Dorena went out of the room. She went airily, leaving a trail of strong perfume, her first minor assertion of real emancipation, and Sarah Edgewater realized that the beginning of the end, which she had secretly dreaded for years, had come.
Dorena had given notice.
She had given it regretfully, even emotionally. She was too much like her mother, who had lived and died in the service of the Edgewater family, not to feel loving misgivings at leaving her “Miss Sarah.” But Dorena was in love with a handsome young man, as light-colored as she, and he was insistent. “I′d rather be daid, than tell po′ Miss Sarah,” Dorena had wailed - but she had told her.
Sarah sitting, magazine in hand, had heard her with calm dignity and kindness. She was aware of the situation and respected it. When Dorena left she would be quite alone. She would fall to depths of spiritual woe which she could not as yet fathom; but she showed no dismay.
“You may go up in the attic, Dorena,” she said, “and select anything you would like; then Sam can come and take them away to your new house.”
Sarah Edgewater was a good woman. In the midst of her dismay, her more than dismay, her utter panic, a thrill of pure pleasure in the delight of this other woman upon a threshold which she had herself never crossed, the threshold of complete earthly life, came over her. A smile enhanced the effect of her handsome face. Sarah Edgewater, although middle-aged, was a very handsome woman. Her thick dark hair rose strongly from her full temples in fine waves. Her color was clear red and white. She was a large woman, but not stout. Only her eyes might have betrayed her inmost self to an astute observer. They were of such a deep blue as to seem black, and they were set in wistful fashion, although their outlook was clear and level.
When she heard Dorena pounding about overhead, her eyes, despite her smile, were tragic. She realized what Dorena′s going would mean. She, Sarah, would then be left alone in the great Edgewater house. She thought, in a sort of panic, of woman after woman, who might, who would, come to live with her. She knew, of course, the perfect practicability of obtaining another servant in Dorena′s place. But along with Sarah′s abnormal dread of solitude, was another trait even more insistent, the reluctance to admit strangers into that solitude. Not one woman of whom she thought could ever be possible as a home sharer, and she shuddered at the thought of a strange servant. Dorena and her mother and grandmother, and two sisters and a brother, had been the only servants who had ever reigned in the Edgewater family. After dinner that night, when Dorena told her about a girl whom she might secure to fill her place, Sarah shook her head.
“We will not discuss that, Dorena,” she said.
Dorena was half sobbing. “What will you do, Miss Sarah?” she lamented.
“I am glad you found so many things you like in the attic,” said her mistress sweetly.
Sarah Edgewater felt a thrill of real delight in the delight of another, and she enjoyed many such thrills during the next few weeks. She engineered the making of Dorena′s trousseau and gave her a beautiful wedding.
“It has been just like white folks,” Dorena said with exultation, as she and her husband set off for their honeymoon.
Then the thrills were over for Sarah, also the pleasure in unselfishness. For a few days after the wedding sheer hard physical labor blinded her to the situation, but there came a day when the house was entirely set to rights, and she faced it. She faced it with head up. Sarah was no coward. She had won heights of physical and mental stress without flinching, but this was different. This was no cowardice, rather an idiosyncrasy deep-rooted in obscure heredity, which had been awakened and grafted upon her very soul by untoward circumstance, a tragedy of life, years before.
Ever since her girlhood, there had been over the strong, handsome creature, the horror of solitude, of someday living alone. Now it had come. She reasoned with herself, but the situation was beyond reason. It was a primal fact. Many live and die without encountering primal facts which are beyond the power of humanity to evade. She might as well have reasoned with a rock-rib of the earth.
Sarah had been one of a large family. There had been many children. There had been uncles and aunts. Parents and grandparents had lived to ripe old ages. Now all were dead, except one brother whom Sarah never saw (he lived in the far West) and one sister, who meant worse than none to her.
