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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLife And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 1. The Age Of Faith - Chapter 2. Poor Jane
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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 1. The Age Of Faith - Chapter 2. Poor Jane Post by :chris26 Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :2361

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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 1. The Age Of Faith - Chapter 2. Poor Jane

BOOK I. THE AGE OF FAITH
CHAPTER II. POOR JANE

Supper was over, and Gabriella, still in the dress she had worn all day, was picking up the children's clothes from the floor of her room. According to Mrs. Carr's hereditary habit in sorrow or sickness, Jane had been served in bed with tea and toast, while several small hard cots had been brought down from the attic and arranged in the available space in the two bedrooms. As Gabriella looked at the sleeping children, who had kicked the covering away, and lay with round rosy limbs gleaming in the lamplight, she remembered that Arthur Peyton was coming at nine o'clock to take her to Florrie's party, and she told herself with grim determination that she would never go to a party again. The Berkeley conscience, that vein of iron which lay beneath the outward softness and incompetence of her mother and sister, held her, in spite of her tempting youth, to the resolution she had made. She had told Jimmy that she meant to earn her living if she had to break rocks to do it, and Gabriella, like Pussy, came of a race that "did not easily change its mind."

Turning to the bureau, she smoothed out the children's hair ribbons and pinned them, in two tight little blue and pink rolls, to the pincushion. Then taking up a broken comb, she ran it through the soft lock of hair that fell like a brown wing over her forehead. Her bright dark eyes, fringed in short thick lashes and set wide apart under arched eyebrows, gazed questioningly back at her from a row of german favours with which she had decorated the glass; and it was as if the face of youth, flickering with a flamelike glow and intensity, swam there for an instant in the dim greenish pool of the mirror. Beneath the charm of the face there was the character which one associates, not with youth, but with age and experience. Beneath the fine, clear lines of her head and limbs, the tall slenderness of her figure, the look of swiftness and of energy, which was almost birdlike in its grace and poise, there was a strength and vigour which suggested a gallant boy rather than the slighter and softer frame of a girl.

While she stood there, Gabriella thought regretfully of all that it would mean to give up her half-dependent and wholly ladylike existence and go to work in a shop. Necessity not choice was driving her; and in spirit she looked back almost wistfully to the securely circumscribed lot of her grandmother. For there was little of the rebel in her temperament; and had she been free to choose, she would have instinctively selected, guided by generations of gregarious ancestors, the festive girlhood which Cousin Pussy had so ardently described. She wanted passionately all the things that other girls had, and her only quarrel, indeed, with the sheltered life was that she couldn't afford it. In the expressive phrase of Cousin Jimmy, the sheltered life "cost money," and to cost money was to be beyond the eager grasp of Gabriella.

The door opened as if yielding under protest, and Marthy entered, still hurriedly tying the strings of the clean apron she had slipped on over her soiled one before answering the door-bell.

"Yo' beau done come, Miss Ella. Ain't you gwine?"

"No, I'm not going to the party, Marthy, but ask him to wait just a minute."

"He's settin' over yonder in de parlour wid his overcoat on."

"Well, ask him to take it off; I'll be there in a moment." She spoke as gravely as Marthy had done, yet in her face there was a light play of humour.

Two years ago she would have thrilled with joy at the thought that Arthur was waiting for her; but in those two years since her engagement she had grown to look upon her first love as the gossamer, fairylike romance of a child. For months she had known that the engagement must be broken sooner or later; and she knew now, while she listened to Marthy's shuffling feet hastening to deliver her message, that she must break it to-night. In the dim pool of her mirror a face looked back at her that was not the face of Arthur Peyton; she saw it take form there as one sees a face grow gradually into life from the dimness of dreams. It was, she told herself to-night, the very face of her dream that she saw.

"Well, I must get it over," she said with a sternness which gave her a passing resemblance to the Saint Memin portrait of the Reverend Bartholomew Berkeley; "I've got to get it over to-night, and whatever happens I've got to be honest." Then, with a last glance at the sleeping children, she lowered the gas, and went across the darkened hail, which smelt of pickles and bacon because one end of it was used as a storeroom.

The parlour had been swept since the family council had deliberated there over Jane's destiny. The scraps of cambric had been gathered up from the threadbare arabesques in the carpet; the chairs had been placed at respectable distances apart; the gas-jets in the chandelier were flaming extravagantly under the damaged garlands; and the sewing machine had been wheeled into the obscurity of the hail, for it would have humiliated Gabriella's mother to think that her daughter received young men in a room which looked as if somebody had worked there.

When Gabriella entered, Arthur Peyton was standing in front of the fireplace, gazing abstractedly at his reflection in the French mirror. Though his chestnut hair was carefully brushed, he had instinctively lifted his hand to smooth down an imaginary lock, and while he did this, he frowned slightly as if at a recollection that had ruffled his temper. His features were straight and very narrow, with the look of sensitiveness one associates with the thoroughbred, and the delicate texture of his skin emphasized this quality of high-breeding, which was the only thing that one remembered about him. In his light-gray eyes there was a sympathetic expression which invariably won the hearts of old ladies, and these old ladies were certain to say of him afterward, "such a gentleman, my dear--almost of the old school, you know, and we haven't many of them left in this hurrying age."

