Stella Grayland by James T. McKay

So Miss Brainard’s father’s gone, Doctor.” It was the young minister’s clear, hearty voice that spoke. “I feel very sorry for Miss Brainard, very sorry indeed. He has been a great care to her, and it’s a release to both, no doubt; but it leaves a great void. She’s very good and useful, and she has been a faithful daughter. She’s very much overcome; it seems to her as if she were alone in the world.”

Dr. Enfield’s heart smote him. He knew Cora Brainard much better than the minister, who had not been very long in the place, but his thought of her had not been gentle of late. The picture of her in such trouble affected him with a remorseful tenderness. He turned his horse and drove to her door.

He found her alone; she had been crying, and looked tremulous and downcast, but was trim and pretty, as always. She called him Lawrence and asked him in, then nestled herself childishly in the corner of the sofa and dried her eyes. Enfield stood before her, remembering many things.

“I am very sorry, Cora,” he said. “Can I do anything for you?”

He spoke low and with something like contrition.

“You’re long in coming to show it,” she complained. “You’ve been very unkind.”

“I used to come quick enough and often enough,” he rejoined in the subdued tone.

“Yes, and then you stayed away of a sudden, and when I asked you the reason, you laughed at me and deserted me altogether, when you knew I looked to you for advice and assistance, and had most need of them.”

Her reproach stung him. The charge of unfaithfulness to a friend was one he took keenly. There was a mingled sternness and entreaty in his voice when he replied:

“Won’t you let that go now? This is no time for bandying reproaches. I think I was your faithful friend for a long while. If I failed in my duty to you, I am sure I did not know it. And if I changed, it was because I thought I had been mistaken and had been going for years with my eyes shut. I thought I had been a fool and it was time——but that’s of no account now. I am your friend still; let me prove it.”

But she persisted in her high, child-like complaint.

“Was it my fault, then, you had not seen me, truly? I never tried to deceive you. I always put confidence in you and talked frankly to you, as I never did to any one else. And you know I’ve had a hard time. I was never meant for the tiresome, lonely life I’ve had. I never wanted to be a pattern and model of usefulness and self-forgetfulness, but they would have me so, and I couldn’t go out in the streets and tell them I was not. I’ve had to play the part till I’m tired. I’ve had to walk demurely, and talk and smile to people I despised, and do all sorts of miserable things. But I never pretended to you. You knew I was not satisfied or happy. I used to tell you all my troubles and ask your advice about everything. And you know you said harsh things to me sometimes. You knew me better than any one else, and I did not think you would ever treat me so. Did you think only of what was due to yourself, and that our long friendship and the reliance you had encouraged me to place in you gave me no claim upon you?”

Her words hurt and agitated him greatly. Was she right? and had he been doubly blind? In this grieved, reproachful, petulant humor, she seemed a different being from the Cora Brainard he had had in his thought these last months; she was the little girl that the big boy, Lawrence Enfield, had protected and drawn on his sled, the maiden he had cherished in his heart for many a day; and he had been purer and braver for the thought of her. Did he owe her nothing for that? He was very sensitive to people’s claims upon him. His heart bled and was afraid for her. He could not see her way. He knew she had had a hard time,—harder than people dreamed. They thought her long service and support of her invalid father were made easy by a love of duty and by exceptional ability. Enfield knew that, though she had rare tact and succeeded admirably, all sordid care and labor were extremely repugnant to her. She had said she never had anything she liked; he would have expressed it, that she never liked anything she had. He thought that a very melancholy case. That she liked the society of spirited young men, he had learned to his sorrow more than once or twice; or, at least, that they were very apt to like her; but they were all sent (or went) about their business one after another.

Enfield had a friend named Loramer, who had been one of the spirited fellows at one time, and the episode had been a severe strain upon their friendship. It was a summer vacation of Loramer’s, when he made Miss Brainard’s acquaintance, and he had found her bright, piquant face, and light, laughing chatter very appetizing. He met her upon riding and sailing parties, sat and walked and drove with her. Enfield avoided them both awhile, then spoke offensively to Loramer, and got scornful laughter in reply. They did not meet again for some time.

One evening Loramer brought Cora home from a drive. He lifted her out, and they stood talking there together under the trees. He made an appointment to go rowing with her the next day, and they parted, with some show of reluctance on his part, and low laughter on hers.

He scratched a match and lighted a cigar, as he drove down the street. As he passed through the town, he saw some one going before him on the foot-path. He let his horse walk, and watched the man till he turned a corner. He turned the horse after him, overtook him, and stopped opposite and said:

“Enfield, come and ride.”

He stood by a tree a minute or two, looking, then came and got in.

They rode along, each in his corner.

“Have a cigar?” said Loramer.

“No,” answered Enfield.

Loramer took his own from his mouth and flung it away. He struck the horse with the whip, Enfield put his hand on the reins, and said, steadily:

“Don’t do that, the mare’s willing enough; she’s tired.”

Loramer pulled her up, and let her walk a mile or more, up among the hills; then he turned her and rattled back toward the village, and stopped before his own lodging. He asked Enfield to hold the horse and went in. In a little while he came out and put a valise in the wagon.

“What time does the night train pass?”


He drove to the station, gave Enfield the reins, and put the valise on the platform, then stood on the step of the wagon.

“Drive the horse to Mitchel’s for me and tell him to send me his bill.”

He lingered a moment, then offered his hand.

“Good-night, Lawrence!”

“Good-night!” and they held each other’s hands firmly but gravely.

“Will you take a cigar now, Lawrence?”


Loramer thrust his cigar-case into his hand, wheeled round and marched into the waiting-room, holding the valise with a strong grasp, and putting his head a little on one side.

