Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

The king's highway. [microform] online

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how happy they were. But it was Steve only
that felt that sensitive deprecation of great hap
piness which fears to wound by too much evi
dence of joy before those who are less fortunate.
The weeks which followed these incidents
were weeks of unparalleled pleasure to Jessie.
She selected her own home, an uptown flat,
with all the adornments and conveniences which
have taught people with limited incomes un
limited extravagance. Then she necessarily
furnished it up to the walls, and mantels, and
mirrors, showing such exquisite taste and de
light in the work that Steve could not find it in
his heart to name the expense to her. Her
wedding garments also were to order, and be-


tween the house and the modiste, she found
herself every night exceedingly weary and ex
ceedingly happy. A street costume of dark
silk that could do service afterwards had been
Jessie s first idea of a wedding gown, but the
house so enlarged her conceptions of what was
beautiful and proper, that the dark silk was
given up for white satin. Then the small home
wedding, with only their most intimate friends
present, was resigned; the white satin dress
asked for a church ceremonial, to which every
one she knew could be invited.

These changes came so naturally and so
gradually, and were so bewitchingly advised,
that Steve had no power to deny his sanction.
" You see, Steve," she argued, " anybody can
go to a church. There will be no sense of deg
radation in going there, but your family would
not like to come to a little flat near St. Mark s
Place, and it would be a great pity to begin our
relationship with a sense of scorn and a feeling
of unkindness. We must keep good friends, eh,

This argument seemed reasonable to Steve.
He could find nothing to say against it. The
church being granted, it naturally demanded
the accessories of a church wedding. Jessie
affirmed it, and Steve s own experience proved
her assertion. This point gained, it followed


that all her old pupils, all her friends and ac
quaintances, every respectable person she knew,
must swell the crowd who would gather on the
seventh of February to do her honour.

Nothing could possibly have been more at
variance with Steve s desires and opinions. He
thought, with grim smiles, of his socialist con
freres, and imagined the words they would say
to him. He thought of himself tramping
through the Rockies and riddling and singing to
the birds. He thought of himself driving cattle,
working before the mast, cutting wheat, rolling
barrels, in fact in every antagonistic condition
that he had filled. But he could not smile at
the contrast; he was too much in love to oppose
Jessie s desires in anything, and he told himself
that it was the obvious duty of the bridegroom
to submit to every whim of the bride, yet
somehow the vision of Hercules with a distaff
instead of a club always slipped into these

The seventh of February brought this condi
tion of enthusiastic devotion to a climax. Steve
would have sworn on that morning that all and
everything was a too small concession to the
satin-robed, bewitching little woman who laid
her hand in his with such a charming confi
dence. At that moment, neither of them knew
or cared who was, or who was not, present.


But the outside world noticed that Mrs. Lloyd
alone represented Steve s immediate family, and
the criticisms on this shabby support were as
various as the people uttering them.

" Old Lloyd was afraid he would have to give
a big check."

" The girl was a music teacher, and Mrs. Lloyd
a Valliante. The Valliantes are a very proud
family. I don t suppose the Lloyds have any
family to talk of."

" But so few people have."

" We must speak as we know. My own fam
ily is very, very old. I wonder at Miss Lloyd s
absence. She is said to be so amiable."

" She adored her brother. Girls who adore
their brother do not usually adore that brother s

" Do you think so ? Now my sister-in-law wor
ships me. She asks my advice about everything."

" What a phenomenon ! You are to be hugely

" I heard Miss Lloyd was sick."

" She has chagrin. You know she is engaged
or was engaged to Lord Medway."

" Oh ! that match is off, I assure you. Here
comes the bride ! Is she not pretty? "

" Is that Steve Lloyd ? Why ! how changed
he is ! The man is positively and audaciously


" Gentlemanly, too ; and I have heard such
dreadful reports about him."

" Hush ! The service begins."