He had done well, though not brilliantly, at college, for his mind, if unoriginal, had never given anybody, not even his mother, the least bit of trouble. For three years he had worked with admirable regularity in the office of his uncle, Carter Peyton, one of the most distinguished lawyers in the Virginia of his period, and it was generally felt that young Arthur Peyton would have "a brilliant future." For the present, however, he lived an uneventful life with his widowed mother in a charming old house, surrounded by a walled garden, in Franklin Street. Like the house, he was always in perfect order; and everything about him, from his loosely fitting clothes and his immaculate linen to his inherited conceptions of life, was arranged with such exquisite precision that it was impossible to improve it in any way. He knew exactly what he thought, and he knew also his reason, which was usually a precedent in law or custom, for thinking as he did. His opinions, which were both active and abundant, were all perfectly legitimate descendants of tradition, and the phrase "nobody ever heard of such a thing," was quite as convincing to him as to Mrs. Carr or to Cousin Jimmy Wrenn.

"Gabriella, aren't you going?" he asked reproachfully as the girl entered.

"Oh, Arthur, we've had such a dreadful day! Poor Jane has left Charley for good and has come home, with all the children. We've been busy dividing them among us, and we're going to turn the dining-room into a nursery.

"Left Charley? That's bad, isn't it?" asked Arthur doubtfully.

"I feel so sorry for her, Arthur. It must be terrible to have love end like that."

"But she isn't to blame. Everybody knows that she has forgiven him again and again."

"Yes, everybody knows it," repeated Gabriella, as if she drew bitter comfort from the knowledge, "and she says now that she will never, never go back to him."

For the first time a shadow appeared in Arthur's clear eyes.

"Do you think she ought to make up her mind, darling, until she sees whether or not he will reform? After all, she is his wife."

"That's what mother says, and yet I believe Charley is the only person on earth mother really hates. Now Cousin Jimmy and I will do everything we can to keep her away from him."

"I think I shouldn't meddle if I were you, dearest. She'll probably go back to him in the end because of the children.

"But I am going to help her take care of the children," replied Gabriella stanchly. "Of course, my life will be entirely different now, Arthur," she added gently. "Everything is altered for me, too, since yesterday. I have thought it all over for hours, and I am going to try to get a place in Brandywine's store."

"In a store?" repeated Arthur slowly, and she saw the muscles of his mouth tighten and grow rigid.

"Mother doesn't like the idea any more than you do, but what are we to come to if we go on in the old aimless way? One can't make a living out of plain sewing, and though, of course, Charley will be supposed to provide for his children, he isn't exactly the sort one can count on. Brandywine's, you see, is only a beginning. What I mean is that I am obliged to learn how to support myself."

"But couldn't you work just as well in your home, darling?

"People don't pay anything for home work. You must see what I mean, Arthur."

"Yes, I see," he replied tenderly; but after a moment's thought, he went on again with the gentle obstinacy of a man whose thinking had all been done for him before he was born. "I wish, though, that you would try to hold out a little longer, working at home with your mother. In a year or two we shall be able to marry."

"I couldn't," said Gabriella, shaking her head. "Don't urge me, Arthur."

"If you would only consent to live with mother, we might marry now," he pursued, after a minute, as if he had not heard her.

"But it wouldn't be fair to her, and how could I ask her to take mother and Jane and the children? No, I've thought it all out, dear, and I must go to work."

"But I'll work for them, Gabriella. I'll do anything on earth rather than see you ordered about by old Brandywine."

"He won't order me about," answered Gabriella cheerfully; "but mother feels just as you do. She says I am going out of my class because I won't stay at home and work buttonholes."

"You couldn't go out of your class," replied Arthur, with an instinctive gallantry which even his distress could not overcome; "but I can't get used to the thought of it, darling--I simply can't. You're so sacred to me. There's something about the woman a man loves that's different from every other woman, and the bare idea of your working in a shop sickens me. I always think of you as apart from the workaday world. I always think of you as a star shining serenely above the sordid struggle--" Overwhelmed by the glowing train of his rhetoric, he broke down suddenly and caught passionately at the cool hand of Gabriella.

As he looked at her slender finger, on which he had placed her engagement ring two years before, it seemed to him that the situation was becoming intolerable--that it was an affront not only to his ideal of Gabriella, as something essentially starlike and remote, but to that peculiar veneration for women which he always spoke and thought of as "Southern." His ideal woman was gentle, clinging, so perfectly a "lady" that she would have perished had she been put into a shop; and, though he was aware that Gabriella was a girl of much character and determination, his mind was so constructed that he was able, without difficulty, to think of her as corresponding to this exalted type of her sex. By the simple act of falling in love with her he had endowed her with every virtue except the ones that she actually possessed.

