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Chapter 39

XXXIX.

They left Pittsburg under the dun pall of smoke that hangs perpetually over the city, and ran out of a world where the earth seemed turned to slag and cinders, and the coal grime blackened even the sheathing from which the young leaves were unfolding their vivid green. Their train twisted along the banks of the Ohio, and gave them now and then a reach of the stream, forgetful of all the noisy traffic that once fretted its waters, and losing itself in almost primitive wildness among its softly rounded hills. It is a beautiful land, and it had, even to their loath eyes, a charm that touched their hearts. They were on the borders of the illimitable West, whose lands stretch like a sea beyond the hilly Ohio shore; but as yet this vastness, which appalls and wearies all but the born Westerner, had not burst upon them; they were still among heights and hollows, and in a milder and softer New England.

"I have a strange feeling about this journey," said Marcia, turning from the window at last, and facing Halleck on the opposite seat. "I want it to be over, and yet I am glad of every little stop. I feel like some one that has been called to a death-bed, and is hurrying on and holding back with all her might, at the same time. I shall have no peace till I am there, and then shall I have peace?" She fixed her eyes imploringly on his. "Say something to me, if you can! What do you think?"

"Whether you will—succeed?" He was confounding what he knew of her father's feeling with what he had feared of hers.

"Do you mean about the lawsuit? I don't care for that! Do you think he will hate me when he sees me? Do you think he will believe me when I tell him that I never meant to leave him, and that I'm sorry for what I did to drive him away?"

She seemed to expect him to answer, and he answered as well as he could:
"He ought to believe that,—yes, he must believe it."

"Then all the rest may go," she said. "I don't care who gains the case. But if he shouldn't believe me,—if he should drive me away from him, as I drove him from me—" She held her breath in the terror of such a possibility, and an awe of her ignorance crept over Halleck. Apparently she had not understood the step that Bartley had taken, except as a stage in their quarrel from which they could both retreat, if they would, as easily as from any other dispute; she had not realized it as a final, an almost irrevocable act on his part, which could only be met by reprisal on hers. All those points of law which had been so sharply enforced upon her must have fallen blunted from her longing to be at one with him; she had, perhaps, not imagined her defence in open court, except as a sort of public reconciliation.

But at another time she recurred to her wrongs in all the bitterness of her father's vindictive purpose. A young couple entered the car at one of the country stations, and the bride made haste to take off her white bonnet, and lay her cheek on her husband's shoulder, while he passed his arm round her silken waist, and drew her close to him on the seat, in the loving rapture which is no wise inconvenienced by publicity on our railroad trains. Indeed, after the first general recognition of their condition, no one noticed them except Marcia, who seemed fascinated by the spectacle of their unsophisticated happiness; it must have recalled the blissful abandon of her own wedding journey to her. "Oh, poor fool!" she said to Olive. "Let her wait, and it will not be long before she will know that she had better lean on the empty air than on him. Some day, he will let her fall to the ground, and when she gathers herself up all bruised and bleeding—But he hasn't got the all-believing simpleton to deal with that he used to have; and he shall pay me back for all—drop by drop, and ache for ache!"

She was in that strange mental condition into which women fall who brood long upon opposing purposes and desires. She wished to be reconciled, and she wished to be revenged, and she recurred to either wish for the time as vehemently as if the other did not exist. She took Flavia on her knee, and began to prattle to her of seeing papa to-morrow, and presently she turned to Olive, and said: "I know he will find us both a great deal changed. Flavia looks so much older,—and so do I. But I shall soon show him that I can look young again. I presume he's changed too."

