will tell you the story of my life, since you ask it; for, though the
meaning of the life of any woman of my character would be the same,
I believe, the facts of mine, being sharp and compressed, may make it,
perhaps, more apparent. It will be enough for me to give you the history
of one day,-- that of our first coming to Newport; for it seems to me
as if it held and spoke out plainly whatever gist and significance there
was in all the years for me. I know many people hold the theory, that
once in every life God puts the stuff of which He has made the man or
woman to the test, gives the soul a chance of a conscious fight with
that other Power to win or lose itself, once for all. I do not know:
it seems but just that one should be so left, untrammelled, to choose
between heaven and hell: but who can shake off trammels,-- make themselves
naked of their birth and education? I know that on that day when the
face of my fate changed, I myself was conscious of no inward master-struggle:
the great Life above and Life below pressed no closer on me, seemed
to wait on no word of mine. It was a busy, vulgar day enough: each passing
moment occupied me thoroughly. I did not look through them for either
God or Death; and as for the deed I did, I had been drifting to that
all my life: it began when I was a pampered, thin-blooded baby, learning
the alphabet from blocks on my mother's lap; then years followed, succulent
to satiety for my hungry brain and stimulated tastes; a taint of hereditary
selfishness played its part, and so the end came. Yet I know that on
that day I entered the gate through which there is no returning: for,
believe me, there are such ways and gates in life; every day, I see
more clearly how far and how immovably the paths into those other worlds
abut into this, and I know that I, for one, have gone in, and the door
is closed behind me. There is no going back for me into that long-ago
time. Only He who led me here knows how humbly and through what pain
I dared to believe this, and dare to believe that He did lead me,--
that it was by no giddy, blear-sighted free-will of my own that I arrived
where I stand today.
was about eighteen months after my marriage that we came to Newport.
But let me go back a few weeks to one evening when my husband first
told me of the failure of the house in which his property was invested;
for it was then, I think, that the terror and the temptation which had
beset my married life first took a definite shape and hold on me.
was a cool September evening, I remember: a saffronish umber stain behind
the low Hudson hills all that was left of the day's fresh and harvest-scented
heat; the trails of black smoke from the boats against the sky, the
close-shut cottages on the other shore, the very red cows coming slowly
up from the meadow-pool, looking lonesome and cold in the sharp, blue
air. In the library, however, there was a glow of warmth and light,
as usual where Doctor Manning sat. He had been opening the evening's
mail, and laid the last letter on the table, taking off his glasses
in his slow, deliberate way.
is as we feared," turning to me. "It's quite gone, Hester,
quite. I'll have to begin at the beginning again. It would have been
better I had not trusted the whole to Knopps,-- yes."
said nothing: the news was not altogether unexpected. He took off his
wig, and rubbed his head slowly, his eyes fixed on my face with some
anxious, steady inquiry, which his tones did not express.
go back to Newport. Rob's there. I'll get a school again. You did not
know I taught there when I was a young man?"
knew nothing of my husband's youth. Miss Monchard, his ward, who was
in the room, did, however; and after waiting for me a moment to go on,
she said, cheerfully,--
boys will be men now, Sir. Friends ready waiting. And different sort
of friends from any we have here, eh?"
Jacky, you're right. Yes. They've all turned out well, even those Arndts.
Jim Arndt used to trot you on his knee on the school-house steps, when
you were a baby. But he was a wild chap. He's in the sugar-trade, Rob
writes me. But they'll always be boys to me, Jacky,-- boys."
head dropped, with a smile still on his mouth, and he began fingering
his scanty beard, as was his habit in his fits of silent musing. Jacqueline
looked at him satisfied, then turned to me. I do not know what she saw
upon my face, but she turned hastily away.
a town with a real character of its own, Newport, Mrs. Manning,"--
trying to make her coarse bass voice gentle. "You'll understand
it better than I. New-York houses, now, even these on the Hudson, hint
at nothing but a satisfied animal necessity. But there, with the queer
dead streets, like a bit of the old-time world, and the big salt sea"----
She began to stammer, as usual, and grow confused. "It's like looking
out of some far-gone, drowsy old day of the Colonies, and yet feeling
life and eternity fresh and near to you."
only smiled civilly, by way of answer. Jacqueline always tried me. She
was Western-born, I a New-Englander; and every trait about her, from
the freedom with which she hurled out her opinions to the very setting-down
of her broad foot, jarred on me as a something boorish and reckless.
Her face grew red now.
don't say what I want exactly," she hesitated. "I only hoped
you'd like the town, that it would reconcile---- There's crabs there,"
desperately turning to Teddy, who was playing a furtive game of marbles
under the table, and grabbing him by the foot. "Come here till
I tell you about the crabs."
remember that I got up and went out of the low window on to the porch,
looking down at the quiet dun shadows and the slope of yellowed grass
leading to the river, while Jacky and the boy kept up a hurly-burly
conversation about soldier-crabs that tore each other's legs off, and
purple and pink sea-roses that ate raw meat, and sea-spiders like specks
of blood in the rocks. My husband laughed once or twice, helping Jacky
out with her natural history. I think it was the sound of that cheery,
mellow laugh of his that fermented every bitter drop in my heart, and
brought clearly before me for the first time the idea of the course
which I afterwards followed. I thrust it back then, as if it had been
a sneer of the Devil's at all I held good and pure. What was there in
the world good and pure for me but the man sitting yonder, and the thought
that I was his wife? And yet---- I had an unquiet brain, of moderate
power, perhaps, but which had been forced and harried and dragged into
exertion every moment of my life, according to the custom with women
in the States from which I came. Every meanest hint of a talent in me
had been nursed, every taste purged, by the rules of my father's clique
of friends. The chance of this was all over,-- had been escaping since
my marriage-day. Now I clearly saw the life opening before me. What
would taste or talent be worth in the coarse struggle we were about
to begin for bread and butter? "Surely, we have lost something
beyond money," I thought, looking behind into the room, where my
husband was quietly going back to the Arndts in quest of food for reflection,
and Jacky prosed on about sea-anemones. I caught a glimpse of my sallow
face in the mirror: it was full of a fierce disgust. Was their indifference
to this loss a mere torpid ignorance of the actual brain- and soul-wants
it would bring on us, or did they really look at life and accept its
hard circumstances from some strange standing-ground of which I knew
nothing? I had not become acclimated to the atmosphere of my husband's
family in the year and a half that I had been his wife. He had been
married before; there were five children, beginning at Robert, the young
preacher at Newport, and ending with Teddy, beating the drum with his
fists yonder on the table; all of them, like their father, Western-born,
with big, square-built frames, and grave, downright-looking faces; simple-hearted,
and much given, the whole party, to bursts of hearty laughter, and a
habit of perpetually joking with each other. There might be more in
them than this, but I had not found it: I doubted much if it were worth
the finding. I came from a town in Massachusetts, where, as in most
New-England villages, there was more mental power than was needed for
the work that was to be done, and which reacted constantly on itself
in a way which my husband called unwholesome; it was no wonder, therefore,
that these people seemed to me but clogs of flesh, the mere hands by
which the manual work of the world's progress was to be accomplished.
