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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLife And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 10. The Dream And The Reality
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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 10. The Dream And The Reality Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :1534

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Life And Gabriella: The Story Of A Woman's Courage - Book 2. The Age Of Knowledge - Chapter 10. The Dream And The Reality

BOOK II. THE AGE OF KNOWLEDGE CHAPTER X. THE DREAM AND THE REALITY

At the upper station a little group stood awaiting her, and as the train pulled slowly to the platform, Gabriella distinguished her mother's pallid face framed in the hanging crape of her veil; Jane, thin, anxious, anæmic, with her look of pinched sweetness; Chancy, florid, portly, and virtuously middle-aged, and their eldest daughter Margaret, a blooming, beautiful girl. Alighting, Gabriella was embraced by Mrs. Carr, who shed a few gentle tears on her shoulders.

"Gabriella, my child, I thought you would never come back to us," she lamented; "and now everything is so changed that you will hardly recognize it as home."

"Well, if she can find a change that isn't for the better, I hope she'll point it out and let me make a note of it," boasted Charley, with hilarity. "I tell you what, Gabriella, my dear, we're becoming a number one city. Everything's new. We haven't left so much as an old brick lying around if we could help it. If you were to go back there to Hill Street, you'd scarcely know it for the hospitals and schools we've got there, and as for this part of the town--well, I reckon the apartment houses will fairly take your breath away. Apartment houses! Well, that's what I call progress--apartment houses and skyscrapers, and we've got them, too, down on Main Street. I'll show them to you to-morrow. Yes, by George, we're progressing so fast you can hardly see how we grow. Why, there wasn't a skyscraper or an apartment house in the city when you left here, and precious few hospitals. But now--well, I'll show you! We're the hospital city of the South, and more than that, we're becoming a metropolis. Yes, that's the word--we're becoming a metropolis. If you don't believe me, just watch as we go up Franklin Street to Monument Avenue. I suppose you thought of us still as a poor folksy little Southern city, with a lot of ground going to waste in gardens and green stuff. Well, you just wait till you see Monument Avenue. It's the handsomest boulevard south of Washington. It's all new, every brick of it. There's not a house the whole way up that isn't as fresh as paint, and the avenue is just as straight as if you'd drawn it with a ruler--"

But the change in the city, Gabriella reflected while she embraced Jane, was as nothing compared to the incredible change in Charley himself. Middle-age had passed over him like some fattening and solidifying process. He was healthy, he was corpulent, he was prosperous, conventional, and commonplace. If Gabriella had been seeking, with Hogarthian humour, to portray the evils of torpid and self-satisfied respectability, she could scarcely have found a better picture of the condition than Charley presented. And the more Charley expanded, the more bloodless and wan Jane appeared at his side. Her small, flat face with its yellowish and unhealthy tinge, its light melancholy eyes, and its look of lifeless and inhuman sanctification, exhaled the dried fragrance of a pressed flower. So disheartening was her appearance to Gabriella that it was a relief to turn from her to the freshness of Margaret, handsome, athletic, with cheeks like roses and the natural grace of a young animal.

"Oh, Aunt Gabriella, I hadn't any idea you were like this!" cried the girl with naïve enthusiasm.

"You thought of me as gray-haired and wearing a bonnet and mantle?"

"No, not that, but I didn't dream you were so handsome. I thought mother was the beauty of the family. But what a wonderful dress you have on! Are they wearing all those flounces around the hips?"

"There is no doubt about it, you are getting a lot better looking as you grow older," observed Charley, with genial pleasantry.

"She keeps herself up. There is a great deal in that," remarked Jane, and the speech was so characteristic of her that Gabriella tossed back gaily:

"Well, I'm not old, you know. I am only thirty-eight."

"She married so young," said Mrs. Carr mournfully. "I hope none of your girls will marry young, Jane. Gabriella must be a warning to them and to clear little Fanny."

"But you married young, mother, and so did I," replied Jane, a trifle tartly.

For some incommunicable reason Jane's sweetness had become decidedly prickly. Charley's reformation had left her with the hurt and incredulous air of a missionary whose heathen have been converted under his eyes by a rival denomination: and obeying an entirely natural impulse, she appeared ever so slightly, and in the most refined manner possible to revenge herself on the other members of her family. Though she had of late devoted her attention to the Associated Charities and the Confederate Museum, neither of these worthy objects provided so agreeable an opportunity for the exercise of her benevolent instincts as did the presence of a wayward husband in the household. For there could be no question of the thoroughness of Charley's redemption. The very cut of his clothes, the very colour of his necktie, proclaimed a triumph, for the prohibition party.

At last they were packed tightly in the touring car, and Charley, after imparting directions with the manner of a man who regards himself as the fount of wisdom, began expounding the noisy gospel of progress to Gabriella. Mrs. Carr, who had never been active, and was now over seventy, was visibly excited by the suddenness with which she had been whisked from the platform, and while they shot away from the station, she clutched her crape veil despairingly to the sides of her face, and fixed her blank and terrified stare on her son-in-law. After a whispered conference with Jane, Gabriella discovered that her mother was less afraid of an accident than she was of fresh air. "She's afraid of neuralgia," whispered Jane, "but the doctor says the air can't possibly do her any harm."

