Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

The king's highway. [microform] online

. (page 17 of 19)
Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe king's highway. [microform] → online text (page 17 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" Flora has been with her five weeks, and she
is now compelled to go to her home."
" Flora has not the obligations I have."
" She has a husband and three babies."
" She had all her children with her. I won
der how mother endured them. They were so
noisy they gave me a headache, and my travel
ling dress was utterly ruined by their dirty little

" Did you read the letter through? "
" No, I did not. I saw it was the same old
complaint why don t you come and see us?
I am tired of it. I go as often as I can."

" Then you do not know what is said about
your father?"

" Is there anything wrong with father? "
" He is losing his eyesight that is all
losing it so rapidly that your mother says if
you do not come soon he will never see your
face again. He asks constantly to see you."

" Poor father ! I will go to-morrow or the
next day."

21 321


" Go to-day, Jessie."

" I cannot go to-day. Why do you ask me,
Steve? Do you want to make me miserable?
It is too bad ! No one seems to have the least
pity on me. Yet I am sure no one is more
weary and worn out. My engagements have
been something frightful the last month the
pace is simply killing me ! "

" Then stop it. You are not forced to such a
treadmill. There is no sentence of hard la
bour against you. Stop it all, Jessie! Oh,
how good it would be to get into the country
and live like sensible human beings once
more ! "

" Indeed it would."

" Do you really mean that, Jessie? "

" I do."

" Thank God, then ! "

" I said to myself, as I came downstairs,
that I would ask you to get Lloyd Park ready
for us. I want to take the children there and
let them see the spring come now, what are
you hesitating about ? I thought that for once
I would be asking you to do the thing you
wanted to do."

" I 11 tell you, Jessie. There is a little

contretemps something quite unlocked for.

Mother and Alice are coming home, and they

are sure to go to the Park when they return.



You know it is mother s own house. But I will
tell John to look for a beautiful place and buy
it for you."

"The idea of your mother and Alice coming
from Europe when every other person is going
there. That is precisely their way. And you
have grumbled in season and out of season
about my devotion to city life; yet the moment
I wish to go to the country there is a little
contretemps. "

" Can I help it that mother is coming home? "

" I dare say you are delighted."

" I am. I love my mother, and if you loved
yours, you would go to her this very day. At
any rate, your poor father s case

" Steve, mind your own affairs. I am quite
capable of honouring my father and my
mother without your advice. If you know
anything you know that this ball, of all others,
is indispensable. I must go."

" Can t you run out and see them for an
hour? You can take the six o clock train
home, and be in time for the ball."

" Can I perform a miracle? " Jessie demanded.
" No matter how much will I have, for such an
undertaking I have not the strength."

"Then I think I will go for you," said Steve.

"All right! You may as well go there as
loaf around John s office."


"Jessie, I must go to Europe next Saturday."

"What do you say?"

" I must go to Europe. Mother and Alice
need me."

" I need you, too."

" You can get along very well without me,
Jessie. I am only needed to escort you to
drawing-rooms, or hold your fan or bouquet.
John will look out for a country place if you
really wish one, and there you will have no use
for me."

" Don t be absurd, Steve ! And for Heaven s
sake don t look so lackadaisical and lasslorn."

Then Steve shrugged his shoulders and rose
to leave the room, and Jessie set down her
coffee cup and looked curiously into the pained,
sombre face of her husband. He was going out
with the listless trail his thoughts induced when
she called him back.

" Steve," she said, " if you see mother tell
her I will certainly come to-morrow or the next

" I shall not go to see her I could not give
her such a message."

" You are as disagreeable as you usually are."

" Is there any other thing I can do for you? "

" Stop in at Thorley s and order some orchids
for me."

"Anything else?"

3 2 4


" Don t get your ticket for Europe. I want
you here."

" Mother has asked nothing from me for three
years, Jessie. I am now going to Europe to
bring her safely home."

" You shall not go."

