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Chapter 8

VIII.

The more Bartley dwelt upon his hard case, during the week that followed, the more it appeared to him that he was punished out of all proportion to his offence. He was in no mood to consider such mercies as that he had been spared from seriously hurting Bird; and that Squire Gaylord and Doctor Wills had united with Henry's mother in saving him from open disgrace. The physician, indeed, had perhaps indulged a professional passion for hushing the matter up, rather than any pity for Bartley. He probably had the scientific way of looking at such questions; and saw much physical cause for moral effects. He refrained, with the physician's reticence, from inquiring into the affair; but he would not have thought Bartley without excuse under the circumstances. In regard to the relative culpability in matters of the kind, his knowledge of women enabled him to take much the view of the woman's share that other women take.

But Bartley was ignorant of the doctor's leniency, and associated him with Squire Gaylord in the feeling that made his last week in Equity a period of social outlawry. There were moments in which he could not himself escape the same point of view. He could rebel against the severity of the condemnation he had fallen under in the eyes of Marcia and her father; he could, in the light of example and usage, laugh at the notion of harm in his behavior to Hannah Morrison; yet he found himself looking at it as a treachery to Marcia. Certainly, she had no right to question his conduct before his engagement. Yet, if he knew that Marcia loved him, and was waiting with life-and-death anxiety for some word of love from him, it was cruelly false to play with another at the passion which was such a tragedy to her. This was the point that, put aside however often, still presented itself, and its recurrence, if he could have known it, was mercy and reprieve from the only source out of which these could come.

Hannah Morrison did not return to the printing-office, and Bird was still sick, though it was now only a question of time when he should be out again. Bartley visited him some hours every day, and sat and suffered under the quiet condemnation of his mother's eyes. She had kept Bartley's secret with the same hardness with which she had refused him her forgiveness, and the village had settled down into an ostensible acceptance of the theory of a faint as the beginning of Bird's sickness, with such other conjectures as the doctor freely permitted each to form. Bartley found his chief consolation in the work which kept him out of the way of a great deal of question. He worked far into the night, as he must, to make up for the force that was withdrawn from the office. At the same time he wrote more than ever in the paper, and he discovered in himself that dual life of which every one who sins or sorrows is sooner or later aware: that strange separation of the intellectual activity from the suffering of the soul, by which the mind toils on in a sort of ironical indifference to the pangs that wring the heart; the realization that, in some ways, his brain can get on perfectly well without his conscience.

There was a great deal of sympathy felt for Bartley at this time, and his popularity in Equity was never greater than now when his life there was drawing to a close. The spectacle of his diligence was so impressive that when, on the following Sunday, the young minister who had succeeded to the pulpit of the orthodox church preached a sermon on the beauty of industry from the text "Consider the lilies," there were many who said that they thought of Bartley the whole while, and one—a lady—asked Mr. Savin if he did not have Mr. Hubbard in mind in the picture he drew of the Heroic Worker. They wished that Bartley could have heard that sermon.

Marcia had gone away early in the week to visit in the town where she used to go to school, and Bartley took her going away as a sign that she wished to put herself wholly beyond his reach, or any danger of relenting at sight of him. He talked with no one about her; and going and coming irregularly to his meals, and keeping himself shut up in his room when he was not at work, he left people very little chance to talk with him. But they conjectured that he and Marcia had an understanding; and some of the ladies used such scant opportunity as he gave them to make sly allusions to her absence and his desolate condition. They were confirmed in their surmise by the fact, known from actual observation, that Bartley had not spoken a word to any other young lady since Marcia went away.

"Look here, my friend," said the philosopher from, the logging-camp, when he came in for his paper on the Tuesday afternoon following, "seems to me from what I hear tell around here, you're tryin' to kill yourself on this newspaper. Now, it won't do; I tell you it won't do."

Bartley was addressing for the mail the papers which one of the girls was folding. "What are you going to do about it?" he demanded of his sympathizer with whimsical sullenness, not troubling himself to look up at him.

