Editor’s Note.—According to Adam Smith, the essence of what we are pleased to call our common-sense marriages of to-day positively forbids that a person marry beneath him in social position, and advises that mutual esteem be founded on a substantial bank account. Those who believe in “fore-ordained mates,” in noble and steadfast womanhood, will appreciate the author’s diversion from the popular ideal.
AS Mortimer came up. from the links to the porch of the country club, he was conscious of the constrained attitude of the men who greeted him. The fight was on, and, with his jaw set, he dropped into a chair, determined to win out.
Then arrived Dicky Dolliver: “Say, all of you, Maude and I want you at Granite Cliff for the weekend.”
There was a murmur of delighted acceptance.
“It will be a sort of house-warming for you and Janet,” Dicky assured Mortimer. And silence fell on the group.
From a wicker chair in the west corner came the first negative.
“By Jove, Dicky, I forgot! We’ve a dinner on.”
The others found equally plausible excuses.
Dicky stared at them blankly. “'Oh, I say, look here, you can’t all be tied up, not this time of year.”
They were, they persisted, and—it would be impossible.
Mortimer’s keen eyes accused them. “Not one of you has an engagement you can’t break.” He turned to Dicky. “The trouble,” he said, “is Janet.”
In the stiff silence which followed he seemed to gather himself together.
“We might as well have it out,” he said at last. “You fellows don’t like mv marriage, and you want me to take my punishment. Dicky’s been away for a year, or perhaps he wouldn’t be so rash-”
The boy flared at that. “I’m not a
cad, and—and I’ve seen your wife, Justin.”
Mortimer’s glance flashed upon him radiantly. Then to the frigid group: “Perhaps if you knew the whole story
—-• You must do me the justice to
listen while I tell it. After that, if you want to make miserable the woman who saved me from death—from worse than death-.”
He had their interest now. Even Herrick, the arbiter of social destines, bent attentive eyes upon him.
“Not that your scorn could touch lier,” Mortimer flamed. “You can’t hurt her. But she would grieve if she knew that my marriage to her had cut me out of your friendship. I want to save her that. Otherwise, she needs nothing that you can give her.”
“That’s right,” was Dicky’s confirmation. “If you fellows haven’t seen her, you’ve got something coming to you.”
“Go ahead, Justin,” said Herrick, and motioned to a hovering waiter.
Mortimer sat on the porch rail and looked out into the purple October twilight and talked to them. They could see only tthe vague outline of his big figure, his long, lazy equipment of beauty and strength.
“You know my boyhood,” he began, “and most of you knew my father. A great man, with one great fault. And you know, too, that I inherited that fault. You remember my mother, and how little she was able to understand either of us. She had the ideals of the women of her upbringing; she was a
sweet saint, ready for Paradise, but with no knowledge of the fight of the two natures which are within men.
“I was twenty-one before I knew that I was controlled by a master stronger than myself. I didn’t admit it even then, but there were times when all my strength of will could not hold me steady.
“I think most of the men of my set understood where I was drifting. Dicky here”—his hand went out affectionately towards the boy—“used to urge me to go away—anywhere. Once he begged me to marry, but I don’t think he dared suggest it a second time. I wasn’t going to let any girl that I knew undertake the discouraging task of reform. Yet I liked the companionship of women, and they danced with me, flirted with me; but not one of them held out a helping hand.”
He drew a long breath. “That is why Janet means so much to me. I wish I could make you see her as she looked that first day. I had left a city full of slim-hipped, hobble-skirted rouged and powdered, with pearls in their ears, and with chains swinging to their knees, a race of civilized barbarians, to whom religion meant little, to whom money and social position meant everything, to whom motherhood was only a name, and wifehood a temporary state.
“And upon the shores of a sapphire lake I came upon a girl, wide-bosomed, deep-eyed, hanging clothes on a line in a May day wind, which blew a drift of apple-blossoms over her from the trees beyond. She had on an old green gingham gown, with the sleeves turned up, and the collar turned in to show her white neck.
“My quest for accommodations had taken me through the country. My doctor had sent me away from the city —away from my temptation. But not until I came upon the girl in the apple orchard had I cared to stop.
“I asked if they had rooms, and was told competently that they had. We went upstairs to look at them. There was a rag-carpet, woven blue and white: the bed was an old four-posted cherry
one, with knitted trimming on the counterpane. Between the snowy muslin curtains was a glimpse of the blossoming world below.
“The girl who showed me the room, the girl who had hung the clothes on the line, the girl, who made terms with dignity and with perfect unconsciousness, was—Janet.