This sister Laura had brought to Sarah the terrible tragedy of her life, the tragedy which had distorted her character. She was slightly Sarah′s senior, and had never had a lover when Sarah, in their long distant girlhoods, had come home from a visit to an aunt in a Middle West city with a lover in her wake. No girl but would have been proud of her conquest of this handsome young man, Thomas Ellerton, with his stately carriage of head, with his crest of fair hair tossing over his full forehead, with his ready wit, his good family, his profession in which he seemed sure to succeed. He was a physician, and Doctor Edgewater having just retired there was no regular practitioner in the village. Young Ellerton was to settle there, take his father-in-law′s practice, live in the Edgewater house, and have the elder physician′s office.
But Thomas Ellerton did not marry Sarah. He married her sister Laura, and the indignant old father would not have him in the house and would have resumed his practice and ousted him from that had his health permitted. As it was he made the practice as small as he was able, without employing direct denunciation. Laura had been not only treacherous but cruel and bold with regard to her treachery. She had known, the beautiful elder sister, who had never had lovers at her feet, that she could easily have her own way with her sister′s. But the time was ripe when Sarah brought Thomas Ellerton home. In the first place, Laura had been indignant because Sarah, and not herself, had been invited to make the visit which had led to so much. Now, when another had had the chance, she thought it only fair play to seize the winnings.
Laura was so lovely that at the first glance poor Thomas, although he would have clung fast to honor, had no power to do so. If the loveliness had not been coupled with unscrupulousness, there might have been a fair combat. But Laura′s pretended coyness was the subtlest of advances. Since Dorena′s mother, who was in charge then, had been ill, Laura assumed that, lover or no lover, it was Sarah′s turn, after her vacation, to take charge of the housekeeping. The mother was delicate, an old grandmother was past work. Through hot, unbecoming days of that old summer, Sarah had drudged in the kitchen naïvely concocting toothsome dishes to please her lover, while Laura, clad in cool muslins, was teaching him lessons of love.
One day, Sarah, flushed with heat, her black hair stringy over her temples, her kitchen apron on, found them sitting, lover-wise, in the grape arbor. A sudden suspicion had at last seized her. She had been frying crullers and had left the boiling fat on the stove; her father, passing through the kitchen, had rescued the house from the consequences. Suspicion had seized him also. He followed Sarah and saw a tableau in the grape arbor. Flickered over by a green waltz of leaf shadows there sat Laura, angel-faced, with lovely folds of golden hair over her ears, in a blue muslin gown making her slim length ruffle to the wind like a blue flower. There sat Thomas Ellerton, deadly white, yet with a bold front, for he was a man in spite of his yielding to the wiles of beauty. His arm was around that tiny waist of Laura′s. He had scorned to remove it. There stood Sarah, magnificent, silent, tousled, flushed, redolent of crullers, before them. She did not accuse. She only observed, with the silence which is as loud as a trumpet call. She was swallowing the awful wisdom of the world with regard to the falseness and treachery of love, but she was silent. Doctor Edgewater spoke. He was a choleric man with a ready tongue. He used language not in accordance with the tenets of the orthodox faith. Sarah looked at him. “Let them alone, Father,” she said.
Then she returned to the house and the hot kitchen. She cleaned the kettle which had been scorched; she put in more fat; and then she finished the crullers.
Laura continued sitting in the arbor. She was doing some fine embroidery on linen, and a queer smile altered the lovely contours of her face, which was not angelic as she sat temporarily unobserved. She was not in the least disturbed. Beside her, while she embroidered, sat the man, his head in his hands. He was overwhelmed. Laura was ready at a second′s notice, if he should raise his head, to drop her embroidery and also be overwhelmed.
When at last Thomas raised his heavy head and glanced at her with shamed eyes, her embroidery slipped into her lap, her golden head drooped onto his shoulder. She sighed, a lovely sigh of womanly sorrow and remorse. Thomas, poor simpleton, thought he understood that exquisite sigh. “We could not help it, could we, dearest?” he murmured, and the golden head against his breast moved in negation. “I know I have acted like a brute,” said Thomas, and, to do him justice, not fatuously but sincerely.
