limits which
he imposed upon it. He simply bowed stiffly, and turning to the Misses
Barker, who, under the supervision of a nurse, whom they had been taught
to address by her patronymic Thompson instead of by her Christian name
Bridget, had been open-mouthed listeners to the dialogue, said, "Come,
It so happened that as Mr. Horace Barker and the Misses Barker descended
the steps of the late Mr. Cherrington's house, they came plump upon Mr.
Homer Ramsay, who was taking his morning stroll. The old gentleman was
standing leaning on his cane, glaring across the street; and, by way of
acknowledging that he perceived his first cousin once removed, he raised
the cane, and, pointing in the line of his scowling gaze, ejaculated:
"This street is going to perdition. As though it weren't enough to have a
school opposite me, a fellow has had the impudence to put his doctor's
sign right next door to my house—an oculist, he calls himself. In my
day, a man who was fit to call himself a doctor could set a leg, or
examine your eyes, or tell what was the matter with your throat, and not
leave you so very much the wiser even then; but now there's a different
kind of quack for every ache and pain in our bodies."
"We live in a progressive world, Cousin Homer," said Mr. Barker, placing
his eyeglass astride his nose to examine the obnoxious sign across the
way. "Dr. James Clay, Oculist," he read aloud, indifferently.
"Progressive fiddlesticks, Cousin Horace. A fig for your oculists and your
dermatologists and all the rest of your specialists! I have managed to
live to be seventy-five, and I never had anybody prescribe for me but a
good old-fashioned doctor, thank Heaven! And I'm not dead yet, as the
speculators who have their eyes on my house and are waiting for me to die
will find out." Mr. Ramsay scowled ferociously; then casting a sweeping
glance from under his eyebrows at the little girls, he said, "Cousin
Horace, if your children don't have better health than their mother, they
might as well be dead. Do they go there?" he asked, indicating the
school-house with his cane.
"I am removing them this morning. Anabel had concluded to send them there,
but I find that the young woman who is the teacher has such hoity-toity
notions that I cannot consent to let my daughters remain with her. In my
opinion, so arbitrary a young person should be checked; and my belief is
that before many days she will find herself without pupils." Whereupon Mr.
Barker proceeded on his way, muttering to himself, when at a safe
distance, "Irrational old idiot!"
Mr. Ramsay stood for some moments mulling over his cousin's answer; by
degrees his countenance brightened and he began to chuckle; and every now
and then, in the course of his progress along Saville Street, he would
stand and look back at the late Mr. Cherrington's house, as though it had
acquired a new interest in his eyes. His daily promenade was six times up
and six times down Saville Street; and he happened to complete the last
lap, so to speak, of his sixth time down at the very moment when Miss
Whyte's little girls came running out on the sidewalk for recess. Behind
them appeared the school-mistress, who stood looking at her flock from the
top of the stone flight.
Elizabeth knew the old gentleman by sight but not by name, and she was
therefore considerably astonished to see him suddenly veer from his
ordinary course, and come slowly up the steps.
"You're the school-mistress?" he asked, with the directness of an old man
who feels that he need not mince his words.
"Yes, sir. I'm Miss Whyte."
"My name's Ramsay; Homer Ramsay. I live opposite, and I've come to tell
you I admire your pluck in not letting my cousin, Hortace Barker, put you
down. I'll stand by you, too; you can tell him that. Break up your school?
I should like to see him do it. Had to take his three little girls away,
did he? Ho, ho! A grand good joke that; a grand good joke. What was it he
asked you to do?"
"Mr. Barker wished me to change some of my rules about hours, and I was
not able to accommodate him, that was all," answered Elizabeth, who found
herself eminently puzzled by the interest in her affairs displayed by this
"I'll warrant he did. And you wouldn't make the change. A grand good joke
that. I know him; he's my first cousin once removed, and the only relation
I've left. And he is going to try and break up your school. I'd like to
see him do it."
"I don't believe that Mr. Barker would do anything so unjust," said
"Yes, he would. I had it from his own lips. But he shan't; not while I'm
in the flesh. What did you say your name was?"
"And what made you become a school-teacher, I should like to know?"
