From Cecilia to the Rev. Philip Westacott.
DULWICH, September 10th, 18—.  DEAR MR. WESTACOTT:
We came this evening in the twilight. It is a little station in the midst of a valley of corn fields; the sun had set, and a low hill on our left was black against a red sky. A couple of spires about a mile apart; and half-way. between a turreted tower; stood in clear silhouette above the trees. My father waved his hand toward them. “The village is up there,” he said.
Just then, stuttering a little over the runs, a chime of bells began to ring, “Lo, the conquering hero comes.” The high notes rained down daintily, and the smoke-scented autumn air vibrated with the heavier boom, boom, of the larger bells. “Do they have church as early as this?” I asked. My father shook his head and half smiled; then, taking out his handkerchief, he blew his nose violently, complaining that the heat of the cars had given him a cold,—and I knew that they were ringing him a welcome!
As we .turned to the further side of the platform an old gentleman with snow white hair and wonderful fiery eyes came running toward us. When he saw me he pulled off his soft clergyman’s hat and stood, half hesitating, as if my presence prevented something he wished to say; but my father stepped toward him, both hands extended. They stood a moment quite speechless, but something in their long look of reconciliation and forgiveness brought tears to my eyes. I cannot account for the way in which the atmosphere seemed charged with emotion this evening, and I need hardly tell you that this first man to greet us was Professor Edmunds, against whose enmity to my father you so often have warned me, and the thought that this difficulty, at least, in my father’s way is removed does something to lessen the depression I feel in these new scenes and among these strange faces.
An open carriage was waiting; in it was another dignitary, who bent forward affably and shook hands with my father with such benevolent, impersonal condescension that I knew in a minute it must be a bishop.
“Will you get in beside me, Mr. President?” he said, quite ignoring my existence. “We are to have a little demonstration in your honor, and I should like to have you with me when you make your first appearance.”
My father hesitated. “My daughter—” he said.
The Bishop bowed to me, also affably. I cannot tell why I should expect a bishop to get out of a carriage when I am presented to him, but I did. “I fear your daughter will find the excitement of your reception too fatiguing, we have arranged for her to be taken up to the hotel in the village coach, where she may retire as soon as she feels inclined,” he said to my father, who looked distressed and embarrassed. Professor Edmunds ushered me into a rickety coach, and made a motion to get in beside me, but the Bishop remonstrated.
“I will send Evelyn,” the professor whispered, giving my hand a little squeeze, and so I was driven meekly in the rear of the episcopal procession.
The coach rattled up to the little hotel, and I descended alone, weary and dusty. The landlady showed me into a dining-room where I had a forlorn supper of tea and toast, by the light of a kerosene lamp. I was just wondering what I should do next when I heard a little commotion of voices in the hall. The landlady came and told me that Miss Evelyn wanted to see me.
“My father sent me,—I am Evelyn Edmunds,” she said. “Would you not like to see something of the reception that is being given to your father? Are you too tired to come to the park with me?”
I was too much in a rage at the way I had been treated to feel anything but a desire to circumvent the Bishop. “If you are quite sure that you are willing to take the responsibility of bringing me,” I said; “I have already been sent to bed.”
She laughed. “I know; but you must not miss hearing your father on that account,” she said, and after I had taken a few minutes to freshen my travel-worn appearance we turned out into the night air, past the: yellow lamps in the dusty windows of a little village store, and then through two high stone gate posts into the college park.
I could see the glare of moving torches under the trees about a quarter of a mile away, and the park was filled with people. Miss Edmunds and I followed the crowd, across the grass, until we came to the college chapel, just as my father stepped out from the vestibule and stood between the two enormous pillars of the porch. The light of the torches fell full upon him; behind him all was black in shadow; the students stood below, their dark figures outlined in fitful red, and as they cheered their eyes glittered in their upturned faces. My father stood a moment waiting for silence, and when the noise subsided he began.
He spoke of the future of the college, he told how it had always been his dream to build it into something great, something noble, something worthy of those who had planned it! He outlined hopefully his policy; he asked their help, and encouraged them to more strenuous effort, a higher standard,—and beside me Evelyn Edmunds laughed softly, and then sighed.
“What is it?” I asked.
“They all begin so,” she said. “I suppose Sisyphus made the same speech when he first undertook his stone-rolling. Man after man has taken up this burden,—it never reaches the hill-top, something always rolls it back again: a bishop, a debt, an ecclesiastical quarrel, or, perhaps, a civil war, and Sisyphus is lucky, if he is not caught and crushed in its downfall. Your father is our last hope; he is the strongest man we have had. You do not know what his coming means to us!”
The men cheered, the alternate flame and shadow danced on the pillars, and the Bishop came out and said the Doxology. (Evelyn Edmunds declared that he says it on every occasion, from a five o’clock tea to the consecration of a cathedral.) Then we turned home, and I sat down to write this dreary letter to you. My father came back a little while ago, tired and apparently discouraged; he said that the Bishop had arranged an informal reception where he was to meet the students, and giving me a hasty kiss, left me here in the tavern parlor alone; it seems that I am left out. In time I suppose I shall become accustomed to it.
From Cecilia to the Rev. Philip Westacott.
DULWICH, September 30th, 18—.  DEAR M
Your consolations and resignations have all come too late. I smote Dulwich smartly; it turned its other cheek, and woke up to the fact that I was no longer eight years old!
We are in our own house; we have some astonishing servants. I have even given a dinner party, and I attend all the meetings of the faculty. You may be incredulous, but the meetings take place in my father’s study, and, as the discussions are loud, and frequently acrimonious, you will know that I cannot but hear when I sit in the next room. I told my father, but he only laughed; so I keep quiet as to my information, and no one is any the wiser for my unique opportunity,—not even myself!
They have left papa every unpleasant piece of discipline, every disagreeable entanglement, and every tiresome dilemma that has come before them in the last three years. Professor Edmunds is loyal and helpful, but some of the others seem to be anxious to throw stumbling blocks in the way at every turn. They quarrel over every motion that is made; I hear the other men take sides, I hear my father’s voice making peace; and it seems to me a very weary life for him after the calm and leisure of his days in the pleasant old parish in New York, where you were always at hand to save him from annoyance.