In Franklin Street the trees were in full leaf, and the charming vista through which Gabriella looked at the sunset, softened mercifully the impending symbols of the ironic Spirit of Progress. It was modern; it was progressive; yet there was the ancient lassitude of spring in the faint sunshine; and the women passing under the vivid green of the elms and maples moved with a flowing walk which one did not see in Fifth Avenue. On the porches, too, groups were assembled in chairs after the Southern fashion, while children, in white frocks and gay sashes, accompanied by negro nurses wheeling perambulators, made a spring pageant in the parks. Though the gardens had either disappeared or dwindled to mere emerald patches of grass, a few climbing roses, of modern varieties, lent brightness and fragrance to the solid, if undistinguished, architecture of the houses.

"That's the finest apartment house in the city!" exclaimed Charley, with enthusiasm. "Looks pretty tall, doesn't it? But it's nothing to the height of some of the buildings downtown. As for changes--well, I hope Jane will take you on Broad Street to-morrow, and then you'll see what we're doing. Why, there's not a shop left there now where you used to deal. Brandywine's--you recollect old Brandywine & Plummer's, don't you?--isn't there any longer. Got a new department store, with a restaurant and a basement in the very spot where it used to be. Look sharp now, we're coming to a hospital. That belongs to Dr. Browning. You don't remember Dr. Browning. After your day, I reckon. He's a young chap, but he's got his hospital like all the rest, and every bed filled--he told me so yesterday. But they've all got their hospitals. Darrow--you recollect Darrow who used to be old Dr. Walker's assistant--well, he's got his, too, just around the corner on the next street. They say he cuts up more people than any man in the South except Spendlow--".

"I miss the old-fashioned flowers," said Gabriella to her mother in one of Charley's plethoric pauses. "The microphylla roses and snowballs."

"Everybody is planting crimson ramblers and hydrangeas now," responded Mrs. Carr, with something of her son-in-law's pride in the onward movement of her surroundings.

"Here are the monuments!" cried Charley, who had treated each apartment house or hospital as if it were a bright, inestimable jewel in the city's crown. "You don't see many streets finer than this in New York, do you?"

"It looks very pretty and attractive," answered Gabriella, as they swung dangerously round a statue, and then started in a race up the avenue, "but I miss the shrubs and the flowers."

"Oh, there are flowers enough. You just wait till you get on a bit. We've got some urns filled with hydrangeas, that queer new sort between blue and pink. But what do you want with shrubs? All they're good for is to get in your way whenever you want to look out into the street. Mrs. Madison was telling me only yesterday that she cut down the lilac bushes in her front yard because they kept her from recognizing the people in motor cars. Look at that house now, that's one of the finest, in the city. Rushington built it--he made his money in fertilizers, and the one next with the green tiles belongs to Hanly, the tobacco trust fellow, you know, and this whopper on the next square is where Albertson lives. He made his pile out of railroad stocks--he's one of the banking firm of Albertson, Jacobstein, Moss & Company. Awfully clever fellows, but too tricky for me, I give them a wide berth when I go out to do business--"

"But where are the old people--the people I used to know?"

"Oh, they're scattered about everywhere, but they haven't got most of the money. A lot of 'em live up here, and a lot are down in Franklin Street in the same old houses."

"Tell me about Cousin Jimmy."

"He's up here, too. Pussy planned that red brick house with the green shutters next door to us. I reckon Jimmy is about as prosperous as is good for him, but he's getting on. He must be over seventy now. He has a son who is a chip of the old block, and his youngest daughter was the prettiest girl who ever came out here. Margaret will tell you about her."

"And the Peytons?" Her voice trembled, and she looked hastily away from the keen eyes of Margaret.

"They are still in the old home--at least Arthur lives there with his Cousin Nelly. You know Mrs Peyton died about nine or ten years ago?"

"Yes, I heard it."

"She was getting on, but it was a great loss to Arthur. Somehow, I could never make up my mind about Arthur. He was bright enough as a young chap, and we used to think he would have a brilliant future; but when the time came, he never seemed to catch on. He wasn't progressive, and he has never amounted to much more than he did when he left college. What I say about him is that he had the wrong ideas--Yes, Jane, I mean exactly what I say, he had the wrong ideas. He doesn't know what he is driving at. No progress, no push, no punch in him."

"Why, Charley," murmured Mrs. Carr reproachfully, while Jane, recovering her nagging manner with an accession of spirit, remonstrated feelingly: "Charley, you really must be more careful what you say."

"Oh, fudge!" retorted Charley, with playful rudeness. "You see she's at it still, Gabriella," he pursued, winking audaciously. "If it isn't one thing, it's another, but she wouldn't be satisfied with perfection. Well, here we are. There are the hydrangeas. I hope you're pleased."

