by George Parsons Lathrop
Everybody in college who knew them at all was curious to see what
would come of a friendship between two persons so opposite in tastes,
habitudes and appearance as John Silverthorn and Bill Vibbard. John
was a hard reader, and Bill a lazy one. John was thin and graceful,
with something pensive yet free and vivid in his nature; Bill was
robust, prosaic and conventional. There was an air of neglect and a
prospective sense of worldly failure about Silverthorn, but you would
at once have singled out Vibbard as being well cared for, and adapted
to push his way. Their likes and dislikes even in the matter of
amusement were dissimilar; and Vibbard was easy-going and popular,
while Silverthorn was shy and had few acquaintances. Yet, as far as
possible, they were always with each other; they roomed, worked,
walked and lounged in company, and often made mutual concessions of
taste so that they might avoid being separated. It was also discovered
that though their allowances were unequal, they had put them together
and paid all expenses out of a common purse. Their very differences
made this alliance a great advantage in some respects, and it was
rendered stronger by the fact that, however incompatible outwardly,
they both agreed in acting with an earnest straightforwardness.
But perhaps I had better describe how I first saw them together. It
was on a Saturday, when a good many men were always sure to be found
disporting themselves on the ball-field. I used to exercise my own
muscles by going to look at them, on these occasions; and on that
particular day I came near being hit by a sudden ball, which was
caught by an active, darting figure just in time to save my head from
an awkward encounter. I nodded to my rescuer, and called out
cordially, “Thank you!”
“All right,” said he, in a glum tone meant to be good-naturedly
modest. “Look out for yourself next time.”
It was Bill Vibbard, then in the latter part of his freshman year; and
not far distant I discovered his comrade Silverthorn, watching Bill in
silent admiration. They continued slowly on their way toward an oak
grove, which then stood near the field. Silverthorn, a smaller figure
than Vibbard, wore a suit of uniform tint, made of sleazy gray stuff
that somehow at once gave me the idea that it was taken out of one of
his mother’s discarded dresses. His face was nearly colorless without
being pallid; and the faint golden down on his cheeks and upper lip,
instead of being disagreeably juvenile, really added to the pleasant
dreaminess that hung like a haze over his mild young features. He was
slender, he carried himself rather quaintly; but his gait was buoyant
and spirited. At that season the lilacs were in bloom, and Silverthorn
held a glorious plume of the pale blossoms in his hand. What the first
touch of fire is to the woods in autumn, the blooming of the lilac is
to the new summer—a mystery, a beauty, too exquisite to last long
intact; evanescent as human breath, yet, like that, fraught with
incalculable values. All this Silverthorn must have felt to the full,
judging from the tender way in which he held the flowers, even while
absorbed in talk with his friend. His fingers seemed conscious that
they were touching the clue to a finer life. In Vibbard’s warm, tough
fist, the lilacs would have faded within ten minutes. Vibbard was
stocky and muscular, and his feet went down at each step as if they
never meant to come up again. He wore stylish clothes, kept his hands
much in his coat pockets, affected high-colored neck-scarfs, and had a
red face with blunt features. When he was excited, his face wore a
fierce aspect; when he felt friendly, it became almost foolishly
sentimental; as a general thing it was morosely inert.
Being in my senior year, I did not see much of either Vibbard or his
friend; but I sometimes occupied myself with attempts to analyze the
sources of their intimacy. I remember stating to one of my young
acquaintances that Vibbard probably had a secret longing to be
feminine and ideal, and that Silverthorn felt himself at fault in
masculine toughness and hardihood, so that each sought the
companionship of the other, hoping to gain some of the qualities which
he himself lacked; and my young acquaintance offended me by replying,
as if it had all been perfectly obvious, “Of course.”
After I had been graduated, and had entered the Law School,
Silverthorn and Vibbard came to my room one day, on a singular errand,
which—though I did not guess it then—was to influence their lives
for many a year afterward.
“Ferguson,” began Bill, rather shyly, when they had seated themselves,
“I suppose you know enough of law, by this time, to draw up a paper.”
“Yes, I suppose so; or draw it down, either,” I replied. But I saw at
once that my flippancy did not suit the occasion, for the two young
fellows glanced at each other very seriously and seemed embarrassed.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
Silverthorn now spoke, in his soft light inexperienced voice, which
possessed a singular charm.
“It’s all Bill’s idea,” said he, rather carelessly. “I would much
rather have the understanding in words, but he—”
“Yes,” broke in Bill, growing suddenly red and vehement, “I’m not
going to have it a thing that can be forgotten. No one knows what
“Well, well,” said I, “if I’m to help you, you’d better fire away and
tell me what it is you’re after.”
“I will,” returned Vibbard, with a touch of that fierceness which
marked his resolute moods. “Thorny and I have agreed to stand by each
other when we quit college. Men are always forming friendships in the
beginning of life, and then getting dragged apart by circumstances,
such as wide separation and different interests. We don’t want this to
happen, and so we’ve made a compact that whichever one of us, Thorny
or me, shall be worth thirty thousand dollars first,—why that one is
to give the other half. That is, unless the second one is already well
enough off, so that to give him a full half would put him ahead of
whichever has the thirty thousand. D’you see?”