I had hinted this to Doctor Manning one day, but he only replied by
the dry, sad smile with which it had become his habit of late to listen
to my speculations. It had cost me no pain thus to label and set aside
his children: but for himself it was different; he was my husband. He
was the only thing in the world which I had never weighed and valued
to estimate how much it was worth to me: some feeling I could not define
had kept me from it until now. But I did it that evening: I remember
how the cool river-air blew in the window-curtain, and I held it back,
looking steadily in at the thick-set, middle-aged figure of the man
sitting there, in the lamp-light, dressed in rough gray: peering at
the leather-colored skin, the nervous features of the square face, at
the scanty fringe of iron-gray whisker, and the curly wig which he had
bought after we were married, thinking to please me, at the brown eyes,
with the gentle reticent look in them belonging to a man or beast who
is thorough "game"; taking the whole countenance as the metre
of the man; going sharply over the salient points of our life together,
measuring myself by him, as if to know-- what? to know what it would
cost me to lose him. God be merciful to me, what thought was this? Oh,
the wrench in heart and brain that came then! A man who has done a murder
may feel as I did while I stood for the next half-hour looking at the
red lights of the boats going up and down the Hudson, in the darkening
a while Teddy came waddling out on the porch, in his usual uncouth fashion,
and began pulling at my cape.
getting cold, mother. Come in. Come!"
remember how I choked as I tried to answer him, and, patting his gilt-buttoned
coat, took the fat chapped little hands in mine, kissing them at last.
I was so hungry for affection that night! I would have clung to a dog
that had been kind to me. I thought of the first day Doctor Manning
had brought him to me, in this same comical little jacket, by the way,
and the strangely tender tone in which he had said,-- "This is
your mother, boy. He's as rough as a bear, Hetty, but he won't give
you trouble or pain. Nothing shall give you pain, if I"---- Then
he stopped. I never heard that man make a promise. If he had come out
instead of Teddy on the porch that night, and had spoken once in the
old tone, calling me "Hetty," God knows how different all
that came after would have been. The motherless boy, holding himself
up by my knees, was more sturdy than I that night, and self-reliant:
never could have known, in his most helpless baby-days, the need with
which I, an adult woman, craved a cheering word, and a little petting.
came behind me and pinned a woollen shawl around my neck, patting my
shoulders in her cozy, comfortable fashion.
of your dark river-fogs at Newport," she laughed. "The sea-air
has the sweep of half the world to gather the cold and freshness in,
and it makes even your bones alive. Your very sleep is twice as much
sleep there as anywhere else."
rough voice was like the cuckoo's: it always prophesied pleasant weather.
She went in again now, and sat down on her little sewing-chair. The
low, rolling fogs outside, and the sharp September wind rattling the
bare branches of the orchard-trees and the bushes on the lawn, only
made the solid home-look of comfort within warmer and brighter. There
was a wood-fire kindled on the library-hearth, and its glow picked out
red flushes of light on the heavy brown curtains, and the white bust
of Psyche, and a chubby plaster angel looking down. Jacky, rocking and
sewing, her red mouth pursed up, half whistling, suited the picture,
somehow, I could not but feel, mere lump and matter though she might
be. There was something fresh and spicy about her. I never had been
impressed so justly by her as on that night. Rough, perhaps, but it
was a pure roughness: everything about the girl had been clean since
she was born, you felt, from the paint of the house where she lived
to the prayer her nurse had taught her. Her skin was white and ruddy,
her blue eyes clear and full of honesty, her brown curls crisp and unoiled.
She could not reason, maybe; but she was straightforward and comfortable:
every bone in her roly-poly little figure forgot to be a bone, and went
into easy cushions of dimpled flesh. If ever Jacky died and went into
a more spiritual world, she would be sure to take with her much of the
warmth and spring and vigor of this. She had drawn her chair close to
Doctor Manning's, where the flickering light touched the soft woollen
folds of her dress and the bit of crimson ribbon at her throat. He liked
bright colors, like most men of his age. It was a pretty picture.
turned and looked down at the river again, shivering,-- trying to think
of the place and all we were leaving. I did not wonder that it cost
the others little to give up the house: it meant but little to them.
Doctor Manning had bought it just before we were married, being then
a square chocolate-colored farm-house, and we had worked our own whims
on it to make it into a home, thrusting out a stout-pillared big porch
at one side, and one or two snug little bay-windows from my sewing-room.
There was a sunny slope of clover down to the river, a dusky old apple
and plum orchard at the left, and Mary's kitchen-garden on the right,
with a purblind old peacock strutting through the paths, showing its
green and gold. Not much in all this: nothing to please Jacky's artist
and poet sense, if she had any. But---- I held on to the porch-railings
now, drumming with my fingers, as I thought of it. It was all the childhood
I had ever known. He brought me there the day we were married, and until
August-- six months-- we had been there alone. I could hear his old
nag Tinder neighing now, in the stable where we used to go every evening
to feed and rub him down: for I went with Daniel, as I called him, then,
everywhere, even to consult his mason or farm-hands. He used to stand
joking with them a minute after the business was over, in an unwonted
fashion for him, and then scramble into the buggy beside me, and drive
off, his fresh, bright eye turned to the landscape as if enjoying it
for the first time.
bless you, Hetty!" he used to say, "this is putting new blood
into my veins."
in those long rides, I used to succeed in coaxing him imperceptibly
back to talk of his life in South America'-- not only that I liked to
hear this new phase of wild adventuring life, but my own blood would
glow and freshen to see the fierce dare-devil look come back into the
eye, and the shut teeth of the grave, laconic old Doctor. People did
not know the man I had married,-- no; and I would draw in closer to
his shaggy coat, and spur him on to his years of trading in the West,
and later in this State. He had a curious epigrammatic way of talking
that I have noticed in a less degree in many Western men: coming at
the marrow and meaning of a scene or person in his narration with a
sheer subtilized common-sense, a tough appreciation of fact beyond theory,
and of its deeper, juster significance, and a dramatic aptness for expression.
Added to all this, my husband's life had been compacted, crowded with
incident; it had saddened and silenced his nature abnormally; this was
the first break: a going back to what he might have been, such as his
children were now.
never talked to any one before, Hetty," he said thoughtfully once,
as we were driving along, after a few moments' silence. "I feel
as if I had got breath, this late in the day, that I never expected,
for whatever thought was in me,-- and-- whatever love."
turned away his face, crimson at this. He was as strangely reticent
and tender on some points as a woman. So seldom he put his love into
words! That time I remember how the tears suddenly blinded me, when
I heard him, and my fingers grew unsteady, holding the reins. I was
so happy and proud. But I said nothing: he would not have liked it.
one time in his life Doctor Manning had never talked to me: of his earlier
youth; when he was married before. He was not a man of whom you could
ask questions; yet I had hinted an inquiry once or twice in his presence,
but only by a change of color and a strange vague restlessness had he
shown that he understood my drift of meaning. Soon after that, his eldest
son, Robert, came to see his father's new wife, and stayed with us a
day or two. He was a short, thickly built young man, with heavy jaws
and black hair and eyes,-- keen eyes, I soon felt, that were weighing
and analyzing me as justly, but more shrewdly than ever his father had
done. The night before he went away he came up to the porch-step where
I sat, and said abruptly,--
am satisfied, and happy to go now."
am glad of that," I said earnestly; for the tenderness of the son
to the father had touched me.
You cannot know the dread I had of seeing you. I knew the risk he ran
in laying his happiness in any woman's hands at his hour of life. But
it was hard he never should know a home and love like other men,"--
his voice unsteady, and with an appealing look.
never shall need it," I said, quietly.
think not?"-- his eyes on the ground. "At all events,"--
after a pause,-- "he is resting like a child now: it will not be
easy to startle him to any harsh reality, and," looking up, "I
hope God may deal with you, Mrs. Manning, as you deal with my father.