"I declare, those waste papers have blown right back again on the grass, and I had them picked up the last thing before I left," said Jane in a tone of annoyance.

"Never mind the papers; Gabriella isn't looking for papers," returned Charley, while he helped Mrs. Carr out of the motor and up the steps. "So here you are, mother, and the air didn't kill you."

"I may have neuralgia to-morrow. You never can tell," replied Mrs. Carr. "I shouldn't worry about the papers, Jane. Nobody can help the way they blow about. I want Gabriella to see the children the first thing."

As they entered the house Jane's children, a flock of five girls and two boys, fluttered up to be introduced, and among them Gabriella discovered the composed baby of Jane's tragic flight. It seemed an age ago, and she felt not thirty-eight, but a thousand.

After dinner Charley, who had eaten immoderately, unfolded the evening paper under the electric lamp in the library, and dozed torpidly while the girls plied their aunt with innumerable questions about New York and the spring fashions. "It will be lovely to have Fanny with us at the White Sulphur. I know her clothes will be wonderful," they chirped happily, clustering eagerly about the sofa on which Gabriella was sitting. Jane's children, deriving from some hardy stock of an earlier generation, were handsome, vigorous, optimistic in blood and fibre, and so uncompromisingly modern that Gabriella wondered how Mrs. Carr, with her spiritual neuralgia and her perpetual mourning, had survived the unceasing currents of fresh air with which they surrounded her.

"Yes, things have changed. It is the age," thought Gabriella; and presently, when Cousin Jimmy and Cousin Pussy came in to welcome her, she repeated: "Yes, it is the age. There is no escaping it."

"Why, my dear child, you are looking splendidly," trilled Cousin Pussy, with her old delightful manner and her flattering vision so different from Florrie's. She was still trim, plump, and rosy, though her hair was now snow white and her pretty face was covered with cheerful wrinkles. "You're handsomer than you ever were in your life, and the dash of gray on your temples doesn't make you look, a day older--not a day. Some people turn gray so very young. I remember Cousin Becky Bollingbroke's hair was almost white by the time she was thirty-five. It runs like that in some families. But you look just as girlish as ever. It's wonderful, isn't it, Cousin Fanny, the way the women of this generation stay girls until they are fifty? I don't believe you'll ever look any older, Gabriella, than you do now. Of course, I suppose your business has something to do with it, but if I met you for the first time, it would never cross my mind that you were a day over twenty-five."

"Well, well, so little Gabriella went to New York and became a dressmaker," observed Jimmy, who was seldom original, "and she's the same Gabriella, too. I always said, you know, that she was the sort you could count on."

Age, though it had not entirely passed him by, had, on the whole, treated him with great gentleness. He was a remarkably handsome old man, with a distinguished and courtly presence, a head of wonderful white hair, which looked as if it had been powdered, a ruddy unwrinkled face, and the dark shining eyes of the adventurous youth he had never lost.

"Of course, she couldn't have been a dressmaker here where everybody knows her," purred Cousin Pussy, with her arm about Gabriella, "but in New York it is different, and they tell me that even titled women are dressmakers in London."

"Well, she has pluck," declared Cousin Jimmy, as he had declared eighteen years ago at the family council. "There's nothing like pluck when it comes to getting along in the world."

Then they sat down in Jane's library, which, contained most of the things Gabriella associated with the old parlour in Hill Street, and Cousin Pussy asked if Gabriella had found many changes.

"A great many. Everything, looks new to me except this room. The only thing I miss here is the horsehair sofa."

"I keep that in the back hall," said Jane. "The town does look different up here, but the Peytons' house is just as you remember it--even the scarlet sage is in the garden. Miss Nelly plants it still every summer."

A lovely light shone in Gabriella's eyes, and Cousin Pussy watched it tenderly, while a smile hovered about the corners of her shrewd though still pretty mouth.

"It has been such a disappointment that Arthur hasn't done more in his profession," she said presently, "but, as I was saying to Mr. Wrenn only the other day, I have always felt that dear Gabriella was to blame for it."

"The trouble with Arthur," observed Charley, awaking truculently from his doze, "is that he's got the wrong ideas. When a man has the wrong ideas in these days, he might as well go out and hang himself."

"Well, I don't know that I'd call his ideas wrong exactly," reasoned Cousin Jimmy, with the judicial manner befitting the best judge of tobacco in Virginia; "I shouldn't call them wrong, but they're out of date. They belong to the last century."

"I always say that dear Arthur is a perfect gentleman of the old school," remonstrated Mrs. Carr, meekly obstinate. "There aren't many of them left now, so I tell myself regretfully whenever I see him."

"And there'll be fewer than ever by the time you Suffragists get your rights," remarked Charley, with bitterness, while Mrs. Carr, incensed by the word, which she associated with various indelicacies, stared at him with an indignant expression.