"Well, I haint exactly settled yet," replied the philosopher, who was of a tall, lank figure, and of a mighty brown beard. "But I've been around pretty much everywhere, and I find that about the poorest use you can put a man to is to kill him."

"It depends a good deal on the man," said Bartley. "But that's stale, Kinney. It's the old formula of the anti-capital-punishment fellows. Try something else. They're not talking of hanging me yet." He kept on writing, and the philosopher stood over him with a humorous twinkle of enjoyment at Bartley's readiness.

"Well, I'll allow it's old," he admitted. "So's Homer."

"Yes; but you don't pretend that you wrote Homer."

Kinney laughed mightily; then he leaned forward, and slapped Bartley on the shoulder with his newspaper. "Look here!" he exclaimed, "I like you!"

"Oh, try some other tack! Lots of fellows like me." Bartley kept on writing. "I gave you your paper, didn't I, Kinney?"

"You mean that you want me to get out?"

"Far be it from me to say so."

This delighted Kinney as much as the last refinement of hospitality would have pleased another man. "Look here!" he said, "I want you should come out and see our camp. I can't fool away any more time on you here; but I want you should come out and see us. Give you something to write about. Hey?"

"The invitation comes at a time when circumstances over which I have no control oblige me to decline it. I admire your prudence, Kinney."

"No, honest Injian, now," protested Kinney. "Take a day off, and fill up with dead advertisements. That's the way they used to do out in Alkali City when they got short of help on the Eagle, and we liked it just as well."

"Now you are talking sense," said Bartley, looking up at him. "How far is it to your settlement?"

"Two miles, if you're goin'; three and a half, if you aint."

"When are you coming in?"

"I'm in, now."

"I can't go with you to-day."

"Well, how'll to-morrow morning suit?"

"To-morrow morning will suit," said Bartley.

"All right. If anybody comes to see the editor to-morrow morning, Marilla," said Kinney to the girl, "you tell 'em he's sick, and gone a-loggin', and won't be back till Saturday. Say," he added, laying his hand on Bartley's shoulder, "you aint foolin'?"

"If I am," replied Bartley, "just mention it."

"Good!" said Kinney. "To-morrow it is, then."

Bartley finished addressing the newspapers, and then he put them up in wrappers and packages for the mail. "You can go, now, Marilla," he said to the girl. "I'll leave some copy for you and Kitty; you'll find it on my table in the morning."

"All right," answered the girl.

Bartley went to his supper, which he ate with more relish than he had felt for his meals since his troubles began, and he took part in the supper-table talk with something of his old audacity. The change interested the lady boarders, and they agreed that he must have had a letter. He returned to his office, and worked till nine o'clock, writing and selecting matter out of his exchanges. He spent most of the time in preparing the funny column, which was a favorite feature in the Free Press. Then he put the copy where the girls would find it in the morning, and, leaving the door unlocked, took his way up the street toward Squire Gaylord's.

He knew that he should find the lawyer in his office, and he opened the office door without knocking, and went in. He had not met Squire Gaylord since the morning of his dismissal, and the old man had left him for the past eight days without any sign as to what he expected of Bartley, or of what he intended to do in his affair.

They looked at each other, but exchanged no sort of greeting, as Bartley, unbidden, took a chair on the opposite side of the stove; the Squire did not put down the book he had been reading.

"I've come to see what you're going to do about the Free Press," said
Bartley.

The old man rubbed his bristling jaw, that seemed even lanker than when Bartley saw it last. He waited almost a minute before he replied, "I don't know as I've got any call to tell you."

"Then I'll tell you what I'm going to do about it," retorted Bartley. "I'm going to leave it. I've done my last day's work on that paper. Do you think," he cried, angrily, "that I'm going to keep on in the dark, and let you consult your pleasure as to my future? No, sir! You don't know your man quite, Mr. Gaylord!"

"You've got over your scare," said the lawyer.

"I've got over my scare," Bartley retorted.

"And you think, because you're not afraid any longer, that you're out of danger. I know my man as well as you do, I guess."

