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Chapter 12

XII.

This last drop of the local meanness filled Bartley's bitter cup. As he passed the house at the end of the street he seemed to drain it all. He knew that the old lawyer was there sitting by the office stove, drawing his hand across his chin, and Bartley hoped that he was still as miserable as he had looked when he last saw him; but he did not know that by the window in the house, which he would not even look at, Marcia sat self-prisoned in her room, with her eyes upon the road, famishing for the thousandth part of a chance to see him pass. She saw him now for the instant of his coming and going. With eyes trained to take in every point, she saw the preparation which seemed like final departure, and with a gasp of "Bartley!" as if she were trying to call after him, she sank back into her chair and shut her eyes.

He drove on, plunging into the deep hollow beyond the house, and keeping for several miles the road they had taken on that Sunday together; but he did not make the turn that brought them back to the village again. The pale sunset was slanting over the snow when he reached the Junction, for he had slackened his colt's pace after he had put ten miles behind him, not choosing to reach a prospective purchaser with his horse all blown and bathed with sweat. He wished to be able to say, "Look at him! He's come fifteen miles since three o'clock, and he's as keen as when he started."

This was true, when, having left his baggage at the Junction, he drove another mile into the country to see the farmer of the gentleman who had his summer-house here, and who had once bantered Bartley to sell him his colt. The farmer was away, and would not be at home till the up-train from Boston was in. Bartley looked at his watch, and saw that to wait would lose him the six o'clock down-train. There would be no other till eleven o'clock. But it was worth while: the gentleman had said, "When you want the money for that colt, bring him over any time; my farmer will have it ready for you." He waited for the up-train; but when the farmer arrived, he was full of all sorts of scruples and reluctances. He said he should not like to buy it till he had heard from Mr. Farnham; he ended by offering Bartley eighty dollars for the colt on his own account; he did not want the cutter.

"You write to Mr. Farnham," said Bartley, "that you tried that plan with me, and it wouldn't work, he's lost the colt."

He made this brave show of indifference, but he was disheartened, and, having carried the farmer home from the Junction for the convenience of talking over the trade with him, he drove back again through the early night-fall in sullen desperation.

The weather had softened and was threatening rain or snow; the dark was closing in spiritlessly; the colt, shortening from a trot into a short, springy jolt, dropped into a walk at last as if he were tired, and gave Bartley time enough on his way back to the Junction for reflection upon the disaster into which his life had fallen. These passages of utter despair are commoner to the young than they are to those whom years have experienced in the impermanence of any fate, good, bad, or indifferent, unless, perhaps, the last may seem rather constant. Taken in reference to all that had been ten days ago, the present ruin was incredible, and had nothing reasonable in proof of its existence. Then he was prosperously placed, and in the way to better himself indefinitely. Now, he was here in the dark, with fifteen dollars in his pocket, and an unsalable horse on his hands; outcast, deserted, homeless, hopeless: and by whose fault? He owned even then that he had committed some follies; but in his sense of Marcia's all-giving love he had risen for once in his life to a conception of self-devotion, and in taking herself from him as she did, she had taken from him the highest incentive he had ever known, and had checked him in his first feeble impulse to do and be all in all for another. It was she who had ruined him.

As he jumped out of the cutter at the Junction the station-master stopped with a cluster of party-colored signal-lanterns in his hand and cast their light over the sorrel.

"Nice colt you got there."

"Yes," said Bartley, blanketing the horse, "do you know anybody who wants to buy?"

"Whose is he?" asked the man.

"He's mine!" shouted Bartley. "Do you think I stole him?"

"I don't know where you got him," said the man, walking off, and making a soft play of red and green lights on the snow beyond the narrow platform.