That affair was a part of the long, slow process of Enfield’s alienation from Cora, but only one of many steps. He was tenacious and slow to change, and she held him by cords of memory and dependence as well as affection. But by degrees he came to see clearly that he had been wilfully blind, that he had always known but would not regard that she was not at all the girl he had enshrined. The end was but a trifle—the proverbial last straw. And though he laughed when she took him to task and felt a barbarous enjoyment in their reversed relations, and in her show of something like consternation, he more than once afterward felt the yearning of the converted heathen toward his broken gods.

Loramer and Enfield spent a week together on Cape Cod the same summer and took refuge from a storm in one of the huts provided for ship-wrecked people. Listening to the deafening roar of the wind and the surf, they spoke of Cora Brainard. Loramer congratulated Lawrence upon his freedom. And he went on:

“I don’t know what there is in the little minx. All the old ladies in Elmtree think her a kind of saint, but she didn’t strike me in that light. She came near making a —— fool of me, but I can’t remember anything she said, only how she laughed and her eyes sparkled.”

“I can’t laugh at her,” Enfield answered. “She hasn’t made herself and she hasn’t had a good time. She doesn’t know anything and doesn’t care for anything. She has a wonderful tact, an eye for color, and an instinct for the current fashion in what goes for literature and art. But she has no appreciation of anything permanent and no lasting enjoyment of anything. I think that is terrible. I can’t think of anything much more pitiable.”

Enfield lounged against the wall; Loramer watched him awhile, listening to the storm booming without, as he lay stretched on the straw. Then he went on:

“Do you think she’s a good girl, Lawrence? It wouldn’t be quite safe for her to run on with some fellows as she did with me.”

He caught Enfield’s eye.

“No, it wasn’t quite safe for her to run on so with me. She’s either very innocent, or very artful, or very reckless, I don’t know which. If she is good, she’s very, very good.”

He laughed, but Lawrence smoked soberly and silent.

“Young Harlow, the ensign, was her last capture, wasn’t he?”

Enfield nodded, gravely.

“They say he was over his head, and would have given up the navy and flouted his people and everything, if she would have taken him, but she wouldn’t let him sacrifice himself. That was a strange affair of theirs—being lost on a sleigh-ride and snowed up two days across the mountain. I never could understand it; both of them knew the country, and none of the rest of the party found much trouble.”

“I don’t know,” Enfield answered, slowly. “I wasn’t taking as much interest in her movements just then as I had been. I cut adrift about the time she took Harlow in tow; I suppose she thought I was jealous, and perhaps I was. I don’t know how they managed it, but he left very suddenly, and she was sick about that time.”

All these things, and many more, surged through Enfield’s mind now, as he stood before her and was swayed by her unrestrained upbraiding. She said that he had stood in her way, that she had put her trust in him and given him such a near place that others had been kept from her. He found that hard to swallow. He turned from her and threw himself into an arm-chair, with his face away from her, and chewed the bitter accusation.

Finally she came slowly and stood beside him a minute or two, then said sadly, laying her hand on his arm:

“Forgive me, Lawrence, if I have said too much; I am in trouble; you will help me, will you not?”

“Yes, I will do anything I can for you,” he answered. “Have you made any plans?”

She shook her head slowly.

“No; I don’t know what I am to do. I can’t live alone, and there’s no one here I can live with. They don’t know me and yet think they do, and they expect me to be always playing the character they have invented for me. I’m tired to death, and I want you to tell me what to do.”

He sat with her awhile longer, then went away, and thought of her all night, and went back to her in the morning.

Loramer made him a visit soon after that. They sat up late together. When they were separating at Loramer’s door, he laid his arm across Enfield’s shoulder, and they looked into each other’s eyes.

“Are you going to marry Cora Brainard, Lawrence?” he asked.


They continued to look at each other for a long breath.

“Are my eyes sound?” asked Enfield, but neither smiled.

“Yes, sound and true,” answered Loramer, “but too deep for me.”

The wedding came off a month later. Enfield had insisted upon Loramer standing up with him. “This must make no difference between you and me, Harry,” he had said. Cora looked very pretty, and bore herself with a demure dignity which Loramer could not but admire. He got an idea of her then which he found hard to reconcile with his recollections. Enfield himself discovered an unsuspected capacity for enjoyment in her.

They came back from the wedding-journey, and she took command of his house. And as they settled into the routine of home life and occupations, Enfield began to think of carrying out certain plans which he had had in mind.

Two or three months before his return to Cora, he had met a young lady whom he had known slightly for some years, named Stella Grayland. She was not strikingly beautiful, but of very pleasing appearance, fresh, rosy, and intelligent. But the charm Enfield found in her was her manner and what it suggested. Though entirely simple, her walking, standing, sitting, speaking, were perfectly poised. In all her motions and attitudes she made you think of some smooth and balanced mechanism which, however it turned, or went, or stopped, was still in no danger of going awry. She could stand still and sit still, and to see her do either was good for the eyes. She was not fluent in speech, but when she began you might be sure she would get to the end of what she set out to say and stop when she got to the end. The simplest things took a rhythmical quality in her mouth, and clung to the memory with an agreeable tenacity.

Happy, thoughtful, modest, steadfast Stella Grayland had struck Enfield as the reverse of Cora Brainard, and he found the secret of the salient difference in the fact that Stella had had a thorough training in one direction. Her father was a musician, and his daughter had inherited his faculty and cultivated it by assiduous study at home and abroad. Coming away from her, Enfield had reflected how any ennobling pursuit broadens and deepens the whole character, as a journey up the latitudes on any side of the world gives one the main features of all, and makes the rest intelligible.