"If you think I care for the danger, I don't. You may do what you please. Whatever you do, I shall know it isn't out of kindness for me. I didn't believe from the first that the law could touch me, and I wasn't uneasy on that account. But I didn't want to involve myself in a public scandal, for Miss Gaylord's sake. Miss Gaylord has released me from any obligations to her; and now you may go ahead and do what you like." Each of the men knew how much truth there was in this; but for the moment in his anger, Bartley believed himself sincere, and there is no question but his defiance was so. Squire Gaylord made him no answer, and after a minute of expectation Bartley added, "At any rate, I've done with the Free Press. I advise you to stop the paper, and hand the office over to Henry Bird, when he gets about. I'm going out to Willett's logging-camp tomorrow, and I'm coming back to Equity on Saturday. You'll know where to find me till then, and after that you may look me up if you want me."

He rose to go, but stopped with his hand on the door-knob, at a sound, preliminary to speaking, which the old man made in his throat. Bartley stopped, hoping for a further pretext of quarrel, but the lawyer merely asked, "Where's the key?"

"It's in the office door."

The old man now looked at him as if he no longer saw him, and Bartley went out, balked of his purpose in part, and in that degree so much the more embittered.

Squire Gaylord remained an hour longer; then he blew out his lamp, and left the little office for the night. A light was burning in the kitchen, and he made his way round to the back door of the house, and let himself in. His wife was there, sitting before the stove, in those last delicious moments before going to bed, when all the house is mellowed to such a warmth that it seems hard to leave it to the cold and dark. In this poor lady, who had so long denied herself spiritual comfort, there was a certain obscure luxury: she liked little dainties of the table; she liked soft warmth, an easy cushion. It was doubtless in the disintegration of the finer qualities of her nature, that, as they grew older together, she threw more and more the burden of acute feeling upon her husband, to whose doctrine of life she had submitted, but had never been reconciled. Marriage is, with all its disparities, a much more equal thing than appears, and the meek little wife, who has all the advantage of public sympathy, knows her power over her oppressor, and at some tender spot in his affections or his nerves can inflict an anguish that will avenge her for years of coarser aggression. Thrown in upon herself in so vital a matter as her religion, Mrs. Gaylord had involuntarily come to live largely for herself, though her talk was always of her husband. She gave up for him, as she believed, her soul's salvation, but she held him to account for the uttermost farthing of the price. She padded herself round at every point where she could have suffered through her sensibilities, and lived soft and snug in the shelter of his iron will and indomitable courage. It was not apathy that she had felt when their children died one after another, but an obscure and formless exultation that Mr. Gaylord would suffer enough for both.

Marcia was the youngest, and her mother left her training almost wholly to her father; she sometimes said that she never supposed the child would live. She did not actually urge this in excuse, but she had the appearance of doing so; and she held aloof from them both in their mutual relations, with mildly critical reserves. They spoiled each other, as father and daughter are apt to do when left to themselves. What was good in the child certainly received no harm from his indulgence; and what was naughty was after all not so very naughty. She was passionate, but she was generous; and if she showed a jealous temperament that must hereafter make her unhappy, for the time being it charmed and flattered her father to have her so fond of him that she could not endure any rivalry in his affection.

Her education proceeded fitfully. He would not let her be forced to household tasks that she disliked; and as a little girl she went to school chiefly because she liked to go, and not because she would have been obliged to it if she had not chosen. When she grew older, she wished to go away to school, and her father allowed her; he had no great respect for boarding-schools, but if Marcia wanted to try it, he was willing to humor the joke.

What resulted was a great proficiency in the things that pleased her, and ignorance of the other things. Her father bought her a piano, on which she did not play much, and he bought her whatever dresses she fancied. He never came home from a journey without bringing her something; and he liked to take her with him when he went away to other places. She had been several times at Portland, and once at Montreal; he was very proud of her; he could not see that any one was better-looking, or dressed any better than his girl.

He came into the kitchen, and sat down with his hat on, and, taking his chin between his fingers, moved uneasily about on his chair.

"What's brought you in so early?" asked his wife.

"Well, I got through," he briefly explained. After a while he said,
"Bartley Hubbard's been out there."