" I shall assuredly go to Europe on Saturday
next, as you will go to the ball to-night." And
the declaration was a true one, though neither
of them at that hour knew how awfully true it

Then Steve went down-town to talk with John
about a country place, and to take a passage
for England, and Jessie leisurely finished her
breakfast and glanced at the headings of the
daily papers. Before she left the room she
lifted again her mother s letter, and this time
read it to the last word. It pained her, and it
angered her. " Why did n t mother put off
writing for one day longer?" she mentally ex
claimed. " Then I would have answered her
letter in person I want to do right, but every
one and everything is against me. I am sure I
have been very good to father and mother, and
Steve has done everything in the world to make
them happy; mother knows my days are cut
into fifty pieces she is unreasonable, and
that is the long and the short of it. Poor
father ! I am sorry for him ! He was always


so cheerful and so patient, and so hardworking )
so happy to get us any little pleasure; as for
Flora, it is easy for her to be at home ; one
place is as good as another to a woman in her
position; what disagreeable children she has! "

Then she rang the bell, and ordered her car
riage, and went down to Tiffany s to see if her
opals had been reset to her satisfaction. She
expected Steve to be at home for dinner, but
he was not present; so then she concluded he
had gone to comfort her mother after all. " It
would be just like him ! " she whispered, and
it did please her to think of the duty being
done ; did please her that any one would do it
for her; for she was not willing in any way to
weary or disappoint herself in order to fulfil it.
Nor was she angry with herself for her selfish
ness. She was only angry with destiny for not
arranging her duties at convenient times, and
with her mother for putting before her as a duty
what she wished to regard as a kindness, within
her own time and convenience.

It was an unpleasant day altogether. The
nurse said the children were cross ; the house
keeper had trouble in the kitchen ; there were
some disagreeable callers, and when her dress
came home and was tried on, several alterations
were needed. She had determined to rest her
self and keep her mind as composed as possible,


and after all she was in such a state of nervous
tension that she could not begin dressing until
some restorative had been taken. She ordered
a cup of strong tea, and poured into it a stimu
lant. It was not an habitual thing with her;
she knew it was destruction to her complexion,
and that it always produced in her an exalta
tion of feeling that approached recklessness, but
she considered that there would be plenty of
time before leaving home for this exaltation to
become a pleasant languor or high-bred ennui.

But the contradictious, annoying spirit which
had dashed all the day was not exorcised by
her personal stimulation. Two things were
especially aggravating, Steve s absence, and
the sick headache of her maid. " Steve, of
course, has missed the train," she reflected,
" and now he cannot be home until it is fully
time for me to leave the house. I shall have to
wait for him. It is too bad; " and just as she
came to this conclusion she was told that her
usual dresser was " unable to lift her head, and
that Corinne," the French nurse, "would take
her duty at madame s toilet."

" It is a part of the whole day s misfortunes,"
she thought, as she gloomily seated herself before
the glass, "the Lloyds coming back just at
this time mother s sickness father s calam
ity Steve s going away when I want him to
3 2 7


take charge of our removal to the country
the house in insurrection sick children
sick maid, and Corinne to dress me for the ball
of the whole winter ! I wonder what evil star
is over me? "

Poor Corinne had a bad hour of it. The beau
tiful dress on which French modistes had ex
hausted their taste and skill was declared to
" be an abominable failure." It was too tight. It
was not becoming. It was bad style. In vain
the opal necklace flashed its sprite-like flames
above the gorgeous silk and lace ; Jessie was thor
oughly dissatisfied with her appearance. How
ever, there was at last one good thing she
heard, through all her grumbling and complain
ing, Steve s strong, quick step, and she sent
Corinne to tell him that she was already dressed
and waiting for him.

As the girl hurried on her mission Jessie
suddenly remembered that she had not exam
ined "the hang" of the dress. She arranged
the glass for this purpose and walked off to see
the effect of the long train. The lights were
above her head. She wanted light lower down.
She lifted two of the wax candles burning at
the side of her mirror, and set them on the
floor. The next minute she was in the midst
of mounting flame. Piercing shrieks filled the
house, though she retained her self-control and


tried to stifle the blaze. It was impossible.
She herself was burning, and with the crazy im
pulse of unspeakable terror and agony, she fled
towards the door.

