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"The duties of a wife and mother are sacred, Molly; but without her art Beulah, though she is a sweet girl, might likely enough be a humdrum person. I don't think she has the feeling for duty that you have, for instance, and that you always had, Molly; but her art lifts her above herself. For a long time she seemed to have less feeling about her talent than her friends did; but I talked to her-I did that much. I would not urge her one way or the other about her marriage, but I wanted her to realize what a great trust a gift like that was, and to make her choice solemnly. It is n't even as if Tom M'Grath were going to live in Virginia; in Texas she will be out of the way of instruction, and of all those associations that would stimulate her and give her something to work for. And then we know, under the best of circumstances" Miss Nancy shook her head and sighed. Despite expressed views as to its desirability, in her secret heart she really could but look on matrimony as an abyss that swallowed up many high hopes; in her day she had put such a deal of enthusiasm into teaching girls who got married.
"So she made up her mind?" said Mrs. Garner, with a suspended inflection.
"Yes; at last. Her pa and ma did n't urge her one way or the other. I think Mrs. Hunt herself would a little rather she had marriedshe's very conservative, you know; but Mr. Hunt never wanted her to, anyhow, and they both felt the responsibility of the great future there was before her. I reckon she settled it just before she came back." And then it was that Miss Nancy had admitted the harmonizing of woman's development and woman's sphere to be a great problem.
Presently Beulah entered; she was just home from her work at the League rooms, and had a sketch-book under her arm. Mrs. Garner got up to greet her in a little flutter of excitement. "O Beulah, you 've become a great woman since I saw you."
Beulah stooped a little to kiss her, and said serenely, "I'm just beginning, Miss Molly."
"I so long to see some of your wonderful things. You'll show me some, won't you?"
"You are very kind; I 'll be delighted to," said Beulah, and, excusing herself a moment, she went to her room, laid aside her coat and hat, ran a comb through the dark curls on her forehead, powdered her face afresh, and then without loss of time got out an armful of sketches and studies from the bottom of her wardrobe, and, smiling and polite, walked back to Mrs. Garner. She sat down beside her, drew up a chair to rest the pile upon, and showed them all to her, conscientiously, one by one, telling her in the mean time which were the hour sketches, and which had had a favorable
word from her teachers-telling, in short, in the most instinctively calculated manner all the things that Mrs. Garner would understand as reflecting credit upon herself.
"This girl did n't have a very nice complexion, did she?—that's why you 've made it so dark and reddish, is n't it?" said Mrs. Garner, hesitatingly, after various half-articulate murmurs of admiration. She could not repress a little automatic effort to find out why these things, which were so much less pretty than the pictures in an illustrated weekly, were so much more wonderful, a fact she never dreamed of questioning.
"Oh, no," said Beulah; "she had a very nice complexion, but the light was not strong on it, and then you see these things are done in such a hurry we only try to get the figure, the action."
It did not annoy her in the least when people did not understand; she liked to explain a little, and she never doubted their admirationtheir admiration of her for making the pictures. She was quite astute enough to feel that the admiration of the things themselves was not always a spontaneous burst; it did not disturb her that many of her friends suffered a little disappointment with themselves over the dullness of their sensations before real hand-paintings; she realized that the tradition of their value remained unshaken.
Mrs. Garner looked at the last drawing, and then leaned back and gazed with emotion upon Beulah-Beulah looking so pleasant and simple behind the collection of her complete works.
"It's very wonderful - wonderful," Mrs. Garner murmured, shaking her head slowly, and thinking of more things than one. Beulah smiled sweetly.
"And it makes you very happy, does it, dear?" Beulah detected a thread of curiosity in the question that she resented, but she still smiled as she rose with the works on her arm, and said:
"Yes, indeed, Miss Molly; I could not be happy without my art." And Miss Nancy nodded her approval.
Life went on serenely in our household for several months after this. Southern visitors continually dropped in, and all, like Mrs. Garner, were treated to a sight of Beulah's productions. Miss Nancy called for them if no one else did, and she was apt to give an awe-inspiring hint, when Beulah was out of the room, as to the sacrifices the girl had made for her art's sake. After a while a change began to show in Beulah; she worked harder than ever, she painted early and late, and she grew more and more silent, and on Sunday, when she could not paint, more and more restless. She was no longer content to hide her story-book in her lap for solace while she dutifully and
patiently sat and preserved the look of listening through long chapters of Jeremiah read aloud by short-sighted Miss Nancy.
"I'm afraid, Beulah, my child," said Miss Nancy, solemnly, one morning, stopping and laying her open book upon her lap-"I'm much afraid you are letting your delight in an earthly gift and your love of an earthly art draw you away from your interest in things eternal." Beulah had been fidgeting from one window to another, after having three times found excuses for leaving the room; now she still stood at a window, and answered, without turning around, "I'm afraid I am, Miss Nancy." But afterward she sat down and remained quiet through the next chapter, though sustained by no other distraction than her own thoughts. To do Beulah justice, she was always willing to do as much through one chapter; that, she said, she had been raised to.