"I know, I know," said Gabriella tenderly, for she saw that he suffered. Her training had been a hard one, though she had got it at home, and in a violent reaction from the sentimentality of her mother and Jane she had become suspicious of any language that sounded "flowery" to her sensitive ears. With her clear-sighted judgment, she knew perfectly well that by no stretch of mind or metaphor could she be supposed to resemble a star--that she was not shining, not remote, not even "ideal" in Arthur's delicate sense of the word. She had known the horrors of poverty, of that bitter genteel poverty which must keep up an appearance at any cost; and she could never forget the grim days, after the death of Uncle Beverly Blair, when they had shivered in fireless rooms and gone for weeks without butter on their bread. For the one strong quality in Mrs. Carr's character was the feeling she spoke of complacently, though modestly, as "proper pride"; and this proper pride, which was now resisting Gabriella's struggle for independence, had in the past resisted quite as stubbornly the thought of an appeal to the ready charity of her masculine relatives. To seek a man's advice had been from her girlhood the primal impulse of Mrs. Carr's nature; but, until Fate had starved her into sincerity, she had kept alive the ladylike fiction that she was in need of moral, not material, assistance.

"Of course, if there were any other way, Arthur," said Gabriella, remembering the earlier battles with her mother, and eager to compromise when she could do so with dignity; "but how can I go on being dependent on Cousin Jimmy and Uncle Meriweather. Neither of them is rich, and Cousin Jimmy has a large family."

Of course she was reasonable. The most disagreeable thing about Gabriella, Jane had once said, was her inveterate habit of being reasonable. But then Jane, who was of an exquisite sensibility, felt that Gabriella's reasonableness belonged to a distinctly lower order of intelligence. When all was said, Gabriella saw clearly because she had a practical mind, and a practical mind is usually engrossed with material matters.

"I understand exactly how you feel, dear, but if only you could go on just as you are for a few years longer," said Arthur, sticking to his original idea with a tenacity which made it possible for him to argue for hours and yet remain exactly where he had started. Though they talked all night, though she convinced him according to all the laws and principles of logic, she knew that he would still think precisely what he had thought in the beginning, for his conviction was rooted, deeper than reason, in the unconquerable prejudices which had passed from the brain into the very blood of his race. He would probably say at the end: "I admit all that you tell me, Gabriella, but my sentiment is against it;" and this sentiment, overruling sense, would insist, with sublime obstinacy, that Gabriella must not work in a shop. It would ignore, after the exalted habit of sentiment, such merely sordid facts as poverty and starvation (who ever heard of a woman of good family starving in Virginia?), and, at last, if Gabriella were really in love with Arthur, it would triumph over her finer judgment and reduce her to submission. But while she watched him, in the very minute when, failing for words, he caught her in his arms, she said to herself, suddenly chilled and determined: "I must get it over to-night, and I've got to be honest." The scent of the hyacinths floated to her again, but it seemed to bring a cold wind, as if a draught had blown in through the closed slats of the shutters.

"Everything has changed, Arthur," she said, "and I don't think I ought to go on being engaged." Then because her words sounded insincere, she added sternly: "Even if we could be married--and of course we can't be--I--I don't feel that I should want to marry. I am not sure that I love you enough to marry you."

It was all so unromantic, so unemotional, so utterly different from the scene she had pictured when she imagined what "breaking her engagement" would be like. Then she had always thought of herself as dissolving in tears on the horsehair sofa, which had become sacred to the tragedy of poor Jane; but, to her surprise, she did not feel now the faintest inclination to cry. It ought to have been theatrical, but it wasn't--not even when she took off her engagement ring, as she had read in novels that girls did at the decisive instant, and laid it down on the table. When she remembered this afterwards, it appeared rather foolish, but Arthur seemed not to notice it, and when Marthy came in to light the fire in the morning, she found the ring lying on a copy of Gray's Elegy and brought it back to Gabriella.

"I'll never give you up," said Arthur stubbornly, and knowing his character, she felt that he had spoken the truth. He could not give her up even had he wished it, for, like a belief, she had passed from his brain into the fibre of his being. She had become a habit to him, and not love, but the inability to change, to cease thinking what he had always thought, to break a fixed manner of life, would keep him faithful to her in his heart.

"I'm sorry--oh, I'm sorry," she murmured, longing to have it over and to return to Jane and the children. It occurred to her almost resentfully that love was not always an unmixed delight.

"Is there any one else, Gabriella?" he asked with a sudden choking sound in his voice. "I have sometimes thought--in the last four or five months--that there might be--that you had changed--that--" He stopped abruptly, and she answered him with a beautiful frankness which would have horrified the imperishable, if desiccated, coquetry of her mother.

"There is some one else and there isn't," she replied simply. "I mean I think of some one else very often--of some one who isn't in my life at all--from whom I never hear--"

"Is it George Fowler?"

She bowed her head, and, though she did not blush, her eyes grew radiant.

"And you have known him less than a year?"

Again she bowed her head without speaking. What was there, after all, that she could say in justification of her behaviour?

A groan escaped him, smothered into a gentle murmur of protest. "And I thought women were more constant than men!" he exclaimed with something of the baffled and helpless feeling which had overtaken Uncle Meriweather while he regarded Gabriella.

The generalization was not without interest for Gabriella.

"I thought so, too," she observed dispassionately. "I thought so, too, and that is why it was such a dreadful surprise to me when it happened. You yourself aren't more shocked and surprised than I was in the beginning," she added.