Marcia held the little girl up at the window. They had now left the river hills and the rolling country beyond, and had entered the great plain which stretches from the Ohio to the Mississippi; and mile by mile, as they ran southward and westward, the spring unfolded in the mellow air under the dull, warm sun. The willows were in perfect leaf, and wore their delicate green like veils caught upon their boughs; the may-apples had already pitched their tents in the woods, beginning to thicken and darken with the young foliage of the oaks and hickories; suddenly, as the train dashed from a stretch of forest, the peach orchards flushed pink beside the brick farmsteads. The child gave a cry of delight, and pointed; and her mother seemed to forget all that had gone before, and abandoned herself to Flavia's joy in the blossoms, as if there were no trouble for her in the world.

Halleck rose and went into the other car; he felt giddy, as if her fluctuations of mood and motive had somehow turned his own brain. He did not come back till the train stopped at Columbus for dinner. The old Squire showed the same appetite as at breakfast: he had the effect of falling upon his food like a bird of prey; and as soon as the meal was despatched he went back to his seat in the car, where he lapsed into his former silence and immobility, his lank jaws working with fresh activity upon the wooden toothpick he had brought away from the table. While they waited for a train from the north which was to connect with theirs, Halleck walked up and down the vast, noisy station with Olive and Marcia, and humored the little girl in her explorations of the place. She made friends with a red-bird that sang in its cage in the dining-hall, and with an old woman, yellow, and wrinkled, and sunken-eyed, sitting on a bundle tied up in a quilt beside the door, and smoking her clay pipe, as placidly as if on her own cabin threshold. "'Pears like you ain't much afeard of strangers, honey," said the old woman, taking her pipe out of her mouth, to fill it. "Where do you live at when you're home?"

"Boston," said the child, promptly. "Where do you live?"

"I used to live in Old Virginny. But my son, he's takin' me out to Illinoy, now. He's settled out there." She treated the child with the serious equality which simple old people use with children; and spat neatly aside in resuming her pipe. "Which o' them ladies yender is your maw, honey?"

"My mamma?"

The old woman nodded.

Flavia ran away and laid her hand on Marcia's dress, and then ran back to the old woman.

"That your paw, with her?" Flavia looked blank, and the old woman interpreted, "Your father."

"No! We're going out to see papa,—out West. We're going to see him to-morrow, and then he's coming back with us. My grandpa is in that car."

The old woman now laid her folded arms on her knees, and smoked obliviously. The little girl lingered a moment, and then ran off laughing to her mother, and pulled her skirt. "Wasn't it funny, mamma? She thought Mr. Halleck was my papa!" She hung forward by the hold she had taken, as children do, and tilted her head back to look into her mother's face. "What is Mr. Halleck, mamma?"

"What is he?" The group halted involuntarily.

"Yes, what is he? Is he my uncle, or my cousin, or what? Is he going out to see papa, too? What is he going for? Oh, look, look!" The child plucked away her hand, and ran off to join the circle of idle men and half-grown boys who were forming about two shining negroes with banjos. The negroes flung their hands upon the strings with an ecstatic joy in the music, and lifted their black voices in a wild plantation strain. The child began to leap and dance, and her mother ran after her.

"Naughty little girl!" she cried. "Come into the car with me, this minute."

Halleck did not see Marcia again till the train had run far out of the city, and was again sweeping through the thick woods, and flashing out upon the levels of the fields where the farmers were riding their sulky-plows up and down the long furrows in the pleasant afternoon sun. There was something in this transformation of man's old-time laborious dependence into a lordly domination over the earth which strikes the westward journeyer as finally expressive of human destiny in the whole mighty region, and which penetrated even to Halleck's sore and jaded thoughts. A different type of men began to show itself in the car, as the Western people gradually took the places of his fellow-travellers from the East. The men were often slovenly and sometimes uncouth in their dress; but they made themselves at home in the exaggerated splendor and opulence of the car, as if born to the best in every way; their faces suggested the security of people who trusted the future from the past, and had no fears of the life that had always used them well; they had not that eager and intense look which the Eastern faces wore; there was energy enough and to spare in them, but it was not an anxious energy. The sharp accent of the seaboard yielded to the rounded, soft, and slurring tones, and the prompt address was replaced by a careless and confident neighborliness of manner.