Forgive me," as I began to speak, "you do not know what this
is to me. It makes me rough, I know. I never yet have forgiven the woman
that"---- His mother? He caught the look, stopped, pushed his hair
back, caught his breath. "One thing let me say," after a moment's
silence. "You do not know my father. If he wakens to find his wife
is not what he thinks her, it will be too late for me to warn you then.
He has been hurt sore and deeply in his life. Your chance is but once."
did not reply to Robert Manning, nor was I offended: there was too much
solemnity in his coarseness. The man's affection for his father was
as part of his life-blood, I believed.
husband came to me when he saw Robert go, and loosened my hands from
my face. I clung to him as I never did before.
is this hurt he talks of in your life, Daniel? Will I be enough to take
it out? Will I?"
laughed, a low, constrained laugh, holding my shoulders as if I were
a bit of a child.
knows you are enough, Hetty. I never thought He'd send me this. Rob
has been talking to you? He"----
loves me,-- poor Rob!"
me of those people that hurt you, as he says."
was a prurient, morbid curiosity that had seized me. A sort of shiver
ran over his frame.
what, Hetty?"-- in a low voice. "Let that go, let that go,"--
standing silent a moment, looking down. "Why would we bring them
back, and hack over the old dead faults? Had she no pain to bear? We
couldn't find that out to speak for her. But God knows it."
might have known how my question would have ended; for, always, he covered
over the ill-doing of others with a nervous haste, with the charity
of a man himself sharply sensitive to pain.
is healthful to go back to past pain," I said, half dissatisfied.
it so?"-- doubtfully, as he turned away with me. "I don't
know, child. Now and then He has to punish us, or cut out a cancer maybe.
But for going back to gloat over the cure or the whiplash---- No; it
will keep us busy enough to find good air and food, every minute for
itself"; and, with a ruddy, genial smile, he had stopped and kissed
year had passed since that night. I was standing on the same porch,
but I was alone now. My husband sat a few feet from me in his old easy-chair,
but no gulf could have parted us so wide and deeply. Robert Manning
had said I would have but one chance. Well, I had had it, and it was
gone. So I stood there, looking quietly at him and Jacky and the boy.
The child had pushed his father's wig off, and his bare head with its
thin iron-gray hair fell forward on his breast, resting on Teddy's sleeping
cheek. I saw now how broad and sad the forehead was,-- the quiet dignity
on the whole face. Yet it had been such a simple-hearted thing to do,--
to buy that wig to please me! One of those little follies the like of
which would never come again.
went in and sat down as usual, apart, throwing aside from my neck the
shawl which Jacky had pinned there, loathing anything she had touched,
so real and sharp was the thought about her become, as if the evening's
fog and cold had lent it a venomous life. They had made a quiet cozy
picture before, which had bitterly brought back our first married days,
but it was broken up now. The Doctor's three boys came lumbering in,
with muddy shoes, game-bags, and the usual fiery faces and loud jokes
after their day's sport. Jacky threw down her sewing and went out to
see the squirrels drawn, and the Doctor smoothed Teddy's hair, looking
after them with a pleased smile. One of the rarest sparkles of our daily
life! It was a year since Doctor Manning had brought his children home.
They filled the house. Musing on the past now, and trying to look at
that year calmly, while I sat by the fire, my husband would fade back
in the picture into an unmeaning lay-figure. Was this my fault? Could
I help it, if God had made me with a different, clearer insight into
life and its uses than these people with their sound beef and muscle,
their uncouth rejoicing in being alive? There was work enough in them:
a broad-fisted grappling with the day's task or obstacle, a drinking
of its pain or success into their slow brains, but nowhere the metre
to note the soul's changes, nor the eye to speculate on them. "No,"
my husband had said to me one day, "we Western people have the
mass of this country's appointed work to do, so we are content that
God should underlie the hypotheses. We waste no strength in guesses
at the reason why."
remember how intolerably the days of that year dragged even in memory,
as I sat there trying to judge them fairly,-- how other years of my
life thrust them aside, persistently, as foreign, alien to me. These
others were to me home,-- the thoughts that had held me nearest the
divine life: I went back to them, my eyes wet, and my heart sick under
my weak lungs. The little village of Concord, away up yonder, where
I was born,-- I was glad to have been born there: thinking how man not
only had learned there to stand self-poised and found himself God, but
Nature herself seemed there to stop and reflect on her own beauty, and
so root deeper in the inner centre. The slow-dropping river, the thoughtful
hills, the very dust-colored fern that covers its fields, which might
grow in Hades, so breathless and crisp it is, came back to me with a
glamour of quiet that night. The soul had space to grow there! remembering
how its doors of thought stood wider open to welcome truth than anywhere
else on earth. "The only object in life is to grow." It was
my father's,-- Margaret Fuller's motto. I had been nursed on it, I might
say. There had been a time when I had dreamed of attaining Margaret's
stature; and as I thought of that, some old subtile flame stirred in
me with a keen delight. New to me, almost; for, since my baby was born,
my soul as well as my body had been weak and nauseated. It had been
so sharp a disappointment! I had intended my child should be reared
in New England: what I had lacked in gifts and opportunities he should
possess: there was not a step of his progress which I had not mapped
out. But the child was a girl, a weazen-faced little mortal, crying
night and day like any other animal. It was an animal, wearing out in
me the strength needed by-and-by for its mental training. I sent it
to a nurse in the country. Her father had met the woman carrying it
out to the wagon, and took it in his arms. "Eh? eh? is it so, little
lass?" I heard him say. For days after that he looked paler, and
his face had a quiet, settled look, as if he had tested the world and
was done with it. The days of Tinder and the paddock and the drives
were long gone then. I do not remember that after this he ever called
me Hetty. But he was cheerful as ever with the boys, and, the week after,
did I think of all this now? Some latent, unconscious jar of thought
brought suddenly before me a scene of many years before, a damp spring
morning in Paris, when I had gone to Rosa Bonheur's studio, just out
of the city, to see her "Horse-Fair": the moist smell of jonquils;
the drifting light clouds above the Seine, like patches of wool; but
most, the peculiar life that seemed to impregnate the place itself,
holding her, as it were, to her own precise niche and work in the world,--
the sharply managed lights, the skins, trappings, her disguises on the
walls, the stables outside, and the finished work before us, instinct
with vigor and an observation as patient as keen. I remembered how some
one had quoted her as saying, "Any woman can be a wife or mother,
but this is my work alone."
too, had my gift: but one. But again the quick shiver of ecstasy ran
through me;-- it was my power, my wand with which to touch the world,
my "Vollmachtsbrief zum Glücke": was I to give it unused
back to God? I could sing: not that only; I could compose music,-- the
highest soul-utterance. I remember clutching my hands up to my throat,
as if holding safe the power that should release me, suffer me to grow
again, and looking across the oil-lamp on the table at my husband. I
had been called, then,-- set apart to a mission; it was a true atom
of the creative power that had fired by brain; my birth had placed me
on a fitting plane of self-development, and I had thrust it all aside--
for what? A mess of weakest pottage,-- a little love, silly rides behind
Tinker, petting and paltering such as other women's souls grew imbecile
without. It was the consciousness of this that had grown slowly on me
in the year just gone; I had put my husband from me day by day because
of it; it had reached its intolerable climax to-night. Well, it was
fact: no fancy. My nature was differently built from others: I could
look now at my husband, and see the naked truth about us both. Two middle-aged
people, with inharmonious intellects; tastes and habits jarring at every
step, clenched together only by faith in a vague whim or fever of the
blood called love. Better apart: we were too old for fevers. If I remained
with Doctor Manning, my rôle was outlined plain to the end: years
of cooking, stitching, scraping together of cents: it was the fate of
thousands of married women without means, to grovel every year nearer
the animal life, to grow niggardly and common. Better apart.