"Charley, be careful what you say," nagged Jane acridly from her corner. "Now that so many of our relatives have gone in for suffrage, you mustn't be intolerant."

"I cannot help it, Jane. I shall never knowingly bow to one even if she is related to me," announced Mrs. Carr more assertively than Gabriella would have believed possible.

"Well, for my part, Cousin Fanny, I can't feel that it hurts me to bow to anybody," said Pussy, with her unfailing kindness of heart. "Why, I even bowed to Florrie Spencer last winter. I wanted to cut her, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it when I met her face to face. I hope you don't mind, dear," she whispered to Gabriella. "I suppose I oughtn't to have mentioned her, but I forgot."

"Oh, it doesn't matter in the least," responded Gabriella cheerfully. "I bowed to her myself the day before I left New York."

Though she tried to be independent, to be advanced and resolute, she felt the last eighteen years receding slowly from her consciousness. The family point of view, the family soul, had enveloped her again, and, in spite of her experience and her success, she seemed inwardly as young and ignorant as on the evening when she broke her engagement to Arthur. The spirit of the place had defeated her individual endeavour. Except for the wall paper of pale gray, and the Persian rugs on the floor, Jane's library might have been the old front parlour in Hill Street, and it was as if the French mirror, the crystal candelabra, the rosewood bookcases, with their diamond-shaped panes lined with fluted magenta silk, the family portraits, the speckled engravings of the Burial of Latané and of the groups of amiable children feeding chickens and fish--it was as if these inanimate objects exuded a spiritual anodyne which enfeebled the will. Across the hall, in the modern pink and gray drawing-room, the five girls were playing bridge with several young men whom Gabriella remembered as babies, and the sounds of their voices floated to her now and then as thinly as if they had come out of a phonograph. "There is nothing better than peace, after all," she thought, while her, eyes rested tenderly on the simple, affectionate face of Cousin Jimmy. "Goodness and peace, these things are really worth while."

Then the telephone rang gently, and after a minute Margaret, who had gone to answer it, came in with a roguish smile on her lips. "Aunt Gabriella, Mr. Peyton wishes to come to-morrow at five," she said; and the roguish smile flitted from her lips to the lips of Cousin Pussy, and from Cousin Pussy to each sympathetic and watchful face in the group.

"You may say what you please," argued Charley, still truculent, "the whole trouble with Arthur is that he has got the wrong ideas."

* * * * *

At five o'clock the next day the family crowded into the touring car for an excursion, and left Gabriella in a deserted house to receive the lover of her girlhood. Before going Mrs. Carr had embraced her sentimentally; Charley had dropped one of his broad jokes on the subject of the reunion; Jane had murmured sweetly that there was no man on earth she admired as much as she did Arthur; and the girls had effusively complimented Gabriella on her appearance. Even Willy, the baby of eighteen years ago, had prophesied with hilarity that "Old Arthur Peyton wasn't coming for nothing." One and all they appeared to take her part in the romance for granted; and while she waited in the drawing-room, gazing through the interstices of Jane's new lace curtains into the avenue, where beyond the flying motor cars the grassy strip in the middle of the street was dappled with shadows, she wondered if she also were taking Arthur's devotion for granted. She had not seen him for eighteen years, and yet she was awaiting him as expectantly as if he were still her lover. Would his presence really quiet this strange new restlessness in her heart--this restlessness which had come to her so suddenly after her meeting with Florrie? Was it true that her youth was slipping from her before she had grasped all the happiness that life offered? Or was it only the stirring of the spring winds, of the young green against the blue sky, of the mating birds, of the roving, provocative scents of flowers, of the checkered light and shade on the grassy strip under the maples? Was it all these things, or was it none of them, that awoke this longing, so vague and yet so unquenchable, in her heart?

A car stopped in the street outside, the bell rang, and she watched the figure of a trim mulatto maid flit through the hall to the door. An instant later Arthur's name was announced, and Gabriella, with her hands in his clasp, stood looking into his face. It had been eighteen years since they parted, and in those eighteen years she had carried his image like some sacred talisman in her breast.

"How little you've changed, Gabriella," he said after a moment of silence in which she told herself that he was far better looking, far more distinguished than she had remembered him. "You are larger than you used to be, but your face is as girlish as ever."

"And I have two children nearly grown," she replied with a trembling little laugh; "a daughter who is already thinking of the White Sulphur."

They sat down in the pink chairs on the gray carpet, and leaned forward, looking into each other's faces as tenderly as they had done when they were lovers.