And what a marvellous service it was to
Steve ! Mystical, wonderful words that gave
him the right to take from her father and
mother, and brother and sister, the woman he
loved, and bind her to his own life and soul for
ever. He was conscious of nothing but this stu
pendous gift and obligation. The words of the
officiating minister beat on his ears and heart as
if they came from afar off, and with some special
authority. He was astonished at his own voice,
and the slipping of the ring on Jessie s hand was
a miracle of grace. Jessie was at last his wife.
A delicious destiny led them to a waiting car
riage ; they entered it with happy words in their
ears ; they were alone in the travel and traffic of
the streets, and anon, they stepped over the
threshold of their own home. The world bade
them Godspeed ! and left them, and their future
happiness was in their own hands.

The suppositions of the company regarding
the absence of Mr. Lloyd and Miss Lloyd were
as correct as suppositions usually are. Nicholas
Lloyd whose behaviour had been lately more
and more erratic and contradictory gave no
reason for absenting himself from his son s mar
riage, except a general disapproval of his son s


conduct. " Steve will do nothing to please me,"
he said to Steve s mother, " and therefore he has
no right to expect anything from me." Alice s
absence was absolutely beyond her control.
She was prostrate with a nervous headache,
which did not suffer her to move, or speak, or
endure the light. She said truly enough, that
if it had been her own wedding service, she
could not have been present. The world, how
ever, put its own construction on her absence,
and John was not more charitable. He believed
that she remained away to prevent meeting him
under circumstances which would demand if not
familiarity, at least a show of friendliness.

For the admitted relationship of Steve to his
sister had produced precisely the effects John
foresaw. Alice did not really say " This is
enough of the McAslins," but she felt it, and she
permitted herself to act upon that feeling. She
kept out of John s way. If forced to meet him,
she withdrew her sweetest self, and gave him
only a polite courtesy which he had no power to
refuse, and yet which he felt to be a great
cruelty when offered in lieu of those nameless
evidences of interest yes, of affection which
had sweetened his life and made his days one
bright hope.

The injustice of her action was a conscious
one. She regretted the wrong, she frequently


resolved to atone for it, she wondered why she
should make herself and John miserable because
she had taken a dislike to Jessie ; but a perverse
spirit ruled her whenever an opportunity of
fered of putting the wrong right. Honestly she
had intended to make the marriage ceremony a
kind of day of atonement ; she had prepared a
dress of wonderful beauty to emphasise her sub
mission to events, and then all her kind inten
tions were frustrated by circumstances quite be
yond her control.

Her experiences in society during the winter
had also greatly embarrassed her attitude
towards John McAslin. She had been ques
tioned and twitted and congratulated about the
Medway affair, until she felt it would require a
great effort to escape the net of circumstances
binding her to it. There were days when she
did not think she cared to make this effort, when
luxurious appointments and beautiful living and
the glamour of riches and honours were set in
such sharp contrast to poverty, and all the
unlovely straits of life, that to prevent contact
with or even knowledge of them seemed a
personal duty. God had set her in pleasant
places, why should she then go down into the
valley of Baca and make it a well, or else suffer
its misery and drought? was the almost angry
question in her heart.



John divined this struggle in the girl s feel
ings, for a pure love knows best of all the
things that are never told. But he made no
attempt to interfere ; he knew that Alice s de
cision to bring happiness to them must be self-
evolved. And yet while his dearest hopes
were thus held in abeyance he did not suffer
as Alice did. The longing for John s respect
and regard never left her heart; never once
did she feel that his opinion " made no dif
ference." On the contrary, her first thought
about every event that touched her was, " What
will John think of it?" This pervading quality
in love is essentially a feminine attribute ; the
great majority of men remain unconscious of
the strength of their affections, for their occupa
tions prevent them making them, as women do,
the subject of their constant contemplation.
So, then, while Alice s love flavoured all the
small exercises and social functions of her days,
John s though of really more vigorous and
potent character was compelled to give place
to duties that were necessary and imperative.