“The idea is to keep even as long as we can, you know,” said
Silverthorn, turning from one of my books which he had begun to glance
through, and looking into my eyes with a delighted, straightforward
“That’s a very curious notion!” said I, revolving the plan with a
caution born of legal readings. “Before we go on, would you mind
telling me which one of you originated this scheme?”
I was facing Silverthorn as I spoke, but felt impelled to turn
quickly and include Vibbard in the question. They were both silent. It
was plain, after a moment, that they really didn’t know which one of
them had first thought of this compact.
“Wasn’t it you?” queried Silverthorn, musingly, of his comrade.
“I don’t know,” returned Vibbard; then, as if so much subtilty annoyed
him: “What difference does it make, anyway? Can’t you draw an
agreement for us, Ferguson?”
But I was really so much interested in getting at their minds through
this channel, that I couldn’t comply at once.
“Now, you two fellows, you know,” said I, laughing, “are younger than
I, and I think it becomes me to know exactly what this thing means,
before proceeding any further in it. How can I tell but one of you is
trying to get an advantage over the other?”
The pair looked startled at this, but it was only, I found, because
they were so astonished at having such a construction put upon their
“Don’t be alarmed,” I hastened to say. “I wasn’t serious.”
But Vibbard persisted in a dogged expression of gloom.
“It’s always this way,” he presently declared, in a heavy, provoked
tone. “My father, you know, is a shrewd man, and everybody is forever
accusing me of being mean and overreaching. But I never dreamed that
it could be imputed in such a move as—well, never mind!” he suddenly
exclaimed in a loud voice, and with assumed indifference, getting up
from his chair. “Of course it’s all over now. I sha’n’t do anything
more about it, after what Ferguson has said.” He was so sulky that he
had to resort to thus putting me in the third person, although he was
not addressing these words to Silverthorn. Then he gave his thick
frame a slight shake, as if to get rid of the disagreeable feelings I
had excited, and turned toward his friend. On the instant there came
into his unmoved eyes and his matter-of-fact countenance a look of
sentiment so incongruous as to be almost laughable. “I wish I could
have done it, Thorny,” said he, wistfully.
“Hold on, Vibbard,” I interposed. “Don’t be discouraged.”
He paid no attention.
Upon this Silverthorn fired up.
“Hullo, Bill, this won’t do! Do you suppose I’m going to let our pet
arrangement drop that way and leave you to be so misconstrued? Come
back here and sit down.” (Vibbard was already at the door.) “As for
your getting any advantage out of this, is it likely? Why, you are
well off now, to begin with; that is, your father is; and I am poor,
downright poor—Ferguson must have seen that.”
Here was a surprise! The dreamy youth was proving himself much more
sensible than the beefy and practical one. Vibbard, however, seemed to
enjoy being admonished by Silverthorn, and resumed his seat quite
meekly. To me, in my balancing frame of mind, it occurred that one
might go farther than Silverthorn had done, in saying that any
advantage to Vibbard was very improbable; one might assume that it was
surely Silverthorn who would reap the profit. But I decided not to
disturb the already troubled waters any more.
Silverthorn, however, expressed this idea: “You’ll be thinking,” he
said to me, with a smile, “that I am going to get the upper hand in
this bargain; and I know there seems a greater chance of it. But then
I have hopes—I—” The dreamy look, which I have described by the
simile of a haze, gathered and increased on his fair ingenuous young
face, and his eyes quite ignored me for a moment, being fixed on some
imaginary outlook very entrancing to him, until he recalled his
flagging voice, to add: “Well, I don’t know that I can put it before
you, but there are possibilities which may make a great difference in
my fortunes within a few years.”
I fancied that Vibbard gave me a quick, confidential glance, as much
as to say, “Don’t disturb that idea. Let him think so.” But the next
moment his features were as inert as ever.
It turned out, on inquiry, that only Vibbard was of age; his friend
being quick in study, had entered college early, and nearly two years
stood between him and his majority; so that, if their contract was to
be binding, they would have to defer it for that length of time. I was
prepared for their disappointment; but Silverthorn, after an
instant’s reflection, seemed quite satisfied. As they were going, he
hurried back, leaving his friend out of ear-shot, and explained
“You see, Vibbard has an idea that I shall never succeed in
life,—financially, that is,—and so he wants to fasten this agreement
on me, to prevent pride or anything making me back out, you know, by
and by. But I like all the better to have it left just as it is for a
while, so that if we should ever put it on paper he needn’t feel that
he had hurried into the thing too rashly.”
“I understand,” I replied; and I pressed his hand warmly, for his
frankness and genuineness had pleased me.
When they were gone, I pondered several minutes on the novelty and
boyish naïveté of the whole proceeding, and found myself a good deal
refreshed by the sincerity of the two young fellows and their fine
confidence in the perfectibility of the future. It seemed to me, the
more I thought of it, that I could hold on to this scheme of theirs as
a help to myself in retaining a healthy freshness of spirit. “At any
rate,” I said, “I won’t allow myself to go adrift into cynicism as
long as they keep faith with their ideal.”
From time to time during the two years, I encountered the friends
casually; and I remember having a fancy that their faces—which of
course altered somewhat, as they matured—were acquiring a kind of
likeness; or, rather, were exchanging expressions. Silverthorn’s
grew rounder and brightened a degree in color; his glance had less
momentum in it; he looked more commonplace and contented. On the other
hand, Vibbard, through mental exertion (for he had lately been
studying hard) and the society of his junior, had modified the inertia
of his own expression. The strength of his features began to be
mingled with gentleness. But this I recalled only at a later time.