"It's hard to believe it," he answered a little stiffly, in his dry and gentle voice, which held a curious note of finality, of failure. For the first time, while he spoke, she let her eyes rest frankly upon him, and there came to her, as she did so, a vivid realization of the emptiness and aimlessness of his life. He looked handsomer than ever; he looked stately and formal and impressive; but he looked old--though he was only forty-five--he looked old and ineffectual and acquiescent. The fighting strength, such as it was, had gone out of him, and the stamp of failure was on him, from his high, pale, intellectual forehead, where the fine brown hair had retreated to the crown of his head, to his narrow features, and his relaxed slender limbs, with their slow and indolent movements. He was one of those, she felt intuitively, who had stood aloof from the rewards as well as from the strains of the struggle, who had withered to the core, not from age, but from an inherent distrust of all effort, of all endeavour. For his immobility went deeper than any physical habit: it attacked, like an incurable malady, the very fibre and substance of his nature. With his intellect, his training, his traditions, she discerned, with a flash of insight, that he had failed because he lacked the essential faith in the future. He had lost, not because he had risked, but because he had hesitated, not because he had loved ease, but because he had feared effort. For fear of a misstep, he had not dared to go forward; from dread of pain, he had refused the opportunity of happiness. She knew now why he had never come to her, why he had let her slip from his grasp. All that was a part of his failure, of his distrust of life, of his profound negation of spirit.

"Yes, it is hard," she assented; and there came over her like a sudden sense of discomfort, of physical hardship, the knowledge that, in the very beginning, she was trying to make conversation. Meeting his sympathetic smile--the smile that still delighted the impressionable hearts of old ladies--she told herself obstinately, with desperate determination, that she was not disappointed, that he was just as she had remembered him, dear and lovable and kind and conventional. When she recalled what he had been at twenty-seven, it appeared inevitable to her that at forty-five he should have settled a little more firmly into the mould of the past, that his opinions should have crystallized and imprisoned his mind immovably in the centre of them.

She told him what she could about Archibald and Fanny--about her choice of schools, her maternal pride in Archibald's intellect and Fanny's appearance, her hopeful plans for the future--and he listened attentively, with his manner of slightly pompous consideration, while he passed one of his long narrow hands over his forehead. When she had finished her vivacious recital, he began to talk slowly and gravely about himself, with the tolerant and impersonal detachment of one who has reduced life to a gesture, a manner. "I wonder if he has ever really cared about anything--even about me?" she questioned, after a minute; but while the thought was still in her mind, he mentioned his mother's name, and it was impossible to doubt the sincerity of his sorrow and his tenderness. "I have seemed only half alive since I lost her," he said; and the words were like a searchlight which flashed over his character and illumined its obscurities. Did his whole attitude of immobility and negation result from the depth and the intensity of his feeling, from the exquisite reticence and sensitiveness of his soul?

"I know, I know," she murmured in a voice of sympathy. After all, she was not disappointed in him. He was as tender, as chivalrous, as noble as she had believed him to be. The Dream was true; and yet in spite of its truthfulness, it seemed to evaporate slowly while she sat there in Jane's pink satin chair and looked out at the sunlight. Only the restlessness, the inappeasable longing in her heart had not changed. Looking across the hall into the library she could see the old French mirror reflecting the bronze candelabra, with crystal pendants, and the thought flitted into her brain: "It is all real. I am here, talking to Arthur. It is every bit true." But her words failed to convince her, and she had a curious sensation of vagueness and thinness, as if their low, gentle voices were issuing from shadows.

"I should like to show you some of our improvements," he said presently, with a faintly perceptible ripple of animation. "I wonder if you would care to come out in my car? We might go up Monument Avenue into the country."

The idea was delightful, she told him with convincing enthusiasm; and while she ran upstairs to put on her hat, he went out to the car, which was standing in front of the house. So preoccupied was he with his reflections, that when Gabriella appeared, he started almost as if he had forgotten that he was waiting for her.

The air was as soft and fragrant as summer; the grassy strip under the young maples was diapered with sunlight, and an edge of rosy gold was tinting the far horizon. As they sped up the avenue Arthur pointed out the houses to her as possessively as Charley had done the afternoon before, and in the pride with which he told her the cost of them she recognized an admirable freedom from envy or bitterness. If, he had not achieved things, his attitude seemed to say, it was because he had never been in the race, because he had preferred to stand aside and enjoy the reposeful entertainment of the spectator.

The avenue, which swept on indefinitely after the houses had stopped, dwindled at last to two straight and narrow walks binding the town to the country with bands of concrete. The pines had fallen in blackened ruins, and where Gabriella remembered thickets of wildflowers there were masses of red clay furrowed by cart wheels.

"You see, we're developing all this property now," observed Arthur, in a gratified tone as they whirled past an old field intersected by a concrete walk which informed the curious that it was "Arlington Avenue." "Honeysuckle Lane has gone, too, and we're grading a street there now in front of the old Berkeley place."

"The growth has been wonderful," said Gabriella, a little pensively; "but do you remember how lovely Honeysuckle Lane used to be? That's where we went for wild honeysuckle in the spring."

"Oh, we'll find plenty of honeysuckle farther out. I gathered a big bunch of it for Cousin Nelly yesterday."