Bartley went into the great ugly barn of a station, trembling, and sat down in one of the gouged and whittled arm-chairs near the stove. A pomp of timetables and luminous advertisements of Western railroads and their land-grants decorated the wooden walls of the gentlemen's waiting-room, which had been sanded to keep the gentlemen from writing and sketching upon them. This was the more judicious because the ladies' room, in the absence of tourist travel, was locked in winter, and they were obliged to share the gentlemen's. In summer, the Junction was a busy place, but after the snow fell, and until the snow thawed, it was a desolation relieved only by the arrival of the sparsely peopled through-trains from the north and east, and by such local travellers as wished to take trains not stopping at their own stations. These broke in upon the solitude of the joint station-master and baggage-man and switch-tender with just sufficient frequency to keep him in a state of uncharitable irritation and unrest. To-night Bartley was the sole intruder, and he sat by the stove wrapped in a cloud of rebellious memories, when one side of a colloquy without made itself heard.

"What?"

Some question was repeated.

"No; it went down half an hour ago."

An inaudible question followed.

"Next down-train at eleven."

There was now a faintly audible lament or appeal.

"Guess you'll have to come earlier next time. Most folks doos that wants to take it."

Bartley now heard the despairing moan of a woman: he had already divined the sex of the futile questioner whom the station-master was bullying; but he had divined it without compassion, and if he had not himself been a sufferer from the man's insolence he might even have felt a ferocious satisfaction in it. In a word, he was at his lowest and worst when the door opened and the woman came in, with a movement at once bewildered and daring, which gave him the impression of a despair as complete and final as his own. He doggedly kept his place; she did not seem to care for him, but in the uncertain light of the lamp above them she drew near the stove, and, putting one hand to her pocket as if to find her handkerchief, she flung aside her veil with her other, and showed her tear stained face.

He was on his feet somehow. "Marcia!"

"Oh! Bartley—"

He had seized her by the arm to make sure that she was there in verity of flesh and blood, and not by some trick of his own senses, as a cold chill running over him had made him afraid. At the touch their passion ignored all that they had made each other suffer; her head was on his breast, his embrace was round her; it was a moment of delirious bliss that intervened between the sorrows that had been and the reasons that must come.

"What—what are you doing here, Marcia?" he asked at last.

They sank on the benching that ran round the wall; he held her hands fast in one of his, and kept his other arm about her as they sat side by side.

"I don't know—I—" She seemed to rouse herself by an effort from her rapture. "I was going to see Nettie Spaulding. And I saw you driving past our house; and I thought you were coming here; and I couldn't bear—I couldn't bear to let you go away without telling you that I was wrong; and asking—asking you to forgive me. I thought you would do it,—I thought you would know that I had behaved that way because I—I—cared so much for you. I thought—I was afraid you had gone on the other train—" She trembled and sank back in his embrace, from which she had lifted herself a little.

"How did you get here?" asked Bartley, as if willing to give himself all the proofs he could of the every-day reality of her presence.

"Andy Morrison brought me. Father sent him from the hotel. I didn't care what you would say to me, I wanted to tell you that I was wrong, and not let you go away feeling that—that—you were all to blame. I thought when I had done that you might drive me away,—or laugh at me, or anything you pleased, if only you would let me take back—"

"Yes," he answered dreamily. All that wicked hardness was breaking up within him; he felt it melting drop by drop in his heart. This poor love-tossed soul, this frantic, unguided, reckless girl, was an angel of mercy to him, and in her folly and error a messenger of heavenly peace and hope. "I am a bad fellow, Marcia," he faltered. "You ought to know" that. You did right to give me up. I made love to Hannah Morrison; I never promised to marry her, but I made her think that I was fond of her."

"I don't care for that," replied the girl. "I told you when we were first engaged that I would never think of anything that had gone before that; and then when I would not listen to a word from you, that day, I broke my promise."

"When I struck Henry Bird because he was jealous of me, I was as guilty as if I had killed him."

"If you had killed him, I was bound to you by my word. Your striking him was part of the same thing,—part of what I had promised I never would care for." A gush of tears came into his eyes, and she saw them. "Oh, poor Bartley! Poor Bartley!"