Miss Nancy had not expressed her fears fully. What she said to Beulah was what she said to herself, but down in the depths of her being lurked a faint uneasiness that she did not acknowledge. It was very annoying the way one person and another began to remark that Beulah was not looking well, that she was losing flesh. How could she look well when even after dinner, at home, she got out paper and charcoal and fell again upon the work that had occupied her all day? Genius, of course, often did burn itself out in that way, but she had always felt that she had reason to hope Beulah was better balanced. She was so far shaken out of her usual noble poise as to protest crossly, several times, against so much work; but one night after one of these scoldings she heard the girl walking up and down in the drawingroom till three o'clock in the morning, and instead of the sense of intolerant outrage with which she would usually have greeted such a performance, an odd forbearance fell upon her. After a month in which Beulah's appetite and color did not improve, Miss Nancy got a letter in which, among other bits of gossip, she read this: "Mary has had a letter from her nephew from San Antonio, and he says he has heard that Tom M'Grath is courting a girl in Houston; that people think it will be a match." Miss Nancy's heart lightened; if you will believe it, she thought to herself that now Beulah's pride would come to her rescue, and make her forget a man who had so soon forgotten her. This hope was her first admission to herself of her fears, and you see from it that Miss Nancy had exalted ideas as to the offices and possibilities of womanly pride, and also that she had the usual feminine and profound attachment to the most romantic ideal of constancy -constancy under the most discouraging circumstances—for men. She meditated on how
easily and lightly to put before Beulah the base fickleness of the discarded one, but the more she thought about it the less she knew how to do it. If ever there was an old maid in every fiber of her being it was the hearty, wholesome, large-minded Miss Nancy, and consequently her theories of love and love-affairs were of the most assured, definite, comprehensive character; but there was something about Beulah these days that gave her pause, and for once in a lifetime penetrated her soul with an unacknowledged but dreadful doubt of her own complete understanding of all the mysteries of human life.
Before she found a way to speak to Beulah of Tom M'Grath's lightness she got a letter from Beulah's mother mentioning the same subject as a hearsay report, and adding that she had written of it to Beulah-why, she did not say, and who knows?
The day that this letter came Beulah did not come home to dinner. It was eight o'clock when Miss Nancy heard the door of the flat hall open, and, hurrying to the parlor entrance with unaccustomed speed, saw Beulah dragging herself wearily into her own tiny bedroom. A feeling of relief was succeeded by a righteous and tempered indignation in Miss Nancy's heart. She had not intimated to the other girls that Beulah's absence was to her unexpected; on the contrary, so far as was consistent with her ideas of Presbyterian doctrine, she had intimated exactly the other thing. She was disposed to maintain something like boardingschool discipline over her girls, and they, she well knew, with their associations, were all too likely to imbibe the odious doctrines of youthful feminine freedom with which the dreadful Sunday papers reeked. She now thought that to go at once and speak to Beulah alone would be the best way of maintaining discipline. She knocked at the door, and, immediately opening it, found herself face to face with a very white, wide-eyed young woman, who stood in front of her chaperon as if barring the way.
"Beulah, my dear child," began Miss Nancy, in her most sadly serious way, her hands resting upon her stomach, " I cannot feel that this evening you have treated me or my household with the respect that is my due, and I feel that it is for your own—"
"Because I did not come home to dinner?" Beulah broke in, in an unfamiliar, hard voice, and without the slightest apparent consciousness of the rudeness of her interruption. “I beg your pardon; I am very sorry."
"Where have you been, Beulah ?" said Miss Nancy, still trying to live up to her standard of an ideal disciplinarian.
"Been?" Beulah repeated, pushing her hair away from her forehead, and looking through
space. "I don't know; oh, I have been walking." She brought her eyes back to Miss Nancy's, and then added quickly, "I had my lunch very late; I don't want any dinner. I have been taking a little exercise in the park." This explanation was a small concession to duty and decency, to be sure, but Miss Nancy's well-trained ear was conscious of a singular indifference in the girl's tone. She was uncomfortable, she felt like retreating, she did retreat; but not till she had covered that move by saying: "Very well, Beulah, but I don't expect this to occur again; it is not proper conduct. I will go and fix you a plate of bread and butter, and make you a cup of coffee, and bring them to you. It is my duty"-raising her voice a trifle in answer to Beulah's impatient wave of protest—"to see that you do not injure your health by your own your own folly. I shall expect you to eat something."
to any one. She simply lay there, white as her pillow, with her eyes shut, shaking her head sometimes with a little suffering scowl when she was spoken to. Miss Nancy was absolutely cowed; she was too far gone to put down the little buzz of sympathetic and interested gossip going on around her, for you may be sure these other girls had their ideas of the trouble, though, to do Beulah justice, she had made no confidences, and was temperamentally attached to the dignity of secrecy.