If Cora had had the guidance of some strong, wise hand to set her right at the start, and lead her along the arduous beginning of some such path, until her feet found their strength and the growing joy of walking, and her eyes learned the delight of the ever-widening and brightening prospect!—the thought of what might have been filled him with strong regret and pity. She had only had the training of sordid care and uncongenial tasks and associations. He was estranged from her then, and had been thinking hardly of her; but when he heard of her in trouble at her father’s death, the pitiful yearning swept away all unkindness, and brought him back to her side. And that night, after she had appealed to him in such an abandoned humor, she seemed to him quite the child still and fit to learn of one who understood her, and had her confidence and the right to be with her a great deal. Who was there that knew her or could help her but he? It was in no proud spirit that he had answered. He wandered under the stars, and was humble enough and lonely enough, God knew. He went back through the years, and gathered all the forgotten tenderness and trust between them. He felt again the purifying stimulus of his thought of her, and perceived how it had fostered all of him that was brave and of good report. Whether or not he had deceived himself; whether she were truly the girl he had seen or not, the fact remained that he owed her, or his thought of her, a great deal. What was truth? Are there not as many worlds as eyes that see them? Are we sure there is any world outside the eye? Does not truth consist in standing by what one’s eyes report? What better proof could there be of a thing’s reality than that it had held you long, shaped and lifted and led you? Cora Brainard had been the most powerful modifying circumstance of his life.

It seemed to him that night that God had set before him a solemn trust, and that there was every reason why he should assume it. And slowly and reverently he took it up.

And now that she was his wife, he was anxious to begin the course he had determined to pursue. Cora had received the ordinary schooling of girls, but had somehow missed the true education. Her acquirements were a surface gloss merely, Enfield knew. She had never been touched by the sacred fire. She could not tell a good book from a poor one, he had said to Loramer. But he had taken her, and his heart yearned toward the companion of his choice. Yet there could be no true companionship where there was no common view or interest. It seemed to him that she had never learned the right use of her eyes, that the few and little things close to her shut out the sight of the great and innumerable company beyond, as if one reared among city streets should never see either the earth or the sky. He would teach her to use them, would show her the awe and beauty of the world. They would read together; he would find a new charm and inspiration in his loved books; she would catch his enthusiasm and insensibly learn the delight and true cultivation of all that is great and good.

He found no chance to begin for a long time. She was very busy and seemed very happy. There was the house to set in order, his friends and hers to entertain; she was learning to ride. But by and by came winter and shut them in more alone. He got out his books and proposed their reading together, and was pleased to find she welcomed the plan. She read with a clear intonation and a careful regard for pointing and pronunciation; but somehow as he listened to her the strength and flavor of his favorite authors escaped between the words. Her idea of reading poetry seemed to be that it should sound exactly like prose. She had apparently no conception of anything like rhythm, and seemed to think it a special grace to avoid any slightest pause at the end of a line when it could be done; so that the mind was kept on a strain to catch at the rhyme and measure. He said nothing, but one night took the book himself. He read things to her that had made his heart throb and dimmed his eyes, or filled him with delightful laughter, and they wearied or puzzled her, and seemed cold and sterile to himself. He began to lose courage, but he persevered. One night he read to her in Ruskin’s eloquent prose, and came to that powerful and impassioned, if somewhat mystical, interpretation of the Laureate’s noble song:

“Come into the garden, Maud,
For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the rose is blown.”

He read on to the end. When he stopped he hoped she would not speak; he felt by anticipation the jar of her clear cold voice. But she did not speak. Her face was in the shadow, but he could see without turning his head that her bosom heaved and heaved. She was touched,—she understood. With a rush came a thought that the splendid song symbolized their relation. It was he who stood at the gate, alone, and called her out from “the dancers dancing in tune.” He had almost wearied of calling, but she heard,—at last she heard!

“There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, ‘She is near, She is near,’
And the white rose weeps, ‘She is late;’
The larkspur listens, ‘I hear, I hear;’
And the lily whispers, ‘I wait!’”

There was silence a while in the room; then he moved very gently and looked in her face. There was a smile on her lips, and her eyes were closed. She was asleep.

He left her there and went out. It was cold and still; the stars glittered, the earth was white. He walked far on the frozen snow, with a feeling as hard and cold as the bitter air. Some impish sprite seemed to mock him with the closing strain of the song:

“She is coming, my own, my sweet;
Were it ever so airy a tread,
My heart would hear her and beat,
Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
Had I lain for a century dead;
Would start and tremble under her feet,
And blossom in purple and red.”

All the charm had gone out of the words. Were such passionate yearnings actual, or at best more than empty delusions? He had yearned so toward her; she had been “his life, his fate.” His fate, truly, but was she not rather his death? What kind of creature was it that words like those could not move? She cast a blight upon the noblest things, made him doubt and disbelieve where before he had walked with firm feet. And she was his fate; he was bound to her by his own hand. She sat there now by his table, and there she would sit and sit. The picture made his house seem a prison. He must go back there by and by. The thought of living at variance was very bitter to him, yet how could they prevent it who had nothing in common, whose instincts drew opposite ways. He was unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

The village clock recalled him from that dismal reverie. He had a call to make at the Marlakes’; the children were all three sick. Kate Marlake had been a Grayland, and her sister Stella was recently come to stay with her through that trying time. Lawrence gave one of the children a soothing potion, and said he would wait to see the effect. He went down-stairs, and Kate sent Stella to keep him company. She asked him about the children, and he explained to her the “self-limited” character of the disease and the necessity that they should grow worse before they could be better, but assured her there was no present cause for alarm. And while he thus reassured her, she was unconsciously exerting a more powerful influence upon him. Her steady, balanced carriage, her quiet, straight, brief questions, her direct glance, her strong but controlled interest, the simple grace with which she sat afterward, altogether affected him with a great tenderness, mingled with despair. Why could not Cora be like that? Was it so hard to be simple, gracious, modestly satisfied? It seemed very easy in Stella’s presence. She did not say much; her words were fit and sincere, to be sure, but simple and few, and as like as not to end with a depreciating, low, lapsing laugh. But somehow she made all brave and gentle and generous things seem easy and very desirable. Lawrence looked up from his abstraction and found her watching him.