She took his head between her hands and pressed it hard against her heart, and then wrapped her arms tight about him, and softly bemoaned him.

They drew a little apart when the man came in with his lantern, and set it down to mend the fire. But as a railroad employee he was far too familiar with the love that vaunts itself on all railroad trains to feel that he was an intruder. He scarcely looked at them, and went out when he had mended the fire, and left it purring.

"Where is Andy Morrison?" asked Bartley. "Has he gone back?"

"No; he is at the hotel over there. I told him to wait till I found out when the train went north."

"So you inquired when it went to Boston," said Bartley, with a touch of his old raillery. "Come," he added, taking her hand under his arm. He led her out of the room, to where his cutter stood outside. She was astonished to find the colt there.

"I wonder I didn't see it. But if I had, I should have thought that you had sold it and gone away; Andy told me you were coming here to sell the colt. When the man told me the express was gone, I knew you were on it."

They found the boy stolidly waiting for Marcia on the veranda of the hotel, stamping first upon one foot and then the other, and hugging himself in his great-coat as the coming snow-fall blew its first flakes in his face.

"Is that you, Andy?" asked Bartley.

"Yes, sir," answered the boy, without surprise at finding him with Marcia.

"Well, here! Just take hold of the colt's head a minute."

As the boy obeyed, Bartley threw the reins on the dashboard, and leaped out of the cutter, and went within. He returned after a brief absence, followed by the landlord.

"Well, it ain't more 'n a mile 'n a half, if it's that. You just keep straight along this street, and take your first turn to the left, and you're right at the house; it's the first house on the left-hand side."

"Thanks," returned Bartley. "Andy, you tell the Squire that you left Marcia with me, and I said I would see about her getting back. You needn't hurry."

"All right," said the boy, and he disappeared round the corner of the house to get his horse from the barn.

"Well, I'll be all ready by the time you're here," said the landlord, still holding the hall-door ajar, "Luck to you!" he shouted, shutting it.

Marcia locked both her hands through Bartley's arm, and leaned her head on his shoulder. Neither spoke for some minutes; then he asked, "Marcia, do you know where you are?"

"With you," she answered, in a voice of utter peace.

"Do you know where we are going?" he asked, leaning over to kiss her cold, pure cheek.

"No," she answered in as perfect content as before.

"We are going to get married."

He felt her grow tense in her clasp upon his arm, and hold there rigidly for a moment, while the swift thoughts whirled through her mind. Then, as if the struggle had ended, she silently relaxed, and leaned more heavily against him.

"There's still time to go back, Marcia," he said, "if you wish. That turn to the right, yonder, will take us to Equity, and you can be at home in two hours." She quivered. "I'm a poor man,—I suppose you know that; I've only got fifteen dollars in the world, and the colt here. I know I can get on; I'm not afraid for myself; but if you would rather wait,—if you're not perfectly certain of yourself,—remember, it's going to be a struggle; we're going to have some hard times—"

"You forgive me?" she huskily asked, for all answer, without moving her head from where it lay.

"Yes, Marcia."

"Then—hurry."

The minister was an old man, and he seemed quite dazed at the suddenness of their demand for his services. But he gathered himself together, and contrived to make them man and wife, and to give them his marriage certificate.

"It seems as if there were something else," he said, absently, as he handed the paper to Bartley.

"Perhaps it's this," said Bartley, giving him a five-dollar note in return.

"Ah, perhaps," he replied, in unabated perplexity. He bade them serve God, and let them out into the snowy night, through which they drove back to the hotel.

The landlord had kindled a fire on the hearth of the Franklin stove in his parlor, and the blazing hickory snapped in electrical sympathy with the storm when they shut themselves into the bright room, and Bartley took Marcia fondly into his arms.

"Wife!"

"Husband!"