"I had to earn my living."
"Humph! In my day, girls as pretty as you got married; but now the rich
ones are those who get husbands, and those who are poor have to tend shop
instead of baby."
"I know a number of girls who were poor, who have excellent husbands,"
said Elizabeth quietly, spurred into coming to the rescue of the sex she
despised. "But," she added, "there are many girls nowadays who are poor
who prefer to remain single." She was amused at having been led into so
unusual a discussion with this queer old gentleman.
"Bah! That caps the climax. When pretty girls pretend that they don't wish
to be married, the world is certainly turned upside down. Well, I like
your spirit, though I don't approve of your methods. I just dropped in to
say that if Horace Barker does cause you any trouble, you've a friend
across the way. Good-morning."
And before Elizabeth could bethink herself to say that she was very much
obliged to him, Mr. Ramsay was gone.
That very day after school, while Elizabeth was on her way across the park
which lay between Saville Street and the section of the city where her
rooms were, she dodged the wrong way in a narrow path, so that she ran
plump into the arms of a young man who was walking in the opposite
direction. Most women expect men to look out for them when they dodge, but
Elizabeth's code did not allow her to put herself under obligations to any
man. To tell the truth, she was in such a brown study over the events of
the morning that she had become practically oblivious of her surroundings.
When she recovered sufficiently from her confusion at her clumsiness to
take in the details of the situation, she realized that the individual in
question was a young man whom she was in the habit of passing daily at
this same hour. Only the day before he had rescued her veil which had been
swept away by a high wind; and here she was again, within twenty-four
hours, forcing herself upon his attention. She, too, of all women, who had
done with men forever!
But Elizabeth's confusion was slight compared with that manifested by her
victim, who, notwithstanding that his hat had been jammed in by her
school-bag (which she had raised as a shield), was so profuse in the
utterance of his apologies and so willing to shoulder all responsibility,
that her own sensibilities were speedily comforted. She found herself,
after they had separated, much more engrossed by the fact that he had
addressed her by name. Although they had been passing each other daily for
over two months, it had never occurred to her to wonder who he might be.
But it was evident that she was not unknown to him. She remembered now
merely that he was a gentleman, and that he had intelligent eyes and a
pleasant, deferential smile. The recollection of his blushing diffidence
made her laugh.
On the following day, when they were about to pass as usual, she was
suddenly confronted in her mind by the alternative whether to recognize
him or not. A glance at him as he approached told her that he himself was
evidently uncertain if she would choose to consider their experience of
the previous day as equivalent to an introduction, and yet she noticed a
certain wistfulness of expression which suggested the desire to be
permitted to doff his hat to her. To acknowledge by a simple inclination
of her head the existence of a man whom she was likely to pass every day
seemed the natural thing to do, however unconventional; so she bowed.
"Good afternoon, Miss Whyte," he said, lifting his hat with a glad smile.
How completely our lives are often appropriated by incidents which seem at
the time of but slight importance! For the next few months Elizabeth was
buffeted as it were between the persistent persecution of Mr. Horace
Barker and the persistent devotion of Mr. Homer Ramsay. With Mr. Barker
she had no further interview, but not many weeks elapsed before the
influence of malicious strictures and insinuations circulated by him
concerning the hygienic arrangements of her school began to bear their
natural fruit. Parents became querulous and suspicious; and when calumny
was at its height, a case of scarlet-fever among her pupils threw
consternation even into the soul of Mrs. Cyrus Bangs, her chief patroness.
But, on the other hand, she soon realized that she possessed an ardent, if
not altogether discreet, champion in her enemy's septuagenarian first
cousin once removed, who sang her praises and fought her battles from one
end of Saville Street to the other. Mr. Ramsay no longer railed against
electric cars and specialists; all his fulminations were uttered against
the malicious warfare which his Cousin Horace and that blood relative's
sickly wife were waging against the charming little Miss Whyte, who had
hired Mr. Cherrington's house across the way. What is more, he paid
Elizabeth almost daily visits, during which, after he had discussed ways
and means for confounding his vindictive kinsman, he was apt to declare
that she ought to be married, and that it was a downright shame so pretty
a girl should be condemned to drudgery because she lacked a dowry. This
was a point on which the old gentleman never ceased to harp; and Elizabeth
labored vainly to make him understand that teaching was a delight to her
instead of a drudgery, and that she had not the remotest desire for a
husband. And by way of proving how indifferent she was to the whole race
of men, she continued to bow to the unknown stranger of her daily walk
without making the slightest effort to discover his name.
