Copyright
Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr.

The king's highway. [microform] online

. (page 3 of 19)
Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe king's highway. [microform] → online text (page 3 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


mother s family were sailors. It is in the blood.
I love the sea as I love my mother and my
native land. I hear it calling me to-night, as
plainly as if it had a human voice. I must feel
as Euripides felt when his incomparable invoca
tion to the sea was written."

"I should like to hear it," she said softly;
and the words that had been singing in Steve s
heart came instantly in rhythmic ebb and flow
from his lips :

Would God I were now by the Sea !

By the winding, wet-worn caves,

By the ragged rents of the rocks ;
And that there as a bird I might be,

White-winged, with the sea-skimming flocks,
Where the spray and the breeze blow free,

O er the ceaseless mirth of the waves,

And dishevel their loose grey locks.
I would spread my wings to the moist, salt air,
And my white, wide wings should carry me
Lifted up, out over the Sea.

Carry I heed not where ;
40



MATRIMONIAL PLANS

Somewhither, far away;

Where the breast of the breeze is sprinkled with spray ;
Where the restless deep is maddened with glee,

Over the waves wild ecstasy ;

Through the wild blown foam !

As he spoke the divine longing and rapture
of those who are " bond to the deep " touched
her. She forgot the avenue. She forgot the
stress of human hopes and fears that filled her
heart. The sense of the sea was in her soul,
its wild and solemn grandeur, its mysterious
beauty ; for one moment she felt through Steve,
for that moment she understood him.



CHAPTER III

JESSIE S AFFAIRS

SHE found it far more difficult to understand
him an hour later. They were then in the half-
filled, half-lit Trades Hall. John s speech was
over, and a swarthy, untidy man was on the
little platform, haranguing the restless men and
women. John leaned on the back of a chair, as
if waiting for reply; he saw Jessie and Steve
enter, and motioned them to the vacant chairs
beside him. The speaker was urging on a strike,
with passionate invectives and much clap-trap
oratory.

" You need not believe anything he says,"
whispered Steve to Jessie ; " the making of
noise is his business."

" The worker is constantly more and more
imposed upon, " screamed the orator. " If it
were not for the Trades Unions, he would be a
serf! "

" That is nonsense, " said John.

" It is the truth, sir."

" I say again, that is nonsense. The last
twenty years, wages have been largely increased ;
42



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

hours of labour have been shortened. The work
ing man has gained more political power, more
social sympathy, more comfortable homes. In
every way he has been favoured. Has he im
proved these advantages ? Is he better at home ?
Is he friendlier with his employers? Is he wiser
in managing his own affairs? I leave you to
answer these questions."

" Whatever good has come to him, has come
through Trades Unions, " insisted the speaker,

" I deny that," answered John. " I assert
that the Unions often forbid men to do as well
as they can, or to work as hard as they wish.
I say, they often exercise an oppression that
few would endure at the hands of the legal
government. I say, they throw thousands out
of work who have no concern in their quarrels,
nor any share in their funds. I say, they rob
the industrious man of his labour and the able
man of his skill. I accuse them of intimidation,
and of creating privileged bodies of workmen.
No amount of affected sympathy with the
working-man will get rid of facts like these."

"Who gives him sympathy?" was the retort.
" Not the rich, sleek sinners, whom God and
the devil leave alone, to succeed and prosper;
such men as A, and B, and C. and D, and
Nicholas Lloyd, are they not the incarnation
of selfishness and covetousness? "
43



THE KING S HIGHWAY

Then Steve leaped to his feet, and finally
went forward to the platform. " I will not de
fend A, and B, and C, and D, and Nicholas
Lloyd, " he cried ; " let their works and their
charities defend them ; what I want to say is this
the working-man is as selfish and as covet
ous as the rich man."

His words fell full, clearly rounded, and with
an invincible air of authority, as he stood with
flashing eyes waiting for a reply. For a minute
there was an intense silence, followed by an
audible murmur. Then the chairman of the
meeting rose and said :

" The gentleman owes the assembly an apol
ogy. He will please to make it."