Near the end of the two years’ limit, when the boon companions were on
the eve of taking their degrees, I found that another element had come
into their affairs.
Going out one evening to visit a friend who lived at some distance on
one of the large railroads, I had a glimpse of a small manufacturing
place, which the train passed with great rapidity at late twilight.
The large mill was already lighted up, and every window flashed as we
sped by. But the sunset had not quite faded, and, from the colored sky
far away behind the mill, light enough still came to show the narrow
glen with its wall of autumn foliage on either side, the black and
silent river above the dam, the sudden shining screen of falling water
at the dam itself, and again a smooth dark current below, running
toward us and under the railroad embankment. There was a small
settlement of operatives’ houses near the factory, and two or three
larger homes were visible, snugly placed among the trees. We were
swept away out of sight in a moment; but there was something so
striking in that single glimpse, that a traveller in the next seat,
who had not spoken to me before, turned and asked me what place it
was. I did not know. I afterward learned that it was Stansby, a
factory village perhaps forty miles from Cambridge. Finding that the
memory of the spot clung to me, I wished to know more about it; and
one day in the following spring, when I needed a change from the city,
I actually went out there. Stansby did not prove to be a very
picturesque place; yet its gentle hills, with outcroppings of cold
granite, the deep-hued river between, and the cotton-mill near the
railroad, somehow roused a decided interest which I never have been
able wholly to account for. I enjoyed strolling about, but was
beginning to think of a train back to Boston, when a turn of the road,
a quarter of a mile from the mill, brought me face to face with a
young girl who was approaching slowly with a book in her hand, which
she read as she walked.
She was not a beautiful girl, and not at all what is understood by a
“brilliant” girl; yet at the very first look she excited my interest,
as Stansby village itself had done. In every outline and motion she
showed perfect health; her clear color was tonic to the eye; her deep
brown hair, at the same time that it gave a restful look to her
forehead, added something of fervency to her general aspect. In
sympathy with the beautiful day, she had taken off her hat (which she
carried on one arm), disclosing a spray of fresh lilacs in her hair.
She was very simply, though not poorly, dressed. All this, and more, I
was able to observe without disturbing her absorption in her book; but
just as I was trying to decide whether the firm, compressed corners of
her mouth only meant interest in the reading, or indicated some
peculiar hardness of character, she glanced up and saw my eyes bent
Then, for an instant, there came into her own a look of eager search;
no softly inquiring gaze, such as would be natural to most women on a
casual meeting of this sort, but a full, energetic, self-reliant
scrutiny. I don’t think the compression about her lips was softened by
her surprise at seeing me; but that keen level look from her eyes
brought a wonderful change over her face, so that from being
interesting it became attractive, and I was fired by a kind of
enthusiasm in beholding it. Involuntarily I took off my hat, and
paused at the side of the highway. She bent her head again,—perhaps
with some acknowledgment of my bow, but not definitely for that
purpose, because she continued reading as she passed me.
But now came the strangest part of the episode. This girl disappeared
around the bend of the road, and after her two young fellows drew near
whom I recognized as Vibbard and Silverthorn. It happened that
Silverthorn, as on the very first day I had ever seen him, carried a
sprig of lilac. Happened? No; the lilac in the girl’s hair was too strong a coincidence to be overlooked, and I was not long in guessing
that there was some tender meaning in it.
“Did you know we were here?”
These exclamations were made with some confusion, and Silverthorn
“No,” said I. “Do you come often?”
They looked at each other confidentially.
“We have, lately,” Vibbard admitted.
“Then perhaps you can tell me who that girl is that I just passed.”
“Oh, yes,” said Silverthorn, at once. “That’s Ida Winwood, the
daughter of the superintendent here at the mills.”
“She is a very striking girl,” I said. “You know her, of course?”
Vibbard enlarged upon this: it was a curious habit they had fallen
into, of each waiting for the other to explain what should more
properly have been explained by himself.
“Thorny’s father, you know,” said Vibbard, “was a great machinist, and
so they had acquaintances around at mills in different parts of the
State. She—that is Ida, you know—is only sixteen now, but Thorny
first saw her when he was a boy and came here, once or twice, with his
Silverthorn nodded his head corroboratively.
“But it seems to me,” I said, addressing him, “that you treat her
rather distantly for an old acquaintance; or else she treats you
distantly. Which is it?”
They laughed, and Vibbard blurted out, with a queer, boyish grimace:
“It’s me. She don’t like me. Hey, Thorny?”
“It’s nearer the truth,” returned his friend, “to say that you’re so
bashful you don’t give her half a chance to make known what she does
think of you.”
“Oh, time enough—time enough,” said Vibbard, good-humoredly.
Remembering that I must hurry back to catch my train, I suddenly found
that I had been in an abstracted mood, for I was still standing with
my hat off.
“Well, let me know how you get on,” I said, jocosely, as I parted from
Yet for the life of me I could not tell which one of them it was that
I should expect to hear from as a suitor for the girl’s hand.
It was within a fortnight after this that they came to my office—for
I had been admitted to the bar—and announced that the time for
drawing up their long-pending agreement had arrived. They were still
as eager as ever about it, and I very soon had the instrument made
out, stating the mutual consideration, and duly signed and sealed.