But the time had come when her well-ordered personal reserve was to break down. One of the girls-the one she liked best—was detailed to sit with her, and when Miss Nancy stole away from the eye of man, and the other went about her affairs, the little nurse laid her curly head down on the foot of the bed and broke into tearful sobs. It was a most heterodox thing for a nurse to do, but Beulah opened her eyes, and then held out her arms, and as the two young things clasped each other, she fell into a wild weeping that was the most merciful thing in the world.
"I knew it would come, I knew it, Patty," she cried at last in a loud, strained whisper"I knew it. I knew I'd suffer like this some time. I did n't at first; I didn't mind. I did n't feel as if I cared about being married. They said I 'd be a great artist; I wanted to be, but I knew this would come. I did not say it to myself, but I knew."
After a while she talked a little more calmly, and poured into Patty's small, palpitating bosom a deal of innocent young history.
Miss Nancy's inward sense of weakness had driven her into an irritation uncommon with her. She was now moved to martyr herself to Beulah's bad behavior, and proceeded to arrange the little lunch instead of asking the servant to do it. When she returned with a tray in her hand she opened the door without knocking. Beulah was seated on the floor with her writing-desk in her lap; she closed it as Miss Nancy came in, but for a moment she did not get up. When she awoke to the demands of courtesy she fulfilled them rather scantily, and Miss Nancy carried herself out with unsoftened dignity. She did not disturb Beulah again that night, although she kept an eye on the girl's transom long after she herself went to bed, and "We'd been engaged ever since we were at one o'clock saw the gas burning in that room nothing but children," she said, holding tight to with the complex emotions of a householder, a Patty's hand, and drawing herself toward her, guardian of youth, and a good woman who, as if she felt that in some way Patty might help despite herself, feared that a great mistake had her. "He wanted to be married before, but I been made, and that she shared the responsi- thought I'd rather be a girl a little longer; and bility for it. then came the painting, and Miss Nancy and everybody said I'd — oh, what does it matter, what does all that matter? When you are engaged a long time like that you get to think you don't care so much, but it 's only because way down you care more. And Tom never said a hard word to me; maybe he did n't mindbut he did, oh, he did then. Why should he remember, when I could do such a thing?"
During the next week her uneasiness declined; life went on comfortably enough. Beulah worked hard, but she ate her meals and talked to people, and altogether behaved more like a Christian than she had done in a long time.
"Thank heaven! that girl has come to her senses," said Miss Nancy to herself, and her complacency as a guide, philosopher, and friend renewed its strength like the eagle. But the week after this did not begin so well. On its last day Beulah came home at three o'clock in the afternoon, a very unusual thing. One of the other girls met her as she came in and exclaimed about her white face. A minute later she heard a heavy fall in Beulah's room and, rushing in, saw her, looking so pitifully slight and young in her sore trouble, lying unconscious on the floor. When Beulah came to herself she would say nothing
Wide-eyed Patty opened her brave little mouth to speak, and the way Beulah half raised herself, leaning forward with eyes straining to read what she should say before the words were formed, was a heart-sickening revelation of distraught, hopeless hopes of help.
"Tell him, tell him now," whispered Patty; but she was frightened enough when Beulah flung her hand away, and, burying her face in the pillows, sought to stifle a burst of hysterical cries. When she could Beulah pressed her hand
an instant again, but begged her to go awaygo away, and make everybody leave her alone. The next morning when Miss Nancy went in and found her still lying as she had left her, but with open eyes that some way looked as if she had not closed them through all the night, she said that she must send for a doctor. Beulah turned her head, looked at her, and then said very distinctly:
"Miss Nancy, you must not send for a doctor till I tell you to. When I can I 'll see one, if I need; but I have got to manage my own life now. Please leave me alone. Thank you for your kindness." And she turned her face to the wall.
Miss Nancy could only pulse with an indignation that her other emotions were powerless to override; but she had an indefinable fear of a conflict, and she went away and stayed away. Beulah lay there silent all day. It was after dinner when Patty, going into the dimly lighted room again, heard her speak.
"Patty," she said, in a wooden, steady voice, "I have written. That 's what's so terrible." "When?" asked the intelligent Patty. "More than two weeks ago." "All sorts of things happen to letters."
"Not really, not in thousands and thousands of times. Why should he answer me? I knew he would n't."
"He will," said Patty, with the inflection proper to an axiomatic statement.
"Do you think so-do you, Patty?" Beulah, the elder, the genius, the once self-contained, kind mentor of the younger girl, spoke now as if Patty were an oracle of heaven.
Patty was equal to the position. "I know it," she said. Then, as Beulah's eyes besought her for more, she went on: "Probably he was away, and did n't get the letter for some time, and then probably he set in to arrange to come right up North to see you, and did n't think about writing. Men do like that; pa does. Why, maybe he 's coming now; or maybe he 's gotten here to-night after it seemed too late to call on you, and is waiting till in the morning."
Little did Patty realize, in her infantine castlebuilding, what she was laying out for herself.
"Do you think so?" cried Beulah, softly. Then she said in a voice more like every-day life, but vibrating with suppressed excitement, "Where is Miss Nancy?"
"In the dining-room." "No one else there?"