At that moment Steve came leaping down
stairs to her rescue. Once before, in California,
he had heard those shrieks of burning humanity,
and he divined what calamity had now pro
duced them again in his ears. In his flight he
had seized a blanket, and in this he enfolded
her. Servants were already flying hither and
thither for doctors; but it was some minutes ere
Steve mastered the flames and could carry his
insensible wife to her bed. His own hands and
face were burned, but he knew it not. His
suffering was all for the agonised woman, who
came but too soon to the knowledge of the
intolerable pain she was enduring. In fifteen
minutes there were half a dozen physicians at
her side, and she was told that her life depended
upon her self-control and resistance to the
shock she had received.

Fortunately Steve s injuries were but surface
burns ; but it was an awful night in that dark
ened room where the beautiful Mrs. Lloyd lay
moaning in woeful agony the dreadful hours
away. The opals had been taken from her
scorched throat, and the magnificent dress was
now only a mass of burned and torn fragments.


But the ball of which she was to have been the
particular star went blithely on. The news of
the event spread rapidly, and most of the
dancers were well aware of the tragedy. They
talked about it in whispers for a few moments.
They said " Poor Mrs. Lloyd ! " and they
waltzed till daybreak at the ball for the Princess




THERE was now no question of Steve s going to
Europe for his mother and sister. They left
their pictures, bronzes, china, etc., etc., in proper
storage and returned at once to America. But
they were not able to give either sympathy or
assistance, as Jessie positively refused to see
any one but her husband and her hired nurses.
Her fate hung for two weeks in a balance that
the smallest trifle might turn to the grave ; but
her extreme physical suffering probably saved
her life. For pain is a great conservator of
nervous strength. It draws the scattered life
forces all to the centre of being, and rallies them
for a last desperate effort for existence. In
Jessie s case, at least, this was the result finally
attained ; but her convalescence was delayed by
a very severe attack of fever.

So that chamber of luxury and beauty in
which she had dressed herself so magnificently
for admiration and for triumph, became for
weeks and months a place of almost inconceiv
able sorrow and suffering. Ah, if life could
33 1


throw open to us beforehand its long suites of
chambers ; if from some secret station we
could see the halls of tragedy and the rooms of
retribution we should have to inhabit, how
terribly the anticipation would haunt us ! But
there is instead the blessed certainty that God
reserves calamities in his own hand to inflict
them in due season, and that he never tortures
us in advance of the due season.

It was a terrible summer ; but Steve bore it
with a love and patience that was almost divine.
No fretfulness, no unreasonableness moved him
to anger. His voice was ever the voice of ten
der pity and affection. His touch was gentle as
a mother s, and deft and easy as that of a man
strong to lift and to bear. Through the long,
hot days and the sultry nights he sat at her side
and ministered to her smallest want. Only while
she slept did he leave her for such rest or re
freshment as he could obtain in those precious
moments. And he did not lose heart because
at first she seemed unmindful of his devotion.
He remembered that bodily pain is the most
exacting of feelings, and he hoped for the hours
of rest which were coming. At length, one
night, God sent a messenger to her. It was a
close, heavy night, with not a breath of air to
stir the lace draperies of the mournful room.
The nurse was asleep on the sofa. Steve sat by

the bedside watching his wife. The fever had
been at its height, and left her wan and weak,
and almost beyond hope. As Steve looked at
her still face he doubted whether she lived or
not If she breathed it was not perceptible to
his senses. He knelt down and, holding her
hand, prayed inwardly for her soul.

Slowly she opened her eyes wide and looked
long and solemnly at him. He returned her
gaze with one brimming over with love and pity,
but he did not speak. He thought it was her
last farewell, and he would not break that sacred
pause with speech. He answered her soul with
his soul. She closed her eyes, and then re
opened them. " Steve," she whispered, and he
bent his ear close to her lips, " Steve, I am going
to live ; God has promised me."