"You don't mean 't he knew she—"

"No, he didn't know anything about that. He came to tell me he was going away."

"Well, I don't know what you're going to do, Mr. Gaylord," said his wife, shifting the responsibility wholly upon him. "'D he seem to want to make it up?"

"M-no!" said the Squire, "he was on his high horse. He knows he aint in any danger now."

"Aint you afraid she'll carry on dreadfully, when she finds out 't he's gone for good?" asked Mrs. Gaylord, with a sort of implied satisfaction that the carrying on was not to affect her.

"M-yes," said the Squire, "I suppose she'll carry on. But I don't know what to do about it. Sometimes I almost wish I'd tried to make it up between 'em that day; but I thought she'd better see, once for all, what sort of man she was going in for, if she married him. It's too late now to do anything. The fellow came in to-night for a quarrel, and nothing else; I could see that; and I didn't give him any chance."

"You feel sure," asked Mrs. Gaylord, impartially, "that Marcia wa'n't too particular?"

"No, Miranda, I don't feel sure of anything, except that it's past your bed-time. You better go. I'll sit up awhile yet. I came in because I couldn't settle my mind to anything out there."

He took off his hat in token of his intending to spend the rest of the evening at home, and put it on the table at his elbow.

His wife sewed at the mending in her lap, without offering to act upon his suggestion. "It's plain to be seen that she can't get along without him."

"She'll have to, now," replied the Squire.

"I'm afraid," said Mrs. Gaylord, softly, "that she'll be down sick. She don't look as if she'd slept any great deal since she's been gone. I d' know as I like very much to see her looking the way she does. I guess you've got to take her off somewheres."

"Why, she's just been off, and couldn't stay!"

"That's because she thought he was here yet. But if he's gone, it won't be the same thing."

"Well, we've got to fight it out, some way," said the Squire. "It wouldn't do to give in to it now. It always was too much of a one-sided thing, at the best; and if we tried now to mend it up, it would be ridiculous. I don't believe he would come back at all, now, and if he did, he wouldn't come back on any equal terms. He'd want to have everything his own way. M-no!" said the Squire, as if confirming himself in a conclusion often reached already in his own mind, "I saw by the way he began to-night that there wasn't anything to be done with him. It was fight from the word go."

"Well," said Mrs. Gaylord, with gentle, sceptical interest in the outcome, "if you've made up your mind to that, I hope you'll be able to carry it through."

"That's what I've made up my mind to," said her husband.

Mrs. Gaylord rolled up the sewing in her work-basket, and packed it away against the side, bracing it with several pairs of newly darned socks and stockings neatly folded one into the other. She took her time for this, and when she rose at last to go out, with her basket in her hand, the door opened in her face, and Marcia entered. Mrs. Gaylord shrank back, and then slipped round behind her daughter and vanished. The girl took no notice of her mother, but went and sat down on her father's knee, throwing her arms round his neck, and dropping her haggard face on his shoulder. She had arrived at home a few hours earlier, having driven over from a station ten miles distant, on a road that did not pass near Equity. After giving as much of a shock to her mother's mild nature as it was capable of receiving by her unexpected return, she had gone to her own room, and remained ever since without seeing her father. He put up his thin old hand and passed it over her hair, but it was long before either of them spoke.

At last Marcia lifted her head, and looked her father in the face with a smile so pitiful that he could not bear to meet it. "Well, father?" she said.

"Well, Marsh," he answered huskily. "What do you think of me now?"

"I'm glad to have you back again," he replied.

"You know why I came?"

"Yes, I guess I know."

She put down her head again, and moaned and cried, "Father! Father!" with dry sobs. When she looked up, confronting him with her tearless eyes, "What shall I do? What shall I do?" she demanded desolately.

He tried to clear his throat to speak, but it required more than one effort to bring the words. "I guess you better go along with me up to Boston. I'm going up the first of the week."

"No," she said quietly.

"The change would do you good. It's a long while since you've been away from home," her father urged.