“Her mother was out, and my request for lunch was met somewhat seriously. Could I eat on the kitchen table? I could, and I had strawberries and cream, raisin cake, a ball of white Dutch cheese, and a little jar of currants put up in honey.
“Janet left me to eat alone, and went on with her washing. I could see her with her elbows deep in the suds, the apple-blossoms drifting over her—a shower of fragrant snow.
“In the mid-afternoon, three children came home from school, and at night the mother. She was a second edition of Janet. Age had not touched her, except to give her a deeper bloom and perhaps a heavier step. Scotswomen, both of them, they asked grace before meat, and counted only those things worth while which made life better and worthier.
“I settled down there to read and grow stronger.
“But I found things to do. On Tuesday Janet ironed, and brought her board out under the trees. So I read to her, and found her possessed of a simple philosophy. On Wednesday she mended, and I placed her heaped-up basket beside my chair. We talked of many things, and I found her a thinker.
“On Thursday she baked, and I stoned raisins for her. On Friday she swept and cleaned, and I was turned out, and discovered that the time hung heavy on my hands. On Saturday the mother had a half-holiday ; so I insisted on a picnic, and took them all for a drive to the lake, and we had our supper there.
“It was in those days that my first feeling of reverence for woman was waked.
“The girls that I had met were a protected class, and we men had con-
spired to keep them so. I had taken my feeling for their undoubted innocence for reverence; but now I was to learn that I had always thought of them, subconsciously, as an inferior sex —the masculine in me had refused to make concessions to them.
“But here was a woman who ruled a little kingdom. For I soon found that Janet was queen of her small circle. Her mother was the widow of a Scotch clergyman. They had come to America in Janet’s childhood, and when the father died the two women set themselves to do what was at their hand. The girl might have taught in the district school, but there was more money in their primitive laundry work, and they had no pride greater that their pride of independence.
“A younger brother was working his way, with their help, through college. Janet told me of him, and showed me his picture.
“There are many temptations in town,” I warned her, but she shook her head.
“ Tie’s a strong laddie,’ she said.
“I learned thus indirectly to know her contempt for weakness. Can you imagine my humiliation, therefore, when, one night, she found me, very late, curled up under the old apple-tree, dazed and incoherent? I had gone to town that day, ostensibly on business, but secretly mad for that which had been withheld for weeks.
“She got me into the house quietly; and the next morning was mending day. I took my book to a far corner of the orchard—I was ashamed to claim her society after such a revelation ; but presently I saw her coming towards me, with her basket held high, swinging along with step as light as Diana’s under a hunting moon.
“She sat down beside me and talked first of her work; but she was very straightforward, and at last came to the subject that was in both of our minds.
“ ‘How did it happen?’ she asked.
“I had to tell her the truth. T went for it.’
“She laid down her work and looked at me. ‘It’s your master?’
“ ‘I’m afraid, yes.’
“I saw the color flame into her cheeks. It seemed to me that she trembled, but I was not sure, for she had herself steady.
“Then it is something to fight?’
“ ‘And you came up here to do it?’
“She seemed to stiffen suddenly; but when I looked into her eyes they were deep wells of tears. Yet her voice was unshaken and her hand was firm as she leaned forward and laid it on mine.
“ ‘You are not going to town again,’ she said, ‘for—let’s set the time—six months? Shall it be six months, Mr. Mortimer?’
“If she had said six years, I should have consented. It seemed to me that she radiated strength. I felt that my future was builded upon a rock.
“We said no more after that; but m the days that followed, I found that she drew me towards things which kept my hands and head busy. I helped her in a garden ; she had the children bring to me their lesson problems; she took long walks with me along the rough shore at the hotel, upon the cliffs.”
The stars were out now, and a little crescent moon. From a distant wing of the house came the tinkle of glass and the murmur of voices. Dinner was being served to belated golfers and to the first early evening arrivals.
“There was another thing,’ the quiet voice went on. ‘It’s not easy to tell; but I want you to know her. Whenever there was a quiet time of work, she brought a little worn book and had me read marked passages aloud—verses like this: ‘The rock of my strength and my refuge is in God,’ and, ‘Lead me to the rock which is higher than I.’
“I cannot say that she waked in me a conscious religious response, but she led me gradually toward an ideal. I began to see in her something that I had never before recognized in any woman. I had no thought of love. It was was until four months had passed that I knew what Janet meant to me.
“In these months^ there had been contests of will, when I had set my face steadily towards town, and she, as steadily, had set hers against it. And
every time she won. I think it wore on her a little, for the color went out of her cheeks, and there were shadows under her eyes. Her mother insisted that she must have rest—a trip to an aunt’s in a nearby town. But Janet would not go, and I knew why she would not.