In the meantime I cannot tell you how beautiful this place is! It lies on the crest of a-hill, and as we walk along the ridge to and from the village the square fields below in the valley spread out many-colored away to the eastern hills that are covered thick with oak trees, rounding in masses like green billows of smoke. There is nothing harsh, nothing severe, nothing angular in the landscape, and just now the quiet glory of autumn makes the whole world at peace. It is impossible, you tell yourself, that men should be perturbed in the midst of all this loveliness.
From the windows of my father’s study some good soul has cut a wide vista through the trees of the park; it opens out toward the sunset, and on these clear days the sky in that direction is like a- wall of amber. The chimes on the church tower ring every quarter of an hour a solemn old fashioned minuet; there is no noise of wheels, no sound of voices but the occasional shouts and replies of the college students as they lean out of the windows and chaff the embarrassed passer-by.
Dulwich is a little eddy whirled aside from the stream, and into it, one after another, a little fleet of frustrated ambitions, blighted hopes, broken hearts and wrecked aspirations have drifted out of the current of life. All the autumn air seems full of sobs of regret and sighs of discouragement. My father is the only one who brings with him a breath of the frosty outer world, fresh with promise of the future; but even now I begin to tremble for the time when the inevitable lethargy will fall upon him also, and this atmosphere of calm despair sap all his strength and courage. I cannot say how much of this pessimism is mine and how much Evelyn Edmunds’s. We have walked a great deal together in these cool days, down the long country roads or into the pleasant dry woods. We find a spot far away from the village on some hillside, and sit looking out over the corn fields to where the spires and turrets of the college buildings .cut into the western sky, and then, however the talk may turn, we always drift back to Dulwich and Dulwich ways. Evelyn never is personal, she tells me nothing of the people among whom she has grown up and the men with whom her father has always been associated. She generalizes;—but somehow her generalizing makes the heart sick and the spirit sink within one.
You must have known her when you were in college. I have spoken of you to her once or twice, but something of interest has always come up and the talk has taken another turn. She is curiously impersonal, as I said.
My father wishes to be remembered to you.
The Rev. Philip Westacott to Miss Evelyn Edmunds
NEW YORK, October 25th, 18—.DEAR MISS EDMUNDS:
Have you forgotten Philip Westacott? If so, I must recall myself to your memory as a somewhat lanky youth who graduated in Dulwich some ten years ago, and to whom you and your father showed kindness—most undeserved. I write now in behalf of my little friend, the President’s daughter. I think that you will find her almost as young and crude as I was myself when I left Dulwich so long ago, and, in bespeaking your friendship for her, I feel that I am asking you to give more than you will receive. And yet, the interest which she has felt in :you and the attraction which you evidently have for her may at some future time reward you for any attention you may show her. I confess that I have trembled a little lest some chance allusion to the past should reveal to her a Philip Westacott different from the man that she knows now; but I am in the hands of all my merciful Dulwich friends, where, as I have been kindly treated before, I hope to be kindly treated again. It would give me great pleasure to hear from you, perhaps a word or two as to the impression our dear old friend, the President, is making, and his chances for success in his present difficult task.
Believe me, as I have always been,
Most faithfully yours,
From Miss Evelyn Edmunds to Miss May-belle Browne.
DULWICH, November 3d, 18—.MY DEAR MABEL:
I beg your pardon! I always forget that you have changed the spelling—My dear May-belle:
When you see my handwriting on the back of this letter you will say “something has happened to her,” and—you may be right. How long is it since I have taken up my pen with the intention of pouring out to you something that hurt too much to be borne in silence, and yet that was too near to be shared with any one whom I might meet in my daily life! Writing to you is like flinging a message down a well,—nothing comes back but a hollow echo from the depth of piety in which you have submerged yourself. If ever we meet again, I think you will have forgotten all that I have told you. I doubt myself whether you always read the long letters I used to send you ten years ago; but if you did, you perhaps will remember Philander Willnot? Of course you know that that is not his real name, but so much reticence I felt, in the old days, I owed myself and him.
Did I care for him?—I never have denied it.
Did he care for me?—So he loudly affirmed.
In either case the truth is equally difficult to ascertain.
Ten years ago, without an explanation, without even a farewell, he passed out of my life; now he has come back. The letter inclosed speaks for itself, and here really is the rub: if I. knew that the man was in every way unworthy of esteem, my course would be clear to me. If, on the other hand, I could be confident that he was worthy of every esteem, my course, while more complicated, would still be clear; but to feel that he is mean here, generous there; calculating to the verge of dishonesty on one hand, and open with the clearness of day on the other, leaves one, even after ten years, in a frame of-mind uncomfortably vacillating.
This is not the first letter that I have received from him in all this period,—he has written to me before, not often, perhaps three letters in all; I put them all in the fire: they did not ring true! But in this there is a note that rings most painfully true, a note of fear. I think that Philander is afraid lest in some way our old,—shall I call it friendship?—may come to the knowledge of little Cecilia Reynolds, the President’s daughter. And my dilemma is whether or not to speak.
If he is worthy of her, why should I do it? If he is unworthy, is it not my duty? And yet, can I be sure that this fine word “duty” does not cover some smoldering ember of ancient resentment?
To put it plainly,—did not Philander long ago—no, I cannot put it plainly! Let me see, May-belle, I am twenty-eight, nearly thirty. It seems very incredible that a woman of—say thirty, it sounds more impressive—cannot endure to set down in black and white that once, long ago, when she was young and he was young, some one,--well,—curious,—it stings yet.
I shall not put it down, May-belle. How disappointed you must be!
Oh, that I had my father’s wholesome, undivided, most unmitigated scorn for this man! But I have not, I cannot achieve it quite, although the way in which: he ignores the past in this letter has done more toward this end than all the struggles I have made in the last ten weary years. It is as if he came to me, and said: “See, you do not care for me; I am but a shadow in your past. Recognize this and forget, as I have forgotten.” Shall I do it? Can I?