Finding that they had been at Stansby again, I was prompted to ask
them more about Ida.
“Do you know,” I said, boldly, “that I am very much puzzled as to
which of you was the more interested in her?”
They took it in good part, and Silverthorn answered:
“That’s not surprising. I don’t know, myself.”
“I’m trying,” said Vibbard, bluntly, “to make Thorny fall in love with
her. But I can’t seem to succeed.”
“No,” said his friend, “because I insist upon it that she’s just the
woman for you.”
Vibbard turned to me with an expression of ridicule.
“Yes,” he said, “Thorny is as much wrapped up in that idea as if his
own happiness depended on my marrying her.”
“You’re rivals then, after a new fashion,” was my comment. “Don’t you
see, though, how you are to settle it?”
“Why, each of you should propose in form, for the other. Then Miss
Winwood would have to take the difficulty into her own hands.”
“Ha, ha!” laughed Vibbard. “That’s a good idea. But suppose she don’t
care for either of us?”
“Very well. I don’t see that in that case she would be worse off than
yourselves, for neither of you seems to care for her.”
“Oh yes, we do!” exclaimed Silverthorn, instantly.
“Yes, we care a great deal,” insisted Vibbard.
They both grew so very earnest over this that I didn’t dare to
continue the subject, and it was left in greater mystery than before.
At last the time of graduation came, and the two friends parted to
pursue their separate ways. Silverthorn had a widowed mother living at
a distance in the country, whose income had barely enabled her to send
him through college on a meagre allowance. He went home to visit her
for a few days, and then promptly took his place on a daily newspaper
in Boston, where he spent six months of wretched failure. He had great
hopes of achieving in a short time some prodigious triumph in writing,
but at the end of this period he gave it all up, and decided to
develop the mechanical genius which he thought he had perhaps
inherited from his father. I began to have a suspicion when I learned
that this new turn had led him to Stansby, where he procured a
position as a sort of clerk to the superintendent, Winwood.
After some months, I went out to see him there. In the evening we went
to the Winwoods’, and I watched closely to discover any signs of a new
relation between Silverthorn and the daughter. Mr. Winwood himself was
a homely, perfectly commonplace man, whose face looked as if it had
been stamped with a die which was to furnish a hundred duplicate
physiognomies. Mrs. Winwood was a fat, woolly sort of woman, who
knitted, and rocked in her rocking-chair, keeping time to her needles.
A smell of tea and chops came from the adjoining room, where they had
been having supper; and there was a big, hot-colored lithograph of
Stansby Mills hung up over the fireplace, with one or two awkward-looking engravings of famous men and their families on the
remaining wall-spaces. Yet, even with these crude and barren
surroundings, the girl Ida retained a peculiar and inspiring charm.
She talked in a full, free tone of voice, and was very sensible; but
in everything she said or did, there was a mixture, with the prosaic,
of something so sweet and fresh, that I could not help thinking she
was very remarkable. In particular, there was that strong, fine look
from the eyes which had impressed me on my first casual meeting in the
road. It had a transforming power, and seemed to speak of resolution,
aspiration, or self-sacrifice. I noticed with what enthusiasm she
glanced up at Silverthorn, when he was showing her some drawings of
machinery, executed by himself, and was dilating upon certain
improvements which he intended to make. Still, there was a reserve
between them, and a timidity on his part, which showed that no
engagement to marry had been made, as yet.
He was very silent as we walked together beside the dark river toward
the railroad, after our call. But, when we came abreast of the dam,
with its sudden burst of noise, and its continual hissing murmur, he
stopped short, with a look of passion in his face.
“Things have changed since Vibbard went away,” he said. “Yes, yes;
very much. I used to think it was he who ought to love her.”
“And you have found out—” I began.
He laid his hand quickly on my arm.
“Yes, I have found that it is I who love her—eternally, truly! But
don’t tell any one of this; it seems to me strange that I should speak
of it, even to you. I cannot ask her to marry me yet. But there seems
to be a relief in letting you know.”
I was expressing my pleasure at being of any use to him, when the
ominous sound of the approaching cars made itself heard, and I had to
hurry off. But, all the way back to the city, I could think of nothing
but Silverthorn’s announcement; and suddenly there flashed upon me the
secret and the danger of the whole situation. This girl, who had so
much interested the two friends, in spite of their strong contrasts of
character, was, perhaps, the only one in the world who could have
pleased them both; for in her own person she seemed to display a
mixture of elements, much the same and quite as decided as theirs.
What, then, if Vibbard also should wake up to the knowledge of a love
The next time I saw Silverthorn, which was a full year later, I said
“Do you hear from Vibbard anything about that agreement to divide your
“No!” he replied, avoiding my eye; “nothing about that.”
“Do you expect him to keep it?”
“Yes!” he said, glancing swiftly up again, with a gleam of friendly
vindication in his eyes. “I know he will.”
“But I hear hard things said of him,” I persisted. “Reports have
lately come to me as to some rather close, not to say sharp, bargains
of his. He is successful; perhaps he is changing.”
For the first time I saw Silverthorn angry.
“Never say a word of that sort to me again!” he cried, with a demeanor
bordering on violence.
I was a little piqued, and inquired:
“Well, how do you get on toward being in a position to pay him?”
But I regretted my thrust. Silverthorn’s face fell, and he could make
“Is there no prospect of success with those machines you were talking
of last year?” I asked more kindly.