For a while they sped on in silence. Arthur was intent on the wheel, and Gabriella could think of nothing to say to him that she had not said in Jane's drawing-room. When at last they left the desolation of improvement, and came out into the natural country, the sun was already low, and the forest of pines along the glowing, horizon was like an impending storm. Once Arthur stopped, and they got out to gather wild honeysuckle by the roadside; then with the sticky, heavily scented blossoms in her lap, they went on again toward the sunset, still silent, still separated by an impalpable barrier. "He is just what I thought he would be," she thought sadly. "He is just where I left him eighteen years ago, and yet it is different. In some inexplicable way it is different from what I expected." And she told herself that the fault was her own--that she had changed, hardened, and become hopelessly matter-of-fact--that she had lost her youth and her sentiment.

Suddenly, as if the action had been forced upon him by the steady pressure of some deep conviction, some inner necessity, Arthur turned his face toward her, and asked gently: "Gabriella, do you ever think of the past?"

Facing the rosy sunset, his features looked wan and colourless, and she noticed again that he seemed to have dried through and through, like some rare fruit that has lain wrapped in tissue paper too long.

She looked at him with wistful and sombre eyes. Now that the desired moment had come, she felt only that she would have given her whole future to escape before it overtook her, to avoid the inevitable, crowning hour of her destiny.

"I think of it very often," she answered truthfully, while she buried her face in the intoxicating bloom of the honeysuckle.

"Do you remember my telling you once that I'd never give you up--that I'd never stop caring?"

"Yes, I remember--but, oh, Arthur, you mustn't--" She sat up with a start, gazing straight ahead into the rose and gold of the afterglow. From the deserted road, winding flat and dun-coloured in the soft light, she heard another voice--the strong and buoyant voice of O'Hara--saying: "I'm not the sort to change--" and then over again, "I'm not the sort to change--"

"I suppose it's too late," Arthur went on, with his patient tenderness. "Things usually come too late for me or else I miss them altogether. That's been the way always--and now--" With his left hand he made a large, slow, commemorative gesture.

"You're the best--the kindest--" An urgent desire moved her to stop him before he put into words the feeling she could see in his face. Though she knew that it was but the ghost of a feeling, the habit of a desire, which had become interwoven with his orderly and unchangeable custom of life, she realized nevertheless that its imaginary vividness might cause him great suffering. A vision of what might have been eighteen years ago--of their possible marriage--rose before her while she struggled for words. How could her energetic nature have borne with his philosophy of hesitation, her imperative affirmation of life with his denial of effort, her unconquered optimism with his deeply rooted mistrust of happiness?

There was beauty in his face, in his ascetic and over-refined features, in his sympathetic smile and his cultured voice; but it was the beauty of resignation, of defeat nobly borne, of a spirit confirmed in the bitter sweetness of renouncement. "It would make an old woman of me to marry him," she thought, "an old, patient, resigned woman."

"Most things have slipped by me," he resumed presently, while they raced down a long hill toward the black pines and the fading red of the afterglow. In a marshy pond near the roadside frogs were croaking, while from the darkening fields, encircled with webs of mist, there floated the mingled scents of freshly mown grass, of dewy flowers, of trodden weeds, of ploughed earth, of ancient mould--all the fugitive and immemorially suggestive odours of the country at twilight. And at the touch of these scents, some unforgotten longing seemed to stir in her brain as if it had slept there, covered by clustering memories, from another lifetime. She wanted something with an unbearable intensity; the vague and elusive yearning for happiness had become suddenly poignant and definite. In that instant she knew unerringly that she was in love not with a dream, but with a fact, that she was in love not with Arthur, but with O'Hara. For days, weeks, months, she had been blindly groping toward the knowledge; and now, in a flash of intuition, it had come to her like one of those discoveries of science, which baffle investigators for years, and then miraculously reveal themselves in a moment of insight. Her first antagonism, her injustice, her unreasonable resentments and suspicions, she recognized now, in the piercing light of this discovery, as the inexplicable disguises of love. And she was not old--she was not even middle-aged--she was as young as Fanny, as young as the eternal, ageless spirit of romance, of adventure. This was life in her pulses, in her brain, in her heart--life, not pale, not bitter sweet, but sparkling, glowing, bubbling like wine.

At the foot of the long hill Arthur turned the car, and they flew back between the dim fields where the croaking of frogs sounded louder in the darkness. Ahead of them the lights of the car flitted like golden moths over the dust of the road, and in the sky, beyond the thin veil of mist, the stars were shining over the city. Spring, which possessed the earth, bloomed in Gabriella's heart with a wonderful colour, a wonderful fragrance. She was young again with the imperishable youth of magic, of enchantment. To love, to hope, to strive, this was both romance and adventure.

"Is it too late, then, Gabriella?" asked Arthur, after a long silence, and in his voice there was the sound of suffering acquiescence.

"I'm afraid it is, dear Arthur," she answered softly, and they did not speak again until the lights blazed over them, and they ran into Monument Avenue. After all, it was too late. What could she have added to the answer she had given him?

