Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

The king's highway. [microform] online

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he arrived at Jessie s home, and her appearance
further irritated him. She had grown physically
much handsomer since her marriage, and she
drcs. c ed herself with consummate taste and effect,
but she did not please her brother. There was
the same air of insurgent dissatisfaction on her
face that there is on the surface of the sea after
a passing storm. Her mood explained Steve s
mood, and both of them emphatically declared
a wrong of some kind ; so much so, that John s
first remark was,

"What is the matter now, Jessie? "
" Oh, life is such a disappointment, John !
Nothing turns out as it promises."

" Sometimes it turns out better, as it did
between you and Steve. Who would have
thought he could have furnished you such a
lovely home? And what a becoming gown you
have on ! A remarkably lucky woman I call



" I don t know about that. When we are
sure things are beyond our means, we do not
long for them, any more than we do for Queen
Victoria s jewels; but when we see the desire
of our heart within our reach, and are prevented
from taking it by an unreasonable man, then we
are naturally indignant."

" Do you mean Steve? And in what does he
prevent your happiness?"

" I want to go into the society Mrs. Stephen
Lloyd ought to go into. I want Steve to do
what his father wishes him to do. It is all
well enough for a man to follow his own vagaries
when he is unmarried, but after he has a wife,
she ought to be consulted. Steve won t do a
single thing I ask him to do."

" Then I am sure you ask very unreasonable

"I don t! I don t! I only ask the place he
gave me. Fancy Nicholas Lloyd s only son
living in a miserable little sixty-dollars-a-month
flat ! We ought to have a house on the avenue,
and a cottage at Newport, and what is more, I
mean to have them."

" Then you will have to have them without
Steve. I can tell you that, you ungrateful,
unreasonable woman ! Do you prefer a fine
house to your husband ? "

" Nonsense ! There is no use talking heroics



to me, John. I want my husband in a proper
house, that is all. What is the good of money,
if you do not do yourself good with it?"

" Money ! money ! money ! I wish I could
get out of the sound of the word ! "

" You cannot. Life runs to it. If love used
to make the world go round, it is money that
does it now. Steve ought to have hundreds of
thousands of dollars ; he might have them if he
had a bit of sense, and then he could let me
travel and dress and do as I want to do."

" You want hundreds of thousands of dollars
to travel and dress and amuse yourself? "

" Yes, I do. I could spend millions comfort
ably. I want a town-house, a cottage at
Newport, a pretty steam-yacht, fast horses, fine
stables and carriages, and a Parisian modiste."

"Did you tell Steve your ambitions before
you married him?"

" My ambitions have grown. They were but
scrubby little intentions when I married. Why
should we not live as handsomely as Alice
Lloyd does?"

" Alice has money of her own. Her mother
is very rich. Her father is very rich. You
know how poor we are, and how poor we have
always been. Jessie, don t be a foolish woman,
and throw away love for gold. It won t pay
you. You will be very wretched."


" If Alice married you, she would be expected
to share your poverty. Why then should not
I expect to share Steve s riches?"

" Steve is poor. He resigned all right to his
father s money when he refused to assist his
father in making and taking care of it. Nicholas
Lloyd will leave him nothing ; Steve does not
expect a cent from him ; more, he does not
want a cent; more, he has no right to a

" He has. He is Nicholas Lloyd s son."

"There is a right far greater than birth the
right of obedience and duty. Nicholas Lloyd
had the right to expect this duty and obedience
in the precise way that seemed good to him.
Steve, having come to man s estate and knowl
edge, had the right to render that duty, and
expect the recompense for it; or he had the
right to refuse the duty and resign its reward.
Steve could not conscientiously do the duty his
father asked ; he declined to perform it, and he
is much too honourable to expect results which
he has refused to earn. That is the whole case,
Jessie ; Steve will never be a rich man through
his father. Mrs. Lloyd may leave him a com
petence. I do not think she will do more. She
has already discovered that he does not know
the value of money."

" Indeed ! Do you really acknowledge the


value of money? I thought you were among
the scorners."