Pneumonia, that deadly foe of hale and hearty septuagenarians, carried Mr.
Homer Ramsay off within forty-eight hours in the first week of May. And
very shortly after, Elizabeth received a letter from Mr. Mills, the
lawyer, requesting her to call on a matter of importance. She supposed
that it concerned her lease. Perhaps her enemy had bought the roof over
Mr. Mills ushered her into his private office. Then opening a parchment
envelope on his desk, he turned to her, and said: "I have the pleasure to
inform you, Miss Whyte, that my client, the late Mr. Homer Ramsay, has
left you the residuary legatee of his entire property—some fifty or
sixty thousand dollars. Perhaps," he added, observing Elizabeth's
bewildered expression, "you would like to read the will while I attend to
a little matter in the other office. It is quite short, and straight as a
string. I drew the instrument, and the testator knew what he was about
just as well as you or I."
Mr. Mills, who, as you may remember, was a student of human nature,
believed that Miss Whyte lived on her nerves, and he had therefore planned
to leave her alone for a few moments to allow any hysterical tendency to
exhaust itself. When he returned, he found her looking straight before her
with the document in her lap.
"Is it all plain?" he asked kindly.
"Yes. But I don't understand exactly why he left it to me."
"Because he liked you, my dear. He had become very fond of you. And if you
will excuse my saying so," he added, with a knowing smile, "he was very
anxious to see you well married. He said that he wished to provide you
with a suitable dowry."
"I see," said Elizabeth, coloring. She reflected for a moment, then looked
up and said, "But I am free to use it as I see fit?"
"Absolutely. I may as well tell you now as any time, however," Mr. Mills
added smoothly, "that Mr. Ramsay's cousin, Mr. Horace Barker, has
expressed an intention to contest the will. He is the next of kin, though
only a first cousin once removed."
Elizabeth started at the name, and drew herself up slightly.
"You need not give yourself the smallest concern in the matter," the
lawyer continued. "If Mr. Barker were in needy circumstances or were a
nearer relative, he might be able to make out a case, but no jury will
hesitate between a first cousin once removed, amply rich in this world's
goods, and a—a—pretty woman. I myself am ready to testify that
Mr. Ramsay was completely in his right mind," he added, with professional
dignity; "and as for the claim of undue influence, it is rubbish—sheer
Elizabeth sat for a few moments without speaking. She seemed to pay no
heed to several further reassuring remarks which Mr. Mills, who judged
that she was appalled by the idea of a legal contest, hastened to let
fall. At last she looked straight at him, and said with firmness, "I
suppose that I am at liberty not to take this money, if I don't wish to?"
"At liberty? Bless my stars, Miss Whyte, anybody is at liberty to refuse a
gift of fifty thousand dollars. But when you call to see me again, you
will be laughing at the very notion of such a thing. Go home, my dear
young lady, and leave the matter in my hands. Naturally you are
overwrought at the prospect of going into court."
"It isn't that, Mr. Mills. I cannot take this money; I have no right to
it. I am no relation to Mr. Ramsay, and the only reason he left it to me
was—was because he thought it would help me to be married. Otherwise
he would have left it to Mr. Barker. I have no intention of marrying, and
I should not be willing to take a fortune under such circumstances."
"The will is perfectly legal, my dear. And as to marrying, you are free to
remain single all your days, if you wish to," said Mr. Mills, with another
knowing smile. "Indeed, you are overwrought."
Elizabeth shook her head. "I am sure that I shall never change my mind,"
she answered. "I could never take it."