When they reached the house, he did not come in with her, and tears stained her face while she went slowly up the steps, and stood beside Jane's hydrangeas with her hand on the bell. Then, as the door opened quickly, she saw her mother waiting, with an eager, expectant look, at the door of the library, and heard her excited voice murmur: "Well, dear?"

"We had a lovely drive, mother. Arthur is just as I remembered him, except that he has grown so much older."

A disappointed expression crossed Mrs. Carr's face. "Is that all?" she asked regretfully.

Gabriella laughed happily. "That is all--only I found out exactly what I wanted to know."

For the rest of the week she devoted herself to her mother with a solicitude which aroused in the brain of that melancholy lady serious apprehensions of a hastening decline; and when her visit was over, she packed her trunks, with girlish, delicious thrills of happiness, and started back to New York.

"Do you really think I am failing so rapidly, Gabriella?" Mrs. Carr inquired anxiously while they waited for the train on the platform of the upper station.

"Failing? Why, no, mother. You look splendidly," Gabriella assured her, a little surprised, a little startled. "Why should you ask me such a thing?"

"Oh, nothing, dear. I had a fancy," murmured Mrs. Carr meekly; and then as the train rushed into view, she kissed her daughter reproachfully, and stood gazing after her until the last coach and the last white jacket of the dining-car attendants vanished in the smoky sunshine of the distance.

Through the long day, lying back in her chair, with her eyes on the flying green landscape, Gabriella thought of the discovery she had made while she was driving with Arthur. The restlessness, the uncertainty, the vague yet poignant longing for an indefinite good, had passed out of her happy and exultant heart. In obedience to the law of her nature, which decreed that she should move swiftly and directly toward the end of her destiny, she was returning to O'Hara as resolutely, as unswervingly, as she had fled from him.

"It's strange how little I've ever understood, how little I've ever known myself," she thought, staring vacantly at a severe spinster, with crimped hair and a soured expression, who sat before the opposite window. "I've gone on in the dark, making mistakes and discoveries from the very beginning, undoing and doing over again, creating illusions and then destroying them--always moving, always changing, always growing in new directions. A year ago I'd have laughed at the idea that I could love any man but Arthur--that of all men I could love Ben O'Hara; and to-day I know that he is the future for me--that he is the beginning again of my youth. A year ago I thought only how I might change him, how I might make him over, and now I realize that I shall never change him, that I shall never make him over, and that it doesn't really matter. It isn't the vital thing. The vital thing is character, and I wouldn't change that if I could. For the rest, I shall probably always wish him different in some ways, just as I wish myself different. I'd like to have him more like Arthur on the surface, just as I'd like to have myself more like Fanny. I'd like to give him Arthur's manner just as I'd like to give myself Fanny's complexion. But it isn't possible. He will always be what he is now, and, after all, it is what he is--it is not something else that I want--"

With a glimmer of the clairvoyant insight which had come to her on the country road, she understood that O'Hara was for her an embodied symbol of life--that she must either take him or leave him completely and without reserve or evasion. He was not an ideal. In the love she felt for him there was none of the sentimental glamour of her passion for George. She saw his imperfections, but she saw that the man was bigger than any attributes, that his faults were as nothing compared to the abundance of his virtues, and that, perfect or imperfect, the tremendous fact remained that she loved him.

In the opposite chair, the severe spinster had taken a strip of knitted silk out of her bag, and was working industriously on a man's necktie of blue and gray. From her intent and preoccupied look, from the nervous twitching of her thin lips, the close peering of her near-sighted eyes, through rimless glasses which she wore attached by a gold chain to her hair, she might have found in the act of knitting a supreme consolation for the inexorable denials of destiny. "I wonder if it satisfies her, just knitting?" thought Gabriella. "Has she submitted like Arthur to chance, to the way things happen when one no longer resists? Is she really contented merely to knit, or is she knitting as a condemned prisoner might knit while he is waiting for the scaffold?" And while she watched the patient fingers, she added: "One must either conquer or be conquered, and I will never be conquered."

It was eight o'clock when she reached New York, and as she drove the short distance to West Twenty-third Street she began to wonder when she should see O'Hara, and what she should say to him. In the end she decided that she would wait for a chance meeting, that she would let it happen when it would without moving a step or lifting a hand. Before many days they would be obliged to meet in the yard or the hall, and some obscure, consecrated tradition of sex, some secret strain of her mother's ineradicable feminine instinct, opposed the direct and sensible way. "As soon as I meet him--and in the end I shall surely meet him--everything will be right," she thought, with her eyes on the streets where the spring multitude of children were swarming. And from this multitude of children, of young, ardent, and adventurous life, there seemed to emanate a colossal and irresistible will--the will to be, to live, to love, to create, and to conquer.

The taxicab turned swiftly into Twenty-third Street, and while it stopped beside the pavement, she saw that Mrs. Squires was standing, with her arms on the gate, staring into the street. As Gabriella alighted, the woman came forward and said, with suppressed emotion, while she wiped her eyes on the back of her hand: "You came just a minute too late to say good-bye to Mr. O'Hara."