"I know that money is the grandest of
powers; I know its value thoroughly. It is
the mammon of righteousness as well as of
unrighteousness "

" For goodness sake, John, don t preach."
Then she suddenly stopped, for she heard her
husband s step, and her face clouded, and she
threw herself backward in her chair with an air
of indifference to every earthly thing.

It pained John deeply to mark the change
that had come over both husband and wife.
There was no hurrying to meet each other, no
kiss, no fond inquiries, no haste to bring refresh
ment and comfort. Jessie preserved her indolent
attitude, and kept her eyes on the fine hand
kerchief, whose lace she plaited and unplaited
in her fingers. Steve said only, " Well, Jessie,
still in the blues? " and giving John his hand, he
sat down by the open window. He looked like
a man thoroughly out of temper with life and
with all life s duties and belongings.

" John," he said, after a minute s silence, " I
am thinking of the mountains the mountains
a long way off the Rockies. What would I
not give to hide myself in their cool solitudes

"Then why do you not go there, Steve?"


asked Jessie, with a provoking and yet alluring

" You may ask that question once too often,
Jessie," he answered.

She only laughed mirthfully, as if the covert
threat amused her, and John, anxious to turn
the wretched conversation, said : -

" Your sister will marry Lord Medway, I think,
Steve. He has renewed his offer and all is now

" I am very sorry, John."

" A lucky thing for her," said Jessie. " Steve,
I intend to go to the wedding. You must
manage that for me, at least."

" I shall have nothing to do with the affair,
Jessie. It is much against my wish. As to the
people who will be present, mother and Alice
will decide that matter I shall not be

" I never saw such a family ! Your sister
would not come to your wedding, and now you
are going to pay her back in her own coin.
That is your Christianity, I suppose."

" Christianity has nothing to do with it.
Alice could not come to our wedding. I told
you that before. I don t know Lord Medway,
and I don t want to know him. Alice and I
understand each other."

" A good thing if you do. I defy any one else


to make rhyme or reason out of either of your

" Can we have dinner, Jessie?"

" I suppose so. Ring for it. Sit down,
John. "

" I will stay no longer, Jessie. I am sorry I
came here." He arose angrily, and clasping
Steve s hand, went away without a word to his
foolish sister, though he heard her crying
hysterically before he reached the outer door.

It seemed, then, as if Love was cruel, whether
it was successful or unsuccessful ; and if so, was
it not better to get his disappointment before
marriage? He forgot his own trouble in Steve s,
which seemed so much more unnatural; and
he found himself, at the close of every train
of thought, ejaculating, " Poor Steve ! Poor
Steve ! "

He did not know what good cause there was
for his pity. In the few months that had elapsed
since Steve s marriage, Jessie s desires had grown
with the prodigious celerity that attends the
increase of whatever is bad. Indeed, the very
knowledge of Steve s parentage had been the
dropping of the evil seed. It lay unseen during
the first joy of their nuptials, but it was full of
vitality, and steadily pushing its way to a more
active condition. Before the honeymoon was
over, she was contemptuous of all her pretty


surroundings, because her imagination had
already furnished far more splendid habitations.
She was well aware that these dreams depended
for realisation on Steve s submission to his
father s will and plans, and she was determined
that he should submit. She introduced the
subject continually. All their confidences and
conversations ended in it. There was never a
meal eaten that it did not spoil, for in some
form it was present, either for discussion or for
silent dissatisfaction. If Steve complained of
weariness, he was told to take his proper place
and work. If he spoke of the sorrows of the
poor families he visited, he only introduced
another phase of the daily quarrel ; indeed, there
was scarcely a circumstance of life that was not
a text from which to preach the same sermon.
Had Steve been an ordinary man, such
persistence of attack might have succeeded, but
he was not an ordinary man. Had he been cast
in the common mould, he would never have
closed his ledger and given up his fine financial
prospects in order to live the life of simple
freedom he desired to live. Jessie might have
understood from his antecedents that her hus
band had a will equal to her own, and that in
any contest about a point so vital she would not
find him an easy conquest. But she had that
womanly habit of mind that sees only one side


of a question, and the still more womanly habit
of converging all her forces into one form of
attack. Jessie saw clearly the social position
she desired to occupy; she understood that it
must come through Steve s compliance ; and all
her powers were used to force this compliance.
He had been complacent on all subjects but
this one ; here she found all the sweet stratagems
that love employs to compass its desires useless,
and she finally abandoned them and began a
course of nagging sarcasms, sullen dissenting,
or miserable complaining, that would have
brought any man of vague character to what she
considered a reasonable submission.