I am wild with myself that I hesitate. It is not: I that am to blame for remembering, but this narrow, uneventful, colorless life that makes the smallest occurrence stand out, almost lurid, from the background of everyday existence!
Only, only, who are right about him, papa and I—you see I rank myself with my father—or Cecilia and the President, who speak of him, one with a respectful, tender affection, and the other with enthusiasm, as a coming man of the younger generation? I fancy the ruthless progress of the coming man necessitates much trampling under foot, and I, in a far off little town, carried neither influence nor preferment as my dowry; while Cecilia, in addition to the prestige a man would reap from being her father’s son-in-law, inherits no mean fortune, in good hard cash, from her mother’s estate.
Ah, May-belle, if I could only pen some answer to Philander Willnot which would draw from him a clear and definite statement as to his eternal value! If I could, as it were, hold a little judgment seat and find out whether he stood on my left hand or on my right—is this profane? Then how happily should I either consign him to everlasting punishment,—that-would please you, May-belle,—or send him to the abode of the blessed with Cecilia as his guardian angel!
As it is; you cannot advise me. For one thing, it would take too long for your advice to come; for another, I should not follow it when it arrived.
P. S.—If you only would remit for a time your efforts at conversion and salvation and induce one of your large-eyed, dreamy Hindoos to exert his higher wisdom, and by some occult process send me Philander inside out, how grateful I should be! Think of it, May-belle, the heathen are so plenty, and there is only one of me!
Cecilia to the Rev. Philip Westacott.
DULWICH, November 5th, 18—.MY DEAR MR. WESTACOTT:
I have been promoted. Last night I went to an old maids’ tea party. There were eight of us, seven priestesses, and I, a candidate for postulancy. Evelyn was not there,—she was at home taking care of her mother, who enjoys bad health! There was one thing that was very lovely, no matter whom they spoke of unkindly, and no matter who else was criticised, for Evelyn no one had a single word of anything but praise and affection. There were a good many spicy stories about her, of how she had settled this and that person; but I have no time for those now, because of something else I want to tell you. Did you ever know, when you were here, any one in whom Evelyn was particularly interested? No one mentioned the man’s name,—they alluded to the matter as “that old affair.”
“She has never gotten over it,” Miss Mary Duncan said, “I firmly believe.”
“Nonsense,” said Miss Louisa Colby, “Evelyn jilted the man most outrageously.”
Miss Mary Duncan shook her head, and Miss Louisa Colby looked quite angry. “I don’t believe she’s ever thought of it from that time to this,” she said.
“I wish she hadn’t,” snapped Miss Mary. “There now, don’t let us talk about that man, for it makes me furious to think about it.”
And that was all. It astonishes me to see how curious I feel to know who the man was and whether he jilted Evelyn or Evelyn jilted him. If you know, write and tell me.
From the Rev. Philip Westacott to Cecilia.
NEW YORK, November 8th, 18—.MY DEAR CHILD:
So you would like to know whether he jilted Evelyn or Evelyn jilted him? Well, you shall know. But hold your judgment in abeyance while I tell you the tale, and do not cast blame where it is not deserved.
There was once a boy and a girl, or, shall I say, a man and a woman. They knew each other a good many years, four of the man’s college life and three more which he passed in the seminary. I think they called themselves engaged to be married. To the man the woman was a superior being, to be worshiped and bowed down to from afar. That engagement, on his part, was more like the act of perpetual adoration, which some devout worshiper pays to a statue in a niche. Only, to the devout worshiper, the pain of seeing how his sacrifices and oblations bore their object is generally spared. This man, however, had either clearer sight or the statue in the niche was more human than most objects of adoration; at any rate, as the last three years of his stay in Dulwich wore on, with each succeeding day he saw that the woman he cared for wearied of him, wearied of him to desperation, but being a statue in a niche she hid her suffering and tried to be to him what she had always been, and was still. But when the day came for him to leave, he said to himself “I shall not hold her bound to me, and yet I know that if I offer to give her back her pledge she will not take it.” And so, like one who thrusts a gift between the pages of some well known book, and leaves it to the beloved reader to discover, he stole away without farewell, without excuse, and left her, to con the tale of her future, free. Now whether did this man jilt that woman or she him?
Child, render judgment.
Cecilia to the Rev. Philip Westacott.
DULWICH, November 11th, 18—.Philip, Philip, she was the guilty one! From the first moment in which her heart had turned away from him she had jilted him as surely as if she had spoken. How fine and noble he was to save her the pain of her own fickleness! I cannot write more.
Evelyn to May-belle.
DULWICH, November 13th, 18—.  MY DEAR MAY-BELLE:
We went to walk this afternoon, that child and I, and after a brisk turn down the road we climbed the Bishop’s fence and rustled up the hill through the leaves. Oh, the good sweet smell of the sun-warmed leaves, May-belle, and the yellow afternoon, and Pan in the air!—but I forgot, you don’t know Pan!
We sat down, Cecilia and I, where, through a vista cut between the trees, we could see the creek winding blue up the valley, the railroad bridge spanning it like a structure in fairyland. The maples and the nut trees were bare, but the great branches of the oaks arched over us, covered with leaves, deep red, dull yellow and faded pink, translucent against the sky like some glorious stained glass. It was a day that moved one to confidences, and, when I look back, I feel a little as one might who had been temporarily possessed. The child sat a little below me, her hands clasped around her knees, her head turned half-way, enough in profile to show the points of her long black lashes beyond the bridge of her nose. Her eyes are deep blue, and her dark eyebrows delicately drawn. When she looks at you, your heart cries—no, not yours, of course, May-belle, I know your good sense.
I had long ago decided not to say a word that should turn her away from Philander, but, as I watched her, the fate of becoming one of the means which should minister to his worldly advantage seemed too good for her, and some evil impulse prompted me to speak. Fortunately, I spoke in parables; but. I showed her a piece of my heart, and, God knows, how it hurt!
