Two Purse-Companions

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 might happen.”

“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 gaze.

“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 project.

“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 himself,—

“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 upon her.

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.

“Hullo! Ferguson.”

“Did you know we were here?”

These exclamations were made with some confusion, and Silverthorn blushed faintly.

“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?”

“A little.”

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 father.”

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 the comrades.

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?”

“No.”

“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 for her?

The next time I saw Silverthorn, which was a full year later, I said to him:

“Do you hear from Vibbard anything about that agreement to divide your gains?”

“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 no reply.

“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.

“Vibbard.”

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 wait.

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 back.

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:

“Yes.”

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, falteringly.

“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 him.

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 live.”

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,” muttered Vibbard.

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 to-night?”

“Of course.”

“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 now!”

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 said nothing.

“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 clasped hands.

“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 me?”

“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 visit.”

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—

From what?

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 laughing sneer.

“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 now.

Vibbard answered: “I heard you pleading with Ida to promise herself to you.”

“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 story.”

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.”