“No,” said he, sadly. “I’m afraid not. I shall never succeed. It all
depends on Vibbard, now. I cannot even marry, unless he gets enough to
give me a start.”
I left him with a dreary misgiving in my heart. What an unhappy
outcome of their compact was this!
Meanwhile, Vibbard was thriving. After a brief sojourn with his
father, who was a well-to-do hardware merchant in his own small inland
city, he went to Virginia and began sheep-farming. In two years he had
gained enough to find it feasible to return to New York, where he took
up the business of a note-broker. People who knew him prophesied that
he would prove too slow to be a successful man in early life; and, in
fact, as he did not look like a quick man, he was a long time in
gaining the reputation of one. But his sagacious instincts moved all
the more effectively for being masked, and he made some astonishing
strokes. It began to seem as if other men around him who lost, were
controlled by some deadly attraction which forced them to throw their
success under Vibbard’s feet. His car rolled on over them. Everything
yielded him a pecuniary return.
As he was approaching his thirtieth birthday, he found himself worth a
little over thirty thousand dollars—after deducting expenses, bad
claims, and a large sum repaid to his father for the cost of his
college course. He had been only six years in accumulating it. But how
endlessly prolonged had those six years been for Silverthorn! When
three of them had passed, he declared his love to Ida Winwood, though
in such a way that she need neither refuse nor accept him at once; and
a quasi engagement was made between them, having in view a probable
share in Vibbard’s fortunes. Once,—perhaps more than
once,—Silverthorn bitterly reproached himself, in her presence, for
trusting so entirely to another man’s energies. But Ida put up her
hands beseechingly, looking at him with a devoted faith.
“No, John!” she cried. “There is nothing wrong about it. If you were
other than you are, I might not wish it to be so. But you,—you are
different from other men; there is something finer about you, and you
are not meant for battling your way. But, when once you get this
money, you will give all your time to inventing, or writing, and then
people will find out what you are!”
There was something strange and pathetic in their relation to each
other, now. Silverthorn seemed nervous and weary; he looked as if he
were growing old, even with that soft yellow beard and his pale brown
hair still unchanged (for he was only twenty-eight). His spirits were
capricious; sometimes bounding high with hope, and, at others, utterly
despondent. Ida, meantime, had reached a full development; she was
twenty-two, fresh, strong, and self-reliant. When they were together,
she had the air of caring for him as for an invalid.
Suddenly, one day, at the close of Vibbard’s six years’ absence,
Silverthorn came running from the mill during working-hours, and burst
into the superintendent’s cottage with an open letter in his hand,
calling aloud for Ida.
“He is coming! He is coming!” cried he, breathless, but with a harsh
excitement, as if he had been flying from an angry pursuer.
“Who? What has happened?” returned Ida, in alarm.
But he looked so wild and distraught, that Ida could not understand.
“Vibbard?” she repeated. Then,—with an amazed apprehension which came
swiftly upon her,—shutting both hands tight as if to strengthen
herself, and bringing them close together over her bosom: “Have you
quarreled with him?”
“Quarreled?” echoed Silverthorn, looking back her amazement. “Why, do
you suppose the world has come to an end? Don’t you know we would
sooner die than quarrel?”
“Vibbard—coming!” repeated Ida, as she caught sight of the letter.
“Yes; now, I see.”
“But, doesn’t it make you happy?” asked her lover, suddenly annoyed at
her cool reception of the news.
“I don’t know,” she answered, pensively. “You have startled me so.
Besides,—why should it make me happy?” A singular confusion seemed to
have come over her mind. “Of course,” she added, after a moment, “I am
happy, because he’s your friend.”
“But,—the money, Ida!” He took her hand, but received no answering
pressure. “The money,—think of it! We shall be able—” Then catching
sight of an expression on her features that was almost cruel in its
chill absence of sympathy, Silverthorn dropped her hand in a pet, and
walked quickly out of the house back to the mill.
She did not follow him. It was their first misunderstanding.
Silverthorn remained at his desk, went to his own boarding-house for
dinner, and returned to the mill, but always with a sense of unbroken
suffering. What had happened? Why had Ida been so unresponsive? Why
had he felt angry with her? These questions repeated themselves
incessantly, and were lost again in a chaotic humming that seemed to
fill his ears and to shut out the usual sounds of the day, making him
feel as if thrust away into a cell by himself, at the same time that
he was moving about among other people.
Vibbard was to arrive that afternoon. Silverthorn wished he had told
Ida, before leaving her, how soon his friend was coming. As no
particular hour had been named in the letter, he grew intolerably
restless, and finally told Winwood that he was going to the dépôt, to
All this time Ida had been nearly as wretched as he; and, unable to
make out why this cloud had come over them just when they ought to
have been happiest, she, too, went out into the air for relief, and
wandered along the hill-side by the river.
It was early summer again. The lilacs were in bloom. All along the
fence in front of Winwood’s house were vigorous bushes in full flower.
Ida, as she passed out, broke off a spray and put it in her hair,
wishing that its faint perfume might be a spell to bring Silverthorn
On the edge of the wood where she had been idly pacing for a few
minutes, all at once she heard a crackling of twigs and dry leaves
under somebody’s active tread, just behind her. It did not sound like
her lover’s step. She looked around. The man, a stranger with strong
features and thick beard, halted at once and looked at her—silently,
as if he had forgotten to speak, but with a degree of homage that
dispelled everything like alarm.