Indeed, his duties as regarded Mr. Lloyd had
gradually assumed not only a very extensive,
but also a very grave character. It was impos
sible any longer to ignore the changes that had
taken place in the man. These changes, re
mittent and insidious, had puzzled John so much


at first that he had come to believe there were
two Nicholas Lloyds, and that sometimes the
one and sometimes the other had the ascend
ancy. One of these was a prudent, forecasting,
far-seeing business man; the other a reckless,
plunging, visionary speculator. One was a man
of extreme dignity, inclined to avarice, reticent
and reserved ; the other was a practical joker,
boastful, extravagant, and egotistical. The latter
character at the beginning of his engagement
came only very seldom to the front, but it had
now become alarmingly evident, and in the
early summer John felt that Mrs. Lloyd s at
tention, if not already drawn to the fact, ought
to be aroused.

One day, while these thoughts were forced
upon him, a letter from Lord Medway arrived.
Mr. Lloyd was greatly excited. He read it to
John with such extravagant comments as " She
must be willing I 11 have no drawbacks now
I 11 give her all I promised and ten times more
I 11 give her the State of New York if he
wants it she is going to be a lady. She may
become a countess she may be anything she
likes I ll find the cash for it John, I want
you to write to Lord Medway at once No,
I 11 write myself. I 11 double Miss Lloyd s
fortune "

" Sir, permit me to write for you," said John.


" It is not well to let these Englishmen value
themselves too much."

" To be sure," he answered with a sudden
caution. " I thought last year he did not think
enough of my girl and my money."

" He could not, sir, for the first article of the
creed in which Lord Medway has been brought
up is, the inherent superiority of Englishmen.
They not only call all other nations foreigners,
but they feel that their existence is an anomaly
hard to be explained, without discrediting a
wise and good Providence."

" Come, come, John ! You are too hard.
Medway is a fine fellow ; and any woman that
marries him is a fortunate woman. I will an
swer him myself."

There was then no more to be said ; but that
afternoon John went out to Lloyd Park to see
Mrs. Lloyd. She received him with enthu
siasm. She was honestly glad to see him, and
she let him feel her pleasure. Then she en
tered at once into a description of what she had
accomplished and of what she was doing. John
told her he had seen her new " Homes " and
said they were all that could be desired. He
did not tell her, however, how severely he had
heard working-men and women criticise them.
He did not tell her that the children quite
neglected the play-room she had made for


them, and still played, by preference, in the
streets. He did not tell her that the women
refused to use the common laundry, and reso
lutely did their washing in their kitchens. He
could have pointed out these and many other
disagreeable results of her efforts, but since
Steve had not named them, he also kept silent.

He understood Steve s motive, for one day
he said to him very despondently: "John, I
see that men and women have to be taught to
Love order and cleanliness. They are no more
natural products than are honour and truth.
Here and there a soul brings such attributes
into the world with it; but mostly, they have to
be acquired. And when men and women have
learned dirty, slovenly ways, how can you
expect them to undo old habits, and learn new
ones by simply putting them into new condi
tions? It won t work." Then John had asked :
"What is to be done, Steve? Can you not
reason with them?" and Steve had answered:

" Reason with ignorant men and women set
in their own ways and opinions? You might
as well go about to convince a bull ! I have
come to the decision that progress is a plant
that grows very slowly. We can t have an era
per annum, John; and yet the temper of to-day
looks to results, and to results rapidly achieved.
Do we take centuries to raise elaborate cathe-


drals now? No, we build our modern churches
on contract. That illustrates our ideals ; whether
they be good or bad, I am not prepared to say."

Steve made these remarks with such an air of
despondency and utter weariness that it troubled
John for many days, and this feeling was renewed
on his visit to Mrs. Lloyd s, for he met Steve in
the park with just the same dissatisfied expres

"What is the matter with you, Steve?" he
asked, laying his arm across his brother-in-law s

" Oh, John, how good it is to see you !
What is the matter? The old, tired-of-every-
thing feeling. Life is such a monotonous grind,
for no good end, that I can see. Here is
mother wasting her money and her life, and
not one of the people she is trying to help
cares whether she lives or dies."

" Gratitude is the last virtue learned, Steve.
Your mother is not working for the gratitude
of any man or woman, or she might as well give
up at once. I am sorry she is not well. Your
father, I think, is seriously ill. He ought to go
away from business of every kind. Travel
might be good for Mrs. Lloyd also. I am
going to speak to her about it. How is Jessie ? "

"Well but "

"But what?"