"But you've got used to the thought, I suppose?"

"Well, one has to, you see. What else is there to do? I always understood from mother"--she went on with the same eager interest, as if she were stumbling upon new and important intellectual discoveries--"I always understood that women never fell in love with men first--I mean until they had had positive proof that their love would be returned. But in this case that didn't seem to matter at all. Nothing mattered, and the more I fought against it and tried to be true to my engagement, the more I found myself being false. It's all very strange," she concluded, "but that is just how it happened."

"And he knows nothing about it?"

"Oh, no. I told him I was engaged to you, and then he went away."

For an instant he was silent, and watching his face, so carefully guarded and controlled by habit that it had the curious blank look of a statue's, Gabriella could form no idea of the suppressed inarticulate suffering in his heart.

"And if he came back would you marry him?" he asked.

Before replying she sat for a minute gazing down on her folded hands and weighing each separate word of her answer.

"I should try not to, Arthur," she said at last, "but--but I am not sure that I should be able to help it."

When at last he had said "good-bye" rather grimly, and gone out of the door without looking back, she was conscious of an immense relief, of a feeling that she could breathe freely again after an age of oppression. There was a curious sense of unreality about the hour she had just passed through, as if it belonged not to actual life, but to a play she had been rehearsing. She had felt nothing. The breaking of her engagement had failed utterly to move her.

After bolting the front door, she turned out the gas in the parlour, pushed back the lump of coal in the grate in the hope of saving it for the morrow, and went cautiously down the hall to her room. As she passed her mother's door, a glimmer of light along the threshold made her pause for a minute, and while she hesitated, an anxious voice floated out to her:

"Gabriella, is that you?"

"Yes, Mother, do you want anything?"

"Jane has one of her heart attacks. I put her to bed in my room because it is more comfortable than the dining-room. Don't you think you had better go back and wake Marthy?"

"Is she ill? Let me come in," answered Gabriella, pushing open the door and brushing by Mrs. Carr, who stood, shrunken and shivering, in a gray flannel wrapper and felt slippers.

Though Jane's attacks were familiar occurrences, they never failed to produce an immediate panic in the household. As a child of nine, Gabriella remembered being aroused in the middle of a bitter night, hastily wrapped in her mother's shawl and a blanket, and hurried up the staircase to Jane, who had broken her engagement to Charley the evening before. Jane, pale, angelic, palpitating, appeared to draw her last breath as they entered, while the old doctor supported her in his arms, and Marthy, in a frenzy of service, rattled the dead embers in the grate. It had all been horribly vivid, and when Jane had murmured Charley's name in a dying voice, they had stood, trembling and blue with cold, around her bed, waiting for the end. But the end had not come, and three months later Jane was married to Charley Gracey.

After that scene, Gabriella had associated Jane's attacks with a freezing January night and a fireless grate (though the last but one had occurred in mid-August), and she was relieved now to find a fire burning in her mother's room and a kettle singing merrily on the fender. The elder children, with their flannel petticoats pinned over their thin little shoulders, were sitting straight and stiff on a box couch which had been turned into a bed, and their strange little faces looked wan and peaked in the firelight.

Jane was really ill, Gabriella decided, after a glance at her sister. Nothing except acute suffering could have given her that ghastly pallor or made her eyes sink so far back in her head. She lay quite motionless on the far side of the big tester bed, staring straight up at the ceiling with an expression which terrified Gabriella, though she had seen it on her sister's face at least a dozen times before to-night.

"Has Arthur gone?" asked Mrs. Carr in a voice that sounded as if she were running.

"Yes. Did you want him, mother?"

"I thought we might send him for the doctor and for Charley. Don't you think Charley ought to be told of her condition? She has asked for the children."

"Have you given her the digitalis?"

"I can't make her swallow it. There are the drops on the table by the bed. My hands tremble so I had to measure them three times."

Taking the glass from the table, Gabriella bent over her sister and implored her to swallow the drops, but, without appearing to hear her voice, Jane still stared blankly upward, with the rigid, convulsed look of a woman who has been stricken with dumbness. Her flaxen hair, damp with camphor, which Mrs. Carr had wildly splashed on her forehead, clung flat and close to her head, while the only pulse in her body seemed to beat in irregular, spasmodic throbs in her throat.

"Don't go, mother. I'll wake Marthy," cried Gabriella, for Mrs. Carr, inspired by the spirit of panic, was darting out of the door in her felt slippers. Then, while the children, crying distractedly, rushed to Jane's bedside, the girl ran out of the house and along the brick walk to the kitchen and the room above it where Marthy lived the little life she had apart from her work. In answer to Gabriella's call she emerged entirely dressed from the darkness; and at the news of Jane's illness she was seized with the spurious energy which visits her race in the moment of tragedy. She offered at once to run for the doctor, and suggested, without a hint from Gabriella, that she had better leave word, on her way home, for Marse Charley.

"I knowed 'twuz comin' jez ez soon ez I lay eyes on 'er," she muttered, for she was an old family servant. "Dar ain' no use 'n tryin' ter come betweenst dem de good Lawd is done jine tergedder fur worse. A baid husban'! Hi! Dar ain't un 'oman erlive, I reckon, dat 'ouldn't ruther own a baid husban' den no husban' at all. You all is got to teck 'em de way dey's made, en dar's moughty few un um dat is made right."