I thought that, he laid Teddy down, and came towards me,-- the usual
uncertain, anxious half-smile on his face with which he regarded me.
am sure they will all like my old home, now, lads and all. I'm glad
of that. Sure of all but you, Hester. But you say nothing."
loss is great."
shut my lips firmly, and leaned back, for he had put his hard hand gently
on my shoulder. It made me turn faint, with some weakness that must
have come down to me from my infant days, so meaningless was it. I did
not hear his answer; for with the same passionate feebleness I caught
the sleeve of his dressing-gown in my fingers, and began smoothing it.
It was the first thing I had ever made for him. I remembered how proud
I was the evening he put it on. He was looking down steadily at me with
his grave, reasonable eyes, and speaking when I looked up.
have been knocked up and down so perpetually in my own life: that may
be the reason the change did not trouble me as it ought. It makes one
feel as if outside matters were but just the tithes of mint and cumin,--
a hurly-burly like that which I've lived in. I am sorry. I thought you
would grieve least of all, Hester. You are stronger-brained than we
Mannings, eh? I was sure the life meant so much more to you than food
do you mean by the life? Have I found it here, Daniel?"
want work fit for me," I said almost fiercely. "God made me
for a good, high purpose."
know," cheerfully. "We'll find it, dear: no man's work is
kept back from him. We'll find it together."
under the cheerfulness there was a sad quiet, as of one who has lost
something forever, and tries to hide the loss from himself. There was
a moment's silence, then I got up, and pushed him down into my chair.
I took the gray head in my arms, leaned it on my shoulder, held the
thin bits of hair in my hand.
me Hetty, Daniel. I'd like to think that name belonged to me yet."
dear. Why! but-- this is just the old times again, Hetty! You'll be
bringing me my slippers again."
went to the cupboard, and brought them, sitting down on the floor as
he put them on. Another of the old foolish tricks gone long ago. There
was a look on his face which had not been there this many a day. He
had such a credulous heart, so easy to waken into happiness. I took
his wrist in my bony hands, to raise myself; the muscles were like steel,
the cording veins throbbing with health; there was an indescribable
rest in the touch.
I said, looking him full in the face, "I'd like to give up my soul,
and forget everything but you."
did not answer. I think now that he understood me then and before far
better than I dreamed. He only put his hand on mine with an unutterable
tenderness. I could read nothing on his face but a grave common-sense.
Presently he unbuttoned my sleeves and the close collar about my throat
to let the cool damp blow on me.
I said, "it's a fever, Daniel. In the blood. That is all,-- with
me. I decided that long ago. It will not last long." And I laughed.
he said quietly. "I am going to write Rob now, about our plans.
You can help me."
followed him, and sat down by the table. "There is something in
the man stronger than the woman," I thought, doggedly, "inside
of blood and muscle." Yet the very galling of that consciousness
set me more firmly in the mind to be again free.
month after that we came to Newport. It was not an idle month. Jacky
had proposed a review of my husband's and his sons' clothes, and day
after day I had sat by the window looking out on the sluggish Hudson,
a hank of patent thread about my neck, stitching patches on the stiff,
half-worn trousers, "It becomes us to take care of the pence now,"
she would say, and go on with her everlasting whistling. La-la. It rasped
on my brain like the chirp of the partridge outside in the cedar-hedge.
When she would go out of the room sometimes, I would hold my hand to
my head, and wonder if it was for this in reality God had made me.
I had my own secret. The work of my life, before I was married, had
been the score of an opera. I got it out now by stealth, at night, putting
my pen to it here and there, with the controlled fever with which a
man might lay his hand on a dear dead face, if he knew the touch would
bring it back to life. Was there any waking that dead life of mine?
At that time, in New York, M. Vaux was trying the experiment of an English
opera in one of the minor theatres. I sent the score to him. It did
not trouble me, that, if produced, its first effect would be tried on
an uncultured caste of hearers: if the leaven was pure, what matter
where it began to work? and no poet or artist was ever more sincere
in the belief that the divine power spoke through him than I. I thought,
that, if I remained with Doctor Manning as his wife, this venture mattered
little: if I shook myself free, and, taking up my mission, came before
the public as a singer, it would open the way for me. For my plan had
grown defined and practical to me now.
Vaux had left his family at Newport after the season was over. I was
to meet him there when we went down, and hear his decision on the score.
I met him one day on Broadway, and, hinted my vague desire of making
my voice also available.
sing? did you say sing, Mrs. Manning? go on the stage?"-- pawing
his chin with one hand.
was a short, puffy little man, with a bullet head at half-cock in the
air, producing a general effect of nostrils on you.
eh?" he mumbled, once or twice.
this I had been Mrs. Manning, throwing off an opera-score as a careless
whim, one of the class to whom he and his like presented arms: he surveyed
me now with the eye of a stock-raiser buying a new mule, and set the
next evening as the time when I should "drop in at his house and
give him a trill or two.-- Keeping dark before the old man yet, eh?"
with a wink. I went in the next day, but he declined to pronounce judgment
until we came to Newport.
remember my husband met me at the gate when I returned, and lifted me
from the little pony-carriage.
so glad my girl is taking her drives again."-- his face in a glow,--
"coming back with the old red cheeks, too. They're a sort of hint
of all the good years coming. We're far off from being old people yet,
Hetty." And so went beside me slowly up the garden-walk, his hands
clasped behind him, stopping to look now and then at his favorite purple
and crimson hollyhocks.
looked at him askance, as we went through the evening shadows. There
was something grand in the quiet of the face, growing old with the depth
of sadness and endurance subdued in it: the kindly smile over all. I
had brought the smile there. But it would not be for long: and I remember
how the stalk of gilly-flower I held snapped in my hand, and its spicy
odor made me throw it down. I have loathed it ever since. Was my life
to be wasted in calling a smile to an old man's face? My husband and
M. Vaux were different men; but, on the other side, they were gates
to me of different lives: here, a sordid slavery of work; there,-- something
in me glowed warm and triumphant,-- fame and an accomplished deed in
these mawkish home-ties were fast loosing their hold on me, I thought,
as we went in. I asked no questions as to my husband's plans; no one
spoke to me of them. In the few days before our departure I roped up
chairs, packed china in straw, sorted clothes into trunks, working harder
than the others, and then creeping off alone would hum an air from the
score, thanking God for giving me this thoroughly pure, holy message
to utter in the world. It was the redemption of my soul from these vulgar
taints: it was a sort of mortgage I held on the eternal truth and life.
Yet, when no one told me of their plans, when I saw they all held some
secret back from me, watching me constantly and furtively, when Jacky
buzzed about my husband all day, whispering, laughing, cooking his favorite
omelet for breakfast, bringing his slippers at night,-- it was like
so many sharp stings through stupor. "It's the woman's flesh of
me!" I used to say bitterly, when I would have been glad to meanly
creep after them, to cuddle Teddy up in my arms, or to lean my head
on his father's knees. "I can live it down. I have 'a manly soul.'"