" He owes them a statement of his position,"
answered Steve, " and he will make it in a few
words : When a poor man within half a dollar
of starvation marries, he is selfish. When he
spends his wage on beer, and leaves his wife
and children hungry, he is selfish. When a poor
man hoards his dollars in an old stocking, he is
as covetous as the rich man hoarding his dollars
in a bank. The mechanic who does bad work
instead of good work, the man who does not
give a day s work for a day s wage, the hands
who dawdle about the factories, and take con
tinual holidays, knowing that their families
must suffer for them, the thriftless, lounging
44



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

idlers, who are everybody s enemies as well as
their own, because their example is a poison,
and their vice a crime against the feeble, whom
it helps to corrupt all these are as selfish
and covetous as the rich usurer or the rich
debauchee. Say what you will of the selfishness
and covetousness of the rich, the poor are just
as bad. Any man is a selfish, covetous scoun
drel who sits down at the feast of life and tries
to slink away without paying his reckoning.
I am a poor man, and I know that in this respect
I am both selfish and covetous."

The last sentences of this speech were flung
into the assembly with all the passion necessary
to make them heard above the tumult of dis
satisfaction they caused. Cries of " Silence ! "
"Turn him out!" " Who is the scab?" "Give
him a lesson! " grew more and more insistent;
and finally a big, swaggering fellow left his seat
and walked straight up to Steve. Jessie could
have shrieked aloud ; she entreated her brother
to interfere.

" Let him alone, " answered John. " He had
no right to say such words here unless he was
prepared to defend them ; " yet John rose and
intently watched the proceedings.

The new character in them stood squarely
in front of Steve, and said : " Our Chairman has
45



THE KING S HIGHWAY

already told you to make an apology, sir. You
had better do it at once. "

" What if I decline ? " asked Steve.

" I shall then make you do so."

" How will you make me?"

" Take off your coat and I will show you
how."

In a moment two coats were flung to the end
of the platform ; in the next, Steve had forced
his antagonist into a chair, where he held him
with the grip of a clamp of iron. There was
a swift and tumultuous interference, cries of
"police," shrieks of women and John went
rapidly forward to the help of his friend. Jessie
clasped her hands distractedly, and urged him
to " hurry; " but there was no need to help
Steve in his dilemma. Every man present
understood the meaning of that swift blow and
movement, which had nonplussed and made
powerless the recipient ofit. Watchful as a
bird, and not to be surprised, Steve went for
his coat and put it on with the greatest delibera
tion. His look and attitude were unmistakable ;
and there was not only a subsidence of oppo
sition, but also a kind of breathless admiration
for the swift, indisputable reply he had given
his challenger. No one even answered him,
when he walked to the front of the platform
and scornfully thanked the Union for " the farce
46



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

of asking men to a free argument and then
giving them such a sample of fair play."

Calm as he appeared, he was really much
excited, for he passed John, and saw him not ;
and he would also have passed Jessie if she had
not grasped his hand and called his name. Then
he stopped. All his soul was in his face as he
looked into Jessie s eyes. And surely he saw
some answering gleam in hers, for he drew her
arm within his own and clasped it tight, and so
passed out of the hall. No one stopped him ;
the noble inner man was in command, and men
and women felt his influence, and fell back to
the right and the left as Steve went forward.
He was followed by no word of disapproval ;
rather they gave him an involuntary respect
and admiration.

" You see what men are, " he said to John,
as he was joined by his friend.

"They can understand animal force; they
want to knock Truth down.

1 How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful is man !

You taught me that quotation, Steve, " said
John, " and so I have the right to give it back
to you."

All were much excited by the events of the
evening, and they sat until long after midnight
47



THE KING S HIGHWAY

discussing them. Then, when the family re
tired, Steve bid all but John " good-bye." He
said he should be away before they were up in
the morning, though perhaps he was influenced
by a more personal motive. At that hour every
one was at his best and kindest, and Steve s fare
well would have its deepest significance.

" I am sorry to leave you, " he said, giving
his hands to Mr. and Mrs. McAslin. "I owe
you for much happiness and hospitality."

" You have paid handsomely for your room
and board, Steve Morrison, " said Mr. McAslin,
"and you will be very welcome in my house
whenever you desire to come to it." Mrs. Mc
Aslin gave him a motherly kiss, Flora a kind
"good-bye;" then he turned to Jessie.

"God bless you, Jessie," he said. She an
swered softly, " God bless you, Steve ! You will
come back to us?"

"If I live, I will come back." Then they
looKed straight into each other s eyes, and a
certain subtle something passed between them,
and both knew that their hearts had longed for
a warmer and sweeter farewell.