“Don’t you miss your music?” he asked.

“Well,” she answered, with her low laugh, “it would hardly be gracious to say I do, when Kate needs me so badly,—and hardly true to say no.”

Lawrence recalled a remark of Dr. Kane’s;—how when, on one of his voyages, in their ice-girt winter quarters, the whole ship’s company, save himself, were prostrate below decks, and he with incredible strength and fortitude was literally doing everything, not even omitting to register regular observations of the instruments;—in the midst of that unsurpassable heroism among the polar solitudes, he felt at night a dissatisfaction with the day as having been spent to little purpose worthy of his powers.

Stella listened, and was still a moment before she answered:

“Yes, I can understand that.”

That was it. She could understand. She knew what he was talking about; she knew and cared. He had always remarked her peculiarly melodious, low voice; he thought now he had never heard one so expressive. It was never either loud or faint, but exquisitely modulated, like all her motions. He could say things to her; when he began to talk to Cora, his words came back upon him as in an echoing hall, and smothered him with the sound of his own voice. Stella Grayland, sitting composedly, saying little, stirred him like noble music,—made him strong and fervid.

They talked of many things, the dark background of his thought giving a sombre undertone to his part. They came back to music.

“You enjoy it as much as ever?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” she answered; “I think it grows constantly upon you. One’s deficiencies become painfully clearer, and bad music seems to increase and become more of a trial. But it is a satisfaction to feel that one grows a little, taking the years together; and it is very pleasant to know that there will always be plenty to learn and enjoy.”

She ended with a little sigh.

He was looking at her, but he only said:


Her words exactly expressed his feeling for literature. He felt as if they two had been climbing the same hill by different paths, and stood side by side for a moment looking up to the heights beyond that rose one above another,—where over the dark pine forests the glittering snow-peaks pierced the sky and the rivers of ice shone gloriously.

Kate came to tell them that Jenny was asleep, and they went up softly. Lawrence wrote out his directions for the night and came down, Stella accompanying him. At the door he paused a moment abstractedly.

“Don’t you think it’s a great loss for a person to miss the pleasure and appreciation of a noble art?” he asked, seriously.

She looked at him questioningly, but replied:

“Yes, it makes me very sorry sometimes; it is a great loss. But I reflect that there are a great many people who get on without it, and they seem quite contented and happy. I think those who have the advantage of the finer influences and delights should be very good and try to prevent the younger ones from growing up without caring for such things.”

“Yes, that is true,” he replied, and he went on with suppressed agitation: “But suppose one should grow up blind to all art and yet not contented or happy, without any true knowledge, or faith, or cultivation but the outward seeming, unsettled, unsatisfied, hungering for one knows not what, despising all that one has?”

He leaned back, and neither spoke for a moment. She turned either way with a shuddering movement.

“That would be terrible,” she answered. “But do you think there are any so unfortunate?”

“Yes, there are some,” he returned; “I hope indeed not many.”

“And can nothing be done for them?”

“I don’t know. I am afraid not.”

“Oh, I think you should not say that,” she continued, warmly; “their friends should not despair. It would be like saving a soul from death!”

“Thank you,” he said. “Good-night!” He offered his hand, and she gave him hers frankly.

He came away softened and humbled; the night was not so hard and cold now. All that was compassionate and unselfish in him was re-enforced, and the view of his better nature confirmed. His feeling toward Cora was only gentle and pitiful.

But there was a difference between them thenceforth that he could not equalize. He saw that the novelty and excitation of her altered position were going from her and that the quiet of the early winter was growing irksome. She said nothing, but he got the feeling of having a child in the house whose playthings were worn out and whom he felt bound to entertain. It unsettled and fretted him. He was necessarily at the Marlakes’ a great deal for some time, and his admiration for Stella grew with the sight of her unwearied and skilful care of the little ones; through the most trying scenes she was steadfast, though deeply concerned; she executed his directions with exactness. She was never taken at a disadvantage; under all circumstances she was the same simple, friendly, self-respectful, admirable person. He was always the better for seeing her; however confused and wrong-sided the world might seem, at sight or sound of her all things fell into order and marched to unheard music. He did not disguise from himself that he went to see the Marlake children oftener than he would have gone to others; he knew he was glad to go there and knew the reason. He asked himself why he should not. He did not know how he should get on without this resource. His wife soon wore out his better feelings; sometimes he was in a rage with her, sometimes affected with a great melancholy; she could not rest at home unless there were people there; she wanted to be at all meetings, fairs, parties, lectures, concerts. She would talk with most people glibly enough, catching the cue of each with wonderful adroitness and echoing each after his kind. Most people thought her charming when she cared to charm; to be confirmed in one’s opinions by such pretty, vivacious eyes and lips few men would find distasteful. To Lawrence she had nothing to say. She knew that he knew that she had nothing worth saying. She resented his penetration; she resented his pity; and pity was the only light in which he found the thought of her tolerable. He had thought to show her through his eyes widening vistas of beauty and grandeur; and instead he caught glimpses through hers of awful heights and depths of vacancy, peopled only by thinly veiled phantoms of darkness and horror. But she could not look with his eyes, and if she caught sight of such dismal prospects now and then she could not be expected to want to look that way; it was as if she sailed with a strong swimmer to whom she instinctively looked for help and succor when storms came, but who could do nothing in fair weather but steer the boat. A cloud or a breaking wave might remind her of tempest and dark depths full of cruel creatures, but while the sun shone and the sea was smooth she could hardly be blamed for preferring merrier company than one who was forever on the lookout for foul weather, and whose gravity and very reserve power of succor were suggestive of distasteful things.