For it was part of my creed that Nature was something given us to be
lived down in fulfilling our mission.
went by the evening's boat to Newport. I saw M. Vaux in the outer cabin,
as we passed through: he nodded familiarly when Doctor Manning's back
was turned, without removing his cigar.
was stifling below, with the smell of frying meat and numerous breaths.
We went on deck, my husband drawing a bench around to shelter me from
the keen wind across the bow, and wrapping my flannel hood closer to
my throat when we drifted out within scent of salt water. It was a night
that waited and listened: the sea silent and threatening, a few yellow,
dogged, low breakers running in at long intervals; now and then a rasping
gurgle of wind from shore, as of one who held his breath; some thin,
brown clouds ragged along the edges of the cold sky, ready for flight.
sat there thinking how well the meaning of the sea suited my soul that
night. It was no work of God's praising Him continually: it was the
eternal protest and outcry against Fate,-- chained, helpless, unappealing.
Let the mountains and the sunshine and the green fields chant an anthem,
if they would; but for this solitary sea, with its inarticulate cry,
surely all the pain and impatience of the world's six thousand years
had gone down and found a voice in that. Having thus cleared to myself
the significance of the sea in Nature, I was trying to define its exact
effect upon my own temperament, (a favorite mental exercise of my father's,)
when my husband touched my shoulder.
go down and smoke a bit, Hetty dear, and leave you with Jacky. She's
as good guard as a troop of horse."
nodded vehemently once or twice from where she stood, followed him with
her eyes as he went down the steps, anxiously, and then stood gravely
silent. She was but a lump of 'woman's flesh," that was clear,
and I doubted if there was any soul inside to live it down. Her face
was red and her eyes shining with the sea-wind. She had been at the
stern with the boys, making a riot about the porpoises rolling under
the boat; in the engine-room with Teddy; had tried to drag me to the
deck-railing to watch the unsteady shimmer of some pale-blue sea-weed
under the water, which the wheel threw up in silver flashes, or to see
how, before the sun went down, we floated over almost motionless stretches
of pale tea-colored water, holding, it seemed, little curdling pools
of light far below in their depths on depths of shivering brown and
dull red mosses.
I'm glad I'm alive tonight!" she had said, gritting her teeth in
her Dutch fashion.
some new demon had possession of her brain now: she stood working with
her shawl uncertainly, a trifle pale, watching me. She came to me at
last, and stood balancing herself first on her heels and then her toes,
biting her lip as if doubtful how to begin.
wish we had the baby along!" came with a gruff burst, finally.
"God bless its little soul! I went out to see it on Saturday. It
would do Uncle Daniel good. He needs something fresh and hearty, bread-and-butter-like,
or a baby. You did not notice him this evening particularly, Mrs. Manning,
Well, no matter. I'm fanciful, maybe. There's an old saying in the family
about him, some Doctor's prophecy, and it makes me over-watchful, likely."
waited for a question. I asked none. There was a dull throb of pain
in my heart, but I thrust it down. The girl waited a few moments, debating
with herself: I could read the struggle on her face: then she looked
up straight into my eyes, her small white teeth showing determined as
quiet here, Mrs. Manning, and will be for a bit, and there's a story
I'd like to tell you. It would do me good, if it were off my mind. Perhaps
you, too," with a sharp glance."
put her hand into her pocket and pulled out a broken morocco case.
here. This tells the whole of the story, almost,"-- holding it
where the light from the cabin-window fell on it.
was the daguerreotype of a woman: one of those faces that grow out of
a torpid, cunning, sensual life; apparently marked, too, by some strange
disease, the skin white, and hanging loose from the flesh. I pushed
it away. Jacqueline polished it with her palm.
was an opium-eater, you see? The eyes have that rigid staring, like
Death looking into life. You pushed it from you, Mrs. Manning?"--
shutting it. "Yet I know a man who cherished that living face tenderly
in his bosom for fifteen long years, and never opened his lips to say
to God once that it was hard to bear: faugh!" and she flung the
case into the water. "I only kept it to show you. She, the foul
vampire, sucked his youth away. I think it was but the husk of a life
that was left him when she died;-- and we are making that mean and poor
enough,"-- in a lower voice. "Yet that man"-- more firmly--
"has a stronger brain and fresher heart than you or I are fit to
comprehend, Mrs. Manning. One would think God meant that the last of
his life, after that gone, should be a warm Indian-summer day, opening
broad and happily into the life He is keeping for him,-- would you not?"
is the man?"-- my lips growing cold.
thought so. You did well to tell me that story."
looked from me, her color coming and going.
was hard to do it. You are an older woman than I. But I thought it was
looked up at the hard-set, chubby little face, beyond at the far yellow
night-line of the sea, listened to the low choke, choke, of the water
in the wheels.
wish you would leave me. Let me be alone awhile."
went to the other end of the deck, where she could keep me in sight.
It was so dull, that throb of the water, playing some old tune that
would not vary! The sea stretched out in such blank, featureless reaches!
nestle down into this man's heart and life! To make his last years that
warm Indian-summer day! I could do it! I! What utter rest there were
was this power within me to rot and waste? My nature, all the habit
and teaching of the years gone, dragged me back, held up my Self before
me, bade me look at that. A whiff of tobacco-scented breathing made
me look up. M. Vaux was leaning on the deck-railing, his legs crossed,
surveying me critically through his half-shut eyes.
'm glad of the chance t' tell you. Henz and Doctor Howe thought so well
of that little thing of yours that we've put it in rehearsal,-- bring
it out Monday week. 'N' 've concluded you can try the part of Marian
in it. Not much in that,-- one aria you can make something of, but begin
have concluded to give up that scheme, Monsieur."
tut! No such thing. Why, you've a master-talent,-- that is, with cultivation,
cultivation. A fine gift, Madam. Belongs to the public. Why," tapping
his yellow teeth with his cane-head, "it's shutting up a bird in
a cage, to smother a voice like yours. Must have training,-- yes, yes,
'll see to that; 'n' there are tricks and bits of stage-effect; but
you'll catch 'em,-- soon enough. There's other little matters,"
with a furtive glance at my square shoulders and bony figure, "necessary
to success. But you'll understand."
saw how anxious the man was that I should accede to the proposal. I
had not overrated my genius, then?
the thing's to be done, let it be done quickly. I'm going to run back
to town to-morrow night, and you'd best go with me, and can go in rehearsal
at once. You can break it to your people to-morrow. I'll meet you in
the boat,-- that is," with an unwilling hesitation, "if you
decide to go."
will let you know," I said; and as he walked away, the water began
its dull throb, throb, again, that lasted all night long.
night long! Other people may approach the crisis of their fate with
senses and faculties all on guard and alert; but with me, although I
knew the next day would witness my choice for life, I believe that heavy
thud of water was the most real thought, trying my brain beyond endurance.