When she was stronger she spoke again of
this promise. It was on one Sabbath evening,
while the bells were ringing for church, and the
avenue was very quiet. " I was at the verge
of life, Steve," she said. " I stood on the outer
most shelf of a black barrier of rocks, and a
great abyss of motionless water was below. A
rushing wind pushed me closer and closer to
the edge. I was almost over. Then I heard
a voice crying to me : Soul ! Soul ! What
is passing in thee now? And I answered: I
fear to die. And the voice said : Thou shalt


not die, but live ; and my soul was naked and
terrified, and I cried out : Cover me with Thy
mercy, Lord Christ ! Then a deep sleep
wrapped me round, and when I opened my
eyes I saw you kneeling by my side, and I
knew that I had come back to you, Steve."

In many respects she came back a changed
woman, though conversion was a slow and
tardy miracle in Jessie s case. To some souls
God says a word, and they know His sensible
Presence and feel the shining of His face on
them ever after; but with others assurance and
obedience is the fruit of sorrow, and pain, and
bitter inquietude. Jessie had to stand upon
that isthmus which commands the councils of
both worlds, ere she felt through all her fleshly

Bright shoots of everlastingness.

She had to come under that "over-belief"
which we call the supernatural ; a thing to be
reverenced, and not mocked at, since at the
base of the highest spiritual faculty lies always
the supernatural element. She had to accept
a lesson that humbled her to the dust and
shook her like a tempest, but which also ex
alted her to the clouds and steadied her like a
frost. Never before this experience had her
love conferred happiness, for she had never


sacrificed anything for those she loved ; but
now she spent the days of her convalescence
in making plans which rested, not on her own
happiness, but on the pleasure of others.

The first symptom of this change was seen
in her conduct toward Mrs. Lloyd and Alice.
When they returned from Europe and found
that their service would not be accepted, they
retired to Lloyd Park and waited there for the
issue of events. Steve could find no time to
visit them, but John went frequently. At first
he took only messages from Steve ; but the day
came when Jessie also remembered and thanked
them for their haste to help, and their consid
eration and patience under her refusal to accept
the sympathy they offered.

About the end of September it was found
possible to move Jessie to a beautiful country
home which Steve had bought for her. She
was even then painfully lame, and the bright
beauty of her face had undergone the flame,
and not yet outgrown its shrivelling influence.
But her suffering had taught her many priceless
lessons, and among them the value of a good
man s love. All her vague contempt for Steve
was turned into a kind of reverence. She re
membered her unkindnesses to him, her care
lessness of his comfort, her indifference to his
desires, with a remorse she could not lock out


of her heart. She understood when too late
that he had given her everything to make her
happy, and that these rich gifts had only made
her selfish. Yes, she was forced to admit that
in married life a sin against love is as heinous
as a sin against fidelity.

And oh, how delightful was that day when
she could at last escape from that sorrowful
house, whose every room held bitter memories
and inaudible echoes of suffering. In it Steve s
father had stumbled along a dark and dreary
road to find his grave, and in its splendid
chambers she had gone to the very gates of
hell. Only when she had passed out of its
wide portals did she feel as if her sentence of
suffering had been fully reversed. And how
fair was the roomy house to which Steve carried
her ! It was in the midst of fine gardens, and
eastward it looked over the ocean. As she
approached it her little son and daughter, who
had been many weeks there, came running to
meet her with all the joyful abandon of their
childhood. Her mother and her blind father
stood in the doorway to welcome her, and Mrs.
Lloyd and Alice took her to their hearts as
they had never before been able to do. Every
soul, indeed, that had walked with her to the
shoal of life, rejoiced to have her back again.
They had bought her with the great price of


their prayers and watching; and they loved
her because they had prayed for her.

What she said to all whose love she had
wronged and slighted was for God to hear.
Between her and the pardoning Christ it was a
confidential, perhaps a speechless confession;
and on her mother s breast, and folded in her
father s arms, there was no need for many words
between their hearts and Jessie s. John, she
had already seen often, and he had long ago
forgiven her, both for Steve s wrongs and his
own. He joined the family party in the evening,
and then Jessie was not long in discovering that
there was a very sweet understanding between
Alice and her brother. It had been growing all
summer. Old love is a dangerous thing to
touch. It flames at a glance, and John and
Alice had not escaped, nor even desired to es
cape, this danger. While Jessie lay so ill, though
there had been a tender renewal of their interest
in each other, there had been no explanations.