They came to no open rupture; what was there to say? His prevailing mood toward her was compassion as for a lost soul. But many times that mood broke down by its own weight. Her light, child-like laugh, her high, clear voice talking so glibly and cheerily to people whom, as like as not, he knew she despised, came to him with a hollow, heartless ring that was maddening. He could not study; he could think of nothing worthy. He would rush away from the sound that he was frightened to perceive was becoming hateful. And the unconscious influence of Stella was always a steadying and restoring one. He believed he should never have married Cora but for the stimulus to his compassion that he got from her. He did not know what he should do now but for her stimulus of his forebearance, his tenderness, his whole better nature. But the children got well by and by, and Stella went away. Then Enfield stumbled along as best he could.

Some time afterward Lawrence had a letter from a friend: “I have an opening here for a young surgeon of parts and character. It will be the making of some one. Can you send me the name of some young fellow you can recommend?”

Now, Lawrence happened to know that Stella had a cousin, a young surgeon; in fact, she had asked him about his chance of success in that part of the country. He now invited young Winlock to come down and make him a visit with a view to recommending him. He was a handsome, lively young fellow, and Lawrence liked him from the first. He and Cora got on well together, and Lawrence found the house pleasanter than he had for a long time.

Stella came back to Elmtree two or three weeks later. Kate had felt the long strain after it was over, and had stumbled and broken down. Stella quickly perceived some things about her cousin that troubled her. One morning he came on some errand, and she detained him. He was a frank fellow, and he and Stella were good friends. She made him come and sit with her. She talked to him and watched him. He took out his watch and rose to go. She stood up before him.

“Eugene,” she said, “where are you going, now?”

The tall fellow looked down at her and changed color.

“I am going to ride.”

“With Mrs. Enfield?”

“Yes,” he answered, doggedly.

She looked away slowly and then back, till their eyes met again. She spoke in a lower voice than usual, but steadily.

“What do you think of Mrs. Enfield?”

He did not turn away his eyes, but his face grew haggard.

“I think she’s an angel,” he said.

She threw herself into the chair beside her without moving her feet, and sat with her hands together in her lap, and her face bent out of his sight. He turned back, shaken and helpless. Her attitude affected him more than any words. Presently he came round and took her head between his hands.

“Don’t fret about me, Stel,” he said. “I’m not worth it.”

She sat up straight.

“Eugene, you must go away.”

He turned away his head.

“I can’t,” he said.

She stood up.

“Come here a moment.”

She led him to Kate’s sick-room.

“Awake, Katy? You slept nicely. You feel better now. Here’s Eugene come to see you. I have got to go out, and Lizzie’s busy, so Eugene will sit in the next room and call her if you want anything. Good-by, dear!”

She was gone before he could say a word. In fifteen minutes she was in Dr. Enfield’s parlor. A riding whip and hat lay on a table. She walked from them to the back of the room. Cora came down in her habit. She had a cheerful greeting on her lips, and advanced toward Stella, but stopped half way; and Stella backed a step.

“Will you take a seat, Miss Grayland?” Cora said, with cold politeness.

“No,” she answered, only half conscious of her words, a burning shame and aversion enveloping her like a cloud and shutting out sight and sound. “I have come to tell you that my cousin is not going to ride—and—”

Cora was staring with a horrified expression past Stella’s head. She interrupted:

“That will do, Miss Grayland. Lawrence, you had better come in.”

Stella turned. The door behind her into Lawrence’s office stood open; he had come in unheard, and was leaning against the door-post, white in the face. Stella was startled, but she only bowed distantly and came out of the house. This was not altogether new to Lawrence; he had felt vaguely fearful before. Cora turned her back to him and looked out of the window; the prospect was sunny and bright with spring’s promise, but it did not look so to her. He came forward and stood beside her.

“So you are at the old game again,” he said. “What do you suppose will be the end if you keep on?”

She answered without turning or lifting her head, and in a hard bitter voice:

“You are both jealous. And it does not become you who wore such a long face because she went away. I suppose you can see now that she cares more for some one else.”

She caught sight of his face, and would have slipped past him, but he stood before her. Then she was afraid. He was afraid of himself; he had to keep back his hands from taking hold of her.

“Do not ever speak to me like that again,” he said, slowly, after a little. “You are not fit—” but he broke off, and left her abruptly.

Stella sent Eugene away the same evening. After that she avoided Lawrence; there was something abhorrent to all her instincts in meeting him now with that repulsive understanding between them. And, for his part, that detestable suggestion of Cora’s put upon Enfield a kindred restraint and at the same time gave him the key to Stella’s feeling, so that her influence upon him was rather strengthened than otherwise by the reserve which came between them.

Enfield wrote to his medical friend soon afterward, recommending young Winlock to his favorable notice; and in due time an arrangement was made to the young surgeon’s advantage. When Stella knew that the affair was pleasantly completed, she took the first opportunity to thank Enfield frankly and warmly. And the warmth he brought away from the brief interview was one that helped him to be gentle and forbearing at home and altogether true; and it did not cease to help him when Kate Marlake got up again and he saw Stella less and less often, nor even when, by and by, she went away South again.