I tried to reason coolly in the night about M. Vaux and his scheme:
both vulgar, degrading in outside appearance,-- I felt that, to the
quick, keenly enough; but inside lay a career, utterance for myself,--
and I had been dumb and choking so long!
beam of light from the cabin-chandelier struck just then sharply across
Doctor Manning's face, where he lay asleep in his berth. There was an
unusual look in it, as Jacky had said, now that I looked closely: a
blueness about the mouth, and a contraction of the nostrils. Was it
a hint of any secret disease, that she had looked so terrified, and
even the boys had kept such a sidelong scrutiny over him all day? I
sat up. If I could go to him, put my hands about his head, cling to
him, let my young strength and life ooze into his to atone for all he
had lost in those old days! There was passion and power of love under
my stiff-muscled fingers and hard calculating brain, such as these people
with their hot blood knew nothing of. It was passion, a weak fever of
the flesh. I drew the sheet over me, and lay down again.
morning was stiflingly hot. I remember the crowd of porters, drays,
etc., jostling on the wharf: the narrow street: Monsieur passing me,
as we turned into it, and muttering, "By six this afternoon I must
know your decision": Robert's grave, inquiring face, when he first
met his father, and saw his changed look. The rooms he had taken for
us were but partially furnished, carpetless, the sun staring in through
dirty windows, blue and yellow paper on the walls. He went out with
Dr. Manning for a walk; the boys scattered off noisily to the sea-side.
I went to work making a sort of lounge for Teddy to sleep on, out of
some blocks of wood and staves of an old barrel, and so passed the time
until noon. Then I sat down to mend the weekly heap of boys' socks,
half-washed and leather-stained. Out of the window where I sat I looked
down into the muddy back-yard of the boarding-house, where an Irishwoman
was washing and gossiping with the cook cleaning fish over the ash-heap.
This was what Life held for me now, was it? When the door was opened,
a strong whiff of dinner filled the room. Two o'clock came.
will not go down to dinner," I said to Jacqueline, when the cracked
bell rang. "I will go out and find Doctor Manning on the cliffs.
I may have something to say to him."
when she was gone, I darned on at the unclean socks. Somehow the future
faced me in my work and surroundings. But I did not think of it as a
whole. The actual dignity and beauty of life, God's truth itself, may
have grown dim to me, behind a faint body and tired fingers; but let
the hard-worked woman who is without that sin throw the first stone
at me. I got up at last, folded the stockings, and put them away; then
pinned on my bonnet and shawl. Teddy was sitting on the stairs, half
asleep. I stopped to kiss him.
be back soon, mother?"-- hugging me close about the neck.
bye, Bud! Bring your father his pipe to-night, as he likes you to do,--
and every night."
strained him close to my breast again; he had a warm, honest little
heart of his own; he would be such a man as his father. I gasped, set
him down: I dared not kiss him after I thought of that: and went out
of the hall, stumbling over the boarders' hats and greasy oil-cloth.
Without, the air had that yellow stirless calm peculiar to Newport,
which gives to the sea and landscape the effect of those French pictures
glassed in tinted crystal. There were but few passengers on the street.
I wondered if any of them held his fate in his hand as I did mine that
day. Before I reached the cliffs the afternoon was passing away rapidly;
the heated pavements under my feet growing cooler, and barred with long
gray shadows; a sea-breeze blowing tattered sand-colored clouds inland;
the bell of the steamer rang out sharply down at the quiet little wharf.
In half an hour she would sail. M. Vaux was on board, awaiting me. I
had but little time to spare.
turned and crept slowly along the road to where the grassy street opened
on the cliffs, and sat down on the brown rocks. I could see my husband
on the sands with Robert, pacing to and fro; the scent of their cigars
almost reached me where I sat. I must see him once more. The bell of
the boat rang again; but I sat still, breaking off bits of the salt
crust from the rock, hardly looking up to see if her steam was up. I
was going. I knew she would not sail until I was on board. And I must
see him again; he would call me Hetty, maybe: that would be something
to remember. It was very quiet. The bare, ghastly cliffs formed a sort
of crescent, on which I sat; far below, the sea rolled in, over the
white sand, in heavy ashen sweeps: in one horn of the crescent the quaint
old town nestled, its smoky breath sleepily giving good-night to the
clear pink air; in the other stood the sullen fort, the flag flapping
sharply against the sky. The picture cut itself vividly on my brain.
The two black figures came slowly towards me, across the sands, seeing
me at last. I would not tell him I was going: I could write from New
York: I thought, my courage giving way. What a hard, just face Robert
Manning had! What money I made should go to the support of my child:
Robert should not think me derelict in every duty. Then I tried to get
up to meet them, but leaned back more heavily on the rocks, twisting
my fingers in a tuft of salt hay that grew there.
heard Robert say something about "jaded" and "overworked,"
as he looked at me, throwing away his cigar; his father answered in
a whisper, which made the young man's face soften, and when they came
near, he called me "mother," for the first time. Into the
face of the man beside him I did not look: I thought I never could look
again. There was a small rip in the sleeve of his great-coat: I remember
I saw it, and wondered feebly if Jacky would attend to it,-- if my child,
when she was a woman, would be careful and tender with her father. Meantime
my husband was talking in his cheerfullest, heartiest voice.
here makes me feel as if the old boy-time had come back, Hetty. Rob
and I have been planning out our new life, and the sea and the fresh
air and the very houses seemed to join in the talk, and help me on as
they used to do then. I'll begin all new: just as then. Only now"----
put his hand on my shawl with a motion that had infinite meaning and
affection in it. The little steamer at the wharf swayed and rocked.
Her freight was nearly all on deck: I had but a few moments more,--
that is, if I meant to be free.
are going down to the hotel for a few minutes,-- business, Hetty,"
he said. "Will you wait for us here? or are you afraid to be alone?"
I'm not afraid to be alone. It is better for me."
bye, then. Come, Rob."
did not say good-bye. Even then, I think I did not know what I had resolved.
I thrust my fingers deeper into the wet tuft of grass, heard the long
dash of the breakers on the beach, looked at the square black figure
of Robert Manning as it went slowly up the sandy road into the street.
At the other, taller and more bent, beside it, I did not once look.
I wiped the clammy moisture off my face and throat.
the woman's flesh of me," I said. "There is better stuff in
me than that. I will go now, and fulfil my calling."
the wharf, as I went creeping along, I met Monsieur. He offered me his
fat little arm, with smiles and congratulations, and handed me hurriedly
over the plank on to the deck. In a moment the steamer was puffing out
was to play Marian in my own opera. God had given me a power of head-work,
skill for a certain mission, and I was going to perform it. The vast,
vague substance on which I was to act was brought before me to-night,
palpable,-- the world, posterity, time; how did I call it? But, somehow,
it was not what I had dreamed of since my babyhood up yonder in Concord.
Nothing was vast or vague. I was looking into a little glass in a black-painted
frame, and saw the same Mrs. Manning, with the same high cheek-bones,
the yellow mole on the upper lip, the sorrowful brown eyes: dressed
in tulle now, though, the angular arms and shoulders bare, and coated
with chalk, a pat of rouge laid on each cheek: under the tulle-body
the same old half-sickness; the same throbbing back-tooth threatening
to ache. The room was small, triangular: a striped, reddish cotton carpet
on the floor, a door with a brass handle, my bandbox open on a chair,
a basin with soapy water, soiled towels, two dripping tallow-candles:
in short, a dressing-room in a theatre. Outside, wheels, pulleys, pasteboard
castles, trees, chairs, more bony women, more chalk, more tulle. Monsieur
in a greasy green dressing-gown odorous of tobacco, swearing at a boy
with blear eyes,-- a scene-shifter. The orchestra tuning beyond the
footlights: how vilely the first violin slurred over that second passage!