They sat down before the fire, hand in hand, and talked of the light things that swim to the top, and eddy round and round on the surface of our deepest moods. They made merry over the old minister's perturbation, which Bartley found endlessly amusing. Then he noticed that the dress Marcia had on was the one she had worn to the sociable in Lower Equity, and she said, yes, she had put it on because he once said he liked it. He asked her when, and she said, oh, she knew; but if he could not remember, she was not going to tell him. Then she wanted to know if he recognized her by the dress before she lifted her veil in the station.

"No," he said, with a teasing laugh. "I wasn't thinking of you."

"Oh, Bartley!" she joyfully reproached him. "You must have been!"

"Yes, I was! I was so mad at you, that I was glad to have that brute of a station-master bullying some woman!"

"Bartley!"

He sat holding her hand. "Marcia," he said, gravely, "we must write to your father at once, and tell him. I want to begin life in the right way, and I think it's only fair to him."

She was enraptured at his magnanimity. "Bartley! That's like you! Poor father! I declare—Bartley, I'm afraid I had forgotten him! It's dreadful; but—you put everything else out of my head. I do believe I've died and come to life somewhere else!"

"Well, I haven't," said Bartley, "and I guess you'd better write to your father. You'd better write; at present, he and I are not on speaking terms. Here!" He took out his note-book, and gave her his stylographic pen after striking the fist that held it upon his other fist, in the fashion of the amateurs of that reluctant instrument, in order to bring down the ink.

"Oh, what's that?" she asked.

"It's a new kind of pen. I got it for a notice in the Free Press."

"Is Henry Bird going to edit the paper?"

"I don't know, and I don't care," answered Bartley.

"I'll go out and get an envelope, and ask the landlord what's the quickest way to get the letter to your father."

He took up his hat, but she laid her hand on his arm. "Oh, send for him!" she said.

"Are you afraid I sha'n't come back?" he demanded, with a laughing kiss. "I want to see him about something else, too."

"Well, don't be gone long."

They parted with an embrace that would have fortified older married people for a year's separation. When Bartley came back, she handed him the leaf she had torn out of his book, and sat down beside him while he read it, with her arm over his shoulder.

"Dear father," the letter ran, "Bartley and I are married. We were married an hour ago, just across the New Hampshire line, by the Rev. Mr. Jessup. Bartley wants I should let you know the very first thing. I am going to Boston with Bartley to-night, and, as soon as we get settled there, I will write again. I want you should forgive us both; but if you wont forgive Bartley, you mustn't forgive me. You were mistaken about Bartley, and I was right. Bartley has told me everything, and I am perfectly satisfied. Love to mother.

"MARCIA."

"P.S.—I did intend to visit Netty Spaulding. But I saw Bartley driving past on his way to the Junction, and I determined to see him if I could before he started for Boston, and tell him I was all wrong, no matter what he said or did afterwards. I ought to have told you I meant to see Bartley; but then you would not have let me come, and if I had not come, I should have died."

"There's a good deal of Bartley in it," said the young man with a laugh.

"You don't like it!"

"Yes, I do; it's all right. Did you use to take the prize for composition at boarding-school?"

"Why, I think it's a very good letter for when I'm in such an excited state."

"It's beautiful!" cried Bartley, laughing more and more. The tears started to her eyes.

"Marcia," said her husband fondly, "what a child you are! If ever I do anything to betray your trust in me—"

There came a shuffling of feet outside the door, a clinking of glass and crockery, and a jarring sort of blow, as if some one were trying to rap on the panel with the edge of a heavy-laden waiter. Bartley threw the door open and found the landlord there, red and smiling, with the waiter in his hand.