It was Steve, however, who played the woman s
part in this love affair ; his was the romance, the
ideality, and the sweet unselfishness of the pas
sion. Jessie was a girl of her era, and the ne
cessity of money-making was her prime instinct.
48



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

She was in love as a man is in love. Her busi
ness had to be fully attended to ; her love was
for her hours of relaxation and pleasure. But
Steve s business was to love.

Jessie had never been in love; she had al
ways been sufficient for herself for her needs
of every kind. It was true that there was in
her heart a tenderer feeling for Steve than she
had ever before known ; and his last eager, lov
ing look had perforce drawn from her an an
swering one ; but she quickly took herself to
task for her weakness. "He is the best man I
ever knew, " she thought, as she carefully put
up her hair in its crimping pins, " but I do not
intend to lose myself on unknown ground. He
was grand to-night when he faced that crowd of
whimpering, complaining men and told them
the truth for once in their lives. And the swift,
satisfactory way in which he pinned that bully
down was splendid ! I was frightened a little,
but I would like to be frightened very often in
that kind of a way. Heigho ! I wish he were
rich; or, if I were rich it would do as well
perhaps better. But poverty and matrimony
no, no ! there is something else for a girl than
that combination, these days."

This train of thought reminded her of Miss
Lloyd, and she began to deliberate about her
" terms." She was afraid to ask too much, and
4 49



THE KING S HIGHWAY

still more afraid to ask too little. Finally, she
concluded to call at Pond s as she went to the
train, and find out what was the maximum price
for out-of-town lessons. Steve went to sleep
thinking of her beauty, her kindness, and her
cleverness ; Jessie went to sleep thinking of the
role she had to fill the next day, and laying her
plans for securing all her rights and every tittle
of her self-respect.

In the morning she was silent, preoccupied,
and full of importance ; the rest of the family
said she was cross. Not quite that; but she
had drawn to her centre all her forces, and
therefore this morning she had no alms of good
humour and good-will to scatter. Even her
mother s natural curiosity annoyed her. Why
should she want news of her old lover, of his
wife and house and children? Alas! twenty
years does not understand that the memories of
age are as full of sentiment and sweetness as the
hopes of youth.

Her mind on the journey was solely occupied
with counselling her conduct in the strange and
unexpected position in which she found herself.
" Destiny loves surprises, " she thought, " but I
shall try to be ready for any phase of this
event. I will not be offended by ceremony nor
be made effusive by kindness. I will have no
friendship with my pupil, and I will permit no
5



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

unwise familiarity. If the son whom Steve
knew is at home, I will not encourage any ac
quaintance with him. Poor Steve! I wonder if
he has reached the open sea yet." She thought
it very improbable that Miss Lloyd knew any
thing of her father s first love, or that if she had
heard the story, she would care to mention it to
the daughter of the woman he had treated so
badly. But if circumstances brought this his
tory into conversation, then Jessie made up
her mind to treat the subject as mythical, as
of no importance, and now quite forgotten.
Many other resolves of the same kind she made
as the train sped swiftly to Lloyd s Station, and
then when she met Alice face to face, she suf
fered them all to slip from her mind.

It is so easy to reckon without our host; and
that was precisely what Jessie had done. She
had calculated very fairly her own strength, but
she made no allowance for the influence Alice
might exert over her. And the influence of
Alice, though not very apparent, was permeat
ing and persuasive. From the first moment of
their meeting she took an initiative that the
really stronger woman could not resist. Jessie
had prepared herself for an entirely business
interview; the social footing on which she was
received took her by surprise, and she fell with
out resistance under the charm of Alice s unaf-
5 1



THE KING S HIGHWAY

fected kindness. The lofty rooms with their
revelations in artistic furnishing, the ceramic
treasures, the pictures, the books, the noiseless
service, the beautiful garden to all these in
fluences Jessie was far more sensitive than she
believed herself.

Still she adhered to her " terms." They were
given her without inquiry or dissent, and then
teacher and pupil went together to the music-
room. There Jessie honestly earned her money,
for she was not only conscientious, but she also
entered into the very spirit of her work. The
piano delighted her. Never before had she felt
such finely strong notes under her fingers,
and she said with great feeling:

" Oh, Miss Lloyd ! can you imagine what it
is to play on an instrument that understands
you? My piano is not to be compared with
this; yet it is acquainted with me; we are
friends ; it comprehends my confidences and
my moods, and we laugh and cry together."