Elizabeth slept little that night; but when she arose in the morning, she
felt doubly certain that she had acted to her own satisfaction. What real
right had she to this money? It was coming to her as the result of the
fancy of an eccentric old man, who, in a moment of needless pity and
passing interest, had made a will in her favor to the prejudice of his
natural heir. Of what odds was it that that heir had ample means already,
or even that he was her bitter enemy? Did not the very fact that he was
her enemy and that she despised him make it impossible for her to take
advantage of an old man's whim so as to rob him? She would have no
lawsuit; he might keep the fifty thousand dollars, and she would go her
way as though Mr. Homer Ramsay and Mr. Horace Barker had never existed.
Mr. Ramsay had left her his money on the assumption that she would be able
to marry. To have taken it knowing that she intended never to marry would
have been to take it under false pretences.
Mr. Mills consoled himself after much additional expostulation with the
reflection that if a woman is bent on making a fool of herself, the wisest
man in the world is helpless to prevent her. He set himself at last to
prepare the necessary papers which would put Mr. Horace Barker in
possession of his cousin's property; and very shortly the act of signal
folly, as he termed it, was completed. Tongues in the neighborhood wagged
energetically for a few days; but presently the birth of twins in the next
block distracted the public mind, and Elizabeth was allowed to resume the
vocation of an inconspicuous schoolmistress. From the object of her
bounty, Mr. Horace Barker, she heard nothing directly; but at least he had
the grace to discontinue his persecutions. And parental confidence, which,
in spite of scarlet-fever, had never been wholly lost, was manifested in
the form of numerous applications to take pupils for the coming year. For
the first time for many weeks Elizabeth was in excellent spirits and was
looking forward to the summer vacation, now close at hand; during which
she hoped to be able to fit herself more thoroughly for her duties after a
few weeks of necessary rest.
One evening, about a fortnight before the date when the school was to
close, she noticed that the print of her book seemed blurred; she turned
the page and, perceiving the same effect, realized that her vision was
impaired. On the following morning at school she noticed the same
peculiarity whenever she looked at a book. She concluded that it was but a
passing weakness, the result of having studied too assiduously at night.
Still, recognizing that her eyes were all-important to her, she decided to
consult an oculist at once. It would be a simple matter to do, for was
there not one directly opposite in the house next to Mr. Ramsay's? The
sign, Dr. James Clay, Oculist, had daily stared her in the face. She
resolved to consult him that very day after school. To be sure she knew
nothing about him individually, but she was aware that only doctors of the
best class were to be found in Saville Street.
She was obliged to wait in an anteroom, as there were three or four
patients ahead of her. When her turn came to be ushered into the doctor's
office, she found herself suddenly in the presence of the unknown young
man whom she was accustomed to meet daily on her way from school. Her
impulse at recognizing him, though she could not have told why, was to
slip away; but before she could move, he looked up from the table over
which he was bent making a memorandum.
"Miss Whyte!" he exclaimed with pleased astonishment and some confusion,
advancing to meet her. "In what way can I be of service to you?"
"Dr. Clay? I should like you to look at my eyes; they have been troubling
Elizabeth briefly detailed her symptoms. He listened with gravity, and
then after requesting her to change her seat, he examined her eyes with
absorbed attention. This took some minutes, and when he had finished there
was something in his manner which prompted her to say:
"Of course you will tell me, Dr. Clay, exactly what is the matter."
"I am bound to do so," he said, slowly. "I wished to make perfectly sure,
before saying that your eyes are quite seriously affected—not that
there is danger of a loss of sight, if proper precautions are taken—but—but
it will be absolutely necessary for you to abstain from using them in
order to check the progress of the disease."
"I see," she said, quietly, after a brief silence. "Do you mean that I
cannot teach school? I am a school-teacher."
"I knew that; and knowing it, I thought it best to tell you the whole
truth. No, Miss Whyte; you must not use your eyes for at least a year, if
you do not wish to lose your sight."
"I see," said Elizabeth again, with the hopeless air of one from whom the
impossible is demanded. "I thank you, Dr. Clay, for telling me the truth,"
she added, simply. "Have I strained my eyes?"
"You have evidently overtaxed them a little; but the disease is primarily
a disease of the nerves. Will you excuse me for asking if at any time
within the last few years you have suffered a severe shock?"