"Life's Prophecy," I called it; and that "Vision of Heaven,"
the trombonist came in always false on the bass, because, as Monsieur
said, he had always two brandy-slings too much. Beyond was "the
world," passive, to be acted upon; the parquet,-- ranged seats
of young men with the flash-stamp on them from their thick noses to
the broad-checked trousers; the dress-circle,-- young girls with their
eyes and brains full-facing their attendant sweethearts, and a side-giggle
for the stage; crude faces in the gallery, tamed faces lower down; gray
and red and black and tow-colored heads full of myriad teeming thoughts
of business, work, pleasure, outside of this: treble and tenor notes
wandering through them, dying almost ere born; touching what soul behind
the dress and brain-work? and touching it how? Ah, well! "I am
going to fulfil my mission." I said that, again and again, as I
stood waiting. "Now. This is it. I take it up." But my blood
would not be made to thrill.
wart must be covered," said a walking-lady in red paper-muslin,
touching the mole on my lip with Meen Fun. M. Vaux tapped at the door,--
a sly, oily smile on his mouth.
are honored to-night. Be prepared, my dear Madam, for surprises in your
audience. Your husband is in the house,-- and his son, Robert Manning."
put up my hands in the vain effort to cover the bare neck and shoulders,--
then, going back into the dressing-room, sat down, without a word. I
remember how the two tallow-candles flared and sputtered, as I sat staring
at them; how on the other side of the brass-handled door the play went
on, the pulleys creaked, and the trombones grated, and the other women
in tulle and chalk capered and sang, and that at last the stuffy voice
of the call-boy outside cried, "Marian, on," and it was my
time to fulfil my mission. I remember how broad a gap the green floor
of the stage made to the shining tin foot-lights; how the thousand brassy,
mocking eyes were centred on the lean figure that moved forward; how
I heard a weak quaver going up, and knew it to be my own voice: I remember
nothing more until the scene was ended: the test and last scene of the
opera it had been: and as the curtain fell, it was stopped by a faint,
dismal hiss that grew slowly louder and more venomous, was mingled with
laughs and jeers from the gallery, and the play was damned. I stood
with my white gauze and bony body and rouge behind a pasteboard flower-vase,
and looked out at the laughing mob of faces. This was the world; I had
done my best head-work for it, and even these plebian brains had found
it unfit for use, and tossed it aside. I waited there for a moment,
and then passing Monsieur, whose puffy face was purple with disappointment
and rage, went into the dressing-room.
wonder?" I heard him demand in French. "It was so coarse a
theft! But I hoped the catch-dresses would pass it off."
wrapped a flannel cloak over my airy robes, and went out, down the crooked
back-stairs into the street. I had no money; if I went back to the hotel
where I had been stopping, it would be as a beggar.
waited outside of the theatre by an old woman's candy-stand for the
crowd to hustle past, holding myself up by her chair-back. She was nodding,
for it was past midnight, but opened her red eyes to lift a little child
on her knees who had been asleep at her feet.
Puss, the play's out, it's time for you an' Granny to be snug at home."
laughed. Why, there was not one of these women or men crowding by, the
very black beggar holding your horse, who had not a home, a child to
touch, to love them,-- not one. And I-- I had my Self. I had developed
pulled the cloak closer about me and went down the pavement. The street
was thronged with street-cars stopping for the play-goers, hacks, and
omnibuses; the gas flamed in red and green letters over the house-fronts;
the crowd laughed and swayed and hummed snatches of songs, as they went
by. I saw one or two husbands drawing the wrappings tighter about their
wives' throats, for the air was sharp. My husband had seen my shoulders
to-night,-- so had they all, covered with chalk. There were children,
too, cuddling close to their mothers' sides in the carriages. I wondered
if my child would ever know it had a mother. So I went slowly down the
street. I never saw the sky so dark and steely a blue as it was that
night: if there had been one star in it, I think it would have looked
softer, more pitying, somehow, when I looked up. Knowing all that I
had done, I yet cannot but feel a pity for the wretch I was that night.
If the home I had desolated, the man and child I had abandoned, had
chosen their revenge, they could not have asked that the woman's flesh
and soul should rise in me with a hunger so mad as this.
the corner of the street, a group from the crowd had stopped at the
door of a drug-shop; they were anxious, curious, whispering back to
those behind them. Some woman fainting, perhaps, or some one ill. I
could not pass the lock of carriages at the crossing, and stopped, looking
into the green light of the window-bottles. In a moment I caught my
own name, "Manning," from a police-man who came out, and a
word or two added. The crowd drew back with a sudden breath of horror;
but I passed them, and went in. It was a large shop: the lustres, marble
soda-fountains, and glittering shelves of bottles dazzled me at first,
but I saw presently two or three men, from whom the crowd had shrunk
away, standing at the far end of the shop. Something lay on the counter
among them,-- a large, black figure, the arm hanging down, the feet
crossed. It did not move. I do not know how long I stood there, it might
be hours, or minutes, and it did not move. But I knew, the first moment
I looked at it, that it would never move again. They worked with him,
the three men, not speaking a word. The waistcoat and shirt were open;
there was a single drop of blood on the neck, where they had tried to
open a vein. After a while the physician drew back, and put his hand
gently on the shoulder of the shorter, stouter of the other two men,
friend," he said, compassionately.
Manning did not seem to hear him. He had knelt on the floor and hid
his face in the hand that hung down still and cold. The druggist, a
pale, little person, drew the doctor aside.
is it, now? Apoplexy?" his face full of pity.
Brought on by nervous excitement,-- heart, you know. Threatened a long
time, his son says. His wife, the woman who"----
policeman had been eying my dress under the cloak for some time.
You'd best move on," he whispered. "This an't no place for
the likes of you."
stood still a moment, looking at the brawny black figure lying on the
counter. The old days of Tinder and the paddock,-- I don't know why
I thought of them. It did not move: it never would move again. Dead.
I had murdered him. I! I got my fingers in my oily hair, and pulled
at it. "Hetty, Hetty Manning," I said, "good bye! Good
bye, Daniel!" I remember hearing myself laugh as I left the shop-door;
then I went down the street.
I was far down the Bowery, an old thought came feebly up in my brain.
It was how the water had choked, choked, all that night long in the
wheel of the boat. When I thought of that, I waited to think. Then I
turned and went to the bay, beyond Castle Garden.
rain, drip, dripping on a cottage-roof: on branches, too, near at hand,
that rustled and struck now and then against the little window-shutters,
in a fashion just dreary enough to make one nestle closer into the warm
bed, and peep out into the shadowy chamber, with the cozy little fire
burning hotly in the grate. Patter, patter: gurgling down the spouts:
slacking for a minute, threatening to stop and let you sleep in a usual,
soundless, vulgar way, as on other nights: then at it again, drip, drip,
more monotonous, cheerfuller in its dreariness than ever. Thunder, too:
growling off in the hills, where the night and rain found no snug little
bed-room to make brighter by their besieging: greenish-white jets of
lightning in the cracks of the shutters, making the night-lamp on the
toilet-table and the fire suddenly go out and kindle up fiercely again.
for a long time: hours or not, why should one try to know? A little
bed, with crimson curtains, cool white pillows: a soft bed, where the
aching limbs rested afresh with every turn. After a while, a comfortable,
dumpling little figure in a loose wrapper, popping out of some great
chair's depths by the fire and stirring some posset on the hearth: smelling
some medicine-bottle: coming to the bed-side, putting a fat hand on
one's forehead: a start, a nervous kiss, a shaky little laugh or two,
as she fumbles about, saying, "Hush-h!" and a sudden disappearing
behind the curtains. A grave, pale face looking steadily down, as if
afraid to believe, until the dear eyes fill with tears, and the head,
with its old wig, is dropped, and I and God only know what his soul
it you?-- Daniel?"