Laura reached up one slim hand and patted his cheek consolingly. She was full of such little tricks. Sarah had disdained them, and thereby rendered her fortress less impregnable. Now Laura′s pat of lily-white hand seemed to set him back on his pedestal. “Of course, if I had seen you first -” he said.
“Love,” whispered Laura, “goes where it is sent.”
“I am sorry for her,” said Thomas.
“Some think Sarah handsomer than I,” murmured Laura with subtle angling.
“Handsomer than you! Why, Laura!”
Laura smiled secretly against her lover′s shoulder. She knew that in reality Sarah was handsomer. She reflected upon cosmetics and homemade aids to beauty, of which Sarah had no need, but - she also reflected with pleasure that Sarah, who knew, was to be trusted. At that moment there was the stain of ripe strawberries upon the soft curves of her cheeks, and the tip of her chin and lobes of her little ears. Her gold hair had been burnished with a fragrant oil, which Sarah had seen her preparing.
Laura was secure; but one thing she dreaded, and that was her father′s continued wrath. When Thomas said presently that, under the circumstances, she had better take the night stagecoach to an aunt of his, one Madam Lucretia Ellerton who lived only twenty-five miles away, that he of course would accompany her, and that they would be wedded as soon as might be from Madam Ellerton′s, she made no demur. By nightfall both were gone.
After the wedding, they returned and settled in the old Squire Amidon mansion. It was the only available house in the village, directly across the road from Doctor Edgewater′s. Sarah could see from her window her sister in her bridal finery emerge from her front door with Thomas. Sarah saw; she scorned to evade the seeing. When her mother, who was a gentle, mild-spirited soul, delicate in health, wept, Sarah cheered her. “Do you think I mind, Mother?” she said. “Better to live unmarried than to have a husband who can so easily turn. ′Tis not a weathercock I thought to have, but a man.”
“And Laura has not your looks,” lamented the mother gently, as she did everything. “Were it not for the -”
“Hush, Mother,” said Sarah. “No need for you to weep, nor for Father to use strong words. Both shame me, and I have no need of pity.”
Doctor Edgewater never spoke again to his daughter Laura. He never entered her home. However, he did not live long to cherish rancor. He died suddenly when Laura had not been married two years. No mention of her was made in her father′s will. Her brother and other sisters had been given legacies, but to Sarah, after her mother, the old home, and the bulk of the property was left.
Madam Edgewater lived to be very old, and Sarah cared for her. She saw her sister and Thomas enter and reënter their home. She saw their children toddle about the doors. She seldom met any of them. Sarah did not often attend the simple village festivities, and Laura was kept very much at home by the care of her children. Moreover, her health became delicate. But whenever they did meet, the keenest of observers discerned nothing which was not faultless toward her recreant lover and the sister who had played her false. But Sarah′s manner was not Sarah. Underneath her calm dignity, even affability, was hatred of her sister so intense that at times it seemed even to her that she bore about with her a thing of evil. Thomas she did not hate. She thought of him not at all. When the war came and he went as surgeon, she saw him go away without a thrill. He came home soon, invalided. He took up his practice, but was not successful. He died not long after peace was declared. Laura was left with five children.
Then Sarah went across the street for the first time. It was her simple duty, not to be shirked. Her mother was dead by that time, and she was living alone with Dorena and Dorena′s mother. Laura was helpless, still in her helplessness there was triumph over her sister. Laura receiving benefits was despicable, a shame to herself. Sarah took up the youngest child to hush it, and Laura snatched it away. “Old maids don′t know how to handle children,” said she.
“You are quite right,” agreed Sarah. “They do not, and I am an old maid.” The child, little Imogen, cried to return to her aunt, but Sarah put her gently away.