“Did that woman love him when he went away?” she asked, for I had not said who the woman was.
“For years, life was darkened to her,” I said; “and yet I cannot say whether she loved him or not, because I have always believed that love is immortal, and with the years she has changed.”
Cecilia, as she listened, had turned more and more away from me, until now I could only see the outline of her cheek. “Are you not sure she loved him?” she persisted.
I shook my .head.
She thought a long time, and at last she turned and looked at me. “Would it be any comfort to that woman,” she asked, “to know that he had not been perfidious, to know that through some terrible misunderstanding he loved her then and loves her yet?”
“I hardly know,” I said,. “The woman is another woman now. Why speculate upon an impossibility?”
“It is not an. impossibility,” she answered. “Not long ago I heard something about that woman. I heard this same story, and I wrote of it to some one I knew: May I read you the answer?”
My heart beat dull in my breast, and for a moment made words impossible; then I said: “Yes, read the answer.”
She drew a letter from her pocket, and read it to me. It was a letter from Philander,—Philander also had spoken in parables. He had explained his own case, as if it were that of another man, most ingeniously and effectively.
“Now whether did this man jilt that woman or she him?” the letter ended. When she came to the question I was overtaken with a sudden fit of laughter. She looked at me, her grave blue eyes full of alarm and pity. “Forgive me,” she said, “it has been too much for you.”
“You knew it was I?” I said.
Her face flushed painfully. “I knew,” she said.
“And has Philander Willnot dared write this to you?” I asked.
Her face flushed still more painfully. “Why should he not dare,” she said; “he has asked me—to marry him.”
I looked at her stupidly. “And you will do it?”
“I cannot tell,—he begged me not to decide hastily, I promised to consider it. My father is so fond of him!”
“And you can trust him—after this?”
“Why should I not trust him?” she asked. “It is no great crime for Philander to write to me about a classmate.”
Then that unholy laughter overtook me again, tears rained down my cheeks. She had not seen that he wrote of himself. Was the child stupid?
And do you want to know what I did and what I said and how much I revealed? Ah, dear May-belle, let patience have its perfect work. Besides, how often you have told me that you think it wrong to be curious!
Continued in our next, by
Cecilia to the Rev. Philip Westacott.
DULWICH, November 13th, 18—.My mind is full of dull suspense; my heart is torn! I ask you nothing, I will not degrade you by asking, but, oh, Philip, if there is anything that you have withheld, anything that in justice I ought to know, withhold it no longer! Do not let me lie under the accusation, even though I myself am the accuser, of harboring mean thoughts and injurious suspicions.
I was walking with Evelyn this afternoon, and little fool that I was! thought that I saw a little way into her heart. It seemed that I had it in my power to right an old wrong, and set her feet once more in the way of happiness; it came to me out there, in the sweet Indian summer air, that, in spite of doubts, in spite of her own convictions even, she still loved that man,—loved him even where she despised him—that, Philip, I could not do. And so, to set the pain at her heart at ease, I read her your letter. Do you wish to close my pages here and come at once to find out how that reading affected her? Or will you read on to the end? There is little to tell, for she only laughed and laughed, peal after peal. I had not told her who had written me, but she knew that it was you.
How did she know, Philip? Were I another woman and you another man, I should say that the letter of that other man had been written of himself! But Evelyn has told me nothing; she said a few keen, clear-headed little things about that lost lover of hers that I will not repeat to you, lest they come to his knowledge and his vanity be unable to endure the shabby guise in which his soul appears to the woman, whom, you say, he had worshiped as a statue in a niche!
Why are you two people allowing me to stumble on in the dark, you deceiving me, for you are deceiving me, and she allowing me to be blinded ?
From Evelyn to May-belle.
DULWICH, November 18th, 18—.MY DEAR MAY-BELLE:
So you consulted your Mahatma? Convey to him my profound appreciation of his skill; I say nothing, as yet, of gratitude. Much as our former idols may be in our way we are seldom thankful to the person who kicks them from their pedestals. Besides, knowing as I do that recent events could only have come about through your adoption of the Hindoo religion yourself, I fear to trench upon what may be a delicate subject. Of course, you are aware of all that has taken place. I am only repeating it to clear my own mind.
It has rained steadily for two days; the water gathers on the upper sides of the oak leaves until they grow so heavy that they turn down quickly to pour it on the ground, and then .they spring back to their places again. I was watching them through the dining-room window after dinner to-day, and wondering if, after I had had my fill of trouble, I could .pour it out as a sort of libation to cheerfulness, and spring back gayly to my old place in life again. You cannot help moralizing in Dulwich. Where in other places you have the next thing to go on to, here you stop and reflect upon the last thing behind. The glass in our dining-room windows is so old in places that it is irridescent; sometimes it is the only cheerful thing we see for days; like everything else in Dulwich it also moralizes: you see the Bishop striding down the park, and beneath its truthful effects he dwindles to a little man an inch in hight, and then, as he strides on to the next pane, he suddenly becomes inflated like some vast balloon, his head completely out of sight in a myriad of criss-cross defects in the upper sash.
It is very odd, but these panes of glass have no effect upon papa and the President. I know that with your practical mind you will pooh-pooh this, and say that a distorting piece of glass would distort the Angel Gabriel; but this is not true, besides being irreverent.
Well,—there is no use trying to evade the point; as I stood looking out upon the park I noted far up under the maple trees a man coming down whom I took for a stranger. Only, I asked myself, why should a stranger disturb me thus? I jumped up and ran to look out of the third pane on the other sash, through which alone one gets a just view of life; I held myself well back, my head bent forward; yes, it was Philander. He was coming down swiftly, well dressed, his umbrella held squarely over his head,—though the rain was driving heavily from the south. It was an older Philander, and yet as I looked at him I felt that he was the same. I was very glad, if Philander had changed and grown,—well, never mind, he had not changed and grown, and I had no time to speculate. I ran up stairs to my room, thinking to put on another dress, and brush my hair; then I looked at myself in the glass and queried: “Why should one change one’s dress for a Philander who has not changed?” And, on viewing myself candidly, it really seemed that I was well enough as I was. So I made a face at myself and sat down and waited. Perhaps, after all, lie was not coming to see me,—for Cecilia lives across the street. I am ashamed to say that I experienced a certain amount of suspense as I sat there, listening for the thin, brassy tinkle of our front door bell.