Jessie s conduct had a contrary effect on
Steve. Above all things, Steve loved justice.
No one could coax him beyond his conscience,
and he was not to be worried into doing wrong
for the sake of peace. Of course he suffered.
Every one of his wife s tantrums was like a storm
that stretched and strained his heart-strings
nearly asunder. He felt that some day the
point of breaking might arrive, and he trembled
in the fear, for he still loved the foolishly
ambitious woman. That day he had come home
very needful of comfort. The hot weather had
given him an overpowering longing for the peace
of mountain solitudes and the freedom of a life
without dinner-time and dressing for it. If
14 209


Jessie had met him with a kiss and a loving
word, if she had pitied his longing a little, if
she had sung to him some lulling melody as
he sat by the open window, then he could
have mastered the spirit craving within him, and
bent his will to hers in everything necessary for
their happiness.

But the first sight of her rebellious beauty,
and of John s troubled face, roused in him a
resistance she little understood. When John
shut the door behind her crying, Steve shut his
heart against the same irritating sound. He
would not soothe it, he would not listen to it,
he sat gloomy and silent until there was a cessa
tion of the storm. Then he said : " I am hungry,

"Dinner is ready; go and get it," she
answered. " I don t want to eat. I am ill. I
have no appetite."

He went; he ate his dinner alone, and Jessie,
who did want to eat, was incensed by his
obedience. She expected him to coax her to
the dining-room. It was the first time he had
ever taken her at her word. If she had been
wise she would have pondered the meaning of
that step. On his return to her presence, he
said :

" Now, Jessie, go and eat. I will not disturb


" I have told you I have no appetite. I want
a change of air. I want to go to the sea-side.
The doctor says I must go."

" You never left New York in the summer

" I was never married before."

" That is true. Well, then, you must make
inquiries about some place that we can afford.
We are lots in debt, but I don t suppose your
going away will make much difference."

" Indeed it will. I want to go to Newport.
Alice is going, your mother is going, and I want
to go also."

" I cannot afford Newport, Jessie."

" Then I shall go anyway. Your name will
get me credit. Alice and Mrs. Lloyd will be
compelled to notice me; indeed, they may as
well entertain me as not."

" Jessie, neither I nor you have a right to
intrude on my family. Mother has already paid
a great deal for us."

" She ought to give you far more than she does."

" She gives me sufficient. I will ask her for
no more."

" Then I shall."

" If you beg or borrow money in my name, I
will never forgive you."

" We shall see."

At these words Steve rose, and taking his hat



from a table, threw over in his reckless haste a
trifle of glassware with a rose in it. The glass
was shivered to pieces, the rose lay on the table,
and the water ran down upon the pretty carpet.
Jessie rose in a passion. " Oh, my lovely vase ! "
she cried. " Oh, my lovely vase ! It is broken
to pieces ! Look what you have done, sir ! "
But Steve did not turn his head ; he pressed
his hat down on his brows, and left the house
with that unmistakable clash at the door which
is a declaration of domestic war. And Jessie
picked up the bits of her broken vase and wet
them with her angry tears, but she did not
remember the shattered love in the great
affectionate heart of the man her evil temper had
just driven from his home.

These events introduced a summer full of
change to the Lloyd family. The first of im
portance was the recognised engagement of
Miss Lloyd to Lord Medway, and immediately
after it Mrs. Lloyd accompanied her daughter
to Newport. Both circumstances took place
without any participation on the part of Steve.
He had already refused to meet the foreign
nobleman who was to marry his sister and re
ceive so large a slice of the Lloyd estate, and
Jessie s rebellious indignation, both at his refusal
and at his family s acceptance of it, probably
induced a certain amount of stubbornness in


Steve s actions. Jessie blamed Alice entirely.
She was sure that Alice had great influence
over her brother, and she thought she under
stood that as Steve s presence must have in
cluded hers, Alice preferred to do without her
brother s support rather than permit her to have
any share in the bridal ceremonies. In reality
there was some truth in this surmise, but it
arose from a feeling that was as yet carefully
hidden in Alice s own heart. For, assure her
self as she would, a certain irrefragable pre
sentiment of unfulfilment pressed upon her,
and she did feel that any trouble coming would
be more intolerable by Jessie s intermeddling
in it.