Still muttering, she stumbled down the walk and out of the gate, while Gabriella returned to her mother's room and hurried the weeping children into their shoes and stockings. Mrs. Carr, still in her flannel wrapper, with her little flat gray curls screwed up on pins for the night, and her thin ankles showing pathetically above her felt slippers, ran nervously to and fro with mustard plasters and bottles of hot water which she continually refilled from the kettle on the fender. Occasionally she paused long enough to hold the camphor to Jane's nose or to lift the quilt from the bottom of the bed and then put it carefully back in the very spot where it had lain before she had touched it. And because she was born to take two steps to every one that was necessary, because she could not accomplish the simplest act without a prodigious waste of energy and emotion, because she died twenty deaths over the slightest anxiety, and, most of all, because she was the last person on earth who ought to have been burdened with poverty and hard work and an unhappily married daughter--because of all these things Mrs. Carr wore herself to a shadow in the quarter of an hour they spent waiting for the doctor and Charley Gracey.

Though she had brought Jane through at least a dozen "attacks," she still lost her presence of mind as completely as on that January night when, utterly distraught, she had hurried Gabriella to the first death-bed scene of her sister; she still grew as forgetful of herself and her own feelings, and, in obedience to some profound law of her nature, she still as confidently "expected the worst." For Mrs. Carr's philosophy, like Jane's, was of that active but dreary sort that thrives best upon misery. Just as Jane, who had lost every illusion about Charley, went on loving him in spite of it, so Mrs. Carr, having lost her illusions about life, retained a kind of wistful fondness for the thing that had wounded her.

The door-bell rang sharply, and Gabriella went to let in the doctor, a brisk, authoritative young man of the new school, who had learned everything there was to be known about medicine except the way to behave in a sickroom, and who abhorred a bedside manner as heartily as if it were calomel or castor oil. His name was Darrow, and he was the assistant of old Dr. Walker, Mrs. Carr's family physician, who never went out at night since he had passed his seventieth birthday. Gabriella, who liked him because he was not anecdotal and gave small doses of medicine, hastily led the way to her mother's room before she ran back to meet Charley Gracey at the door of the dark parlour.

"You can't see her now. The doctor is with her," she whispered. "I'll make a light in here and you can wait."

"Let me," said Charley, quite as pleasantly as if he were not a bad husband, while he found a match and struck it on the sole of his foot. Then, as the gas flared up, he exclaimed, with a low whistle, "By Jove, you're a sight, Gabriella!"

"Well, it's your fault," replied Gabriella sharply, letting him see, as she told herself, exactly what she thought of him. "You've made Jane so ill we thought she was dying."

"I'm sorry for that," he said, suddenly smitten with gravity. "Is she really so bad?"

His charming freckled face, with its irrepressible humour, grew almost grotesquely solemn, while the habitual merriment faded slowly from his light-gray eyes, leaving them empty of expression. He was a short, rather thick-set man, not particularly good-looking, not particularly clever, but possessing a singular, if unaccountable, charm. Everybody liked Charley, though nobody respected him. He was a scamp, but a lovable scamp, while Jane, with the best intentions in the world, had managed to make every virtue unattractive. When people condemned him, they said that he was "utterly unprincipled"; when they softened in their judgment, they admitted that he had "the best heart in the world."

"I suppose it isn't any worse than other attacks," answered Gabriella, "but you know what they are like."

"Yes, I know," replied Charley. "Oh, Lord, don't I?"

"She asked mother to send for you," continued Gabriella. "She wants you to know that she has forgiven you."

"Has she?" said Charley, without elation. Turning away, he stared for a minute or two at the engraving of the children feeding fish in a pond; then, with his eyes still glued to the picture, he burst out passionately: "Gabriella, I'd hoped she wouldn't this time!"

"If I were she," retorted Gabriella crushingly, "I would never speak to you again until the day of my death."

"If she were you," rejoined Charley, with barefaced audacity, "I'd have been a good husband. Why, I was simply starving to be a good husband when I married Jane. It's my ideal in life. I'm all for the domestic thing by nature. I was tired--positively dog-tired of the other kind. I wanted a wife. I adored--I've always adored babies--"

"If that is true," returned Gabriella sternly, for she was not disposed to soften to Charley, and in her heart she deeply resented what she called Jane's "weakness," "if that is true why do you behave so outrageously to Jane and the children? Why can't you be decent?"

"I could," answered Charley, with engaging lucidity, "if she were less so. It's her infernal virtue I can't stand, Gabriella. No man could stand it without taking to drink."

"But you knew she was that way. She was always trying to make people better. It is her mission. Why, I remember one winter night before you were married mother got me out of bed in the cold to come and hear Jane forgive you beautifully about something."