lifted me in his arms farther up on the pillow, smoothing the blankets
about me, trying to speak, but only choking, in a ridiculous fashion.
the opera, and the drug-shop, and"----
held my hand to my head.
truth is," said Jacky, bobbing out from behind the curtains, her
eyes suspiciously red and shiny, "I'm afraid you've had some bad
dreams, dear. Just take a teaspoonful of this, that's a good soul! You've
been ill, you see. Brain-fever, and what-not. The very day we came to
Newport. Uncle Daniel and Robert found you on the cliff."
we came from the hotel, you remember?" still pulling the blanket
up, his lip unsteady.
choke her; what a nurse you are, to be sure, Uncle Dan! And the woman's
feet as bare"----
there, Jacky! I know,"-- submissively, twitching at my nightcap,
and then gathering my head into his arms until I could hear how his
heart throbbed under the strong chest. "My wife! Hetty! Hetty!"
knew he was thanking God for giving me to him again. I dared not think
of God, or him: God, that had given me another chance.
lay there until morning, weak and limp, on his arm, touching it now
and then to be sure it was alive, an actual flesh-and-blood arm,-- that
I was not a murderer. Weak as any baby: and it seemed to me-- it comes
to me yet as a great truth-- that God had let me be born again: that
He, who gave a new life to the thief in his last foul breath, had given
me, too, another chance to try again. Jacky, who was the most arbitrary
of nurses, coiled herself up on the foot of the bed, and kept her unwinking
eyes sharp on us to enforce silence. Never were eyes more healthful
and friendly, I thought, feebly. But I tried all the time to press my
poor head in closer to my husband's breast: I was barely free from that
vacuum of death and crime, and in there were the strength and life that
were to save me; I knew that. God, who had brought me to this, alone
knew how I received it: whether it was a true wife that lay on Daniel
Manning's bosom that night; how I loathed the self I had worshipped
so long; how the misused, diseased body and soul were alive with love
for him, craved a week's, a day's life to give themselves utterly to
him, to creep closer to him and the Father that he knew so simply and
so well. I heard him once in the night, when he thought I was asleep,
say to himself something of the wife who had been restored to him, who
"was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found." But
how true those words were he can never know.
fell asleep towards morning, and when I woke, it was with a clear head
and stronger eye to comprehend my new chance in life. The room had a
pure, fresh, daylight look, snug and tidy; a clear fire crackled on
the clean hearth; Jacky herself had her most invigorating of morning
faces, going off at the least hint of a joke into redness and smiles.
It rained still, but the curtains were drawn back, and I could see through
the gray wet what a pleasant slope of meadow there was outside, clumped
over with horse-chestnuts and sycamores, down to a narrow creek. The
water was fogged over now with drifting mist, but beyond I caught glimpses
of low wooded hills, and far to the left the pale flush of the sea running
in on the sand. My husband was watching me eagerly as I looked out.
do not know where I am, Daniel."
of course you don't,"-- rubbing his forehead, as he always did
when he was especially pleased. "There's so much to tell you, Hetty
dear! We're beginning all new again, you see."
not tell a word, until she's had her breakfast," said Jacky, dogmatically,
coming with her white basin of cool water.
the remembrance of that plunge of cold on the hot skin, of the towel's
smelling of lavender, of the hard-brushed hair, of the dainty little
tray, with its smoking cup of fragrant, amber tea, and delicatest slice
of crisp toast! Truly, the woman's flesh of me, having been triumphant
so long, goes back with infinite relish to that first meal, and the
two bright faces bent over me. And then came Teddy, slying to the pillow-side,
watching my pale face and thin hands with an awe-struck gaze, and carrying
off the tea and toast to finish by the hearth.
can't see much for the rain, mother," anxiously. "Not the
orchard, nor the stable,-- but there is a stable, and hay, and eggs
every morning, only the gray hen's trying to set, if you'll believe
it. And old Mary's in the kitchen, and we've got even Tinder and our
old peacock from the Hudson."
your toast now, Captain," said his father, putting his arm about
Hetty, it's a bit of a farm,-- ten or fifteen acres. Our cozery: yours
and mine, dear. It's Rob's surprise,"-- with the awkward laugh
a man gives, when, if he were a woman, the tears would come.
He had it ready. I knew it before we left New York, but we wanted to
surprise you. The boys all put in a little. They're good boys. I've
hardly deserved it of them,"-- pulling at the quilt-fringe. "I've
been a glum, unsociable old dog. I might have made their lives cheerfuller.
They're going West: Bill and John to Chicago, and Jem to St. Louis:
just waiting for you to be better."
was sorry. The thought of their earnest, honest, downright faces came
to me now with a new meaning, somehow: I could enter into their life
now: it was an eager affection I was ready to give them, that they could
not understand: I had wakened up, so thirsty for love, and to love.
Rob did it,"-- lingering on the name tenderly. "It's a snug
home for us: we'll have to rough it outside a little, but we're not
old yet, Hetty, eh?" turning up my face. "I have my old school
in town again. We have everything we want now, to begin afresh."
did not answer; nor, through the day, when Jacky and the boys, one after
another, would say anxiously, as one does to a sick person, "Is
there anything you need, mother?" did I utter a wish. I dared not:
I knew all that I had done: and if God never gave me that gift again,
I never should ask for it. But I saw them watching me more uneasily,
and towards evening caught part of Jacky's talk with Doctor Manning.
tell you I will. I'll risk the fever," impatiently. "It's
that she wants. I can see it in her eyes. Heaven save you, Uncle Dan,
you're not a woman!"
in a moment she brought my baby and laid it in my breast. It was only
when its little hand touched me that I surely knew God had forgiven
ceased raining in the evening: the clouds cleared off, red and heavy.
Rob had come up from town, and took his father's place beside me, but
he and Jacky brought their chairs close, so we had a quiet evening all
together. Their way of talking, of politics or religion or even news,
was so healthy and alive, warm-blooded! And I entered into it with so
keen a relish! It was such an earnest, heartsome world I had come into,
out of myself! Once, when Jacqueline was giving me a drink, she said,--
wish you'd tell us what you dreamed in all these days, dear."
glanced at me keenly.
Jacky," he said, his face flushing.
looked him full in the eyes: from that moment I had a curious reliance
and trust in his shrewd, just, kindly nature, and in his religion, a
something below that. If I were dying, I should be glad if Robert Manning
would pray for me. I should think his prayers would be heard.
will not forget what I dreamed, Robert," I said.
mother. I know."
that, awhile, I was talking to him of the home he had prepared for his
father and me.
wanted you just to start anew, with Teddy and the baby, here,"
he said, lightly.
Jacky," I added, looking up at the bright, chubby face.
grew suddenly crimson, then colorless, then the tears came. There was
a strange silence.
she whispered, hiding her head sheepishly, "Rob says no."
Rob says no," putting his hand on her crisp curls. "He wants
you. And mother, here, will tell you a woman has no better work in life
than the one she has taken up: to make herself a visible Providence
to her husband and child."
kissed Jacky again and again, but I said nothing. He went away just
after that. When he shook hands, I held up the baby to be kissed. He
played with it a minute, and then put it down.
bless the baby," he said, "and its mother," more earnestly.
he and Jacky went out and left me alone with my husband and my child.