It came. He had come to me first!
I was watching myself in the glass as I would another person, and I was very white as I rose to go down.
Philander was standing in front of the fireplace, looking about him with a compassionate smile. “I feel as if I were the boy who used to come in here, of old, awed at the grandeur of his surroundings,” he said, coming toward me. My private reflections were so loud that I really did not hear what I said in reply. We sat down, I wondered why he had come, and knew that whatever explanation he chose to give, the real reason would be something else. So when, after a few preliminaries, he opened upon me with: “What will you think when I tell you that I am here with the thought of remaining permanently?” I felt quite sure that Cecilia had written something to him which had brought him on a flying visit.
Dulwich does not attract, permanently, men of as large personal needs as Philander.
“Have you been offered the professorship of English Literature?” I asked.
“Not exactly offered,” he said, “I have been asked to consider it,—Evelyn, shall I come?”
I put up my hand to my face suddenly with the erroneous impression that he had slapped me on the cheek. “Charming!” I cried, so soon as I had ascertained that the blow was not physical. “Of course you will come. Dulwich is the very place for you.”
“That is not the answer I wish,” he said.
“Then do not come, I implore you,” I said, dramatically.
I laughed a little and looked at him. “May I ask how it specially concerns me?” I inquired.
“It does not concern you,” he replied, seeing his mistake; “it concerns me. You know my hopes in regard to Cecilia. Are you going to frustrate them?”
“What do you mean? “I asked. “If Cecilia cares for you nothing that I could do would turn her against you, and, more than that, I cannot permit you to infer that I should have the desire to injure you.”
“And yet I have injured you,” said Philander, in deep melancholy tones.
“On the contrary, I have every reason to be grateful to you,” I said, and I hope it did not sound snappy.
There was a long silence. Philander sat looking into the great bed of coals that glowed in the fireplace, very straight and stiff in his severe clerical clothes and round white collar. I felt like a chess player waiting for the next move, and—I felt nothing more.
“No,” said Philander, at last. “I have not injured you. I have made no impression upon your life. You have drawn me inside out and cast me off like an old glove,”—I started and remembered your Mahatma, May-belle,—”or a faded flower—” went on Philander, sadly.
“I cannot say which you least resemble,” I interrupted; “you are too robust for an old glove, and, as for a faded flower,—couldn’t you droop a little, Philander,” I asked, “to carry out the simile?”
He flashed an angry glance at me. “You are unchanged, Evelyn Edmunds!” he declaimed, “unchanged in spirit as you are in form. You are the same heartless, jeering woman who jilted me unfeelingly ten years ago.”
He had to stop for effect. “Go on,” I said, courteously, “do go on.”
“Ay, I know what is in your mind, Evelyn Edmunds, you would wish to give the impression that the story was the other way. It was a clever tale you told to Cecilia, out there in the Bishop’s woods, sitting on a felled tree, looking down to where the creek wound through the valley. Yes, I know where it was, I recognized it when she .wrote to me.”
May-belle, I will give you my word of honor that until that moment I had forgotten that on that very spot Philander had vowed—well, never mind what, a great many things! And Philander had remembered, and I had forgot; most curious dispensation of Providence! For he who remembered had not suffered, and she who forgot—we had better not say.
“Philander,” I said at last, “what difference does it make whether the happy solution of our personal equation came from you or from me? Why do you come here in this melodramatic, disturbing fashion, to rake up old scores not worth the counting?”
“I am not come,”—Philander has a fine biblical turn occasionally—”to rake up old scores. I am come to set myself straight with Cecilia.”
“Cecilia lives on the other side of the path, Philander,” I said, sweetly.
Philander plunged again into thought. This time he unbent, with his chin in his hand and his elbow on the arm of his chair.
“Have you never cared for me?” he asked, not turning his gaze from the fire.
“I care for you now,” I said, politely, “immensely.”
“I will not be trifled with,” said Philander, fiercely.
“For that matter, neither will I!”
“Evelyn Edmunds,” said Philander, solemnly, “you are unutterably frivolous and shallow-minded.”
You cannot tell, May-belle, the joy that it gives a Dulwich girl to be called frivolous and shallow-minded. My thoughts began to soften toward Philander, and at this little loosening of the tension I laughed feebly; it rippled out without my own volition.
“Have you ever cared for me? Answer my question,” he said, gorgeously.
“Have I not answered it?”
“But I have, Philander, and I will give you another piece of information quite as valuable—that is, you have never cared for me!”
Philander struck his clinched fist upon his forehead in a most beautiful and dramatic gesture. “God help me,” he exclaimed, “I should not have come!”
“Oh, do not say that,” I protested, “you have given me a great deal of pleasure; we never go to the theater in Dulwich. We only go to clubs,’’ I added, with sudden happy inspiration, “and I am dreadfully sorry, but I have a meeting of one this afternoon. Still, it need not interfere with your visit, I could not hope to keep you until half-past three.” I stole a look at the clock, it was ten minutes after then.
Philander had not appeared to notice my polite intimation; he wrapped himself palpably in gloomy thought.
“I have not known my own mind,” he said, in a beautiful deep, inward voice, as if he were communing with his own soul in a corner of the cellar. “I have not dared look into it, but for years, unaltered, the old boyish worship has gone on at the shrine of the one ideal woman I have known.”
“Philander,” I said, “let me beg you once for all to raise your ideal. No man can hope to attain anything noble or heroic whose ideal is ‘frivolous and shallow-minded.’”
“You have me at your mercy, as you always had,” he said. “You deal with me as if I were a toy.”
“Shuttlecock?” I suggested.