"Good-bye? But where has he gone?"

"He has gone to Washington to-night. To-morrow he is starting to the West."

"When is he coming back? Did he tell you?"

At this Mrs. Squires broke down. "He ain't ever coming back, that's what I'm crying for. He's given up his rooms, and his furniture all went to the auction yesterday. He says he's going to live out in Colorado or Wyoming for the rest of his life, and he didn't even tell me where I could write to him. It's a great loss to me, Mrs. Carr. I'd got used to him and his ways, and when you've once got used to a man, it ain't easy to give him up."

She sobbed audibly as she finished; and it seemed to Gabriella that a lifetime of experience passed in the instant while she stood there, with her pulses drumming in her ears, her throat contracting until she struggled for breath, and the lights of the city swimming in a nebulous blur before her eyes. Yet in that instant, as in every crisis of her life, she turned instinctively to action, to movement, to exertion, however futile. While she walked across the pavement to the waiting cab, for the crowning and ultimate choice of her life, she abandoned forever the authority and guide of tradition. Tradition, she knew, bade her sit and wait on destiny until she withered, like Arthur, to the vital core of her nature; but something mightier than tradition, something which she shared with the swarming multitude of children in the streets--the will to live, to strive, and to conquer--this had risen superior to the empty rules of the past. With her hand on the door of the taxicab, she spoke rapidly to the driver: "Drive back to the station as fast as you can, there is not a minute to lose."

When the cab started, she leaned forward, with her hands clasped on her knees, and her eyes on the street, where the children were playing. Because of the children, they drove very slowly, and once, when the traffic held them up for a few minutes, she felt an impulse to scream. Suppose she missed him, after all! Suppose she lost him in the station! Suppose she never saw him again! And beside this possibly it seemed to her that all the other suffering of her life--George's desertion, her humiliation, her struggle to make a living for her children, the loneliness of the long summers, her poverty and hunger and self-denial--that all these things were merely superficial annoyances. "If we don't go on, I shall die," she said aloud suddenly; "if we don't go on, I shall die," and when at last the cab started again, she heard the words like an undercurrent beneath the innumerable noises of the street, "If we don't go on, I shall die."

The taxicab stopped; a porter ran forward to take her bag, and while she thrust the money into the driver's hand, she heard her voice coolly and calmly giving directions.

"I must catch the next train to Washington."

"Have you got your ticket, Miss?"

She stared back at him blankly. Though she saw his lips moving, it was impossible for her to distinguish the words because she was still hearing in a muffled undercurrent the roar of the streets.

"Have you got your ticket?" They were passing through the station now, and he explained hurriedly: "You can't go through the gate without a ticket."

She drew out her purse, and panic seized her afresh while she waited before the window behind a bald-headed man who counted his change twice before he would move aside, and let her step into his place. Then, when the ticket was given to her, she turned and ran after the porter through the gate and down the steps to the platform. As she ran, her eyes wavered to the long platform, and the little groups gathered beside the waiting train, which seemed to shake like a moving black and white picture.

"Suppose I miss him, after all! Suppose I never see him again!" she thought, and all that was young in her, all that was vital and alive, strained forward as her feet touched the platform. Except for several coloured porters and a woman holding a child by the hand, the place was deserted. Then a man stepped quickly out of one of the last coaches, and by his bigness and the red of his hair, she knew that it was O'Hara. At the first sight of him the panic died suddenly in her heart, and the old peace, the old sense of security and protection swept over her. Her face, which had been lowered, was lifted like a flower that revives, and her feet, which had stumbled, became the swift, flying feet of a girl. It was as if both her spirit and her body sprang toward him.

At the sound of his name, he turned and stood motionless, as if hardly believing his vision.

"I came back because I couldn't help it," she said.

But he was always hard to convince, and he waited now, still transfixed, still incredulous.

"I came back because I wanted you more than anything else," she added.

"You came back to me?" he asked, slowly, as if doubting her.

"I came back to you. I wanted you," she repeated, and her voice did not quaver, her eyes did not drop from his questioning gaze. It was all so simple at last; it was all as natural as the joyous beating of her heart.

"And you'll marry me now--to-night?"

It was the ultimate test, she knew, the test not only of her love for O'Hara, but of her strength, her firmness, her courage, and of her belief in life. The choice was hers that comes to all men and women sooner or later--the choice between action and inaction, between endeavour and relinquishment, between affirmation and denial, between adventure and deliberation, between youth and age. One thought only made her hesitate, and she almost whispered the words:

"But the children?"

He laughed softly. "Oh, the children are always there. We're not quitters," and in a graver tone, he asked for the second time: "Will you come with me now--to-night, Gabriella?"

At the repeated question she stretched out her hands, while she watched the light break on his face.

"I'll come with you now--anywhere--toward the future," she answered.


(THE END)
Ellen Glasgow's Novel: Life and Gabriella: The Story of a Woman's Courage

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