" I have not yet made a friend of my instru
ment," replied Alice. " I do not do it justice.
It responds to your fingers in a way that amazes
me. And yet often at twilight I hear strange,
sweet voices in the strings. Where do they
come from? Have you ever thought of that? "

" Do you think simple wire outstretched
makes them ! Oh, no ! Listen to this ! " said
5 2



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

Jessie ; and in a kind of inspiration she brought
forth in low, soft tones the Mermaid s Song
from " Oberon." Its passion of longing sad
ness, its delicious pain and exquisite abandon
ment, thrilled both girls. Under Jessie s long,
small hands the keys responded as if they
were living, loving things, and her lifted face
reflected every word of the song, for her heart
was singing it. Alice, with sweet, proud eyes,
watched the sensitive evoker of such melody,
and thought of Steve with something like
elation.

It was at this moment that both were suddenly
aware of some strange, intruding influence.
Jessie became silent, and the piano seemed to
fall an octave in tone. Alice turned slightly,
and saw her father and a stranger standing be
tween the portieres. As they came forward
the music ceased altogether, and Jessie stood
up. But on her face there was the reflection
of the song ; her eyes glowed, her lips were
slightly parted, she was the incarnation of its
sweet, sad melody. Mr. Lloyd introduced Lord
Medway to Alice ; then Jessie heard her own
name, and she was compelled to lift her eyes
and acknowledge the courtesy. Afterward,
every moment was an embarrassment. She
was entreated to play the song again, and she
consented ; but there was something wanting
53



THE KING S HIGHWAY

which she had given to Alice. Mr. Lloyd stood
by her side, observing her with great interest,
though he said little. Lord Medway was enthu
siastic in his compliments. Jessie acknowl
edged their praises with a smile, and took her
departure. She was trembling with excitement,
and glad when she found herself in the crowded
solitude of the railway car.

In this confessional she grew rapidly angry
with Jessie McAslin. " To think," she men
tally ejaculated, " to think that I should have
fallen so absolutely and absurdly under that
girl s influence ! And what is more humiliating,
under the influence of chairs, and tables, and
pictures, and china cups! It makes me sick!
And then that lord business ! Why did they
introduce me? I don t want to know any
lords. And why, oh, why, did I sing that song
again? "

She tormented herself all the way home,
and was glad to find no one present but Flora.
Flora was busy with her sewing, and she asked
Jessie no questions, and the girl, pleading
fatigue, went to her room to rest. Fortunately
she soon fell asleep. When she awakened, the
sun was nearing the western horizon, and she
heard her father s voice and John s laugh
answering it. She rose rapidly to her feet,
and her first thought was a healthy, physical
54



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

desire for her dinner. Sleep had calmed and
refreshed her, and she was now ready to do
herself justice.

" After all," she reflected, " I behaved cred
itably. Things went better than I expected. I
looked my best, I sang well, and I was neither
discourteous nor presuming. I think I may
say, with that egotistical old Rousseau, I do
not know a better person than myself. "

This little bit of conceit amused her; she
bathed her face and smoothed her hair to the
smile it evoked, and then joined the family.
Every one had a welcome for her, and John
drew her fondly into the empty chair set next
his own. "I kept it for you, Jessie," he said.
" Flora declares you came home too tired
to talk."

" Flora did not ask me to talk. She had a
new paper pattern on her mind, so I saved my
news for more appreciative listeners."

" Did you get your pupil?" asked her father.

" Yes on my own terms, too."

" Is she nice? Is she pleasant-tempered? "

" I don t think, mother, that the word nice
suits her. A nice woman is one who always
behaves like other women. I think Miss Lloyd
would judge for herself, under all circumstances.
She is, however, beautiful, and I think she has
a sweet and gracious disposition."
55



THE KING S HIGHWAY

"What did she wear?"

"A gown of Indian mull, and real Valen
ciennes. I was covetous of it, John."

" Did you see Mrs. Lloyd?"

" Yes, mother. I saw her for half an hour.
She is tall and walks very softly. Her face is
thin and worn, but her eyes are remarkable ;
they are so dark and lambent, and I noticed
them constantly dilating not to what was
said, but to her own thoughts. Mr. Lloyd
came in just before I left, and Lord Medway
was with him."