" Nothing she has the disease also."

"What disease?"

" She is out of love with life. That some
thing that infects the world has touched her as
well as the rest of us. We are a lot of dissatis
fied creatures. There are so many things to
want now, and we want them all. I would like
to be in the heart of the mountains to-day with
a crust and a fiddle, and a stream of running
water." He laughed as he said the words, and
went off at his usual swinging pace, with a back
ward look at John full of feeling. And John
was more troubled than he had been before.
Steve was changed. How he was changed he
could not instantly say, his clear face reflected
such a complexity of emotion ; but as he went
forward to Mrs. Lloyd s room he suddenly said
to himself, and without any reasoning towards
the decision, " I must see Jessie."

This thought was with him all the time he
was listening to Mrs. Lloyd s plans and expec
tations. Of Steve s depression she said nothing,
so that it was likely Steve had kept his trouble
whatever it was to himself, and John felt
no obligation to bring it to her notice. He
spoke, however, with great emphasis about
Mr. Lloyd s eccentricities, which he said
" could be no longer regarded as peculiarities
of temperament."

3 i93


"You think he is ill?"

"I do. Lord Medway s letter to-day excited
him very much."

"Ah! Did you see the letter? What was
its purport? Why did it excite him? "

" Mr. Lloyd read me the letter. Lord Med-
way desires to fulfil his engagement with Miss

" There is no engagement between them."

" Lord Medway believes there is."

" Such engagements depend finally on the
lady. Miss Lloyd has made no decision. I
ought to know that, and I do know that. I
thank you for the information you give me
concerning Mr. Lloyd s health. I have long
been watching the same peculiarities. Advise
him, I beg you, to see Dr. Anson at once. I
will do the same. If he will not go to the doc
tor then the doctor must be sent to him, and
he must be compelled to listen to the truth."
She laid her face in her hands, and her atti
tude of sorrowful abstraction gave John excuse
enough to quietly leave her presence.

He took a certain path through the garden,
leading to a small shady lawn much frequented
by Alice. She was sitting as he hoped she
would be under the trees. Her sewing lay
on the grass at her feet. She had a letter in
her hand. He looked at her with all his soul


in his eyes. There was a change even in her.
She was no longer the lovely maid with heart
untouched, singing and smiling in the morning
of life. A shadow of trouble and perplexity
was on her face, and John caught this expression
before she saw him coming, and it gave him some
confidence and comfort. For he knew intui
tively that the letter in her hand was from Lord
Medvvay, and that she was thinking about its
contents, and yet the expression on her face
was not that of a woman dreaming happily of
her lover ; it was that of one who weighs and
considers, who is perplexed and suffers, and is
in a strait betwixt two.

She rose as John came near her and slipped
the letter into her work-bag. The trees, bending
and swaying above her, had a look as irresolute
as herself as she stood waiting for John s ap
proach. They met silently, and she was the first
to speak. The words were all questions : her
hand trembled as it lay in John s hand, and she
was nervously at the point of tears.

" Have you been well? Is it not a fine day?
Have you seen mother and the bees as you
came by the limes, are they not busy? " she
asked with that pretence of interest which would
fain believe itself the true one.

John answered none of these questions. He
said simply: "Will you sit down again or do


you prefer to walk? I have something to say
to you."

She sat down and John stood leaning against
the tree at her side. " Alice," he said, " I came
here purposely to find you. Unfaithfulness is
a thing I have never understood, yours least of
all. Tell me before we part forever what I said
or did to deserve your anger or indifference."

" Do not say indifference. I have never
been indifferent to you, never since the hour we
met. Some things have angered or annoyed me,
and others have drawn me this way or that way
from you. Also you are much to blame, for you
have come more and more seldom to the house ;
you have avoided me when you did come ; you
have worn an air of injury that was unjust to me,
because, at first, there was no reason for it."

" In short, dear Alice, there has been a
thorough misunderstanding."