She looked at him in sad reproach of his uncandor. "You know there's nothing the matter with me, father. You know what the trouble is." He was silent. He could not face the trouble. "I've heard people talk of a heartache," she went on. "I never believed there was really such a thing. But I know there is, now. There's a pain here." She pressed her hand against her breast. "It's sore with aching. What shall I do? I shall have to live through it somehow."

"If you don't feel exactly well," said her father "I guess you better see the doctor."

"What shall I tell him is the matter with me? That I want Bartley Hubbard?" He winced at the words, but she did not. "He knows that already. Everybody in town does. It's never been any secret. I couldn't hide it, from the first day I saw him. I'd just as lief as not they should say I was dying for him. I shall not care what they say when I'm dead."

"You'd oughtn't,—you'd oughtn't to talk that way, Marcia," said her father, gently.

"What difference?" she demanded, scornfully. There was truly no difference, so far as concerned any creed of his, and he was too honest to make further pretence. "What shall I do?" she went on again. "I've thought of praying; but what would be the use?"

"I've never denied that there was a God, Marcia," said her father.

"Oh, I know. That kind of God! Well, well! I know that I talk like a crazy person! Do you suppose it was providential, my being with you in the office that morning when Bartley came in?"

"No," said her father, "I don't. I think it was an accident."

"Mother said it was providential, my finding him out before it was too late."

"I think it was a good thing. The fellow has the making of a first-class scoundrel in him."

"Do you think he's a scoundrel now?" she asked quietly.

"He hasn't had any great opportunity yet," said the old man, conscientiously sparing him.

"Well, then, I'm sorry I found him out. Yes! If I hadn't, I might have married him, and perhaps if I had died soon I might never have found him out. He could have been good to me a year or two, and then, if I died, I should have been safe. Yes, I wish he could have deceived me till after we were married. Then I couldn't have borne to give him up, may be."

"You would have given him up, even then. And that's the only thing that reconciles me to it now. I'm sorry for you, my girl; but you'd have made me sorrier then. Sooner or later he'd have broken your heart."

"He's broken it now," said the girl, calmly.

"Oh, no, he hasn't," replied her father, with a false cheerfulness that did not deceive her. "You're young and you'll get over it. I mean to take you away from here for a while. I mean to take you up to Boston, and on to New York. I shouldn't care if we went as far as Washington. I guess, when you've seen a little more of the world, you won't think Bartley Hubbard's the only one in it."

She looked at him so intently that he thought she must be pleased at his proposal. "Do you think I could get him back?" she asked.

Her father lost his patience; it was a relief to be angry. "No, I don't think so. I know you couldn't. And you ought to be ashamed of mentioning such a thing!"

"Oh, ashamed! No, I've got past that. I have no shame any more where he's concerned. Oh, I'd give the world if I could call him back,—if I could only undo what I did! I was wild; I wasn't reasonable; I wouldn't listen to him. I drove him away without giving him a chance to say a word! Of course, he must hate me now. What makes you think he wouldn't come back?" she asked.

"I know he wouldn't," answered her father, with a sort of groan. "He's going to leave Equity for one thing, and—"

"Going to leave Equity," she repeated, absently Then he felt her tremble. "How do you know he's going?" She turned upon her father, and fixed him sternly with her eyes.

"Do you suppose he would stay, after what's happened, any longer than he could help?"

"How do you know he's going?" she repeated.

"He told me."

She stood up. "He told you? When?"

"To-night."

"Why, where—where did you see him?" she whispered.

"In the office."

"Since—since—I came? Bartley been here! And you didn't tell me,—you didn't let me know?" They looked at each other in silence. At last, "When is he going?" she asked.

"To-morrow morning."

She sat down in the chair which her mother had left, and clutched the back of another, on which her fingers opened and closed convulsively, while she caught her breath in irregular gasps. She broke into a low moaning, at last, the expression of abject defeat in the struggle she had waged with herself. Her father watched her with dumb compassion. "Better go to bed, Marcia," he said, with the same dry calm as if he had been sending her away after some pleasant evening which she had suffered to run too far into the night.

"Don't you think—don't you think—he'll have to see you again before he goes?" she made out to ask.