"That was the first time, and it was very touching. I suppose the first time always is touching. Of course, I didn't know she meant to keep it up. No man could possibly have kept it up," said Charley, with bitterness, "but she married me to reform me, and it is the only thing she has really enjoyed about her marriage. She's a born reformer. I haven't eaten a thing I cared about, nor drank a drop I wanted, nor used a bad word I was fond of, since I married, without being nagged at about it. She loved me for my vices, and yet she hasn't let me keep a single one--not even the smallest--not even cigarettes. Nag! Good God! She's nagged me to perfection ever since the day of our wedding when she made me sign the pledge before she let me kiss her!"

"Well, that doesn't make it any easier for us or for the children," replied Gabriella, without sympathy; "and if you don't think of Jane, you might at least think of your children."

"Of course it's hard on the kids," admitted Charley ruefully. "But as for Jane--now, will you tell me what would become of Jane after she had reformed me? Why, she'd be bored to death. She'd be a martyr without any martyrdom. When she made me give up tobacco, she lost interest in everything for a week. She was like your Uncle Meriweather after the surrender. There wasn't anything left to fight about, and fighting was all he could do--"

"I believe--I really believe you have been drinking," interrupted Gabriella with cold disgust. "Suppose Jane were to die?"

"She won't die. She'll be all right as soon as she has forgiven me."

He was not only bad, she told herself, he was perfectly shameless. He appeared to have been born without the faintest sense of responsibility. And yet, while Gabriella listened to him, she realized that, in some ways, he might be a less trying companion than poor Jane. His candour was as simple, as unaffected, as the serene artlessness of a child. It was impossible not to believe in his sincerity. Though she "despised him," as she told herself, still she was obliged to admit that there was something to be said on his side. The harsh judgment of youth--of youth that never tries to understand, that never makes allowances--softened under the influence of Charley's reprehensible charm. Even badness, Gabriella conceded grudgingly, might be easier to live with in some circumstances than a too exalted self-righteousness.

"If you'll bring Jane to that way of thinking," retorted Charley, with vulgar frankness, "I'll give you five hundred dollars down. If you'll thoroughly corrupt her mind and persuade her to neglect her duty to me, I'll make it a thousand."

He was jesting! It was monstrous, with Jane lying ill in her mother's room; it was indecent; it was grossly immoral; but he was actually jesting! Not even scandal, not even the doctor's presence in the house, could suppress his incorrigible spirit of levity. "If I were Jane, I'd never speak to him," thought Gabriella, and the question flashed through her mind, "how in the world could she ever have loved him?" It was impossible for her to conceive of any situation when Charley could have made a girl fall in love with him. Though she had heard stories of his early conquests, she had never believed them. There were times when she almost liked him, but it was the kind of liking one gave to an inferior, not to an equal. She admitted his charm, but it was the charm of an irresponsible creature--the capricious attraction of a child or an animal. Her common sense, she told herself, would keep her from making a mistake such as Jane had made with her life; and, besides, she was utterly devoid of the missionary instinct which had lured Jane to destruction. "If I ever marry, it will be different from that," she thought passionately. "It will be utterly different!"

The door of Mrs. Carr's room opened suddenly, Marthy's name was called in a high voice, and the doctor was heard saying reassuringly: "She is over the worst. There is no need to worry."

"Don't send me in there alone, Gabriella," begged Charley piteously. "I'd rather face bullets than Jane in an attack." His bravado had deserted him, and he appeared positively craven. The stiffness seemed to have gone not only out of his character, but out of his clothes also. Even his collar had become limp with emotion.

"Well, I don't care," answered Gabriella, "you've got to stand it. There's no use squirming when you've only yourself to blame." With a malicious pleasure, she watched the consternation in Charley's face, while the doctor's footsteps came rapidly down the hall and stopped at the threshold of the parlour.

"You may go in, Mr. Gracey--your wife is asking for you; but be very careful not to say anything that might disturb her. Just keep her as quiet as you can for a few hours."

Then the door in the distance opened again, and Mrs. Carr, in the hollow tones of destiny, called: "Gabriella, Jane is waiting to speak to her husband."

"Come, Charley," ordered Gabriella, grimly, and a moment later she pushed him across her mother's threshold and turned back into the hall. "I hope she'll make him squirm," she said to herself, with relish. Nothing, she felt, except the certainty of Charley's squirming, could make up to her for the half-hour she had just spent with him.

She was still standing there when Jane's medicine came from the druggist at the corner, and for a while she waited outside the door, fearing to lighten Charley's punishment by her entrance. The medicine had to be measured in drops, and she went into the dining-room, where the children were huddled together in an improvised bed, and diluted the mixture with water before she could persuade herself to go into her mother's room. Even then she hesitated until she remembered that the doctor had said Jane must take the first dose immediately. Not by her, if she could help it, should the divine wrath of the furies be appeased.

But with the first touch of her hand on the knob, Charley's flippant voice greeted her with, "Won't you come in, Gabriella?" and swallowing her angry retort, she entered stiffly, with the glass held out straight before her. Charley, on his knees beside the bed, with his arm under his wife's pillow, stared up at his sister-in-law with the guilty look of a whipped terrier, while Jane, pallid, suffering, saintly, rested one thin blue-veined hand on his shoulder. Her face was the colour of the sheet, her eyes were unnaturally large and surrounded by violet circles; and her hair, drenched with camphor, spread over the pillow like the hair of a drowned woman. Never had she appeared so broken, so resigned, so ineffably spiritual; and Gabriella's solitary comfort was the thought that Jane's attack had conquered Charley as completely as it had conquered the rest of them.