She stood still, looking at him as earnestly as he at her. Then, she
hardly knew how, a conviction came to her.
“Mr. Vibbard?” she said, in a low inquiring tone. To herself she
whispered, “Six years!”
Somehow, although she expected it, there was something terrible in
having this silent, strange man respond:
He spoke very gently, and put out his hand to her.
She laid her own in his strong grasp, and then instantly felt as if
she had done something wrong. But he would not let it go again.
Drawing her a little toward him, he turned so that they could walk
together back to the mills.
“Did John send you this way? Have you seen him?” she asked,
“No,” said Vibbard. “From where I happened to be, I thought I could
get here sooner by walking over through Bartlett. Besides, it was
pleasanter to come my own way instead of by railroad.”
“But how did you know me?”
“I have never forgotten how you looked. And besides, that lilac.”
With a troubled impulse, Ida drew her hand away from his, and snatched
the blossoms out of her hair, meaning to throw them away. Then she
hesitated, seeing her rudeness. Vibbard, who had not understood the
movement, said with a tone of delight:
“Won’t you give them to me? Do you remember how you wore them in your
hair one day, years ago?”
“I have reasons for not forgetting it,” she answered with a laugh,
feeling more at her ease. “Well, I have spoiled this bunch now, but of
course you may have them.”
He took the flowers, and they walked on, talking more like old
friends. At the moment when this happened, Silverthorn, who, while
waiting for another train to arrive, had come back to the house in
search of Ida, passed on into a little orchard on a slope, just
beyond, which overlooked a bend in the road: from there he saw Ida
give Vibbard the lilac spray. At first he scarcely knew his old
friend, and the sight struck him with a jealous pang he had never felt
before. Then suddenly he saw that it was Vibbard, and would have
rushed down the slope to welcome him. But like a detaining hand upon
him, the remembrance of his foolish quarrel with Ida held him back. He
slunk away secretly through the orchard, into the woods, and hurried
to meet Vibbard at a point below the house, where Ida would have left
He was not disappointed. He gained the spot in time, and appeared to
be walking up from the mill, when he encountered his old comrade going
sturdily toward it. Nevertheless, he felt uncomfortable at the
deception he was using. They greeted each other warmly, yet each felt
a constraint that surprised him.
Vibbard explained how he had come.
“And I have seen Ida,” he exclaimed impetuously, with a glow of
pleasure. Then he stopped in embarrassment. “Are you going back that
way?” he asked.
“No,” said the other, gloomily. “We’ll go over the river to where I
They took the path in that direction, and on the way Vibbard began
explaining how he had arranged his property.
“It’s just as well not to go up to the Winwoods’ until we’ve finished
this,” he said, parenthetically. “And to tell you the truth, Thorny,
it’s a queer business for me to be about, after I’ve been hard at work
for so long, scraping together what I’ve got. I shouldn’t much like
people to know about it, I can tell you; and I never would do it for
any man but you.”
Formerly, Silverthorn had been used to this sort of bluntness, but now
it irritated him.
“Do you mean to say,” he asked, “that you would break your bargain, if
it had been made with any one besides me?”
Vibbard drew himself up proudly.
“No, sir!” he declared, in a cold tone. “I keep my word whenever I
have given it.”
Silverthorn uttered an oath under his breath.
“If you mean to keep your word, why don’t you do it without
blustering? Suppose I have been unfortunate enough to come out
behind in the race, and to need this money of yours? Is that any
reason why you should grind into me like a file the sense of my
obligation to you?”
“Come, Thorny,” said his friend, “you are treating me like a stranger.
How long is it since you got these high-strung notions?”
“I suppose I’ve been growing sensitive since I first perceived that I
was dependent on your fortune. It has unmanned me. I believe I might
have done something, but for this.”
“Gad, so might I be doing something, now, if I had my whole capital,”
He did not see how his remark renewed the wound he had just been
trying to heal. For several years he had felt that the compact with
his friend was a useless clog on himself, and this had probably caused
him to dwell too much on his own generosity in making it.
Both felt pained and dissatisfied with their meeting. It was full of
sordidness and discomfort; it seemed in one hour to have stripped from
their lives the romance of youth. But after their little tiff they
tried to recover their spirits and succeeded in keeping up a sham kind
of gayety. Arrived at Silverthorn’s lodging, they completed their
business; Vibbard handing over a check, and receiving in exchange
Silverthorn’s copy of the agreement with a receipt in due form.
“How long can you stay, Bill?” asked Silverthorn, more cheerfully,
when this was over. A suppressed elation at his good luck made him
tingle from top to toe; and, to tell the truth, he did not feel much
interest in Vibbard’s remaining.
“I must be off to-morrow,” said his friend. “I suppose I can stay here
“I must call on Ida, before I go.”
Silverthorn’s brow darkened.
“Ah, Thorny,” continued Vibbard, unconsciously, “it’s queer to look
back to that time when we were trying to persuade each other to make
love to her! Do you know that since I’ve been away, she’s never once
gone out of my mind?”
“Is that so?” returned his comrade, with a strained and cloudy effort
to appear lightly interested.