For herself she knew not whether this presen
timent gave her the most pain or pleasure. That
she was not in love with Lord Medway she
frankly acknowledged ; indeed, she had made
one last effort to free herself from the entangle
ment which had somehow grown with the day
and night around her. But this final appeal to
her father had been met with such disastrous
consequences to his already shattered health as
to lead the physician in attendance to remon
strate almost angrily with her. For he could
not believe the girl was in earnest, and so he
characterised her attempt to deliberate as a
cruel bit of affectation.



" It is pretty enough, Miss Lloyd," he said,
" to hesitate and to stand with reluctant feet on
the brink of matrimony, and no doubt it is
stimulating to the bridegroom, but I can assure
you it is death to your father;" and, wounded
and offended by the frank remark, what could
Alice do but avoid a repetition of a rebuke so
unjust, and yet so beyond her power to answer?

So as the weeks went by she rode and walked
and danced with her betrothed, and tried to for
get that John McAslin had ever loved her.
" Every one has something to sacrifice," she
thought, " and how could I hope to be happy if
I pleased myself and killed my father? And
after all, what is a love match? Steve s was a
love match if there ever was one, and yet he is
not happy! I know it. I feel it in his words
and manner. Perhaps, then, a marriage for duty
may turn out as well as a marriage for love."
And then she would rebel a little and protest,
" I know not how I came into this snare."

Alas, she had not reflected in time that the
slightest concession is the first ripple of circum
stance, and that after it the tide rises, and the
wave behind impels the wave before.

But even this slight revolt against destiny

was one morning brought to truce, for while

such thoughts were making her walk up and

down the long parlour to their restless tenor, she



saw a book that some visitor had been reading
and left open, leaves downward. Her sense of
order made her stop to shut the volume, and
her eyes met the far-seeing eyes of the great
Dryden, and these were the words he said to

Receive my counsel and securely move,
Intrust thy fortune to the powers above ;
Leave them to manage for thee, and to grant
What their unerring wisdom sees thee want

Lines noble in themselves, and serving as a
finger-post to the still more beautiful and fami
liar ones : " Commit thy way unto the Lord,
and he shall direct thy path."

When a certain destiny has been accepted it
is natural and wise to make the best of what
ever advantages it has. Alice was young and
hopeful, and she was not insensible to the
promises her lover made her.

For a few weeks she was happy; she put
down resolutely all thoughts disloyal to her
engagement; she suffered no regrets from the
past to darken the horizon of a future which
she was honourably bound to make joyful for
others as well as herself. In the mean time she
had whatever of passing 6clat and pleasure were
incidental to her betrothal, and she liked it.
That she should do so was natural and honest.


It would have been the merest affectation to
pretend a sentimental regret, or to affect a
sacrificial resignation to a fate which at least
was not distasteful to her.

Still there was at the bottom of all her expec
tations a doubt that chilled her hopes and pre
vented her from relinquishing her affections.
About the beginning of August this doubt
became a fear. Nicholas Lloyd s condition was
no longer subject to long or short intermissions
of lucidity and comparative health. He had
become quite inattentive to business, and his
egotism and extravagance moral perversions
in direct opposition to his natural character
caused general remark. Physical changes just
as striking were also in evidence, and his physi
cian wrote in unmistakable terms to Mrs. Lloyd.
" It is the beginning of the end with him," he
said. " I think you should be here as soon as
possible, and if Mr. Lloyd has not yet arranged
his business affairs and made his will, you must
tell him I say he has no time to lose."