"Gabriella, I've forgiven him," said Jane, with fainting sweetness, "and he wants you and mother to do so. He has promised to be good in the future."

"Well, I shan't forgive him for keeping me up all night," answered Gabriella resentfully, and she felt that even if it killed Jane, she could not keep back her reply. "I can't answer for mother, but I haven't forgiven him and I never shall." She felt her anger hardened to a rock inside of her, and it hurt her so that she put the glass hurriedly down on the table and ran out of the room. As she closed the door behind her she heard Jane saying gently: "Yes, I forgive you, Charley, but I can't help feeling that you don't love me as you ought to."

An old cape of her mother's was lying on a chair in the hall, and, throwing it over her shoulders, Gabriella went out on the porch and stood breathing quickly in the cold air, with her hand pressed on her bosom, which rose and fell as if she had been running. She was not only furious, she was grossly affronted, though she had known from the beginning, she said to herself, exactly how it would end. She had never trusted Jane--no, not a minute; she had never really trusted her mother. Something had told her that Jane had never meant in her heart to leave Charley, that she was only making a scene, after the immemorial habit of women, before going back to him. And yet, though she had suspected this all along, she was as indignant as if she had been deceived by a conspiracy of the three of them. Her sense of decency was outraged. She despised Jane because she had no strength of character; but even while this thought was still in her mind, she admitted that Jane had had sufficient strength of character to upset the household, bring Charley to repentance, and emerge, faint but victorious, from the wreck of their peace. Yes, she despised Jane, though it was impossible to deny that Jane's methods were successful, since she had got what she wanted.

The street was very quiet, for it was in the small gray hours between midnight and dawn, and a solitary policeman, strolling by on his beat, appeared as wan and spectral as the bare boughs of the poplar trees beneath which he moved. The wind was still blowing over the brow of the hill, and now and then it tossed a wisp of straw or a handful of dust on the porch where Gabriella was standing. As it swept onward it drove a flock of shadows, like black birds, up the open street into the clear space under the old-fashioned gas lamp at the corner. All the lights were out in the neighbouring houses, but from a boarding-house down the block there floated suddenly the gay snatch of a waltz played on a banjo with a broken string. Then the music stopped, the policeman passed, and Gabriella and the wind were alone in the street. Overhead the stars shone dimly through a web of mist; and it seemed to her that the sadness of the sky and the sadness of the earth had mingled there in the long straight street where the wind blew with a melancholy sound between rows of silent and darkened houses.

A noise in the hall made her turn, and, looking up, she saw the gaunt figure of Miss Amelia Peterborough standing in the bend of the staircase. In her hand the old maid held a twisted candlestick of greenish brass, and the yellow flame of the candle cast a trembling, fantastic shadow on the wall at her back. Her head, shorn of the false "front" she wore in the day, appeared to have become all forehead and beaked nose; her eyes had dwindled to mere points of blackness; her mouth, sunken and drawn over toothless gums, was like the mouth of a witch. The wind, blowing in gusts through the open door, inflated her gray shawl and the skirt of her dressing-gown, while, with each flutter of her garments, the grotesque shadow on the white wall danced and gibbered behind her. And, as she gazed down on the girl, it was as if the end of life, with its pathos, its cruelties, its bitterness and its disillusionment, had stopped for a fleeting instant to look back at life in the pride and ignorance of its beginning.

"There was so much moving about, I thought something might have happened," said Miss Amelia apologetically, while Gabriella, closing the door, shut the draught from the staircase.

"Jane had one of her heart attacks," answered the girl. "I'm so sorry we waked you."

But she was thinking while she spoke, "So that is old age--so that is what it means to be old?" There is a vague compassion in the thought, but it held no terror, for the decay of Miss Amelia seemed as utterly remote and detached from her own life as one of the past ages in history. The youth in her brain created a radiant illusion of immortality. By no stretch of imagination could she picture herself like the infirm and loveless creature before her. Yet she knew, without realizing it, that Miss Amelia had once been young, that she had once even been beautiful. There was a legend, fading now into tradition, that her lover had been killed in a duel, fought for her while she was still a girl, and that she had worn only white or black since that day--she who was now well over eighty. She had known love; a man had died for her; it was said that she had been a famous coquette in the 'thirties; and now she stood there, grotesque and sexless, with her eyes empty of dreams and of memories, and her face as gray and sinister as the face of her shadow.

"I hope she is better, poor child," she said, for, like the rest of Richmond, she believed Jane to be all saint and Charley all sinner. "If I can be of any help, be sure to let me know."

"Yes, I'll let you know, thank you. I hope we didn't disturb Miss Jemima."

The younger Miss Peterborough--called "the happy one" by Gabriella and Mrs. Carr because she was always cheerful, though, as far as any one could tell, she had nothing and had never had anything to be cheerful about--was named Jemima. A chronic invalid, from some obscure trouble which had not left her for twenty years, she was seldom free from pain, and yet Gabriella had never seen her (except at funerals, for which she entertained a perfectly healthy fondness as diversions free to the poor) without a smile on her face.