"No; he's finished up with me," said the old man.

"Well, then," she cried, desperately, "you'll have to go to him, father, and get him to come! I can't help it! I can't give him up! You've got to go to him, now, father,—yes, yes, you have! You've got to go and tell him. Go and get him to come, for mercy's sake! Tell him that I'm sorry,—that I beg his pardon,—that I didn't think—I didn't understand,—that I knew he didn't do anything wrong—" She rose, and, placing her hand on her father's shoulder, accented each entreaty with a little push.

He looked up into her face with a haggard smile of sympathy. "You're crazy,
Marcia," he said, gently.

"Don't laugh!" she cried. "I'm not crazy now. But I was, then,—yes, stark, staring crazy. Look here, father! I want to tell you,—I want to explain to you!" She dropped upon his knee again, and tremblingly passed her arm round his neck. "You see, I had just told him the day before that I shouldn't care for anything that happened before we were engaged, and then at the very first thing I went and threw him off! And I had no right to do it. He knows that, and that's what makes him so hard towards me. But if you go and tell him that I see now I was all wrong, and that I beg his pardon, and then ask him to give me one more trial, just one more—You can do as much as that for me, can't you?"

"Oh, you poor, crazy girl!" groaned her father. "Don't you see that the trouble is in what the fellow is, and not in any particular thing that he's done? He's a scamp, through and through; and he's all the more a scamp when he doesn't know it. He hasn't got the first idea of anything but selfishness."

"No, no! Now, I'll tell you,—now, I'll prove it to you. That very Sunday when we were out riding together; and we met her and her mother, and their sleigh upset, and he had to lift her back; and it made me wild to see him, and I wouldn't hardly touch him or speak to him afterwards, he didn't say one angry word to me. He just pulled me up to him, and wouldn't let me be mad; and he said that night he didn't mind it a bit because it showed how much I liked him. Now, doesn't that prove he's good,—a good deal better than I am, and that he'll forgive me, if you'll go and ask him? I know he isn't in bed yet; he always sits up late,—he told me so; and you'll find him there in his room. Go straight to his room, father; don't let anybody see you down in the office; I couldn't bear it; and slip out with him as quietly as you can. But, oh, do hurry now! Don't lose another minute!"

The wild joy sprang into her face, as her father rose; a joy that it was terrible to him to see die out of it as he spoke: "I tell you it's no use, Marcia! He wouldn't come if I went to him—"

"Oh, yes,—yes, he would! I know he would! If—"

"He wouldn't! You're mistaken! I should have to get down in the dust for nothing. He's a bad fellow, I tell you; and you've got to give him up."

"You hate me!" cried the girl. The old man walked to and fro, clutching his hands. Their lives had always been in such intimate sympathy, his life had so long had her happiness for its sole pleasure, that the pang in her heart racked his with as sharp an agony. "Well, I shall die; and then I hope you will be satisfied."

"Marcia, Marcia!" pleaded her father. "You don't know what you're saying."

"You're letting him go away from me,—you're letting me lose him,—you're killing me!"

"He wouldn't come, my girl. It would be perfectly useless to go to him. You must—you must try to control yourself, Marcia. There's no other way,—there's no other hope. You're disgraceful. You ought to be ashamed. You ought to have some pride about you. I don't know what's come over you since you've been with that fellow. You seem to be out of your senses. But try,—try, my girl, to get over it. If you'll fight it, you'll conquer yet. You've got a spirit for anything. And I'll help you, Marcia. I'll take you anywhere. I'll do anything for you—"

"You wouldn't go to him, and ask him to come here, if it would save his life!"

"No," said the old man, with a desperate quiet, "I wouldn't."

She stood looking at him, and then she sank suddenly and straight down, as if she were sinking through the floor. When he lifted her, he saw that she was in a dead faint, and while the swoon lasted would be out of her misery. The sight of this had wrung him so that he had a kind of relief in looking at her lifeless face; and he was slow in laying her down again, like one that fears to wake a sleeping child. Then he went to the foot of the stairs, and softly called to his wife: "Miranda! Miranda!"

William Dean Howells