Months passed by and made a heavy drain on all his resources. He found life hard to endure. One day, when it seemed quite intolerable and he was casting vainly about, his heart went out to his old friend Loramer. He went to see him. The grip and smile of the fellow warmed him like wine. They spent the day together. He brought Loramer home with him. They sat, walked, rode, talked together by day and by night, and were happy. They said nothing about Cora, but thought many things. The little that Loramer saw of her, he chaffed and made merry. One day, looking for Lawrence, he found him out, and Cora alone. She bade him come and sit down, and began a chat, but he would only laugh and answer quizzingly, working cat’s cradles with her worsted and big needles. She grew silent under his banter, eying him furtively and stitching away with her head bent. After a while he held a comical figure before her face. She could not help joining in his laugh, but she stopped short, and began to sob and cry. She stood up, letting her work go where it would.

“You’ve no business to laugh at me, Harry Loramer,” she complained. “You and Lawrence are chatting and laughing all day and all night, and have no more regard for my feelings than if I were wood or stone.”

She hid her face, and went out sobbing. Loramer laughed less after that. Lawrence had to take a long ride, and Loramer proposed they should all go together. He and Cora rode on a little way while Lawrence made his call. They rode together every day after that, but Lawrence could not always be one of the party.

Naturally, Lawrence and Loramer found less to talk about, and sat less together. When his time came, Lawrence did not press Loramer to stay, but he did not go. Three days later Lawrence came home and met Loramer coming out of the house. Their greeting was brief and cold. Lawrence went in and found Cora.

He could not speak at first.

“What deviltry are you at now?” he demanded.

She tried to pass out, but he took hold of her by the shoulders, and made her hear.

“Listen to me,” he said. “Do you know what you are doing? If you have no shame or pity, have you no fear? Don’t try me too far, I tell you it’s not safe.”

His grasp hurt her cruelly, but she kept her head away, and made no sound.

Two hours later, Lawrence came home again and found no one in his house. He had a call to make to the west. Three miles out he turned into a bridle-path that led up to a height. Presently he came in sight of the top. The shadows were thick about him, but above the sunset flushed splendidly. On the crest sat two riders, close together. He bowed his head and rode away.

“Harry, you are a coward!” Cora was saying. “Oh, I wish I were a man!” She raised her arm with a passionate gesture. “We loved each other from the first, and he drove you away. I never cared for him; I had to marry him. And I tell you we live in misery. We are nothing but a torment to each other. And you do not know him. He is in love with another woman, and he is cruel. Look here!”

She threw back her mantle and slid her supple shoulder out of her dress.

“Those are the marks of his fingers!”

His gaze was bent upon her, his eyes seemed drawn beyond his control; he trembled, and caught his breath. But he broke the spell. He sat up. He found his voice, thick and low:

“Don’t tempt me. I am his friend; you are his wife.”

She looked to right and left, then turned and took hold of his arm.

“Listen to me!” she commanded. “Bend down your head,—lower, lower!” She looked in his face intently; she put her own close and said, “I am not his wife!”

A dumb, incredulous stare was his reply. He frowned and shook his head.

“You don’t believe me?” she cried. “Come home, I will show you.”

She turned her horse, struck him with the whip, and plunged recklessly down the steep path. He could not overtake her till she reined up and walked through the village street.

“Go into the parlor,” she said, “and wait till I come.”

She ran up-stairs. She asked for Lawrence. He was out,—would not be back till eight. She looked at her watch. Not quite seven. From a locked drawer she took a locked jewel-box and from under the lining a written paper with a printed slip pinned to it.

She came down and into the parlor with her hand in her pocket, walked up to Loramer where he stood before the fire, gave him the paper, and sat down to watch him. It was a certificate of marriage between Cora Brainard and Clarence A. Harlow, dated three years back, and signed by an eccentric clergyman, across the mountain. A feeling of sickness came over Loramer.

“Then you are Harlow’s wife,” he said.

“No, I am no man’s wife,” she answered, impatiently. “Read on; read the newspaper slip.”

He read: “On board U. S. S. ‘Tuscaloosa,’ off Cherbourg, Oct. 20th, Ensign Clarence A. Harlow, aged twenty-four, by the bursting of a gun.”

As Loramer lifted his eyes the door opened and Lawrence came in. Cora uttered a low cry and reached for the paper, but Lawrence’s look frightened her so that she fell back into her chair. He kept his eyes upon her, but went toward Loramer and reached out a cigar-case which he brought in his hand.

“Here’s your cigar-case,” he said. “You’d better take it back.”

Loramer swore at the case, and flung it into the fire.

“Look here!” he cried. “Read that.” He thrust it before his face. “Go on! Do you see? She was his wife when she married you. You’re a free man!”

A brutal exultation seized Lawrence. He shouted and laughed,—“Ha ha, ha ha ha! She’s made fools of us both. You can have her, Harry, and welcome. I wish you joy. Ha ha, ha ha ha! She’s the devil! she’s the devil!”

Loramer answered with harsh and scornful hilarity. Neither took any other notice of her sitting there, sunken together, crushed, hiding her face with her hands. Loramer turned away and ran tramping up the stairs, crammed his things into his valise, and came tramping down. Lawrence was backed against the post at the stair-foot. Loramer grasped his arm in passing. “By-bye! Come and see us,” he called. He went out and banged the door, and they heard his hoarse laughter far down the quiet street.

To Cora that laughter sounded like the knell at the end of all things. She sat as they had left her, and did not move for a long while after Lawrence too had gone out.