Flavia fretted at her return to captivity in the car, and demanded to be released with a teasing persistence from which nothing she was shown out of the window could divert her. A large man leaned forward at last from a seat near by, and held out an orange. "Come here to me, little Trouble," he said; and Flavia made an eager start toward this unlooked-for friend.

Marcia wished to check her; but Halleck pleaded to have her go. "It will be a relief to you," he said.

"Well, let her go," Marcia consented. "But she was no trouble, and she is no relief." She sat looking dully at the little girl after the Westerner had gathered her up into his lap. "Should I have liked to tell her," she said, as if thinking aloud, "how we were really going to meet her father, and that you were coming with me to be my witness against him in a court,—to put him down and disgrace him,—to fight him, as father says?"

"You mustn't think of it in that way," said Halleck, gently, but, as he felt, feebly and inadequately.

"Oh, I shall not think of it in that way long," she answered. "My head is in a whirl, and I can't hold what we're doing before my mind in any one shape for a minute at a time. I don't know what will become of me,—I don't know what will become of me!"

But in another breath she rose from this desolation, and was talking with impersonal cheerfulness of the sights that the car-window showed. As long as the light held, they passed through the same opulent and monotonous landscape; through little towns full of signs of material prosperity, and then farms, and farms again; the brick houses set in the midst of evergreens, and compassed by vast acreages of corn land, where herds of black pigs wandered, and the farmers were riding their ploughs, or heaping into vast windrows for burning the winter-worn stalks of the last year's crop. Where they came to a stream the landscape was roughened into low hills, from which it sank again luxuriously to a plain. If there was any difference between Ohio and Indiana, it was that in Indiana the spring night, whose breath softly buffeted their cheeks through the open window, had gathered over those eternal cornfields, where the long crooked windrows, burning on either hand, seemed a trail of fiery serpents writhing away from the train as it roared and clamored over the track.

They were to leave their car at Indianapolis, and take another road which would bring them to Tecumseh by daylight the next morning. Olive went away with the little girl, and put her to bed on the sofa in their state-room, and Marcia suffered them to go alone; it was only by fits that she had cared for the child, or even noticed it. "Now tell me again," she said to Halleck, "why we are going."

"Surely you know."

"Yes, yes, I know; but I can't think,—I don't seem to remember. Didn't I give it up once? Didn't I say that I would rather go home, and let Bartley get the divorce, if he wanted?"

"Yes, you said that, Marcia."

"I used to make him very unhappy; I was very strict with him, when I knew he couldn't bear any kind of strictness. And he was always so patient with me; though he never really cared for me. Oh, yes, I knew that from the first! He used to try; but he must have been glad to get away. Poor Bartley! It was cruel, cruel, to put that in about my abandoning him when he knew I would come back; but perhaps the lawyers told him he must; he had to put in something! Why shouldn't I let him go? Father said he only wanted to get rid of me, so that he could marry some one else—Yes, yes; it was that that made me start! Father knew it would! Oh," she grieved, with a wild self-pity that tore Halleck's heart, "he knew it would!" She fell wearily back against the seat, and did not speak for some minutes. Then she said, in a slow, broken utterance: "But now I don't seem to mind even that, any more. Why shouldn't he marry some one else that he really likes, if he doesn't care for me?"

Halleck laughed in bitterness of soul as his thought recurred to Atherton's reasons. "Because," he said, "you have a public duty in the matter. You must keep him bound to you, for fear some other woman, whose husband doesn't care for her, should let him go, too, and society be broken up, and civilization destroyed. In a matter like this, which seems to concern yourself alone, you are only to regard others."

His reckless irony did not reach her through her manifold sorrow. "Well," she said, simply, "it must be that. But, oh! how can I bear it! how can I bear it!"