Then there followed a conversation largely
composed of ejaculations and descriptions. It
wearied Jessie; but she knew how much her
father and mother loved to see this other life
through her eyes. So she told them all about
the house and the garden ; the furniture, the
equipage, and the order of the lunch; and as
far as her casual knowledge permitted, she gave
them her impressions of Mr. Lloyd and his
guest, Lord Medway. But she was glad when
they were satisfied, and she could go away
with John and express herself after her own
desire. And she was not so hopeful as might
have been expected.

"John," she said, "I think I have begun too
well. When people are so pleasant at first, the
pleasantness does not last."
56



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

" Sometimes it does. All will likely depend
on your pupil."

" Women get on pretty well if men don t
interfere. Generally speaking, we agree to
believe in each other, until they do. I fear
the man in this case."

"Who is he?"

"Lord Medway. He gave me a glance he
had no right to give; for I think he is Miss
Lloyd s lover."

" What kind of a glance? "

" One of inquisitive admiration. It was as
if he. had said, I wonder who you are? I
admire you very much !

" I don t see how a flash of the eyes could
say all that, Jessie."

" When the time comes for you to say all
that you will understand how in a moment
your eyes can say it."

" But why should they ? Have I not a
tongue? "

" Your tongue will be too slow. Tongues
need to be taught. Eyes talk naturally."

" Has Steve been giving you any such
glances?"

" One or two."

" Have you returned them ? "

" Perhaps."

" Then keep whatever promise they have
57



THE KING S HIGHWAY

made. To raise a hope or confidence and
then deceive it, Jessie, I think nothing can be so
mean or so treacherous."

" I wish I knew something about him. I
wish I felt sure in my own mind."

" If ever you have a doubt about any way
or any work, turn back, or give it up ; doubt is
error."

"Why doesn t he explain himself? Why
not say plainly who he is and where he
comes from? "

"That is his affair as yet. When are you
going to the Lloyds again? "

" Next Wednesday. As I have told you, I
don t know how long it will last. I do not trust
such fair beginnings. However, from every
harvest I have always got my ear of corn."

" Don t be so mercenary, little woman. And
I do wish you would trust humanity more. If
you lose faith in men and women, you will
soon lose faith in God and yourself. All men
are not liars. All friendship is not feigning."

" I saw one class of men and women in the
hall last night. I saw another class at Lloyd
Park to-day; how am I to judge them,
John?"

"Do not judge them. Believe in them. There
is a love of goodness in men and women
to which you may always appeal, and never in
53



JESSIE S AFFAIRS

vain. Shipwrecks, epidemics, fires, disasters
of any kind, bring to the front, without fail,
some heroic, compassionate spirit."

" As for being mercenary, John, we have to
be mercenary. What is life without money?
And it is a constant fight to get your share of
it."

" Certainly, Jessie, you don t want money
simply for your own luxury or pleasure, or for
the sake of hoarding it? "

" Certainly, I do not."

" Then are you able and willing to be one of
God s stewards and dispense wealth properly
for him? Understand, it is no light work.
There will be an audit to meet which you must
daily and hourly prepare for. No one s wealth
is accidental.

" Wealth, " continued John, " is given to be
spent in good works, and the holders are agents
for him who declares the silver and the gold are
mine. As for me, I should fear the awful respon
sibility of wealth. Godliness with content
ment is the great gain I desire."

" Yet you are admitting that wealth is a power
for good."

" At the same time, I do not say it is necessary

for the noblest work. Did Paul, or Luther, or

Whitefield, or Wesley depend upon it? Indeed,

no ! When Pope Leo the Tenth realised that

59



THE KING S HIGHWAY

Luther could not be bought, and said angrily,
This German beast cares nothing for gold, he
hit the truth about all great moral leaders. As
a social regenerator, gold in the hands of a good
man is a potent factor. It can build churches
and colleges and libraries. It can bind men to
gether with the iron ties of railways and cables
and telegraphs. It can prepare succour for the
sick and dying in hospitals. It has a thou
sand great works to do for the uplifting and
comforting of humanity- But if wealth is not
spent in this manner, then the increase of wealth
means only the increase of misery."

" But, John, how few rich men do spend their
wealth in social regeneration ! They hoard it
and luxuriate in it, and then leave it to their
children."

" Then they must pay the dreadful penalty of
false stewards. Their hearts will grow as fat as
brawn and cold as ice, until upon their sinful


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryAmelia Edith Huddleston BarrThe king's highway. [microform] → online text (page 3 of 19)