Sarah, hating Laura as she did, marveled at Laura′s hatred of her when she had had her will and had despoiled her. She did not know what Laura knew, that deep in the heart of that dead man had never ceased to burn with a clear flame love for the woman who was true and worthy, and that always he had classed his wife with himself, as betrayers and fellow sinners. Also Sarah, with her direct hatred, did not suspect the existence of a hatred which is subtler and more deadly, the hatred of the wrong doer for the victim of the wrong, which is the very boomerang of the soul. In that way Laura hated Sarah.
Laura was a foolish mother, but the fact of her utter selfishness made it possible for her untrained children to grow and be worth-while, for they learned self-reliance and self-denial early. The winter after the death of Thomas, the eldest girl, Amy, obtained a position in the village school. She had a meager salary. Tom, the one boy, was next in age to Amy. He gave up school, and became a clerk in the village drug store.
Tom was a singularly handsome, happy-natured boy. He had been quick in school, and his father had cherished the wish of a college course and a profession for him. The boy had his dreams, but when his father died he gave up dreaming with the loveliest unquestioning alacrity. Tom was one of the blessed of the earth, to whom the narrow way is the only one wherein he can turn his feet. Young Tom fairly danced in his narrow way.
He often waited upon his aunt Sarah Edgewater when she came to the drug store. He was the only one of the family with whom she realized no constraint. He used, that good, happy, handsome, loving boy, to make a little dart of pleasure when she entered the door. She never hesitated to inquire of him concerning his sister and the children. Young Tom was most optimistic. “We are getting on like hot cakes, Aunt Sarah,” was his favorite reply.
After Sarah was left alone he made a surreptitious call upon her one evening on his way home from the store. It was three days after Dorena′s wedding. He saw the sitting-room in his aunt′s house was still lighted, and he ran up to the front door and clanged the knocker. Sarah opened the door speedily, and something in her face shocked the boy. She was ghastly white, but there was something else. In his aunt′s great dark eyes was almost inhuman terror, which leapt into immense relief at the sight of him. “Come in, Tom,” she said in a fervent voice, and the boy followed her in, wondering. Sarah entertained young Tom with currant wine, ham sandwiches, and seed cakes. He ate with voracity. His fare at home was not so dainty. Sarah inquired for his mother and the children; how Amy got on with her school. Only with regard to Amy did the boy′s wonderful optimism fail him for a moment. His laughing mouth drooped. “I feel sorry for Amy, Aunt Sarah,” he said.
“Oh, well, Walter Dinsmore, young Doctor Dinsmore, you know has called on her, and he is trying to take Father′s practice but it is up-hill work. He is so young; still he gets on very well and he thinks a lot of Amy. He has talked it over with me. Walter is straight. He does seem straight, don′t you think so?”
“Well, he is in earnest, and as far as Amy is concerned he could manage. He makes enough to get married and look out for her; but there are Mother and the children, and I don′t begin to earn enough. I am only eighteen, you know, Aunt Sarah. Walter can′t marry Amy as things are now. She wouldn′t think so herself. Amy is a good girl. She wouldn′t shirk her duty to Mother and the younger ones, but Walter doesn′t think he ought to say anything to her, or pay any more attention to her. He says she is so pretty that some rich man might fancy her, and she could get married. He says he′s willing to wait till he′s eighty, but he won′t bind her. I tried to make him tell Amy, but he won′t. And now he hasn′t been near her for weeks, and I can see she is bothered, though she′s got plenty of grit. Amy is the sort to do up her hair just as nice if she were going to be hung. But she doesn′t know, and she does feel hurt. I promised Walter I wouldn′t tell her, and I suppose after a while she′ll get used to it?” Tom regarded his aunt anxiously with a question in his eyes.
“Girls like Amy always get used to it,” she assured him, and there was something pitiful and grim in her voice. She thought Amy must be such a girl as she herself had been. She also thought that the young doctor would never wait until Amy′s mother died and three young sisters became self-supporting.