" One that you might have explained away
while it was but a little shadow. You were
too proud to do so. You were too busy with
money, and real estate, and political and social
questions to care for my trifling feelings. If I
had been an over-worked factory hand you
would, perhaps, have wondered what made me
so pale and unhappy, but because I am rich,
you were sure I cared only for myself, or that I
was false and proud."



" These are hard charges, Alice. I think they
are not fair ones."

" Do me the justice to think a little longer
and you will understand how fair they are."

" I would much rather throw myself on your
mercy. If you have even thought me wrong,
then I have been wrong. Forgive me, dearest.
I know we must part, but I cannot bear to part
in anger."

" You know we must part. So you come to
tell me so to renew all my love for you to
make me feel wretched in the losing of you if
you can. This is your love ! I think it a very
selfish thing. I would have slipped out of your
heart softly and imperceptibly, as unobserved in
my going as possible. I would rather have
been misjudged than have given you an addi
tional heartache. I would rather myself have
suffered wrong than let you suffer from wounded
love and self-appreciation. If love is not un
selfish it is nothing at all. You know we must
part, this is what you seek me out to tell Oh,
John ! How cruel ! If we are to part why
should you try to give me more heartache?"

" Alice ! Alice ! I love you. I love you
only. I shall love you for ever. Forgive what
has been wrong or unkind."

" When forgiveness is asked too late, it is an
additional wrong. You know that Lord Med-


way has renewed his offer you must have
seen his letter to my father and now you try
to embarrass my actions, to prejudice my future,
to disappoint my father, to make me miserable
by coming to me as you have done. John, it
was a cruel thing to do, it was a foolish thing
also, for it sets my heart in revolt against

Alice rose as she said these words. Her face
was pale but resolute, and John was confounded
and distressed by the attitude she had taken.
He was totally unprepared for it. He hardly
knew what he had expected, certainly nothing
like this tone of accusation, and for a moment
he was shaken to the very citadel of his being
by the truth as Alice saw it. It is, however,
the business of Reason and Experience to
fence off Truth and to defy impressions, and
John almost instantly began the process.

Alice, however, was not inclined to prolong
the interview, and if John had understood
women better he would have seen that she was
at that extreme tension that soon makes the
strongest impatient and hysterical. It required
all her efforts to preserve the quiet dignity of
manner she had assumed. She was impatient
to be alone and free to give herself relief from
a restraint so painful and exhausting. What
he said of excuse and penitence was hardly


comprehended ; she only knew that neither of
them had dared to touch the real cause of
offence it seemed so shamefully small and
unjust his sensitive knowledge of her dislike
to Steve s marriage, and her unreasonable aver
sion to Steve s wife. They were making ship
wreck of their love, and it was their own fault.
There was no storm, it was the little leak in
the boat itself that invited destruction ; a leak
they could easily have stopped, if they would
only have recognised its presence.

As it was, John could not prolong so un
satisfactory an interview. He offered her his
hand, and she took it, and there were tears in
her eyes as she did so. For a moment it lay in
his hand, then he bowed his head and kissed it.
" Farewell, Alice," he said, and with a great sigh
he turned and went quickly down the path lead
ing to the gateway. It was all over. Alice as
yet hardly realised her suffering; the pang of
conflict with it was to come ; but as she sat very
quiet under the trees, the delicate antennae of
the soul began to tell her it was near. John
had more hope, for though he felt that a great
silence and coldness had fallen over his life, he
was an unconscious believer in sequences. He
said to himself, "I will not despair. Very
few events break off in an absolute way, and
threads that are dropped may be lifted again.


She loves me yet. I love her. That we are to
be parted forever is an incredible thing:
Destiny is reserving her best gifts, that is all
and I seem to have made mistakes I have not
understood a woman so proud and sensitive
I must think this thing fairly out doubtless it
is my fault." He was silent, after this admis
sion, for a long time, but finally reached what he
believed to be the first right step

" I must see Jessie." Suddenly he remem
bered Steve, and he asked himself anxiously
"what was the matter with Steve? I must see




JOHN was not in the fairest of tempers when

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Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe king's highway. [microform] → online text (page 10 of 19)