Lawrence’s mirthful humor passed very quickly. He grew full of a most delectable sense of freedom. It seemed as if a suffocating network had been tightening about his heart and, now that it had burst, the joy of the great and unexpected deliverance was more than his breast could hold. He could not breathe in-doors,—he wanted all the air he could get on the windy hills.

He had been true; he had been true, he cried out to himself—in thought and deed he had been true! He tried to think: he could not think nor reason. A flood that he had never acknowledged, that he had hardly suspected, that he had set all his faculties to dam up and wall over, had been suddenly let loose and overwhelmed him. He could see no law or order in the world but in one place; to that place he must go, for light, for understanding!

And his heart, like a bird set free,
That tarries not early or late,
But flies, over land, over sea,
Straight, straight to its home, to its mate!

All the night seemed to break out and sing. All the world yearned one way; the stars leaned out of their courses and looked, not at him, but south; the north wind went by him, crooning, hurrying, and the moon sailed southward past the ragged clouds. All his soul went out with them, and his body sickened to follow.

He came home and changed his dress. It was late. He lighted no lamp; the ghostly moonlight streamed through the window, and a figure as still and ghost-like stood at the door.

“Lawrence! Lawrence!” she called, despairingly. But he did not seem to hear. He felt no hardness toward her; she had brought him the great deliverance as well as the grievous bondage. But he could no more heed her now than turn back if he were drawn by unbridled horses and some one cried behind. But when at last he came to go out, he almost stumbled upon her lying across the door. He stooped and picked her up; she was as cold as stone. She clung about his neck. The tempest had come; her ship was a wreck, the dark waves tumbling about her and dashing her with their salt spray. She clung to the strong swimmer she had flouted when winds were sweet, but was afraid she came too late.

“I could not help it; he deserted me basely. Oh, Lawrence, do not cast me off!” she implored. “Do not go away. Pity me; I am very miserable. I should not have done that if you had not forsaken me. No one ever helped me but you, and I have not been happy, you know I have not. I do not know what will become of me if you put me away. I won’t vex you any more; before God I will not! You have me at your mercy; will you not be merciful?”

He laid her on the bed and wrapped her up. He spoke in a deep, solemn voice:

“Be still. I cannot hear you to-night. I have been merciful. I will try to do what is right. I am going away now; wait till I come back.”

He took the midnight train south. Stella was out of town. He followed her. He felt that he could not meet her before strangers with self-control, or go through formalities. He wrote a brief note at the hotel asking to see her alone. Then he shrank from the thought of meeting her with detestable things to explain, and he added:

“I should like you to know my altered position before we meet. I shrink from shocking you by a personal explanation painful to us both. Forgive me, then, for inclosing papers which will inform you.”

The messenger brought back a note which showed marks of agitation:

“Please excuse me to-night. I will walk on the beach early in the morning.”

As the sun came up out of the sea, and he turned away from watching the splendid vision, he saw one that affected him more. She stood a little way off, looking intently seaward; and the morning took a new grace from the flush on her cheek and the light in her clear, calm eyes. His eyes grew dim as he looked at her. If she had felt any agitation, it was gone when she turned and waited for him to approach. She gave him her hand.

“Is it not a beautiful morning?” she said. “Don’t you think it should make us very gentle and unselfish?”

The falling cadence of her voice was more musical than the waves that babbled at her feet. They walked side by side along the sands.

“Yes,” he answered, “yes. If all mornings were like this——” he broke off and looked out to sea.

They came among scattered bowlders, and stood still. With diffidence she took out of his letter the paper with the printed slip attached, and gave it to him.

“You were not offended at my sending them?”

“No, I was glad you sent them. It was thoughtful of you.” She spoke low and seriously. “But do I quite understand?”

She asked him several questions, modest but straightforward, with her grave eyes on his face. While he answered he was thinking, “To the pure, all things are pure.”

She dropped her eyes and sighed.

“It is a dreadful story; it makes me very sad.”

Then after a minute she looked up again and asked:

“What are you going to do?”

He shook with vague apprehension, and leaned sidewise on the rock.

“With her?” he asked. “I hardly know. I thought you would advise me. You cannot think I am under obligation to keep her any longer? I am not bound to her by any law.”

She did not answer for a minute or look at him. When she did, there was a strong fervor in her voice:

“We are all bound; we are all under obligation to help, to guard, to seek and to save them that are lost.”

She stood before him. Her face was like the face of the angel of pity, her tones full of passionate pleading.

“Did you take her ignorantly? Have you kept her only because the law made you? I know you better. What will become of her if you cast her off? She might be worse than she is.”

She turned away and shuddered. Her words pierced him the deeper because they were the same Cora had used, because they were his own smothered thoughts.

He was silent, leaning against a great rock as he stood before her, and she went on, with rising passion:

“And beware for your own sake. If you throw her off, she will draw you down with her, you and all—” she caught her breath—“all connected with you. You cannot punish her as a criminal. What could you say to justify your action? Think of the position you would stand in before the world, with your tongue tied. You could not bear it. In your heat you may think you could, but you might as well think to resist the sea. Beware lest in your haste you throw away the good you have gained. For you have gained. Your power over her is multiplied tenfold. Your freedom is your power. She must know she is in your hands now; the fences are all down. She will know she can no longer presume; her instincts of self-preservation will weigh on your side, and your forbearance be a perpetual restraint upon her. I think you have no good alternative, and that your duty is plain. Don’t think I am hard; we have all our tasks that seem too heavy at times. We can’t understand; ‘His ways are past finding out.’”