However, Tom looked relieved. “I supposed girls like Amy did get over things,” he said comfortably. “I know I could.”
Sarah regarded the boy devouring seedcakes, with a look of love. “It seems easy for you to give up anything,” she said.
“It is,” replied the boy simply. “These cakes are good.”
When Tom arose at last to go he started to see the expression of terror appear again in his aunt′s eyes, at least the dawn of it. He did not dream what caused it. “Don′t you feel well?” he said. He even patted her large black silk shoulder, this adorable, loving boy who might have been her very own, her young bulwark between her and all the terrors of the world. “I am very well,” she said, and smiled, controlling her tremulous lips with an effort.
“I can come in now and then on my way from the store,” stated the boy diffidently, “if you would like to have me, Aunt Sarah. I get out early two nights a week.”
Sarah beamed at him. “Come whenever you can,” said she, “and I will have a better luncheon to offer you than I had to-night.”
“Oh, that was bully! Couldn′t have been better,” said Tom.
After he had gone down the front walk, Sarah sat down again, and the dreadful thing which had come to her on the first night of her utter loneliness in the house assailed her. It was beyond reason that a woman of such strength of body and mind could be so overcome by nothing. She told herself that. She laughed, she sneered at herself, but it was of no avail. She prayed; it was of no avail. Sarah Edgewater was abject before the horror of which she had lived in horror all her life. She was simply alone in the house. That was all. The village was peaceful. The inhabitants were harmless. Seldom did a tramp appear at a door. Her sister′s house, where that loving, ready boy dwelt, was within hearing distance of her dinner bell. She had a telephone. She kept no valuables which could tempt thieves. There was absolutely no reason for her to fear material harm. She was not superstitious; she had no recognized fear of the immaterial, but nothing could alter the fact of her awful panic before solitude. And always the worst of it was - it was not what she had imagined solitude was, not what she had thought. Her wildest dreams had not compassed it. For solitude was in reality not solitude. It was its antithesis. Sarah, alone, was in the midst of cruelly pressing throngs. No room in the empty house was empty.
There was the horror. She had thought to be in deadly fear of vacancy, of emptiness, and there was none. Not a room in the house but she knew filled to the door, not a room but whose windows were crammed with faces. And it was the more terrible because of the strangeness and vagueness of the faces. She imagined none of the former inhabitants of the house, none of the old friends and neighbors crowding those dreadful rooms, but throngs upon throngs of people whom she had never seen, whose faces and forms and personalities were wholly strange to her. They might not be evil, they might not be good. That did not seem to matter. What did matter was the throngs which people solitude to an imaginative soul crowding upon her very life, striving to press her out of her home and her life.
That night Sarah did not go to bed. She did not sleep. All through the weary hours, she watched and shuddered, and vainly prayed, and knew herself dastardly, and yet could not get the victory. When at last dawn came she welcomed it like a lover. She realized that never before had she appreciated the incalculable blessing of the rising of the sun upon human despair and need, bringing with it a new opportunity. She stirred the kitchen fire, made coffee, cooked breakfast. She felt more herself, although still haunted, still sorely pressed by solitude. But solitude by day was not solitude by night. One could be borne for a long time without madness - the other, perhaps not. After Sarah had finished her breakfast she stood at the window of her sitting-room watering some geraniums which stood in pots on a little stand. She started, for over the thick green foliage crowned with scarlet blossoms she saw the young doctor hurrying to the door of her sister′s house opposite. Then Mrs. Widner, a neighbor who was a kind soul, ready to respond in case of illness, went running up the walk, then young Tom raced out and down the street, and was soon back. Curtains in the windows of her sister′s room slid up and down.
