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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBy The Light Of The Soul: A Novel - Chapter 38
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By The Light Of The Soul: A Novel - Chapter 38 Post by :galorfindel Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :820

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By The Light Of The Soul: A Novel - Chapter 38

Chapter XXXVIII

Three days later, when they were on the outward-bound steamer, Miss Rosa Blair crossed the corridor between her state-room, which she occupied with her maid, to Maria's, and stood a moment looking down at the girl lying in her berth. Maria was in that state of liability to illness which keeps one in a berth, although she was not actually sea-sick.

"My dear," said Miss Blair. "I think I may as well tell you now. In the night's paper before we left, I saw the death-notice of a certain Maria Edgham, of Edgham, New Jersey. There were some particulars which served to establish the fact of the death. You will not be interested in the particulars?"

Maria turned her pale face towards the port-hole, against which dashed a green wave topped with foam. "No," said she.

"I thought you would not," said Miss Blair. "Then there is something else."

Maria waited quiescent.

"Your name is on the ship's list of passengers as Miss Elizabeth Blair. You are my adopted daughter."

Maria started.

"Adelaide does not remember that you were called Miss Ackley," said Miss Blair. "She will never remember that you were anything except my adopted daughter. She is a model maid. As for the others, Louise is a model, too, and so is the coachman. The footman is discharged. When we return, nobody in my house will have ever known you except as Elizabeth Blair." Miss Blair went out of the state-room walking easily with the motion of the ship. She was a good sailor.

The next afternoon Maria was able to sit out on deck. She leaned back in her steamer-chair, and wept silently. Miss Blair stood at a little distance near the rail, talking to an elderly gentleman whom she had met years ago. "She is my adopted daughter Elizabeth," said Miss Blair. "She has been a little ill, but she is much better. She is feeling sad over the death of a friend, poor child."

It was a year before Maria and Miss Blair returned to the United States. Maria looked older, although she was fully as handsome as she had ever been. Her features had simply acquired an expression of decision and of finish, which they had not before had. She also looked more sophisticated. It had been on her mind that she might possibly meet her step-mother abroad, but she had not done so; and one day Miss Blair had shown her a London newspaper in which was the notice of Ida's marriage to a Scotchman. "We need not go to Scotland," said Miss Blair.

The day after they landed was very warm. They had gone straight to Miss Blair's New York house; later they were to go to the sea-shore. The next morning Maria went into Miss Blair's vanity room, as she called it, and a strange look was on her face. "I have made up my mind," said she.

"Well?" Miss Blair said, interrogatively.

"I cannot let him commit bigamy. I cannot let my sister marry--my husband. I cannot break the laws in such a fashion, nor allow them to do so."

"You break no moral law."

"I am not so sure. I don't know where the dividing-line between the moral and the legal comes."

"Then--?"

"I am going to take the train to Amity this noon."

Miss Blair turned slightly pale, but she regarded Maria unflinchingly. "Very well," said she. "I have always told you that I would not oppose you in any resolution which you might make in the matter."

"It is not because I love him," said Maria. "I do love him; I think I always shall. But it is not because of that."

"I know that. What do you propose doing after you have disclosed yourself?"

"Tell the truth."

"And then what?"

"I shall talk the matter over with Wollaston and Evelyn, and I think they can be made to see that a quiet divorce will straighten it all out."

"Not as far as the man's career is concerned, if he marries your sister, and not so far as your sister is concerned. People are prone to believe the worst, as the sparks fly upward."

"Then they will," Maria said, obstinately. "I have made up my mind I dare not undertake the responsibility."

"What will you do afterwards, come back to me?" Miss Blair said, wistfully. "You will come back, will you not, dear?"

"If you wish," Maria said, with a quick, loving glance at her.

"If I wish!" repeated Miss Blair. "Well, go if you must."