“Ay,—a shuttlecock,” said Philander, mixing his metaphors as if he were in the pulpit, “tossed on the breath of each inconstant wind; but I cannot believe that you mean it, Evelyn. Star of my boyhood’s dream, you have not ceased to love me? You care for me still. Be honest, acknowledge it! Our whole future depends upon the truth.”
“What nonsense,” I said, indignantly, “do not say ‘our!’ Your future and mine are as wide apart as the poles, and rest assured, Philander, even if I did love you, no earthly power or heavenly either, would induce me to marry you.”
Philander tossed his head up suddenly and looked at me defiantly. “Have I asked you to marry me?” he said.
“You have not,” I answered.
“Then why decline?”
“Because, horribly absurd, painful and grotesque as it is, you are wavering now between me and Cecilia; and, to cut the situation short, I should like to eliminate all possibility on my part.”
“Evelyn Edmunds,” he said, “you will live to repent this day!”
“Why?” I inquired, blandly.
“I tell you, girl, there is no hight to which I may not climb, no position which I may not attain.”
“I suppose you mean you are going to be a bishop, Philander?” I said, unsympathetically.
“I shall not only be a bishop, but the most powerful bishop in the country.”
“And I might, if I chose, share all this glory?”
“What a ghastly fate!” I interpolated.
“And then again you might not!” he added, quickly.
It was all so funny, that I laughed uproariously. Philander got up and began pacing up and down. All mamma’s gim-cracks on the étagère rattled and tinkled as his heavy tread shook the rickety old floor.
“This is too delicious,” I gasped.
“Evelyn Edmunds,” said Philander, standing very tall and grand in front of me, “you are unchanged. You are utterly unable to take a serious or dignified view of life. Here you are an old maid,” I am sure: that he was snappy now, “yes, an old maid, and you laugh as if an offer of marriage were a daily occurrence.”
“How do you know it isn’t, Philander?” I mildly remarked. “And, moreover, you have just been trying to impress upon me that you have not offered to marry me.”
“I know it, girl, and yet I love .you. I love you, Evelyn Edmunds, but you can never be mine.” He almost chanted in the solemn stress of his feelings.
“Oh, nonsense, Philander, you know perfectly well that I don’t want to be yours.” I was beginning to be truly angry.
“I must ask you to return my letters.”
“I have written.” He was grandly brief.
“You do not mean to say that you think I have kept them! The only letter of yours I have is the last one you wrote, about Cecilia,—you are very welcome to that. I will get it now.”
I went to my desk and found his letter; he took-it and, still wrapped in gloom, left the house, without bidding me good-by. I saw him cross the street, and he actually had the impertinence to forget his umbrella!
Quite the same, he went up on to the President’s porch and rang the bell. I did not watch him out of sight, it brings bad luck.
Here endeth the second lesson.
November 19th, 18—.P. S. To myself. Imagine my surprise this morning on hearing from your aunt that you had left Yokohama, and were coming home! Fortunately, I put return directions on all my envelopes, and my letters will probably come back to me unread. What you have missed, May-belle, in coming home! What have I escaped in that you did not come six weeks later!
I woke this morning oppressed and almost unhappy; an unhappiness that I resented as being due to my environment more than to myself. With other training, with wider interests, with a better chance at comparison, I should not allow the rehearsal of a half-bred tragedian to wring my heart and disturb all the even course of my existence.
Luckily, last night I had set down things almost as they were, and this morning I have it clear before me, beyond the reach of erasing emotions; and, as I look it over, it seems an ill-bred little scene indeed, that between Philander and me, a scene from which neither of us emerges with dignity. I must walk far into the country, breathe the fresh air, go deep into the woods, in order to change the sordid tenor of my thoughts. I shall put on a new gown and make a complete change of all my habiliments; so we refresh ourselves, when we come home after the squalor of a summer day’s shopping in the dust and heat of the country town. We know that we are weary, dissatisfied; we have bought only second-rate materials—all due to our environment—and so we wash and dress and try-to forget it.
Later, 4 P.M.I went for my walk. Philander is blown completely from my memory. It is as if he had never been!
The wind was blowing, the leaves were swirling; behind the soft, half gray clouds were patches of the most delightfully sympathetic sky. These are the real things of this life, the things toward which we should be most profoundly grateful, the things that make up to us for the evanescence of humanity; and, as I came down the path, I chanted a little paean of praise and thanksgiving to the sweet strong wind, the leaves, and the blue, blue patches of heaven—like babies’ eyes!
At the college gate I met Cecilia. She was a little pale, a little worn, very dark round the eyes. Full of my walk I tried to tell her of what I had seen, what I had experienced; but it seemed an effort for her to listen, and almost a pain to reply.
“Will you not come in?” she said, when we reached the gate of her house. “I want to tell you something.”
We went in, I sat down, but she remained standing leaning against a corner of the piano. “Evelyn,” she said, suddenly, “do you care for Philip Westacott?”
“No,” I said, “I do not think I do. Why do you ask?”
She looked at me a moment, and then gave a little hysterical laugh. “Because—” she hesitated. “Oh, Evelyn, I don’t either! He came here yesterday,” she went on, breathlessly. “His visit was unexpected, and although he said that he came about the new professorship, I knew that the faculty had not been thinking of him in regard to it, indeed they had almost made up their minds to recommend—” she stopped apparently confused. “Oh, I never meant to say that,” she cried.
“You have said nothing,” I answered, “except that his visit was not expected.”
“It was not only that he had the air of a person who wished to take one by surprise, who hoped to detect something that had been hidden. He did not seem the same man that I used to know in New York; he had thrown something aside, some refinement of manner, some restraint of bearing. He was plebeian, and, as he sat there, all suddenly, without excuse, I could not endure him. It is not as bad as it seems, because I have never really been engaged to him. I have always told him frankly that I was only considering; but when he explained to me how he was going to be a bishop, I felt that anything was better than living the kind of life he wanted to live, in the way he wanted to live it. And I told him so! I was sorry at first, and ashamed of my fickleness; but with every word he said I grew more and more glad, and less and less regretful. I never really cared for him, but, even if I had, his voice and manner yesterday would have cured me forever!”