Sarah knew that Laura must be either seized with sudden illness, or was dead. She watched, her heart beating hard. She expected every moment to see the undertaker drive up in his sad wagon, but after a while Miss Susan Bellows, who went out nursing, was driven up to the gate in a buggy from the livery stable. Susan got out and hastened up the walk. Young Tom opened the door. Then, after a little, the doctor and Tom came out and went down the street. Sarah knew that Laura must be ill, and not at the point of death. She watched, and the doctor and Tom did not return. Sarah put on her hat and coat and hurried to the drug store. Luckily young Tom was alone there. He was ready with the news in spite of the long feud between his mother and aunt. “Mother has had a shock, Aunt Sarah,” he said pantingly.
“A bad one?” Sarah was very pale.
“She will get over it, Dinsmore says. That is -” Tom hesitated. “She won′t - die, but she will be helpless a long time. She won′t be able to get up, and - oh, Aunt Sarah, you wouldn′t know poor Mother.”
All unconsciously, young Tom′s face twitched. Sarah understood. Laura′s face was piteously drawn to one side.
“You have Susan Bellows,” she said.
“Yes, she was just home from a case.”
“Let me know if I can do anything,” said Sarah, and went out.
Young Tom gazed after her. He thought her rather abrupt, but never did he doubt her sympathy. Late in the afternoon she was there again. Tom told her in response to her question that his mother was quiet, there was no change.
That day a revelation had come to Sarah Edgewater. Sitting with solitude, she had for the first time understood the face of solitude. Perhaps her mental vision had been cleared by the shock of her sister′s illness. She realized that the solitude before which she was appalled beyond reason was no bodily thing but a matter of the inmost soul. She realized that what she had stood in such mortal dread of since her sister′s betrayal of her was not the emptiness of closed chambers in a house made by hands, but the awful emptiness of a human soul meant by nature to be inhabited by love and tenderness and solicitude for others, and by that of others for her. She knew herself for the dreadful region of solitude, inhabited, in lieu of its rightful dwellers, by vague phantoms of wakeful dreams of horror. Then came, not love for her stricken sister but something better, beyond love, a pity and forgiveness which gave the woman who had so wronged her the semblance of Christ Himself, knocking for admittance at her door of life.
Sarah, being essentially honest, could not even then admit that her sister had done no wrong. She had done wrong and, moreover, as one who loved it. Sarah saw her as she was: treacherous, wickedly exultant in treachery, cruel, petty, yet this heavenly feeling for her illuminated her heart. Laura was dearer to her, she had more claim upon her than if she had never wronged her. Sarah had hated her, now she owed an enormous debt contracted by that hatred. The question was how to pay that debt. That very day she had been to see her lawyer, and a portion of her property was now settled upon her sister and her children. That afternoon, when Amy had come home from school, Sarah saw the lawyer′s carriage before her sister′s gate. When he came out he stopped for a minute to tell her; “I did not see Mrs. Ellerton,” he said, “but Miss Ellerton and the others seemed overjoyed. You have done a good deed, Miss Edgewater.”
Sarah wondered if any of them would come over to see her. All of the children came as soon as Tom got home from the drug store and had been told the news. Tom and his sister Amy headed the little procession. Tom was flushed and beaming, Amy was beautiful. She was a slender, flame-like young creature. She sprang to her aunt with outstretched arms and lips ready for kissing, and clung to her as she had never clung to her own mother. Amy had plenty of acumen. She had grasped the situation. She grasped it now. When she embraced her aunt she also embraced her own speedy happiness in life. Besides Amy, there were Margy, Violetta and Imogen. Margy, a long-legged little girl with deep blue eyes of understanding and wistfulness beneath dark brows, was much like her aunt. To her Sarah′s heart turned with utmost love from the first. She sat with Margy in her lap while she talked with the others and made plans. Tom was to go to college, of course, and later practice medicine. Amy - well, they all knew about Amy. They laughed and Amy blushed. They talked about clothes, they talked of little pleasure trips. Still, all the time, the thought of Laura alone with her nurse across the road was with them. Tom wondered about that and blundered in his speech. “But Aunt Sarah,” he stammered, “you - Mother - I thought -”
For the first and last time there was in his voice accusation of his mother. Tom loved her, but insensibly he knew her for just what she was; a woman of the type which perhaps shames women more than the really vicious of their sex. He knew his mother - weak, vain, selfish to self-idolatry, treacherous, gloating over her treachery - not a mother in the fullest sense of the word. He had never before admitted it. He now admitted it only by his voice, by a tone of an honest, boyish voice.