This letter was of the gravest importance as
regards Alice s affairs, and for a while Mrs. Lloyd
hardly knew how to act. A delay in her mar
riage would be most unfortunate, and yet it was
not possible for her to urge its immediate con
summation. Nor could she keep this sorrow in
her own heart; it was necessary to take Alice


at once Into its sad intricacies. She found her
in her room sewing and singing to her hopes.
" Alice," she said, " I have sad news this morn
ing, my dear. Your father is seriously ill, and
Dr. Anson thinks I ought to return immediately
to New York."

" Cannot father come here ? If you go to
New York, I must also go. And to leave New
port in the height of the season, mother, is so
remarkable. What will Arthur think of it? "

" Your father cannot come here. He requires
the constant medical care he can only get in
New York ; also there is much business to settle
and numberless other things. I, at least,
must go home at once."

For a few minutes Alice could not speak.
The thing that she feared had happened to her.
Her heart turned faint as she thought of all the
humiliations and disappointments that were
sure to come. She wanted to weep and she
could not. She turned her mind this way and
that way to see if perhaps some means of es
cape could not be found for her. It was use
less; she could only imagine one outlet an
immediate informal marriage. And there was
something to her apprehension unspeakably
selfish even in the unuttered wish for such an
escape she could not name it. Yet she was
not sorry to hear her mother say :

" Arthur must now be told the whole truth.
We can no longer attribute to eccentricity of
character what is really mortal disease. When
he understands that your father must necessa
rily grow worse and worse, and that the only
hope of relief is in death, and when he considers
that death means at least a year s delay in defer
ence to family and social feeling, I am sure he
will urge an immediate marriage. I should
agree to it, Alice. Of course it must be of the
simplest character, but I think your father would
be glad to know that his greatest hope was fully
accomplished. I am going to make preparations
for our return, and you had better send at once
for Arthur."

" He will be here in an hour. I need a little
time to consider, mother. I am very sorrow
ful." Then she laid her head on her mother s
breast, and was comforted as far as mother-love
could comfort her.

But her heart was heavy with premonition of
trouble. For the past ten days she had been
conscious of some difference in her lover, a dif
ference that could scarcely be called a change,
but which might easily grow to change. It had
begun with the advent of Miss Adelaide Leaven-
worth into Newport society, and Adelaide
Leavenworth had always been unfortunate to
her. As girls in the same school, they had been


constant rivals for every distinction, and Ade
laide had always won. She had an irrepressible
" go " about her, she was beautiful in a modern
way, that is, she had style and chic with a
preponderance of the nervous system. Her
dresses were marvellous creations, and she had
a fortune in her own power that was more than
equal to the rather grudging generosity of
Nicholas Lloyd.

For two years the girls had not met, and then
unexpectedly one night, as Alice was promenad
ing with Lord Medway, they came together face
to face. " Why, Alice ! " cried Adelaide, with
affected delight, "is it really you?" And then
she received the introduction to Lord Medway,
which was her object in speaking to Alice, and
by one upward and downward glance captured
his curiosity and interest. After that meeting
their intimacy had grown rapidly, for either
chance or management had constantly thrown
them together, and Alice had suffered often
from a sense of wrong she found it impossible
to characterise. Now, if she had to leave New
port, she resigned the field to her enemy,
for such she really felt Adelaide to be, and
she suffered in anticipation all the little slings
her clever sarcastic tongue was sure to indulge
itself in.

The only possible escape from this dilemma


was her mother s suggestion, and surely if Lord
Medway was in earnest he would only be too
glad to anticipate his marriage-day. But she
did not find him so.

Alice fancied that there was a sense of
pleasure or relief in the inevitable delay which
her father s condition involved. If the idea
of an immediate marriage occurred to him he
did not entertain it. He simply professed the
greatest sympathy and disappointment; but he
made no effort to take the advantage it offered,
and Alice was dumbly injured by his attitude.
And yet how could she complain? The man
had said everything that was conventionally
kind and respectful. But, oh, how little that
was ! For how poor are the words when deeds
are possible ! And how ineffectual the love
that falls short of love s expectations ! There
was not a word uttered which could indicate
the loosening of the tie between them, and yet
Alice said " farewell " with a conviction that

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