"A shock?" Elizabeth hesitated an instant, and replied gently: "Yes; but
it was a number of years ago."
"That would account for the case, nevertheless."
A few minutes later Elizabeth was walking along the street, face to face
with despair. She had not been able to obtain permission from the doctor
to use her eyes even during the ten days which remained before vacation.
He had said that every moment of delay would make the cure more difficult.
She must absolutely cease to look at a book for one whole year. It would
be necessary at first for her to visit him for treatment two or three
times a week. He had said—she remembered his exact words—"I
cannot do a very great deal for you; we can rely only on time for that;
but believe me, I shall endeavor to help you so far as it lies in human
power. I hope that you will trust me—and—and come to me
freely." Kind words these, but of what avail were they to answer the
embarrassing question how she was to live? She must give up her school at
least for a year; that seemed inevitable. How was she to earn her daily
bread if she obeyed the doctor's orders? Would it not be better to use her
eyes to the end, and trust to charity to send her to an infirmary when she
became blind? Why had she been foolish enough to refuse Mr. Ramsay's
property? But for a quixotic theory, she would not now have been at the
It was the sting of shame which this last thought aroused, following in
the train of her bitter reasoning, that caused her to quicken her pace and
clinch her hands. That same pride, which had been her ally hitherto, had
come to her rescue once more. She said to herself that she had done what
she knew was right, and that no force of cruel circumstances should induce
her to regret that she had not acted differently. She would prove still
that she was able to make her own way without assistance, even though she
were obliged to scrub floors. A shock? The shock of a betrayed faith which
had arrayed her soul in bitterness against mankind. Must she own that she
was crushed? Not while she had an arm to toil and a heart to strive.
The next ten days were bitter ones. Elizabeth, after disbanding her
school, began to plan and contrive for the future. Schemes bright with
prospect suggested themselves, and faded into smoke at the touch of
practicability. She had a few hundred dollars, which would enable her to
live until she had been able to devise a plan, and she determined that the
world should not think that she was discouraged. The world, and chiefly at
the moment Dr. Clay, whose kindness and earnest attention during the
visits which she paid him suggested that he felt great pity for her. Pity?
She wished the pity of no man.
One evening while she was alone in her parlor, wrestling with her schemes,
the maid entered and said that a gentleman wished to see her. A gentleman?
She could think of none who would be likely to call upon her, but she bade
the girl show him in; and a moment later she was greeting Dr. Clay.
Presently, while she was wondering why he had come, she found herself
listening to these words: "I am a stranger to you to all intents and
purposes, but you are none to me. For months I have dogged your footsteps
unknown to you, and haunted this house in my walks because I knew that you
lived here. The memory of your face has sweetened my dreams, and those
brief moments when we have passed each other daily have been sweeter than
any paradise. I know the story of your struggle with that coward and of
your noble act of renunciation. It cut into my heart like a knife to speak
to you those necessary words the other day, and I have been miserable ever
since. I said to myself at last that I would go to you and tell you that I
could not be happy apart from you; and that your happiness was mine. This
seems presumptuous, intrusive: I wish to be neither. I have merely come to
ask that I may be free to call upon you and to try to make you love me. I
am not rich, but my practice is such that I am able to offer you a home.
Will you allow me to come to see you, at least to be your friend?"
The silence which followed this eager question seemed to demand an answer.
Elizabeth, who had been sitting with bent head, looked up presently and
answered with a sweet smile:
"I have no friends, Dr. Clay. I think it would be very pleasant to have
A few minutes later when he was gone, Elizabeth sat for some time without
moving, with the same happy smile on her lips. He had asked nothing more
and she had given him no greater assurance. Why was it that at last she
buried her face in her hands and sobbed as though her bosom would break?
Why was it, too, that before she went to bed that night she took a handful
of withered flowers, mere dust and ashes, from the secret drawer of her
work-box, and, wrapping them in the paper which had enclosed them, held
them in the flame of the lamp until they were consumed? Why? Because love,
unwatched for, unbidden had entered her heart, which she thought sere as
the rose-leaves, and restored light to the sunshine and joy to the world.