Sarah put Margy down. She stood up and faced the little group, wisely, lovingly, kindly. All had known, however dimly, something of the matter. She spoke once for all. “That,” she said, “is past.”
Tom moved toward her and kissed her, this dear boy who might have been her own.
Amy, who was a subtler female thing, stammered out something. “I don′t think she -” she began. Sarah, also female, understood. “She need not see me because of this,” she said. Amy flushed, and again threw her arms around her aunt.
Sarah watched them trooping home across the street; she turned about and faced her room in which they had chattered and laughed, but the awful loneliness was gone. That night she slept well, with a feeling that all the empty chambers were filled as they used to be.
After that the solitude oppressed her no more in the old way. Amy was married. Tom went to college, the younger children, especially Margy, ran in and out at will, yet all was not well with her. There was in the heart of the woman one last unconquered cell of loneliness. She knew why, but she did not know her best course. Day after day, she studied the situation. Laura was better. She sat by the window in her old place. The nurse, Susan Bellows, remained. Laura would never be well again, but she was able to sit up for hours every day. The distortion of her face had disappeared. She could speak, but her poor little futile tasks of life no longer called her. There was no reason, as far as her health was concerned, why Sarah should not cross the street, as she longed to do, but she knew what Amy had meant by her stammering speech that night. She understood how cruel with a refinement of cruelty may be the sight of a benefactor whom one has injured. She understood that the metaphorical coals of fire may be the very coals of hell burning to torture past human endurance. She knew why Laura might not want to see her, might not want her to carry out the plan which was dear to her, of having all under her own roof in the old Edgewater homestead, with Laura established in her old room newly decorated with the dainty blue she had always loved. Amy and her husband could continue to live in the house opposite. In that she would make improvements. But the strongest reason for Sarah′s hesitation was a subtler one. She had known her sister well. She wondered what the effect of her advance toward reconciliation would be. She wondered if the sight of her in her sister′s house would bring upon that poor face the mean triumph which she had seen in it during bygone years, the mean triumph which had dishonored. Better she should never go, willing as she was, even suffering to go as she was, than to see that.
But there came a day one summer when she saw Laura at the window and knew her to be alone in the house. Tom had gone off with a tennis racket. Amy had gone away with her husband. Margy was driving with Mrs. Widner in her little pony carriage. The other children had gone away with two little girl-friends to buy candy. Even Susan Bellows the nurse had strolled down the street, with her black sun umbrella bobbing overhead.
Sarah hesitated; she knew what it might mean: she was about to offer a pearl of pity, of regret, of forgiveness, and the offer might do incalculable harm. Then straight across the street she went. Laura had been dozing. She did not see her sister until she stood before her. She looked at Sarah, great, handsome, mature woman. Sarah looked at her, fragile, still lovely. Her gold hair veiled with thin burnished glory her thin temples, her cheeks were delicately pink. Sarah gazed, Laura gazed. Sarah′s expression was noble, wonderful, yet apprehensive. She watched fearfully for the look which she dreaded in her sister′s face. It did not come. Instead, an expression resembling Sarah′s own, in spite of the difference in features, stole over it. She smiled at Sarah. Sarah smiled at her.
“I thought I would come over,” said Sarah.
“I am glad you did,” replied Laura.
Sarah sat down in a chair opposite at the other window. A soft wind laden with the fragrance of roses in bloom out in the yard came through the open windows. “How are you feeling to-day?” asked Sarah.
It was commonplace with healing in its wings.
“Better,” said Laura.