Maria did not reach Amity until long after dark. Behind her on the train were two women who got on at the station before Amity. She did not know them, and they did not know her, but they presently began talking about her. "I saw Miss Maria Stillman at the Ordination in Westbridge, Wednesday," said one to the other. This woman had a curiously cool, long-reaching breath when she spoke. Maria felt it like a fan on the back of her neck.

The other woman, who was fat, responded with a wheezy voice. "It was queer about that niece of hers, who taught school in Westbridge, running away and dying so dreadful sudden, wasn't it?" said she.

"Dreadful queer. I guess her aunt and sister felt pretty bad about it, and I s'pose they do now; but it's a year ago, and they've left off their mourning."

"Of course," said the other woman. "They would leave it off on account of--"

Maria did not hear what followed, for a thundering freight-train passed them and drowned the words. After the train passed, the fat woman was saying, with her wheezy voice, "Mr. Lee's mother's death was dreadful sudden, wasn't it?"

"Dreadful."

"I wonder if he likes living in Amity as well as Westbridge?"

"I shouldn't think he would, it isn't as convenient to the academy."

"Well, maybe he will go back to Westbridge after a while," said the other woman, and again her breath fanned Maria's neck.

She wondered what it meant. A surmise came to her, then she dismissed it. She was careful to keep her back turned to the women when the train pulled into Amity. She had no baggage except a suit-case. She got off the train, and disappeared in the familiar darkness. All at once it seemed to her as if she had returned from the unreal to the real, from fairy-land to the actual world. The year past seemed like a dream to her. She could not believe it. It was like that fact which is stranger than fiction, and therefore almost impossible even to write, much less to live. Miss Rosa Blair, and her travellings in Europe, and her house in New York, seemed to her like an Arabian Night's creation. She walked along the street towards her aunt's house, and realized her old self and her old perplexities. When she drew near the house she saw a light in the parlor windows and also in Aunt Maria's bedroom. Aunt Maria had evidently gone to her room for the night. Uncle Henry's side of the house was entirely dark.

Maria stole softly into the yard, and paused in front of the parlor windows. The shades were not drawn. There sat Evelyn at work on some embroidery, while opposite to her sat Wollaston Lee, reading aloud. In Evelyn's lap, evidently hampering her with her work, was a beautiful yellow cat, which she paused now and then to stroke. Maria felt her heart almost stand still. There was something about it which renewed her vague surmise on the train. It was only a very few minutes before Wollaston laid down the paper which he had been reading, and said something to Evelyn, who began to fold her work with the sweet docility which Maria remembered. Wollaston rose and went over to Evelyn and kissed her as she stood up and let the yellow cat leap to the floor. Evelyn looked to Maria more beautiful than she had ever seen her. Maria stood farther back in the shadow. Then she heard the front door opened, and the cat was gently put out. Then she heard the key turn in the lock, and a bolt slide. Maria stood perfectly still. A light from a lamp which was being carried by some one, flitted like a will-o'-the-wisp over the yard, and the parlor windows became dark. Then a broad light shone out from the front chamber windows through the drawn white shade, and lay in a square on the grass of the yard. The cat which had been put out rubbed against Maria's feet. She caught up the little animal and kissed it. Then she put it down gently, and hurried back to the station. She thought of Rosa Blair, and an intense longing came over her. She seemed to suddenly sense the highest quality of love: that which realizes the need of another, rather than one's own. The poor little dwarf seemed the very child of her heart. She looked up at the stars shining through the plumy foliage of the trees, and thought how many of them might owe their glory to the radiance of unknown suns, and it seemed to her that her own soul lighted her path by its reflection of the love of God. She thought that it might be so with all souls which were faced towards God, and that which is above and beyond, and it was worth more than anything else in the whole world.

She questioned no longer the right or wrong of what she had done, as she hurried on and reached the little Amity station in time for the last train.


(THE END)
Mary E Wilkins Freeman's Book: By the Light of the Soul: A Novel

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