“Yes,” said the other, warming to his theme. “It may seem strange in a
rough business man like me,—and I guess it would have played the Old
Harry with anybody whose head wasn’t perfectly level,—but that
strong, pure, sweet face of hers has come between me and many a sharp
fellow I’ve had to deal with. But it never distracted my thoughts; it
helped me. The memory of her was with me night and day, Thorny, and it
made me a hard, successful worker, and kept me a pure-hearted, happy
man. You’ll see that I don’t need much persuasion to speak to her
While Vibbard was talking, Silverthorn had risen, as if interested,
and now stood with his arm stretched on the cheap, painted wooden
mantelpiece above the empty grate of his meagre room. Vibbard noticed
that he looked pale; and it suddenly struck him that his friend might
have suffered from poverty, and that his health was perhaps weakening.
A gush of the old-time love suddenly came up from his heart, though he
“You know I always told you,” Silverthorn began,—he paused and waited
an instant,—“I always told you she was the woman for you.”
“Indeed I know it, old boy,” said Vibbard, heartily.
He rose, came to his old college-mate and took hold of his disengaged
arm with both hands, affectionately.
“Look here,” he added; “there’s been something queer and dismal about
seeing each other, after such a long interval,—something awkward
about this settlement between us. If I’ve done anything to hurt your
feelings, Thorny, I’m sorry. Let’s make an end of the trouble here and
now, and be to each other just as we used to be. What do you say?”
“I say you’re a good, true-hearted fellow, as you always were, and I
want you to promise that we shall keep up our old feeling forever.”
“There’s no need of any promise but this,” said Vibbard, as they
“Now, tell me one thing,” resumed Silverthorn; “did it never occur to
you, in all these six years, that I, who have been living in the
daily company of the girl you love, might cross your prospect?”
For a second or two Vibbard’s eyelids, which fell powerless while he
listened, remained shut, and a shock of pain seemed to strike downward
from the brain, across his face and through his whole stalwart frame.
“It’s your turn to hurt me,” he said, slowly, as he looked at his
friend again. “Have you any idea how that bare suggestion cut into
“I think I have,” said Silverthorn, mechanically. He remained very
pale. “But I see, from the way it struck you, that you had never
thought of it before. That relieves me. Give me your hand once more,
Bill.” Then he explained, hurriedly, that he must go to the mill for a
few moments. “If I’m not back to tea, don’t wait. The girl will come
up and give it to you. And mind you don’t go over to the Winwoods’”
(this with a laugh); “I wish to give them a little warning of your
In a moment he was gone. Vibbard amused himself as well as he could
with the books and drawings in the room; then he sat down, looked all
about the place, and sighed:
“Poor fellow! he can be more comfortable now.”
Before long the tea hour came. Thorny had not returned, and he took
the meal alone, watching the sunset out of the window. But by and by
he grew restless, and finally, taking his hat and his cane, which had
an odd-shaped handle made of two carved snakes at once embracing and
wounding one another, he went out and strolled across the bridge
toward the Winwoods’. By the time he reached there dusk had closed in,
though the horizon afar off was overhung by a faint, stirring light
from the rising moon. He remembered Silverthorn’s injunction, however,
and would not go into the cottage.
He passed the lilac-hedge, with its half-pathetic exhalations of
delicious odor recalling the past, and was prompted to step through a
break in the stone wall and ascend the orchard slope.
He stood there a few minutes enjoying the hush of nightfall and
exulting in the full tide of happiness and sweet anticipation that
streamed silently through his veins. All about him stole up the soft
and secret perfumes of the summer’s dusk,—perfumes that feel their
way through the air like the monitions of early love, going out from
one soul to another.
Suddenly, a side-door in the house below was opened, and two figures
came forth as if borne upon the flood of genial light that poured
itself over the greensward.
They were Silverthorn and Ida.
How graceful they looked, moving together,—the buoyant, beautiful
maiden and the slender-shaped young man, who even at a distance
impressed one with something ideal in his pose and motion! Vibbard
looked at them with a bewildered, shadowy sort of pleasure; but all at
once he saw that Silverthorn held Ida’s hand in his and had laid his
other hand on her shoulder. A frightful tumult of feeling assailed
him. The small, carved serpents on his stick seemed suddenly to drive
their fangs into his own palm, as he clutched the handle tighter.
For an instant he hesitated and hoped. Then the pair, passing along
below the broken wall, came within ear-shot, and he heard his old boon
comrade saying, in a pleading voice:
“But you have never quite promised me, Ida! You have never fully
engaged yourself to me.”
Partly from a feeling of strangulation, partly with a blind impulse to
do something violent, Vibbard clutched himself about the throat, tore
furiously at his collar till it gave way, and, in a paroxysm little
short of madness, he turned and fled—he did not know where nor
how—through the darkness.