I was abashed at the child’s gentle dignity. She had done almost the same thing I had; she had done it, first with sweet regret; next, with a firmness and self-respect that made her seem to have had twice the experience that my own years should have brought me. There is a certain crudeness of spirit that a country life seems to foster; I felt it as I talked with Cecilia.
“He asked me for his letters,” she went on. “It was horribly mortifying. I had thrown all but one into the fire. Somehow I have never cared to read them over, and I had only kept this one, because it was about you. I think that something stung him in my not having kept his letters. I apologized to him as best I could, but the apology did not seem to make it any better. He had mine. I had only written him a few since I came here to Dulwich, and I am rather glad to have them. I have put them with his, and if you do not think it too much trouble would you read them some time? It would ease my mind of a feeling of treachery that I have had in regard to what I have written of you.”
So the story of Philip is ended for both of us. I feel a little dreary, and yet relieved. I think that my love for him was dead long ago,—he has only borne away the body.
* * * * *I have thought and watched far into the night! How glibly I wrote those last lines!
Can one ever say that love dies?
I keep vigil for the dead Philip!
The wind goes soughing among the trees of the park; and I hear the dry leaves rushing down the path with a sort of majestic sweeping sorrow,—and love, and joy, and grief are immortal!
Letter from the President of Dulwich College to Mrs. Henry Perkins, Sr.
DULWICH, December 1st, 18—.MY DEAR MRS. PERKINS:
Since my coming here I have been so occupied that until lately I have not noticed that the change of scene is not agreeing with Cecilia. Dulwich, at the best, is a very quiet little place, and Cecilia has been accustomed to the movement and interest of a city. The child is not ill, and yet she seems far from well, listless, inactive, and, sometimes I fancy, thin and pale. May I now take advantage of the invitation which you gave me long ago, to send her to you when I felt that the sudden change was not proving beneficial? I think in your letter to me you mentioned Christmas, and so, if it meets your convenience for her to spend the vacation with you, I should be most profoundly grateful.
From Evelyn to Cecilia.
DULWICH, December 24th, 18—.MY DEAR CECILIA:
We have missed you all day long, and, .in fact, we have missed you for a week. The town is deserted, at least deserted of man, the park is tenantless, even the sky seems a little wider, now that the students are not here to fill it with nightly howls and daily shouts.
It is veritable Christmas weather. Night before last we had a heavy fall of rain that froze on the branches of the trees. Yesterday it snowed again, and to-day we live in a world of crystal, even the chains between the stone posts of the park fence are hung with pendants like gigantic diamond necklaces; the sky is so blue that we feel, at times, as if we might fall into it, the hard-trodden snow screams under our footsteps, and on the middle path our shadows run before us, colored like indigo.
We have been trimming the chapel; the old bare walls are all garlanded with thick wreaths of fir, and I have wound and wound until my fingers are blistered and my wrists ache. It was picturesque in there, with the girls standing about the chancel, the smell of balsam and fir, the fire crackling in the tiny stoves in the four corners, and the theological students patiently cutting twigs while we bound them on the stout twine ropes. Mr. Westacott, who has been staying down at your house for the last few days, was everywhere. He designed the decorations, he cut out the letters of the texts, he scolded us when we sat on the chancel rail, and he bowed deferentially every time he passed in front of the old-fashioned communion table, whose four legs, always in sight, stand out far from the wall in ecclesiastical defiance.
And now, who do you think is here? No one more or less than she who was once Mabel Brown, and has progressed through May-belle to become the perfect, the immaculate, the altogether infallible Sister Amabel Browne!
She came here the night of the freezing rain,—it is impressed upon my mind, for I went up to her aunt’s to meet her. She had arrived at Littleton from the West, and then had driven five miles in the wet and cold, but she stepped out from the rickety village coach, every hair in its place, her collar spotless, her long white cuffs turned back over her dark blue sleeves, in all the bravery and impressiveness of her diaconal toggery. I confess I was not prepared for Mabel as a deaconess, and before I thought I made a little genuflection, and asked for her blessing; it was an inauspicious beginning; she wanted me to call her “Sister Amabel,” and take her. seriously—the way Mr. Westacott does; they are having a really soulful time.
What a relief it would be to both of us if— Good-by, Cecilia.
From Evelyn to Cecilia.
DULWICH, January 1st, 18—.MY DEAR CECILIA:
Come back immediately, my dear, before we are all changed beyond recognition! Sister Amabel has taken us in hand. We are being improved, elevated, ennobled, to such a degree that unless you return within a week you will never be able to catch up with us.
First- she attacked our intellectual life: we are stagnating, she said. I granted this, only added that we enjoyed it, and that stagnation was our chief charm.
But Sister Amabel shook her smooth, charming head, and looked at me coldly, out of her prominent blue eyes. “Have you no desire to live a higher life, Evelyn?” she said, sadly.
“No, Sister Amabel, I find it already too troublesome to live the lower one.”
She thought a few moments, and then said, a little snappishly: “Well, at any rate, you are not going to refuse to join our Literary Society?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for worlds, Sister Amabel,” I returned.
“The same old ironical, bitter Evelyn!” she cried. “Ah, if you could only learn the peace of a grander, calmer outlook on life!” and I knew, of course, that Philip Westacott was hovering somewhere within hearing.
The first meeting of the Literary Society took place down at her aunt’s; Sister Amabel said she preferred this, as she wished from the very beginning to set a certain stamp of simplicity and high thought upon the thing, which she feared might be lacking if we had it first at our house. And, to do her justice, she set the stamp most indelibly. It was very simple, indeed, and the high thought was supplied from Sister Amabel’s own mint. She hates me to call her Sister Amabel; but I notice that she fairly revels in having the others do it.
She read an essay on Buddhism,—S. A. is in the fashion, you see, dear,—to the Rev. Philip Westacott. It was a beautiful essay,—nobody understood it but the person addressed. And he and she discussed it afterward for the benefit of outsiders, in terms of the deepest significance and incomprehensibility. Then we had refreshments, at least they were called refreshments, but the younger part of our society refused to be refreshed and, grumbling audibly, conveyed to me the information that they were hungry.