"I thought I'd bring your supper in here, you know," he explained confidentially, "so 's't you could have it a little more snug. And my wife she kind o' got wind o' what was going on,—women will, you know," he said with a wink,—"and she's sent ye in some hot biscuit and a little jell, and some of her cake." He set the waiter down on the table, and stood admiring its mystery of napkined dishes. "She guessed you wouldn't object to some cold chicken, and she's put a little of that on. Sha'n't cost ye any more," he hastened to assure them. "Now this is your room till the train comes, and there aint agoin' to anybody come in here. So you can make yourselves at home. And I hope you'll enjoy your supper as much as we did ourn the night we was married. There! I guess I'll let the lady fix the table; she looks as if she knowed how."

He got himself out of the room again, and then Marcia, who had made him some embarrassed thanks, burst out in praise of his pleasantness.

"Well, he ought to be pleasant," said Bartley, "he's just beaten me on a horse-trade. I've sold him the colt."

"Sold him the colt!" cried Marcia, tragically dropping the napkin she had lifted from the plate of cold chicken.

"Well, we couldn't very well have taken him to Boston with us. And we couldn't have got there without selling him. You know you haven't married a millionnaire, Marcia."

"How much did you get for the colt?"

"Oh, I didn't do so badly. I got a hundred and fifty for him."

"And you had fifteen besides."

"That was before we were married. I gave the minister five for you,—I think you are worth it, I wanted to give fifteen."

"Well, then, you have a hundred and sixty now. Isn't that a great deal?"

"An everlasting lot," said Bartley, with an impatient laugh. "Don't let the supper cool, Marcia!"

She silently set out the feast, but regarded it ruefully. "You oughtn't to have ordered so much, Bartley," she said. "You couldn't afford it."

"I can afford anything when I'm hungry. Besides. I only ordered the oysters and coffee; all the rest is conscience money—or sentiment—from the landlord. Come, come! cheer up, now! We sha'n't starve to-night, anyhow."

"Well, I know father will help us."

"We sha'n't count on him," said Bartley. "Now drop it!" He put his arm round her shoulders and pressed her against him, till she raised her face for his kiss.

"Well, I will!" she said, and the shadow lifted itself from their wedding feast, and they sat down and made merry as if they had all the money in the world to spend. They laughed and joked; they praised the things they liked, and made fun of the others.

"How strange! How perfectly impossible it all seems! Why, last night I was taking supper at Kinney's logging-camp, and hating you at every mouthful with all my might. Everything seemed against me, and I was feeling ugly, and flirting like mad with a fool from Montreal: she had come out there from Portland for a frolic with the owners' party. You made me do it, Marcia!" he cried jestingly. "And remember that, if you want me to be good, you must be kind. The other thing seems to make me worse and worse."

"I will,—I will, Bartley." she said humbly. "I will try to be kind and patient with you. I will indeed."

He threw back his head, and laughed and laughed. "Poor—poor old Kinney! He's the cook, you know, and he thought I'd been making fun of him to that woman, and he behaved so, after they were gone, that I started home in a rage; and he followed me out with his hands all covered with dough, and wanted to stop me, but he couldn't for fear of spoiling my clothes—" He lost himself in another paroxysm.

Marcia smiled a little. Then, "What sort of a looking person was she?" she tremulously asked.

Bartley stopped abruptly. "Not one ten-thousandth part as good-looking, nor one millionth part as bright, as Marcia Hubbard!" He caught her and smothered her against his breast.

"I don't care! I don't care!" she cried. "I was to blame more than you, if you flirted with her, and it serves me right. Yes, I will never say anything to you for anything that happened after I behaved so to you."

"There wasn't anything else happened," cried Bartley. "And the Montreal woman snubbed me soundly before she was done with me."

"Snubbed you!" exclaimed Marcia, with illogical indignation. This delighted
Bartley so much that it was long before he left off laughing over her.

Then they sat down, and were silent till she said, "And did you leave him in a temper?"

"Who? Kinney? In a perfect devil of a temper. I wouldn't even borrow some money he wanted to lend me."

"Write to him, Bartley," said his wife, seriously. "I love you so I can't bear to have anybody bad friends with you."

William Dean Howells