It seemed to him for a long time as if he was marching and reeling on
through the woods, stumbling over roots and fallen trunks, breaking
out into open fields upon the full run, then pursuing a road, or
rambling hopelessly down by the ebon-hued river,—and as if he was
doing all this with some great and urgent purpose of rescuing somebody
from a terrible fate. He must go on foot,—there was no other
way,—and everything depended on his getting to a certain point by a
certain time. The worst of it was, he did not know where it was that
he must go to! Then, all at once, he became aware that he had made a
mistake. It was not some one else who was to be saved. It was
himself. He must rescue himself—
At this, he came to a pause and tried to think. He stood on a
commanding spot, somewhere not far from Stansby, though he could not
identify it. The moon was up, and the wide, leafy landscape was spread
out in utter silence for miles around him. For a brief space, while
collecting his thoughts, he saw everything as it was. Then, as if at
the stroke of a wand, horrible deformity appeared to fall upon the
whole scene; the thousand trees below him writhed as if in
multitudinous agony; and, where the thick moonlight touched house or
road, or left patches of white on river and pool, there the earth
seemed smitten as with leprosy. Silverthorn, reaching his room in an
hour after Vibbard had left it, was not at first surprised at his
absence. Afterward he grew anxious; he went out, ran all the way to
Winwood’s house, and came back, hoping to find that his friend had
returned while he was searching for him. He sat down and waited; he
kept awake very late; his head grew heavy, and he fell asleep in his
chair, dreaming with a dull sense of pain, and also of excitement,
about his new access of comparative wealth.
A heavy step and the turning of the door-knob awoke him. Moonlight
came in at the window—pale, for the dawn was breaking—and his lamp
still flickered on the table. Streaked with these conflicting
glimmers, Vibbard stood before him,—his clothes torn, his hat gone,
his face pale and fierce.
“What have you been doing?” asked Silverthorn wearily, and without
surprise, for he was too much dazed.
“You—you!” said Vibbard, hoarsely, pointing sharply at him, as if
his livid gaze was not enough. “You have been taking her from me!”
“Ida?” queried Silverthorn, with what seemed to the other to be a
“Are you shameless?” demanded Vibbard. “Why don’t you lie down there
and ask me to forgive you for demanding so little? I’ve no doubt you
are sorry that you couldn’t get the whole of my money! But I suppose
you were afraid you wouldn’t receive even the half, if you told me
beforehand what you meant to do.”
Silverthorn was numb from sleeping in a cramped posture and without
covering; but a deeper chill shook him at these words. He tried to get
up, but felt too weak, and had to abandon it. He shivered heavily.
Then he put his hand carefully into the breast of his coat, and after
a moment drew out his pocket-book.
“Here it is,” said he, very quietly. “I came home intending to give
you back your money, but you were not here.”
“You expect me to believe that?” retorted Vibbard, scornfully, “when
I know that you went from here after receiving the check, and—ah! I
couldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t heard—”
“You overheard us, then? You came, though I warned you not to? And
what did you hear?” Silverthorn’s lips certainly curled with contempt
Vibbard answered: “I heard you pleading with Ida to promise herself to
“That’s a lie,” said Silverthorn, calmly.
“Didn’t you say to her, ‘You have never yet fully engaged yourself to
me?’ Weren’t you pleading?”
“Yes. I was begging that she would forget all the words of love I had
ever spoken, and listen to you when you should come to tell her your
Vibbard’s head bowed itself in humiliation and wonder. He came forward
two or three steps, and sank into a chair.
“Is this possible?” he inquired, at last.
“And you, too, had loved her!”
Silverthorn vouchsafed no reply.
Vibbard, struggling with remorse, uncertainty, and a dimly returning
hope, brought himself to speak once more, hesitatingly.
“What did she say?”
“At first she would not tolerate my proposal. I saw there was a
conflict in her mind. Something warned me what it was, yet I could not
help fancying that she might really be unwilling to give me up. So
then I said I had made up my mind any way, as things stood, to return
you your money. I—forgive me, Bill, but it was not treachery to
you—only justice to all—I asked her if she would wish to marry me as
I was, poor and without a future.”
“And she—” asked Vibbard, trembling. “What did she say?”
Silverthorn let the pocket-book fall, and buried his face in his
hands. It was answer enough for his friend.
Vibbard came over and knelt beside him, and tried to rouse him. He
stroked his pale brown hair, and called him repeatedly “Dear old boy.”
“Poor Thorny, I wish I could do something for you,” he said, gently.
“Are you sure you understood her?”
The other suddenly looked up.
“Don’t blame her, Bill,” he said, beseechingly. “Don’t let it hurt
your love for her. There was nothing mercenary. She hesitated a
moment—and then I saw that it had all been a dream of the impossible.
I had always associated this money with myself. It turned back the
whole current of her ideas, and upset everything, when I separated
myself from it. All the plans of going away—all that life I had
talked of—had to be scattered to the winds in a moment. She did not
love me enough, for myself alone!”
“Poor Thorny!” again murmured his friend.
Love, amid all its other resemblances, is like the spirit of battle.
It fires men to press on toward the goal, even though a brother by
their side, pushing in the same direction, should fall with a mortal
wound. And the fighter goes on, to wed with victory, while his brother
lies dead far behind cheated of his bride.
Vibbard offered himself to Ida the next day. It was a strange and
distressful wooing; but she could not deny that, in a way unknown to
herself till now, she had loved Vibbard from the beginning, more than
his friend. In her semi-engagement with Silverthorn, she had probably
been loving Vibbard through his friend. But when the strong man, who
had gained a place in the world for her sake, returned and placed his
heart before her, she could no longer make a mistake.
Silverthorn would not keep the money, neither could his friend
persuade him to come and take a share in his business. He would not
leave Stansby. Where he had first seen Ida, there he resolved to
dwell, with the memory of her.
When I saw him again, and he told me of this crisis, he said:
“I am not ‘poor Thorny,’ as Vibbard called me; for now I have a
friendship that will last me through life. It has stood the test of
money, and hate, and love, and it is stronger than them all.”