"Sister Jemima doesn't wake easily. She is a sound sleeper and she's getting a little hard of hearing"; and lifting the candlestick to light her way, Miss Amelia turned back up the stairs, while the flame flitted like a golden moth into the dimness.

"Poor old thing," thought Gabriella, imagining in her ignorance that she could understand the tragedy of Miss Amelia's life; "poor old thing, she must have had a terrible time."

As she approached her mother's door, Charley came out, glanced at her sheepishly, and hurried to where his hat hung on the walnut hatrack in the front hall. Then, as if overcoming his first impulse to avoid her, he beckoned to her furtively, and said in a sepulchral whisper: "Gabriella, be very careful what you say to her."

The audacity of it! This from Charley, the abandoned, the depraved, the unutterably abhorrent in her sight. Without replying, she turned indignantly away and opened her mother's door.

Lying in the middle of the bed now, and slightly propped with pillows, Jane was sipping a second dose of medicine from a glass Mrs. Carr held to her lips.

"I know you don't understand my forgiving him, Gabriella," she said very gently, "but some day, after you are married, you will realize that I do it from a sacred duty--from a sacred duty," she repeated firmly, while the shining light of martyrdom illumined her features.

"Well, it's none of my business," answered Gabriella crossly, "but the sooner you do it, I suppose the sooner you will have to do it again." If only for once Jane would be direct, if only she would be natural, if only she would speak the truth and not fiction.

"Oh, no, dear, you don't understand him any better than you do me," said Jane as sweetly as ever in spite of Gabriella's deplorable loss of temper. "He is really dreadfully penitent, and he sees that he hasn't always treated me as he ought to have done. But you'll know what I mean when you marry, Gabriella. She'll understand me then, won't she, mother?"

"I'm sometimes tempted to hope that Gabriella will never marry," replied Mrs. Carr with the uncompromising bitterness of abject despair; "the Carrs all seem to marry so badly."

In her normal mood she would never have uttered this heresy, for she belonged to a generation that regarded even a bad marriage as better for a woman than no marriage at all; but the night had worn her out, and one of her spells of neuralgia, which followed fatigue, was already beginning in her face. The purple crocheted "fascinator" she had caught up at the doctor's entrance was still on her head, and her long pale face, beneath the airy scallops, appeared frozen in an expression of incurable melancholy. For the rest she had been too frightened, too forgetful of herself and her own comfort even to put on her stockings, though Gabriella had begged her to do so. "Don't think about me. Attend to poor Jane," she had repeated over and over.

"Mother, go into my room and get into bed," commanded Gabriella, whose patience, never abundant, was ebbing low. "If you don't get some sleep your neuralgia won't be any better."

"It isn't any better. I don't expect it to be any better."

"Well, you must go to bed or it will get worse. I'll heat you a cup of milk and wrap you up in warm blankets."

"Don't worry about me, dear. Think of poor Jane."

"We've been thinking of Jane all night, and you need it now more than she does. I can tell by your eyes how you are suffering."

In the first streak of dawn, which was beginning to glimmer faintly on the window-panes, Mrs. Carr looked as if she had withered overnight.

"It's only my left temple," she said dully, "otherwise I am quite well. No, dear, I must rub Jane's forehead until she falls asleep. The doctor said it was important that we should keep her soothed."

But it was a law of Gabriella's nature that she never knew when she was beaten. Failure aroused the sleeping forces within her, and when these forces were once liberated, the spasmodic efforts of Mrs. Carr and the indirect methods of Jane were alike powerless to oppose them. At such times a faint flush rose to her pale cheeks, her eyes shone with a burning darkness, while her mouth lost its fresh young red and grew hard in outline.

"You must go to bed, mother," she repeated in a voice which Mrs. Carr would have obeyed had it issued from the wall or a piece of furniture.

Fifteen minutes later Gabriella stood authoritatively beside the bed, while her mother, with a mustard plaster at the back of her neck, obediently sipped hot milk from a teacup. Mrs. Carr had surrendered to the conquering spirit of her daughter, but her surrender, which was unwilling and weakly defiant, gave out presently a last feeble flicker of resistance.

"Don't you think, Gabriella, we might arrange to live with Jane?" she asked. "It would be a saving of expense for us both, and we might be so helpful about the children."

"And about Charley, too, I suppose," suggested Gabriella maliciously.

Mrs. Carr, having been born without a sense of humour, never understood the broadest joke unless it was illustrated; but even to her it became evident, after a moment's anxious thought, that Gabriella was teasing her.

"You seem to forget that he is her husband," she replied, with a pathetic clutch at her dignity, which, owing perhaps to the purple "fascinator" and the mustard plaster, she failed completely to recapture. Then, as she finished the milk and handed back the empty cup to her daughter, she added wearily, for life, as she often said to herself of late, was becoming almost too much for her, and she was feeling worn out and old:

"My one comfort, Gabriella, is the thought that Arthur Peyton loves you. There couldn't be anybody more unlike Charley."

"There couldn't be," agreed Gabriella mildly, for she felt that another blow would prostrate her mother.

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