There are strong and inscrutable ties that
unite, without our seeing how or when, and
John s words were not all of their intercourse.
For though he said nothing of love, but " dear
Alice," his glance prolonged the impression of
the simple address, and went where speech
could not reach.

To take the heart by surprise, oh, this is
22 337


the way of love ! There had been no intention
in John s mind of speaking to Alice on that
day. He thought it was yet too early, but
when the hour arrives, the deed set for it is
always accomplished. She came into the room
just after John s arrival, and her presence af
fected him with an indescribable delight. Her
easy, dignified manner had in it something
maidenly, impossible to be described, and as
she passed John, the air seemed to imbibe that
fragrance it does from a swaying flower. He
rose to meet her, and she looked at him with
eyes of a religious purity and a sunshine on
her face that came from a far sunnier glow

He was suddenly impatient to know his fate.
He asked her to walk in the garden with him,
and she went, though she knew well what he
was going to say to her. She only wondered
that he had not spoken before. Silently, hand
in hand, they strolled to the outermost wall, and
leaning over it, watched the sea, and listened to
its voice among the rocks deep and melan
choly as a page out of Beethoven. The air
around them held a caress of scent; their eyes
met; their fingers touched, and John said, as
he interlaced them : -

"This little white, warm hand give it to
me ! I love you, Alice ! If you will be my


wife, I will love you more and more, as long as
I live ! "

And Alice answered :

" I love you, John ! I have loved you ever
since we met. I will be your wife."

These were all the words they said. Their
feeling was too deep and too sincere to need
superfluities. It was an hour of perfect un
derstanding and perfect bliss, and they length
ened it until the shadows fell coldly upon them,
and the lights shone in the windows of the house,
and they knew that inquiry must soon be made
for them. Then they went into the midst of the
gathered family, and John told the story there
was no need to tell. It had been guessed by
every one, and every one was glad in its promise
and happiness. Suddenly Steve spoke.

" There is one thing, John," he said, " one
thing to be greatly desired, and that is that you
should be married immediately and live happy
ever afterwards. I think you had better look
to this end, and at once; for Alice s fate has a
trick of breaking off her marriage."

The words were said in jest, but taken up
very seriously. There was indeed no necessity
for delay, and many reasons for not delaying.
The principal one was a purpose in Steve s
mind of taking a long sea journey. His health
had been much impaired by his terrible vigil.


It was imperative that he should have an ab
solute change, and the strength of that solitude
and sequestration which was his soul s native
air. The woods and the sea called him with a
voice that he could not deny. They called him
whether he was sleeping or waking, and he fret
ted and pined like a wild bird in a cage for the
freedom they only could give him.

Jessie had been the first to urge this change,
but when once it was spoken of, every one who
knew and loved Steve recognised its wisdom.
So it had come to be an understood thing that
as soon as the winter was over, Steve should go
round the world in such leisurely fashion as
might occupy a twelvemonth if he so wished.
Therefore it was quite natural that John should
object to a delay so unnecessary. And when
lovers have a point to carry, they generally suc
ceed in carrying it. At any rate, John did. He
was of course supported by Steve, and not se
riously opposed by either Mrs. Lloyd or Alice.
So the bliss that he had not dared to hope for
came by patient waiting, and one bright morn
ing, just before Christmas, Alice Lloyd became
the bride of John and happiness.

Early in the following spring, Steve began to

prepare for the voyage his soul desired. He

and John had many long conferences, and John

was much astonished at the care and thought-



fulness for the future the usually careless Steve
manifested. He made some remark about this
peculiarity, and Steve answered :

" I am not sure that I shall ever come back
home again, John. I wish above all things the
continuance and prosperity of the charities we
have begun to be assured and placed beyond
dispute. It is right also that my own affairs
should be put in such shape that Jessie may not
have a single anxiety about money matters or
the future."

" What makes you have any doubts about
your return home? Have you had any pre

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19

Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe king's highway. [microform] → online text (page 17 of 19)