Her voice grew tremulous, and she held her face away a minute or two, but then looked up and smiled faintly:

“‘Theirs not to make reply; theirs not to reason why.’ Who knows what great things you may accomplish yet?”

All his sense went with her, down in some unseen depth; but above that rolled a stream whose waves bore him past all resistance. And now the billows swept over him and were bitter in his eyes and throat. He bent backward and rested his head upon the high rock, and stretched up his arms above him. The freshness of the morning turned to ashy pallor; the land and the sea sickened with pain.

Slowly he bent forward again:

“All that is true, I have no doubt. You have clear eyes, and some day I may see it so myself. But I can’t see, I can’t hear that now. There is only one thing I can see or hear. I disowned it, I put it away, I crushed it down; I was faithful to the galling bond; I did my duty!”

He raised his arms again; his voice was like a cry to heaven:

“She made my love her plaything; she wore it out with base uses. She has used me despitefully; she has been the curse of my life!”

And the low answer came back steadfastly:

“‘Bless them that curse you; do good to them that despitefully use you!’ You say you have done your duty; I know you have. Cleave fast to that. Take care, lest you have not that to say by and by.”

Her voice faltered; there was a look of repressed tears about her drooped eyes. She had plainly been over the first part of this path before, but she was getting on untrodden ground.

“Duty is the principal thing; there is always some sweetness sooner or later with that; but without it, the best things will turn to ashes and dust.”

“I know, I know,” he cried. “But I can’t feel that now. I can only feel one thing; I can only care for one thing. I only know that there is but one person in all the world for me, and that duty, and reason, and heaven itself, mean nothing beside her. And it is like death to hear her say these things to me, and to know that she could not say them if she cared for me as I do for her.”

He thought her as steady as the rocks, and to her the solid earth seemed to heave round her more than the unstable sea. But she steadied herself and replied:

“Ought you not to be glad if it is not so? It would not alter your duty. Would it not make it the harder for you? Would it not make your way darker than it is?”

“Glad!” he called out, despairingly. “Glad that the sun is put out in the sky; that the earth is a desert and my heart an intolerable pang; that there is no more purpose, or spring, or desire in my life! Oh, yes, I am glad, glad! You can’t know what you say!”

She clasped her hands; she laid her shoulder and face against the rock; she spoke bitterly:

“Oh, do not try me so. Do you suppose there is nothing hard for me also? Yes, I know; I know!”

He bent toward her, but a horrible doubt seized him. He clasped his hands behind his head; he swung from side to side.

“For another? Not for me?” he demanded, hoarsely.

She stood unsteadily; she lifted her joined hands; her upturned face was aflame, but she could not speak. Then her self-repression broke down. She sank upon the rock and covered her face, and wept uncontrollably. He threw himself beside her.

“Oh, is it true?” he besought her. “Can it be true?”

“Yes!—yes!” she cried, sobbing vehemently. “I tried to keep it down; I would not hear it. I tried to do right. But I can’t help it now.”

He turned his face up to the sky and groaned. “O God!” It was as if heaven came within his reach, and resistless hands stretched out and held him back. But it was too much. Fierce joy rushed upon him and swept away everything else. He stretched out his arms; he bowed over her; he caught her and held her fast. The sun leaped up in the sky. The waves and the winds sang together. There was a new heaven and a new earth! “O Stella!” was all he said.

She lay still; she had no strength. But soon she found faint voice:

“O Lawrence, I am so weak! You must help me to do right.”

“Help you!” he cried, piteously. “Help the angels of light! O Stella, Stella! Don’t trust in me. I have no goodness but yours, no right but you. I had rather the tide would rise over us here, than have to go away from you.”

She sobbed, then turned her head with a long, long breath, and slowly, steadily, with weak, limp fingers began to loosen his clasp and raise herself up. He let her go. The world seemed slipping from him; the shadows of night fell about him. They sat side by side and looked at each other.

“Is there no way?” he asked.

“No,—no way but one.”

She tried to stanch her tears, but they would flow.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry!” he besought. “I can’t bear that.”

“Oh, never mind,” she replied. “It’s a relief to cry; I am not altogether unhappy. It is very bitter at first, and chokes me.”

She bowed her face a moment, then lifted it and went on, with the tears in her eyes and voice:

“No; there is only one way. Even if it were easier, I could not thrust her out, I should hate myself if I did; you yourself would despise me. If we could enter heaven by shutting the door upon her, could we be happy walking together in the golden streets? Would not the thought of her wandering in outer darkness come in and torment us and make us afraid? I do not grudge her,—at least, at least——” Her voice faltered, but rose again. “I ought not. I do pity her with all my heart. If I should take away the only good she has, would it not turn to my curse?”

They had risen and stood on the sand. His eyes were bent upon her; her words played on him like the winds on a harp.

“Do right; do right?” he exclaimed. “Whatever you do or say is right to me.”

Her head dropped. She lifted her hands; she spoke brokenly.

“Do not speak so; help me; I am weak too.”

He caught her hands.

“Forgive me,—I will, I will, I know I could die for you. Can I not live and endure for your sake? Look up! look up.”

She looked up and smiled through tears. He held her hands fast, she stepped upon the low rock and stood upon his level.

“Why should we mourn?” she cried. “Have we not the best things?”

Her eyes turned from him and looked out across the sea. And her thoughts went on beyond sea, and land, and sun. But he could only look at her.

And presently her eyes came back to his. They looked in each other’s faces long, but did not speak.

Then slowly, slowly and bitterly they drew their eyes away and set their unwilling faces toward the north; and lingering, step by step, they came side by side along the sands again, parted, and went their allotted, divided ways.