“Are you waiting for six months to pass before you will leave?’ I asked her one morning, as I followed her into the orchard. There were applies on the trees.
“ ‘Oh, no,’ was her guarded reply. Then, because she could not lie, she stopped and looked at me, and said quickly, ‘Do you think it would be safe?’
“ ‘Of course/ I bragged. ‘It has been four months—and I could stay here. Anyhow, it will he a test. Let’s try it.’
“ ‘But if things should go wrong/ she cried, T think I should know it— I believe I should know-’
“She packed her little trunk after that', and I took her to the station. ‘Dear Janet/ I told her, at the last, ‘you have been a tower of strength to me.’
“As I drove home in the early twilight, the spirit of sweetness and steadfastness was upon me, and it lasted a week. Then came a season of rains. The orchard was a sodden swamp. The wind howled in the caves and made my room a haunted corner. There was no haven hut the kitchen, and even that place of cheer failed for comforting: for it was there that I most missed Janet.
“And then the whisper of evil came to me. A devil stood all day at my elbow and urged, “Go to town—it’s there.’
“I tried to fortify myself with her weapons—the little worn testament, hard work, exercise—hut all had lost their power.
“Once I thought I would go to her, hut something held me back. ‘Surely, you are not a weakling/ whispered my tormentor, ‘that you should put your burdens on a woman’s shoulders!’
“It was on a rainy Monday afternoon that I went to town. I stayed four days, and was then drawn irresistibly back. I knew I was not worthy to stand upon the threshold of that homely cottage,
hut through the blur of my consciousness was the thought of the One Woman. I must get to her or die. *
“Yet it was not physical death that I feared, but the death of that which she had waked in me. I did not want to go back to the sordidness of my old life. It was as if I had had a glimpse of heaven when I had known—hell.”
There was a long pause before he went on. The shrilling of insects seemed to emphasize the stillness. Lights twinkled along the line of the curving roadway. Now and then an automobile swerved up to the steps, discharged its laughing load, and went on. Women in light gowns, men in evening clothes, were illumined for a moment by the swinging lantern above the entrance, and then disappeared in the shadows.
“It was dark and stormy when I arrived at the station. I plodded heavily along the muddy road, my steps uncertain, my head bursting. The wind beat upon me, and the rain soaked me, but I did not care. I began to sing loudly, and, singing, staggering, must have followed the wrong road, for I found myself presently on the shore of the lake. It was a rocky shore, and I had come out on the edge of a cliff—not a high one, but with a steep descent that made my position, in my unsteady state, a dangerous one.
“God knows what thoughts go through a man’s brain at such a time, but suddenly I was consumed by a desire to quench the burning fire of my torment in the cool waters of the lake. I exulted in the thought of purification. I should come out fit to meet Janet!
“The surf was boiling beneat me, and the needle-points of the rocks showed above it. But my recklessness took no heed of danger. I sang wild snatches of a song—it was a silly thing—a remnant from some music hall—sung the night before by a line of show girls.
“I had stripped off my coat, and was untying my shoes when, suddenly borne on the wings of the wind, I heard an answering note.
“As I stood spellbound, I saw, far in the distance, a swaying light following the irregular line of the ciiíf. I called, and the answer rang out: ‘I’m coming!’
I plunged forward and fell at her feet.
“When I opened my eyes she bent above me. She wore her old gingham gown, and it was drenched and torn. Her hair was wind-blown. But her eyes —and the light in her hands—I can’t think about it—I can’t' tell it. But I knew then what she meant to me—what she will always mean to me.
“It has been a year since then. What I am, I am by the grace of God, working through a wise and steadfast woman.
“There are people who will say that she married me for my money. But she knows and I know that we are foreordained mates. My need of her strength, and her need of my love— these are our reasons.’
He stood up as he finished.
“My world, if I must lose it, will be well lost for her. It is for you to say
Before they could answer, there came the purr of an electric motor, and a big car loomed through the shadows. A
footman jumped down and opened the door.
A woman ascended the steps, and stood for a moment under the lamp, a gracious figure in shining white, her dark hair banded with silver, a rose-red cloak half slipping from her shoulders.
As Mortimer stepped down to meet her, her hand went out to him. “Justin,” she said, “am I very late for dinner, dear?”
They were on their feet in a moment, the men who had judged her, hats off, heels clicking, and as she smiled at them, with parted lips, they had a vision of her as her husband had seen her on that night of the storm—in her wet green gingham, with her light held high.
And it was Herrick, arbiter of social destinies, who was the first to speak.
“Wake up, old man,” he said to Mortimer, who stood proud but uncertain beside her—“wake up and present us. We want'to meet—your wife!”