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Chapter 31

XXXI.

The next night Lemuel went to see Statira, without promising himself what he should say or do, but if he were to tell her everything, he felt that she would forgive him more easily than 'Manda Grier. He was aware that 'Manda always lay in wait for him, to pierce him at every undefended hint of conscience. Since the first break with her, there had never been peace between them, and perhaps not kindness for long before that. Whether or not she felt responsible for having promoted Statira's affair with him, and therefore bound to guard her to the utmost from suffering by it, she seemed always to be on the alert to seize any advantage against him. Sometimes Statira accused her of trying to act so hatefully to him that he would never come any more; she wildly blamed her; but the faithful creature was none the less constant and vigilant on that account. She took patiently the unjust reproaches which Statira heaped upon her like a wayward child, and remitted nothing of her suspicion or enmity towards Lemuel. Once, when she had been very bitter with him, so bitter that it had ended in an open quarrel between them, Statira sided with him against her, and when 'Manda Grier flounced out of the room she offered him, if he wished, to break with her, and never to speak to her again, or have anything more to do with such a person. But at this his anger somehow fell; and he said no, she must not think of such a thing; that 'Manda Grier had been her friend long before he was, and that, whatever she said to him, she was always good and true to her. Then Statira fell upon his neck and cried, and praised him, and said he was a million times more to her than 'Manda Grier, but she would do whatever he said; and he went away sick at heart.

When he came now, with his thoughts clinging to Jessie, 'Manda Grier hardly gave him time for the decencies of greeting. She was in a high nervous exaltation, and Statira looked as if she had been crying.

"What's become o' them art-students you used to have 't the St. Albans?" she began, her whopper-jaw twitching with excitement, and her eyes glaring vindictively upon Lemuel.

He had sat down near Statira on the lounge, but she drew a little away from him in a provisional fashion, as if she would first see what came of 'Manda Grier's inquisition.

"Art-students?" he repeated aimlessly while he felt his colour go.

"Yes!" she snapped. "Them girls 't used to be 't the St. Albans, 't you thought so wonderful!"

"I didn't know I thought they were very wonderful!"

"Can't you answer a civil question?" she demanded, raising her voice.

"I haven't heard any," said Lemuel, with sullen scorn.

"Oh! Well!" she sneered. "I forgot that you've b'en used to goin' with such fine folks that you can't bear to be spoken to in plain English."

"'Manda!" began Statira, with an incipient whimper.

"You be still, S'tira Dudley! Mr. Barker," said the poor foolish thing in the mincing falsetto which she thought so cutting, "have you any idea what's become of your young lady artist friends,—them that took your portrait as a Roman youth, you know?"

Lemuel made no answer whatever for a time. Then, whether he judged it best to do so, or was goaded to the defiance by 'Manda Grier's manner, he replied, "Miss Swan and Miss Carver? Miss Swan is married, and lives in Wyoming Territory now." Before he had reached the close of the sentence he had controlled himself sufficiently to be speaking quite calmly.

"Oh indeed, Mr. Barker! And may I ask where Miss Carver is? She merried and living in Wyoming Territory too?"

"No," said Lemuel quietly. "She's not married. She's in Boston."

"Indeed! Then it was her I see in the Garden to-day, S'tira!
She b'en back long, Mr. Barker?"

"About a month, I think," said Lemuel.

"Quite a spell! You seen her, Mr. Barker?"

"Yes, quite often."

"I want to know! She still paintin' Roman boys, Mr. Barker? Didn't seem to make any great out at it last winter! But practice makes perfect, they say. I s'pose you seen her in the Garden, too?"

"I usually see her at home," said Lemuel. "You probably receive your friends on the benches in the Garden, but young ladies prefer to have them call at their residences." He astonished himself by this brutality, he who was all gentleness with Miss Carver.

"Very well, Mr. Barker! That's all right. That's all I wanted to know. Never mind about where I meet my friends. Wherever it is, they're gentlemen; and they ain't generally goin' with three or four girls 't the same time."

"No, one like you would be enough," retorted Lemuel.

Statira sat cowering away from the quarrel, and making little ineffectual starts as if to stay it. Heretofore their enmity had been covert, if not tacit, in her presence.

Lemuel saw her wavering, and the wish to show 'Manda his superior power triumphed over every other interest and impulse in him. He got upon his feet. "There is no use in this sort of thing going on any longer. I came here because I thought I was wanted. If it's a mistake, it's easy enough to mend it, and it's easy not to make it again. I wish you good evening."

Statira sprang from the lounge, and flung her arms around his neck. "No, no! You sha'n't go! You mustn't go, Lem! I know your all right, and I won't have you talked to so! I ain't a bit jealous, Lem; indeed I ain't. I know you wouldn't fool with me, any more than I would with you; and that's what I tell 'Manda Grier, I'll leave it to her if I don't. I don't care who you go with, and I hain't, never since that first time. I know you ain't goin' to do anything underhanded. Don't go, Lem; oh, don't go!"

He was pulling towards the door; her trust, her fond generosity drove him more than 'Manda Grier's cutting tongue: that hurt his pride, his vanity, but this pierced his soul; he had only a blind, stupid will to escape from it.

Statira was crying; she began to cough; she released his neck from her clasp, and reeled backward to the lounge, where she would have fallen, if 'Manda Grier had not caught her. The paroxysm grew more violent; a bright stream of blood sprang from her lips.

"Run! Run for the doctor! Quick, Lemuel! Oh, quick!" implored 'Manda
Grier, forgetting all enmity in her terror.

Statira's arms wavered towards him, as if to keep him, but he turned and ran from the house, cowed and conscience-stricken by the sight of that blood, as if he had shed it.

He did not expect to see Statira alive when he came back with the doctor whom he found at the next apothecary's. She was lying on the lounge, white as death, but breathing quietly, and her eyes sought him with an eagerness that turned to a look of tender gratitude at the look they found in his.

The doctor bent over her for her pulse and her respiration; then when he turned to examine the crimson handkerchief which 'Manda Grier showed him, Lemuel dropped on his knees beside her and put his face down to hers.

With her lips against his cheek she made, "Don't go!"

And he whispered, "No, I'll not leave you now!"

The doctor looked round with the handkerchief still in his hand, as if doubting whether to order him away from her. Then he mutely questioned 'Manda Grier with a glance which her glance answered. He shrugged his shoulders, with a puzzled sigh. An expression of pity crossed his face which he hardened into one of purely professional interest, and he went on questioning 'Manda Grier in a low tone.

Statira had slipped her hand into Lemuel's, and she held it fast, as if in that clasp she were holding on to her chance of life.

William Dean Howells