The time passed; Olive did not return for an hour; then she merely said that the little girl had just fallen asleep, and that she should go back and lie down with her; that she was sleepy too.

Marcia did not answer, but Halleck said he would call her in good time before they reached Indianapolis.

The porter made up the berths of such as were going through to St. Louis, and Marcia was left sitting alone with Halleck. "I will go and get your father to come here," he said.

"I don't want him to come! I want to talk to you—to say something—What was it? I can't think!" She stopped, like one trying to recover a faded thought; he waited, but she did not speak again. She had laid a nervous clutch upon his arm, to detain him from going for her father, and she kept her hand there mechanically; but after a while he felt it relax; she drooped against him, and fell away into a sleep in which she started now and then like a frightened child. He could not release himself without waking her; but it did not matter; her sorrow had unsexed her; only the tenderness of his love for this hapless soul remained in his heart, which ached and evermore heavily sank within him.

He woke her at last when he must go to tell Olive that they were running into Indianapolis. Marcia struggled to her feet: "Oh, oh! Are we there? Are we there?"

"We are at Indianapolis," said Halleck.

"I thought it was Tecumseh!" She shuddered. "We can go back; oh, yes, we can still go back!"

They alighted from the train in the chilly midnight air, and found their way through the crowd to the eating-room of the station. The little girl cried with broken sleep and the strangeness, and Olive tried to quiet her. Marcia clung to Halleck's arm, and shivered convulsively. Squire Gaylord stalked beside them with a demoniac vigor. "A few more hours, a few more hours, sir!" he said. He made a hearty supper, while the rest scalded their mouths with hot tea, which they forced with loathing to their lips.

Some women who were washing the floor of the ladies' waiting-room told them they must go into the men's room, and wait there for their train, which was due at one o'clock. They obeyed, and found the room full of emigrants, and the air thick with their tobacco smoke. There was no choice; Olive went in first and took the child on her lap, where it straightway fell asleep; the Squire found a seat beside them, and sat erect, looking round on the emigrants with the air of being amused at their outlandish speech, into which they burst clamorously from their silence at intervals. Marcia stopped Halleck at the threshold. "Stay out here with me," she whispered. "I want to tell you something," she added, as he turned mechanically and walked away with her up the vast lamp-shot darkness of the depot. "I am not going on! I am going back. We will take the train that goes to the East; father will never know till it is too late. We needn't speak to him about it—"

Halleck set himself against this delirious folly: he consented to her return; she could do what she would; but he would not consent to cheat her father. "We must go and tell him," he said, for all answer to all her entreaties. He dragged her back to the waiting-room; but at the door she started at the figure of a man who was bending over a group of emigrant children asleep in the nearest corner,—poor, uncouth, stubbed little creatures, in old-mannish clothes, looking like children roughly blocked out of wood, and stiffly stretched on the floor, or resting woodenly against their mother.

"There!" said the man, pressing a mug of coffee on the woman. "You drink that! It'll do you good,—every drop of it! I've seen the time," he said, turning round with the mug, when she had drained it, in his hand, and addressing Marcia and Halleck as the most accessible portion of the English-speaking public, "when I used to be down on coffee; I thought it was bad for the nerves; but I tell you, when you're travelling it's a brain-food, if ever there was a brain—" He dropped the mug, and stumbled back into the heap of sleeping children, fixing a ghastly stare on Marcia.

She ran toward him. "Mr. Kinney!"

"No, you don't!—no, you don't!"

"Why, don't you know me? Mrs. Hubbard?"

"He—he—told me you—was dead!" roared Kinney.

"He told you I was dead?"

"More'n a year ago! The last time I seen him! Before I went out to
Leadville!"

"He told you I was dead," repeated Marcia huskily. "He must have wished it!" she whispered. "Oh, mercy, mercy, mercy!" She stopped, and then she broke into a wild laugh: "Well, you see he was wrong. I'm on my way to him now to show him that I'm alive!"

William Dean Howells