I am going to have the next Literary Society myself, and I shall try to do something toward restoring the balance of power.
Good-by, my dear.
Sister Amabel to the Rev. Philip Westacott.
DULWICH, June 28th, 18—.MY DEAR PHILIP:
I have been staying with Evelyn Edmunds ever since my aunt and dear grandmamma went to the seashore; it has been a sad, almost a disappointing visit. In all our aims, in all our aspirations, Evelyn and I have grown apart. I cannot but say that when we were young together I often felt this difference, but never to the degree of complete separation that I feel now.
Nothing is sacred to Evelyn Edmunds, not even the deepest emotions of the human heart. Little Cecilia Reynolds is here very often, and I must say that Evelyn’s influence upon the child is deplorable! In my small way, Philip, I have always been an acute observer of humanity, and in Cecilia I see a soul more in sympathy with my own, and, dear one, with yours! She shows your influence,—infrequently, alas!—but still she shows it, and whatever aspirations she has toward the higher life are due to you and you alone. Not that she ever mentions you, but there is a sweet dignity, a look of gravity, almost of regret which I see on her face at the sound of your name, that I can only attribute to a recollection on her part of nobler and higher things. I put them in the comparative, Philip, for, alas, this sweet creature daily falls more and more under the hardening, critical and skeptical influence of her who was once my dearest friend.
I leave, you know, to-morrow. The commencement exercises are all over, and I am glad to flee away from the gayety and dissipation to the quiet retreat of the little farm house where dear grandmamma and Aunt Mary are now sojourning. I hope that by the time I reach them the slight hardness which I noted—without any feeling of anger, dear—in Aunt Mary’s conduct toward me since I have come home will have entirely passed away, and that she may have had grace to overcome her jealousy of the evident preference dear grandmamma shows for me. It is but natural that I, being young (and, may I say it to you, Philip), more attractive than Aunt Mary, dear grandmamma should prefer to have me with her. Why should I be thus followed through life by the detraction and dislike brought upon me by those gifts of Providence for which I am wholly irresponsible? But this is repining, and when I write to my Philip I try to be ever cheerful, ever serene!
I have penned these lines to you in order to put my mind into a proper state in which to make the announcement of our happiness to Evelyn and Cecilia. You know I told you I intended to do it before I left, and this afternoon seems to me the most auspicious moment. I shall write to you again this evening, and tell you how they have received it.
I mean to be merciful, Philip, for I feel that to both of them this may be a bitter blow,—in spite of your repeated assurances to the contrary. For why should you have assured me, Dear One, if it were not that unconsciously you are aware that Evelyn’s interest in you has always been more than that of a sister, and also that you knew that Cecilia’s young heart needed but a word to turn to you as the one bright star of her existence?
Later.I went down stairs, Philip, to where Evelyn and Cecilia were sitting under the shadow of the large white pine tree. Evelyn was lying in the hammock, pushing herself lazily with one foot. She looked very worldly; there is something dissipated in the heels of Evelyn’s shoes; and Cecilia was lying back in a large wicker chair, reading a French novel,—I constantly see little indications of frivolity in Cecilia; it grieves me.
I sat down on the garden bench and surveyed them both; Evelyn drew herself up in the hammock and put both her feet on the ground. “It has come at last!” she said, with that dramatic exaggeration of hers which at times really grows wearisome; yes, wearisome!
Cecilia looked at Evelyn, distressfully.
“What has come?” I asked, with dignity.
“You have our most heartfelt congratulations and good wishes,” said Evelyn. “Nothing could be more appropriate; you were born for the episcopate.”
“Evelyn, how can you?” said Cecilia.
I tried to keep the color from mounting to my face. Alas, these fair delicate skins, like mine, always betray the inner emotions! “I do not know what you mean, Evelyn,” I said. “The dear Bishop is happily married to dear Mrs. Babbitt, as we all know.”
“Yes,” said Evelyn, “but this is a future dear bishop.”
I confess, Philip, to a feeling of irritation at having my news forestalled in this way, and before I had thought I answered rashly, “Well, if anybody deserves to be a bishop he does.”
“He is sure to be a bishop,” said Evelyn.
“Sister Amabel,” said Cecilia, “tell us your news. Evelyn is spoiling everything. What was it?”
I hung my head, overcome by sweet embarrassment.
“Do not try to blush, Sister Amabel,” said Evelyn, “you never do except when you are in a rage.”
Quietly ignoring her rudeness, of which I too well knew the cause, I turned to Cecilia. “My dear, you at least will understand,” I said, “the joy I feel in announcing my engagement to the Rev. Philip Westacott.”
Cecilia rose, and, coming toward me, took my hand. “I wish you every happiness,” she said, “and hope that the life to which you look forward may bring you all that you expect and long for, without disappointment or disillusion.”
Evelyn jumped to her feet and followed Cecilia. “I know you will never be disappointed,” she said, with the utmost heartiness, “for Philip is really all that you ever could wish for;—if he had been made to order he could not be more suitable!” and then she sat down beside me and began to laugh.
“Go and get a glass of water,” I said to Cecilia, “I fear that the shock of my news has made her hysterical.”
She did not seem to like this, Philip, for she stopped laughing suddenly and grew very white. I am sorry to say that Evelyn never grows white except when she is in a rage. But she did not have hysterics, it is only justice to say so; but I fear that the announcement has permanently unhinged her mind, for I catch her laughing in odd corners when she thinks I am not looking at her, as if she had found something exquisitely amusing.
I must say good-by now, it is late at night; can it be, my Loved One, that I shall see you soon? Until that blessed moment, adieu!
“Dead Letters” by Mary Tappan Wright was originally published in The Independent v. 53, no. 2753, September 5, 1901; reprinted in Dead Letters, and Other Pieces by Mary Tappan Wright, edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2008.
The work of Mary Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is ©2008-2009 by Brian Kunde.
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